Today’s song is ’24 Hours From Tulsa’. This song was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It is about a travelling man who detours to a romance in a motel and ends up never returning home. The song was a hit for Gene Pitney. Its success in the UK saw it peaking at Number 5 and enabled Pitney to become an international star. In the US, Pitney peaked at Number 17 with the song and by December 1963, the song was Number 2 on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ Chart’.
The twists of the song's lyrics (the protagonist, just 24 hours from reaching home, falls in love with a woman when he stops driving for the night, leaving his current partner twisting in the wind) are echoed in the music's tonal ambiguity, a common feature of Bacharach's constructivist style. Many artists of renown covered the song including, Jay and the Americans in 1963, Dusty Springfield in 1964, plus, many more.
When this song was first released, I was preparing to cross the Atlantic Ocean to live in Canada and I knew that I was less than 24 weeks away from Montreal; my first place of residence abroad.
I recall being 24 hours away from Montreal as I travelled by train from Nova Scotia across the wide plains. Before setting off for Canada, I had always been a person with many pairs of shoes (at least six pairs). I think it must have been an over-reaction to never having good shoes that kept out the weather when I was young and of being the oldest of seven in a poor household. When I started working at the mill at the age of 15 years, I swore that I’d never wear cheap shoes again.
I packed my suitcase in the cold of December 1963 a few weeks before Christmas to sail from Liverpool on the ‘S.S Sylvania’, making sure I packed all six pairs of newish shoes which were the height of British fashion at the time; called Winkle Pickers. For the young ones among you who thought that Winkle Pickers was the colloquial name for migrant oyster gatherers who worked the sands north of Morecombe Bay, let me put you right. Winkle Pickers was a most fashionable shoe with the young man from the mid-1950s onwards. Their design was elf-like in appearance with long pointed toes that stretched at least two inches north, beyond where one’s big toe rested.
I got off the ship in Nova Scotia in the most bitter of winters they were to ever experience, to be met by a temperature so cold that I never would have believed existed outside the North Pole. There was a chill factor of minus ten in the wind, and within minutes, I risked losing my toes to frostbite. About half an hour later, as I awaited my train connection which would take me to Montreal, someone asked me where my ‘overshoes’ were after my Winkle Pickers had started to turn up their noses to the inclement weather. “Overshoes?” I asked myself. I’d never heard the word before that cold December night. I later learnt that Canadians keep warmer feet during colder weather than the British are ever likely to know, by wearing one pair of protective footwear over one’s best pair of shoes being worn; like an Ankle Wellie for a British Wally! I understand that the term ‘Wally’ ironically comes from the most popular pair of footwear ever made by Clarks of England.
When I worked in the train carriages of the Canadian Pacific Railway serving train patrons, the trains on the long-distance runs were so long that two catering servers would continuously walk the aisle from opposite ends to keep the train patrons refreshed. The wages were $1 an hour at the time; less than the ‘living wage’ as we might term it today and was made up by tips from the served customers (usually, an average of between 10 and 25 cents or if one was fortunate). I got the job on the long-distance trains to see the country on a cost-free basis.
On one occasion when we were 24 hours away from our destination on our three-day journey from Toronto to Winnipeg, I was asked to take beverages and sandwiches to a lady in carriage number 46. This carriage was at the other end of the train, so I asked the other server to undertake the task. My workmate was a 25-year-old bisexual man with Adonis looks from St. Columbus. He had the honed muscular body of an athlete who worked out at every opportunity. He was called, ‘Lucky’ (because of his success in the love stakes with both women and men), and was so ruggedly handsome that I’d be willing to wager that in his time, he’d probably persuaded a few cowboys to turn ‘gay’ for the night.
Lucky agreed to serve the customer in coach 46 and a half an hour later, he returned waving a $20 note in the air which he had just been tipped. It turned out that the passenger he’d served in ‘carriage 46’ was Mary Tyler Moore, one of America’s hottest TV stars and the Oprah Winfrey of her time. She had obviously been pleased enough with the service Lucky had provided her with!
When I lived in Toronto, I was employed as a desk clerk in ‘The Glenview Terrace Hotel’ (the closest hotel uptown to the airport). During one twenty-four period, I was to check into the hotel four big-named stars. There were three film stars, Jack Lemon, Tom Ewell and the singer Dean Martin. Billy Graham the Evangelist was also checked in by someone else and we never saw him once during his overnight stay with us. The following day, a drunk lady (claiming to Billy Graham’s wife) booked into the hotel but we never learned if she was who she claimed to be.
Whilst living in Toronto for a year, my girlfriend was 17-year-old Jenny Downton. Jenny was the eldest of two daughters and her father was the British Trade Commissioner. Four months into our relationship, Jenny came into the hotel one night when I was on duty. She had a great big smile across her face and told me that her father had managed to get tickets to a concert by the Beatles the following day (The Beatles had conquered America during 1964). I had previously made firm arrangements with a friend who had agreed to take me boating off ‘Three Islands’ that Saturday. I couldn't let him down as he was not in the best of health, so I politely declined Jenny’s ticket offer saying, “The Beatles come from Liverpool, Jenny, only 50 miles from where I live in West Yorkshire, and I’m sure they’ll be many other times I’ll catch them!” Little did I realise at the time that I’d never get another chance to see them. The Beatles went on to become the most famous group in the world!
I could go on recounting people, places and events that I was 'only 24 hours away' from for the rest of the week; and not all of them would be the happiest period of my life either. We are all 'only 24 hours away' from something important.
I find it hard to think about the condemned man who was 24 hours away from his execution, or the poor person in a war-torn country who is less than a day away from the bombardment and guns of the enemy determined to kill them, or the family in austere Britain with nothing in the fridge and 24 hours away from their visit to the food bank, or someone with rent arrears who is 24 hours away from eviction from their rented property or 24 hours away from their next giro when they have had nothing to eat for the past two days.
If only we could all walk 24 hours in their shoes, none of us would ever again abuse, criticise or accuse!
I dedicate my song today to three lovely people, who share the same birthday; my nephew, Andrew Knapton, from Batley, my friend Sharon Purvis from Howarth and my Facebook friend, Anthony B. Laffan from the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. May your special day be filled with much love and warmth. Bill x
Love and peace Bill xxx