Nope, these pictures weren’t taken at the royal wedding. About a month and a half earlier. As it happens sometimes on group tours, choices are offered. You can either go to Windsor Castle or you can go to the Tower of London, but not both. Josh got the castle; I got the tower. Since I wasn’t there, Josh will supply the news about Windsor:
After the London tour, we split up into our respective groups: Dad went to the Tower (no pun intended) and I joined our lovely and talented long-term guide Fiona for our trip to Windsor Castle. The drive was an hour or so and once there we were led on a brief mini-tour of the outer courtyard. Like all castles in Ireland, Wales and England, the original purpose of the castle was as a military installation and position. However, both me and my kneecaps were grateful for the evenly cut stone steps. The guide mentioned that the moat area, as was with all medieval castles, were often filled with tar, sewage and god-knows-what other disgusting substances to impede the progress of an invading army. I can’t remember if it was Stuart or the temporary guide we had at Windsor, but it was mentioned that Windsor Castle in particular held a fond place in the Queen’s heart due to her growing up there. The guide mentioned that the Queen usually spent the work week at Buckingham Palace in London and came to Windsor to rest and recover. I couldn’t fault her choice in residence: the area around Windsor is absolutely stunning. Probably one of the most stunning facts was that the Queen was the only person in Windsor and England as a whole who did not have to drive with a driver’s license. The Windsor guide mentioned that this was because all driver’s license in the country were issued in the Queen’s name and authority. On one hand, it made sense not to issue a license to the one person whose name and authority were used for issuing purposes. On the other hand, I made a mental note to look out for elderly women in the driver’s seat whenever I was in England.
After the outside tour, my group, which consisted of several high school students, got in line for the main tour of the interior. All of the attendants dressed in the blue and red uniforms of House Windsor (for a heartbeat, I confused them with the local police) were walking up and down the line making sure no one took pictures. For the record, I did manage to take one picture of the interior but later deleted it from my cell phone. Let it never be said that a son of the Cowling family disrespected the house rules of royalty. Like the outside of the castle, the stairs were evenly cut and spaced. One of the first rooms we visited was the one where that horrible fire in the ‘90s started. I’m glad that the English really take care of their national treasures and monuments. While passing through, I couldn’t help but wonder how the heck was a thief going to fence all of the priceless art, tapestries, and fine china without causing a stock market crash, let alone get out of the castle alive with the goods. The tour took roughly an hour and when we exited we were right at the souvenir shop. Dad was writing a novel so I took the liberty of buying two or three books regarding the Royal Family and Windsor Castle. While waiting outside for the rest of the group, I was sitting with two or three teenage girls from are group and I saw a water-bottle machine that took 2 1-pound coins. I scrounged my pockets but only had one, so I asked my traveling companions if they had a spare coin. They started rummaging through their purses and I think it was the only blonde in the group who had a coin. I thanked her profusely and got up to get something to drink. When I got back, we started talking about the tour and trip in general when I realized how much the redheaded girl in our group looked like Sophie Turner AKA Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones. I asked her if she had been watching the series and she said only up to season three. I then asked if any one told her that she looked just like Sansa Stark because she certainly did. She thanked me generously and said no one had mentioned it before. I would have loved to go walking around the rest of the town but we finally had to depart for our final night in London itself. That was probably my favorite day of the trip because I was not only one of the group chaperones but also a surrogate older brother to the young ladies of the group. Heather, please sit up and take notes: THIS is how brothers and sisters should get along. Anyway, Back to you, Dad.
I went on the tour of the Tower of London with our teacher guide and her sister. As soon as we entered both of them said they felt like they had been there before. But not in the same way they said they felt like they had come home when we were in Ireland. As we walked around the grounds we found a water fountain memorial to everyone who had been beheaded on that spot. In the center was a lovely pillow carved from a clear quartz. It reminded me of the pillow used in fairy tales to hold a crown or a princess’s slipper. Then I remembered what landed on the pillow: a head. As the sisters went around the fountain both of them felt a bit queasy. They realized why the place seemed familiar, in a very uncomfortable way.
Inside we went through the line of historical exhibits on our way to see the crown jewels. The nice feature was the moving sidewalk on each side of the cases of crowns and scepters. Everyone got a nice close-up view without having to wait for someone to gaze upon the artifacts as though they were the only ones in the building. (We’ve all run into those types at museums before.)
Anyhow, here it is a month and a half later and my seventy-year-old body is still recovering. But I wouldn’t have missed this trip for anything
On our last morning to roam London, we got the best tour guide ever to give running commentary on the sights passing by the bus windows. If my memory serves me correctly—which it rarely does anymore–his name was Stuart. He matched from head to toe in shades of green, blue and gray. Even his shoes. I was hoping he would break into song and tap dance down the center aisle of the bus. But he was a proper gentlemen, and they don’t exhibit their choreography on public transport.
At one of our first stops he let us hop off the bus to examine the massive statue of Prince Albert. It was in a beautifully manicured park across the street from Royal Albert Hall. Unlike most people preserved for posterity in the many parks, squares and circles about London, Albert received full Olympus treatment. U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower was honored with a life-sized replica; others were remembered with a head and shoulders bust, and most were in bas relief plaques explaining who they were and why they were honored. But Albert, the royal consort to Queen Victoria and father to so many children I cannot begin to remember all their names, sits high, broad and proud. I do not know if the statue is gold or bronze, but it shone for all to see. This is magnificent memorial of a woman’s love for her husband.
Back on the bus, our elegant guide directed the bus driver past the monument to Lord Wellington. “Does anyone know what Wellington did?”
Josh piped up, “He beat the crap out of Napoleon.”
Stuart appraised my son a moment looked at our long-term guide and said, “I think I like him.”
A little while later we drove by a monument to King Henry VIII, who, Stuart pointed out, “had six wives. Do you know what else he had?”
“Syphilis,” I replied. Now I honestly was not trying to be a smart-ass and ruin the man’s monologue which was filled with wit and wisdom. But Henry did have syphilis and that was why the last years of his reign were so unfortunate for his subjects.
This time Stuart did not miss a beat and went on to explain that King Henry had a difficulty with forming long and loyal relationships. But surely in his mind Stuart must have thought that we two clowns were related. Yes, we are connected genetically and were born without proper filters.
Coming up on the right, he told us, was one of the many lion statues on the banks of the Thames River erected during the reign of Queen Victoria. Upon inspecting it, Victoria realized this lion was quite obviously a male, so she ordered its gender identifying appendage removed for propriety’s sake. When one looked at the face of the lion in question, one could surmise he did not agree with Her Majesty. His eyeballs are perpetually bulging in surprise and discomfort.
At one point we left the tour bus and followed our elegantly dressed Stuart on a saunter through Green Park, a serene space stretching out in front of Buckingham Palace. Ducks and geese glided across the serene surface of its lake. Locals jogged along its backs and lay on the grass, soaking up blessedly warm rays from a late-March sun.
Stuart had our stroll perfectly timed to end at the entrance of Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard. As a mere former colonist, I thought the changing of the guard consisted of a hand full of soldiers in their bright red jackets and giant black fur helmets; but no, it was a full-fledged parade with horses, drums and rifles.
Stuart was careful to point out these were not just young men and women who were chosen for their proficiency for formal procedures. These were soldiers who had served their country in Afghanistan and where they might serve again in the near future.
When the last soldier had moved on, we broke up into separate groups to explore more bits of English historic lore. This was when had to wave a fond adieu to Stuart. I wish he could have stayed with us, but I am sure he had to address another bus filled with impertinent American tourists.
I really wanted to know who his tailor was, although I was quite sure I could not afford his wardrobe.
The movie fan in me had a great time in London. It was like being on the set of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
Josh and I saw Royal Albert Hall, which like Big Ben, had scaffolding over half of it. Of course that means London is taking care of its architectural wonders so they’ll be around for years to come for American tourists to photograph. Royal Albert Hall was one of the big stars in the Hitchcock 1950s movie The Man Who Knew Too Much. The man in question was James Stewart, and he didn’t know too much. The bad guys just thought he knew too much. The big climactic scene was in the performance hall. When the man clashed his cymbals, a prime minister was to be shot and killed. I don’t want to give away too much in case anyone hasn’t seen the suspense classic, but Doris Day foils the bad guys when she doesn’t keep her mouth shut.
The next landmark featured in a Hitchcock movie was a tall church with an unusual red and white brick pattern to it. I instinctively recognized it but could not remember where. Josh, who was our official photographer of record, quickly took the picture but then went on to his next subject without helping me think of the movie title. It was only after we came home and were watching Foreign Correspondent one night did we make the connection. The foreign correspondent played by Joel McCrea was about to break a big story about German spies in a pre-World War II peace group when an assassin tried to push him off the church tower. The assassin went on to play Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street. Now that’s what I call avoiding being type cast.
The third landmark from a movie actually goes back to a famous stage play. I rested in Covent Garden in the shadow of the portico with massive pillars featured in the opening scene of My Fair Lady. If my theatrical trivia serves me right, the same façade is used in the stage versions of My Fair Lady and the George Bernard Shaw play on which the musicals were based, Pygmalion. In the movie and the plays, the building was supposed to be a concert hall, but in actuality it is part of the front of a church.
Now it is the scene of street performers. The entertainer I saw was very talented but he needed some lessons of audience appreciation. First he laid out a red rope at the perimeter of his performance area on the church steps and the cobblestone street in front of it. Woe be unto anyone who walked across the rope once the act began. One woman walked across it three times, and each time the acrobat with the wooden pins and sharp knives became more vituperative (it’s a British word; look it up) when she broke the rules.
“She’s so rude,” he announced to us, “that she doesn’t even know she’s rude.”
And I don’t think she did either. I know I was so scared by this point I didn’t dare scratch my nose. After his big finale I thought we spectators were safe from his acid tongue but I was wrong.
“I’m forty-eight years old and got a family to support here, so you can let go of some change,” he yelled. “Hey you! You mean you’re going to watch my show and walk away? You didn’t even applaud! The least you can do is toss a few coins in my hat!”
I took a fist of coins –I don’t know how much they were worth—put them in his hat and quickly exited stage right.
If Eliza Doolittle had been that aggressive in selling her flowers she wouldn’t have had to take those elocution lessons.
If you are going to one of the most exciting, eclectic cities in the world, go ahead and jump out of the bus into the heart of crazy London town and go for it.
The tour bus dropped us in Piccadilly Circus, and the guides told us to try to keep up. I knew immediately this was going to be difficult because how can you follow two typical English people in a crowd of a hundred thousand typical English people.
For the first thing, I was distracted by this building that had four gorgeous bronze statues of young nubile naked women diving into the center of Piccadilly Circus. Perpetually with their arms extended, up on their tippy toes, backs straight, tummies tucked in and chests proudly puffed out. I may be 70 years old but I’m not dead. By the time I realized I was supposed to be following the group, they were already across the street.
This presented me with my second problem. By nature I am always the one to step back with a smile and allow the cross pedestrian traffic to proceed. I have been known to hold open a door so long, people thought I worked for the store. If I did that in the middle of Piccadilly Circus, I would lose sight of my group and never see the Spanish moss draped live oak trees in downtown Brooksville, Florida, again. Then I remembered the grumpy old Irish woman with her walker in Dublin. I put a scowl on my face, hunched my shoulders and bulled my way forward. Before I knew it I was back with my group and I don’t think they had realized I had gone away.
This was very important to me. I’m old enough to be the grandfather of the young people on this student tour. The last thing I wanted was to have them interrupt their good time to see if the old man was lost, gasping for air, or fallen over with a heart attack. I didn’t want anyone to say, “Somebody call 9-1-1 and get the old geezer off our backs.” (Okay, they were all nice polite young American citizens and they would have never said that—thought it maybe. It’s a joke.)
Speaking of jokes, on the other side of Piccadilly was a street performer who looked just like Mr. Bean and for a modest price you could have your picture taken with him, hug him or pinch his bum. Twenty years and fifty pounds ago I was told I looked Mr. Bean. If I had moved to Piccadilly back then, think of the money and I could have made, and the bruises. Never mind.
Finally we arrived on Carnaby Street where the tour guides told group members to be back in two hours to eat at an authentic English restaurant featuring Indian cuisine. First Josh and I walked down the street to the largest toy store in London. The entire basement was filled with Star Wars stuff. My son Josh, by the way, goes to Star Wars convention everywhere, so he was in hog heaven (an old Texas expression). I, on the other hand, had reached the end of my tether and decided to go back to Carnaby Street while he explored the other three floors of toy heaven.
For the first time that day I felt entirely in my element. I ordered a nice lemonade, sat on the café patio and watched beautiful people go by as though they were on a runway. Unattractive people were beautiful in their high fashion clothes and perfect hairstyles. Even the boys. I wanted to see Twiggy walk by. Beatle tunes lingered in my brain. Everything was the same as when I was a teen-ager in Texas, except nothing was the same. I was old. And all the fashionable folk had smart phones stuck in their ears.
After dinner, the tour guides took us on one last marathon hike through Wellington Circle, past the National Museum and an establishment called Sherlock Holmes Pub. The tour guide said he used to work there. Finally we arrived at the Millennium footbridge over the Thames River where you could see the Eye (big Ferris wheel whose lights were down for the night) and Big Ben (which was covered in scaffolding and couldn’t be seen even if the lights were on.)
Don’t get me wrong. I had a great time. Who gets to walk the streets of glamorous London at night and not get lost? I didn’t have a heart attack. For someone my age that’s a great confidence booster.
I always like me some literary insight while I’m having fun.
Our tour bus stopped at Anne Hathaway’s cottage in Stratford. We had to wait in line because we arrived a little before they unlocked the door. We could have been distracted by beautiful blooms in the garden but the plants hadn’t budded yet.
I think everyone has seen a picture of the Hathaway house but we took one anyway. Yes, it has a thatched roof. Yes, it is a long two-story house. Yes, it is bigger than you thought, but not that big. For the sixteenth century it has a lot of nice things, including beds.
Speaking of beds, the guide explained the whole thing about how William Shakespeare left his wife his second best bed in his will. Admit it, we all thought Will was a cad for leaving his wife the second best bed. Just like most sound-bites in history, there’s much more to the story.
Back in those days, there weren’t very many inns in the countryside, and many people in the country, whether they liked it or not, had to take the trip to London once in a while and had to stay somewhere along the way. To make a little money, most people rented out a bed to weary travelers. And which bed would you want a stranger with money to have? The best bed in the house, of course, so it had to be empty and clean at all times just in case someone knocked at the door.
So the head of the family used the second best bed, which probably was the marriage bed. A romantic gesture to leave to your wife, when you think about it. Also a financially sound one too. The best bed was still available to rent out to travelers, which continued to be a source of income for the widow.
We also thought Will was some illiterate ragamuffin who spied the girl in the big house down the road and decided to marry her. Then we saw his birthplace house. It wasn’t all that small. His father was a successful tradesman, so the ragamuffin theory went out the window. We did see the bed where Will was born and it was as nice as any bed in the Hathaway house. Both houses had lovely gardens.
Josh and I walked a few blocks away to the site of the house that Will built for Anne. It had burned down and the lot is now a playground with a nice marker in it. Will always said, “The play’s the thing….”
This is when I realized why Will left his family in Stratford when he went off to work in theater in London. If you had a choice of living in a pretty country town with a nice house and garden or in rat-infested, plague-ridden London with all sorts of unnamable waste in the street, wouldn’t you want to be in Stratford too?
So instead of being this lowlife scum who abandoned his poor family for a glamorous show biz life in the big city, he left them safe and happy among friends and family to try to make a living from the only talents he had, writing and acting. And he could only do that in London.
After I got mired down into university course Shakespearean Tragedies 303, I saw a statue of a court jester in the middle of the street. Will had a buddy in his acting troupe who was really funny so he wrote a role for him in every play, whether it made any sense or not.
To get into the spirit, I had Josh take a picture of me trying to imitate the pose of the jester who had both hands in the air and one leg up. But I lifted the wrong leg so it didn’t make any sense at all.
When we finished our tour of the Ring of Kerry, our group decided to jaunt our way through the national park at Killarney. Not jogging. Jogging would have killed me. No, we rode a jaunting carriage pulled by a very hairy horse.
My friend the school teacher who arranged for my son Josh and I to be part of the tour said she hoped this went better than the gondola ride around Venice on one of her student tours a few years ago. The gondolier didn’t sing, didn’t talk about the sights they were passing and didn’t flirt with the women on the boat. What kind of an Italian was he? Our Irish carriage driver invited my friend to sit up front with him and included her in all his comments about the foliage, mountains, lakes and history of old Killarney. I think she came away liking Irish jaunting drivers better than Italian gondoliers.
The jaunting carriage tour began in downtown Killarney, turned a corner and entered the national park. In my first photo, you can see a touring carriage with Killarney cathedral in the background. I know the jaunting driver looks like me, but I couldn’t be taking pictures of one carriage if I were in another one. What this picture does prove is that I have a lot of Irish relatives in my past. By the way, the cathedral was very impressive. We could see it many miles away before our tour bus even got to the city limits. Many residents of Killarney don’t share the tourists’ appreciation, though. The Roman Catholic Church built the cathedral in the early part of the nineteenth century when Ireland was going through the Potato Famine. The church thought the big cathedral would give the residents inspiration. As I was told by more than one local, they would have preferred a good meal instead.
Our gregarious driver told us they had just had a late snow a few days before we arrived. In the distance we could see the mountaintops still covered in snow. He pointed out the little flower bulb sprouts were peeking through the ground and in a few weeks the entire park would be resplendent in color. Several trees had gone down during the storm and they were laying around wondering if they would be eventually cut and carried out or be left to rot and become wonderful mulch. It was still cold when our carriage horse tried its best to avoid the washed-out portions of the road. The sun shone and the wind had disappeared with the snow, so the weather was really quite pleasant, as long as you were dressed in at least three layers of clothes, wore a woolen cap and gloves. Ducks waddling alongside the road didn’t seem mind the crisp air. Neither did the Killarney natives who jogged past us. The second picture shows my elbow which was properly attired in a heavy coat.
At several points we saw crumbled stone ruins hiding among the trees and when we turned a bend in the road we saw an old castle glistening in the sun’s rays as it sat on an island of a long, wide lake.
“I’m sure you’re all wondering what happened to all these homes and castles,” our driver asked in his delightful accent. “Have you ever heard of a man by the name of Oliver Cromwell? He was the Englishman who was responsible for the beheading of Charles the First. He decided the English should come live in Ireland. The only problem with that was the land was already occupied by the Irish. His solution was to kill every Irishman in the country. His army rampaged throughout the island, killing the residents and burning and tearing down their homes. The Irish lords who lived in the castle on the island held out as long as they could but they eventually succumbed. Fortunately the English hated Cromwell as much as the Irish so he was beheaded, and Charles the Second was asked to take the throne.”
I knew the tour was coming to an end because in the distance I saw modern condominium communities on the outskirts of Killarney. You can’t get away from the modern world no matter where you go. That is not an entirely bad thing, however. When we returned to the tour station, we embarked, handed our entertaining guide a tip and found only a few steps away a toilet facility. We climbed onto our bus and on our way to our quaint Irish hotel we passed several outlet malls featuring the latest of everything at the lowest prices. The hotel itself was lovely but challenging. It was several years old, and the owners had added rooms and extra floors wherever it was convenient. My son Josh and I felt we needed a map to get to our beds.
But at least we didn’t have to sleep in a desolate castle destroyed by Oliver Cromwell.
Two years have passed, and I yet have shed a tear over the death of my wife Janet. The other night I watched the Oscars and looked over to her side of the sofa and said aloud what I know what she would have commented on each and every dress. I wrote a play as a benefit for the local free clinic because as a probation officer Janet told her people to go there for help. I still wear my wedding ring. But not a single tear.
Thinking back over my life I realize that I have cried very few times out of grief. In fact, the only time I remember was after the funeral of my mother when I was fourteen years old. My crazy brother (no, he really was—in and out of mental hospitals all his adult life) had been very kind and comforting that day, no hysterical fits, no outlandish behavior intended to embarrass me in front of people). I said to him, “I love you,” and broke into tears. Maybe that wasn’t in grief as much as relief that he had stayed sane for an entire day.
Most of the times I cried were out of frustration and anger. People watching this thought I cried because I had my feelings hurt. That wasn’t it. I was mad and wanted to attack the bastard but I knew he was bigger than me. All he had to do is push me down and laugh at me because I wasn’t able to fight back. I could have hit him from behind but then people would think I was as crazy as my brother.
Certain movies had a way of making me tear up, mostly those with happy endings. The worst time was when my teen-aged son and I went to “Field of Dreams.” When the lead character’s father walked through the corn and they started playing catch, I broke down. I never played catch with my father. Of course I embarrassed my son. We had to sit there until the audience cleared out and I had composed myself.
I hated my job at a certain newspaper in the 1970s so much that I cried in the boss’s office. Once again I think it was frustration. Another time I cried when a prominent city’s community theater said it was seriously considering one of my plays. So that was out of happiness. I didn’t cry when they eventually returned it. I was used to rejection by that point.
Most of the time I have been able to choke back the tears. The trick is to keep my damn mouth shut. The less I talk the less likely I am to cry. As the years go by I have been more successful in controlling it, but mostly I’ve convinced myself I’ve experienced everything so emotions have become somewhat of a bore.
One time I choked up still confuses me. It was at the end of my college senior year. I went to the movies alone and ran into one of my former roommates. He was a loud flag-waving bigot. He was very specific about how every other race was inferior to white people, especially to white people of the United States. By the time I met up with him that last week in the movie theater, he seemed to have mellowed out on his political views or at least learned to keep them to himself. When we stood outside the theater after the movie we shook hands.
I was about to say, “Well, see you later,” when it struck me there wasn’t going to be a later. I hadn’t even given a second thought to all the people I had said good-bye to for the last time, but this choked me up. What the hell. I didn’t even like him.
I almost cried over this jerk, but I can’t even work up some tears for my wife of forty-four years. Maybe it’s because I know she’s still inside me and will never leave, so why cry over that?
Every time I hear an ambulance go by I think, “There goes another person who saw “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
This odd mental phenomenon goes back to 1971 when I was the area editor for the Kingsport, Tn., Times-News. A bunch of part-time reporters and I were responsible for filling up a page about news from the surrounding counties everyday. Some days that could be quite a chore.
Back then the politicians had a habit of deciding to hold a meeting an hour earlier than announced so that when the reporter showed up they said, “Sorry, you missed it.”
One time I had a school superintendent on the phone asking him why a certain mountain school was being closed. He stammered a moment and then the phone went dead. The guy just didn’t want to talk to me about why the school was being closed. It was tough reporting the news back then.
However, I did get a call from a proud parent in a nearby town that her son had the lead in a touring company of “Jesus Christ, Superstar” which was going to perform at the Kingsport high school gymnasium. This was right after the record album had come out but before the Broadway production. Basically it was a concert version with performers on risers and stools. I told the editor and he immediately assigned the story to the entertainment editor. I never got to write about anything interesting.
Somehow, however, I became the person in charge of getting free tickets for everyone in the newsroom. Since the story ran front page, that was easy enough to do.
Even though it was bare bones, the production was great. A good time was had by all. The gymnasium was packed. When the movie came out, I felt it was a pale comparison to what I saw in Kingsport.
A few weeks later the religion editor—for a small town newspaper, this operation had a lot of editors—wrote a story about one of the local ministers who took the town to task for taking “Jesus Christ Superstar” to heart. For one thing, one of the young male leads had his picture taken in a close hug with June Lockhart and it was in the National Inquirer. Older woman takes young lover. That sort of thing.
Of course, that was nothing compared to the vitriol against the musical itself. Rock music and the gospel? Never! The idea that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ girlfriend. Outrageous! Who knows what he would have thought about the “DaVinci Code” and its assertion that Jesus and Mary were married. Herod portrayed as a homosexual? The list of infamies went on and on.
He concluded with the statement, “Every time I hear an ambulance, I think there goes another person who saw ‘Jesus Christ, Superstar.’”
Over the years my wife and I had a good laugh over it, repeating that assertion whenever we heard an ambulance siren. In the last few years, we saw the road show production starring Ted Neely, who had the title role in the movie back in 1976. For an old man he looked pretty good in a loin cloth, except it went all the way up to his rib cage. If he kept doing this show much longer, his loin cloth would be up to his arm pits.
Nevertheless, I might even go back to see him in it again. The music is the music of my youth and brings back fun memories. And when I’m walking into the theater, I know I will see other old, paunchy gray haired people, some of them pushing walkers, with big smiles on their faces.
Maybe that guy was right. Considering the popularity of the musical and the age of the generation that made it popular, the person in the ambulance passing by probably has seen “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
Half a century ago when I was a little boy in a rural Texas town, I heard that people who danced were going to hell.
Decent people didn’t dance, smoke, drink or vote Republican.
And if they did, they had the good manners not to let anyone know.
Once I mentioned to a church lady on a Sunday morning that I had bought a cupcake from the high school student council. I didn’t really want it but the two girls selling the tray of cupcakes were really cute and kinda flirted with me so I gave up a couple of quarters and enjoyed the cupcake.
“That was supporting dancing!” the woman declared. “Which is the same as supporting the devil!”
When I asked why she said the only thing high school student councils do was organize dances so when I bought that cupcake for fifty cents I was supporting dancing.
Well, that took the sweet memory off that cupcake.
Once I had the audacity to ask the preacher why dancing was sinful since it wasn’t one of the Ten Commandments nor one of the abominations listed in Chronicles Chapter 12. The next Sunday night he preached an entire sermon about how the Bible didn’t specifically say dancing was a sin, it did record that every time some one danced, something bad happened to people.
When the Israelites got bored waiting for Moses to come down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments they danced around and they got smote down and good. When David danced naked in front of the Ark of the Covenant as it came into Jerusalem, he was denied the privilege of building the Temple. When Salome danced in front of King Herod, John the Baptist lost his head.
Well, I think all the fornicating before, during and after the dancing was what got the Israelites in trouble with God and not specifically the dancing. Also, David put Bathsheba’s husband on the front lines of battle to kill him off so he could marry her. That probably kept David from building the Temple more than the dancing. Finally, King Herod was just plain crazy. He didn’t need a dancing girl to give him an excuse to kill anyone.
Anyway, I kept all those thoughts to myself while I was growing up. Besides, I had this terrible suspicion that if I did try to dance I wouldn’t be very good at it. I had two left feet.
Fortunately, I married Janet who two right feet. We just had fun on the dance floor and didn’t care if anyone noticed. The nice thing about people who like to dance is that they’re having too much fun to judge anyone else’s abilities. I kept telling Janet that we needed to get a video from the public library about easy ball room dancing steps but we never got around to it.
As old people we occasionally went to events that feature orchestras that played the Big Band sound. All around us were people who had rhythm in their feet and smiles on their faces as they danced to jazz, doo wop, Latin and especially Frank Sinatra. For three hours the world went away and everyone went happy. I don’t go dancing anymore because Janet died of cancer and I lost my two right feet. I don’t know if that is a sin but it is a crying shame.
As for that church lady, I have a sneaking suspicion that she didn’t know what she was talking about.
When we moved to Florida about 20 years ago, my family and I exposed ourselves to family dinner conversation dominated by my wife’s Uncle Sydney.
My mother-in-law retired to Florida a couple of years earlier to be near her relatives and suffered a heart attack, which is why we transplanted our children and ourselves here to be closer for the next medical emergency. This meant when we all gathered to sup together, for whatever reason, we had to brace for Uncle Sydney’s “Actually…”
This happened when one of us made a statement, any innocuous statement, and Uncle Sydney would correct us with “Actually, that isn’t so.” And off he went uninterrupted because my mother-in-law thought it was impolite to interrupt her brother’s exercises of enlightenment. At one meal, someone mentioned how much they enjoyed a certain current song.
“Actually,” Uncle Sydney began, “no good music has been written since the 1940s.”
I believed Uncle Sydney was full of gas, but had the good sense not to say so in front of the family. Both my mother-in-law and Uncle Sydney have long since passed on, but recently I learned something from the internet that might actually explain why there hasn’t been any good music since he was a young man.
Several websites have been discussing recently the theory that all musical instruments, as dictated by the British Standards Institute, changed the official tuning pitch of music from 432Hz to 440Hz at the request of the corporate entity of the American Rockefeller family and—grab your hats, folks—Adolph Hitler.
The great classical composers wrote in 432, and Stradivarius developed his violin to resonate at 432. Tones of 432 are beautiful, warm and relaxing. Tones of 440 create anxiety, anger and aggression. One supposes a capitalist institution could more easily convince a disgruntled buying public into adopting new spending patterns. One could also see how Hitler’s inflammatory oratory could incite an already dissatisfied public to support a war against its own citizenry as well as the world in general.
After the war, the British Standards Institute continued its support for 440Hz by voting to keep it, the last vote coming as late as the 1970s. This could explain why the generation which grew up listening to music to the 432Hz frequency found the new rock ‘n’ roll sound attuned to 440Hz to be awful noise. Come to think of it, hasn’t the general public been generally ticked off the last 60 years? Don’t political movements begin because, as the man said in the 1976 movie “Network”, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore?”
Granted, all this can sound a bit paranoid, and there are no conclusive scientific studies to confirm the connection between the dissonance of music’s 440Hz and the general malaise that hangs over the world. Dr. Leonard Horowitz wrote in his investigation of this phenomenon that the effect of 440Hz goes beyond mere mood but to harming physical and mental health to the point of subduing spirituality and creativity.
To be fair, the British Standards Institute cannot legally dictate what frequency is used to tune musical instruments. If you own a violin or piano, you can tune it to anything you want. You can calibrate your tuning fork anyway you want. But in general the music establishment around the world uses 440Hz.
A good measure of how the general public has reacted to this bit of information can be found in the comments section following the internet article. One person wrote, “These articles are too superficial to be taken seriously.” Another writer wrote than from his own experimentation with 432Hz, he found it to be more soothing and harmonious, urging people to contact radio stations to go back to the original frequency.
Am I personally ready to jump on a 432Hz bandwagon? Do I want to believe there’s an international conspiracy to manipulate our emotions? Am I willing to accept the fact that Uncle Sydney wasn’t just full of gas?