A Peeping Tom and War Poetry
Friday, January 24, 2014
Bingo, a peeping tom and war poetry
It would be hard for any technology-using child of the 21st century to put themselves in my place in 1953. Earlier posts on this site draw pictures of an innocent time of nesting, damming streams, fantasy medievalism with lances and shields, a tiny primary school of 23 pupils and only the occasional fisticuffs creating small dark clouds on the horizon. I can’t recall much to fear in those days, though this may be due to heavy caution and some capacity for adroit language in staving off incidents before they erupted. I recall being paralysed up a tree as I witnessed older boys lying in the grass and inducting younger girls in the arts of having foreign fingers moving like furtive crabs claws inside their knickers. Though I must hardly have known what was involved, I knew that it was a transgression and both boys and girls would get into trouble. I knew telling tales would have me kicked and punched. Better to hang there like a frozen fruit and wait for the call of the school bell ringing in the teacher’s hand outside the main door, setting everyone scarpering the quarter mile to be in on time. Better no-one ever knew that I knew.
Surprisingly, I did not suffer from stage fright. Nor have I ever. From plays to speaking at UNESCO to hundreds of delegates, I have been able to create a zone and stay in it, impervious to the possibilities of pratfall or the humiliation of sudden silence. When I was into double figures, age-wise, I embarked on a concert tour with another boy called David Salinger. I was a soprano and he was an alto. Our duets would seem today to be a bit sugary and designed to melt old ladies’ hearts, I suppose. Maybe we simpered as we learned to play on audience emotion. The concerts were organized by my father to raise money for the construction of the village hall in Shadforth. The acts were redolent of a post-war period. A handsome twenty odd year old crooner called Lennie sang The Old Rugged cross:
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
the emblem of suffering and shame;
and I love that old cross where the dearest and best
for a world of lost sinners was slain.
… so that a mournful, reverent hush fell upon the audience, many, I realize now probably having had family members killed during the recent war. Another individual, nameless now, a drama queen in his middle aged splendour, recited J. Milton Hayes’ The Green Eye of The Little Yellow God. It began..
There’s a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Kathmandu,
There’s a little marble cross below the town;
There’a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew,
And the Yellow God forever gazes down.
It was a poem from the Raj. My father may have been behind its choice. He never really recovered from his prominent status in the army in India. The concerts always ended with a prize draw and Bingo, then called Housey Housey, a communal competition to win a prize too big to be easily got with ration coupons; “Two fat ladies sixty six, one and one legs eleven, six-oh blind sixty…” I know you could have heard a needle drop, the intonations of the caller and the silence of the audience only interrupted by the screech of “House!” from a winning contestant.