Rock ‘N’ Rajasthan Evening, Mostly Alleyn’s Alumni, 14 November 2017

When I got word that Rich “The Rock” Davis was to be over from Canada for a short while in mid November, I thought I’d probably miss out on the resultant gathering. I explained to John Eltham that I only had the one available evening throughout the period on offer.

But this was one of those occasions when the timings went fortuitously. Not only could I make the appointed day, but it transpired that Nigel Godfrey would be visiting from New Zealand and that Paul Hamer would be visiting from an even more remote and obscure corner of the Great Dominions; Southampton.

Indeed, also by happy chance, Paul Hamer’s earlier engagement in London was in Paddington, within spitting…well, in truth, walking, distance of my flat.

So Paul and I spent an enjoyable couple of hours late afternoon catching up at the flat; it’s only been 37+ years. Chat was interspersed with the odd business call and a short baroq-ulele recital by yours truly, before we journeyed across London to join the others at the Walrus and Carpenter.

Paul Hamer, top left, a few hours after the baroq-ulele recital, still visibly, profoundly moved by the heavenly harmonies, while those who sadly missed out on the music are smiling in blissful ignorance

It ended up quite a large gathering this time, with a few people I hadn’t seen for decades; in particular Justin Sutton (peering from behind Perry Harley in the above picture), with whom I chatted at some length at The Walrus, plus David Leach, who arrived towards the end of the Walrus session.

A rare sighting of David Leach, third left, on the “water polo quartet” side of the table

I was also graced by a brief audience with Sir Nigel Godfrey at the Walrus and Carpenter. I had always thought that his gong was for services to the beauty pageant industry. I hadn’t realised that he is actually “The Right Reverend Sir Nigel Godfrey”, presumably honoured for clerical services to the New Zealand laity.

Nigel explained how irritating it is for people, like himself, who wish to use multiple titles, that on-line drop down boxes tend to offer only “The Right Reverend” or “Sir” but not “The Right Reverend Sir”. A tad first world, that problem, but I hope I looked suitably doleful and I audibly sympathised.

A characteristically low-key appearance by The Right Reverend Sir Nigel Godfrey, third left in the above photo (half-tucked behind Rohan Candappa) and (in theory) third right in the photo above that, entirely obscured by Leigh Parkes.

Once the Rajasthan eating session was in full sway, Nigel also chimed in with a story about a near-disaster with window-leaning and errant train doors on the journey to school, back in the day, before the health and safety brigade quite ludicrously took such character-forming matters out of the hands of school-children. The resulting conversation about such disasters (real, near and imagined) was in the worst possible taste and those of us who were laughing should be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves. Really.

There was also a fair bit of reminiscing about Andrew and Fiona Levinson (more “Andrew” at the Lisa Pavlovsky end of the table, more “Fiona” at the David Wellbrook end), which encouraged me to up a charming video of the three of us (me, Andrew and Fiona) when we were very little indeed – click here.

I shall also delve into my diaries as soon as I get the chance to recover some other memories of train journeys to school (with Justin Sutton, Andrew Levinson and Rupert Jefferies) and also at least one teenage adventure with the Levinson siblings, coincidentally very near the scene of this evening’s “crime” – the old Billingsgate Fish Market (just across the road). For the latter, I have photographs.

Everyone seemed to be in good form and good spirits; as usual the evening flew by. I should also mention Phil (one of John Eltham’s colleagues, top left in the final photo above) who joined us again this time and is excellent company. Also a thank you to John Eltham for organising, as always.

Plus a massive thank you to Perry Harley – it was great fun sitting next to you again this time, Perry – even more fun watching you deploy your accounting skills so diligently and indeed so very many times over, to avoid successfully the dreaded bodmin, ensuring fair play and fair pay.

My First Flame, c. December 1994

7 May 2017 – I read the Facebook posting linked here, written by Justin Sutton, an old mate of mine from school, about the song Africa by Toto, which brought to the front of my mind the peculiar story of my first flame.

I don’t mean “my first flame” in the romance sense. Good heavens no. I was over 20 when Africa was released as a single, just about to start my third year at Keele.

No, no, no, I mean my first internet flame.

I started using the internet in the second half of 1994, while setting up Z/Yen, primarily because I/we expected it eventually to be useful for business.

But there wasn’t much going on commercially on the net in those days, so, to get into the swing of using the net, I used it quite extensively for my personal interests. Not least, at that time, subscribing to some Usenet groups that I thought would help me with my development of comedy lyrics, including one where people simply discussed the lyrics of songs.

One correspondent on that lyrics group stated that Africa by Toto was their favourite lyric of all time. That posting made me recall the autumn of 1982 and the way that my flatmate, The Great Yorkshire Pudding and I would mimic the line

As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti,

which at the time we thought might be the most pretentious lyrical line ever, not least because it barely rhymes with “solitary company” and also barely scans the beat of the song. You sort of need to rush through that line like a broadside balladeer or a calypso singer with too much to say and not enough beats in which to say it.

I made these points about Africa by Toto on that Usenet group and then went about my business for the next 12 or perhaps even 24 hours, as was the dial-up method in those days.

When I returned to the group, I had been comprehensively flamed by the Africa-lover. Their beef was only partly a disagreement with my feelings about the lyric, which was understandable. It was primarily a character assassination suggesting that I was not qualified to discuss that lyric, on the basis that I had failed correctly to transcribe the line in question.

That line actually reads, “as sure as Kilimanjaro rises like a lepress above the Serengeti”,

explained the angry song-lover.

In those days, there was no Google or YouTube or Wikipedia or on-line repository of lyrics to turn to. But I couldn’t even work out what a “lepress” might be. Nor why anything other than “Olympus”  might make sense as the simile in question. I even spent a few minutes looking through the dictionary to see if there was a word which had slipped my mind, the feminine form of which might be lepress and make sense in context. The only word I could think of that might take the feminine form “lepress” was “leper”, which didn’t make sense to me in context.

I made these points on the Usenet group and then went about my business for the next 12 or perhaps even 24 hours.

When I returned to the group, I had been even more comprehensively flamed by the Africa-lover.

You know ******* well that a lepress is a female leopard. Don’t be so ******* insulting.

The flamer had also acquired one or two supporters who joined in the flaming, mostly on the grounds that they like the song, a view which I find fair and with which I have some sympathy. I also sort-of like the song; it’s just that one line that has always grated on me and was the source of our 1982 mirth.

But also, by now, I had acquired quite a few supporters, some of whom were supporting the logic of my specific argument about the lyric, while others were simply arguing that I was entitled to my opinion and that the purpose of the group was, after all, to debate lyrics.

I also received a private message with a plea from one of the groups moderators, who told me that she felt that I had been unfairly flamed but asked me to post a conciliatory message to try to calm the group down. She was asking me to do this, because she sensed that I was the more likely of the combatants to acquiesce to her request.

I thought about the moderators conciliation request, while also consulting my English and American dictionaries, to try to work out what a female leopard might actually be called. “A leopardess”, since you asked. I also listened to Africa by Toto again, just to see if I could detect anything other than “Olympus” in that line.

So I did post a conciliatory note.

I apologised to the original poster for my not liking the Africa lyric as much as they did. I apologised to any females or lepers who had been offended by my attempt to define the mystery word “lepress”. I asserted that the female leopard is a leopardess in both English and American usage. I suggested a compromise lyric, with neither Olympus nor lepress, which might just make sense and satisfy everyone’s sensibilities:

As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like a left breast above the Serengeti.

I dialed-in to that group a couple more times over the next day or so to watch the flaming discussion peter out. Then I unsubscribed from that group.

Anyway, here is Africa by Toto with the lyrics shown in all their glory and accuracy on the screen.