By mjpotenza 2011 Any fan of short stories will enjoy this selection of entertaining tales by Fiona Compton. The
author presents women’s viewpoints, emotions, and experiences accurately and
uniquely. The women characters are interesting, complex, and sympathetic (the
men are mostly cads). One wonders how much is autobiographical. The writing is
descriptive and precise. The style flows nicely, making for easy and pleasant
reading. The Wedding Singer,Miss Stratton Disappears, and The
Sunset Gleams, to name a few, all have the right combination of humour and
sadness. In short, these well written stories are very enjoyable.
By Pearl Harris (language practitioner) 10-Sep-2011
Each short story in this collection is refreshingly different and will touch
a chord in the heart of most female readers. All the characters are masterfully
and realistically portrayed. Many of the incidents depicted are those which
affect all women at various times in their lives and with which the reader can
readily empathise. Some bring a chuckle and a feeling of optimism, others a
feeling of sadness. All left a lasting impression on me. Fiona Compton’s voice is
a charming mix, evidence of her Scottish, South African and musical roots.
These stories particularly appeal to me as an expatriate South African, as many
of them richly evoke the South African lifestyle. However, all are timeless in
their own right and certainly worth reading by both women and men, whatever
TASTER – A few pages of The Song is Ended
It was a beautiful spring day in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. Heather Munroe felt happier than she had done for a very long time. Ian, her husband of thirty years, had woken in a cheerful mood and taken their two little dogs for a walk at nearby Zoo Lake before lunch.
“It’s a wonderful day, isn’t it, darling?” he said as he negotiated the exuberant Buster and Benny into the back of the car. “Thank goodness we don’t have to be in the studio until later. Why don’t we have a picnic lunch in the garden for a change and make the most of this gorgeous weather?”
He kissed her lightly on the forehead and drove off on the short trip to Zoo Lake where the dogs could romp free round the water.
Although Ian’s dark hair was receding and tinged with grey, and his expressive face slightly haggard, he remained a commanding figure despite his genial personality. He had accepted his gift of an outstanding voice, which had given him a successful career, without assuming it made him superior in any other way.
After he left, Heather went to her bedroom to tie back her thick auburn hair with an aquamarine ribbon, which perfectly matched her eyes, and returned to the kitchen to prepare the picnic lunch, humming softly.
Heather and Ian spent most of their time together in their Sandton studio, where she taught piano, and accompanied Ian’s singing pupils, just as she had accompanied Ian himself, when he was singing professionally here and in Europe.
Heather had recently been to the Grahamstown Arts Festival to accompany another singer. Their student, Janet Tabraham, had played for Ian in the studio, as she had done a number of times before. She was a hard-working, serious girl in her late teens, preparing for her piano and singing diplomas, hoping to make a career in music. They had been delighted when they discovered how well she could play. Heather
had no qualms about asking her to play for Ian when she was away.
“It will boost her confidence and be a wonderful opportunity for her to learn how to teach singing,” Heather told Mrs Tabraham. “Don’t worry about her, Margaret. Ian will look after her.”
Janet had started singing and piano lessons with them as a guileless sixteen-year-old, still at school. The only child of elderly parents, she had led a protected innocent life. The nearest thing to the high life for Janet was the Young People’s Guild at the Church hall on a Friday night, and singing alto in the school choir.
Heather doubted if Janet had ever had a serious boyfriend, although she was an attractive, dark-eyed girl, quiet and unassuming. They had given her a spare key to their studio so she could go in and practise in peace when they were not working there.
Heather chopped up the salad ingredients, thinking about her husband. For a while he had been restless, grumpy and out of sorts, but unwilling to offer any explanation for his misery. He would often fall into bed in the middle of the night, after consuming half a bottle of whatever had taken his fancy in their cocktail cabinet the night before.
She wondered if he was having another of his little flings and feeling guilty about it, despite the novelty of a fresh liaison. After the last one he had sworn he would behave in future, but she hadn’t taken him seriously. She had heard the same contrite promises before. He was sixty now: surely pretty girls in the eighteen to twenty-five age group, for whom he had a weakness, would look on him as a father figure rather than a lover. “Dirty old man”, might spring to their lips if he tried it on with one of them these days. She knew that the long line of girls, with whom he had amused himself over the years, were his little flaw, like gambling, or drinking, which might soon become his second little flaw if he were not very careful.
After his grumpy spell and over-indulgence in spirits, Heather had been surprised, relieved, and even rather thrilled, when last night he made do with two gins and made love to her almost like he used to do in the early heady days of their long relationship. Despite his perennial unfaithfulness, she knew he had no inclination to end his marriage for he always returned to her after a meaningless affair.
Despite Heather’s annoyance at his numerous flings, she did not want to end their marriage either. They had a successful and lucrative concert career, and now that Ian was nearing the end of his singing days, they were running a flourishing music studio together. Their musical partnership was as perfect as it had been the day she had first played for him at a concert in London over thirty years earlier. She still loved him, regardless of his foolhardiness with young girls. Each one had faded away, suffering the ignominy of being unceremoniously dropped, but she, Heather, remained a constant in his life. She knew he would never leave her.
Ian let the dogs off their leads to run free round the lake. He followed them at a slower pace. Zoo Lake was quiet this morning, although there were remnants of the revelry that had taken place at the weekend. Beer cans, empty chip and sweet packets, some floating in the lake, spoilt the illusion of being in the country rather than in the middle of a big city. Ian could see the white clad figures of the bowlers at the nearby bowling club. He could even hear the applause and the exclamations of pleasure when someone placed their bowl in a good position.
He thought about last night with Heather and felt rather ashamed of himself. He had been having a few drinks and thinking about his relationship with Janet – he could hardly call it an affair – yet. Unlike the young women and girls with whom he had previous affairs, this one was an innocent, a virgin. At sixty years of age he would be wicked to take away her innocence, although she was now at the stage where she
really wanted him to do so. She was so entirely devoted to him that he was frightened where it would all end. As end it eventually must…
The book is available as a paperback and as an ebook (epub) at: Fiona’s Store
I have decided to publish volumes 1 and 2 in one book. The book is available as a paper back print and epub. The whole thing could be read as a novel complete in itself. Both novels concern the life and career of famous British tenor. Malcolm Craig, his successful career in Britain, and his three marriages. Read more about all my books at: Fiona Compton’s books.
Dec 22, 2015
I was glad to see these two volumes combined in one book as they could be read as a complete book without reading volumes 3 and 4. Fiona Compton has made no secret of the fact that all 4 volumes in the Malcolm Craig series are combinations of Roman a clef and biographical/autobiographical novels. The first two novels are based on her own research about Malcolm Craig and Marina Dunbar in the years of their illustrious lives and theatrical careers until 1956 before she met them, although parts of these books are pure fiction, while other parts are largely true.
She has succeeded in creating the atmosphere of the early part of the twentieth century, World War Two and the immediate post war years as they relate to Malcolm and Marina’s lives and careers. I recommend this interesting double novel featuring the lively lives and careers of Fiona Compton’s fictional heroes – Malcolm and Marina.
The last two novels in the Malcolm Craig series combined in one book:
Once again, volumes 3 and 4 of the Malcolm Craig series could be read as one novel. Most of it is set in South Africa to where Malcolm Craig and Marina Dunbar move in 1956 after problems with the British Inland Revenue. Their lives have taken a new direction in a new country. Their marriage is no happier than it was for many years in the UK, and Kate Kyle (the fictional name for Fiona Compton herself) now writes her Roman a Clef/autobiographical novel largely from her own experience, although there are still many fictional elements in the story. In many ways, the idea of Kate and Malcolm having an affair when she is in her late teens, and Malcolm is married, and 42 years older than her, might seem like a shocking state of affairs. The story held my interest and the conclusion to the saga is satisfactory (depending on your point of view) although it is possible that Fiona Compton used her imagination rather than fact to reach this conclusion.
I found Love Set to Music most interesting. Neither Kate Kyle nor Malcolm Craig are covered in glory and some might consider their spring/winter relationship unseemly even over fifty years later. They obviously felt deeply for one another and Malcolm Craig’s wife, Marina Dunbar, was not without blame. I sincerely hope that the final novel will reach a satisfactory conclusion otherwise the emotion generated by the affair which changed the life of Kate Kyle/Fiona Compton radically without bringing her lasting happiness would have been a meaningless waste of time.
The final novel in the Malcolm Craig series, A Song for You and Me, held my interest even more than the three earlier books as this final novel reaches a conclusion to the tale.
Like the Christmas Special which concluded the long-running Downton Abbey, the end of Fiona Compton’s novel reaches a satisfactory resolution although the finale of the Malcolm Craig series is merely implied, rather than described in graphic detail. One is left to imagine what happens to Malcolm, Kate, and Marina in the years that follow.
Somehow I doubt whether the conclusion of this series of novels is the way the tale ended in reality, but perhaps that is why Fiona Compton chose to present it as a work of fiction rather than fact.
This is the third novel in the Malcolm Craig series. Because of tax problems with the United Kingdom Inland Revenue, famous tenor, Malcolm Craig and his wife, Marina Dunbar decide to emigrate to South Africa in 1956. This novel covers the first seven years of their lives in South Africa. Although they are still performing they find that they have to teach singing to make ends meet. Their marriage is still as tempestuous as ever and they are on the brink of divorcing one another. Marina has an affair with a popular radio announcer and Malcolm feels genuinely drawn to his young studio accompanist, Kate Kyle. Kate, in turn, thinks the world of Malcolm despite a huge difference in their ages.
Thanks to Pearl Harris for writing a review of this book:
Review by Jean Collen:
Jan 13, 2016
Fiona Compton has pointed out that the novels in the Malcolm Craig series are partly novels with a key and partly biographical/autobiographical novels. She has written these books under a pen name, presumably because she did not want to write the story as rather sensational fact, but preferred to write it as a mixture of fact interspersed with fiction. Possibly she wrote the Malcolm Craig series in this way so that she would not hurt or embarrass family and friends of the protagonists. I found Love Set to Music most interesting. I imagine that the character of Kate Kyle is Fiona Compton herself, thinly disguised. Neither Kate Kyle nor Malcolm Craig are covered in glory and some might consider their spring/winter relationship unseemly even over fifty years later. They obviously felt deeply for one another and Malcolm Craig’s wife, Marina Dunbar, was not without blame. I look forward to reading the final book in the series and sincerely hope that it will reach a satisfactory conclusion otherwise the emotion generated by the affair which changed the life of Kate Kyle/Fiona Compton radically without bringing her lasting happiness would have been a meaningless waste of time.
Here is a random sample from the book:
Kate – April 1962
After I finished my secretarial course I was working in the cables department of a city bank in Simmonds Street. I was taking lessons in piano and singing and preparing for various exams so I had to get up at the crack of dawn to practise my scales in singing and piano before I went to work. I was exhausted by the end of the day! Liz was on her April school holiday but I was working a five and a half day week in the bank with no sign of any holiday in view. My father had promised that if I did well in the exams he might allow me to leave the bank and study singing and piano full time until I completed my diplomas in both subjects so I was determined to do well no matter how exhausted I was. Becoming a professional musician was far more appealing to me than spending the rest of my life typing out letters and cables in the bank, and working overtime when the Rhodesian Sweep cables arrived and had to be decoded so that the bank could notify all the lucky winners that they had won a lot of money in the sweep.
One day Liz phoned during my lunch hour. She was very excited.
“Malcolm needs a small studio audience for his Edwardian programme tomorrow night and he’s just phoned to ask if I’d like to go. I suppose he’s been in touch with you too, Kate?” she asked.
My heart sank for he hadn’t asked me. I felt a stab of pure jealousy that my friend had been asked to go to the recording and Malcolm hadn’t bothered to ask me.
“No, he hasn’t phoned me,” I replied, barely able to speak for my mouth had dried up completely. “Perhaps he’s not planning on asking me at all.”
Liz was silent for a moment. She had probably assumed that Malcolm would invite me and she must have known that I was feeling very hurt not to have been invited.
“Well, it’s still not too late. Maybe he’ll phone you once you get home,” she said brightly, and then found an excuse to ring off quickly rather than commiserate with me any further. I continued eating the sandwiches my mother had made for my lunch, although I could hardly swallow them because there was a persistent lump in my throat. I did my best to keep a brave face and not let the tears that were welling up in my eyes run down my cheeks.
Marina and I were having a snack lunch in the studio. Eunice always managed to think of something interesting to put in our lunch boxes. As far as I was concerned the lunch break was the best part of our day in the studio. I really was not cut out to teach other people how to sing. I had managed to get out of most of the morning’s lessons by spending time in the office telephoning friends to invite them to the recording the following evening.
“I think I’ve contacted enough people for the recording tomorrow,” I said to Marina.”We don’t want too many in that small studio otherwise the applause will sound like Wembley Stadium at the cup final instead of a few genteel guests in a refined Edwardian drawing room. I had to laugh at Liz. She was so terribly excited about it. She could hardly contain herself!”
“Did you manage to get through to Kate?” asked Marina. “I know it’s sometimes difficult to get through to her at the bank when it’s busy.”
“Kate? I didn’t think of phoning her at all. I stopped phoning when I reached the right number.”
“But you know she and Liz are such great friends now. She’ll be terribly disappointed if you don’t ask her and she finds out that Liz is going. I wouldn’t be surprised if Liz didn’t phone her right away to tell her the exciting news. You know how they both adore you!”
I hadn’t even thought about whether Kate would be disappointed, but I realised that Marina was quite right. Kate would be very hurt indeed if I didn’t invite her to the recording. Despite her reserve, I didn’t need Marina to tell me that she thought a lot of me. She was probably as fond of me as I was of her. Why on earth hadn’t she been the first person I phoned instead of leaving her out altogether?
I looked up her number in the studio diary and made the call. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone happier to hear my voice in years.
“Will it be you and your parents, Kate, or do you want to bring your boyfriend with you too?”
I hoped she didn’t have a boyfriend, but if she did, I’d have to put a good face on it and receive the spotty youth with good grace.
“I haven’t got a boyfriend,” she replied in a small voice. For some reason I was very pleased to hear this. “It’ll just be me and my parents. Thank you so much for asking us, Mr Craig.”
There was a pause and she added, “I thought you had forgotten me.”
“Never, darling,” I lied bluffly. “Marina and I will meet you in the foyer of Broadcast House at half past seven. You won’t be late, will you?”
“No – we’ll be sure to be there on time,” Kate assured me solemnly.
We were usually pretty casually dressed when we went to rehearsals for the choir. Sometimes Liz was still wearing her blue school uniform if she hadn’t had time to change after some activity at school in the afternoon. We had never seen any of the other broadcasters formally dressed when they arrived at Broadcast House to record their programmes or read the news, although we had heard that BBC news readers had worn evening dress to read the news in the nineteen-thirties – and possibly beyond.
I was glad that Liz and I had dressed smartly for this particular trip to Broadcast House. When we arrived in the brightly lit foyer, there was Malcolm Craig clad in evening dress with a flower in his lapel, while Marina Dunbar wore a low-cut red evening dress, with a mink stole around her shoulders. Their great friend, widower Steve Baxter, a well-known broadcaster on Springbok radio, was obviously going to attend the recording too for he was also formally clad for the occasion although his usual attire for his own broadcasts was a sports jacket and open-necked shirt.
Although she was not taking part in the broadcast Marina was playing hostess to the people Malcolm had assembled for the recording. She ushered us all into the small studio where the recording was to take place and urged everyone to take their seats.
“Keep a seat for me in the front row, won’t you darlings,” she said to Liz and me.
Our parents sat together further back while Liz and I took our seats in the front row on either side of the coveted seat we were saving for Marina, or Miss Dunbar as I still called her. We were beside ourselves with excitement. Malcolm seated himself at a small table to the right of us, ready to begin the recording when he received the nod from the controllers who were seated in the enclosed glass booth at the back of the studio. He took a sip from the glass in front of him and glanced around at the audience.
Liz’s father asked in joking tones, “What’s that you’re drinking, Malcolm?”
“Water,” he replied dryly!
There was no further repartee between them after that exchange. Malcolm told us to clap politely after the items and talk in undertones to each other to create the atmosphere of a refined Edwardian drawing room. Although most of the audience applauded after the violinist and soprano had finished performing, it was only Marina who chatted to us brightly about the performers, and Liz and I did our best to respond with the necessary degree of ladylike decorum. For some reason everyone else seemed overwhelmed by the occasion and uttered not a word.
Malcolm got up from his chair in the corner and walked over to a spot directly in front of us to sing two ballads. Of course I had heard some of his recordings on the radio and I had heard his voice in the studio when he was showing me or one of the other pupils how to sing something properly. I had even heard him singing the Messiah when I was 13, but to experience him singing right in front of me was something I would never forget. Oh, Dry Those Tears and Parted – both sad Edwardian ballads, which he sang in his beautiful voice with all the feeling he could muster. I was completely mesmerised! I almost forgot that I had to chat politely with Marina and Liz after he stopped singing.
At the end of the recording everyone surged around him, congratulating him on his performance. Liz and I were the last in a long line of his admirers.
Malcolm asked us jokingly, “Well, was I all right?”
“All right? You were brilliant, Malcolm!” said Liz with all the confidence of youth.
“I’m glad you approve,” smiled Malcolm. “Perhaps you’ll come to some of the other recordings if you enjoyed this one.”
We nodded eagerly. I certainly couldn’t wait for the next time!
As we left the studio, I caught sight of Marina chatting to Steve Baxter while Malcolm was having a serious discussion with the accompanist. I thought I should say goodbye to her before we left, but I had the impression that she was not pleased that I had interrupted her intimate conversation with Steve Baxter.
“I’m so glad I was able to attend the recording,” I said. “Mr Craig was wonderful.”
“Yes, darling. We’re both very proud of him, aren’t we?” she replied in mocking tones, patting me on my arm. My face grew hot with embarrassment. and I suddenly felt deflated and childish. I realised then that I would be well advised not to offer such fulsome praise in future! Marina and Steve must have thought me very young and gauche.
After that magical evening it was difficult to settle down to sleep and it was a particularly dull thud that I had to force myself awake early in the morning to be in time to catch my regular bus with the other workers on their way to spend all day in shops and offices in the city.
Several months later, I did my music exams in piano and singing. Liz and an Afrikaans girl called Sonette du Preez, another pupil of Malcolm and Marina’s did their exams at the same time and Marina accompanied us all. Liz and I were suitably impressed by Sonette’s beautiful soprano voice when we heard her singing through the door of the the exam room. We decided that she had a much better voice than either of us and would probably do brilliantly in the exam
On Friday I went up to the studio apprehensively, wondering whether the exam results might have arrived. Malcolm answered the door and said heartily:
“I believe you sang very well on Tuesday, my gel!”
I looked at him intensely and said, “No, I was absolutely awful.”
“How do you think you did?”
“I’ve probably failed,” I replied with conviction.
He gave a little chuckle and marched back into the studio, leaving me to wait in the kitchen till Sonette finished her lesson. He called me in excitedly and handed me my card. I had obtained honours for Grade 8. I always expected the worst so I was always surprised if I did well. When I heard that Sonette with her brilliant voice had only managed 72 per cent for Grade 5, a mere pass, I felt disproportionately pleased, while congratulating her. Liz had passed Grade 6 with 72 per cent also. Marina and Malcolm seemed delighted with my results, and for most of that lesson, we drank tea and made firm plans for my diploma. Marina was wearing a black derby style hat and looked particularly striking in it. We all got on so well together that day.
I got honours for the piano exam too. My father was suitably impressed and agreed that I could stop working in the bank soon and study music on a full time basis.
Thanks to Pearl Harris for her review of this book:
Here is a random chapter from Faint Harmony:
Here we were in the middle of 1943, still living in the Muswell Hill flat which had survived the blitz despite the devastation of so many other properties in nearby streets. Vera and I had expected to have travelled to all the war zones in the world with ENSA by this time, but most of our concerts had been held in various parts of Britain, more often than not at military hospitals, village halls and munitions factories. Our particular party was made up of women of all ages, but most of the men were over the age of call up for it was a very rare occurrence that younger men could get exemption from military service to become entertainers with ENSA unless they had some medical problem which had prevented them from playing an active part in armed combat.
The munitions workers usually worked night shift as their factories were disguised as something more innocuous, so we often did one show at midnight and another in the early hours of the morning as a bit of respite for the next shift of tired workers.
I could never get used to seeing the wounded soldiers in hospitals, many of them probably wondering how they would manage to face civilian life after the war, some blinded, some burnt, some without legs or arms. Many would be confined to wheel chairs for the rest of their lives. We were all gratified to see their anxiety dissolve during the hour or two we managed to entertain them, making them laugh, and forget their pain and anxiety for the short time we spent with them.
At the rate we were going, we would need to be inoculated all over again if we were eventually called on to travel to war zones abroad, for the original jabs that were done at Drury Lane at the beginning of the war would have expired by that time!
During the worst of the blitz Vera and I had makeshift beds made up on mattresses inside the Morrison shelter installed in our Muswell Hill flat. This shelter doubled up as our dining room table during the day. When the air raid warning sounded we would stagger from our warm beds and make our way to this cramped shelter in our small dining room. Vera was petrified at the noise and chaos of the falling bombs, the anti-aircraft guns, the aeroplanes overhead and the searchlights on the ground trying to locate them. She was far more afraid than me that our building might receive a direct hit, so we often clung together for warmth and comfort, covering our heads under our blankets in a vain attempt to deaden the abrupt sound of bombs hissing and exploding around us, sometimes at a distance, sometimes very close to home, until the all clear sounded – more often than not only in the early hours of the morning. Just like everyone else who had survived yet another sleepless and terrified night, we still had to rise, face the new day and get on with our work, no matter how little sleep we had the night before.
And what of Malcolm in the midst of all the carnage? I was so busy performing and preparing new routines for future concerts that I had little chance to think clearly about how much I still missed him, but no matter what I was doing, there was always a nagging ache in my heart which made life far less palatable than it had been when we were happily married and I had been under the illusion that our marriage would last forever. I had always known the worth of his beautiful voice and would never forget. the happy times when we had appeared together at joint engagements, particularly that shining summer season when we had worked together with the Starlight Concert Party in Margate. All these years later, it was still very difficult for me to accept that those days were gone forever.
Of course I didn’t begrudge him becoming a top oratorio soloist and taking his rightful place at so many performances at the Royal Albert Hall and with the Hallé orchestra in Manchester. He had been singing at the Queens Hall shortly before it was destroyed by a Nazi incendiary bomb. He had always considered that hall to be his favourite, so I knew he must have been very sad to see it brought to ruin in a matter of minutes.
In the dark, uncertain days of the early forties I was upset that Malcolm was now so busy with the lighter side of entertainment with Marina that he was probably unable to accept many serious engagements.
Malcolm and Marina Dunbar were doing well in their joint career on the variety circuit where they had become popular and well-paid star variety artistes in a very short time. They were soon making records together, appearing in musicals together, singing on the radio together, and making films together.
They had received very bad publicity in newspapers and magazines about our divorce and all our old friends had felt sorry for me having to go through the whole thing on my own, but of course people have remarkably short memories.
Once Malcolm and Marina started performing together, audiences had taken to them in a big way and our old friends who had supported me staunchly during the divorce, were inclined to distance themselves from me and renew their friendship with the more successful Malcolm and Marina, leaving me to get on with my life as best I could.
They were all over the place. It was very difficult to avoid them. If there wasn’t an article about them and their ideal marriage in the illustrated papers, they were on the radio, and singing in variety theatres all over the country playing to crowded houses, the majority of the audience being women snatching a night of relaxation and enjoyment as a break from their strenuous wartime lives so filled with anxiety.
These women, clad in their drab pre-war wardrobes, unable to buy anything new because of the stringent limitations of clothing rationing, were suitably amazed at Marina, bedecked in jewels, and wearing a series of glamorous gowns as though there was no such thing as wartime rationing and austerity. They all wondered how she managed to appear so sumptuously clad when they were all making do and mending their old clothes furiously, but still fighting a losing battle to look attractive and feminine. Most of these young women’s husbands were absent,. serving in the war in some capacity or other. Even though they were tired after doing war work, often spending sleepless nights in air raid shelters, and caring for their children, they were also sex-starved and all too ready to be enthralled by Malcolm’s beautiful voice, immaculate appearance and handsome looks. Their husbands might be absent, but by the way Malcolm treated his wife on stage, they could all imagine only too well how he would treat her in the bedroom.
They probably went home after the show to dream of him as they settled down to sleep in lonely double beds which they had once shared with absent husbands who had made love to them regularly and vigorously several times a week or more if they were lucky. If the women in their audience had such dreams about Malcolm, they were not mistaken in them. The ethereal Marina would be enjoying what I had once enjoyed, nearly every single night when he and Marina arrived home, elated and excited after another triumphant performance. Like all the women out there with absent husbands who would return to them when the war was over, I could only dream about Malcolm, who would never return to me.
Certainly people in the profession wondered why they hadn’t joined ENSA like the rest of us. We heard a rumour that Malcolm was unable to travel to the tropics because he suffered from a chronic illness and therefore could not be inoculated against certain tropical diseases. As long as I had been married to him I had known nothing about this mysterious disease. He had always seemed perfectly healthy and vigorous to me. Even after our divorce, I still wanted to believe the best of Malcolm, but even I could not help thinking that the chronic disease had raised its head quite opportunely as far as performing in tropical climes for ENSA was concerned.
I had also heard about the son he had discovered a year or two earlier. Apparently the boy and his younger brother often spent their school holidays with him and Marina, and Malcolm was paying their school fees at a good private school near Wigton where they lived.
In the meantime I had been absolutely shocked when I was notified by Malcolm’s lawyer that he wanted to stop paying alimony to me because he had taken responsibility for the education of his son and his brother, and therefore couldn’t afford to pay my alimony any longer! After the shoddy way in which I had been treated, I had never had any qualms about accepting the alimony payments. I had certainly suffered great emotional pain when Malcolm had discarded me in favour of Marina Dunbar.
I was earning about £10 a week from going on numerous rigorous ENSA tours. We would do two or three performances a day often after travelling vast distances in an uncomfortable charabanc, while he and Marina probably received more than ten times that amount for one concert in a comfortable warm theatre or concert hall. I had every right to insist that he should go on paying me the alimony to which I was entitled. But, for some reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to challenge him about it. The thought of fighting the shameful case in the courts was too much for me. It would be as unpleasant an experience as standing by myself in that unfriendly divorce court. I was the wronged party, but I was the one who had to appear in court and go into the most intimate details of the breakdown of our marriage. If he didn’t want to pay the alimony rightfully due to me, I wasn’t going to beg for it and set myself up as a helpless victim, even though I would be begging for something that was rightfully mine. I might not have been in Malcolm’s class in the profession, but I had been earning my own living on the stage from the age of eighteen.
Vera and I were still active members of the CAA. I was alarmed to discover that I had been booked as the hostess at a Monday night concert when Malcolm and Marina were due to sing after we had watched the acts of those who were hoping to be accepted as members of the CAA by showing us that they were good enough to join the ranks of the pros.
“You’ll have to find a substitute,” I told Ernie, who had organised that particular concert. “I can never have anything to do with the Craigs now that I’m divorced from Malcolm. Surely you should have had the common sense to realise that, Ernie.”
“I’d forgotten that you had ever been married to the man! It’s far too late to find someone else now, Sally,” he said. “You’re a pro. I know you’ll be able to handle it without breaking down or causing any embarrassment to the Craigs. We’re extremely lucky that they have a gap in their diary and are free to sing for us. I wouldn’t want anything to go wrong.”
There was nothing much I could do on this particular occasion but I made up my mind to stipulate that I would never accept work on the same bill as my ex-husband or his present wife in future. But what difference would that clause make? I would be the loser in the long run. They were the stars. Who would care whether I was on the bill or not? Ernie could easily find someone else who would be only too glad to act as hostess at any concert featuring this scintillating couple.
The first half of the concert went according to plan. I did my best to put all the young hopefuls at ease. None of them were shrinking violets but they probably found their appearance before fellow performers far more nerve-wracking than anything they had done before. To be accepted into the CAA because fellow artistes had approved of them was one of the most satisfying achievements of their lives. I remembered how I had been accepted into the CAA at the tender age of eighteen after presenting my own act to this same critical, but encouraging, audience.
Malcolm and Marina arrived during the interval. They gave me a very frosty greeting when they met me in the Concert Hall. They certainly didn’t appear at all put out that I was to be the hostess that night. I, on the other hand, was trembling and near to tears after they swept past me to greet some of their friends most effusively. I didn’t much care whether Marina acknowledged me or not, but to have Malcolm treat me like a distant stranger was more than I could bear. I had no idea how I was going to get through that night.
Consequently, introducing them to the audience in that intimate concert hall of the CAA, was a far more harrowing experience than I had imagined. I really don’t know how I managed it, but I introduced their act with a light and cheerful touch, as though I was delighted that they were there and couldn’t give a damn that I was introducing the ex-husband I still loved and the woman who had usurped me.
But after that introduction which had taken every ounce of my professional experience to accomplish, I had to rush to the cloakroom and retch my guts out in the nearest toilet. By the time I had stopped shivering and retching, and had managed to rinse out my mouth, wash my pallid face, and reapply my streaked makeup, I had missed half of their sugary performance – just as well, as far as I was concerned! I slipped back to my place in the hall, still shivering. I don’t think anyone noticed that I had been away. The audience was far too engrossed in listening to the star performers.
As usual, they were beautifully groomed and dressed, as though they were appearing at the Palladium rather than in the more intimate and informal concert hall of the CAA. I wondered by what means Marina had acquired her exquisite midnight blue gown in the middle of the war. He wore a gardenia in the buttonhole of his finely tailored dress suit. The suit was a cut above the one he had worn for concert performances when he was married to me. No doubt he had a smart and expensive tailor in Saville Row these days, not to mention having his shoes hand made from a last! by someone equally fashionable and expensive.
Their whole act pivoted on their apparent adoration of one for the other. They made sickly, arch remarks, calling each other intimate pet names, gazing into each other’s eyes with unrestrained adoration. Despite my discomfort, I felt sad to see Malcolm singing trite romantic duets with Marina, taking care to tone down his wonderful voice to blend it considerately with her thin, scooping, sugary soprano. I thought the rest of the pro audience would see through all that excess of synthetic honey, but, no! They applauded loudly and were as delighted with their performance as any less sophisticated audience in a provincial variety hall.
I felt sad that Malcolm had put on a performance like that in front of me and that he hardly acknowledged my presence at all. I hoped I could leave when everyone was having drinks afterwards, but I was still the hostess of the evening, for my sins. I was supposed to make everyone feel comfortable while all I wanted to do was to curl up in a dark corner and die. I need not have worried. Nobody paid any attention to me. Even my close friends at the CAA had forgotten quickly enough that Malcolm and I had once been man and wife. They flocked round Marina and Malcolm, congratulating them on their performance. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Marina head for the cloakroom by herself. Perhaps she felt as sick at the insincerity of the evening as much as I had done. I wondered if Malcolm might at least greet me properly now that she was out of the room. So much for our years of marriage.
I tried to make light-hearted conversation with some of my friends, but I was a poor companion that night. My usual vivacity and sparkle had deserted me.
I was suddenly aware of a tall figure looming over me. He spoke to me in bracing tones as though he was addressing a casual acquaintance and not the woman with whom he had once shared every possible intimacy.
“Sally, my dear. How are you? We didn’t realise you were to be the hostess tonight until the very last minute. I don’t suppose you wanted to introduce us any more than we wanted you to do so. We could all have ended up feeling very awkward, but you made it easy for us. You’re a real pro, as always.”
I turned to look at Malcolm. I knew then that I would never “get over” him as long as I lived. It didn’t matter what he had done to hurt me in the past, I was silly, deluded, and weak enough to forgive him anything.
“Malcolm,” I breathed. “I wanted someone else to take over from me when I heard you were going to sing here tonight too, but apparently it was too late for Ernie to find someone else at short notice.”
“I’ve often wondered how you were getting on, Sally and I’m so sorry about the alimony. I hope you don’t mind about it, but I’ve had a lot of extra expenses lately paying for my son and his brother’s education. I could hardly send Graham to a private school and leave Edgar to make do with the local county school, could I?”
I could hardly believe what he was saying. How dared he plead poverty to me when we were poles apart in what we earned? Yet he looked at me with those sad brown eyes so that I almost felt sorry for him, although I was the one who was being done out of what was rightfully mine. It took all the self-control I could muster not to lose my temper and shout at him, or burst into floods of tears. Vera and I were really struggling to pay the rent on the Muswell Hill flat now that the alimony payments had ceased.
“Of course I mind,” I replied coldly, “How could you possibly think that I don’t mind? I’m going to have to move somewhere cheaper soon for we can’t really afford the flat any more. I didn’t take any action because I just couldn’t face going to court again to challenge you about it, so it looks like you’ve got your own way again. You and your new wife are doing very well for yourselves in comparison to me. I would have thought you could very well afford to go on paying me. I just can’t believe that it was you who decided not to pay my alimony any more. Have you forgotten what we once meant to one another?”
He had the grace to look embarrassed and he was probably very relieved to see Marina walking purposefully towards us before he could answer me. She had been charming everyone in the room, but she certainly did not look her usual smiling and charming self as she approached us. She glanced at me suspiciously. The way she was behaving you would have thought that I had done something wrong instead of them. She ignored me completely and spoke directly to Malcolm.
“I think it’s time to be going now, darling,” she murmured, putting her hand on his shoulder possessively. “We have a table booked at that sweet little restaurant. Have you forgotten?”
Malcolm mumbled a shame-faced goodnight to me under his breath as Marina put her arm through his, as though warning me to leave her husband alone and not dare do anything further about the alimony he had stopped paying me. I watched their somber mood change swiftly as they left me standing all by myself feeling completely drained by the taxing evening.
They were saying light and frothy goodbyes to everyone. Even those who had despised Marina and supported me when I was divorcing Malcolm, were fawning on them now. My knees were trembling and I thought I was going to be sick again. I forgot my duties as a hostess. I went to the cloakroom, found my raincoat and umbrella and left the warmth of the club without anyone noticing that I was leaving. As I walked through the damp and darkened streets all by myself, I glimpsed Marina and Malcolm’s imposing car passing me by. To make matters worse, at just that moment, the air raid warning siren sounded. Somehow, I didn’t much care if I was annihilated by a bomb that night. All I could think about was how Malcolm and Marina had managed to build such happy and successful lives and careers on the back of my misery, without giving me a second thought.
I was sick again when I eventually arrived home. I shivered under the blankets and wept miserably the whole night through, hardly sleeping at all. Between them, they had hurt me and ruined my life. I had always made excuses for Malcolm, but now I was inclined to think that he was just as cold and unfeeling as Marina.
The following day Vera and I received letters from ENSA. With the rest of our party we were to embark on a ship sailing for the Middle East in a week’s time.
“Your tiny hand is frozen; let me warm it into mine…”
Malcolm Craig cast his eyes over the first few rows of the audience in St Mary’s Church Hall. There were few signs of the latest liberated fashions of the twenties amongst the women in this staid, largely middle-aged crowd. Even most of the young women there were clad in the fashions and sombre colours of the previous decade. Not many flappers, with bobbed hair and close-fitting cloche hats were to be found in this conservative crowd. Many of those in the audience were still mourning the loss of their loved ones who had died in the Great War or had come home physically or mentally maimed. Others had succumbed to the Spanish ‘flu pandemic at the end of the decade. The only vanity the women displayed were cumbersome ornate hats which blocked the view of the stage to those seated behind them.
He was reaching the climax of the aria from La Bohème where his full attention should have been on the delicate high note at the end of the aria, when he caught sight of Felicity at last. She was further back than he had expected, seated demurely between her stern father and her scrawny twittery mother. Her two younger brothers completed the Gregory family party who were present at St Mary’s especially to hear Felicity’s young man singing.
Malcolm was going to London the following week to begin rehearsals for the new season of the touring Kings Opera Company. Despite his outstanding voice, his singing would be confined to the chorus, with only the occasional small role to fulfil, and although he would be given leading parts to understudy it was unlikely that many of the principals would be absent and give him a chance to stand in for them.
He took the last note of the aria in a delicate falsetto, and the audience erupted into cheers for Mr and Mrs Craig’s’ gifted son. He acknowledged the applause gracefully and drew his accompanist, the old Church organist and choirmaster, who had known Malcolm since his early days as a mellifluous boy alto, forward to receive his share of appreciation for the performance. He looked directly at Felicity and was gratified to see that she was applauding wildly. With the lights up, he saw that her face was flushed and her eyes were shining. She was aglow with the unaccustomed excitement of the occasion. All this applause was for her boyfriend who had acquitted himself beyond everyone’s expectations in his first solo recital.
Tea would be served to the audience after the concert, as it was on every occasion. The vicar believed that half the people present came to enjoy the liberal tea rather than because they were really interested in the event itself. Already stalwarts of the Mothers’ Union were gathering in the hall kitchen, competing with the applause as they clattered cups and saucers into position on the long trestle tables. The last thing Malcolm wanted to do after his recital was to make polite conversation with his large family and Felicity and her parents over a cup of weak lukewarm tea and a slice of seed cake. He wanted Felicity all to himself, to hold her tightly in his arms and see her rejoice in his good fortune. But he knew he would have to break the news of his change of career to them before he could relax and enjoy the success of the evening. He joined his parents and his older brothers and sisters, as they waited for tea to be served. Already he was feeling far more nervous about the ordeal to follow than he had been about giving the recital.
“That was wonderful, Malcolm,” said his mother proudly. ‘You’re as good as a real professional singer now. It was so good of you to sing for your old friends at St Mary’s and help the vicar to raise money for the Organ Fund.”
His father growled in agreement and his older sisters and brothers crowded round him, eager to be associated with their talented and attractive young brother, who, at the age of twenty, towered above his parents and siblings.
“Glad you all enjoyed it,” he replied nonchalantly. “But I could certainly do with more than a cup of tea after that lot! I’m exhausted!”
The vicar creaked up the stairs to the hall stage during the tea. He called authoritatively for silence so that he might give his prepared vote of thanks to Malcolm. He announced triumphantly that the Church had raised a considerable amount towards the Organ Fund from the proceeds of the concert. Gloved hands applauded warmly, if mutely, and Malcolm smiled modestly, silently acknowledging the gratitude of the congregation.
Some of Malcolm’s old school mates approached him diffidently. When they were younger they had been his boon companions, cheering themselves hoarse in support of the local football team, but now Malcolm’s burgeoning gift set him apart from them, although he himself had not changed for he had always been able to sing. Since he had begun serving articles in a Birmingham firm of accountants, studying singing in his spare time and singing tenor solos for various choral societies, he had not had time to go to football matches any more. He had also been advised that he could ruin his voice if he cheered on his team with abandon every week.
He reached Felicity at last, relieved to see that her parents were momentarily away from her, doing their duty by mingling with their middle-aged, middle class companions.
“That was beautiful, Malcolm,” Felicity whispered, as he reached for her hand, warm through her glove, quite unlike the tiny hand of his recent aria. “My stomach was turning over with excitement when I listened to you. Were you singing just for me?”
“Always for you, darling,” he replied hoarsely.
Her red hair shone like a bright cap on her well-shaped head. She looked pretty, pert and modern with her new hairstyle, but Malcolm regretted the loss of her unruly curls which she used to pin up with pretty tortoiseshell clasps. On the few occasions they had managed to be alone together he had delighted in freeing her hair from the clasps and running his hands through her shining luxuriant curls as he held her close…
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