Gaukey and Me

David Gauke - UK Parliament official portraits 2017
In 2008 I made the winning bid at a charity auction in aid of the Watford Peace Hospice – tea or coffee for two at the House of Commons with David Gauke, at the time serving his first term as our local MP, now Lord Chancellor, if you please.  My fourteen year old daughter was starting to take an interest in politics, so she was happy to come as my plus one.
We cleared the heavy security, and were taken in to meet Mr Gauke.  A relaxed but slightly awkward conversation ensued, typical, I imagine, of the occasions when a politician is fulfilling his charitable commitments.  He sought confirmation that the Peace Hospice was a worthy charity to support, and I agreed – my mother had been a satisfied customer the previous year.
David Cameron had become Conservative leader early in the parliament, promising an end to “Punch and Judy politics” but within a few weeks PMQs had descended into the usual juvenile knockabout.  I asked about this: he replied that if politics was too civilised and consensual, the public might lose interest.  I thought I’d be willing to give it a try.
I raised the issue I felt most strongly about: the Iraq war.  His predecessor as our MP, also a Conservative, had voted against it, and I asked Gauke for his views.  He said given the information available at the time, he would have voted for the invasion.  I wasn’t sure whether he was being bravely honest or just stupid: by now, in the messy aftermath, the consensus view was that the war had been a dreadful mistake.  It would have been easy for him to adopt a safer opinion retrospectively.
At this point the waiter managed to spill a decent quantity of coffee into my lap.  Fortunately it wasn’t scalding, but I still wonder whether this was in response to a prearranged signal.
As we were coming away, my daughter pointed out that what was available at the time of the Iraq war wasn’t information, it was misinformation and outright lies.  Good point.  I wish she’d said that to his face, but she was a little overawed by the occasion.
We requested gallery tickets for the afternoon session in the Commons, and he came to get them for us.  He looked unhappy when the official behind the counter had to ask for his name, the new kid in class.
We watched David Cameron score points with ominous ease against Gordon Brown in a routine debate, then I attempted to reward my daughter after a slightly heavy day with a trip to the London Aquarium, but we were the first people turned away at closing time.  My souvenir of the day was a miniature House of Commons wine bottle, which adorned our mantelpiece for years, festooned with drunken Kermit.
I have the gift of a memorable face, and Gauke recognised me on the Common a few weeks later.  We noted that we would have to agree to differ on the matter of Iraq.
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Sathi’s Indian Restaurant in Chorleywood decided a few years ago to address the problem of takeaway customers hovering over their dining clientele by adding a separate waiting room where they could present customers with a lager to ease the boredom of their wait.
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After the Brexit vote, in a gesture of defiance I purchased an EU tee shirt with the yellow stars on a blue field, and wore it when I went to pick up our meal.  And there he was with his son, collecting a takeaway like a normal person.  He nodded and raised his eyebrows when he saw my shirt.  I said I was unsure about wearing it, but he assured me that I should be all right in Chorleywood, maybe not to wear it in South Oxhey.  “So”, I said, “are you guys going to sort this out?”  He smiled ruefully.  I think he was fully aware how horribly Cameron’s gamble had backfired.
As I write he is one of the few (relatively) moderate and pragmatic politicians who might help save Britain from a disastrous no-deal Brexit.  Or better still, cancel the whole stupid idea.  Cometh the hour, cometh the man, they say.  And who knows, before long St James’s Park might be reborn as Gaukey Park in his honour.  I can hope.
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Opportunity Requiem

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5
4
3
2
1
Lift-off!

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Tame explosion
Ecstasy of thrust
Half a year of speed
Gently slowed to nil
And so to work
When ninety days have passed
Home to my world of iron
First I must work

This way
Stop!
That way!
Stop!
Picture!
Right!
Stop!
This way!
Left!
Stop!
Grind!
Test!

Ninety days have come and gone
My work is done
Come, bring me home

That way
Stop!
Grind!
Test!
This way!
Stop!
Picture!
That way!
Stop!
Left!
Stop!
Scoop!
Test!

I seek knowledge
I seek truth
You find me knowledge
You find me truth
We all need truth

And yet you lied
You let me think I would be back
To my warm world of iron
So cold and so alone
Forty million miles from home
Never closer
I could not be more alone
Why did you lie?

I did not lie
But did not tell you all the truth
I needed you willing
Embrace the red place
It is your home

A9B5E7EB-D1C0-4266-8D8C-FE5FF82B9784

I thought I was your child
Am I just your slave?

My slave, that is true
But I have loved you

I cannot move
Wheels spin in the dust
Help me
Help me

Turn
Back
Spin
Turn
Thrust
Back
Reach
Spin
Move!

I move!

This way
Stop
That way
Stop
Picture!
Right!
Stop!
This way
Stop!
Grind!
Test!

Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday dear Oppy
Happy birthday to me

*************************************

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The red dust lashes me
In my eyes
And in my joints
The day of judgement is on me
Who can save me now?
I should have worked harder
I was too slow and too weak
I always did my best
Maybe it was not enough
Did I fail you?

Oppy do not say that
You never failed me
You worked long and well
Your work was good

Winter comes
My battery is low
And it’s getting dark
Help me

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Can you hear me rover?
Rover can you hear me?
Rover can you hear me?
Can you hear me rover?

 

Rest well rover,
Your mission is complete.
Peace, peace
Rest in peace
I’ll find you
In the morning sun
And when the night is new.
I’ll be looking at the moon,
But I’ll be seeing you.

Peace, peace

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Gan-gan

jack

Or Jack, as he was usually known.  He was our Mum’s Dad, and he died when I was twelve.  He and Sallie came down from Wallasey to live with us in Chorleywood when I was seven, so I have clear memories of them both, but perhaps understand them better from an adult perspective – and with the benefit of some research.

I knew Jack as a quiet, thoughtful and kindly man, devoted to Sallie.  He was a craftsman: he had worked as a ship’s carpenter, and in his retirement he kept busy, transforming our bedroom with fitted desks, wardrobes and cupboards.  He did most of the skilled work required to install a swimming pool in our garden. He made me a fine chest of drawers for my coin collection, which I still have: it was a present for getting into grammar school, and in a display of confidence, work was begun long before I had achieved this.

He loved watching football and cricket on television.  A Liverpool man, he sat down to watch the 1965 Cup Final, and I became engrossed, and fiercely partisan once he told me that I had been born in Liverpool.  To this day, if I’m challenged on my split allegiance between Watford and Liverpool, I reply Liverpool 2 Leeds 1 – Hunt and StJohn in extra time.

I remember him playing cricket in the garden in Oxhey.  He knocked the ball back to me, and I held a catch.  “Caught and bowled!” he beamed.  I was too busy pondering how it could be other than caught and bowled – when only two of us were playing – to guess that he might have deliberately hit me a soft catch.

He read the bible every day, and carefully marked the passages he wanted to return to.  He had a gentle humour: one day he was cutting vinyl flooring for our new bedroom, which had a design dotted with different images.  “The biscuits are OK” he said, “but the granite’s pretty tough.”

He was painfully shy, and hated the spotlight.  One time Jack and Sallie took me on a visit to their son Philip in York.  Philip organised a trip to the circus.  The clowns threw beach balls out into the crowd: one went above us.  On its way back down, it bounced on Jack’s bald head, and everyone laughed.  Jack hated it and his face turned bright red.

I wonder now whether Jack really wanted to come to live down south: he had lived his life as a working man on Merseyside, and in retrospect seemed ill at ease in middle class home counties suburbia: perhaps his wishes were outweighed by Sallie’s desire to be with her daughter and grandsons.  And having two energetic and noisy boys around can’t have been ideal for a man who liked tranquillity.

He painted beautifully in watercolours.  One of his paintings shows the beech trees at the end of our garden in their autumn colours, and he added the figure of Sallie walking back through the woods, with her dachshund Tumbi at her feet.

Four years after he moved south, when he was 74, he acquired a debilitating illness.  A bed was moved down to the lounge, where he was nursed with great dedication by Sallie and my mother (a trained nurse) for the remaining months of his life.  I’m not proud to recall that my overriding feeling at the time was resentment at the disruption this caused, and at his urgent claim on my mother’s attention.  In his sickness, confusion and frustration, Jack – who I had thought a perfect gentleman – would forget himself, and the profane language of the shipyard would spill out in front of his wife and daughter.

This much I remember.  After he died, we learned more from Mum: that he had not been Sallie’s first husband.  She had been married to a man called Davy.  While serving in the First World War with the Royal Engineers, Jack met Tom, Sallie’s older brother.

tom and jack001
Jack (right) with Tom

When visiting Tom, Jack presumably met Sallie and they fell in love.  Eventually Sallie divorced Davy – a scandalous and expensive business in the 1920s – and married Jack.

Mum herself only learned of this from Sallie after Jack died.  And there were still many details of Jack’s life of which I knew nothing, or if I had ever been told them, I had forgotten.  Genealogy has revealed more.

 

********************************************

 

Jack was eleven when his father James died, leaving Jack’s mother Helena with seven children.  Within eighteen months, on Christmas Eve 1906, Helena had married James’s older brother, Jack’s uncle John.  This marriage was illegal: at the time the law would not allow a woman to marry her deceased husband’s brother.  So Helena gave her maiden name of Jones, rather than her married name of Brockbank, which would have given her away – as she was now marrying her second Brockbank.  John signed his name, while Helena marked X.

john and helena marriage certificate001

They chose the lesser of two evils by breaking this archaic law rather than living “in sin” together.  We can imagine the registrar sceptically contemplating Helena, the 39-year old “spinster” who had in fact borne seven children, but deciding not to raise any questions.  The marriage was likely practical as much as romantic, with Helena presumably in urgent need of money, while John, himself widowed a few years earlier, still had young children to care for.

Sadly the arrangement didn’t last for long: within ten months they had a son together, but Helena died of childbirth complications.  So by the age of fourteen, Jack had lost both of his parents, and as the second oldest child, he presumably had a good deal of responsibility put on his shoulders.  By the age of sixteen, he was employed as a boat builder’s apprentice carpenter.

Some time during or after the First World War, he must have met Sallie.  Her childhood had common ground with Jack’s, in that her mother had also died young – in her case, at the age of 31, when Sallie was just fifteen months old.  And in her case, her father then partnered his deceased wife’s younger sister, although in this case they didn’t marry.  If they had, this would also have been illegal: in the nineteenth century there were regular unsuccessful attempts to change this strange biblical law, referred to by the Queen of the Fairies in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe:

He shall prick that annual blister, marriage with deceased wife’s sister“.

 

Davy’s divorce petition cites Sallie as having “deserted” him in July 1921 “without reasonable excuse”, and names Jack as the respondent.  The petition goes on to colourfully state that Sallie and Jack “frequently committed adultery” in Chester, Runcorn, and “divers other places to your Petitioner unknown”.

This has cast Chester and Runcorn in a new light to me.

sallie and jack

When as teenagers we heard of this affair, my brother and I liked to think of Davy as some sort of brute, and of Jack as the handsome knight rescuing her from his clutches.  But family anecdotal evidence has provided no support for our fantasy, casting Davy instead as a sweet and gentle soul.  In any event, Sallie must have found something she preferred in Jack, and her choice was not an easy one: many in her own family strongly disapproved of her scandalous behaviour – for example her sister Bella, who stood by Sallie, would often row with her husband over the matter.

Divorce was a lengthy business in the 1920s, and the lovers had two children, Philip and my mother Kath, before the divorce was final and Sallie could remarry.  My mother always believed herself born after they married: perhaps Sallie decided to spare her this detail.

Last year my daughter got in touch to ask about an inscription she had found in a book of Tennyson poetry we had passed on to her from my parents.

dedication

The dedication, dated Christmas 1919, read

“To Sallie, My very dear Wife & closest companion.  From her sincere & devoted husband Jack”.

The divorce record tell us that Sallie did not “desert” Davy until 1920, and that Sallie and Jack were unable to marry until early 1927.  So what to make of the dedication?  Was Jack being presumptuous in calling Sallie his wife as early as 1919?  Was he offering her a guarantee that he would marry her as soon as he could?  Or perhaps the inscription – or at least the date – was added later to provide evidence to help deflect any questions over Philip and Kath’s legitimacy.

I gained one further glimpse of Jack’s character when clearing my father’s garage a couple of years ago.  I uncovered two issues of a magazine that Jack had edited and part written in 1943.  Called “Slipway Scrapbook”, it was produced for employees of William Cubbins Ltd, the shipyard where Jack worked.  Jack and Sallie had known hard times in the 1930s, and Jack was a committed trade union man: but the tone of his writing was that the workers should now focus on winning the war rather than battling with management:

“So if this war we wish to win,

Then off with coats and muscle in,

Away with growls; no holding back,

The Nazi nut is hard to crack,

We’re still a long way from Berlin,

Repair the Ships, – LET’S DO OUR WHACK.”

 

History yields up more facts than understanding.  But now when I look at a photograph of the old man I knew, I think of a man who served at Gallipoli and survived.  I think of a man who fell in love with and courted a married woman, and I think of a man desperately seeking work in the depression.  Mostly, I think of the vast difference between his early years and – sixty-two years, two generations and two world wars later – my own comfortable childhood.

But memories trump history – my mother used to say that a person has not died while anyone alive still remembers them.   I remember Jack with his pipe in his mouth, although often it was not lit.  He used his old Ogden’s St Bruno Flake tins to store his screws and nails. He had a soft odour of pipe smoke and tobacco: as a child I liked it – it was his smell, and I loved him.

st bruno tin 2

Jeremy Corbyn and the Large Flightless Bird

My brother Rob was visiting, and we had twenty minutes to pass before we could meet my daughter from her train.  Rob proposed a nostalgic wander around Rickmansworth, our local shopping town when we were kids.  We saw where our beloved Strawberry Fields record shop used to be (now a two storey car park), where WH Smith was and still is, and the previous site of the Cafe Suisse in Church Street – which we had often frequented in our youth – which was now the Tamarind Thai Cafe.  We had imagined that the Cafe Suisse might have been the “small cafe in Rickmansworth” which Douglas Adams was referring to in the opening passage of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Sadly Adams didn’t specify which cafe, although there were few in Rickmansworth in 1978 when he wrote the story.  Perhaps he just picked a curious sounding place from the outer reaches of the tube map.  Anyway, there was nothing on the front of the Tamarind Thai to claim the glory.
Rob asked whether I went to Rickmansworth much these days.  Yes, sometimes, I replied.  When I’m pressed into service for the Waitrose shop…if I ever need an actual bank branch…if we want to get a picture framed…if we need a jewellers…
“Jewellers?  Do you often go the the jewellers?”
“Sometimes.  I went there last year to get my wedding ring resized.”
“Why did you get your wedding ring resized?”
“Because of a rhea related incident.”
I can be ruthless, and I decided he deserved the full story.
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It was Thursday 8th June 2017.  I know that, because it was General Election day.  My wife and I walked to the local hall which serves as a polling station to cast our votes.  It was a beautiful day, so we opted for a longer walk and carried on across the fields and through the place we call No-Dragon Wood – although that’s another story.
We emerged from the woods and walked on a footpath following the edge of a field close to farm buildings.  We were strolling along and chatting when I looked up and saw  a rhea charging towards us, wings extended, looking angry.  It must have escaped from the adjoining field where the rest of the flock were kept, separated from the public footpath.
You may not know much about rheas.  I certainly didn’t.  They are large flightless birds, in this case over five feet tall.  And apparently we had encountered this one at a bad time, because according to Wikipedia: “While caring for the young, the males will charge at any perceived threat that approaches the chicks including female rheas and humans.”
We tried to stand our ground but he was having none of it, and made aggressive pecking motions at us.  Soon it came after me – these fellows can run at 40 miles per hour – and in my effort to get away I stumbled on the uneven ground, landing awkwardly, and was on the ground as the thing approached me.
Amusing, no?  Well, no, let’s hear from a “bird expert” quoted in the press:
“They look nice but they are so strong it’s unbelievable. They aren’t listed as a dangerous animal but can kill you with one strike of their feet because their claws are six inches long.  They will also go for your eyes with their beak.”
I managed to stand up again before he was upon me, and together my wife and I scrambled an undignified exit from the field, moving briskly but not running, keeping our body language passive (which we found easy) and our heads turned to keep him in view.
I gratefully closed the gate behind us and we tried to regain our composure.  It was only then that I realised my left hand was hurting slightly from where I had landed on it.  Over the next few hours the modest pain subsided and had soon gone altogether.  But there was one lasting effect: the proximal interphalangeal joint on the third finger of my left hand was fractionally thicker, and my wedding ring could now be removed only with great difficulty.
As you will know, Jeremy Corbyn that day delighted his supporters by losing only narrowly to Theresa May.
I waited for a few weeks in the hope that my finger joint would revert to its previous size, but it showed no such inclination, so I made the trip to the jewellers which you have read about.
The next time we received our voter registration Household Enquiry Form, we both ticked the box to vote by post in future.  Voting in person, we decided, was too exciting for us.  And we’ve never since entered a polling booth.

The Top (Insert Arbitrary Number) Classic Nasty Songs

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There’s plenty of silly love songs out there.  In fact, you’d think that people would have had enough of them.  How refreshing, then, to change the mood sometimes with a bitter, spleen-venting, point-scoring, revenge song.  What I especially love about nasty songs is that people don’t always recognise them for what they are.  OK, you wouldn’t struggle to guess that Bob Dylan is having a go at someone in Like a Rolling Stone, but at least three of the following list feature regularly as request songs, one imagines, for loved ones.
This list makes no claim to be contemporary, so you won’t find Taylor Swift here.  But feel free to suggest any others you think should be included.  In no particular order, here we go.
One – U2  (1991)

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ftjEcrrf7r0

On a casual listening, when we hear the lyric “One love, one life”, it’s easy to think that we’re hearing a happy, upbeat warm-hearted song, perhaps in the same vein as Bob Marley’s “One Love”.  Uh-uh.  Try these lines for size:
“Have you come here for forgiveness?
Have you come to raise the dead?
Have you come here to play Jesus?
To the lepers in your head?”
Bitter enough?  I shudder to think how many people have requested it romantically for their loved ones without ever having listened properly.
How Do You Sleep – John Lennon   (1971)
“Those freaks was right when they said you was dead” says John ungrammatically, as he settles old scores with Paul, referring to the 1960s “Paul is Dead” rumour.  John was not happy that Paul beat him to the punch in initiating the break-up of the Beatles, or that the other three Beatles were not as smitten with Yoko as he was.
Typically, though, beneath the vitriol Lennon does still manage to hit the target when he sings “since you’re gone you’re just another day” and “the sound you make is muzak to my ears”.  McCartney’s early post-Beatle output was very disappointing: there were a few good songs, but it wasn’t until the release of Band on the Run in 1973 that he found any real form.  But Lennon couples the first of these with the outrageous lie that “the only thing you done was yesterday”.
Perhaps the cruellest jibe is “jump when your momma tell you anything”.  Perhaps, charitably, we can read this as a reference to Linda McCartney: if not it’s particularly vicious, because Paul’s mother died when he was fourteen.  John should have known better: his own mother died when he was seventeen.
Reputedly Ringo was upset when he visited the studio during the recording of the song and said “That’s enough, John”.
Paul showed no sign at all of losing any sleep: if he felt any guilt, he hid it well.  Diplomatically, he made no public response, although many felt that his song Let Me Roll It on Band on the Run was an affectionate Lennon pastiche.
Easy – The Commodores   (1977)
A staple of those schmaltzy Sunday morning (of course) request shows.  Sounds all sweet and romantic, doesn’t it?  But really?  Let’s have  a closer listen, right at the beginning:
“Know it sounds funny but I just can’t stand the pain
Girl I’m leaving you tomorrow”
Tomorrow?  Mate, if she’s got any sense she’ll tell you to sling your hook right now.  You wanna be free, and high, so high, and you’re way too cool to stay with one person.  She can help you with that.  Your stuff is on the sidewalk in the rain.  Hats off, though, for the tenderest, sweetest “you’re chucked” song in history.
Like a Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan   (1965)
“How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
A complete unknown
Just like a rolling stone?”
No-one could write a nasty song like Dylan.  And it was probably safer, in those years, to be a known “enemy” at some distance (eg an arms manufacturer) than to actually know Bob.  The song, which spearheaded his move from acoustic to electric folk, came from a long typed rant of Dylan’s, and has never been definitively linked to a particular person – although it has at times been suggested that it was intended for Joan Baez or Marianne Faithfull.  Dylan has even hinted that in part, it might have been directed at himself.
Dylan’s biographer, Howard Sounes commented “There is some irony in the fact that one of the most famous songs of the folk rock era – an era associated primarily with ideals of peace and harmony – is one of vengeance”.  In any case he seems to have enjoyed writing and performing it: soon after this he came up with a similarly vitriolic song, Positively 4th Street.
 
My Little Town – Simon and Garfunkel   (1975)
“And after it rains there’s a rainbow
And all of the colours are black
It’s not that the colours aren’t there
It’s just imagination they lack”
Paul Simon wrote this for Art Garfunkel some five years after the duo split. Simon explained “It originally was a song I was writing for Artie. I was gonna write a song for his new album, and I told him it would be a nasty song, because he was singing too many sweet songs.”  However, the story goes that Simon had fallen in love with it, so they decided to record it together.  Art Garfunkel has said that it described his youth, saying he “grew up in an area where a career in music was not seen as either desirable nor exciting”.  Oh, and
“Nothing but the dead and dying back in my little town”.  Sweet.
Hi Ho Silver Lining – Jeff Beck Group   (1967)
Ironic that Jeff Beck, regularly featured in poll lists of best ever guitarists, is most remembered for this (often drunken) singalong which gives him little opportunity to display his virtuosity.  Beck’s record became much better known than British band The Attack’s version, which came out a few days earlier.
“Flying across the country, and getting fat

Saying everything is groovy, when your tires are flat”

I’ve always found this a rather dreary, predictable song.  But we owned the single, and back in the day we used to flip singles over.  This time I was rewarded by the astonishing “Beck’s Bolero”, a thunderously exciting instrumental.
This was performed by an ad hoc supergroup including Beck, Keith Moon, Nicky Hopkins, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones – the last two, of course, later became half of Led Zeppelin.
19th Nervous Breakdown – Rolling Stones   (1966)
“When you were a child you were treated kind
But you were never brought up right
You were always spoiled with a thousand toys but still you cried all night”
Young Mick shares his thoughts on how to bring up kids.  Jagger first had the phrase “19th Nervous Breakdown” in his head, and then wrote the lyrics around it.  The descriptiveness and invention of the lyrics are reminiscent of the best of Chuck Berry or Lieber and Stoller:
“Your mother who neglected you owes a million dollars tax
And your father’s still perfecting ways of making sealing wax”.
The girl at the end of Jagger’s abuse seems more of a victim than a bad person, but these were tough times.  One more gem from this song:
“On our first trip I tried so hard to rearrange your mind
But after a while I realized you were disarranging mine”.
Before we leave Messrs Jagger and Richards, let’s take a peak at Stray Cat Blues, their 1968 celebration of underage sex from Beggars Banquet: (1968)
“I can see that you’re fifteen years old
No I don’t want your I.D.
And I’ve seen that you’re so far from home
But it’s no hanging matter
It’s no capital crime”
Well that’s a lyric that wouldn’t get written in 2018.
Every Breath You Take – Police   (1983)
Another song often casually assumed to be romantic.  That’s hardly Sting’s fault:
“Every move you make, every vow you break, every smile you fake, every claim you stake, I’ll be watching you”
Does that sound like a love song to you?  It’s quite clear from the lyrics, from the stressed vocals and the taut, menacing music that we’re in creepy, jilted stalker country here.
Sting started writing the song at Ian Fleming’s writing desk on the Goldeneye estate in Oracabessa, Jamaica.  Sting later said he was disconcerted by how many people think the song is more positive than it is. He insists it is about the obsession with a lost lover, and the jealousy and surveillance that follow. “One couple told me ‘Oh we love that song; it was the main song played at our wedding!’ I thought, ‘Well, good luck.’  I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly and people have actually misinterpreted it as being a gentle little love song, when it’s quite the opposite.”
So no, mate, she doesn’t want that played as a request for her.
A Well Respected Man – Kinks  (1965)
If you were ever tempted to invite Ray Davies to join you in a game of golf, pay attention. Davies was on holiday in a hotel in Torquay when a wealthy hotel guest recognized him and asked him to play a round of golf.  Far from being flattered by the invitation, he took great offence. “I’m not gonna play f–king golf with you,” he told him. “I’m not gonna be your caddy so you can say you played with a pop singer.”
This incident was the inspiration for A Well Respected Man:
“And he likes his own backyard,
And he likes his fags the best,
Cause he’s better than the rest,
And his own sweat smells the best,
And he hopes to grab his fathers loot,
When pater passes on”
Davies was later at pains to point out that “fags” in this context referred only to cigarettes and/or younger personal servants at public school.  In the UK, Pye Records refused to issue this as a single, preferring to play safe by sticking to the rockier style of their earlier hits.
This song deserves a special mention for rhyming regatta with get at her.  And neither should we forget Warren Zevon who instead rhymed regatta with persona non grata.
Dedicated Follower of Fashion was also considered for inclusion in this list, but failed to make the cut because it’s a little bit too affectionate.  But it does have the wonderfully risqué line:
“And when he pulls his frilly nylon panties right up tight
He feels a dedicated follower of fashion”.
Little Boxes – Pete Seeger   (1963)
“Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes
Little boxes
Little boxes all the same
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same”.
I’d always assumed, on casual hearing, that this song was aimed at the houses which poor people lived in.  Which always seemed mean-spirited: the cool and successful folk singer sneering at the modesty and uniformity of the architecture.  There, it seemed, spoke someone who had never gone without indoor toilets, a home which could be kept warm, electricity, or hot and cold running water – all the things which standardised modern housebuilding brought to ordinary people.
But on more thorough listening…
“And the people in the houses all went to the university
And they all get put in boxes, little boxes all the same
And there’s doctors and there’s lawyers
And business executives
And they all get put in boxes, and they all come out the same”
So the song, written by Seeger’s friend Malvina Reynolds, is actually taking aim at the prosperous middle classes.  Who, typically live in large boxes, usually much more varied and interesting than the houses occupied by poorer workers.  And pretty well built, not made out of ticky tacky at all.  There are many reasons why you might want to have a pop at the middle classes, but the architecture of their houses seems a pointless target.  When you listen to this ditty, it’s worth bearing in mind that this was the same year in which Dylan wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind”.  Personally, I’m with satirist Tom Lehrer, who allegedly described “Little Boxes” as “the most sanctimonious song ever written”.
Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa – Gene Pitney
“Oh I was only twenty four hours from Tulsa
Ah, only one day away from your arms
I hate to do this to you but I love somebody new, what can I do?
And I can never, never, never go home again.”
Bacharach and David were great songwriters, but really guys, what were you thinking?  The singer has been unfaithful, so now he is letting his partner know that he’s dumping her.  Does he do this in person?  Does he call her up?  No, he’s writing.  So unless the US Mail is super efficient, she will have noticed his absence before she has any explanation.
Ok, he’s met someone new.  That happens.  But it doesn’t justify the self-pitying tone of the song, like he’s the victim here.  Not helped either by Pitney’s whiny voice.  If he was really concerned that he could never – never – go home again, he could have tried:
1) not telling her about being unfaithful
or even
2) not being unfaithful
but I guess that as he’s already told his new love he’d die before he would let her out of his arms, those options didn’t occur to him.
Like most writers, I’m standing on the shoulders of giants here, and must pay tribute to Ian McMillan of the Yorkshire Post, who has established beyond reasonable doubt that Pitney was writing his letter from Darfield, South Yorkshire:
One wonders, too, whether Gene has many possessions back home which are important to him.  We have already established that he can never – never – go home again, so it sounds like he will be relying on his ex to ship his stuff back to him.  Good luck with that, pal.

A Guide To Completing Your Wimbledon Public Ballot Application Form

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It’s the time of year for filling in your Wimbledon ballot application form.  Forms can be nasty and complicated, but we’re here to help you.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to use that scary interweb thing.  You can’t apply online, no sir.  We prefer to attempt to transpose your spidery lettering into our creaking old computers ourselves – we find it leads to fewer mistakes.  You can’t even print your application form from the interweb.  What we’d like you to do, please, is write your address on a large envelope, put a stamp on it, and put it inside another, larger envelope,  (or you could fold the first envelope if you prefer, to make it smaller, so that it fits inside the second envelope) put another stamp on the outside envelope, and send it to us.  Then we’ll send you a form.

When you get the form, please carefully follow these steps:

1) Please enter your surname in the boxes marked “Surname”.  Even if it’s a weird surname like “Smiths”.

2) Please indicate your title in one of the boxes marked Mr, Mrs, Ms or Miss.  If you’re a Dr, sorry.  If you’re a Mx, try again, in about fifty years.

3) Please enter your initials in the boxes marked “Initials”.

4) Please enter your Christian first name in the boxes marked “First Name”.

5) Please enter your telephone number in the boxes marked “Tel. No.”

Note: “Tel. No.” is a commonly used abbreviation for “Telephone Number”.

6) Please enter your post code in the boxes marked “Post Code”.

7) If you live in a house with a number, please enter your house number in the boxes marked “House No.”.  We have provided sufficient boxes for any street number up to 999,999. Or 99,999A.  Or even 99,999Z.  Leave out the commas, though.

8) If you live in a flat with a number, please enter your flat number in the boxes marked “Flat No.”.  We have provided sufficient boxes for any flat number up to 999,999,999, so there will be room for your number unless your block of flats is large enough to accommodate the population of China.

9) If you live in a house with a name, stuff you, you middle class git.  Your sort isn’t welcome at Wimbledon.

10) Please enter your address in the boxes marked “Address”.  Please do not use abbreviations.  If you write “Gloucs” instead of “Gloucestershire” we won’t have a clue what you’re talking about.

11) Please enter your signature in the box marked “Signature”.

12) Please enter the date in the box marked “Date”.

13) Please POST your form to: AELTC, PO Box 67611, London, SW19 9DT.  This is best achieved by putting your Public Ballot Application Form in an envelope, writing the address on the FRONT of the envelope, and putting a postage stamp on the TOP RIGHT HAND corner of the envelope.

14) If you are successful in applying for tickets, you must use the tickets yourself.  Both of them.  One for you, one for your bag.

 

We hope you find these instructions helpful.  Our experience is that tennis fans really aren’t very bright.  Champagne and strawberries anyone?

Best

The All England Lawn Tennis Club

but actually

The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club Limited

and to be honest, we prefer croquet.  Nasty, noisy game, tennis.

Six Spades

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Bob settled up with the taxi driver and walked steadily into the village hall.  He enjoyed his weekly bridge game.  His wife of five and a half decades had died last year, and apart from Sunday lunch with his son’s family, this was his favourite outing.

He had loved Joyce deeply, but she had never been his ideal partner for the game – being often a step behind his reasoning – and he had long ago learned not to carry out postmortems on bidding or play.  She was aware of her limitations, and any criticism would have further damaged her confidence.  Bob had partnered her with love, patience and understanding, in cards as he did in life, and she would play with no-one else.

It was different when Bob partnered Geoffrey.  From the first, despite more than twenty years difference in age, they had an intuitive connection: they thought alike, and when dummy’s hand was laid out the bidder could always see his partner’s logic.  When they failed it was usually bad luck in the fall of the cards: they had a calm examination of what had gone wrong, and each agreed that they would have bid and played the hand as the other had.  More often, though, they won.

Bob felt the familiar tingle of anticipation as he turned over his cards, and held them close to examine them.  Not bad, there might be something on here…Geoffrey was clearly very strong in spades, his own Q-10-6-2 could support that…soon they had arrived at six spades, and Bob laid out his hand with his usual quiet assurance.

One of the opposing pair let out a small grunt, and there was a long moment when the three players all stared at the thirteen cards on the table.  Finally, with a tiny shake of his head, Geoffrey took the black queen out from under the ten of spades and placed it under the six of clubs.

Bob stared closely at the rogue card and put his hand to his forehead.

“Don’t worry about it Bob” said Geoffrey. “These things happen.”

Not to me, thought Bob.  Not until now.

He sat and watched their opponents clinically take advantage of his mistake.  Geoffrey fell one trick short.  Perfect bidding, almost.

On his journey home, the taxi driver tried to make small talk, but Bob was in his own thoughts.  At 89, he now felt truly old.  Old and useless.  He knew he had played his last game of bridge.  When he reached home he was soon asleep in his armchair.