By Peter Bonsey
The French balladeer Charles Aznavour recently passed away. His song “Yesterday,” which is my all-time favorite, is causing me to look back on my own life. I now am able to see that every memory is indelibly connected to music.
In the 1950s “How Much is That Doggy in the Window,” by Peggy Lee, reminded me of walking along Laleham Road to Sheep Walk Elementary school in Shepperton Green in England. The village pub, The Bull, and grocery store, Stevenson and Rush, which always had large burlap sacks of dog biscuits on the path out front. We would all grab one to suck on during the day. In those days biscuits (cookies) were a luxury few families could afford.
At age 8 I started to take courses in the Royal Navy. These courses took me from being a child thrust deep into the rough adult world of seasoned seamen, many not long back from the war. “Far Away Places with Strange Sounding names” took my mind around the world far from our little village. Oh how my mind was fueled by salty stories told that made me see the sailors with awe.
The NAFFI canteen jukebox, a hypnotic machine that we only saw outside of our village, repeatedly played “Apache” by The Shadows. Those strange men from America. I wondered what America was like. Maybe I would get there one day.
I went to sea at age 15. At this time the Beatles were becoming very popular at home but I was not interested. I was off around the world.
My first voyage lasted five and a half months. My only thoughts of home were of Nicky, a beautiful blonde girl from the village. I wrote her frequently but never got any replies.
To me music was for the village kids who were pretending to be grown up. I wasn’t pretending, I had to be grown up to survive. Arriving in Vancouver Harbour on Christmas Eve, our ship was greeted by a brass band playing “Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner” and “There Will Always Be An England.” My heart swelled with pride at being English.
Arriving back in England, somewhat worldly wise and different from all the other village kids, I was devastated to learn that Nicky had married. Even worse, to me, to a foreigner. I sat by the Thames in drizzling rain and listened to “The End of the World,” over and over. Young love and its forces worked a number on me.
I felt like I was “A Stranger on The Shore,” the Acker Bilk tune. I went straight back to sea. In my mind I was destined to be “500 Miles Away From Home,” a Richard Anthony song, for a long time.
As the clock ticked on I sailed away for five years, all around the world, ending up in Australia. I married and had a son and then a daughter. The Aznavour song “To My Daughter” burned a place in my heart and still can bring tears to my eyes. Any man with a daughter should listen to it.
Here I am many years along life’s road with a recent health issue. My wife became ill. Patsy Cline’s song “I Love You So Much It Hurts” has the ability to render me an emotional mess.
These songs and many others are like a loose thread on a sweater, that when tugged at gently unravels and exposes us to so many of our own life’s memories. I now appreciate that thing that I used never to give a tinker’s damn about: music.
Peter Bonsey, of Snyder, becomes emotional when listening to beloved songs.