Bells and Whistles
We’ve all done it haven’t we? Made up our own words to misheard lyrics and sung them at top volume much to the amusement of our fellow singers – or is that just me? Mum did it all the time, although I suspect she knew exactly what she was doing and enjoyed the surrounding harrumphs and gasps of exasperation. One of her favourite festive tricks was to join a choir, flirt with the vicar (they were always church choirs), befriend the baritones and sock the sopranos between the eyes with her mad, falsetto singing. Imagine Hyacinth Bouquet on helium and you’ve got the picture. I was always somewhere in the background, half-listening, half-wincing at Mum’s singing and trying to distance myself. She was having fun though and didn’t give a hoot about the stuffy people around her getting upset. She never lasted long in the choirs as I recall and I do remember going on holiday to a vicarage in Swanage one year where my brother and I had bunk beds in one room and Mum apparently slept on the sofa, although we never saw any bed clothes on it when we got up early in the hope of surprising her with a cup of tea. So the flirting must have paid off.
In the early eighties I started work at the BBC and moved in to the top floor of a wonderful, tumble-down house which Mum had inherited. It really was a very old, unloved house with rattling windows, three freezing floors, no heating, no hot water and a ghost. Mum lived on the bottom floor, so it was often a case of sneaking past her rooms to get upstairs and into my flat without her shouting out or accosting my friends on the way up. Most of the time it was she who opened the door as we only had an old iron knocker which was next door to her bedroom. On various occasions she’d jump out and shout something inappropriate when I intercepted friends on the way up, thus ending the friendship or stopping any new romance in its tracks before it had the time to blossom. She meant well of course and thought that offers of tea in bed or an extra feather eiderdown might encourage things. Errr … well, they didn’t. And then I had a wonderful idea. Why didn’t I get a doorbell that only rang in my flat? I installed it in secret, running the wires along door frames, along skirting boards and well out of sight. She didn’t notice and everything appeared to be going according to plan. And then the trouble started. The doorbell went one evening at about 11.30pm, so I trotted downstairs to see which of my friends had decided to make a midnight visit. I opened the door to a middle-aged man, sweating and tugging at his jacket. “Sonia?” Yes, said I, slowly closing the door to a half-inch slit. “Do you have a maid?” Goodbye, said I closing the door and dashing back upstairs to the warm. Weird man – obviously drunk. Similar things started happening and I was now getting very freaked out and pissed off at the late night knockers. It was only when my grandpa Pop came to visit that things became clearer. He had “asides” with Dad when I opened the door to them both. Dad was a bit embarrassed and neither of them would tell me what they were whispering about. It was always at these points that the penny dropped and I had the sinking “Mum !!!!!!” feeling. What had she said, done or tried this time? They finally came out with it. “It’s your doorbell, Sonia. It’s a bit Soho, don’t you think?” What about my fantastic, clever idea doorbell? It turned out that Mum had found out about it (after all, it was quite obvious when you actually arrived at the front door) and in order to help people differentiate between the main front door and my flat she’d attached a hand-written label. “Sonia. Top flat only. Ring for pleasure.” Whether it was the outrage of the sheer ignorance from her point of view, or the fact that Dad and Pop both had insight into what these labels meant when visiting Soho, I can’t quite remember. I was furious and removed the bell completely and by “completely”, I mean ripping the wires out of every crevice, smashing the button to tiny pieces and crushing the electronic bell device to smithereens. Things that Mum did were always based on love, however at the time her actions felt to me like a crushing mix of anger, confusion and the conviction that she didn’t know me one little bit. How lucky am I that in later life I grew to see her behaviour for what it really was and not what I thought it to be.
Bells have always featured heavily (or should that be Heavenly?) in my world. Church bells with Mum dragging me unwillingly to strangers’ weddings or interminable church services. Jingle Bells with altered lyrics. THAT Hendon door bell and now a talking bus bell, Thinkerbell, who features in my children’s book series, Granny Franny’s Big Red Bus. I’ve started using DING DING as a strap line when I sign the books. And there’s another bell reference that always makes my friends laugh; two very annoying boys at junior school used to sing “Ding, dong, bell DOM – your head’s gone wrong. Two screws are loose, your head’s no use.” to the tune of a nursery rhyme. So that got shortened to “Ding dong” and became my nickname. I didn’t mind, it was better than “Hercule”. Hercule Poirot – Belgium – Beldom. VERY funny. NOT.
As there are no big carol concerts this year, our little neighbourhood group is staging a Christmas sing-along in the park for the children of the local nursey. Luckily I’ve got a very powerful bluetooth speaker from which I can play a few backing tracks for us all to sing along to. And guess what the first track that Lydia, my much loved neighbour sent me this afternoon? You’ve guessed it – Jingle Bells! I promise not to embed the wrong lyrics into the heads of the children, as my mother did to me. It went like this; “Jingle Bells, diamonds and pearls, twinkle all the way. Oh what fun for Santa’s bum as he twinkles in his sleigh – OH … etc. etc.
Have a good run-up to Christmas in these peculiar times. DING DING.