A week or so ago, something bad happened while I was practicing clarinet.
NB - I am not a clarinet player. There are instruments that I play relatively well, professionally even, but clarinet is very much not one of them. I am a dreadful clarinet player. I got the clarinet out because, following my recent surgery, I have been more or less temporarily banned from playing any of the things that I do play, such as guitar, or bass, which have a painful tendency to bounce off where the still not-yet-healed operation wound is. It’s very frustrating. So I got the clarinet out, just to make some noise. As you do.
Anyway, the other week, while I was ‘playing’ clarinet, a bit fell off.
Even as a beginner, I know that’s definitely not supposed to happen.
It was an important bit too: the part that connects the mechanism on the upper joint to the mechanism on the lower joint. The instrument was rendered entirely unplayable, not that this makes a huge amount of difference in my case…
So I started doing searches on ‘Clarinet Repair London’ and even posted on Facebook to see if any of my proper clarinet playing friends knew a Magic Repair Person in the London area who could sort me out, hopefully cheaply.
No Magic Repair Person was forthcoming, though I was pointed by a friend towards a company in North London who, by email, suggested that for something in the region of ££ they were pretty certain they could fix it for me, depending on what the problem actually was.
I was on the point of making arrangements to drop the instrument round there when, last Saturday, I received a Message Request on Facebook, from a user who I shall not name, for reasons which will become clear below.
Usually, I find, Message Requests on Facebook are from new accounts with a single digit number of friends and a single digit number of posts, each consisting of a photo of an attractive young woman - sometimes even the same attractive young woman - wearing a low single digit number of clothes, together with a suggestion that I need only click through an extremely dodgy looking link to find further pictures of them wearing even less.
Instant delete and block, for certain values of ‘instant’. But I’m not completely stupid - I never ever actually click on the dodgy links.
This message, though the user had few friends and no posts at all, was quite different.
NB - the following conversation is heavily paraphrased for clarity and brevity.
“I saw you have a problem with your clarinet,” they said. “Maybe I can help?”
So, with some trepidation, I replied.
“Yes, the upper joint linkage key has snapped off. I don’t know what to do.”
“Can you send me a photo,” came the instant response. “That way I can see what the real problem is.”
And I found myself getting the clarinet out to snap a quick photo to send.
“Hmm,” they said. “This should be an easy fix. Do you have the screw that fell off?”
“I didn’t find a screw,” I said. “Anyway, where are you based?”
Leeds is some way from London, where I am, and I said so.
“That’s no problem, you can send the instrument by post. Other clients of mine have done this.”
I am lucky enough to own a decent beginner level clarinet - a Buffet B12 - which I bought from a friend at a massively discounted price a few years back. Even so, it really isn’t worth all that much, and the thought of adding postage to and back from Leeds, plus the probable repair fee, seemed a bit OTT. For not much more than that I could just get another beginner level clarinet and call it quits.
“Do you have a website?” I asked.
“No,” came the response. “But what make clarinet is it?”
“Oh, I understand,” they said. “This is a very easy fix. You just need a small screwdriver. Let me send you a video.”
I started to panic. So this was the scam. Engage me in chat, send me a video purporting to show me how to fix my genuine problem, and Hey Presto - they’ve convinced me - a fairly savvy Longtime Internet User - to click on their dodgy link. After which - eep.
I sat there staring at the unmoving chat window. Clearly I should just delete the whole conversation and block the user straight away. But I was curious to see what the dodgy video link they were about to send would look like.
So I waited.
Five minutes later I discovered that videos sent through Facebook Messenger aren’t always sent as links. Sometimes they display and play automatically.
My heart began to race.
At the same time I realised that the video I was watching consisted of a clarinet much like mine, showing how to replace the exact part that had fallen off. It really was very simple. Place the part over the point screw like so, set the thing in place, then tighten the screw at the other end of the linkage joint. All that remained was to get the tension spring fixed correctly, which was also clearly very easy, at least in the video.
I was beginning to have difficulty seeing what the scam was.
I also found myself wandering next door to retrieve one of the small screwdrivers from my toolbox.
Three minutes later, on the second attempt (the spring bit being trickier than the video indicated), I had fixed the clarinet myself.
“Thank you so so much!” I said. “That fixed it.”
“Ok good,” they said. “Hope I was helpful.”
“Helpful?” I replied. “You just showed me how to fix the problem myself! You couldn’t have been more helpful. I will certainly recommend you to friends who need clarinet repairs. Do you also repair other instruments?”
“Yes, a little bit, but mainly clarinet,” they said. “I am 14.”
“I have been playing clarinet for five years and repairing clarinets is one of my favourite things to do. I am from Italy.”
“Oh,” I said.
Fortunately, they had never heard of Stephen Howard, author of the Saxophone and Clarinet Haynes Manuals, and proprietor, at www.shwoodwind.co.uk , of what is undoubtedly the best and most comprehensive woodwind repair website in the English language, though it does focus mainly on saxophones.
So I sent them that link by way of thanks.
Still feel like a bit of a heel though.