By Neil Kulkarni
Inside the earth you hear music. November is the month of sacrifice. You wait next to your dead lord under the hill. You will accompany him to the afterlife.
That was the dream I had. The music cut the cobwebs, dispersed the dust, sharp, sunken, scissoring, mandolins. Postgate was the scream I couldn’t emit, the word I woke with hot on my forehead and that’s no accident, the music he used is witchcraft, reanimation, a warning to the curious. Neither simply for kids, or too grown-up for them – the music Postgate used was about neither innocence or intellect but being reconnected with time and the earth, the flow and force of it, the shattering moments where the clock would stop and abscond, where the second-hand hovers in mid-air waiting for the reverberations to stop within you. Nostalgia is too often cheese dip, a party, a thrown arm round the collective shoulders, a safe and essentially warming review of those culinary/cultural/cinematic/musical motifs time has severed from your present. I recommend scowling on the stairs and not imbibing. Leave the party. You’re not wanted there.
No one there can help or hold you in oh-ten: only a hex, a galdr can help you now. Find a lonely place at 8pm; get ready to be pierced with sorrow. Press 620 on your skybox for NickJrClassics. Watch Chigley, Mr Benn, The Clangers, Bagpuss & Camberwick Green. Listen to the music of Freddie Phillips, Sandra Kerr, Phillip Faulkner, Vernon Elliot, Postgate, the birds outside the village hall, the scrape of string, the quill, the Celeste, the music box, the old songs and new shapes, the unsung sung again. This is music that saw the future we’re now in and wanted none of it, music that summoned up old ghosts to walk amongst us, music that fantasised and idealised and experimented with visions of a future that was courtly, Christ-less, pre-feudal, Arcadian, impossible.
Don’t watch with mother(fuckers) like you. Avoid adults; your irony-addictions will sap you of the ability to be moved. Give whatever children may be present blankets, bottles, dummies and let them be brain-kidnapped by the men in sheds and assorted mentalists who weaved such wonder across our teatimes. As an industry, nostalgia relies on the supposedly unproblematic desire amongst old geeks to feel like kids again, a fondness for a time of perceived non-responsibility. But it’s a fiction, a false memory, a mock-up infantilisation that’s pure dress-up, pretend, a skim across the trappings of childhood without ever surrendering to the trap again, the confinement, the monomania, all that ultimately traumatic and disturbing ferocity of feeling that is the true feel of childhood. With anyone else of your own vintage in the room, watching these programs will become an open review, a laugh, a sing-along, a chance to shore up a shared cultural heritage, a chance to deflect any admission that a toad playing a banjo can make you cry. How dare you. This music did what all truly good teachers do with kids & anyone else in earshot. It talked to you. Across the room with no agenda except the story. The wonder of the world now, and worlds gone.
My dad used to work there. I had no idea what job he did and didn’t care, all I had as proof that he did something when he wasn’t home was a photo of him leaning over a drawing-board with a big set square looking focussed and busy and brochure-worthy. At 5.30 across town I’d be waiting for him to return. The 10 minutes that came between 5.30 and the End Of Kids Programs was important, crucial, a way of calming the jitters but also an acknowledgment that funtime was up, grown-ups were coming home, were gonna boss the box from here on in, that sleep was coming and expected of you. An electric but also elegiac 600 seconds, whether it was Ludwig, or WilloTheWisp or The Clangers it was charged with epochal (for as a child every day was a lifetime) significance. Startling now to think how many of those prone moments were under the control of communists, medieval pagans, folk revivalists, troublemakers, how often Freddie Phillips had a hand in our pre-nap afternoon tumbles into sleep, how often his genius coloured our daymares, seeped into our unpiloted moonlit bed-bound journeys across our imaginations.
Hearing in situ his score for the ‘54 reissue of Lotte Reiniger’s astonishing Adventures Of Prince Achmed you realise that Phillips from-the-off took music for kids’ seriously, composed his sounds in a way that fully credited kids with the intelligence and intrigue too many modern kids-composers steamroll over with singalong-obviousness and didactic edutainment. Likewise, to save this music from the neutering poison nostalgia spreads, you must avoid the hormonally mature, watch with those who never smirk, seek out the company of those who watch alone even when not alone. Kids. Prone, wide-eyed (tears WILL come) as you first experienced them, the programs Phillips, Elliot & Postgate created are less things to revisit than things that impose a revisitation upon you. No matter how solidly mortgaged-up your surroundings or secure you feel in your grown-up skin you may find yourself floating free, travelling ‘tween dimensions, reinhabiting that child-sized space you were once in, the long lurch of those latchkey lunchtimes and afternoons. And it’s in those refound lost moments, those redug holes in your memory, where stories etch into your skull and songs pluck sobs from your ribcage, that you truly experience this music’s possibilities. Because when you first heard this music you weren’t just the functioning human being you try to be now. You were a silver feather, a surging tiger, a shooting star, a tired cosmonaut, a bloodied Keneivel, an exhausted den-builder, a resting monster.
You had a future. Now your future’s come and gone, this ancient, fearless, fearful sound skewers you. The ponderous woodwind dirges of Mr Benn, the spectral medievalisms of Bagpuss, the diaphanous complexities within Trumptonshire’s everyday commute – feel free to chortle but know amidst those chuckles you are hiding something, know you are humming away the heartache, running scared of the fact that you never grew up, are still afraid, still unsure, still just as prone to the bliss and blisters this music leaves on your skin, in your veins, in your expectations. Kid/kidult/adult, you are still you, still hurt by elders, beat by peers, and you are still cut apart & engulfed by what your life might mean, still under the hill waiting to see the sky, innards as soft and perishable as ever even if you’ve buffed your hard shell to a presentably sacrificial shine by now, that shine that gets you work and feeds your belly and keeps your demise nicely ticking over. You might be all made up of lies now, but this music did not lie to you. It gently, persuasively, insisted, whispered in your suggestible ear, that ‘reality’ was not all it was cracked up to be, that points in time could be vaunted via sound, that music could be magical in an entirely practical kids-eye-level sense. And in so doing it put demands, standards inside of you impossible to shake, incapable of dilution in nostalgia’s lukewarm paddle-waters. Because nostalgia is never cosy when you’re on your own. It’s the most heartbreak you can summon up in an instant. Sink yourself, lose yourself, find yourself in it. The six-o-clock whistle. The dark rolling into the city across the fields.
Grow up. And get small again.