When I was 15, I was busy dodging my Dad’s attempts to get me into part-time work, and watching Red Dwarf videos. That’s right, videos. And there was lots of pausing involved if you wanted to memorise some of Rimmer’s more barbed insults.
Oh yes, I was a total teenage geek. A dork. A dweeb. A gumby.
And I thought Rose and Gabby - identical twins, Year 10 students, and to all intents and purposes teenage geek girls - would be like me. I thought that they too would spend their afternoons listening to bootlegged tapes of Tony Martin radio shows and reading books about Jack the Ripper. I thought we could have a competition to see who could recite Lady Macbeth’s “out damn spot” speech with a greater air of faux tragedy.
But it turns out teenage geeks these days…aren’t actually geeky. They’re… cool.
Now admittedly, dear reader, you may not think that playing Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance on the cello amounts to “cool”, but you’re talking to someone whose party trick is naming all the British monarchs from William the Conqueror to present day. Lame is my middle name.
I met Rose and Gabby through mutual theatre friends, and when the 30 Before 30 challenge began, Rose challenged me to learn a piece of music on the cello.
Their Alderley home was a flurry of activity when I turned up on one rainy Saturday afternoon. Rose had brought over a friend, Bella, to help teach me cello. Rose & Gabby’s mum Lorna had some very delicious pasta sauce on the go, and their elder brother Luke and his girlfriend were downstairs jamming on the alto sax and piano. Their cousin, James, no more than 18 or 19, was chilling in the living room, having just gotten back into the country after teaching English in Poland for six months. I mean, come on. How clever and resourceful are these kids? My grandfather was Polish and all I know is how to say thank you.*
The cello is a strange instrument; best played wearing pants. One must straddle the device in a fairly unladylike way in order to produce the sound; one must also wield a bow with the skill and dexterity of Albus Dumbledore. It’s a complicated procedure, but luckily in Rose and Bella I have two very patient teachers.
(Did I mention they were 15? When I was 15, I had all the patience of a Spanish High Inquisitor on “Meet your Quota Monday”.)
I wish I could tell you what notes they taught me. The cello is a confusing beast – it doesn’t have frets like a guitar, so finding chords seemed more akin to divination. Rose and Bella guided me through using the bow, playing “open” strings, and then holding down the thick nylon strings with various finger combinations to try different notes.
I managed to do a fairly good rendition of the Jaws theme song; but Bella’s attempt to show me the James Bond theme failed when I couldn’t push the bow across the strings back-and-forth quickly enough.
Finally I strike upon the idea of playing some Lady Gaga – but Rose and Gabby don’t know how Bad Romance goes. Huh? Surely Lady Gaga’s target audience is teenage girls, ever more than nearly-30-year-old women?
So I wound up having to sing the song, while the girls picked out the notes to play. Eventually we sorted out a little section for me to learn. And learn it I did!
Once I’d played it sufficiently well enough, Rose’s Mum Lorna insisted all the kids in the house join in for a group rendition. Everyone in that house could play at least three instruments, but for this jam session, Bella joined me on cello, Rose plucked a violin, Gabby was on the piccolo, Luke brought up his alto sax, and James rocked an acoustic guitar.
I was front and centre of a teenage orchestra. We only managed a brief run through, and sure, it was Lady Gaga, but damn, I felt cool for those few bars. And I don’t think I felt cool once when I was an actual teenager.
While this challenge was initially about learning the cello, perhaps in the end it was more about learning from a teenager. As I get older, I find myself getting more and more wary of young people and their music, their emo haircuts and their skinny jeans. Perhaps I should remember they’re not so bad. I may have missed the boat to be a cool teenager, but maybe I can wait a bit longer before jumping onboard the HMAS Fuddy-Duddy.
*It’s Dosvedanya, right? Right?