Stick At It

I nearly bottled it. Telling myself things like: you’d do well to take a bit of time to yourself; get some peace in a café and write your journal for an hour or two. My old, over-cautious, inner voice was feeding me the usual excuses: “Go easy on yourself. You don’t have to push all the time.” But that day, a more persistent voice was propelling me, “Don’t let H. down. You told her you were going. Just go in and play a tune.” So I went in.

They were seated at the back, playing jazz. Lovely jazz. But jazz. And I don’t know jazz – other than to hum along to.   I had been in the bar years ago with A., well before she had children, so at least 15 years. It was smaller that I remembered – long and narrow. At three in the afternoon there weren’t many customers. That suited me. A few tourists, sipping a dram, seeking out authentic Celtic sounds. I sidled down towards the musicians who were sitting in a corner clutch. One pianist and two fiddle players. I sat to the side until their set came to an end. “Lovely,” I told them, as indeed it was. “Are you in to play a few tunes?” F. asked me, nodding at my fiddle case and taking my hand in a tight hold. “Well maybe I am, but I don’t play jazz.” I told him. He clocked my accent. “We’ll play some reels and jigs, so. What’s your name?” I told him. “That’s a f**king girl’s name!” he said delightedly. I’ll never quite know what he meant by this, but there was no displeasure in his tone, so I assumed I was welcome. F. introduced me to the other two men and we shook hands. The piano player was from Edinburgh, though didn’t come to the session so often, he said. The other was American. He played his fiddle perched halfway down his chest. Both had warm and open smiles. This is going to be ok, I thought, as I instantly forgot their names.

They moved on to play some Irish music to include me and I muddled though, beginning to enjoy myself. I rosined by bow and enjoyed the feeling of lightness. F. decided it was time for a smoke break and invited me to go outside to join him. “You don’t smoke?” he exclaimed. “I can teach you. It’s easy. The trick is to stick at it.” He shuffled outside.

Yesterday, I went back again, after a gap of a few months. In his usual spot was F. and beside him was S., on the banjo. Kilo, the pub ‘dug’ was sniffing around, tail wagging – the build of a fighting dog, the character of a Buddha. “It’s so cool they have dogs in pubs here,” said one of two Canadians who were settling in for the music. “Do you know ‘Farewell to Nova Scotia?’” F. confirmed that he did and he would play it after his smoke break. “Have you started yet?” he asked me, waving a cigarette like Harry Potter’s casting a spell. “Haven’t been sticking at it, I’m afraid,” I smiled, “too busy practising so I can play like Martin Hayes.” F.’s eyes twinkled. “Who am I to put you off, but you’re pitching the bar a bit high. I’d say you’d take quicker to the smokes.” He winked as he rose from his seat and whispered in my ear, “Long way to come for a song from home.”

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