Subject: Mailshot April 03
Date: Sun, 06 Apr 2003 18:21:19 +0100
So the cattle prodder and the thumbscrew eventually worked and Spike blubbering and gibbering gave up the secret of the Rosicrucians and the master CDs of Rooted and One Man Show.
One Man Show was the first real live grown up album I made after Mrs ‘Ardin’s Kid and A Lancashire Lad – a double album with such classics of the genre as Napoleon’s retreat From Wigan, Talking Blackpool Blues and The Crumpsall Cream Cracker Corned Beef Cubs Go To Camp. It’s been deleted for years and now thanks to the wonders of medical science and a pair of Boots Thumbscrews it is available once more in full digital glory.
Rooted is the album I made after a tour of Oz in 1981 when I performed at various arts festivals in Australia and gathered enough material for several albums. I wrote a series of articles for the Guardian and in one of them I described a wine tasting trip down the Barossa Valley. The valley was developed by German immigrants and is quite bizarre in a way because it has along its length some very Germanic looking Schloss (castles) with people in lederhosen wandering about and Oompah Bands on every corner. Quite unsettling when you1ve just driven past hundreds of kangaroos, emus and such.
The wine in those early days was quite good but hadn’t yet got to the stage where you’d enthuse about it. I didn’t. “Young with a hint of gumboot.” was how I described one wine.
The Australian Press were furious when they read the article- I got home to a bunch of angry letters and some clipping from a press agency in Sydney. One clipping from an Australian daily had the headline “Pom Comic Rubbishes Oz Plonk.” I didn’t send them a review copy of the album.
Rooted contains such songs as – She’ll Be Right Mate, When The Martians Land In Huddersfield and The Wath On Dearne Blues.
Listening to One Man Show and Rooted all these years later they bring back a lot of memories and though they might seem a bit tame when compared to the effin and jeffin of much of todays comedy they (like much of my stuff) are children of their time – a gentler and more innocent time perhaps when humour didn’t need to rub your nose in it and when it did seem as though there was some hops.
Seeing as this is such a short newsletter I’m sticking in a bit of the autobiography I’m working on – Playing The Piano Upside Down. This is
Me Cissy Worswick And The Cannibal Queen
I don’t remember how she did it but I do remember that one day my mother tricked me into going to school.
‘You’ll like it’ she said, ‘Colin Duff goes and he likes it.’
Colin Duff was a Catholic too, a year older than me. There weren’t any other Catholics in our street. He lived with his gran in the next street. She was a little old lady with a mole on her top lip and she always seemed to me to be very kind and very gentle.
Colin was all right but I didn’t play with him much because he lived in the next street and because I was too young to be in his gang.
That first day my mother took me to school.
The baby class was in what had been the stable block of the old lawyer’s house that was now St Anne’s Roman Catholic School Crumpsall. The Catholics had bought the house and turned it into a school, building a wooden church in the grounds where I went with my Nanna to Mass and Benediction.
It was warm and sunny as my mum walked me hand in hand to the school and it seemed to me that it would be much better if instead of going to school I stayed home and played out. It would probably be hot enough to melt the pitch in between the cobbles and I could play with it, digging it out with a lollipop stick. But my mother insisted that I would have an even better time in school. I almost believed her.
When we got to school there were lots of other children in the playground: running round squealing, playing tiggy, playing trains and whip and top. My mother held my hand while I looked at this mass of humanity. Outside the crowded beaches of Blackpool I’d never seen so many people in one place at the same time.
A lady (who I would later come to know as Mrs Barnett the dinner lady) came out with a bell in her hands and rang it and all the children ran and stood in lines outside their classrooms. We went over to the infants and my mum handed me over to a lady called Miss Worswick who had steel rimmed glasses and her hair up in a bun like my Nanna. I thought her terribly old but I expect that she was probably only in her late forties, if that. My mum had somehow de-materialised and left me on Planet School where Miss Worswick, the Emperor Ming, took me by the hand and sat me at a table with a boy with a runny nose. Twin candles of snot slid down towards his top lip from his nostril slowly crawling downwards until they reached the edge of his lip at which point he would give a powerful sniff, jerking his head back at the same time so that the twin trails would vanish back into the caves of his nostrils. I found this disgusting and fascinating at the same time.
The room smelt of plasticine and stale pee and there were friezes on the wall of The Gingerbread Man and Jack and Jill tumbling down the hill.
Miss Worswick gave me some wooden shapes to make letters from. I could do that easily because I could already read, so I made the letters and then rolled a plasticine snake. This together with counting cowrie shells and a strange thing called sleepy time blanket when we were all made to lie down and pretend to be asleep took up most of the day. At home time my mother collected me and took me back along the warm afternoon streets.
The next morning she woke me up and told me to get washed and dressed.
‘Because you’re going to school.’
‘I went yesterday.’
My child’s mind saw school as a one off, a one day event, like going to the park or the zoo. You didn’t necessarily have to do it again.
Moaning and wailing I was dragged through the Crumpsall streets shouting my grief to the chimney pots. Old ladies clucked as my poor mother struggled with this snivelling ball of misery who’s world had suddenly ended, shaking their heads saying, ‘He’ll soon get used to it.’ and ‘Mine cried for a month before he settled down.’
Eventually we got to the door of that gloomy old building, arriving long after the other children had gone in and the door was closed.
Miss Worswick heard my wailing and came to the door.
‘He won’t go in.’ my mother said.
‘Oh yes he will.’ said Miss Worswick.
She took a grip of my jumper and pulled.
I got one foot on each side of the door jamb and leaned back flailing and screaming. I might have been small but I was rough and tough and also half-mad with grief at being wrenched away from the world of play and fun into this world of plasticine, pee and snot. Throwing my head back I screamed as loud as I could, aware of the small faces staring at me from their crayons and cowrie shells.
‘If you go, he’ll come in.’ said Miss Worswick.
My mum went home, I went in.
Two minutes later with well smacked legs, sniffling and gulping air I was staring at the head of the boy with the snot yo yos and reading some rubbish about John and Jane and a cat called Fluff. I never tangled with Miss Worswick again. She was one mean hombre.
The next day I walked to school with Colin Duff who filled me in on all kinds of stuff to do with school. Miss Mac Walter and Mrs Clark ran the top infants which he was in and they were a doddle compared to Miss Worswick so if I was good and showed that I could read and do my numbers I might get sent up to the top infants. I resolved to work my way out of the Worswick gulag as soon as I could.
The boy with the snot had been moved on to another table so I was sat with a couple more children who seemed pleasant enough. In fact one of them, Bernadette Lakeland I thought very pretty. When I got home that afternoon, quite an old hand at this school thing my mother asked me who I was sat next to
‘Bernadette Lakeland and a boy called Cannibal Queen.’
‘A boy called Cannibal Queen.’
And no matter how many times she asked she got the same answer. She took me to school herself the next morning and asked Miss Worswick who I was sat next to.
Years later, when I did the routine about Miss Worswick and the Angel’s Bum on BBC television, a woman wrote to me to say that she’d known Miss Worswick. Cissy and her had trained together as teachers and after a long number of years working in primary schools they had met up again. She had married and had children but Cissy had stayed single, living with her elderly parents looking after them through their frail and fading years.
‘She told me that every Sunday after dinner, her parents would go and lie down for a couple of hours and Cissy used to pull all the curtains, take all her clothes off, pour herself a glass of sherry and walk round the house naked for a couple of hours. She said it made her feel deliciously wicked.’
This lonely and loyal woman who walked naked round a quiet suburban house of a Sunday afternoon to my five year old eyes had been one of the fearsome giants of the grown up world and for most of my growing life I’d remembered her as a kind of ogre. We know so little.