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Friday, August 3, 2007

Danish Blue

By Ian Skidmore
I am a connoisseur of bad temper. My father was in a perpetual fury, which I put down to being in the trenches at the age of fifteen in the First World War. After the war he joined the police because, I firmly believe, of the opportunities it offered for hitting people.

In a siege in Manchester in the twenties he was shot in the head by an IRA man who later ran a Dublin dog track. In the family it was widely believed he was shot by his own inspector, worn out by my father’s incalcitrance.

Certainly, the inspector had been heard to shout: ‘Take that bloody gun off Skidmore before he kills us all.’

Parades disgusted him. Every year Manchester Police had a parade in a Fallowfield park.

The one year they allowed my father to take part he ruined the band’s first concert by shouting: ‘D’ye ken the Refrain from Smoking?’

Probably ill temper swims in our genes. Last year I discovered a cousin, the daughter of a brother of my grandfather, who none of the family knew about. We are not a close family. Except in disputes…

Every Hogmanay we went back to Edinburgh for a family party.

Every year my father would light a cigar to taunt my socialist uncle Tommy, who invented Scottish nationalism long before it became fashionable and was more Scottish than Harry Lauder. Probably because he was born in Newton le Willows, about which my father reminded him every year.

The youngest brother, who tried to pacify him, was himself turned into a pillar of fury when my father told him: ‘I didna see you at Paschendale.’

There was always a fight on the early evening. The women placidly moved their chairs to the walls of the room where they sat, nibbling shortcake and gossiping, while the six brothers rolled fighting at their feet. Fighting that is until 11.55 pm when my Auntie Jeannie would say: ‘D’ye no ken the time?’

The brothers would get up, dust themselves down. And we would all join hands and sing Auld Lang Syne.

My step father in law, another Scot, improbably called The Menzies of Pitfoggle, was a GP in the Fens. A luckless journalist who went to him for advice on a sexual problem was chased down the drive of the surgery by Pitfoggle, hurling obscenities and, for all I know, pillboxes and bottles.

Yet, compared with Maurice Thompson, a photographer I worked with on the Yorkshire Evening News in Doncaster, they were, every one of them, tiny beams of sunshine.

The first time we worked together I was immediately rebuked for getting into his Morris Minor with mud on my shoes. Nervously I lit a cigarette and he launched another tirade about ash disposal.

How we ever became friends I do not know, but it came as a shock to discover he liked me.

Certainly it was nothing he said.

So it was a surprise when years later he rang me and asked whether I fancied a day trip to Copenhagen.

I am not a traveller. When we lived on the Isle of Anglesey my wife claimed I needed Quells before I would cross the Menai Strait and it is quite true I suggested a holiday once in Beaumaris, a pretty town about five miles from our home in Llanfairpwllgwyngoghchewernynllantisilogogogch. I never did learn how to spell it, much less pronounce it. And one of the reasons I was loath to leave it was the dread of getting lost and being unable to tell a taxi driver where I wanted to go.

But in my own defence, I did offer to break the journey at Menai Bridge and the draught bass in the Bull in Beaumaris was ale that, to quote Beaumont and Fletcher ‘would make a cat speak.’ I digress.

Maurice had been hired to take photographs of an unusual PR stunt. British Ropes in Doncaster had been commissioned to make the huge ‘ropes’ from which a bridge was to be suspended over the Strait of Jutland. As a gesture of thanks, the workers who made the ropes were invited over for a day to see them, literally in post.

This happened in those earlier, happy days, before they invented holidays abroad. When holidays in Scarborough or Whitby were permissible but Blackpool or Morecambe were considered a bit on the showy side. No-one who valued his place in Yorkshire society would go to Bournemouth.

Denmark? It was Star Trek Country and everyone was very excited.

A busy day ended with a banquet in the Chinese Pagoda in the Tivoli Gardens. Maurice and I got there early in case there was a bar. There wasn’t, but we watched with interest as chefs patterned complicated devices in lump fish roe over the salads that stood by every plate. Clearly, they hoped the roe would be mistaken for caviar. It wasn’t.

The first diner to arrive called his mate. ‘Bloody hell, Harry. There’s caterpillar shit all over this lettuce.’

One by one, the British Ropers scraped rigorously at their leaves.

The man who had discovered this evidence of the filthy habits of foreigners also singled me out. ‘Tha’rt bloody journalist, ist tha?’

I admitted I was. ‘Nowt fresh to you then, this Abroad?’

Nowt, I lied.

‘Sithee,’ he said, leaning over. ‘Thi ’ave a lot of that sex stuff abroad, doan’t thi?’

Thi do, I said

‘Weer does it go on, then?’

I had no idea. I said near the railway station because that’s where it went on when I was doing national service in Germany, my only other experience of Abroad.

‘A’ll tell thee what,’ he said, ‘There’s three hours before t’plane. We’ll ‘ave a bit of a dander, just thee and me. Just to see, like.’ So we did.

The sex shops were a revelation to both of us. He was particularly exercised by loops of stiff hair, designed for putting on penis ends, to stimulate partners. ‘Dear, dear,’ he said, profoundly shocked, because he was at heart a God-fearing, respectable man.

He staggered off into the crowds. He was also a very tall man. I could keep track of him as he stumbled, horrified by the depravity and anxious to return to the safety of his world of darts and dog walking. A piece of totty detached herself from a wall and surged towards him like a determined trout.

I caught up in time to hear her proposition him and I saw the back of his neck deepen to vermillion.

‘D’yer mind,” he said. ‘It’s the wife’s birthday tomorrow.’

Ian Skidmore, journalist, author, sometime freelance and northern night news editor of the Daily Mirror, cultivates a blog patch in his garden at