The caravan site was next to a jalopy race track. It was too cold and windy for the beach. But `The Sound of Music' was showing in Tenby
Monday 18 September 1995
There's Wild Orchid and Lassie, various Polanski sex films, Earth Girls Are Easy and Felix The Cat. There's the obligatory and boring Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources (basically just prettily-shot films about irrigation). There's The Men's Club - (The Men's Club? "Well, we buy them cheap at petrol stations and places," admit our friends with fetching candour).
And there's The Sound of Music.
"Look," I tell Chloe, who's sprawled naked on the taupe velour sofa as though auditioning for Polanski himself, "Mummy loved this film when she was a little girl."
Chloe hiccups morosely.
"I'll put it on, shall I?"
A gust of wind flicks water at the window. I decipher the various buttons and press `play'.
And my heart tightens at the sight of those rolling clouds - swell of overture. Suddenly Julie (after whom, incidentally, I was named) comes racing over that Swiss hilltop arms flung wide. Chloe sits up. The hills come alive and I am eight again and life has a perpetual, jolly soundtrack. Defiant nannies stride along swinging guitars. Kids cycle to the weaving strain of violins. Captains are conquered by love.
We skip the nuns. In fact, I give Chloe the under-fives edited musical highlights - ("Now they're scared of the thunder ... now she's going to make clothes for them out of the curtains ... now they're putting on a puppet show...")
By the time Julie sings Doh Re Mi, ("Mummy, what's a femayldeah?") my daughter's rigid with joy, eyes dark with concentration, thumb in mouth.
I've seen this film at least half a dozen times - if you count all those teenage Christmas Days when we watched it on TV after The Queen, seated alongside a random selection of tipsy grandmothers and step-grandmothers and Terry's Chocolate Orange.
But my best, my most memorable time was Tenby, 1975. We were on a caravan holiday, all seven of us (including stepfather and stepbrothers) and the site turned out to be next to a jalopy race track. All day, the engines droned and the dust rose and the smell of oil clung to the back of your throat. After three days, we couldn't stand it any longer. It was too windy and cold for the beach. The Sound of Music was showing in Tenby.
I was 15 and too tall, wearing embroidered jeans and worry beads and Smitty perfume. I had my hair waif-short like Julie Covington in Rock Follies. I used to go off on long walks, drift away from the constricting knot of my family and write my diary and think. I thought about my French penfriend's brother a lot.
"We can't see The Sound of Music again!" we all said, but we did.
The cinema was empty save for a clutch of middle-aged women who gossiped throughout, hushing only during the songs and the Nazi bit. I sucked fruit gums and wished I looked like Liesl (the 16-year-old who was probably 22 in real life).
Afterwards, we danced along the dark beach singing My Favourite Things and then went to an Italian restaurant called Dino's and were served by a waiter who had his flies undone.
"Those days," says my mother now and then, "We had a good time, didn't we? It was just like The Sound of Music, our life!" Well, we did and it was. And now Chloe: "So - a knee to bully Fred!" she sings in the bath, "La, a naughty toffee so!"
Home again, I promise her I'll get the cassette of the soundtrack, to play in her new Fisher Price tape recorder. WH Smith's and Woolworth's don't have it. OK, so it's not a cool thing to ask for. It's not Blur's Parklife. But I swallow my pride and slink into Our Price. The tired, stubbly guy frowns and disappears round the back. "Sold out."
"Really?" I say, "Even here?"
"Weird, huh? Why would something like that be sold out?"
I laugh politely. "Try Smith's," he says, already turning away.
"They do a lot of old stuff."
"Don't worry, maybe we can order it," I tell Chloe who folds her arms in a fury of disappointment.
On the way home, we stop at Halco, the Indian store, for some urgent brown rolls. The place is hot, dusty, empty, smells of root ginger. A woman in a sari smiles from behind the counter. Indian music is playing loudly.
She rings up the rolls and we smile at one another.
"Beautiful music," she says from her backdrop of cigarettes and cheaply- coloured, transparent lighters and Bic biros. "So beautiful."
"Yes," I agree quickly. "Lovely."
"Taj Mahal," she says, dumping the change into my hand.
"Taj Mahal. Here, she is dead and is coming out of her grave to dance for him." She pauses, head on one side, till open. We both wait. The music shifts tone slightly. "Now he cries, moans, beats fists on ground. So- oo beautiful."
"It's a film?" I clutch the cellophane pack of rolls and suddenly I'm transported from the Wandsworth Road to the bluish Indian moonlight and the jaws of an open grave.
She unclasps her hands, pushes the till shut with a sigh. "Yes, a film. Get your husband to take you. Or you can take out the video perhaps? In all good shops. You find it anywhere."
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