Friday, October 09, 2009

queen of the wallop

‘If you’d all just stop bleedin’ going on at me for a minute and Aunt Nell! This is my latty and I say what goes. I don’t need all this bastard palaver about what I should or shouldn’t be doing. I don’t want nishta, mate. So just shut it and give me a hand back up on me lallies. If I don’t get to the carsey soon, well - I give you warning.’

We’re back inside our favourite bungalow, a decrepit sideshow booth that ought to have a banner draped above the doorway: Come and See the Enormous Bearded Lady (and Pick Her Up). Old Dolly Deakins is a frequent flyer, except of course it’s not so much flying as subsidence. Dolly is on the floor regularly, and when you come to help she chews your ear regularly, too, using slang that sounds like a curious hybrid of Cockney, Yiddish and who knows what else. Some of it I recognise from words my Dad’s family would use, some of it from Harold who ran the market stall I helped out on when I was a teenager. The rest I have to guess from the context.

Dolly is huge. If it’s glandular, she certainly isn’t helping the cause by packing away family size bars of chocolate, and chain-munching crisps. She has a dreadfully mottled, over-pumped look. The bandages around her legs, the buttons on her cardigan, the watch disappearing into her wrist – everything is stretched and straining and ready to rip.

We set to work with the inflatable mattress.

‘You’re a bit of a liability with your smoking,’ I tell her as she gently rises into the air, with Rae and her carer posted on either side to keep her in place.
‘What d’you mean?’
‘Your cardigan is covered in burn marks, Dolly. Fag holes. One of these days you’ll go up in flames.’
She stares at me, then pats Rae on the arm.
‘Ere. He’d be a nice little charver if he’d only keep his screech zipped.’

With the mattress fully inflated, Dolly wobbles up towards an approximation of the vertical whilst we fuss around her, blue-gloved drones around a massive Queen.
‘Wait a minute. Wait a minute,’ she says, making minutely painful adjustments by leaning from side to side on either hip. ‘Wait a minute.’
The carer brings her walking frame from out of the bathroom, turning it this way and that to negotiate all the obstacles in the hallway. Finally she plants it down in front of Dolly.
‘Not that one, you schlemiel!’
The carer, a blockish woman in her forties, a hairdo as tight as her smile, swings it back into the air with markedly less care than she took in placing it there.
‘Thank you, darling. She’s got a heart of gold, that one. I don’t deserve her.’

We keep a hold on Dolly until the carer comes back with another frame, which to me looks exactly the same as the original. Dolly seems happy.
‘Thassit!’ she says. ‘Ooh. Here we go, boys.’
And she starts shuffling off in the direction of the bathroom.
‘Off she goes, Queen of the Wallop.’
She stops and turns her head slightly to the side.
‘Whilst I’m gone, all you old steamers can help yourself to a bit of carnish.’

I look at the carer. She shrugs.


David Waldock said...

Her language strikes me as being Polari (

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi David
Yep - I think you're right. I'd never heard of it before (although I knew some of the words from my own personal experience). But when I looked up some of them on t'internet, there it was! So I've found out that polari is a kind of street jargon that's been taken on at various times by different groups - from circus/fairground workers to market traders and undercover gays in fifties London. But goes back much further than that, obviously, and is still current to some extent. Really colourful.

Thanks for the comment. Fantabulosa!

lulu's missives said...

Hey Spence,
My Pops used to throw out yiddish words, some of which it was better NOT to know the meaning of.
xx jo

P.S. You wrote about 'purple prose', something I'm guilty of and have to curtail for college, so I quoted you.

Spence Kennedy said...

I used to help Harold set up his clothes stall every Sat. One thing he'd often say to the punters trying on gear was: That's a nice bit of schmutter. It was only years later I learned that meant 'rags'! He was a great salesman. He seemed to know exactly what to say to get them to buy something; they'd never go away empty handed, even if it was just a belt buckle.

Anyway - was that a quote to illustrate what purple prose was, then? ;)

lulu's missives said...

I wrote a post called 'Course Update' and mentioned that pp was something I had to work on. I'd never heard it called that before, so I 'thanked you'. I also brought it up with the tutor as a sort of little anecdote.

Anonymous said...

"If you’d all just stop bleedin’..." made me laugh inappropriately -- I thought you or one of your colleagues was scolding your clients for bleeding so profusely. Not that you would ever do that, I know, but it made me laugh to think of it.

Spence Kennedy said...

I see what you mean!

But maybe the longer I do this job, the more likely I am to come out with stuff like that.... xx

tam said...

I've been lurking around your extraordinary blog for a while without commenting. I am in awe of your ability to evoke people and situations with such compassion and vividness. I'm not big on blog awards but everynowanthen they come around and ask to be redistributed - just to let you know that you are on my list at, a place where the prose does occasionally run into shades of mauve.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Tam

Thanks v much for the nomination!

At the risk of sounding really curmudgeonly and awful, though - I hope you won't mind if I don't do anything with it. It's just that over the past few years the blog has pretty much stuck to being a bunch of ambulance anecdotes and not much else (for better or worse). I've been put forward a couple of times in the past, but I turned them down, too, with the same lame-dog expression / paws over my eyes. I hope that's okay. Thanks again for nominating the blog (will you ever come back?) :) xx