Thursday, 24 November 2011

Whistle down the wind

Oh deary me indeed. I've lost my whistle. I lost it about a week ago. There I was, walking through the woods in the park when I wanted to call the dog who had wandered off through the trees to investigate some foul smell or other. I pursed my lips prettily, as one does when one wants to whistle, and blew. And what came out? A feeble little peep, a piccolo compared to the trombone blast I generally manage. So feeble was it that Fern didn't even hear it, and she has very sharp hearing (when she wants - it is somewhat selective). I didn't worry about it; after all, when one reaches my advanced age various things don't always work quite as well as they once did. There had been previous occasions when my whistle had failed and within a few minutes things had returned to normal. But it's been a week this time. Will I be destined to go through the autumn and winter of my days without the ability to whistle? Will I have to relearn the art?

One doesn't hear whistling very often these days. There was a time when delivery boys, milkmen, postmen at el would whistle as they walked the streets. Of course, there aren't the delivery people walking or cycling the streets now that there were some sixty years ago when I remember the baker passing regularly with his horse-drawn van, the milkman with his electric float (I think), the postman and the paper boy. I don't even hear people whistling their dogs very often now; they shout, or use some strange type of castanets or clappers.

Whistling used definitely to be discouraged on board ship, if not entirely banned. Sailors were a very superstitious crowd (they may still be so for all I know) and it was thought that whistling on board ship was unlucky. Or so the story goes. I think it was frowned on because it could have been confused with the bosun's call. But didn't sailors caught in the doldrums whistle in the hope of calling the wind? Or am I just getting confused as normal?

I don't know if it is the same in other navies, but in our Royal Navy the bosun's call is still used, both to preface an announcement of the tannoy and as a greeting to important visitors to the ship.

When we acquired our present dog, I determined that I was not going to walk through woods and parks shouting at her to come. She would learn to respond to a dog whistle, one of those high-pitched instruments that dogs can hear but that are inaudible to humans. Having bought one, we were uncertain if it really did produce a note when blown. We couldn't hear anything, and Fern was taking no notice of it. I discovered that it could be adjusted so that the tone was audible - just - to the human ear. This adjustment was achieved by unscrewing slightly the two halves of the whistle. But this left the two halves susceptible to falling apart completely - and that is indeed what happened. Somewhere under the autumn leaves of Stanmer a half dog whistle may some day be found. I bought another but we very soon gave up even bothering to take it with us when walking the dog. I can't remember why that was, but I then started pursing my lips instead of calling the dog by mechanical means. Now I've lost my whistle perhaps I should go back to carrying the one hanging on a length of string beside Fern's lead.


Stephen Hayes said...

I haven't thought about whistles or whistling in some time. I was never any good at whistling and usually ended up just spitting. Have a great day.

Buck said...

I don't know if it is the same in other navies, but in our Royal Navy the bosun's call is still used, both to preface an announcement of the tannoy and as a greeting to important visitors to the ship.

It's the same in the US navy... officers at the rank of Commander and above (and visiting dignitaries) are piped aboard... except on aircraft carriers, where it's Captains and above (there are too many Commanders on the floating air fields).

I hope ya get yer whistle back... and soon!