Two nights ago I was privileged to be part of a one-off choir making its debut and intentionally disbanding on the same evening. We met for the first time. Learned some songs, in full harmony, and practiced them as much as we could in the space of a single two-hour rehearsal. A week later we met again and performed. It was all very hush-hush and we were sworn to secrecy about the whole thing. We were to be a surprise! Something unannounced at the awards ceremony and closing evening of the inaugural Newcastle International Film Festival.
Everything went according to plan – though the plan was adjusted in its fine details when we saw the hall and the arrangement of everything.
We smashed it too. We were excellent. I’m not saying that just for the sake of saying it. A lot of people said it. We overcame our nerves, overcame our lack of multiple rehearsals, and overcame the grandeur of the occasion and we rocked. It was pretty brilliant. I’m very grateful for the opportunity.
One thing made the occasion hard for me. On the rehearsal day I was ill. I’ve had a not so lovely throat and chest infection that’s hung around a bit. By the end of the rehearsal I was wrecked.
I was part of the rehearsal for another choir that day too. Another single rehearsal, this time ready for a surprise performance at the Ladies Who Mean Business lunch at the start of the film festival. On that day I had a distinct lack of voice. At home I could hardly hit a note and nearly didn’t get there at all. I wrote a message to our choir leader saying that I couldn’t be there. Then I got distracted. Came back to the unsent message ten minutes later. And I deleted it. Decided I’d go along and if I couldn’t sing when I got there, I’d be proud of myself for trying. As it was I did sing. Most of the notes! I admit to having to mime some of the high ones. But that didn’t matter.
On the day of the awards ceremony I was still ill. Throat and chest being very annoying and lots of asthmatic wheezing the night before too. And I had lots of nausea to add to my bodily enjoyment. But I went. And on this occasion, adrenaline and the sense of excitement carried me through. I hit every note. Properly. And, as I say, we all did a pretty amazing job. Although I did get some funny looks at the event when taking pictures of my soft toys! (I do that kind of thing)
We all had a brilliant evening. It wasn’t even soured by the presence of a man none of us like much. He’s not a movie maker. Or involved in the arts in the north-east. He’s a cabinet minister of a government that seems determined not only to increase wealth inequality everywhere but determined to increase wealth inequality between different areas of the country. The North East is usually one of the areas particularly hard done by. In arts funding – which we need more of country-wide and fuck off to the idea of updating our bloody weapons of mass destruction and telling us there’s no money to help struggling artists of all kinds at ground roots level and the encouragement and nurturing of the next generation of artists. Yes, we manage anyway and make beautiful things. But it’s not because of a lack of funding. It’s in spite of a lack of funding. And again, we in the North East are not treated well in comparison with the South East. Not only that, the education policies of this government are such that “Arts and culture is being systematically removed from UK education.” That is a crime. STEM subjects are important of course, but arts are also incredibly important for the well-being of our nation.
Yes. A government minister was there. I haven’t forgiven him. His crime is great. My own child’s school teacher won the national teacher of the year award. This same government minister presented the award. He had one job. Just one. To say who the winner was. The winner’s name. The name of the school. My child’s school had a three word name. This utterly useless government minister didn’t have to remember much. Just three words. He managed to pronounce two of the words wrong. For his display of complete incompetence he stands unforgiven and it’s frightening to think that such a person is still a government minister all these years later. Then again, this is the government that made a man who talked about “piccaninnies” the Foreign Secretary.
So here it is. A poem for day two of National Poetry Writing Month. I’ve fallen behind already. That’s okay. It’s been a busy day and I have some writing printed and framed ready to take to Newcastle Library tomorrow. Next week there will be an exhibition of art of all kinds created by local autistic people. My writing will be there. It’s art, just not with pretty colours. The exhibition is a celebration of autistic people here as part of Autism Acceptance Month. Right now nobody knows what it will be like. Will people even turn up with promised submissions? And what will those submissions be? By the end of the weekend the mystery will be over, either for a great success or a not so great occasion. Whatever happens, my writing will be there. Perhaps read, perhaps not.
Easter Sunday. 2018. Newcastle
That night, I sang. Notes perfectly poised.
Kept time, never breaking harmony,
My voice pure as the women with me.
Glad excitement drowned out fever.
I, ill, half throated, half alive, nauseous.
Only one important question in mind:
Would I triumph, or chance to vomit
On the celebrities on the front row?
You led us. We smiled at each other.
You’d taught us well. A single meeting
Prepared a choir to shine as bright
As the talent of two dozen awards.
You spoke too, of art for all,
Beautifully restrained. Campaigning
Came later. Truths manifest.
Songs rejoiced in devils’ faces.
We sang, excitement under spotlights
Of a red carpet, black tie event.
Just anonymous, invisible volunteers.
In those outrageous moments
Elegant grace notes surprised the elite.
We were the stars, the ones
Deserving of accolades, applause,
Roles in blockbuster world movies.
He listened. Liberation songs not meant for him.
Later he stood. Spoke. Lips, smarm-dripped.
Darkness quenched hope. Capitalism reigned.
Paradise welcomed the pauper’s enemy.
We hate hissed him. We would not be silenced
As he hung hypocrisy in plain view.
A wise woman. A single “Fuck Off!”
He left. Unforgotten. Unforgiven.