Friday, January 18, 2019

Dolly and Jolene - a taste for country

Source, Fair use,
I'm not too sure when I acquired a taste for country music and if it's a sign of age but the indy choir, Wham Jam, I've joined this winter includes a jazzy version of Jolene in its repertoire and it's incredibly pleasing to listen to and sing. 

Jolene, along with another country tune, is often on my mind, although when I try and practice at my desk, the cat leaves the room like a shot. Is she picking up on the tragedy?

Dolly is a woman to admire - she wrote the song and has performed it around the world. What does the cat pick up as Jolene starts up on the laptop? Tiger escapes the moment I start to sing along but I don't think I'm THAT bad. Everyone can sing, can't they? The quality of my voice, it seems, is irrelevant. I search the question, do cats like music? and unsurprisingly, there's a theory - a study from the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 

It seems cats like music so long as it's species appropriate. Researchers asked a musician to write three songs: Cozmo's Air, Spook's Ditty and Rusty's Ballad after test cats walked away from Bach and Faure. 

I'm not too bothered about Tiger disliking Jolene. It's the one she has the most extreme reaction to. The others in the set make her concerned. Perhaps it's not so much my singing as the fact that she's used to me being silent as I sit at my desk. The whole house is silent. She and I generally enjoy the silence, interrupted by the odd car passing, sparrows in the fuschia outside, Binky barking next door. Now I've worked out the BT blocking system, there's not even too many unwanted calls on the landline either. 

I wonder if there's something in the lyrics that Tiger picks up, a supremely human capacity for betrayal and jealousy, for theft and drawn out misery. Jolene is perhaps a robust reminder of the human world. But Dolly Parton is infinitely more interesting than whether cats like music because of everything she has overcome.  Her birthday, by the way, is 19 January. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Towards the sea

The song starts "A room with a window facing west/ Towards the sea". It's by the Staves and it's part of the repertoire of Wham Jam, the daytime choir I've joined this winter. As a newcomer, I'm daunted by the prospect of learning a set before mid March but this tune has stuck in my mind, particularly the line "Sing me a song, your voice is like silver...."

Sing me a song, your voice is like silver
It's an old metaphor but the melody's sweet and the invitation is lyrical. It was in my mind as I browsed Eurostar's £29 deals a few days ago, wondering if I could take some time out to stay at a friend's house in France. The question is still there in my mind, despite my decision to call myself semi-retired. The old work ethic nags and drowns out all idea of fun.

But then there are friends. Good, loyal, conscious and responsive friends, who remind me always of opportunity, of fun, of the need to make the most of what I have. And so this one friend, dear Michaela, texted me, "have you read your email?"

I'd been humming that line by the Staves as I cleared the front room, finding a space for Giya to work, filling bags with recycling. I felt like a sparrow brushing last year's twigs from the eaves and the sparrow gang was indeed outside at the time. So I went to my emails and could hardly believe what I was reading. There it was, that room facing the sea, and it was on top of a mountain.

It is as if that exercise of making the space for my daughter to work, the song, the earlier dream of travelling had become a living thing, had somehow found a place where thought and reality coincide and put an old Spanish house there, high above the sea, in a blur of green, ochre and blue. That the dream had, like the best secretary, matched the dates when I had no work, the time when I could risk leaving the allotment for a month, the time when Giya was here, and sung me that song.

I have neglected my writing over the past few months for all sorts of reasons. But I have a collection of poems to sharpen up, the South African book to continue editing and short stories to indulge in because I'm loving the looseness they create in me. I will plant two trees for my flights and ask favours of friends with strimmers and green fingers, to keep the grass down and bring on some seedlings. I have never felt so lucky.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Is the family mending?

It seems to have been happening forever and yet been compressed into a matter of months - one moving out, the other now engaged.

None of us makes decisions rashly. The happening forever starts with the children going away to do their degrees.

One leaving, two of us left. Then the second leaving and me left. Then one coming back so two of us again.

And just as the second comes back, the first moves in with his girlfriend. Now the second has shown me her ring.

Mum went out and bought a bottle of Bollinger, I drove over to her house with both children and partners. We toasted, we laughed and blew on the fire to get it going. It was suddenly cold and the sky was clear. As I drove them back along the seafront, the offshore wind farm sparkled, the stars sparkled, the seafront houses, car headlights and street lights sparkled.

I like to imagine my odd, fractured and skimpy family is mending itself, like bones, like bark, just as I realise that the grandfather I thought I'd found may not be the one. My children's new lives make the broken links to Ireland and beyond less important.

And through it all I have fallen in love with short stories - with the hard honesty of Doris Lessing's African stories, the snow light of Tove Janseen's winter book, and I am nervous even about hoping that a desire to write might be coming back.