xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: Give a little whistle

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Give a little whistle

“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Harry? Just put your lips together and blow.” Those of us of a certain vintage will always remember that line, delivered by a flirty, sexy, Lauren Bacall to a roguish and worldly Humphrey Bogart, in the film depiction of Ernest Hemingway’s classic, “To have and have not.” Although I do not think Hemingway wrote those particular lines. Indeed I don’t think Hemingway wrote much of the script at all as the film is more of a re-write of Casablanca than of the Hemingway’s novel.

 On reflection it seems that a lot of us have lost the art of whistling, or never had it in the first place. My cousin, Maurie Carr, used to write a very popular column in Perth’s Daily News. In one column in the late 1970s he lamented the fact that dogs no longer chased cars and people did not whistle anymore. Maurie was quite correct. When I was growing up in the 1940s and 50s dogs invariably chased cars up and down the road trying to get a good bite at one of the wheels. All dogs did it. I am not sure why dogs stopped doing this, sometime in the 1970s. Maybe too many off them lost teeth trying to bite the rock hard, rotating steel rims and it eventually became imbedded in canine DNA that biting car wheels was not a very good idea.

 As for whistling, I remember growing up and being surrounded by whistlers. The baker used to come down Seventh Avenue in Inglewood each day in his horse drawn cart. He whistled all the time. As did the ice man, who called twice a week to put ice in the large black ice chest in the kitchen. Fat Burns, the butcher used to deliver the family meat order on his Harley Davidson motor bike that had a side car for the meat. He whistled all the time. Then there was the grocer’s boy from John Mills Grocery on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Beaufort Street. He rode a heavy duty bicycle that had a big wire carry basket over the front wheels that was filled with groceries to be delivered to various houses in the street. He whistled as he cycled along. In those days lots of people whistled as they walked or cycled along the streets.

A lot of entertainers in earlier times whistled as part of their act. Al Jolson was a great whistler. Bing Crosby used to insert whistling into his crooning as an alternative to bubba bubba boo. English singer,Roger Whitaker, started out as whistler before he successfully switched to straight singing and Ronnie Renalde toured the world thrilling audiences with his melodious whistling of such favourites as In a Monastery Garden and Bells Across the Meadow. I heard him twice at His Majesty’s Theatre in the late 1950s.

 My dad, Jack Bourke, was a great whistler…and singer. Just after World War Two, Dad and two other gentlemen started up the Premier Fibro Plaster Works in Braid Street, East Perth. One of the first things my dad did was put a radio in the factory so that the men could whistle and sing as they worked away. This was back in the 1940s and 1950s when radio was primarily used for playing music instead of the incessant listener talk back and current affairs news programmes of today. Dad would whistle and sing with the best of them. On the weekends he was usually busy in the garden or his shed, but you always knew where he was because he would be whistling as he worked.He taught me to whistle when I was quite young. In fact, he taught me to whistle when I blew out and when I was breathed in. I was quite proud of myself, because it meant I could whistle nonstop without having to pause to take in a breath.

 I started teaching at Bunbury Central School in the late 1950s. I remember walking into the staff room one lunch time and the First Mistress, a lovely lady named Audrey Birch, was there. She looked at me and said, “Noel, we always know when you are coming because you whistle wherever you go.” I suppose I did. But just as dogs have stopped chasing cars, people, these days, have stopped whistling. Perhaps things are about to change. I was walking around the Belridge Shopping Centre last week end and noticed that the large video store had closed down. It is just another sign of the times of the new technology that allows people to record their own entertainment or download shows from the internet. The old video store was being refashioned to open as some sort of food outlet. What caught my eye however, was a sign in the window of the soon to open eatery enquiring if anyone was interested in working in the new shop. It said if you are interested in working with us:-
* You must be good with food.
* You must be good with people.
*you must be a happy person.
* You must like being part of a hard working team.
* You must like whistling.

That’s right! They wanted people who liked whistling to work in that shop. Well, I’m not looking to work there but I am going to make a point of going to that shop when it opens just to hear those happy workers whistling. I might even buy whatever it is they are selling.

I certainly hope whistling is making a comeback because I still whistle as I go about the place or when I walk from my car to the shops. I enjoy it, but I do get some quizzical looks from people walking by. It is rare these days to hear a man whistling as he walks along. Maybe this new shop will start a whistling revival. I hope so, because whistling is good for you.As that wise old philosopher, Jiminy Cricket, once said to Pinocchio in an effort to keep him on the straight and narrow,
 "When you get in trouble and you don't know right from wrong 
Give a little whistle! Give a little whistle! 
When you meet temptation and the urge is very strong 
Give a little whistle! Give a little whistle! 
Not just a little squeak, pucker up and blow 
And if your whistle's weak, yell Jiminy Cricket. Right! 
Take the straight and narrow path And if you start to slide 
Give a little whistle! Give a little whistle! 
And always let your conscience be your guide.

Sounds like very good advice to me. All you have to do is put your lips together and blow. I certainly hope that it doesn’t give those dogs any ideas!

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