The First Not Last Post

Hello. Thanks for reading.

“Can you see anything?”, it was all I could do to get out the words “Yes, wonderful things”… ā€” Howard Carter, on opening Tutankhamen’s tomb

I ain’t no journalist. I ain’t no writer either although I like to try.  Sometimes the words get stuck in the gap between the letters on my keyboard. I’ll try to prize them out with a paper clip or a metaphor but it doesn’t always work. Turning the laptop upside down doesn’t help – what comes out are half-formed words and the crumbs and fluff of procrastination.

Like Howard Carter, recently I’ve been having trouble getting the words out. Part of the reason for getting this blog up and running is to help overcome the writer’s block that has been with me for too long. It’s an unwelcome companion, sneering at me from across the writing desk, mixing up my thoughts, words, and letters like some kind of vexatious scrabble player.

What will this blog/website be about? Just stories that’s all. Things that interest me. Things like: history, fiction, sport and of course the writing journey and whatever I have gleaned about the craft of writing, which is not much really. Oh, and it will feature friends too. With a little luck I hope to put up some pieces from others.

As per the title I aim to tell stories slow, at a pace removed from the non-stop screech of internet news and social media feeds. Who hasn’t checked a news feed every few minutes on a fast news day? Or even more on a slow news day, impatient for the world to produce some new calamity between updates.

There are some publications that have tapped into this movement known as slow journalism, where stories are told thoughtfully and with a view to inform. Examples include Delayed Gratification and Generation Slow. Delayed Gratification has the wonderful slogan: ‘last to break the news.’

Which brings me in a dawdling sort of way to my first post which is actually about the Last Post – the tune that is. I was attending a mid-morning service on Anzac Day, (over a month ago now, – see I’m behind the news already), when I heard it and made mental notes about those musical notes.

It doesn’t seem to matter what your mindset is, that tune always makes you stop, even if you are not feeling particularly sad at the time. Is it just the starkness of the melody or the absolute stillness that accompanies the playing of it? The Last Post is one of those peculiar tunes where we couldn’t really hum it to ourselves with any great confidence, yet in a rendition we can pick out a dud note in an instant.

The origins of the Last Post are thoroughly practical. In British Army camps from the 18th century onwards, as there were no timepieces to hand, the rhythms of the day were regulated by bugle calls and drums. The day began with Reveille, and ended with the Last Post. Over time the Last Post came to signify more than just the ending of a military day – it became synonymous with the ending of a military life.

The tune, or call, is traditionally played on a bugle, an instrument with no keys or valves, all the work being done by the bugler’s mouth in a process known as embouchure. And it’s a wonderful word isn’t it, coming from the French bouch meaning mouth. Defined strictly as a noun I wondered why it couldn’t also serve as a verb. Couldn’t you embouchure a bugle? American tuba virtuoso Roger Bobo seems to think so. In his blog from 2012 he has a post with the title, “Embouchure is a verb”, so maybe there’s something in that.

What this means is that a rendition of the Last Post is essentially a vocal performance. Perhaps therein lies the mystery; we are hearing someone’s vocal lament, a story told via the mouth in a melody that tradition has associated with loss.

As I listened to that young bugler in a eucalyptus-fringed park on the suburban fringe of Sydney, straining to pitch every note as perfect as she darn well could, I was struck by the sense of stillness, some people staring skywards, some looking at the ground. Yet the stillness did not mean total silence. There was the ping of a bell-bird, squawks from sulphur-crested cockatoos, tyres on bitumen from the nearby road, groans from restless toddlers. At the end of the Last Post we all shifted our stances and as tradition would have it, we didn’t applaud, every last one us.

2 thoughts

  1. Yay Paul! Lovely first post. Congrats on getting this page together. At our school ceremony this year they (accidentally/ignorantly?) played the US last post which was jarring and weird and made me realise just how attached I’ve become to this little bit of music.

    Liked by 1 person

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