25-30th November: Dancing At Lughnacy


(Mark Sampson) #1

Try to remember the end of November... And it won't be that difficult, what with the vicious wind that blew all day Friday, bringing more floods to the Midi; the return of the Good Wife from temporary exile in England; the death of an Australian cricketer; and the Saturday night cèilidh from which my body is gradually recovering.


Triggered by a filial laptop crisis, I also received a series of very funny texts from The Daughter, who seems to be revelling in her discovery of the English language at present. It's heartening to know that she's reading more these days – and quality literature, too, by the likes of Anne Tyler. The other day, she hoped that I wouldn't feel 'emasculated' by the fact that she and her mother were enjoying themselves in Paris without me. If anything, I probably felt 'emancipated', but top marks for style and artistic impression. The series of texts ended with a PPS: I may be a bit sad but I am thrilled with myself for using the word 'reiterate'!


She may have found excruciatingly sad the spectacle of her father and his friend Bret dressed up as young female Irish dancers on Saturday night. Our friends, Matt and Melody – whose names suggest that they should be the new Sonny and Cher or Nina and Frederick – conceived the cèilidh to raise funds for a Belgian friend's project up river in Beaulieu. Kacalou, as Kim has christened it (somewhat unfortunately), involves turning a dilapidated old town house into a kind of community cultural focal point, with café, restaurant and organic shop. Since Matt plays the fiddle and Melody is a great folk dancer, a traditional Gaelic social gathering seemed quite appropriate.


In fact, it should really be spelt céilí, as it was conceived as an Irish version of the gathering. But who cares when you're concentrating on your steps. Apparently, it's customary to have a comic interlude between the sets of songs and dances. Which is where the cross-dressing comes into it. Being a busy, but fundamentally lazy human being, I devised something that would involve as few rehearsals as possible. My sketch, such as it was, was inspired by Sue Bourne's extraordinary – and hilarious – documentary, Irish Jig, about the bizarre and wonderful world of Irish step-dancing. The spectacle of girls and women dressed up like one of the costume dolls that my sister used to collect, wearing big-hair wigs more appropriate to Samuel Pepys and his contemporaries, tapping for all their might with their chins held high and their arms held stiffly by their sides, well... it's simply gob-smacking.


I had hoped that the hard work would be getting dressed and garishly made up in a ludicrous lilac wig, scarlet blouse, purple tights and skirt full enough to house a family of polecats. Not prepared to shave his facial hair, Bret stuffed two prosthetic boobs down his blouse for good measure. We were supposed to be a couple of rival 11-year olds en route for the 'Worlds' in Perpignan. Jan would build us up and we would skip into the barn, improvise the answers to a few idiotic questions and then do our high-kicks and pirouettes before running off to get changed back into sensible clothes. But I hadn't bargained on how exhausting it would be, even a three-minute pastiche. Those wee girls, like the adorable babbling Brogan from Derry, my star of the film, must be incredibly fit. We got plenty of laughs, but our bodies paid the price.


So it's as well that the actual group dances were a little more leisurely. Melody counted out the rhythm and called the changes, and you go round and round and side to side and you change your partners and you clap and holler and it's a whole lot of fun. Seeing the evident enjoyment on people's faces made it much clearer to me why communal dances play such an important role from Tudor times (and before) to the last days of the Russian Empire (and beyond). No wonder, in those days before touch-screen entertainment, the cinema and even the wireless, that characters in a Jane Austen novel, say, would get their corsets in such a twist about the prospect of a dance at Lord and Lady So-And-So's country gaffe. It forces you into participation and human contact. I, for one, had more fun than I would ever have imagined. Saturday night's all right for folk-dancing.


Nothing sad, in fact, about people laughing. There are so many genuinely sad things at present – Syria, Iraq, the mass slaughter of elephants, the eradication of orang-utans' habitat for palm oil and so on and on – that I would probably top myself if I dwelt on them. It wasn't logical that I found myself last week dwelling so long on the sadness of a cricketer's death by misadventure in Australia. Philip Hughes, a 25-year old opening batsman in his sporting prime, cut down by a short-pitched delivery.


Cricket's a dangerous game and, for all the helmets and armour of the modern game, there will always be risks attached. It was only one man and I didn't even know him personally. Nevertheless, the guy seemed such a bright, pleasant and modest individual rather than the caricature brash, swaggering, macho sporting types that they seem to breed Down Under. Maybe it was something to do, too, with the fact that cricket has always played such an important part of my own life. I grew up with the game and spent hours and hours of my childhood playing imaginary test matches with imaginary cricketers or practising my run-up in our garden. So many hours, in fact, that if I ever have trouble sleeping, I simply have to compile an All Time World XI of those imaginary cricketers in order to drift off in less time than it would take Michael Holding to run up to bowl.


I even used to play a physical form of cricket in my bedroom with bat and tennis ball – until the day when, as R.A.C. Rallet of Kent and England, I pulled a loose ball to the boundary for four, but followed through with such panache that my bat went through the window. Have you been playing cricket in your bedroom again!? came the cry from downstairs. I remember hiding my bat under the bed, but how do you lie to your mother faced with such evidence?


Alas poor Philip Hughes, I knew thee not at all. But I felt the anguish of your family and team mates and sports fans the world over. Had I been more single-minded and less of a dilettante, I might have found myself facing short-pitched bowling out in the middle. It was a freak accident; the impact of the ball compressed his artery at the base of his neck, below his protective helmet, causing it to rupture and the blood to haemorrhage. Or something like that. You can't legislate for that kind of thing. It was genuinely very sad.


(Ian Cowburn) #2

Yup !

They have a certain "Poor Mouth" quality too.


(Brian Milne) #3

Those teachers actually remind me of The Looney: think in terms of the thoroughly ignorant and unsympathetic neo-Nazi traffic warden.


(Ian Cowburn) #4

You been spyin my library there, boyo? :)

*must reread "The Looney" again soon*


(Brian Milne) #5

What's an umlaut between friends (the second u is an ü)? What were the hard verbs like? Ouch!!!!

Ian, that turn of phrase would imply you have read Puckoon recently ;-)


(Ian Cowburn) #6

Obersturmführer, you forgot the umlaut Sheila ! *thwack* :)

Glad I never had anything to do with your particular breed of vicious dwarves, although the lay ones were just as vicious.

Things always get worse with "être"... philosophical, aye?


(Sheila Walshe-Blackmore) #7

Oh please! Don't remind me. First year in secondary school, I was introduced to French by another vicious dwarf in black (a nun). She was fondly known as Obersturmfuhrer (Brian to correct spelling please), and we had no such luck as you with a bendy ruler. She had a builder's fold out ruler. I can still feel the swish of air as she thrashed it about (think Indiana Jones and whip routine) and that was just for avoir. It got worse with etre.


(Ian Cowburn) #8

Sheila, that reminds me of our French teacher at Grammar School, a vicious dwarf ; he used to "encourage" verb déclinaisons by judicious application to the knuckles of a bendy steel ruler which he would flex sadistically whilst choosing his next target, gimlet-eyed...

*shudder*

How quaint that I should now be expressing myself daily in this dialect : maybe it did sink in :)


(Mark Sampson) #9

That's a lovely form of motivation, Sheila. I'm not surprised you didn't feel a love for your native dance. Those high kicks I found completely knackering! I loved your story, Brian, and loved the idea of a fleilidh - that's brilliant!


(Sheila Walshe-Blackmore) #10

Flashback to my childhood. We were all sent for Irish dancing lessons in the local school hall, once a week, after school. Our teacher, Ms. O'Riordan, used to encourage us to kick high for the jigs by whacking us on the back of the legs with a cane. It did not instill in me a love of our native dance.


(Brian Milne) #11

We had a local Irish pub, an SFN member owner even. It was run down by a rival who blocked planning applications, so we lost the people back to Ireland. Anyway, there is a group of local people, all French, who play Irish music in various venues. Some of us occasionally made the mistake of doing jigs and whatever they were supposed to be at times. The Irish pub was near a large campsite, thus one Friday evening some of the people were playing and somebody heard the uilleann pipes but thought it must be some kind of local version, obviously not having seen various signs about that village. In he came, took a look, shook his head and went. Ten minutes later he appeared with his wife and teenage daughters. They showed us how to do it properly. Since none of us learned a thing and said pub is closed a couple of years back, no local displays of flailing octopuses with a backdrop of traditional Irish music has been witnessed ever since hereabouts.

An afterthought tells me the dancing we did before the 'experts' arrived might be classed as flèilidh, or fléilí, which seems the most apt way of describing it!