- I’m ‘Enery the Eighth, I am,
- ‘Enery the Eighth I am, I am!
- I got married to the widow next door,
- She’s been married seven times before
- And every one was an ‘Enery
- She wouldn’t have a Willie nor a Sam
- I’m her eighth old man named ‘Enery
- ‘Enery the Eighth, I am!
I remember this song being rattled out over the radio when I was a child. For non-British readers I should mention – though it’s probably fairly obvious – that the lyrics are slightly saucy, and would definitely have been so in 1910 when the song was written, since Willie is the common term for a gentleman’s naughty-bits.
(My Polish vet accidentally managed to amuse me by enquiring of William, one of my many ginger moggies “And how’s my Leetle Willy?” I kept a straight face – inherited from Grandad, see below.)
It was written in 1910 and originally sung by music hall star Harry Champion. He must have made a record of it since even I am not old enough to have been to the music hall, although my Grandfather did. My Grandfather was a silent, dour sort of chap. You had to know him well to tell when he was being humorous. No twinkle appeared in his eye. He never smiled, or particularly looked in your direction. There might have been no one in the room with him. He just went on, puffing at his pipe, staring into space and suddenly you’d find yourself thinking – that was funny!
But obviously he couldn’t always have been like that, since he once told a story about sitting up in the balcony with his mates at the music hall –a rather risqué place to go in those days – peeling oranges and aiming the peel down the collars of the people in the seats below. I suppose he may have had his pipe clenched between his teeth like Popeye even then, since he told he started on the old St Bruno Flake at nine. Or was that also a joke?
Anyway, that was the sort of song he would have heard, and probably enjoyed singing along to. And some of the songs lived on, long after music hall itself had faded out, overtaken by the new cinemas of the 1920s. My father used to come out with a scattering of semi-nonsensical verses to amuse us. Most of them required a cockney accent, but then most of us in the C1 to E demographic can do a fairish cockney accent, if encouraged and in cheery mood. (Unlike Dick Van Dyke who in the 1964 musical film Mary Poppins perpetrated absolutely the worst cockney accent of all time):
- Oh! it really is a wery pretty garden
- And ‘Endon to the westward could be seen
- And by clinging to the chimbley
- You could see across to Wembley
- If it wasn’t for the ‘ouses in between
- My old man said “Foller the van,
- And don’t dilly dally on the way”.
- Off went the van wiv me ‘ome packed in it,
- I followed on wiv me old cock linnet.
- But I dillied and dallied, dallied and I dillied
- Lost me way and don’t know where to roam.
- Well you can’t trust a special like the old time coppers.
- When you can’t find your way ‘ome.
- Oh! Mr Porter, what shall I do?
- I want to go to Birmingham
- And they’re taking me on to Crewe,
- Take me back to London, as quickly as you can,
- Oh! Mr Porter, what a silly girl I am.
It’s difficult to explain how very comforting these silly old tunes and daft words can be if you’re British, especially in beleaguered times when disgusting diseases, criss-crossing warplanes, random shootings and chemical weapons feel as if they’re coming out of the woodwork at us. They act as a kind of charm and a litany – akin to the Shipping Forecast on Radio 4 every night. The announcer starts: And now the Shipping Forecast, issued by the Met Office on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency at [time of issue] today – then embarks on his measured, methodical progress, clockwise around the waters around the British Isles.
And somehow you feel… it’s OK. We’re still an island, safely surrounded by tracts of water we can’t imagine and which the majority wouldn’t recognise if we saw them, and over which it might currently be hailing or snowing, blowing a gale, threatening rain. There they all are: Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, Forties, Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger, Fisher, German Bight, Humber…
Nothing bad can have happened –Radio 4 is still talking to us and we’re still wrapped in our blanket of sea. It’s not the words themselves it’s the sound and the rhythm, like poetry. In a world of nuclear weapons, random shootings and dire diseases, they are a charm and a litany. They comfort us greatly.
As, of course, do a few special pieces of music. And this is one of them:
South Korean violinist Julia Hwang, then aged 15
The Lark Ascending: Ralph Vaughan Williams
It was inspired by a poem of the same name by George Meredith (1828–1909) which begins:
- HE rises and begins to round,
- He drops the silver chain of sound
- Of many links without a break,
- In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake,
- All intervolv’d and spreading wide,
- Like water-dimples down a tide
- Where ripple ripple overcurls
- And eddy into eddy whirls….
I have to say I’m not convinced this picture, which was listed as ‘lark’, is actually a lark, or a sky-lark. I thought they were plain brown and speckled. No doubt bird-watchers the world over have been muttering to themselves throughout this piece either ‘That’s not a lark!’ (if it actually isn’t) or ‘What a pretty lark’ (if it actually is). Whatever – it’s meant to be a lark. It symbolises lark… It represents lark…