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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Classical music's agony aunt, ALICE McVEIGH, is back (!!!!!!!!!)

Yes, dear readers, I have yielded to Keith's entreaties and Basil's blandishments. Due to the sheer number (a whopping four, I believe) of people writing to complain about my dismissal, your agony aunt of choice is back!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Actually three correspondents were writing to complain about DGriffs' opinions of violinists vs violists, but it amounts to the same thing, doesn't it????)

Thanks to DGriffs for keeping the chair warm, and please disregard his so-called joke about English being a foreign language to me. (Actually I'm trilingual: English, American and the re-al deep da-own Sa-outhern drawl. Not a lot of people know that.)

Alice McVeigh. Photo © 2003 Simon McVeigh

So on to your latest postbag!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dear Alice,
I am suffering from a condition best described as embarrassment fatigue. I can't seem to stop putting my foot in it. Last week I was playing in a pit where the MD was so pissed he might as well not have been there, but who was the (only) player he noticed taking the mickey and fired? (Me.) And only last month I offended a fellow player by saying in his hearing how much I hated people who brag about having old Italian instruments and guess what turned out to be his pride and joy? I even once (I still blush thinking about this one) asked a female player when her baby was due and (you guessed it) she, er, wasn't expecting. (She hasn't spoken to me since -- never will, I bet!) What should I do: take up life in a monastery or leave the country?


Dear Embarrassed,

It had better be a Trappist monastery, or else you'd get in trouble for slagging off the chief monk's tonsure to one of the noviciates.

No, actually I am full of sympathy, and, indeed, empathy.

After all, I was the bright spark who met Norman Del Mar's wife at a social event and popped over to say hello, how was good old Norman, almost six months to the day after he'd handed in his dinner pail. (I had heard that he'd died, actually; it had simply slipped my tiny mind.) I had another 'blonde moment' when I was in BAFTA discussing a project with the woman who'd bought the film rights to my first novel. We were getting on great with the scriptwriter and I was feeling merry and bright -- possibly a bit too merry and bright, as I asked her at the height of the champagne lunch who, if anyone, she had in mind to produce the film. 'Me,' she said coldly. Apparently she is quite a well-known producer, though not, tragically, to me. (Not that it mattered, as the Channel 4 people pulled the plug on the idea due to costs anyway.)

So, yes, I know where you're coming from, and can only urge you to never give up. We've all been there (especially you and me) and, as my mother used to tell me when I was embarrassed as a teenager, life is simply too short to wallow in embarrassment.


Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

My husband is not a particularly good pianist, but he owns four pianos (a grand, a square, and two uprights) plus two pump organs, a harpsichord, and a clavichord. This seems kind of weird, even in California, where being weird is pretty normal. I think he needs professional help but I'm not sure what kind. Do I need to call in a psychiatrist or do you think a really good interior decorator could straighten things out?

Tripping Over Pianos in California

Dear Tripping,

Your husband must be loaded (as well as bonkers) in order to be able to afford to stable four pianos, two pump organs, one harpsichord and a clavichord, in what is still one of the US's pricier states for housing.

If I were you I'd go for the interior decorator (you could have some good fun with the fung-shui ones who swear that, if the left hand corner of your right-hand desk drawer in the general direction of Beijing is messy then you're in for a bad hair day). I'd also carry on making soothing noises. The suggestion of a shrink might upset his bio-rhythms, and hell hath no fury like a Californian whose bio-rhythms are disrupted. It might even cause him to junk you in favour of a younger model, something Californians have a certain form for doing, along with face-lifts and tummy-tucks. So don't let your tummy go tuckless! Don't let your brow remain furrowed! Don't bother with the Joneses, keep up with Cher!!!!!!!!


Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

I am a professional harp-player, and fed up with all men. No matter where I'm playing, I need a bit of help with the heavy lifting and I find it harder and harder to enlist sympathetic help from standers-by, receptionists etc. Isn't it obvious that a smallish female bearing a concert harp could use a bit of help? I always tip where necessary, but do I really have to start waving tenners in their faces? What's your solution?

London harp

Dear London harp,

Your problem is so easy to solve that I almost blush to recommend it. What you want is to pop along to your nearest theatrical costumiers, where you buy (follow me closely here) a spot of fake tears. Yes, the solution is that simple! It doesn't matter how gorgeous you are, a spot of fake tears (see theatrical costumiers) can't go wrong. This is the routine:

  1. You show up, at the Hilton, the Festival Hall, wherever, with harp in tow, preferably looking fragile in a miniskirt, with your long hair down around your ankles. (Harpists always have long hair, or else get a hair extension.)
  2. You politely ask someone (at the desk, on the gate) to help you manhandle the concert harp.
  3. They say, 'sod off' (or, 'Sorry, I'm busy,' or 'I'd love to help you but I can't leave my post' or whatever)
  4. You crush the fake tears in your hand, deftly apply to orbs, and say, 'Oh, I can't bear it! Whatever am I to do?' (Note: flutter lashes madly at this point)
  5. They continue to play tough, whereupon you have another go with victim B or (much more likely) they immediately melt and assist you with the harp.

All best,

PS Don't even consider substituting an onion, leaving, as it does, your eyes all red and swollen and wrecking your mascara. No, go for the professional option, 'Tears, idle tears,' by Panoffnik, Lancome or Teresuneede. You heard it here first.

Copyright © 6 June 2003 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK

[Note from Alice to the non-violist, otherwise Confused of London:
Your secret is safe with you; I am clueless! In fact, you must be the epitome of Judith Martin's definition of the perfect flirt: 'Someone so subtle at the art of flirting that neither party can be completely sure it is actually happening ...'



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