« Fifteen | Main | 42 - Travelling By Train »

U3A Writing: Small Person, Big Voice

...On one occasion after we had done our piece and were sitting quietly as usual, the compere came up to Auntie to ask if we could do something else. One of the artistes had failed to arrive and a fill-in was needed. As I have said, we were not naturally gifted dancers and our repetoire was limited. Auntie had to reluctantly decline, saying that we had nothing else prepared just at that time as rehearsals for our new routine were only in their early stages.

However, the compere did not give up. "Can they sing?" he asked. We did know a few songs and had sung in the chorus with the others at Auntie's other shows, but never on our own...

Muriel Spencer may have been the smallest girl in her class, but she proved that she had the loudest voice.

I have always been very small. I was a skinny little wisp of a child. I remember my grandfather always called me his 'Little Mu' even in front of other people, and much as I loved him I hated the name. I would implore him not to do it, but he always forgot. It was his pet name for me.
Apparently, a 'mu' means something very small; a millionth part of something, so it really was an apt name for me I suppose.

At school, even when I was as old as six I would sometimes be taken into the Big Girls' sewing class to act as a dressmaker's dummy to try on the little dresses they were making for the toddlers. The word 'humiliated' was not in my vocabulary then, but that was certainly how I felt.

Naturally, I was teased. 'Titchy Muriel' was only one of the names I was called. I was always the smallest in the class. Even worse, I was often smaller than the children in the class below and even some in the class below that. Also, even though I was one of the eldest in the class I was never chosen as class monitor. I was always overlooked in favour of younger, but larger,girls. I felt that it was so unfair. I longed to grow.

It was wartime. The war had begun just before I was five and not long afterwards my father was called up, as were the fathers of many of my school friends. It was the norm to have a father away on active service, and most of the children I knew lived in households where mother was in sole charge. Fathers became loved and welcomed, but rather distant figures who came home on leave for a week or so, bringing gifts and allowing welcome days off school, but then went back. We all got used to it very quickly. It was all part of the war.

In our house there was then just mother and me. My sister did not arrive until after the war was over. But I did have a cousin, Dorothy, some three years my junior. Naturally she was smaller than I was, but not by a great deal.

Her mother was my mother's brother's wife and before her marriage she had been a dancing teacher. Her sister still had the dancing school so naturally we attended, as did many of my school friends. We were always rehearsing for some little concert or other, and Dorothy and I were always paired together. I would be the boy and she would be my little sweetheart.

I must be honest and admit that neither of us had much natural talent as dancers, but we were well trained and given much extra tuition at home by Dorothy's mother. So after many hours of, often reluctant, practice we were able to perform little dances quite well.

I remember dancing to the tune of 'Glow-worm', dressed as a pageboy, whilst Dorothy was a tiny maid with a frilly little apron, cap and feather duster. I suppose we must have looked quite appealing as we were so small.

Because Dorothy's auntie ran the school, it was undeniably more nepotism than talent that allowed us to be chosen to perform in several special fund-raising concerts for the War Effort. These were held in the Co-op Hall on occasional Saturdays, usually in winter.

We were often the only children taking part as most of the artistes were semi-professionals getting on in years. We would go on early in the show, but had to stay until the end to take our bows in the finale. We were not allowed back in the dressing room, so we were tucked away in a small corner backstage, where it was very cold and draughty. We became very bored, but Auntie was strict and we were not allowed to even whisper, let alone giggle, which we would have loved to do.

I remember the lady singer trilling away about being 'Up in the garret away from the din' and the deep tones of the bass singer taking his voice way down low to sing about 'Simon the Cellarer'. It was very difficult for us not to laugh. There was sometimes a conjurer or a ventriloquist, but we couldn't see what they were doing - and a comic - although he didn't seem very funny to us, not nearly as much as the lady making the 'din' or 'Simon the celery'.

Finally there was the compere; he was in charge. We liked him. Sometimes he would give us each a whole half-a-crown at the end. We thought that was a great deal of money.

On one occasion after we had done our piece and were sitting quietly as usual, the compere came up to Auntie to ask if we could do something else. One of the artistes had failed to arrive and a fill-in was needed. As I have said, we were not naturally gifted dancers and our repetoire was limited. Auntie had to reluctantly decline, saying that we had nothing else prepared just at that time as rehearsals for our new routine were only in their early stages.

However, the compere did not give up. "Can they sing?" he asked. We did know a few songs and had sung in the chorus with the others at Auntie's other shows, but never on our own.

"Never mind," he said, when she explained, "we'll put them on the stage and ask the audience to join in."

I often wonder why he didn't ask any of the proper performers to fill-in. Maybe they would have demanded extra fees - far more than half-a-crown.

We went on after the interval. The pianist had agreed to play some old favourites like Daisy, Daisy, Lily of Laguna, The Honeysuckle and the Rose, all songs we knew. The compere was to lead us on stage to explain to the audience.

Nevertheless, we were very nervous indeed as he told the audience what was to happen. "I'm sure you'll join in the choruses," he said. "Give a big hand for our Tiny Tots.

Sing out children," he whispered encouragingly, and the piano began.

Maybe it was the word 'tiny' that did it - after all I was nearly nine! But when I heard the piano I really did sing out. I may not have had much finesse as a singer, but I could sing in tune and I definitely sang loudly, very loudly, far above the 'help' from the audience.

I think they were completely surprised when such a loud noise issued forth from such a small person. I sang all the songs with Dorothy helping, and when it was over both the compere and the audience really did clap enthusiastically. I was amazed. I had never sung like that before. I didn't know I could.

After that our little performances always included songs of the sing-along variety. We were pearly King and Queen for a medley of Cockney songs, blacked up piccannies for Alabama and Swanee and a soldier and his girl for Cuddle Up a Little Closer and We'll Meet Again.

Predictably our stage career was of short duration and we were never to become stars, but if it did nothing else, it did wonders for my self-esteem, which went up by leaps and bounds. After all even though I was the smallest girl in the class I did have the loudest voice!


Categories

Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.