My mother was born in 1902, and so the world that my grandma was talking about was a world without electricity - one where transport on special occasions would have been a ride in a pony and trap. The conversations between my grandma and her sister meandered from hilarious episodes with their various boy friends in the late Nineteenth century, to chilling recollections of hard times experienced in both of the world wars in the twentieth. Often my grandma would recall things that happened to her children, my uncles and aunts. There was always a poignancy about this since one of my uncles and one of my aunts emigrated to Australia and in those days emigration meant that for all practical purposes, for ordinary folk, the person was gone away for ever.
I loved my grandma and my great aunt dearly. The latter had the most wonderful sense of humour and I was very close to her. Indeed, I have dedicated one of my academic books to her. I have very few photographs of them and in anycase what I wanted to capture could not be caught through the lens of a camera. I turned instead to song.
Let me move on, then, to the construction of this song. It occurred to me that I had better watch out or a song of this nature could so easily degenerate into the most sentimental rubbish imaginable. To guard against this, I decided to emphasise the scene, as I remembered it, of the sitting room and the chairs arranged before the fireplace. I picked a fictitious name, Mrs Growbeck and focused the chorus on a simple description of her armchair:
Mrs Growbeck's armchairNot an emotional word in sight! After this, I gingerly develop a description of the chair and it is not until the second verse that I build some information into the song about Mrs Growbeck's life, indicating that she is a war widow. Perhaps I should mention that at this point I leave the inspiration of my own grandma (she was not a war widow) and let the fiction of the song take itself where it wants to go. I find that there are many points in common between writing song and writing fiction, by the way (although I did not publish my first novel until 2013). Be that as it may, the final verse implies that Mrs Growbeck has mixed emotions about the way her life has turned out:
Pretty solid, somewhat square
Mrs Growbeck's armchair
Schoolgirl days and plaited hairIn terms of the musical composition, its structure is a bit irregular. On the other hand, the key is straightforward. I play it in E major so that I can get a lot of rising and falling 6ths on the first and third string, played against the open E on the 6th. I also use a lot of paired down chords played just on the 3rd and 4th strings with the bass note in the 6th string. I guess my motivation was to make it sound as different from a pop song as I could and I like to think I may have succeeded on that count. It's a very gentle song.
Country lanes and love affairs
Favourite games her children played
They all grew up and moved away
Dying embers in the grate
Firing flames of love and hate