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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

MUSINGS OF A MEANDERING MIND (article first published : 2008-06-14)

I recently related how the stage play Wuthering Heights led me to spend 27 wonderful years in the world of broadcasting, and how I much preferred the more recent version of the song by Hayley Westenra to the earlier one by Kate Bush. My exploits this past month have given me cause to look into a quite different song that brought Ms Bush some success many years ago, namely Babooshka (sic), where the lady in question wanted to test her husband’s fidelity and indulged in writing him scented letters using a pseudonym!

Well, it’s been a Baboushka of a different type who’s entertained my thoughts of late, as I’ve been working hard over the past few weeks converting what used to be The Dolls’ Room in my home (I inherited a wonderful collection of international dolls, each attired in his/her national costume, from two beloved cousins some years ago) to a fully-equipped nursery, in anticipation of the joyous arrival of my very first grandchild this October.

Since I have a sister, just seven years my elder, who already has a granddaughter aged 28 and a grandson aged 21, I feel it’s not before time that I too become a Baboushka (the Russian word for a grandmother), and am doing everything in my power to ensure that that is the name by which I shall be addressed, due to my love of alliteration. The appellation Granny or Nana is just so ordinary, and Baboushka Bev has a certain ring to it, methinks!

I’ve had one experience of using this designation before now, and that was during a period when a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer and I offered to look after her then eight-year-old daughter overnight on chemo days. Simone wanted to address me with a measure of respect but I did not want to be called Aunty<, since we’re not related. So I came up with this wonderful-sounding word, not being at all familiar with the marvellous Russian folk tale about the houseproud lady who was the hardest-working and tidiest in the village, with the most beautiful garden, who was always cooking and cleaning, scrubbing and sweeping, polishing and painting. (If truth be told, it’s really only the latter I can claim as one of my own really energetic pursuits!)

Anyway, during this spell of child-minding, a friend who’s in charge of the Media Library at the school adjacent to where I live was having a spring-cleaning during the school holidays and came across the tale (as re-told by Arthur Scholey, beautifully illustrated by Ray & Corinne Burrows) which describes how Baboushka found three kings at her door, together with their servant. The servant announced that his masters were seeking a place to rest and that he’d been informed hers was the best-kept house in the village, and how these travellers explained they were following a star which they believed would lead them to a new-born king such as the world had never seen before.

They wanted Baboushka to join them in their exciting search but she explained she had so much work to do it was not possible immediately but said she would catch up with them in due course. Her own son had died at a young age and once she’d finished her household duties she sought out his dusty toys – and yet more work ensued until she finally got them glowing and glistening so they would be fit to present as gifts for a Royal Baby. Then she began a very long journey through many villages and towns, enquiring all along the route about the three kings, until she eventually wearily arrived in Bethlehem and was shown the stable which was the only accommodation available for the birth of this special child. She was informed the baby and his parents had gone to Egypt for the sake of their safety and that the kings had returned to their kingdoms - but not before mentioning that Baboushka too would be searching for Jesus the Christ-child, the world’s Saviour. And legend has it that Baboushka is still searching and goes, year after year, from house to house enquiring after Him, and leaving behind her a toy from her basket, just in case.

Now, apart from the joy of being given this unexpected gift of such a charming little book just when I was practising my Baboushka skills, I happened to make a new friend down at my local swimming pool. I discovered that she used to sing in live Divertimento performances in the SABC studios in Old Fort Road – but in the days before I’d joined the staff. However, one afternoon when she came to tea, I got out the pretty little book and, after much persuasion, since she’s extremely shy, I got her to sing to me the charming Baboushka Carol (words by Arthur Scholey and music by Donald Swann) since I cannot read music myself and thus had no idea of the tune!

Well, this precious little book resides now in my Memory Box and I look forward to the day when I shall hold my grandchild on my knee and read it to him or her, and attempt to sing the carol. My daughter and her husband are doing their best to avoid discovering the sex of the child until birth, thus I’ve removed every trace of pink from the new nursery and settled instead for soft green & white stripes mixed with soft green & white gingham checks, purchased a lovely large white sleigh-shaped cot, filled the white shelves with an assortment of teddy bears, and incorporated some of my own work too, tackling a new technique of speckled white dots on green-painted frames to showcase them. So that’s where I sit with my book-and-breakfast each morning, allowing the peace to sink in all around me in loving anticipation – and before the quietness is shattered by cries of hunger!

Before leaving the topic of “babes”, just a quick mention of a twosome calling themselves The Opera Babes, soprano Rebecca Knight and mezzo soprano Karen England. I’ve recently purchased their Beyond Imagination CD which includes many works I know and love, and I particularly like You Live On In My Heart, their interpretation of the theme from Cinema Paradiso.

I’ve had some better musical finds since then – but more about them next time! - Bev Pulé, May 31, 2008




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