A limerick a week #201

Wor Jack’s deed

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.

High intensity training circa 1970…

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.

A limerick a week #187

On fisheries technology, herring and Tonka toys

I was sad to hear this week of the death of ‘Dave’, a former colleague. He’d enjoyed a long and productive retirement and had neatly summarised his career through a ‘Food for Thought’ article in a fisheries journal just a couple of years ago when he was in his mid seventies. I first read it shortly after its publication and although it was a very technical paper, it brought to mind some less-than-technical reminiscences. (Just skip to the end if all you want is the limerick!)

One of the more stressful parts of my work as a fisheries scientist at Aberdeen’s Marine Laboratory, was the regular meetings with our fishing industry; stressful because we so often were the harbingers of doom such was the poor state of fish stocks at the time and our prognoses were usually received poorly. Over the years we tried several ways to improve our communication with the industry and one early format was to host a day-long meeting with leaders from both the fish catching sector and the processing sector. We presented a ‘state of the stocks’ summary in the morning and a post-lunch ‘question time’ session with a panel of senior staff to respond. The panel was chaired by a former Director of the lab, Alasdair McIntyre. Those of us that were not on the panel sat in the audience to provide any specific comments if required.

As a government department, we could provide only the minimum of lunchtime hospitality and after the first such meeting, the industry decided it would fund the lunches at any future meeting. That included ‘liquid’ provisions that the industry deemed essential given how warm the Marine Lab Lecture Theatre became as the temperature rose both literally and, at times, figuratively. Thus it was after one such lunchtime that the panel was asked about uncertainties in a specific method of fish stock assessment for herring, Clupea harengus; namely, on acoustic surveys undertaken at sea.

No-one on the panel was an acoustic survey specialist, so Alasdair referred the question to Dave, sitting on the back row of the Lecture Theatre. Thus it was that the leaders of various Scottish fish producer organisation, their equivalents in the fish processing sector, and a number of Fish Team scientists, turned towards the rear, only to see Dave dozing quietly with chin on chest – he’d had a ‘good’ lunch. The circumstances were such that would have fazed most people, but after a gentle nudge from a colleague and a hastily whispered exchange, Dave, provided a model answer, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he had slept through the bulk of the Q&A session.

On other occasions he used to go jogging at lunchtimes, not with the rest of us because he was conscious of being a slow and unwieldy runner, so he ran in a direction counter to ours. Being tall and well-built, almost top heavy, he also had a unique running style. He seemed to lean forward until his legs had to move in order to stop him from falling over. To watch him was to fear for him as ran on the cusp of the gravitational constant. Too little a lean forward and gravity would not prevail and there’d be no forward motion. Too great a lean forward and you were looking at a spectacular face-plant from a rolling start. Fortunately, he always got round the course in one piece, but such was his momentum and forward lean that I suspect he only managed to stop by running into a wall! I’m also pretty sure that his background as a physicist would have enabled him to define his running style mathematically. It certainly helped him understand the outcome of a road traffic accident in which he was once involved, as he explained to us that the disproportionate damage caused when going only slightly too fast was due to the dispersal of kinetic energy that increases in proportion to the square of velocity. I don’t know if that knowledge is covered in today’s ‘theory’ part of the UK driving test. If it isn’t it should be.

You may gather, then, that Dave was a big bloke and, like all large masses, when he got going he attained significant momentum. In his case it applied verbally as well as mechanically and in conversation he had a habit of jumping in with a comment (and sometimes a brain-dump!) when you were in mid-sentence. I won’t say that he talked over you, because that has the negative connotation of wanting to impose views and to deprecate any other perspectives – that would be unfair in Dave’s case because his ‘jumping in’ was merely an unconscious by-product of his enthusiasm to engage. Nevertheless, at times, he raised the ire of my then boss.

As I shared a very large room with another junior scientist, we used to host a daily tea-break that comprised the two of us, our boss and a pair of the Fish Team’s ‘good old guys’. At that time Dave was the Marine Lab’s Deputy Director and a regular, if infrequent, attendee at our tea breaks. When he came along it was often to discuss some fisheries matter that had discomfited a Minister, hit the press headlines or required an answer to a Parliamentary Question. On such occasions, Dave would jump in half way through our boss’s explanation of the matter until, one day, he decided he would not stop talking even if Dave interrupted him. And so it transpired. Our boss did not stop talking, but much to his surprise, neither did Dave and the two of them continued to talk in parallel, our boss getting evermore hot under the collar whilst Dave remained cool, calm and, once more, oblivious to what the rest of us were witnessing.

As a consequence of Dave’s relentless and indefatigable forward progress (physical or verbal), I affectionately christened him ‘Tonka’ in homage to the adverts for the Tonka toys of the day, in which nothing seemed capable of halting them in their tracks. For several years I assumed this was a nickname known only to the tea-room cabal (excepting Dave, of course). I found out just how naïve was that assumption when, some years later, my boss came back from a meeting held at the English fisheries lab in Lowestoft and told us that after being greeted by John Pope, one of the UK’s fisheries gurus, John had ask after Dave or, as he apparently put it at the time: “How’s Tonka?”!

Shortly after, and during the early to mid 1990s, the Marine Laboratory held a couple of contracts that linked us to the Instituto Nacional de Pesca in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Towards the end of the second contract, Dave and I travelled to Ecuador each to present a paper at the end-of-contract symposium. Neither of us could speak Spanish and we depended on our local rep, Deidre, to facilitate things for us. Deidre was an Irish woman married to an Ecuadorian and she very ably interpreted for me as I gave my presentation (she had already translated my paper into Spanish so the audience could take away a hard copy in their own language). But that was not Dave’s way of doing things. In his case, Deidre translated his paper into Spanish as she had done for mine, but rather than depend upon her to interpret when he gave his talk, Dave had annoted it phonetically in parts and read it aloud in the most Scottish of Spanish accents and, as with his spoken English, each sentence was punctuated somewhere with a very Scottish “ehh”. His talk went down very well and his approach to giving it was massively appreciated. I could never have done that and I was genuinely in awe of him doing so himself.

So, to return to his height. As a tall man, Dave used always to look down on most of his colleagues; literally, but not figuratively. One could say that at times he ‘loomed’. Now, as someone that is protective of my personal space, I’m not a great fan of being loomed over however much I like the other person. So I generally take a step back if I’m ever in that position, which is why I once sashayed backwards for the entire length of one of Aberdeen’s longest bars. Dave and I had started to chat at a colleague’s retirement do and when we started to speak we were standing at one end of the bar. As we talked, he loomed. As he loomed, I stepped back. As I stepped back, he stepped forward and loomed again. I think it took about ten minutes to traverse the full length of the bar. Dave remained completely unaware of the unfolding pas de deux and that was due entirely to the enthusiasm in which he engaged with you.

Former colleagues with whom I am still in touch have also commented on Dave’s enthusiasm and on his fundamental decency. He was world renowned in his field and attained a senior management position without any resort to guile or artifice and he maintained that position with a genuine interest in his staff and concern for their development and welfare. When obliged some years ago to complete a personal profile on the Marine Scotland intranet, I listed my likes, dislikes and values. For the latter, I stated that I valued decency over achievement (and I still do). Fortunately in life you sometimes come across someone that has bucketfuls of both and Dave was certainly one of them.

Here’s the limerick.

A physicist once took on a notion
To acoustically sound out the ocean,
But to count all the Clupea
It seemed, t’would appear,
To require a lifetime’s devotion.

A limerick a week #186

In honour of Honor…

So, Honor Blackman has died at the age of 94 and, predictably, the obituary writers have majored on her rôle as Pussy Galore in in the Bond film franchise production of Goldfinger. Equally predictably so does the limerick that follows, but before that, one or two more substantive things that the obituaries reveal.

Honor Blackman circa 1991 (©Trevor Leighton)

I like that she thought little of Margaret Thatcher: “She was a powerful figure, but she did damn all for empowering women. She didn’t surround herself with any women whatsoever or encourage women to come into politics or do anything in particular.

I like that she felt strongly about tax exiles such as her Bond compadre Sir Sean Connery: “I disapprove of him strongly now. Because I don’t think you should accept a title from a country and then pay absolutely no tax towards it. He wants it both ways. I don’t think his principles are very high.

(That is something of a volte face from her as, earlier, she had lauded him, not even calling him out over his public expression that “I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong with hitting a woman“.)

Post-war pic of Blackman (in sandals!) reliving her biker years as a wartime dispatch rider in London

I also quite respect the fact that she declined a gong as she felt it would have been hypocritical of her to accept one given her strong republican views, although, personally, I see shades of grey in the issue.

Here’s the limerick:

Double-O Seven could never ignore
A Bond girl from out the top drawer, 
But he’ll no longer linger
With the girl from Goldfinger. 
Say ‘adieu’ to Pussy Galore.

A limerick a week #177

Parody, litotes and satire

I was too young to be allowed to watch the first series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus when it aired on TV, but I did catch the second and subsequent series.

There was a lot that was pretty average in most of the episodes and I’m convinced that they are now viewed as ground-breaking not because they were laugh-a-minute shows, but because of the open-ended and nonsensical nature of the sketches and the ease with which the occasional really funny parts could be repeated ad nauseum by schoolkids in the country’s playgrounds.

And now Terry Jones has died, becoming the second of the Pythons to have “shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible”.

Terry Jones, the naked organ-meister

Subsequent to the Flying Circus series, Jones’ Ripping Yarns productions (co-written with Michael Palin) were, and remain, a joy to watch and, as an amateur historian, he successfully challenge orthodoxy, writing, for example, about the medieval era that:

A lot of what we assume to be medieval ignorance is, in fact, our own ignorance about the medieval world.

Jones’ Hidden History

He also got to voice the best ever line in any of the Python productions…

better than: It’s only a wafer-thin mint, sir…

better than: Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

better than: Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.

and even better than: PININ’ for the FJORDS?!?!?!? What kind of talk is that?

’tis simply this: He’s not the Messiah – he’s a very naughty boy.

And here’s the limerick:

There once was a man so imbued
With humour that verged on the lewd
That he took of his clothes
And sat in repose
And played on his organ when nude!


A limerick a week #176

I say, Mr Derek… 

If you think this week’s ALAW sounds as if it’s a bit ‘make do and mend’, you’d be right. I wanted it to be an uplifting five-line eulogy for the actor Derek Fowlds who died recently, but I left it too close to my weekly deadline to produce a well-polished one.

I best remember Fowlds as Mr Derek, Basil Brush’s straightman in the puppet fox’s TV show, and then as Bernard Woolley in the renowned Yes Minister series.

Foulds as a youthful ‘Mr Derek’ on the Basil Brush Show

His rôle in the latter was as a support to the two leads, but his delivery and comic timing elevated it well above that of a mere bit part and included the punchline to one of the best sketches in the entire series. (I never saw him in Heartbeat, a long-running daytime TV drama that he valued for giving him financial security in his later years).

An older Fowlds as Bernard Woolley, with Paul Eddington as the politician Jim Hacker in Yes Minister

Here’s the limerick:

I say, Mr Derek has died,
But memories of him will abide
As a stooge to a puppet
(A fox, not a muppet)
Who then sat at a Minister’s side.

A limerick a week #168

A final flood of colours

We’ve recently said adieu to a quartet of well known faces in the UK: Gary Rhodes:  Jonathan Miller, Clive James and, most recently, Bob Willis. It was the latter two that most engaged me over the years.

Celebrity chefs like Rhodes are not my ‘thing’ and Miller may have been an incredible polymath, but I found him a bit too full of himself to warm to (and according to the BBC’s obituary of him, he was also “famously cantankerous and grumpy, and on occasions devastatingly rude”, so not my tas de thé).

But, to a cricket-watching teen in the 70s (whole summers of free-to-air test matches on the tele!), Willis was a fast bowler who was always worth a spell. And although England’s 1981 series win against Australia is known as Botham’s Ashes, Willis’ 8-43 in the third test after England had been forced to follow on remains firmly lodged in cricketing folklore – the stuff of legends! (If my last boss was to read that sentence I can only imagine the look of contemptuous bewilderment on her face as she tried to fathom what on earth it means!).

Bob Willis in full flight

Clive James was altogether different. His ‘bouncers’ were not hurled the length of a cricket pitch, but fashioned from words with a turn of phrase that would take out the middle stump of any conceit and pretence whilst standing in awe of his own literary heroes.

He could also bowl a verbal googly if required and although he started out as a literary critic, it was as a TV critic that he bowled to more popular acclaim. Both in writing and onscreen he never failed to  delight in wordsmithing his take on the sometimes ludicrous world of the box in the corner of the lounge.

His autobiographical ramblings were humorously illuminating and clear evidence that unlike the Jonathan Millers of this world, he never took himself too seriously. Nevertheless, he never feigned gormlessness or a lack of intellect:

“I see the pain on your face when you say the word intellectual, because it has so many syllables in it.”

I wonder what the critic in him would make of this (not much, I suspect) …

There once was a literary critic
Whose words were quite sybaritic,
But sadly for Clive
He’s no longer alive
Cos his B-cells became lymphocytic.

Postscript: As it’s getting on for Christmas (again) it’s time for me to look back (again) to the story of Lovell’s bride. It’s traditional and it’s here

A limerick a week #129

A Devine Presence 

I wasn’t over-enamoured with the ‘yoof TV’ movement of the 1980s and 90s, partly due to its progenitor’s ‘Marmite’ personality (although in fairness to Marmite, quite a lot of people like it, but did/does anyone actually like Janet Street-Porter? This guy certainly didn’t) and partly because, as with each generation, it sought to take aim at the earlier cohorts’ mores and extinguish them before clapping itself on the back for being the only radical generation ever.

Punk rock was certainly like that as well. Its commentators look back on it as mould-breaking, but, to be honest, it was only the decadal equivalent of the 1950s Teddy Boys or the Mods and Rockers of the 1960s or even the androgynous Glam-rockers of the early and mid-70s.

And what did punk rock’s mould-breaking lead to? The bl**dy New Romantics, that’s what! Oh, and 20-something years later, a middle-aged ‘Johnny Rotten’ advertising Country Life Butter on TV. Some revolution that was!

It’s obvious then that I don’t think that Street-Porter’s yoof TV movement was as radical as I suspect she thinks it was, but, as with all generational torrents, something washes up that is, indeed, memorable. So, from Street-Porter’s yoof TV era, what or who was it?

Kim Taylor, that’s who.

“Who?” you ask.

Kim Taylor, you know, the TV presenter who fronted the Rough Guide shows and was something of a style icon. The lass that wore sunglasses all the time and was a bit sardonic.

Remember her now? The former presenter who’s just died.

“Oh”, you say, “Magenta Devine. I quite liked her on the Rough Guide. I wonder what happened to her after that?”

Hmmm! So do I.

A lass changed her name by design
And wore sunglasses all of the time,
But I’ve heard now she’s died
So could front a Rough Guide
To the Heavenly Kingdom Devine!


A limerick a week #109

C’est la vie (or not, as the case may be)

Blimey! Another tranche of celebrities just bit the dust: Chas from Chas ‘n’ Dave, Geoffrey from Rainbow, Charles Aznavour from France and John Cunliffe from the Ragdoll via Greendale.

We had family connections with John from his days as a teacher in Kendal and I’ll write of that in a later post, including a couple of his unpublished ditties (sadly neither is a limerick), but this week’s ALAW concerns the diminutive Gallic chanteur, Charles Aznavour.

Both of Aznavour’s UK hits charted in the 70s during my teens and I remember them well, but I also remember thinking that he was an unlikely purveyor of romantic ballads. It must have been the French accent that did it – la langue de l’amour – as Aznavour himself demonstrated when sweet-talking Miss Piggy on The Muppet Show:

(Perhaps Don Estelle, ‘Lofty’ in It Ain’t Half Hot Mum should have affected such an accent; he had a terrific tenor voice, but at four foot nine and rotund, he stood little chance of being taken seriously as a balladeer – although Aznavour himself only reached five foot three).

Anyway, here’s my eulogy to the little Frenchman…

A singer of beaucoup chansons
Le petit Français has now gone
And his fans can’t rejoice
‘Cos now Charles ‘as ‘n’ a voice.
Le chanteur à chanté his last song.

Postscript: Is French La langue de l’amour as the subtitles in the clip from The Muppet Show suggest, or Le langage de l’amour as Google translate implies? I don’t know, but from the days when a French waitress used to make me go weak at the knees simply by greeting me at the door of the Findlay Clark garden centre café in Aberdeen in heavily accented and broken English, I do know this: le Français est la langue la plus sexy au monde!

A limerick a week #104

Carry On Fenella

How should you remember a stage actor who mastered roles in Ibsen, Shakespeare, Chekov and Pinter among others, and yet whose life’s work is immortalised as a vamp in a skin-tight dress seeking Harold H. Corbett’s assent to smoke?

With a limerick of course!

It will be obvious to ‘Carry On’ aficionados that I am referring to the death, aged 90, of the classical actor Fenella Fielding who lingers in the memory as Valeria, sister to Kenneth Williams’ Dr Watt in Carry On Screaming.

That role is generally considered to have killed-off her career as a serious actor and, if true, is sad, but she never gave a hint of any bitterness. A survivor of physical abuse as a child, her fortitude and personality saw to that.

A reputed muse to Frederico Fellini, admired by Noel Coward, hater of Norman Wisdom (who had also abused her) and an actor whose Hedda Gabler was, according to The Times, “among the theatrical experiences of a lifetime” (although that could be interpreted in contrasting ways).

What more could be said?

Lots, actually, but I’ll stick to this from the Graun, who interviewed her shortly before her death about the forthcoming release of her autobiography:

Fielding’s older brother Basil Feldman is an ex-Conservative member of the House of Lords (unrelated to the Lord Feldman, the former Tory party chairman). Did she ever consider joining the Conservative party? She looks appalled. “It never occurred to me to touch them with a bargepole.

Good for her! This is what I think…

She was one of the ‘Carry On’ folk
Whose death will be sure to evoke
In any old fella
The sight of Fenella
Reclined, as she asked: “May I smoke?”.

Is this the scene that killed a career? If so, then surely her co-star in the scene would empathise. Corbett, who had also received some acclaim as a serious stage actor, was hideously typecast as ‘arold in the long-running UK TV comedy series Steptoe and Son.

Postscript: ALAW #104 – you know what that means! Two years of ALAW and I have yet to miss a week (famous last words!).

A limerick a week #79

How discomknockerated I am!

So, Sir Ken Dodd has died at the age of 90. There’s been enough media tributes paid to him since he ‘passed on’, so I shall add only a soupçon.

I don’t think there is anyone else that could have succeeded with his outrageous defence against criminal tax evasion charges yet retain such widespread popular affection, let alone be knighted subsequently. What a guy! And what a funny man.

In a way, it was the constant stream of jokes that got you laughing. On its own, this is amusing, but no more: “By jove, missus! What a wonderful day to run to the Kremlin and knock on its door and ask ‘Is Lenin?’“, but in the midst of an avalanche of one-liners, it made me laugh out loud.

Anyway, I tried to encapsulate his humour (and tax affairs) in this week’s ALAW. I couldn’t manage it with just one limerick so I resorted to two.

The first is a bit contrived to fit in to Dodd’s “By jove, Missus!” routines that usually expressed “What a wonderful day it is to…” before being rounded off with “How’s that for a…”. (Dodd’s humour was in filling-in the gaps in a surreal way).

Here it is:

By jove, Missus! What a wonderful day
To look in a coffin and say:
“It’s short of a body,
So let’s stuff it with Doddy!”
How’s that for a new hideaway?

and here’s t’other:

By jove, Missus! What a wonderful day
To knock on a coffin and say:
Is this the one Ken’s in?
‘Cos I think I’m sensing
It’s not cash that he’s now stashed away!

Sir Ken. Not just a clown-come-tax-evader, but also a reflective scholar of humour. He made me laugh (a lot).

Tatty Bye!