We went on a day out, the grumpy Yorkshireman and I, just the two of us. I wanted to go to Dundee. Surprising choice, perhaps, but I had an ulterior motive. My cover story was that we could visit the new V&A building. My lure was that we could go on the train. He likes trains. He fell like a fool in a silent movie seduced by Salome’s dance.
So off we toddled to the station. Who thought it was a good idea to bung pianos in the ticket halls of our great railway terminals? I’ll bet it was during some brainstorming session for Network Rail. How jolly will it be to have someone tickle the ivories as you wait for that delayed train?
Well, it might be, if the piano was kept in tune and someone employed a modicum of quality control for the pianist.
On this occasion, the Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B had met his match. In this case, it was a musically deadly Frankenstein’s monster mash-up of the late great off-key, off-kilter Les Dawson welded to the brilliance of Eric Morecambe displayed during that stunning, if highly idiosyncratic, performance of Greig’s Piano Concerto, conducted by Mr Andre Previn.
Mr Preview, you’ll recall, objected to Eric’s freeform approach. Who can forget the usually amiable Mr Morecambe turning a bit villain, seizing conductor of London Symphony Orchestra by the lapels to hiss the deathless phrase: ‘Listen, sunshine. I am playing the right notes. Just not necessarily in the right order’? Let’s just say I was eyeing up our Young Musician of the Moment looking for a lapel to grab.
Mind you, I have heard worse. I think we all have. Here’s the thing, I could have told Jacinta or Tyler or whoever was sitting in that Network Rail brainstorming session. If you add together travelling public, delays, small children and then throw an out-of-tune piano into the mix, then, my friends, you have the sort of situation that would lead the most mild-mannered to turn murderous.
One of these pianos lurks in Kings Cross Station. Once, while waiting for a train back to civilisation, I sat opposite a clergyman who looked like he came from 1955. With some of the delays they have on the lines down there these days, I wouldn’t be surprised.
He was as neat as a pin, with his prim black overcoat and gleaming dog collar. Agatha Christie would have bumped him off before the end of chapter two. He was reading his parish magazine, of course. A sweet child with blond curls, blue eyes and dimples ambled past and clocked the piano. The resulting noise was far from angelic. The proud mamma beamed at the child prodigy.
The train was delayed. The racket continued. I glanced at the vicar’s hands. He was clutching his magazine so tightly the ink was smudging. His knuckles were white and straining at the skin. There was a slight tremor. A titanic battle raged within the bosom of this gentle man of the cloth.
He could take no more. He snapped the magazine shut, his nostrils flared, and he rose, glaring at the infant. That man was one step away from turning into a berserker Viking.
Oh ho, I thought, read this one wrong. Mrs Christie would have unmasked our vicar as the Phantom Slasher at the end of Chapter 12.
He stepped forward and lifted the child with the practised air of a man who is used to dealing with squirming infants at the font. He gently set the toddler down, then closed the lid with a commanding thud. Waves of gratitude from his fellow travellers silently washed over him.
High life on the ocean wave is my grand design
The new V&A is quite something to see. Of course, the minute we walked in, the husband guessed the real reason for the visit.
There’s an exhibition on called Speed & Style – Ocean Liners. I have an interest in the great ships of the last century. Some would call it an obsession.
They are wrong. I can give it up at any time, and doesn’t everyone’s living room have four prints of the Titanic, a copy of her blueprints, two models of the Queen Mary and a framed White Star Line cap badge?
It’s a good exhibition, but there’s a bit too much about the French for my tastes. The Normandie was no Queen Elizabeth, and, as I said to one young woman on duty, too many chairs and not enough engines.
We are, she said with a sigh, a design museum, madam. Fair enough.
Train trip over the Forth is span-tastic
The Edinburgh to Dundee train trip is one of the secret great rail journeys of the world. For one thing, you get to cross the Forth Bridge.
Anyone who sits staring at a screen when you glide through that marvel of Victorian over-engineering deserves to have their laptop lid snapped shut by a determined clergyman.