display | more...
I haven't stepped forward since I had a carapace. It must take a particularly precocious, if not obnoxious, larva to be cast as a bad-tempered ladybird in a nine-year-olds' school tableau and do the rounds of the proud leafy-suburb parents immediately afterwards to ask what they thought of my title role.

Since you ask, it's a children's book, not necessarily a stage direction. You know what they say about fifteen minutes, but four or five with a spotted papier mache shell on my back seemed as if they ought to do. (Vague memories suggest there should have been leggings to match, but I'll care to pass over those.) Strangely enough, too, they never asked me again. I only made Mayor of Plymouth the next Christmas because they could trust me to remember all the words to bid Captain Cook farewell.

I used to be told that I could sing. One music teacher said so too when it turned out I could carry the notes of his favourite shibboleth, Mandy Was A Bahama Girl. I chose the drums and a Scotswoman afraid that I would break the heads of her cherished timpani. There's been rather more mutual trust in the Persian Gulf.

Spotlights never agreed with me, not if I was underneath one. A run of Travesties caught me in the lighting box, doing the crow's nest thing. You spend quarter of an hour guiding a follow spot with your shoulder because a girl dressed as Lenin can't see the gaffer tape mark on the stage, and hope that nobody will miss a sound cue with their nose buried in a copy of Marie Claire. Get rota-ed on to the colour changer, if you can: just one button to press, and you have the satisfaction of rainbow-illuminating a librarian who's dancing to The Stripper on a table that has to be hauled back to a language laboratory after the show.

That school had a name for music, and even a suite or two when its corridors were on their first coat of paint. Dash in of an early morning and you'd hear the cellists, the violins, and enough trombones for the big parade, if the big parade allowed decimal points. (It's a good thing it was the headmistress who lived next door.) One music practice room, not that I'd have seen it, had its very own harp.

One girl of my acquaintance turned out a top-notch Don't Cry For Me, Argentina at one of the Tuesday-lunchtime open mic sessions, a time when I'd still have known all the words. Fifteen-year-olds and Evita shouldn't mix.
Dubrovnik liked its entertainers, the year I came. An evening on Stradun, the thoroughfare of which Tereza Kesovija tried to make herself the Edith Piaf, seemed not to be complete without falling over a pair of jugglers or an over-ambitious fire-eater or two. Autumn's too late to catch that surrogate George Clooney doing his annual Hamlet in the Lovrijenac fortress, but he's sure to reprise it in ER the next time the scriptwriters want him to smoulder.

Monday turned the steps of St Blaise's Cathedral into a sound stage, which the technicians put through its paces all afternoon, presumably for yet another election rally. That evening a quick meal was in order before taking a green notebook to the cathedral-side café which hadn't yet noticed that Emperor Franz Josef had died. The lights were up on St Blaise's as I walked past a gathering audience of a couple of hundred; I hadn't noticed this was a country where politicians like to campaign in a pink wash.

Amadeus were a local band, the hotel terrace type. Their repertoire was serviceable cover versions of Croatian hits, raw material enough for a round or two of name that tune. They veered into the interval with a nod to the foreign visitors and a heavily accented burst of Walking On Sunshine. Three colleens didn't need another gauntlet, and ran up the half a dozen steps to show them where they'd gone wrong.

It wasn't in the woman from the council's script, and she might rather have been stewarding the next night instead when the Mayor of Rijeka was coming to buck up the Social Democrats. She invited other onlookers to step in after the colleens, and a local lad regaled his girlfriend with one or other Dalmatian ditty that had been two-a-kuna that summer or the last. A song I vaguely knew, but good luck to him making it through that chorus in front of two hundred people. It's the line about the klapa that I always miss.

I'm a lot more certain of my Neka mi ne svane, a simple little three-minute schlager that Danijela Martinović took to Eurovision in 1998. She emerged from a giant Scottish Widows cloak when she did it in Birmingham, but I can't be expected to travel with a wardrobe mistress. A swift explanation seemed to be in order, subtext I'm not from round here, I just cue up my personal soundtrack as if I were. The one that plays over your life's establishing shots, or don't you get those? Where would I tell someone else to hold this microphone, if I were running a sound check?

Gina Kuljanić is from New Jersey, and you can tell. She turned up in this year's Dora, the festival where the Croatians choose their Eurovision song, with the sort of ballad that only needed a Heart of the Ocean pendant. She's got this vibrato, the kind that sounds as if she might as well be underwater in any case. From the interview she gave after her performance, her Croatian seems somewhat ropey, although my endeavours with a certain schwa-less r make me the last woman to cast aspersions here. Kazane, evo lonca. Crni si.

There are things we do to remember them later. Arturo Pérez-Reverte said as much, and I'll happily take his lead on matters from book-collecting to girls with over-green eyes. I ought to learn a few more words, make my peace with the woman who loved her timpani, find one who won't accuse me of malign intentions towards her music stand. I'm five minutes under quota, at the very least. There must be time for an encore.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.