My Glory Days started in 1979 after my first piano exam. I was 8 years old. Three pieces. Two scales. C major and G major. For my age, I was told I had long, slender fingers. I thought they were my best feature. I was quiet, with no self-confidence. I didn’t mind that I was forced into practicing. It was my thing. I loved it. I joke about how my mam used to make me play for the neighbours – that part I did hate. I only wanted to play for myself. It was my sanctuary. I can still feel how nervous I would get. And then, then the exams. Oh GOD. But there WAS a silver lining. Or at least a raspberry lining…
It always seemed to be cold on exam morning. It was great to get a day off school though. My mam would insist I’d wear gloves and sit on my hands. There was no sense taking an exam with cold fingers. The Royal Academy of Music, to an 8-year-old, was completely daunting. It was a big old building with creaky stairs and giant doors. I don’t remember there being a lift. If there was, we certainly didn’t use it. We always seemed to have to go up many flights of stairs. The butterflies in my stomach were disturbingly playful. Each floor meant my heart was closer to exploding through my throat. As we ascended each flight of stairs, we could hear other poor souls doing their exams. Some were brilliant. Perfect.
They must be grade 7 at least, I thought to myself.
Then we’d hear others, doing their hearing test. I was REALLY bad at the hearing tests. I hoped, for their sake, that they weren’t as bad as me.
My forte was sight-reading. If I made a mistake in my scales, I always knew I could redeem myself with my sight-reading. It was generally the last part of the exam, so if I felt completely rotten about everything, at least I could leave on a good note. No pun intended… I never looked at the examiners. I hardly spoke a word – just followed their instruction. Once I got going and felt good about the first piece, I sunk into the stool a little more, my hands and wrists more relaxed.
After the exam, I quietly and excitedly left the room. I felt an enormous sense of relief, but knew my parents would want to know how it went, even though all I could think about was the next part of my day. The walk to Brown Thomas. I knew it well. Out the door, right onto Dawson Street, quick jog left on Duke Street, and then Grafton Street would appear in all its glory, beckoning me to enter its hustle and bustle, my Sunday dress rustling as I skipped towards the front entrance. There was definitely a lift in Brown Thomas. One with glass doors, so I could see exactly where we were going.
Oh, the excitement as we reached the 3rd floor. I had to climb up with both hands onto the over-bearing stool, my head barely peaking above the newly cleaned counter top. My mam to my left, and my dad to my right. I gazed up at the giant menu, bending my neck backwards, and my bulging eyes went straight to the Knickerbocker Glory section. Knickerbocker. The word made me giggle so much that I just had to have one. I didn’t care what was in it. It was a Knickerbocker something. There were plenty of chocolate fudge sundae options on the menu. But that didn’t matter. I wanted my very own glorious knickerbocker.
It arrived in the tallest glass I’d ever seen, with the longest shiniest spoon, longer than the distance from my wrist to my elbow. The colours and swirls in the glass were almost too good to touch. I slowly turned the glass around, to see where the best ice-cream bits were. The raspberries were perfectly spread out in between ice cream scoops. On the top was a large dollop of proper whipped cream, not from a can like you get nowadays. It was silky layers of lusciousness all folded into each other. And the nuts! Tiny particles of walnuts and hazelnuts speckled all around the creamy delight. Jutting out from the top left of the glass was a long hollow biscuit with chocolate circling the inside.
I didn’t really know what to do with it. Do I eat it separately? Do I use it for dipping? Was that allowed? The icing on the cake, or should I say, the Crown on this Knickerbocker, was the cherry. A beautifully rounded bright red cherry, adorned the top of this wonderful specimen of sweetness. I stared at it, for a full minute. The cold and frost I’d felt earlier on my hands and face, was now a welcome and soothing swallow of vanilla ice-cream.
It didn’t take very long for my Knickerbocker Glory to fulfil its prophecy in my tummy. It met its destiny in less than 4 minutes flat. And I’d have to wait a whole year before I’d have another. Maybe if I practiced harder, I could swing it in six months. For now, I knew I could spend the day saying Knickerbocker, emphasis on Knicker. I smiled, happily knowing my taste in ice-cream and music was sensational.
(c) Orla Doherty
Visit Orla’s blog at: www.orladoherty.com