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