Books Magazine

Clocks - Piano Lessons

By Ashleylister @ashleylister
Clocks - Piano Lessons
I longed to be able to play the piano like Russ Conway, or like my father’s friend, Joe who often played the old upright at the far end of the vault in the pub we had at the time. I pestered long and hard, until at around age seven I could just about stretch my hand to nearly an octave which meant that I was ready to have lessons. Learning didn’t come easy. I disliked the teacher, for one thing, and the smells in what I eventually called that house of horrors. Escape came in the form of a house move, well, pub move, to a tiny place near Glossop, Derbyshire. My piano lessons continued with a local teacher. He made it fun, we got along and I did well. Then came another move. Back to Blackpool, different pub, on the promenade this time and it was wonderful. Dad thought I’d be pleased that he’d arranged my piano lessons with my first teacher.
I began to dread Saturday mornings. My lesson was at twelve o’clock. I never mentioned it in the hope that my parents would forget and it would be too late to go, but that didn’t happen. I was at secondary school by now. I had tried to suggest that I gave it up, but I was never able to fully explain why I wanted to and my pleas landed on deaf ears.
I don’t know whether my father took me to my lessons too early, or if the teacher was running late with the pupil before me, but I spent a lot of time waiting in the horrible sitting room with the hideous grandfather clock. The room was dingy, crammed with dark furniture and smelled of polish mixed with whatever was cooking for dinner wafting through from the kitchen. The clock had a deep, hollow tick-tock and mechanical whirring sound just before a loud chime every quarter of an hour. It was huge and took up the whole corner of the room, like it had been squashed in next to the ancient bookcase. There were some strange books in there. Sometimes I’d look at the fascinating drawings of the human reproductive organs I’d found in a medical dictionary. I would rush to stuff it back in the right place when the silence of the upstairs piano signified the end of the lesson before mine.
It would leave the noisy rhythm of the grandfather clock and climb the creaky staircase to the small room at the front of the house. There was a desk in the window where the teacher would sit, barking out orders and sending out puffs of stinking cigar smoke that filled the air and sometimes made me feel dizzy. I would place myself on the piano stool in front of the upright piano, set my music out, sit up straight and wait to be told to start. I hoped he would stay at his desk but he didn’t. He would lean over me to scribble a direction on my music and I would hold my breath. I didn’t want to breathe in his horrid cigar smoke and I was bracing myself for his fat hand on my shoulder.
Every tick and tock in that old-fashioned sitting room filled me with immense dread of going upstairs. I was never able to share my worries. I thought my parents would think I was imagining things or exaggerating.
In Haworth Parsonage there is a beautiful grandfather clock on the half-landing.I can’t bring myself to take much notice of it, except to wonder if it is the same one that Rev. Patrick Bronte used to wind up every day.
I found this Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem,
The Old Clock on the Stairs
Somewhat back from the village street
Stands the old-fashioned country-seat.
Across its antique portico
Tall poplar-trees their shadows throw;
And from its station in the hall
An ancient timepiece says to all, —
  "Forever — never!
  Never — forever!"
Half-way up the stairs it stands,
And points and beckons with its hands
From its case of massive oak,
Like a monk, who, under his cloak,
Crosses himself, and sighs, alas!
With sorrowful voice to all who pass, —
  "Forever — never!
  Never — forever!"
By day its voice is low and light;
But in the silent dead of night,
Distinct as a passing footstep's fall,
It echoes along the vacant hall,
Along the ceiling, along the floor,
And seems to say, at each chamber-door, —
  "Forever — never!
  Never — forever!"
Through days of sorrow and of mirth,
Through days of death and days of birth,
Through every swift vicissitude
Of changeful time, unchanged it has stood,
And as if, like God, it all things saw,
It calmly repeats those words of awe, —
  "Forever — never!
  Never — forever!"
In that mansion used to be
Free-hearted Hospitality;
His great fires up the chimney roared;
The stranger feasted at his board;
But, like the skeleton at the feast,
That warning timepiece never ceased, —
  "Forever — never!
  Never — forever!"
There groups of merry children played,
There youths and maidens dreaming strayed;
O precious hours! O golden prime,
And affluence of love and time!
Even as a miser counts his gold,
Those hours the ancient timepiece told, —
  "Forever — never!
  Never — forever!"
From that chamber, clothed in white,
The bride came forth on her wedding night;
There, in that silent room below,
The dead lay in his shroud of snow;
And in the hush that followed the prayer,
Was heard the old clock on the stair, —
  "Forever — never!
  Never — forever!"
All are scattered now and fled,
Some are married, some are dead;
And when I ask, with throbs of pain,
"Ah! when shall they all meet again?"
As in the days long since gone by,
The ancient timepiece makes reply, —
  "Forever — never!
  Never — forever!"
Never here, forever there,
Where all parting, pain, and care,
And death, and time shall disappear, —
Forever there, but never here!
The horologe of Eternity
Sayeth this incessantly, —
  "Forever — never!
  Never — forever!"
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow1807-1882
Thanks for reading, Pam x
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