There is an occupant of the flat directly above ours that has already received several nicknames. I call him or her “the Prodigy.” Alex prefers “Little Amadeus.” This individual possesses a piano and the will to achieve. Every evening since we have been here and many afternoons as well, the Prodigy faithfully invests in the future by methodically, diligently practicing such popular favorites as “Pop Goes the Weasel.” With this classic, he struggles to hit the ending. Imagine twenty or thirty minutes of “a penny for a spool of thread, a penny for a needle, that’s the way the money goes” up until the point where the weasel pops and then, just when one is geared up to the supreme moment, ready for the culmination of all that musical strain, the song begins again. This has the effect of increasing the tension, like those choruses in church that repeat four, five, six times just at the end… Or like a long joke and then the teller forgets the punchline… Wait for it–POP goes the weasel! Only, he never does. Is the page ripped just there? Does the ending require some degree of technical skill which the Prodigy has not yet achieved? Is he such a perfectionist that it becomes necessary to start over and get it better before moving on to the ending? Other masterpieces are occasionally attempted, just pieces of them played over and over. Generally “Pop Goes the Weasel” is the frosting on the cake; the final act, if you will, in the evening’s entertainment.
Needless to say, all of this almost-popping of the weasel has lent an interesting tone to my experiences thus far in Oxford. I’m adjusting to a new country and lifestyle, camping in an empty flat, raising a toddler, and expecting a child in six weeks but I think perhaps it’s the weasel that will do the trick. To help me have a more tolerant heart towards the Prodigy (or Prodigies, Alex has just remarked that “there might be two maestros in the household.”) I’ve begun seeing it as a signal that it’s time for a cup of tea. And I mentally recall the poster above, its slogan seeming to fit both my current context and my current state of mind. The poster was first designed as a morale booster during the Second World War to be used should the Germans ever invade England. I find it a morale booster still, even without the Germans. I’ve heard its message described as “simple and quintessential Britishness.” Let’s get some printed in America, too.
I am grateful to Jenny Rigney for drawing my attention to this poster.