I snap the Guildhall looking foreboding under a rain cloud yesterday. I notice that it's slightly at an angle. Must be some kind of subsidence.Kate and I turn up at singing practice, breathless and late, after sitting too long in the Peace Cafe and forgetting that we are starting early this week in order to be filmed by the BBC. The atmosphere in the room is nervous electric when we arrive and we get changed, fall in with the others and begin to practice.
I am deeply relieved when the two men- a film-maker and his cameraman - arrive and break the tension. They explain that the film is about Stan, one of the only men in the group. They are following him over a few days of his life as part of a feature for BBC South Today.
The cameraman is a smooth NLP operator and soon has us all dancing to his tune, with the women giggling delightedly at him.
He decides he wants to do a circular shot, sweeping around us all as we sing. There is only one problem. Me.
"You're very short," he announces, as the camera reaches me. He puts it down and stares.
I'm a double water sign and sometimes we don't take criticism well.
"You're overweight," I throw back, glaring.
Then he left the room and returned a few minutes later with a pile of newspapers.
"Try standing on these," he instructed.
I stared at him with a complete absence of compassion for a moment.
"Tell me you're kidding. Please."
Five minutes later, I'm standing on a pile of newspapers and the cameraman gets his shot. And a sworn enemy for life.
Later, the cameraman wants a high shot from the corner of the room and instructs us all (with a particularly unnecessary glance at Kate and I, I thought) to 'look as though we're having fun." Of course the thing about fun is that once you try to look as though you're having it, you start to resemble a slightly nervous day release patient with a concealed weapon.
"I'm going to shove that bloody microphone..." I hiss, turning towards Kate.
"I know, I know," she soothes, "He's demanding, annoying, and rude."
I would have added smarmy, but it's not the right time to be picky so I leave it.
"If we look at each other when we're singing," she suggests, "We'll smile and look natural!"
So, the music starts and we begin singing Halle, Halle, Halle. Halfway through, I glance at Kate and we both smile. Then I chuckle. Then Kate chuckles. Then I can hear the 'Halle' that's supposed to be coming out of both of our mouths turning into "Ha! Ha! Ha!"
Before either of us know what's hit us, we're both seized by a terrible fit of the giggles that lasts for the remainder of the song. By the end, we both have tears streaming down our faces and I realise that we have both regressed back to school age. Kate even had to leave the room to calm down again.
The entire shooting took two hours, for what will only represent approximately 20 seconds of film in the finished piece. I now know that I will never want to be a film-maker. It's a strange medium and I have a new found respect for actors, who must love their trade a great deal to spend so much time being treated like talking mannequins. It also takes a lot of energy to obey commands like 'Look Happy!' 'Look Sad!'
I think the only expression I managed with utter sincerity was, "Look like you want to see the cameraman's heart being ripped out by a rabid badger with a personality disorder, while you shout commands like 'Look Happy!' at him."
I'm not sure how suited I am to being before the lens. I think I'll stick to sitting behind the keyboard.
Many thanks to Gentle Sir Michael of the Museum, who has recommended a YouTube video:
500 Years of Portraits of Women
500 Years of Portraits of Women