“Summer’s almost over, soon it’s back to school, time to drain the water out of the swimming pool…” Any ideas about which song this comes from?
Cast your votes, ladles and jelly spoons. September is almost upon us…
“About bloody time!”
These were the opening words of Spike Milligan’s acceptance speech at the British Comedy Awards in 1994.
I was born too late to be a Goons fan and I was too young to appreciate Spike’s bizarre TV series “Q5” and “Q6”, but I was bang slap in the middle of literary puberty when I discovered the first volume of Spike’s war memoirs. It was love at first read and led to a long lasting relationship. I have volumes of Spike’s poetry, plays, scripts, anthologies, all peppered with his very silly and delightful drawings.
When I first read “Hitler: My Part in his Downfall” I was a spotty, woolly-haired 16 year old, in love for the first time.
Flashback to 1974 – a hot summer’s afternoon in the Bayswater end of Hyde Park. I was lying on the grass, my girlfriend beside me. We’d been reading bits of Spike’s book to each other, but the sultry London sun had got the better of us. We lay back side-by-side in the shade of an oak tree. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the sunlight on my eyelids as it flickered through the leaves of the tree. In the background I could hear the constant, reassuring hum of traffic on the Bayswater Road. Bliss.
All of a sudden the sunlight was blocked out and I felt something warm and wet splash onto my face. I opened my eyes and saw a dog’s leg cocked right over my face. The last few dribbles of pee dropped onto my chin.
“Hey!!” I yelled. The dog, which had now finished peeing on my face, scampered off with innocent abandon.
Beside myself with furious indignation, my face soaked in warm dog pee, I leapt to my feet and gave chase to the hapless mutt, shaking my fist and shouting curses.
My girlfriend, jolted awake by my shouts, sat up. She saw me galumphing after the dog, my fist shaking. She burst out laughing. This was the final straw. As if being peed on by a dog wasn’t enough, I was now being laughed at by the love of my life. I stopped in mid stride, temporarily distracted from the chase, but my anger-driven momentum caused me to continue in a forward direction. I tripped over my own feet and fell sprawling on the grass.
It took a while for me to calm down. Later, back at my girlfriend’s parents’ flat, we both laughed about it.
I’m sure the whole incident would have made Spike laugh too. The irony was that Spike actually lived at Orme Court, less than shouting distance from the patch of grass in Hyde Park where my “Furious Incident of the Dog in the Daytime” took place. So, if he’d just MAYBE happened to have been looking out of his window, he might MAYBE just have happened to witness the calamity? Or am I MAYBE stretching it a bit here?
Whatever, I’m indebted to Spike for making a huge contribution to the development of my funny bone and it would be nice to think that I could have paid him back in some way. God bless you, Spike!
I discovered the joys of running about 40 years before “Born to Run” was born, let alone published.
The book, or rather short story, that inspired me to take up running was “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” by Alan Sillitoe. At the time I was a callow London schoolboy. In stark contrast to the main character in the story, Colin Smith, who comes from a northern English working-class background, I come from a north London middle-class background. Alan Sillitoe’s story is set in a borstal, whereas I was privileged to be safely cocooned in a private school, gloriously located on the banks of the Thames, bang slap in the middle of the city and drenched in history and tradition.
But despite these differences I felt a deep connection to Colin Smith. Maybe it was something to do with the sense of freedom he gets from running. I never really enjoyed team sports at school and after being forced to endure the muddy brutality of rugby and the starched formality of cricket, I was inducted into the school cross country running club. (In the middle of London? Ha ha ha!!!)
Even the “kit” you needed for running was unencumbered by dogma (oh, how things have changed!). Any old t shirt, any old pair of shorts and any old pair of cheapo Woolworths plimsolls were all you needed.
At first I was suspicious. Once I’d got my “kit” on I was set loose out onto the streets of London. “Back here in 45 minutes!” my coach told me. And that was it – freedom!
In Alan Sillitoe’s story, Colin Smith runs with almost ecstatic abandon through a forest. Substitute traffic clogged London streets and you’ve got an idea of the location for my “cross-country” runs!
I ran along the Victoria Embankment, past Captain Scott’s “Discovery” , under Southwark Bridge and then over Waterloo Bridge, humming the Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset” to myself.
Once I was over the bridge I was in South London, which to a north London lad was like being in a foreign country. My pace quickened as I ran through Southwark, past the famous “Oxo” tower and finally back over Blackfriars Bridge, with St.Pauls and The Monument in the background.
Maybe my body was poisoned by the traffic fumes, and maybe my joints were pounded to dust through running on hard pavements in my totally suspension-free plimsolls. I don’t know and frankly I don’t care. My soul was fed and enriched by these twice-weekly training runs.
I read more of Alan Sillitoe’s books and fell in love with the whole “Angry Young Man” genre – “Saturday Night Sunday Morning”, “A Taste of Honey”, “Room at the Top”. These literary couplings finally led me to Nell Dunn’s “Up the Junction” (great song by Squeeze too!), which I can still see on the bookshelf now as I write this.
I recently read Alan Sillitoe’s story again, along with the rest of the stories in the collection, and was pleased to find that the spark was still there. First love never dies!
And talking of first love, that came along, unliterally, the following year. It led to a dramatic twist in my reading habits. I walked out of the black and white world of snarling northern English surliness and into a more colourful, Celtic literary landscape. I brushed off the chip on my shoulder and embraced, with open arms, a tickle in the ribs.