It’s club day

I remember the excitement of club day arriving. The sun shone and there was a mood of happiness in the heart of a small boy. The club members, my uncle among them, wore dark suits and rosettes and were led by a silver band. The members of the club called for refreshments at various farms in the neighbourhood before gathering for lunch at the manor farm in the village.

Last year, a man in his nineties told me about  the bits that I had forgotten.

“Townsends would bring their fair up from Weymouth. They were not allowed to set up on the village green until after the evening service at the church on the Sunday evening. On Monday morning, the club members would all meet at the church for a service and would then be led by the Kingsbury Episcopi Silver Band. It was Whitmonday, but must of the men were farm workers, so didn’t get bank holidays off work, club day was accepted as a day they did get off. The walk would visit the farms where one or other of them worked and the farmer would provide them all with a glass of beer or cider. There would be a good lunch at the end – and then a whip round to pay for it. Then there would be the fair in the evening.”

“The club was a friendly society?” I asked him.

“It was, they would all pay in a small amount each week, literally pennies, and if someone had problems, or died, they would do what they could to help.

“Club day was a great day.”

Given the propensity for church festivals to move around, the date of club day could shift by as much as a month. Times have changed and a more sensible way of fixing the date now pertains. It is held on a Saturday now – last Saturday it was Langport club day; this Saturday is Long Sutton club day. Perhaps there are other local communities where similar events still take place.

The friendly society in Long Sutton, a small Somerset village, was aptly named, it was the embodiment of friendliness. The paucity of financial rewards from farm work was counterbalanced by a rich sense of community; club day cemented the day in the thoughts of members throughout the year.

The sun has shone on this fine June day, and the club members will have been suitably refreshed.




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Really local news

The June edition of The Roundabout came through the door, the monthly magazine of the parishes around Langport. The magazine must be forty years old, established after the local benefices were combined as a team. It has a glossy cover now – with coloured photographs – a change from the times of stencil and duplicator. Mostly the news is of church activities, with obituaries of those who had been buried with their forebears in village churchyards that have a timeless quality.

There is a monthly free newspaper The Langport Leveller, which has a circulation of ten thousand copies, but it lacks the rootedness found in a parish magazine. Well-written and professionally produced, its problem is that it could be about anywhere. It is strongly political in its lead stories and editorial, but given the sterility of English politics, it is sometimes dull reading, the death of a old neighbour is infinitely more interesting than wranglings at county hall.

The Western Gazette, a tabloid now, with a much reduced circulation from former times, was the newspaper that described the world of my childhood and youth. As with many newspapers, its title was more expansive than the community it represented. Its coverage was of the affairs of Yeovil and south Somerset, the description of the area as “western” would have seemed odd to anyone living in Devon and Cornwall; High Ham is closer to London than to Saint Ives, and we were at the western side of the area in which the  Western Gazette circulated.

The Western Gazette had the news that really mattered to someone too young to vote and whose understanding of the outside world was determined by whatever might be gleaned from BBC television news. The stories were of local events featuring names that were recognizable. The newspaper covered the stuff of village life, particularly the funerals. The obituary reports would have a brief note on the deceased and then a list of those who were present at the funeral service. A reporter with a notebook would stand at the church gate taking everyone’s names; it was important not to be missed out, and, if present by oneself, to be sure to tell the reporter the names of family members one represented.

The Western Gazette helped created a sense of community because it specified the community of which it was a part. Unlike a local radio station, whose boundaries of listenership are vague, and definitely unlike a website, which is without any geographical bounds of readership, the Western Gazette’s coverage and circulation were specific.

When people complain about a loss of sense of community, asking f they buy the local newspaper might be telling.


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Mrs Warboys Weekends

The M5 will be at a standstill.  It is a Mrs Warboys weekend.

On Mrs Warboys weekends, the entire populations of large cities decide it is the very moment for the whole family to jump in the motor car and to head for seaside towns. The seaside towns of the south-west of England are there every other day of the year and are pleasant places for a walk even in the winter months, but only on Mrs Warboys weekends are they the focus of such massive invasions.

Mrs Warboys days represent the triumph of hope over experience. Perhaps they are the aspiration of people for a bygone age; a time when they were young when going to the seaside for a day out was a major landmark in the year. There is a collective consciousness in which the seaside means sandy beaches and stripy deck chairs; and arm bands and rubber rings; and buckets and spades and beach balls; and brass bands and Punch and Judy. (Aspirations don’t come cheaply – in Weston-Super-Mare it costs £10 to park your car on the sea front, some of that parking is actually on the beach itself, not good for a car!)

Mrs Warboys days were about taste as well as sight and sound and feeling; they were about candy floss and ice creams; they had the saltiness of cockles and mussels and fish and chips; they had the coolness of bottles of Coke and flat English beer.

In search of an idyll that maybe never existed, millions of people set out on Bank Holiday weekends; how many find what they were searching for? Who knows? How many actually reach their intended destination might be a more useful question.

Why call them “Mrs Warboys weekends”? Because there is a memorable episode of the British television series One Foot in the Grave where Victor Meldrew, the chief character, and his wife set out for a Bank Holiday Monday outing with their friend Mrs Warboys.

Poor Mrs Warboys spends four hours sitting in the back of the Meldrews’ car, which is trapped in motorway traffic gridlock, looking at the bottom of a horse in a box being pulled by the car in front while Victor Meldrew rages against the world and against other motorists, articulating thoughts all of us have had, but would never put into words.

Mrs Warboys would be advised to stay at home and sit in her garden.

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Arcade incompetent

“Uncle Ian, they have a vintage arcade game in the pub now, you would enjoy it.”

It would have been churlish to say, “No, I wouldn’t!” It would have been hard to explain that I think I was born far too early to ever be adept at electronic games.

The game where you played table tennis with two controllers connected to your television, which you could obtain cheap with vouchers from Corn Flakes boxes,  came out when I was at boarding school; there was great competition to use it at first, but after a while it seemed slightly absurd to try to play table tennis with an electronic controller, when it was much more fun playing with a table tennis bat in the games room.

By the time I was a student, Space Invaders proved beyond any doubt that I was not cut out to save Planet Earth. I stuck to the pinball table if I wanted to waste 10 pence pieces, it was much more mechanical and responded directly to physical force, usually with the “Tilt” light coming on, resulting in the loss of one of the three balls.

By the mid-80s there had been a revolution and I had been left a long way behind; the kids at the local rectory roared with laughter at my attempts at Donkey Kong. By the mid-90s there was Gameboy and the like. There was no prospect that the Super Mario brothers would ever rescue the princess under my guidance; they rarely got beyond the first level.

Once the children had gone beyond the age of playing Gameboy, electronic games disappeared from the household. There was still an online role-playing game played by the older of the offspring that demanded a few dollars a month, but it was not about the frantic pressing of buttons in order to zap virtual enemies.

What has been astonishing in recent times is that electronic games have extended their grip into the lives of adults; people, particularly men, can spend hours on Play Stations and X Boxes.  People who in former generations went to the pub and played darts and snooker and pool with their mates, or did DIY stuff in their houses, or worked in their gardens, now sit in front of a screen pressing buttons, in a quest for what?  The advertisements for the games can be quite bizarre; one for a war game suggesting it demanded particular personal qualities to play it.

What happened that real living came to be replaced by a virtual existence, that people who might have been out playing real soccer became content with a version on a screen; that men who in former generations might have been fighting actual wars, came to think that an electronic simulation of gore and blood and death and slaughter was somehow a worthwhile leisure activity; that reality became replaced by something virtual, something very far from reality?

Our primary school teacher always told us that inanimate objects could not be stupid, so if spending hours on unreal activities cannot be stupid, it is plain silly.




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Being scared would be welcome

Scary music was the topic suggested for a listeners’ response on BBC Radio 6 at 6.30 this morning. One listener spoke for many when saying there was no music more scary during childhood than the theme music of Doctor Who.

It was certainly music that frightened me. We had only two channels on our black and white VHF television set and I hated Doctor Who with its daleks and cybermen. I hated stories of “flying saucers”. I once spent an evening on my grandad’s farm avoiding a television version of War of the Worlds. As the years have passed, the aliens have become an increasingly attractive option. If they have arrived here, their technology and knowledge is infinitely in advance of ours, and surely they would be more inspiring than the rulers of our world?

The Drake Equation calculates the possibility of an imminent arrival of aliens. If they arrived in Somerset, it would presumably be a case of landing their ship on Glastonbury Tor. The Drake Equation is the mathematical calculation devised by Dr Frank Drake to estimate the likelihood of there being someone out there. For someone whose mathematics knowledge did not extend beyond that required to pass the Certificate in Secondary Education, the Drake Equation is almost comprehensible. The Drake equation is:

N = R* • fp • ne • fl • fi • fc • L


N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which communication might be possible


R* = the average number of star formation per year in our galaxy
fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets
ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
fl = the fraction of planets that could support life that actually develop life at some point
fi = the fraction of planets with life that actually go on to develop intelligent life (civilizations)
fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space

It is an equation that would have terrified me as a child because it suggests that there is a likelihood of  other civilisations in our galaxy. Of course, the problem is that our civilisation is likely to end before the flying saucers can reach us. What a depressing conclusion. Is there not a single extra-terrestrial out there who save us from our incompetent governments? Scary music would be welcome.

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