BLUSHING EMBARRASSMENT IN THE REMOTE PROVINCES

The next post will be on either on or before Thursday April 20th

BLUSHING EMBARRASSMENT IN THE REMOTE PROVINCES

Ever heard of the Outer Hebrides Broadcasting Corporation, which produces most varied yet always gripping TV programmes for the denizens of one of the loneliest and most windblown areas in the British Isles? You’re right, there isn’t one, and indeed it is just an excellent invention of the fine Scottish comedian Gregor Fisher(born 1953), better known as the scathingly eloquent Glaswegian layabout Rab C Nesbitt, and the Teuchter aka Highland Hick sea captain Para Handy adapted for TV from the eponymous tales of Neil Munro (1863-1930). In one of these OHBC skits the presenter with his mad stick up hair and gleefully singsong Highland brogue announces a phone in competition for which the coveted First Prize is, raising it proudly aloft… a bag of 4 inch nails.

I come from the remote provinces myself, or at least West Cumbria in the 50s and 60s when I was growing up was certainly the back of beyond, both culturally, linguistically (a type of unintelligible latter day Viking dialect in certain villages around Maryport, Cockermouth and Wigton) and geographically. There were no decent road connections to the main towns of Workington and Whitehaven from Penrith = the M6 motorway, up until the mid-1970s, which means that should I have wished to hitchhike home as a student the lifts would have become ever more short, sharp and endless. The rule of thumb with living in the sticks is that you get laughed at by those who don’t or who alternatively reside slightly less in the risible hinterland than yourself. So the metropolitan Newcastle Geordies regularly laugh at the adjacent North Cumbrians of Carlisle who in turn make jokes about the pitiful primitives down West, just as on the opposite side of the Atlantic mainland Canadians make endless gags about the gullible stupidity of the Newfoundlanders who they sneeringly refer to as Newfies. The humble West Cumbrians who have no one lower to laugh at in the near vicinity, choose as a rule to mock the Irish and the Blacks, albeit the Irish are almost visible on the other side of the ocean, while the number of Blacks living in West Cumbria up until the mid-1970s, was precisely one. He was a gifted rugby league player for Workington Town and he was a window cleaner and he was called Ces.

A couple of years ago I wrote  in these pages about the Cumbrian equivalent of OHBC, the late but not great Border TV (1961-2001) which also served South Scotland and the Isle of Man and meant that the news bulletin Border News and Lookaround (aka Border Crack an Deekaboot) was of such motley and serendipity contents it amounted to the dizzily surreal. A breathless lead item might be that the Sheriff of Jedburgh (where workaholic Sir Walter Scott was once a magistrate) had just opened a new mini-market on High St that would give no less than 2 new jobs to the pretty little Border town. Switch then to the Isle of Man whose reclusive citizens’ hobbies were tax evasion and as legislated by its self-governing Tynwald parliament, birching criminal vandals when everyone else had stopped doing so centuries earlier. You would either hear about the controversial and potentially fatal flogging of an epileptic, in what after all was part of the UK and not Saudi Arabia nor post Bhutto Pakistan…or of the Sheriff of Douglas attending a Rotarian dinner with his wife, both of them dressed to the nines and where Manx kippers were an unbelievable if extremely local starter.

Once in the early 1960s, there was an ITV cameramen’s strike (I never noticed any camerawomen either then or now) and as Border was a regional child of the national ITV you would have expected it to follow suit. But just as in the old National Union of Miners generally the only ones not to strike were in the passive and docile West Cumbrian branch, so the Border camera chaps decided to stay in to work as normal. They had a considerable problem though, which was that the Equity and acting unions were on strike in sympathy with their colleagues, meaning that Border TV had the cameras alright but none of these things they call programmes to broadcast. That would have daunted any organisation recognisable as sane, but not good old Border. As it happened they had as an occasional Lookaround stalwart, a handsome young chap with a guitar called Michael who not only your old Mum but your old Grandmum and her old Grandmum and all their collateral branches going back to the 10th century would have loved and cossetted as he was the most wholesome lad in Christendom complete with fair and fluffy hair and a clotted cream cardigan knitted  by his Aunty Viv, and a shy and winning smile whose only possible equal was that of the charismatic pianist Russ Conway (1925-2000) author of 1959 number 1 hit Sidesaddle and who my own grandmother Lily Renney (1882?- 1969) was obviously in love with as she watched him entranced every Saturday night in our house on the Billy Cotton Band Show (1956-1968).What Border TV did for 3 whole days was to have Michael playing his Sunday school teacher’s acoustic guitar in an empty Carlisle studio, gamely warbling sweetly every song he knew, and give him his due he did no repeats, not even one. And believe it or not, and this is truly incredible, when we at home could have watched proper programmes like Z Cars  or Compact on the BBC, instead we sat and for at least half of the 3 days gawked at Aunty Viv’s cardigan and asked ourselves would he ever be allowed to have his girlfriend or his Mam or even his Aunty Viv in to play on maracas and thus make him perhaps just a little less lonely in the deserted studio.

Predictably those celebrities in their own right, the continuity announcers on Border, stayed touchingly peerless innocents all the way though its 4 decades of broadcasting. I mentioned previously the anchor man who in 1964 announced the imminent Cock of the Border show which featured my own mother no less, representing Maryport versus rival town Aspatria in a cooking competition. The little chap was so excited by the climactic (sorry) task he got as far as, Now it’s Time for Cock, and then having reached his annunciatory apogee as it were, was able to go no further. We never heard the ‘of the Border’ bit, and the camera slowly faded, and even though it was black and white we saw him blushing to the roots of his brilliantined hair. Meanwhile and for even juicier faux pas, I am indebted to my friend the fine novelist Christopher Burns, another West Cumbrian a few years older than myself, and with an infallible memory for TV history as well as that of film, at which he is an unequalled expert. Chris lists some Border continuity gems which alas I never saw myself, but were wholly in keeping with the ineffable spirit of the organisation, which is to say smiling, beguiling and unfortunately there is not a word seniling, but let us employ one that exists, and it is senile

On the small scale, there was a Northern Irish vocalist who is still active but most prominent in the 70s and 80s, called Clodagh Rodgers (born 1947) and who was once interviewed upon Border TV. She should have been easy enough to announce, should she not, and no you’re wrong, the little bloke in the 70s studio still with his Brylcreem, didn’t say ‘Klo-Dag’, but instead told us that we were now to see The Clodagh Brothers, meaning two or even three euphonious Ulster crooners, albeit all of them blokes, for the price of one. Better, by which I mean even worse than that, the genius TV dramatist Dennis Potter (1935-1994) who was severely afflicted with it himself, would have been outraged or possibly just hysterical to have the same chap sunnily announce the next programme, scheduled in the TV Times to be about Psoriasis, was instead about that uniquely Border variant known as Cirrhosis…

Finally and best of all, and may its peerless memory never fade. Anyone who knows the handsome West Cumbrian port of Whitehaven will know of its legendary dockland chip shop, run for decades by a family of Irish origin known as the Peeney’s. Two of the young daughters had just started up a lively singing duo who were to appear at the tail end of Lookaround (yes yes, and now I know why we always called it Border Crack an Deekaboot)  and who the announcer duly noted as The Wonderful Penis Sisters.

Advertisements

SEX AND DRUGS BUT NOT ROCK N ROLL

The next post will be on or before Wednesday, April 19th

SEX AND DRUGS BUT NOT ROCK N ROLL

 ‘When I die, I want them to play the ‘Black and Crazy Blues’. I want to be cremated, put in a bag of pot and I want beautiful people to smoke me, and hope they get something out of it’

RAHSAAN ROLAND KIRK, blind sax player (1935-1977)

‘I need a little sugar in my bowl and a little hot dog in my roll’

BESSIE SMITH, singer (1894-1937)

If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library’

FRANK ZAPPA, composer and guitarist (1940-1993)

‘Music was our wife and we loved her. We stayed with her, clothed her and put diamond rings on her hands’

LIONEL HAMPTON, bandleader (1908-2002)

‘You know the one with the big ears? Wait a minute, he ain’t my president, he might be yours, he ain’t my president. You know that woman he had singing for him, singing my song, she’s gonna get her a-whipped. The great Beyonce. But I can’t stand Beyonce…’

ETTA JAMES, singer (1938-2012)

 ‘You take romance – I’ll take Jello-o’

ELLA FITZGERALD, singer (1917-1996)

‘Ain’t nobody’s business if I bark like a dog’

MUDDY WATERS, blues musician (1913-1983)

‘Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your magnificent indifference’

DIZZY GILLESPIE, bandleader(1917-1993)

‘I don’t care who buys it. Because if you use that criterion, Mozart would never have written Don Giovanni’

CHARLIE PARKER, sax player (1920-1955)

‘Any musician who says he is playing better either on tea, the needle, or when he is juiced, is a plain, straight liar. When I get too much to drink, I can’t even finger, let alone play decent ideas.’

CHARLIE PARKER

‘Tobacco is my favourite vegetable’

FRANK ZAPPA

‘You can get up to your boobies in white satin, with gardenias in your hair, and no sugar cane for miles, but you can still be working on a plantation’

BILLIE HOLIDAY singer (1915-1959)

‘If you think dope is for kicks and thrills, you’re out of your mind. There are more kicks to be had in a good case of paralytic polio, or by living in an iron lung’

BILLIE HOLIDAY

‘The only cats worth anything are the cats that take chances’

THELONIOUS MONK pianist (1917-1983)

‘Just because you can’t see anything, doesn’t mean you should shut your eyes’

RAY CHARLES, blind singer (1930-2004)

‘Jazz was born out of the whiskey bottle, was raised on marijuana, and will expire on cocaine’

ARTIE SHAW bandleader (1910-2004)

‘Live each day like it’s your last, ‘cause one day you’re gonna be right’

RAY CHARLES

‘Jazz is not dead, it just smells funny’

FRANK ZAPPA

BANNED AND BLASPHEMOUS

The next post will be either on or before Tuesday April 18th

BANNED AND BLASPHEMOUS

Luis Bunuel’s cinematic masterpiece, the 1961Viridiana,was banned by the Fascist Francoist government of Spain on its release, and they also tried unsuccessfully to have it withdrawn from the Cannes Festival. The Vatican newspaper angrily described it as ‘blasphemous’ and almost 60 years later in 2017, it still has a shocking if impressively understated power. Partly that is down to the austere and poetic black and white photography which heightens all the possible effects, but also because it touches on perennially taboo subjects such as rape, incest and blasphemous imagery, and in a seeming confusion of registers orchestrates them with a score that includes the sacred music of Mozart’s Requiem and Handel’s Messiah. Viridiana is loosely based on the 1895 novel Halma by Spain’s greatest 19th C writer, Benito Perez Galdos (1843-1920) and Bunuel also adapted Galdos’s 1892 Tristana and 1895 Nazarin for the screen. The central theme of Nazarin is identical to that of Viridiana, namely a priest (in Viridiana a novitiate hoping to be a nun) getting in a dangerous, even life threatening mess, when attempting to practice charity on a truly generous scale.

The heroine of the title is played by the outstandingly beautiful Mexican actress Silvia Pinal born 1931 (Pinal has been married 4 times so understandably now at 85 is single). On the eve of becoming a nun Viridiana is ordered by her Superior to visit her Uncle Jaime as he is in poor health and wishes to see her before she takes the final step. Viridiana is reluctant on the grounds they barely know each other but as Jaime has funded her education and religious training the Superior insists. Jaime is played by the urbane and handsome Fernando Rey (1917-1994) once described as Bunuel’s alter ego, the hero of his That Obscure Object of Desire (1977), but already an international star after he played the drug baron villain in William Friedkin’s 1971 French Connection. Jaime lives as a recluse in his run-down farm, his sole relaxation the dolorous playing of his creaky harmonium, his only company being his beautiful maid Ramona (Jean de Florette star, Margarita Lozano, born 1931) and her mischievous little daughter Rita. It is deftly suggested that Ramona and Jaime are sleeping together, something which no doubt little Rita could decisively confirm as she spends her time climbing trees to watch what is going on inside the house. Rita’s other activity is endless skipping, and indeed her numerous skipping ropes are important and sometimes sinister motifs as the film unfolds.

Unfortunately for Viridiana she is the very image of Jaime’s late wife who died on her wedding night and, though never stated, it seems likely it was during the nuptial couple’s first lovemaking. Jaime beseeches his niece to stay longer than a few days, playfully threatening to incarcerate her, until eventually Ramona stood nearby urges her to marry him as he is ‘a good man’ and because he loves his niece. Viridiana is naturally appalled and immediately recoils but eventually submits to his bizarre proposal that she dress up in his wife’s bridal outfit seeing that she is her virtual double. However, this far from good man has solicited Ramona to put a sleeping draught into her coffee, and once she is unconscious he leads her into the bedroom and embarks upon raping her. Luckily he only gets as far as exposing and kissing her breasts, and throughout all of this horror there is the divinely moving sound of Mozart’s Requiem as well as little Rita fearlessly watching all from a tree outside. Afraid to go further, Jaime is cruel enough to tell his niece the next morning that he did go the whole way, and she is therefore indissolubly his. However, seeing her so distraught he confesses he had lied and begs her forgiveness. Denied that, he relents and lets her go, but as she sets off for the bus back to the convent, he pulls out pen and paper and writes something with a sly and lingering and sadistic smile.

What he has done is change his will to divide the estate between Viridiana and his handsome illegitimate son Jorge, played by Francesco Rabal (1926-2001). Meanwhile Viridiana is ushered off the bus by the village police and taken back to behold her Uncle Jaime hanging from a tree by one of little Rita’s skipping ropes. Very soon the Mother Superior arrives and tries to lead Viridiana back to the convent, an impossibility given what the novitiate has been through but is unwilling to confess.  The Superior departs in high dudgeon and a few days later Jorge the cousin (though crucially not by blood) turns up with his pretty girlfriend Lucia and sets about renovating the estate. Jorge is a cynical and flirtatious city man who mocks his cousin’s piety, and takes over the house itself while humble Viridiana moves into a kind of outhouse annexe where she decides to practise large scale charity and accommodate the local beggars. Shrewd Lucia does not stay around long as she sees that her boyfriend is attracted to Viridiana, and perhaps also is aware that before long he will begin sleeping with Ramona the maid. It is here that we understand what Uncle Jaime was grinning about before his suicide. Somehow he had guessed that if Jorge was a chip off the old block, that he would end up trying to deflower the co-legatee of his estate, and given his splendid looks he would succeed where his wretched Dad had failed.

The estate workers hate the entourage of motley and far from meek beggars, two of them handsome women begging simply because they are unemployed, one being an expert cook. The other has a small crying baby in tow which she continually snarls at and threatens, though never actually hurts. There is also an unselfpitying Blind Man who has a salivating libido and who leeringly informs the cook that he will have her in the fields that evening. Most endearing is a jesting and irreverent little chap in his sixties with a sideways beret and a look of one of the Seven Dwarves. As counterpoint to this comic relief is a grovelling if angry man of 50 with few teeth and a skin disease who the others all loudly abuse as a leper, even though what he has is some kind of venereal infection. Most sinister is a good-looking man of 40 who sports a trilby hat and who significantly secures his loose trousers with yet another of Rita’s skipping ropes. Meanwhile their unworldly custodian leads them to their dormitory quarters where they are segregated by gender, sunnily informing them that they will work joyfully for their food and live the royal life, entailing regular prayer and a compulsory bedtime of 8pm. But Bunuel’s beggars are not idealists, nor are they even polite, for one of them complains that in this their first meal, the beans are far too bitter. As antidote to which the next day Viridiana has them all kneeling down in the fields where they have been toiling for their beans, to say the Angelus. Bunuel (1900-1983) playfully orchestrates the incantations of this lengthy prayer alternating with the banal processes of tree felling, fence fixing etc that are being carried out by Jorge’s renovations, and the sound effects of clumping timber and sluicing water, seem to suggest that one type of activity is useful though unmusical while the other is the opposite on both counts.

Then fatefully Viridiana and Jorge leave the estate for a couple of days along with Ramona and little Rita who is going to the dentist and so is frightened. Before long the inquisitive beggars break into the big house and start fingering the costly linens and tablecloths, and in a trice they open up the vintage wines and beb them from the best glasses. The ex-cook orders two of the men to go and slaughter a couple of lambs and they will have a regal feast instead of bitter beans. Meanwhile another tramp craftily seduces the Blind Man’s girlfriend behind a sofa, and with Mozart’s Requiem playing we see their feet and lower legs copulating shamelessly. Blind Man is enraged and asks the little jester to lead him to the scene where he can brain his rival with his stout stick. The dining room by this stage is an appalling shambles, with all of them drunk and gorging themselves on the banquet. albeit the Leper has to keep his discreet distance.  Enterprisingly this outcast opts to ingratiate himself by changing the record to Handel’s Messiah and then putting Viridiana’s discarded wedding headpiece upon his own bald pate. Smirking crazily with his two rotten teeth, he begins a farcically seductive female shimmy and is soon joined by the Jester whose face is poker severe at the business of dancing. It is a Beggars’ Banquet right enough and one of the women decides to commemorate the fact on camera. With the Messiah still playing she has them line up at the vast table in a remarkable and unhinging parody of Da Vinci’s Last Supper. Then and this is where the Vatican must have taken most umbrage, having no camera at her disposal the beggar woman lifts her skirts and takes their picture either with her knickers or more likely her naked genitals, but as the shot is a rear one we will never know for certain.

But Nemesis predictably descends, when Jorge and Viridiana return early from the town. Most of the beggars flee but the Leper and the Man with the Skipping Rope Belt stay behind. The Belt Man leaps viciously onto Viridiana and carries her to bed, the Leper having knocked out Jorge with an empty wine bottle. This toothless outcast stands by hoping for his own turn, but as Viridiana fiercely resists, Jorge comes round from his concussion. His attacker had bound him with a rope, but he whispers to the Leper that if he unties him he will give him a lot of money and directs him to a cabinet where he may pocket a number of notes. Jorge then promises him much more if he will kill the man who is trying to assault his cousin, so the Leper takes up a fire iron and smashes the rapist to death.

After the police have carted off the Leper and a few others, twice traumatised Viridiana is obliged to consider what she will do next with her tragic life. Just as her wicked uncle had foreseen, she walks expectantly into Jorge’s quarters and wordlessly offers herself, only slightly dismayed to see that he had already been in the bedroom with Ramona who hesitantly stays there. Wholly unflustered Jorge proposes a threesome game of cards, so that this bizarre menage a trois sit down together and her cousin confides:

‘You know, the first time I saw you, I knew we would end up shuffling the deck together’

A few thoughts

-Bunuel sees the lower body and legs in particular as symbolically important, and little Rita is first introduced with her legs only, as she jumps over her skipping rope. Very soon after we have novitiate Viridiana removing her stockings to reveal a beautiful leg and the glimpse of her suspender belt arrangement is of obvious erotic import. Similarly, when the Blind Man’s girlfriend copulates with another man, tellingly we see only their feet and lower legs trembling with animal passion.

-More troublingly, innocent little Rita’s skipping ropes are involved in a suicide and in holding up the trousers of a would-be rapist. Add to that that the suicide was a would-be rapist also. Does that imply that that first shot of the child’s legs with her rope, was also indicative of a voyeuristic possibly paedophile attraction felt by Jaime to Ramona’s daughter? One of Rita’s early chats with Viridiana reveals that Uncle Jaime is always watching her skipping, but as ever Bunuel is an expert at suggesting and never elaborating.

-Viridiana the novitiate when she arrives at the estate sleeps on a wooden bed without a mattress, and wears a crown of thorns as part of her daily penance. By contrast, Jorge discovers in a lumber room one of his Dad’s seemingly blameless ornamental crosses which also conceals a miniature flick knife. Later, right at the end of the film, as part of cleaning up the debris and the memory of the beggars’ banquet, the same innocent Rita tosses the crown of thorns into the fire. It would be easy to say all this is surrealist Bunuel mocking blasphemously at religion, and even some intelligent critics seem to unqualifiedly accept that. But the director’s love of the divine Requiem and the sublime Messiah is so evident, that instead he seems to be saying that the religious spirit as mediated through the great artists is always pure, but not when through the conduit of rigid clergy and/or overweening and misplaced charity.

-An American critic complained that the sheer wickedness of nearly all of the beggars meant that Bunuel was taking the reactionary political stance of condemning all acts of charity to worthless improvidents. This seems to me facile and inane as he is surely only condemning the vacuous dictates of Viridiana’s authoritarian regime with its 8pm bedtimes and compulsory Angelus, and by implication that of the more hidebound and sometimes Fascist elements of the Franco era Catholic church.

-The only time blunt and callow Jorge shows any concern for anyone, is when he sees a dog tied to and running behind a fast-moving cart, and complains to the driver that the dog is exhausted. The callous driver says it keeps him fit and if he starves him he makes a better rabbiter. Appalled Jorge buys the dog off him and takes him away. But then a few seconds later and Jorge doesn’t see it, a cart races by in the opposite direction with another dog tied to it and destined to be exhausted too. I don’t think this is Bunuel saying that compassion is a waste of time (qv Viridiana and the ungrateful beggars) but more pointing out the obvious, that a single act of charity does not put the right the infinite amount of  injustice and unkindness to be found in the world.

Viridiana was the first foreign movie with subtitles I had ever seen when I watched it in the Pitt Rivers Museum in my first term at Oxford in October 1969. The second one was the famous 1964 Russian version of Hamlet, whose English title was transliterated as Gamlet as in the Russian language there is no ‘h’.

I LOVE FIGURES BUT HATE MATHS

The next post will be on or before Monday, April 10th

I LOVE FIGURES BUT HATE MATHS

Back about 20 years ago I knew a strikingly handsome artist called Tina, a single mother of a 10-year-old boy I shall call Charlie. Tina wasn’t the only single Mum I’ve known to dote to excess on her only child, and devote all her weekends to him, and be cynical about anything in the shape of new romantic involvements with treacherous men. Tina also fretted constantly about fatherless Charlie and especially his progress at school, particularly in Mathematics. Hence it was she had the highly original idea of helping him with his multiplication tables, not just by the usual route of chanting them together sing song at the tea table, but by plastering a large printed copy inside the lavatory door and thus sternly challenging anyone perched upon the throne therein. When I saw this startling pedagogic aid, I resisted the impulse to tell Tina that for schoolkids, even 10 year-olds, sitting for restorative periods on the sanctuary of the bog is one of the few cast iron respites they have from their often troublesome world, and so to make them work, nay study, while squatting and doing the usual business, was a bit of a load for one so young. Later, as I drove home from her house in the country I suddenly had the comical vision of wide eyed Charlie seated at stool so to speak, gasping in visionary amazement to learn that 8 x 8 = 64, so much so that that he felt obliged to snort sotto voce, fuck me! (yes, they do say that when they are 10) while his bowels let fly at the mind-blowing apprehension.

At Charlie’s age, I was a whizz at mental arithmetic and capable enough of all the rest of the 11 plus examination fodder, typical of which was, what is 4231 x 2472 or calculate 1 and 5/8ths x 3 and 7/16ths…or I also seem to remember a fascinating poser on the lines of: after embarking in your car at 9am,you are driving at 45 mph the 250 miles from Manchester to London and stopping on the M6 for half an hour for a coffee, at what time then do you get to your married brother’s spacious bungalow in Palmer’s Green (and was there also a rider of tangential = trigonometric  psychological interest, that you find him to your surprise in flagrante delicto with the florid and  forward Scotswoman next door)?  I then progressed to a West Cumbrian Grammar School where our maths teacher was a certifiable white-haired lunatic called Miss Puckridge at times charmingly saccharine, at times terrifyingly explosive, and who I have described elsewhere in these pages. Puckers put me off maths for good and especially when it came to geometry where she wished your e-circles and circumcircles to be pretty and pristine and alas mine done in a floating dream in 6B pencil (Grr! You oaf! How dare you!) were not. I dropped her subject with great delight when I was 16, but then was fool enough to opt for Sciences at A level and could not escape the twice weekly torment of what were essentially difficult Maths problems in my Physics homework.

That said, it has only just occurred to me in the last year or so, the deep seated and non-negotiable reason for my dislike of all of Maths, other than mental arithmetic aka sums. All of the Natural Sciences have the same overwhelming drawback in my book, though Maths which is strictly speaking neither a science nor an art, outdoes them all to a considerable degree. That drawback is that there are no signs of anything in the shape of human beings and their dramas and most importantly their passions, most graphically in a page of complex calculus equations, but not even in those laughable cooked up situations where e.g.  a man is looking at a lighthouse half a mile away and we have to work out either his height or the height of the lighthouse or the optical coefficients of his myopic dog who is also gawking at the striking beacon. In the late 50s when I was 8 years old and under the instruction of another incendiary and appalling lady aptly called Miss Blood, the gothic variation was that a farmer was selling a wholesale grocer his potatoes at 1d and farthing per pound, and had a load containing 1 ton, 7 cwt, 1 quarter, 5 stones, 3lbs, 5ozs, and how much should he therefore charge for his splendid load, notionally allowing for a discount should they both happen to be either Methodists or Freemasons. The point is that the lighthouse man and the farmer and the wholesale grocer were merely after the event factitious ciphers, only there for the sake of the problem, not because they had any life in themselves. Hence it is that the Humanities are rightly so called as all of them to some degree can subtend human drama and human passion, including and please do not laugh at this, sexual passion, given that most of these subjects are tackled first and formatively by schoolkids aged between 11 and 18, i.e. those in puberty and adolescence when their hormones are singing at full volume. Thus, in A level English, even 50 years ago, you could uncensoredly study the passionate and self-explanatory Sons and Lovers of DH Lawrence and even at O level in 1967 in Kipps I could read of the tender comedy of Arthur Kipps’s infatuation with Helen Walshingham as deftly sketched by that comic master HG Wells. For that matter there are human drama and passion even in Religious Education or at least there are in the Old Testament where adultery and betrayal and deceit are as prominent and catastrophic as they are in Shakespeare. Even in that wan little subject Geography (come clean, do any of your closest friends have a Geogers degree?) though there might be scant passion when it comes to latitude or the longitude, at least you learn of the human lives of the gauchos who drive the poor cattle to the Fray Bentos abattoirs, or of the trials of the landless peasants of India or of the hill farmers and their Swaledales and Herdwicks in Lakeland Cumbria. In History you have the not unfascinating spectacle of bare-arse Godiva, and the Machiavellian thrusts and stabs of Caractacus, Etheldred and Ethelwulf, Hengist and Horsa, and of Bismarck and his foreign policy and of Attila the Hun and his 1000 favourite means of torturing his enemies. As for the study of Art which was always sited disgracefully at the end of the school corridor, in its louche confines you could paint a still life or in your imagination a nude, and ditto in the Music room also invariably situated at a remote cul de sac, where you could hear the tender strains of Schubert’s or Nina Simone’ miraculous effusions, both of which had passion and drama and humanity in abundance.

But Physics like Maths more or less excluded all notion of sentient human beings and even of the naive animal world unless you allowed for the drawing of a tiny squinting minnow in a frozen pond who benefited more than most from the anomalous expansion of water. Chemistry somehow had more of a human face, though not much, as you learnt of industrial processes and the manufacture of sulphuric acid or formaldehyde in factories. At least raw sulphur is gleaming yellow and lead iodide is bright orange and burning magnesium is nearly as good as Bonfire Night, so there is vividness of colour and pageantry and odour, while with Maths and Physics there is nothing to feast your eyes on unless you are entranced by the densities of the Greek alphabet with its mu, nu, chi, rho, sigma and the like. Biology is possibly the most humane of the subjects because after all worms and rabbits and hedgehogs and even buttercups and bluebells have the refracted charisma and potency of memory of the small child’s world of Beatrix Potter and TV’s Watch with Mother and the like.

Very obviously none of this is to turn Luddite and to decry Maths or Physics as worthy subjects of study for without them there would be no laptops, no buses, no planes nor trains, no ice cream, no houses, no condoms, no phones, no DVDs, no online dating (heaven forbid) no nowt, and I would be the first to curse our collective fate. It is just to explain why I (and numerous others) simply don’t like them, and why quite possibly I never will, this despite the current media blandishments of TV’s Sexy Maths Man Marcus du Sautoy (born 1965), or that giggling, gasping astro- hunk Brian Cox (born 1968) the particle physics for everyone on the planet chap, aka the thinking woman’s marmite covered crumpet (I do wonder about that two edged surname of his), who can command 3-hour prime time telly with his scurrying jesting assistant, the Irish comedian Dara O’ Briain (born 1972). Believe me if Maths and Science are presumed to be truly sexy then I insist that so are last week’s porridge as well as fluff under the bed and old bus tickets and those arid Cornish pasties that stick to the roof of your mouth and as with A level physics you wish you’d never started on them in the first place.

And personally and this is completely gratuitous and appallingly unworthy of me, if I were a woman and even if I had myopia, presbyopia and astigmatism, I would find Ken Dodd or the late Marty Feldman (google them and take a look) more a cause for the pulse to race than superstar old grinning Cockers.