Have you ever watched someone do something so incredibly well, you find yourself utterly enraptured and jealous at the same time? Because you know that you couldn’t do the same thing to save your life?
I’ve always admired, for instance, people who could bake. My mother doesn’t even bother with a recipe, let alone take off her diamond rings. Just a cup of this, a pinch of that, a capful of something else, half a block of this, mix it all up and half an hour later, she pulls out a perfectly golden cake from the oven. And because she’s been so efficient, there’s next to no washing up afterwards.
The last time I baked a cake, the kitchen counter was littered with egg shells, spilt batter and puffs of flour on the floor, butter smears on the oven door and at least five mixing bowls piled up in the sink. Meanwhile, the cake tasted like cardboard and I had to throw the whole thing out.
The other kind of people I admire endlessly are musicians. They’re the ones who can sit down in front of a piano and from memory, unleash the most sublime waves of music.
Or they can sing. Or dance – little delicate steps that are perfectly in time with the music.
I can’t sing or dance. Which also means I can’t sing and dance at the same time. People don’t realize how difficult it is to sing “I’m a single lady” while doing the choreography (don’t ask) because Beyoncé makes it look so easy while wearing heels.
I bring this all up because it recently occurred to me that I have no discernible talent. I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t act, I can’t draw, I can’t cook. I have no sense of balance or hand-eye coordination which immediately rules out professional tennis, platform diving, or the parallel bar. The last time I got on a bike, I promptly rode straight into a wall.
When I was a child, my mother insisted that I learn the piano, but seeing as our school’s music department only had electric organs, I found myself every Friday afternoon learning scales on a machine that sounded and felt like it was coming straight out of a vampire horror movie.
As for those squiggles on the note-sheets, they might as well have been ancient Sanskrit.
Finally, I firmly advised the music teacher that telling me that this little beansprout mark was meant to represent the C-chord meant nothing to me and that I had better things to do with my time, like play five stones with my buddies in the canteen. Mrs Tan reported me to my mother who immediately ordered up an extra hour of music tuition.
Eventually, they all gave up when Mrs Tan finally realized that during class practice, when everyone was meant to be banging out “Somewhere over the rainbow” on their respective Yamaha two-tiered electric organs, I’d secretly switched mine off, so that as I ran my fingers elegantly over the keyboard, I was actually making no sound.
That was also round about the time my family hosted a foreign exchange student. Pascal was French. He barely spoke a word of English when he first arrived, but by the time he left us six months later, he was speaking fluent American (on account of all the time we kids spent watching TV) and, thanks to a lot of time spent in the kitchen with our cook, he could swear in the ripest Cantonese.
But every Friday night, Pascal was allowed to make a long distance call to his home in Paris. Jack, Michelle and I would sit on the stairs and listen, transfixed, as this incredible music of words spilled from his mouth, wasted on his parents.
“We have got to learn French!” Michelle said to us. “It’s so incredibly sexy!”
“What does sexy mean?” five-year old Jack piped up.
With a straight face, my eight-year old sister replied, “It means ‘clever’.” Which probably wasn’t the smartest thing to tell Jack. The next day, he marched up to his art teacher and told him that he was very sexy. Mother emerged from the principal’s office swearing she’d never been so humiliated in her entire life.
We all eventually learnt French, but, again, nothing stuck. To this day, all I can say is, “Can I have the bill, please?”, which has a somewhat limited use in daily conversations.
So here I am, no longer a kid, all grown up and still completely talentless. Saffy says I’m overthinking it. “Maybe you could go into politics?” she suggested helpfully.