My paternal grandfather, Roydon, had been an amateur entertainer in his time during the early 1900s, singing, tap dancing, playing the banjo and a magic act during which he would saw his new wife, Hilda, my grandmother in half. My father thought it would be a good idea if I followed Pop’s musical footsteps and learned to play the piano. Soon an old piano was delivered and placed in the spare room. I noticed a date had been carved into the woodwork, 1775 ! Hmm? This was quite exciting and I thought it might be worth something. Lifting the lid, I began to play Chopsticks, my only repertoire at the time. What a row! It sounded just as if I was playing in an old Wild West saloon bar, i.e. that hollow, out of key, honkey-tonk noise. A piano tuner was duly called in to sort it out and piano lessons were arranged with a private tutor, Mr. Shepherd. I would trudge along to his house after school, be shown into a cold, gloomy room, and the lesson would begin. I couldn’t help but notice that he had quite a bit of dandruff on his shoulders, and that when his wife brought in a cup of tea there wasn’t one for me. Of course I had to go home and practice (practise? never have known the difference) for at least an hour every day until the following week’s session.
I returned home after the first lesson and my parents were very keen to hear my new skill. So I played a couple of scales, but we couldn’t help but notice that the piano tuning had made no difference whatsoever!
Winter came and my parents placed an old, oil-burning heater in the room. The only difference this made was that I was surrounded by an evil smelling fug and remained cold. I became quite disillusioned with the whole thing, particularly with the hollow sound emanating from the piano totally distorting what should have been the wonderful Moonlight Sonata. When I played a wrong note, I would get quite angry and bang the keys hard randomly and rapidly. This caused my father to shout out my name in a very unfriendly and ominous manner! De…. n……. d……y!
Mr. Shepherd was not very impressed with my progress, but decided anyway to enter my name for an examination with the Royal College of Music in London.
Off I went and entered the examination room to be faced by an elderly, stern-looking man. He started off with a few questions. I was asked how many semi-quavers are in a quaver? Having no idea, I answered : Is it eight? He replied, while glaring ferociously at me : “I will ask the questions here!” This rather knocked my confidence but I was then asked to play.
A few week’s later, Mr Shepherd asked me to call round to hear the result. He started off by saying that I had turned out to be his worst performing student ever (he was quite upset!), I had at least passed but with a very low mark.
When my certificate eventually arrived in the post, insult was added to injury to find my name, though written in the most beautiful, fancy handwriting had been spelt quite wrong to such an extent I could hardly say the certificate was mine, “MacTwoddle.” I have kept the certificate but it lies in a box out of sight.