As part of my quest for self-improvement I am learning to play the piano. I am having lessons with Simon - a well-mannered gent who lives just off the village main street. He is a very proper individual – always wearing a suit and tie, even though he conducts the lessons in his own home. Simon tuts gently at my inability to complete my homework and is very patient with my ham-fisted attempts to master 'Jingle Bells' as a Christmas surprise for Maude.
My lesson is in the same slot each week and I follow a young boy called Jack. Jack is about 9 years old and is quite the little prodigy. He has very shiny hair in an old-fashioned bowl cut and eyes as big as saucers. Jack's little fingers glide over the keys, to the delight of his attendant mother. There is always a slight overlap between our lessons - as Simon is far too polite to rush his students. I hover while Jack is congratulated on his progress by Simon, who then reminds the boy of what he needs to practise for his homework. Jack’s mother carefully packs Jack’s sheet music in his special music satchel (decorated with the word ‘Jack’ spelled out in crotchets) – all the while beaming with pride.
Simon and Jack’s mother exchange pleasantries at this point and laud the boy’s natural affinity with all things piano. It is at this point every week that Jack turns and casts a sinister look in my direction – while I stand awkwardly clutching my adult piano learner book in my arthritic old hands. When Jack is sure that his big saucer eyes have caught my attention, he plays one last dazzling encore on the keys – usually some particularly dramatic Gershwin or ‘The Entertainer’ – taking in several octaves and ending with a flourish and a toss of his shiny mane.
‘Oh Jack!’ exclaims his mother every time this happens – looking at me (in vain) for some kind of corroboration of her son’s precocious genius. I usually smile politely and glance at my watch – as though to say ‘I think you’ll find that Jack the genius is eating into my piano time now.’