I have joined a choir. I've done so after a late night and rather drunken session on the karaoke machine of some friends. Having delivered versions of a couple of Elvis numbers I now can't even recall, the room declared me a natural and a new career was born.
So, on the undoubtedly biased and alcoholically compromised recommedation of my friends, I sought out a community choir in the locality. Mercifully, it is far enough away from the castle - a different county in fact - to mean that if it all goes pear shaped, I shall not be too shown up.
When I call the choirmaster to enquire about vacancies he asks me what do I sing. I tell him that I'm fond of the big West End musicals, Frank Sinatra and (here I think I'm being a bit cavalier) occasionally a bit of Elvis.
There's a very pregnant pause at the other end of the phone and I wonder if I just went to far with reference to Elvis and that perhaps I would have been better laying claim to a new Rydian tribute act instead.
'No Mr Bennett...' Oh dear, Mr Bennett is definitely not a good start. '...When we ask what do you sing, we mean tenor, baritone or bass.'
'Well Mr Swinbank,' I reply, sensing that in choral circles it is just too familiar to use first names until your order in the choir has been established, 'I really have no idea.'
Another longer than is decent pause. 'No.' And then, 'I'd guess at tenor. Well come along at seven next Wednesday and we'll see what you can do. We'll be at St Peter's because Reverend Cruickshank has a very fine organ. It' won't be difficult to find.' It's far more than I perhaps needed to know, as I don't know the Rev from Adam but what the hell, Wednesday it is and until then I am left to speculate as to the exact nature of Reverend Cruickshank's fine asset and how easy it'll be to locate.
I arrive at St Peter's bang on seven and from inside I can hear chatting, laughter and some gutteral sounds that are either voice exercises or the reverend's organ is playing up. Just then, somebody behind me says: 'Hello, you must be Simon.' I swing round and Janet Cruickshank introduces herself. She's lovely, puts me at ease and I am relieved that we will be able to discuss the quality of her organ now without further embarrassment. Inside, everyone else is also excited to meet me and I can see why. Janet and I clearly constitute the youth section and I am fearful that before long we are going to be called upon to sing a funeral mass for one of our own.
I am introduced to everyone by first names which is encouraging and, having clearly been briefed on my choral credentials, nobody asks what sort of music I prefer. I take a pew, am handed some sheets of music and Mr Swinbank (who doesn't go by his first name) raises his arms. I'm not that good at reading music. I have a schoolboy grasp of the theory. In fact it's not really reading at all, more following the pattern of blobs up and down the lines on the understaniding that the ones nearer the top of the page are higher than those at the bottom, but it gets me through a solo rendition of a well known hymn. Mr S seems pleased at the end of it and there is a ripple of appreciation from everyone else. He confirms his initial telephone assessment that I am a tenor and that I have a pleasing tone. I have an idea that Pavarotti might have been a tenor so feel happy with that. Apparently they had hoped for a baritone as there is a shortage but this is a common problem.
All goes well and I find that the music becomes more intelligible and my confidence grows. We are practising a programme of popular folk songs from the nineteenth century. I don't recognise any of them but they're jolly enough and have certainly expanded my repertoire. Predictably, however, they are not available on our friends' karaoke machine.
Three weeks in, we are in mid song when the church door rattles, swings open and in strides a true vision. Everyone carries on singing but I am agog and Rachel next to me leans over and whispers: 'That's Brenda.'
Brenda has been on holiday. I speculate that, by the look of her, she has been to shot-putting camp in the Ukraine. She has shoulders almost as wide as the aisle and I fleetingly wonder if our lady vicar's organ is all that safe after all.. I also can't help wondering where she finds a pink tracksuit in that size and whether she gave a second thought to accesorising before she pulled on those wellies. Apparently, as if this is supposed to explain such a cataclysmic lack of sartorial elegance, she is a sheep breeder - not farmer, breeder. Pedigrees.Very clean, no messing about in the fields. So why the wellies? Best not ask. Then I think, is this the solution to the choirs' baritone shortage?
Well, I don't actually know what sort of voice Brenda has because in this particular instance it seems rude to ask, a bit like what bust size are you or do you have a specially adapted bathroom, but she comes and stands behind me and as she joins in I am startled by the rich, honey-like tone of her voice. It's like being wrapped up in satin. Quite amazing. This alone is going to be worth coming back for.