“What?” I hear you ask. “Manchester? For a holiday? Isn’t that where it always rains?” Point 1, it’s England, and that pretty much applies everywhere. Point 2, so what? Not for me the holiday lying on a beach getting a tan, no. There are more things under the sun than, er, the sun, and if I want to find them in Manchester, that’s what I’m gonna do. Deal with it.
So yeah, the real purpose of the visit was to see the latest show by the Didsbury Players, formerly the Celesta Players – a community theatre group based in the leafy Manchester suburb of Didsbury. But since it’s pointless going all that way just for a night, Nige and I decided to make a weekend of it, and cram whatever other entertainment in that we could. In this endeavour, one must say we’ve succeeded.
Friday morning saw us jump in the Yaris and head down the A1. Yep, I’d have preferred an environmentally-friendly train, but thanks to our “greenest government ever”, that would have cost us about four times as much, illogically. But there are plus points to this approach, and one was that we could have a quick stop-off at Wetherby for some lunch, before tackling the Pennines. The views in the cross-country drive are pretty good too, it’s just a shame that driving means you have to appreciate the view of HGVs more than the countryside.
But we got to the hotel in good time. We were more or less inbetween two suburbs of grand foliage – Didsbury and Chorlton-cum-Hardy, one of those great weird place names that’s up there with Leighton Buzzard, Ashby-de-la-Zouche and Piddle-in-the-Hole. By coincidence, it was the weekend of the Chorlton Arts Festival, so we headed along there in the hope of securing tickets for a play, stopping at the Woodstock Arms on the way – lovely pint of Pendle Witches’ Brew. The play tickets had sold out, so instead we chose to go to a poetry event – Allison McVety, a poet who I’d not heard of, was giving a reading at a meeting of the Manky Poets, a local poetry recital group. Her poems were great to listen to, covering all manner of topics, light and dark. Equally interesting were her explanations of how she was inspired to create the poems – some food for thought for my own poetry there.
On Saturday we headed into central Manchester, as nothing was going to stop me from seeing the Pre-Raphaelite collection at the City Gallery, not even death. Thankfully such an occurrence did not need overcoming. We got there via a pub called The Bank, where the wild boar burger was brilliant. Then off to the gallery, and I wasn’t disappointed. The Pre-Raphaelite collection was represented by the full Brotherhood – Millais, Hunt and Rosetti, as well as Burne-Jones, Waterhouse, and both Leightons, among others. Also there was Alma-Tadema (what a beautiful painting Silver Favourites is), Canaletto, Sargent, Sandys and plenty more. An excellent venue if you like British art.
A visit to the Museum of Science and Industry was next – all machinery great and small, old and new, comprised the exhibits – mostly with a Lancashire flavour, as you might expect. Looms, planes, trains, bloody huge computers, all sorts of things to excite the discerning science nerd.
But after that, the reason for the visit – off to Didsbury Cricket Club for the show. Yup, these guys play out of a cricket club – the function room, to be precise. One of the fascinating things about this group is how little they have to work with, and how much they make of it. Their show last year took up about half of the room. This year, a quarter – basically the room’s dancefloor. There are only two ways to enter or exit the stage, and the room has nowhere to hang lights, so the group is limited in those respects. But we were nonetheless treated to two funny, entertaining plays – Stars in their Eyes, a short one about a group of astronomers waiting for (and managing to miss) the transit of Venus, and a longer one, Forte!, a story of a small musical instrument shop that manages to give their big corporate competitor the comeuppance they deserve. The latter play required multiple sets, a lot of props and entrances and exits – which must surely be difficult to arrange on such a small stage. But they managed this very well, which is testament to the group’s resourcefulness. After the show, it was off to the Didsbury arms to sample the Hobgoblin on draft. Niiiiiice.
Sunday morning took us to Stockport, that lovely tropical paradise. The Crown pub was the first port of call, and on entering, i could see why I’d heard of its name in legends. Thirteen ale taps I counted, and I had a go of the Atlantic Jade, which proved a wise choice. We were joined by Jennie and James from the Didsbury Players, and went off to visit the Hat Museum – Stockport having once been a capital of millinery. The lowest floor was full of all sorts of crazy hat-making machinery, and the middle floor just full of hats – more than enough to satifsy a former member of the National Hat Society.
After a cup of tea at Jennie and James’s, it was time to return home, where this humble travelog is now being written. I’m knackered, but pleased that I’ve had around 48 hours in one of the most cultured cities I know, and have been able to fit so much culture-vultury in. Huzzah.
The whole fascism furore surrounding Paolo di Canio had kind of died down now, partly because of his public statement that he isn’t fascist (and we’ll all have our own opinions on that), and partly because Sunderland are now winning games, so that obviously makes everything okay. But this weekend, a (female) friend of mine voiced a very interesting opinion on the subject that’s made me see the whole thing from quite a different angle.
But before I treat you to these words of wisdom, let’s be clear what we mean by fascism: In simple terms, it’s an authoritarian ideology that puts the state and its ruling class at the top of society. Anyone not congruent with that is treated as an inferior, even subhuman. That might be on the basis of religion, race, sex, sexuality, hair colour, political preference or favourite type of cheese. Often, it’ll be a mix of them. But at its heart, it’s an ideology that excludes people simply because they’re different to others in some way.
Happy with that? Good. Now, I’m going to have to paraphrase what my friend said, mostly because at the time of this discussion, I must admit that I’d made a useful contribution to Sunderland’s pub trade. But the basic gist of her statement was, “Why should I care if di Canio is fascist, when the sport is exclusionist anyway?”
Football? Exclusionist? Ha’way, we have all sorts of peope in the Beautiful Game, at the top level, don’t we? All faiths, all races, most likely all sexualities, all genders, all…hang on.
Yup, that’s something perfectly obvious when you think about it, but for some reason, it never occurred to me. Gotta love that Y-chromosome. Football is almost entirely exclusionist (at least at what you might call its upper echelons) when it comes to women. Granted, we have the odd woman in the boardroom (as indeed Sunderland do), we have assistant referee Sian Massey, and we have the odd female TV presenter, but beyond that – no female players, managers, coaches, referees, even physios, from what I can tell (correct me if I’m wrong, please). I can even recall a situation at university, where the Students’ Union wanted to arrange a charity football match of mixed-sex teams. But apparently, the referee’s union (or whomever) refused to send someone to a mixed-sex match. I can’t think of a practical reason why that might be so – if you can, please educate me.
Armed with this knowledge, it seems odd that we might find it distasteful if a manager is appointed who might not have a liking for some minority group, when the game itself excludes about 50% of the population to start with. And here’s the odd thing: If a manager were to be appointed to a Premier League team, and that person were to publically state, say, that Muslims should not be allowed to play football, but women should, he’d be castigated by all and sundry, despite his stance being more inclusive than the game is currently.
The situation isn’t going to stop me enjoying football by any means. But it’ll make me feel a bit hypocritical if I vent spleen at one form of discrimination, while tolerating another more widespread one. To enjoy the game I may have to tolerate both – in a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to – but at least I know I have to tolerate something, rather than unconsciously accepting it as the status quo.
I often get asked to recount this story, whenever somebody finds out that something odd once happened involving a roundabout, men in chef’s outfits, and Ireland. And I’m happy to recount it, but I always have to give my audience a disclaimer: “You really had to be there”. However, this never cools their ardour for the story, and by the end of the tale, they’re covered in tumbleweed. So to avoid any more such unpleasantness, I’ll lay the tale before you all now.
But I’ll say it again: You had to be there. I can take no further responsibility. You’re free to leave now, and I won’t hold it at all against you.
You HAVE been warned. So, are you sitting comfortably?
Night of the Living Chefs
That fateful Thursday in 2001, none of us could have predicted what would happen. We were simply four young people on a weekend away, far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife, just hoping to have a good time. But we were completely unaware of what fate was to throw at us.
We’d taken a morning flight from Teesside to Dublin. It was a chilly, overcast day, but thankfully free of rain. We had landed in Dublin sometime around noon, and had hung around the city centre for a while until we were able to check into our hotel.
The Travelodge at Castleknock, about 5 miles outside of Dublin. How we still shiver at the memories.
It was a comfortable place, in truth, and cheap enough, that being the hallmark of the Travelodge. But this isn’t really about the hotel. It’s about THAT roundabout, the one where the M50 intersects with the N3. A roundabout that would forever be etched upon our minds, where nightmare of men in chef’s outifts would eternally haunt us.
Having checked in at the hotel, we went to our rooms. Myself and Nigel in one (twin room, thank you), and Kirsty and Alison in the other. The girls decided to have a bit of a lie-down, But Nige and I, being young gentlemen in search of a good time, decided to venture forth to seek the pubs. We left the hotel, and headed for civilisation on the other side of the roundabout.
And that’s when I saw the first one.
Standing in the grassed area in the middle of the roundabout, by himself, with apparently no purpose, was a man in a chef’s outfit.
He was just standing there, looking around. Why, I wondered to myself, would a lone man, in a chef’s outfit, be standing in the middle of a roundabout on a busy road?
It sent shivers down my spine. And then I saw the second one.
The second man, also in a chef’s outfit. Also just looking around, apparently without purpose. No other obvious connection to the first man – but eerily, both dressed in the same style. Both doing nothing, but with a sense of foreboding. Like those Weeping Angels in Doctor Who. Only in chef’s outfits.
Compose yourself, I told myself. This is Ireland. Maybe it’s just one of those things they do, like Gaelic football, or poteen, or taking the Pope seriously. As we wandered toward the roundabout, to cross the road, I saw the third.
The third man, in a chef’s outfit. But he was unlike the other two. He was carrying a tray. A silver tray. With nothing upon it. What’s more, he wasn’t simply standing and looking around. He was walking. Walking toward the second man. Walking, and pointing at him. And saying something, possibly in some long-forgotten chthonic language; the language of demons. Or maybe just English.
Well, this was more than my mind could handle. I vowed to myself that nothing here could really hurt me, like Danny in The Shining. With great speed, Nigel and I crossed the busy road, avoiding these inhuman monsters, and headed for the nearest pub, stopping only to inquire of a couple of street urchins as to exactly where the nearest pub was.
Reaching the safety of this homely tavern, we refreshed our spirits with some fine local beverages, until we were ready to return to the hotel – fully aware that those men in chef’s outfits would be there. But we couldn’t let that stop us. Those Gourmets of Darkness could, at any moment, bear down upon the hotel in which our friends were innocently sleeping. We were their only hope. We had to return, and keep them safe from a terrible fate.
We left the tavern, the owner having provided us with rosary beads and crucifixes to protect us from any evil we might encounter. Our hearts thumping like a Citroën’s engine in the wrong gear, we advanced toward the roundabout. And there they were, the three of them, standing in the middle of the roundabout, a veritable hive of demonic activity. From a hatch in a van they were taking cups. And passing them to drivers. No doubt goblets of some vile potion, made to induce madness on humanity, whereupon these Epicurean demons would execute some infernal plan to take over God’s green Earth.
I had to do something. I had wooden stakes, silver bullets and garlic bulbs, which had been sent to me in haste by my old univeristy lecturer, Van Helsing of Amsterdam. One must admire the speed of the postal service. With the courage of Hercules, I strode toward one demon, and in a tremulous voice, asked him what his business among humanity was.
Basically, they were handing out free pancakes to motorists as a promotion. So we got one each, and took some back for the lasses as well.
Free speech is an inalienable human right. But it is not a duty. We have the right to say what we want, but it is always worth remembering that we can choose to use speech responsibly. Sometimes it might be more expedient to say nothing in a given situation; in others, it might be wise for us to choose our words correctly – particularly if we risk offending people.
This is known variously as tact, diplomacy, or political correctness. The latter is a phrase that we often love to complain about, when we hear about some jobsworth who has banned something for fear of insulting someone who probably doesn’t care. These are extreme examples, but political correctness is something that a lot of people take seriously, becuase they’re consciencious enough people to not wish to offend people. So I’m not about to talk about political correctness gone mad, more political correctness in its more sane form.
But it’s a minefield, this PC lark. It’s difficult to know what will offend other people. Even, it seems, when a term seems perfectly serviceable. As I found out this week, and the purpose of this post is to explore such a problem.
In a crossword yesterday, the word “handicapped” was used. It was a golfing reference, but the clue using it attempted to misdirect the solver by suggesting it to be a reference to disability. In the discussion that followed on a crossword blog, it was noted that “handicapped” is considered to be an offensive term.
That surprised me. A quick consultation of the Delphic Oracle (Chambers Dictionary) makes no mention of the word being offensive or vulgar. Among its definitions are “Any physical, mental or social disability”. That’s how I’d always seen the word in that sense, and the definition doesn’t point toward any intent to offend.
But then I was presented with this link to a BBC poll to find words considered offensive by the disabled community. In short, here are the top ten:
Now, the inclusion of some of these is perfectly understandable. 3, 4, and 8 are phrases that, as far as I know, have never been part of medical parlance and have only ever been used offensively. 1, 2 and 7 probably have been medical terms in the past, but due to increased use as offensive terms, have become almost exclusively that. And it’s easy to see how 5 and 6 could be considered patronising.
However, I don’t think that I’ve ever heard 9 or 10 to be used offensively. They seem to be phrases that correctly describe a situation. No more or less than “disabled” does. But, according to the BBC poll, it’s more about perceived connotations to the word – “handicapped”, although semantically no different to “disabled”, appears to have greater stigma attached to it. Some see “handicapped” as offensive as “nigger” – even though the latter has never had a valid, unoffensive, non-pejorative sense.
So this causes a problem for the person who wants to be PC. If a phrase is semantically accurate, should we allow ourselves to be bound by a stigma that might only be seen by certain people, or should we feel free to use such a term? If another person, for whatever reason, thinks that such an accurate term has connotations they don’t like, it is our problem? After all, we can’t assume that ALL people will have the same perceptions. In discussion of the crossword clue, one disabled man was happy to refer to himself as handicapped, and didn’t mind if others followed suit. Nor did he care much for disabled people who disliked the word. He felt the word was a correct description of his situation.
I think that the answer for a PC-wannabe is simple. If you want to remain unoffensive, at least try to keep the tone of what you say unoffensive. That way, even if a word creeps into your discourse that you didn’t realise had any stigma attached, it’s easier to see that no offence has been intended. If you are aware of that a phrase might raise eyebrows, it has to be up to your own judgement, based upon the conext, the intent and the target audience. In principle, I see no problem with using a valid word that precisely defines something. But you might. And to force a rule in this situation would be Linguistic Nazism, and I’ll have to truck with that.
No plays performed in front of major international stars this year, but you can’t have everything. Still, a lot of good stuff to look back upon.
January: Back to panto action, with the Washington Theatre Group, in Dick Whittington, playing the Sultan of Morocco in a fabulous Fez.
February: Trip to Liverpool for the Green Party conference and some tourism.
March: About forty different birthday booze-ups for Nigel’s 40th. Seemed like that anyway.
April: Performed in a very memorable play, Keeping Tom Nice at The Royalty, playing a social worker. Took a trip into Darkest Yorkshire, too – somehow returning with a lot of beer.
May: Trip to London for a birthday. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that cake. I think I winced when the knife went in. Any man would. That should give you an idea of what shape it was.
June: Attempted a weekend break in Grizedale, but rain contrived to have half the campsite flooded. Despite this, a memorable trip if only for that wonderful game pie at the Eagle’s Head – the highlight of the 13-hour holiday. Performed this poem at the launch event for the Middlesbrough Literary Festival.
July: A second camping trip, this time around the Northumbrian Coast, proved more successful. Great weather all over the place, and the fish and chips from Beadnell Bay are highly recommended.
August: Tooke part in an anti-NF demo in Sunderland. The star of the NF show was the guy in the Chelsea shirt with “Essien” on the back. Michael Essien, a black foreigner, an immigrant with a job. Love the logic there.
September: Highlight of the year: The North-East Skinny Dip. Yes, jumping in the North Sea at 7 in the morning is the best thing that happened to me this year. Believe it or else. Flag bearer at Sunderland Pride, too. And interviewed by the same Sky reporter and both events.
October: Unexpectedly found myself performing in The Edge of Darkness at The Royalty after an actor had to drop out due to illness on the final night. Scary experience, and an ironic one – I’m the smartarse who always knows his lines first, and I had to do the entire performance with a script.
November: Started archery lessons with Whitburn Archers.
December: Directing The Day after the Fair. Coming to a theatre near you soon. If you’re near The Royalty.
Roll on 2013.
One problem with the whole desert-island-whatever thing is that, if you knew you were going to be stranded, possibly for years, with only about ten records, books, or whatever, you’d have to be pragmatic. Although the idea is that you choose your favourite ten, common sense would suggest otherwise. You’d probably want a bit of variety. You might be a big Led Zeppelin fan, for instance, but surely, for the whole time you were stuck on that island, you wouldn’t want all nine of their studio albums plus a compilation. You’d want something different on occasion. II and IV would probably suffice, possibly with Physical Graffiti if you didn’t think you could live without Kashmir.
So, this list of albums isn’t necessarily my 10 favourites. It’s probably closer to a list of favoured artists. I’ve made a few rules for this: firstly, no compilation albums. Greatest Hitses, Very Best Ofs and Now That’s What I Calls all feel a bit like cheating here. Secondly, no box sets, as they similarly feel like they don’t hit the spirit of the thing.
And I’m going to limit it to ten this time. When I did Desert Island Books, I ended up with fourteen. This time, I’ll name ten, but I’ll have some in reserve. The reserves will be those that, should I find myself about to be stranded on a desert island with my record collection in front of me, I’d take if any of the main ten couldn’t be found. That seems fair. So, in no particular order:
Generation Terrorist – Manic Street Preachers
For those poor souls who think the Manics’ career began when A Design For Life made it big, let me educate you on something. That single was from their fourth album – which saw the beginning of the band’s slow collapse into nice commercial tunes. Before that, much of their creative genius came from Richey Edwards – a man often described as “troubled” by the press (not without cause – look up the 4 REAL incident), and who is now missing, presumed dead. And this first album might surprise those who so loved the strings and nice, friendly, pop guitars of their Everything Must Go offering. Because it’s brash, and full of anti-establishment sentiment. Motorcycle Emptiness will always be its best-known track, but You Love Us and Little Baby Nothing are right up there with it.
A Night at the Opera – Queen
Even if Greatest Hitses were allowed, this would still come in front of any of Queen’s compilations, for me. It was the album that gave us Bohemian Rhapsody (everybody’s favourite headbanging-in-cars tune), You’re My Best Friend and the questionable I’m in Love with my Car. But even these won’t stand out to everyone as the best – Death on Two Legs is wonderfully angry, and will probably remind you of every boss you ever hated. The Prophet’s Song is the ultimate murder-ballad, being eerie and apocalyptic. To counter these, we have the more jolly Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon and Seaside Rendezvous. It’s hard to imagine an album with a greater variety (especially as Bo-Rap itself has about six musical genres in one song). There’s not a bad track on the whole album, and to add to its brilliance, Brian May even plays ukulele on Good Company.
Monster – R.E.M.
To my mind, this is the finest album ever made. And it will always remain so. No arguments, final word, no phoning a friend. Many will disagree – there were numerous music critics who thought that because it didn’t have the mainstream appeal of Out of Time or Automatic for the People, it wasn’t worth bothering about. Morons, I say. It’s certainly rockier than the previous two offerings, but hey, good bands should always be versatile. Crush with Eyeliner is my stand-out track, a gorgeous anti-love ballad, if that makes any sense. We have the better-known What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?, probably the only song ever based on a line shouted at a CBS anchorman by someone assaulting him with a bat. We have the lovely falsetto Tongue, Strange Currencies and number of other songs on themes of love, sex and identity, all as grungy and decadent as a diesel cheesecake. Buy it, now.
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars – David Bowie
So many Bowie albums to choose from, that I would be tempted to break the Greatest Hits rule. But if I had to pick one, it’d be this long-titled offering from the King of Glam. Even the cover of the LP is iconic, our Dave in his glam gear in Heddon Street, London. Ziggy Stardust, one of my favourite Bowie tracks, is the best on this album, but it’s in good company with Suffragette City and Starman – who can forgot the controversy this song caused when Bowie sang it on Top of the Pops, having the audacity to put his arm around Mick Ronson WHEN KIDS MIGHT BE WATCHING. What sick filth, call the Daily Mail immediately. Before house prices drop or this blog gives you cancer.
Two Penny Opera – The Tiger Lillies
A little-known band, but one with a worldwide following, and probably the band I’ve seen live the most. This is just one of the nigh-on thirty albums of theirs so far. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who might be easily offended, or might want to play the record in front of children, churchgoers or potential employers – especially if you’re after a Sunday School job. Irreverent is understating it. Mary is a catchy tune about a young lady who’ll pleasure any manner of churchman, including God himself. Piss on Your Grave at least gives an idea of its content through the title. Your Suicides brings some humour to the darkness, which is quite typical of the Lillies’ music – the darker subjects of life explored with a libertarian humour. Don’t take it too seriously, unless you’re the sort of person who’d buy it just to be offended, so that you could write to someone about it.
Fuzzy Logic – Super Furry Animals
A band that were never as A-list as Blur or Oasis during the 90s Britpop years, but with more creativity that the two of those put together. But I’ve seen staplers with more creativity than Oasis, anyway. Fusing guitar rock with electronic music, the Welsh five-piece’s debut is grungy, snappy and fun. Unfortunately, it has none of their Welsh-language pieces which can be so much fun, but it does have the sprightly Something 4 the Weekend, Frisbee and Bad Behaviour. In contrast, If You Don’t Want Me To Destroy You is smoothly poetic. Gruff Rhys has a fabulous, erm, gruff voice that suits the balladeering as well as it does the grunge – this makes sense, as I don’t think you’re allowed to be Welsh if you can’t sing.
Get a Grip – Aerosmith
Aerosmith have been around for a good long while – in fact, almost as long as Newcastle United’s trophy drought, which is saying something. But I know them best from the mid-90s, when they were the Classic Rock band du jour. They’re the best band I’ve yet seen live, and another act for whom I’d be more tempted by a compilation. But studio album it must be, and this is the finest that I’ve come across from them. We have the ballads – Crazy and Crying (who can forget those Alicia Silverstone videos, eh?) – and the rockier tunes: Livin’ on the Edge and Shut up and Dance are here, as is the vitriolic Eat the Rich – one assumes the band had been reduced to a squat in Boston, MA when they were recording this, living on bread and water. It’s what classic rock music should be – loud, upbeat and performed by blokes older than your dad who have no right to be cool at their age.
The Bends – Radiohead
Famed for their ability to be soul-destroyingly depressing, Radiohead’s second album doesn’t quite live up to such hyperbole. It’s an outstanding album that, while it might make you a bit melancholy sometimes, and others it’ll make you nice and angry. Not one for the wedding disco, then – save it for the inevitable divorce party. Just stands out as the finest of the angrier tunes, and it’s worth seeing the video just so you can go “eh?” and the end bit. Street Spirit (Fade Out) calms everything down to finish to album. The singles High and Dry, Fake Plastic Tree and My Iron Lung are present and correct, but these are by no means the only worthy tracks. All of them are worthy. Of your attention.
Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles
Before I go any further, anyone who had to be told that this album was by the Beatles should go away now, preferably somewhere cold (like the further reaches of the Horsehead Nebula) and never come back, for it is an abomination to the LORD (i.e., John Lennon – ALWAYS bigger than Jesus). It has almost become acknowledged as a fact that it’s the best album of John, Paul, George and Ringo, as so many people subscribe to this theory. With good cause, too. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds! When I’m 64! Lovely Rita! With a Little Help from my Friends! Many more besides! Another one with a classic album cover, and probably the most iconic of the fab four’s albums – perhaps more so that Abbey Road, and with less chance of people getting run over trying to imitate it.
Thriller – Michael Jackson
The album that won more Grammy awards than one and three-quarter camels have legs. Really stuck for a simile there. Eight awards, and I’m certain that at least three of those were for letting Vincent Price have a go at the creepy voice on the title track. There were seven singles on this album, so I’ve missed a great opportunity for the simile I was looking for earlier. Billie Jean is the song that gave us the Moonwalk, and Beat It is that song that (possibly) gave us “Weird Al” Yankovic parodies. It doesn’t quite fit with the rock/indie theme that’s been developing in the list, but Michael Jackson was the first musician I was ever enthusiastic about. And this is his best album, without a doubt. It even has a Beatle on it, in The Girl is Mine. McCartney should be honoured that he’s in two of these albums. And it’s a great choice for a desert island, because you can practice your zombie dancing to it without anyone watching. Who wouldn’t want that?
So, that’s the ten. But the reserves? No detailed description, just the basics, and some of the better tracks. Find them on Spotify or something, and enjoy…
Attack of the Grey Lantern – Mansun : Stripper Vicar, Egg-Shaped Fred, Wide Open Space.
Automatic for the People – R.E.M. : Ignoreland, Find the River, Everybody Hurts.
1977 – Ash : Girl from Mars, Oh Yeah, Goldfinger.
Scream, Dracula, Scream – Rocket from the Crypt : Ball Lightning, Heater Hands, On a Rope.
Sweet Sixteen – The Fureys : The Siege of a Nation, The Green Fields of France, Yesterday’s Men.
How to Make Friends and Influence People – Terrorvision : Pretend Best Friend, Oblivion, Middleman.
Yeah, punning in French now. Anyway, in honour of the recent North-East Skinny Dip, an Anacreontic ode (good for upbeat celebration of something so free-spirited) on the fun we had…
Twenty-second of September!
What a morning to remember!
Scores of people in the nip,
For the North-East Skinny Dip!
There we stood at Druridge Bay,
At the very break of day.
Waiting on the icy sand,
Dipping hour close at hand.
Finally we got the call:
“Okay, dippers – bear it all!”
Off it came, right then and there,
Liberated from our clothes,
Off we ran, with frozen toes
Straight into the foaming brine,
As the sun began to shine.
Hordes of people filled the sea,
In the name of charity.
Men and women, young and old,
Body sizes manifold.
Dodging waves, we swam about,
Free and easy, wearing nowt.
All around were laughs and hoots,
From the folk in birthday suits.
Proud to show their naked forms,
Challenging the social norms.
Not a body part seemed rude,
With so many in the nude.
Once we all had swum enough,
Out we stumbled, in the buff.
Clothed and warm, we got some scran
From the handy burger van.
This much needed body heat
Put some feeling in my feet.
Back home, I was pleased to find
Loads of money raised for Mind;
TV, radio and papers
Covering our naked capers.
Best of all, I think I’ve grown,
Challenging my comfort zone -
For I’d had the guts to strip
For the North-East Skinny Dip!
© John Appleton 2012
(Oliver-based title pun, ‘cos the production currently at Newcastle Theatre Royal is very worth seeing. But I digress).
Okay, so this morning, I got up at half-past four and jumped in the North Sea with no clothes on. As I’m now home and dry (literally), have caught up on some sleep, and the feeling has come back to my extremities, I can now tell the full dramatic story – including why I would do such a thing, and whether or not it was good for me.
It was a few months ago when I first heard that it was happening, through Facebook. My intial reaction was “You’ll never get me doing that”. Then I was a maybe. Then a definite yes. But why, I hear you all ask, would you want to get up at daft o’clock on a weekend, take off every stitch of clothing, and go swimming in some bloody freezing water? It’s a fair question. One, I like my weekend lie-ins. Two, I don’t exactly have the body of a Greek god. Three, the North Sea is surely very cold.
However, it occurred to me that this was something of a challenge to my personal confidence. There was a time when I’d never even contemplate such a thing, but these days, I’m a lot more inclined to push my own boundaries. We all have our comfort zones. But I feel that if we occasionally allow ourselves to go even just a small way out of that, even though it may be scary, when we get through it, we’ve created a greater comfort zone. And the more we do that, the more we can expect to achieve generally.
Psychotherapeutic ramblings aside, there was also the charity aspect. Like many of the participants, I raised money for Mind, a mental health charity. So these two reasons were good enough, I thought, to deprive myself of a Saturday sleep-in and some body heat.
I duly signed up and awaited my fate. Now, I’m pleased to report that the whole thing was tremendous fun. Quick cup of coffee immediately after getting up, and then into the car, with two more intrepid dippers. By 6.15 we were at the dip site, acclimatising ourselves to the temperature (about 5.5 degrees, according to the BBC’s coverage). The sand in particular was very, very cold, so not too kind to our feet. It left me wondering just how cold the water would be.
Eventually, the appointed time arrived, and at the signal, 146 people took off their clothes and ran for the sea, like an army of excited Reginald Perrins. On getting to the sea, I was surprised. It was actually a decent temperature; better than the air temperature at any rate. It didn’t take too long to get used to; soon I was swimming about, dodging waves and basically enjoying thre freedom of being in the water with nothing on. It really is a liberating feeling, much more so when there are numerous others doing the same thing.
But getting out of the water was the worst thing, as then I was cold again, and though I got into some warm clothes sharpish, it took a while for my feet to feel like there was blood running around them again. A sausage sarnie and a coffee from the handy van helped. But I did leave feeling that I really should have stayed in longer. This is my only regret.
So yeah, the comfort zone I spoke of earlier has been expanded, and I’d most likely do this, or something similar, again. I’m still not terribly pleased with my body, but this isn’t to say that I feel ashamed of it. Because, as anyone who does attend such events will testify, naked people are not all supposed to look like underwear models. They look like real people, just without clothes. And there’s something undefinably cool and natural about that.
So many thanks to Jax and Mark for organising it, to those who sponsored me, and to those who re-tweeted my adverts for it (including John Prescott, no less). It’s done me a lot of good, and hopefully Mind, too.
So, this is the film what I made last year. Enjoy.
Update: The video’s been removed; I’ll keep an eye out to see if it appears again.
Yes. You read that right. Hopefully it’ll be a world record for the biggest number of naked idiots jumping into the sea at once. That’s gotta be worth a few sponsorship pounds.
The North-East Skinny Dip is taking place on Saturday 22nd September at very silly o’clock in the morning, in the North Sea (see idiots comment earlier). We’re doing it for a very worthy charity (MIND, a national mental health charity), as well as for an cracking answer to the question, “So, done anything interesting lately?”. I think it’s difficult to beat.
But here’s the important bit where I try to get you to part with your hard-earned: There’s a single sponsorship page (under one person’s name, but it all goes to the same charity), so that we don’t all have to mess about with creating hundreds of JustGiving pages (and so that if you know more than one of us but want to sponsor us all, that’s easier). Anyway, to make the sponsorship link nice and easy to spot, here it is in stupidly big format:
Thanks in advance if you do choose to donate some cash to this very worthy cause. Alternatively, if you’d actually like to take part, the registration site is here (and see the link to the Facebook event page above – invite your friends – or your enemies). Wish us luck!