Les Gillespie is desperate. Lola is just not cooperating. Not at all. He has tried food, toys (Lola despises that attempt of bribery), even beer; it’s like Lola has made a pact with that bloody cat, Rasta. Les needs to have words with that Tom, but that Tom is always up in the hills. Up a long time before Les gets up and only down again when Les is already firmly installed in the pub and has forgotten all about his troubles with Lola.
And then that Marjorie comes in. Les tuts. A classical musician she is. Plays the double bass for a living in that orchestra across the hills, in Madchester. Famous they are, allegedly. World famous. They tour all over the place, apparently. Except that Marjorie says that they haven’t been much further than Blackburn in recent years.
She likes to keep herself to herself, that Marjorie. She’s a bit snooty, in Les’s opinion. But that’s no surprise, given her profession. Call that a profession, playing the double bass for a living. Playing. It’s all in the title. Tom hears her practising sometimes when he walks by her cottage. It hardly sounds professional; more like a low drone, repeated over and over. Why she has to practise music that’s that slow is beyond him. Surely with a bit of talent she should be able to play this slowly straight off the sheet.
Mindy, the landlady of the Saracen’s Head was saying the other day that that Marjorie immerses herself in the meaning of the music and in the composers’ lives. Some of that classical music is political or even mathematical, allegedly. But that just sounds like a load of old cobblers to Les.
“Why don’t you ask Marjorie for help?” says Mindy and serves him another pint.
“Why would I do that?” Les replies, grumpily.
Mindy says, that maybe Marjorie, being a musician, might be able to help Les with his whistle problem. Les tuts. But Mindy is insistent and beckons Marjorie over. Les can see Marjorie rolling her eyes. She obviously is as keen to talk to him as he is to listen to her. But then she gets up and walks over and smiles gappy smile at him, false, of course.
When Les explains his problem, the fact that Lola won’t react to the whistle, Marjorie looks at him, aghast. She tells him that she is a bass player. He says that he knows that already. Everybody knows. Then she tells him she is allergic to high pitched sounds. But now that he’s sitting here talking about the problem she won’t get away that easily. Les mentions that Lola runs away when he blows the whistle. Marjorie suggests that maybe Lola is a dog with a bass player’s heart. At this point Les is beginning to think that she is seriously bonkers and has lost her mind entirely. But it appears that Marjorie is serious. She mentions that she might know someone who might be able to help Les, herself not being able to discern or tolerate any notes above middle C. His name is Julius, she says. He plays the piccolo with her orchestra, over the hills, in Madchester.
Less squints, still dubious. But it might be worth giving Julius a try. With sheepdog trials coming up next week Les is desperate. It is not about winning, but about not losing face, like last year. Little does he know that Lola feels exactly the same.
Julius is a little bit too pretty for Les’s taste. With his flaxen hair, the slim, tall lad looks no older than fourteen to Les.
Les explains the problem with the whistle. The fact that Lola does not obey it anymore. At the mention of her name Lola’s head turns up abruptly. She sees the whistle in Les’s hand and cringes. She crouches down to the ground, whimpering.
Julius observes Lola carefully. He has seen similar reaction to high-pitched instruments by the very young, during education projects that he teaches in schools. The reason for this being that the very young and animals alike, are able to discern high-pitched tones much more accurately than those of more advanced age and walking on two legs.
In fact this ability is so much more developed in dogs and very young infants, that desperate parents often ask themselves what they are doing wrong when the child never ceases to cry; the reason for this simply being for example an over-active central heating system, generating an extremely high-pitched shriek, inaudible to the grown-up’s ear. Young infants can in fact discern overtones above otherwise inaudible pitches, and if those clash with each other their disapproval is entirely understandable: to their young ears this sounds like several band saws operating next to each other. Who wouldn’t cry?
Julius, with an inkling in the back of his mind asks to take a look at the whistle. His keen eye, used to discerning minuscule changes in pad alignment and any hairline adjustment needed to the intricate mechanics of his tiny instrument, immediately spots that the whistle is slightly out of shape. Only slightly. Only a minuscule kink in the side of the otherwise perfect cylinder.
“Blow it.” He says and passes the whistle back to Les. “Carefully.” He adds.
Julius watches Laura disappear into the next room, taking his eye off the whistle momentarily. The dissonant and entirely inaudible shriek that slices through his brain a millisecond later is entirely unacceptable and makes him drop to his knees, clawing on Les’s waistcoat, begging him to stop.
Now Les is not used to men kneeling in front of him and feels very uneasy in the present circumstance. Especially when Julius starts to cry and buries his head in Les’s lap. Les drops the whistle.
Suddenly that bloody cat is in the room. Rasta taps the whistle repeatedly until it gathers momentum, slides across the floor, Rasta behind it, tapping it on, until the whistle slides out of the open front door, across the threshold, across the terrace and straight down the open drain in front of the Saracen’s Head. Les watches all this from the bar, Julius’s head now turned away from Les’s lap, his eyes following the progress of the whistle.
Julius looks up at Les. “It was broken anyway. They are not expensive, are they?”
Les huffs and tuts and pulls the young man to his feet. “How the bugger should I know? I’ve only ever had the one.”
This concludes the matter for Les. Now he has to go over the hills to that Madchester to purchase a new whistle. Annoyed, he lifts his glass to his lips. It is only when he has taken a few sips that he notices Lola sitting by his side, wagging her tail.