Down Your Way

Having been somewhat under the weather recently I have taken to resting in the afternoons and, thunderstorms permitting, listening to BBC radio via my laptop.

Thanks to the time difference the Test Match coverage is over by lunchtime, so the whole range of the iPlayer is open to me….but I’ve been disappointed much of the time by the standard of what is on offer.
Perhaps I wouldn’t be so tetchy were I on top form, but it’s because I’m not on top form that I want to listen to something stimulating and informative.

Still, given that the bumbrushers to big business now running Britain want to reduce the BBC to a muppet show I suppose I had best make the most of what there is while it lasts.

Music – the alternative to the spoken voice – is somewhat curtailed since the arrival of the pups.
They have objections to counter tenors so Purcell’s ‘Sound the Trumpet’ is out…

As is ‘No lo diro col labbro’ from ‘ Handel’s ‘Tolomeo’….

The singer’s lips may not have the courage to utter, but the pups have no such inhibitions. Heads flung back they give it laldy with both barrels.

However they have no such objections to the song derived from the above; ‘Silent Worship’….

Unfortunately I do…much though I enjoy Thomas Allen’s voice I find the lyrics syrupy, so for now on the music front it is pups 15, me love.

What has astonished me is to find re runs of programmes I remember from way back….in ‘The Navy Lark’ Sub-Lieutenant Phillips is still to be found navigating HMS Troutbridge with his unique command of ‘Left hand down a bit’ which results inevitably in an unwanted encounter between several tons of moving warship and several more tons of immovable jetty to cries of ‘Everybody down!’ from the conniving Chief Petty Officer Pertwee to be followed by the wrath of ‘Old Thunderguts’ – Captain Povey.

A period piece now – Britain still had a navy when that series went out after all – and far from ‘edgy’, it is still a delight of comic timing and shines like a jewel among the clumping ‘comedies’ of the current era – as does the superb later series of ‘Absolute Power’ with its commentary on the backstairs of the Blair years.

But, joy of joys, they are broadcasting ‘Round the Horne’ again.
This had my parents in stitches when first broadcast and listening to it now it astounds me that the scriptwriters got away with it in an era when prudery ruled the airwaves.
Especially when you consider that it was broadcast on Sunday afternoons.

Older and more aware of the sheer misery suffered by a man straitjacketed by his society’s rigidity I can still enjoy Kenneth Williams‘ in his persona as folk singer Wandering Syd Rumpo

A lesson in how what you read into something defines yourself.

‘Gardener’s Question Time’ is still going strong, though the egregious Bob Flowerdew has long replaced the gentleman who prefaced all replies to queries with the statement that ‘the answer lies in the soil’, but one old favourite not so far repeated is ‘Down Your Way’ a programme which visited towns and villages across England interviewing local residents.
While my father refused to listen to it, denouncing it as a load of claptrap from town clerks and town bores I found it interesting. In an age where we did not travel much it was an insight into how others lived and worked….and in that pre Thatcher era there were still trades and industries to be described!

‘Down Your Way’ came to mind when I was reading an item in the local on line news: a gentleman has been giving a series of reminiscences of his youth in the sixties and locates the shops bars and dance halls he knew, together with the names of the adults and children of his time….with Violetta’s help I can place most of the shops he talks about – and found too that one of the kids with whom he ran about seeking tips outside the bars is my lawyer!

This sort of thing, oral history, brings the town to life for me….in the same way that the books of George Ewart Evans – ‘Ask the Fellows who Cut the Hay’ and ‘Where Beards Wag All’ to name but two bring alive the life of the East Anglian farmhand from a century previous.
Those who wish to be superior decry what they call ‘anecdotal evidence’…but it is the very life of history.

So, what anecdotal evidence has been happening down my way recently?

Well, things are winding up for next year’s municipal elections so the current bunch of gross incompetents are counting on the short memory effect by a bout of sudden activity.

The alcalde (mayor) has been out and about drumming up grants from state institutions to pay for the obligatory study which has to be made before works can be done to repair or replace the many bridges either down or in a dangerous state during the length of his administration.
puriscal bridge
By the time he has the grants he reckons he will be back in power for another few years and the bridges can be forgotten until next time.

This is unlikely to gain him many votes among the indigenous community at Zapaton whose road exit has not been repaired since the great washout of a year ago, leaving many elderly people prisoners in their houses.
zapaton

Mark you, he may not even be put up as his party’s candidate as well founded rumour has it that among the four up for the job is one who will be in the toils of the courts in short order, so painting the podium in the park in his party’s colours may not pay off after all.
park puriscal

Still, he may yet be of service to the community…
puriscal dustcart
Following the travails of the municipal bulldozer, the municipal dustcart has been out of action for some time…perhaps the added weight of the alcalde will encourage its compaction unit to work as it should.
Well worth a try.

And we have had visitors.
IMG_2807
A pair of black bellied whistling ducks.
They have been feeding with our lot for a few days now, so I’m in hopes that they will stay.
Unlike the alcalde.

Lilac Time

lilac-flower-2Night falls early here, so indoor things I would do in the daytime when in France I now leave until after dark….jam making, or, as last night, making spiced vinegar and peeling and salting onions for pickling.
And, just as when in the kitchen in France, I listen to BBC radio.

The iPlayer is a godsend, despite its new format which drives me up the wall as I want to know what the Book at Bedtime is before undertaking two processes to get to it only to find it is codswallop.
I shall never understand why people let IT specialists tinker with something that works well to turn it into a means of frustration to the user.

Despite the desperately unfunny comedies and the plodding trendy dramas there is much gold still to be mined on BBC radio and I turned up a little nugget last night which not only gave me pleasure in itself, but which turned back the years to when I was a child visiting my mother’s mother.

The programme was one called ‘My Kind of Country’, broadcast in 1968 by John Arlott, talking about his native county of Hampshire.

A brief description of the career of John Arlott would read: clerk in a mental institution, policeman, poet, wine lover and cricket commentator, but that list gives nothing of the reality of the man – a deeply liberal man in every sense of the word with a poet’s economy and exactitude of style and a warrior’s heart for a worthy cause.

His voice is unique…a southern English accent such as you no longer hear among the blare of the north and midlands favoured by broadcasters who think that only something north of Watford can tick the box marked ‘regional’.
If you are quick you can catch it on the BBC iPlayer…if not, here is a link to him talking about how he became a cricket commentator.

Just listening to him brought me into the world he was describing….peeling off the layers of the outliers of the county to come to what he considered its heart…then he recounted an interview with a shepherd who gave a rendering of that old song ‘Buttercup Joe’ and instantly I was back in the past, in a garden in Surrey, while another old boy sang the very same song.

My mother’s mother came from an Oxfordshire farming family…but there had been a tremendous bust up when she married her Australian husband and they had upped sticks and settled in Surrey in a quiet house on the outskirts of a town that was then half country.
By the time I knew that house it was well within the purlieus of the town – the only ‘country’ aspect remaining being the stables of the Co-op milk delivery horses some distance away.
I was taken to visit when we moved from Scotland to England and was usually, with my cousins, banished to the garden while the mother and daughters got down to gossip.
It was a garden divided between grass and flowers and a huge veg plot…but in spring, when it was warm enough to sit out, we used to gather round the creosoted cable bobbin that served as both table and chair in the shade of the lilacs, purple, mauve and white, behind the rabbit hutches.

The purple and mauve lilacs graced the house with their scent, but the white were never taken indoors. Bad luck.
My father thought it was by way of regarding them like the white hawthorn that you would pick when you went maying…but which should never cross the threshold…white was the colour of death…and was the colour of the mourning clothes worn by the queens of France.
There was also – as he pointed out when I was older – the sexual connotations of plucking the flower, the relief after the sexual drought…listen to Morley’s madrigal ‘Now is the Month of Maying’…where playing at ‘barley break’ means a sex romp. Eat your heart out ‘The Sun’.

But all this was hidden from us as we drank our R. White’s lemonade…
Goes off pop.
A penny on the bottle when you take it to the shop.

One of my mother’s sisters was married to a director of R.White – but I don’t remember any cut price bottles of dandelion and burdock or cream soda darkening our doorsteps.

So, engaged in cousinly wrangling, we were surprised to hear the creak of the hinges of the back gate, followed by the appearance of a total stranger.
An elderly man in a brown suit, the jacket buttoned high as in photographs from the Edwardian period, a face well tanned by the weather and the whole crowned by a brown bowler, or, as we used to call it, a billycock hat.
He was as surprised to see us as we were to see him, but soon recovered himself.

I’d forgotten the gals was visiting.

The ‘gals’ being our mothers.

I’d just slipped out for a bit…you know how it is..’

Fascinated, we nodded as he seated himself on the bobbin. We knew how it was when the coven got together.

Yer grandad is still in the Rose and Crown…

We nodded again: this was par for the course.

But I thought I’d just take a few bottles home; the rounds was getting heavy.

We might not be too sure about rounds and heavy but the sense of unwelcome financial burden was clear to us.

He produced a bottle and crown cork opener and took possession of a glass, throwing the remains of the lemonade on the ground.

This, he said, is brown ale…take a sip.

We did. It was not what we were accustomed to…but we weren’t going to miss out.

He took a draught.

Now. I suppose you’ll be wondering who I am.

We nodded.

Well! I’m a cousin of your grandmother Ellen and I’m the dirty dish in the family!
But you don’t want to know about all thaat.

We did. Oh, how we did, but the rules of our upbringing forbade us to ask what a grown up said we should not know.

So while we’re out here and they’re in there – jerk of the head – I’ll sing you a song or two to pass the time.

He sang us Buttercup Joe…then The Fly be on the Turmut….

And was well launched on the next, which started promisingly with

Be I Berkshire,
Be I buggery,
I comes up from Wareham
Where the gals wears calico drawers
And we knows how to tear ’em

At which point the female posse emerged and put a stop to it all…I don’t know what happened to the old boy but we children were pushed inside and fed seed cake.

On the bus going home I asked my mother about our visitor..

She told me that his own parents had fallen on hard times and had farmed the children out to various relatives.
He had gone to her mother who was a superb plain cook, but, thanks to his circumstances, he was not used to cooked food but rather to the stale cakes sold off by the baker….
So every home cooked meal from roast to shepherd’s pie via pig’s fry on Saturday was greeted with a cry of

I doan’t waant none of thaat…..

Brown ale might have been the answer…..

BBC, PC and Bar

richelieu  kipar.orgOver the holiday period when the presidential candidates are silenced and the bureaucrats are off to the beach, life is quiet.
The fiestas of Christmas are over, those of the New Year yet to come; the organisers buying their potent fireworks from local shops who display a notice banning their sale on the very cabinet containing the display – everything from rockets capable of a Mars mission to landmines in hessian bags.

Although this is the dry season and the grazing has started to dry out we have had rain in the afternoons – just when I had been thinking of going down to the pool – so in intervals between feeding poultry, sheep, horses and cattle I’ve been watching more television than usual.

Generally I listen to the BBC radio which I can access without difficulty, but for the Test Match, because of rights issues, I have to use a system which hides my IP address and have to go through the same rigmarole to watch BBC television.

It annoys me that I pay for this when I could be paying the BBC direct…but the BBC doesn’t seem to understand that it has an enormous potential audience – not just among expats, but among people wanting to learn English by the best possible method – listening to the language as it is used in all its variety.
If the IP address hiding companies can sort out the technology, why not the BBC?

The resulting close encounters with BBC television have led me to think that those running the joint have lost touch with what Reith announced were the duties, the responsibilities, of the organisation: to educate, inform and entertain.
Just tell me where Bargain Hunt or the Puppet Game Show fit in to any of these categories, let alone the ubiquitous Stephen Fry and the murderous Eastenders.

Those currently running the BBC appear to me to be much more motivated by lining their own pockets by resigning with a whopping severance package and then returning to the same job as a freelance on a tax fiddle than by providing a public service….they are the clones of their counterparts in commercial broadcasting.

And yet they like to dress themselves in the clothing of their predecessors….telling us that they provide ‘quality’ broadcasting.
Up to a point, Lord Copper: I still remember the hash they made of the Jubilee River Pageant….more like Three Men in a Boat without a bung.

How would anyone interested in quality manage to present to the public an overheated pseudo-historical hodgepodge like ‘The White Queen’?

Or that mountebank performance on ‘Byzantium’ where the presenter manages to reduce the impact on its world of the Arian heresy to an anecdote relating the demise of its protagonist while on the loo.

And for the introduction to ‘The High Art of the Low Countries’ we are given the high treat of the presenter cycling through a low lying landscape of multi coloured tulips with a background of windmills just to make it clear to us that this is all about Holland. Except it isn’t, as the presenter makes clear almost immediately.

I can never work out whether the BBC and all its works thinks we, the public, are terminally ignorant or whether it is they themselves who have been dumbed down by the system which produces them and they are paying us the compliment of placing us on their own level.

Still, I brightened up on seeing a programme called ‘Pride and Prejudice…Having a Ball’ which promised to present an historically accurate depiction of the ball at Netherfield.
Despite relentlessly jolly presenters popping in and out of doors like weathermen on speed it was interesting….the clothes, the food, the dances themselves, explained by experts in their respective fields.

And then…..

Among the dancers representing the guests was a chap of mixed race origin.

In every other aspect we had had accuracy, from the men’s ‘ready boys’ trousering to the china blancmange moulds….but this was a glaring anomaly.
A chap of mixed race would not have been among the guests.
This was supposed to be the provincial society of Regency England….not the society of revolutionary France where the father of the novelist Alexandre Dumas could become a general despite his origins as the son of a French colonial planter and his black slave woman.
Carelessness…or political correctness?

Probably the latter to judge by the advance publicity for the BBC’s forthcoming production of Dumas’ ‘The Three Musketeers’, where we are to be treated to women ‘with a real sense of their own destinies’….Milady de Winter, who ends up on the block?
Women ‘as powerful and impressive as the men’….Constance Bonacieux, poisoned in a convent?

Not content with this the series will touch on domestic terrorism (!) and slavery while to crown the whole misbegotten gallimaufry the boastful musketeer Porthos will be – wait for it – of mixed race, having been born in the Cour des Miracles – the Paris equivalent of the Seven Dials rookery in London.

Those responsible for putting this on the box need urgent assistance to remove their heads from their backsides.
‘The Three Musketeers’ is a classic adventure story…not a vehicle for ticking politically correct boxes.

I can remember a previous television serialisation of ‘The Three Musketeers’ – I think in the sixties – but above all I remember when the BBC was capable of producing a series that was an accurate depiction of the book from which it was taken.

Who can forget Alan Badel in the ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’?
I can see that face in the mirror yet.

If the BBC wishes to be politically correct, it should apply itself to the manifestations of discrimination and exclusion in our own time…the past is another country, and attempting to push our own preoccupations upon it can only further pervert the way in which we see it.

Or is it, as I suspect, that political correctness is used to plaster over the cracks in society, not to dig them out and repair the faults within.