Repel the Night Tigers, Despatch from London

Hayley Mills repels night tigerThis blog is about ways I’ve found to repel the night tigers we’re facing in the UK right now.

Do you remember Pollyanna? She was the irritating kid who played the Glad Game, no matter how dire things were. When she wanted a doll but got crutches from a Christmas present Lucky Dip, her father told her to be glad she didn’t need them. What would he say about night tigers?

It’s been a bad time. Angry young men killing people, claiming the justification of their faith. Politicians politicking pointlessly but with some nasty campaign tactics. Horrible racist backlash in places. Furious partisan insults on social media. Vile.

Yet there are good people and great things in the world and some seriously funny ones, too. I’m hugging them close. Here’s how.

Repel the Night Tigers with Sympathy

Ariana Grande and volunteer musicians, ManchesterAriana Grande’s return to Manchester, and the concert she put together to help the survivors and the bereaved of Manchester was truly moving.

dancing policeman, ManchesterSo was the crowd’s response. Here, you felt, were people united in awareness of grief and fellowship in the face of fragility of life. So much courage and kindness and sheer determination to enjoy the experience was overwhelming. There was no anger, as far as I could see. No politicians. A policeman, no doubt overworked and certainly a potential terrorist target, danced with the kids.

As one of my Twitter correspondents tweeted, “From now on, when they think of America, 100% of Britons aren’t going to think of Donald Trump; they’re going to think of Ariana Grande.”

Repel the Tigers with Eating and Drinking

It does me no good to bury negative feelings. Like the tigers, they come at night and bite. But I can turn them to positive ends.

repel night tigers, eating in Borough MarketPeople whom I know and complete strangers have sent me invitations to support the people of the area where the latest atrocity took place.

Food writer Ed Smith has compiled a list of places to eat in and around London Bridge, where the cordons have gone but the market remains closed.


repel night tigers, champagne et fromage Only yesterday I got an email from one of my favourite Covent Garden bistros, Champagne et Fromage, with a simple message: “We are fundraising for our sister restaurant “Boro Bistro”, and for the wider Borough community.” A young Frenchman, a member of Boro Bistro’s staff, was one of the casualties. So dreadful.

There will be an event to raise funds and the fundraising will continue afterwards, embracing the specific bistro and a fund set up to help the (mostly small) traders in Borough Market affected by the atrocity,

So much grief. So much support. Call me Pollyanna, if you want. This works for me.

Repel the Night Tigers with Good Memories

repel night tigerYou can feel for the victims, all the victims, and you can do positive things to restore the balance of kindness and caring to the world in all sorts of ways. But those night tigers will still come. How do you see them off?

Some time ago I had to do just that, following a very sad event. I was only a bystander in someone else’s tragedy. But it had a surprising effect, gave me terrible dreams for weeks and stopped or distorted my writing for the best part of that year. It seemed to contaminate all the normal bits of my life and everything I usually enjoyed. And I couldn’t seem to talk about it.

What got me through?

  • P G Wodehouse  – The Market Snodsbury Grammar School Prizegiving in Right Ho Jeeves 
  • knitting  – for the 1st time in 20 years. Every baby I knew got a sweater or a cardigan.
  • trees – looked at them together and individually, remembered happy times under the repel night tigers forestapple trees in my mother’s garden, and a fine catalpa tree chez my best friend; visits to the New Forest; and playing in Burnham Beeches as a child. I went out and sat under trees; talked to them; hugged quite a few. It was deeply healing.

Repel the Tigers with Familiar Music…

repel night tigers Cole PorterNow this is the strange thing. My musical taste is a ragbag but pretty set. Mozart, Bach, Handel; Palestrina, Renaissance dance music, Plainsong,  early opera, lute music, bit of folk sometimes, early Elvis, Cole Porter. None of it would do. I couldn’t bear any music that would make me cry. And they all did. I would sit there, sweating tears equally to Salve Regina or Begin the Beguine. I was convinced that I was terminally crazy.

But going through my music I found stuff I’d bought for my mother to listen to, notably Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe.

repel night tigers fairy, armedNow, Mother had been in the back row of the chorus in (I think) the Hayes and Harlington Light Opera Company, an amateur outfit, and she had, indeed played a fairy. She’d worn draperies and came armed (I use the word advisedly) with a wand.

The back row was led by a combative and competitive lady called Phyllis. Her object was to get to the other side of the stage before the leader of the front row, an ethereal soprano whose aim was to float, with soul. Phyllis won, night after night, in rehearsal.

Repel night tigers, fairy chorus Iolanthe

Sheffield Grammar School Production 1946. With thanks to Look less lethal than my mama.

The director, no mean strategist, replaced the soulful soprano with a games mistress who entered into the spirit of the thing. Result: the orchestra started to speed up to keep up with the chorus. One rehearsal, my mother said, both rows had actually done two circuits of the stage and ended with the back row in front. Violins ended six bars ahead of the single cello. Phyllis counted it her finest hour.

So I played Tripping Hither, Tripping Thither. Heard again my mother describing Phyllis, on her marks in the wings, wand at the ready, muttering, “I’ll kill one of these ruddy fairies one of these days.” And knew in my bones that life was good really.

… and Unfamiliar

Night Tigers Beware Parton & RogersRight. This one’s a confession. I am a metropolitan Brit with a clavichord, musical taste that essentially stops at 1800 and a very low embarrassment threshold. Overt sentiment makes me squirm. Country, I’m not.

Yet, in flight from the night tigers, I developed a serious Kenny Chesney habit, with a side order of Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. It was great.

To be fair, this one started as a memory too. A friend had given me a Waylon Jennings album on his return from the States years before. I listened to it a few times, I think, and then forgot it. I had a new job, new flat, new everything and Waylon wasn’t on my radar. But by golly, come the Bad Time, he was good at seeing off the tigers.

And this one is my very favourite. Never a tremor in his voice, he stays deeply serious throughout, just a little sad, the way that they are out on the range. Gotta love the guy. Enjoy!

10 thoughts on “Repel the Night Tigers, Despatch from London

    1. Sophie Post author

      Thank you, Liz. I’ve always enjoyed the thought of my restrained and businesslike mother caught up in a full cavalry charge, armed with a wand. Music has much to answer for!

  1. lesley2cats

    It’s been a dreadful few weeks. But Iolanthe, Patience and The Mikado are on my personal playlist, and one of my all time favourites, played over and over again is a double CD of Hinge and Bracket, which opens with Tripping Hither, Tripping Thither. Phyllis would have loved it.

    1. Sophie Post author

      Sounds top hole, Lesley. Must look out for that one. I love Hinge & Bracket.

      1. lesley2cats

        I’ve just trawled YouTube for it, but no luck. If I can find out how, I’ll send you an MP3 file from my playlist. At least, I think that’s what it’s called. Leo probably knows how to do it!

        1. Sophie Post author

          Good grief, I’m not sure I could cope with that, Lesley, not having a Leo in residence. But thank you for the thought!

  2. Melinda Hammond

    Thank you so much for sharing this with everyone – it all helps, I am sure about that, I already use music and shall store the other remedies away to help fight my own night tigers

    1. Sophie Post author

      I SO recommend tree-hugging Linda. It seems to put me back to default settings. They feel rather kind, to me, and certainly stable.

  3. Elizabeth Bailey

    Very moving and very funny too. Loved your mother’s anecdote. It’s been a tough few weeks, but we have to keep the flag flying somehow. Kudos to you for doing it your way.

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