If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Sunday, 3 June 2012

It's always the little things

I can sit through situations of high emotion and not bat an eyelid.  And yet one tiny detail can set me off on a downward slide of gulping, sniffling, and fighting back the tears until eventually I give in and pretend I still suffer from hay fever.  At a funeral, all the 'in the midst of life we are in death' stuff and the tearful oration can leave me cold, and then a single minor detail can floor me.  I was at a funeral of one of Anna's relatives a few weeks ago.  I didn't much get on with the guy, who had dropped stone dead while cleaning his gun after a shooting trip.  I found him harsh and a bit arrogant, and tended to avoid him wherever possible.  Going to his send-off was a duty, no more: but then we were played out of the church with a song I was told was his favourite.  When the first notes of Louis Armstrong singing 'What A Wonderful World' started, that was me finished.

With the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997 I stayed dry-eyed and cynical throughout.  (Anna is a big Royalist, and it was on the TV all day, so I couldn't really avoid it.)  But there was a moment when the service was over and the Welsh Guards carrying the coffin began to move out of the Abbey.  There was complete silence as the choir began singing John Taverner's Song For Athene (an utterly beautiful piece in any case, but now inevitably associated with Diana) and the pallbearers turned and moved off.  And then the tiny detail - the soft but insistent shuffling of their boots on the tiled floor of the Abbey.  It was regular, but not in time with the music, and the dislocation between the two rhythms captured my attention. After that, I could hear nothing else, the lump came to the throat, and ... well, let's just say I wasn't much of a republican that day.  You can hear something of the effect from around 2:30 in this clip, although it was better 'live', as it were.

Today it was the poor bloody singers on that barge.  I had watched the river procession with keen interest, as I love boats of all kinds, and I was full of admiration for dear old Brenda, who was still standing and waving when I would long have opted for that rather comfy-looking red chair she had.  It was all a solidly-managed pageant of the kind we tend to do rather well, but that was all.  And then the rain came down, and the barge carrying the London Philharmonic and the RCM Chamber Choir approached the Royal wave platform.  The singers were on the roof of the barge and looked like drowned rats.  If they'd been for a swim fully-clothed they couldn't have been wetter.  Evening dresses plastered to their bodies and hair stuck to their faces like seaweed, but each had a massive smile.  And then the band struck up with the Pomp And Circumstance march, and the choir took a big breath and launched full-on into 'Land Of Hope And Glory'.

That was me done.  I must have got through half a roll of kitchen towels.

I'm not a monarchist (although looking around the world's governments I struggle to see a better system in practice), but today I am rather glad I am British.

Tonight I went to the garage and found the Union flag that I strap to the bike for the Ride of Respect.  I put it in a narrow vase and it was on the table while we ate our tea.  It seemed appropriate.


  1. I can't listen to Louis Armstrong singing 'What A Wonderful World' without crying. That was played at my dad's funeral. Just thinking about that song I get tears in my eyes. Touching post.

  2. No matter what brings on those tears it shows us all how to live the day out. TAPs and Louis will throw a good ugly cry on me and never fails at it.

  3. It is always the little things that get us isn't it? Whether a song or a sound, or often times a smell.

    I think it reminds us that we are all human and we forget that in our daily grind of sucking it up to get things done.

  4. you are a sentimental old fart at heart - just like me...

  5. "I can't listen to Louis Armstrong singing 'What A Wonderful World' without crying"
    Agreed, and this has the same effect on me.

    We've had a camera equipped bird box for several years. In 2009 a Blue Tit built a nest and raised 6 chicks. In 2010 it was taken over by a Great Tit which also raised 6 chicks. Each time I cleaned the box out afterwards, and turned the camera off, not expecting it to be needed until the following year. However late in 2010 we noticed something enter the box just before dusk.

    I hastily re-connected the power and there was "Gertie" (as she had been christened) tucked up for the night. We don't know how long this had been going on, but from then on she spent every night in the box.

    Last year she raised another brood, and continued spending the nights safely tucked up. This spring she didn't build a fresh nest, and we guessed that at the age of at least 3 she must have had enough. Sadly, last Tuesday the box was empty after dark, and has remained so. A "window" into the daily toils of a tiny creature has closed, leaving a surprising void in our life.

    Thursday night I was standing in the garden as the light was failing, watching a little bat flitting about, when a Great Tit made several calls in the woods nearby. I'm afraid at that point I cracked up.

    Typing this has been a real struggle...


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