The First Time Ever ….. or a folkloric tale with a fantasy leitmotif

I know! I know! I told you last month that I was one step closer to  a special occasion involving  a little someone and her new friend. But here I am in September, still not ready, and still not properly dressed in purple, for our get together.  My friends and family will tell you that’s typical of me. These days I take forever to get ready for anything,  because I am easily distracted, as per my previous post where Mrs Cockalarum suddenly waylaid my attention.

And, now, thanks to a couple of queries from my lovely commenters, concerning the whereabouts of Mrs Cockalarum’s other half,  I am skipping jauntily down memory lane in search of Mr Cockalarum, almost entirely forgetful of present and future social engagements.

I can’t be sure where Mr Cockalarum is today, but I have encountered him ( or possibly his relatives) in numerous locations.  But  the first time ever I   heard him I would have been about this size i.e. pint-sized.

Mother and Child, Lautoka 1956. Churchill Park in the background.

The first time ever I remember hearing Mr Cockalarum I would have been about this size and revelling in a fantasy world  (what’s new!); that of Toad of Toad Hall.

Badger

And the first time ever I tried to record those remembrances I was in my late thirties, and living in Cairo. I typed them into our smart, new computer, and later read them as a bedtime story for my two children.

“In the half-dark of early morning I heard a rooster crow.  Dear Daughter, you said you heard a rooster crow in the summer, but I don’t remember hearing him. A rooster crow is not a normal sound for our part of Maadi. It made me wonder if one of our neighbours were fattening poultry for a special dinner.

When I was little I often heard a rooster crow in the early morning. It was a sound which belonged to my waking. In the summer, or the rainy season, a rooster would crow about 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning. I remember that time as the half-light of early morning. In the colder season, or the dry season, the crowing started at about 6 o’clock, just before the sun rose. That time always comes to my mind as the half-dark of early morning.

The other sounds, which were in my waking, for a few months of the year during the cane crushing  season, were those of the sugar cane trains.  The sugar cane trains clanged and made a ch-ch-ch chuddering sound as they prepared for work each morning. Photo by C R Auckland, August 2008 Loco no 11 entering Lautoka with a long train of approximately 45 loaded wagons.  

I hear the sound of the trains here in Maadi, too, but it is not the gentle, warming-up sound of slow, old trains which I knew as a child. Rather, it is the high speed whistle and whine of a fast, modern train. ( In fact, they are so fast we haven’t seen them, have we? Perhaps the sound we hear floats all the way from the Metro Line next to Road 9, and not from the tracks next to Kimo Market.)

Another sound of my morning, more regular than the trains or the rooster, was the call to prayer from the mosque.

Although we seem to be surrounded by mosques in Maadi, I have yet to hear an early morning call to prayer. I hear all the other calls, but not the first one. In Lautoka, I often heard the first call, and, sometimes, the evening call, but I don’t remember any of the others. Perhaps I was busy at school or swimming at the club, or playing with friends during the day. I liked the first call of the day. The mosque was on the other side of Churchill Park, catty- corner to  our house.

Home, Verona Street, Lautoka

The call floated clearly over our neighborhood. I didn’t know what was being said, but I liked the song of it; the way it wove through and over the early morning air and out to an endless beyond. Later, when I was slightly older, the call changed in tone because it was delivered through loud speakers. The sublime purity of the call was masked as it struggled with the crackles and harshness of the new technology of speakers. The change made me sad for a while.

In Maadi, the mosques have loud speakers, too. Sometimes, I wish I could hear the solitary, unaided call of the muezzin again. I miss its beauty; its resonance.
What do you hear as you wake in the morning? ” Maadi, Cairo, November, 1994.

There was no YouTube in 1994  to give my children an opportunity to hear a call to prayer similar to  the one I knew as a child. Today I found this clip.

This  took me home again to a time of great happiness and love; a time when, by and large, my small world was a friendly, welcoming place, rich in experience, and a delight to play in.

As for the elusive Mr Cockalarum; perhaps you hear him, or have heard him, in your neighborhood.

 

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98 thoughts on “The First Time Ever ….. or a folkloric tale with a fantasy leitmotif

  1. Bespoke Traveler

    I love this journey into your auditory remembrances. While I’ve never heard the muezzin, I have experienced the rooster’s crow and learned that it isn’t just for the morning hours! These days I’m very lucky to be awakened by the soft coos of mourning doves.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Dear Andrea, Thanks for the vote of confidence but I don’t think I could write a full memoir to save myself. Sometimes a little memory pops into my head and if I can write it down I feel very pleased with myself. I don’t have the stamina or patience to do more than that. 😦

      Reply
  2. Liz Gauffreau

    I loved immersing myself in this rich, evocative reflection on the past. It reminded me of the pleasure I used to take in the sounds of waking as a child. I need to get back to them. As for Mr. Cockalarum, he lived near Shirley Touchette’s house, and his internal clock was broken, so he could only sound off at random intervals to annoy the neighbors.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Thank you for coming with me on my little excursion into my early days. As for Mr Cockalarum, I am sure his internal clock was working just fine. He simply chose to ignore it for the sheer joy of crowing whenever he felt like it. 😀 Hopefully, his joyful calling didn’t land him in the Touchette dinner pot.

      Reply
  3. shoreacres

    Such a wonderful, evocative post. Strangely, chickens and the Muslim call to prayer are forever joined in memory because of my time in Liberia. The nearest town, Gbarnga, had a relatively large mosque, and during my first years there, the muezzin had the most glorious voice that projected some distance across the town. The town also happened to have some of the freest ranging roosters and hens you could imagine, and there were times when the crowing of roosters intermingled with the call of the muezzin.

    Beyond that, I may have told you about my pet rooster, Mr. McBawk, who roosted on some bicycle handlebars on the back porch at night. It was to protect him from night varmits, of course — including some two legged ones who would have loved to throw him into their stew pot. Eventually my neighbor, a surgeon who resented being wakened at 3 in the morning by a rooster, offered cold cash for him. The deal was struck, and Mr. M ended up in a stew pot anyway.

    I’m glad you added the photo of the train. One of my readers from Panama has written about the trains on the banana plantations, which seem to have been much the same sort.

    Speaking of the passage of time, it’s been five years since I wrote about Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, and you shared some reflections from your time there. His description of the call to prayer never fails to move me. Remember?

    “In this context too, I recover another such moment, lying beside a sleeping woman in a cheap room near the mosque. In that early spring dawn, with its dense dew, sketched upon the silence which engulfs a whole city before the birds awaken it, I caught the sweet voice of the blind muezzin from the mosque reciting the ebed – a voice hanging like a hair in the palm cooled airs of Alexandria…

    “The great prayer wound its way into my sleepy consciousness like a serpent, coil after shining coil of words, the voice of the muezzin sinking from register to register of gravity ~ until the whole world seemed dense with its marvelous healing powers, the intimations of a grace undeserved and unexpected, impregnating that shabby room where Melissa lay, breathing lightly as a gull, rocked upon the oceanic splendors of a language she would never know.”

    I may repost that piece. It certainly is time for a re-read of Durrell.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Thank you for reminding me of your post on the Alexandria Quartet. Durrell’s description of the call to prayer melts my heart. I am glad you also know the mingling of the rooster crows with the call to prayer. It seemed a little irreverent to put the two together but that is what I remember and what I wanted to tell my children. My brother said I forgot to mention the noise of the dogs. Well, that is a story for another time. Poor Mr McBawk. I hope he was more appreciated in the pot than he was in life.

      Reply
  4. Sheryl

    Having grown up on a farm, I have warm memories of roosters crowing in the middle of the night. The crowing didn’t really wake me, but rather just seemed like a background “white noise.”

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Yes, “white noise” of comfort. I feel that way about the birds which call through the night at my sister’s home in Australia. It makes me smile a little that people now buy white noise machines and white noise apps to help them sleep.

      Reply
  5. utesmile

    Lovely memories and tales. I remember a rooster in the morning at 4am….it was in Italy on holidays. It drove my mum crazy. She couldn’t locate it though so he didn’t appear on the dinner plate. She had to endure it. Your stories always make me remember different things from my past. Thank you for that!

    Reply
  6. Clare Pooley

    I love these memories, Mandy and envy you your time in Egypt. I have always wanted to visit that country but I don’t suppose I’ll ever get there now, for a number of reasons. I have never heard the call to prayer except on radio or TV. I have, however, heard a cockerel crow. Not when I was young but very often now that I live in the country. Most people keep hens and get rid of their cockerels but our neighbours didn’t and kept them all, giving rise to cockerel crowing contests in the very early morning! All have gone now because of frequent visits from Mr/Mrs Fox.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      That must have made for some very noisy mornings. I wonder if the cockerels were actually trying to make their owners aware of the presence of a fox. I may have asked you before but have you been to a performance of, or listened to, The Armed Man by Karl Jenkins. My brother was fortunate to attend a performance in a cathedral when he was visiting the Cotswolds in 2018. He said it was magnificent.

      Reply
      1. Clare Pooley

        I haven’t heard this music, though I think I remember hearing of it’s first performance. I must seek it out and have a listen. Thank you for bringing it to my attention, Mandy.

        Reply
  7. insearchofitall

    I loved reading this as it does awaken my own memories of childhood when life was not necessarily better but definitely simpler. I have loved the sound of trains since I was 6 and the train put me to sleep each night. Roosters I love as well since I’m one of those that get up with them. I have never heard the morning call to prayer because I’ve never lived in that part of the world to my dismay. But in Germany, we had church bells going off all the time and I loved them. I would stop each time to truly enjoy them. I miss church bells, Beautiful post. Memories are funny. Two people can be in the same place and time and remember the event differently or not at all by one. So interesting.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Marlene, I adore church bells, too. I miss them. I also miss the chimes of the city clock in one of the places I lived. I find it a little sad as well as a little funny that people will often complain about roosters or trains or church bells being too noisy yet are happy to listen almost non-stop to car radios, or TV or items on their phones. I am not an early riser , but the other day about 8 am I was woken by a rooster crowing. After some investigation it turned out to be the alarm on my son’s iPhone! He slept through it, of course. We live a short distance from a railway line in Christchurch but I only hear the trains if the wind is blowing in the right direction. I am glad you have happy memories of roosters and trains. Does your sister share them?

      Reply
      1. insearchofitall

        My sister and I have very different memories of the same places but she is 5 years younger and sees life very different than I. I very often have the TV on but the sound off. I know many people find those sounds annoying. I find them soothing. I think it’s funny your son can sleep through the rooster call. My daughter has to set several alarms. 😉 I’ve never needed one.

        Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          I prefer to wake up naturally but sometimes an alarm is a necessity for me, as in when I don’t want to miss an early morning flight. 🙂

  8. Liz

    So lovely to read these reflections and see those gorgeous pictures. Like you, I wish I had kept a proper journal over the years, and envy those who have a shelf full of diaries to browse through. But perhaps in the end the memories we hold in our minds, whether factually accurate or not, are the most important. X

    Reply
  9. womanseyeview

    Some lovely memories here and so many involving sound! I remember hearing a call to prayer when we were in Nablus a few years back – strangely comforting. Thanks for triggering that memory for me too.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I wish I had kept a diary or a journal. It would make writing memories so much easier. I showed this piece to my brother. He confirms the validity of some of my memories but he has no recollection of roosters crowing. So, I write but how accurate are my memories?

      Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Thank you, Juliet. Just writing such a short piece about my memories was hard work. I am in awe of the memoirs you have written and the amount of work that must have been required.

      Reply
  10. YellowCable

    Very nice memories. I am wondering you liked to hear to sound of rooster crow when you were young? I think when I grew up, I heard their sound early in the morning too but I didn’t think I like the sound though 🙂

    Reply
  11. Lisa Dorenfest

    I love a good story and you’ve shared one rich with sounds that give me a welcome glimpse into your travels through this life and bring back good memories from my own as well. How lucky are we to have experienced such things!

    Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          Such a fascinating account of your travels in Oman. Thank you for the link. The symmetry of the mosque is special. It’s a place I would like to see, but perhaps never will. Is your brother still in Oman?

        2. the eternal traveller

          Oman is a great country to visit. We did a short tour with a driver for five days and that was an easy way to see a lot. Sadly, not long after we visited my brother was diagnosed with a brain tumour and he passed away the following year. I will always be grateful for those weeks we spent together.

  12. cindy knoke

    “This took me home again to a time of great happiness and love; a time when, by and large, my small world was a friendly, welcoming place, rich in experience, and a delight to play in.”
    I remember times like this as well, but they are no longer present in my country now.
    I love the call to prayer. So beautiful.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Dear Cindy, I hope many of us have these special memories. One of the reasons I skipped down memory lane was to explore how these early childhood experiences of diversity, security, and self-confidence feed into the adults we become. Cynthia Reyes series on Myrtle the Purple Turtle gently explore those same issues with today’s children who must often find their environments very challenging. I feel very sad for the little ones in the US, starting school right now and having to learn how to keep safe if a shooting incident occurs.

      Reply
  13. Tish Farrell

    Lovely to have all these strands of your past soundtracked by cock crow, and to have more glimpses of Cairo. You went there the year we returned to Nairobi after nearly a year in Zambia, so you were tapping at your new computer, while I had just reclaimed my old laptop and was trying to conjure up some fiction. Times past.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      There were laptops back then? And I thought I was ahead of trends with my new computer. 🙂 Actually, we had our first computer when we were in Zambia. That was in 1984. I didn’t have any interest in that computer. I was still diligently writing with pen or biro.

      Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          Me neither. I still write my shopping lists although write is hardly the word; I scrawl them. But that and my signature are about the only things I write by hand these days.

  14. Val

    It’s a curious thing hearing a rooster crow for the first time… I used to hear one, occasionally, when I lived in (urban) London, though I’ve no idea which of our neighbours kept it! These days we hear pheasants crowing… often in our own garden, but not our pheasants – they’re their own pheasants. 🙂 That call to prayer is beautiful – particularly how it resonates as silence enters between the vocalisations. If you’ve not heard it, try the one recorded by Peter Gabriel of Baba Maal, it’s very different but no less beautiful.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Oh, Val, you have found the perfect words to describe the Call to Prayer. Thank you. I was struggling to describe what I heard, and now you have done it for me. And, thank you, too, for alerting me to Peter Gabriel’s recording of Baba Maal. It is very beautiful. As for the pheasants’ crows, they may be easier on the ear than those of the domestic roosters. Would you agree? Keeping roosters in urban Christchurch is against council by-laws, so I haven’t heard a rooster crowing in years. I haven’t ever heard a pheasant crow (except on online recordings).

      Reply
      1. Val

        I don’t often get a sensory description right, so I’m glad about that. 🙂 One isolated crow from a pheasant is easier on the ears than a rooster, but the problem with pheasants is they keep it up and can do so for a long time… which then becomes just as annoying! (What is fun about pheasants – particularly the male – is when they are eating, many of them have a strange extra noise that they make in their throats which is quite amusing. I remember an online friend years ago describing a similar noise her chickens made, as ‘purring’.

        Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          Chicken purrs! I like that. I have had a quick google of pheasant and rooster vocalizations. It’s a fascinating subject. Apparently there is a crowing etiquette if there is more than one rooster in the yard. The head rooster gets to crow first.

        2. Val

          They also have a range of stares – they stare at each other, then crow then fight. Some times of the year though they’re fine together, male pheasants.

        3. Gallivanta Post author

          🙂 🙂 🙂 How interesting. Apparently there are an estimated 250,000 pheasants in NZ. I have seen a couple of that number during the last 20 years.

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Thank you, Sally. My father had an excellent camera and enjoyed taking photos, so we have a great collection of family photos. We, the rest of the family, didn’t enjoy having our photos taken, though, because our father spent a lot of time setting up and getting everything just right!

      Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Thank you, Lavinia. I enjoyed recalling all these memories, although it was a challenge for me to collate them. Did you recognize the song by Peggy Seeger? The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. Have you sung it? I considered including her other song, The Chickens are Crowing, just for the chicken reference. https://youtu.be/lQHOD_zrwiM

      Reply
      1. Lavinia Ross

        I never knew who wrote that song! I only knew Roberta Flack’s version. I never attempted to learn it, but may give it a whirl.

        The chicken song is new to me. Chickens certainly have made it into a number of folk songs. 🙂

        Reply
  15. equipsblog

    For two months, I lived in an apartment in Salinas, CA, over the low coast range of hills from Monterey. One of the neighbors had a rooster that faithfully announced dawn– the danged fowl did not understand weekends. The apartment was also near the Spreckles sugar factory. I don’t know if the factory was the source of the wonderful chocolate smell I smelled whenever I went to the communal laundry room to do laundry and lose a sock.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Ha! Yes, roosters are not great at knowing which day of the week it is! I was fascinated by your mention of the Spreckles sugar factory. Because I grew up with sugar cane sugar, I tend to forget about beet sugar. I couldn’t find any reference to chocolate making at their factory but they did supply sugar to a chocolate maker, Ghirardelli Chocolate Co http://californiabountiful.com/features/article.aspx?arID=312 I wonder if the chocolate smell came from by products of sugar processing ; possibly molasses. A lovely mystery anyway, along with “where do socks go?”

      Reply
  16. Steve Schwartzman

    I don’t recognize you in the first photograph. Surprisingly, I do in the second, even with a partially covered face. 1994 is so recent and yet so far, with some or even many alive then no longer with us now.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I am impressed you recognize me under the badger head piece but would you have recognized me as a badger if I hadn’t labelled myself as such? 😀 Our house in Christchurch was built in 1994. When we bought it in 1999 we thought of it as new. It’s hard to believe that it has now reached its quarter century mark.

      Reply
      1. Steve Schwartzman

        You’re correct that I recognize the face in the second picture because I already know it’s you.
        As for the passage of time, I’ve started to feel that two is the new one, meaning that something that happened two years ago seems as if it happened only one year ago.

        Reply

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