It's Almost Andy Pandy Time

It has been another interesting day at the Most Neurotic Dandelion Hotel for the Mildly Bewildered in Cochin, Kerala, the place they call God’s Own Country.

Suddenly and without any warning at all I was heading with my guitar for the last time to do a bit of singing. And this was going to be a bit different. This was really me doing what I like doing best, a concert.

The venue was an old people’s home on the outskirts of Kerala called The House of Good Hope which was run by an order of nuns called the Sisters of Fragrant Obligation. You have probably gathered by now that these orders don’t actually exist, well the orders exist I have just changed some of the names to protect the innocent as they say. The sisters had been contacted and asked if they would like someone to come and play and sing. At first they were a little hesitant, worrying that the audience might not look that enthusiastic, but when I explained that I had been playing to audiences like that on the UK folk scene for many years they jumped at the chance.

The house itself was set back in beautiful gardens just off a busy main road but once you passed through the gates it became very quiet and peaceful and you knew that those who were here, many because they had nowhere else to go, were content and cared for. I don’t know why I thought that there was just a very real sense of peace about the place. Some may call it faith or religion, I have no answers, I don’t even have the right questions and that, surely, is where the essence of real knowledge lies. It is not enough to know the answers to the questions; we must know which questions have to be answered. William Herbert Carruth, a nineteenth century American academic and poet, in his poem Each In His Own Tongue says it far better than I ever could.

A fire-mist and a planet,
A crystal and a cell,
A jelly-fish and a saurian,
And caves where the cave-men dwell;
Then a sense of law and beauty
And a face turned from the clod -
Some call it Evolution,
And others call it God.

A haze on the far horizon,
The infinite, tender sky,
The ripe rich tint of the cornfields,
And the wild geese sailing high -
And all over upland and lowland
The charm of the golden-rod -
Some of us call it Autumn
And others call it God.

Like tides on a crescent sea-beach,
When the moon is new and thin,
Into our hearts high yearnings
Come welling and surging in -
Come from the mystic ocean,
Whose rim no foot has trod, -
Some of us call it Longing,
And others call it God.

A picket frozen on duty,
A mother starved for her brood,
Socrates drinking the hemlock,
And Jesus on the rood;
And millions who, humble and nameless,
The straight, hard pathway plod, -
Some call it Consecration,
And others call it God.

Whatever it was the House of Good Hope had an abundance of it.

The performance area I had been given was an L-shaped corridor and I was positioned in the bottom left corner of the L. I won’t say that it was an L of a spot to be in, I shall leave that up you, Gentle Reader. Actually it was a very good spot to play from. It was the only spot from which I could have played because the audience was entirely segregated, men to my left seated along the long upright and women to my right along the short foot. It was a bit strange at first but it was the perfect place; I could see them and they could see me and their varying respectabilities were honoured.

As I said this was something completely different. It was a gig in front of an audience who were just there to listen and be entertained. I just sat back and played some of my favourite songs and tunes. Autumn Leaves, St James Infirmary, Black Clothes all had an airing, I even managed to fit in Herring Girls and Wynken, Blinken and Nod; thankfully no one fell asleep. No set list of mine would be complete without a Burns song and My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose was a huge hit.  I loved it and I am pleased to report so did they. Once again here was proof, if proof were needed, that music crosses all barriers of language and status; it is the great leveler.

It seemed fitting in a strange way that later on that evening as I made my way to the Kashi Art Café for some iced tea and chocolate cake, just to support the local economy you understand, that I passed a wall on which was written this very well-known quote by Mahatma Gandhi: “I will not let anyone walk through my mind with dirty feet.” At times there seems to be armies of dirty feet tramping through our minds, the dirty feet of prejudice against old people, disability, poverty, homelessness or just someone who is different. What this trip has taught me that if you reach out to someone where they are, if you hold out your hand to them, they will not only take your hand but they will give you theirs.

That has been today in Kerala, where the sun always shines, the welcome is always warm and the people always smiling.

Be well, be kind and never give up.