Chapter 22: For the Record

Now an important bit of my life that I haven't forgotten about, but which I simply haven't had time to tell you, is my piano lessons.

Sister Consilio at the Convent taught me the piano. I started in February and did my Initial Exam half way through the year, then did Grade II and then Grade III and then Grade IV. I shot ahead on it like there was no tomorrow - apart from the fact that having to practise was a good way of getting out of milking the cows in the mornings. Sister Consilio was a good teacher and wasted no time in pushing me ahead.

I'd practise my scales each three times - one for the Father, one for the Son, and one for the Holy Ghost - and had to get all three perfect in a row, otherwise I would start again - one for the Father, one for the Son, and one for the Holy Ghost. It didn't matter how slow I went, as long as it was perfect.

Mum and Dad's friends, Mr and Mrs Peez from Otaki called in, but everyone except me was out. They asked me to play the piano. I played Morel's Norwegian Cradle Song and they were so tickled that they gave me a complete edition of Mozart's Piano Sonatas.

Then Aunty Phyllis came to stay. I've told you about her already. She gave me extra lessons over the holidays. She would take the copy of Mozart and say, "You learn this piece to play for your father when he gets in from milking". So I'd practice the Mozart while she sat on the veranda with a cup of tea and listened.

"Use the baby finger on that note," she'd call out, "and not the fourth finger". And I used to wonder how she knew because she could hear but not see me. Then Dad would come in, and I'd play the piece.

One day a group of youths came to the farm. They were in a Youth Group that Rick and France belonged to, and afterwards, they came to the house. I played the piano. Then they left. But one girl wouldn't go because she wanted to stay and hear "the boy play the piano". I was a bit disgusted at being called "the boy" because I was eleven, almost twelve, but she stayed anyway and sat and waited for her monkey to perform. But I would have none of it. If she wanted to hear the piano played she could learn it herself. So instead I played her some records on the record player - which no doubt displeased her no end.

The record player was one of the features of our family life. At first we only had a wireless and would listen to Life With Dexter with Deaf Adder and Compost, and The Money or the Bag with Selwyn Toogood. And then we got a record player.

Our first record came with a picture book called The Enchanted Forest. The record would say "Turn the page" when the story got to a new picture in the book. "Turn the page. Turn the page" and then came "Turn the page AND the record".

Later we got a record which everyone played to death. It was Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren.

O Doctor I'm in trouble. Well goodness gracious me.

On the other side was a song that we played only when Dad was out of the house because he didn't like it.

We're removing grandpa's grave to build the sewer To satisfy the local residents.

Then there were the records on the lives of Mozart and Chopin, from The World Record Club. The Mozart record started:

Once in a while, every hundred years or so, there is born to the world a child who is called a genius. He may write books, he may paint pictures, he may compose music. Music such as you hear now.

And off the music would go. The Chopin record was equally good:

It is the year 1830. A hot July sun is climbing into the sky above the German city of Munich. At the piano sits a pale, fair-headed young man of twenty. On the keyboard is a letter he has just received from Warsaw...

For my twelfth birthday Mum and Dad gave me a collection of twelve records of famous composers. I wore them out. But most of all I played Stravinsky's Rite of Spring - boom boom boom boom - till Mum would say "Turn that awful music down!"

But of all the records in the world, the best one was Paul Gallico's The Snow Goose. It was about a man at a lighthouse and a girl called Frith. The man went to Dunkirk and never returned. And the snow goose flew back

to Frith, standing on the sea wall, waiting. Waiting, yes, waiting. And I knew that he was never coming back.

And each time I played the record, at the "Waiting, yes, waiting" bit, my eyes would fill with tears.

Waiting, yes, waiting. And I knew that he was never coming back. I had found the picture that Rhayader had painted of me as a child...

And it was clear that Frith had grown up, and was never going to be the same, and would live a sad, sad life because of the man dead and the snow goose gone forever and her childhood over.

And I knew something was happening (turn the page) because my voice was changing up and down up and down (turn the page AND the record) till one day I walked in the house and said something to Mum and she mistook my voice for Dad's.

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