During 2010-11, Jon Boden (ex-Bellowhead frontman) produced a daily podcast for 365 consecutive days under the banner of ‘A Folk Song A Day‘. The intent was to promote the practice of social singing, but as 99.9999% of the British public are probably entirely unaware of the project and wouldn’t give a damn about it even if they were, I suspect that his was a forlorn hope.
Now, it just so happens that one of the songs that he chose to perform for December was ‘The Mistletoe Bough‘ a delightfully depressing antidote to the over-commercialised festival that comprises our modern-day lost-its-way Christmas. This is a song that Firstborn forbids me to sing in her presence as it brings her to tears (which is the public’s usual reaction to my singing anyway, so what’s new?). Nevertheless, when telling her that it was part of the ‘A Folk Song a Day‘ project she suggested that I should copy the idea and produce a limerick a day on my Facebook (apparently my limericks amuse her). That was too ambitious for me and as I later left Facebook, it would certainly have failed. But a limerick a week? On this blog? Might work …
So here it is. The first one. Inspired by the depressing news of the UK vote to leave the European Union, and to ensure untrammelled, professional mobility throughout the European Economic Area for our kids, Management has taken advantage of her ancestry to claim Irish citizenship, thus enabling Firstborn and the Tall Child to be declared ‘out of country’ births and, as such, to adopt Irish citizenship themselves (if they so desire):
I don’t want to complain, but I do wish That the Brits would not be quite so boorish ‘Cos leaving the Union Just bolsters disunion And my wife’s turned from English to Oirish!
Postscript: The legend behind the Mistletoe Bough can be found here, and Jon Boden’s solo rendition of it is at the bottom of this page (requires Adobe Flash to play).
Sandi Thom’s internet meltdown last year was, I guess, resonant of the frustration that many talented performers have with their industry, particularly where they may have served their time doing the circuit in the old-fashioned way only to see some lesser-talented, or even talentless, entertainer succeed after being showcased on one of TV’s rapid-rise-to-fame X-crable talent competitions. But not all who fail to hit the Radio 2 playlist react in the way that Thom did. Some just keep on going; doing what keeps them going in fact.
Thea Gilmore, a favourite of mine, seems to do just that. Last November I undertook a 600-mile round trip to see her in my childhood hometown, Kendal, thinking that no-one would have journeyed further for the concert. In fact a group had travelled down from as far away as Orkney, so after at least 15 albums and 13 never-quite-made-it-to-the-top singles, she clearly retains a committed fan base and keeps on writing songs and touring even when, as on this occasion, she doesn’t have an album to promote.
Her set was exceptionally well received by the local audience. That surprised me as in my youth Kendal audiences would usually sit tight-lipped with arms folded, assuming a posture that spoke volumes: “Ah’ve bluddy well paid to see yer, so bluddy well entertain me!”. At that time Kendal still seemed to adhere to the TV historian David Starkey’s description that it was a right tight little northern town where, if you couldn’t trace your forebears locally for several generations, you were viewed as a dangerous outsider! So I’m pleased to say that it seems to have changed since then, even though in a certain Steven Hall (a Britain’s Got Talent finalist) it has generated the sort of X-crable ‘celebrity’ that would make most unsung talents weep, never mind Sandi Thom.
Anyway, back to Thea Gilmore …
Seemingly, as audiences go we were better in Kendal than at Wimborne! Mostly, I think, because the room erupted with cheers when asked whether we were interested in a song about s-e-x (clearly Kendalians don’t get out much). This obviously pleased Thea as she recounted the fact that such a comment was met with relative silence in Dorset. Apparently she could do no right at her gig in Wimborne, whose audience would ostensibly have preferred a humourless and tuneless recital and to not have to cope with her breaking occasionally to re-tune her guitar or add a risqué comment. And that got me thinking – we must all have, or surely will have, a Wimborne moment; a time when your skills and humour are simply not appreciated to the full.
As an ex-pat Kendalian it is perhaps no surprise that one of my own Wimborne moments relates to Kendal itself. I once sent a short, well-crafted, self-deprecating and, I thought, humorous letter to its local weekly rag, the Westmorland Gazette. Unfortunately, it was edited before publication to the extent that any semblance of humour was removed and the sense of self-deprecation was transformed into one of apparent pomposity. This was all because the opening line contained the s-e-x word, so it had to be got rid of. That, in turn, meant the last line was meaningless, so they got rid of it as well thus completing a malign transformation that made its author look a bit of a plonker. Given Wimborne’s response to Thea’s humorous mention of s-e-x, it strikes me that the feckless illiterati of the WezzyGezzy’s editorial team would be well at home in Dorset:
I wrote you a letter and yet It was odds-on, or so I would bet, That its sense would be changed By the oh-so-deranged Illiterates that edit the Gazette!
Postscript: Much to my displeasure, my letter (as edited) was included in a publication of the Kendal Civic Society on a look back at the town over the preceding fifty years. Even more to my displeasure, my mum bought me a copy for Christmas. Aaaaaghhh!
Synonyms:ineptitude, ineptness, inability, lack of ability, incapability, incapacity, lack of skill, lack of proficiency, amateurishness, inexpertness, clumsiness, ineffectiveness, inadequacy, deficiency, inefficiency, ineffectuality, ineffectualness, insufficiency.
Well, that pretty much sums up our attempts to deliver a longstanding colleague into a splendid retirement by providing him with some home-baked memories of his youth; a competitive bake-off that was themed on his Geordie roots. We had borrowed the idea from an earlier attempt to broaden the social horizons within our workplace. The highlight of our previous gatherings was a ‘Traybake of the Month’ competition in which anyone could offer-up their version of a particular pastry which was then tasted and judged by all. The entries were usually terrific with only an occasional misfire, but that was then.
This is now …
Boss: “We could have a Geordie-themed bake-off before his retirement lunch. And he can be the judge!”
So that was that, a one-off ‘Geordie Traybake of the Month’ competition was conceived. We hit an immediate barrier. Despite trawling the internet and contacting various Geordie’s that we knew, we could only come up with two non-savoury home-bakes that were specifically linked to England’s northeast: Stottie cake (a kind of loaf) and singin’ hinnies (a sort of griddle scone). I ‘bagged’ the singin’ hinnies for my entry and left the others to their own devices and what ingenuity they showed.
The Hairy Bikers’ chocolate cake was a half-good idea, but only half-good insofar as one of the biker duo actually hails from England’s northwest (Cumbria in fact, like me) and couldn’t possibly be considered a Geordie. I thought about submitting a protest and seeking the cake’s disqualification as ‘not entirely Newcastle’, but suspected that it would be in vain as my boss was cunning enough to present only half the cake anyway, and she could always argue that she had brought along the Newcastle fraction and not the Cumbrian bit which she considered worthy only to be trashed. In truth, the cake had apparently self-destructed after being filled with a poorly conceived butter icing and only half could be salvaged.
The next entry was a straightforward iced sponge cake; its northeast credentials satisfied by a customised rice-paper photograph of Cheryl Cole as a topping. I thought a trick was missed by using the topper to make a Geordie cake; representing it as a Geordie tart would have been funnier, but the cake certainly had more taste than the muse that inspired its decoration. Nevertheless, it also had its problems. That the topper wished its recipient ‘Happy Birthday’ rather than ‘Happy Retirement’ could be overlooked, but the teensiest issue remained – it was not baked by one of us, but by a ‘ringer’; a surrogate maître pâtissier. If it had won then a protest would have been inevitable.
An engaging bit of lateral thinking led to the third competitor’s entry. Nixed by the lack of native Geordie traybakes, he had discovered a chocolate brownie recipe that included Newcastle Brown Ale as an ingredient. Inspirational stuff! Nevertheless, if one considers a published and tested recipe to comprise a sort of standard operating procedure to produce traybakes, then, as the experienced and professional quality assurance expert that he is, how could he confuse degrees Fahrenheit with degrees Celsius and bake his brownies at 275°C? And why did they not burn to a cinder? It turns out that his day may have been saved by his partner’s suggestion that his oven temperature was a tad high. So, I ask myself, where is the fairness in our traybake competition when someone making chocolate brownies gets outside help, and not just any outside help, but assistance from a person that coincidentally just happens to be a chocolate brownie expert herself? Sadly for my hopes of victory they tasted particularly fine and included a dob of caramel within them; sweet and gooey is always a winning combination.
Finally, my singin’ hinnies. Twenty minutes to prepare and twenty minutes to cook. I could make double the dough and use half of it for a practice run and the other half to knock out a dozen expertly-crafted Geordie-based griddle scones to secure a sweet victory. If only. Several hours later my singing hinnies comprised a soloist not a choir. A single, solitary artiste. The rest had been under-cooked, over-cooked, unevenly cooked or simply crumbled to nothing on the griddle. (I’m still struggling to understand what kind of recipe includes lard as half of the fat in the dough and then calls for the heated griddle to be smeared with even more lard to cook the damn things). At the tasting, ‘Boss’ thought the flavour of my sole surviving hinny evoked bubble and squeak, an easy mistake to make as ‘bubble’ is fried in pure lard and my hinny tasted of nothing else either. (I should add a mea culpa – when the first of my hinnies crumbled on the griddle, I thought it wise to add a bit more lard to the remaining dough to make it bind better!). Clearly I was not going to be a contender, but if a chap is going to fail, he may as well fail magnificently.
The Brown Ale Brownies won and rightly so, but I like to think the hilarity invoked by the taste of my singing hinny and the story-telling of the ineptitude of all our bakers was the real prize and one that was shared across the board. Self-detonating chocolate cakes, surrogate bakers, appalling quality control and lard. Oh god, the lard!
Postscript: Singin’ hinnies are so named because of the squealing sound that they are supposed to make when being cooked on the griddle. None of mine ‘sang’ which should have set the alarm bells ringing, but the experience did inspire a limerick which will be added to my ‘Little Book of Bollocks’, so not all was lost:
I was hoping I’d be able to bring A traybake that was fit for a king. ‘Cos it’s not every day That a chum goes away, But my hinnies? They just wouldn’t sing!
I wonder if there is a collective noun for a spate of deaths of the performers that comprised the theatrical and musical milieu of a chap’s childhood and teenage years. Of course it’s no surprise that a clutch of the memorable stars of one’s youth begins to fall off their perch when youth itself progresses to middle-age or beyond, but it does become a bit alarming when so many seem to expire in relatively quick succession. Warren Mitchell, the Alans Howard and Rickman, David Bowie, Val Doonican, Glenn Frey, Cilla Black (although I was not a fan), Andy M Stewart (“Who?” you ask) and now, at a grand old age, Ronnie Corbett. There have been tributes a-plenty to him so I’ll not reference them here other than to add my own small contribution:
The stage lights have finally gone dim On a life that was full to the brim Of mirth a propos The Two Ronnies Show, So now, it is “Goodnight from him”.