08/01/20 Last of the summer wine

At present the number of things I miss about life in the UK is fairly small. One of these is a ritual I got involved in when living in Ely. On the last Friday of each month a small group of men, all of a certain age, get on a train mid-morning, and head for a nearby town. They visit two or three pubs and return home. The time restriction means that these trips are limited to East Anglia, but that still leaves lots of scope. There are plenty of decent pubs around if you know where to look.

I was aware that we were acting out an episode of Last of the Summer Wine, but the trips were good fun and I do sometimes miss them. I get a regular reminder of them, as my friend Pete, one of the attendees, provides a list of the topics of conversation covered during a particular outing. This was found to be necessary as some of those present would find they had quite significant gaps in their memory of various stages of the trip, and arguments would sometimes break out. Pete kindly includes me on the mailing list for these documents.

Here is a recent example which should give you a reasonable idea of the calibre of the individuals involved.

Stamford

  • The problems of remembering things in general
  • Driving farm vehicles
  • Wisbech
  • Defibrillation
  • Care homes
  • Pork pies
  • Marie Curie
  • India, China and global pollution
  • Stuffed animals
  • Problems associated with walking upstairs
  • The Scottish question
  • The University of the Third Age
  • The virtues of foot massages
  • Shingles
  • The pleasures of bad weather
  • England cricket captains
  • The Bash Street Kids
  • Douglas Bader
  • The Great Escape
  • Carp fishing
  • Likely imminent deaths of various members of the royal family
  • Richard III
  • Mick McManus
  • Bob-a-job week
  • Catford
  • Dwarf-throwing
  • The use of mirrors in gents’ toilets
  • Anne Widdecombe

Why am I telling you this?

Well, to eke out my modest pension I created a small theatrical piece entitled Eastward Ho! (Un hommage à Samuel Beckett).In this Madame S and I appear, unannounced, on a darkened stage clad only in white sheets and wearing bowler hats. We wait for absolute silence, then a gong is sounded and a voice from the wings announces the location of one of the Ely trips. We then take it in turns to read out, as sonorously as possible, the items on that trip’s agenda. The work has evolved over time. Now when certain regularly recurring items appear, a sound effect is deployed, e.g. Beccles (discordant violins), the problems of remembering things in general (a ship’s foghorn). We have also found it effective to occasionally introduce accents or voices. For instance, Madame S shrieking “Jeffrey Archer” loudly will be met by my “Andy Pandy” delivered with Pinteresque menace.

Somewhat to our surprise, the piece is going down a storm. We have bookings for several weeks ahead in a number of cafés and bars in Poitiers and nearby towns. Not only that, we have developed a small group of fans who follow us around and have started to join in on some of the readings. The announcement of “Stowmarket” or “Kings Lynn” inevitably brings the stamping of feet and a loud cheer, and it is oddly moving to hear a crowd of Frenchmen bellowing “Desperate Dan” or “ Ruth Archer” (“Root Arr-chére!”) at the appropriate moment.

In these difficult days of Brexit, I like to think that we are, in a small but significant way, helping to strengthen cross-Channel cultural ties.