I feel as if I’m paralytically drunk and standing on the deck of a storm-tossed boat while someone stabs an acid-tipped skewer into my ear. I have a sinus infection which has spread to my inner ear and I want to place my head in the freezer, curl in a ball and try not to puke while waiting for the antibiotics I’ve been given (thank you NHS) to work their magic.
But I can’t because I have to go to Alula’s ‘Recorder Assembly.’
One of my most vivid memories is from when I was about 8. I was sitting cross-legged in the assembly hall at my primary school, wearing my lovely Brown & Gold uniform, listening to the year below give their recorder recital. I stuck my fingers in my ears for respite from the screeching and a teacher came barrelling along the row and dragged my fingers out of my ears, scolding me for being rude. The mortification has stayed with me these thirty years past, as has my hatred of recorders.
Bravely I manage to drive to school where I meet Alula outside the gates. She’s stayed the night at her granny’s and she now glares death rays at me. I forgot to pack her white socks in her overnight bag. So sue me, I think to myself wearily.
‘I searched your drawers and couldn’t find any of the white ones,’ I tell her, holding up another pair. ‘I’ve got these ones instead.’
‘They’re black,’ she says. ‘I have to wear white socks.’
‘They’ll have to do,’ I say wanly, the world starting to spin.
‘I can’t wear those,’ Alula says, tears welling.
Just then a girl from her class walks past. ‘You know, you have to wear white socks with summer uniform,’ she informs us with a smart-ass smile.
‘Oh, really? Thanks for that. We didn’t know. That’s really helpful,’ I hiss in her direction.
The girl blinks at me, clearly suspicious that I’m not in earnest but also clearly not quite up to speed with that little thing called sarcasm. She backs away frowning and I turn to Alula. ‘Go sockless then,’ I say. I have no fight in me. I’m about to fall over.
Granny saves the day by running into the school office and snagging some white socks out of lost property. Sighing with relief as Alula heads to class I hobble into the hall and take a seat, wishing I could rest my head between my legs for a while to stop the world from crashing off its axis.
The children file into the hall. I glance up and see half a dozen children entering behind with violins. Oh dear god no.
What follows is like a torture scene from a CIA black prison. The violinists perform solos one after the other. And let me just say not one of them is Vanessa Mae. Not even close.
It feels that with each scrape across strings the bow is being violently shoved through my pus-filled ear drum, is spearing through my brain and is being forced out the other ear. Repeatedly. When will it be over? Seemingly never. Child after child takes the stage and the screeching crescendos, almost bringing me to tears.
Why do they let children learn this instrument of torture? Why not the piano? Or the Triangle? I day dream about that room I heard mention of that some scientists have created where no sound can penetrate. Apparently any longer than a few minutes inside and you’re driven to madness. Well, I’d take that over this any day of the week.
I think back to being eight and wonder if I can stick my fingers in my (pus-filled) ears. But I can’t. I’m among other parents. These are their little darlings murdering these tunes, trying to wrestle music from these instruments in attempts as futile as trying to milk a chicken. I can’t stick my fingers in my ears. I must smile and clap and try not to vomit over them, though I kind of feel like a bit of vomit might be justifiable.
At Green School during ‘shows’ all the other parents would turn up to watch with their bottles of green juice and I’d bring my water bottle filled with wine, which would invariably get passed up and down my line of friends as the evening progressed. I have to wipe away a tear at the memory. Those were the days. Also at Green School it was really easy to sneak out the back when no one was looking (except Alula was ALWAYS looking and I got rumbled every time).
I lean over to Granny. ‘When will this be over?’ I manage to ask, a little bit of sick hiccupping into my mouth.
She shakes her head. Her smile seems almost as frozen as mine.
After ten minutes waiting for the CD Rom to load (a CD Rom? – Isn’t that something from the 1800s?) the recorders stand to perform, Alula among them.
After four false starts I get the giggles and have to cover my face while other parents scowl at me. The recorders start up a fifth time, though at different times and playing different tunes. The music teacher seems too harassed to care any more and just lets them massacre their way through it, all of them ignoring her attempts to keep time. The kids seem to find it as funny as I do.
It is finally over. But no, it isn’t. The recorders are asked to play while everyone leaves the hall. It could have been worse, I suppose. It could have been the violins.
‘Well done,’ I say to Alula after, ‘you were marvellous.’
‘How was it?’ the head teacher asks my mother-in-law, as we hurry out the hall.
‘A for effort,’ she calls over her shoulder.