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Classical music's agony aunt, ALICE McVEIGH,
gives up explanation (or should that be exclamation?) points for Lent

Dear Alice

As your readers know, I am a violist of some note. When I learn a new one I will be a violist of some notes -- a red letter day some time in the future. Recently I was cajoled into a day of chamber music playing where I encountered the embarrassing social gaffe of two violists turning up.

This obviously has far-reaching political implications for the United Nations but, that aside, I was forced to switch to playing the violin for a couple of Brandenburgs (I'll do anything for a couple of pints of Brandenburg). As I had not played the violin for over twenty years, I found the whole experience nearly as traumatic as my fellow musicians.

I understand that you occasionally try your hand at the violin (and consistently make appalling hash of it) -- are your experiences as harrowing as my own?


Gloria Stoatgobbler
Aged 39 and 363 days (aaagh!)

PS Found some more exclamation marks in the attic. They're pre-1978 but they should work -- are you interested?

Dear Gloria/Abysmal Slime/DGriffs,

Thank you for drawing my attention to several interesting points:

  1. that you turned forty yesterday. Now I have no intrinsic objection to anyone's deciding to turn forty, but it seems a bit rash to do it when one actually is forty. I urge you -- before your party on Saturday -- to follow my really excellent example, rethink this course and contrive to remain thirty-nine until at least forty-two. (Why one has to compound the agony by inviting four hundred of one's nearest and supposedly dearest to hear your rock band -- earplugs supplied -- is a matter between you and your maker, except of course that you pretend you haven't got one, and that your sprang, fully formed -- horrible thought -- from the brow of Zeus.)
  2. Thanks for the very kind offer but I have given up exclamation points for Lent. This is at least as hard to do as my failed attempts in previous years to give up alcohol, salty pretzels and getting annoyed at other drivers' rank stupidities. Even as I write my hand keeps drifting towards ... No, no. I will be strong. (it's killing me ...)
  3. Yes, I admit to murdering the violin, upon occasion. I love the violin but this love is deeply unrequited. Whenever I swipe my grandmother's lovely old instrument (it even has a carved head, a Roman-looking head with laurel leaves) from its box, it seems to sigh longingly and make eyes at my husband (who can play the violin, but almost never bothers, having More Important Things to Do, such as teaching PhD students or attending Trinity board meetings.)

And if there's one thing I can't stand it's anyone making eyes at my husband. (Making eyes at me, on the other hand, is only natural, and completely blameless of course).

We play chamber music with a couple of friends Simon boarded with when at Oxford -- he, poor fellow, a mere violist like yourself, she a cello player. Hence the only way we can socially murder the repertoire is with self on second and Simon on first violin. This is fine at the beginning of the evening, and lovely compliments wend my way from my partners in crime on all sides. Tragically, however, my violin technique (I am probably about Grade 7) is unequal to the strain of sounding decent after a couple of glasses of wine and by the end of the proceedings I am apparently making a fairly gruesome noise, though my counting is always impeccable. (I say apparently as it always sounds just fine to me.)

Perhaps I should give up playing the violin for Lent.

Yours, completely sans exclamation points,

Ask Alice

i really lyk dis in ma skool and e iz in yr11 and im in yr9. e iz leavin soon and i really lyk im shud i ask im out? also dis boy in ma yr has asked me out i dnt answer im bcoz i dnt wanna upset im. wot shud i do? shud i ask da boy in yr11 or not

Dear deranged adolescent (how long, O Lord, how long, before they figure out that a classical music agony aunt is not a teen-mag agony aunt???? Never mind; we plow on)

Dear deranged adolescent,

I have several worries about your letter.

First of all, I don't know what 'lyk' means. If it means, as I fear it may, lick, then do you mean lick as in lick those foul ice-lollies my six-year-old is keen on, or lick as in successfully fight? My advice on the former is that what you do with your tongue is not of my business and the second is (how prissy can I get????) not to get involved in fights.

If however -- and I'm pushing the boat out here -- 'lyk' actually means like, I am on firmer ground. For a start, I am here to tell you that guys, whether in year nine or year eleven are a complete and pimply waste of space. Men don't get remotely interesting until at least twenty-five.

Secondly, asking a guy out is never a really feminine move. You can entice someone to ask you out, if you think they might, but that's about as far as I, personally, would go. One of the few genuine advantages to being a female is that you aren't expected to ask people out: we have the privilege of refusal or acceptance, but not the nervousness of being the petitioner. It seems to me that this is an advantage worth hanging on to, even in this catch-as-catch-can age. (Of course, you may not even be female, in which case we would have to reopen the case from a completely different angle ...)


Copyright © 5 March 2004 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK



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