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THE BAUM REPORT by Michael Higgins


Another folk ´n poetry night

Sunday, February 12th, 2012,

The Baum Public House, Toad Lane, Rochdale, Lancashire.

by Michaal Higgins

As this is a poetry report and the poet has to get to the Baum somehow there will be plenty of bus travel and beer as well as poetry in this report. The disgruntled should cease reading now. However, Susan dropped me off to see Mum in the morning via car. And she picked me up after visit and church at noon (no bus here). Mum OK but not really all there. She said a lot of rambling things. Not far removed from this report and the evening’s proceedings I suppose.

The remarkable thing about the service at Mum’s church was a) the heating had conked out and it was FREEZING, so much so that a reference, and a petition, was made of it in the Intercessions.  b) a lady of Affro-Caribbean origin sang a song at the end to advertise an evening of ‘Gospel Rock’ next Saturday (Amazing Grace sung to a completely different tune). This was remarkable for two reasons. One this is a High Anglican church more in tune with sedate, or certainly uncharismatic, hymning. Two, the lady explained that she was brought up a Muslim but had seen the light and converted to Christianity. Now, not only is this a mortal sin at the best of times in  the Muslim world, with severe repercussions in some parts of the Caliphate, but also St Marks sits in the middle of Oldham’s  Islamic neighbourhood, where one can sometimes hear the ‘Immam’s call to prayer’ in the middle of the sermon. A brave lass. But our toes were freezing and we really did want to wave our arms and dance in the aisles.

After completing my usual Sunday tasks I went through my repertoire to choose readings for the evening. I thought I would also sing the medieval lyric Blow Northern Wind from the original archaic language of the Harley Manuscript, as it is a love song and St Velentines’s Day is imminent.

Ah, thought I, I will use my own translation that I used when I first set it to music in 1976. When I could not find the translation I was faced with retranslating it, which took some time as the poem employs not only the then very new Rhyming facility, but also employs the older Northern English alliteration on at least two stresses of each line. It is thought to be an old ‘carole’ or singing dance but as I have danced myself out over Christmas I shrugged that crazy idea off. I then took Bullseye or ‘Bully’ as Susan often calls him, for a ramble over the snowed- up golf course while I practiced my singing in the fresh air. Not a single golfer out and no ‘thwack’ of iron and whiz of ball past ear.

Regal Moon, Rochdale

Then it was a rush for the bus and a repast at the Regal Moon in Rochdale (a Wetherspoon’s establishment in the old Regal cinema). Arriving in Rochdale is unique as it is built on the widest bridge in the world. A quarter of a mile of the Esplanade covers the old highway bridge and a corresponding stretch of the River Roch (rhymes with brooch- whereas the town on its banks rhymes with ‘crotch’).  The town was also deserted with many shops boarded up. Nonetheless the Regal Moon was warm and welcoming with the only hint of human company for miles. I had a pint of Bravura light ale with my meal. It was at this point I found my original translation in a page of my Harley Lyrics book. Oh well, go with the latest I sighed, not wishing to waste an afternoon’s work. Then it was a depressing walk up a deserted Yorkshire Street past the boarded up McDonalds and surrounding empty or boarded up shops.

St Mary In The Baum

photo 3 Afterwards it was the secret route through the Baum Passage, the ghostly profile of Mary In The Baum church, and the mysterious pub itself, ostensibly named after the old ‘balm’ or herb meadow, but seemingly confused with the German word for tree, judging by the pub’s sign.

The upstairs room was not quite full but we were earlier than usual and got a seat nearer the organisers. The room soon filled up.  I had a pint of Talisman Ale followed by York Brewery’s Decade ale later on. Susan chided me on my pronouncing the latter with the accent on the first syllable (undoubtedly a holdover from my Toronto days) But, did the brewery really want customers to drink ‘decayed’ ale?

Susan had Hoegaarden  throughout (which is not hard to pronounce, though it is Dutch). Susan puts the average literary critic in the shade sometimes.

Here beginneth the Readings and Warlblings so look away now.

There were over thirty readers and / or singers, which caused the timetable to go awry and the memory of names, faces and titles to blur somewhat. In any case I found the person I was calling Phil is actually called Bill, and the stage name of one lady, which I thought was Christina de la Cruz is actually Carolina de la etc. Carramba!

Robin Parker

Robin Parker, who co-hosts the events, began the evening with another Lancashire dialect poem from his Edenfield Scrolls. This was pretty good as he is from London and normally has the accent to match. The Wedding At CAMRA paralleled St John’s Gospel somewhat but here a wedding party ends up with no cask ale.  Faced  with an evening on keg, the local Campaign For Real Ale branch rushes in to save the day for the groom with an eight handpump miracle.

Later Robin performed a spoken duet on marriage tasks with a lady sat opposite me (Lorraine Charlesworth?), a litany of cross-purposes and disappointment. Val Chapman turned to matters romantic with A Valentine For Val(would she get one?) Paul Jelen brought things down to earth with an air to earth Freudian piece of all but sixty seconds: rather deep but arresting with lots of shadows and shade. He had the same young lady with him that I saw him with in Tandle Hill Woods last week.

Carolina de la Cruz

Carolina eschewed her Hispanic persona to read a poem about the therapeutic nature of cats in the sickroom. Robin muddied the waters by mischievously introducing her in German. Marian Tong followed with one about one’s loving pet terriers chewing up favourite hats. Somewhat on a tangent Des Lexic followed with reprise of There’s Life In The Old Dog Yet.

His partner in the Nearly Dead Poets Society, Alvin Sawdust, read an essay by his 13 year old grandson, full of words such as ‘moreover’ and ‘albeit’. It more or less exhorted overpaid and unsportsmanlike football players to grow up, act like men, learn some skills and earn their keep or find employment elsewhere.

Then Alvin read a poetic recounting of old girlfriends (which Norman Warwick said should not take long). After some heckles he asked the audience for a B…an O…..an O…..which he got and was cheerfully booed off. Many witty and humorous digs at either Norman or Robin came from Michael The Further (against the far wall) and Peter, in well crafted poems. Pam Ashton read one of her own and got a friend to read another but my mind had gone blank.

Don Parry

Don Parry and Bill sang/played on guitar. Bill was introduced as the inevitable thing that comes in the post every month. His piece was about an old girlfriend but, unlike Alvin, he missed her. Don sang a new song  Streets Of My Lifewhich he has entered into a song-writing competition. Then he sang an updated version of the Fields Of Athenray, a song I was not familiar with. Des was enraged, saying he had spoiled a good traditional song.

Many new (to me) faces were there and known to Norman (co-host with Robin) who was familiar and deprecating in announcing them as reprobates and bad poets. They all took it in good sport.

Michael Higgins
poet and reviewer

photo 8 michael When it was my turn I was introduced as Michael The Nearer (because I was). I read my poem There’s Nowt Like A Cup o’ Yorkshire Tea, explaining that as one of the few good things to come out of the shire it warms the heart, and body, of the meanest Tyke misanthrope. Norman said I should send it to the tea company. When I Sang Blow Northern Wind, Don picked up the key and managed to strum the basic melody. Everyone sang the chorus and it felt like the first time I tried out the song at the Ring O’ Bells in Middleton all those years ago. Afterwards Don told me I sang it in the key of A, which was strange.

After me, Julia McKay baffled everyone with her Coatbridge accent. A poem on Scotch pancakes I think. She used the word ‘Scotch’ so perhaps it’s politically correct again? Norman said it was a pity we would have to deport her after Alex Salmond’s referendum. He coyly said she was from ‘somewhere north of Carlisle’.

Norman ended with a reminiscing poem accompanied by Don playing a blues background. Fortunately for me we had run way overtime due to the number of readers and we were too late for the penultimate bus home.

I like to wind down and socialise after the readings, Susan likes to get in quick, listen hard, and get out as quickly as possible. Cheered up I ordered a pint of Oscar Wilde Ale which had miraculously appeared among the handpump labels. It was a rather good dark ale, brewed in Essex. Wilde’s motto: ‘Work is the curse of the drinking classes’ was on the label.

Susan’s patience soon ran out however and she left ‘to make sure the bus didn’t leave without her’, urging me to drink up soon. Reluctantly I said a few goodbyes, with Des again bitterly lamenting Don’s treatment of the Fields of Athenray. Then it was the closing door, the echoing footsteps down the secret lanes and byways and the welcome sign of the 409 bus parked near the stop, the driver dismounted outside smoking a quick fag. And so, at the appointed hour, fuller than usual with about a dozen passengers in the below deck, heaven knows how many upstairs, we roared out of Rochdale over the world’s widest bridge, like one of the speculative new trams in one young lady’s poem, finally arriving in Rochdale just in time to take everyone out.

End of report.

M Higgins Esq,  Ars Poetica (Hons)

A couple of days later Michael a few side-lines to his report in the following paragraph.

This is a first in the growing fame of the Baum Report as it spreads worldwide. But it is brief.

I forget to mention that the newly renovated Co-operative museum and shop will reopen in a few months. Just Poets, (right) mainly Robin and Norman, have been commissioned to write and perform on opening day. One of the Baum poetesses, Eileen Earnshaw, works for the Co-op and she read a poem about Rochdale’s decline since the fall of King Cotton and the old fashioned days of ‘co-operation.´ She also referred to the closing of McDonalds and wondered whether if and when the Metro does come  to the town would anyone be on the arriving trams. And would they be full of Rochdalians getting out?.

Also one of Norman’s ‘bad poets’ read a wonderful pastiche of Albert and the Lion, where Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom enjoy their last evening on holiday by imbibing at the local seaside pub called the Pig aAnd Manic Depressive. While they are out young Albert messes with their last condom, blows it up, gets it stuck round his head and turns blue.  After Mr Ramsbottom cuts the thing off the lad Mrs Ramsbottom says, ‘Eeh I am vexed !’. After all it was their last of the packet and they weren’t planning on rearing any more like Albert. Why couldn’t he have taken his ‘orses ‘ead ’andle  down to the zoo and poked the lions ears  with it like all good youngsters.

There was an ugly rumour spread that one of the Michaels had moved his seat just to bugger up the roll call but this calumny was soon exploded.

End of supplement

MH   Esq.  A.P (Hons) etc.

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