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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Another eye-opening selection from
classical music's agony aunt, ALICE McVEIGH

(Note to new readers: Alice has, on previous occasions, recommended to Fred that he leave the Royal College for a career in the Marines, despite his penchant for peach-coloured thongs. When his famous conductor father threw him from the house, he pined for his bassoon, whereupon she suggested that he hire an impoverished young musician to steal it for him.)

Dear Alice,

It is so fab being in the Marines!!!!!!!!!!!

I just can't believe my luck. First of all there is Henry ('Bomber') Hynes, our officer, who is just so divine, but in our own bunch there are the most amazing and incredible group of people: 'Fatso' Peron, 'Jailhouse' Blaine etc. The most amazing one (in my opinion) is Jules, who, in addition to being amazingly clever and fit, can actually play the clarinet!!!!!!!! -- We hope to have a go at the Beethoven clarinet/bassoon duos next week-end, operational exigencies permitting, of course!!!!!!!

I never thought the Marines would be the answer: and certainly my family never did. You may have read Father's recent piece in the Guardian: 'How military mystique has ruined our son's solo bassoon career.' Made us roar in the mess, though I've had to put up with a certain amount of good-natured chaff about having a father who reads the Guardian, let alone writes for it!!!!

Having said that my Dad is a bit cross at my having followed your previous advice and gotten Paul from the RCM to house-burgle my bassoon back. But having it with me has made all the difference, and, as for Paul, well, without the money I paid him he'd never have been able to buy the baroque oboe!!!!!!!!!!! He's having a spot of girlfriend trouble, said he might write to you as well, so don't be surprised!!!!!!!

Your friend for ever and ever,
Fred (or, as I'm known here in Worc barracks, 'the fightin' floozie!!!!!!!!!!!!')

Ask AliceAsk Alice

Good to hear from you, Fred. Just keep taking the tablets!!!!!!!!!!
Cheers, A.

Ask Alice

Dear Mrs McVeigh,

I am writing to you in my role as Minister for Punctuation to the European Parliament. It has come to my, and my colleagues' attention that this column, and in particular, your contributions to this column are in breach of the European Punctuation Treaty 1993. In case you are unfamiliar with this document, allow me to inform you that clause 23.1.45 of this treaty (exclusions: Spain, Greece, Monaco) explicitly states that no subject of any sovereign state within the European Union 'shall employ the use of more than one exclamation mark per sentence'. You, in sharp contradistiction, have been widely reported as using well over five and sometimes many more on consecutive sentences.

We have been criticised for imposing the will of Brussels on the prose of member nations but I would like to point out that your cavalier use of the exclamation mark has ramifications beyond the borders of the parent country. There is, for instance, such a shortage of exclamation marks in Holland, thanks to your overuse that no one has been able to raise their voice for over three weeks (not that it's bothered the Dutch overmuch, however, that is beside the point!)

European Union semicolon mountainWe trust that you will address this issue henceforth. (If you are interested, we have a huge semi-colon mountain which is an embarrassment to us, the depletion of which would be much appreciated by my department.)

With every good wish,

Rt Hon Algernon Ffitch Hyphen Ffifch MEP

Dear Rt Hon Ffitch-Ffifch!!!!!!!!!!!

God, this is so embarrassing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I just cannot believe that I could have forgotten clause 23.1.45 !!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!! Call myself a writer ?????????????? !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I abase myself before you, and your delicately exquisitely-poised prose. In fact, your beautifully-honed sentences have so coiled themselves around my heart-strings that I am feeling rather faint, which normally only happens reading Jane Austen or Proust. Could you send me a photo???? Is there a good time when we could meet in London????? Could you, at very least, send me another stunning memo??????

I'm afraid I'm losing all concentration, all circumspection!!!!!!! Something about the way you use commas does something to me inside, while your elegant little parentheses have done for me completely . . . . . .

Ask AliceAsk AliceAsk AliceAsk AliceAsk AliceAsk AliceAsk AliceAsk Alice

Passionately yours (but basically losing it !!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Private memo: from A F-F to Tony Blair
Re: Clause 23.1.45 (ref. McVeigh, Alice)

Frankly, I'm afraid this case is hopeless. At this rate we'll be out of dots and question marks as well! Shall I have a go at the car chappie you mentioned, Jeremy what's-it, instead?

Private memo: from Tony Blair to A F-F,

Your memo has stirred me strangely. Are you free next Thurs for a working lunch?
Yrs T Blair

Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

Hi! My name's Paul, and I recently did a spot of house-breaking for my bassoonist friend Fred. Apparently this was your idea (I had no notion agony aunts sailed so close to the wind these days!), and I'm very grateful for the £s as I've got this huge student loan, which I've not got a clue how I'm ever going to repay, and I needed to buy a decentish baroque oboe as well. Not that I'm very bothered, because I'm in love with the most marvellous girl from the Ukraine, a soprano, silver-blonde hair, grey-green eyes, and range clean up to top E-flat, though I'm not saying it doesn't jar on the back teeth at times. However, and this is the point or res, she is not in love with me (or indeed anybody). All she thinks about is her blinking voice. If she has a cold she snaps my head off, but when it's 'working' she is heaven, not just to look at, but to be with. I kissed her once, after a party, but she was pretty cold to me for the next few days, so I think that was a strategic blunder. Tell me, what can I do to make her de-frost? Or is my case completely hopeless?


Dear Paul,

Yes, your case is hopeless.

The strategic blunder you committed was in falling for a singer in the first place. Your best hope is that she is too self-obsessed to notice, but, frankly, you sound so far gone that there's no chance of that.

You have a couple of options remaining, however, including:

  1. Leave the country, preferably for somewhere sunny, like Spain or Italy, with a guaranteed income, such as second oboe in an opera orchestra.
  2. Leave the planet, preferably to a galaxy where leggy Ukrainians are unknown or
  3. Leave the profession, preferably to something comparatively sensible, such as defense intelligence or agricultural industry (non-biological).

Don't despair, as I hear on all sides that you show aptitude in many directions. Fred has told me of your cleverness in the house-breaking department and really, you know, that's as secure a job as any, since the police have decided that catching burglars simply isn't worth the shoe-leather.


Ask Alice

Dear Alice

This is a rather sensitive matter, but, to come straight to the point, we suspect that a nasty virus has infected our orchestra.

We could seek medical help, but are worried about the effect this will have on concert attendance, as the menace seems to be fairly contagious. Should we wear masks while we play? Should we recommend masks to our public? Or should we just hope for the best?

Worried of Beijing

Dear Chinese worry-torture,

Try to stay calm. The point is, many orchestras are afflicted by this germ, which has been recognised by the medical profession as transitory, though admittedly rather serious while it lasts. TARS, also known as Touring Associated Rhapsodic Syndrome, happens in every orchestra, though it seems to have hit the headlines mainly in the Far East. The symptoms, which may vary wildly from mild to all encompassing, include:

  1. an inability to concentrate on anything other than the personal charms of some person or persons near you
  2. a severe rhythmic discrepancy with regard to your immediate section or area of the orchestra and
  3. a really startling shortness of breath when within ten or twelve feet of the adored object

Oddly enough, upon arrival home, most of the symptoms disappear completely, never to recur, which is just as well, really;;;;;;;;;

As far as the audience is concerned, try not to worry. Most of them are comparatively immune, having suffered similar symptoms from various other walks of life, and the use of masks would probably only alarm them. It is always a good idea to isolate a 'carrier' (normally a violist or second violin, but check out the horns and trumpets!) but generally speaking, you'll find that the virus will disappear as swiftly as it started, barring too many foreign tours, of course.

Hoping this is of some use, yours (ching chang chong)

Ask Alice

Copyright © 16 May 2003 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK

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