Accustomed to his face

It seems,quite suddenly, that Macaulay the dog has grown accustomed to the small feline face of secret agent Clive Bond.

He has had a great deal of practice. Bond has made himself available in an ongoing program of ambush-based familiarisation.

Jumping out has become Clive’s Favourite Thing. Boing, from the shadows. I wonder if his namesake was doing that as a toddler? Do spies start out jumping out at the familiar from under the stairs?

Macaulay the long-suffering target has no peace. He has run the gamut of emotions, from feeling displaced by this unexpected whirlwind of assertiveness, through outrage that Clive gets the sofa when he must take the floor cushion, to a growing dismay that customary journeys about the house will never be quite the same fustian tweedy potters they used to be. Not ever again.

But latterly, life has settled down to a rhythm.

“I have learnt something from your idiotic notions,” Professor Henry Higgins tells Eliza as George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion draws to a close, “I confess that humbly and gratefully. And I have become accustomed to your voice and appearance. I like them, rather.”

Now, they brawl together, the dog and the cat. It is the only word to describe the good-natured fighting that goes on. Macaulay is as gentle as a nanny and his tail wags as he acquiesces, chancing his great moustachio’d nose with those fearsome claws. Bond just flies at him from all directions, a crazed Gilliamesque cartoon creature bent on play-destruction. Cato, if you will.

They are comfortable together.

I think George Bernard Shaw discovered the perfect expression of British affection, there in those few words. Sentiment never did well here in the upper echelons of British society.

It was clever of Alan Jay Lerner to home in on those words to use as Rex Harrison’s number in My Fair Lady.

I’ve grown accustomed to her face was written especially for Rex Harrison. Not a great vocalist but the perfect fustian professor, he had a limited vocal range.

Lerner had to create lyrics from Shaw’s prose: and it presented a challenge. In a 1979 interview on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered  he admitted that he had to torture English grammar to achieve the stage play’s song:  Henry Higgins sings, “Look at her, a prisoner of the gutter, condemned by every sentence she utters. By right she should be taken out and hung…”

It has to rhyme with “…so for the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue.”

Lerner knew what he was doing: he thought about it, and he said to himself: oh, well, maybe no-one will notice it.

But this is England. Two nights later, who should he run into in a restaurant but Noel Coward.

He told the interviewer: “[Noel] walked over and he said, ‘Dear boy, it is hanged, not hung.’ I said, Oh, Noel, I know it, I know it! You know, shut up! ”

We have lived with Lerner’s lyrics for more than half a century. And dodgy grammar or no, we have become accustomed to them so that every time we hear those words, we hear Rex Harrison rasping out an approximation to a sort of love song.

And somewhere in the wilds of Berkshire,  a small smelly terrier is wagging his tail. He has become accustomed to the kitten’s mew and appearance.

He likes them rather.

Thanks to yourdictionary.com for the biography of Alan Jay Lerner

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51 thoughts on “Accustomed to his face

  1. Wonderful news! What a boy that Macaulay is – displaced and apparently discriminated against on all sides, he still knows he’s loved, and it’s his place too, and thinks perhaps this Clive Bond creature might be fun! Bravo Macaulay 🙂

    1. Bravo indeed 🙂 Macaulay has still one overriding perk over Bond: he continues to have lavish access to The Outside and the forest, while Bond can only smell the outside and dream of the day he comes of age….

    1. I’ll never get hanged and hung mixed up again, Cameron, that’s for sure. So Buck’s Landing is on the runway ready for take off…very exciting watching it all happening from here…

  2. Dear Kate, thanks so much for including that clip of the song from Lerner’s musical. I’ve seen it only once and now I’ll get “My Fair Lady” from the library. I’ve been away for a while and so have missed your daily postings, and I just want to paraphrase Lerner and say, “I confess . . . humbly and gratefully . . . that I have become accustomed to your blog. I like it, rather.” Peace.

  3. What a charming story of Clive and Macaulay’s friendship. I can really “be there” and see Clive springing in unexpected glee and the patient Macaulay ready to receive the playful tumble! I love “My Fair Lady” in every form possible, and what a delight to hear the story of Lerner and Coward. Can’t you just imagine the tone of the “correction.” Lovely and witty, Kate. I so enjoyed this today. Debra

  4. Loved this, Kate. Also love it when you come up with an utterly delightful turn of phrase. In this one, it was “fustian tweedy potters”! Almost Wodehouse, m’dear 🙂

    1. Oooh, Jan, what a compliment! Wodehouse is one of my all-time favourites. I remember him saying one of his portly aristocrats ‘pottered off pigwards.’ Is there anything more delicious?

  5. He wasn’t a Coward, to say it to his face, but he should have known this was no Lerner! Yes, if you think of it, there is a world of difference between being well-hung and well hanged.
    To cater for the English, WP should add a ‘Like, rather’ button for the absolutely wow posts like this one!

  6. The intertextual references of this piece have me smiling in delight, as does that photo of the two of them, with a less salient Mac obscured and blurred by the depth if field. And “fustian” had me scrabbling for the dictionary 😀

  7. Oh, Kate, I haven’t seen this is so long, it is good to see it again while knowing that Macaulay has grown so accustomed to Clive. I still love it, in spite of the fact that Rex Harrison can’t sing.

  8. Hung vs hanged is the least offensive of the current wave of English grammar torture. Let me count the ways. Unfortunately, the list is too long and painful to repeat, but I’m sure you know what I mean. I only wish I had Macaulay’s patience. Lovely post and the threads well woven.

  9. Clive Bond is just developing his ninja skills, that’s all. Poor Macaulay, having to put up with him. Such a good sport. And only in England could you have that sort of story, Lerner running into Noel Coward and the issue of “hanged” vs “hung.”

  10. I met Rex Harrison’s son, Carey, on a playwriting course when I was 17. He gave me advice on my work.

    It’s not really a love story; Eliza chooses rather to stay in an unhealthy relationship which is a bit of a turnaround when you consider that it was Pygmalion who fell in love with something cold and unfeeling 🙂

  11. There are so many fantastic songs in My Fair Lady – With a little bit o’luck, On the street where you live, I could have danced all night and Get me to the church on time, spring to mind. In fact I’m surprised that My old man’s a dustman didn’t creep in there too! A fantastic sugary confection of screen and stage 🙂

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