Thursday, 8 February 2018

01. THE WIND-UP GRAMOPHONE DAYS

I was a mere toddler when I first came into contact with radio. It was at my grandmother’s house in a place called Heist, on the Belgian coast. I vividly remember my aunt Gilberte doing the ironing to the music on the BBC Light Programme. Occasionally also my boisterous self was sushed into silence because the Archers were on. These daily exploits ‘of country folk’ were not to be missed. My aunt had been listening to the BBC, especially programmes like "It's that man again", throughout most of the war, when the family lived and worked in Cornwall. 

It was also in early infancy (my neighbour had only just taught me how to curse properly) that I discovered the wonder of music. That happened when my mother ‘inherited’ a vintage wind-up gramophone, because her great-aunt Clementine went into a retirement home, and had no further use for it. The sturdy wooden box arrived with a large number of very fragile records and handfuls of steel needles. Much to my father’s and my surprise the gramophone was not awarded pride of place in my mother’s living room. Without any malice intended, my mother was in the habit of calling everything ‘hers’. Hence it was ‘her house’, ‘her garden’ and ‘her everything else’. The only exceptions being the dustbin and the ditty-bag with ship’s provisions. They were described as ‘yours’, meaning my father’s. Although there was no form of entertainment in the house, the gramophone, with all its intriguing possibilities for a young boy like myself, was banished to her ‘spare room’. It was a small bedroom, which stood largely empty, and had no bed in it. There the gramophone sat for a long time, forgotten by everyone, but me.

Being only six at the time, it took me a while to pluck up courage to go and investigate this tantalizing toy in my mother’s third bedroom. In the end, making the best of unguarded moments, I managed to figure out how the contraption worked. After many failed attempts it finally produced some sound, mostly scratching. More ‘fiddlings’ later however Beniamino Gigli and Maurice Chevalier were singing their songs perfectly in tune. That is, until I was slow in winding up the handle. Then these great stars tended to forget their lines.

The fun didn’t last long however and I was found out. But my father, who for once was not at sea, came to the rescue. He figured, that since my mother wasn’t doing anything with the gramophone, I should be allowed to play with it. I’m sure my parents regretted this very soon. During the Summer break, which lasts for two months in Belgium, my gramophone playing day started at seven in the morning. I opened the window in the small upstairs room and began waking up the entire neighbourhood with musical and opera hits from as far back as the roaring twenties. As in the early 50’s ‘noise pollution’ had not yet been invented there were no complaints. The early morning antics of Josephine Baker, Lucienne Boyer and Jean Gabin went unchallenged. With hindsight it definitely was the barely tolerated airing of these hits from ‘les années folles’ that gave rise to my love of music. 

More of AJ's radio- and other anecdotes.  

3 comments:

  1. uitstekend idee AJ complimenten. Misschien iets grotere letter? groet Hans

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  2. Thank you AJ, I remember you well on RNI.

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  3. Hi AJ and thanks for all the work you did that got me hooked on radio!

    George G4RNI

    ReplyDelete