Howard Jacobson: I will now always be known as the man who took Scrabble to the Diana Concert

As it happened I wasn't able to find anyone to play with me, partly because I always win
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The Independent Online

The Scrabble was my wife's idea. "You will not sit through a seven-hour concert unless you've got a game to play," she said, "and I'm not having you spoiling it for everybody else."

Which needs some unscrabbling. The event was last week's Concert for Diana. We'd been invited, not by William and Harry who invite me to nothing, but by a friend who owns a box. I don't as a rule do concerts of this sort, but a box is a box and to hell with who's performing. It was mainly social, anyway. An opportunity to meet friends, drink wine, and jig about on the terrace - if that's the correct term for the seating area outside the box - as and when the beat called.

The problem, as my wife saw it, was that after 10 minutes, or however long it took for the wine to work, I'd be doing my "Can someone please explain to me why anyone would want to applaud shit like this" routine. I'd done it a few weeks before at the George Michael concert, an occasion whose beginning to end dreadfulness none of my party disagreed with me about, but that didn't mean, apparently, that they wanted to hear me saying "Can someone please explain to me why anyone would want to applaud shit like this" after every song. And I'd done it the night before the Diana Concert at the Victoria and Albert Museum where Sing London - a "Festival to get the City Singing" - was being launched. Though why anyone would want to get people singing when singing is already all they do, I would like someone to explain to me.

But I'd gone along graciously. In fact I like communal singing. There was a time when all I wanted to do when I found myself with other people was play the singing game. I assume I don't have to explain the singing game. But just in case: you decide on a category - say months of the year, or food - and then everyone takes a turn singing a song with a month of the year or food in it, until only one person is left. And unless that person was me I went to bed unhappy.

Not all the fun came from the actual singing. I enjoyed the disputatious, schismatic aspect of the game as well. For example, while you could just about get away with "A frog he would a-wooing go" in the food category, allowing that a frog is food to some people, Flanders and Swann's "Hippopotamus Song" always proved contentious on the grounds that no one ate hippopotamus. Coming up with the name of the lost tribe that lived on nothing but hippopotamus then replaced the singing itself as the evening's entertainment.

We stopped playing it in the end because we over-subtilised. Once we'd exhausted months of the year and cities and girls' names we moved on to more abstract categories such as disambiguation, Weltschmerz, being and nothingness, and at last neurolinguistics. And where there are no songs to match the category, you have to concede that the game has lost its point.

So I was looking forward to this promised "magical singing extravaganza". The odd hymn, I thought, would be fun. And "Yes we have no bananas", and "My old man said follow the van", and then Jerome Kern and Cole Porter, culminating in rousing choruses from Oklahoma! and Carousel. I'd so expected to be singing myself hoarse that I even gargled with Listerine before I left the house.

And what did we get? Madonna's "Music", Incognito's "Always There", "Angels" by Robbie Williams, all sung by a massed and over-rehearsed choir in that style of faux-operatic a cappella that seeks to make something out of nothing and, whatever else you want to say about it, inhibits singalong more effectively than streptococcal pharyngitis. In a desperate attempt to get us going the choir moved about and harmonised in our faces "I sit and wait / does an angel contemplate my fate", but no one gave a monkey's. Reader, we'd have sung along to Handel's Xerxes with more enthusiasm.

"Can someone please tell me," I began, and that was when my wife gave me her ultimatum. I either took The Brothers Karamazov, The Independent, Sudoku and Scrabble to the Diana Concert, or I stayed at home on my own. No contest. What, miss Take That?

As it happened I wasn't able to find anyone to play Scrabble with me, partly because I always win and partly because I take so long looking for somewhere to put my seven-letter word that no one else gets a go unless they are prepared to come back the following day. But I gave the security man who searched my bag the best laugh of his life. "Scrabble!" he exclaimed with a magnificent wail of disbelief. "Man, you're having me on! Scrabble to a pop concert! This is a first for me." And he lifted the box above his head to show the rest of the security team. It was a first for them too. They were still laughing when we left seven hours later. They will know me when they see me next time - The Man Who Took Scrabble to Wembley. Only next time it will be Monopoly.

So how well did the concert go down in our box? Did I succeed in not spoiling it for everyone else? Reader, I was a saint. On and off they trooped, one dirge-maker after another, and I never said a word. The box went very still when the first of the afternoon's rappers menaced the audience with monotony, but again not a word I spoke. As nor indeed, if we are talking intelligible words, did he. More than that, I positively enjoyed Bryan Ferry who does the lonesome boulevardier thing the way I like it, his views on the aesthetics of Nazism notwithstanding.

And I thrilled to Swan Lake - ballet being poor bewildered Diana's only saving grace, taste-wise - not just because of Tchaikovsky's music, and not just because the dancers seemed to love the great expanses of the stage and danced supremely, but because here was something that quickened the blood and made the heart stop. And for a fleeting moment the pop-misguided multitude knew it - that the excitement they sought wasn't where they'd been looking for it all their wasted lives, but in some other place entirely.

But I didn't say that. The only thing I did say, noticing the words "People's Princess" on a banner, was: "Isn't that, when you come to think of it, an oxymoron?"

But by then Status Quo was on stage and no one gave a shit what I thought.

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