To this day I don’t know why Dad was so furious when I told him I was learning to play the tambourine. Well, I know it wasn’t particularly the tambourine side of things he didn’t like, I mean, who doesn’t like a tambourine, it was more where, and by whom, I was learning to play.
To be fair, most people don’t need lessons. I understand that.
In a way it was his fault. He was a collector of tat, and one day bought home a red tambourine, complete with long red, blue and yellow ribbons attached. They swished as I banged and rattled. It was a joyful thing.
I don’t think my parents thought of it as joyful for long though. I’d march about our huge ‘over a shop’ flat, singing along to the tuneless bang rattle.
I knew about marching. We lived on a main road, so main that there was a bus stop right outside our front door, I used to have to navigate queues of people to cross over the road to the sweet shop to by my weekly jamboree bag. I used to love jamboree bags, the blackjacks and the mojos, and the surprise cigarette card, sometimes a sugary lollipop, it’s a wonder any child of the 50’s has any teeth left at all.
Anyhow, pretty much every other Sunday morning a parade would pass by our flat and the sweetshop and the garage and the pub over the road. I never really knew where they marched from or to, or why, but the people were all ages, dressed in uniforms, marching smartly while being led along, by a pied piper of a brass band. Some of them were scouts, some girl guides, but the band were special, smart black uniforms, shiny instruments, and… tambourines, four or five playing in unison. Women with their arms waving, making shapes with the ribbons… across, down, up, across, down up, across, down, up…
This was the Salvation Army band in all it’s glory. We could hear them coming for a good five minutes before they passed our door. My sister and I would watch them from the eyrie of our second floor bedroom window, still listening even after they’d disappeared from view. Oh how I wanted to march like that, all smart, and in a troupe, all in time… left, right, left, right…
As it happens, the Salvation Army headquarters was next door to our house. It was a dingy long low building stretching back off the road, separated from our backgarden by a fairly rickety six foot brick wall. I couldn’t see through the grilled windows, but occasionally heard singing coming from inside, other than that it was an off-limits mystery.
Nevertheless, I snuck in one day when the big red doors were open. I don’t really remember what got into me. I must’ve been about nine. The people there were lovely and welcoming. I told them I lived next door and that I’d got a tambourine, and that’s when they told me I could learn to ‘play it properly’. So I had lessons. Two of them. Before my dad found out.
Goodness, he was spitting nails when he heard. What he didn’t call those poor people, who had after all, treated me very kindly. He was thoroughly ag’in religion in any shape or form, and the Sally Army was, in his mind at least, one of the most heinous sects imaginable. I was forbidden to go anywhere near them again. I’m quite sure I was punished too, but my main memory is my anger and disbelief at the injustice of it all. He never did explain his reasoning to me. Dad never needed a reason for anything. He was his own man. So without further ado my road to tambourine greatness ended.
I still remember the ‘Cricket stump’ move though (across, down, up etc..) and can play a tambourine with the best of ‘em. And every time I see a Salvation Army band playing carols at Christmas time (actually, the only time I ever see them these days) I remember the grim dark hall and the silk ribbons of my shiny tambourine.