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’.