Provincial Letters

Far from the mad crowds of the city, Blaise Pascal passed comment on the strange behaviour of this urban contemporaries in his Provincial Letters. The connection between them and this blog is somewhat tenuous.

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Location: Grimsby, N E Lincolnshire, United Kingdom

My star sign in Superstition. And I didn't believe in reincarnation last time, either. The only thing I can't tolerate is intolerance. I am a fanatical ant-fanaticist. I am bigotted only where bigots are concerned. I am a fundamentalist atheist. I'm proud to be a product of evolution; I know it in my genes.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Posted @ 18:00Just Another Post

The more potential blog posts I think up, the less actually get written, let alone posted. I have the distinct feeling of living close to a black hole which sucks in every moderately good idea I have that I feel necessary to communicate with the great electronic community. I suspect that this black hole is the work my arch-nemesis; a dastardly creation of my own Moriarty. The purpose of this black hole is to make sure that the more I try and do, the less actually gets done.

The other explanation for the lack of posts is that I just haven't got around to them.

Hunt the Capo

This is a newly invented game that I'm hoping to persuade the relevant authorities that it ought to be a major sport with Olympic representation. It is a deceptively simple game; the rules are easy to learn but the skill is hard to acquire.

For the uninitiated, a capo (short for capo di tastiera; Italian: "head of the fingerboard") is a device used by performers on guitar-like instruments which clips across the fingerboard in order to raise the pitch. It is, however, unnecessary to know this. It is also unnecessary to be able to play the guitar (although, being able to play the guitar badly may add to your enjoyment of the event).

The rules are very simple:

  1. The Game is played by three players.
  2. The Game requires a capo and a house. Beer, wine and snacks are optional.
  3. One player, designated Robert, is selected to own the capo. This is done either by drawing lots, throwing a die or by determining that the name of the player really is Robert.
  4. There can be only one player who is really called Robert in any one game.
  5. Robert plays with the capo (using it for its designed purpose; simply treating it as an exercise machine for the hand; finding a way to turn it into an amusing sex toy; etc.) and then, at times, leaving it on the table in the kitchen, on the small table in the lavatory where the magazines are or just letting it lie on the sofa. At some point, Robert must forget where he last put it.
  6. It is not enough for Robert to pretend that he doesn't know where the capo is, he must really forget where it is.
  7. The other two players - who are traditionally, but not necessarily, called Roger and Tina - must not on any account attempt to notice exactly where Robert has lost the capo. They must strenuously ignore the location of the capo.
  8. The players then go about their business: eating snacks and drinking beer (if provided), having conversations, attempting to program their mobile phones, telling jokes, singing songs, listening to music, picking their nose; anything that takes their fancy.
  9. At some time in the following thirty minutes, the coffee table will be cleared to make room for snacks and beer (or whatever).
  10. Some time later in the proceedings (not less than one hour after Robert loses the capo and not more than forty-five minutes after the last can of beer has been drunk), Robert will seek out the capo (perhaps to use whilst playing the guitar). Robert indicates this moment by uttering the formula: "Where's my bloody capo?".
  11. Now all three players must hunt the capo.
  12. It is vitally important that everybody makes known their pet theory about where they last saw the capo. The referee will award points for creativity, style and content. Points will be deducted for prosaic banality and for failing to control the widget in the beer can and splashing beer on the coffee table.
  13. The person who finds the capo gets lots of points.
  14. The winner is the person with the most points who isn't called Robert.
  15. The game must be completed before Ian arrives so that he gets confused about all references to the game.

Exploding Potatoes

It has become apparent that a significant proportion of potatoes (25% at the last serious survey) will explode at the earliest opportunity whilst being baked in an oven. Whether this is a political act, a religious observance, military aggression or some form of ritual suicide has not yet been determined. What is certain is that if four potatoes are placed in an oven (which, by chance, is on and quite hot), one of them will explode at some point in the evening before being eaten.

The explosion is quite subtle and is often mistaken for mild flatulence amongst the assembled company. On inspection, however, the oven will be found to contain three whole potatoes and one exploded one. This is not a problem (except for cleaning the oven) so long as 25% of the assembled company have previously eaten a bacon sandwich and are not particularly hungry and are called Ian.


Tomorrow is April Fool's Day. Why do only April Fools have their own day? What about May, June and July fools? And, most importantly, what about people who are fools all the time?


As I mentioned in passing to my Mother recently, some of the events mentioned in these posts are not entirely true or are subject to a small amount of exaggeration.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Posted @ 15:12Zen and the Art of Walking into Lampposts

[I have been brought to task and unmercifully bullied for failing to honour my earlier promise to make a post every day in this blog. I could argue that it was as much a promise as the contents of an election manifesto (on the grounds that I didn't actually use the word "promise" and the piece was more a utopian allegory than a commitment to action); I could also argue that I have actually thought of writing a blog post every day and only the execution of the act was missing. I could argue these things - and perhaps should have done last night, Mark, when you were bullying me - but I won't. Instead I'll get on with the subject in hand.]


Too few people these days cultivate the art of walking into lampposts. If something is not done, we risk a future ignorant - except from anecdote - of this ancient and worthwhile pastime. It has been suggested that at the start of the 21st Century that such activities are outdated and useless. Such attitudes - rejecting the rich heritage of our common culture - are responsible for much of the decay and debasement of our civilisation. It is time that we drew a line in the sand and said: "No more!". We need to defend this noble art from the do-gooding, pinko, liberal, euro-loving anarchists who would drag our proud civilisation from the glorious impacting of vertical objects placed in our path to a sterile future where everyone walks along the street undamaged.

This is the first step: a quick guide the techniques and terminology of walking into lampposts. I am writing to the leaders of all the important political parties (UKIP, whatever the one run by Robert Kilroy-Silk is called today, Empire Loyalists, Countryside Alliance) as well as the not-so-important ones which seem to get all the publicity and parliamentary seats, urging them to make this issue a central plank of their campaigns in the coming election. I intend to write a book (working title: "The Da Vinci Strange Art and Practice of Walking into Lampposts in the Dark, Shoots and Leaves Code") which will be as iconoclastic as it is erudite. I have been promised funding for a film which will make Michael Moore look like a fat American making documentaries.

Enough of the future. On with the present!


The origin of the word "lamppost" is not as blindingly obvious as one would first suppose. The etymologically naive suppose it to be a simple compound of "lamp" and "post". Whilst such a derivation has its charms (folk-etymology is another traditional pastime that is being assaulted by the commissars of political correctness) it is somewhat at odds with the facts.

In Middle English a "lempe-poste" was a Kentish dialect term for an undecorated maypole ("Ystanding neath the lempe-poste a ye corner a ye Fleete" - Chaucer; The Knight's Cousin's Manservant's Tale) and the variant "limpe-pastch" is recorded all over Britain from Scotland (in a land grant charter of 1342) to Cornwall (in a tin mine deed of 1091).

The word is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles ("clempen-pos", 756; "iclempen-past", 665; and "iclampe-pos", 559) in the apparent sense of a pole erected for the display of the genitals of the enemy but not used yet (from the roots "geclempen" - to castrate - and "aposte" - later). However, there is a contemporary Norse phrase, "englempe-pask" (recorded only in a heavily annotated and badly copied manuscript of "Egil's Saga"), which appears to mean a tree-trunk used to support an oil lamp whilst decapitating the enemies who want to chop your balls off. It is not certain whether Norse borrowed from Anglo-Saxon or visa versa.

These examples serve to resolve the confusion as to whether walking into a tree is the same thing as walking into a lamppost. The answer is certainly that this is only the case when the tree has been prepared to perform some other function other than simply keeping its leaves above ground.

It will be noted that none of the historico-linguistic references to this word contain any allusions to alcohol or intoxication. This should not be taken as to lessen the importance of the consumption of large quantities of inebriating liquids before, during and after the act of walking into a lamppost (after all, these traditions are long established even if unrecorded in our sources). However, it does rather separate the art of walking into lampposts from another traditional countryside pursuit with which it is often, mistakenly associated: that of driving your car at high-speeds whilst drunk and writing it off by crashing into a tree. Alarmingly, there are people who disapprove of even this, most harmless, of rural traditions.


The earliest recorded reference to walking into lampposts as a country art is, of course, in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream (in the so-called Sham Folio of 1631):

"Well it becomes you Bottom, to walk along these streets and roads
Your mind bemeshed with ale and sack; and in want of stubbing toes
Or falling in the ditch or screaming at some imagined ghost
You shake your head and walk into some pole or handy lamppost"
Act IV, Sc. 3;

As can be seen, the association between the consumption of quantities of alcohol and walking into lampposts is well-established by the time of the Bard. Whilst the above is the most obvious reference in Shakespeare's work to walking into lampposts, one must not overlook two other, possible, references to the art:

"Brutus, 'ware the pole, least you look a fool"
Julius Caesar; Act I Sc. 5;
"I have heard the chimes at midnight
Walked home late and when woken
Found a lumpen egg upon my pate
From collision with the maypole"
Henry IV, Part 2; Act III, Sc. 2;

Falstaff's words firmly connect the lamppost and the maypole as indicated by the etymology. Finally, there is Shakespeare's description of his first sight of his "Dark Lady" in the sonnets: "Like with an elmpost smacked". There is good reason to equate "elmpost" and "lamppost", especially in light of the Anglo-Saxon "clempen-pos" described above.

Christopher Marlowe may have been referring to the art when, in a letter to Walsignham from Bruges, he describes the Spanish preparations for a possible invasion of Britain as:

"They be ill-prepared, these Spanish could not organise a walk-i'-the-pole day."

Given the evidence from the 18th and 19th Centuries (see below) of organised walking into lamppost contests in Cumbria, we should not be too hasty in dismissing this as a reference.

During the Puritan Parliamentarian Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell, walking into lampposts was banned as a "useless and Popish pastime for the pleasure of the ignorant poor". With the return of the monarchy under Charles II, the law was repealed and the art returned to its normal part of the national consciousness. There are indications that the ban by parliament had little effect. There is a rumour (unfortunately not recorded until the 18th Century) that Cromwell himself was an aficionado of the practice and had a secret walking into lampposts room built in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament whereto he would retire after a long day imposing dour-faced, pleasure-denying laws on the English.

In the 18th and 19th Centuries, the art of walking into lampposts became firmly embedded in the national consciousness with the establishment of various annual competitions. James Boswell's memoirs include a reference to one such event, in Penrith, which implies that the celebration had been in existence for some time:

"Mr Johnson joined me on my journey north in that month. We detoured and dallied in order to appreciate more of the English countryside in May... Penrith, we were lucky to find the Annual Pole Day, said to have been invested on the town in the first Charles' time, where the young men showed us their prowess at this ancient sport. Over dinner with Mr Tucker, a local brewer, I asked Mr Johnson what he thought. He replied to the effect that it gave him as much pleasure as banging his head against a brick wall."

Although such events continued into the 19th (and, in the case of the Pole & Wall Fayre of Whitehaven, into the early 20th) Century, they were progressively gentrified and the lampposts became little more than symbolic. The rougher, more traditional, forms continued amongst the rural population but in a less formal manner. Following the First World War, the practice became less and less common as an organised sport, especially in the southern parts of the Kingdom. But the tradition never totally died out in any place and seemed to continue amongst all classes of persons. As late as 1963, Phillip Larkin could observe:

"Since I came north to Hull
I have found the lampposts
Harder and more shocking
Than the lampposts of my home"
Just Another Whinge; Lines 112 - 115;


The three basic techniques of walking into a lamppost have remained remarkably unchanged throughout the millennia. They are designed to reflect the three basic requirements of a successful "lamppost-body conjunction event" (as the scientists have designated it): nonchalance; surprise; and pain. All of these are possible whilst sober but drunkenness enhances the experience:

  • Method 1: Progressing along the street, talking happily (but not necessarily entertaingly or knowledgeably) to a colleague about the scenery or architecture and turning suddenly to point out a particularly interesting geomorphic feature or flying buttress and colliding with the lamppost. (There is a variant of this technique in which both participants collide with lampposts, but this should not be attempted by novices.)
  • Method 2: Walking alone, head-bowed (in depression or against the intelligent sort of rain that no matter which direction you walk always travels horizontally straight into your face), humming a tune (or talking gibberish under your breath), you look up and slam into the vertical obstruction.
  • Method 3: (In groups of three or more.) Turning to berate your friends about some trifling little point of procedure or information, turning round in triumph at a point well-made and walking straight into the lamppost.

It has recently been observed (last night, in particular, Della), that various people seem to imagine that stopping suddenly in front of the lamppost (or other pole) and thus avoiding the collision, is some sort of achievement raising the level of your performance. Nothing could be further from the truth since this avoids the third - most important - of the requirements of the art: pain.


Pedants may wonder where the Zen is in the above survey. As is well known, pedants are very bad at Zen and therefore would not notice it if they walked into it (they are also bad at walking into lampposts). The Zen is there; just look for it.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Posted @ 16:17Mystery Photograph

Going through the many pictures of Open Mic and Acoustic Culture Nights at the Tap & Spile, I came across this one. Did you take it Ian? Can anyone remember who the other three guys are? I seem to remember we played All Along The Watchtower, plus had a jam. What happened to these guys? They were quite good, weren't they. Can anyone help?

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Posted @ 18:00The Beat Goes On...

Need to catch up, so a long post.

Thoughts from a plague zone

I've been suffering from recurring lurgy and plague for the past week or so and, as a result, haven't paid much attention to keeping this blog fed with the social observation, current affairs and dubious puns which it richly deserves.

A correspondent (which I will identify only by the sobriquet "My mate Ian who isn't really the alcoholic that the incidents in these chronicles seem to imply") writes: "I have Avian 'flu, or SARS, or the Marthambles or plague or something (why do women only get "Colds"?).". The answer to this question lies, I believe, in the fine structure of the language centres of the human brain. Males have a highly developed disease morphology, enumeration and categorisation centre; in females this construct is either absent or astonishingly small. Hence females get "colds" and males get "the gut destroying, life threatening, totally horrid plague".

This has been a public service announcement.

Acoustic Nights

Two "Acoustic Nights" last week and one this week. Such a proliferation of wealth needs reporting, analysing and making fun of.

Tuesday, 22nd February 2005 saw the monthly "Acoustic Culture Night" at the Tap & Spile. Despite the weather (cold, white stuff from the sky and winds that were frozen solid), there was a good turn out.

I was not well. I was suffering beyond all belief. I needed lots of sympathy. I was so ill, I didn't even take my guitar. I suspect that I had contracted italics.

Eddie was off doing his best as Grimsby Town's most loyal (only?) supporter (and they won!), so Roger B was MC for the evening, performing with his usual flair. Apart from the usual confusion about which direction to orbit the proceedings, it all settled down rather well. The Genetically Modified (sorry, Grimsby Millennium) Folk Group were there in force and majesty. Richard Papps was his usual, elegant, self. Jim White and John Sullivan gave us some poetry to remember. Minger played (this is to be the subject of a major novel). Paul & Keith were stylish and it was particularly enjoyable to hear the menu of the Tap & Spile set to an (improvised) song. And, by the way, if you weren't there, you won't know that when the world ends we all need to go round to Keith's house.

I - eventually - forswore my death and managed to grab a couple of ditties from the hell hole of my health. I am not going to mention anything about that song that Rob L played: it was not amusing.

The next night (23rd February) it was off to Swigs for their inaugural "Acoustic Night". It was again not the best of weather: for some reason the usual Mediterranean climate of Grimsby has been absent for a little while during February (in cosmic terms, several million years is just "a little while") and has been replaced by gusts of wind which feature armour piercing hail and rainwear piercing sleet. Despite my obvious incapacity to function as a human being (I'm sure I was dead), I managed to struggle my way there.

It was a great night with Stu and Chris doing a great job of organising it in such a small venue. Tim & Jen (and big Steve) banged and clacked and encouraged the beating of tables, the clapping of hands and abuse of bar staff (one of these is a lie). Nadia (in just her second public performance) was delightful. Fil was there, mandolin loaded and locked: he really got the place jigging. Rob L was there and, for some reason, thought it would be funny to play that song again. Now, I'm an easy going guy and I do have a sense of humour and I am tolerant of anyone who wants to make me the butt of their jokes: I just can't believe that anyone could find such a song funny (during Rob's performance someone released a large quantity of laughing gas into the room which took some time to clear). Angie sang beautifully.

What was great about this night was that they weren't trying to imitate the nights at the Tap and were obviously intent of developing a "house style": in addition, the eclectic nature of the music inspirations and sources made the evening thoroughly representative of the throbbing [ooh, err, Misses Miggins] live music scene in this town. It even persuaded Steve G that he might consider picking up a guitar again after 7 years abstinence.

Yesterday (2nd March 2005) there was another "Acoustic Night" at Swigs: they're trying not to conflict with the weeks when there's things on at the Tap, so they'll be approximately fortnightly from now on. [By the way, Ian, have you noticed that I haven't mentioned you drinking anything yet? Not that you were or are teetotal: but I've been very good and not mentioned any vast consumptions of Scrumpy Jack which may or may not have happened to you.]

I'm in the terminal stages of extreme lurgy and deadly plague, so the continuing lack of Mediterranean weather in these parts is causing me some distress (I did have somewhat of a remission over the weekend, but this turned out to be short-lived and probably designed to lull me into a false sense of feeling quite good).

The night was reasonable but seemed to be a little fragmentary (probably because it was only a week since the last one). Some new players (Dave and Danielle; Simon) and Angie got up and sang again: once her confidence matches her voice she'll be a real knockout. Stu and Chris delivered sterling service despite - and I was glad not to be alone - suffering from the worst plague that anyone has ever had. And, yes, Steve G "picked up his guitar and played, just like yesterday".

Rob Lowdon at the Tap & Spile (Friday, 25th February 2005)

As this post is (deliberately)not chronological, you will no doubt guess that Friday was one of my "days of remission" from "the extremely unpleasant and mortally threatening plague which is the curse on all mankind because of doing naughty things". And Friday was Rob's stupendous performance at the Tap.

I arrived around 20:15. Not many people in to start with (but Seany is there). Sat with Rob L, Tina and Rob (sound man) & Rachel H while we waited for the punters. Ian arrived and drank some Scrumpy Jack: he is later to drink more of these, just in case you're wondering. Eventually the place fills up and the evening really rocks.

Rob advertised this as "the funky gig" with the unstated intention of doing a wide range of songs (some with guests).

Rob played his own stuff, Irish folk music (very ably assisted by Rachel H on whistle and vocals), Scots folk music, blues (assisted by Tim B on harmonica), contemporary rock, 60's contemporary folk, loud stuff, quiet stuff, instrumentals and songs. The range of material and the quality of the performance were staggering: in some small way he also reflected the catholic tastes of the Grimsby music scene. We don't wish to be drawn into long debates about whether the "best" sort of music is Country & Western, Blues, Traditional Irish, English Folk, Pop, Rock, Punk… We are content to listen to enthusiastic people giving their all and getting up and sharing their music. Keeping in real, keeping it live.

Rob has changed the words of that song: it is now very funny since it no longer mentions me. I'm sure my intelligent and articulate literary criticism is responsible for the new lease of life an otherwise boring and unamusing song.

Ian's Birthday and other Sunday stuff @ the Tap & Spile (Sunday, 27th February 2005)

Well, it's just about 2 years since Dave & Rose took over the Tap & Spile. Without their support for pool teams, football teams, netball teams, darts teams, goof food, good beer and live music the pub would be a vast echoing room with a few morose buggers bemoaning the standards of play in the Premiership (come to think of it, there are some Saturday afternoons when…). Sunday was an informal party to celebrate this anniversary. It was also Ian "I drink Scrumpy Jack in a Stella glass 'cos I don't want people to think I'm a wuss who drinks cider" O's birthday.

Naturally we met up in the Tap at around 16:00 (Ian had been working). I'll get the obvious slurs on his character out of the way now by assuring you, my humble readers, that Ian did indeed have copious volumes of Scrumpy Jack to quaff (in addition to several neat Jack Daniel's). And, indeed, he was a little inebriated by the evening's end. Well, more than a little. Quite frankly, children, he was drunk. Incontrovertibly. I, of course, was as well (but I don't drink Scrumpy Jack at all, let alone from a Stella glass).

On Staurday, I'd helped Roger B with the research for his new self-help blockbuster: "How To Get Lost On Grimsby Docks". Nice to see he & Julie, Richard & Nikki and Bob & Marion.

And then Ian invented a wonderful new game of dropping Maltesers in people's drinks and then expecting them to drink and eat the Malteser. He also invented the games of dropping lots of Maltesers on the floor and that eternal favourite, letting your drink slide off the bevelled edge of the table so that it makes a wonderful noise as it smashes the glass on the floor and scatters alcoholic beverage over as many people as possible. He cannot claim to have invented the game of "let's all have lots and lots to drink so we're all outrageously drunk": several of those in attendance had already played that one before (and probably will again).

During all this celebration, food was served (a wonderful buffet despite Craig's "accident" with the sausages) and Dave announced that he and Rose were getting married.

Let's finish there: all the best Dave & Rose.