Sunday, 7 March 2010

Hymn and her



I don't hark back much to the few years I spent working in Southampton. For one thing, there's no need now, being a man perfectly content with everything except certain waning powers, but I do remember vividly a painful romantic tryst in the rose gardens in front of the Civic Centre, pictured above. I expect they've been uprooted now to make car parks, and the only relic of my bitter disappointment will be an inexplicable ghostly tugging at heart-strings felt by anyone who parks in slot G45, where there was once a stand of a floribunda called September Love hard by where she finally said No.

To start with she was late - not that this mattered very much - and her lateness was marked by the Civic Centre clock. This used to chime the hour with a hymn tune called St Anne, better known as O God, our help in ages past. The hymn words were written by one Isaac Watts, a son of Southampton who I hope had more luck in municipal rose gardens than I did. Church-goers and attenders at Remembrance services will know it well.

Fans of Evelyn Waugh will know it, obliquely, through the brilliantly bizarre use Waugh puts it to in Decline and Fall. Convicts - which include the hero Paul Pennyfeather - use this hymn at their daily service as a cover for exchange of news, in this case the overnight murder by a lunatic of Mr Prendergast, the prison chaplain.

O God, our help in ages past
'Where's Prendergast today?'
'What, ain't you 'eard? 'e's been done in.'
And our eternal home.

...Time, like an ever-rolling stream
Bears all its sons away.
'Poor Prendy 'ollered fit to kill
For nearly 'alf an hour.'

'Damned lucky it was Prendergast,
Might have been you or me!
The warder says - and I agree -
It serves the Governor right.'

Amen.

Eventually Paul Pennyfeather 'dies' and is lifted from prison, though the good offices and influence of his love, Margot Beste-Chetwynd. Despite Paul's urgent proposals, she can hardly marry someone who officially doesn't exist. She promptly marries someone else, suspiciously hastily for Paul. A disappointed man, he turns to theology. I know how he felt.


12 comments:

KAZ said...

But never mind Pennyfeather and Prendergast - we want to know about your lost love.

Gorilla Bananas said...

Looking on the bright side, it might have been a lucky escape. For you, I mean,

Dave said...

Odd. It was a similar story that took me into holy orders. Vile Bodies as I recall it.

zIggI said...

I too once (actually more than once) had an assignation in the office of the then Head of *** in my local Civic Centre. Perhaps because he invited me inside to his carpeted office with its wide and accomadating desk (not propositioning me in the chilly rose garden) I eventually married him.

zIggI said...

accommodating (I think?) (your blog doesn't have a spell checK!!)

Vicus Scurra said...

I have never associated Southampton with romance.
I did buy some potent marijuana there once, but nothing of a romantic nature happened in consequence.
I hope that this helps.

Christopher said...

Kaz, it's good to see you. Thanks for the suggestion. Maybe. Discretion is all.

GB: Welcome to the tree. Make yourself at home, swing from branch to branch if you feel like it. Clearly you have deep insights into these things. You may well be right, on both accounts.

Dave: I hope Black Mischief didn't turn you towards cannibalism?

'...wide and accommodating desk' indeed, Zigs. I hope you you shifted the Pending tray first. I've 'worked' with several Heads of ***. I often wondered how they filled in the time. Now I know.

Vicus: Yes, it does help, thank you. I've never known you be anything but positive and constructive.

Z said...

A blog is no place for discretion, surely.

UberGrumpy said...

What a lovely post.

We live in Winchester and often go to Southampton for shopping and crime. I can confirm that the rose garden is indeed a car park.

And it's pay and display

Sarah said...

Vicus.....your'e not doing it right.

Now I'm intrigued with your story Christopher....tell more.

(Dave???...blog post on this please, or you can email me. I'm very good at keeping secrets)((You too C!))

Christopher said...

Z: There's discreet and discrete...

UG: Thank you. There's always someone who knows. If it isn't Zigs and Lytchett Minster pubs, it's UG and the erstwhile Civic Centre rose gardens. And yes, a great place for crime, Southampton. I used to make criminal noises on my cello in the University orchestra.

Sarah, you're so good at wheedling information out of me. I'll see. Did/do you ever wear shorts?

Sarah said...

Shorts?....not in this weva guv. I do in the balmy waters of the 90's or sailing, kyaking or some other watery persuit where the wearing of jeans would be reckless. Why? LOL do you?

Funnily enough I did see a geeza a couple of weeks ago wearing shades, shorts and sandals walking his pitbull. I nearly stopped and asked him if he had been abducted by aliens. But thought it probably a little imprudent.....meh