Tuesday 19 October 2010

The Ð (Eth) Factor

Every year in Streonæshalch there is an autumn Song Contest called The Ð Factor, running for a period of several weeks until Christmas. It is now so well-established in the calendar that it has become one if the high points of the year. Solo singers and groups (and even hopeful mature ones) descend upon the Abbey from all over the country in the hope of being among the fortunate finalists. Some singers are downright awful, but are so hopelessly deluded that they imagine that they are guaranteed success. It's very sad - but strangely fascinating at the same time.

The contestants appear and sing and dance before a panel consisting of the Chief Judge - a priest called Simon (nicknamed 'the Cowl'), a jovial Irish monk called Brendan and 2 erstwhile female singers. There is also a sizeable audience consisting of monks and nuns, the local townspeople and hordes of visitors from outlying districts of Northumbria. Much mead is consumed at these contests, and a merry ambience fills the hall. The monks are more restrained in their mead intake; they know what awaits them from the Abbess Hilda if they over-indulge and make fools of themselves…

The rules are simple: the contestants take their turn to sing a song for the judges and the audience. The panel pass their opinions on each contestant’s performance, and the members of the audience vote on their favoured contestant. The singer with the least votes drops out of the contest each week; this process is repeated weekly until the last - and favourite - contestant remains. In the event of a tie, the panel has the casting vote. Thus a winner is selected for his or her singing prowess; the rewards for the performer are substantial, as fame and fortune awaits the winning singer or group. However, I suspect that it’s more than talent that informs the decisions of the voting audience and the judges; it’s not very often that an elderly, overweight, spotty or unattractive contestant gets very far in the rankings – despite the talent he or she may have.

And oh, the emotion of it all! Each year we are greeted with the sight of jubilation on the part of those contestants who have been selected for the next round - and floods of hysterical tears from those who are eliminated. The failed female contestants also weep inconsolably. I ask myself: is there a void in their lives? Or is this pure theatre? I can't make my mind up.

And how do I - a mere cat - know about these things? I know because I sneak into the hall when the proceedings are about to start and park myself in the welcoming lap of a friendly member of the audience. There's no shortage of hosts to choose from. It's a great arrangement: I keep his or her lap warm, and I get a fuss and a ringside seat. I love it!

Not everyone is as enthusiastic about the Ð Factor, though: Caedmon refuses to have anything to do with it. He believes it to be cheap and vulgar entertainment for the masses, and instead of going to the Contest, he sits in the candlelight at home and composes his spiritual poetry. On this issue, he and I don't see eye to eye. For all this, I have a sneaky feeling that Caedmon has a great deal more talent and will be far better known in future generations than any of these songsters will ever be.. Sic transit gloria mundi.

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