His Master’s Voice

Do you ever miss gramophones? Or maybe I should say, did you ever do Miss Gramophone? Because if you did, she’s just called at my office and left two very young LPs who are in need of a good needling.

The last gramophone I had was left behind on the beaches of Normandy. It was D-Day. The sand was littered with corpses and 45s. Thinking back I wished I’d gone with the First Airborne and got dropped over Arnhem. I mean, Operation Market Garden sounded wonderful. I hadn’t visited a market in years and there were legumes that I needed. But I was able to keep my gramophone dry and free of sand by shoving it in a body bag and dragging it across the beautiful sands — well, they would have been if the Krauts had stopped shelling.

It was a lovely sunny day and some of the Yanks had even brought bikinis. When I’d finally made it to a nice sand dune, I took out my shovel and spade and constructed a moat. That, I thought, would stop Das Boot.

Then I lovingly placed my priceless copy of the Little Sparrow down, lifted the needle, and Piaf filled the air with sorrow. It helped the boys on the beaches. Then I set up my espresso machine, strung up some radio-active ions, let off some grenades, shot off a few rounds of my mortar, emptied my cartridge — as well as my bladder, it had been a long trip from Dover — and put up a sign: “All welcome. Will not discriminate against any nationality. German also spoken here. Come one, come all. But if you must, do it behind the bunkers.”

Then it was Edith all night long until the flares went up and the generals arrived to make sure there was enough killing being done. Our little party ended soon after. But I got the Purple Heart for bravery in the face of fire. And the generals all got their body counts. And some even got as far as Pointe du Hoc, but had to turn back because someone had seriously neglected to polish their brass.

Trust me, it never happened like this in the history books. But only because I took the fifth out for drinks and they all forgot what really happened and made up the real story.

Do you know there are days when I wish I had the power to move to a remote peak somewhere in Scotland, let the wind get under my kilt, sharpen my dirk, and then head to the local newsagents where I will act out Macbeth to every paying customer. But the proprietor will call out his three grimalkins and they’ll scream at me, “Thane of Glamis, ain’t yea ever heard of the Royal Academy?”

I will pretend not to hear the Weird Sisters — and they are weird, I tell you: one is dressed like Mary Queen of Scots, the other like Little Po Peep, and the third like the Damsel in Distress, on account of the ladder in her tights — by idly thumbing through the top shelf of the magazine shelf until I have located a prop.

Which, in this case is Maxim. I will hold it up and declare: “Not all who wander are lost. Some are merely in need of a good distraction.” Then the shop’s bell will jingle and in will come a load of rowdy kids who to my horror are reading Ian Rankin. I will shout: “My dearest love, Duncan comes here to-night.” To which the kids will give me a queer look and call me a fag and then buy their sweeties homemade fudge.

When an old lady with hair like a hayloft, a nose like a pitchfork, and a mouth like a horse ambles in to buy some rashers, I’ll cry, “Fair is foul and foul is fair, but put back that bacon, it’s rancid!” The old lady will give me sixpence, twiddle my sporran, and then hold up the joint with a pair of very nasty darning needles.

When I next try to impress an out-of-work shipbuilder from Dundee, he’ll reply, “Where’s the thane of Cawdor? We coursed him at the heels, and had a purpose.” Which will really upset me since that’s the other play. (Although, Duncan will insist it’s Macbeth and that I don’t know my Yorick from my own dumb skull.) At which point I’ll make him wail, “Bonny tweed, I’ve been kneed in the groin by a lowlander.”

Now the proprietor will have enough. He’ll hang a sign in the window saying “Intermission. Back in 20 mins” and we’ll all go into his backroom for a cuppa with Tom O’Shanter, who I don’t understand until he says: “Thou would be found, deep drown’d in Doon,/ Or catch’d wi warlocks in the mirk,/ By Alloway’s auld, haunted kirk.”

And then I’d reply, “Yes, I’m a thespian. and I’m doing a little impromptu theatre and picking up my groceries at the same time.” and Tom will say, “You’re a winnock-bunker in the east.”

Here’s a proven cure for a cold: Either the Flight of the Valkyries or Tristan and Isolde. They will definitely lift your spirits. Or you could follow an old Irish remedy my gran gave to me. Which is: put 2 spuds in soft cushions in front of the TV. Allow them to heat up from the radioactive waves. Meanwhile, prepare some butter by warming it gently between your thighs. Then when it’s runny, gently carry it over to the spuds by using an electrician. (Caveat: It’s dangerous to play with live wires.) Place the spuds on the ailing bit of you and then douse with melted butter. But make sure the door is fully closed, the curtains drawn shut, and your trousers neatly folded over the chair and pointing away from the keyhole.

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