Rutland Weekend

In which The Author makes some new friends

I’ve adapted the title of this entry from a TV show which I very vaguely remember from my childhood.
Rutland Weekend Television was the post-Python venture of Eric Idle and Neil Innes. It seems to have had (at best) a cult following, along with Michael Palin’s ingenious Ripping Yarns. I was too young to watch them first time out, but I caught up with Ripping Yarns when it was repeated a few years later. I don’t Rutland Weekend Television (or The Innes Book of Records, for that matter) ever earned a repeat showing. Fawlty Towers – all twelve episodes of it – has an almost religious fanbase, and was never off the box while I was growing up. Like its comedy cousin The Goodies, Rutland Weekend Television seems destined to live on only as a fading memory. I daresay you can find some clips lurking around on YouTube. I wonder if it’s stood the test of time.
The show’s lasting legacy was The Rutles. The prefab four – Dirk McQuigley, Ron Nasty, Stig O’Hara (the quiet one) and Barry Wom (the noisy one) – were the best comedy rock band ever. They performed pitch-perfect pastiches of Beatles songs, Neil Innes echoing the fab four’s constantly-changing sound with amazing fidelity. It’s definitely pastiche, rather than parody – an affectionate tribute to the biggest and best rock group the world has ever seen. Yeah, that’s right, suck on that, Kayne West! (Who he? – Ed.)
Featuring the underrated Ollie Halsall on guitar (see Leaving No Turn Unstoned), The Rutles were championed by none other than George Harrison himself. George played on at least one Rutles track (‘The Pirate Song’), got involved with the making of the mockumentary All You Need Is Cash, and even made a cameo appearance in the film, playing a reporter.
When I say that the music was pitch-perfect, this story backs me up. On hearing a particular Rutles track, Paul McCartney apparently turned to Mr Innes and said wryly, ‘That one’s a bit close, innit?’
I know I’ve shared this clip before, but I still think ‘Piggy in the Middle’ (aka ‘I am the Waitress’) is the most surreal and disturbing music video ever made.
The county of Rutland itself vanished from the Ordnance Survey map in 1974, when it was annexed by Leicestershire, and made an unexpected reappearance in 1997. However, I’d like to nominate a possible candidate for any future ‘twinning’ programme – the county borough of Rhondda Cynon Taf. I know ‘Rutland’ may roll off the tongue more easily, but the Land of the Rut is actually situated between ten and twenty-five miles north of Cardiff, sandwiched between Methyr Tydfil and Bridgend.
It came as a refreshing change on Saturday night, therefore, to meet some young people who were doing their best to break out of the rut and do something a bit different.
On Saturday afternoon I was strolling through Aberdare Park when my phone rang. It was Doz H., calling to tell me that my new glasses would be ready to pick up later in the day. Considering that I had my eyes tested on Thursday morning, that’s pretty good going!
I was on my way into town anyway, as the updated certificate from the Anthony Nolan Trust for the Glosters had come in the morning’s post. In less than a year we’ve raised over £130. That’s from a small-ish pub with a loyal customer base. Imagine what we could do if every pub in the area had a collection tin!
That left me with an hour or so to kill, so I had a can of Coke in the Glosters and then headed to the Lighthouse. I hadn’t intended to have a pint, but Gemma the barbint pulled one for me anyway (don’t you just hate it when that happens?) There was a good crowd for a Saturday afternoon – most of the regulars and a few new faces. Mike C. was standing at the bar and we had a chat about all manner of things before he headed homewards.
About a minute later Joan came in, and we started chatting about everything. Every so often I glanced up at the TV, which was showing dance music videos with the sound turned down. I hadn’t realized just how many of these singers and backing dancers like to sport kinky PVC gear and collars or chokers. I’d unwittingly stumbled upon a soft-porn channel masquerading as a pop channel.
Ian the hairdresser offered me his remaining credits on the – rather disappointing – jukebox. It doesn’t even have ‘Pump Up the Volume’, arguably the best dance record ever. I mean, come on! His own selections were playing at the time. I recognized Oasis straight away. (What was I saying about parodying The Beatles just now?)
‘Don’t put any rubbish on,’ he teased me while I was browsing the menu.
I said, ‘Whatever I put on, it can’t be worse than fucking Oasis!’
However, Ian proved me wrong. His next choice was Stereophonics. I swear he did it on purpose.
To try and keep my sanity, I went for a fairly eclectic mix of The Who, Pink Floyd, Pulp, Robbie Williams, The Monkees and Joy Division. I’d established a fairly decent groove.
Then the professional karaoke singer fired up his gear.
We’d seen him come in and start setting up, of course. My first thought was, ‘By Jove, this guy’s keen!’
Usually the ‘show’ doesn’t get going until 8.30 or so. It was still Happy Hour. Joan and I were drowned out by a force nine blast of ‘You Give Love a Bad Name’, so I nipped down to pick up my glasses while the guy was soundchecking.
Except that it wasn’t the soundcheck.
The guy finished his first song, cranked up another backing track, and ploughed on. Joan and I glanced at each other and grimaced.
[A digression: About eight songs into his set, I told Joan about my recent adventure photographing St Elvan’s Church. PM, the nightly news programme on Radio 4, has been marking its birthday this year. As it starts on the stroke of five o’clock every night, the show’s host Eddie Mair has invited his listeners to Tweet photos showing their favourite clock at exactly five p.m. Every day the PM website features a different clock sent in by a member of the audience.
I decided to photograph the clock of St Elvan’s. A few weeks ago I went into the car park nearby and staked out a decent position. I had about three minutes to spare. It was plenty of time to line up the shot.
Or so I thought.
Imagine my surprise when the hour started to chime ahead of time! I managed to get a couple of decent shots all the same, but when I checked the EXIF data, I was reassured that I hadn’t miscalculated. The clock was three minutes fast.
A few days later I was on my way into town and bumped into Fr Robert outside St John’s Church. (Yes, that’s right, we’ve got two Anglican churches in Aberdare: the little late mediaeval one enclosed by a low wall, and the stunning Victorian Gothic masterpiece which dominates the town centre.)
I explained about the PM photo challenge, and said, ‘Do you realize your clock is three minutes fast?’
‘Oh, I know,’ he said ruefully, ‘everyone’s told me.’
Fr Robert said the only feasible way of solving the problem was to stop the clock and wait for the rest of the world to catch up with it. I guess it didn’t quite go according to plan, because I was passing last week when it was chiming the hour. I checked the time on my phone, and was amused to find that it’s now a minute slow. Mind you, that’s still a marked improvement on Aberdare in general, which is approximately fifty-eight years behind the rest of the country.]
Anyway, the professional karaoke guy was still doing the world’s longest soundcheck. I turned to Joan and said, ‘Fair play, even Pink Floyd didn’t take this long to set up their bloody kit!’
I glanced at the poster advertising ‘Saturday Night Live’, just to confirm the normal start time of 8 p.m.
Gemma drifted over to our end of the bar, and I said, ‘This fella must think he’s either on double time or on Moscow time, because he’s about three hours ahead of the rest of us.’
I went to steal a mirror and while I was communing with nature I heard the dreaded words over the PA: ‘I’m going to take a short break. I’ll be back in about ten minutes.’
Joan and I looked at each other and had the same idea at the same time. We drank up. Then we made our excuses and left.
I went for a walk around and drifted as far as the Cambrian. It isn’t great, but it was on my way home. I had a pint and a chat with my mate Dai, a big music fan whom I’ve known since the Carpenters days. Then I headed for home.
I was approaching the Glandover when I spotted a crowd of young girls standing around a prone figure on the pavement. It turned out to be an old mate of mine, a very heavy drinker who’s just split up with his girlfriend and has hit the booze even harder than usual. He’d keeled over and bumped his head, and a couple of the girls were trying to put him in the recovery position before the ambulance arrived.
He’s the second mate who’s had a drink-related injury in the past fortnight. The first one was funny, though. Tony A. was heading home late on the Sunday night and fell over his next-door neighbour, who was lying unconscious outside his gaff after spending all the day on the piss and losing his house keys. You couldn’t make it up!
I waited until the paramedics turned up, just to make sure my pal was in safe hands, and then continued walking home. I called into Lidl to pick up a loaf of bread and had a chat with my mate Steve, who’d drawn the short straw and was working the graveyard shift. He’s a very intelligent, educated, well-read and creative guy, who’s now working as a till monkey and sweeping the floor for slightly more than minimum wage. Go figure…
I told him that I was thinking of selling up and getting the fuck out of Dodge. Amazingly, he’s thinking much the same. That brings the Escape Committee up to six – and that’s only since Thursday.
I decided to finish the day where I’d started and stroll up through the park. I was heading for the lake and was surprised to hear the unmistakable riff of ‘You Really Got Me’ by The Kinks blasting out from the bandstand. I cut across the lawn and put my hands up in a gesture of friendship.
‘Don’t worry, folks,’ I said casually. ‘I’m not the law – I’m not even the Man. I’m just amazed to find a gang your age with such great taste in music!’
There were about fifteen boys and girls – mostly in their mid-to-late teens, with a couple of slightly older guys – sitting around the perimeter of the bandstand. Some of them were smoking, and most of them were holding bottles of Budweiser. One of the lads was quietly strumming a guitar, although the music was coming from a compact but powerful portable sound system.
One of the boys looked around and said, ‘Hi Steve, how are things?’
It turned out to be Keiron L., a very good guitarist and songwriter whom I often see busking in town. Martin H. chatted to him one day, they struck up a friendship, and Martin introduced us when he came into the Prince one afternoon a couple of years ago. We nattered for a couple of minutes before I decided to head for home. I wished them all a safe evening and went on my way.
As I was passing the Gorsedd stones, it occurred to me that the first item on the agenda at the next Aberdare West PACT (Police And Communities Together) meeting is guaranteed to be ‘Antisocial behaviour in Aberdare Park’. It always is during the long summer evenings.
The thing is, Keiron and his pals were being anything but antisocial. Yes, they had some booze, and one or two of the group would almost certainly be turned away from the pubs in town for being underage. So bloody what? I didn’t smell anything other than tobacco drifting through the air. After all the times I emerged from The Carpenters passively wasted on other people’s dope, as well as being the only straighthead in countless studenty house parties over the years, I know the distinctive whiff of mary jane when it’s around. The beer was coming out of a cardboard case, and I was fairly confident that Keiron, as a mature and responsible lad, would have made sure the empties were disposed of sensibly before the gang drifted away.
(In fact, on Sunday afternoon I was strolling around and bumped into Keiron again. I asked him if he and his pals had had any grief from the park-keeper. He was in his little shed when I’d walked past, waiting to close up at 9.30. Keiron told me that, on the contrary, the parkie had given them a couple of recycling bags so they could clear up after their little picnic.)
It strikes me that sitting in the bandstand on a fairly cloudy (but still pleasant) evening, listening to music which is older than I am, having a couple of beers, chewing the fat, and maybe trying to cop off with another member of the group, is a pretty pro-social way to spend a Saturday evening.
Keiron and his mates weren’t causing trouble, terrorizing the wildfowl, trashing the bowling green, throwing their empty bottles into the paddling pool, or leaving bloody works around the place for curious toddlers to pick up. (All those have happened in Aberdare Park over the past few years.)
As my regular readers will know, I’ve got a lot of time and respect for many young people in Aberdare. After spending a year and a half as an immature student I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am frequently surprised by how well-informed and broadminded a lot of them are.
On Friday night, in Thereisnospoon, I struck up a conversation with a guy who’s young enough to be my son. We knew each other by sight, and he wanted to ask me about Hawkwind, Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV. (How the hell he knew I was into those bands I’ll never figure out!) He was a remarkably erudite and creative chap, and I think we’ll end up having lots of similar conversations in the future.
Yes, of course, there are bad apples in Aberdare and environs. I may be wearing my new glasses, but they’re not rose-tinted. You can say the same about any sizable community. (Except Penderyn, apparently. Last time I was in The Lamb I read the village’s Neighbourhood Watch report for the past two months. Item One on the agenda was ‘Antisocial Behaviour’, and simply said, ‘No reports of antisocial behaviour have been received.’)
If you dare to venture into Aberdare Bus Station any night of the week, you’ll see the real ASBO fodder by the dozen.
My point is that Keiron and his friends will be tarred with the catch-all ‘antisocial’ label for the heinous crime of just fucking chilling out.
I haven’t been to a PACT meeting for ages, but I bumped into PCSO Ceri on the Gadlys a couple of months ago. I promised him I’d show my face in the parish hall if I was free. The next meeting is in a fortnight or so. I’m very tempted to go along and speak up in defence of the bandstand gang, if only to set the record straight. I’ll try and make people see that ‘possession of a case of beer’ and ‘possession of a decent music system’ aren’t actually hanging offences.
Considering that the boys and girls I met on Saturday night are young enough to be my children (or even my grandchildren, come to that), and most of the PACT regulars are old enough to be my parents, I think I’ll be a lone voice in the wilderness.
But I’m kinda getting used to that.
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