Going for a song


#ChallengeCompleted: Singing lesson

When? 23 July 2017

Nominated by: Sarah

I’m sure I’ve got it in me to sing. I play the piano, so I get pitch. But while I somehow always muddled through the aural parts of my piano exams, holding a line without being able to hear the tune, and belting out a proper song have never been something I’ve managed.

Step forward my colleague Sarah, who Challenged me to find out what kind of singing voice I have, with a beginner’s taster singing lesson at City Academy in Soho.

Neither of us really knew what to expect as we whetted our whistles with a cooling ice cream prior to our group lesson.


There were a dozen of us in the group, a variety of ages and nationalities. Our tutor, Jonathan, first asked us each to introduce ourselves and say briefly what we hoped to get out of the session. Experience ranged from an older gent who had been an actor for 20 years (albeit allegedly ‘retired’ for many years since) and had been through something called ‘Mountview’  (it earned respect; turns out it’s some kind of British Fame Academy for wannabe actors, dancers and singers), to a young girl who simply enjoyed singing in the car/shower and was curious to learn more about using her voice. I’m not entirely sure where Sarah and I fitted in – really just there for a giggle…

Jonathan explained that our hour’s session would involve the ‘warm-up’ routine that kicks off every lesson. It began simply enough: ensemble humming of two tones (doh-ray-doh-ray-doh-ray-doh; up a tone and repeat); gradually working up the scale as Jonathan banged out the notes on the piano. Even I could manage this and I hummed loudly and confidently.

Next stage was the same two tones, this time alternating between ‘mmm’, ‘aaah’ and ‘oooh’ sounds, so starting to form shapes with our mouths to change the sound. Again, not overly tricky. So far, so good!

Then it was time to learn the ‘warm-up song’: ‘Comedy’. The lyrics aren’t tricky, largely (read: completely) involving the line, ‘There will be some comedy tonight’, across four verses. We learnt them one at a time. First, the line was sung legato (smoothly) to a simple tune. Next, just the word ‘comedy’ was sung, quickly and staccato. The third verse returned to the original line, twisted into ‘Comedy tonight, there will be some’, with crescendo for excitement. Last verse was… actually, I can’t remember. But there was definitely a fourth verse. And while it might sound simple to you, you try remembering all of it, and the tune. Seriously, it was a Challenge!

Anyway. We moved on. Time to explore range. We went to a top E flat and revisited our ‘ooo’, ‘eee’ ‘aah’, ‘eee’, ‘ooo’ sounds, up and down three tones. Next up was a (very) brief experiment with ‘retraction’ (where you sing through your nose) and ‘expansion’ (pushing the sound out more roundly). More sounds to try: ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ for retraction, as though you’re sneering at someone; ‘yah yah yah’ for expansion, like a posh twit. More ‘lyrics’; more tunes. You still think this is easy, don’t you? Think again!

The final challenge: tongue twisters. And here is where it all started to go horribly wrong. ‘Fluffy puppy’ I managed. ‘Red lorry, yellow lorry’ I could do. Even ‘Seth at Sainsbury’s sells thick socks’ and ‘unique New York’ I achieved (more often than not). All this and new tunes for each, too

But then came the pièce de resistance. We all know how it goes. Goodness knows we’ve most of us got drunk to this tongue twister: ‘I’m not a pheasant plucker, I’m a pheasant plucker’s son; and I’m only plucking pheasants till the pheasant plucker comes’. You think you know what’s coming, don’t you?

Wrong. My confidence was up. I sung, ensemble, with gusto. Over and over, word perfect. This was fine! But then.

Oh. Then.

Jonathan singled out the first girl in the group, indicating for her to sing the tongue twister solo. Shocker! In fact, I think she was so shocked, she got it perfectly right. Jonathan immediately pointed to the next guy; his turn. He also managed it.

Trouble was, Sarah and I were the last two in the group, which meant we had far too much time to think about how we were going to ‘perform’ this tongue twister. And every person was taking their turn without screwing up. No pressure.

I was there. I was ready. I was good to go. Word perfect. Just the girl immediately before me to go. She was virtually through it.

Then, as she got to the last line, she transposed the syllables (you’re with me, right?). It had to happen. It had just been a matter of when. And who. Everyone fell about laughing. Jonathan played a comic sting on the keyboard. The moment was lost. I was lost.

But no – Jonathan quickly picked up again, pointed at me and said, ‘Go!’

‘I’m not a pleasant fuc…’ I started, confidently. Oh dear.

Start again.

‘I’m not a pleasant fuc…’ Oh dear. I’d lost it.

Third time lucky.

‘I’m not a pleasant fuc…’ Nope, it’s gone.

Jonathan helpfully reminded me of the correct lyric. I know the lyric. I KNOW the lyric. I’d had it all totally sorted in my head. Till that blasted girl before me had screwed up.

‘I’m not a pleasant fuc…’

It simply wasn’t going to happen. The moment was lost. I’d lost it. Sarah – you take your turn. She was kind to me. She totally lost it, too. Several similarly aborted attempts to get the correct lyric out followed from her. It wasn’t going to happen.

Neither of us managed our solo moment. Guess we’re just meant to be part of a team. Who needs the solo spot, anyway?



(On a post-) Bali High

#ChallengeCompleted: SPECIAL CHALLENGE: Holiday to Bali

When? 25 May-5 June 2017

After the 30-something-degree heat and balminess of 10 days in Bali, London was cruel welcoming me back with lashing rain and a distinct chill that was more January than June. But you know what? I still ♥ London. Which got me thinking: while I love my holidays (you all know I love my holidays!), coming home is nevertheless always a special part. Because it’s the reflecting on my trip that cements my experiences of those new cultures and ways of life I’ve experienced and which consequently broaden my life. Plus my holidays put things firmly in perspective, reminding me about the elements in my life that are most important to me.

My friend Julie found herself in Bali some eight years ago… and never came home. I’d always considered Julie a complete Londoner,  the last person you’d expect to move out of the capital – let alone set up life on an island as far away in both distance and culture as Bali. So planning to visit her in what she now firmly considered her home I did wonder if I might be enchanted by a similar spell.

There have been cities I’ve visited that have made me wonder what it might be like to live there. But it always comes back to the same thing: I could never move away from my friends and family for any length of time, let alone permanently. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t struggle to make new friends; but what makes my friendship circle so rewarding is its diversity. From girls I’ve known since I was a toddler to people I met only this year; from colleagues in some of my very first jobs to people I’ve met through more unusual circumstances; from people half my age to those considerably older. It’s a gloriously wide, wonderful and eclectic group. With every friend I’ve experienced something unique, and each enriches a particular aspect of my life. The thought of relocating to another country and giving up 50 years of friendship history is, for me, simply impossible.

So when it comes to wondering what it might be like to live in the particular city I’m visiting, however zen or zingy I feel at the time, the answer is always swift: no. Home is where my heart is. Home is London. (Yeah, Essex. But let’s not split hairs.)

This blog post sits under #ChallengeKate. As with my Japan trip, Bali wasn’t specifically a #ChallengeKate (although Julie might beg to differ: technically she did Challenge me to visit when we first started getting serious about booking the trip). But it is a holiday I undertook because of my 50th birthday this year – two of my best friends also reach their half-century this year and, having celebrated our 30th and 40th birthdays together, we’d always said we’d do something very special together to mark this decade. So this post rightly belongs here. And while this blog entry might not have resulted in the post-holiday report I’d envisaged when I started, the way it’s turned out has made me realise even more how important my friends are to me. Ipso facto, that’s EXACTLY the point of #ChallengeKate.