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Twinkle twinkle little star…

January 20, 2011

Normandy1943…

My brother and I were increasingly in the care of the live-in maid, Simone, employed to help my mother with the house chores and the “babies”. Life in the school house was full of excitement for us children.

Both our parents were busy teaching in the school part of the building and going about their work for the French Resistance. There were many visitors outside school hours and we were often shooed out of the way upstairs where Simone kept us amused.

Ah vous dirai-je Maman

Ah vous dirai-je Maman

She had a beautiful voice and knew many old French songs which we tried our best to learn. One of our favourites was “Ah vous dirai-je Maman” to the tune of “Twinkle twinkle star”.

We could would clap in rhythm, stamp our feet, beat a pan with a wooden spoon, march around the room, laugh till we became quite silly……We would count 7 stomps and pause on the 8th and then start again. As Simone’s singing progressed through the song, she would quicken the tempo and, by the 7th stomp, we couldn’t stop without tumbling all over the place. We were hysterical by then and truly exhausted! Quite surprising results from such an innocuous little song!

Sometimes, Simone was not there for us and we were allowed to stay downstairs where we could meet those intriguing visitors we’d never seen before and who spoke in mysterious fashion. We had to be quiet and stay in the corner of the room but we always ended up being spotted by those strange men. They picked us up and sat us on their knees, speaking softly to us in words we’d never heard before, looking very thoughtful. Sometimes, they would reach for something yummy in the depth of their pocket, other times, they would do magic tricks and sometimes, they would start singing a song to make us snuggle up to them.

One day, to our astonishment, one of them started to sing “Twinkle twinkle little star” and we soon could sing “our” song in English. Our father made us promise we wouldn’t sing that version to anyone else. We had a secret! Was it our first one? We were respectively three and four years old.

Most days, we were visited by German soldiers who came to the school building on “business”, to see the village Mayor or his secretary who ran his office from the same premises. Some German soldiers who were so very homesick could not help wanting to hold us and cuddle us, while thinking what war was depriving them of.

Sometimes they got lucky while my mother was busy and they would snatch a quick moment. Some other times, it was difficult for my mother to stop them and we would sit on the doorstep while they too would speak in a strange way.

Morgen kommt der Weihnnachtsmann

Morgen kommt der Weihnnachtsmann

One November day even, a German soldier started to sing “Morgen kommt der Weihnnachtsmann” to the tune we were so familiar with! He’d managed to teach us the first line by the time our mother appeared and the game was spoilt.

After that incident, the tune, so delightfully developed in Mozart’s Variations, was out of favour. My parents were conscious of the risks involved by us singing the wrong version to reveal our contact with Allied pilots using our house on their escape route back to England. After procuring the necessary travel documents, my mother took us to my father’s aunt in Burgundy and left us there till the end of the war.

This simple tune still holds great fascination for me and I can spend hours listening to Mozart’s interpretation of this very old French melody. It fills me with a mixture of excitement and melancholy, a sense of awe and mischievousness and an indefinable nostalgia for times past.

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