My attempts at playing this four stringed instrument would have George Formby turning in his grave! I may be northern but being born on the other side of the Pennines means I must have missed out on George’s innate sense of rhythm.
I’ve always been a sucker for a new fad and for the past few years the “uke”, as it is affectionately known, has been growing in popularity. So when my eldest son was given one for Christmas and I stumbled across Lorraine Bow’s Learn to Uke website I hastily signed myself up for the beginners course.
Four Tuesdays in a pub learning how to strum a few pop classics and the chance to make new friends to jam with along the way. What could be more fun?
To break the ice our teacher Lorraine came up with a novel way for us to introduce ourselves. We simply had to come up with an adjective to describe ourselves beginning with the same first letter as our names. So my first lesson began in the company of “Menopausal Mona”, “Patient Peter” and a French man dubbed “Juicy Julian” by my neighbour (hoping to get)”Lucky Louise”!
I found myself in a mental abyss fighting to find a fitting prefix to Rachel. In the end I settled on “Raring to go” which was the best I could do under pressure. Also infinitely better than “Raunchy” or “Ravishing”, which after my tube journey and with the smell of the kids’ tea clinging to my scruffy outfit I was anything but.
That first dalliance with the uke was exciting and great fun. I learnt how to hold it, tune it and strum with it. In no time at all – with the help of some coloured stickers on the fretboard – we were playing “Every breath you take” and “With or Without You”.
All week, as suggested, I dutifully practised for fifteen minutes every day. I even felt quite smug when asked at the second session who had done their homework.
However, it soon became clear my efforts fell short as the second lesson went at a pace I struggled to keep up with. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the banter and “Dunkirk spirit” of the less able in the group.
In the week that followed my enthusiasm began to wane. After that “second date” with the uke, I found myself thinking of reasons it wouldn’t work in the long run. I realised this was the first course I’d been on which wasn’t going to pay for itself. This time I wasn’t honing my writing skills or recording an oral history interview. There was no way I could see myself ever busking.
By lesson 3 I was being taught the chords for “I Will Survive” but I was floundering. A competitive edge had developed in the group and I felt I had been planted for comedy value in the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.
So my final lesson came as something of a relief. I went along with being filmed with the group for a You Tube video bluffing my way through a rendition of “Iko Iko” but little did I know worst humiliation was round the corner. Breaking with the format, Lorraine decided to teach us Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” without the “aide memoire” of the printed sheet.
I knew I was in trouble from the get go. I’m short sighted and wear glasses only in extreme emergencies. I find my myopic world far more bearable. This proved a huge handicap as from my seat in the corner I just couldn’t make out the position of her fingers.
Seeing my ineptitude, Lorraine strongly suggested I sit next to her and then to add insult to injury she expected me to remember four chords in a row!
No amount of repetition made this task any easier for me…At one point Lorraine remarked, “I teach kids with really severe learning difficulties and they can manage this”.
I left with my uke firmly between my legs so to speak! I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I received an email the other day advertising a “slower course”. Whether its remedial enough for me is another matter…