Wednesday 12 June 2024

Karen Regrets by Judith Skilleter, a glass of Argentine Malbec

Karen was born in the fifties. A good time to be born, a time celebrated in a song by the band The Police. She loved being a teenager in the seventies; in her opinion the seventies were when rock music was at its best. She loved the long haired heavy metal bands all of whom came to her town on tour to promote their latest LP. She saw them all, Ten Years After was her first big concert and where she fell in undying love with Alvin Lee, TYA’s amazing vocalist and lead guitar player. He, of course, was replaced in her affections by Martin Turner of Wishbone Ash, the first of many base players with whom she also fell in undying love. Then there were Free and Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple and Yes and the Moody Blues, not forgetting Dire Straits and so many more. Yes, the seventies were a good time to enjoy live music. It was part of growing up. It was part of enjoying something that was alien to your mum and dad.

But then things changed for Karen and music was no longer a priority. The eighties happened – marriage and babies, three babies in under five. “I must have been mad” she thinks. The nineties were also a blur – no pun intended, although she does remember preferring Blur to Oasis but why that choice had to be made escapes her.

In the nineties Karen enjoyed a developing career as a pharmacist and the demands of three teenagers who were nice kids most of the time.  Unfortunately, her husband left her for his glamourous secretary – size 8, long blond hair and no baggage. Yep, the nineties were a mixed bag of years. Some years were full of delight and accomplishment and some years were full of despair and anxiety.

The years after the millennium might have been an opportunity to enjoy music again.  Her children, when they were home, always had music playing but usually it was played with headphones and their vocal accompaniments were not always the best. 

“All my children are tone deaf,” she often said to herself. As the years progressed so did music technology. Reel to reel tapes had long since been replaced by tape cassettes which were themselves replaced by mobile personal devices. Then there were CDs and streaming and all sorts and nobody bought LPs anymore. No way was Karen going to get rid of her extensive LP collection and her Hi FI system.

Encouraged by her children, Karen dipped her toe into the future by buying a CD player and some CD’s. Her growing collection consisted of Dire Straits, Wishbone Ash etc etc most of which she had already in LP version, in well looked-after LP version, of course. She felt she was getting nowhere.

The problem was that Karen had not kept up with music trends for nearly fifty years and knowing what to listen to was not easy. She watched a music award ceremony on TV with her youngest. Her daughter knew the names of everyone who appeared on the screen, which band they were in, which bands they had been in, who they were married to, had been married to and the daft names of their children. Karen had no idea who they were or what they sang but felt that they really were unsuitably dressed (or was it undressed) for an award ceremony. She was also not sure she liked the music.

She shared her concerns with her eldest – that in the seventies she knew everything that needed to be known about pop music but now she knows nothing. And she would like to enjoy present day music if it was possible but where should she start. She admitted liking Alfie Boe and Michael Ball songs at which her eldest said “Muuuum” in almost despair left the room. “But I do” she called after the departing child.

The departing child came back “Look, just find a band or a solo singer, it doesn’t matter who, and there are plenty of radio programmes that will give you ideas. And once you have found a band you might like listen to other stuff by them. If they are good and you like them, that’s great, continue listening. But if you don't enjoy them, ditch them and start again with someone else”.

“Who is your favourite?” asked Karen.

“I like female singers like Dua Lipa and Rita Ora but knowing your taste in music you would be happier with a band, preferably with a bassist with long hair.”

Then one night late-ish Karen was channel flicking. She was waiting to hear from her middle child who needed to be collected from a concert.  “That was me years ago,” thought Karen. She found a band called Coldplay playing at a Radio 1 event in Luton. In the absence of anything else she left it on and reached for the Daily Telegraph cryptic crossword. But her eyes and ears kept being drawn to the screen. “Well he’s very bouncy” she thought to herself after watching Chris Martin hold the audience spellbound. And Karen found herself listening closely to the music and to her surprise she was drawn to it and found links to her 1970’s rock music. It was gorgeous. The audience thought the music was gorgeous too and they knew all the words – amazing. After only a few notes the audience were singing the song that was coming next. That is what she'd missed, the familiarity with and the emotional involvement in songs that she liked. And, of course, being able to sing along - even if she was tone deaf like her kids -whether she was at home alone or in a huge happy crowd doing exactly the same.”

And Karen was right. Not only had she missed the changes and development of popular music over the past forty years, she had also missed her personal involvement in and commitment to it. Seeing the joy of the audience, all of the audience, as Coldplay played their set brought Karen to tears. Their shared happiness and delight in being there and then was amazing to see. They were as she had been all those years ago. And like the majority of the girls there and probably boys too, Karen too fell in undying love with Chris Martin. “Move along Martin Turner and Alvin Lee, you have been replaced in my affections”.

How could there be regrets when her life had been so filled with happiness – mostly? But there were regrets and sadness that there was so much music out there about which she had no idea. The realisation that once again music meant so much to her was a surprise; for many years it had been a neglected delight. And if she wanted to find again that delight she had better be quick about it – she was coming to the end of her seventh decade and her body was slowing down. The mosh pit would now never again be an experience to be enjoyed.

Later that evening when she was returning home with her middle child she suggested that next year they do Glastonbury together. The middle child looked at her mother in disbelief

“Don’t be ridiculous, Mum; you would never cope with the loos.


About the author

 Judith Skilleter is new to writing fiction after a long career in social work and teaching. Her first children's novel The April Rebellion, has recently been published. Judith is a Geordie, who settled in East Yorkshire 45 years ago and is married with four grandchildren. 
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