A Little Musical Remembrance

Soon enough now, it will be nine years since Mum died. It’s hard to believe that it’s been so long, ‘seems like yesterday in many ways. 

As I have done in other years, around this time, I feel the urge to write something about her. To evoke her just a little. But it’s been tricky this year. I didn't feel the urge to be terribly maudlin because she never was. 

My mind kept coming back to how she was always singing around the house and how she never ever sang anywhere else. Whatever chore she was about, it was always accompanied by a snippet of some song. 

It’s a lasting memory but it’s also one I’ve touched upon in several bits of writing already.

When I woke up this morning, it being Saturday and all, I could tell that my brain was in a bit of a pleasant post dreaming muddle. This, for me, is a ripe time to find an idea. Logic is still a few moments away and silly amorphous things can often shape themselves into something useful, if you let them.

So, feeling bleary-eyed, I deliberately set my mind to the problem of what to write, to see if some fuzzy logic might be applied to it.

Again, my thoughts went to the songs she used to sing and how they had come to define her for me more than practically anything else. I remembered how, when she was alive, I had toyed listlessly with an idea of preparing a collection of her favourite songs and playing them at some future party that was never thrown for her.

Then the fuzzy logic thing worked and I made a connection I would not have made when wider awake. 

At Christmas, my boys had bought me a month’s subscription to Spotify so that I could try it advert-free. The month came with another two free months so I am, at the moment, pleasantly without interruption in my music appreciation.

There it was. Simple as that. 

I could make a playlist of some of the songs that Mum used to sing around the house. I could share it on here and nobody would ever have to listen to it or anything, that wouldn’t matter. I would have evoked her one more time, by pulling up the songs she loved from the same ether where she now perhaps resides. 

It was fun to do. It’s not a definitive list by any means. There’s only fourteen songs on there, after all, and her repertoire was vast. What is does reflect, though, was the quirkiness of many of her song choices and also how she seemed to migrate towards the playful and the slightly unusual. 

Here’s the link to the Spotify playlist:

There are notable omissions. Although ‘Show Me The Way to Go Home’ is on there (and Mum’s singing of it dates back to long before ‘Jaws’ made it a household thing), Mum’s version was a complex one that I can never find anywhere but in my memory. If you can help, please do. Her version had lines like;

They showed me the way to go home and they put me on an icy plank bed, they gave me no clothes to cover my toes, no pillow for my head. Next morning, present at court, the man with the sheikh’s beard on said “… …. Nine bob is the fee, pay up, get out, and go home.” 

I kid you not, she sang that and, as far as I can tell, nobody else ever did even though somebody must have. 

‘Little Mister Baggy Britches’ is another key song that is missing. I wrote (and sang) about that one on this post (click here for link). If anyone has a link to an online recording of it, I’d sure like to hear it.

One of the songs seems particularly incongruous, I think. In Nineteen Seventy Nine, a new local radio station was warming up in Sligo, doing test transmissions. They only had three records as their playlist and one of them was ‘Oliver’s Army’ by Elvis Costello. Mum immediately added it to her performances as she cleaned the kitchen or made the dinner. It fitted in with all the other older hits as effortlessly as we all fitted in that little house by the river. 

The remarkable thing about these songs is that none of them were records we had in the house. For quite a few of them, the only place I ever heard them was Mum singing them. This remained the case for most of my life, until I looked them up here in later life or, once or twice, was side-swiped by one of them coming on the radio. For me, most of these songs only existed through her.

For you non-Spotify people, I’ll add a comment to the post shortly which lists the songs, just on the off chance that you feel like Youtubing one or two of them or in case one of them evokes a memory for you.

Like I said, there’s no obligation to go to Spotify and certainly no requirement to hear the songs. It’s enough that I gathered them for myself and put them together in one place in her treasured memory. 

That will do.

Initial Final Thoughts

This day last week, there were some visitors in the house and the telly was on in the corner with nobody paying any attention to it. I glanced over at it, at one point, and saw that there was some downhill skiing on.

It was a remarkable image, looking down from the top of the ski run to the tiny village below. Usually the television pictures seem to level out and nullify the potency of a ski slope but this one seemed to capture it well, the sense of edginess and danger, the thundering steepness.

This image evoked a sleepy random thought in my head. Something along the lines of, “the next time I go skiing, I must remember to stand at the top of the run for an extra moment, to appreciate the view.”

It was the kind of thought that must run through a person’s mind a hundred times a day without ever getting interrogated or mulled over.

That’s what would normally have happened with this thought. I usually wouldn’t have even remembered thinking it, a few moments later. But this time, another part of my brain just happened to be paying attention too. It was the part of the brain that tries to catch me when I’m doing something stupid. Just as I had finished thinking my disposable skiing thought, just as I was about to turn my attention back to the visitors in the room, this part of my brain piped up.

“Hey, fuckwit, what do you think you're doing?”

“Nothing. I was just thinking about the next time I go skiing.”

“Really? Is that all? Well, let me give you a free wake up call here, sunshine. You haven’t been skiing in over twenty five years, you have a game knee, and you’re fifty one years old. Hear me on this, you are never going skiing again, pal. Not ever. Never.”

The combined awfulness and absolute truth of this left-brained interjection hit me quite forcibly. I looked again at the mountainous images on my screen. 

Never again.



It rather set the tone for the rest of the week. I kept doing little things and that same argumentative part of my brain kept wondering how many more times I would get to do them. Which time would be the last? An old song came on the car radio, one I only heard once every couple of years, and I was busy humming along when the brain voice interjected and asked me if I thought I might ever hear it again. If so, when? And would that next time be the last. Would this time be the last?

It was a momentary glitch, this uncharacteristic moribundity, and it’s largely gone again now, unless this writing brings it back. If it does, I shall have to give myself another stern talking-to like I did during the week.

It’s okay to be a little self-indulgent sometimes. “Gosh, I’m getting on a bit,” and “Golly, I'll never-ever do that again.” It’s fine. But then you’ve got to get over it, son. The world is full of ever-new eventualities, some of them great, some of them admittedly awful. Regardless whether they are good or ill, they will play themselves out as they must. Greet them as best you can and don’t waste your bloody time moaning over spilt milk. Or even (more to the point) milk that has been drunk and enjoyed to the full in the days when it was at its creamiest and its very best.

Maybe I’ve done my skiing but there’s a thousand other things I haven’t done and will do when I get the chance. Bring them on, I’m ready.

Now, dear visitors, that's enough skiing on the telly. 

Would you like some tea? 

Encouragement from an Unexpected Source

Sometimes I annoy some people when I start going on about how I don’t always feel like a writer. People get a bit protective of me. 

“Of course, you’re a writer,” they say.

A good pal on Twitter once kindly said, “Jees, Ken, if you’re not a writer then who the hell is?” 

Nice. Appreciated. Thanks.

And when I look over my page of things I have had produced, in some form or another, I can count up at least eight different radio plays, ten different theatre plays (some with multiple productions), short stories, a short film and getting on to half a million words on this-here blog. I've been very fortunate, more fortunate than many, and had great times with my writing over the years.

But still I don’t always feel like a writer. 

Don’t be annoyed. It’s not you, it’s me. The image I set for myself, when I was young, of who or what I would be as a writer is not anything like the reality I see today. I didn’t think I’d still be the professional guy clocking his full week’s work and then scrambling together the remaining measly hours to get some writing done. I kind of thought there’d be a nice book lined study with a view of a garden and a pipe or two… but only for cover photographs.

I mean, okay, I’m a writer, fine. I just thought I might be more of a writer.

For a while, I thought this occasional perception of myself as a non-writer was all about the money. The fact that I can’t earn a living from my writing. But it’s not that really. I think it’s more about being asked to write. Nobody really ever comes and asks me to write. What I do, I do myself and then I see if anyone is interested in it and, thankfully, quite often, somebody will be. But I don’t get commissioned, hired… asked. I think that’s the root of my definition. I also think this will change from time to time, as it always does.

But let’s not dwell on that for today. Today, I actually feel like a writer, so be happy for me. I got a piece of encouragement, you see, from an unexpected source, and those things are always welcome and good, aren’t they?

It happened like this. 

My son, Sam, needed some pages of his homework photocopied. Let’s not delve too deeply into the technical reasons for this lest we be here all day. It was something to do with two copy books and stuff in one needing to go in the other and… like I said, let’s not go there.

So, there I was, in my office on a Sunday, doing a bit of copybook photocopying. And I have a thing when I’m photocopying, I tend to read whatever it is I’m running through the machine. I don’t have a photographic memory or any ‘Mission Impossible’ stuff like that but I can pick up the gist of a type written page fairly quickly and I tend to treat the photocopying as a sort of challenge to see how much information I can soak up while it’s ploughing through the machine. Recently, a friend asked me to photocopy a script for the musical ‘Oklahoma!’ and I ran a five minute gamut of all the songs and dialogue as the pages sped by. It was fun.

So, yes, here I was copying Sam’s homework and I was, almost by habit, reading the stuff he had written as I copied it. There was History homework and Religious Instruction homework. The Religious Instruction one is much cooler than it might initially sound because it gives the guys a basic grounding in the tenets of all the major religions and that’s a pretty good thing in my book.

So there I was, learning at high speed about various religious practices and marveling at my son’s way of slipping self-amusing gags into his straight-faced work, when something else caught my eye.

It was encouragement.

There was a question to be answered. “What characteristics do you think you get from your parents?” Sam had lots of good characteristic listed from his Mum, quite right too. For me, he said something like this, “I’m good at English and writing because my Dad is a writer.”

That’s it, that’s all.

But it meant something to me. 

I don’t push my writing thing on my sons. Mostly I am the guy who does that other job all day, every day. But there on the page, without guile, was the simple observation that I was a writer.

I have taken encouragement from that. Today, I am more of a writer than I was last week or the week before. I’m planning my little scribbling and submission campaigns with a bit more energy and confidence.

I reckon, if Sam thinks I’m a writer, then the least I can do is try to be one. 

The Ups and Downs of Shelter

We always had trees along the rear wall of our back garden. Up until the Summer of 2014, that is, then they had to go.

The row of evergreen Leylandii had never been trimmed into a coherent hedge, instead they had been allowed to grow and grow, unchecked, for the years that we have lived here.

When our back neighbours called, one Summer’s evening, and politely noted that their satellite dish was no longer working because our trees were blocking the feed, something had to be done. We enlisted a nice tree man to come and trim the trees back a bit. “Nice and easy”, we thought, but there was more to it than that. Isn’t there always?

The trees had grown unruly, it seemed, and their boughs had thickened and started to exert pressure on the rear garden wall. The property behind is at a lower level than ours and the pressure was evident from that side. 

We looked at it from all sides but there really was no alternative. The trees had to go.

This was quite a blow to me, I have to admit. Those trees had been a constant companion for all the years we have lived here. Although we live in the town, the trees always gave the impression that we could be anywhere at all, somewhere remote and secluded. The trees were a constantly moving sea of green out of my living room window. Sometimes, when I sat on the couch with the television on, I would be watching the trees rather than the screen.

The trees went, all in one day. Suddenly the back garden was an unexpurgated roar of the houses behind. To say the garden was ‘stripped bare’ doesn’t ever come close. It was eviscerated.

We put up a fence, a nice tall one, so that we weren’t looking directly into the first floor windows of the poor folk behind. It’s there now, I’m looking out at it. It has returned privacy and that is great but it doesn’t shimmer in the afternoon breeze, it doesn’t give a haven to passing birds. It does what it needs to but there are just an awful lot of things it doesn’t do.

The arrival of Winter highlighted another thing the fence does not do. Suddenly, the wind from across the town came crashing unimpeded onto the back wall of the house. Where, before, the trees had buffered this effect with incredible efficacy, now the house was laid bare to the full force of the gale. At night, one could lie abed and marvel and the force to which the house was now exposed. It took a little time to learn to sleep alongside the onslaught. A little time.

So it’s a sad story, right? The loss of the trees, the privacy, the visual stimulus, the protection, all gone. It’s a bit of a tragic thing.

I would have said so, yes, for the first few months. I missed my trees more than you might imagine. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Far from it.

Come with me for a moment and stand in my kitchen. There’s the fence along the back boundary of the garden. It’s tidy and uniform and, although I know there are houses down the back, I can only see their roofs. And look at the size of the garden now. The trees had grown out and taken so much space away, it seems to be twice the size now that it used to be.

And here’s the big thing. 

Look at that sky.

Have you ever seen such a wide blue cloudless sky? Look, vapour trails, birds on the wing, space, vast endless space and light, so much light. Where, before, it was dull and constantly deep green now all if bright and spacious and wide. 

It’s marvellous, really.

You don’t need me to package this up into a tidy metaphor but there’s still a few words left to do so here it is anyway. It’s seductive to be sheltered. It’s so nice that it’s hard to leave and venture out into the storm. Sometimes we have to be thrown out and then, for a while, it’s cold and windy and not very nice. But the rewards can be great, after the shelter is taken away. 

We’ll never not miss it and we’ll probably always mourn the deep green quiet of those trees.

But, hey, just look at that sky.