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.

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

    1. Everyone had to do joint honours at Keele unless they did triple honours in those days. Social Work & Social Anthropology was quite a popular combination. But no, I didn’t examine any of her written output – the relationship was entirely viva voce.

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