Thursday, 17 December 2009

O, vary clevair

More pits, more poultry.

I was once involved in a pit band at panto time, in Basingstoke Corn Exchange, or Guildhall, or whatever they have there. The pantomime was Mother Goose, the pit was tiny, the weather outside was foul and the single servo-driven windscreen wiper on my 1954 Ford Popular didn't work, so that I had to drive back to Southampton, where I worked at the time, with my head out of the window for most of the journey. Not something I call to mind with deep nostalgia.

There was one redeeming feature in an otherwise forgettable gig. Pit musicians are sometimes privileged to enjoy glimpses on stage that no audience ever gets to see in such close-up, and it's not always just a vulgar case of looking up can-can dancers' skirts. Mother Goose of Basingstoke was massive, a feather-and-fibreglass creation on a scale to accommodate the actor/actress inside it.

Seen from below the full inventive genius of this rigout became apparent. There was more behind to it than the before, which was taken up with yellow-clad legs. The overhanging, cantilevered behind was taken up with a mechanical ovary for the laying of golden eggs. Indeed, there was a rack for unlaid eggs, like a bomb-bay on a WW2 Lancaster. I can't give any details of the release gear, but each laying was accompanied by monstrous clucking, puffing and blowing and was followed by deserved applause and cheers from the audience.

This is the only association I have in my mind with Basingstoke.

Mother Goose surfaced again many years later in a book by somebody with the splendid name of Luis d'Antin van Rooten called Mots d'heures: Gousses, Rames*, a title which translates from the French as 'Words of Hours: Cloves (of garlic), Trains'. Bizarre.

You read on, noting with curiosity that among the acknowledgements 'Miss Beauty Love Johnson, laundress', isn't forgotten, and you discover that the book is a collection of 'poems'. Among them you find:

Pousse y gâte, pousse y gâte

Et Arabe yeux bine?

- and even with good French you scratch your head : not only is the title meaningless, the poems make very little sense: 'Push there spoil, push there spoil, And Arab eyes hoe?' But, ask someone French, especially someone with a rich speaking voice, to read this aloud, sonorously, with full regard to the rhythm, and you get, near enough:

Pussy-cat, pussy cat,
Where have you been?

Yes, well. And there are 40 of the wretched things.

*Pretend to be Inspector Clouseau. Make sure nobody else is about. Close the door. Draw the curtains. Read this aloud. Go on, I dare you: Mots d'Heures: Gousses, Rames = Mo - der - goose - rahm = Mother Goose Rhyme(s).


Rog said...

You've shone light on Magic, Christopher.

San Fairy Ann.

Dave said...

Come the end of my sabbatical, and I shall give a free interpretation of the details on the gift you kindly sent me.

Mention of your car reminds me that I intend in the New Year to sign up for a course in aboriculture. Then, like your daughter, I shall have an MA in Poplar Culture.

Christopher said...

I expect you picked that up from Lil, Rog, after you'd remonstrated over her eating Oz's supper as well as her own.

I'm lost, Dave. For one thing I didn't have a wooden car. And then, you're going to do this in your arbor? And although I sometimes deliberately pepper my posts with typos just to see if you're awake, when I write 'poplar' I mean 'popkar'. I'm not certain you've heard the last of this.

Vicus Scurra said...

"This is the only association I have in my mind with Basingstoke."


Christopher said...

Ah, to be sure. Teeming with hidden meaning. I'd forgotten.

UberGrumpy said...

Hah! I remember these:

Un petit d'un petit
S'etonne aux halles (or something like that)


I, Like The View said...

you've put me in mind of Peter Sellers now

Christopher said...

UG: Yes! Humpty-Grumpty sat on a wall, etc...

I,LTV: Late lamented. He would have been just the man to read these things. Incidentally, a French teacher I know sometimes tells his kids, in an effort to produce a reasonable accent, simply to mimic Insp. Clouseau. The results are immediate, apparently.

Sarah said...

I'm not entirely sure what you are talking about. So I shall sit quietly until the next post.

Christopher said...

Oh dear, I'm sorry, Sarah. The next post is dedicated entirely to you, by request.

Dave said...

Is that a French teacher, or an English teacher of languages?

Sarah said...

Oooh *jumps up and down with excitement*

Ah ! just been over to Loulou La Roux. Sorry Christopher. Not sure I'm ready to re invent my self just yet. Anyway the mystery would all be gone if you really knew what I was like. and where is the fun in that....

I, Like The View said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christopher said...

Dave: An English teacher of French. Yes, clarity is all, as our window cleaning duo Faith and Hope often tell us.

Sarah: Please don't get too excited. Some of my greatly esteemed readers are teetotal.

I,LTV: Done. I must say I've never really wondered what your surname might be. I would never have guessed Cantthinkofagoodone. Very distinguished, but how on earth do you manage to fill in betting slips? - but perhaps you have a turf accountant pseudonym?