Just in

A blast from the past

These days it is often considered that the word ‘genius’ [broadly defined in most dictionaries as ‘an exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability … (or perhaps exceptional skill in a particular area of activity)’] is over-used.

For example, and exaggerating to make my point, sometimes it seems as though it can be applied without irony or censure to any fifteen year-old footballer who is observed managing to trap a soccer ball properly without stepping on it and falling flat on his back.

In terms of sloppy deployment, I suspect that ‘life-enhancing eccentric’ may a description sorely in danger of following down a similar route – nevertheless I should like to apply it to my ex-pat uncle, a gentleman in his ninth decade, news of whose death we received a few days ago.

He was one of those people – in my experience they are mainly men – who seem to operate in a world of their own. Quite early on in their lives they emerge fully-formed from a figurative chrysalis with a quirky outlook upon what is happening around them and a locker-full of enthusiasms – one might even suggest one for each and every occasion – which they tend to deploy irrespective of the company they are in.

These beings are not to everyone’s taste. In some quarters or situations (or should I perhaps say ‘gatherings of people lacking in a susceptibility quotient for connecting to the charms of such skills or traits’?) they can often present as weird, inappropriate or indeed annoying.

Personally, however – as someone who regards himself outside that bracket – I find the bulk of them somewhere along the ‘entertainment’ spectrum that begins with mildly amusing (well, at least always worth being given a chance) and ends close to side-splittingly hilarious.

My recently-deceased relative, being of the required ancestry, maintained deep interests in the culture and traditions of both Scotland and Lancashire. He also had a wonderful memory for poetry and song lyrics.

In our irregular family get-togethers there was a ever-present chance that at some point, often to the initial puzzlement of the younger element, he would suddenly decide that it was time for a ‘performance’ – whether that be of a song, a recital, a monologue or some famous (or infamous) ritual, e.g. the Scottish ‘piping in’ of the haggis, complete with Robert (Rabbie) Burns’ Ode to said object. This predilection of his was neither confined by season or calendar: it was just as likely to manifest itself in the heat of July or August as it was in January.

Which brings me to a family dinner we held last night, in which it fell to me to say a few words and raise a toast to our recently-deceased member.

As a supposed tribute, having been encouraged beforehand by some, afterwards I attempted a broad Lancastrian accent in reciting the monologue The Lion and Albert (often wrongly referred to as Albert and the Lion), a favourite ‘party piece’ of my uncle’s. It was originally made famous by music hall star and actor Stanley Holloway, having been written for him by Marriott Edgar in the early 1930s. Last night, no doubt thanks more to the quantity of alcohol consumed than my effort, it seemed to raise a titter or two.

It occurred to me overnight that The Lion And Albert could stand, indeed was worthy of, a wider airing. Accordingly, I include below a short extract.

The scenario is that the Ramsbottom family have gone to Blackpool Zoo and young Albert has poked a lazy-looking lion in the ear, just to see what happened. In response the animal had grabbed him and swallowed him whole. Pa and Mother immediately seek out the Animal Keeper to complain.

[For possible best effect, readers may wish to image the piece being recited deliberately in a broad Lancashire accent] …

The keeper was quite nice about it; he said “What a nasty mishap.
Are you sure that it’s your boy he’s eaten?” Pa said “Am I sure? There’s his cap! “
The manager had to be sent for. He came and he said “What’s to do?”
Pa said ” Yon Lion’s ‘et Albert and ‘im in his Sunday clothes, too.”

Then Mother said “Right’s right, young feller; I think it’s a shame and a sin
For a lion to go and eat Albert, and after we’ve paid to come in.”
Then off they went to the Police Station, in front of the Magistrate chap;
They told ‘im what happened to Albert, and proved it by showing his cap.

The manager wanted no trouble, He took out his purse right away,
Saying “How much to settle the matter? ” And Pa said “What do you usually pay?”
But Mother had turned a bit awkward when she thought where her Albert had gone.
She said “No! Someone’s got to be summonsed”, so that was decided upon.