In Food, Music, Words

let it snow in icing

If I happened to be given an old lamp for Christmas and I happened to rub it and a genie happened to pop out and grant me one wish of a purely selfish nature, I have always told myself I would ask for a singing voice that stopped people in their tracks.

Alas, I have a singing voice that encourages people to keep walking. I learned this many years ago when busking with John the Dog in Bristol. After two hours of heartfelt renditions of favourite songs by The Clash, Big Audio Dynamite and The Everly Brothers, we were packing up to leave and counting the coin (it was a 10p piece) when we were approached by an officious looking man in a suit and badge. “Here comes trouble,” we thought, but no. He turned out to be a representative of Bristol City Council, come to present us with an award for speeding up the flow of pedestrian traffic through Broadmead shopping centre.

The trinket he gave us was a small statuette of Edward Colston, so, being years ahead of our time, we took it to the harbour and pushed it in. But our exuberance was tinged with the regret that our close harmony singing had not brought Bristol to a standstill.

The ability to sing is a powerful thing. Would anyone have stopped to listen to the wisdom of Charlotte Church if she hadn’t had the voice of an angel? Would Rick Astley be the influential figure he is today had he not been blessed with such pipes? But it is a power that has fallen too often into the wrong hands, as I was reminded this week during a bad experience in Sainsburys.

As I got in the lift to go down to the shop floor, there was a woman wearing the expression of someone who had been up and down a few times without ever arriving at her chosen level. “Anything to get away from the Christmas music,” she said, as if reading my mind.

Then she added, “They should have a vote as to who wants to hear Christmas songs when they’re shopping.” In comparison with some of the referendums we have in this country, that struck me as remarkably sane. “And I think we can all predict the outcome,” she added.

The wisdom of her words chimed like Christmas bells as I stepped out of the lift into a volley of seasonal hits. Doing the Big Christmas Shop is hard enough at the best of times without Chris Rea making you want to drive a stake home through his heart for Christmas. Weighing out your sprouts should be a joyous experience. This year Rea ruined it for me. Again.

The big stores have probably researched it among a focus group comprising Shakin’ Stevens and Maria Carey and found that playing Christmas music is good for people’s desire to spend more than they can afford on tat they don’t need. For people like me, though, and the wise woman in the lift, it just makes you rush the job and forget things, so you have to go back and do it all again on Christmas Eve.

During the course of my shop, I was assailed by everything from the prim piety of Cliff to the manic neighing of the Ronettes, and nearly hit breaking point when they played three different versions of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer back-to-back by the cheese biscuits.

But the worst of the lot are the crooners. From Boring Bing to Bubbly Bublé, they hit you like a candyfloss wrecking ball, all sugar and no substance. At one point I thought the shop announced an oil spillage in aisle 13, but it turned out to be Perry Como singing Chestnuts Roasting On An open Fire.

There are many things I have to thank my Mum for, but one that stands out is her adverse reaction any time Perry Como or Andy Williams came on Top of the Pops. She was happy to watch Slade or The Sweet or especially David Essex, but Como or Williams? No way! She made it quite clear, as any mother should, that these were not the type of men a child of five should listen to, lest I grew up wanting to be a crooner.

So, after my ordeal, I hurried home from Sainsburys and immediately looked up the origin of the word ‘croon’. Turns out it’s derived from an old Scottish word meaning ‘to groan’. Ain’t that fitting.

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