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I am an artist, designer and the creative force behind A Patch Of Heaven. No one is quite sure what crazy idea I will come up with next

Monday, January 23, 2012

Ancestral Expectations.

I know a family encumbered with posh ancestors.
I met the ancestors in the form of oil paintings. They stared  with arrogant eyes and sneering lips out of gilded frames on the crowded walls of a small room. A whole castle’s worth of portraits.
“Aren’t they awful” said my friend.
“We keep them shut up here so they can’t ruin the atmosphere of our home. I don’t want the children to get nightmares. We would get rid of them but my mother-in-law insists the eldest son must have them. They may be works of art but what is the point of having them if they weren’t good people.”
I could understand her reasoning.
 However I was still rather impressed. The tenements of Edinburgh are not big on ancestral portraits and my own ancestral portraits amounted to a 4” x 6” photocopy banged into a Warehouse frame. It hung above my bed and was of my Scottish Nana and her family when she was a child.
 Without posh pictures we had to make-do and pass on a less tangible inheritance. You could tell our alleged good breeding not by the diamonds around our necks but by the diamond shaped cushions on the sofa. Ancient niceness decreed it more genteel to arrange square cushions on their points. This gem of wisdom and the necessity of a piano, descends the generational staircase. The scepter of learning the piano falling heavily on the first born child.
     As the eldest my mother was provided with a curly grained honky-tonk piano. She may have been born in New Zealand but ancestry decreed she thump one two three, one two three, Westphalia Waltz and it’s cousins an hour every afternoon.
As the firstborn grandchild I was sent to piano lessons at age nine. I never wanted to play the piano. I was fascinated with the guitar which I encountered on my first day of school. I remember my teacher strumming and singing Seeker’s songs   while I sat on the scratchy floor mat. I thought the shape of the curvy wooden body with its taut strings and smooth hole was almost as beautiful as the long white boots of the little girl next to me.
 Never did a dog go to the vet more reluctantly than I went to piano lessons every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon.
Mrs. Smith was an uptight perfectionist whose sole interest in music revolved around processing kids through the Royal School of Music examinations.
All joy and lightness died at the door of Mrs. Smith house.
I  sat rigidly on a stiff little piano stool repetitively counting,
"one and a, two and a."
 while poking nervously at ivory railway sleepers.

 Mrs. Smith sitting at the far end of the piano would write disheartening comments about my performance in a small hateful note book.
Spasmodically she would roll her eyes to the back of her head underneath almost closed eyelids. Her eyelashes quivering over white slits in a manner that strongly suggested a lack of enjoyment over the sounds she was hearing.

Sometimes when her mother-in-law was not available to babysit, the three year old daughter would turn my solo into a duet and slap away on the tinkley notes. I could tell my teacher found it an improvement but I would have rolled my eyes and quivered my lashes if I dared.
 My standard four school teacher said we were lucky to have no worries at our stage of life.
“What do you know?” I thought darkly. “ YOU don’t have Mrs. Smith and Music lessons this afternoon.”
After a hundred years of twice weekly torture I was plunking out a few stilted little classical tunes on the inherited honky-tonk. A grade three piano certificate was enough to placate the family honour and buy my release.  Fortunately tradition didn’t expect  musical competence.
The day I quit music I tipped all the cushions onto their flat bottoms and swapped 88 formal keys for the 6 informal strings  of the guitar.
 The ancestors would have been shocked with how quickly I mastered the four chords necessary to bash out most tunes.
Mrs. Smith would have shuddered at the rollicking bluegrass rhythms.
And ALL of them would have been appalled at the tune
“Pa went to sleep and the hogs et him.”
But it was light and joyful and best of all authentically ME.
I’m glad I’m not encumbered by posh ancestors.
Pianos and cushions have been enough for me to overcome.

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