I’m having trouble containing the chaos. In front of me are eight seven-year-olds each armed with a noise machine (miniature guitar) and the primary objective to have as much fun as possible. There’s a lot of excitement and shouting and strumming and plucking. Big personalities who like pretending they’re on stage – one who intermittently stands up with his guitar in a stadium rock pose. Also quieter ones who don’t enjoy the mayhem – I feel I need to maintain a sense of order if not for myself then for them. Keeping the pace up helps, moving quickly between activities – songs, games, movement, notation, playing by ear… And asking lots of questions: Who can show me how to play the ‘la’ for Step Back? Who knows where to put your thumb when you’re doing walking fingers? Who wants to choose if we play it faster or slower?
We learn some one-finger chords (C and G7) and I strum a rhythm and ask them to join in then sing “Go Tell Aunt Nancy”, an American folk song, over the top. It’s a song they know and some of them sing along. We play it a few times then I pick up a set of rhythm cards, fanning them out in front of me. “Who wants to choose a card?” The hands shoot up. I ask four children to choose a card each and place the four cards in a line on the floor like bars in a piece of music. “OK! Rest stroke on string one. Who’s going to be the last one to get ready? Ready-And-Off-We-Go!” After we play it once I ask who would like to choose a card to turn over. “Now we have to play that card from memory!” In a few minutes all the cards are face down and we’re playing the whole line from memory. A few children seem to have it, others play something entirely different very enthusiastically; some look at me, bewildered. “Hands up who got it all right?” I ask. Everyone raises a hand.
Tube observations… A man on the stairs feverishly shaking snacks from a box into his mouth. Standing in the carriage, overheating in winter clothes but too crammed to remove layers. Someone’s phone lighting up, a message. The whack of the carriage against rails. A man with half a sandwich and a newspaper, sitting and staring at the floor, not eating or reading. A slim, delicate wrist close to my face. The doors zipping open. Screeches, bangs. The relentless tannoy. Our grim determination.
Sometimes instead of getting the bus from the tube station I walk home through the woods. Its late afternoon in February, cold but the sun out. Trees stood like columns of light in the darkness. The playing field bathed in sunlight and kids doing football training, their hollers carried on the air. I sit on a bench, close my eyes and let the sun warm my sun-starved face. Birdsong – the sound of spring finally coming. I don’t want to leave. I go the long way around, deeper in, up and down slopes, feeling stones in the mud underfoot, a vast web of bare winter branches moving overhead, eventually coming to the gate and the road and a short walk home.