|Diagram from Wikipedia|
Last night I went to the London Piano Festival concert and in the middle of the Rachmaninov I felt the first warning signs. Like most other people in London, the PM included, I've had a lurgy. It's gone, but left lingering dregs in the form of a tickly but persistent and "productive" cough. Nothing that Vocalzone pastilles can't sort out, I thought, heading off to Kings Place. And all was well until 2/3 of the way through Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva's splendid performance: in the Rachmaninov Suite No.2's Romance, the bug decided it was time to get me. Just after friends and I had spent half the interval grumbling about people coughing.
It starts with a soft sensation like cat-fur brushing against one tonsil. Perhaps a quiet 'hem-hem' will clear it. No...The cat fur is pressing and now feels more like a brush-bristle. A needle. It's agony, all down the right side of my neck. I put my coat over my mouth and cough as quietly as humanly possible. Did you know that if you stifle a cough in material it helps muffle it, but if you put your hand over your mouth it just amplifies the noise? Take note, dear friends... Yet the cough remains. And I can't cough properly, especially not in this bit. Oh, come on, Jess, it's not like you're the PM...
But...oh help. Oh gawd. What to do? I can scarcely take a breath. My eyes are watering. On stage Charles and Katya are in Rachmaninov Heaven and everybody around me is blissing out. If I get up and run for the door, won't that cause more disturbance than coughing? But I can't cough either. What's more, if I pick up my handbag and start rustling around for my Vocalzone under the tissues, Oystercard, lipstick, Ghost Variations flyers and change that fell out of my purse, that'll cause impossible disturbance too... But I can't cough. What would my friends say? What would my neighbours say? What about the other press?
Won't it be over soon? Won't it pass? Won't this movement, at least, end, and then I can attack the bag for a pastille? I thought the suite was quite short, but it seems not - this movement has turned interminable. Rachmaninov will make sure it goes on forever and forever more. And far from being gentle and romantic, it's eating me alive.
By now something inside my throat is shivering like violin vibrato and my eyes are streaming so much that it must be wrecking my make-up (upside: maybe everyone will think the music moved me to tears...) My whole body is shaking. I try to control it, but slowly the whole of Kings Place seems to be tipping slowly over to the right. Is this real? Is it all psychological? Is this every worst experience of my whole life coming back to destroy me, in the middle of a piano festival? Is this what it's like to have a breakdown? They're going to have to carry me out in a heap of melted hopelessness.
The movement ends. There's a second or two of silence. I can hear the cough sweets screaming at me from the bottom of the bag. In a moment...but Charles and Katya catch one another's eye over their pianos, hands raised, motionless. And they plunge straight into the finale.
Suffice it to say that this morning I'm alive and well. I wonder if every other concert-cougher feels as I do when that happens to them. Rather cruelly, I hope so, because it really does disturb the music. I managed to muffle mine, despite personal suffering. So you can, too. Remember: use material, not your hand, and never leave home without a cough sweet.
If you've enjoyed this post, please click here to contribute to JDCMB's Year of Development