LONDON STREET NOISES.
Punch, July 17, 1907
[It is asserted by an evening paper that a new kind of barrel-organ is to be put on the market which will produce only the most melodious notes, with none of the jingle of the old organs.]
My Dear Jack,—It is so long since you left England that London will seem quite a foreign city to you. Perhaps the change that will strike you first is the alteration to our street-noises. It started with the new barrel-organs, and after that the improvement was rapid. You remember the rattle and clatter of the old motor-buses? All that is changed. A thin hum like the drone of a distant bee is the sole warning you get before being taken in the small of the back by a Vanguard No. 6. Further down the street a note like that of a delicately modulated fairy horn, followed by a shriek of agony, tells you that a Union Jack is near. The death-rate has increased, but we are no longer too deaf at forty.
The new régime is not confined to the West End. Wandering down the Commercial Road last Tuesday I was struck by the remarkable improvement in the timbre of the costers’ voices. Ever since the London County Council refused to grant hawkers’ licences to any except students of the Royal College of Music the coster has been on the upgrade. The new system, too, of compelling hawkers to call their wares in ballad form has given an immense stimulus to the verse-writing profession. A well-known lyrist of musical comedy told me yesterday that he was going to specialize in whelk-lyrics. I jotted down the refrain of his latest song, which, wedded as it is to a charming waltz air, should take the town. It runs:—
“Why should you go where the winkles are tougher?
Why should you stray where the vinegar’s bad?
Why should you let your digestion suffer
When such a quality here may be had?
Put down your penny, and borrow a pin,
Take up a saucerful, go in and win.”
It is a sweetly pretty little thing, and beautifully rendered by Alf Bodger, of 3, Murphy’s Rents, Hoxton.
I was talking to Lady Brooklands the other day in the park. She tells me that the old-fashioned tooter is absolutely démodé now, and all the smartest people use “melodies.” I hear that the very newest model can play six airs, including “A che la morte,” for use in times of accident.
Unsigned article as printed; credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 133 of Punch.
The first paragraph seems an uncanny preview of our current day, in which electric or hybrid vehicles can quietly sneak up on the unsuspecting pedestrian.
too deaf at forty: A play on “too old at forty,” a phrase which was then topical in discussions of age discrimination in employment, for instance this article by Sir Isaac Pitman.
Brooklands, the first purpose-built automobile racing track, had opened near Weybridge in Surrey just a month before this article appeared.
Ah! che la morte ognora is the tenor Manrico’s line, sung from his cell in the tower, in the Miserere ensemble from Act IV of Verdi’s Il trovatore.