Monday, July 06, 2009

Rambling With Van Gogh On The Gramophone

I was at a party the other day and talking to someone I vaguely knew from somewhere when the conversation worked its way around to that old standby, "so what are you doing these days?" "Nothing", I replied in my usual response to this most annoying of questions. "Ah", he said, not knowing whether to be upset that I was unemployed or pleased that I was retired. Eventually I gave in and filled the silence with, "I do a lot of rambling". "Oh, great", he replied, delighted that he had found someone who had discovered that healthy outdoor exercise is an effective antidote to the misery of either the dole queue or old age. "And where do you go?" he continued, warming to his theme and hoping to discuss ridge paths across the Brecon Beacons or some such stuff. "Just around the Internet", I replied. At this point he remembered a sudden wish to discuss crafting supplies with a large lady in a red cotton dress and fled across the room.
I wasn't being my usual annoying self, there is nothing I like more than going rambling around the Internet. It is not my fault that other people do not see this as a suitable occupation for a respectable elderly gentleman. They obviously don't understand what fun it can be. So just in case my party companion is reading this, let me try to explain what is entailed in Internet rambling.
This morning I set off rambling with no particular destination in mind and fairly quickly discovered, by complete chance, the website of the magazine "The Gramophone". For people who do not know it, "The Gramophone" has been around for donkey's years and prides' itself on being "the world's greatest classical music magazine". I am no great lover of classical music but I do love historical archives and I was delighted to discover that they have recently digitised every issue of their magazine since 1923 and - wonderful people that they are - made the archive available on-line free of charge. I can never pass an open archive without taking a dip in, and so in no time I was reading the December 1933 issue of the magazine. Whilst much of the editorial content was related to mainstream classical music, the adverts had a wider range. One advert for HMV records caught my eye and in particular, the description of the latest gramophone release by Cicely Courtneidge which was entitled "Loud and Prolonged Laughter". "Men and Women", proclaimed the advert, "with a reputation for iron self-control should think twice before they listen to Cicely Courtneidge. Very few comedians are as adept as Cicely Courtneidge in producing those sharp yelps of laughter which simply cannot be suppressed even amid the most august surroundings".
I have always thought of myself as having "iron self-control" and therefore my rambling could only take me in one direction. I managed to find a small selection of the songs by Ms Courtneige on Napster and listened to one charmingly called "Oh Dear, Little Jappy Girls". The lyrics include the following lines:
Men are all the same, Foolish and conceited;
Well, they're not to blame, It's the way they're treated.
Really it's absurd of you, At their feet to grovel;
Take them down a peg or two, As you'll find the ladies do,
In an English novel!
Oh dear! Little Jappy girls, If you would be happy girls,
Don't be so afraid of men, Snub them now and then!
You'll find you can manage them, On the English plan.
The song comes from a 1909 operetta called "The Mousmé", and a little further rambling took me to an on-line edition of the complete score. A little further research and I discovered that I could download the complete music from the production in karaoke format!
But what on earth is a Mousmé? According to the Wiktionary definition (more rambling you see), it means a young Japanese mistress. Perhaps the most famous association with the term is a painting by Vincent Van Gogh which is called The Mousmé. Van Gogh painted the picture in 1888 and in a letter to his brother Theo he described how this painting consumed his attention: “It took me a whole week…but I had to reserve my mental energy to do the mousmé well.” The title, he explained, came from a character in a popular novel set in Japan. “A mousmé is a Japanese girl—Provençal in this case—twelve to fourteen years old.”
So I started with a gramophone and I finished with a picture of a young French girl. That's rambling. It occupied most of the morning and it beats the Brecon Beacons any day.

1 comment:

  1. How difficult that answer to "and what do you do?" Frankly the truthful answer for me is and has been so often "Damn all, except for occasional bursts of activity."

    But you can't say that at parties, it upsets people. They want to put you in a box with a label or it upsets their world-view.

    Pathetic. Them.


Black Friar

For a time, during the late 1970s, I had a job leading parties of foreign visitors on tours of historic London pubs. One of my favourite sto...