For each generation, the lyrics that stick are different.
But something’s sticking. It’s sticking even when you don’t know it. And over there, in the future, the reminiscence gurus are trawling the past to find it.
It sticks best in childhood. The brain’s busily storing tunes to underwrite everything, the melodies for measuring beauty and meaning (See Red Roses for a Blue Lady).
So what you sing (if you sing) to your children and nephews and nieces, or what they watch and hear, is going to matter. One day it’ll be a resource like no other.
The theme tune to Sarah and Duck, for example, is currently being filed mentally by thousands of bairns. In 80 years, if they hear it, they’ll perk up immediately, they’ll say quack in all the right places. It’ll be—trust me—a comfort served in a whirlwind.
So, are you of the Bagpuss generation? That would mean born late sixties maybe, though parents and aunties and uncles of sixties’ kids will also remember Bagpuss because there’s a second generation thing where we learn songs later, with our children.
I missed Bagpuss. That’s to say it was going on at some distance, but I was grown-up by then and it wasn’t cult with my friends, unlike The Magic Roundabout which students gathered to watch in the common room when I was at university. Star Trek, The Magic Roundabout and some royal wedding or other—those were the things that filled the TV room! But The Magic Roundabout is just tune, so it wouldn’t work too well for reminiscence, unlike Trumpton.
(In my head the names of the Trumpton fire brigade are already shouting themselves: Hugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grubb!)
I wasn’t around for Bagpuss, so I’ve come late, but not too late, to the Mending Song, a ‘round’, sung in the little high voices of the mice. And such magical words.
Last week at Lumb Bank, while Linda Goulden and I were singing Mending Song, twice people came into the room, their faces lit up and they said, ‘Isn’t that Bagpuss?’ They were the right generation. They’ll know that song forever.
The song of the Bagpuss mice, though short, isn’t just a silly little tune. It’s a spell, a spell for making things right, things gone far wrong. It’s the spell of the fixers, the quiet little under-pinners, the tiny busy determiners, who work at putting things back together, no matter how broken they may be.
Stuff Auden, Eliot, Plath and Dickinson – today, anyway. When it comes to fixing sadness, I’ll take the Bagpuss mice.
We will find it, we will bind it,
We will stick it with glue, glue, glue
We will stickle it
Every little bit of it
We will fix it like new, new, new.