#nowlistening: a sky full of masculinities. The Ed Sheeran constellation over Ambridge.

Goodness me, the airwaves across Borsetshire have been a-flutter in the last couple of weeks. We’ve been a little quiet over here at Ambridge FM as our new, entirely fictional and completely invisible, radio mast has been installed at the top of Lakey Hill. But over the last few weeks, I couldn’t help but notice a theme emerging: the various colours of masculinity on display across Ambridge and how Ed Sheeran seemed to be at the centre of it all.

As the distance between Toby and Pip became somewhat galactic it was Sheeran’s Castle on the hill that underscored the moment Toby presumed too much of Pip’s affection for him. Ordering a takeaway she didn’t want, as the food chilled, the relationship finally soured and all the while Sheeran nostalgically mused on the rural idyll by singing:

‘I’m on my way, driving at 90 through those country lanes, singing to Tiny Dancer’.

Ah…a lyrical yearning for those teenage years that feel so horribly complex at the time – where danger and youthful exuberance aren’t hindered by Linda Snell lurking in the bushes with a speed gun.

*An aside for a moment…I’m not sure how likely is it that the average person in their mid-20s would have listened to Elton John’s Tiny Dancer, let alone heard it. My theory is that this is one of the only songs where an artist does a little ‘shout-out’ to the owner of his management company. I digress but suffice to say that Sheeran’s presence in The Archers has been much like its been out here in listener-land (is that what we call it?): entirely ubiquitous.*

Anyway, the freedom Sheeran yearns for in Castle on the hill might well seem to be representative of Toby’s laddish optimism but in many ways the song itself speaks for Pip’s obvious desire for a less complicated life away from Toby’s constant stream of half-truths lies.

Recently, Sheeran’s man-of-the-people/ boy-next-door has been problematised by both Chloe Stilwell and Laura Snapes as a specific brand of ‘toxic masculinity’. The song Shape of you is singled out as emblematic of the way womens’ bodies are habitually subjected to the male gaze without question. In Ambridge, many of us have felt this kind of ‘grrr-ish’ toward Toby’s bragging about the way he treats women. Further still, it is interesting that the most notably absent member of the Archer family, young Ben, blasted Shape of you as a means of asserting his youthful masculine presence during a who-sleeps-where debacle in Brookfield a few weeks back too.

To finish up though, it is through Lily Pargetter that Sheeran’s music and masculinity operates as the sun for a number of residents in the village and their preferred ditties to orbit around. I can think of at least five (do drop me a line with more!):

1. In the middle of May, David turned up to Lower Loxley to give Lily a driving lesson.

Lily was prompted to talk about music in response to what she terms David’s ‘seriously retro’ music that was already playing in his car. We heard Deep Purple’s Smoke on the water and it was a bit of a shock to start with. I never had David Archer down as a fan of early heavy metal but actually I can well imagine the dad dancing if I really put my mind to it. Interestingly, it’s a song about a casino burning down, so perhaps it’s a nod of the financially perilous things to come at Brookfield?

2. Lily tells David she’s a Sheeran fan and in doing so, positions songs like Castle on the hill in direct opposition to Smoke on the water as far as she’s concerned. Lily is about the here and now and Sheeran is representative of this. In the last week it turns out that her twin brother, Freddie, is a proud retrophile. A hipster in the making perhaps, he tells Johnny that he not only loves the ‘old skool’ sounds of Run DMC but that the acts playing at Loxfest were ‘lost’ on Lily.

3. Lily tells David that for her, ‘music isn’t really a distraction, it helps [her] concentrate…’ and that Sheeran’s latest album, ‘Divide’, is what she listens to as she revises for her English A Level exam. We know that like Sheeran, Lily is popular amongst her peers and so his music is a nod to how Lily enjoys operating as a kind of social glue between people. And so relatedly…

4. She goes on to tell a entirely disinterested David that Sheeran’s brand of 21st century troubadourism has caught Johnny’s attention too but she suspects its more to do with his eternal yearning for the enigmatic Amber than anything else.

This week, after much soul searching, Johnny eventually plucked up the courage to ask Amber to go to the Isle of White festival. Having received a pair of tickets for his birthday Johnny told Freddie, he was particularly excited about seeing rising star Rag’n’Bone man. In terms of both genre and style, Sheeran’s musical offering isn’t a million miles from er…’Rag’…and so Johnny is a clearly fan of young singers who culturally signify the unlikely ‘authentic underdog’ who hits the big time against the odds. Johnny thinks he’s punching above his weight with Amber, so when she agrees to take up the second ticket, might this music suggest that he’s going to win over her heart after all?

5. Finally, I am interested in how Lily’s relationship with Anisha is indirectly heard through her enjoyment of Sheeran’s music.

The singer recently featured on Desert Island Discs, not only revealing the back story to his extraordinary successes but also sharing insight into his dogged determinism and continued ambition.

In a culture that ascribes these kinds of qualities as typically masculine, to hear Lily’s fighting talk about out-doing Anisha at the single wicket was rather refreshing. With various village dramas being played out through the decision to include women in the Ambridge cricket team, a subtle flash of female masculinity was a delight this week. I’m not sure if we can ever claim that Sheeran brings such queerness to the yard, but I’m intrigued how the single wicket goes this year…and that’s a first!

#nowlistening: Elizabeth’s 50th birthday

abigail2527s2bparty2bdanceFriday night brought a metric tonne of canapés and troughs of fizz on Friday night as the Pargetter and Archer families gathered at Lower Loxley for Elizabeth’s 50th birthday shindig. Earlier in the week, Liz told Shula that Lily had hinted at a music heavy night, but nothing could prepare us for what that actually entailed. I’m sure I can’t have been the only one willing the party to be just like Abigail’s Party – how I longed for Lilian to glide up to Lower Loxley, layered in boundless orange chiffon and all to a waft of of Demis Roussos. But alas, there was to be no soft Greek balladry and no Fag Ash shimmying in the moonlight.

Instead, Lily’s playlist was an interesting blend of pop which chronologically swung through the years with each minute of Friday’s episode. Abba, Marc Almond and Dexy’s Midnight Runners took care of the 70s and 80s, while Madonna, Take That and Lou Bega represented the hits of the 90s. But the feuding Archer family are becoming increasingly fractured in the wake of an outbreak of IBR amongst various herds in the village (we’re still not entirely sure what IBR actually is but that doesn’t seem to matter). Yes, it’s been all ailing beasts and feeble fencing of late – might a spot of muzak be the perfect thing save the village?agnetha-frida-dancing-queen-o

As that iconic piano glissando kicked in, it looked as though Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’ might just start a chain reaction of hatchet burying across Ambridge as Kenton and Elizabeth let their rift fizzle away just as the Swedish quartet sang ‘you’re in the mood for a dance…’. This is a song which comes pre-loaded with nostalgia – we’re invited to either identify with, or wanting to be with, the carefree seventeen year-old dancer.

Yes, that’s all of us in that song – we’re dancing, jiving, we’re having. the. time. of. our. lives. I’m exhausted even thinking about it. And that’s because this is a song that tells us to dance like no one’s watching – which is a terrible idea. It’s asking us to recall an earlier time, when life was simple. Remember those days? No, neither do we.

Suffice to say, within the opening three minutes, the dialogue and the disco suggest that reconciliation might be the theme for the entire episode. But while the party music optimistically supports Kenton and Elizabeth’s rebuilding, each song carries a darker side too. Over the course of the next few blogs we’ll be taking a walk with a couple of the pairs of conversations that we were privy to that night because while Lily’s playlist might well begin with a song about not caring about whether you’re being watched, the fact is that the ‘dancing queen‘ is always under surveillance and Lily’s careful curation underscores measured monitoring by all in attendance at the party.

rpnksgSo, rather than go through a song by song analysis – we’re interested in how various partnerships crackle against the musical ‘interference’ in the background. Having said that, as ‘Dancing Queen’ fades away, Soft Cell’s dark new-wave, cover version of Gloria Jones’ ‘Tainted Love’  howls across the awkward familial forum. It is from here that I start by taking a look at one of Ambridge’s most troubled partnerships at present: Pip and Ruth.

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Toby Fairbrother?

As avid listeners to DumTeeDum and pottering away as we do on Twitter, I know it’s not a popular opinion to say this but poor old Pip. She’s a young woman in a relationship with an oik who is at best, thoughtless and stupid in a Tim-Nice-But-Dim kind of a way and at worst is manipulative in a Titchener-lite kind of a way. Toby certainly measures somewhere on the narcissistic personality disorder scale. I fear the latter and for that reason he needs a dunking in the sheep dip and should be sent on his merry way.

 

Either way, Pip is so captivated by Toby’s bullshittery that I do worry that her side of the Archers clan is in danger of watching her gradually drift away in the same way Helen did. We’ve seen (or rather heard) Pip become increasingly isolated, and meaningful relationships fractured, after Toby encouraged her to withhold the truth about fences, cows, that IBR thing and let’s not forget the £5k she foolishly gave him for his gin enterprise. To her credit, she has been trying to confess and last week, finally got a word in edgeways between her parents who were devastated with disappointment. Pip has been trying her hand at bridge-building ever since. As ‘Tainted Love’ pings awkwardly across the room, Pip approaches her Mother:

‘I got you a drink Mum’ (2mins 54secs)

1jyj7ylThe pair exchange small talk but look away from each other and toward the gestures and movements of the other guests. Looking out at the party serves means they don’t have to look in at each other; avoiding eye contact publicly helps in distracting from their private inner turmoil. The twisting strands of dialogue, intonation, musical setting and lyric all wrap around each other here.

As Marc Almond sings ‘…seems to go nowhere’, Pip attempts an optimistic tone by saying how well she thinks the party is going. But as she surveils the room, the backdrop of the squelching synths of Soft Cell, accompanied by a drum machine pattern that doesn’t quite shuffle along in time speak of something different. Accordingly, Ruth’s response is more downbeat and positions Pat and Tony well out of view, while commenting on what she perceives as ‘iciness’ from Brian and Jennifer. More tension is wrung out of the scene with the lyric ‘…once I ran to you, now I run from you…’ takes on familial resonance that speaks for both Pip and Ruth. It is a changed relationship, a complicated one that is in danger of breaking altogether. The complexities of love is, of course at the heart of Soft Cell’s interpretation of the song – an 80s gay anthem and so it is interesting that the next time we hear from Ruth and Pip is framed by another queer moment in pop music history.

tumblr_nj0qa0qvae1tmicivo1_500If the sound effect of a toilet flushing (7mins 29secs) isn’t a sonic cue that all is a bit…well…toilet…then I’m not sure what is. It transpires that Pip has followed her Mum to the loo to finally confront her about the awkwardness between them. Pip wants to flush away…oh never mind…but let’s just say the toilet is the perfect place for this chat and even Madonna agrees as she sings ‘so use it that’s what it’s for…’ from her 90s classic ‘Vogue’.

The scene is relatively short, with Pip pleading for honesty and transparency while Ruth suggests her thoughts and feelings are best locked away, for Pip’s sake. The majority of this dialogue takes place over the pre-chorus of the song, the moment Madonna explains the universality of ‘Vogue’ –  that ‘it makes no difference if you’re black or white, if you’re a boy or a girl…’. And so at a surface level, ‘Vogue’ can be perceived as speaking on behalf of Pip’s longing for openness with Ruth.

tumblr_nr7c7mbdu91uy82zoo1_500But if you’ve seen the extraordinarily important and compelling documentary ‘Paris is burning’ , you’ll know that Vogueing isn’t just about a particular dancing style or merely the action of striking a pose. Rather, it is the dance component of the ball scene in New York, a space made by and for queer, people of colour in the late 80s. In post-Stonewall NYC, this was a highly political and poignant moment in queer history. While vogueing is understood as a kind of posturing, Willy Ninja beautifully explains here that the moves are the manifestation of the practice of ‘throwing shade’ – a kind of dance argument of sorts. As Pip and Ruth arrange to secretly meet in another quiet space in the party, it becomes clear that Ruth is preparing to throw some serious Ambridge shade at her daughter (we’ll file that one under ‘things I never thought I’d type’). And so at 10mins 22secs Pip says it can’t be worse than she’s imagining. In other words, she already thinking badly of herself and is ready for a shady dressing down.

As the scene unwinds, Lou Bega’s interpretation of Perez Prado’s ‘Mambo no.5’ gradually comes into auditory focus. Bega’s monotone voice and sporadic raspy trumpet fanfare occasionally catches our attention, as an anchor point for Ruth’s list home truths. But Pip doesn’t retaliate in the way that ‘Vogue’ or rather, ‘Paris is burning’ suggested she might, instead she is full of apology and sadness. Set against the ubiquitous, light, sort of ridiculous tone of ‘Mambo No.5’, Ruth’s anger is made all the more dramatic by its contrast; a combination of four jabs at Pip with a list of faceless women with nice old lady names;

‘Ruth: You’ve made a fool of me…I’ve been your champion…I kept your secrets…I’m ashamed of you’.

‘Bega: A little bit of Monica in my life, a little bit of Erica by my side, a little bit of Rita is all I need…’

Poor Pip. Don’t you think?

#nowlistening: to songs about tea.

63907815496faaa5e6d2dfc8eae82bc0I write this as I do most things, perched atop a mug of Earl Grey and in the company of a highly-strung black cat. If tea is a vice, I am in its grip and I’m fairly certain my tiny cat thinks it’s a very large dog. Life is confusing, you know?

Anyway, in the mid-20th century, tea flowed like cultural penicillin here in Blighty as we kept calm and carried on – defined as a nation by our love of a nice cuppa. In Ambridge, this is made clear in the way that its not Fallon’s cafe or coffee shop, it’s her tea room and the episode on the 29th March made tea a central musical feature. First was Doris Day’s version of ‘Two for tea’ (1950) from her eponymous film and later was Mario ‘harp’ Lorenzi’s arrangement of  ‘Everything stops for tea’ (1936).

In this episode the lyrics of ‘Two for tea’ clearly speak on behalf of Emma Grundy who is battling with her loyalty to the Grundy brood with growing dissatisfaction of the constant need for positive thinking that everything to be ok. In his latest scheme, Ed Grudy had bought Texel sheep for breeding and Emma tells Fallon they are ‘unremarkable’ — another almost-but-not-quite moment for the Grundy clan. Emma admits frustration, loneliness and confesses a wavering in her familial requirement infinite faith.

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‘unremarkable’ (enormous?).

Vocally, Day’s silky, mezzo-soprano can be heard to represent Emma’s sense of obligation too. The song’s forever-unravelling and always-twisting melody dreamily imagines a quieter time as the supporting harmony subtly changes key but always repeats that same, simple, apparently endless little melody.

1579In this way, ‘Two for tea’ certainly fits with the idea I keep coming back to about The Ambridge Tea Room operating a space for the members of the village to express their existential angst. But a pause in the dialogue at 6mins 10secs is echoed in the songs’ arrangement (at 1min 42secs here) and points toward something slightly different here.

Until now, Day’s soft yearning had been covered by a rich blanket of vocal harmonies from the Ken Lane Singers, an ensemble that made that warm (if not sonically rather overbearing), texture such an iconic sound in Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby’s late-40s/early-50s recordings.f898f25de8e391a4d81b610f9d932571

Day takes a moment of rest from her singing duties and the vocal group sings staccato and in unison which breaks up the previous powerful surges of harmony. Earlier in the song there had been a swooning violin countermelody, playing second fiddle to Day’s tune, but this moment of the song is harmonically framed by a flute which rhythmically skips around the like a tap dance solo. The desired effect is that kind of ‘knowing wink’ comedy, where we know it’s a ridiculous musical trope. In the same way, you don’t have to listen to The Archers for long to understand that the humour is encoded into the way that endless Grundy plans are eternally doomed.

At 6mins 23secs in the episode there is a final flurry of notes, and as the flute ascends Emma sighs and remains firmly back in the family fold, hopeful that perhaps when the lambs grow a little they’ll be able to spot a prize-winning one. This regained positivity is mirrored both in the dialogue with Fallon, and some tinkling stride piano which replaces the flute’s arpeggio. The Ken Lane Singers return to their thick harmonies again too as Emma explains the complexities of rearing these kinds of animals. At 6mins 44 secs, a chromatic shimmy on the piano underlines Emma’s returning doubts and these are reiterated by the return of Day’s smooth voice. Where we might have sensed resolution, it is certainly back to square one again here as Emma concedes:

‘This is the way life is and you’ve just got to learn to put up with it’.

24971But, it’s been hard to ignore the waft of feminism around the village in the past few weeks. And so, at 8mins 45secs when Robert Snell and Emma discuss both the controversy around ageism and sexism in the cricket team; how he loves getting involved in the running of the B&B and how she feels lumbered with it because of the domestic setting, the scent of a longing for gender equality is strong.

Hearing about Robert’s passion for cooking and working with his darling Lyndie operates as a wake-up call to Emma who recognises an imbalance Chez Grundy. There’s certainly a blog post brewing here about the problematic ridicule of the Grundy’s working-class sexism in contrast with Robert Snell being coded as a middle-class (apparently) modern man, but that’s for another day (or, dear reader, if you’d care to write it?!).

d497a49efe0efadaad8f7ec3b9a33131However, at this moment the choice of recording is certainly fascinating, a swinging, ragtime-infused, light-music styled, harp centred interpretation of ‘Everything stops for tea’. A song originally written by three Americans and originally sung by a Scotsman, it seeks to concretise the Englishness of tea drinking. Brilliant.

What interests me here, and is certainly at the centre of the PhD I’m trying to write, is how rules about identity are seemingly made solid through musical performances but that certain qualities or elements can be heard to (either accidentally or deliberately) transgress musically inscribed socio-cultural norms. ‘Everything stops for tea’ is precisely this kind of text, especially in Lorenzi’s rendition of the song as we hear it in the tea room. The harp’s unusual instrumental context is proudly coded as Other by Lorenzi, much in the same way that Robert is delighted by, while Emma is shocked with, being part of domestic life in the Snell household.

And so, as Robert leaves the tea room, Emma is jolted from her Doris Day reverie – exasperated by her inability to offer her kids ‘the simplest of things’. Might Robert, with a helping hand from Lorenzi’s harp solo, have encouraged her to start hatching plans that demonstrate her emancipation by breaking the conventions of the House of Grundy?

Desert Island Discs with Kate Abundance (née Aldridge)

 

It’s 2027. Kirsty Young is still hotter than she should be. Kate Madikane is still…very Kate

Kirsty Young: My castaway this week is a lifestyle entrepreneur who managed to slot herself into the post Brexit malaise that hung over the UK in the years between 2017 and the present day. She has been lauded as Exporter of the year in 2025, with the expansion of her clothing lines, spa, retreat and lifestyle brands expanding in African markets and is still very much hands on as the head of her family business which runs, with the help of her daughters, Phoebe and Noluthando across the 2 continents.

Her foundation is a major player in women’s emancipation and development and she is herself a United Nations Ambassador.  She has celebrated a landmark birthday this year but is incredibly youthful in her outlook and approach belying her half century on this planet – Call me Kate – her autobiography was a smash hit a few years ago and she is no stranger to bringing her own flavour of personal reflection to her global brand Spiritual Home. We are excited to hear your desert island discs Kate Abundance.

Kate: I am delighted to be here Kirsty, I have no fear about looking back over the path that brought me to where I am today. I am truly blessed to have led a fascinating life and love to talk about my inspirations and motivations.

KY: Can I ask initially about your recent name-change? Listeners might know you as Kate Aldridge or Kate Madikane?

Kate: You can Kirsty – As I laid out in the book I realised that I have been attached to a series of men’s names in my life – was born an Aldridge, married a Madikane but I chose my own name Abundance to signal that finally – at 50 – I am able to receive the gifts the universe has for me, myself.

KY: And they certainly seem abundant Kate – is it true that you always wear your own line of clothing?

Kate: That is correct Kirsty – everything from these vegan shoes to sustainable denim jeans and this crisp white cotton t-shirt, the undies and even these ethical diamond earrings. I eschew fast fashion and have built my brand on simple, inexpensive, fairly traded pieces that never go out of style.

KY:  Wonderful, before we get going can you tell me a bit about your brand itself? It seems to wrap around one’s whole life – combining food, beauty, lifestyle and homewares and key trends in health and wellness.

Kate: There are those who deride the wellness industry as superficial and promoting vanity, or packaging  premium prices for non-essentials but I see it as more of a spiritual calling. but the best kind, with a lot of swaggy merch that you can sell.  I would never call myself a wellness guru but things really began to change for me in late 2017 when I met a few truly inspirational women who became generous  mentors and friends to me.  Through my work with social media thought leader gingham cloud I began promoting my small rural spa Spiritual Home on Instagram and before I knew where I was I was invited to a series of women-wellness networking events.  Into the vacuum left when Melisssa and Jasmine Hemsley gave up on the clean eating and fell off the wagon and into the pies I learnt that multi-platform branded lifestyle goods were the way forward, and at all price points! Spiritual Home has become a sort of one-stop shop for millennials, the premium wellness brand in the UK with our body scrubs and clay masks in Boots, our chia seed and coconut protein balls in Waitrose and our pube and body-hair curlers available online at –

KY: Other pubic hair curlers are available, this is still the BBC after all, despite assaults on our public service ethos by commercialisation you still are’t actually supposed to nakedly plug your own stuff you know?

Kate: Oh so sorry, my aunty Lillian said that this would be good for my profile – she loves the effects of the curlers – so much more natural than these dreadful Brazilian wax-jobs the young girls are into – such an extension of the male gaze straight from porn you know – I believe that bodyhair makes women powerful in their own right – and I believe that the tide might be turning if sales of my intimate conditioner are anything to go by –  oh sorry I realise how deeply uncool product placement is but I am my brand and can’t really help but drip that through my –errr – self.

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Edina Monsoon: an upmarket Kate

But we also bring our messaging around positive psychology, body image and blanace  to women with less disposable cash with a tie in with Poundland which, frankly is far more lucrative than the high-end stuff

KY: you’ve been dismissed by rival as a ‘pound shop Anita Roddick’ or a ‘cut-price Edina Monsoon’

Kate: Hahahah I hadn’t heard that last one – hilarious no I am not ashamed of making money in different market segments. It is just basic business sense  – turning over half a million units of Epsom salts flavoured with a trace of essential oils in a week is always going to return more than selling a facial in a spa for £500 a throw.  The aspirational part of the brand feeds the mass part – all tied together with PR to die for and creating enough surplus for the foundation and for me to donate my profits to charity. Philanthropy – good causes – self esteem –wellness – it is all a mutually reinforcing belief system. It sort of takes the Goop approach to its natural extension – total wrap around lifestyle branding.

KY: Well, quite. But looking over your early life it may not be always obvious that you had absorbed the business acumen shown by some members of your family, who had made their fortunes in more conventional spheres.

Kate:  Made and lost Kirsty. Fetishing land deals as my father did showed a very 20th century sensibility.  Adaptation is the key these days.

KY: …and you have most certainly proved adaptive – if I was talking to you as a 20 year old single mother or  a 40 year old college drop out it would be hard to predict this meteoric rise.

Kate: Well yes Kirsty but I am ready to speak openly about some very difficult issues from my life. At times it felt as though music was my only friend. I have had periods of my life where I have been absolutely desolate with depressions and I always had some specific songs that I kept with me even if I was separated from the people I loved, my children, my parents… myself even.

KY: Well lets start at the very beginning – You have written in your autobiography that your Home Farm childhood was not a happy one despite being part of an affluent and prominent county family?

Kate: Ugh, what does that even mean? That snobby nonsense about status. You are right to say that we were indulged with material things but we were starved in other ways.  My therapist told me once that “The children of lovers are always orphans” but just imagine all the drama and confusion of being the daughter of such flagrant and egregious philanderers as both my parents.  And the hypocrisy? Being part of a prominent county family played right into Jennifer’s rather controlling and perfectionist streak, which seemed to harden the more out of control her liasons felt to her and as for  Dad- well let’s just say through my whole childhood he was more interested in other women than little girls.  It was often quite chaotic and worrying for a sensitive child and sometimes I would feel very lonely and  weird, even as quite a young child.

Kate: God no – both Brian and Jennifer are quite selfish and the atmosphere was often quite tense between them in ways that we children couldn’t help but pick up on. I have had quite a lot of therapies over my life including a lot of counselling, past life regression, emotional release therapy, reiki, reflexology, and well… you don’t need to be a Jungian analyst to point out that people who struggled as much with marital fidelity as my parents aren’t exactly role models for either emotional open-ness, reliability or security.  I had a wonderful feminist therapist years later who pinned most of my later issues on fear of rejection and a struggle to trust people.  The sheer effort my parents put into expending all their emotional energies outside the family, had long-ranging consequences on all of us. It certainly is no coincidence that my other siblings are childless and that I have never lived with all 3 of my children in a family setting I have learnt that recent studies suggest that the subtle changes in an adulterous parent’s behavior can unsettle children, regardless of whether the truth leaks out and even if the children are too young to understand what is happening.

Against this backdrop, however  I have one very strong memory, however which sticks out where we were the big happy family that Jennifer imagined we looked like to the rest of the village  and it was a Sunday I couldn’t have been older than 3 or 4 and this funny marching song about Captain Beaky came on the radio – Dad seemed to know the words and sounded hilarious reciting them and we all did a conga round the kitchen pretending to be all the animals – cos I was small I was passed between Adam and Debbie, and Mum and Dad and I think Gran was there too.  We were all laughing together and pretending to play instruments and singing and fooling around.  The song puts me right back in the kitchen, in the early 80s…

  1. Captain Beaky

On reflection I was desperate for someone – Captain Beaky or anyone – to have any form of moral compass.  “he’d march the woodland singing songs that told how we had righted wrongs” wrongs weren’t righted much at Home Farm, more covered over, allowed to fester and denied.

KY: So not quite the idyllic picture postcard childhood then? But there were other sources of support available to you? Your half-siblings and your sister Alice?

Kate: Yes despite the 7 year age gap and the fact that we were so different as characters I have always been able to rely 100% on my big sister Debbie.  It was a huge source of pain to us both that life took us to different countries so often but I still text, message phone or whatsapp her most days wherever I am in the world.  She really understood, you see, the upset of being part of our family and how hard I struggled to trust and to love.  Debbie would always save her Just17 magazines and Smash Hits magazines for me and we would often read Smash Hits together poring over the lyrics of the songs, and taping the charts from the radio following along with the lyrics in Smash Hits, I remember all the lyrics from things like yazz and the plastic population, Frankie goes to Hollywood and We’ve got a fuzzbox  and we’re gonna use it – we liked the more obscure and female-led bands even then having graduated from Pepsi and Shirley, we liked Madonna of course and kylie but  the real stand-out that we enjoyed together was a singing along with our hairbrushes to   uh-oh we’re in trouble by shampoo – I remember their bubble gum smash hits cover and learning all the words – I must have been 10 or 12. Despite laughing with Debbie and singing into our hairbrushes it was far more my experience than hers- she wasn’t a rule breaker really, not a rebel like me and never in trouble. I on the other hand…

2. “Uh-oh we’re in trouble”, Shampoo

Kate: We went to see Shampoo together in Felpersham. Jennifer was relaxed about where I went as long as Debbie was firmly in charge and I flipped out over the energy of the live show – I was fascinated by the lighting rig, the crew, all the people behind the scenes.  For a girl bored by country life and insecure about her place in the world it seemed like a wonderful magical travelling circus… and planted a seed about performance, lights, camera, action and spotlight. This was in the period after I was expelled from Cheltenham Ladies College.

KY: you have been very open in the past about your teenage rebellion and drug use. I mean in the early nineties rave culture and psychedelia were quite mainstream and blended with youth culture but Kate you did take it to a bit of an extreme.

  1. “Little Fluffy Clouds” (long edit), The Orb 

Kate: well yes Kirsty – ‘when I was young and stupid I was young and stupid’ but you are quite right I definitely took my teenage rebellion to an extreme. I confused dangerous with interesting for a long time and had a whole series of totally unsuitable and careless men, Warren for example, who almost killed me in a stolen car. i simply couldn’t understand that I took risks from a deep sense of self loathing  The first time I ran off with the new age travellers after my GCSE results in 1994 it was a pretty shiny happy time – It wasn’t only about sex and drugs but there were all kinds of radical possibilities swirling around. It sounds silly now but it truly felt as if a new society were possible without ownership, patriarchy and boredom and loneliness – sharing and building and growing.

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Kate’s semicolon tattoo: a sign of a “punctuated existence”

Road protest movements were to show that a society not in harmony with the environment is a sick one.  Well I realise it sounds pretty naïve now but it has taken me very long time to realise that escaping Ambridge for ever beardier versions of Brian – self aggrandising swaggering narcissists, like Luther, Byronic, moody and infinitely physical who turned me on to all sorts of stuff but was a deeply controlling person I was so in awe of him and he taught me so much, but then  it took me a long time to realise that reading Schopenhauer on mescaline was all very well but if a man is taking your money to buy drugs – then the bohemian nature of the transaction is only skin-deep y’know. I do wonder what happened to Luther, did he burn brightly and extinguish himself? or is he a middle-aged guy somewhere? At least I didn’t bring him back to Home Farm like I did Jolyon Gibson, who I was foolish enough to install back in Ambridge, who was the ultimate trustafarian cliché. But there were elements of the lifestyle that were unfluffy in the extreme, there were times of utter abject desperation and totally intense union and camaraderie. I was on one drug or another every day of that time.

 

KY: And this changed – when?

Kate: When I started to feel that there might be worse things than being warm and safe – I also began to forgive my mother after a particularly intense series of revelations up a tree on a road protest at Newbury… Not really knowing what else to do I went home, took anti-depressants and tried to fit back into a straight and conventional life. my somewhat shattered sense of myself and my self worth. I had attempted suicide on NYE 1995 you see – just wanted to check out and make the madness stop. That is why I have this semi-colon tattoo Kirsty, it is worn by people who have reached that place and for whatever reason decided to go on. A punctuated existence so to speak.

  1. “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore”, The Smiths

Kate: I became very obsessed with this song around that time – and it totally fed into my self-desctuctive state of mind – I became obsessed with the idea that “I just might die with a smile on my face after all” havi been far more into electronic music the way that a guitar gently weeps when you are down mirrored me at my lowest. Before I took the overdoes of Tamazepam on NYE 1995 I listened to the section of this song from 2 minutes in over and over and over again… you had to rewind the tape deck and it had a heavy clunking sound. I just stayed like that for hours and hours.

Oddly enough later talking to Roy about music became a point of connection, all those post-punk bands like The Cure, Joy Division it was music that was part of  the attraction of Roy at the beginning –  he was almost amazingly uncomplex and – despite some ugly friends – who no doubt are UKIPPERS in this day and age he adored me, helped to rebuild,  also we hit the road again but in a far more manageable form than the road protests had been concentrating on selling wholefoods in a van at the less chaotic and druggy fringes of the festival scene. That summer was one of the happiest of my life – we made an absolute killing, worked hard and I felt we’d found a happy medium between freedom and structure… the van pulsations was wildly popular.  Despite being really happy I sabotaged the relationship, it was never going to be quite enough for me to be on the fringes and I kept getting drawn back towards toxic people and scenes  having properly scared Roy with my consumption of various substances the happy days were over between us. He was only ever really a tourist I suppose.  However there has always been a piece of my heart devoted to Roy – and I have never been so grateful for the fact of his parenting of Phoebe- who – as everyone knows was born at Glastonbury in 1998.  It  was hellishly muddy that year but I managed to enjoy a few bands before my waters broke watching Jhelisa – I have always loved this song and it now reminds me of having Phoebe and the infinite possibilities of new life.

  1. “Friendly pressure”, Jhelisa

Kate: It didn’t last however,  I suffered terribly with post-natal depression, felt horribly trapped in Ambridge and with a disapproving Jennifer and extended family watching me with my new baby and again the old trouble began to flare – feelings of worthlessness and like I was going mad – which with PND I might have been. Later in therapy it was explained that the psychadelics I had taken with a developing brain, combined with post-traumatic stress from risky and terrifying behaviours around men and sex, and mixed in with the hormones of being a new mum were a very volatile chemical mix.  I did a flit with Phoebe to Morocco with some old mates but when she fell ill and I felt unable to cope I crashed back to Ambridge feeling even worse about myself.

KY: This was somewhat of a pattern for you? You found yourself drawn back to Home Farm but once there almost immediately want to set off again

Kate: Yes I hadn’t understood until my forties when I finally became more comfortable in my own skin then that it doesn’t matter where you are in the world – the one constant is yourself and how you feel in yourself.  That is why I embrace wellness as a philosophy – anything I can do to make people –especially young women – to feel more their best selves I will try to do. And I know that that stuff can’t be marketed and sold.   Single motherhood in Ambridge was absolutely awful – another grim period- I became convinced that just being in Phoebe’s life was irrevocably damage her in some way and just had to get away.  I sat at the airport repeatedly playing the cassette single of the Macy Gray song over and over again and sobbing.  “I try to walk away and I stumble”

But in the end  knew I was doing the right thing for Phoebe – It look me 40 years to forgive my mother for the things she did wrong and I truly believed that my absence would be better for her than my presence and so I boarded the flight.  This was 1999 and was the longest period I spent away from England and the past. I didn’t return until 2010.

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Macy Gray, “I Try”
  1. “I Try”, Macy Gray

Kate: I had a whole other life with Lucas in Africa but it took me more than a decade to realise I had exchanged one oppressive close-knit, enmeshed village setting for another, feeling trapped and miserable I fell passionately in love with someone outside my marriage – a friend of the family of all people – and they were all so horrified and disgusted in me that I had to go back to Ambridge again.

Again I had it – and I smashed it.

KY: And then what? What made you stop smashing and begin building?

Kate: Well this is a song from just around the time when everything started to come together for me – a song that reminds me of my daughters and feeling like the person I was supposed to be and pushing on and getting going! It makes me cross when people are just on a nostalgia trip y’know… bitching on about how music was better way back when…

Sometimes you need something completely fresh and new to shake you out of yourself and move on y’know?

  1. “He is the voice I hear”, The Black Madonna

Kate: The tune is just infectious isn’t it? It guess I was just ready to stop being a mess and start rolling up my sleeves.  And I coudnt be happier with the results. My pride and joy is to see Phoebe as the COO of the Foundation now, travelling the world investing our profits in women-led businesses and doing deals with governments, the United Nations  and other non-profits whilst Noluthando runs the production side from her base in South Africa.

That these two strong, proud and competent women are my daughters is the joy of my life and we have built adult relationships as women that I was unable to commit too when I was first their mother. I really only have a notional role with the businesses these days although I do keep a close eye on the spa business, still headquartered at Home Farm and, it is a true family affair as Debbie and Lilian are on the Board, as are my close personal friends; Stella McCartney, Amal Clooney, Melinda Gates and Hillary Clinton.   I hope that my story is one that can inspire women to transcend their emotional blockages, work through their childhood and adolescent issues and to take their places as world leaders, no matter what their start in life. I truly believe that everyone deserves to be able to flourish, and that women helping one another can create a kinder form of capitalism.

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“Jennifer took the loss of Brian’s money and his death very hard…”

KY: One person you haven’t mentioned Kate in this meteoric rise – your mother Jennifer – does she get a seat at the glittering table you have just described with world leaders and feminist philanthropists?

Kate: Poor Jennifer, no she hasn’t been doing too well these past few years, she took the loss of Brian’s money and his death very hard, and has been somewhat trapped in a spiral of guilt and self-loathing. We provide for her very well of course but the loss of face and status was all a bit too much for her.

And this brings me to my final track – the Pete Seeger version of Sometimes I feel like a motherless child. Another sad song I’m afraid but the lyric – sometimes I feel like a feather in the air, reminds me to forgive and forget.

  1. “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child”, Pete Seeger

KY: So Kate, you can take with you The Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare What book would you like to take to your desert island?

Kate: I would like Kirsty, a copy of the complete works of Robert Anton Wilson, he was hugely influential in the Spiral Tribe days but I was always a bit too distracted or off my face to read it properly – I would like to see if there really is anything to it.

KY: So if all but one of these tracks was washed away which would you keep with you?

Kate: Oh god – so difficult. I think I’d keep Jhelisa thankyou

KY: And for your luxury?

Kate: A lifetime supply of my own brand pants

KY: And on that note Kate we must end. Though I feel there is enough material here for several more hours we are at the end of ours. Thank you for letting us hear your desert island discs

KM: Thank you

Music swells

Thanks to Dr Nicola Headlam (@networknicola) for this Easter special guest post

#nowlistening or #notlistening? Toby, Daft Punk, and the moon goddess

daft_punk_vibe-comWhen we observed in passing that Tobeeee had been enjoying Daft Punk bright and early before his gin sesh with Kenton last Monday, reliable music-detective @bramblybarb was right in there: “I love that song! Reminds me of a fab holiday in Turkey. Daft punk pretty much sums up Toby.”  And she’s got a point. Well—two actually (which is three more than Toby and Pip combined….) “Get Lucky” was always destined to be a classic party anthem, and Toby really is a daft punk. (That is: “punk” in the sense used in West Side Story more than that pertaining to the Sex Pistols.) In so many respects, it’s an entirely likely music choice for this player-of-players, whose reliable-partner act isn’t fooling anyone except Pip. “Get Lucky” in this sense—with its insistence on the feel-good factor and a “be who you are, do what you like” mantra—is surely an ideal theme tune for this neoliberalist twerp.

And he clearly loves the song, because only three days later he said he’d given a “rousing chorus” of it while collecting the all-important marshmallow leaves with Carol “The camomile tea pusher” Tregorran. And Pip’s notion that the song might not have been appropriate was perhaps the most useful thing she’s said all year, since many a listener might have suggested he try “Casta diva” instead, the soulful ode to the moon sung by the eponymous and tragic heroine in Bellini’s Norma (1831).

To hear Toby for a moment as Norma herself would be an intriguing idea—the druid priestess has two secret children by the leader of the Roman occupiers, and is forced to throw herself on a sacrificial pyre when the deception and betrayal are exposed. The long-standing speculations that the Gin King of Ambridge has a secret family in Brighton were not abated by the “confession” of a heroin-addled ex, and to a keen music-detective like myself, these marshmallow moments only bring the possibility of another generation of Fairbrethren back into focus.

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Bonfire Night’s coming early to Ambridge this year, as we eagerly await Toby’s self-sacrifice on the pyre…

Less transvestitically (Is that even a word? Ed.), Toby might remind us of the Roman, Pollione. This guy is a total jerk—also secretly the progenitor of the two sprogs, he has the added bonus of being on the side of the brutal invaders, and also a two-timing toss-bag, as he can’t seem to decide between Norma and her bezzie-cum-apprentice-priestess Adalgisa. Pip, alas, doesn’t seem to have any friends, with the exception of Alice, and although she went through a patch of REASSURING EVERYONE that SHE AND CHRIS WERE TOTALLY FAITHFUL in ways that threatened to foreshadow an affair, it all went a bit anticlimactic.

It takes a bit more of a leap to get anywhere near proper operatic on this one…from Toby to Carol, through John to Jennifer, and so to Brian and young Ruairi. And in the weaving and squinting that one has to do along such an operatic amble through Borsetshire, and in the incongruity that moments like Custardgate bring to this everyday tale of country folk, we find ourselves faced with the fundamental question about The Archers: is it, has it ever been, could it ever descend as far as being…a soap opera?

#nowlistening: Race in Ambridge

Last Tuesday’s episode left me reeling. Not at the all-too-vivid image of Jill in her see-through swimming cossie, imprinted as that now is on my poor innocent mind. Rather, I was suddenly stunned at the implications of radio as a medium without images. It’s obvious, really, but chatting about the aquaerobics class with my co-presenter, @emilybakermusic, I realized that I “knew” that the irresistible Leroy, was black. And when I thought about how I “knew” it, what I ended up questioning was how I “knew” Jill and Carol are white….

On reflection, the presumption came from two places: his name, and the music.

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Aunt Jemima: the quintessential Southern black ‘mammy’

A contraction of “Le roi”, the name Leroy (also Leeroy and LeRoy) derives from French, meaning “the king”. And from French, it passed into English culture, no doubt first with 1066 and all that, subsequently becoming popular in the nineteenth century. So far, so white, since the aristocratic history of Europe is hardly know for racial diversity beyond the Caucasian. But, along with names like Tyrone (a county in Ireland), Antwan (Antoine), and Jemima (as in Beatrix Potter’s Puddleduck), the name Leroy has made a long journey from one side of the Atlantic to the other, no doubt following the routes of the slave boats, and simultaneously landing the other side of a racial divide. That “Leroy” might connote blackness in Ambridge is then almost certainly a by-product of the Americanisation of British popular culture, in which films like Which Way Is Up (1977, in which Richard Pryor plays Leroy Jones), and baseball stars like Leroy “Satchel” Paige, have left their own “Leroy is a black name” trace.

 

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Leroy Jones: one contributor to the US image of Leroys as black interwar babies

But back to Ambridge FM’s raison d’être: the music. The end of the aquaerobics class (at 5:45) was signaled by the final bars of UK grime artist Sneakbo’s ‘Zim Zimma’ (2012), and the song taps into a rich intertextual world that signifies far beyond the obvious pun on the “zimmer frames” that many of Leroy’s clients might benefit from. As a genre, grime is quite particularly British; in this sense it differs from the black signification of the name Leroy, with its US origins, but it nonetheless shares an African/Caribbean heritage, albeit a specifically British version thereof. Deriving from a musical lineage that reaches back to Jamaica, through dancehall, drum and bass, jungle, and hip-hop, grime is characterized by quick-fire beats and often features rapped lyrics that focus on the gritty realities of urban life, spoken in a slang based on Jamaican patois. The genre has therefore grown up largely in highly multicultural cities, usually in communities with strong African/Caribbean legacies, and in this way, ‘Zim Zimma’ brings an intense sense of blackness to Ambridge.

And that jars uncomfortably—and indeed humorously—with Carol and Jill, who ooze rural middle-class whiteness. Yet there is nothing to tell us of their whiteness except their rural middle-classness: the 2011 UK census records 95% of rural populations as “White British”, compared with 84.7% of urban areas. Perhaps Leroy resides in the great metropolis of Borchester; perhaps he’s one of the remaining 5% of Ambridge. But we are no doubt also guided in our listening by a sense of ethnocentrism—a kind of default presumption that operates intensely in the white West that people we haven’t seen are themselves white: when was the last time any of us said, “You know him…he’s the white one?”. So I wonder: what might Ambridge look like if only 5% of its residents were white British? And if Leroy were the insider, while his (presumably?) white kingly counterpart–Rex (from the Latin)–were relegated to the aquaerobic outskirts?

#nowlistening: Baltimore Oriole by Hoagy Carmichael.

Hoagy_Carmichael_-_1947As she tucked into her delicious eggs benedict, Lilian wasn’t just being serenaded by relentless, saccharine compliments from Justin in the tea room on Wednesday night. Continuing this weeks’ ornithological musical theme was Hoagy Carmichael chirping away under the hubbub of the tea room with his ode to a particularly colourful migratory breeding bird, the Baltimore Oriole.

Common to the USA, this little warbler is cousin to the UK’s native blackbird — whose song we regularly hear in the Am Vale — indeed, the same could be said of Fag Ash Lil’s ubiquitous gin-soaked cackles. A little lyric analysis leaves little doubt that this little bird is indeed, representative of Lilian. This is all about her historically flighty love life (Oh how I miss those Tiger and Puss Cat days…) and her current predicament as mistress-turned-homewrecker-turned-significant other of Justin Elliott.

Balt-Oriole_1940-cr.jpg

This version of ‘Baltimore Oriole’ is performed in the key of D minor, a key described by Schubert as possessing ‘melancholy womanliness, the spleen and humours brood’. Indeed, while co-writer Paul Webster’s lyrics seem to be voiced as Justin‘s arrogant desire to ‘rescue’ Lilian by making their relationship official, the musical environment of D minor keeps our focus on Lilian’s take on how the relationship is developing and changing.

images.jpegAs an aside, the music functions away from the Justilian connection too with the
sombre, yet sashaying ditty cutting across other themes and narratives currently at play in the village. Flurries from the flute section are particularly noticeable in this arrangement, a tried and tested orchestration technique to evoke birdsong and a neat touch to introduce avid twitcher Robert Snell into the scene just as Carmichael sings the word ‘bird’. This is either a result of cleverly synchronised editing or serendipitous timing but either way it’s not just any bird, but a ‘two-timing jay bird’ and so our attention is brought back to the Bellamy-Elliott tangle.

p04j8850.jpgThese tensions are emphasised again at 2mins 19secs when the lyric : ‘…to make a lonely man happy’ (in fact this is the most discernible lyric in the whole scene) when Justin asks Lilian out for a post-brunch promenade around the lake. But Lilian calls the activity into question, reiterating her ongoing rejection of domesticity and asserting her delight in the wildness of their previously unconventional affair. Ultimately ‘Baltimore Oriole’ functions as a bold and empowered statement for Lilian who continues to demand free-spirited autonomy from her own nest.


download.jpegThere are pleasing intertextual resonances with the songs’ history too: Hoagy
Carmichael performed ‘Baltimore Oriole’ in the screen adaptation of Ernest Hemmingway’s To Have and Have Not (1944), a film that first brought together Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Baccall who immediately embarked on their own passionate affair. Their on-screen chemistry is immortalised in the ‘whistle’ scene where Baccall asserts a specific brand of smoky-voiced, powerful femininity over Bogart. While Fag Ash might not have the sultry delivery of Bacall, the ‘Baltimore Oriole’ helps in demonstrating Lilian’s desire to continue her bold, bohemian chitter-chatter over and around Justin.

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‘You know how to whistle don’t you Justin?….’

#nowlistening: On automata and colonisation

As birds go, the cuckoo could use a bit of work on its public image. It probably wins the prize for most recognisable bird call: clocks, Beethoven symphonies, and Delius tone poems all make of the distinctive two-note pattern that gives the bird its name. But let’s face it: the eponymous clocks are hardly the most desirable home accessory in the twenty-first century. And what else is the bird so well-known for? The fact that female cuckoos lay their eggs in other birds’ nests. Yup: they just waltz* right in and set up shop. Frances Pitt, in ‘The Scandalous Cuckoo’, calls them “lazy, idle, languid, flirty, promiscuous and reprehensible”. They’re ubiquitous, but no-one really wants them around. A bit like my weird uncle George at Christmas….

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So when the mellifluous strains of The Cuckoo Waltz played as Alice and Josh bickered over his setting up his office in the tea-room (at 10:35), we could safely presume a reference to the notorious squatting behaviour of the bird. More than this, though, an intertextual ear reveals further layers of meaning.

There isn’t space here to speculate over a storyline prediction paralleling the premise of the 1970s TV show for which this piece was the theme tune, although that would be an intriguing avenue to pursue. More interesting, perhaps, is to follow the trail left by the instrument on which it played last Tuesday: the accordion. Like the cuckoo, the accordion is ubiquitous, having emerged in nineteenth-century Vienna and spread the world over in all kinds of folk music. It’s never really taken off as a high-class instrument of classical music—not even half as successfully as other nineteenth-century inventions like the saxophone—and so it remains an instrument of the tango, of klezmer, of gypsies and brothels, or of the stereotyped dorkiness of folk clubs. Like the bird, then, the accordion is always weirdly out-of-place: exotic at best and antediluvian at worst. Moreover, like the cuckoo clock with its quaint moving bird popping out of the chalet every hour, it is fundamentally an instrument of automation. For although it has predecessors in ancient Chinese instruments like the sheng, the patent sought for the accordion in 1829 by Cyrill Demian included the characteristic feature of being able to sound an entire chord by pressing only one key. It is this feature that makes the accordion so portable and so useful. It is no accident, for instance, that the accordion’s Argentinian descendant, the bandoneón, was developed for use in churches without an organ, as this one instrument can provide a full accompaniment anywhere for any musical occasion, and still be carried home by one person.

accordion-beauty

So yes, the music points to Josh’s colonising of the tearoom without having bought anything for hours. And maybe it implies a future storyline in which he takes up lodgings in some newlyweds’ household, as in the ITV sitcom. But it also points to both cousins’ interest in the automatic, the futuristic, the technological, and even the extent to which that interest sets them apart from their respective family units. And so ultimately, the music encapsulates a particular combination of rural, automated, and always-slightly-out-of-place that applies equally to the bird (and the clock), the instrument, and both cousins.

Enormous thanks must go to @JoannaCDobson for amazing ornithological input, and @BramblyBarb for identifying the muzak.

* The question over whether this was intended as pun will emerge in a moment. It was.

 

 

#nowlistening: Cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm

fffffThere’s a reason the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is one of the best-known fragments of his work. It’s one of the most famous fragments of classical music at all, and in it, Beethoven straddles the listening centuries, a compositional giant. These four notes stand in for everything we think we know about Beethoven: fierce, dark, aggressive, mysterious, irascible. It is the canonical work from the ultimate canonical composer. What is less well-known is that it premiered the same night as his Sixth Symphony. In many ways, the two works could not be more different: the Sixth is not called the ‘Pastoral’ for nothing. And it was the Sixth that Lilian and Justin enjoyed on Sunday night after their first weekend of freedom from Miranda.

Its full title is ‘Pastoral Symphony, or Recollections of Country Life’, and it’s apt indeed, as the work portrays the idealized countryside of Romantic thought. The five movements have names themselves: ‘Scene by the brook’, the second movement,e4a7d3cdae887e8fa06ec3e74d6a9c0c closes with a woodwind section imitating bird calls crudely enough even for Robert Snell to identify; ‘Merry gathering of country folk’ would be well-placed to accompany a maypole choreography by Linda Snell. Coming immediately after ‘Thunder. Storm’, it was the fifth movement to which the young lovers relaxed: ‘Cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm’. Surely Miranda is that storm, and so we might assume that life at the Dower House will be full of Happy Ever Afters, the sort of ending found in the cleaned-up versions of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, themselves first published in 1812—contemporary to Beethoven’s symphony. But, as ever, there are clues at play if
we scratch beneath the surface.

Beethoven is known for a kind of cellular compositional style, in which a small fragment (like the opening notes of the Fifth) grows almost organically, and weave through the entire work. The Sixth is no exception, but here we can read the cells as a biological metaphor: Yvonne Frindle writes of “the infinite repetition of pattern in nature” to be found in the rhythmic cells. Nature is indeed nothing if not repetitive: the rising and setting of the sun; the turn of the seasons; the cycle of the weather, of rising and falling pressure, of evaporation and rain and evaporation again. So these lovers, with their newfound bliss, may well enjoy these “cheerful and thankful feelings” for now, but there is no maxim about the calm after the storm, is there? Are we to expect more turbulence for Justillian, perhaps a drawn-out and expensive divorce? And might it all draw out the darker side of Justin, whose own dyspeptic nature we have seen on more than one occasion? Perhaps we’ll be hearing the ominous opening of the Fifth before long after all….

#notlistening: flibbertigibbet!

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A most unusual and wonderful word set the Ambridge-related twittersphere ablaze this week. No sooner had Peggy Woolley whipped out her second-best (*gasp*) china , she directed her deep disappointment at daughter Lilian for being, a ‘flibbertigibbet’. Peggy must’ve been the last to hear about Lilian and Justin’s raucous ‘going’s-on’ and so, Peggy was cross. In response, gin-soaked Lil’ was a little crestfallen and very hungover and so, quietly took her mother’s admonishment with a solemnity that she is rarely required to lean on.

Tomorrow morning, scriptwriter @keridavies goes on the Today programme to talk about ‘flibbertigibbet’. Of course he is. Brilliant. But among us mere mortals there have been some wonderful observations of the use of the word, not least @sallyannely ’s during this week’s tweetalong that the word would probably have trended if we had known how to spell it! Others have written beautifully on this scene (and beyond) but what I’d like to suggest is that Peggy’s use of the word functions as a musical spoiler of what lies ahead; she tells us that Lilian will get her man and, yet she does so without any music actually underscoring the scene.

‘A flibbertigibbet, a willo-the-wisp, a clown…’maria.jpg

The joy of Ambridge FM is that we get to learn about amazing music through the strangely addictive mundanity of The Archers. But in this moment, like many others, I recalled The Sound Of Music as the most memorable use of ‘flibbertigibbet’ and so the song played away in my background to the rest of the scene. Such is the power of these intertextual moments that a word like ‘flibbertigibbet’ prods the action with its unusualness, takes us elsewhere in that second and encourages us to sing along. Background music becomes superfluous as we all become Ambridge FM. Altogether now…

How do we solve a problem like Lilian Bellamy?

SOM how do you solveA process of recasting, where Lilian becomes Maria, and Peggy takes on the all-seeing surveilling eye of Mother Abbess. With this in mind then, of course Fag Ash would get her man – because big-boss Justin Elliot ends up being coded as Captain Von Trapp! Given Lilian’s disquiet on Justin’s decision to choose her over Miranda, I wonder if he’ll be out telling stories about Edelweiss any time soon?..