My grandfathers were both musicians. My father's father (Frank) was a church organist, at St Martins-on-the-Hill church in Scarborough, with its Willis organ and beautiful Burne-Jones panels. My mother's father (Charles) played the violin.
Frank was a greengrocer through the week and was at church every Sunday playing the organ. But he was neither a happy man nor a believer, and during the sermon he made a point of going outside to smoke his pipe. What he really enjoyed was playing big, dramatic pieces like Bach's toccata and fugue in D minor, and being the rehearsal pianist for minor celebrities coming to sing at the theatre down by the sea at Scarborough where they lived.
Charles was a farmer, a somewhat stern and driven individual, with a deep personal faith. Every night he used to kneel down to say his prayers at his bedside before he got into bed, and he had a framed saying up on the wall, "Help thou thy brother's boat across — and lo! — thine own has touched the shore." He liked playing hymns on his violin — two of his favourites were the beautiful Abide with me and Lead, kindly light.
The hymn Lead kindly light includes the lines:
So long thy power hath blessed me, sure it still
Will lead me on,
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, 'til
The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.
That's obviously a hope-filled reference to death and heaven, but that last line came into my mind this morning when a song I hadn't thought about for years came back into my mind.
I was thinking about my children, and how I'd brought them up, the mistakes I'd made and the false trails I'd led them along, but also where I'd got it right and the positive ideas I'd worked to instil.
As you know, I do my thinking in the bath, and at the time I was cleaning down the tub afterwards and getting my things together to return to my room. When I do this, I never put my nightclothes back on, but walk along to my room wearing nothing. Nobody else in my family has ever done this — parents, sister, children, partner; nobody. I started doing this, when my children were babies, not because I am an exhibitionist but because I want without discussion to communicate the idea that the human body with all its flaws is nothing to be ashamed of, it's just simple and okay. And I thought that was one small idea that I was glad to have taught my children.
And then all unbidden came this song to my mind. It brought back vivid memories, because I came across it in my early teens and loved it and listened to it over and over again — on a vinyl disc that one of my generous and richer friends had lent me to play on the record player that another of my generous and richer friends had also lent me. Here it is with lyrics added — helpful because they are singing different things from each other in the second half and it can be hard to pick out the words.
When I remembered that song, it also brought back, as if I was there again, the memory of walking through the village where I lived, the dark evergreens over the wall at the corner of the turning into Kettle Green Road, Mrs Haskell's shop and the general stores, the place we used to wait for the school bus and the home that hosted our youth group, the place where my early faith grew and changed and began like a little bean plant climbing up its pole.
Teach your children well. A song I loved long since and lost awhile.