Jackie Paper Isn’t Dead – How Rolf Harris Can Tell You If You Are Sad And Puff The Magic Dragon Got A Very Raw Deal
That’s Jimmy Savile. The most prolific sex offender to stalk the corridors of the BBC. And that was up against some pretty stiff competition, as Operation Yewtree has repeatedly revealed. For the last four years, I have had my fingers crossed, repeating the mantra “Please not Johnny Ball. Please not Johnny Ball. Please not Johnny Ball.” The entire edifice of my happy Seventies childhood would fall down about my ears if any terrible revelations about Johnny Ball came to light. Nothing so far, thank goodness.
Savile was a different matter, of course. I mean, look at him. Americans see him and say “What, seriously? You didn’t spot that? He’s the creepiest guy on the face of the Earth. I thought you Brits were supposed to be clever.”
Still, there’s no doubt now that Jimmy was a monster. I didn’t know that when I was a kid though, so every Sunday, I used to listen to “Jimmy Savile’s Old Record Club” on the radio. He at least had good taste in music. Or more likely the producer who put together the show’s playlist did. The idea of Jimmy Savile having good taste in anything is quite absurd if you take his choice of jewellery and tracksuits into account.
There are two songs I remember being played quite frequently on “Old Record Club”. Quite important songs. The first is “Two Little Boys”, sung by Rolf Harris.
Okay, Rolf turned out to be a bit of a wrong ‘un too and I’m definitely never going to look at his catch phrase “have you guessed what it is yet” in the same light again. But “Two Little Boys” is still moving, if a little mawkish. Besides, Rolf didn’t write it anyway, it’s an old Australian folk song.
The reason I say this song is important is I mean it is important to me personally. We are currently into my favourite season : Autumn. Falling leaves, conkers and mists and mellow fruitfulness. I love Autumn. Also, it perplexes Americans that we call it Autumn and not “The Fall”, which is an added bonus. Not that perplexing Americans is terribly difficult at the moment, judging by their current choice of Presidential candidates.
So yes, Autumn rocks. But when Autumn turns to winter, it can all go a bit “Game Of Thrones” for me. And I don’t mean the sexy bits with Daenerys Targaryen in them. I mean the grim bits on The Wall with the Night’s Watch and the White Walkers.
In the Winter, if I’m not careful, I can find myself disappearing down a very deep, dark rabbit hole. So, I have developed a little test. Because sometimes you can be feeling sad just because you genuinely have something to feel sad about and not because you are depressed.
If I am in any doubt about why I’m feeling down, I listen to “Two Little Boys”. If I can sing along to it and get to the bit which goes “Did you think I would leave you dying, when there’s room on my horse for two” without bursting into tears, then I’m just sad, rather than ill. If the tears flow, I need to look at all of the stuff I will have been quietly letting slip out of my life. The stuff that helps me keep on track.
The other important song from “Old Record Club” isn’t any sort of barometer for my mental health. This song is important because it shows the flip in perspective you get when you become an adult. This is the song. “Puff The Magic Dragon” by Peter, Paul and Mary.
I loved this song, sad as it was. I soooo wanted to be Jackie Paper. However, looking at the lyrics to this song now, with an adult eye, I find myself thinking “I’m glad I’m not Jackie Paper. He was a fucking idiot. And something of a twat, also.”
For a start, he appeared to consider “strings and sealing wax” as constituting “fancy stuff”. That definitely speaks to me of a little boy who wasn’t quite the full shilling. What the hell is a dragon supposed to do with string and ceiling wax? I’m willing to bet that Puff said “Just the thing I need, how nice.” Quite a lot.
Also, why did Jackie Paper go sailing with Puff? I know they lived by the sea and all that, but if I had a Magic Dragon I’d be flying around the countryside on his back dawn til dusk. I wouldn’t be titting about with ruddersand sails and suchlike. Though I suppose intimidating pirates might be fun.
“A Dragon lives forever but not so little boys”. When I heard this lyric as a kid, I assumed the reason Jackie Paper didn’t visit Puff anymore was because he died. He didn’t die though. The next line is “Painted wings and giants rings make way for other toys.” What happened is that Jackie Paper’s balls dropped and he discovered girls.
Now, we’ve all let friendships slide a bit when we’ve met a new girl. It happens. But, being the idiot that he was, I reckon Jackie Paper just settled for the first girl he found. The first one that was willing to put up with a man who got excited by pieces of string.
If he had his wits about him, Jackie could have made Puff his wing man. Seriously, you can be as dumb and inarticulate as you like, but if your best mate is a magic fucking dragon, you could pull any girl. He could have been punching well above his weight. Probably on a daily basis.
He didn’t have his wits about him though. So like I say, he probably settled for the first girl who showed any interest in him and married her. But even if his wife turned out to be the humourless sort that doesn’t like her husband seeing his old friends, this is a special case, surely? Jackie wants to visit Puff? How might that Saturday morning conversation go:
“I’m going to see and old friend in a minute.”
“Oh god, it’s not Dave is it. You always come home at four in the morning covered in kebab and reeking of booze when you see Dave.”
“No, it’s not Dave. It’s an old mate from way back. His name’s Puff”
“Puff? What kind of bloke is called Puff?”
“Well, he’s not actually a bloke.”
“What? If he’s not a bloke, what is he then?”
“He’s a Magic Dragon.”
“Eh? You never told me you knew a Magic Dragon. We’ve been together ten years. You might have at least mentioned it. What you going to be doing with him?”
“The usual stuff. First some Princes and Kings will visit and start bowing to us. They usually do. Then we’ll probably go out and frighten some pirates.”
“I’ll get me coat.”
“Oh, okay. But I’ll warn you, he likes to frolic a bit in the Autumn mist to kick off with”
See. Puff’s happy, Jackie Paper’s happy and Mrs Paper –however surly she might normally be- will have a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye by the end of the evening. Job done.
This is all getting a bit cynical isn’t it? Take the lyrics of any song and you can make them sound ridiculous if you pick them apart carefully enough. And you can do it with anything, not just song lyrics. This is the danger of that flip in perspective you get as an adult. It’s very easy to view the world with a jaded eye.
I do it for entertainment purposes, of course, but I sometimes find myself doing it for real. When I find myself doing that. I have to remind myself of a few things. Of the little boy who listened to “Puff The Magic Dragon” in the first place, back in the Seventies. That this little boy did not die, but is still in here somewhere. Which means that play is just as important as work.
That joy in life is only ever as far away as you choose to keep it. And, most importantly, there are old friends out there who miss you just as much as Puff missed Jackie Paper when he stopped visiting. It’s never too late to talk to them again and if you have trouble locating your joy because you locked it away so long ago you can’t even remember where you put it, those friends will always be able to help you find it again. It’s kind of what they’re for.
I’m hoping this thought will keep me going through the coming winter. Provided I don’t hear anything bad about Johnny Ball in the meantime.
Copyright Michael Grimes 2016