The Brass PandemoniumLindsay Johannsen / Humor
THE BRASS PANDEMONIUM
Copyright Lindsay Johannsen 2015
National Library Of Australia Cataloguing-in-publication data:
Author: Johannsen, Lindsay Andrew
Title: The Brass Pandemonium
Cover art and design bungled by the author.
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THE BRASS PANDEMONIUM
"?A brass pandemonium?" you say. "Yeah, sure. Like to go with your lead violin."
And, yes; I admit: pandemoniums were constructed almost entirely of wood, and different exotic woods at that. They were also relics of the past and played an important part in the early evolutionary history of the piano. I accept, too, that the idea of one being made of brass would seem, by any stretch of the imagination, an almost ludicrous notion. And yet such an instrument did actually exist.
It may even have survived, too, and as I write this be residing in a derelict barn somewhere in a backwater mountain valley, half covered in decomposing hay and with chooks nesting amid the dust and cobwebs of its nether regions. More likely, though, it will have fallen foul of a scrap metal merchant at some time and been melted down to make souvenir horse brasses for the tourist trade. Whatever the case, though, it was on this unlikely contrivance that I learned largely to play, and it in turn, by virtue of this experience, was to play largely in my journey through life. But let me explain.
To the best of my memory, the events associated with the business of the brass pandemonium actually began somewhere around the middle of 1965. I was a just a stripling sprat of ten summers about then, beavering away at my school desk in the poison ivy and mould infested greystone classrooms of St Cuspidor's.
Now, St Cuspidors, as you're no doubt aware, is one of our more progressive private schools and was the first in the country to become co-educational - an event which shot it to prominence long before I was ever enrolled there. According to school legend, the change was engineered single-handedly by the School Principal of the day, in circumstances later described (in what passed then for sensationalist media) as, "highly controversial".
This person possessed all the right qualifications and connections and, on being appointed to the position, soon became known as a genuine reformer and a jolly fine chap. Four years later, however, goal achieved and gone never to be seen again, he (she) was found to have been a highly committed, single-minded individual of the radical feminist persuasion. In disguise.
This took place long before the advent of computers etc, you understand, at a time when an Australian citizen was not obliged to carry identification of any sort; at a time when, to a large extent, one's word was one's bond. And, being such an upstanding chap and a sound feller to boot, her excellently forged documents were never really scrutinized - though as a member of the St Cuspidor's Board of Executives was later heard to remark, "How were we to know? I mean her mustache was certainly genuine."
On this particular day our Master had abruptly excused himself and left the classroom, allowing me the opportunity of demonstrating highlights from the previous weekend's footy match. And there I was, in the aisle with my back to the door and about to show how I'd secured victory in the game's dying minutes by taking a spectacular mark just ten metres from the goalposts, when unbeknown to me he returned.
Coincidentally, and at the same precise moment as I leapt to catch the ball, the girl at the desk behind me chose to make another entry in the ledger of our long running feud (so to speak) - she having found herself sitting thuswise to myself in every class since Grade I - and did so by extending her dainty foot a centimetre or two farther into the aisle (quite inadvertently, she later claimed).
Words can only fail to describe the ensuing chaos. Girls screamed, boys shouted, desks went crashing and chairs broke as I landed gracelessly about three rows back, books and ink spraying everywhere. (It was pens and inkwells in those days you see, and the monitor had only just during the lunch break refilled them.)
Our Master, meanwhile, stood by his desk, glaring all the while at the pandemonium with an expression of extreme disapproval. He was well accustomed to our rowdy behavior but was particularly wary of the thing residing at the back of our classroom. It was a temperamental old instrument at the best of times and given to spontaneously detuning itself - suddenly, noisily and often for no apparent reason whatever (other than being surreptitiously banged against the wall by five or six of us in his absence). In fact he seemed terrified of the thing and had, ever since its overhauling in readiness for the St Cuspidor's speech night, protested long and loud about its being returned there. It was almost as if he were certain of its bringing down some terrible fate upon us - in the middle of a Friday test perhaps, or during one of these little classroom contretemps.
And alas, how right he was to be proven, though this was not to happen at the hands of we eager, fresh-faced pupils. (But I digest.)
Master watched for a few moments as we set about righting desks and gathering books and broken chairs etc, but then suddenly let forth a piercing scream and sprinted from the room - never, it transpired, to be seen again (certainly by us, at any rate). Judging by the manner of his exit, we scholastic innocents quickly arrived at the conclusion that he'd be away for some time and immediately set about ransacking his desk in an effort to find the questions to next Friday's test.
We failed to find them, but we did discover in his waste basket a scrunchled-up solicitor's letter - Wherein and To Wit notwithstanding any Previous Claims and Statements to the Contrary or Otherwise and Without Prejudice, the Aforesaid Appellant and Party Of The First Part Miss Rita May Bubbles (the school's junior secretary), was claiming ex parabulum that The Party Of The Second Part, Mr Bruceforth Warrington Smarm (our fleetfooted master of recent departure) was the father of her swelling, um ...
As I may have intimated earlier, we never saw him again, though none of this came as a surprise to we denizens of the school desk, having noticed how increasingly tense and distracted he'd become. Later we began to wonder if we'd acted as some sort of catalyst to his crisis - not that any of us were much good at acting.
And Rita May must have remembered there was someone else after all, because this round and pimply smug-looking moon-faced young lady was soon observed being squired around by a thin and pimply smug-looking weasel-faced young man. How apt.
Meanwhile, the school's prized pandemonium - unbeknown to all concerned and right before our very eyes - was being demolished from the inside by a thriving colony of termites, all of which caused it to violently implode one day as we gathered around it for our afternoon singing lesson, at the precise moment Mrs Perriwinkle struck the introductory chord to "Ho-ro My Nut Brown Maiden" (arguably her favourite song). As a result of this she imagined the instrument's destruction to be her fault somehow. And so traumatised did it leave her that in all her remaining years she was never known to raise her hand to another pandemonium keyboard, ever again.
We choral angels were glad of the respite, however, having practised the piece solidly for months in readiness for our speech night performance. More significantly (for me at least), it also appeared to be the end of our pandemonium lessons - or would be until another could be found (if and when). And there was no replacing it with something more conventional, either. Maintaining tradition ran deep at St Cuspidors. This instrument had been gifted by the school's founder and principal benefactor, so nothing less would do. It simply had to be a pandemonium; St Cuspidors would not be complete without one.
The search undertaken proved long and fruitless, but then - almost providentially - a pandemonium was discovered by the school's diving master in the reef-waters off Point Calamitous. A preliminary appraisal of the instrument showed it to be essentially undamaged and in reasonable condition generally, though his assessment was brief and superficial due to the slightly inconvenient presence therein of a very large octopus.
Following this he returned to St Cuspidors and reported his find to the School Principal and