[nilesfunnies] Mothering Sunday is upon us
They were long, hot summers at Broadstairs in those days. A military band
played in the bandstand on the promenade, Uncle Mac performed his Minstrel
Show on the beach twice daily, and the 'Perseverance', smelling excitingly
of diesel oil fumes, took trippers for a sick round the bay.
All day was spent on the beach. I wore a bathing costume, bathing hat, and
plimsolls from dawn to dusk, wet or fine. The costume was my pride; the
acme of chic men's beachwear around the year 1929; the top half was like a
vest, with horizontal hoops of maroon, and - a design featurette - large
holes below the normal armholes. Then, working southwards, came an
imitation belt with a rusty buckle, and a navy-blue lower half complete
with a modesty skirt.
The bathing hat, which was worn at all times, was made of some intractable
black rubber, possibly from old tractor inner-tubes, about a quarter of an
inch thick. It had rubber ear-pieces welded on, into which the ears were
supposed to repose snugly. Because I had found the hat on the beach my
ears did not quite coincide and so not only was much agony endured but my
ears are now about half an inch farther forward than is normal.
I found myself attracted more and more to the pier end of the beach, where
the boats were moored. This now has a concrete slipway and a brass plate
reading 'Edward Heath Slipped Here' but in those days there was just a lot
of seaweed and a few moored dinghies gently banging into each other. What
with the seaweed and the toffee papers and the Choc-ice wrappers it was
not so much messing about in boats as boating about in mess.
Very soon the Dinghy Set had accepted me as a sort of mascot and I spent
all my time with them. Sometimes one of them would take me out for a sail
and let me lower the centre-board and do a bit of bailing, and I would run
all the way home, ten feet tall, freezing cold, with a soaking wet bottom.
They were all very much older than me. My particular hero was the group's
acknowledged leader, Guy Beauchamp, a middle-aged man of about twenty-two.
Most of the others shared a boat between them but Guy had his own, which
he worked on all day, touching up varnish and tightening the stays. I
spoke very little in those days. Not because I was timid but because I
usually had a chunk of Uncle William's toffee in my mouth and as the
toffee was broken off a block with a toffee-hammer and the pieces were
usually large, pointed triangles which almost pierced the cheeks, any
attempt at speech usually resulted in the listener being drenched with a
fine spray of Banana-Flavour juice. But Guy spoke even less than I did.
His conversation seemed to be entirely restricted to laconic, one-word
instructions; Anchor', he would say. And perhaps an hour later, 'Oar'. He
had fair hair, a cleft in his chin, and he wore khaki shorts which came
just below the knee and a roll-neck sweater apparently knitted from
spaghetti. He pottered about in the water all day getting his feet wet and
never caught cold. A tremendously impressive chap.
His girl friend was Carmen Rowbottom, the ironmonger's daughter, although
Mr Rowbottom called it 'Row-both-am' because he had married the gas
manager's daughter and was a sidesman. I could never see much to Carmen at
the time. She was quite elderly, pushing twenty, and wasn't very
interesting to look at, having rather a lot of loose hair, like a
carthorse's ankle, and huge bumps above her waist which got in the way
when she rowed. But Guy was very keen on her, taking her for long, silent
At the other end of the scale was Charlie Gordon who worked as a reporter
on the East Kent Messenger. He was known as 'Toothy' because he hadn't got
many, due to a cricket-ball. Toothy was small, bow-legged and ugly. He
spent most of the time sitting on the edge of the pier, not helping,
making rather funny comments.
Then it happened. There had been a week of bad weather and none of us had
been on the beach. I was sitting on the pier wondering when the rain would
ease up when I found Carmen standing there, eyes sparkling.
"I'm married!" she said.
For a while I couldn't speak. I'd swallowed my lump of toffee. When the
pain in my chest had diminished I lifted one earpiece of my bathing hat so
as not to miss a word and wished her and Guy a lifetime of bliss.
"Not Guy," she said. "Toothy. I'm Mrs Gordon!"
"But..." I said, which wasn't much help but it was all I could think of to
say in the stress of the moment.
"Be a sweet and tell Guy for me, will you? It'll be easier coming from
you." And with a wifely peck on my cheek she was gone.
I found Guy in the sail-locker, darning a sail.
"Er, Guy, er," I said. "Er, Carmen's married. Asked me to tell you.
Married Toothy. She's Mrs Gordon."
Guy stared at me with his unblinking, mariner's gaze,
"They're married," I repeated. "Married. Wed. Mr and Mrs Gordon."
Still no response.
"Miss Rowbotham has joined Mr Gordon in Holy Matrimony . . ."
As I ploughed on a horrifying truth dawned upon me. The splendid Guy, my
idol, was as thick as a post. As dim as a nun's nightlight.
"Your ex-girl-friend and the man with few teeth are as one . . ."
But nothing was registering. As I sweated on, trying to get the message
home to him, the scales dropping from my eyes like autumn leaves in a
gale, I realised that My Hero was a man of few words because he only knew
a few. In fact, apart from a few everyday phrases like 'Pass the
marmalade', and 'Does this train stop at Faversham?' his entire vocabulary
And so I translated my message into the language he knew.
"Mr Gordon and Miss Rowbotham," I said, "have sailed together into the
harbour of matrimony. And are moored together for life."
Immediately he understood. His figure sagged. He seemed to be trying to
I stood with him, but my words of comfort were of no use. At dawn the
following morning a longshoreman, out early to dig bait and nick things
from the bathing huts, found Guy as I had left him; staring into space and
muttering over and over again the harsh truth which he had, somehow, to
"Carmen ... Toothy Gordon ... Moored!"
-- Frank Muir, 1974
Office printer had message: 'Jam in tray four'. You can imagine my
disappointment when I opened it and found only a crumpled sheet of paper.
"JOIN OUR FAST-PACED COMPANY"
We have no time to train you.
"CASUAL WORK ATMOSPHERE"
We don't pay enough to expect that you'll dress up; well, a couple of
the real daring guys wear earrings.
"MUST BE DEADLINE ORIENTED"
You'll be six months behind schedule on your first day.
"SOME OVERTIME REQUIRED"
Some time each night and some time each weekend.
"DUTIES WILL VARY"
Anyone in the office can boss you around.
"MUST HAVE AN EYE FOR DETAIL"
We have no quality control.
Female applicants must be childless (and remain that way).
"NO PHONE CALLS PLEASE"
We've filled the job; our call for applicants is just a legal formality.
"SEEKING CANDIDATES WITH A WIDE VARIETY OF EXPERIENCE"
You'll need it to replace three people who just left.
"PROBLEM-SOLVING SKILLS A MUST"
You're walking into a company in perpetual chaos.
"REQUIRES TEAM LEADERSHIP SKILLS"
You'll have the responsibilities of a manager, without the pay or
"GOOD COMMUNICATION SKILLS"
Management communicates, you listen, figure out what they want and do