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For Absent Friends

This song is by Genesis and appears on the album Nursery Cryme (1971).

Sunday at six when they close both the gates
A widowed pair, still sitting there
Wonder if they're late for church
And it's cold so they fasten their coats
And cross the grass, they're always last

Passing by the padlocked swings
The roundabout still turning
Ahead they see a small girl
On her way home with a pram

Inside the archway
The priest greets them with a courteous nod
He's close to God
Looking back at days of four instead of two
Years seem so few
Heads bent in prayer for friends not there

Leaving two pence on the plate
They hurry down the path and through the gate
And wait to board the bus
That ambles down the street


One can imagine the scene in the nursery ending with little murderess Cynthia fearfully clutching her Nurse and watching for signs of life within the broken remains of the Musical Box scattered upon the foor. Were this a series of connected films, we could pull back from this scene and float out the window into the unassuming and idyllic English countryside and down the lane towards a village church. We would pan past a clock-tower who's face lets us know it was 6 o'clock p.m. We have travelled from the complex darkness of The Musical Box where a spirit haunts (and attempts to rape!) his killer, to a simple life where two people visit a church to remember and pray for their deceased friends with love and respect.

This simple scene is such an interesting counterpoint to the Musical Box. Who is this little duo, and who have they lost? Why are they always last? Why does the Priest look back at days of four instead of two? Does this indicate the Priest's knowledge of the larger scope of things? Also in this song are some great words that are decidedly British.

Widowed is the past tense of the verb form of the noun "Widow" - to make someone a widow, and doesn't need to apply to the death of a husband. It can mean to deprive of anything cherished or needed: "A surprise attack widowed the army of its supplies". This young pair have lost some friends.

Roundabout is an interesting British word that describes a playground carousel.

Pram is always an interesting British word. It means "baby carriage," and is from 1884 - a shortening of "perambulator". Perhaps influenced by pram "flat-bottomed boat" (1548), from O.N. pramr, from Balto-Slavic (cf. Pol. pram "boat," Rus. poromu "ferryboat"). One great line from the song "Camelot" in Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail is "I have to push the Pram alot". It seems they were hard-pressed to disccover things that rhymed with "Camelot".

The first twopence was a silver coin issued for Charles II in about 1660, but was undated, as used to be the normal practice. This was a hammered coin, and there were three slightly different issues of twopence between 1660 and 1662. From 1668 onwards, milled (machine made) twopences were issued almost every year. Charles II's was the reign when the production of hammered coinage finished, and was replaced completely by milled issues, although machine production had started during the reign of Elizabeth I. In 1971, the year Nursey Cryme was released, the decimal twopence or two pence became legal tender, although it had been available for some time before as part of a five coin familiarisation pack issued in a blue wallet.

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