Just for the moment, I hold the honour of being the choir’s youngest member. I’m thirty eight years old, which means that I am just old enough to qualify as a child of the sixties (although, like many of that generation, I can’t remember them.). I spent my early years on a rather rough estate in Sheffield, although at the time, it didn’t seem rough at all. It was just home. At some point the family moved out to the leafy suburbs, and my childhood transformed overnight into a kind of golden age that most people only get to read about in Mark Twain novels. I was very much a latch-key kid, with a free reign to explore woods, parks, fields and derelict buildings as long as I kept out of trouble. Looking back now, my life right up to my late teens was one long string of bonfires, barbed wire and rope swings. I’m sure I was never indoors.
Maybe it’s not surprising then, that I become a soldier. The Falklands War took place while I was twelve, and it affected me in a big way. I saw the men with packs on their backs and realised then just how much I wanted to be like them. In a patriotic haze I marched to my nearest Army Cadet Force hut, and put on a Royal Engineers’ beret. It took me until 2005 to take it off again, so you could say it was a snug fit.
Sarajevo and Iraq were obviously not enough of a challenge, as I now work in Bradford. I handle customer relations and publicity for a building company which is involved with refurbishing old council houses. It’s a demanding job and it’s not always rewarding. But I’m happy with it. Better still, I don’t have to spend six months away from home every other year dodging incoming mortar rounds. So what am I doing in the choir? Leaving the army has left a gap in my life. For all its faults, military life gave me a sense of belonging which is almost impossible to replicate. It’s fair to say that in many ways I wouldn’t want to – half of the appeal of getting out in the first place was to become my ‘own person’ again. But last year I realised that I was no longer part of something that I could feel genuinely proud of.
So that’s why I’ve joined. I like singing, but it doesn’t drive me. We’re all here for different reasons, but for me it’s to fulfil the need to belong to something bigger than myself. I need to feel part of something with a sense of tradition, and enjoy a bit of comradeship along the way. For me, the choir offers the chance to stand proudly, hold my head high, and say, ‘This is us’.