Into a ditch with Mozart

When I was younger, so much younger than today…

I was driving my wonky little old car across the Marsh. (One of a series of wonky little old cars.) I think this was the wonky little old red one.

Anyway, I was listening to Mozart, on a tape. Shows you how long ago it was. I was on my way to work.

I was listening to Mozart because he was the only classical composer I could think of the name of. I grew up in an uncultural environment. My mother was a fan of Matt Monro (the singing bus driver) – who died. Also Jim Reeves, who had a very deep voice. And died. My mother cried the day that Jim Reeves died, just as I cried the day John Lennon got shot.

My father liked to sing along to Sing Something Simple, which as far as I remember was Sunday lunchtimes on the radio. Oh, home on the range, he used to croon, melodiously, with the requisite tinge of an American accent, where the deer and the antelope roam… Well, we all used to croon.

My ex-husband was far more educated, musically, than I. He used to play blues guitar, and some classical pieces. I would listen to him in amazement, though it was depressing. I had once wanted to play the guitar and now – how could I?

He was nine years older than me and remembered jazz and folk, obscure (to me) blues singers from the thirties and forties – and all sorts of stuff that I was only able to love and appreciate after I had left him. He even knew about Early Music and the Aeolian mode, and the pentatonic scale, and polyphony. Now I love that stuff (though I still couldn’t explain the Aeolian mode) but I never used to listen to him when he started going on about it. Every time he started to reveal even an edge of his massively greater knowledge of just about everything I would bristle and switch off. Grrr…

But at one point, even while I was married to him, I realised that I did want to learn about Classical Music. I kept secret my experimentation with tapes (borrowed from the public library) because he would no doubt make me feel inadequate yet again if I told him. Telling him anything seemed to result in a helpful, university-type lecture. I accidentally made mention of helicopters once and was treated to a whole lunch hour’s disquisition on torque.

So I was playing Mozart, rather loudly, in the wonky little old car as I drove in to work. It had been raining overnight and the road was muddy, and then this blackbird flew out, really low, and of course I braked

People afterwards kept saying You braked for a BLACKBIRD? You crashed your car into a ditch and nearly killed yourself to save the life of a BIRD? Which only really goes to show that it’s more than skin deep, my belief that all life is sacred and all of absolutely equal value. Not killing birds,  slugs, ants or any living thing – not even carving my name into the bark of a tree or removing a stone from its resting place, is programmed into me. I am those things, and they are me.

Anyway, I was in this ditch for only about ten minutes. I couldn’t find the switch to turn Mozart off, and anyway I do believe I was shaking. So weird, that long, rightwards and downwards Mozartesque slither. So balletic. Then I understood that thing about time slowing down. And all around me were kind of weeds and tiny trees – a tiny tree had impeded my further descent – the Marsh ditches are major drainage channels, and deeper than average – and the road was now… somewhere up there!

I wasn’t sure what to do next, so I grabbed my handbag. Women always grab their handbags, I think. I pushed the car door open as far as it would go, which wasn’t all the way. Brambles. There was a sort of latticework of vegetation but no clear indication of where the actual bank was. I looked at my work shoes. High(ish) heels. I looked at my work tights. The tights were for it.

But shortly two, or maybe three cars stopped and two, or maybe three kind men came running from various directions and pulled me out of the ditch. One of them gave me a lift home. By this time I was shaking like a leaf and couldn’t stop talking. I remember thinking, stop talking, you wally! But I couldn’t.

My car was a write-off. It didn’t look too badly damaged but apparently its engine and all its working parts were kind of jammed up with mud. I never saw it again. Somebody must have dragged it out and disposed of it.

I have since listened with pleasure to a wide range classical composers, and have become a particular fan of Thomas Tallis. But Mozart? Poor Mozart, I can no longer listen to him.

Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire…

This morning I wobbled downstairs (I’ve not been well) to find the cats had torn down the net curtains. Either that or I’ve got a hefty ghost who likes to swing from the curtains in the dead of night. Ah well, I thought, at least whatever this bug is it hasn’t killed me yet. Net curtains are just another thing to add to the list. The actual hook that the net curtain wire had been attached to had been pulled out of the wall, complete with rawlplug.

A rawlplug, for those ladies fortunate enough never to have needed to find out, is one of the dullest tiny objects possible. It is a plastic fixing, often red, the purpose of which is to keep a screwy-type-thing in a hole in the wall. Except, in this case, it wasn’t.

Having manoeuvred my pliers from the back a drawer that only opens half way I had a half-hearted go at pliering the screwy-thing and split remains of the red rawlplug back into the hole in the wall and reattaching the curtains. It sort of stayed there.

Until it fell out again.

Then I came over all weak and sweaty and had to sit down for half an hour. I put on the TV whilst awaiting the next surge of energy: the Bank of England had decided to put the interest rate on savings down to 0.25%; the American basketball team didn’t like the look of the accommodation at the Olympic Games so they were being accommodated on a luxury cruise liner moored in Rio de Janeiro harbour instead, surrounded by guards and fences; according to a recent survey people were taking internet detoxes – going camping for a week, or on healthy hiking expeditions and so on – because they had realised they were hooked on their tech. I kept hearing that John Lennon song:

I read the news today oh boy

Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire…

After which I removed the net curtains from the window altogether and threw them into the washing machine for safe-keeping.

After which I closed the curtains to stop passing neighbours ever looking in again, even accidentally. Problem solved.

After which one of the cats was sick on the carpet. I contemplated it for quite a while. The sick, not the cat.

After which I did quite a lot of washing including the net curtains which I had forgotten to take out.

After which I watched three-quarters of Homes Under The Hammer followed by final quarter of Stargate – the episode where their future selves all get riddled with futuristic bullets in a heroic attempt to get a bloodstained note back through the stargate to warn their past selves not to come to this particular planet (I’d seen it before).

For the third day running there were no letters.

It was somewhat dark in the living room with the curtains closed, but not unpleasant.

After which I ate a digestive biscuit and a yoghurt and then wished very much that I hadn’t.

Nine Track Mind

Another one of those diary quotes: Canned music is like audible wallpaper (Alistair Cooke, 1908 – 2004). He emigrated to America in 1937 and became an American citizen in 1941, six days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. We appreciated him for his regular Letter from America. He had a lovely radio voice and a way of making everything crystal clear to listeners back in the old country, without patronising. Here is just a sample of his measured tones, as he talks – after some background – of the death of John Lennon. John was my hero, when I was a teenager. His death shocked me more than I can say. He also explains, insofar as this could ever be explained to a British audience, about guns and gun control.

Alistair Cooke, it seems to me, would have been the world’s greatest blogger.

However, the Audible Wallpaper quote did make me think, about the music we choose to have on, not for the sheer pleasure of it but whilst working or reading. This ‘in the background’ music needs to perform a dual function. It needs to soothe us and aid concentration – but it doesn’t need to distract us. We don’t want to have to start listening to it.

I often have music on when I write. This is partly as a distraction from the tinnitus I’ve had since 1980 – the same year Cooke recorded the John Lennon Letter. Early Music works for me – lutes and that sort of stuff. And I’ve recently found a Nature radio station which plays this weird stuff – like a mixture of music and birdsong, or rustling trees, or babbling brooks. If I’m trying to sleep and the tinnitus is really playing up (I can usually forget about it, except when I’m tired or really stressed) I have a gadget that plays waves swishing on a beach or – my favourite – a tropical rainstorm. When I listen to that I imagine myself in some jungle shack, with a wooden rocking chair and not much else. I am sitting out on the veranda watching raindrop dripping off those long, tropical leaves and fat grey storm clouds scud across the horizon…


Not everyone feels the same though. Ex once got hold of one of my meditation tapes and played it from beginning. Not gifted with the art of sitting still, he found it excruciatingly – and amusingly – dull. When he used to paint – I believe he no longer paints but does important, mysterious other stuff – he used to listen to Classic FM and a particular presenter called Natalie Wheen, ad infinitum. The very name Natalie Wheen (sorry, Natalie, if you’re still alive) sets my teeth on edge – like scraping a saucepan with a knife – let alone the ‘classical’ music Classic FM used to play, which seemed to me hideously Light, and occasionally that made up pseudo-classical rubbish they have as the background to 1950s films. One of his paintings could take six weeks to complete, so it must have worked.

Stephen King, so he says in On Writing, works to loud music – “hard rock stuff like AC/DC, Guns ‘n Roses and Metallica”. Maybe it helps, for horror.

Nowadays – after the auditory psychosis that’s descended on my mother (that’s on top of the dementia) partly through refusing to wear hearing aids – I do tend to be wary of silence. Not that silence is ever entirely silent, to me, but I make an effort to keep something on in the background – radio, music, TV – and stop at intervals to listen to it. Nature abhors a vacuum; if your brain is starved of auditory input for too long it starts compiling strange and threatening tapes of its own and playing them back to you, day in, night out. And you really don’t want that.

I listen to the radio in the car. When I used to do seven hour shifts at the call centre, cold calling for market research surveys using a script, I would tune in to Radio 4 programmes about Biodiversity, Statistical Analysis and Neuro-linguistic Programming during the hour and twenty minutes’ drive home late at night, to get my brain back. Nowadays I listen to Heart in the car, and the latest pop anthems. It gives me a chance to sing at the top of my voice, which is good for me. This morning I had to drive over to Mum’s with an emergency car-load of groceries, since she seems to have got down to a store-cupboard devoid of all but soup and stale Ryvitas.  To distract myself from the horrors to come (tales of gypsies lurking in the bathroom, requests to bury the toaster behind the summer-house and take away the back door etc) I sang, very loudly:

Superman got nothing on me. I am only one call away. I’ll be there to save the day…

My voice was never very good. Now it seems to have gone all quavery – I sound like those old ladies in the back pews at the Methodist all those years ago. Nevertheless, I bellowed (quaverily):

Superman got nothing on me…

…and felt a whole lot better. Evil toasters, lurking gypsies, people secretly digging up the drains… bring ’em on.

Could there be other kinds of wallpaper, do you think? Edible Wallpaper, for example. Mum could have torn off a few strips, spread it with peanut butter… It couldn’t have tasted worse than Ryvitas thinly spread with Nothing  Like Butter.

Friable Wallpaper – touch it and it crumbles into incense-perfumed heaps on the carpet?

Disagreeable Wallpaper – does my bum look big in this, Wallpaper?  Huge!

Emotional Wallpaper – that poor John Lennon… (snuffle)

Reversible Wallpaper – tired of purple chevrons? fancy some William Morris arts and craftsy stuff?

Bankable Wallpaper… Critical Wallaper..

Cantankerous Wallaper…?





What can you say about this one? They’ll be playing it for centuries to come – assuming they’re still around and not ‘toast’ of some sort. (If you knew how long I spent looking for precisely that pair of glasses long after they’d gone out of fashion.)


The past is another country. Who would have thought someone could sing a Beatles song so much better than the Beatles?


Many years ago I failed to buy this record on my first bus trip into town, got home with it still going round and round and round and round in my brain, turned round and caught the next bus back. All for a little piece of plastic in a paper sleeve. Those were the days.


You know how, with some records, you never forget where you were and who you were with when you first heard it? I was in a country pub with a plate of chips and the dullest man in the world. And I was the dullest woman – I could hear his thoughts. Hearing this song – more than made up for that.