Saturday, 21 March 2009

Swing low, sweet chariot

Watching things on television is fine, but nothing beats physical presence. So it was great to watch England play rugby against France at Twickenham last weekend. I’ve heard that crowd many times, but it’s different to be part of it. Why, I even sang Swing low, sweet chariot with the thousands around me.

Of course, when I say ‘sang’ I’m using the term loosely. My formal singing career was over decades ago, though it lasted rather longer than one might have imagined and a lot longer than most people would have hoped. I took singing lessons at school. For a term. The following term, at the time when you’re signing up for optional classes, I was wandering up a corridor when my singing teacher appeared at the far end. He looked up, caught sight of me, spun on his heel and disappeared back into the side turning he’d just emerged from, more quickly than I’ve seen anyone avoid me before or since. I couldn’t take offence: I was far too amused and overcome by admiration at the skill with which he executed the manoeuvre. Nor was there any ambiguity in the message: there would be no second term of singing lessons.

Despite this, I persisted in trying to sing in my untrained but, I fondly thought, beguiling way. It seemed to me that the gusto and enthusiasm I injected into the process would compensate for what I self-indulgently took to be an occasionally lack of precision rather than a complete dearth of talent.

The only appreciative audience I ever had for my singing was my kids, and then only when they were too young to know better, when they were of an age simply to appreciate being bounced up and down on my shoulders to a mangled rendition of Harry Belafonte’s Kingston Town. As soon as they were mature enough to know better – you know, three or four or so – they started to have more important calls on their time whenever it looked as though I might sing.

I’m blessed with a particularly tolerant wife. She’s had a lot to put up with down the years. But when even she burst out laughing at my attempts to join in with the singer at a wonderful carol concert we attended last Christmas, I realised that it really was time to accept what all those around me had long since known, that it was best during communal singing to keep my voice down at the whisper level.

So it was a pleasure and not a pain that at Twickenham I was near a man who sang even less well than I do. I have no idea what key Swing Low, Sweet Chariot should be sung in, but clearly nor did he. And he obviously suffered from the same delusion as I had for many years, that enthusiasm in belting out the song would make up for his inability to get anywhere near the tune.

None of this made my singing any better, but it gave me a pleasant sense of superiority at having had the maturity and wisdom to keep my own singing inaudible. In any case, however softly I sang, I was joining in that great outpouring of communal spirit supporting the England rugby team in its grandiose home. That was a wonderful experience. The fact that I was able to do it in shirtsleeves, in the gentle spring sunshine, made it even better.

I won’t mention the result of course, as I don’t want to upset my many and dear French friends. Let me just say that for the first half, the England try line was just below our seats and it wasn’t bothered much by the French side. By the end, having gone to the match with no more than an anxious hope that England might raise its game to the level of France, it was satisfying to leave it with our hopes exceeded and only our anxiety belied.


Mark Reynolds said...

You were in the stadium? Lucky you! I watched it on TV in Ireland - it was only the second-ever rugby match I'd ever seen (the first being Ireland/Scotland the day before). Judging by the score, I think it was only the second-ever game the French had seen as well.

David Beeson said...

Yes, I was there - my first time actually at a match - and the atmosphere was wonderful.

The trouble with France is that though they may send the same fifteen players on the pitch, you have no idea what team will turn out. The team that played England last Sunday was not the same as the one that played Italy yesterday.

England also always seem to raise its game against France - the victory against France was far more convincing than yesterday's victory against Scotland.

It's that kind of variation that makes rugby fun to watch...

Sounds like you had a great time in Ireland. Say 'hello' to Amynah and keep well.

Awoogamuffin said...

Funny that. I told Nicky the other day that I vaguely remember enjoying the sound of your singing voice, somewhere in my distant past, but he just laughed at me and told me I was an idiot.

Still, well done for watching the match live - I should try that one day.