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All This Jazz: Marching To A Different Drummer

...Seems to me that it’s odder to want to tease and mock others rather than just getting on with them. But what do I know? I march to that little old drummer, remember?...

Jill Grant has spent her life marching to the beat of a different drummer. That beat has encouraged a joyous, civilised, hilarious, jazzy, entertaining flow of words.

Keep on marching, Jill!

Do visit Jill's Web site www.grantidge.com

Marching to a different drummer.

I like that phrase. According to the Internet, it means to behave in a different way or to believe in different things from the people around you. Yep – sounds about right. In fact, this piece of writing could be sub-titled “Son of Ooh-wer”, or “Ooh-wer Rides Again”. Those of you who’ve read my earlier piece “Audience Participation” may recall that this strange sound was uttered by my pals, and sometimes my Mum, when I did or said something they considered to be particularly off-the-wall. Like almost every day, that is. Provoking a reaction from me that’s best expressed as one big compound word, in the manner of those found in the German language – “WhadidIdoTHIStime”?

My drummer struck up the band early in my life. I was an avid and early reader, having taught myself to read out of sheer boredom while being warehoused – er, sorry, minded – by a neighbour. She had a pile of ancient “Film Fun” and “Radio Fun” albums dating from circa the War years, and before too long I had fathomed out the names of the Three Stooges, and that James Mason’s daughter bore the unlikely name of Portland. There was an article or two about “swing”, I recall complete with ancient slang like “cutting a rug”, “ickies” calling people “man” (or was that later?), and things being “a gas”. The last two could be combined to make the pleasing exclamation “it’s a gas, man!” Take the comma out and you get an image of old Fred from up the road, resplendent in blue overalls, toting his bag of tools and whistling a merry gas-fitter’s song as he ambles off to his next wonky boiler.

In love with words as I have always been, I soon began dropping these new gems of phraseology into the conversation, prompting – you’ve guessed it – eldritch screeches of “Ooh-wer!” Combine them with some choice bits of Geordie lingo such as “howay man” and “haddaway”, garnered from my Dad and my Geordie cousins, and I was well on the way to complete incomprehensibility.

Now, to music. Jazz, that is. I have already told of how I fell in love with it when I was seven. The blues, as well; it followed on a few years later. Always good for a few “Ooh-wers” that was. They would bait their trap, and I’d oblige by walking into it. “What’s your favourite group, Jill?” (Group. How quaint). “Jelly Roll Morton and his Red Hot Peppers”, I’d reply. And “Who’s your favourite singer, Jill?” “Leadbelly”. “OOH-WERRRR!” I suppose I asked for it, but I didn’t see (and still don’t) why I should have to pretend to be someone I’m not. Bob Dylan, whom I also liked, expressed it exactly:

“From fixtures and forces and friends your sorrows do stem
For they’ll hype you and type you, and making you feel
That you gotta be just like them.”

Later I got into modern jazz (thanks, Graham!) which served to make me more incomprehensible than ever. Luckily, jazz hipster talk had become popular with hippies (but not jazz itself, unfortunately), so describing things as “too much” or “far out” passed muster in some quarters. Not in others; that drummer of mine still led me inexorably along my path of difference and by implication, weirdness.

It got tiresome sometimes. Had I known about this different drummer I was marching to, I would have begged him to come out and show himself. I would have been less lonely if he had.

But I did have my Godmother. Auntie, as I called her, was nearest in weirdness to this drummer of mine, one of the many reasons why I cherished her always (she died when I was nineteen). She had a big glass-fronted bookcase and I had the run of it very early on. I loved (and still do) encyclopaedias and unearthed one called “1001 Housekeeping Hints” or something similar. This dated from the Thirties and contained an article on how to get rid of bedbugs. Complete with a scaled-up diagram of one of these creatures. I didn’t know it was scaled up, and imagined my bed invaded by beasts the size of my palm, equipped with fearsome-looking nippers. Auntie disabused me of this notion, explaining that they were the size of a pin-head but with a nip entirely disproportionate to their dimensions. Apparently, they came out of the plaster in battalions at night, in search of a good meal. Doesn’t matter how small something is; if there are enough of ‘em, you’re going to feel it.

I read on and found that having fumigated the room (now there’s a good word – fumigated. Fum-i-gat-ed. Bliss) their return to the bedclothes could be discouraged by standing the bed-legs in pots of toilet vinegar. Toilet vinegar? I understood about toilets, and about vinegar but somehow I couldn’t combine the two until Auntie explained that it meant eau-de-Cologne. Anyroad (I got that one from Coronation Street), I became oddly fascinated with the little nipping buggers and soon couldn’t talk about anything else. This drove my Mum wild and she would say sternly to me “We’re going down Nan’s on the bus. You are NOT to talk about bedbugs, understand?” To which I’d respond with the battle hymn of the bright, misunderstood child: “Why?” “Because people will think WE’VE got ‘em!” “Why?” and so on and so on, at which Mum, much like Hitler when he was about to invade another country, would declare her patience to be exhausted.

Auntie also had a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica and once I’d come off the bedbugs kick I began looking things up and furthering my education – which is not why I did it, of course. I did it because I was marching to that drummer of mine. Soon I happened on “electricity”. Fine; it had already fascinated me, but finding an entry on the electric chair? Not so good. Especially as it was illustrated with a snap of the one that was still to be found in Sing Sing. It filled me with cold horror and I thought that to do that to a person, no matter what he or she had done, made society worse than the criminal. I called Auntie over, and pointed to the photograph. “Er – do they do that to people in ENGLAND?” She reassured me, but it haunted me for ages. An imaginative child, I shuddered at the thought of people waiting in their cells, knowing what was going to happen. Still do.

The fiction in Auntie’s bookcase was not always the best choice for a marching little strangeling like me. No – not mucky stuff. I mean the ghost stories of M. R. James and “A Tale of Two Cities”. I still think that’s the most frightening novel Dickens ever wrote. However, Auntie’s bookcase (and Auntie) provided much-needed nourishment of the mind, which outweighed any moments of terror.

Later on, in adult life I still encountered those who like to find a stick to beat people with – any old stick will do, it seems. I was on a computer training course and used a jazz musician’s name in an exercise – too lazy to think of something innocuous like Joe Bloggs, I suppose. Oh dear. Also on the course was a colleague who readily seized this stick and bludgeoned me with it. The phrase “lives in a little world of her own” was trotted out. Why “little”? And surely my world has one great advantage – people like HIM aren’t there. Seems to me that it’s odder to want to tease and mock others rather than just getting on with them. But what do I know? I march to that little old drummer, remember?

Incidentally, during that week-long course, which was in London, I was staying with my “man of the moment”. A drummer. When I recounted my annoying time at the hands of my colleague, my MOTM’s eyes blazed with fury, and he threatened to ring up the annoying one and recommend that he do something that was probably anatomically impossible. (I persuaded him not to.)

And the MOTM it was who taught me some arcane and delightfully daft drumming terms – paradiddle-diddle, flamadiddle and pataflafla had me rolling round the floor with mirth. Presumably a flamadiddle’s when the drummer’s inadvertently set fire to himself while lighting a fag between numbers.

Now I could put a name to all those crazy rhythms “my” drummer had me marching to since I crawled out of the cradle.

I’ll close with a quote from Vivian Stanshall, a hero of mine and leader of a band gloriously titled “The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band” (they lost their Doo-Dah a little later, which seems a shame, not to mention painful). At the end of the song “My Pink Half of the Drainpipe”, which tells of the mutual incomprehension between Viv and his “normal” neighbours, he goes off into a delightful rant:

“And was it a Thursday or a Wednesday? Or, oh, no, it wasn't though. Oh,
who cares anyway because I do not so Norman, if you're normal, I intend to
be a freak for the rest of my life, and I shall baffle you with cabbages
and rhinoceroses in the kitchen and incessant quotations from "Now We Are
Six" through the mouthpiece of Lord Snooty's giant poisoned electric
head. So THERE!”

I looked this up (for reasons of accuracy) and found that hitherto I had thought it was “and sexual quotations from ‘Now We Are Six’”.

Sorry Viv – I like my version better - ”Christopher Robin! STOPPIT! STOPPIT I say!”

Ooh-wer.

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