Saturday, May 12, 2007

Lemon envy

Karma citrus I noted a distinct lack of sympathy for our lemon plight last week, so thought a picture or two might be worth – and less boring than – a thousand words. One of these is next door's lemon tree, the other is ours. No prizes.

Phoney war There have been posts recently on the injustice of judging past events by today’s standards. Hilary Spurling calls it ‘cutting the past to fit contemporary orthodoxies’ - you know: Jefferson’s slaves, potato famines, lynch mobs and such. The recent death of Kurt Vonnegut has brought up Dresden again. He built a career on his night there, and I thought I might present another point of view.

I was sitting in the back of a small car with my brother – at the time, an adventure in itself for two Liverpool kids. The lady in the passenger seat said to the driver ‘It’s started then’, and he said quietly ‘Oh, has it?’ ‘Yes, 11 o’clock’, she said.

They were talking about the Second World War. It was September 3rd 1939, and we were evacuees, being sent away to avoid the bombs that everyone thought would soon start dropping on Liverpool.

But for almost a year there were no bombs – they called it the ‘Phoney War’ - and eventually the countryside began to pall. We city kids began to miss our cinemas, theatres and above all our football idols at Goodison Park and Anfield; and our parents began to tire of spending their weekends trekking off to visit their evacuee kids, often in two or more different locations. We began to drift back, and by the next September we were back at our old schools.

Then the Real War started. In the next two years, the Luftwaffe raided Liverpool more than 500 times, killing more than 3,000 people and destroying a quarter of a million homes. It culminated in May, 1941 in what came to be known as the ‘May Blitz’ when, for eight consecutive nights, from midnight to dawn, the city was pulverised by bombs and mines of every kind. Every night, as darkness fell, the streets were packed as people tried to get onto trams or hitch rides out of the city, and each morning they returned to see if their homes were still there. In Anfield cemetery on May 14, 67 years ago tomorrow, 1,000 unidentifiable bodies were buried in a mass grave

The house of my schoolmate across the street was hit, killing the whole family; our local station where my Dad worked, and the church where my parents were married, were flattened; Dad’s parents’ home was destroyed and they were found weeks later in separate hospitals 35 miles away and never saw each other alive again. After this Dad decided he had to get us out and applied for a transfer to a tranquil seaside resort 50 miles away. But by the time we moved, the raids had stopped.

Thus, although I was evacuated twice, I never missed a single Liverpool air-raid. But I don’t regret that. There was something unforgettable about that period of our lives - the fellowship, compassion and humour of the people of my natal city that made me proud to call myself a Scouse. Yes, Vonnegut was right: war is hell. But Britain didn’t start it, and there were many reasons - at the time - why not many tears were shed in Liverpool for Dresden.

Desert Island Disc N0. 6 It’s important, as a young parent, to believe that you are the sole influence on your children’s development, and that Darwin was nuts. I remember when, although a congenital jazz fan, I decided not to expose my kids to jazz lest they become similarly afflicted. When driving the car - the only place where very young kids are exposed to music since families clustered around the radio – I would give them only gentle classics: Ferde Grofe, Tchaikovsky – that sort of thing. And it worked – they loved the Grand Canyon Suite. ‘Put the donkey music on, Dad’, they would say cheerily on our way to church (I decided I ought to expose them to that, too – but it soon turned out that they only came for the Dunkin’ Doughnuts afterwards.) I started to picture my children as students, queueing up outside the Albert Hall to hear Mahler and Harrison Birtwhistle.

Then one day they caught me listening to Sonny Rollins playing St. Thomas and they never went back and I realised it’s all in the genes.

Then at some point you notice that the roles are reversed. Your son gets into the car outside school, and within one nanosecond his cassette (remember them?) is in the machine and you're listening to Huey Lewis. Then I was picking him up from school for his first gig - at Covent Garden. (No, not the Opera - he was playing alto in a bar down the street.) About the time he should have been joining the Boy Scouts he was introducing me to unpronounceable Bolivian folk singers, but then settled down to the likes of James Taylor whom I could at least understand.

One day he mentioned the Loose Tubes. The name implied tone-deaf adolescents with amps and acne, but then I saw them – at Ronnie Scotts – and my life changed. New (ie. non-jazz) instruments, new music, new arrangements. No one had told them that big bands had not been financially viable since Duke Ellington. (They probably knew but didn’t care.) The leader and main composer was a kid called Django Bates – obviously someone whose father had played Hot Club de France records in the car. They broke up after a year or so and most of them are now leading smaller, more economic groups of their own.
Amazon has only one Tubes record. They were meteoric: they didn’t burn for long, but what a light it was! That’s the choice for No. 6: The Loose Tubes and Delightful Precipice. (A synonym for a cliff?)


Peach said...

Hello, have come here from Cliff's site - although I seem to recall I have been here before and a post on jazz...

... realy enjoyed your wartime memories post, bit choked up in fact...

...and you have a lovely lemon tree

Ed R said...

Brilliant way to decribe Cliff, Ted- he's both a Loose Tube AND a Delightful Precipice.

By the way, Lemon envy doesn't really becme you;)

riviera writer said...

Thanks, Peach and Ed, for the sympathetic word about the lemon tree. It is after all quite young and in need of TLC. (Thought of asking Geldoff to launch an appeal. Lemon Aid?)
Sounds a great bar Peach - do you do Newcastle Brown?

Cliff said...

Lemon Aid

That is truly awful.

Karma citrus, though - genius.

It skips a generation, right?

GillieB said...

Who cares about lemons when Everton have made it to the UEFA Cup - although my condolences had already been sent to DG, who seemed to be the one really suffering the deprivation.

ted said...

Thought you guys would stick together Gillie - but yes - good weekend for both Moyes & Pardew.
Depends where it starts Cliff.

Peach said...

Sadly we don't, but if you're ever round these parts, I am sure we could find you a similar and equally satisfying alternative... or just get you so drunk you don't mind what you're drinking....

Peach said...

ps I dropped "l" in that first comment - how devilish

riviera writer said...

Thanks for the clarification - I don't get drunk with just anyone