- Former scientist, now graduated to a life of leisure.
- Family man (which may surprise the family; it certainly surprises him).
- Likes cycling and old-fashioned B&W film photography.
- Dislikes greasy-pole-climbing 'yes men'.
- Thinks Thea Gilmore should be much better known than she is.
- Values decency over achievement.
As my Kendal-based Geordie mother is the nonogenarian Matriarch of the British side of my family, I have, in recent years, had to accompany her to a number of funerals in her native Newcastle-upon-Tyne, as those of her generation have died before her (‘before’ as in ‘pre-deceased’ not ‘in front of’). Consequently, I know the area around the Whitley Bay and West Road crematoria rather better than I would wish, particularly as I hardly know the rest of the city.
On such occasions, once I’d met up with the Matriarch in Kendal we had a 100 mile drive to Newcastle, so we usually set off in good time, which, on an early trip to the West Road crematorium, is how we discovered what became for us a modern tradition: a pre-funeral ‘greasy spoon’ lunch and cuppa in what is now Margaret’s Café in Fenham. A seemingly unprepossessing little place, but I rather like it, and it has a 5 star food hygiene rating to boot!
Anyway, the reason for this funereal discourse is that I read in Newcastle’s online daily, the Chronicle Live, that the recent funeral service for the Leeds and England footballer, Jack Charlton, was held at the West Road crematorium. I suspect there were no takers for a pre-service cuppa at Margaret’s that day, but as a widely-revered and down-to-earth ‘local boy’, it strikes me as much the sort of place that he may have frequented, if only very occasionally.
The Leeds United of Charlton’s era was, in today’s terminology, an ‘uncompromising’ team (if they couldn’t stop ’em, they’d chop ’em) and due to his stature and elongate neck he was often baited as a’ big dirty giraffe’. He later proved to be a hugely successful manager of the Irish soccer team where his success and ‘man of the people’ persona endeared him to the nation. Unlike his famous uncle, ‘Wor Jackie’ (Jackie Milburn – a three times FA Cup winner with Newcastle in the 1950s), Charlton never turned out for the Toon, but it was still nice to read of him being remembered in the north east as ‘Wor Jack’.
Here’s the limerick:
There once was a tall centre back Who cut-down his opponents’ attack Fans said, with a laugh, “He’s a dirty giraffe”, But full-time has now blown for Wor Jack!
Postscript: ‘Tis a little known fact that Wor Jackie was actually Wor Jack’s first cousin once removed, not his uncle as usually stated.
The British side of my family hails from Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the northeast of England, Walkergate to be precise, so I was interested to read this week that, along with Liverpool, it is one of the larger, urban northern English regions that has has retained its regional accent in what researchers have described as a developing ‘pan-regional “general northern English” accent among middle-class northerners’.
As a middle-class northerner of the semi-rural Cumbrian type, I too recognise that I now speak in ‘generic northern’ rather than the Kendalian of my youth, and that is due to ‘University-isation’ and living north of Fife for the last 40 years. I do have an audio recording of the 11 year old ‘me’ speaking in my pre-adolescent high-pitched, native tones and, although I try not to, I am told that I sometimes revert to type when visiting my childhood home.
All of which brought to mind a memory as a first-year pupil at Kendal Grammar School in the early 1970s, of our ‘old-school’ English language teacher (Stan ‘Whacker’ Wilkins) asking each of us in class, sequentially, to pronounce a letter of the alphabet. I can’t remember the letter that I had to utter, but I do recall that it was Peter Stainton that started us of with ‘a’.
When we had finished, Whacker took great delight in chiding us for our poor speech; in particular those for whom it fell to say ‘a’, ‘j’, ‘k’ and ‘o’ were demonised. Their sin was in not closing the vowels or consonants with, to a Cumbrian, a vowel-like ending. I don’t mean open or closed in the truly linguistic sense, I mean simply in their pronunciation. So, for example, we didn’t close ‘o’ with a ‘w’ sound, we just truncated it and could have carried on making the same sound until our breath ran out.
Whacker’s resonse struck me as unfair at the time, but it did lead to a few post-dinner, lavatorial comments about not opening our vowels in class, all of which brings me to today’s limerick…
Amidst some cacophonous howls A northerner with unstable bowels Soundtracked a farce As he spoke through his a***e When told not to open his vowels
Postscript: The recently-disgraced academic and TV historian, David Starkey, attended both the same primary and secondary schools as me, albeit it many years before. His recollection of Kendal Grammar School from the 1950s, below, would contrast strongly with my recollections of it in the 1970s!
“Kendal Grammar in Cumbria was a school of ancient foundations, dating back to 1526. It is now Kirkbie Kendal School. Most of our schoolmasters when I was there tended to err on the side of severity. It was not a savage school, there were hardly any beatings (I remember only two), but the atmosphere was masculine and fairly aggressive.” See TES, 2007 for more.
The only reference that I could find of Starkey’s time at Castle Street primary school is here from the Westmorland Gazette and, believe it or not, yours truly is pictured in the artcle along with my brother, Sally Collett, Christopher Nelson, Nigel Duffin, Julie Park, Paul Bateman, Margaret Robbins (my bête noir) and others.
A few weeks ago, my former boss emailed me to say “Now, don’t take this the wrong way (I know you will), but Marigold Hotel with Henry Blofeld was on TV last night, and I thought of you!”
Her allusion to Henry Blofeld, or Blowers as he is known to aficionados of BBC Radio’s Test Match Special (TMS) cricket commentaries, was (I hope!) due to her bemusement over several years when a colleague and I used to discuss cricket in the margins of team meetings.
I replied that, “I’m not sure about being conflated with ‘Blowers’. He is after all an old f*rt that talks about cricket and rabbits-on endlessly with anecdotes (that only he finds amusing) whilst not letting others get a word in edgeways. Along with that he prefers things the way they used to be, and is forever eyeing his next slice of cake. Ah, my dear old thing… now I see!”.
Anyway, I’m sure that like me, my ex-boss will be delighted to know (hah!) that international cricket is now back after its Covid 19 hiatus and that currently the West Indies are playing England at Hampshire’s home ground, the so-called Ageas Bowl.
The Test Match is being shown on Sky Sports, to which I don’t subscribe so I can’t watch it; however, the Graun has reported on it and has paid glowing testimony to the events on the first day. Not to the cricket itself, but to the Sky Sports’ experts’ discussions when, predictably, rain stopped play.
Chief amongst the pundits is Michael Holding, a former West Indies fast bowler and one of the awesome foursomes of fast bowlers in the Indies’ pace attack of the 1970s and 80s (Holding, Roberts, Holder & Daniel or Roberts, Holding, Garner & Croft or Marshall, Roberts, Garner & Holding; there were others too, so take your pick).
Not for Holding the light-hearted, and admittedly humorous-at-times, tittle tattle of the BBC’s TMS commentary box, but some acute observations around racism and Black Lives Matter.
As Andy Bull wrote in the Graun,
You can’t understand the history of cricket without understanding the history of empire. You can’t appreciate the rivalries between these, and other, teams, without appreciating the relationship between our countries, what’s been given, and what’s been taken. You can’t understand the hostility of Michael Holding’s bowling without understanding what made him so angry, you can’t appreciate Frank Worrell’s grace as a captain without knowing something of the prejudice he faced, you can’t value the violence of Viv Richards’ batting without a sense of what he was fighting against.
Fortunately, the Sky Sports channel has put Holding’s observations in front of its paywall and you can see and hear him here, it’s powerful stuff.
The channel then followed on (see what I did there?) by posting a compelling video on YouTube in which Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent (the first woman of colour to represent England at cricket) talk about their experiences of institutionalised racism. This was the video to which Holding made reference in his live-to-air comments.
This is serious stuff, so well done Sky Sports.
On a much less serious note, and changing channels to the BBC, Michael Holding was also an innocent party in one of the most-cited-but-apocryphal quotes in TMS and cricketing history.
Legend has it, and it is only legend, that in the 1976 Oval Test Match between England and the West Indies, when Holding was bowling to Peter Willey, an England all-rounder, the TMS commentator, Brian Johnson (aka ‘Jonners’), voiced the immortal words that comprise the last line of this week’s ALAW…
His commentary was dull until he Expounded out loud and quite shrilly That the ball was in play Which led him to say “The bowler is Holding, the batsman’s Willey”!
Postscript: The 1976 England versus West Indies test series was noticeable for the aggression of the Indies’ fast bowlers, Holding, Roberts, Holder & Daniel, and their frequent use of bouncers; short-pitched deliveries that bounced dangerously high. One could understand their aggression as during an episode of the BBC’s Sportsnight programme shortly before the test series was to start, Tony Greig, England’s South African born captain had stated:
Sure, they’ve got a couple of fast bowlers, but really I don’t think we’re going to run into anything … You must remember that the West Indians, these guys, if they get on top are magnificent cricketers. But if they’re down, they grovel, and I intend, with the help of Closey [Brian Close] and a few others, to make them grovel.
Amazon’s intro to Grovel!, David Tossell’s book on cricket’s summer of 1976 puts it well:
When England cricket captain Tony Greig announced that he intended to make the West Indies ‘grovel’, he lit a fire that burned as intensely as the sunshine that made 1976 one of the most memorable summers in British history. Spurred on by what they saw as a deeply offensive remark, especially from a white South African, Clive Lloyd’s touring team vowed to make Greig pay. In Viv Richards, emerging as the world’s most exciting batsman, and fast bowlers Michael Holding and Andy Roberts they had the players to do it.
Greig acknowledged in his forward to Tossell’s book that he had got it badly wrong, whilst also denying that his South African background was behind his comment and that there was no racist tone intended. Well, he would, wouldn’t he, but even if true it reeks of the sort of historical and cultural ignorance that leads to and underlies the unconscious bias that can belie even the saintly; a significant part of the issues that Michael Holding raised in his live piece to air.
It’s a bit of a rant-cum-braindump this week, so just skip to the end for the limerick I would!).
From the Financial Times a few days ago:
Mr Johnson is expected to exhort his cabinet on Tuesday to lead a campaign to persuade Britons that it is safe to go back to the pub and to enjoy other aspects of normal life.
“There’s a job to be done to encourage people to go out,” said one government official, suggesting some ministers might take the lead by heading to the pub.
From the Graun (a few days later after the British-but-mainly-the-English public decided to crowd together at the seaside and inland beauty spots and ignore the Covid-19 guidance and pre-lockdown social norms):
Earlier in the week, Johnson urged people to get out and “enjoy themselves” on 4 July, claiming that “the bustle is starting to come back”.
Subsequently from the Graun:
While thousands of people used their “good old British common sense” to flock to the beach at the first sign of a heatwave – who could have predicted they would interpret Boris’s upbeat “Show some guts ending of hibernation” address this way?
And today from The Observer:
On Wednesday in parliament the prime minister was asked a simple question by Peter Kyle, Labour MP for the seaside constituency of Hove. It was certain, Kyle noted, that with the relaxing of restrictions on socialising, coastal towns like his would become dangerously packed with visitors. “What will the prime minister do in the absence of the promised [track and trace] app to make sure these communities are destinations for investment and not destinations for covid?”
Boris Johnson replied with typical scattergun harrumphing: “I will be calling on local representatives such as himself to show some guts and determination and champion their communities as venues for people to return to and support!”
Through his mishandling of the Cummins ‘lockdown’ affair, our Prime Minister and his Cabinet had earlier lost all moral authority to complain about the British public breaking his Government’s most recent Covid-29 guidance. On top of that, his pronouncements on the easing of lockdown have since positively encouraged the public to ignore it entirely.
And what is his next great thought? He declares that it is for local councils to deal with the mess for which he is responsible. What a pillock!
When Boris starts passing the buck On a virus that’s now run amuck All I can say, In a most heartfelt way, Is the man’s just a stumbling rumblef*ck
When Dame Vera Lynn, the UK’s WWII Forces’ Sweetheart, turned 100 a few years ago, I recycled an old tongue-in-cheek limerick. You can read it here.
Well, she has just died at the grand old age of 103. Quite an innings, but I wonder, I just wonder, that with her passing and that of the recent 75th anniversary of VE day, whether the UK can finally place the part it played in WWII in its historical context, albeit its modern history, instead of re-living its glories every time our present-day politicians want to divert attention from the divisiveness of their policies.
I’m all for Rememberance, but only in its truest sense and not as a pretext for ‘uniting’ a country behind xenophobic populism. Dame Vera was symbolic of unity for the right reasons; reasons that led to the UK’s post-war social democratic concensus rather than the bitter divides that neoliberalism has brought about more recently.
Anyway, here’s a ‘goodbye’ in ALAW fashion…
A songstress who enthralled servicemen Sings no more, as the time has come when It’s ‘adieu’ to Dame Vera And the end of an era ‘Cos I don’t think that we’ll meet again!
For someone at the start of their secondary school years, the early 1970s BBC Time-Life magazine ‘The British Empire’ made for a fascinating weekly read over the course of its 98 issues.
It was the first ever part-work magazine that was specifically linked to a BBC television series and, as with the broadcast programme, the subject of ‘Empire’ and its presentation was controversial in the eye of the dominions if not to those for whom it was a nostalgic echo of when Britannia ruled the waves.
To the thirteen year old me, the magazine’s depictions of the slave trade were horrific. Horrific, but far away. After all, although we were ‘offcomers’ to my home town of Kendal, we were Caucasian just like the locals and weren’t exposed to the realities of racism in the 1970s.
So, despite being rather shocked by the appallingly-racist sitcom Love Thy Neighbour and bemused by the peculiarity that was the Black and White Minstrel Show, we were, in those days, quite unaware of the offensiveness, for example, of white actors ‘blacking up’ in other TV productions.
It wasn’t until I was a student in the east end of London during the autumn of 1977 that I learned about some of the realities of racism. Although my stay in London was short, for a part of that time I shared a room with Gwyn, a young man of colour from the then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) .
We were lodging with a senile landlady on the fifth floor of a tower block, the bucolically-but-deceptively named Barley Mow Estate on Oak Lane in Poplar.
Our landlady’s senility was a problem (lettuce for breakfast, anyone?) and she should have been properly cared for by her family. Instead they encouraged her to take in students as lodgers so there was someone there to keep an eye on her.
But that wasn’t our real problem. Our real problem was the hostility shown to Gwyn by some of the area’s locals whenever he, or we, ventured out. It was more than an eye-opener to a naïve north country lad. (Due to my accommodation problems I dropped out after one term. I don’t know if Gwyn lasted the course or what became of him.)
Needless to say, in view of my experience back then, if only as a mere observer, the recent Black Lives Matter protests in the UK and the downing of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol and its dumping in Bristol Harbour, has resonated with me and I do hope that it leads to a substantive change for the better and not just the usual hand-wringing of privileged UK politicos
Here’s the limerick
When the time finally came to take stock It never was really a shock For the people of BAME To attribute the blame To the man they’ve just put in the dock!‘
I’ll leave the last word to the historian and TV presenter David Olusoga…
So, there I was on my bike, peddling in an easterly direction along the South Deeside road and trying to impress SID, the Speed Indicating Device, as I entered the new-build settlement at Riverside of Blairs when, BANG!
I thought “Gosh, that was loud!” (or words to that effect) and although the flapping-cum-graunch sound of a deflated tyre implied a puncture, the explosive retort suggested it was just a tad more serious than that.
And indeed, it was. I’d just experienced a catastrophic failure of my front tyre at about 21mph. Fortunately, I was on the flat heading straight ahead and the tyre stayed on the wheel. Had I been tanking downhill or on a corner then I suspect it would have come off the rim, jammed in the forks, and I’d have crashed – perhaps heavily.
And d’you know what? I’d have only had myself to blame.
I’d inspected the bike before setting off and the front tyre looked a bit bockety in one place. I actually took it off and re-seated it, but the distortion remained. If I’d examined the inside of the tyre before re-fitting it, I would have seen something that shouted out loud when I examined it after the event (I also wouldn’t have ridden on it!).
Nearly all bicycle tyres are manufactured cross-ply. That means the rubberised woven material that forms the casing has its warp and weft at 45° to the direction of travel. In my tyre the weave had split at one point along the angle and compromised the structural integrity of the carcass; hence the distortion when fitted to the rim and inflated to 100 psi.
The simple moral of the story is to never trust a tyre that doesn’t look right. That’s even more true if, like me, you’d considered the tyre to be a bit ‘iffy’, but decided to ride on it anyway whilst assuring yourself that things would be fine as long as you never went too fast down hills or around corners. It was lucky that I did take things cautiously. It was also lucky that ‘management’ was just about to start her lunch break and was able to rescue me several miles from home.
… and the good news, if you believe the advertising, is that the new tyres I have ordered will turn me from a ‘trundleur’ into a speed merchant – aye, right!
Here’s the limerick:
As a cyclist you’re playing with fire If you ride with a bockety tyre ‘Cos if it explodes When you’re out on the roads The outcome, I fear, may be be die-er!
Postscript#1: From the late-lamented Pâtisserie Cyclisme website…
“The trundleur is a cyclist who enjoys riding any kind of bicycle, at their own pace for the sheer enjoyment of it. They frequent cafés, stopping to enjoy the view, converse with friends or simply sit and reflect. The trundleur does not care for recording their rides obsessively, nor do they obsess about their speed or beating their fellow cyclists.
The trundleur finds a simple joy in the act of riding a bicycle.”
Je suis un trundleur and ‘management has decided, that being the case, then she can only be a pootleur.
Postscript#2: The website www.bicyclerollingresistance.com rates, ranks and compares bike tyres. My road bike’s tyres were originally Schwalbe Lugano and the new ones on order are Continental GP5000. So why not see what that website comes up with?
No contest, apparently. The GP5000s get a 5/5 rating and come highly recommended whilst the Luganos score a measly 1/5 and are not recommended at all. In terms of rolling resistance, the GP5000s each consume 10.7 watts at my riding pressure of 100psi travelling at 18mph whereas the Luganas each come in at a whopping 22.6 watts.
The graphic, below, shows the ‘performance’ of the tyres at each of nine variables. No tyre is ‘best at everything’, so the outer limits of the nonagon are an amalgam of the best performing tyre for each measure individually. Basically, it shows that the Luganos have better puncture resistance at the tread, but much greater rolling resistance at all pressures. The Luganos are only on sale as clearance items now, but originally came in at around £39 a pair whereas you’ll only get one GP5000 for that price!
My childhood hometown of Kendal is rarely the seat of scandal, proper scandal, that is, not just the tittle-tattle of local gossip, but in the autumn of 1996 it most certainly was.
The actual locus of scandal was in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, but its unfolding was just around the corner from my family home. I was visiting and first became aware of events when I popped out to the corner shop to be met by a bevy of broadcast media vans with their satellite dishes erect and a host of journalists and attentive locals staring across the road at an elevated terraced house.
It turned out that the house had become the bolthole of ex-Bishop Roderick Wright and his, ahem, ‘parishioner’ Kathleen MacPhee. For a few weeks Father Rod was, for Kendal, more than an answer to Father Ted and the Craggy Island team. The couple had fled in disgrace from the Scottish west coast, as lovers, shortly after Wright’s resignation as Bishop for the Diocese of Argyll and the Islands.
One’s sympathy for them, that their relationship and personal conflict between matters spiritual and temporal was being illuminated by the more salacious end of the British news media, was tempered by the pronouncement that the Bishop had fathered a child to another woman some years before. Oh, that and the fact that they sold their story to the News of the World.
This is how the Irish Times described Kendal’s five-weeks-long brush with fame: The return of the fugitives, and attendant TV vans cluttered with satellite dishes, to the Cumbrian market town caused some astonishment in streets around Mountain View, where the bishop and Ms Macphee who left her three children in Scotland rented their grey stone mid-terrace cottage after flitting from Argyll. Both had left the house, with its tangles of lavender on the front path, in the company of News of the World representatives after being recognised and traced by the media a month ago.
I had to laugh at one a part of the Church’s response to the tabloid Bishop’s tale: “It does show Roderick up in a very, very bad light”.
By coincidence, it turns out that the irreverend Bishop had attended Blairs College in Aberdeenshire, which I now regularly pass on one of my local cycling routes, and he later became its spiritual director prior to his ministry in the west of Scotland. Well, that was some ministry! Here’s the limerick…
There was once a licentious Scots priest Took part in a celtic love feast, But when he de-frocked He appeared half-cocked. ‘Seems the bishoprick’s reach had decreased!