In December 2015 I slithered back home over snowy Canadian roads from an unnerving trip to my dentist. Unnerving not because of anything that he did to my teeth, but because when I arrived I saw him decorating the Christmas tree in his waiting room, a wholesome activity which struck me as wildly out of character for a dentist (as opposed to, say, castrating puppies).
Anyway, I had just got back when the phone rang and I discovered the snow between our town, Hamilton, and Toronto was so bad that the airport transport service with whom we had booked a ride had taken all their minibuses off the road because of the great risk of accidents. A quick call to British Airways established that our flight to London that evening was delayed by a few hours but would certainly take off (I was told: ‘Our big birds always fly’). So my wife and I had to get to the airport in our own car, quite quickly.
By the time we left home the truly major snowstorm had reached us with full force. The first entrance to the freeway to Toronto we tried was blocked by a jackknifed tractor trailer. The second one was blocked by a Mini stranded in a snowdrift with the white stuff up to its windows. As we headed off to a third entrance (which proved to be open, so we did make our flight) we felt a little tense, edging our way slowly through near white-out conditions, with almost Kleenex-sized snowflakes swirling all around us.
We had the local radio station on, to make sure that the freeway hadn’t been closed, and all our anxiety was suddenly dissipated by a song that crackled on. The jaunty ditty was Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! We relished that line and also ‘Oh the weather outside is frightful’ and ‘Man, it doesn’t show signs of stoppin' /And I brought me some corn for poppin'.'
The song was written in 1945 by Broadway composer Jule Styne and lyricist Sammy Cahn on one of the hottest days of the summer in California as they craved cooler conditions. What we heard was the 1966 version by Dino Paul Crocetti, aka Dean Martin, with his carefree, mellow voice, sounding (as always) as if he was three drinks ahead of everybody else. It was re-recorded for Martin's Christmas album after first appearing on A Winter Romance in 1959.
Memories Are Made Of This, as the American entertainer famously crooned. I can still recall another (more surreal) experience with a musical backdrop almost exactly half a century earlier. That time the song was Hang On Sloopy, which was written in 1964 by Wes Farrell and Bert Berns and originally released by The Vibrations under the title My Girl Sloopy.
The version I heard was the one recorded by Indiana band The McCoys in 1965, with Rick Derringer on lead vocal, and with his group Rick and The Raiders renamed The McCoys to avoid confusion with Paul Revere and The Raiders. The inspiration for the song, apparently penned by a 'high school kid in St Louis' and sold to Berns, is thought to be Dorothy Sloop, a jazz singer from Ohio. There are 'Shake it, shake it' echoes here of The Beatles hit Twist And Shout, a cover which was co-written by Berns.
Sloopy lives in a very bad part of town And everybody, yeah, tries to put my Sloopy down Well, Sloopy I don't care what your daddy do Cause you know, Sloopy girl, I'm in love with you
Arthur Koestler in his book The Ghost In The Machine maintained that everybody experiences at least one inexplicable event in their lives. Mine came in 1965.
As a typical disaffected teenager, I decided that I really did not like the name (Paul Murgatroyd) that had been imposed on me by exterior parental forces, especially the surname. So after pondering for several days I came up with a preferred alternative – Saul Temple. God knows where that came from. I never told a soul about this, not even my best mate; and this was in the days when I didn’t drink enough to have memory blanks, in which I could have passed it on.
I came home from school one afternoon, picked up the post on the mat and went into the kitchen. I switched on the radio and made myself a jam butty and a cup of instant coffee. Before heading off to do my homework, I looked at the three letters, just as Hang On Sloopy by The McCoys, a hit that rose to No5 in the UK charts, came on the radio. I had always longed to get a letter of my own (preferably without ‘Master’ before my name), and this day I got one.
Two of the letters were for my dad, but the third one was for me. The address was ours (146 Utting Avenue East, Norris Green, Liverpool), but the name on the envelope was Saul Temple. And inside there was a membership card for The Beachcomber club, with the name Saul Temple on it.
I have no way of explaining how that came about. And it turns out that appropriately enough on the B-side of Hang On Sloopy was I Can’t Explain It, The McCoys sounding more like Herman's Hermits.
I never used the card and never went anywhere near The Beachcomber. I had this queasy feeling that if I did go there and crossed the threshold, I would be walking through a Time Portal into a parallel universe, where I would be gleefully claimed by the Powers of Darkness.
Paul Murgatroyd retired as a professor of Classics (ancient Greek and Latin language and literature) three years ago and started writing novels and short stories. Five of the latter have been published, along with more than 50 of his Latin poems.