Starry, Starry Night by Bill Kirton

I was intending to write about one thing when a second occurred to give the first a different perspective. That’s the sort of thing that’s behind many of my short stories and plays. I keep a cutting from a newspaper or a note I’ve made and it just sits there waiting. Then along comes something else which completes it or contradicts it or energises it in some way or another and I write about it. That’s less so the case with novels because they develop in such a leisurely way that what may begin as two incidents soon multiplies into several.

Anyway, for some reason, I was remembering visiting my daughter and her two sons in Glasgow when they were little more than babies. Every night she used to read them a story and, when they were in bed, sing them a song. I’m not sure how often she’d change the song but the times I heard it it was ‘Starry, starry night’, or whatever the correct title is. She had a sweet voice, was pitch perfect and it sounded lovely drifting through from the boys’ room. So the two of them were lying there in the dark hearing this just before they went to sleep and I projected into the future and imagined them as grown men, middle aged even, and how suddenly hearing the song broadcast on whatever the medium would be then might affect them. The potential for drama, poignancy, joy, sorrow is enormous.

And I think that’s the way the writing imagination works. Set up a scenario – a man has just had a huge violent row with his wife, or he’s heard the news that he’ll be the next CEO of a major international company, or the doctor calls him in for the results of his tests, or he’s standing in the empty rooms of the house he’s just sold before emigrating to New Zealand, or his wife’s left him – and so on and so on. And, at one of these extremes, he hears the song, or another song that triggers the memory of his mother’s voice.

I know it’s not an original thought. Noel Coward, after all, wrote ‘Extraordinary how potent cheap music is’ (which, by the way, isn’t as well expressed as it might be; ending the quip with ‘is’ weakens it significantly – the sentence should climax with ‘cheap music’). There were also those powerful plays and films by Dennis Potter which made fantastic use of many old standards. But in this case, it was the juxtaposition of a moment of exquisite security and loving with perhaps some future turmoil that set me thinking about how the narratives of our lives are far more subtle and textured than many of the fictions we find so entertaining.

And it was while I was wondering whether to make a blog of all that that we had an orange abomination of a visitor whose every utterance and action calls into question the sapiens bit of who we're supposed to be. But, before we allow our smugness to delude us too gravely, let's consider some of our own equally troubling idiosyncrasies. Take, for example, the absurd charade of the Queen’s Speech. For those of you unfamiliar with the rituals, here’s a brief summary.

Queen arrives, puts on special robes and imperial crown, goes into the Lords and says ‘My Lords, pray be seated". Then she nods at the Lord Great Chamberlain to fetch the House of Commons. The LGC lifts his wand (seriously, his wand) to signal to Black Rod (don’t ask) to go and get them. Off he trots (with a police inspector who says "Hats off, Strangers!" to everyone they pass en route). As he gets near to the doors to the Chamber of the Commons, they’re slammed in his face. He has to knock three times with his staff (the Black Rod), and then they let him in.

OK, that’s enough. I can’t go on. At least the MPs are wearing normal clothes. Everyone else is in breeches, gold stuff, silly hats. It’s embarrassing. And as I was thinking about all these (apparently) important people doing very silly things, the contrast with the intensity and reality of 'normal' personal experiences struck me very forcibly. I know that many fellow citizens as well as non-UK residents take pride in or envy us the traditions and so on but how absurd that people who (are failing to) take huge, serious decisions about health, education, crime, poverty and all the rest, and are even responsible for (theoretically at least) concocting the legislation needed to save the actual planet, have to take part in a pantomime.

Most of our regular, repetitive daily events are light years away from the apparent 'realities' that preoccupy our lords and masters (and a tiny sprinkling of ladies). And that simple, beautiful  ‘Starry, Starry Night’ drifting through the darkness is in a different realm of truth from their pomp, circumstance and ermine robes. Where the hell are our priorities nowadays?


Love the title of this post. It always makes me think of Van Gogh's 'Night Stars', which I have as a framed print on my wall. And yes, music is very powerful as a trigger for memories... 'Bridge Over Troubled Waters' will forever remind me of sharing a flat in a big Georgian house in Bath during my student days, since that's what one of my flatmates used to play over and over while we were all revising for exams.
Susan Price said…
Great post Bill -- and I share your bemused despair.

Did you see where the orange dotard greeted the Irish PM with the words: "“I think [the hard border] will all work out very well, and also for you with your wall, your border. I mean, we have a border situation in the United States, and you have one over here. But I hear it’s going to work out very well here.”
Jan Needle said…
Enjoyed that, Bill. Horrifically, the song my mum used to sing to me was My Gal's a Corker. Don't know why, but it's never left me. Still sing it sometimes in the folk club, even the line 'she's got a pair of legs, just like two whisky kegs, oh boy, that's where my money goes.' Sort of ditty the Donald would appreciate. I expect. But we can't choose our mothers, can we!
Bill Kirton said…
Thanks, both.

Katherine, I find that my particular musical 'triggers' recall (mostly fondly) specific individuals.

Susan, I think someone should write an 'appreciation' of that oaf's special way with language. Our intelligence relationship with the USA is, for example 'incredible' (not very reassuring), his use of the word 'climate' defies analysis, and his narrow range of superlatives brings together totally incompatible nouns and adjectives. English, like everything else, is not safe with him.
Bill Kirton said…
Sorry, Jan, our comments overlapped. Thanks, though, for bringing some much-needed reality into it all. My mum used to play the piano and sing in the pub. Her regular standby had none of the internationalism of 'My Gal's a Corker'. It was 'He's just my Bill' i.e. not me but my dad.
Jan Needle said…
Internationalism, eh? Mum didn't mind that the lady in question was 'My coal black baby' but she didn't approve of the line 'she's got a pair of hips, just like two battleships' because she sort of took it as being 'a bit personal.' Small but well-cushioned was my dear old ma!
Sandra Horn said…
Thak you, Bill - as deep and thought-provoking as ever. I shall operate selective memory and erase Trmpf from the post, concentrating instead on the song. I don't mind the daft rituals and funny hats, except when they get mixed up with power to influence our lives instead of just being a pantomime enjoyed by tourists.
Eden Baylee said…
Well written and insightful Bill. I'm a bit younger than you, so I heard the song "Vincent" by Don McClean as I read your post. Beautiful, sad, autumnal tune, and fits with the mood of your post.

Bill Kirton said…
Thank you, and you're right, Sandra. The orange oaf should be expunged (from everything)
And thanks,too, Eden, for the kind words, but I've only managed one music blog, you produce them every Monday.
julia jones said…
Nothing to add - but thank you for putting that title and beautiful song into my head -- together with the image of your daughter singing to her boys. Lovely. Taking it upstairs with me now
Umberto Tosi said…
Thanks, Bill, You've added "comfort tunes" to "comfort foods" and other evocatuers of visceral Proustian memories - plus the observation - like Proust - that such memories can be formed all of one's life, during adulthood as well as childhood (in your case, while visiting your grown daughter and her children.) We all have different comfort tunes. I am moved oddly, for example, when I hear an opera singer doing warmup scales, accompanied by ascending chords on a piano. It carries me back to early childhood days at the Victorian-laced, book-lined home of my retired diva grandmother in Boston while she gave voice lessons to her students behind the curtained glass doors of her conservatory. Anyway, too bad orange-arse had to disturb your scepter'd isle's reality. America owes the world an apology for letting him - and letting Washington's neo-fascist sh/t-show - happen, no matter what flummeries go on elsewhere. There is no excuse. Amid much hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing, we're trying our best to rid ourselves this parasitic plague, but recovery will be slow, I'm afraid.
Bill Kirton said…
Julia, Umberto, thank you. As with all the others, it's nice to feel that these thoughts and experiences are shared.
Perhaps I should add, though, a postscript to tell you that the same daughter was visiting Aberdeen yesterday evening for a friend's daughter's wedding today and she and I had a wonderful evening at a restaurant during which she drank even more wine than I did and yet we both remained more than relatively coherent (and there was no singing).
The memory you describe, Umberto, was magical. It must have been a privilege to experience it - every time.
And there's no need for you to apologise for that abysmal fraud and his visit. We have many American friends (including yourself, of course) and I know that not one of them is responsible for his elevation and that your suffering at his (tiny) hands is far greater than ours.

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