Low life

The joy of a children’s choir

9 July 2022

9:00 AM

9 July 2022

9:00 AM

All afternoon I had been horizontal next to an electric fan, sometimes sleeping, sometimes awake and sometimes halfway between those two states. By six o’clock the temperature had relented from 38 degrees to a comparatively easier 27 and I heard ice cubes tinkling into a glass. Catriona called up the stairs, offering gin. I said I’d rather a pot of tea and that His Lordship would rise and come downstairs for it.

So I put on my shorts, went down and joined her out on the terrace for the six o’clock shape-changer. For a pleasant change Catriona had no evening invitations or work commitments. We sat side by side sipping and looking out over the village rooftops and watched the wheeling acrobatics of the swifts and martins. The cliff face on which our house is perched was in deep shadow but the village rooftops and forested hills as far south as the Massif des Maures remained under the sun’s cosh. Showers of sand and small stones dislodged by squabbling sparrows higher up the cliff pittered down on our heads. Not often do we spend evenings quietly together like this and we said we must do it more often.

Catriona read her phone; I shopped on my iPad for T-shirts on which the company would print a word or slogan of your own choosing. After hearing on the radio of such a thing, I badly wanted one that said ‘Ethics Advisor’. The doubtful could just bowl up to me in the street for free but antiquated advice on how to conduct themselves and what to think.

The T-shirt firm with the simplest-to-use website offered a discount on three or more. After a bit of thought for the second one, I wrote in the box: ‘Diversity trainer’ – perhaps the most repugnant phrase in the English language today. It makes ‘fuck off’ look almost ecclesiastical. And what then for the third chest slogan to qualify for the discount? I consulted with Catriona. ‘Crotchety?’ she suggested.‘Commonplace?’ After realising that I could choose up to five words at no extra cost I toyed with ‘resigned cosmic melancholy’, ‘out of touch’ and ‘a lick and a promise’. While considering these and others, it occurred to me that a T-shirt slogan can only be a symptom of a narcissistic personality disorder of some sort.

At the coast the other week I saw a huge Arab woman paddling in one of those hideous burkini things emblazoned with ‘Gucci’ in embossed gold letters, perhaps the Islamic equivalent of evangelical Christian ‘prosperity’ teaching. Or maybe I read far too much into these things and she was merely a simple soul on holiday who liked Gucci stuff. She was up to her waist in the sea and talking on what must surely be the largest gold iPhone on the market. Finally, tired of overthinking it, I typed ‘probable narcissistic personality disorder of some sort’ in the box, claimed my discount, and left it at that.

Then we completed the Times 2 crossword in 12 minutes, 12 seconds. Our personal best is four minutes and 40 seconds. We’re a good team. What kept us was six letters: Henry – former PM: first letter P, last letter M.

I poured out a third cup of tea, Treena went inside and returned with a glass of boxed and watered white wine from the fridge. The sun’s long shadow travelled south across the landscape. The vast cigale maracas orchestra in the trees on the hill opposite fell silent at the flourish of some unseen conductor’s baton, leaving only the usual evening dove, whose indefatigable throaty voice reminds me of Marilyn Monroe singing ‘Happy Birthday, Mr President’.

Then, rising up from the open-air theatre and cinema at the foot of the cliff, came the sound of excited children, which, after about a quarter of an hour, coalesced into a children’s choir that transported us on a lively European tour in folk music and song. This first event of the summer season took us unawares, as did the choir’s devastating effect on the emotions. England, however, was in my crotchety view misrepresented by an absurdly simplistic ditty about noses, heavily dependent on counting from one to five. Other countries we visited in music and song, such as Ireland and Spain, were sublime in their massed sweetness. Sometimes I think I’d rather listen to a children’s choir than anything else. I don’t remember going to Germany.

We were in Greece when the moving shadow reached the foot of the mountains 40 miles away, overcame them, and the light began to fail. One of the things I like about living here is the sitting out in shorts on summer nights. But like a reluctant handle on a lavatory cistern returning inevitably to the horizontal after some gentle agitation, this evening I had to go back upstairs and lay down while it was still light, and the children were still singing.

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