A few years ago, extravagant claims were made for the beneficial effects on children’s intelligence of listening to Mozart. A diet of Eine Klein Nachtmusik promote, it has been argued, the improvement of cognitive abilities. Fortunately for those on whom the main effect of K 525 is an overwhelming desire to cover their ears, the theory has been largely discredited.
But in light of recent developments at Ambridge, I wonder what the long-term effects of everyday early childhood exposure to the Archers theme song Barwick Green might be.
This frenzied song was the leitmotif of my childhood snacks; these days I’m an infrequent listener, but when I occasionally catch an episode I’m struck by how perfectly I am re-absorbed into the flow of rural fantasy.
This is in part due to the cyclical nature of events in Borsetshire, which recur with the inexorable regularity of the agricultural year. But the recent arrival of a new character, Trevor Fry, son of the late Bert, has brought a disturbing new twist to the everyday history of farmers. Bert was a formidable boring rustic; but Trevor, played by the magnificent Julian Rhind-Tutt, takes boredom to another level. Its dullness is so virtuoso that even this weak bulb, Tony Archer, is distressed.
Here I run into a problem, because I realize that my early exposure to Barwick Green triggered an ineradicable Pavlovian reaction: the sound of it induces a reassuring feeling of boredom; a conviction that nothing terrible will happen; that, regardless of the development, Jill Archer will always turn on the kettle.
In interesting times like these, a slight therapeutic boredom is a precious thing; to cherish the prosaic is to remember the value of the everyday. The last thing we need is Archers, that big, endless celebration of everyday life, to get all over us and start to emphasize its own ineffable dullness.
The Clangers spoke our language
A recent article in Smithsonian magazine records the continued existence of whistled languages, still active in more than 80 cultures around the world. Developed for communication in dense forests or mountainous terrain, whistled languages are believed by researchers to contain clues to the earliest origins of speech.
Which brings us to The Clangers, the little alien knitted creatures created by the late Oliver Postgate for a BBC children’s series that aired 1969-1972. The Clangers largely subsisted on volcanic soup and communicated in a whistled language with a large vocabulary. and expressive, easily understood by their young audience.
Still, it turns out that little viewers may not have grasped all the nuances: Dan Postgate, Oliver Postgate’s son, is considering releasing his father’s Clangers scripts for the first time, and it seems that Clangers, like the rest of us, were prone to profanity in times of stress. The hot-tempered Major Clanger had a certain barracks turn of phrase, and the Soup Dragon was capable of a bubbling curse as well.
It all makes perfect sense, when you think about it. For our prehistoric ancestors, who embarked on the earliest forms of communication, the most pressing issues must have been hunger, affection – and frustration. Exactly the ones, in fact, to whom the Clangers gave such an eloquent and hissing voice.