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Elizabeth Kinder
 
Photo: Sophie Ziegler

The Elusive Ethnomusicologist

Elizabeth Kinder’s monthly column

Deep in the forests of Papua New Guinea, the Kaluli tribe think of music as ‘like a waterfall’: for them and for other people in other places on the planet music is completely intertwined with the world around them, part of the fabric of daily life in ways it’s difficult for us – where music is a commodity – to imagine. But if life describes music in the Great Papuan Plateau, might not music describe my life in W4?

A gentle start to being woken up by a paw in the face when Nellie the Wonder-Spaniel thinks it’s breakfast time would be that ’70s classic Love Me Love My Dog. And as we walk in the park in the morning weather, not Blur’s paean to outdoor life (too cockney for Chiswick House) but maybe McCartney’s Martha My Dear, though he calls his dog “a silly girl” and there’s nothing silly about Nellie.

She’s not long been out of hospital – a time when I checked-in at Heartbreak Hotel with mounting vets bills piling on the agony and Money Too Tight To Mention. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”, said the perky receptionist, “that’s exactly what insurance is for” (not a song title, so far as I know).

Actually, sang Sainsbury’s pet insurance via a stiff letter, “These Boots Are Made For Walking and they’re going to walk right over you.” And so I plunged into the river of the world, that Tom Waits calls misery, only to come up spluttering for air as Nellie began to feel better. Then Billy Bragg came by in a boat and hauled me up with his protest songs, handed me a laptop and reminded me about fighting spirit. And I emailed a Mr Pearce with new and further information and pleaded “Say It Ain’t So”.

Mr Pearce kindly emailed not quite suggesting Take A Chance On Me but I hoped everything might be coming up roses when a letter from his colleague arrived and I knew again that Misery Is The River Of The World because I was at the bottom of it with The Bends. But Billy sweetly came back in his boat and once more I emailed Mr Pearce. Songs featuring the words ‘reprehensible’ and ‘unethical’ and ‘conduct’ elude me just now, but they and others like them flew from my fingertips as I felt good faith wasn’t even on the road to nowhere: lying crushed underfoot by big business, it had met its Waterloo.

But Stop! Wait A Minute – Mr Postman! As my email winged its way over the Chiswick Roundabout three letters arrived on the mat, none as the song suggests, sent by my baby. There was one for next door – and two from Mr Pearce. Mr Pearce who had not signed his name across my heart exactly – but more helpfully on two cheques for Nellie’s treatment. Aghast, I realised his colleague’s letter must have crossed Mr Pearce’s first email. For big business had in this instance changed the tune. It was now playing Lovely Day, the day Mr. Pearce restored my faith in good faith (and Sainsbury’s pet insurance).

Only now I have to find a song to eat my words to. I wonder if the Kaluli have one? In the meantime I’m off to go Walking On Sunshine with Nellie the Wonder Spaniel in the park.

Elizabeth Kinder


 

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