Friday, 23 October 2015

Big Fun on the Bayou

Bong! It turns out that a uniquely British piece of our soundscape is in jeopardy. Bong! Essential works are needed on Westminster’s Great Clock. Bong! Unless £40million can be found, Big Ben could go silent... it makes you feel like whispering, it really does. But help is on the way in the form of a stand-in Big ben - Little John, the ‘bongs bell’ in Nottingham’s Council House clock tower. I heard them last night, just before the end of PM and they compared well with the potentially soon-silent bongs of the more famous Westminster bell; it could work.

Big Ben and Little John are, of course, just nicknames for the mighty bells that mark the passing of hours and hearing the story I was minded to write of the relentlessness of Old Father Time, but as I began to type I remembered an overheard conversation from long ago, far away in the Deep South of the USA, in New Orleans, where accents as brown and slow as molasses make mellow music out of mere story-telling. I was sitting on a balcony on Bourbon Street and in the distance I could overhear the chatter as three latter day Marie Laveaus tended their cauldron of gumbo.

The Creole witch queens were discussing their menfolk, as women often do and as the daiquiris flowed what limited reserve they may have possessed was cast aside and vanished into the hot, humid night. At one point the subject of nicknames came up and it was this memory that the clock tower story had stirred from its internment in the dark convolutions of my cerebral cortex. “Well, I haz a li’l pet name name fo’ mah mayn!” said the one voice. “I calls him...” There was a pause, “... Li’l Richard!” Her companions asked why and back came the reply, “Well, his name’s Richard and he ain’t but got a little dick!” They roared with laughter.

A sudden weak waft of lazy breeze off the bayou turned down the volume for a few seconds and I struggled to hear, but when the voices returned they were still finishing off the belly laugh that the intimate revelation had caused. Emboldened, perhaps, by the vouchsafing of a small secret the second voice piped up: “Well ladies, I calls mah mayn Big Ben!” She started to laugh even before she revealed the significance... “Don’t tell us,” said voice number one, “His name is Benjamin?” Voice two confirmed it “Uh-huh” she said and paused for effect “An’ honey, I gotta tell you, he is e-norm-ous!” Guffaws rent the air.


As the laughter died away and the constant cacophony of competing music genres entered a brief hiatus a third voice came onto the scene. Less raucous than the others, a little more refined and somewhat breathy, the hitherto less forthcoming of the trio ventured the information, “Wayll ma mayn don’t know this, but ah calls him Coin-treau...”  The other two, almost as one, questioned this revelation “Huh?” and number three confirmed, “That’s what ah calls him... Cointreau.” Number one spoke up to clarify the situation; “But sweetheart, ain’t that one of dey fancy French liquors?” Number three quietly concurred, “Yes my dears... Oh yes!