From Morecombe To Wise(r) Via A Linguistically Out Of Key Note, Keele, 29/30 May 1981

There is a Morecombe and Wise sketch, with André Previn, in which Eric Morecombe, on being berated for making a complete mess of playing the piano, exclaims:

I’m playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.

Hold that thought for a moment, dear reader, as this piece is really a chunk of my coming-of-age story, not really a piece about corny 1970s comedy television.

The summer term of 1981, the end of my first year at Keele, held many important landmarks for me:

The relevant words for the seminal night in question, for those who might not be accustomed to reading rarefied calligraphy, are:

Union in evening -> H Block party – Sandra came back – stayed

Not much to go on there, without memories. My memories of this period have been magnified and clarified lately. First of all by being reminded about the Patrick Moore interview, then, a couple of weeks later, by attending a pilot of Rohan Candappa’s new performance piece on 31 October 2017:

What Listening To 10,000 Love Songs Has taught Me About Love. It’s an exploration of love, and music, and how the two intertwine. it’s also about how our lives have a soundtrack.”

At the end of May 1981, I can tell you that Hoover Factory by Elvis Costello and the Attractions was stuck in my head, for reasons explained – click here.

Anyway, Sandra was, I think, in the third year of a four year course. Social Work and Social Anthropology? Something like that. I am pretty sure we got chatting in earnest in the Union, ahead of the H Block party. I reckon the idea of her coming back to my place had been signalled if not completely decided before we went to the party.

Without going into detail, I’d suggest that my previous experiences in the passion department might have been analogous to Eric Morecombe’s piano playing. Sandra was a warm-hearted girl who gently helped me to sequence and to play the metaphorical notes better.

But before Sandra and I got to play a duet, we had to navigate an unwanted note of a very different kind.

When we got back to my study/bedroom, we found a note that had been slid under the door, containing the following message:


That sort of thing was very uncommon at Keele. It (by which I mean direct racist abuse) only happened to me that once in the five years I spent at Keele…

…it would have had to have happened that night of all nights, wouldn’t it…

…I remember my heart sinking and I half expected the poor girl to run away. But instead she smiled and said, “whoever did this is such an idiot, he cannot even spell a two-syllable phrase.”

A grocer’s apostrophe.

We laughed and made light of it, while agreeing that it was an awful as well as a pitiful note. We dallied with the idea that the note was more of an insult to the language than it was to my tribe.

Soon we decided that we might not have understood what the author was trying to say – that is after all one of the problems with bad spelling and grammar. Perhaps the author wanted a singular yid to take something out. Possibly the note was deliberately intended as a note of encouragement for us to revert to our original purpose, which we did.

I might still have the note somewhere. I kept it for ages as a sort-of badge of honour and also as a demonstrable artefact to wave, if people were suggesting that we didn’t have overt racism on our Keele campus at all.

Anyway, the whole experience that night can’t have been that awkward or traumatic for Sandra because, according to my diary, she returned for more, on several occasions, before the end of term. Not least, later that day/the very next evening, after the Jazz Night. The ticket for Jazz Night was preserved because I wrote “Patrick Moore Interview” on the reverse to insert into the interview cassette case:

In my unaided memory, that liaison with Sandra had been a one-off, but it is clear from the diaries that it was a seminal dalliance that played out several times over a few weeks.

That does make sense, really, when I think about it. As my baroq-ulele teacher, Ian Pittaway, would surely point out, you can’t acquire much technique with only one lesson…

…and I’d like to think of myself now as…

…to borrow Woody Allen’s Broadway agent character, Danny Rose’s phrase, when describing his water glass virtuoso:

the Jascha Heifetz of his instrument.

My Keele Interview With Patrick Moore, Conducted In My Little Study Bedroom (Lindsay F4), circa 28 May 1981

My memory of this event was triggered at lunch the other day (October 2017) when Patrick Moore came up in the conversation.

“Oh yes, I interviewed him when I was at Keele”, I said, “I didn’t find him all that impressive”.

Janie ticked me off afterwards for being (or at least seeming) churlish about the matter, especially as Alan and Sue (who had brought Patrick Moore into the conversation) were obviously keen on him.

On reflection, I couldn’t recall why I had been unimpressed by him. But I could recall that I had recorded the interview and had digitised the tape a few years ago, without really listening to it again at that time.

I promptly listened to it carefully – you can hear it too if you wish:

Listening to the interview brought back a flood of memories and also made me feel very badly about my teenage impression of Patrick Moore. Because I realise, on listening to the recording, that the unimpressive contributor is me, not him.

I was under-prepared for that interview and Patrick Moore to some extent interviewed himself.

In my defence, the reason I was under-prepared was because I hadn’t expected to conduct the interview until later that day. I certainly hadn’t expected to conduct it in my own little study/bedroom.

This is what happened.

I was the Concourse (Student Union newspaper) journalist assigned to interview Patrick Moore and was due to interview him early evening before he delivered a talk to students. This was arranged through Dr Ron Maddison, who was a good pal of Patrick Moore’s and was the Astronomy lead on Keele’s rather impressive observatory.

Being me, I went to Ron Maddison’s office early afternoon on the day of the interview/talk just to confirm all the arrangements. It turned out that Patrick Moore was already there with some time on his hands. They both suggested that I could conduct the interview there and then. I explained that I would need my tape recorder and notepad, at which point Patrick Moore volunteered to come with me and be interviewed in my room.

I told him that my student room was less than salubrious, especially when I was not expecting guests, but my protests seemed to make him all the more eager to take this opportunity to observe how students really live.

Patrick Moore, the man who usually wielded the telescope towards the stars, was choosing to observe student life under the metaphorical microscope.

So we marched from the Astronomy Department to Lindsay and my very humble little room, F4.

I remember telling him, along the way, that I had planned to prepare the questions that afternoon so was under-prepared. He told me not to worry and that between us he was sure we’d cover plenty for my article.

I remember making us both a coffee when we got to my room. I possibly even had some biscuits to offer.

If you listen to the interview, it sounds a bit like a John Shuttleworth interview, but without the music. You can hear the sound of the coffee mugs being moved around. It is very folksy sounding, which indeed it was.

Some of my questions and interjections are positively cringe worthy, but on the whole I sense that I had roughly worked out a skeleton for the interview in my head and we worked through it – perhaps not as methodically as I would have planned, but the interview does cover a lot of ground. He was clearly a seasoned interviewee who could have conducted his own interview without me.

The recording runs uninterrupted for over 15 minutes, until c17:20, at which point I began stopping the tape periodically to try to make sure we were covering everything I wanted/needed for my article.

At 21:25 I ask a particularly ill-phrased question about black holes, followed by, during the embarrassing seconds that followed, the clear sound of someone knocking and entering the room. I remember this clearly. It was my neighbour, Simon Ascough (Sim), who was quite taken aback to see Patrick Moore in the room.

Sim had presumably popped in on a matter of extremely urgent student importance. Perhaps to recommend that we listen to In A Gadda Da Vida (yet again), possibly to suggest a mid afternoon spliff or quite possibly both. But I think (mercifully) that Sim’s request went unspoken; in any case I turned the recorder off at the moment of the knock.

At 23:55 comes the laugh out loud moment on the tape, when you can clearly hear the sound of a female (or females) being chased around the corridor of F Block. Again I turned off the recorder. I remember Patrick Moore asking me if my friend, having found me otherwise engaged, had decided to chase girls instead?

What I should have said was, “no, that’ll almost certainly be Richard Van Baaren and Benedict Coldstream chasing girls around the corridor”. But I didn’t say that. In fact, I think both Patrick Moore and I had a fit of the giggles for quite a few moments before I switched the recorder back on.

My only other profound memory of this interview was playing the recording to Paul Deacon during the summer holidays soon after the event. Paul is a DJ, voice recording artiste and a superb mimic; Patrick Moore is certainly one of Paul’s voices.

I remember Paul playing over and over again the bit at the beginning of the interview when Patrick Moore says, “and then along came Mr Hitler”, mimicking it better and better each time, until I begged Paul to stop. Perhaps it was the Paul comedy aspect that dampened my enthusiasm for Patrick Moore.

One of the strangest things about this very memorable event was that I didn’t register it at all in my diary, so I cannot be 100% sure of the date on which his lecture (and therefore my interview) took place.

It looks to me as though my diary got quite a long way behind at that stage of that term. To be fair on my 18-year-old self, it was a busy time. Uncle Manny (dad’s older brother) died suddenly a couple of week’s earlier, so I needed to go home unexpectedly to help with family duties and attend the funeral & shiva.

It was also essay and exam time – not ridiculously onerous in Foundation Year (FY) but I had been behind anyway (show me the FY student who wasn’t) and the Uncle Manny business had set me behind further.

I do recall, indeed my diary shows that, I was doing my own fair share of girl chasing at that time – not the screaming and corridor running type of chasing I hasten to add – with a kindly third year named Sandra. But that is another story and I digress.

Forensics on the scrap of paper emblazoned with the legend “Patrick Moore Interview” inside the cassette box reveals the following on the adverse side:

I’m guessing that the interview would have been a couple of days before the Jazz Night, as the following week there were lots of exams, so I am guessing that the interview was one of those quieter days between the essay deadlines and the exams; 27th or 28th May.

Here is a picture of the tape, box and legend itself:


If anyone reading this has any more information (or recollection) of that Patrick Moore visit, not least the date, please do chime in.

For some reason, I don’t seem to have kept the article that emerged from the interview, although it might yet emerge from some further archaeology through my old note pads and scrap files. If anyone has a copy of the Concourse article that resulted from the recorded interview, I’d love to see it again.

So, having dredged back the memories, I take back unreservedly my sense that Patrick Moore was unimpressive. Patrick Moore was the commensurate professional and incredibly natural/unassuming in the peculiar circumstances of this interview. My teenage self possibly mistook unassuming for unimpressive; that was poor judgement on my part.

The recorded interview is also an interesting thirty minutes in itself. Here’s the recording again.

Hoover Factory, 15 May 1981

I recovered this Hoover Factory memory vividly at a pilot of Rohan Candappa’s new performance piece on 31 October 2017:

What Listening To 10,000 Love Songs Has taught Me About Love. It’s an exploration of love, and music, and how the two intertwine. it’s also about how our lives have a soundtrack.”

Here is a link to my review of that performance piece.

Somewhat unexpectedly (to me), one of the songs Rohan featured in the show was Hoover Factory by Elvis Costello.

In case you are not familiar with the piece (and/or the building), less than two minutes of divine vid, below, will give you all you need:

I came across the song in March 1981- click here for the story of my cassette swaps with Graham Greenglass and my trip to see Elvis (sadly a Hover Factory-free concert) with Anil Biltoo, Caroline Freeman and Simon Jacobs.

I listened to the cassettes Graham made for me a lot in that final term of my first year at Keele. I especially liked the Hoover Factory song, even before the events of mid May.

Wednesday 13 May 1981

I was in the Students’ Union that evening (as usual) when I got tannoyed.

The sound of Wally across the tannoy saying:

would Ear Narris come to reception please. Ear Narris to reception…

…became a commonplace in my sabbatical year…

…I even have a towel emblazoned with the legend “Ear Narris”, a gift from Petra…

…but this was probably the first time I had ever been tannoyed in the Students’ Union.

It was my mum on the phone. My father’s older brother, Manny, had died suddenly of a heart attack. I was needed at home. Rapidly. Traditional Jewish funerals are conducted very soon after death and that branch of the family was/is traditional. I went to bed early, knowing I would need to make a very early start (by student standards) the next day.

Thursday 14 May 1981

A flurry of activity.

Early in the morning, I went round to see a few academics to reschedule my essays and excuse myself from a tutorial or two. I recall the topology tutor (professor?) seeming incredibly strange. Twice I told him that my uncle had died and twice he said back to me, “I’m sorry to hear that your father has died”.

Once I had agreed my absences and extensions, I legged it to London, having arranged to stop off at the place near Euston where the religious paperwork for births, marriages, deaths and stuff used to get done. Was it Rex House in those days? Anyway, I was suitably “family but not immediate family” (the latter are officially in mourning and are not allowed to do stuff) to help get the paperwork sorted out.

I learnt that Uncle Manny was (officially) born in Vilnius, although the family hailed from the “twixt Minsk and Pinsk” Belarus part of the Pale of Settlement. The family might have already been on the move by the time he was born or that answer might, at the time, have seemed more acceptable when the UK arrivals paperwork was being done.

When I got home, I recall that Grandma Anne, 88/89 years old, was in our house and in the most shocking state. Apparently Uncle Manny had collapsed in her kitchen and she was unable to get past the collapsed body of her son to try to call for help. A nightmarish scenario that would seem unlikely & overly melodramatic if used in fiction. Grandma Anne never really recovered from the shock of this event and didn’t survive that calendar year.

It was the first time I had witnessed death at close hand. I was very small (8 or 9) when Uncle Alec, the oldest of the four brothers, died; in truth I had been shielded from it. But this time I was very affected by witnessing and being part of this family bereavement.

From left to right, Uncles Manny, Michael and Alec

Friday 15 May 1981

The funeral, at Bushy Cemetery. We were driven out as part of the funeral cortege of course.

I had only been to one funeral before – as it happens at the same cemetery – that of Bernard Rothbart, a teacher at Alleyn’s – perhaps two years earlier. I’ll write that one up for Ogblog when I come to it.

I’m not sure I had ever been out on the Western Avenue before – at least not knowingly and not with senses heightened. In fact, I’m pretty sure I had no idea where we were until I saw that magnificent Hoover Building loom into view.

Oh my God. That’s it. That’s the Hoover Factory…

“Yes, dear”, said mum. “Your ‘Uncle Josh’ used to work for Hoover”.

I don’t think mum got the point.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the line from the song, “it’s not a matter of life or death. What is? What is?”  Because my family was suddenly experiencing something that really was a matter of life or death. And people really did, profoundly care who does or doesn’t take another breath. I wanted to understand, but Elvis wasn’t helping; his song was just stuck in my head.

Hoover Factory remained stuck in my head for the rest of the day…the rest of the week…the rest of the term.

And the rest of that term turned out to be a very eventful few weeks indeed for me: