My Week

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Ysenda Max­tone Graham will never be sick of singing

You know those mo­ments when you think: ‘When I’m on my deathbed, I’ll be glad I did it?’ I’ve just had one of those—and the deathbed mo­ment may well come sooner be­cause of it, but who cares?

It was noth­ing as glam­orous as climb­ing Snow­don or swim­ming the Chan­nel. It was Even­song in Christ Church Cathe­dral, ox­ford, sung by the girls’ choir Frideswide Voices, on a rainy, murky Mon­day evening when I was of­fi­cially not well enough. I wrote an email to say ‘so sorry, can’t come’ and the very act of writ­ing that changed my mind.

I got into the car, turned the heat up, drove down the M40, parked in the drive of a kind friend, un­folded the Bromp­ton and cy­cled past the Rad­cliffe Cam­era and into Tom Quad in the pic­turesque driz­zle.

To be in that cathe­dral, lis­ten­ing to the sweet sound of the girls singing can­ti­cles, in­stead of be­ing in bed in Ful­ham was joy­ous. Frideswide, which was founded in 2014, is a proper choir, with cas­socks, sur­plices, pro­ba­tion­ers and the­ory lessons and it aims to be as good as the top boys’ choirs.

And why shouldn’t it be? It made me long to be a girl grow­ing up to­day, now that most cathe­drals have girls’ choirs along­side the boys’ ones and even the most scep­ti­cal can’t deny that, if you close your eyes, you can’t tell which sex is singing.

Paus­ing only to ac­com­pany my mid­dle son, a ju­nior or­gan scholar at New Col­lege, to a Robert Quin­ney recital of Bach or­gan music, I cy­cled back to the car and drove home suck­ing Strep­sils. Then I was prop­erly ill for a fort­night.

I still think, how­ever, that the foible of say­ing ‘no’ at the mo­ment you de­cide you ac­tu­ally mean ‘yes’ is the most life-en­hanc­ing as­pect of hu­man cussed­ness, the ini­tial neg­a­tive giv­ing ex­tra pi­quancy to the even­tual pos­i­tive. When any­one in The Archers flatly re­fuses to take part in Lynda Snell’s pan­tomime, you know for sure that they will end up be­ing in it and ex­celling. For me, it was writ­ing the po­lite but firm re­jec­tion let­ter to my fu­ture hus­band that proved the cat­a­lyst for fall­ing madly in love.

WE all have a chief aes­thetic plea­sure, of which we gen­uinely en­joy ev­ery minute. Mine (as you might have guessed) is cho­ral ser­vices in cathe­drals or col­lege chapels—ide­ally, with no ser­mon.

It seems a mir­a­cle that sub­limely beau­ti­ful ser­vices still take place ev­ery day of the year all over the coun­try. I marvel at the unar­ro­gant pro­fes­sion­al­ism of 10-year-old cho­ris­ters, who come in from the games field at teatime with muddy knees and sing in­tox­i­cat­ing psalms be­fore prep.

I feel slightly guilty about go­ing to West­min­ster Abbey rather than my lo­cal parish church for my reg­u­lar fix—i’m also a Bromp­ton or­a­tory-goer, as my youngest son sings in the Lon­don or­a­tory Ju­nior Choir. This ‘high-end’ church­go­ing means I’m spared the cof­fee rota and can just think prayer­ful thoughts while drink­ing in bliss­ful coun­ter­point and plain­song.

I re­mem­ber John Sen­tamu, when he was still a priest in south Lon­don, tick­ing me off ter­ri­bly for be­ing an Abbey­goer, but when I chat­ted to our lo­cal vicar this week, he said kindly: ‘I don’t care where peo­ple go to church, as long as they go.’

AT the risk of be­ing ‘dis­gust­ing of Tun­bridge Wells’ (as well as dis­gusted), may I bring up the sub­ject of loo pa­per? I imag­ine many read­ers, like me, do sub­tle but im­por­tant ‘class sig­nalling’ over the mat­ter. It’s the loo—never the toi­let—we bring up our sons (and hus­bands) to put the seat down and our pa­per of choice is plain, white An­drex. Imag­ine my dis­may on dis

cov­er­ing that An­drex has stopped mak­ing Clas­sic White and has changed it to Clas­sic Clean, which is, hor­ror of hor­rors, pat­terned (or, as they call it, ‘em­bossed’) with lit­tle con­cen­tric cir­cles and the word ‘An­drex’ in jaunty writ­ing on ev­ery sin­gle sheet.

My guests will think I’m the kind of per­son who prefers pat­terned loo pa­per and I’m ab­so­lutely not. That would be as bad as choos­ing hang­ing bas­kets over flow­er­pots or Waver­ley Notelets over writ­ing pa­per, but what choice do I have?

I wrote to the man­u­fac­turer, Kim­berly-clark, and asked. The new em­bossed kind has been a hit, it said. Ap­par­ently, the only plain white you can buy now is called ‘skin-kind’. Too em­bar­rass­ing.

‘I re­mem­ber John Sen­tamu tick­ing me off for be­ing an Abbey-goer’

Ysenda Max­tone Graham is the

au­thor of Terms & Con­di­tions: Life in Girls’ Board­ing-schools, 1939–1979 (Slightly Foxed). She lives in Lon­don Next week: Kit Hes­keth-har­vey

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