Congratulations to our 2021 winners

Prizes awarded as follows: 1st Sian Williams, 2nd Jonny Griffiths,
3rd Crysse Morrison and Barbara Compton (awarded as a joint prize)
Guest prize Richard Pike



Should I tell her the truth?

Looking across the airless room at my interrogator all I can see is my own reflection in a blank internal window. How have I finished up here?

Cardiff, December, another age of the universe; the last rays of a pallid sun find their way through the high windows of the Junior Hall, where year seven has been mustered for a carol concert rehearsal. The sunbeams alight on the mad grey curls of Mrs Hargreaves, the music teacher, but she freezes them out, glaring over the top of the piano, taking in every recalcitrant child in a searchlight stare. She bangs out “Away In A Manger”, like gunfire. Even year eleven is scared of her. Our hands and feet are numb and our fidgety little bottoms are slowly freezing to the plastic chairs.

I hate singing. My mum says I’ve got a voice like a rusty gate. I ease a bit of bubble gum out of its wrapping, wait for the searchlight to move past me and slip it into my mouth.

The boys at the back wriggle in their chairs and snigger discreetly. The searchlight lingers for a moment and sweeps past. Then Michael Barrett, seated in the middle of the last row but one, calls out:

“Taxi!”  And drops the most colossal fart. I swear it nearly blows the rotten Victorian windows out into the yard.

The whole room erupts with laughter. Not even the Hargreaves glacier could stop it; until, guided by some sort of repressive radar, she rounds on the culprit and dispatches him to the Headmaster’s study.

Orderly conduct resumes. But I can’t stop laughing.

The piano crashes into a sudden discord.  “Lisa Jackson! Are you chewing?”

“No Miss.”

“Bin! Detention, Music Room two, three forty five!”

Detentions are part of my life. Boring, but no worse than sitting around a cold house waiting for Mum to come home, not turning on the gas fire or the telly. Mum doesn’t like waste.

Music Room two is poky but it’s in the new building, so it’s got proper central heating. Most of the space is taken up  by a piano, a stool and the teacher’s chair. Musical instrument cases are stacked against the walls.

The door bursts open. Mrs Hargreaves enters, filling the remaining space. The grey curls are standing on end. She looks mad and fierce, like Beethoven.

“You were supposed to be waiting outside!”

No point arguing, telling her I’m cold and not interested in stealing musical instruments.

“Miss.” I mutter, hanging my head.

She sits at the piano. “Music lessons are for singing, not chewing.”

“Can’t sing Miss.”

“Hmm.” She plays some notes on the piano. “Sing this!”

So the detention begins, the usual mixture of boredom and humiliation. I launch  a squeaky  assault upon the notes.

“Hmmm”. She glares at the keyboard and selects some notes down at the left hand end. “Try this!”

I humour her.

“Very good Lisa!”

What? Does she fancy me or something?

 “My mum says I’ve got a voice like a rusty gate.”

She makes that humming noise again. “What’s your favourite song?”

“We listen to pop.” I warn her.

“What’s your favourite pop song?”

I stare out of the window, watching the progress of a passing seagull., like Mum does when she’s listening to her tape of old hit singles. There’s one she really likes. It makes her cry, though she tries to pretend it doesn’t. I think it’s really nice, makes me go all shivery.

 I offer it to Mrs. Hargreaves, expecting her to bawl me out for being  cheeky, hoping she’ll kick me out:

“Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime”

But she starts playing it..  “Come on then! Sing it!”

“Why do you like it?” She asks after I stop singing.

I dunno!  Can’t say that to Mrs. Hargreaves. though, can I?  “I like the way it goes.”

“Ah!” She says, “You like the changes.”

She has got to be totally off her head. Maybe she takes drugs. She starts playing the song again:

 “These are called chords, and when the tune goes from one chord to the next, we call it “changes”

She makes me sing it again and then pronounces: “You’re not a rusty gate, Lisa,. You’re an alto.”

This is good, apparently, because alto voices are rare in young girls and Mrs. Hargreaves needs altos for the school choir. She asks me if I’d like to join.

No way! That’s what the swatty girls do. Then again, they’re all sopranos and I’m an alto. I don’t often get one over on the poshos. Then comes the clincher.:

“We meet after school on Thursdays in the Senior Hall.”

The Senior Hall is in the new building and has proper central heating.

It all came from that. I got a paper round, bought a guitar. Mrs Hargreaves got a student from the Welsh College to give me lessons for “mates rates”. There were folk clubs, jazz clubs, busking in Queen’s Street. My mum was so ashamed.  Then the gigs, the albums, the tours, a nice house in Lisvane for my mum, who’s not ashamed of me any more.

And now I’m talking to Lauren Laverne: I tell her about the huge debt I owe  Mrs. Hargreaves, which is true, but, in reality it all comes down to a fart, a piece of gum and warm feet on Thursday evenings.

“…..and, Lisa Jack, which of these eight tracks would you rescue from the waves?”

“Everybody’s Got To learn Sometime” because …because I just love the changes.”