Stocking fillers [11] Song and dance acts


It’s been an up and down sort of week. Showers and bright periods. Whole days of sub-aqueous gloom, afternoons of sunlit autumn colour that made bits of our garden look like a Kaffe Fassett jumper. Flu jabs and boosters, and Boris the Gladiator on the front page of the Sunday Express today. And then there’s the actual exrement pumped into or rivers and onto our beaches by companies siphoning billions out of the system. The sun’s out now. This morning the rain was torrential and some of it was making its way through a bedroom ceiling. The most recently decorated one, natch.


It’s hard work getting into that particular loft space. There’s a patch of sodden insulation, but not a sign of any slates missing, no wet patches in the brickwork, no crumbling mortar, no torn roofing felt. As near as I can tell, because the rain and wind were coming from an unlikely direction, it’s blown hard under the solar panels and managed to set up some capillary action, siphoning (gosh..siphoning, again) rain water down the cabling. It’s remarkable how much water can get shifted like that.


What’s a boy to do. Apart from going out and breaking windows. What did Jimminy Cricket say? Give a little whistle. When in doubt, let’s have a laugh. Of sorts. Three stocking fillers, increasingly bittersweet.

The first one stems from when I taught in a huge Comprehensive school in the 70s. I would sometimes wind up some of my stroppier 15 yr old girls by telling them straightfaced that the Bay City Rollers were (like The Archies) a made-up group, that they only existed on film. I can’t remember the prompt that dredged it up from my memory. But here we go.


Not many people know this, but


I’m not thinking about Theresa May lying about wheatfields,

or the one about Jacob Rees-Mogg once being a rent boy 

in Winchester, who would sing, for senescent clerics,

in a pure treble As long as he needs me; and not the one

about Margaret Thatcher liking latex underwear, or the one

about Donald Trump’s secret friend. The secret’s the friend’s idea.

He’s terrified the truth will come out, and that’s him finished

at the snooker club. No. I’m thinking of the Bay City Rollers

not being an actual band, (unlike The Archies, who were

but just looked like Hanna-Barbera cartoon figures);

the truth is they were all Action Men 

and if you look closely at archive film you can just make out

the metal screw and bearing that joined the gripping hands

to the thin wrists, because sometimes the tartan scarf would slip.

The Bay City Rollers could not be seen with real screaming fans

because they were only six inches high and thiose teenage girls

would have looked bigger than King Kong. So all the fans 

were Action Men as well, and then there was the problem

of the theatres and the cinemas where they played, and the hotels

where they stayed, and then you had the streets where the hotels

were supposed to be, and the cars and buses, and taxis 

and here’s the problem with lying, you have to keep on lying

till it gets too complicated. Which is why you suddenly

didn’t hear any more of the Bay City Rollers. It was easier

to set fire to the model sets and all those tartan Action Men,

and then put out a press release to say The Rollers had retired

the act and would be concentrating on their individual careers.

So tell me the name of a single song that any of them recorded.

There you are then.


I blame Peter Sansom for this. I’ve just tracked it down in a notebook. Whitby. 2017. The past is another country. Which may just be a segue for the next poem, which I wrote for a band that used to play support for Tom Russell in various venues around Castleford, back in the day. The last time I saw them live was in The Lupsett pub in Wakefield. That shut down this year, which makes this poem just that little bit more poignant.




The Collier/Dixon Line has only changed

its lineup once in thirty years. Last year

Dennis sacked his lead guitar. ‘Fancied

taking new directions. Couldn’t be doing 

with that.’ They played cruise ships all along

the coasts of Scandinavia, sang Johnny Cash

to rivers throwing themselves off mile-high cliffs.


They don’t do upstairs rooms these days. ‘Sorry,

pal,’ says Dennis (though he’s not), ‘we don’t do steps.’

In gigs in estate pubs and Working men’s

they have a faithful following. Wives 

and friends of wives who have danced together

since they were at school. They can do it

with their eyes shut. So they do. The spins,

the checks, the turns still glamorous in dreams

of stocking-tops,  layers of paper nylon underskirts,

beehives brittle and scratchy with spray, 

and pearlised mouths that lipsynch every song.


Bye bye love

Bye bye happiness

Bye bye sweet caress

I think I’m gonna die.

Bye bye, my love, bye bye


Apologies for the sentimental slant of today’s cobweb. The clocks went back last night, and suddenly it’s dark at teatime. Just one more and then I promise to spend at least part of next week planning a post about a new collection by someone whose poetry I like a lot.


A captive audience


the recumbent elderly, stuffed like bolsters

into Parker Knoll wing chairs, hard

of hearing, rheumy-eyed, incontinent,

medicated to docility. 

Neurones flickering  on and off;

there are no spare batteries. 

This is how it ends. 


And here they come,

the ones with smiles sincere as rictus,

the ones with Casio keyboards,

with tinny snare drum tracks,

chivvying the old and unprotected

into faltering songs of bicycles made for two,

white cliffs, lilacs, sweethearts.


Songs their mothers (Dot and Doris,

Ruby, Gladys, Edith) may have sung.

Their memory’s not what it was.


You wonder if they’ll still be at it,

the entertainers, when the chairs are full 

of Kimberleys, Courtneys, Shannons, Chardonnays.


Today, they’re Marys, Lindas, Donnas,

Debbies, Paulas. Every once in a while, a Keith. 

No-one turns up with a Fender Strat,

no-one gets them singing

Is that Jimmy’s ring you’re wearing?

No-one chops out Summertime Blues,

or Cut across Shorty, or even Three steps

to Heaven. And no-one turns the lights

down low; no one sings, just for them,

Don’t forget who’s taking you home.

Save the last dance for me.



One thought on “Stocking fillers [11] Song and dance acts

  1. Love that last poem John – it really strikes a chord (forgive the pun). A couple of years ago I met a chap on holiday in Norfolk who used to go to the local old folks home and play for them. I was two months into learning my guitar and was full of admiration for him. Now I’m two years in and admire him even more! What a star.
    Julie x


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