I dedicate today’s song to my brother-in-law, John, who made my sister, Eileen ‘a kept woman’ when he married her in her teens and has provided her with a life of luxury ever since. And yet, despite this untold generosity of John to my sister, the gratitude she gave him was to make the poor man work on long after he had started to collect his retirement pension from the electricity board. Happy birthday John.
Today’s song is ‘Sunny Afternoon’. This song was released by the ‘Kinks’ and was written by their chief songwriter Ray Davies. The song was the title track for their 1967 compilation album. Like its contemporary, the Beatles song ‘Taxman’, ‘Sunny Afternoon’ made numerous references to the high levels of progressive taxation taken by the British Labour Government of Harold Wilson. There is a strong music hall flavour about this song which were far removed from a series of hard-driving power-chord rock hits that initially led to the band’s rise to fame in 1964/65.
‘Sunny Afternoon’ was first written in Ray Davies' house when he was sick. Davies said in interview, “I'd bought a white upright piano. I hadn't written for a time. I'd been ill. I was living in a very 1960s-decorated house. It had orange walls and green furniture. My one-year-old daughter was crawling on the floor and I wrote the opening riff. I remember it vividly. I was wearing a polo-neck sweater”.
Davies went on to say speak about the song's lyrics, "The only way I could interpret how I felt was through a dusty, fallen aristocrat who had come from old money as opposed to the wealth I had created for myself. In order to prevent the listener from sympathizing with the song's protagonist, I turned him into a scoundrel who fought with his girlfriend after a night of drunkenness and cruelty."
Today’s song is dedicated to my brother-in-law, John. Today is John’s 76th birthday. John is one of those steady chaps who has no enemies, and everyone likes him. He married my sister Eileen 55 years ago when I was living out in Canada and Eileen was still adorning herself in the polka dot dresses of an adolescent and was wearing bobby socks around her girlish ankles.
John and Eileen are one of those very fortunate and rare couples who met the person they married in their youth, stayed married to them ‘until death do they part’ (they had their 55th wedding anniversary this year), raised a family of three lovely daughters (each of whom are all mothers of teenagers and remain married with their original husband).
It appears so true that ‘what goes ‘round tends to come around!’ It is also statistically suggested that if the parents of any child/children stay happily married throughout their offspring’s development from child to teenager to adulthood, then those very same children will more than likely go on to happily marry themselves, stay married to each other and become good parents to happy children of their own.
Even in the steadiest and the best of marriages, however, all is never quite as it seems. It is in the nature of things that husbands and wives remain destined to face different realities and quality of experiences when it comes to sharing out the birthday cake (and everything else for that matter)!
There are four phases to a lifelong marriage that must be negotiated in a strict order of importance.
‘Phase One’ is the honeymoon period of passion and regular lovemaking during the romantic couple's first year as husband and wife. ‘Phase Two’ is between the birth of however many children they parent and the children’s commencement of primary school. ‘Phase Three’ is when the role of ‘husband’ becomes a subsidiary role to that of ‘father’ ( between the years when the child is aged one day old to when they leave home and establish an independent lifestyle), while the role of ‘wife’ is now permanently exchanged for the lifelong role of ‘Mother Earth’. ‘Phase Four’ is supposed to start after the couple have entered their twilight years of retirement from work; when for the first time since their honeymoon year as a newly-weds, they now find themselves together once more with time on their hands. This is the time in their lifelong marriage to leisurely sit side-by-side in their rocking chairs of contentment in their sunny back garden and to go off on coach tours around the country.
I am sure that the happy marriage of Eileen and John negotiated phases one, two and three as all happy marriages usually do. However, Eileen kindly let me in on the secret as to why her and John’s marriage has lasted and will last until one of them passes away (on the strict condition that I never impart this knowledge to any married man, for it is common knowledge to every married woman in the land).
Eileen tells me that there are many unwritten rules known only to the wife upon marriage that need to be enacted before the husband knows what is happening. According to Eileen, the golden rules that lead to the married couple celebrating their golden wedding anniversary on this side of the green sod state clearly: that just as the division of spoils is always unjustly divided in favour of the wife who divorces her husband, then so it is similarly unjustly divided, even when the couple’s marriage is lifelong and going strong!
My sister Eileen informs me that both husband and wife are brought up as boy and girl having been indoctrinated with different doctrines and philosophies by their mothers, fathers and society. The boy moves to the roles of manhood and husband in the sound belief that ‘man and wife’ row the same boat in the same direction and that ‘what’s mine is hers’ and ‘what’s hers is mine!’. The wife, however, has a slightly different take on things. She has been brought up believing that while it is okay that her husband does the rowing of the boat, it is she who steers the rudder towards the destination she has unilaterally decided to go. She, on the other hand, has also been brought up with the philosophy of a typical Yorkshire woman, ‘What’s thine is mine, and what’s mine is me own!’
During their first few years of blissful marriage before children come onto the scene, there is one thing that the husband can rely on his wife to give him exclusively (about once a week on average, annual holidays, birthdays and the occasional Saturday night at the W.M.C. after both arriving home drunk as skunks; namely her total love and her physical companionship. Eileen informs me that all Yorkshire wives know how to make an offer that no man can refuse, ‘but at a time when they are too drunk to do anything about it!’
Once a child enters the marital frame and parenthood looms large, even that loving contact is forced to take a back seat and rapidly diminishes after the first infant is born to their union. The husband and new father now experience the rapid redistribution of his wife’s allocation of love once she embraces the first baby in her arms. The infant is instantly placed in close proximity to its mother’s breast and heart. This is a closeness that a mother and her child shares for the rest of their lives and one that no father or husband will ever share with either his child or wife. The husband no longer gets all his wife’s love and quickly must physically and emotionally readjust to take what little comes his way whenever it is now offered. This is the most likely time that the husband and the family pet invariably become much closer pals.
As the first child is added to with child two and child number three, the uneven redistribution of love that occurs between the roles of mother and wife continues unabated. And until she can get all three children off to the 'First School' and herself back into a regular sleeping pattern of more than four or five hours nightly, she will remain ’touched out’ to her poor husband’s physical advances. Meanwhile, the poor husband has been starved of physical affection for his first five years of parenthood, all the way through to the end of the first five years of his wife’s menopause. She begins her ‘change of life’ cycle in her 50s, while his life has undergone ‘change’ ever since the one-week honeymoon period ended, the week after the happy couple returned from their luxurious boarding-house experience in Skegness.
Thus, the cycle of learning between man and wife is indelibly forged, with the wife acting in the role of Blacksmith and her husband having his once broad back bowed in permanent subservience. Meanwhile, his wife uses his manly support to forge whatever ambition is her choice as the female Blacksmith beats, batters and shapes her will and design on her trusty anvil.
Upon leaving school, my brother-in-law John joined the electricity board, where he remained until he’d served his 30 years. Like most men with grown-up children who’d flown the nest, and having the opportunity to experience many retirement years on a good pension in the sound health of a fifty-year-old-man, John dreamed of spending his early retirement taking leisurely walks to the local park, frequenting the local pub on his way back home for a home cooked lunch awaiting him, tending to his garden or pottering around in his garage that doubled as his work shed. And of course, instead of crawling in a watery and cold muddy trench to reconnect an electricity supply, he could now spend his time sitting and lazing in the back garden with a bottle of cool beer on a sunny afternoon, while his wife Eileen brought him salmon and cucumber sandwiches to munch on between lunch and evening meal.
Fifty-five-year-old John, however, being wholly unacquainted with the golden rules of a Yorkshire wife was soon ‘brought back to earth’ (forgive the pun) with a big shock. He retired from the Electricity board on Friday night (expecting a forty-year life of luxury thereafter) only to find that on the following Monday morning he had started another job as a maintenance man at a Care Centre in Mirfield, which his wife had already lined up for him behind his back.
When John got to the age of 70 years and was obliged to finally retire from the Care Centre, he was too knackered to enjoy his sunny afternoons in the garden living the life of ‘Riley’ as fate had decreed, he should. After finally putting his foot down for the first time in his life, he refused to take up the shelf-filling job at Asda that Eileen had sourced without his knowledge and told Eileen in their 57th year of marriage, “Now look here, lass! If you want this marriage of ours to last, then things in this relationship will have to significantly change!” To his surprise, Eileen simply replied, ”Okay, John!” A stunned John looked at Eileen and said, “Why have you never given in to me before, Eileen?” to which Eileen wryly smiled and replied, “Because you never asked, John”. John replied, “Does that mean I could have had anything I wanted from you over the past 57 years by simply asking for it?” Eileen replied, “ You'll never know, dear husband!"
A happy Birthday John. May your special day be filled with much love, happiness, peace…and… lots of cake. Your brother-in-law Billy (who incidentally retired at the early age of 52 years).
Love and peace Bill xxx