Perhaps I had ambitions to be an MP - or an undertaker!

Thursday, September 11, 2008


First of all, some memories of when I was very young…………

I REMEMBER the big smile on our father’s face, as Rita and I ran down the street to meet him, his arms outstretched to hug us.

I REMEMBER while I was in hospital with scarlet fever being told by a bigger boy that I would die because I had swallowed some of the tooth-cleaning powder.

I REMEMBER with shame an aunt landing on the floor, because I had pulled away the chair just as she was about to sit down.

I REMEMBER hurrying past an aggressive little boy who lived across the street, because he would run up to you and give you a punch. I believe he died while having his tonsils removed.

I REMEMBER that, when I was unable to go to school because of sickness, my father would come home for a quick mid-morning visit, bringing me a comic.

I REMEMBER a rough boy at school (who, it turned out, was related to me) offering to protect me from bullies. When I named a boy who scared me, he replied “Aw naw, Ah cannae fight him”.

The Primary School I attended. Opened in 1875, it’s still going strong today!

I REMEMBER the doctor visiting me when I was unwell and commenting on the sheet of paper pinned above the bed on which I had written “KEEP SMILING”.

I REMEMBER the occasion when we were entertaining an uncle and aunt. Without consulting anyone I had drawn up a whole programme of songs, poems, piano pieces and games, and was very peeved when my parents told me that they’d had enough and just wanted to talk.

I REMEMBER one Christmas eve I woke up during the night and heard Santa Claus coming down the chimney. I kept my eyes tight shut, and went back to sleep.

I REMEMBER an aunt taking me to see the Queen Mary a few days after she had been launched at Clydebank. It was a very wet day, and we had to join along queue for a bus to take us back to Glasgow.

The RMS Queen Mary was built by John Brown and Co. Launched in 1934 by Queen Mary herself, the ship was in service from 1936 to 1967. Now converted into a maritime museum and hotel, she lies at Long Beach, California.


A few weeks ago I explained that I had been a young fan of Henry Hall and the BBC Dance Orchestra. My knowledge of music was fairly limited in those days. There were of course simple arrangements of classical pieces for me to learn on the piano. There was a very elementary book of Schubert, I remember, which included the main theme of the unfinished Symphony. The only classical music I heard regularly was what was played on the organ in church - Mendelssohn, Gounod, Handel, though those names wouldn’t mean much to me then. Our organist wasn’t averse to playing secular music, and sometimes we would get things like the Toreador’s Song from Carmen.

One of my favourites and indeed of the whole congregation was Handel’s Largo, and when it was played one could hear a subdued humming rising from the pews. Many years later on, when I myself was an organist elsewhere, I chose this piece one morning as the opening voluntary . After the service was over, I was told that a lady, on arriving at the church door, and on hearing “Largo”, turned away and stayed out of earshot till I had finished. Apparently the melody always reduced her to tears.

The “Largo” we know isn’t the original version. The melody was composed by Handel as an aria for his opera “Xerxes”. The opera wasn’t a success, and the aria is the only part of it still performed today.

It’s sung here by the wonderful Kathleen Ferrier 1912-1953 with the London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Malcolm Sargent. The familiar tune begins at 1 minute 8 seconds.


At home we listened to Children’s Hour on the radio, but the only music programmes I remember hearing were the frequent broadcasts by Reginald Foort the cinema organist. He had a very wide repertoire ranging from overtures, through opera, operetta and ballads to popular songs of the day. At that time I thought the cinema organ sound was absolutely wonderful and I was desperate to learn the pipe organ. But more of that some other time.....

When he left the BBC, Reginald Foort was succeeded by Sandy Macpherson, a Canadian who had been resident for many years at the Empire, Leicester Square. At the outbreak of war, all normal broadcasts were stopped for a time, and much of the music programmes substituted were supplied by Sandy for up to 12 hours a day.

I’m showing this little video simply for nostalgia, since this type of music really belongs to a world that no longer exists. Sandy is playing what was then the new BBC theatre organ which had been installed in St. George’s Hall. London. The instrument was destroyed during an air raid in September 1940 and Reginald Foort came to the rescue by loaning his enormous portable organ to the BBC. After the war he decided to sell the instrument and the BBC bought it from him.


Here’s an amusing poem which I’ve set down from memory. It was contained a book of indoor games and pastimes published in the ‘30s by Foulsham, and it brings back a lot of memories for me.

The 8.15 was almost due,
He had no time to spare,
He licked his face and cleaned his teeth
And combed and brushed his hair.

He gripped his collar savagely
And fumbled with his tie,
Then tried to do his shirt-front up,
No buttons could he spy.

He dashed down to the breakfast room
With curses that could hurt,
“How often have I asked you, girl,
‘Bout buttons on my shirt?”

His little wife said “Oh, but dear…”
“Don’t dear me!” he replied.
“There’s no time to be funny, girl!”
Belinda simply sighed.

“I’m sick to death of telling you
‘Bout buttons on my shirt,
It’s dastardly to treat me thus,
I’m not a lump of dirt!”

His little wife just looked at him,
Her lips began to pout.
“You see, my dear,” she sweetly said,
“Your shirt is inside out!”


Finally, the EIGHTY PLUS quote -

He who is of a calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age, but to him who is of an opposite disposition youth and age are equally a burden. (Plato)


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