Thursday, August 30, 2012

PAGE EIGHTEEN: becoming a conman

Him and Her, in Newcastle Cultural Centre foyer
It came right out of the blue. Here I was, perfectly happy with my five shillings per week piano lessons with Mrs Walton. I had never thought that there were other possibilities.

I had enjoyed every moment at Melody Lodge, in Albert St, Belmont. I thought I was going fine and also enjoyed reading the Superman and Batman comics in her waiting room. Sometimes I even stayed after the lesson to finish off a comic. Superman's mysterious nemesis, Mr. Mxyzptlk, was a particular favourite.

But one day, Mum asked me how I'd feel about having lessons at Newcastle Conservatorium.

When we were told the name of my new teacher, both Mum and I couldn't help thinking of the infamous Christine Keeler, a callgirl who had featured prominently in the fairly recent Profumo affair. However, my new teacher most certainly looked nothing like this:

I wish I had a decent photo of Miss Eileen Keeley, but I can't find one. I do think Christine Keeler is ahead on points, though.

It wasn't long before we were walking into Newcastle's War Memorial Cultural Centre and encountering the imposing sculpture at the top of this page.  I thought I was doing pretty well with Paderewski's Menuet in G and so played this for my new teacher. I think this was Wednesday, 21st July, 1965, because Dad's diary says that Mum took me to the Con that day.

After hearing me play, Miss Keeley, a diminutive serious-looking woman in her fifties, sighed and said that she would be taking me apart, and would then put me back together again. I don't regret beginning lessons with the affable Joy Walton, because she was encouraging and kind and helped me develop a love of playing. But Miss Keeley showed me that precision, playing the correct fingering and practising scales was also  essential.

When my lessons began, Dad drove me to my lessons. But the next year, I would travel into Newcastle on the double decker bus after school, have my piano lesson, and then head down to the Civic area of town for dinner, and then come back to the Con for Second Grade Theory classes with Miss Naomi Chenorhavor. It was fun buying my own dinner. Sometimes I would buy myself a lime milkshake for 14 cents, but more often I'd have a pie and chips and espresso coffee for 55 cents, or sausages and chips and coffee which cost a whole 95 cents!

The buses were very smoky: there was a sign that said it was non-smoking down stairs, and smoking upstairs. But everyone ignored that, including the bus conductors. I didn't like to sit upstairs because it was always slightly smokier, and as they say, scary because there was no driver!

Most weeks, a drunk would get on the bus at a bus stop outside one of the pubs, make quite a lot of noise, and get off at Windale.This was all new to me. I had not spent much time with smokers or drinkers. Going to town on my own opened up a whole new world.

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