Tuesday 20 August 2019

John Masterson: 'These are just a few of my favourite things...'

Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'

John Masterson

Julie Andrews was a bit of a psychologist. Or more precisely, Rodgers and Hammerstein were. But it was Julie who told us all about it.

Any male who was beyond the age of three at the time The Sound Of Music was played non-stop will remember that when Julie sang, we listened. She was one of our Favourite Things.

The song is a good example of positive thinking. What do we do when the dog bites or the bee stings or when we are simply feeling sad? Such everyday events are the stuff of living. Most of us have little tricks to brighten our mood when we are feeling below par. For Julie, as Maria, she simply remembers a few of her "favourite things, and then I don't feel so bad". Things such as "raindrops on roses" apparently did the trick for her.

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One of the things I like about this song is that it talks of several of her favourite things. I have always found it difficult to be asked for a favourite anything - be it food, a film, a song, a place, etc. When I select one, several more rush into my mind to push it off the top spot. I find the notion of one favourite a bit silly.

Who do I like better? Rodgers and Hammerstein or Lennon and McCartney. Stupid question. Apparently everyone has a favourite colour, according to those in the know. Well, I don't. Across cultures, blue turns out to be the most popular answer to this dumb question.

Manipulation of our mood is something we can become quite good at once we have learned to become aware of our emotions and behaviour. We all know that counting to 10 really does make it a lot less likely that we will say something we regret in the heat of emotion. But we need to take care when using positive memories, or favourite things, to lift some sadness. Each time you use a particular image or song, it loses a little of its power. Which is why I like the idea of choosing from a long list of favourite things. This is the opposite of what happens when we talk about a painful memory in a safe place, to a counsellor, or a friend. The negative emotions reduce a little each time.

I have a few places where I seem to just relax and the cares of the world slip away. One is my parents' grave which I will visit in times of trouble. I have no religious beliefs but this is a good place to get back to basics and regain some perspective about what really matters. There is a place in my garden with a good view of farmland and hills where I often sit in apparent idleness. If I ever leave this house, it is what I will miss most. There is a spot by a river which I have visited since childhood. And there are a few places by the sea that when I cannot visit, I can imagine. As Julie said, you just have to use your imagination.

In times of real psychological pain, favourite things just will not work. After my mother's death, music sounded trivial and the only two things I could listen to for several months were Mozart's Requiem and Achtung Baby. Each were played loudly every day as I slowly returned to normal.

I would find Desert Island Discs difficult in less than a 24-hour format. But just thinking of the choices is mood-improving. A choice of a last meal would be difficult but if in doubt, give me smoked salmon. A favourite film would be impossible to choose but play safe and show me anything with Juliette Binoche. A recent mood-enhancing addition is ventriloquist Nina Conti, who is a screamingly funny genius. Music is impossible. But if I must choose, then it is back to Rodgers and Hammerstein and the embrace of South Pacific. You cannot listen to Some Enchanted Evening without a feeling of warmth and hopefulness. Use it sparingly.

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