"I'll give you a clue - it clings to the wall."
"No - Ivy."
So goes an old 'joke' of sorts oft repeated by my late Grandmother Elsie.
The other day my sister and I were embroiled in a conversation and she reminded of this fact. We began to talk at length about all the old phrases, one-liners, jokes and idioms our family members would come out with. My mother and I also had a similar conversation recently too, and the germ of an idea about a blog entry came to me. As I write this, I'm still unsure about how to write this - but as usual I'll just do it without really giving it too much thought or planning, because that always seems to work out better.
My Grandfather, Len, was born and bred in this area, Tenterden and Romney Marsh, "the fifth quarter of the world" as he put it (and as I have often repeated). He was the storyteller in the family and I seem to have inherited this gene. How it started with him is impossible to say, but with me it began with joke-telling at school, often to deflect problems and lighten the mood with a few choice jokes. Nothing seems to soften a potential bully's heart better than a couple of good knock-knocks or an elephant joke.
When my sister and I were young we would go to Grandad Len and Nanny Elsie's house once a fortnight on a Saturday afternoon and sleep over, thus giving Mum a bit of a break. She would come over for Sunday lunch, and over this meal, after everyone was caught up telling their news, trials and tribulations, Len could usually be relied upon to come out with a comic song or old chestnut with which to make us groan. We had heard them all a hundred times, but he still took delight in regaling us with the story of the Widow's Might or the song of Passengers Must Please Refrain, whereupon Elsie would say "Oh, Len!" and we'd all groan. He never relented. He would simply say "You'll be telling them all at school tomorrow!". I don't know about my sis, but I did, still do, and here I am telling you now. He was right, bless him. Some of his jokes defied comprehension, like the story of the Oopa-Doopa Bird, which was really not terribly funny, but it was the way he told it, as if making some sort of proclamation, a sort of cross between a travelogue narration and a town crier, that made it funnier. The punchline, when it was reached, always tickled him too and he would crack up while saying it. If anyone wants to know the full joke, I will email it to you.
He would also act out some stories to give you the full effect, such as his tale of the time when he, Elsie and Mum were up at Hemsby in Norfolk, near Great Yarmouth, at a Pontin's Country Music Festival. It seems they had somehow found someone up on the Norfolk broads who owned a real Mississippi Riverboat paddlewheeler, and a large group of would-be riverboat gamblers, cowboys, Union and Confederate soldiers and the like were cruising up and down on this thing when they happened upon a wine tasting event. One of their larger, taller compadres, a man known as Big Bill, who apparently would drink bourbon all night, sampled about six or seven before declaring "I don't like it." Len would always act out the wine tasting and sampling, causing much hilarity.
There was a time when at Christmas the family could be persuaded to participate in a game of charades. I suspect that secretly we only wanted to play because we couldn't wait to see his clues. There were two that stick in my memory, and I shall attempt to explain them to you now.
The first one started with Len letting us know that it was a book, two words.
The first word he acted out as follows: he pretended to be splashing cologne on. At the time, there was a famous commercial starring British boxing great Henry Cooper for Brut 33, in which our 'Enry exhorted the general public to "splash it all over". Whatever the word was, it supposedly sounded like 'all over'.
Elsie had a stock collection of funny phrases. When she described something (or someone, let's be honest) that was black, they were either "black as Old Nick", "black as yer 'at" or my favourite, "as black as Newgate's knocker."
Her other classic phrase was one that I had long forgotten until just the other day when my sister reminded me of it. Apparently Elsie claimed to have picked it up during the war from a co-worker when she was working at the Admiralty, which was "to hit (someone) with a stocking full of hot poop". Take note of the pronunciation, please. It's not the long 'oo' as in goose but the short 'oo' as in book. Stockin' full of 'ot poop. Has a certain ring to it, doesn't it?
My mother has some great phrases, which probably originated from Len and Elsie, and the one I noticed the other day is a word used to describe when someone is upset, annoyed, indignant, cross or otherwise creating a fuss. The word, and I'm making up the spelling here as it's not a dictionary word, is aireated, pronounced 'airy-ated'. I think it's a lovely word and perfectly describes the condition.
Well, I've just about come to the end so I think I will leave you with a classic joke from Len. This one concerns a time during the Cold War when the Russians were going to great lengths to steal secrets from the West, and one night they parachuted in a female spy over Romney Marsh. Now, the marsh has a lot of sheep pasture, dotted here and there with small huts for the shepherds to sleep in and keep warm, very basic, with just a few essentials and a bed. Well, the female spy from Russia twisted her ankle very badly on landing and was unable to dispose of her parachute quickly, and was spotted by just one such shepherd. He saw firstly that she was very pretty, and secondly the distress she was in so he picked her up and took her to his hut for the night and kept her warm in ways only a true Romney Marsh man knows how. Hence the expression (wait for it, wait for it....)
"Red spy at night - shepherd's delight."
You may groan, but you'll be telling it tomorrow.