A limerick a week #200

On opening your vowels…

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 limerick a week #193

The Bishop’s Tale

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.

The location of what is now known locally as the Bishop’s House on Mountain View, close to my chidhood stamping ground around Kendal Green. The corner shop is also highlighted.

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.

The Bishop’s House

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. 

Down with this sort of thing!

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!

A limerick a week #174


I like towns (and cities) with their own character rather than homogenised, lookalike town centres filled with same old chain stores, betting shops and charity outlets.

All of which means that I’m not a great fan of shops like Greggs, the ubiquitous UK bakery chain. Consequently, I was amused to read that its only outlet in Cornwall, a concession within a service station, has closed. Apparently it was much ado about pasties.  The Cornish, it seems, prefer the real thing:

“It’s obvious that Cornish people will use Cornish bakery’s where they can get a Cornish pasty rather than the s**t pasty slice from Greggs. They were never going to survive here.” [as quoted in the Daily Telegraph, including its misuse of the possessive instead of a plural. Groan!]

The real thing

If only the good folk of Kendal had the same attitude I might still have been able to buy a decent slab of sly cake on my occasional forays to visit the Matriarch!

Anyway, as this is a retail-orientated ALAW (and with some economy with the actualité) here is a limerick BOGOF offer…

A bakery once tried to expand
In the south-western parts of the land,
But the Cornish aren’t patsies
And want their own pasties
So Greggs, it appears, has been banned.

There once was an outlet of Greggs
Whose pasties were really the dregs
Of the pastry-shop art
So it had to depart
With its tail firmly tucked ‘twixt its legs. 

Not the real thing!


A limerick a week #165

… and pigs might fly!

Well, there’s a surprise! A visit to the matriarch in Kendal and it hasn’t yet rained. Blue skies, light cloud and a lazy wind, BUT NO RAIN!

Kendal Green sans pluie!

A Cumbrian once opened his eyes
And beheld an almighty surprise,
‘Cos the weather weren’t mizzlin
(that’s ‘misty and drizzling’! )
As he stared at the clear blue skies!

A limerick a week #117

Thea-trics at the Brewery

Despite the madness that is the UK’s franchised rail chaos, I travelled successfully from Aberdeen to Kendal for a pre-Christmas visit to see the Matriarch; a trip that coincided with Thea Gilmore’s concert at the town’s Brewery Arts Centre.

Gilmore has been described by the Guardian as popular music’s “best-kept-secret” and by Mojo as “the most coherent, literate and charged British singer-songwriter of her generation“. I’d go along with that…

I first came across her on BBC 4’s The Christmas Session in 2009 when she performed That’ll be Christmas, now one of my favourite seasonal songs. You can find it here.

Hmmmm! My phone’s camera is cr@p in low light… and wasn’t her hair black?

Her show at the Brewery started with a cheery “Hello Kendal”, a greeting that was met with a low-murmured reply and an exchange that made me laugh…

Thea: Hello Kendal!
Audience: Murmur, murmur.
Thea: Oh dear! You sound grumpy!
Voice from the back: You’re in Kendal, luv!

Kendal – plus ça change! The concert was terrific with a small string section filling-out the sound beautifully. The evening’s only disappoint was the lack of a slide guitar accompaniment to That’ll be Christmas and its replacement by a whistling violinist. How to spoil a classic, but the only hiccup in an otherwise memorable gig.

Here’s this week’s limerick…

As a long-standing fan, my idea
Was to travel to Kendal to see a
Songstress in action
(The headline attraction).
So I did, and was spellbound by Thea! 

Postscript: Firstborn, look away now!

If you listen to That’ll be Christmas on the link above and let it play through to the song that follows it, you’ll find another seasonal favourite of mine, Bellowhead’s rendition of the gothic tragedy surrounding ‘Lovell’s bride’, The Mistletoe Bough.

For those unfamiliar with the story of Lovell’s bride, Genevra, you can read all about it here – or just re-visit it if you know the tale. Please do, it’s a Christmas classic and is followed by one of my favourite self-penned limericks!

There’s more than clouds and daffodils…

Longfella’s about

I’ve just been reminded of a quote from a former colleague, a statistician, who said:

Coincidences are a most paradoxical thing; they should never happen, but they always do.

What reminded me of that? Simply this – a couple of weeks after posting about Tony Walsh’s poem Up ‘ere (See Quotes that made me laugh #51) I’ve just read in my hometown’s local rag, Kendal’s Wezzy Gezzy, that he has now debuted his latest poem, a commissioned piece on the English Lake District; a part of the country that just happens to have been my childhood backyard.

His poem comprises the narrative to a short film, Reflecting On The Lakes, and his rendition seems typical of his style.

Poet Tony Walsh lives up to his moniker ‘Longfella’ as he shakes hands with a shortfella (the Chief Executive of the Lake District National Park) at the launch of ‘Reflecting on the Lakes’.

I suppose it was inevitable that Walsh would refer to the (in)famous Alfred Wainwright in his Lakeland verse, but at least he didn’t laud him in the way that seems de rigueur these days when anyone mentions the Lakes (‘AW’ as the ignorant, fawning masses call him lived just up the road from us and was a miserable and grumpy old git!).

If I had to be picky about the poem it would be that it mentions Kendal mintcake (a dentally-challenging confection) even though Kendal is not in the Lake District…

Kendal mintcake, a bête noir of dentists the country over! (In my teens I was in the same youth group as Dan Quiggin’s daughters, but even that is not enough reason to commend the stuff.)

… and fails to touch upon the area’s finest culinary confection, the remarkable Grasmere Gingerbread.

My kind of job!

Anyway, there’s now a trio of pivotal ‘northern’ performance pieces by Longfella on the web:

This is The Place

Up ‘ere

…and Reflecting On The Lakes

Give ’em a shot!

Postscript: For anyone interested in knowing why coincidences occur all the time, I’d recommend the book How Not To Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg. Not always the easiest of reads for the non-mathematical (despite what the review, below, states), but sufficiently textual to give anyone an insight (it also covers, among many other things, how to win the lottery and why all electoral systems seem to have a democratic deficit. See a review here for a better insight into the book).

A limerick a week #94

Happy birthday, Georgy Girl!

Being a sickly child I spent a fair amount of time off school. As my Grandma lived with us, she looked after me on a number of occasions so I got to hear a lot of her favourite music. She liked musicals (South Pacific was played a lot), Frank Ifield (still touring; he even appeared at the Castle Green Hotel in Kendal, my childhood home town, as recently as the 3rd of June this year, aged 80!), The Bachelors (I wasn’t a fan) and The Seekers (who I liked a lot).

Judith Durham who fronted The Seekers has been described by Elton John, as possessing “the purest voice in popular music”. She celebrated her 75th birthday on the 3rd of July this year by releasing a new album although she will not be touring it (I suspect it comprises old, but previously unreleased recordings).

A young Judith Durham, singer and classically trained concert pianist!

I Googled her for old times’ sake and YouTubed The Seekers and revisited their songs. It was interesting to read the BTL comments of the YouTube videos. A number of young folk had chanced upon the recordings and expressed wonderment at never having heard of Durham (or The Seekers) given the power, timbre and clarity of her voice.

Google also held a surprise for me. ‘Durham’ was not Judith’s original surname; it was her mother’s maiden name. The enchanting songstress with a spellbinding voice was christened Judith Cock! No surprise, then, that she changed it. I wish I could have penned a more respectful limerick-as-tribute, but I’m afraid I couldn’t overlook that!

Judith, a singer, became
A Seeker of stardom and fame
But her surname was ‘Cock’
So it wasn’t a shock
When she changed to her mum’s maiden name!

I knew I must be getting on a few years ago when a very much younger colleague told me she had never heard of Telex, but that was not really surprising unlike when a friend, then in her late thirties, told me she had never heard of The Seekers (it’s not the grey hairs that make me feel old, but revelations like that!).

Postscript #1: For the young or ill-informed, ‘Georgy Girl’ was a 1960s film starring James Mason, Lyn Redgrave, Alan Bates and Charlotte Rampling for which The Seekers performed the titular theme song.

Little-known fact #1: The theme song was written by Tom Springfield, brother of Dusty, another powerful voice from the sixties.

Little-known fact #2: The film was based on the book ‘Georgy Girl’ written by Margaret Forster which just happens to be my mum’s maiden name.

Postscript #2: When The Seekers disbanded, their manager put together another group, The New Seekers, one of whom’s leads was Eve Graham, a Scottish singer who also turned 75 this year. Management and I saw her perform in Aberdeen in the mid-1980s in her solo show and, although The New Seekers was a successful  group, Graham as a solo artist was a revelation. Shamefully, due to a contractual dispute, Graham has never received any royalties from The New Seekers’ hits since 1973 despite sales of 25 million records!

A limerick a week #74

The old home town looks the same…

I travelled down and back to Kendal a couple of times in the last two weeks so that I could collect the family matriarch for a short stay in Aberdeen and then return her home.

Both trips re-introduced me to the sort of fine, mist-like rain that Kendal specialises in. It’s not heavy rain, but it envelops you; it soaks and chills with effortless ease. Brollies are impotent against its permeating tendencies and it makes the limestone of which the auld grey town is built look even greyer.

Turned out nice again! You can just about see Kendal castle through the rain.

I don’t know if the Cumbrian word for this kind of rain is a portmanteau derived from mist and drizzle (it could easily be), but Cumbrians know it as mizzlin. And in my recent trips south, mizzlin it was. Of course ‘mizzlin” is not solely Cumbrian or, maybe even northern (I believe it has also crossed the Atlantic with the migration of Ulster Scots).

Anyway, to borrow from that old joke about Manchester, if you can’t see Kendal castle from me mum’s house, it’s mizzlin; if you can, it’ll be mizzlin tomorrow!

Hmmm! A limerick comes to mind…

Visitors never stop grizzling
In Kendal, ‘cos t’weather ain’t sizzling.
Instead, they just frown
And loup about town
And learn what we mean by “It’s mizzlin”!

What’s in a name?

Sizergh Castle is a National Trust property near my childhood hometown of Kendal. I’ve known of it for decades and always thought the family that owned it from the 13th century until the 1950s was the Stricklands. However, I now know differently, at least for the latter years of the family’s history.

It seems they adopted a double-barrelled name in the 20th century. Consequently, this line from the family’s Wikipedia entry rather amused me when considering the phenomenon of nominative determinism:

“Their first daughter married Henry Hornyold [and] became known as Mrs Hornyold-Strickland …”

A Hornyold-Strickland

I could write the script myself …

Libidinous gentleman: “I say m’dear, are you one of the Hornyold-Stricklands?

Prim young lady: “Oh no, sir. I’m chaste. ‘Tis my sister I think you’re after.