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There goes that song

John Ward
John Ward

WARD’S WORLD: By madcap inventor John Ward

It’s funny how you hear a piece of music, be it a song or music itself, that can bring things to mind from people to places to just about anything as it acts as a sort reminder in assorted circumstances like where you were when you first heard it etc.

Perhaps that track you turned up to full volume in the car that drowned out the noise coming from the engine but it eventually conked out on a roundabout – the car engine, not the track but all things considered, quite possible.

Listening to the radio the other day among the assorted music/songs being played was the Katie Melua track from a few years ago now called ‘There are Nine Million Bicycles in Beijing’ and the lyric starts off with: “There are nine million bicycles in Beijing – that’s a fact – it’s a thing we can’t deny” and so on and to be honest I quite like it and somewhere I have it on a Katie Melua CD that gets played from time to time.

However, the track also brings back a memory of actually not hearing it, in a sense, as the following may well explain in a roundabout sort of way and not the sort of roundabout that car engines choose to conk out on before you wonder.

Due in part to the Health and Safety or H & S (as in Hinder and Stifle) bods depending on your outlook, I used to make or cobble together assorted machine guards for a friend’s dad who owned a small moulding factory that specialised in small orders of plastic or rubber based components that the ‘big boys’ didn’t consider it worthwhile financially tooling up for as the batches were too small to them as they were usually dealing in millions of components at a time.

The reason I got into this was because the machinery he had was not that ancient but was about long before the Hinder and Stifle brigade jobs were invented, so being such things as guards on them when manufactured were unknown, but to justify said H & S mob’s existence, they now considered them ‘dangerous’ and as nobody seemed to want to get involved, I liked the idea of the challenge and ended up sorting all the supposed offending machinery to please the clipboard and rule book wavers.

I had popped in their factory one morning as Geoff the owner came in and said to us – myself and his son, Roge my friend – that while driving there he had heard the ‘Nine million bicycles in Beijing’ track and asked us if we had ever heard it to which we looked at each other and nodded we had.

Then forever being the businessman looking for ideas asked if we realised that if this was indeed true, about the quoted nine million bicycles, what a market that would be as he had swiftly jotted down on a piece of cardboard what this meant.

Each bicycle has two wheels? – we agreed – so that meant two brakes per bicycle? – we agreed – so that also meant two brake blocks per brake? – we agreed again – so that would be four per bicycle and times by nine million, that made thirty six million brake blocks – we agreed cautiously and I suggested perhaps more sets on tricycles or rickshaw equivalents maybe?

As he pulled out one of the awful Turkish cigarettes he smoked and ignited the business end of it – the ghastly stench from it nearly made you want to throw up, believe me – he stared into space and posed the question: wonder who supplies their brake blocks, in China?

We did point out that just about everything in those days brought over the counter, on-line is made or sent from said China so at a wild educated guess they may well have probably already cracked the bicycle brake block market.

To give Geoff his due, he always had a constant eye on spotting a market but in this case it was inspired (?) by a simple song he heard on his car radio.

Some year ago I did come across one chap who was also inspired, if that’s the word, by the late Max Bygraves no less – come on now, culture like this is not just for the domain of the likes of BBC2 on a foggy evening.

Clive (he was friend Paul’s cousin) ‘worked in local government’ he informed us and we solemnly agreed not to tell another living soul and that his secret was safe with us but in what capacity was never really gone into or for that matter explained, but the fact he still found something to do with his time once he went there, wherever it was, is commendable.

However, he had his eye set on another career he told us one evening as we all shot in an inter-club air rifle league thing but with Clive it was more to get away from his mum as he still lived at home and any form of ‘escape’ or distraction was always welcome.

Enter Max Bygraves into the frame, whether he liked it or not.

It was during the half time break in the shooting match one evening for the cheese rolls and pickled onions that Clive told us that he felt ‘inspired’ (we supposed that anyone who ‘worked in local government’ needed inspiring or at least their straw changed on a regular basis) as he had heard a very moving and inspiring song on the radio.

Paul and I looked at Clive, mid way through a cheese roll each but keeping an eye on the pickled onions, as we perhaps both thought it was one of those Diana Ross big belting numbers or similar so it came as a surprise to hear it was none other than Max Bygraves.

Clive was looking into becoming a Vicar although we had no idea that he even knew anything about vicarring unless he had a lot of time to kill while doing whatever it is or was they do in this ‘working in local government’ malarkey.

He had heard Max singing or rather narrating ‘Deck of Cards’ – it’s a song (?) supposedly about an American soldier who carries a deck of playing cards instead of a bible and relates what all the suits or cards mean in comparison to the good book when he is challenged by his army superiors, allegedly – and was covered by assorted other performers, mainly American, but Max did the English ‘cover’ version in his own style.

Clive was so impressed by this rendition by Max (thankfully it wasn’t ‘Gilly, Gilly, Ossenfeffer, Katzenellen Bogen by The Sea’, another hit from Max’s collection) that he was looking into joining the church and was deadly serious which was more amazing.

Fate took an early hand in the process as his mum heard about this, second hand as well from one of her legion of followers, so she was not pleased one little bit to learn ‘Her Clive’ was considering joining a church or the reason why as it was never mentioned to her, so he still went to the whatever it was he did during the working day and then home to mum – there were no in-house escape committees to join as he was an only child.

If nothing else it does show that music or whatever way you want to describe it can have an effect on people plus worryingly some are old enough to vote as well.


Mum, Terry, Ken & Jimmy


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