As a tenuous link with my last post, the title of this post was one of the needs expressed by Bernd. I think Bernd had a lot of “issues”. He had more hair than seemed strictly necessary and he was the kind of person that falls outside the parameters for normal clothes design and manufacturing. Everything he wore was either falling off or bursting off. He wasn’t very fat or overly tall or short, just clumsily put together. He was also pathologically morose. Why, I never found out, but it seemed to irritate him sorely. During his first group assessment lesson, he spent a lot of time sighing audibly, shuffling irascibly in his chair, impatiently riffling through papers and tut-tutting in what sounded like terminal exasperation. I drew the short straw and had him for his one-to-ones later in the day. He came stumping glumly into the room, huffing and puffing exaggeratedly. He slammed his file on the table and angrily pulled the chair out, crashing it against the table leg and nearly tipping it over and then threw himself largely on to it, shirt sleeves flapping and buttons straining. The very air felt disturbed and unsettled. I looked at him with my implacable face on and after greeting him, asked what he wished to achieve by the end of the week. “Make me funny,” he said gruffly and in all seriousness. It was all I could do not to fall off my chair, shrieking with mirth.
Then there was Omer: a tiny, dark, agile Turk of indeterminate age. If you asked me about his English, I’d say he was very good at nouns, but he didn’t have many. This was no deterrent. He “spoke” without reticence or reservation; giving his opinion, pontificating, cracking jokes, holding forth on who knows what and joining in every conversation without a second thought. He was with us for four weeks and I taught him only one thing – the question, “Are you with me on this?” I have no idea why he liked it, or what made him remember it or why he even needed it. I had asked it of another student and he demanded to know what it meant. He used it once in my hearing and again I was just pole-axed by uncontrollable mirth. He was telling me about riding a horse through the “jungle” in Bulgaria (stay with me here). He was demonstrating this and had stood up on his chair, assuming horse-riding stance. I gathered that the horse had pretty much lost its head and Omer was desperately trying to bring it under some sort of control. He picked up a ruler from the table, slapped himself on the backside with it and shouted, “Horse! Are you with me on this?”
And Josef. Josef was about 65. He had retired, but was still going in to work occasionally to keep his hand in, so to speak, hence his need for a little spit and polish on his English. He had also decided to learn to play the violin now that he had a bit more free time. We didn’t know this until the final Thursday evening of his stay, for which I shall be forever grateful. On Thursday evenings, students who are leaving can “do a turn” if they so wish and we have had some fairly entertaining evenings including such cultural delights as flamenco, an African bongo recital, a demonstration and gluttonous pig-out on shish kebab and once some very creditable fado. But unfortunately, nothing to prepare me for Josef’s violin-playing. He had been taking lessons for a year he told us. Well either the teacher should be shot – well the teacher should be shot anyway for taking the man’s money. I have never, in all my born days, been subjected to such an excruciating experience – and I have had more than my fair share of school Nativity plays and root canal work: I KNOW about excruciating. Josef wrenched, wrested and wrung out of that hapless instrument an indescribably calamitous collection of notes, none of which bore any relation to the other, nor any musical key known to man. Notwithstanding, his bow arm sawed graciously as his left hand quivered on the strings, coaxing the last ounce of resonance from them. He swayed gently, eyes closed in rapture, to whatever ineffable thing he was hearing in his head. The rest of us sat in stunned silence, paralysed by the awfulness of it all. No one dared look at anyone else as we all prayed for it to end. But the end wasn’t anywhere in earshot. After what seemed like a fortnight, it slowly dawned on me that everyone was looking at me and although not a word was spoken nor a flicker of anything from anyone, I KNEW that, to a man, they were begging me – nay, beseeching me – to get him to stop. I have to confess at this point my eyes had begun to water. I have no idea if it was from psychic pain, the effort of keeping myself from falling apart or the effects of the wine, but they were verily leaking and I started to wipe them. Josef, at that instant, opened his eyes and saw me buried in a tissue. He obviously came to the only conclusion he could: his playing had wrought upon me such depth of feeling that I was moved to tears. He stopped, rushed to my side and started to apologise in all the languages he could remember for bringing me to such a pass. I just stood there and let the tears roll…..