Beat a Tattoo

What I like about this phrase has less to do with the phrase itself, and more with the memory of when I first came across it. If you’ve never heard, beat a tattoo before, it may evoke a bizarre violent connotation. But once you know it’s meaning, it’s a whole different story. I first read a derivative of it in T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.  I was a theatre management manager doing a semester of college in London (thanks Mom & Dad!)  It was 1985 and the musical Cats was still widely popular and I was psyched to see it. To prepare, I bought the book of poems in London (£1.95) and took it with me to the show. I went on my own, dressed to the nines (maybe a phrase to explore another day?) in a long pale pink skirt with buttons up the front, frilly petticoat peeking out underneath (which I had bought at Kensington Market the week before), matching pale pink top, and black lace up high heeled granny boots (the stylish kind, of course). I remember having a bad headache that day, which was highly unusual for me at that age. But I went and soaked up all that theatrical wonder. In the poem, and the musical number, The Old Gumbie Cat, we learn of her industrious work around the house, including, “And She’s even created a Beetle’s Tattoo”. I had no idea what that meant until I saw the musical, and saw all those dancing people-dressed-as-cats-dressed-as-beetles doing a tap dance. I loved it. I came across the phrase again today in the form of “beat a quick tattoo” while reading A Test of Wills by Charles Todd, and it reminded me of that wonderful memory of 1985. Just had to share it. Thanks for indulging me. If you’d like to know the origins and other uses of the phrase, there’s a very good explanation here.

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