Friday, 20 November 2009

Pomp, circumstance and real stuff

First, the photo – since Marley pointed out that pictures make blogs more attractive and I don’t particularly want to encourage individuals who give a false idea of what men look like (the way the guy did on my last blog), I’m opting for the next best thing (apparently), cute kittens. This one is courtesy of

But it has nothing to do with the blog. In fact, as with the last one, I was intending to write about one thing when a second occurred to give the first a different perspective. That’s the sort of thing that’s behind many of my short stories and plays. I keep a cutting from a newspaper or a note I’ve made and it just sits there waiting. Then along comes something else which completes it or contradicts it or energises it in some way or another and I write about it. That’s less so the case with novels because they develop in such a leisurely way that what may begin as two incidents soon multiplies into several.

Anyway, I spent last weekend visiting my daughter and her two sons in Glasgow. I had a great time but one event set me musing. Every night she reads them a story and, when they’re in bed, sings them a song. I’m not sure how often she changes the song but every time I’ve heard it it’s been ‘Starry, starry night’, or whatever the correct title is. She has a sweet voice, is pitch perfect and it sounds lovely drifting through from the boys’ room. So the two of them are lying there in the dark hearing this just before they go to sleep and I projected into the future and imagined them as grown men, middle aged even, and how suddenly hearing the song broadcast on whatever the medium will be then might affect them. The potential for drama, poignancy, joy, sorrow is enormous.

And I think that’s the way the writing imagination works. Set up a scenario – a man has just had a huge violent row with his wife, or he’s heard the news that he’ll be the next CEO of a major international company, or the doctor calls him in for the results of his tests, or he’s standing in the empty rooms of the house he’s just sold before emigrating to New Zealand, or his wife’s left him – and so on and so on. And, at one of these extremes, he hears the song, or another song that triggers the memory of his mother’s voice.

I know it’s not an original thought. Noel Coward, after all, wrote ‘Extraordinary how potent cheap music is’ (which, by the way, isn’t as well expressed as it might be; ending the quip with ‘is’ weakens it significantly – the sentence should climax with ‘cheap music’. If only he'd known me, he could have been such a good writer). There were also those powerful plays and films by Dennis Potter which made fantastic use of many old standards. But in this case, it’s the juxtaposition of a moment of exquisite security and loving with perhaps some future turmoil that set me thinking about how the narratives of our lives are far more subtle and textured than many of the fictions we find so entertaining.

And it was while I was wondering how to develop that notion into a blog that we had here in the UK the absurd charade of the Queen’s Speech. For those of you unfamiliar with the rituals, here’s a brief summary.

Queen arrives, puts on special robes and imperial crown, goes into the Lords and says ‘My Lords, pray be seated". Then she nods at the Lord Great Chamberlain to fetch the House of Commons. The LGC lifts his wand (seriously, his wand) to signal to Black Rod (don’t ask) to go and get them. Off he trots (with a police inspector who says "Hats off, Strangers!" to everyone they pass en route). As he gets near to the doors to the Chamber of the Commons, they’re slammed in his face. He has to knock three times with his staff (the Black Rod), and then they let him in.

Oh, that’s enough. I can’t go on. At least the MPs are wearing normal clothes. Everyone else is in breeches, gold stuff, silly hats. It’s embarrassing. And as I was watching all these (apparently) important people doing very silly things, the contrast with the intensity and reality of personal experiences struck me very forcibly. I know that many non-UK residents find these ceremonies admirable and envy us the traditions and so on but how absurd that people who are deciding to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, trying to cope with the global financial crisis, initiating legislation on health, education, crime, poverty and all the rest have to take part in a pantomime.

That ‘starry, starry night’ drifting through the darkness is in a different realm of truth from the pomp, circumstance and ermine robes of our lords, masters (and a tiny sprinkling of ladies).


  1. It's lovely that your daughter sings "Starry, Starry Night" to your grandsons each night. I used to sing an old Irish lullaby to my daughters at bedtime, and sang it to my daughter Lisa last year as she lay dying of cancer. It brought a smile to her lips although they said she wasn't conscious.

  2. Oh Jean, how awfully sad. I hope the smile meant that the music had brought her some happiness. Ironically, it's a wonderful illustration of my point. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Jean, what a terribly sad thing. No parent should ever outlive his/her child. Dying parents I imagine is hard enough. But children...I don't know you, but I just wanted to say I am so sorry. :(

    Bill: I enjoyed your description of the queen's speech, etc. I actually have never watched it, and had no idea there were little funny elements in that whole charade. I must watch it next time!
    Shame I don't do drugs. I bet if you are stoned, this sort of thing would be a great entartainment value!

  4. Of course, Scary. Why didn't I think of that? That's the answer, rolling about on the carpet giggling helplessly at the embarrassed self-importance of it all.

  5. And hearing a childhood song playing in your mind while your rolling, giggling, etc.!

    As usual great post. For some reason, Bill, I truly enjoy the circuitous paths of your mind!

  6. Interesting post, though I suspect for some, the pomp and circumstance has the same effect as hearing the old familiar song.

  7. Thank you, Bill and Scarvazeri. I only used my daughter's death as an example of what a mother's song can mean to her children, not for sympathy. Without music this world would be exceedingly dull. :-)

  8. Linda, what 'circuitous paths'? I'm as normal as you are. Hmmm, wait a minute ...

    Sheila, you're probably right, but I still think I prefer music.

    Jean, I couldn't agree more. I remember being dumped by a girl friend in my teens, hearing Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Overture and thinking he'd written it specially for me.

  9. Eesh, Bill you are so classy. Being dumped to Tchaikovsky. And what a lovely story about your daughter. Wishing I was young enough to be adopted.

  10. If you mean by me, Michael, you're on - just to get the wee man as a grandson.

  11. How beautiful, Jean, without speaking, she gave you the sweetest gift - her love in a smile.

    Bill, you are so right about the trivialities of pomp set against those special moments experienced at your daughter's house. I'd be dishonest to make fun of Michael. I wanna live there, too.

    By the way, my kitty was happier than your kitty.

  12. Marley, never hesitate to make fun of Michael. I think he likes it.

    As for the picture, your comment invites a response from a Carry On movie but I don't know any.

  13. Duh, I just got that.
    And I am NOT touchin' it...