Meet my piano. It doesn’t have a name, but it was made by a German company called Fuchs & Möhr. Their name is on the casing at the front, in inlaid brass letters, no escaping it – so my girlfriend gave it a pretty obvious jokey name. I don’t call it anything now, since she moved out.
You can see from the photo, the beautiful condition the action was in when we found it. It looked like no-one had ever played it. There was an obvious reason it was in the charity store for only £250, which was that the mahogany stain on the front panel had faded around where it had been left with the lid up in the sun. Behind the lid was a darker brown rectangle. Maybe even in the showroom in Swansea where it came from, perhaps they had had to offload it to the charity because it didn’t sell. People are like that, they won’t buy fruit in supermarkets, will they, or carrots that aren’t perfect-looking, even if they taste of nothing at all. They probably don’t buy pianos that don’t look so great when guests come to visit, however perfect they are on the inside, which is the part that really matters.
So it was going cheap (there were chickens living in it, haha) and my girlfriend liked it a lot, and she’s a piano teacher, so she should know about pianos, and I had just cashed in an old pension plan that was paid-up sometime in the 1980s, around the time she was born, so I couldn’t resist buying it, although I don’t play the piano. I hoped she would teach me during the long winter evenings.
The tuner came by and for £100 he fixed the odd growling sound it made in the bottom octave, and tuned it up for me, and for another £70 sold me a special piano heater I needed to keep the damp at bay, and there it sat in the imposing front hall of the empty mansion where I worked as the janitor, along with my guitars, my microphone and my drum kit, until I bought my own house and we moved. Me and the piano, I mean. My girlfriend was long gone, although we eventually became distant friends again.
Despite some rough handling – the piano movers had to turn it on end to get it in the front door – it stayed in good relative tune. But, annoyingly, he had not tuned it up all the way, and it was just a smidgen flat of concert C – not quite a semitone. I don’t play the piano, but I am musical and have a very keen ear. You get sopranos who have such a bright pitch, it’s like they’re singing always an eighth-tone sharp? It sets my teeth on edge, but most people can’t hear it. They think I’m weird, grinding my teeth and moaning at the soprano.
So there it sat, taking up valuable space in my sitting-room at the new house, mostly unplayed. I used it for odd things like tuning my guitars and working-through melodies, figuring-out chords and that sort of stuff. I just can’t do that thing where you play Rachmaninov with both hands at the same time.
Of course, you can’t work through anything sensibly when your piano is almost a semitone flat, but I’d run out of money to get in the tuner again and anyway, I had begun to wonder if maybe he wasn’t possibly a little tone-deaf? You get blind piano tuners, why not also tone-deaf ones? It is the era of equal opportunities, after all.
And then one day the carpet-fitter was due to arrive, so with a Herculean effort I moved the heavy piano all by myself into the kitchen. After he had gone there was this new, tufty carpet and I tried moving the piano back into the sitting-room but it wouldn’t budge. It takes three men normally to lift it, although I have a clever method involving two planks. Anyway, I had bought a chair and wanted now to be able to sit in my sitting-room, which I had redecorated in honour of the new carpet.
So the piano stayed in the kitchen, where lately I have found that the keys are sticking together, probably with cooking aerosols, chip-fat and so on, and the piano has become unplayable. You strike a key, and it stays struck.
I have been hoping to sell my piano with the house, as I don’t want to take it with me. Much as I like it, I’m planning to get a portable, handy keyboard with the money from the house. Now it is just an embarrassment, an unplayable piano in the kitchen, practically immovable other than by three men, with the name ‘Fuchs & Möhr’ inlaid indelibly in brass on the front…. I am wondering if a dab of oil – actually, maybe, a shot of WD-40? – might fix the problem with the keys, temporarily at least? It’s how you sell a car, you only need it to work once and always ask for cash.
But no-one is even coming to view my little house anymore. It has been on the market so long, people are probably wondering if there is something wrong with it, apart from the thunderous main road outside and no parking space? So how can I explain about the sticking piano, stuck in the kitchen? In addition to a solitary cash buyer with agoraphobia and no driving licence, I need them also to be an enthusiastic French-polisher who expects a house always to come with a piano – no home is complete without one – but is tone-deaf and doesn’t play. This is asking a lot of the discarnate entities who normally arrange things for me.
Maybe I should call the tuning man again? If he can sell me a piano heater, I should be able to sell him a house?