Black dogs are everywhere. 'Be More Sociable', a University study says. Another one says ‘Fake It ’Til You Make It’; or there’s the one that advises you to ‘Compare Yourself With Someone Who is Worse Off Than You’. As if I cared about someone else’s misery when that black dog has me by the throat. ‘Listen to some sad music or read a sad book’. Weep. Apparently, that’s catharsis, about which the ancient Greeks knew a thing or two when they invented the concept. Guaranteed to make you feel better.
So there I am, one black dog scampering at my heels, the other one firmly clamped atop my shoulders, pushing my head forward and down. The blackthorn is in full bloom. I have a smile on my face, a rictus grin to split the atom, but I still can’t ‘Make It’. That one is a waste of effort. The sociable bit is better. Luciano* is with me, pretending to be Cavaradossi waiting for his execution in the morning, but admiring the bright stars anyway. E lucevan le stelle. Yes. He is definitely worse off than me, particularly since Tosca, the one he loves, is going to throw herself off the battlements, although he is spared that knowledge, since he's dead by the time she jumps. I once saw her do that and bounce back up. They’d made the mattresses too springy.
The company of Luciano/Mario and his sad story should, according to the professors who research such subjects, have had me gambolling like a new born lamb. Instead of which I plodded along. Perhaps Pete** would help. He might not have been the most cheerful folk singer but he was wise enough to know that the seasons must turn, turn, turn and that there is a time for every purpose under heaven. He also says that We Shall Overcome, aiming this splendid mantra specifically at people with a pessimistic outlook.
I was humming along to Luciano and by the time I got to Pete, I actually sang a verse or two. Things were looking up until i remembered that I was walking with dead men.
Visiting Llareggub (try reading it backwards), the sleepily subversive Welsh town of Dylan Thomas’ play for voices Under Milk Wood which, according to the (also dead) actor Richard Burton is ‘entirely about religion, sex and the idea of death’ suited my mood perfectly. We went with friends, both alive, which made my grumpy rude mood unforgivable. I should wear a warning sign round my neck : Beware Of The Dog.
The play was brilliant. Polly Garter, the ever pregnant girl who scrubs floors and sweetly sings about her lost love, little Willy Wee, and sleeps with everybody who asks, almost made me cry. I covered it up by concentrating on the pure and pitch perfect voice of the singer. Then there’s Gossamer Beynon, the schoolteacher who thrills to the ticklish sensation of a sailor's "goatbeard"; Bessie Bighead "kissed once by the pig-sty when she wasn't looking"; and Dai Bread who dreams of "Turkish girls. Horizontal". And has there ever been a more poignant image of spinsterly unfulfilment than Myfanwy Price's "lonely, loving hotwaterbottled body”?
If you can’t make it to a performance - it’s coming to the States too in this, the centenary of Thomas’ birth, and the 60th anniversary of the BBC’s posthumous premiere of his final, never-quite-finished masterpiece, at least read it. The language will blow your mind. It’s sheer poetry.
** Pete Seeger