The Sound of Music

It’s the fiftieth anniversary of film of the The Sound of Music but I saw the stage version in London when I was a teenager- over fifty years ago.

A girlfriend and I had made the journey from Edinburgh to London aboard the Starlight Special. This was by overnight train, leaving Waverley late in the evening and arriving in London around 6 am the following morning. The attraction was the ticket price – five pounds sterling.

The £5 entitled us to a seat and a journey.  We settled in a compartment where we were joined by a husband and wife who were making the same journey.

There were lots of lads aboard the train and we headed off to the buffet car, ‘for refreshments’ but really to eye up the talent.  The drinks were flowing, there was a good natured fun crowd and the stewards joined in the laughter and fun.   We headed back to our compartment at one point, but the husband and wife had stretched out full length on each side of the compartment taking up all the seats.  With nowhere to sit we retraced our steps and joined in the party which was in full swing.

Around 3 am the revellers started to quieten down and we stayed on in the buffet car playing cards with a group of lads who had no intention of closing their eyes all night.  We’d never played cards for real money before, but beginners’ luck was with us, either that or our competitors had really had far too much to drink.  We arrived in London having doubled the spending money we had for the week!

We were staying with a television personality of the time, the days of live television.  She got tickets for us for the Sound of Music stage show which would later become one of the most enduring favourite films of all time.

She had arranged for us to go backstage after the performance and meet the stars of the show.  But firstly she told us not to tell anyone we had watched the show from the gods!

We duly went backstage. It was exciting and thrilling and another world, although the dressing rooms were smaller than we expected.   After all the colour and atmosphere on stage during the performance, somehow backstage was duller, a bit jaded and didn’t live up to expectations.   I knew there was something different about the man who was the leading character’s dresser, but didn’t understand what was different or why.   It was to be quite a few years later before the penny dropped.

Fast forward eight years or so and I had a little boy called Raymond.  I used to sing him the song Do Ray Me from the Sound of Music and call him my little ray of sunshine.  In retrospect I don’t know why as he whinged and cried through the first two years of his life.    It was so constant friends gave up asking what was wrong with him.

He was happiest when he was taking things apart.  If he was silent you understood it was a clock or a watch which was being dismantled.    It got so that when he entered the house of anyone who knew him everything that was musical or mechanical or could be wound up was hastily put out of his reach.

He didn’t sleep as a toddler but was content in his cot as long as he had his Fisher Price wind up musical toy with him.   We would awaken in the early hours to the noise of the crank crank crank as his little fingers wound up the movement and drift off to sleep again to the gentle sounds of Little Boy Blue….

He wore the teeth of the movement completely out and the toy was eventually discarded.

He was my third child and as he got older would ask me, ‘Why didn’t you have me first?’  He had a reading age of 13 at 6 years old, so determined was he to be on the same reading books as his older brothers.  He always wanted to run or cycle faster than anyone else and one time flew over the handlebars of his bicycle. I was on top of a ladder removing a brick fireplace at ceiling height when he came in the house screaming.  His hand was covering his eye and blood pumped freely through his fingers.  I thought he had lost his eye, but thankfully his eye was intact.  He had a nasty cut on his forehead above his eye and a scar which he carries to this day.

He was two weeks’ late making his entrance into this life. I believe he has been trying to make up for those two weeks ever since.   He arrived without warning and within five minutes of deciding it was time to make an appearance.

(We had friends staying that weekend with us, friends who were childless and who would remain so throughout their lives.  They adored being in our home that eventful day in May.)

Many years later we went to Austria with Ray, one of his brothers and some others.   We walked through the tunnelled avenue, and saw many of the scenes where The Sound of Music had been filmed.

I remember being on a coach going into Salzburg and this is where I learned I was no longer the mummy who had to take care of things for the little boys.  The tour guide asked for either passports or some information and I opened my mouth to answer and deal with whatever was necessary.  But the little boy – in my eyes anyway – dealt politely and calmly with what needed to be done.  He was after all 27.   I relaxed back into the coach seat, having learned that a part of my job was done.

The little boy now has boys of his own who have appeared on stage in theatre and musicals, film and television but not as far as I know in The Sound of Music, at least not yet.





We’re all Jock Tamson’s Bairns

I was baptised Catholic, attended the village Sunday School run by the Baptists in the local primary school, because I could do so without crossing a road, and I went on summer camps with them until I was a teenager.

It says much for my world that I attended school in Edinburgh unaware of the reason for the divide between Hearts and Hibs football teams. Somehow I was aware that a school friend I brought home was the daughter of Jew.  I didn’t really understand what that meant other than that Jesus had been a Jew according to Sunday school.  However I’d overheard she had two older sisters and her parents had really wanted a son each time so I empathised with her as I was in the same position.

My father was Italian but had died at a very young age.  I grew up overhearing how Italians only wanted sons and realised that because I was a girl, I was not quite what had been on the agenda.  I also grew up being told that because I was a girl my Italian family wanted nothing to do with us and that if we had been boys, they would have been never off the doorstep and our childhood would not have been so impoverished.

The absence of my Italian family in our lives might have been more to do with the fact that my agnostic mother had run the priests, sent to comfort us in the days after my father’s death, out of the house, yelling at them all the way up the path.

They’d had the misfortune to ask for money for candles and there was no money for food, never mind candles to pray for the dear departed soul of a young man who was taken from us through illness far too soon.   My Italian family were relatively wealthy for the times, unaware of our predicament and the poor priest would have naturally believed we were being looked after in similar circumstances.

My mother was too proud to ask for help but she did the best she could, as all mothers do for their children in whatever circumstances they find themselves in.

I grew up unaware of a brand of religion – and trotted off to church on a Sunday with whomever I felt sociable with at the time.   Often we couldn’t go to church because we simply did not have ‘best clothes’ to wear.

The full force and divide of religion was brought home to me when I moved to another Scottish city where Catholic and Church of Scotland schools were built side by side.  Generally there were daily fights on the way home from school.

Then the biggest drama and divide occurred one year before Christmas when I had young children of my own.  Because of decimalisation a large national company had recruited thousands of extra workers.  I watched aghast that year as the first to be laid off were my neighbours who were Catholic.  Church of Scotland members were kept on but realistically they had been working in the factories before the need for the huge influx of extra staff.

That was when it hit home that religion can cause problems.  There were many children in houses on our estate who had a very poor Christmas that year.

It was the most classic illustration of those who have and those who have not and that’s when religious troubles arise.

ITV’s programme on Cilla touched on the religious divide that prevailed in the late 1950s/early 1960s.  Both Cilla’s father and Bobby’s father stated their religious preferences for partners for their respective children were not the ones chosen by them.

‘We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns’ is a popular saying in Scotland and is attributed to The Reverend John Thomson {Jock Tamson} who was a much-loved minister of Duddingston Kirk, Edinburgh from 1805 to 1840. He called the members of his congregation ‘ma bairns’ {my children}and this resulted in folk saying ‘we’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns’ which gave a sense of belonging to a small but special group. Nowadays, the phrase is often used to indicate we’re all the same under the skin.

I like to think of it that way.