One of the most vivid memories of my early childhood is of my mother singing. She would sing while doing the housework, songs her mother had sung, or current songs from musicals. When her infant daughter (me) sat listening to the daily ritual of the ‘wireless’ voice of Daphne Oxenford broadcasting ‘Listen With Mother’*, my mother would sing along with the nursery rhymes and hum the closing excerpt from Faure's ‘Dolly Suite’.
We are talking about the nineteen fifties, a time which would seem like an alien world to any young visitor from today. Put into context: Britain was dragging itself out of post-war depression, broadcasting patriotic and cheerful music on its BBC ‘Light Programme’ which was conveyed to factory workers as ‘Music While You Work’. We didn’t have supermarkets then, and the idea of music as a background to shopping would have been considered frivolous. Remember: many people were still suffering a reaction to appalling experiences during the war, while others conformed to a hard and rigorous code of living out of a kind of terror of losing everything for which the country had been fighting. Disapproval was the order of the day! Yet people sang. They whistled on the way to work, sang readily and easily when encouraged, and sang at home.
My mother’s life had been filled with music. She came from a musical family where playing the piano was a basic requirement; singing was in her genes. My father, to whom all this was novelty having been brought up as the son of a clergyman, and having served in Burma during the war where he lost many friends, delighted in her joy. We were never without a piano, which she played in her spare time, heedless of sheet music: she had that rare talent – the ability to play by ear.
As the years passed and her children grew up she sang less, preferring to listen to music, until even that pleasure turned to sadness as familiar tunes became tainted with sad memories. People died and she withdrew from the emotion such associations induced. Which to my mind is a greater sadness in itself, but I understand. If I listen now to the ‘Dolly Suite’ – which many years later I played on the piano with a great friend – it shouts out nostalgia and I am momentarily transported back in time…
Today as I write this I realise how much more difficult it will be from now on to listen to some of the music from my childhood. I am incredibly fortunate to have been brought up in a secure and – usually – happy household, and to have memories of songs and laughter as a background to my own stability. I want to thank my mother. I wish I had done, but I think she knew.
Tomorrow, on her birthday, I won’t be able to listen to any music, because she won’t be there. Last month she slipped away...
Pauline 1929 – 2017