#95: Learn to play a musical instrument

It was pointed out to me, a number of times in response to the first published list, that this isn’t exactly the work of five minutes. So the task is far from completed, but what I have managed, is to learn fully 6 chords on the guitar, which is more than enough to give a (very) poor rendition of ‘You look wonderful tonight’. I am supported here by Dave and Rosie on ukulele, and Caitlin on guitar, while Eva films. I’m afraid both the music and cinematography are absolutely awful.

You will see that Dave rather carries that performance(!), so we then had another go, this time without him. It is perhaps rather hard to make out my guitar playing over all the singing that is going on, but I assure you it was happening. Not well, and not in time, but happening.

No doubt I could take my musical career to higher levels, given time and dedication, but since I lack both, it may well end here…

#92: Stand up/ open mic

I have been avoiding this for some time. There are a few challenges that I have substituted from the original list, mainly because of timing and opportunity issues, but I knew if I took this one off it would be pure chickening out. So it had to be done.

Having left it to the last minute, I did not have a massive choice of open mic nights. But I found one advertised in a pub in Torquay, which is comfortably far from home, and also very convenient from Dave’s mum’s house, and therefore a highly amenable babysitting opportunity. Dave was persuaded to join me, on the clear understanding that he would not be required to perform. Thus it was planned.

My actual act was a matter of some consternation. The pub’s website suggested they welcomed ‘acoustic, electric, comedy and poetry’. The first two sounded a little too musical. I rang the pub landlord to enquire further. ‘Do people do comedy, then?’ I queried. ‘Well. We’ve certainly had a few monologues’ he answered unconvincingly. ‘Do I need to book a slot?’ ‘No, no, just come along. And they’ll probably persuade you to pick up a guitar’. Well, whatever, I thought. It’ll work somehow.

My comedy routine has eluded me for some months now, which is why I have not ticked it off before now. And the ‘monologue’ comment made me fear that incompetent comedy might be rather tiresome for all concerned. But the poetry idea had taken root. Now I am not a gifted poet, but if there is one thing I flatter myself I can do rather well, it is crafting a smutty limerick.

So I spent the whole day scribbling rhyming filth. And sniggering aloud at my own great wit. I quickly generated 10 verses, about people I had met from various towns in Devon, and their appalling sexual practices. I could scarcely wait to share them with the world. They were, in my eyes, works of absolute brilliance.

It is odd how desensitized one becomes to the actual content, when you spend so long on the technical craft of making lines rhyme and scan correctly. When I read my works aloud to Dave he almost choked. I fear with horror rather than mirth. But I was undeterred. The people of Torquay could take it, I was sure.

I was still giggling all the way to the pub in the car. And still at our table, as we sat with our drinks. But as we observed the pub, and the clientele, and the general set up, I began to giggle slightly less.

There was no sign of any mic, open or otherwise. The dirty old men who I confidently imagined would love my wit, all left. In one corner of the really quite small pub, was a table of folk with guitars, all strumming, and singing folk songs, looking rather absorbed in themselves and their music. 2 old men sat at the bar. Me and Dave lurked in our corner. And that was it. There were no ‘acts’ as such. Just a bunch of musicians, sharing their craft.

It was quite literally unthinkable, that I should go up to the table, and ask them to pause in their music-making to listen to my catalogue of obscene limericks. There was no reason to imagine they would be interested, for example, in the gentleman from Ashburton, who expended himself into a curtain.

My anticipation faded. What to do? Could it be, at number 92 of the 100 – a failure??? There were no more open mic nights available before the big birthday. (And in any case, I would have to rewrite all the smut for a different geographic location.)

The only way to save it, then, was to join in with the musicians. And praise the Lord that a) they were a welcoming bunch after all; and b) one of them had a spare guitar.

So I joined the table. I strummed, haphazardly. A slightly drunk, slightly simple-seeming man was happy to help me by shouting out chords as they all sang along. (Thankfully I know how to form about 5 chords already, due to my endeavours with #93: learn a musical instrument. Transferring from one chord to the next in the time available was another matter, but there were enough folk playing to drown me out.)

‘How long have you been playing?’ asked one of my new friends. ‘Oooh, about three weeks’, I replied, for all the world like a serious musician. ‘Brilliant!’ they all cried. And we all played on. I must have been with them for about an hour!

Around the table everyone was taking a turn to suggest a song and lead in the playing of it. The inevitable happened. The faces turned to me. In truth there is only one song that I have been learning, and I can only play that very slowly, with the music in front of me, in the privacy of my own home. Without any music to refer to, it went very badly indeed. It was possibly the worst rendition of Eric Clapton’s ‘Wonderful tonight’ that has ever been given. Thankfully Dave was too absorbed in nursing his bleeding eardrums to film it. You will have to trust the still photograph. It did happen, and it was dreadful.
open mic
But it means I have done an open mic night! Of sorts!

(If anyone would like a copy of the Hilarious Limericks I would be delighted to email them to you. Just ask! It does seem a travesty that they will not reach the audience they deserve.)

#28: Busk/sing in public

This was one of the more dreaded of my challenges, so praise the Lord for good friends to snatch banter from the jaws of a potentially humiliating shocker!

I cannot sing in tune, nor play any instrument. So it was hard to see how this would pan out well for me. But then, inspiration struck. I was to lunch with my 3 ex-housemates for birthday celebrations this weekend, and what if we could make an amusing event of it? An image presented in my brain. The 4 of us, each in comedy wig, brandishing a pink ukulele… and belting out tunes in the middle of London… How could that fail to be Utterly Hilarious???!!!

Once the image was lodged, it was impossible to shift. I broached the idea with them. And bless them all, not one dissenting voice! Hooray for chums who can be persuaded into these ridiculous escapades.

As the birthday lunch concluded, I presented my props. I piled the wigs onto the table. And the ukuleles. And the busking hat, for the public’s contributions. And the cardboard sign upon which we could explain our feat.

And oddly, as I went on, I noticed a hint of doubt appearing on the faces. Surely they weren’t going to bail on me now!!! The sunny day had brought people out in droves, and South Bank seemed a popular choice. Punters were thronging past like the M25 in rush hour. Oof.

In the end, the birthday girl took on a filming role, and the other 2 dug deep to join me. We positioned our sign. We donned our wigs. We discussed our play list.


And then there was nothing for it but to launch in. With woeful disregard for tune, harmony, correct lyrics or synchronised timing, we burst into a truly appalling rendition of ‘Jerusalem’. The crowds slowed. Brows furrowed. Some tourists took photographs. We sang louder. We strummed badly.

One song down, we were gaining confidence. We offered a rousing rendition of happy birthday. Em hid behind the camera and captured it as best she could.

We moved on to Band Aid,’ Do they Know it’s Christmas’. Perfect choice for a sunny day in March. The punters loved it! The contributions began to flood in! (well ok, perhaps that is stretching it, but some people really did give us money!)

We were loving it by now! We had only intended a song or two, but here we were, with (in our minds) the crowd clearly wanting more! We murdered Yellow Submarine. (I should stress that none of us had rehearsed, nor troubled to learn any lyrics, so song choices were a little limited). And still we weren’t done! We gave it large. We hit them with an exuberant ‘Living on a Prayer’. We threw out a horrifying ballad, Elaine Paige and Barbara Streisand’s ‘I know him so well’. Passers-by were open-mouthed. But the donations kept coming! We had reached £8! Surely we could get to £10! We figured by now we had a new crowd and could get away with another rendition of Band Aid, that had been by far the biggest crowd pleaser. And before we even got to the chorus, we made our £10, and only our extreme professionalism kept us going to finish the tune, rather than rush to the pub with our winnings half way through!

No doubt we should have given it all to charity, but I am afraid the only beneficiary was the nearest pub on South Bank. And of course the happy crowds.

So. A triumph! We put a smile on the faces of countless Londoners, had a massive laugh ourselves, earned £10, and ticked another one off the list, conquering to some degree my fear of performing in public and general social embarrassment. As well as creating an amusing memory and bonding experience for all concerned. Hurrah!

Probably my best one to date, that one! Who’s up for karaoke??!