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singer, songwriter, comedian, author, poet, broadcaster and multi-instrumentalist

Author Archives: mike

April 2003

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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.
‘Clement Mulqueen.’
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.

Posted in Ramblings|

TGO – chapter 6 (the final)

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Chapter 6

There is an old Yiddish proverb that goes ‘Gatkis shmekkle – reem kaif chavver’ which translates as ‘What goes up must come down.’ Danny and I had this very much in our minds as we said goodbye to the Greek Gods and crawled off the fragmented summit of Olympus.

Since most deaths occur on descent; and since last week a Polish climber had gone to meet his maker down the Kaki Skala while descending from Olympus; and since Danny had a library book that he wanted to take back and didn’t want the fines to accumulate as he lay in a Greek hospital bed with tubes sticking in him; we took extra special care on our way down.
Dropping down the gully, making controlled sliding descents down near vertical slabs using our backsides as braking systems, we descended a few hundred feet to the traverse: then singing songs to ward away the demons we girded our loins, didn’t look down and scrambled back to the lip of the cauldron where Dimitri was waiting for us.
By his side were four strangers, two couples in their twenties who had, like Dimitri, decided the summit ridge was too much for them. They all clapped Danny and myself as we pulled up onto levelish ground.
‘Do you speak any English?’ I asked the strangers.
They shook their heads.
‘They’re Belgian.’ Dimitri explained.
‘Very nice chocolate, Tin Tin and Jacques Brel” I said smiling at the Belgians.
They smiled back.
Then I turned to Dimitri and gave him two minutes of very good Manchester swearing which included references to the fact that not only had he organised this trip and left the fruit of his loins and myself to do the last nasty bit while he lay snoring in the sun but that also he was a page boy at his parents wedding and not a member of Mensa; and furthermore if he ever asked me to climb a mountain again two words not unconnected with sex and travel would spring to mind.
The Belgians laughed. They did not understand the words but somehow the sentiment had communicated itself to them, particularly my cheerful mime showing that any future schemes of this sort would result in the impaling of Dimitri on one of his own sheek kebabs.

Having got this off my chest we began the descent, so elated at having climbed the mountain from sea to summit one of the hardest that any I have ever made, only eclipsed by the descent from the Gangalwat Pass in the Hindu Kush.
Not only had we just climbed 3,000 feet, the last five hundred a sever scramble, but we now had 6,000 feet of descent to make, most of it through piles of mule crap.
I won’t tire you with a blow by blow account of the heat, the dust, the flies that followed me down the mountain in clouds licking the salt sweat off my skin, only leaving me when I came to a particularly fine pile of mule crap – So they preferred mule crap to me!
On we trudged muttering and groaning in the heat – in the words of Captain Bloodnok “God it was Hell I tell you – no more curried eggs for me!”
By the time we got to the road head we were hobbling like spavined mules. (I don’t know what a spavined mule hobbles like but it’s a fair guess it looked like us.) Anyway oy gevalt ! Enough already! We made it to the car with kneecaps exploding and boots on fire and drove immediately down the treacherous mountain track to Litohoro where we staggered into the nearest Taverna after I had instructed Dimitri not to pass Go and not to collect two hundred pounds.

The first pint didn’t touch the sides but fizzled and hissed when it reached the dry sandy bottom of my belly. The tavernist, or whatever it is you call a man who drives a tavern didn’t even ask us if we wanted any more but brought three more tankards of chilled nectar toute suite.
‘We Mount Olympus have just climbed’ I declared in fractured English
‘My twelve year old daughter did it on Sunday with her school’ he said in perfect English, smiling.
‘He’s lying” I said to Dimitri as we got in the car to continue our pilgrimage
‘He has to be lying, either that or there’s another smaller Olympus with steps up it.’

And so we bade farewell and aloah and drove into the sunset towards Meteora our final destination where we were to spend a few days of rest and recuperation looking at some interesting monasteries that were built centuries ago on completely inaccessible rock pinnacles.
Everything, including the monks had to be hauled up in baskets and this isolation,
– according to Danny, who is a student, served two purposes – being several hundred feet higher on a rock column sticking up off the plain brought you just that bit nearer to God so that you could meditate and pray in peace and silence and it also meant that worldly distractions such as red headed ladies with big bosoms and Turkish marauders who wanted to chop you heads off couldn’t get near you. I suggested to Danny that perhaps they just haul up the red-haired ladies with big bosoms and leave the decapitating Turks far below. He thought about it for a moment and then said ‘In AD786 Musselman the Significant made his entire army or thirty thousand murderous muluks dress up in sheath dresses and fish net tights and don red wigs. Thus accoutred they infiltrated all the rock column monasteries of Meteora and decapitated all the monks. That’s why even to this day there is a Greek proverb which says ‘Beware red headed women with big bosoms bearing scimitars.’
I tell him that not only do I not believe him but that when we get to the Taverna we are staying at it is his round.

We arrive at the Koka Roka our hostel for the night. It is built under the shadow of a massive rock with a monastery on the top. The landlady’s son has spent thirteen years in Australia. He sounds like a cross between Harry Enfield’s Stavros and Edna Everage.
While he brings us beer his mum cooks chunks of lamb sprinkled with rosemary over an openfire and as the moon rises over the monasteries of Meteora where bearded monks lie troubled by dreams of red haired women with creamy thighs our little adventure draws to its close.

Posted in The Greek Odyssey|

TGO – chapter 5

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Chapter 5

Once beyond the last straggling stands of the forest we are in arid semi desert conditions with the fanged peaks of Metaxa ahead of us and the broad sweep of Kastro, another of the peaks of the Olympus range to our left. There are deep swathes of snow still in the gullies of Kastro, not many, but enough to show how difficult these mountains can be earlier in the year. You have to wait until June or after for the snows to have cleared enough to make the mountains safe for ordinary hillwalking.
Dan and I wait for Dimitri who is having difficulty with the temperature and the height. We’re now approaching 9,000 feet another thousand to go.
The flies which are so much part of life in the forest, attracted there by the mountains of mule dung left behind by the pack trains, accompany us on our upward journey, clotting around the sweat on our faces and generally making life miserable. We are above the tree line, not yet at the snowline but obviously still within the bluebottle line.

The temperature is already in the top thirties and rising, Dimitri is not in his thirties and isn’t rising – well he’s rising, but gradually like soda bread. Dan as befits a young chap full of testosterone, lox and bagels is set fair to run to the top. I plod along at my usual pace dripping with sweat and wild haired, cursing the fact that I didn’t have time to get my hair cut before I left and realising that I now look like Ben Gunn on Treasure Island, the madman who spends his life looking for a bit of ‘Christian bread and cheese’ – what’s Pagan bread and cheese I wonder?

The farting burping Germans who turned last night in the mountain hut into an unwanted but spectacular son et lumiere are gaining on us. Dan and I wait for Dimitri to catch up and the Fahrtenwaffe zoom ahead of us towards the Cauldron and Kaki Scala. I had hoped the flies would follow them but they don’t, they prefer us sweating English types.
I should explain here that Mount Olympus is really a massif of several interesting peaks, that look down into something called the Cauldron. The Cauldron is a huge corrie fifteen hundred foot deep and fringed at its south western rim by the fangs of Mitikas, the main peak of the massif, some ten thousand feet above sea level. The ascent of Mitikas – or Metaxa – as I have renamed it in honour of the brandy – is described as a Òmoderate scrambleÓ in the Cicerone guide to the Greek Mountains. This otherwise excellent book, part of that otherwise excellent stable of books overseen by the otherwise eminently sane Sir Walt Unsworth is remiss in only one respect. A moderate scramble would to me describe something of reasonable difficulty, with say three points of contact with reasonable stable rock at all times and minimum exposure. Anybody following the route that Dan and I took to the summit will see from the teeth marks on the rock that our interpretation of ‘moderate scramble’ is different to the guidebook’s.
When we get to the rim of the cauldron Dimitri lies on his belly, peers over the edge and looks at the way we have to go and says ‘No’. This I decide is a pretty brave thing to do because any fool could say ‘Yes’ and then go on to climb beyond their ability. Which is what I do because the next couple of hundred feet are pretty hairy and consist mostly of holding on to things and trying to be brave.
The route is named in the guides as the Kaki Skala. This is translated in some books as Poor Staircase. The true translation is Shitty Staircase – and in case you think I am making this up – it’s there in black and white on the maps. To get to the Kaki Skala we drop down off the Cauldron rim onto a bit of a crumbly arette that then brings us to a traverse of several hundred yards of bad rock with a five hundred feet drop beneath us. There are two bad steps where we crawl round the fangs of Metaxa and at these points we have a drop of five hundred feet on one side and fifteen hundred on the other. On the first of these Dan freezes on the rock and I have no alternative but to climb round him and lead him on.
After the second bad step we are in a broad gully with great slabs of rock and, every so often a clump of bright green grass. Our tortuous way up this ‘moderate scramble’ is marked with splashes of red paint put there by the Greek Mountaineering Club. I send Dan ahead so that I can keep an eye on him, telling him to follow the red paint marks. I then notice that he is going all over the place scrambling erratically and climbing into impossible situations. I tell him to stop where he is and take over the lead. I ask him what the hell he is doing not following the red paint marks and he tells me he is red green colour blind. He has been following the tufts of grass. What am I doing climbing Mount Olympus with a red-green colourblind junior rabbi? I ask myself.
I lead up some smooth slabs with poor holds that look as though they will be more of a problem on the way down. By now I can see the Greek flag on the summit and realise that we are going to make it – the first Joint Jewish Lapsed Catholic Manchester Olympus Expedition scrambles out of the gully and we hug each other, drink some water, eat some chocolate, look at all the holes around us and decide that it is no wonder the gods decided to live here. There is no sign of Zeus. we ask one of the other gods and he says that Zeus has probably gone off in his swan costume to give Leda another seeing to.

Posted in The Greek Odyssey|