The Bluebottle Boys – Autumn 1961: Return to Choir & Grammer

The Bluebottle Boys — Chapter 5, Part 5 — Edgbaston & Solihull, Autumn 1961:  Return to Choir & Grammer

Choir reconvened. The arrangements of David Willcocks seemed to have become an obsession with our director, after our success that Easter, as well as the previous Christmas.

choirThis autumn, he’d planned quite an ambitious program, including the melodies, harmonies and descants of Willcocks’ “The First Nowell,” “Come Thou Redeemer of the Earth,” “Rocking” and “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” for school. For singing with other choirs, we also learned his descant for Vaughan-Williams’ arrangement of “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and the relevant parts of “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night” and “Sussex Carol”

In addition to the choir, my music studies at school began to include the violin.

Mum had found Gurt-gramfer’s fiddle and thought it a sufficient instrument for purposes of instruction. His fiddle might well have been as enchanted as Gramfer’s guitar, but there were limits to what even magic could do.
I was astute enough when it came to the theory of playing, particularly how to finger scales, but my actual playing was a fiasco; I’d run the bow over the strings and it sounded like a glede under the door, at best a fusion of an abattoir and auto-wrecking yard. I’d visions of my poor hapless great-grandfather, hovering in the most remote part of the astral plane he could find, covering his ears and shaking his head in dismay.

By Bonfire Night, everyone was of one accord: The most humane thing to do with my violin training was to put it out of its misery.

I suppose if we’d a “back 40,” we’d have led it there and shot it. Since we didn’t, school simply terminated it, transferring me to music theory hoping I’d do better there. I did, swiftly drawing alongside my classmates, then surpassing them, and left largely to my own devices and self-study.

The attention being paid to my musical training had made Stan rather envious, explaining, in part, the Guptas’ decision to obtain instruction for him on sitar at around the same time I started violin lessons. I was thrilled for him, with visions in my head of guitar-sitar duets as The Screen supplied the tabla and tanpura.

So, Saturdays, after Minors Club, I’d leave Stan to his sitar lessons and take a bus to Solihull, bonding with Grammer anew over chilly autumn weekends.. We’d go, as weather allowed, on curtailed versions of the walks Gramfer and I’d taken through woodlands, fields and forests. When it didn’t allow, we’d watch TV or play cards, Starluk, Ludo or even Oscars: The Film Stars Rise to Fame.

Or, we’d play her old gramophone disks. “Abdul Abulbul Amir,” the longest four-minutes not entailing pain, drowning or asphyxiation, was her particular favorite, as was ”The Biggest Aspidistra in the World” which I appreciated more when she taught me its World War II variant.

And we’d talk – talk perpetually.

About nothing.

About everything.

It was as though Grammer needed desperately to fill a void we both knew was still inside her and always would be. In time, after guitar practice, she began teaching me some West Country folk ballads and explaining family photo albums to me, including one that went back to the nineteenth century. She also began tutoring me in chess fundamentals; we’d progress to “beginner” games in January.

There was one walk we’d take every other week, then every week as the weather grew colder: to Ravenshaw Ford for a sign of Bethany, Solihull’s ghost girl from the seventeenth century, who warned the town in times of flood, and who’d become my friend in the course of my Christmas adventure.

Unfortunately, Bethany never showed.

“Dimpsy it may be, Reginald,” Grammer would say, “but whud danger is there of a flood? Let the poor girl be.”

How could I explain to Grammer that I’d made Bethany a promise to come back?

I’d kept that promise: I’d returned.

But where was she?

© 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.

It’s here! Here at last! The first edition of Volume 1 of “The Bluebottle Boys,” second novel in the Reggie Stone series, is now available in paperback from Amazon.

Yes, I’ll continue to serialise the novel (after all, we’re still in the “getting-up-to-speed” chapters necessary to the tale, but with the “actual story” just on the horizon). Not only will I serialise all the “promised” chapters, I’ll be expanding the serial to include at least a few more chapters — maybe more than a few (how many more to be determined) — just for letting Reggie and his friends into your life.

They thank you, and so do I.

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G. H. McCallum

G. H. McCallum is author of the Reggie Stone series, the first of which, Walking Backwards for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall, was released on 12 December 2014; look for the second, The Bluebottle Boys, in late spring of 2016. He blogs principally on the 1960s, Victoriana and magic realism.