My social life is in crumbs and days seem to pass without me achieving very much, except the pleasure of FaceTime, on which, for some reason, I seem to look very old and very red of face. I am supposed to be writing a book but it’s not progressing very fast. The house is cleaner than it’s ever been before – who knew that the insides of windows could be so clarty? My garden will be beautiful if Joppa doesn’t get too cold, or wet, or windy so – to use an expression rather chancy in these times – I’m not holding my breath.
Which leaves drinking and culture. With a discipline that is almost heroic, I don’t drink every third night, which makes these days even more boring than the others. I am reading a bit more than usual, but that’s still not enough to justify my existence. I have refrained from giving up and just watching Netflix all the time – tempting though my 163 item watchlist makes that path. Mr F cooks us lovely meals, and I have made a very, very large trifle out of some ancient madeleines from Tesco in Musselburgh (stocked for all the admirers of Proust who live there, no doubt) and half a gallon of sweet sherry. I enjoy pudding particularly on the nights I’m not drinking, though I can’t imagine it’s doing much for my ‘elevated blood sugar’. Ho hum.
I have been having the most peculiar dreams. They almost always involve me letting someone down and feeling bad about it, or being let down and feeling bad about it. Last night I dreamt that a very old friend of mine had caused me to be sacked from the job of editing a newspaper; in the dream I knew I was crap at the job anyway, and my feelings of betrayal were leavened by others of relief. I suspect these dreams are informed by my infinite feelings of gratitude that I am not the Head of any school right now.
Anyway, the slow rhythm of the days has often been alleviated by the Sonos, churning out a seemingly infinite number of songs of the 60’s and 70’s. And, at the same time, I went back to playing SongPop, a game in which you compete with other people to see who recognises a snatch of a song first. I am now a ‘master’ on ‘Essential Sixties’, but fare rather less well with anything after about 1975, when I went to university and discovered other pleasures besides vinyl.
Which brings me to Bobby Goldsboro, who, pleasingly, is still with us. Bobby was a big star in the late 60’s and early 70’s. He was bigger in the US than here, but still big enough. People of a certain vintage (quite old people, to be accurate) will probably remember him for three songs. There was ‘Hello Summertime’, a catchy earworm, which, to be fair, is a very summery song, which featured in a Coke advert, all sunny and sweet, with little boys fishing with their grandpas. The year before that, in another tone altogether, he recorded ‘Summer the First Time’, in which the narrative voice recalls, over a brooding piano line and the sound of the sea, his first sexual experience, which was with an older woman (‘She was 31 and I was 17/ I knew nothing ‘bout love, she knew everything’). This apparently is on a beach, and lasts all night, leading to the tricky quatrain ‘And then she smiled and we walked for a while/Then we walked for a mile to the sea/ We sat on the sand and the boy took her hand/But I saw the sun rise as a man’. Good grief, I used to think, did they not get cold? What did his mother say? I was 16 and listening to it made me feel very peculiar – I hadn’t realised that sex went on all night. It was later recorded by Bette Midler, who made it a rather raunchier number, singing as the woman, who, in her version, has become 41. I have a sort of peculiar notion to record it myself. But I would probably end up prosecuted and, to be honest, while the ukulele is coming along, I’m not quite there yet.
But Bobby’s biggest hit was ‘Honey’ which came out in 1968, and which, when I was 12, I unaccountably loved. To this day, I have a weird sickly sentimental streak and am easily moved. ‘Nobody’s Child’ – that’s another story…anyway, ‘Honey’ features Bobby telling the story of his marriage to the eponymous Honey, who eventually dies of causes unknown (‘one day while I was not at home/while she was there and all alone/the angels came… whoooooo). What made me want to say something about this was how astonishing it would seem nowadays, here in 2020 for such a song to be in the charts. (yes, it is 2020, even though we may seem to be floating in a timeless warp where each day lasts five weeks and is punctuated by visions of a sick Boris).
For instance, the marriage of Bobby and Honey (if that is in fact her name, or just a sweet nickname, or indeed, something he now calls her, having forgotten her actual name) seems to consist of him buying her a puppy, laughing at her when she falls over, and being nice to her when she crashes his car. He embarrasses her by coming home late ‘cause I would know/That she’d been sittin’ there and cryin’/ over some sad and silly late, late show’ , which, given the nature of the song itself, seems a bit ironic. It seems almost impossible to believe that people, including weedy wee Cameron Wyllie, stuck in Kirkliston listening to his tranny, could just accept that that was any kind of relationship at all. But, as the chorus repeatedly avers, he does miss her, and he is ‘being good’ ie presumably not on the hunt for a replacement ‘kinda dumb, kinda smart’ gal to laugh at and patronise. He would ‘love to be with you/If only I could’, presumably having discounted the possibility of hanging himself from the big tree in the garden which, when planted was ‘just a twig.’
These were different times, a phrase used to excuse all sorts of horrors. How very, very different. But I have to tell you, when it comes on the radio, it still makes me shiver, particularly the wee tinkling xylophone bit. But I doubt it would be a big hit now.