Random Play by Graham Reid


Whistle while you work

Because I love the noise, I still go to pubs and clubs to see rock bands -- and so have become used to being the oldest person in the room. But it is rare that I go to a concert and feel I am the youngest.

On Saturday I had that pleasant if unusual experience when I went to see Ronnie Ronalde at the Holy Trinity cathedral.

Ronnie is an oldtime entertainer: he was a world famous whistler before the war and parlayed his considerable talents to Broadway and the movies. He knew Marilyn Munroe among many others.

During the course of his concert he told stories and read from his autobiography Around The World On A Whistle. He mentioned that he learned to whistle in 1928 -- 1928?!?! -- when he was five. Do the maths and you have to be impressed that here was Ronnie, in an immaculate suit, still entertaining. And lovin' it.

Okay, the singing was wee bit wobbly and he used to be a much better yodeller, but Ronnie Ronalde was an object lesson in the virtue of just keeping on keeping on.

The show was presented by Les and Sonia Andrews who also sang -- I think Sonia mentioned Les was now 90, I can't be sure because the mike wasn't working.

But even he was only 80, he too was still up there bringing music and joy to the large audience of people mostly a decade or two older than me.

Megan couldn't make it and so I felt like an unaccompanied minor in their company.

Some old ladies covered their ears when Ronnie hit an especially piercing whistle, and the old boy a few seats along from me nodded off after about half an hour, but I sat there thoroughly engaged by Ronnie (who shamelesly mugged to the television camera like the old Vaudevillean he was).

Here was a man whose talent is rare and quite ignored by current fashion. I doubt whistling will ever come back into vogue, it was something from "a more innocent time" (although of course it was also a time of war, rationing, bombs raining down on London and Liverpool, the Depression and so forth).

I was not only glad to hear him whistle in th style of any number of birds or essay a melody line like a soaring violin -- but also just to see someone who not only hadn't given up on life as the decades rolled by but was still out there grabbing at it.

Some in the audience gave him a standing ovation (the Queen had once also appreciated his talents, as had crowds at Radio City Music Hall in New York where he had a lengthy stand with the Rockettes and others), and at the end Ronnie seemed relucant to leave the applause and adulation.

Good on him.

We live in a culture which extolls the virtues of youth, when Baby Boomers refuse to grow old (mea culpa me too perhaps?) and when people Botox and Pilate and do anything to offset the inevitable attritions of age.

What I got from Ronnie was that if you just keep doing what you do with enthusiasm and enjoyment and don't resign yourself, then life might just go on as something to enjoy and not endure.

It was a heartening experience on a lovely Saturday afternoon when sunight streamed through the stained glass and Ronnie Ronalde whistled like any number of exotic birds over backing tapes.

There is some Ronnie music here. Enjoy.

And: The future of the Auckland War Memorial Museum? More comment appreciated, the roundtable I attend is tomorrow night. Would dearly like to pass on some consensus of opinon. Anything but Te Papa is a common line. Your comments through the thread here or via Elsewhere.

And Russell is right. Wasn't that a disgraceful and disingenuous story in the Herald on Sunday? Time to call the dogs off lest you become part of the problem, maybe?

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