Róisín Ingle on . . . the singing season
Being able to hold a tune at this time of year comes in very handy. You don’t mind being cajoled to join in Silent Night on every street corner. Nor are you of a mind to murder Santa and all his elves when he asks for a song in exchange for a spot high up on the good list. While watching your first nativity play, your two daughter angels breaking your heart with their wonky halos and all that sweetly earnest crooning while wearing two of your old white(ish) vests, you join in with gusto confident of hitting most of the notes. If you can sing you are winning at this time of year.
Another added bonus is not dreading all the party pieces at family Christmas and new year gatherings. You actually look forward to your chance to shine. In our house we were spoilt for choice between songs from Annie, the soundtrack to Wicked and John Spillane’s Dance of the Cherry Trees which we changed to Dance of the Christmas Trees. When you can sing, when your vocal chords emit pleasant sounds, when you don’t sound like an off-key turkey being strangled, you have a choice in these matters. You can sing the ingredients of a Christmas pudding and it will all sound fine. It’s a simple equation. You open your mouth, a tune comes out and people – apart from the ones who are allergic to singsongs, they exist by the way, I’ve met some – smile.
Until this turkey season I hadn’t thought much about how not being able to hold a tune can be kind of debilitating at this time of year. I’m talking about my mother. (Again.) I know I elevated Ann Ingle to sainthood status in last week’s column which was essentially a poor man’s Angela’s Ashes (Ann’s Cinders?) but now it’s time to redress the balance. Last year I wrote about how the dress she wore all day on Christmas Day, a present from a daughter-in-law, was eventually revealed to be a chemise du nuit. That’s night dress to you and me. Oh, how we laughed. Well, I laughed. She was closer to tears.
This year she came to me and announced that she wanted to do a party piece on Christmas Day. This didn’t seem overly ambitious. I have lovely memories of her singing My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean to me as a child. She also does a great rendition of a song about an East End London woman left in the lurch at the altar on her wedding day which has this punchline: All at once he sent me round a note, here’s the very note and this is what he wrote: Can’t get away to marry you today. My wife won’t let me. It’s done in a storming cockney accent and it always brings the house down.
The song she wanted to do this year was Somewhere Only We Know, the Keane tune covered this Christmas by Lily Allen. She found the lyrics deeply moving. Especially the part “Oh, simple thing, where have you gone? I’m getting old and I need someone to rely on.” I fired up the search engine on my phone, located the lyrics and told her to go for it. I also told her to think of that scene in My Best Friend’s Wedding where Cameron Diaz caterwauls I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself but everybody still loves it because she puts such heart and warmth into the performance.
Off my mother went. And all I’ll say is that Cameron Diaz sounds like Edith Piaf in comparison. My children, normally the world’s biggest cheerleaders for their Nanny, sat staring at her with this puzzled and appalled look on their faces. “Not like that Nanny, like this,” said one of them singing the chorus like a dream. The lines were repeated by my mother. The children laughed because they thought she was joking. Then went back to being appalled when they realised she was for real.
She practised, though. She listened to that song day and night. And she got better. The notes sounded less strangled. Occasionally I’d recognise snippets of the actual tune. The Sunday before Christmas I gave her an early Christmas present of a singing lesson with my friend Sue who didn’t look appalled when my mother opened her mouth. She sent my mother off with a specially made backing track and encouraging words.
On Christmas Day my mother sang the song from start to finish, not perfectly, but channelling the Cameron Diaz spirit. Head held high, the tune almost mastered, she sang: So if you have a minute why don’t we go, talk about it somewhere only we know, this could be the end of everything , so why don’t we go, somewhere only we know ...”
The children looked at her with something approaching admiration. Some of us cried. It was our very own , still a tad out of tune, Christmas miracle.