Madness were due to play in Dublin on 29th November. There being a day off school that day, I had made a note to buy a ticket. When I logged into Ticketmaster this evening, I discovered the concert had been postponed until 6th August 2022.
Why go to a Madness concert? Because Suggs finds words for the sort of occasions with which I struggle, because he knows the right way to have conversations. He is not like a tradesman who does not practice his own trade.
When I ministered in the 1980s, our youth group leader was a tradesman who neglected his trade when not engaged in his workaday life.
The youth group’s store room was upstairs, just off the meeting room in which it regularly gathered. The room was deceptive in its size; extending into the slope of the hall roof, it had a capacity adequate to accommodate all the unlikely equipment acquired by the group over the years. Some of what was stored seemed not to have left the room for years, but the suggestion that it be discarded would have been met with protest.
The size of the room required that it have its own electric light, otherwise one could not have identified items lying in the deep corners. There was no light switch. Turning on the light required looping one wire around the other, striving to avoid any contact with the live copper wiring. The youth group leader was always meaning to install a switch, he had never found an opportune moment. The leader was a qualified electrician employed by the state-owned electricity service.
The youth group store seemed a fulfilment of the commonly held belief that tradesmen’s own lives can be the worst advertisements for the skill of the tradesmen. Electricians, plumbers, joiners, painters, builders – their work away from home is sometimes not matched by the places in which they live.
Being guilty of a similar failing, there is never an inclination to be harsh on those who are in the habit of being like the youth group leader.
Spending more than thirty years with words, a competence has developed in providing appropriate sentences, and even paragraphs, for particular occasions. On the odd occasion, the words have found their way into print, or onto the airwaves. Words for public occasions can be provided in an adequate, if not expert manner.
The most difficult words are those needed for personal moments. As long ago as 1980, there was a feeling that Suggs spoke for myself and many others when he sang the Madness song, My girl’s mad at me:
My girl’s mad at me
Been on the telephone for an hour
We hardly said a word
I tried and tried but I could not be heard
Why can’t I explain?
Why do I feel this pain?
‘Cause everything I say
She doesn’t understand
She doesn’t realise
She takes it all the wrong way.
The passage of more than four decades has not lessened the sense of being inarticulate in important moments, the sense of not having words that remotely approach expressing the feelings inside. Sometimes, the words serve only to exacerbate pain. Sometimes, the wrong words are used in the wrong way with the wrong results. Sometimes the words just won’t do.