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If She Knew What She Wants - Bangles

After Frejus, I decided to head for neutral territory; that was the pleasure of Europe and Interrail in those days, the sense you could go anywhere you wanted at the drop of a signal. I had an open invite to visit Peter and Muß (pronounced "moose") who were a Swiss couple who lived in the next door apartment to us when my father worked for two years in Kuwait. The couple were unusually very young for the oil company ex-pat types that comprised the employee pool of Gulf companies and my older teenage sister and I had always got on well with them. They had a little baby boy and a huge hound called Bedu. Bedu was a Saluki, a breed of dog traditionally used by Bedouin for hunting gazelle, and capable of running in excess of 60 miles an hour. Bedu was so tall that he could - and often did - rise up on his hind legs and place his paws on my shoulders while slobbering on my face.

One day, we were all getting into a car when Bedu saw a cat and, slipping Peter's grasp, took off after it. In Fahaheel, the suburb we lived in, the streets were wide dirt tracks flanked by high walled residential blocks of flats, so the cat was caught out in the open with no escape. The cat, a tabby, ran as fast as it could, but Bedu was gaining on it all the time. Just before Bedu caught up with it, the cat turned and calmly faced the Saluki on its hind legs. The dog was taken by surprise and, like a cartoon canine, tried to screech to a halt, but not before the cat had coldly and calmly swiped him in the eye with a clawed right hook. Bedu, howled with pain, ran back to the car and hid behind Peter's legs while the cat just sauntered off down the middle of the street like Kipling's cat that walked alone, its tail contemptuously raised upright in the air.

A couple of weeks later, there was one of those Arabian Gulf flash storms, whereby the normally arid climate succumbs to a couple of days of torrential rain. This flooded our spare garage and my dad and I had to move his stored packing crates to a drier location. As we were doing this there was a splash, and we saw the same tabby swimming with a tiny kitten held by the scruff of the neck between her teeth, and depositing it in the straw of a half-opened crate higher up. She did this three more times until her whole brood were resettled, and my father decided there wasn't anything too perishable in those particular crates after all, so we left them alone until they were gone a month or so later. He wouldn't let me go there in the meantime as, he said, they were feral and best left alone, so they could learn to fend for themselves.

Muß and Peter now lived in the beautiful lakeside town of Zug in Switzerland. When I arrived, unannounced, they were just off on their annual fortnight's holiday in Bettmeralp and they promptly offered to take me with them and we left the next day. Our destination was Bettmeralp in Valais, a summer pasture in the Alps for the valley town of Betten and also a winter ski resort. It was on the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn narrow gauge railway service that ended at Zermatt and, like Zermatt, was, and still is, a town where cars are forbidden.

On the way up in the cablecar from Betten to Bettmeralp, Peter told me how, just 3 years before, the key "pulling" cable had broken 200 metres on the car's upward journey, causing it to freefall on its holding cables back down to the cablecar station, killing 13 of its 15 passengers upon impact. Peter said that there was a terrible moment when the occupants realised that their options were to jump from a great height or to stay on board and risk the carnage of the crash into the cablecar station.

This dilemma has haunted me ever since, as has, in a more positive though slightly bizarre way, the sight and sound that greeted us as we exited the higher cablecar station: dotted about the mountainside were small choirs of about fifteen people in each, all dressed in traditional Swiss costume complete with lederhosen and trenken hats all yodeling away to one another. Later I was reminded, gazing across the valley from the wooden balcony of our traditional Swiss chalet, of lines from T S Eliot's "Waste Land":

"In the mountains, there you feel free".

I didn't feel free for long. I called Paris the next day, Sophie had returned and would see me, so, thanking Muß and Peter, and bidding farewell to their little son, also called Peter, and Bedu, I took the cablecar back down the mountainside, and waited for the next train.

The Bangles, an all-woman rock band from LA, were the first female rock band to achieve sustained success both in the US and internationally. They covered Big Star's "September Gurls" (see last post) in 1986, on their terrific (and best) album "Different Light". This was their second LP release, and profited by the success of their first single from it which was the excellent "Manic Monday" written for them by superstar Prince.

Prince had first noticed the band because of the publicity garnered by the video for their earlier single "Going down to Liverpool" which featured actor Leonard Nimoy (Spock of Star Trek fame), who was a family friend of band member Susanna Hoffs. " Different Light" also featured the classic hit "Walk Like an Egyptian" but the addictive "If she Knew What Wants" was a relative miss when released as a single. It features Susanna Hoff's slightly hesitant lead vocal, that neatly reflects the uncertainty of the personalities under discussion in the song. Rest assured however, confused though she may be, she's the one in charge. Don't let the catchy tune hide the darkness of the lyrics:

"I'd say her values are corrupted

but she's open to change

then one day she's satisfied

and the next I'll find her crying

and it's nothing she can explain"


"But she won't understand

why anyone would have to try

to walk a line when they could fly."

Anyway, as I said, I took the train to Paris.


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