I’ve had a cold; a common-or-garden, not-very-severe but nevertheless
quite pesky cold. It’s well known that the common cold is a great
modifier of mood; in fact some experts say we’re all slightly mad when
we have a cold and shouldn’t drive or ‘make important decisions’. Colds
and other infections always have me on an emotional roller-coaster, but
I forget about this from one event to the next so it always catches me
unawares. This time I was agreeably anaesthetised from reality during
the worst few days, thanks to various substances. But on the morning
when I started to feel better I noticed that I was rather more jolly
than usual. I put this down to the fact that the runny nose, sore
throat, painful chest, and mouth ulcers were becoming less troublesome.
In the afternoon I was positively buzzing with happiness and
contentment. But this wasn’t the lifting of mood’s baseline that I
imagined, it was an amplification of mood; a turning up of the
temperamental gain to 11. I was very happy and cheerful because it was a
vaguely happy and cheerful day. Amplification, of course, cuts both
ways. That evening some innocent fool on the internet mentioned the
wartime BBC radio programme ‘Music While You Work’, and a worse fool,
me, went to You Tube in search of it. The programme continued through
the 1950s and was very popular at home as well as in the workplace.
Now I have to say that to many of us of a certain age, that signature
tune will always be highly evocative, but because of my high gain
emotional state this time it was something else again. When the long-ago
band struck up with that achingly-familiar, oh-so-jaunty signature tune
I was a sitting duck, and I got both barrels. Suddenly I was a little
pre-school lad in my mother’s kitchen, the old Marconi wireless booming
out until its knobs rattled as she washed and baked and cleaned.
Memories of mum flooded back, how she sat me on her knee and taught me
to read by means of the Daily Mirror, how she made such fantastic buns —
all the usual stuff we remember about our old mums. I remembered the
half-built sidecar in the front room, the exciting smell of new library
books, the Beano dropping through the letterbox. Under this onslaught I
was quite unable to continue as normal, so I went somewhere where I
could be alone, except for the chickens, and dealt with myself as best
as I could.
Even old people miss their beloved dead. My sadness was immense, but it
wasn’t simply for the loss of my mum. It was for the loss — the
irretrievable loss — of a time now long gone, a time in my life and a
time in Britain’s history. A time when many things were much worse than
they are now, but when many other things were much better.
In my extreme old age (if I’m lucky enough to have one) I will remember
my mother, and I will remember the Britain of the 1950s, and I will
mourn for both. Meanwhile I’m looking for a box set of ‘Listen with Mother’.