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Boarding at specialist music schools,
investigated by classical music agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH

Dear Alice,

I was watching the US Open tennis last night at 3.30am (as one does, as one is an idiot) while Andy Roddick (last year's winner) was demolishing some Frenchman 6-3, 6-2, 6-4. And what I want to know is: why do they let this happen? Why doesn't somebody just step in and shout, 'It's a knock-out!' Why isn't there a Queen to turn over, as in chess, when you just know the end is only a matter of time?

AM in Orpington

Dear AM,

I find myself strangely in sympathy with your question, as I too was watching the US Open last night, while Roddick was in disembowelling mode, and found myself similarly affected. Why even in Pictionary, I found myself thinking, once one team is romping off the board, they find themselves subject to new and interesting handicaps, including being obliged to draw blindfolded, or with their 'other' hand. And what I thought, as I watched Roddick (who really can only be compared in this form to last year's Federer, or to Sampras at his most magisterial) was this:

  1. Once you get two sets up (out of five), you have to attach your racket to your head and scamper around on all fours.
  2. If, in addition, you are in the world's top five, and brimming with self-belief, you have to wear a bra complete with falsies and a bejewelled, female bun-warmer, so your opponent and the audience get one good laugh.
  3. If, in addition to being in the world's top five, you are also Andy Roddick, you have to play (still bejewelled) upside-down, swiping rackets with your feet, for as long as it takes until your poor rattled opponent gets within hailing distance of one of your first serves.

Once I take over the world (which at this point can only be a matter of time) that is the way things will just have to be, in order to prevent boredom and ennui and British commentators making shirty comments about how Americans must all just have too much money, as they forked out to watch Roddick play and then started leaving, in droves, after the outcome no longer seemed in doubt.

Very cordially,

Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

I am going off next one to one of Britain's foremost specialist music schools, where I'll be boarding. I am incredibly nervous because I've heard that the standard is so good they'll look down on me, and I'll miss my mum. Can you reassure me at all?

(name withheld)

Dear anon,

Yes, I suppose I can. I'm probably not the ideal person, as I went to an ordinary state school until I was eighteen, and most of what I know about boarding comes from Enid Blyton's Malory Towers (which I am currently a Mastermind world expert on, having soldiered through the lot this summer with my six-year-old. Believe me, you cannot stump me on this. Head-girl when Darrell went for her first term? Pamela somebody. Person who rescued the objectionable Amanda from drowning? Alicia's cousin. June. Go on, go on. Try me, just try me!!!!!!!!!!)

However, I have any number of professional musician friends who went to these places, and they are all incredibly highly-strung (some of them, indeed, ought to be highly strung, preferably from a tallish tree). This is what you need: heaps of common-sense, a good head for heights, lashings of tuck-boxes and midnights feasts, and a brother who sends you new tricks to play on gullible French mistresses on Tuesdays and Saturdays. No!!!!!!!!!!! Oops!!!!!!!!!!!! Sorry, that's how to get on at Malory Towers!!!!!!!!!!! Keithie, please delete!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Now, in order to get by at one of the specialist music boarding schools, this is what you need:

  1. The hide of a more than usually unbothered rhino, because the better players will be condescending (and, should you be one of them, the rivalries will cut you to the bone).

  2. Nerves of steel, because it's all win or be beaten. After all, what they really want is you to triumph in the Tchaikovsky competition.

  3. A genius for getting on with other neurotic people (you probably have this already, in self-defense).

  4. A simply extraordinary digestion, capable of binging on bread with mixed marmalade and peanut-butter, ginger beer and lemonade, sponge cake and--oh, sorry, there I go again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. A plentiful supply of Prozac, beta-blockers and P G Wodehouse, for getting to sleep at night.

And ... that's it!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Have a scrummylicious time!!!!!!!!!!!
(Keith: delete, delete, delete!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)


Copyright © 10 September 2004 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK



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