April 1, 2011

In the middle of the night, a line of Shakespeare comes to me. In my semi-dream state, the quote goes round and round my head. So much so that, in the morning, the words are still there:
“To think he used to be so young a son.” But when I look up the line in a book of quotations, I can’t find anything like it. I draw a blank with Google too.

It prays on my mind. So much so, that in the afternoon, when Ian, Mabel and I are motoring through the Sidlaw hills, I resolve to buy the tall, old copy of Shakespeare that I know is for sale in one of the antique centres that dot this rolling landscape. After all, Mum is managing to get in and out of the car again, so we have something to celebrate. First, our cup of tea, though. During the drinking of which Dad pipes up from the back of the car:

“When it’s springtime in the Sidlaws, I am coming back to you
Little sweetheart of the mountains, With your bonny eyes of blue.
Once again I’ll say ‘I love you’, while the birds sing all the day.
When its springtime in the Sidlaws. In the Sidlaws, far away.”

The singing is for Mum’s ears, not mine. But it’s me who asks if such a sweet song was really written about these humble hills. Dad admits that the actual number, which he thinks was performed by Jeannette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in a film from about 1940, is about the Rockies, not the Sidlaws. So that’s first me, and now Dad, messing around with authorised versions of the world’s loveliest lyrics.

Mum hands me her cup, which is the signal to pour whatever’s left of her tea out of the window, which I duly do. Then I glide the car down to Abernyte and park there long enough to emerge from the antique centre with my steering wheel-eclipsing purchase.

“Look what you’ve just bought me, Mum.”

“Another book!” says Mabel, pityingly.

I flick to
The Merchant of Venice, because that’s the play which contains the famous speech by Portia that Mum used to know by heart. “How does it begin again?” I ask Dad. “The quality of mercy is not strain’d,” says my father unhesitatingly. “It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven," says Mum, bang on cue. Strange that both my parents left school at 14, yet both somehow managed to pick up a decent education. I follow on the page as Mabel recites from memory: “...Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest. It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. Tis mightiest in the mightiest…

That’s as far as Mum gets, even though she used to be able to recite the whole speech, and even though I prompt her. But so as not to close on a negative note, I start her off again with ‘The quality of mercy…’ and Mabel takes us smoothly through to ‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest.’ After that I turn to my own favourite play,
A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I fancy reading aloud the memorable opening speeches. But first I need to clarify the situation for my audience. “Dad, you’re the Duke of Athens and this is you speaking to Mum, queen of the Amazons :
‘Now fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour draws on apace. Four happy days bring in another moon. But, O, methinks, how slow this old moon wanes! She lingers my desires, like to a step-dame or a dowager. Long withering out a young man’s revenue.’”

Is Mum smiling at the in-joke? She as the rich old dame; me as the son perpetually anticipating his inheritance in vain? I like to think she is. “Your reply to Dad goes like this, Mum:
‘Four days will quickly steep themselves in night. Four nights will quickly dream away the time. And then the moon, like to a silver bow, new-bent in Heaven, shall behold the night of our solemnities.”

As I drive us off, I’m almost expecting Mum to join in for real with an aside to the back of the car. Something along the lines of: ‘
To think he used to be so young a son.’ But neither Mum nor Dad is familiar with the play, therefore I don’t manage to elicit interest in my shenanigans. Not while we’re moving through a landscape filled with the competing attractions of a mid-springer, anyway. Lambs are gamboling, for goodness sake. Tractors are putting whole hillsides to the plough! Get up to speed, why don’t I?

Dad pipes up:

“Once again I’ll say ‘I love you. While the birds sing all the day.
When its springtime in the Sidlaws. In the Sidlaws, far away.”

“I’ll put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes,” I tell my father, facetiously. Though even by invoking Puck I don't think I get the better of Ian with his Rockies conceit.

As I help Mum out of the car at the end of our jaunt, I notice her red trousers, which the carers have dressed her in to celebrate Red Nose Day. But it takes us quite a while to transfer Mabel from car seat to wheelchair and by the end of the manoeuvre, as far as I’m concerned, Red Nose Day has lost out to a particular line of Shakespeare. Here it is. Look it up, if you will, in any decent anthology of quotations:

‘But, O, methinks, how slow this old Mum wanes.’

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