WARD’S WORLD: By John Ward
It was the recent headline about the Shropshire Community Health NHS Trust (as in quite a mouthful of a title to be going on with) refusing a £2,500 donation as it was from men dressed as female nurses following on from events they took part in and the cash quoted was donated by the public and maybe as in those who pay this Trust its wages indirectly as taxpayers no doubt, that made me think just what is this world coming to these days?
Years ago, together with a few friends, we used to enter assorted carnivals and similar events with our own self-built floats or tableaus within our then-county plus we ventured out the district as and when because we seemed to be some form of ‘attraction’ according to organisers who invited us, so we must have had something they deemed worth having at their particular bash.
Over the years we too dressed as ‘nurses’ – one of our entourage was so good in his outfit he could pass for ‘Carry On’s’ Barbs Windsor on a foggy night and one official at one event tried to get a date with him (!) and when it was pointed out he was a bona fide darts and rugby player, but not both at the same time, his response of ‘Are you sure?’ was not what we expected to hear from him..
Our most used theme was ‘Up the Nile’ as we dressed as Arabs with nightshirt-type gowns (homemade), old hobnailed ‘army’ boots plus fezzes a la Tommy Cooper type which we made from covering flowerpots with thin material and a tassel added (off the local market stall, six old pence each).
The fun we had as a dozen or so of us wandered into the local horticultural dealer in town and we stood in the plastic flowerpot section, all trying the assorted sizes on for best fit was something of local legend as customers wandering in were quite amazed to see all this going on. It was not always a ‘man thing’ though as our other halves, girlfriends or just our neighbours came along dressed as ‘harem girls’ or whatever we were doing.
One memorable moment was the last time we did it in the mid 1980s, and it was a reunion of sorts and I enquired locally for a ‘rough looking woman’ (open to interpretation I might add) or rather somebody to play the part as with blacked out teeth etc – this was a sort of take on the Frankie Howerd TV series ‘Up Pompeii’ as we needed somebody in a ‘soothsayer’ role.
One would think this might be pushing it a bit but three dear souls ‘applied’ for the role within hours of putting the word out in the local Co-op – where else?.
Interestingly, one keen to have the ‘role’ pointed out, quote: “Nobody around these parts is rougher looking than me’, a point her husband was keen to back her up on.
She got the role, teeth and all.
Whoever said ‘the music hall was dead’ was not looking in the local Co-op, that’s for sure.
We used to perform a ‘Wilson, Keppel and Betty’ sand dance routine (Google them) around the street parade routes with great effect and we continued the ‘Nile’ format over intervening years as we went ‘Further Up the Nile’, ‘Up the Nile Again’ etc as people genuinely seemed to like it and requested it to various members of us.
We had a basic float that was really the base to store the sand on we used in the ‘sand dance’ routine and we used musical accompaniment via a tape player and amplifier.
One year we had some fun as the Friday night before the parade on the Saturday. We went round the route with a set of homemade manhole covers (person covers today) and gently loosened them so they were easy to remove on the big day.
Stage one completed, effendi
On the day the look upon people faces was quite something as we went along the route and stopped occasionally, held the parade up as we removed the said manhole (person cover today, least we forget) as one member held a bamboo pole with a flag on it close to the hole as we took it in turns and proceeded to play golf (today its called ‘gulf’) with assorted clubs.
The golf ball (a friend supplied a box of ‘found’ ones off a course) in each case was eventually clouted into the manhole (person cover etc) and then we replaced the said cover, put a chalk X on it and the crowds went mad and every time we had a round of applause from them, which was quite something.
Yes, we truly went that extra manhole (person..) to satisfy our audience and fans.
The ‘rough looking woman’ smiled, now with two of her teeth blacked out, and did the occasional chant of ‘Woe is me, woe is me..’ on cue and quite why she was never invited to Stratford to appear in one of Bill Spokeshave’s plays we will never know.
As I said, the ‘Nile’ theme was through the intervening years as we entered something every year as basically we lived for the summer as most of the events took place then as it meant we could ‘lark about’ but we knew how far we could go, in manner of speaking, as we never knowingly caused any grief to the crowds unlike some entrants who thought it was ‘fun’ to throw buckets of water at them from their floats etc.
I gave a talk not so long ago and I mentioned some of this stuff etc in passing and I was quite taken that somebody could remember us and outlined what we did at the time in their town where they used to live.
We used to assemble our float outside my house most of the time as I made it in units and easy to put together and while we were doing this, one of our self styled ‘pillars of the community’ as in CSI (‘Col Self Important’) walked his dog past and being a fully paid up member of the ‘All Gob – No Go’ Federation, stood and posed the question as to ‘Why don’t you lot grow up’ and most wanted to answer that in rustic, basic terms as we were in our twenties or thirties then.
I politely asked him to stand there a moment as I pulled out from the lorry cab an envelope that had been delivered earlier that morning and due to getting the float assembled, had no time to tell the others of its contents and so I thought this was a good enough time as any.
It was a letter of thanks for our participation in an event a few weeks prior – it was about 20 miles or so away – and the event chairman wished us to know that we had, in our individual collecting buckets registered to us, collected over £127 when counted up in both notes and coins and at that point was something of a record hence his writing to inform us.
With inflation, perhaps stick a nought on the end in today’s money, possibly.
‘Col Self Important’ walked off to the sound of his footsteps with no reply to offer.
Perhaps he got a job on a Community Health NHS Trust?