Friday, 8 March 2013


I like to whistle and am becoming concerned that it is dying out.  I was once stopped by my headmistress and ticked off for whistling. She intoned humourlessly (her only setting) "a whistling woman and a crowing hen are neither fit for God nor men", which made me hate her, and love whistling, even more.

I am indebted to a person called Linda Hamilton for lots of information about whistling. She delivered a lecture on the history of musical whistling (as opposed to signal whistling) at the 2012 International Whistling Convention in North Carolina and some helpful person filmed it and posted it on YouTube. (If you have half an hour to spare, do seek it out. It is noteworthy in many ways.) Passing lightly through ancient civilizations, the Bible and Pepys, she arrived at the 1880s - the beginning of the Golden Age, one might say (she didn't). Now - here's the thing. There were many vaudeville whistlers (or sometimes whistlists) and women were well-represented among their ranks. Alice Shaw (1853-1913) used to whistle with her twin daughters

and Agnes Woodward (1873-1938) wrote a whistling manual and set up The California School of Artistic Whistling.

The School had an all-women touring performance group, with their own bus. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Sister VC!

There used to be a radio programme called My Music, chaired by Steve Race with a regular panel of Frank Muir, Dennis Nordern, Ian Wallace and John Amis. Presumably the first bit was some sort of quiz - all I remember is the second part of the programme where all the panellists did a turn. John Amis would often whistle, and it was from him that I first heard the terms siffleur and siffleuse. I don't remember any of his his whistled pieces, and it might be that he didn't whistle very often other than in my memory, but there we go. The only turn I remember any of them doing was from Mr Amis though - he sang, unaccompanied,  I Wonder As I Wander and I was thrilled to my bones. He sang the first three lines, which apparently were originally heard, sung by an Applachian child in 1933, by John Jacob Niles and put into a longer carol. Here's a version by Julie Andrews. She sings "simple" instead of "orn'ry", but I won't hold it against her.

Anyhoo, back to whistling. There's lots to it, apparently. Did you know that Al Jolson was a noted finger-whistler? Me neither. But here he is, looking very unconvincing. I enjoyed the expression of the young lady very much.

I was very fond of I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman by Whistling Jack Smith - whoever he was. There seems to be a general agreement that the person who appeared as WJS, one Billy Moeller, didn't do the whistling, but diverging opinions about who did, with one particularly overexcited claim being the Mike Sammes Singers. There is a two-part section, but I hardly think all of them would have been required, unless it was a relay.

Then there was Roger Whittaker, of course, with his Mexican Whistler. Here is a very peculiar video of him. Where is he? And why? Ace whistling though.

And then there's Sweet Georgia Brown, (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay, The Whistling Waltz and many others - but where have all the siffleuses gone? Answers please!

Thanks for popping in - the salon is now open for comments, whistling-related or not. If it's your first time, do say hello.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013


I went to see the film Les Miserables on Sunday For some reason I can't quite get to the bottom of, I've scorned the show in the past, on the basis of very little knowledge. I think I probably scorn most modern musicals (I use "modern" in a relative sense) whilst adoring the output of Rodgers and Hammerstein/Lerner and Loewe/Kander and Ebb. So - what do I scorn? Definitely the Andrew Lloyd Webber oeuvre. Oh - except for Jesus Christ Superstar which I saw on stage in the 70s at a very impressionable age, fresh from the convent. Dear heavens, my socks were quite knocked off. And I quite liked Evita. I saw that with David Essex as Che... Sorry, lost concentration there for a minute.

OK - I'm back. Did you see That'll Be The Day and Stardust? I suspect they were dreadful films and I would be appalled today at the sexism, for one thing, but the soundtracks - oh the soundtracks! I still have the double albums. Dear old Ronco...

Where was I? Oh yes, musicals. I'm still trying to pin down what makes a good one for me. Cracking songs, obviously (and this does not mean taking one tune and fiddling about with it for the rest of the show - you know who I'm talking to) but also a tightness about the structure, a progression in the songs, a sense of being in the hands of experts - one can rely on the next song being the right one for the job. And I like a crisp delineation between speaking and singing. I'm tremendously fond of Gilbert and Sullivan and always have been. As a child I used to go and see a local G&S society perform (and later joined them, but that's another story) and my memory of my experience goes something like:

blah blah blah SONG!!!! blah blah blah blah SONG!!!! blah blah blah SONG!!!! etc...

When I was older I appreciated the dialogue more, but as a child I just wanted those people on the stage to get on and SING!!!

And Les Mis? Well, it wasn't tight, there was no crisp dialogue/song delineation, I didn't feel entirely in the hands of experts and I'm not sure about the song progression, but by golly I enjoyed it! Tremendously stirring stuff. To the barricades, citizens!* 

*sorry about the clip, but all of the current film ones are very poor and this was the least unbearable.

Thanks for popping in - do visit the comments salon before you you leave. Do you like the tricolours? Knitting allowed - just ask Mme Desfarge if you get stuck.

PS I've realised that I've overlooked the masterly Stephen Sondheim, whom I would categorise as "modern" but certainly not scorn. Sigh.

Thursday, 31 January 2013


Hello! It's been a while - life has been (and continues to be) rather distracting lately. I wouldn't like you to think I'd forgotten you, though.

As you know I'm a pen geek and a notebook geek. In my untiring (and unselfish) search for the perfect notebook, I reluctantly concluded that there is no such thing. Humph. I was forced to change my quest to the perfect notebook for the job in hand and lo! my life became simultaneously more complicated and much, much more fun. I now legitimately seek out new notebooks. (No matter how distracting life is, I will seek out new notebooks.) In my trawl, I recently came across this. I cannot speak to the notebook as I do not possess one (er, watch this space) but aaaaah!

The act of writing is a tempting one for me. Writing as a physical activity, I mean. Making marks on a page with a pen. Looking at a blank page and then changing it with my hand. I remember the first novel I read which gave me a shock of nostalgic recognition and it was about writing. The novel wasn't, the particular bit was. It was You Must Be Sisters by Deborah Moggach.

It was published in 1978 and I can't remember when I read it, but it must have been on publication or shortly afterwards. There was I, thinking I was all grown up and that novel flew straight into my younger heart. The part I particularly remember was about the joys of writing with your first Osmiroid italic pen and I squeaked aloud. That was me! And the joy of realising that a complete stranger  thought the same things I did and put them in a book was sharp and glorious.

Let us briefly consider the subject of book cover art. I was searching for an image of this book and I carelessly did not stipulate "1978" in the search terms. Imagine my horror when this came up

Compare and contrast. 1978 was before the invention of chick-lit, that hideous term used to demean the writing of women which now it surrounds us and seems to dictate a certain kind of cover image - look at me! I'm colourful and frothy! AND NOT REAL! The term "chick" when used to describe women is repulsive - a fluffy, immature creature incapable of supporting itself. I am tremendously fond of the The Marx Brothers and I remember being horribly disappointed when I discovered that Chico wasn't "Cheek-o" but "Chick-o", nicknamed for this habit of chasing the ladies.  Incidentally, if you want a jolly good read, seek out Harpo Marx's autobiography, called Harpo Speaks! I don't know if it would strike me as a good read these days, but it did when I first read it. If my memory serves, he outlines his three dream jobs - an umbrella mender, like his grandfather; Eddie Nelson's (think about it) top C singer and the King of Spain's anthem man, the King being unable to recognise pieces of music and needing a nudge when the anthem was playing so he could stand up.

Ooh -  here's a musical offering - the late lamented Phoebe Snow singing Harpo's Blues, as one of my favourite songs of all time. Enjoy!

Thanks for popping in. The salon is open - do drop in and leave a comment, an aside, or something completely irrelevant.