ARTS / Cries & Whispers

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FIRST OF all, if there are any readers left out there who still haven't seen The Piano: read no further, unless you want to risk spoiling your enjoyment of the film. The rest of you will be glad to know that at last I have space to include your solutions to the two Piano mysteries (C & W, 9 Jan). You may recall that I was perplexed by two apparent anomalies in the plot: why, if Baines couldn't read, did Holly Hunter's character send him a written note engraved on the piano key; and why did either of them not put a little piece of felt on the end of her tin finger to stop it tapping when she played the piano? I'm happy to say that your explanations were nearly as inventive as the film itself.

On the matter of the note, Charles Hurt of Southwell represented the most common school of thought: 'She sent him the message on a key from the piano as she knew he would realise she was giving him a part of the thing she treasured most . . . Then again, she sent it by her daughter, who presumably could have read it to him had she not chosen to shop her mum.' Catherine Turner of Preston thought the answer was more likely to be linked to Ada's 'strange will': 'With the note she unconsciously wished to be found out, because although at first it might appear as

if things are done to her, she really dictates the action.' Kim Thomas of Reading went back to the original script, pointing to a scene which ended up on the cutting-room floor, in which Baines gets some schoolgirls to read the note to him. But Godwin Busutill of London WC2 thought the business of the note was more a result of artistic licence than holes in the plot: 'Sending a written message to the illiterate Baines, a signal from someone who won't speak to someone who can't read, is an exquisitely symmetrical and dramatic device.'

Looking into the case of the unfelted finger, Joanna Scott of Chester decided that: 'She wanted the tin finger to click on the piano. It marked her out as different, so much so that she no longer needed to be mute.' The most inventive answer, however, came from the supremely practical Christine Prior of London SW11, who wins a bottle of champagne. She approached the problem from an angle no one else had even considered: 'If Baines had put a little bit of felt on the tin finger, it would have got wet every time Ada washed her hands and it would take quite a long time to dry out. The result would have been that she could not play her piano as the mood took her because she would have to wait for the felt to dry first.' Congratulations - your prize should arrive at your door shortly.

There's just room to include a few entries from the easily-distracted-from-the-matter-in-hand camp: those of you who, instead of answering my questions, raised several of your own:

'How does Sam Neill manage to sever a single finger from Holly Hunter's hand while holding her arm with one hand and a whopping great axe with the other? Such extraordinary precision seems beyond belief to me.' (Philip de Jersey, Oxford.)

'(Ada's piano) was a Broadwood table piano, which would appear to have been made in the early 19th century or before. If so, it couldn't have had an iron frame (they were introduced in the US in 1825) and thus, being made almost entirely of wood, would not have sunk in water.' (Peter and Jacky Maggs, Chelmsford.)

And, perhaps, most pithily: 'If she loves the bloody piano so much why doesn't she get it moved up the beach past the tide mark?' (Grace McKevett, Dundalk, Co Louth.)