Ian McMil­lan


Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine - - Front Page -

A ca­sual visi­tor com­ing into the pa­per shop in Darfield the other morn­ing would have been for­given for think­ing that they’d stum­bled upon the last act of a shadow-based tragedy. A small group of peo­ple were stand­ing around by the mag­a­zines and tea­cakes gaz­ing into the air; brows were fur­rowed and chins were be­ing stroked. Move­ment was min­i­mal but some­how mo­men­tous. The ca­sual visi­tor would have gaped for a mo­ment then beat a hasty re­treat through the less-than-hasty au­to­matic doors and left us to our pri­vate mus­ings.

Be­cause yes, gen­tle reader, I was one of those peo­ple in the pa­per shop. I was the one whose brow was most fur­rowed, whose chin was most stroked. Let me ex­plain: I’d got to the pa­per shop early, as I al­ways do, although I can nev­erer get there be­fore Cyril or Elsie, who oI I some­times imag­ine camp out­side e the shop all night like peo­ple queue­ing ng for bar­gain mi­crowaves in the sales. es.

The bloke be­hind the counter hadd been try­ing to think of the name of f the mu­si­cal in­stru­ment that he’d had played at his wed­ding and, be­cause it was early morn­ing and he had news­pa­pers on his mind, he couldn’t think of the name me of it. “It’s a solo in­stru­ment,” he said, adding un­nec­es­sar­ily “you play it on your own”. “Flute?” I said. He shook his head.

“Lute?” I said, speak­ing in rhyme be­cause I’m a poet and remembering a wed­ding I’d been to where they’d hired a lutenist which, in words that have echoed down through history, must have seemed like a good idea at the time. e.

The thing to note here is that the e lute is a rel­a­tively quiet in­stru­ment and wed­dings can be rel­a­tively noisy af­fairs. The lute play­ing was to take place as peo­ple milled about just be­fore they went into the re­cep­tion and the lutenist was sit­ting in a cor­ner. I spot­ted him from the other side of the crowded room and at first I thought he was just a bloke flick­ing flies away from a lute be­cause I couldn’t hear a thing, but then I re­alised that he was flail­ing the lute for all he was worth but he still couldn’t be heard above the sound of Aun­tie Joyce blub­ber­ing and Un­cle Trevor telling his chess anec­dotes, the ones that al­ways ended with him shout­ing “Check­mate!” and slap­ping some­body on the back. I walked over to the lutenist. Even when I was close enough to smell his minty breath, I couldn’t hear a note. Note to wed­ding plan­ners: book some­thing louder than a lute.

Back in th the pa­per shop, we’re still try­ing to th think of the name of the in­stru­men in­stru­ment. “It’s on the tip of my tongue,” th the bloke be­hind the counter said. Oh, I know that feel­ing; you can see the shape of the word, you can hear the mu­sic of th the word, you can just about say the wo word but it just won’t com­plete its pas­sage from brain to mouth.

None of u us can help him; like a man float­ing in deep space, he’s on his own. Then he d does what he should have done all alon along. He mimes. He mimes a bow squeak­ing side­ways across s some strings. Now we all k know. “Cello!” some­body shouts. “Cello!” t the man in the p pa­per shop says. Ph Phew, that’s a re­lie re­lief, and that’s the powe power of mime!

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