The Way We Were...

The night London kept on burning

I have, I know, an unfortunate tendency to bestow my maternal approval on new schemes and ventures without first considering all the possible consequences. So it was with Anne and Hilary and the recorder lessons...

 

"We can learn to play at school in the dinner hour, one lesson a week, if you send a letter," Hilary announced, hopefully. "And it's £1 each for the recorder and 30p for a music book. Can you afford that, d'you think?" from Anne, seriously. Such tender regard for the state of my pocket completely disarmed me. "...if you can't afford it," Anne went on, in the voice of one who feels it only fair to make clear the alternatives, "...then we could join the choir instead. But we would rather learn the recorder, wouldn't we, Hilary?" Enthusiastic nodding from my middle daughter - there was really only one answer I could give them.

 

I have always hoped some or all of my children might display a musical bent. Not that heredity, on their mother's side, is much in their favour. When I was a child, nobody ever suggested I should join the school choir, even as an alternative to recorder lessons. It was only in later life that I discovered that, quite apart from having little or no sense of rhythm, I am also invariably slightly off-key. Still there was hope for my daughters, I felt. After all, had they not been brought up from the cradle to the sound of their mother crooning off-key nursery rhymes - yet managed somehow to be note-perfect themselves? That surely must be an indication of some rare musical ability.

 

Their talents are never more in evidence than on family drives, when monotonous journeys are considerably enlivened by the choir in the back seat. On an average drive, they entertain with anything from Top of the Pops to the latest songs they have learnt at school and playgroup. When they start on hymns it is a bit like driving a Sunday School outing - and one gets some very strange looks from other drivers, pulling up alongside them at traffic lights with the fervent strains of "YES! Jesus loves me!" emanating from the back seat. Recorders would make a change, if nothing else.

 

I dispatched the money with them the next morning and for the two days following their expectations ran high. On Thursday they returned form school, each the proud possessor of a brown and cream recorder. By 4.30 p.m. I was in the process of rethinking my attitude.

 

It wasn't that they couldn't coax a recognisable tune from their instruments. Anne, in particular, had been picking the brains of her pals. "Michelle taught me London's Burning and Belinda taught me that other tune, I don't know its name, you know the one that I mean..."

 

"What did you learn in your lesson, then?"

 

"Oh, we learnt the note B," said Anne, dismissively. A classic case of someone trying to run before they can walk, I fear.

 

They sneaked their recorders upstairs at bedtime without me noticing - they were still piping into the darkness at 9 p.m. when I took steps to bring the performance to what they would undoubtedly term an untimely close. I was foolish enough to give way to their pleas that I should leave the recorders at the foot of their beds. It is a mistake I can't see me making again.

 

Very early morning and I was well away in a dream sequence which had nothing whatsoever to do with the life I lead, when my sleep was rudely shattered by what sounded like a hundred referees blowing up for half-time simultaneously. "Do you know what time it is?" I bellowed, hurtling into their bedroom. They stopped in mid-squeak and eyed my sleep-ruffled appearance with mild interest. I imagine I did look a bit wild, but who wouldn't, dragged from dreams at six in the morning by the news that London's Burning?

 

They left it until 7 before they struck up again. Growing more ambitious, too, I noted with some resentment - they were attempting to play the tune as a round this time. I could have tried again but it was quite clear to me that, whatever the evidence of my ears, as far as they were concerned my lone voice raised in protest was the only discordant note in their harmonising. I burrowed under the bed-clothes and gave up the unequal struggle.

 

London, needless to say, went right on burning...

 

Kent Messenger - 1974

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Latest comments

26.10 | 14:21

Mmm, was it because there were '24 men kicking a ball' that it didn't end entirely satisfactorily???

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15.10 | 11:13

I don't remember seeing this first time round.... but thank you for sharing with me. You write beautifully, and brought a tear to my eyes. Lots of love xx

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10.10 | 21:37

Jaqui I think your grandchildren are very lucky. You have spurred me on to write a letter to Amelia who like Hazel is away from home for the first time. 💕

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03.07 | 22:43

Wouldn't have missed it for the world. xx

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