Is there any glue at the Philharmonic?
It was Liverpool in the mid 1970’s.
Ginny McKee was sixteen and attended the local Catholic Grammar School. Not because the family was overly religious (apart from Mum) but because she had passed the ’11 Plus’ entrance exam.
It was at the time when Grammar and Secondary Modern Schools were about to be eclipsed by the implementation of the Comprehensive School System and Punk was a fledgling music movement about to spit and safety-pin its way into our lives.
It was seen as an achievement to get into a Grammar School and Ginny was the first of her family to pass (but not the last). She was clever and loved to learn.
A ferocious reader, she even got to the point where she could read a book upside down.
Unfortunately, the place at Grammar School didn’t come with a purse of money to pay for all the different uniforms and equipment you had to purchase and Ginny’s family were not well off at all.
Ginny didn’t like being labelled with the word ‘poor’ as she didn’t feel that she was. They had a roof over their heads, they had light and heat and nearly always had something to eat (unless Dad had got drunk and blew his rare pay packet playing cards. Then it was growling tummies unless Mum got the gas meter open to get at the shillings that ran the meter).
It had been a constant struggle and her Dad was not happy with having to pay. ‘School is provided by the government. Why do we have to pay for you to go to Cheshire to see a bloody bit of limestone?’ Dad said on the occasion of being asked for money towards a Geology trip.
Sometimes she felt that they would have been happier if she had failed the exam as then there would have been no pressure, no financial implications and no expectations. It had also discouraged her when she had gone to the Careers Advisor ‘automaton’ who told her that her only options were, Nursery Nurse, Nurse, Secretary or Wife and Mother.
The school was well equipped with the help of donations from wealthier parents. It even had a very small garden courtyard with a Japanese Coy fishpond within the school buildings – a bit like a ‘Zen’ garden, although it was only an extremely small, but fortunate few who were allowed anywhere near it. Ginny loved the library the best.
Actual lessons were fine, but free time and break times were a chore to say the least. It was practically compulsory to be ‘in’ something; the Netball team, Hockey team, French Club, etc.
Ginny had joined the school choir - originally not through choice, but through necessity. It gave her an option to be ‘in’ something, without the ‘team’ bit.
I know that sounds odd, so let me explain.
If you could sing - you could be in the choir without the actually having to be awkwardly ‘friends’ or ‘team mates’ with anyone.
It gave the impression to the teachers that you were not ‘antisocial’. You just had to be in tune, ‘in time’ and turn up.
For a genetically programmed bookworm and loner (loner partly by choice, but mainly by it being forced upon her by euphemistically called ‘classmates’ through the daily ridicule of her hair, glasses, bookishness, clumsiness, not-going-along-with the-crowd-ness) – being in the choir got the teachers off her back for not joining in and avoided ‘doesn’t mix well with others’ being carved into her yearly school report yet again.
It also gave her something to look forward to as she did actually love singing and thought that choral work done properly was quite beautiful to listen to.
The Choir used to give concerts or compete in choral and poem recital competitions (‘John Brown’s Boots/ The Peeks and the Policals/Hallelujah’ and singing lots of hymns mostly) a few times each year.
They had been practicing for a concert for local dignitaries and parents of the students, which was to be held at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall - known affectionately by the people of Liverpool as ‘The Phil’.
A couple of weeks into practicing, Ginny had been given a very public and literal ‘dressing down’ on the steps of the school hall’s stage in front of the whole choir by the Choir Mistress, Mrs Contretemps.
That wasn’t her real name – obviously. Ginny named her ‘Mrs Prickly Contretemps’ because she taught French and was a human cactus – very prickly, aggressive and rumoured to be full of Tequila, (well more likely Vodka, but that didn’t go with the cactus metaphor and Ginny was keen as mustard on metaphors).
Mrs Contretemps was loudly bewailing the fact that Ginny was wearing a school uniform shirt with an ‘incorrect’ collar.
It had been bought from the local market stall at a quarter of the price of the official school wear supplier. It was the same colour and pattern as the official shirt, but the collar was a pointed rather than round edged. (‘No-one will notice’ Mum had said).
Ginny had been wearing it since September the year before and no-one had noticed up until now – or if they had, they had the good manners not to mention it.
Mrs Contretemps also berated Ginny that despite it being a rather warm month of May, she was still wearing winter boots ‘Like some slovenly Gypsy child’.
As the rest of the choir looked on in fascinated horror, she pointed her baton at Ginny and started shouting loud enough for anyone within earshot to hear:
‘Miss McKee, you are a disgraceful ragamuffin and an embarrassment to the school. If you don’t get a new uniform and shoes by the time of the concert, you will NOT be attending!’ She stared at Ginny for a second, then turned and walked towards the piano at the right side of the stage.
Ginny was stunned for a minute at this verbal barrage. It had come out of the blue. Nervous giggling started around her. She could feel the blood surging up through her gut to her spine, up through her chest and head and it seemed like her ears where going to spontaneously combust with the heat.
She didn’t object to being called a ‘Gypsy’ - she had actually met a few Gypsies and had found them to be very charming. But was not happy at all with the ‘slovenly’ bit as her uniform and boots were always clean, pressed and polished. The rest of it was downright insulting.
So feeling extremely humiliated with her blood now boiling with indignation, Ginny stomped down the steps on to the main floor of the hall and replied to Mrs Contretemps:
‘Well I won’t be able to buy a new uniform and shoes so late into the school year as my family are not well off and if you don’t think my boots or shirt are good enough for your precious choir, then you can shove it as far up your alimentary canal as it will go!’ (It WAS a Grammar school after all).
Then, full of embarrassment, fear and feeling totally mortified – she grabbed her school bag and ran out of the hall and left the school grounds leaving Mrs Contretemps speechless for once and the choir gaping like a shoal of Guppies.
Ginny tried to walk off her humiliation and now anger – ‘How dare she embarrass me like that in front of everyone!!’ she railed to herself.
In her turmoil, she hadn’t even realised where she had walked off to or how far. So when she stopped to take a breath, she was surprised to find she had walked as far as she had and was now standing in front of the ‘big house’ on Lord Derby’s Estate (now called Croxteth Country Park).
The house was boarded up and a bit rundown and the grounds were overgrown, but Ginny loved it because of that. It was a bit wild, like a massive ‘Secret Garden’.
She could meander along the winding paths to get her thoughts in order, feel the breeze in her hair and hear the trees swaying and the rustling leaves.
Searching for wild flowers, red squirrels, rabbits and her favourite – butterflies, Ginny was city-born, but the countryside was in her heart.
Being there when it rained was what she loved the best – standing under one of the huge, gnarly, but thickly branched trees, she could stay fairly dry as the rain fell around her. This so soothed her fire cracker mind and spirit, she sometimes daydreamed about squatting in the dilapidated manor house, or the old stables and live off the land making herbal tea, remedies and poultices like some wise-woman of ‘yore’.
Ginny spent ages walking around the grounds and the full impact of what had happened hit her. ‘Bloody heck! I have just told a teacher to shove it and gone AWOL’.
Horrified, she stood there - questions and probable outcomes flitted through her head like an annoying wasp.
‘Will I get suspended? - Probably’
‘What will Mum say? - Probably threaten me with Dad’.
‘Bloody Hell! Dad! - What will Dad do’?
Dad was an unknown quantity. Ginny’s nickname for Dad was ‘Genghis’ as in Genghis Khan but she would never tell him that. She liked breathing.
Catch him on a good day and he would probably laugh and call her a cheeky git and she’d get a clip around the ear. But on a bad day it could go from her getting a beating to Genghis going berserk and maybe smashing up the school or house, or all three.
Ginny sat glumly under the manor house portal, pulling at a vine of thick ivy. A choking panicky feeling came over her as she shared a moment of empathy with the house being strangled by this insinuating plant.
‘What should I do now?’ Squatting in the stables eating nettle soup was looking more palatable by the minute.
Finally Ginny decided she should go home as it was getting to school finishing time and she wasn’t allowed to be late home. There was no point moping around, but go home, face the music and get it over and done with. Arriving home anything more than 10 minutes passed normal arrival time and she would be interrogated by ‘Ghengis’ and that never ended well.
The nearer she got to home, the more fear shook her body to its core. Each step forward was becoming agony. She felt physically sick.
So it was a bit of an anti-climax when she arrived home and opened the door and – nothing! Nothing??
School obviously hadn’t contacted home. Ginny knew this as she wasn’t grabbed violently by the hair as soon as she walked through the door. So she decided to ‘brass neck’ it by saying nothing and wait to see what happened the next day at school.
Not a wink of sleep was had that night. Her stomach turned like an old butter churn destroying any chance of rest. All night, horrific visions of possible outcomes played through her mind making any sleep impossible.
Exhausted, she arrived at school next morning, expecting to hear her name being shouted as she walked along the corridors.
The incident had caused unrest and the school buzzed like a watchful beehive. The other students either stared at her or giggled as they passed in the corridor. Her ‘classmates’ tried to intimidate Ginny into telling them all the juicy details by surrounding her and goading her - but she wouldn’t talk. They goaded her again and again to see if she would lose her temper – ‘not happening today girls’ she thought to herself.
Ginny still thought she was going to be suspended - or a call made to her parents to arrange a ‘visit’ to the school, but nothing! It felt really odd as punishments were normally quite swift. You at the least got the ‘There are plenty of girls on the waiting list, desperate for the chance to come here who would make more of this opportunity Miss McKee!’ speech – it was unnerving.
Eventually after a few days had gone by, Ginny was called out of class by a prefect and told to go to the Head Mistress. She could feel the anticipation from the class as she walk out to meet her doom.
Mrs Contretemps was already there with the Head Mistress and her heart sank to her feet. She thought – ‘This is it. This is where they tell me to go home and not come back’. So she braced herself for the bad news.
The Head Mistress, Sister Cheshire ( Ginny’s nickname for her as she always looked like the ‘Cheshire cat’ from Lewis Carroll with her big round soft face and slow broad smile. A smile which could seriously wither your internal organs when telling you off), asked her if she would like to sit down.
Ginny was a bit gobsmacked at this, as she had expecting to be screamed at and shown the door. She said quickly ‘I would rather stand, thank you Sister’. The phrase ‘name, rank and serial number’ shot into her mind and she had to suppress a nervous giggle, despite the seriousness of the occasion.
Ginny wanted to stay standing, so that if she was turfed out of school, she could make it to the door and out before they saw her crying without having to negotiate furniture.
But Sister Cheshire then asked if she would like a cup of tea. This rather put Ginny on the back foot. In surprise she sat down and was handed a pink rose-covered china cup and saucer.
Sister Cheshire poured tea for her, Mrs Contretemps and herself. Ginny was shaking so much, she had to put the cup down.
Now thoroughly bewildered by this turn of events, Ginny looked towards Sister Cheshire as she had started to speak. She told Ginny that it must have been quite a traumatic time for her over the last few days and that Mrs Contretemps would like to say a few words.
Mrs Contretemps was smoothing down her flannel skirt, picking invisible fluff from it and as she did so, she apologised to Ginny for any upset she had caused her.
Ginny’s bottom jaw dropped for a second, then clamped shut. She finally realised this was a ‘let’s shake hands and forget about it – fault on both sides’ session and she finally began to relax a bit.
Ginny then apologised to Mrs Contretemps because that was how the game was played. They shook hands - Honour satisfied.
After the ‘polite chat’, a cup of tea and a few of the ‘posh’ biscuits, the Head Mistress handed Ginny a new school shirt as a ‘peace’ offering, but said that she would have to sort out her footwear herself.
Ginny came out of the office stunned, clutching the plastic bag which held the new shirt to her side. This wasn’t what she had been expecting at all.
All afternoon her ‘classmates’ tried again and again to get out of her what had happened. She knew better than to tell them – they were not above going and telling Mrs Contretemps what she had said, or even what she hadn’t said – so she refused to answer.
She didn’t dare tell her family any of this. You didn’t unless you had to - it was ‘school stuff’ and unless you were in big trouble, you sorted it out yourself.
Also, sorting it herself kept the number of casualties down to the bare minimum and ended the conflict before ‘Genghis’ got involved
Mum wouldn’t notice that the shirt was different. Having seven people to wash clothes for tends to blur them all together. So Ginny just had to crumple it a bit, stick it in the wash and get rid of the packaging.
However, she did have to approach her Mum for new shoes and had to ask in such a way that Mum or Genghis didn’t find out about all the hullabaloo or there’d be ‘consequences’.
Ginny toned it down to just a couple of comments being made about the boots when she asked her Mum about the shoes. ‘I should work for the United Nations’ thought Ginny.
A pair of ‘cheap but cheerful’ black plastic ‘Ballerina’ type shoes with a ridge pattern across the front (all the rage at the time) were bought from a local market stall.
Ginny hoped she would get away with the ridged shoes as they were at least the right colour and there were only a few weeks left until the end of the school year.
Normally shoes had to be plain, black lace-ups or buckled and most definitely NOT shiny.
The girls were told not to have ‘shiny’ shoes (patent leather) as the Sisters said that boys could see the reflection of their ‘knickerbockers’ in them (their words).
Even the skirts were measured with a ruler and woe betide the girl whose skirt was less than two inches below her knee - you would be sent home with a letter of disgrace.
Ginny crossed her fingers, wore the new shoes and despite a couple of raised eyebrows from the black-cloaked senior teachers, no-one mentioned them.
However, after only a couple of weeks wear, the ‘uppers’ started to come away from the soles of the shoes around the toe area. They weren’t really made for continuous wear and as well as walking around all day in them, Ginny walked to school and back - which was an extra couple of miles, so the shoes were having a tough time.
Ginny couldn’t possibly ask Mum for yet another pair of shoes so soon after getting these and they would be lucky to find the market stall still there if they took them back. So she tried to stick them with the ‘all purpose’ glue they had in the house.
Unfortunately It wasn’t very good glue. She had to keep re-sticking the shoes again and again. It took ages to dry. Sometimes she would put them on in the morning and the glue would seep through, sticking her tights and feet to the shoes! She nearly lost the skin from her little toe on one occasion.
After a few episodes of sticking and re-sticking, it didn’t work as well anymore.
The concert was coming up in a week or so (end June by this time). There was definitely not going to be replacement shoes now as it was nearly the end of the school year and she wouldn’t be bought new ones just for a couple of weeks wear.
Ginny hit on the novel idea of using clear tape to bind the shoes together. She strapped up the toes with the tape, rubbing it down with her fingers and the end of a spoon to gain the best grip as possible. Then she put black boot polish over the top so unless you were looking closely, you couldn’t tell. Ingenious! (She thought). It seemed to work well.
It came to the actual day of the concert. They had all been told to make their own way to town and meet up at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall in the early afternoon so they could ‘set up’ and practice.
It was an extremely hot day. This was the hottest summer in Liverpool for over a hundred years or thereabouts.
Tarmac bubbled on the road surface - it was that hot! You really could fry an egg on the pavement (if you were hungry enough) – they showed it being done on the local TV news report.
There was even a plague of Ladybirds – to the point where the garden lawns actually looked red instead of green and they were biting people they were so desperate for sustenance. It was hell for Ginny with her Celtic colouring and sensitivity to the sun. Sun blisters and Ladybird bites abounded!
Ginny got ready and caught the bus to Queens Square in the town centre and started walking up Renshaw Street toward St Luke’s which is the ‘bombed out’ church, left as a ruin as a reminder of the World War II bombings of Liverpool.
St Luke’s always seemed a bit ‘eerie’ to her. It reminded her of a World War II film she had once seen called ‘The Boy with Green Hair’, but she couldn’t remember why.
Up was definitely the word – it felt like the road had a 1 in 4 gradient as she walked in the searing heat. The pavement sizzled as drops of sweat fell from the brow of a guy lugging a big armchair into one of the busy shops that lined Renshaw Street
Some of the girls had got to the bus station around the same time as Ginny, so they were walking the same route, Ginny trailing behind, trying not to be noticed.
Then to her complete horror and humiliation - The embarrassment! The indignity!
The tape holding Ginny’s shoes together decided that a temperature of above boiling point was well passed its manufacturing and legislative obligations and half way up Renshaw Street was as far as it was going.
She felt it actually melt beneath her as she walked along the hissingly hot pavement.
She gasped and stumbled as the shoes de-morphed around her feet, exploding from the toes right up to the arch of the shoes like over-ripe black bananas. They literally fell off her feet in pieces!
Ginny panicked and knew in that instant that they was going to be unrepairable and also realised she hadn’t thought to bring the tape with her.
With no money to buy replacement shoes, she just stood there for a moment in shock. She only had five pence - her bus fare home.
Ginny was behind the other girls and the street was crowded, so she hoped that they wouldn’t notice and she could just fall behind and slope off home.
However, fate intervened when an ancient looking little old lady who had seen what had happened, loudly asked Ginny if she was okay.
The lady had a huge flesh-coloured hearing aid sticking out of her ear - that explained why she was shouting. She was also wearing a thick pink coat and a purple woolly hat festooned with plastic fruit, like an ancient wizened ‘Carmen Miranda’ (younger readers - Google it). In the heat of the day, she smelt of Lily of the Valley talc and mothballs.
It crossed Ginny’s mind that maybe she should be more concerned about this lady’s possible heatstroke and ‘why do old people wear big coats on hot days’? But the old lady didn’t seem to be showing any signs of heatstroke.
Ginny was scrabbling to grab up the remains of her shoes and trying to tell the lady ‘I’m fine, honestly, please don’t worry.’ when the girls looked back, alerted by the noise and saw Ginny standing barefoot in the middle of the street.
They screamed in delighted laughter, pointing and howling away, shouting ‘Oh My God! You’re cursed!! Don’t walk with us! Don’t walk with us!’ bringing even more attention to Ginny from the crowd of people.
A few kind people stopped to also ask if Ginny was okay and one guy threw a look of disgust and shook his head at the girls as they ran off still squealing, leaving her there. People were trying to help, but Ginny just wanted to disappear in a puff of shame, but there was no chance of that.
By now Ginny was mortified. She turned and hurriedly thanked the old lady and the other people who had stopped. ‘Really, I’m fine, thank you so much, no really I am, thank you.’ She just wanted to put as great a distance between her and the event as possible.
The girls had run off screaming and laughing, shouting back to Ginny that they were going to tell Mrs Contretemps when they got to ‘The Phil’.
The street was crowded with people and Ginny began to feel how Stephen King’s ‘Carrie’ must have felt in the dance hall when the bucket of blood gets tipped over her. Totally humiliated, embarrassed, shocked and vengeful.
Then as she stood there, she became strangely calm. Ginny figured most of the worst had happened, so what the heck. She took a deep breath, looked straight ahead and without looking at anyone, walked the rest of the way, barefoot along the hot pavement to the Philharmonic carrying the remains of her shoes in her hands.
Ginny got to ‘The Phil’ and went through to the meeting place to be confronted by Mrs Contretemps and half the girls who were hovering in expectation as the gossip drums had been banging and word had obviously got around.
Mrs Contretemps seethed wild-eyed at Ginny ‘You! Little madam, can just turn right around and go straight home! There is no way that you are getting on that stage in front of all those people – like, like that!’ at the same time, pointing savagely at Ginny’s now dirty feet.
Ginny’s internal voice said to herself – ‘Ah - no - gosh how are you, that must have been traumatic, do you want a glass of water on this very hot day and how are your feet dear?’ – She had also noticed a complete lack of comfort or ‘sisterly’ concern from the girls either. They were just lapping up this Matinee performance.
Sister Pygmalion appeared and called Mrs Contretemps over and spoke into her ear.
She had a soft Edinburgh accent, like Maggie Smith’s ‘Miss Jean Brody’ accent. Don’t be fooled though, her voice may have been soft, but it didn’t always have soft words to say.
Ginny called her Sister Pygmalion because she got the impression the Sister was a bit of an old romantic at heart. Ginny had noticed over the years that the English class Sister taught, always managed to fit in a reading of George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’, or ‘Wuthering Heights’.
Sister would have this far away smile on her face when passages were read out in class and would practically float out after watching the plays.
Ginny speculated that she had been the subject of, or suffered the torture of unrequited love, but had eventually chosen church over children.
Ginny sometimes wished she’d had the guts to ask her, but being a nun and a teacher made her a doubly unapproachable to Ginny.
You need to bear in mind that ‘caning’ had only recently been banned and anyone who was clergy/nun was still treated with the utmost reverence. Whatever they said, was ‘law’.
Ginny herself had been beaten as a child by a nun who would hit her with the large blackboard ruler across the backs of her legs for being ‘cheeky’. She was a very curious child, she asked questions when they were reading Bible passages, or about ‘Where did dinosaurs come from Sister’?
Punishment never stopped her from asking though.
Even at a very young age, she preferred the truth. She would get very frustrated when people would say ‘You’re just a kid, you won’t understand’ her reply would always be ‘Tell me first, then if I don’t understand, explain it to me’. There would be a lot of ‘eye-rolling’ and exasperated sighs from adults and her being either punished or told to go and play.
The nun had even gone to Ginny’s house when she had won her place at Grammar School and had proudly informed Ginny’s Mum that ‘You know, you can beat and beat Ginny and she will still smile at you afterwards. That shows great fortitude’!
It wasn’t until she had left when her Mum had turned to Ginny and said ‘Did she really say ‘beat and beat Ginny?’. ‘Yes she did Mum’ replied Ginny.
‘And DID she?’ said Mum. ‘Yes, she did Mum’ replied Ginny.
‘You must have deserved it then’ replied Mum walking off to make a cup of tea and leaving Ginny open mouthed in disbelief. That was the kind of fearful respect they commanded.
Not all the nuns were horrid, Ginny did once overhear a conversation between a sixth former and an older nun who was way passed the age of retirement, but had loved teaching so much she was allowed to continue on for a few years more.
They were packing up after a lesson and the sixth former asked out of the blue: ‘Sister, do you ever got lonely at the convent or regret not having a family of your own?’
Ginny couldn’t believe the older girl had asked such a personal question and glanced towards the Sister as the older nun’s cheery mask fell and just for a moment she saw her as she was - just an old lady – she looked so sad and forlorn and tired.
The Sister replied half to herself - ‘Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to have my own children and grandchildren, but it’s too late for that and I have Jesus’. Then the ‘cheery’ mask went back on again.
By this time, Mrs Contretemps had walked off in a huff and Sister Pygmalion waved Ginny over to her and asked ‘Miss McKee – do you still have what’s left of your shoes’?
Ginny nodded and showed the Sister the pieces she was still clutching like a broken relic in her hands. ‘I was hoping that if I got here, someone, maybe a workman or caretaker or even one of the orchestra would have something to repair the shoes so I could at least wear them home’.
Sister Pygmalion smiled broadly at Ginny and said ‘Good thinking, let’s go and find out’.
So, ignoring the rest of the gaggle, Ginny and Sister Pygmalion went around the hall premises looking for anyone who could assist.
Unfortunately, as it was such a hot day and only the school’s choir concert on that evening, there was no one there who could help – although they did try.
As they moved swiftly from room to room, Ginny supposed they didn’t get that many requests for the services of a cobbler at ‘The Phil’.
After an exhaustive failed search, and some very strange looks from people who seemed to think it may be an episode of ‘Candid Camera’ (again – Google it) Sister Pygmalion and Ginny went back to where everyone was waiting and rehearsing.
All eyes turned towards them as they entered the room. Lots of ‘susurrus’s’ going on. Part of Ginny just wanted a black hole to open up and envelope her, but part of her was thinking ‘Yes I have no shoes on! And?!’ She straightened herself up and looked directly ahead at the far wall, avoiding eye contact.
Sister Pygmalion called a ‘teachers’ huddle’ and you could hear a very heated, but very ‘civil’ argument going on.
They were deciding what to do about Ginny. ‘Great, just great’ thought Ginny.
‘Will bring shame on the school’ ‘Looks like a vagabond’ ‘I won’t stand for it’ etc.
The words came hissing out across the echoing room while Sister Pygmalion calmly replied to each remark in a measured tone.
No one outside the ‘huddle’ could hear what she was saying. There were glances over towards Ginny and a couple of nodding heads and then they went quiet.
Ginny stood between the gaggle of giggling girls and the pack of teachers like some sort of outcast.
No-one came nearer than two arms lengths. It was like she had her own ‘no man’s land’ zone around her.
She waited for the sentence to be handed down in front of her ‘peers’ as they stood transfixed, absorbing Ginny’s embarrassment and pain like emotional vampires, loving every minute.
‘Oh god! This is going to be around the school like wild fire on Monday and still a couple of weeks left of term to go’ she thought, horrified at the prospect.
The teachers ‘de-huddled’ and the rest of the adults started busying themselves (Mrs Contretemps had a face like a smacked bottom, so she obviously wasn’t happy with the outcome)
The girls all of a sudden found other topics of conversation while Sister Pygmalion put her hand on Ginny’s shoulder, walked her a little away from the rest and then spoke to her.
‘Unusual situation we have here Miss McKee.’ She said in her soft Edinburgh burr. Ginny nodded ‘Yes Sister’.
‘Do you really want to go out there on stage in front of all of those people, barefoot?
Ginny looked down at her bare wriggling toes. She was too scared to speak and amazed herself by nodding ‘Yes’.
The only thing she could put this down to when she thought about it afterwards was sheer bloody mindedness and ‘I’ll show them I’m not scared’.
It was the same feeling she had when a day out at Crosby Swimming Baths had been organised and the girls had teased her mercilessly called her a coward because she was scared of heights and wouldn’t jump off the 10ft diving board. They goaded her so much that she was overcome by her own bravado and climbed up the 30ft diving board’s ladder in temper and walked to the end of the diving board.
She had then frozen and was so scared (the bravado and temper had by now worn off) that she couldn’t walk back across the board and down the ladder, but couldn’t jump into the water either. The girls were screaming in the pool as even they were now scared and probably thinking they were going to get in to trouble should anything happen.
Ginny had eventually forced herself by sheer will power passed the terror and forced herself to drop herself off the board into the water below.
She had actually hit her head on the bottom of the pool as she didn’t know how to dive properly. Luckily she only grazed her head, but it could have been a lot worse and she berated herself for being so stupid as to let them goad her - again.
‘Okay, this is what we will do’. Said Sister Pygmalion ‘We normally file out on to the stage in single file, but today, we are going to go out in groups, so you will be able to walk on the inside of one of the groups and you will have to stand in the middle row so that no-one can see your feet. Is that clear?’
‘Yes Sister’ Ginny replied, pleased and terrified at the same time she realised that the Sister must have given the other adults a bit of a talking to.
There seemed to be crackle of excitement in the air - or maybe it was just from Ginny, she couldn’t tell. It felt like they were doing something illegal, smuggling a barefoot renegade into a hallowed place.
The time came for the choir to make its way onto the stage and they were all split into groups of six, which must have looked odd to the audience. Ginny was in the centre of the middle group and as it came to their turn to go out, Sister Pygmalion gave her a wink and a smile as they walked through the door out on to the stage.
It was overwhelming - Ginny hadn’t actually been on the stage before. She had only been in the audience. #
The girls walked quickly to their places and stood ready to commence.
Ginny felt like every pair of eyes were looking at her, she knew that they weren’t, it just felt like it. She was waiting to hear gasps of shock and disapproval as she stood, seditiously waggling a toe or two at them from the second row. The girls either side of her giggled.
Ginny smiled wryly to herself.
It seemed oddly illicit and she felt suddenly brazen standing there, barefoot in that beautiful hall on that fabulous stage, being hidden behind a curtain of humans.
It was also slightly amusing to her that she was doing something the others weren’t allowed to do. They still couldn’t believe she had been allowed to do it and to be honest, she couldn’t believe it either. It was like being allowed to ‘hi five’ the aging Dowager of Wimborne (if there is such a thing).
‘The Phil’ was at full capacity and as she peeked out between the bobbing heads of the girls in front of her, all she kept thinking was ‘What would they think if they knew?’ They got through the concert with no slip ups and no bad notes (that she could remember anyway).
When the concert finished, they all filed off, but in their eagerness to get off the stage, they forgot to go in groups, and went off in single file.
Ginny found herself walking across the stage in full view of the audience – shoeless!
Her heart beat faster as she realised people could see her feet! She hesitated for a second and her brain whizzed around in her cranium – ‘Should I walk faster - or would that attract more attention?’ she thought.
She decided to just walk normally and as she looked up she saw one of the Sisters at the stage ‘exit’ door frantically gesturing to her to get off the stage quickly.
So she weaved her way snake-like through the precession for the last few yards and practically fell through the ‘exit’ door.
Sister Pygmalion and the other adults told the girls that they had all done really well and to get straight off home before it got dark.
Sister Pygmalion again took Ginny to one side and said ‘Well Miss McKee, you were very brave to go out there, well done. On Monday you should bring a note in to school from your parents about your shoes and you can wear your black gym pumps for the rest of term – ‘No trainers mind’ she said as she waggled her finger at Ginny. Ginny smiled at Sister Pygmalion. ‘No need for the warning’ thought Ginny – ‘I don’t have any trainers!’
She nodded and thanked the Sister, relieved it was over for now. She wasn’t going to worry about school on Monday yet. Monday could go boil its head.
From somewhere, appeared a plastic bag to put the remains of Ginny’s shoes in.
It seemed wrong to stick them in the bin, she didn’t know why. Maybe she felt like she needed them as evidence for when she got home.
So she made her way barefoot, through the city towards the bus station.
There were a few stares as she made her way down Upper Parliament Street, Renshaw Street and on to the bus, but she just smiled at people.
As it was a very hot day, she thought, they’d probably think she had taken her shoes off because of the heat or because she was simply off her noggin.
Either way - she didn’t care.
When Ginny got home and explained to Mum what had happened (the expurgated version) - Mum was totally mortified ‘Oh the shame! The embarrassment! Why didn’t you tell me?’
For a minute Ginny thought she was going to go all ‘sack cloth and ashes’ on her. Mum was expecting calls from the school or a home visit from Child Services, but Ginny managed to convince her this wasn’t the case and it was all sorted.
She calmed down before Genghis got home, so he wasn’t told what had gone on, which was better for everyone.
Ginny was hugely relieved.
The following Monday came and yes, it was the talk of the school.
She was the girl who had sung barefoot at ‘The Phil’.
It seemed to give her some sort of strange ‘kudos’ so she didn’t get the soul crushing mockery she was expecting, which was a more than pleasant surprise.
She happily wore her new shirt and black gym pumps for the rest of the term.
But just in case –
And for future reference –
Ginny would just like to ask –
‘Is there any glue at the Philharmonic’?
# If you have never been to the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, you should go. It’s such a beautiful auditorium, full of light, space and a breath taking example of 1930’s Art Deco. To listen to music there can be quite emotional as the sound engulfs you through the fantastic acoustics.