My World Is Closing In

Do listen….he had wonderful diction.As did Kathleen Ferrier. Music bringing back memories of times past.

Before Covid, we had planned to go to Mexico, to explore the old silver mining towns. Even with Leo in a wheelchair, we had thought that we could do it….after all, if he could survive the Cresta Run which is the state of the disabled walkways and slopes of our little town, Mexico should be no problem.

Then came Covid and the world shut down- except for those who could spray their bugs willy nilly by paying a fine for travelling without vaccination.

A bug that recognises money is indeed a bug which knows how to discriminate. A bug for our time.

By the time the world opened up again to the hoi polloi Leo’s health had deteriorated to the extent that travel was out of the question and our physical world had shut down. Not just in terms of foreign travel, but even in terms of long shopping trips to the national fish market, the San Jose main markets or the best garden centres. Frustrating.

But we could still travel in the mind…memories abound of crawling through a ditch to see the sunrise at Karnak, the canopic jars which spoke to us in the Luxor museum, the astounding feeling of connection with the neolithic era tablets from Catalhuyek…the fluid beauty of the mosaics in the Bardo museum in Tunis……and the workmens’ caffs in Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt where we had such good food and good company.

So many of our friends have died…but they still live for us in our memories of them….being taken on a hot August afternoon in the Loire valley to be shown how to play boules de fort and to kiss Fanny’s backside…..long lunches under the cherry tree…….counting the votes in a presidential election….I can still hear Madeleine’s voice greeting us as we entered the back door of her house. ‘Pardi, you’ll never guess what Chirac has done now!’

These days, one of us is tethered to an oxygen cylinder and the other has knees which are no longer fit for purpose – a pair of old crocks – but the minds can still travel the world. We might be sitting on the balcony watching the toucans, but in our heads we are like the grocer’s daughter in ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’, bouncing round the room to Lottie Collins singing ‘Ta Ra Ra Boom De Ay’ – though without the flashes of garter and naked thigh you will be relieved to hear.

Which brings to mind a vignette from the nineteen fifties, of my mother’s staid mother, high on the Christmas trifle, stacking the crockery and singing

‘Lottie Collins got no drawers

Won’t you kindly lend her yours…’

As she too travelled back in time…to the eighteen nineties and the gaiety of the music halls.


‘Johnny Cope’ in the Morning

As the witness of  many a man of the Highland regiments would attest, there is nothing like a rendering of ‘Johnny Cope’ by a pipe and drum band to wrest you from your  slumbers.

Shakespeare might have proclaimed that Macbeth does murder sleep but he has been overtaken by the times…for the murder of sleep ‘Johnny Cope’ is your man.

Needless to say, Youtube does not have a full rendering of the initial drumroll which, as Terry Pratchett says of the initial chord in folk dancing, is there to enable people to get away in time…

Mark you, I can run General Cope  a close second.

I caterwaul in the mornings as I go about my business.’Nessun dorma’ has nothing on it.

Not in the bathroom – the toothpaste gets in the way – but once I hit the kitchen the air is rendered hideous by my renderings of whatever musical number has taken my matutinal fancy. If you can imagine a coyote singing, you have the idea.

I am not particularly aware of my repertoire, but recently Leo presented me with a playlist: he had noted what he could recognise over the period of a week and I was quite surprised by the diversity of my unmusical offerings.

Oh! oh! Antonio’ keeps company with ‘Bonnie Strathyre’….

The Black Watch are hymned:

while Mozart is murdered.

‘La Claire Fontaine’

accompanies ‘Le temps de Cerises’

while ‘Le Reve Passe’

competes with ‘Oh du wunderschoner deutscher Rhein’ – and how someone whose conscious knowledge of German stops at ‘Achtung minen!’ can remember this lot is beyond me.

‘My mother bids me bind my hair’

follows ‘It was pleasant and delightful’

and ‘Stormy weather, boys’ here sung by that delightful old gentleman, Bob Roberts, who kept the legend of the Thames barges alive for so many years.

Ireland features…

while ‘dauntless Red Hugh’ was my father’s nickname among those who dared…

And I suppose it is my father I have to thank for putting music in my soul.

He sang from morn till night…unless immersed in study of the form for a five horse accumulator on the flat …everything from opera to folk with a great deal along the byways between….but he had a voice…a lovely tenor.

Though he used to joke that he must have been singing ‘I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls’ – that harbinger of ill luck – when betting on the horses…

The main thing I remember, though, is father coming downstairs, freshly shaven, ready to take mother out for the evening, singing

Given the staid sort of outing that was habitual I asked him why he sang it

‘Hope springs  eternal’ said father.

Drink, drink, drink…

Here is Will Fyffe, actor and music hall star, singing the song for which he is best known…’I belong to Glasgow’…ostensibly the tale of a man sure neither of his balance nor his syllables as he makes his way back to the bosom of his wife after celebrating the end of the working  week in the company of his pals.

Not, by the sound of things, that he would have passed the ‘Wee Deoch an’ Dorus’ test:

There’s a wee wifie waitin’ in a wee but an ben.
If you can say, “It’s a braw bricht moonlicht nicht”,
Then yer a’richt, ye ken.

Try it yourself and see how you do…

Still, his character’s fate at the hands of his wife apart, Mr.Fyffe’s character exposes the  atmosphere of the time: he and his kind, the working man, who made the country what it is (was) are treated with contumely by the rich who pass them in their motor cars as they weave their unsteady way home on foot..

Mr Fyffe’s character asks how those rich made their money: answer – from him and his kind.

He further asks what the rich actually do: answer- they ‘do’ (cheat) him and his kind.

Sounds familiar? Yes.

Nothing has changed? No….

There was change: the post war settlement of the late forties and fifties aimed to ensure acceptable housing, proper education and guaranteed health services for all, not just for the few.

It had its faults -but over all it produced a  society where the threat of destitution no longer existed should you be too young, too old or to infirm to work.

And then came Thatcher, who declared that there was no such thing as society.

Who deregulated financial services.

Who willfully destroyed core national industries in order to break organised labour.

And son of Thatcher….Blair…under whom Britain became the money laundering centre of the world, while the people his party used to claim to represent went to the wall: jobless and despised.

And now we have Cameron: no programmes to promote industrial growth, zero hours contracts and demonisation of the poor.

In the agricultural depression of the late eighteenth century the magistrates of Speenhamland in Berkshire decided to aid the poor by topping up their wages -the idea being to keep them from following the example of the French peasants whose revolution was going on at the time.

Needless to say, as the burden of payment fell on the very landowners who were underpaying their workforce it was not at all popular.

The modern way is to put up the wages of those who work for skinflint employers by finding it from general taxation – which falls less and less on the very rich thanks to cosy understandings with the taxman.

The modern way is to undermine family life by making it impossible to have what was once known as a steady job…

No wonder people take to drink….


And no wonder they effect the same betrayal of love and trust as did the ‘Student Prince’.