Palpable memory

For more than ten years I have been driving little old gentlemen and ladies around Oxfordshire, going about their weekly round of appointments at the doctor, chiropodist, dentist, shopping and every Monday to Abingdon Market. For many of them, it is almost a religious activity in its timekeeping and regularity.

These are locations which should appear on taxi licensing tests, but probably do not. I have held a Hackney Carriage licence for so long in Vale of White Horse, that I have never had to pass a knowledge test. But I am locally born and bred and I have built up a huge body of knowledge of places and of people during the course of ten years.

All of my customers provide my livelihood and I am obviously therefore grateful for each and every one of them. Some have even become friends. Because of the length of time I have been in the business, it is quite common now that one day the telephone, which is the preferred booking method for many elderly customers, will stop ringing and they are never heard from again.

Sadly, there have been five such instances in the last six weeks. But on Saturday, I was able to attend the funeral service of a former customer, who had died at the age of 91 and whom I had driven to and from church for a while, after he had given up driving his own car. He was an exceptional conversationalist, during the short time that I knew him and I looked forward to the short journeys together.

Saturday’s service was one of those deeply moving occasions, every aspect of which had been outstandingly crafted and conducted, from beginning to end, especially the music. One of the hymns ‘I am the bread of life’, I had not sung in church for more than twenty-five years, but as soon as the pianist struck up, all of the lyrics and the tune came back, without having to look at the hymn sheet particularly its chorus ‘And I will raise him up on the last day’.

Sacred music is less subject to fashion and trends, but the ability to recall word perfect lyrics from tunes which are nearly fifty years old is also a feature of secular music. A friend working in the United States wrote on Twitter this week about how he had been asked by his child “How is it you know all the words to every major song of the 70s and 80s?”, three verses in to singing ‘American Pie’.

Reading this, I smiled wryly to myself, as I have also known all the lyrics to this song, since hearing a band in New Braunfels, Texas play a version of it which was 41 minutes long starting as the bride and groom’s first dance and building to a crescendo involving the entire assembly, including me. And I never dance.

Music is unique like that, in its ability to evoke palpable memories of times long since passed.