I must admit, my stage life, amongst many other things in my life, was pretty disastrous. At my school when I was eight or nine, I was cast in a nativity play as lead Wise Man visiting the newly born Christ. I only got the part as I was the only one with a dressing gown. Things were going well on stage until I mixed up my lines completely which upset Mary and Joseph considerably. I was fired.

Next, I was relegated to left-hand curtain puller, opening and closing the curtains between set and cast changes, Again, things were going well until I accidently opened the curtain on my side too early and left about 20 angels in various stages of positioning themselves on stage and they froze in horror as the lights hit them full on unexpectedly on one side of the stage. The other curtain puller on the other side who hadn’t moved made some hand gesture to me which I do not understand to this day. I was fired.

I was 3rd triangle

The next thing that happened was I was dragooned into a percussion band at my school. For the uninitiated a percussion band is where children are given sticks and things like drums, cymbals, triangles and tin boxes which they have to hit loudly in a certain way to demolish a well-known tune of the era. I was given the task of 3rd triangle, which is bigger than the other triangles and holds a pivotal role in the entire performance. I was not happy, as I really wanted to play the recorder, of which there were two in the band. Often these days, I think about how easier my life would have been if I had learned the recorder, as in difficult times I could have whipped it out and given a quick blast of Three Blind Mice. But it was not to be.

The band was run by a rather tired looking woman named Miss Edwards, tired because she was given the task of trying to organise some form of tune out of a class of disinterested youngsters, and she in turn was overseen by the headmistress Miss Henry.

Her glasses were the most terrifying thing about her.

Miss Henry was a tall, beanpole type of person, very thin with a mop of grey hair and clothes that seemed to be flung on her rather than put on. The most terrifying thing about her, were her glasses which had pebble-thick lenses and when she looked directly at you seemed to magnify her pupils to such an extent they overpowered her face completely, looking like huge black disks.

Miss Henry’s claim to fame, in London of the late 50’s, early 60’s which was under the threat of nuclear annihilation by the USSR at that time, was to burst into classrooms with a massive bell which she clanged frantically while shouting DUCK AND COVER, DUCK AND COVER where upon hearing that instruction, children were to fling themselves under their desks and stick their fingers in their ears. This was to ensure our survival in the atomic wasteland that would exist after an atom bomb had detonated over London. I felt comforted by this exercise and always had an extra bag of Gob-Stoppers with me just in case.

I was to wait for my cue

When the day of the percussion band performance arrived, the band was given final instructions. As 3rd triangle player, I was to wait until the band had played half the tune, then pause, and that is where I was to bash the big 3rd triangle which was meant to give a very loud ting, after which the band would continue to the end of the piece. Things were going well as I waited for my big moment, and when it came I struck the triangle with all my might.

To my horror, the only sound it made was a dull bumph. Frantically I looked at the instrument and realised that I had been holding the metal part of the frame instead of dangling it by the string as shown, and that deadened the sound completely. Swiftly, I held the triangle as I was meant to and hit it again, then two more times just in case, ting ting ting. This had the unfortunate effect of throwing the entire band into chaos. Drums beat out of time, cymbals crashed uselessly and the recorders screeched into meltdown. The conductor, also a pupil, burst into tears, Miss Edwards turned a funny colour, and Miss Henry fixed me with one of her death stares. The destruction of the band was complete.

And that is why my family moved to South Africa, the shame of what my parents’ one and only son had done was far too much to take in post-war London. The Power of Ting had struck.

And I still want to learn to play the recorder.

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