It's always a pleasure to do business with regular clients. For
one thing it's reassuring that people choose to come back time and
time again, and it's nice to have the chance to get to know people
and make new friends and acquaintances.
Many of my regular clients are professional players who teach,
so I get to see them more often than the clients who only need the
annual service. My usual 'modus operandi' when taking in new instruments
is to examine them on the spot, make notes, point out problems and
discuss solutions. But with regular clients this often becomes unnecessary
- they know what I do, I know what they want - which leaves more
time for putting the feet up and chewing the fat about who's playing
where, with whom and on what.
So I was none too worried when a regular dropped in a couple of
saxes from his pupils for a checkover, I simply tucked the cases
into a corner with the intention of checking them over later on.
A day or so later I popped the first of the horns on the bench.
The client had told me that the pupil was getting a slightly buzzy
sound from the lower octave. I suspected a small leak, though possibly
a loose point screw, or maybe even a badly lubricated roller.
No sooner had I popped the horn on the bench than the phone rang,
and as seems to be the case these days once you get on the phone
it's hard to get off it again. Modern telecommunications technology
has armed the punter with an impressive number of techniques for
getting in touch - including the dreaded 'ringback'.
If you dial a number and find it's engaged you can dial in a single
digit and put the phone down. The system will constantly re-check
the number you dialled and when it's free it will ring your phone.
What this means to me is that no sooner have I put the phone down
from one call than it rings again! On a bad Saturday I can spend
three hours on the phone answering one call after another. Luckily
for me, technology allows me to fight back by means of an automatic
answering service that cuts in if I'm on the phone - if nothing
else it at least allows me to grab a cuppa between calls.
So when I returned to the horn on the bench I was not a little
surprised to find that it was buzzing - all by itself! This came
as quite a shock - I'm not accustomed to horns playing by themselves,
let alone buzzing.
It was an odd buzz - if I had to describe it (and I suppose I do
really) I'd say that it was low, intermittent and rather disturbingly
Evolution kicked in. There are a few buzzy sounds that seem to
be hardwired into the human psyche - the most common of which is
the dreaded whine of the mosquito in a darkened bedroom. The second
most common is that of the stinging insects....or more accurately,
the aggressive stinging insects. Nothing sets off the fight or fright
mechanism more effectively than the sound of a wasp some two inches
from your ear.
But this didn't sound like a wasp - it was far too ponderous and
low a buzz.
It was with growing dread that a small, worried thought popped into
my head that, on the whole, lower sounds mean bigger things.
Whatever it was that was buzzing inside the horn - it was big, very
big, possibly enormous.
What to do?? I didn't much fancy lifting the horn off the bench
- if whatever it was inside chose that moment to make an appearance
I might have found it necessary to drop the horn...or even toss
it across the workshop and be off outside the door before the horn
hit the deck!
I didn't much fancy peering down the bore either...things always
look bigger in a confined space...
My dilemma was solved when the creature crawled slowly out of the
bell...it was a hornet, and a big one at that, fully two or more
inches in length.
Although I grew up in the country, and I live and work in the country,
I've never seen that many hornets, and never up close - this one
was my fourth, two of which I have seen in the last couple of months
(so maybe it's going to be a bumper year for them).
My only real experience of them comes from childhood comics and
cartoons - where the hornet's nest is always depicted as something
man and beast avoids at all costs, but which always ends up dropping
on someone's head...thus giving the cartoonist the opportunity to
use such exclamations as 'Yaroo', 'Eeek' and my personal favourite
Fortunately I caught the tail end of a radio documentary some time
ago in which the myths were debunked about hornets, and they were
described as relatively peaceful insects. And I'm sure they are,
but you can't deny that from a couple of feet away they can only
be described as 'bloody scary'.
And when faced with such a sight we humans have a natural tendency
to want to peek - which is why traffic jams always build up on the
opposite side of the road to accidents, and people watch horror
films from behind the sofa. Thus it was that I endeavoured to get
a closer look at this, admittedly magnificent, not-so-wee beastie.
It was then that the bugger lifted off!
I'd like to have been able to describe the wonder of nature at
seeing such a huge insect lift off, or comment on the grace and
beauty of its flight....but I was a long way outside the workshop
before the thing had gotten much higher than an inch or so off the
bench, having decided that discretion was the better part of valour.
I didn't even stop to grab my tobacco, which will tell any dedicated
smoker just how quickly I exited the place.
Luckily for my work schedule the hornet decided that it hadn't
got what it took to be a repairer and made its exit a moment or
so later...with much dodging around on my part lest it make a beeline
(hornetline?) for yours truly.
I'm certain it didn't come in with the instrument, it must have snuck
in through the eaves whilst I was on the phone - leaving me with the
predicament as to whether to put on the invoice ' remove hornet from
bell, make good'.