A needle and thread

This is the time of year when, twenty years ago, I would have begun keeping a diary. Well-intentioned though I was, they rarely lasted beyond February or March, though one made it as far as June before abandonment. I don’t keep diaries now. I write what’s happened to me when I feel it’s worth writing down, but I don’t have a regimen. That’s a shame, because a diary is almost always an interesting thing. It helps if you’re a good writer, of course. I’ve been revisiting Alan Bennett’s 1980s diaries recently, and almost every entry has something remarkable or beautiful about it. Look at this one. If he hadn’t written them down, these events would have been forgotten about and lost; as it is, they have been published and republished, their semi-permanent posterity seems assured, and the world is a tiny bit happier.

11 November 1988.

To Weston to see Mam. Two of the other old ladies in the home are having their hair done. One of them shouts above the noise of the dryer, ‘They keep telling me I ought to have been a Trappist nun. I didn’t want to be a Trappist nun. My father had Friar’s Balsam in the medicine chest, but that’s as far as it went.’

The train back is crowded, and at Bath a bunch of schoolboys get on, either from a prep school or from the lower forms of a public school, Monkton Combe possibly. They are talking of the football team. ‘Tim’s in the A team,’ says one, ‘but he’s only hanging on by a needle and thread.’ There is a pause. ‘Actually,’ says the other, ‘I think it’s just “thread”. You don’t have to say “needle”.’ This is said with perfect solemnity and kindness.


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4 Responses to “A needle and thread”

  1. Steve Says:

    Hiya me boy. Steve here. I kept a diary from my time living in the USA. I managed a couple of years daily right up to the time I enlisted into the US Army (As a musician) Boot camp was so hectic and very real, the fact I joined to be a musician had nothing to do with it. I had to be trained to be a fighting machine first and formost! Very knackering when one has to reveille at 0400.hrs. So the diary took a bit of a back burner.After the 4 month of the Gulag came ‘The School of Music’ at Virginia Beech. Another hectic 6 months of learning and at the age of 32, when brain cells had been ”Thinned out” in previous skirmishes of living, that weren’t easy either! It wasn’t really until I had qualified as an Army muso (And that’s after being in the British Army as a Muso for a number of years previous) and reached me band in Washington State that I had, let’s say: more time to reflect.
    On one particular sojourn I was to play Taps for a serviceman’s funeral (All trumpet players shared this duty) in Oregon,(Ahh: The Goonies, a great film) Being as it was the next door state to WA an army bus was provided for transport for myself and the Funeral Detail. An early start was needed, Well, that didn’t go quite according to plan as the Sgt. in charge of the team had mislaid his car keys and so consequently instead of shoving off at 06.30.hrs it was more 0730! We were running behind now with a fair few miles to go. Anyway as the day progressed I kept a rather detailed log of it, much to the amusement and slight inquisitiveness of the rest of the team; The Team are made up of ordinary ”GI Joes,” male and female, I am nothing to do with them other than playing of Taps (The American Last Post) In fact the trumpeter is not seen at all during the event, and has to hide behind a tree or gravestone, even my car on another occasion! The playing of taps has a great ”blubb” effect on those of the nearest and dearest to the deceased, so being outta sight is OK with me. It is also customary to have a Firing Team that will fire three volleys over the casket. Quite a few bodies involved then! (No pun intended.) The Bearers, The Firing Team. The Officer in Charge, and me. We arrive at the cemetery, the clock ticking. The young ”Butter bar” or, 2nd Lieutenant to you chaps, quickly does a recon of the place and really without getting off of the bus spies a graveside that has people around it, dressed in black. ”Quickly” he says. ”Dismount the bus and get into formation, we’re late!” The soldiers move and I am thinking were to play Taps, not much cover. The whole troop of us march up in file to the mourners, they look up, you can see the disbelief on their faces. It was the wrong stiff! Not only had the approaching ”Team” interrupted some poor peoples quiet dignified occasion, we were not where we should be! Trying the best to be professional and ”coy” we retreated. (Sylvester the cat trying to Tip Toe away from some disaster he has caused, comes to mind) There was no noble way to do this really what with heavy boots and guns and things. It wasn’t until the 2nd Luie was almost upon the mourners themselves, and about to ”Take over” proceedings that all was revealed.
    There are plenty more stories from this one day, and I fondly read over them now and again. So yep, Diaries or OK in my book.Now, where’s me pen!

  2. Steve Says:

    Hiya Gareth. We did not really have the time to converse with the mourners. We had to source the funeral we came to do. As it happened we made the appointment with time to spare. Much of the Army is ”Hurry up and wait” anyway. It made us all chuckle though. Cock-ups are great if they aint yours. The butter bar (I have already explained this in detail, so buckup!) was around his early twenties, fresh faced and keen. Me on the other hand had by now trumpeted at many a dead gig as we called them, and was used to anything.
    I remember me first dead gig. I was flown with the ”Team” over to the tuther side of Washington State. Every US serviceman is entitled to a Military Funeral. Washington is the size of half the world, you can drive all day and night and still only be half way. It has mountains and passes which in snow, are often closed. Once over the Cascades,you then enter desert! Apple country. Any way the funeral was for a young female G.I. that was murdered whilst based in Germany. That one was sad and I remember it as it was my first ”dead gig” It was snowing and isolated.The firing team were intrigued enough because I was English, and wondered if I was able to give a good rendition of taps. The Black Vietnam veteran Sgt I.C. for the job wanted to hear me play it first, so there in a sorta locker room I let rip with Taps. Being as on that particular dead gig team most of the soldiers were black, they immediately whooped and hollered. ”Dam that little English guy can blow that horn” and ”Hey man what else can you do on that thing, maybe a bit of Satchmo” So I hit em with a few ditties, and from almost being shunned as just another Bandsman I had ”Joined the Brothers” Trouble is me boy, popularity has it’s price, and more often then not I was specifically sought after to accompany that team, being as they pulled dead gig duty for a couple months at a time. But hey, it was cool, I was right there down with the guys. Every so often I would run into one of the team, and it always was merriment and mirth at our meeting.
    Did I tell you that I was also one of the qualified bus drivers for the band, and an English regiment came over to Fort Lewis with band (That’s the name of the camp in WA) well;……………………maybe another time eh!
    Age does make one a bore at times me boy.Have a good day, back to work for me tomorrow Aghhhhhhhhhh Steve.

    • Gareth Says:

      Never a bore! You’ve had quite a life… Not that it’s over just yet! Back to work for me too tomorrow, I fear. Had better get some sleep.

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