I’m a whistler. There I have finally said it, the first step to being cured perhaps? I whistle at any time, any place and virtually any melody that I have enjoyed over the last 60 years or so .I whistle sub-consciously, people know where I am because they can hear me. Sometimes my wife, formerly a singer now cursed with MS joins in, she, is not a natural whistler but occasionally I enjoy the duet.
My father was a whistler and apparently so was his father. Sadly I never met my grandfather, he was a Gunner in Mesopotamia during WW1, I have mental images of him whistling whilst manhandling the Limber (think that’s what its called) and having his mates join in “Its a long way to Tipperary” or maybe something much ruder.
My Father whistled when he was happy, I think 5 years in XXX Corps traipsing from Egypt, through Sardinia and then through France and Belgium into Holland were not his happiest years but I imagine him whistling to stay cheerful. Certainly, he whistled when he used to drag my Mother and I over the moors on Sundays, walking mile after mile. It was only after he died out on one of his walks that I realised for him, walking, free, unburdened from life’s ups and downs was the fulfilment of a promise made to himself at El Alamein, in Normandy or perhaps en route to Arnhem. No more orders, no more stress, just wander and whistle and listen to the Curlew.
So, I have inherited the family curse, I whistle. I have had workmates complain about my musical choices, often tunes from my early childhood when the Light Programme was the source of entertainment on the days when I was away from school with another bout of tonsillitis, Perry Como, Mantovani, Uncle Mac and Listen with Mother. or from Sunday afternoons and evenings (after the moorland exercise) The Cliff Mitchell singers and Two-way Family Favourites playing tunes for UK forces based in places I didn’t know existed until I looked them up in my trusty Readers Digest Atlas.
I believe these tunes that just seem to pop up in my head quite randomly are called “earworms” and once activated they sometimes last just 30 seconds before departing, sometimes they stay for weeks, each one conjuring up an impression of a different time or place and often connected with moments of extreme emotion. Interestingly I sometimes have non-whistlers commenting that my whistle reminds them of their Father or Grandad, strangely they don’t whistle, I pity their inability but I am happy to have provided a pleasant memory for a moment or two.
I upsets me that we are no longer a nation of whistlers and I feel the need to blame someone for this lack of modern day whistling. In 70-odd years we have gone from a nation that “whistled while it worked” to a drab, silent, hive with marvellous modern technology comprising earphones and tiny pocket computers capable of summoning any tune you care to think about but lacking the marvellous spontaneity of an “earworm” that quickly becomes a whistle. I learned to whistle walking to and from my Primary school twice a day ( I walked home for lunch ), 6 miles a day in total, kicking stones and learning to whistle, brilliant! At 11 I got shipped off to Grammar school and walked there and back whistling the latest Beatles or Rolling Stones records, another 6 miles a day. No one walks anymore and no one whistles, there must be a direct correlation. Maybe there is a connection between whistling, walking and public health, I would like to think so. Teach the nation to whistle and save the NHS a fortune.. genius!
My son (who whistles a bit but often inwardly and breathily rather than a proper full blown whistle) claims my whistling woke him up on the morning of the 24th June. Apparently, I was in the shower whistling “Rule Britannia”, I have been doing it most days since. I now seem to be experiencing a rather more jaunty selection of earworms too and I sincerely hope many more of my countrymen are starting to notice that they are striding out a little more with a straighter back, a swing of their arms and a tuneful rendition of a favorite melody.