Music

Useful men are we

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BLOG 51

Ever since Mrs. Blog read somewhere (I know, when you look at the state of the garden, she should have better things to do) that verse 2 of our national anthem contained some distinctively iffy words on the subject of Scotland, she’s proved somewhat disinclined to go within striking distance, and I use the term warily, of anything that smacks of English jingoism:

“Lord, grant that Marshal Wade

May by thy mighty aid

Victory bring.

May he sedition hush and like a torrent rush,

Rebellious Scots to crush. God save the King.

So, probably not one of Nicola Sturgeon’s choices for Desert Island Discs.

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I mean, just what is Wade’s problem with these chaps?

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On the other hand…  Yup, let’s hush that sedition, and quick!

Nonetheless, Mrs. B was persuaded to carry the Blogfamily picnic basket and folding chairs to Lewes’s annual Proms in the Paddock on a warm August evening.

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Well, I say warm. Anyone with history of attending outdoor concerts, plays or whatever during the British summer knows that the temperatures that encouraged you to arrive in shorts and flip flops at 6 pm will drop below freezing by the time you get to the interval and you’ll want to experience the second half from inside your vehicle in the car park with the engine running. Blankets over the knees are clearly something for women and old men, and I’m clearly not ready for that. Far better to be admitted to hospital in hypothermic shock than admit to feeling a bit on the chilly side.

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This blog’s idea of a good time. How to get the best from the British summer.

Mrs. B and I also appear to have differing views on what constitutes a picnic: since when did a slab of Gala pie, a few chicken drumsticks, a packet of salt and vinegar crisps and frequent visits to the beer tent give way to bowls of something messy covered in clingfilm which you can’t eat with your fingers nor locate once it’s gone dark?

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Ok, so tell me again. Why is this better than a cheese sarny and a pickled onion?

The Lewes Proms is in something like its 15th year and is the main fundraiser for our own bonfire society, Commercial Square. Those starbursts and not-to-be-held-in-the-hand, ozone layer destroying, missile launchers on November the 5th don’t buy themselves, you know.

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Just light blue touch paper and keep on running

I usually have “issues” at outdoor concerts with people talking, not listening. To be fair, I have issues at most events, indoor or outdoor. (Mrs. Blog tells me I could reasonably end that sentence after the first six words.) In the case of our Proms, however, the level of sound from the bands – both brass and swing – that constitute the bulk of the entertainment is happily sufficient to carry the day.

We get the chance to sing along, which is fun, though probably not for anyone listening. I’ve discovered over the years that my vocal range has declined to a couple of notes so, in order to bellow out emotional words about countenances divine and arrows of desire, I’m obliged to wander up and down what I like to think of as octaves to see where my vocal chords will come to rest. We’re a tad light on dark satanic mills round these parts but what we lack in clouded hills we make up for with our own stirring and highly relevant, shire-based anthems:

“For we’re the men from Sussex,

Sussex by the sea.

We plough and sow and reap and mow

And useful men are we.”

Now, there’s a couple of things there that don’t quite strike a chord with Mrs. Blog. Happily, although we were supplied with a songsheet for the evening with the words written down for us, darkness had fallen by the time she reached that part of the programme.

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Men of Sussex doing that stirring thing they do — commuting to London.

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Women of Sussex, doing their girly thing while the menfolk are hard at it…

The failure of so many to warble along unaided with such patriotic ditties may well mean that we’d fail any government test of Britishness. In my own case, while I generally do know the words from all those coach journeys to school rugby matches long ago, I’m still trying to perfect a methodology for singing Land of Hope and Glory and waving a Union Jack in an ironic way.

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Last Night of the Proms crowd at the Albert Hall demonstrating its patriotism in a traditionally English, understated way…

Both regular readers of this blog will be aware of its propensity to scour the outer limits of the internet in search of ultimate truth once some half-formed memory drifts past. In this case its scratch and sniff approach to research took it first to Constance Shacklock whose contralto voice, belting out Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs, was such a memorable (and I say this not in a good way) element of the last night of the proms throughout this blog’s formative years.

It was just one small surf from there to Arthur Caiger, the Man in the White Suit, who led the community singing at FA cup finals and other fixtures at Wembley stadium in the middle of the last century. Time was when you could whip the average football fan into a frenzy of respectable, cap wearing, rattle brandishing merely by dint of getting him to sing She’s a Lassy from Lancashire, Blaydon Races or Ilkla Moor Baht ’at, depending on which teams were present. (Little call in those days for any softy southern songs of course.) After Arthur handed in his baton, the tradition struggled on under other conductors against a rising tide of club anthems and choruses of Who are Yer? and Who’s the B*st*rd in the White? Eventually the ritual was put out of its misery by the increasingly frequent visits to Wembley of Liverpool supporters keen to exercise their vocal chords on Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers hits and other, less salubrious numbers. Happy days.

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Arthur doing what he did best, with some other blokes in the background

Which reminds me. The new football season is upon us. So much to look forward to:

  • The timeless drama of will they, won’t they, shake hands before or after the game
  • Sky TV reporters lurking pointlessly outside grounds with idiots (sorry, devoted supporters) gurning over their shoulders, awaiting the non-arrival of some totally unknown Serbian on the last day of the summer transfer window
  • A succession of drab nil nil draws being massively hyped on TV’s Super Sunday
  • Any interview with Jose Mourinho as he works through some weird narrative, unrecognisable from the game we’ve all just watched, in the forlorn hope that it might divert attention from reality

Bring it on!!

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Another great British tradition, here performed by foreigners — the pre-match handshake

Postscript: The Association of Minnesota Hunter-Dentists has objected to my reference in blog 50 to Association member, Walter Palmer, the well-known international sportsman. I am happy to report that the practice adopted by Walter of having his team of highly trained hygienists and receptionists first anaesthetising his prey and popping them into a dentist’s chair for easy dispatch is more, rather than less, likely to ensure a clean kill. Glad to be able to clear that up.  Next week: TripAdviser’s Top Ten Places to Bludgeon Seal Cubs, rated on Location, Value, Cleanliness and especially Noise.

Postscript 2:  I’ve just spotted something on the BBC news website to the effect that a well-known yeast-based product is contributing to anti-social behaviour in remote parts of Australia. According to a government minister, “Vegemite (is) an increasingly common factor in domestic violence cases.”  See my next blog for more on these stories: “Traces of peanut butter present in majority of insider trading offences” and “Killer marmalade on rampage in Brisbane”.

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Hardened killers and W.I. members preparing their deadly potions

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Equally toxic in its own way…

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4 thoughts on “Useful men are we

  1. Elaine says:

    This is an interesting article. It covers opera, football and the characteristic Dark Night Skies of Sussex. The differences that persist between the Scottish and English nations pop up intermittently but the union appears to be intact at the present. The key component to this adhesion is Scottish marmalade. James Robertson began his business in Paisley, Renfrewshire, expanded it to Droylsden, Manchester, moved on south to Histon, Cambridgeshire and today his great, great grandson ( James Robertson) is reviving it. Golly retired in 2002 so we wait with bated breath for the next instalment…

    • Elaine, I was brought up to understand that Scottish industry had its foundations in porridge? As a former Mancunian I can confirm the Droylsden claim to the Robertson crown as well as Paisley’s. I can also lay claim to having attended St Mirren home games in Paisley and fully support its current bid for UK City of Culture.

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