Some unconnected thoughts in the light of the recent sad events in London and Manchester.

On Thursday last week I was in France, fortunate enough to be staying in an old chateau in the heart of the countryside outside Toulouse. In the middle of the night I woke up and looked out of the window; the night was still and dark, the crickets and frogs were going like billy-oh, but I could also hear a bird singing. Not the sleepy dubious tweets and peeps of London birds confused by the faux-daylight of sodium lamps, but a confident full-throated song, full of liquid trills and ripples. It was quite beautiful. It sounded like – could it be? – a nightingale. 

The next day I checked recordings on the internet and discovered that it was indeed a nightingale. I have never heard one before and the sound was every bit as lovely as legend has it. That night I listened again and there he was (it’s definitely a “he”, by the way; birds who sing in the night are young males looking for mates, so that glorious song actually translates as “Hello girls, fancy a shag?”). He was singing wonderfully clearly and loudly in a little thicket across the lawn from the terrace, so I recorded him. I had never heard a nightingale before and wanted to somehow hold onto the moment by capturing that wonderful lyrical sound.

On Sunday, after my return to the UK and in the aftermath of the London Bridge attacks, we gathered at the Lido for the presentation of the Bob Finch cup, presented by his son in the presence of the redoubtable Doreen, Bob’s widow. His son told a small but lovely story about his father, who, when he (the son) was learning guitar, had encouraged him with such gems as “You’ll never be as good as The Beatles”. The punchline was that his father had admitted that one song he learned was not half bad; they sang it together and recorded it. On Sunday morning he brought along his guitar and a lot of copies of the words.  He played and we all sang along, sixty voices raised in uncertain but surprisingly lovely harmony.

This was obviously before the Ariane Grande concert which she closed with just that song, but just as there it summed up the moment perfectly: wistful, a little sad, but also somehow hopeful. I expect the Germans have a word for it. Unlike the nightingale’s song I didn’t record it, but like that song it stayed in my heart.

“Someday I’ll wish upon a star/And wake up where the clouds are far/Behind me. Where troubles melt like lemon drops/High above the chimney tops/That’s where you’ll find me.”

Whatever dreams we hope to find there, may we all find our way over the rainbow one day. 💖

Engalin Nightingale