London — I suppose that as midlife crises go, a sudden desire to learn the clarinet is not too terrible, except perhaps for those who have to hear it. In the listings of a life unlived, the unlearnt woodwind stands rather low. And yet as my birthday hove into view, it was thoughts of this unfulfilled ambition that filtered through.

It could be worse. I could, for example, have gone for sax, which would not only be a rather more tragic effort to recapture a lost youth, but also decidedly more unpleasant for my captive audience. The saxophone has a demonstrable element of cool. Think sax and you think shades, languor, John Coltrane. Think clarinet and you think Acker Bilk, waistcoats and bowler hats. (Admittedly, I think Sidney Bechet or Artie Shaw but I have to recognise that in the cool Olympics, clarinettists rarely make it past the qualifying rounds.)

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