Bygraves and Wesley

The recent death of Max Bygraves has given me pause for thought. I had no great affection for the man — growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, he was barely on my radar — but I do find myself invoking him at least a couple of times a week, without willing it.

The thing is, for my work I have to go into storerooms twice a week to take readings of the humidity (%) and temperature (°C), in order to make sure the books are in acceptable conditions. I take these readings from a little machine. A typical reading would be: 41.5, 17.5. And something about the gently bouncing rhythm, forty-one point five, seven-teen point five, triggers a sympathetic memory of this:

The situation has become Pavlovian: whenever it is time to take the environmental readings, I find myself singing this execrable, contemptibly catchy song in my head before I’ve even reached the room, including the middle eight (‘Every time I hear you whistle / It makes my nylon bristle’).

Just why I should whistle Samuel Sebastian Wesley’s Choral Song daily as I queue for lunch is less susceptible of rational interpretation, though I’m a lot less embarrassed about it.


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