true gripes whistling

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The Independent Online
One Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1965 my dad was cutting the grass in the back garden. Suddenly, he stopped what he was doing, went into the house and slammed the door. "If that bloke up the road doesn't stop whistling 'Everyone's Gone to the Moon' I'm going to go round and stab him," he announced.

My dad has never been a violent man, but I knew how he felt. I was only a kid at the time, but the guy was bugging me, too. It was about 3 o'clock and he'd been out, whistling, in his garden since early morning. He must have gone through the Jonathan King tune 50 times at least. But it was not the tune itself that got to my dad. It was the contagious effect it had. It was being picked up and whistled by other neighbours in other gardens, until finally my dad caught himself about to whistle it too. That was when he cracked. Even now, if I hear that song, I'm reminded of the incident 30 years ago when my dad threatened to commit murder.

Over the following decades, of course, things have not improved. As time passed there seemed to be more tunes especially written for contagious whistlers. The most famous ones "I was Kaiser Bill's Batman", became a sort of whistler's anthem in the Sixties, but there were many others. "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree" springs to mind, or "One Day at a Time". The people who whistle them aren't concerned about the title of the song. As a matter of fact, I don't even think they are aware they are whistling at all. All they need is a simple tune to mark out the rhythm of their day. Sometimes they don't even have a tune at all, but resort to the sort of chirruping perfected by Richard Briers in The Good Life when he was being busy. The difference is, of course, he was only acting. These people do it all the time. And if they are lucky enough to pick up a handy tune, they'll stick with it all day.

Even as I write this an ice-cream van has just gone by chiming out "O Sole Mio". That's a contagious tune if ever I heard one. I can guarantee that sometime, in the next half hour or so, someone will start whistling it in his backyard or while he's cleaning his windows. He'll carry on for the rest of the day, and after a while I'll begin to wonder if I should go round and stab him. It's now or never.

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