A good lad, Christopher, a tad pensive, or watchful, for one so young.
A bookworm too, if ever there was one: perhaps a career in law
or some sort of scholarly pursuit or other, but surely a hopeless fit
for the give and take of Fleet Street or the City or as an estate agent.
Still, a well-behaved and temperate child, pleasant enough company,
but just this very moment struggling, and failing, to squelch a giggle
10,000 feet above the Persian Gulf in one of only eleven seats
on a de Havilland 104 Dove, which will presently be passing
over the rocky terrain, salt pans and limestone formations of Qatar,
beginning its descent only fifteen minutes after having taken off,
the hydraulic whine of the landing gear making ready to extend.
I would never have characterised the Reids as a prim couple, not at all,
but clearly discomfited by the singing coming from First Class
behind the black curtain from what sounded to be a very drunk
American woman warbling in a stricken vibrato, a familiar tune,
difficult to make out from the slurring and occasional hiccup.
(Shall I go ahead and tell you the title? I don’t suppose it matters …)
But a favourite of hers, a kind of party trick after she’s had a few,
or more than a few. And how much is a few? Or a few too many?
You too might be inclined to burst into song now and then
if you had pipes like hers and that was what you loved to do best, sing,
better than the rest, a voice the world has delighted to for twenty years.
The problem was the rest: poor thing, poor, poor thing –
the horrible stage mom, Sam Goldwyn, Artie Shaw, I’ll spare the litany.
Judy Davis, the divine Judy Davis, gave a splendid performance of her
as she began to come apart in 1960 (which is right about now, isn’t it?),
swollen, nearly broke, the marriage to Sid on the rocks.
And then the 2018 bio-drama with Renée Zellweger: OH MY GOD.
What’s with the tears, sweetie? We are 30,000 feet above America,
returning home from Ponta Delgada, its verdure and tea plantations,
waves crashing over the breakwater in front of the hotel …
The de Havilland has landed safely and the Reids prepare to disembark.
Who was that woman up front? Mr Reid inquires of the captain.
She appears to be keeping her seat for yet another leg of her journey.
To Oman? To belt out a medley of greatest hits for Said bin Taimur,
13th Sultan of Muscat and Oman, a monster and fool like the rest,
but rumoured to have become a great fan of American pop culture
on a visit to the country in 1938, where he enjoyed a guided tour
of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lot and the filming of The Wizard of Oz.
He had never been so moved, that lovely child singing the theme song,
a beautiful contralto, even then. It has stayed with him all these years:

                      Someday I’ll wish upon a star
                      Wake up where the clouds are far behind me
                      Where trouble melts like lemon drops
                      High above the chimney tops
                      That’s where you’ll find me

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN


Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences