I don’t read novels very often—I prefer biographies and memoirs—but I recently enjoyed Elizabeth Is Missing, a mystery by Emma Healey. The main character, an elderly London woman named Maud, narrates her own story. She fears that something terrible has happened to her best friend, Elizabeth, but no one will take her concerns seriously. Maud’s daughter thinks her mother has dementia, and takes her to a doctor for evaluation.
Maud is put through the usual tests. The doctor names three items (train, pineapple, hammer) and tells her to remember the words for later. He wants her to count backwards from one hundred by sevens. (“Doctor, I don’t think I could have done that even at your age.”) He hands her a piece of paper and instructs her to take it in her right hand, fold it in half, and put it on the floor. He asks her to draw a clock face. She fails every test.
The doctor suggests that music might help jog Maud’s memory, so her granddaughter brings along a computer when she visits:
“Mum thought you’d like to hear some old music,” Katy says, pushing the teeth of a plug into the wall. She clicks a button and Vera Lynn blasts out, making meeting again sound like some kind of threat.
That line made me laugh out loud. Maud is referring to the British World War II song “We’ll Meet Again,” made popular by singer Vera Lynn. The lyrics are written from the viewpoint of a soldier trying to maintain optimism as he goes off to fight:
We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day…
… I never did like Vera Lynn. I remember reading once that she’d never had a singing lesson in her life. Doesn’t surprise me. Lot of rubbish, her songs. Who ever heard of a bluebird at Dover? Anne Shelton was the one we liked best. You never hear her any more.
In that passage, Maud is mocking another nostalgic WWII favorite of my audiences, “There’ll Be Bluebirds Over the White Cliffs of Dover.” The song offered assurance that peace would return. But she’s right about one thing: bluebirds are not native to Dover.
Vera Lynn’s sentimental selections might not have been everyone’s cup of tea. But she had legions of admirers. Here’s a tribute I found on MusicianGuide.com:
Vera Lynn was the most popular singer of World War II-era Britain, known during and after the war as the Forces’ Sweetheart. The nickname was an apt one, for Lynn helped raise morale during the war effort by virtue of a down-to-earth quality that reminded servicemen of those they had left behind at home. Lynn had her own British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) radio program, and her popularity was phenomenal. Welsh-born comedian and Goon Show star Harry Secombe was once quoted in London’s Independent newspaper as saying, “Churchill didn’t beat the Nazis. Vera sang them to death.”
Copyright © 2015 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
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