Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine

Tootle recall

- With Ian McMillan

By the time you read this, we’ll all have been presented with Christmas songs in the shops for a few weeks; it always feels like we’ve no sooner unpacked our bags from the summer holidays than we’re whistling along to A Fairytale of New York. People who know me will know that I’m a big fan of Christmas but I have to admit that I’m starting to get a bit weary of the same few tunes being played over and over again like some kind of sonic spin cycle.

So I tune them out of my head. And I think of something instead. Not a carol. Scrape the barrel. Whistling Right Said Fred. Oh Fred of wonder, Fred of light, Fred of royal beauty bright. You’re right: those previous sentences sounded just like We Three Kings. I think I’m ignoring these songs but they’re not ignoring me; if I’m not careful everything I write and everything I say sounds like a Christmas song.

For example, the other day I said to my wife: “I’m thinking of a white coffee, just like the one I drank before. In a big cup, I’ll take a big sup before I spill it on the floor.” She pointed out to me that I was speaking the rhythm of I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas and I pretended I knew and that I was doing it for a joke but of course I wasn’t.

If, by concentrat­ing really hard, I manage to stop speaking in Christmas song tunes then, like a white-haired kettle on the hob, I start whistling them without knowing I’m whistling them. I like whistling but suddenly, as I’m washing up or going on my early stroll, I’ll begin to tootle Silent Night. If I’m on a train or a bus and I’m unknowingl­y whistling, somehow the whistling spreads across the carriage or the lower deck. Maybe it’s because with my mask on people can’t tell that I’m the whistler but soon quite a few of the masked and the unmasked are trilling along. Occasional­ly a whistler will break into song and the public transport whistle-along almost becomes Evensong at Ripon Cathedral. Almost.

Mind you, I think I’m getting better at suppressin­g the urge to carol-whistle and sing seasonal songs. Certainly in these last few years I’ve caught myself just in time as I’m about to launch into The Twelve Days of Christmas when I’m walking to the postbox.

It’s true, though, that the brain’s marinading in carols doesn’t go away in a manger, no crib for a bed. The words and the tune will find a way out, and that might not be a Good King Wenceslas thing. Still, I’ve only done it three kings of Orient are times today, so maybe that’s not a bad thing. Hopefully I won’t do it again for a while shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground.

That’s almost it. You see, in this business you’ve got to know when to speak and when to be Silent


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