Bohemia Village Voice  Bohemia Village Voice

For bohemians everywhere

Jane Downes

‘That’s Lovely, That Is’ 

The television’s blaring in the residents’ lounge as she lugs her bag of books down the stairs and avoids the waiting wheelchairs.
She swiftly snaps off the TV and, “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen!” she cries, spreading her arms wide, in a sort of embrace. Eyes open, bandaged legs and stiff arthritic necks are eased – ah, it’s Pam! Everyone perks up, well, each in their own way. She’s definitely entertainment, with her songs and poems.
Daisy, a hundred-and-two, loves Waltzing Matilda, sings the last line with real gusto, so Pam always repeats it, Jim’s hand softly beating time in the air.
“Ah, that’s lovely!” Frank, rough-voiced, shouts it, but they ignore him.
Helena loves another Matilda. ‘Matilda told such dreadful lies, it made one gasp and stretch one’s eyes’. It’s Hilaire Belloc’s wonderful poem of just desserts!
Frank shouts, “Little liar!”
And when Pam sings, well . . . she knows all the verses to My Old Man Said Follow the Van, that Music Hall number, nearly everyone tries out the chorus. Frank yells at the top of his voice. Louisa finally cracks.
“Ssshhh!” she hisses at him.
“That’s lovely,” Jim’s musing, but Louisa, slim and agile despite her eighty-nine years, gets up. Standing in front of Frank, she wags her finger at him.
“Less of your old row,” she says in a good firm voice as if he’s nine, not ninety. He laughs in her face – he’s been heard again, that’s good enough.
So, this week it’s ‘The Sea’. Cargoes by John Masefield, and The Owl and the Pussycat. Pam pitches her voice artfully for each poem, she doesn’t gabble, everyone finds something they half remember.
She reads The Sussex Sailor by Alfred Noyes and a sweet, yearning feeling hangs in the room. She sings Fiddlers Green and Louisa says “I’ve never heard that one before, that’s lovely, that is”. Pam knows she has, here in this room, but no matter. It’s all about where old salts go when they die. ‘And I’ll see you someday in Fiddler’s Green . . .’
That last chorus brings Frank strongly to life. Pushing himself to his feet using the arms of his chair, tottering across the room he allows himself to fall backwards with some force into the empty armchair beside little, silent Dolly.
Frank plonks his hand heavily onto her thigh and squeezes firmly as she wakes up, croaking out an alarmed, dry squeak.
Pam’s busy giving them Drake’s Drum, one eye on this interesting development.
Lousia calls down from her chair, “Frank, get back, get back on your own side, leave her alone you bully, get on with it, get back in your own chair”. Dolly’s eyes and her little puckered mouth are round and scared as she stares and stares, soundlessly.
Frank glares at Louisa and hoists himself back to his feet. Pam launches into He Played his Ukulele as the Ship Went Down. Frank, suddenly hearing, starts to sing. Finding his seat again he continues strongly, overtaking Pam, who quietens her voice, giving him room. Three verses he sings, loudly, clearly, with them all listening so intently:
Now this is the tale of the Nancy Lee
The ship that got shipwrecked at sea,
And Captain Brown, who was in command
Who played his ukulele as the ship went down.
‘Yeah, that’s lovely, that is’.
A fortnight later they told Pam that Frank had moved on, “He’s gone to a carehome down the Old Town, he’ll like it there!” murmurs Louisa.
Pam mourned the loss, wondering what else was in Frank’s repertoire. Not growing old quietly. Good for him, she thinks.

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