The Tale of the Loose Canon and The Old Meg Clog Dancers

This is in honour of The Loose Canon, who was one of a kind. I was lucky to know him.

ruralspaceman

Yesterday evening, we had the pleasure of being invited to Master George’s 18th family birthday party. This wasn’t one of those usual 18th birthday parties where all the adults sit in the kitchen whilst hormonally charged youths consume their single malt whisky and vomit in the bath, but a ‘family dinner party’, where everybody sat around the long table in the barn at the Loose Canon’s house.

We were honoured to be the only guests who weren’t immediate family. It was a wonderful evening, sitting between The Sexton and his younger sister Sue, with a sumptuous chicken and ham pie cooked by Pen, followed by a slice of delicious frangipani, created by Sue, who bakes for a living.

You’re probably thinking that this all seemed very pleasant, with little incident, but events that happened towards the end of the celebrations made the evening very special for me.

After we’d finished…

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Farewell, Loose Canon

Prologue: some sad news, I’m afraid, with the loss of an amazing person.

Canon John Evans, known to you in many of my ramblings as the Loose Canon, passed away on Monday. Former vicar of three parishes, head teacher at the village school, he’d married us as well as his daughter Pen and The Sexton, christened our children and invited us to many events over the years. He treated us all like family.

He’d been poorly for some time with degenerative heart disease; on our last visit to his house, on my birthday back in September, he called our entire family into the drawing room, where he sat in his favourite wing back chair, tubes in his nostrils leading down to a trusty canister of oxygen, a tray on a small table in front of him, the remnants of his recently eaten dinner on the plate, knife and fork tidily placed together in parallel. Standing dutifully beside the plate, half a glass of The Loose Canon’s favourite red wine. He was pale and thin, but still possessed his familiar voice, with its clear, received pronunciation. After a few pleasantries, it became apparent that he had something to say.

“Well,” he said, “it’s very nice to see you all, I don’t suppose I’m going to be around for much longer…”

He waved away our protestations and continued.

“No. I’m dying, you see. It’s my heart. Don’t worry – I’m not scared of dying. I know I haven’t got long, but; there we are. I’m quite comfortable at the present time, it’s just that I can’t get about much at all.”

A twinkle appeared in his eye.

“Of course, that means I won’t have to put up with that awful man Jeremy Corbyn on the television all the time,” he said, the familiar laugh rising from his weakened lungs; frail, but still mischievous enough to tease me, always having regarded me as a bit of a lefty.

I smiled.

“Well, that’s good,” I said, smiling back at him.

The conversation continued for a while, but he was tired and we left the room to re-join Pen and The Sexton.

Lady Barton St Mary touched my arm.

“I think that was ‘the talk’,” she whispered. I looked at her, pretending not to understand.

She gave a wan smile.

“It was goodbye…”

The Loose Canon and The Atheist

But I cannot finish without recounting my tale of The Loose Canon’s theological triumph over me. He was perfectly aware that I was an atheist; in fact, he rather enjoyed it. He never once attempted to debate the point. As he grew older, he’d often say to me that he wasn’t sure he entirely believed in it all anymore; just before he retired as a vicar, I can recall reports and rumours from villagers about his sermons, where he’d become accustomed to telling them to ‘make up their own minds’, which only made him a greater ecclesiastical figure in my (and many other people’s) opinion.

I want to tell you about one November weekend, when I drove my car into Countrywide Stores, the sort of rural supermarket for all things farming. I forget why I was there. Over on the far side of the car park, I spotted The Loose Canon, alone, serenely staring into the middle distance, two huge bags of birdfeed next to him, ready to be loaded into his Landrover. I parked and made my way over to say hello.

“Ah Hello!” he chuckled as I approached. It became apparent that the large bags of birdfeed were far too heavy for The Loose Canon to load into his vehicle.

“Hello – gosh, they look heavy!” I cried, “would you like me to load them into your car?”

“Why thank you, Robert,” he said (one of the few people to call me by my full name).

“I had no idea how I was going to do it. Chap left them here, never offered, you see.”

With considerably effort, I hefted the first, followed slowly by the second, into the back of the Discovery, before leaning my hands on my knees to catch my breath. The Loose Canon closed the car boot as I stood upright and turned to me with a twinkle in his eye.

“You see Robert,” he said, “there is a God …”

 

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BS Warp Factor 10

‘Would you like a newer car?’ Lady BSM asked me a couple of months ago. At first, I thought, no, I don’t need one; after all, my trusty Honda Civic, black and named Kit after the Night Rider car, was extremely reliable. However, it had over 100 000 miles on the clock, so after a couple of weeks, I decided that a newer car would be a good thing, so went to look at Honda Civics (I’m not into cars and know what I like). It took probably less than 2 hours to choose one.

However, we still had to deal with the car salesman. The experience got me thinking: how many jobs are there which rely predominantly on a large portion of bullshit? Or, rather, which occupations do we allow ourselves to be bullshitted to without much protest? Surely, in the 21st century, we know that car salesmen generally spout poppycock as a process to get you to part with several thousand pounds for a hunk of metal, leather and plastic. But still, we accept it’s part of their genetic makeup.

 

Let me explain what I’m talking about. The salesperson in question sidled up and engaged us in conversation on the forecourt as we looked at a purple Honda Civic.

“So, interested in the ’16 Honda 2-23 magnesio spigotted 4 valve’, are we?” he enquired with a cheery tone. I’ll point out at this point he may not have used this specific description, but I’m rubbish at cars and that’s what I heard.

“What are you driving at the moment?” he continued.

“A Honda Civic,” I replied.

“Oh, great! What model?”

I pointed across the forecourt, indicating Kit.

“That black one,” I explained. He frowned momentarily before showing us a couple of Civics. One had heated seats and a DAB radio, so that would do. We went for a test drive followed by some ‘negotiations’ in the showroom.

Now, Lady BSM deals with these things, so discussions started around how we would offer a certain amount of money and he would suck a thoughtful tooth and make a meagre counter claim.

We all know this game. We know he’s going to reduce the price, but it’s up to us (when I say us, I mean Lady BSM) to get it as low as possible. Then, at a certain point in these negotiations, the true bullshit starts.

“ I’ll have to talk to my Sales Director,” says Keith (they’re all called Keith or Steve), disappearing into the back offices of the showroom.

I looked at Lady BSM.

“Do you think he’s gone to see anybody?” I asked.

She stared ahead, impassive.

“No, I very much doubt it,” she whispered.

He returned to inform us his sales director had looked at the figures and could probably find a bit of a discount here but wouldn’t budge there. He’d tried his best, but the man honestly said he couldn’t do any more. I looked deeply into his eyes, trying to imagine the inside of his head being like the SS Enterprise from Star Trek. A tiny Captain Kirk, controlling his brain, sending a message to his own version of Engineer, Captain Montgomery Scott.

I cannae defy the laws of bullshit!!

“Scotty, take us to Bullshit Warp Factor 7,” demands Kirk.

Panic in Scotty’s eyes as the car salesman’s brain wobbles and steam appears in the engine room.

“Captain, I cannae keep it at this level, the levels of gullibility are nowhere near high enough!”

I sat back in my chair and waited for the next move from her ladyship. It was a good one, the salesman sucking thoughtfully on his pen as Captain Kirk, Ahuru, Bones et al careered from one ear to the other in his head.

“I’ll have to see our finance manager again,” he said. Lady BSM gave me a warning look, knowing I was about to offer to talk to him myself, but, as tradition states, car salesmen are permitted to keep up this pretence.

Eventually, the deal was done, the car purchased with a full tank of fuel and a promise to fix the broken air conditioning. This took 4 weeks, with me eventually getting ratty when the car salesman didn’t return my calls because he was too busy. At least he was honest, but might have well said “I’ve sold you a car now f*** off”.

Before I conclude, no blog about professional bullshitters can overlook the experts – let’s just take politicians as read – estate agents.

Two examples – firstly, we had one of these amazing breed turn up at our old house to price it. After a cursory look around our cosy 3 bedroomed Georgian residence, he gave his verdict.

“I’d say we could put this on the market for £75 000,” he stated confidently. I stared at him for a couple of seconds.

“ Two other agents have told me £90 000. One up the road, admittedly with one extra bedroom, sold for £100 000 last week.”

He smiled weakly.

“Oh! then I would be pleased to put your house on the market for £90 000!” he beamed.

The only profession where you have no idea how much something is until the customer tells you.

Secondly, several years ago, we had to sell my late mother’s house. I waited with my nephew Dave. Another diminutive, besuited, kipper tied spiv rolled up in his white BMW, emblazoned with the estate agent’s logo. He proved to be the biggest of all Bullshit Agents. I would imagine that his brain’s Captain Kirk was in a coma and Scotty horribly burned in an attempt to reach BS Warp Factor 11.

“Well, y’know, I s’pose you’ve seen s few agents, but I’m yer man,” he swaggered.

“Here’s my article explaining how I’m far more successful than any other estate agent in selling your house quickly,” he boasted, handing me a leaflet.

I read it. Basically, his revolutionary sales success came from offering houses at a lower price than anybody else would.

“So, let me ask you something,” I said, “ can I buy your car for £100?”

He looked at me and then out of the window at his car.

“Wha- that’s a 5 series mate! It’s worth twenee grand!”

“I’m sure it is,” I replied, “but you’d sell it a lot quicker.”

He turned to Dave for some help.

“I think it’s time you left,” said Dave…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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You’ll Float Too …

Well, Wordpretzels, make my own sauce and call me Barry Norman, yet another film review, this time to see the much anticipated It, based on the novel by Stephen King. Now, Lady BSM isn’t into horror films, so gave this one a miss. I was accompanied by Master Johnny and Miss Cath, his girl friend.

You’ll float too, you’ll float too, YOU’LL FLOAT TOO …

I read ‘It’ when it was first published back in the 1970s – over one thousand pages long and telling a story stretching over 3 decades. It was enthralling, tense, emotional, distressing, uncompromising and terrifying by different turns. King is a prolific and hugely successful novelist and for good reason. I would go as far as to say his novels will be regarded in the same high esteem as Charles Dickens in time. He is one of the greatest storytellers of the century. He’s regarded as a horror writer, but his books are more than that. They’re not all about slashing and blood and guts, but contain many human aspects of hope and dreams, of failings and weaknesses, of fears and misgivings, kindness, love, hate, good and evil. I’ve read a lot of his books and experienced all emotions whilst doing so.

Like a lot of King’s stories, it’s set in Maine – in this case a town called Derry, where an above average number of people, especially children, go missing. The film makes sure you’re aware it’s 1988 – the significance of this becomes clear later. Like the book, the story begins with Bill making his young brother Georgie  a paper boat, which he takes to the streets in the pouring rain to float in the rushing water running in the road gutters. Suffice to say, Georgie disappears and no body is ever found. Move on a year and Bill, a stutterer, is part of the Losers’ Club bullied by Henry Bowers and his friends. The Losers’ club is a group of disparate teenagers: Ben, the obese new boy, Richie Tozier, the cocky one, Eddie, the asthmatic, Mike, the orphan, Stan, the jewish boy practising for Bar Mitzvah and finally Beverley, the only girl of the group.

All the characters fit perfectly into the Stephen King mould, as with “Stand by Me”. Of course, Beverley is a stunningly beautiful redhead, attractive to her male counterparts, especially Ben and Bill.

The whole film is colourful and sympathetic to the King novel, but as we reached the 90 minute mark of a  two hour programme, I began to panic. As far as I could remember (I read the book nearly 40 years ago) we were only half way through the original story. Let’s just say a sequel is not only likely, but essential.

The scary bits are suitably scary, the emotional parts enough to make me feel a little teary, especially the scene where Bill is confronted by Georgie, clutching his paper ship to his chest and pleading with the big brother he adores to take him home. This is one thing a King story can do, pull at your emotions without resorting to the usual American schmaltzy approach.

If it’s all guts and gore you’re looking for, this isn’t for you. Stephen King horror is very much like the monsters he creates – too clever, too wise to be that predictable, which is why they are so formidable and malevolent. Pennywise the clown is the epitome of this, feeding on your fears and the darker side of human nature – death, loss, guilt, physical, sexual and psychological child abuse, Munchausen by Proxy…

The film has its climax, the usual battle between good and evil, but like all good stories, there’s no definitive  girl meets boy, fall in love, good wins over evil, walk off into the sunset, happy ending.

Maybe not even in It – Chapter 2…

 

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Rural Spaceman at the Pictures

Wordpretzels. It’s been a while. Sometimes even the complete rubbish that fills my head gets stuck there like a lamb chop bone in a vacuum cleaner, slowly getting furrier and less appealing by the day.

So, I thought I’d get back in the swing of things with another review of the visits Lady Barton St Mary and I have made to the pictures in the past few months.

King Arthur

This was a Guy Ritchie film, but up until now I’m sure Guy has only made films about London gangsters and dodgy geezers, so surely a retelling of the mystical, mythical legend of King Arthur would be a change of style.

Nope.

Arthur is shown as a young baby being cast adrift in a floating cradle and ending up in some form of cockney medieval London. This prompted one of Guy Ritchie’s rapid scene changes to represent the passing of time, as baby Arthur turns into young Arthur and eventually appears as an adult who wanted to be Tom Hardy but couldn’t quite make it, probably because Tom was already busy/too expensive. Instead, he grew up to be Charlie Hunnam, a Hell’s Angel in panty hose.

Sure enough, Arfer (as he is called) is in true Lock, Stock, Snatch Jack the Lad, finding trouble at every turn. The language of Arthurian Britain appears to be similar, too.

“Ere, Geezer, that’s a tasty cart n’ no mistake. Nar, load it up wiv stuff n’ scarper…”

So, Arfer, on some sort of community service, gets a chance to pull the sword from the stone, supervised by none other than David Beckham, famous footballer, pants flasher and Spice Girl spouse. His character is called Trigger, which must have been some sort of in joke from the production team, naming him after the daft road sweeper in Only Fools and Horses.

“Oi! Just grab it with both ‘ands n’ give it a pull!” demands David/Trigger, a refrain I’m sure Victoria has heard many times over the years.

I won’t bore you with the rest of the story. Basically it’s a video game of sword fights and punch ups leading to a final fight with the boss character. I suggest you stick to Lock Stock or Snatch.

Baby Driver

I went to see this just for the music and I wasn’t disappointed. Kevin Spacey tried his best to give the film a bit of gravitas, but overall, it’s a fast moving, foot tapping, exciting ride of a film with the typically ridiculous story line. Boy loses parents in car crash, left with tinnitus, steals cars from the age of 8 and becomes expert driver, but only when wearing earphones and listening to very loud music at the same time. I see young drivers like this all the time, just begging to be upside down in a ditch. I like the film for its honesty – where else do you see a character tell everybody to wait whilst he lines up the next track?

Edgar Wright, the director, was involved in TV a few years back with comedy actors such as Matt Lucas, David Walliams and Noel Fielding. Take a look at the music video he made for Mint Royale’s ‘Blue Song’ – if this wasn’t inspiration for the opening scene of Baby Driver then nothing makes sense in the world.

Again, another video game of a film, with a love interest called Debra.

“I don’t know any songs about Debra,” she bemoans to our hero, Baby. She must be kidding, I thought, what about Deborah by T-Rex?

“Well, there’s Deborah, by T-Rex,” he coos.

“I’ve never heard it,” she replies, all cow eyed and biting her lip. At this point, I think any rational music aficionado would have given her up as a lost cause, but he was obviously smitten.

A few more car chases, some guns and deaths and that’s your lot. If you love popular music and car chases, go and see it. Just don’t expect The Godfather.

Dunkirk

A quiet street, on the coast of France. A few young soldiers. Leaflets falling from the sky, with a message urging them to surrender. A gunshot, a fallen soldier; another running frantically to escape.

The beginning of Dunkirk, where thousands of British troops were stranded in 1940. The story is close to my heart, since my dad was part of the rescue, loading bombs onto planes going to defend the attempt to bring them all home. Of course, my dad would have been 20 years old at this time; looking at the characters on screen was a constant reminder of this, along with the awareness that I now have a son of the same age. Very humbling. As far as my dad was concerned, at least he was safe back in England. He had his moment in France a few years later in the D-Day landings.

Anyway, this is a good old fashioned war film. Mark Rylance as a middle aged leisure boat owner plays the part with true British stiff upper lip panache and shows why he’s so respected. Then there’s Harry Styles, the 1D star and dreamboat of all tone deaf teenies. Somehow he’d got a part, no doubt so that he could look pretty and sell more records. I assumed he’d be in the background of a few scenes, sweeping back his long lush hair on the beach. But no, they’d given him a speaking part, and guess what? He’s brilliant. Really good, an integral part of the whole Dunkirk story.

There’s not a lot of dialogue, but what little there is tends to be mumbled. Sir Kenneth Branagh, playing the top brass officer, naturally, often has to cope with some horrendous mumbling without having to say pardon? once. He is the obvious answer to actors gone by: Sir John Mills, Sir John Gielgud or Stanley Baker. The film world’s answer as to how public schoolboys can be extremely useful in times of adversity.

I can’t finish without mentioning the role of Tom Hardy, who plays a fighter pilot. The part is just heaven for all those women who love Tom Hardy, except a couple of his fans have complained that his face is obscured for much of the film by his oxygen mask, making him a bit like the character he played in Batman: a sort of Bane in a spitfire.

*Swoon*

However, he’s cool, reassuring, heroic. After Dunkirk, even I’m in love with Tom Hardy.

  • I’ll be back soon with something less lazy than a film review. Until then, be good.
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Dr Gorgeous Makes a Filum

I’d put it off for far too long. Six months, to be exact. I knew it was six months, because I booked the appointment when I received a text reminder.

Hence, I made the appointment to see Dr Gorgeous, the dentist. For those of you who are uninitiated, Dr Gorgeous is a dark, handsome brown eyed Irish man. Think Poldark with a drill. Since he took over the practice, Lady Barton St Mary is quite happy to visit regularly, provided she’s spent a considerable amount of time on hair and make up. Dr Gorgeous is as far away from the smoking, belligerent, anaesthetic avoiding, sadistic sociopath of a dentist I had as a child as you can get. Dr Gorgeous doesn’t just take exercise, he competes in Iron Man competitions. He’s a fan of BBC 6Music and says things like, “Did you see Royal Blood at Glastonbury? Oh, surely you must…”

So, today was the day for my implant, where Dr Gorgeous would make a hole in my jaw bone and screw in a little plug, carefully avoiding all major nerves. Nothing much.

I arrived early at the surgery, the first patient of the day. I was greeted by Pip, who informed me that today was the day they were making a film for their website.

“Dr Gorgeous decided that today would be good, because you’d be the perfect person to appear in his video,” she said, revealing her perfectly white teeth with a beautiful smile. I’ve observed that female dental receptionists and nurses have a similar look to those women you see on the make up counters at major department stores, but with a slightly lighter hue of tanning lotion.

“You wouldn’t mind, would you?” she asked.

I considered. How a rather tired looking middle aged man who has reached that stage in life where he visits the dentist to have teeth put back in is a perfect person, I don’t know. Maybe they wanted something like those property programmes where they take a derelict building and put it right, with my mouth as the ruin.

“No, not at all,” I replied, “in fact, I get involved in this sort of thing at (almost) voluntary work.”

I took a seat.

Dr Gorgeous appeared, bounding into the reception area to greet me and shake my hand.

“Has Pip told you about the filum?” he enquired.

“Yes, no problem, I’d be happy to help,” I said.

He gave one of his most winning smiles, the type that makes Lady Barton St Mary slide off the chair. I imagine. He reappeared with a camera light, followed by the woman who would be making the filum. Film. After some pleasantries, she was ready to roll. Dr Gorgeous turned to leave, in order to prepare for carving a hole in my mouth.

“Emma will be filuming your surgery too, that’s OK, is it?”

I nodded.

“I’ll ask you a few questions about Dr Gorgeous and the practice,” said Emma.

Dr Gorgeous stopped in the doorway and flashed that smile again.

“Remember,” he said, “say nice things about me.”

His eyes narrowed, but the smile remained.

“‘Cos I have a fecking great big knife waiting for you upstairs…”

 

 

 

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Don’t Like The Beatles? Don’t Like Life.

It was a real shock. I’d never really met one before, or, at least, if I had, I didn’t know it.

This was approximately three years ago; a lazy, sunny Sunday morning after a party at a friend’s house. A few people who’d stayed the night were recovering after a reviving breakfast, when the conversation got around to music. Somebody mentioned The Beatles. A woman wrinkled her nose.

“Ooo. I don’t like The Beatles,” she claimed.

I stared at her world-weary face in complete shock.

“Sorry,” I chuckled, “for a minute there, I thought you said you didn’t like The Beatles.”

Her eyes narrowed.

“Yes,” she said, pursing her lips, “that’s exactly what I said. I don’t like The Beatles.”

She meant it. I couldn’t believe it. How could you not like The Beatles? I immediately assumed the role of persuader, a missionary for all things Fab Four. I illustrated the depth and breadth of their musical genre, from rock to folk to jazz to vaudeville to Asian, but, with a rebuttal.

“Nope. Don’t like ‘em,” said bitchy resting face, which she’d become to me by this time.

But I felt justified in my judgement. To not like The Beatles is like not liking life itself. It’s like saying ‘I don’t like breathing’ or ‘I hate fluffy kittens and sunrises and tickles on my back’. It’s an oxymoron. My claim on a smaller scale is: If you can’t stick the four loveable mop tops, you are incapable of enjoying music.

My love for The Beatles started at an early age. I shared a bedroom with my sister, 12 years my senior, in the 1960s. Being a 1960’s teenager, she was a massive fan of The Beatles; actually, a massive ‘fan’ of Paul McCartney, then The Beatles; I’m not sure if the Paul McCartney part had anything to do with music.

Anyway, she had the standard issue ‘Danset” portable record player, which allowed you to stack your 7” records onto the central pole and play one after the other. Janet never bothered with this with the single “Help”. She just played it repeatedly until my dad decided to tell her to ‘leave it out’ and ‘give it a rest’. I loved it. Along with ‘Please Please Me’ and ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’.

By 1969, Janet was married and living in her own house, where I could spend some of my summer holidays. No doubt I’d heard it earlier, but I can remember spending much of 1970 listening to ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. I was nearly 10 years old, but this album blew me away. If that’s an appropriate term to use for a 10-year-old. Of course, now I know more about Sgt Pepper, I can see why it was so significant. Sgt Pepper could possibly be the greatest album ever made, which sounds a bit dramatic, until you realise that Rolling Stone magazine has decided that it is.

As I grew older, I found kindred spirits. I remember as a student sitting in the back of a broken-down car in Worthing with my American friend. We had to wait for the break down services to arrive, so amused ourselves by singing ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band’ – not the song, the album. We knew the track listing and all the lyrics, mainly because Sgt Pepper was the first to print the lyrics (or ‘words’ as we called them) on the record sleeve.

In teenage years, I followed McCartney and Wings, even when I was a punk. Listening to ‘Working Class Hero’ by John Lennon and realising he was the original punk. Knowing where I was when hearing that he’d died. Being told that he’d been shot as I shaved in our flat in Brighton, the tears streaming down my face, unsolicited and surprising at the time, since it was the first of many signals of my own and others mortality.

Then, a couple of months ago, Lady Barton St Mary, Steeley, the Tinkers’ Friend, She-lah!, Pen, Nancy Cuticles and I went to Colston Hall in Bristol to see Paul Weller. Steeley, Nancy and I made our way to the bar after a friendly chat with a couple of Stranglers fans to get a soothing ale. Discussion turned to Paul Weller and his influences and the obvious subject arose.

“Oh, I’m not keen on The Beatles,” said Steeley. Thank goodness he said ‘not keen’, otherwise I may have had to ex-communicate him as a friend. I assumed The Beatles missionary position, if you’ll pardon the expression.

“How can you not be keen on The Beatles?” I enquired.

“Well, I don’t think they were that good,” he replied.

“But they’ve influenced almost every band that followed them,” I offered.

He thought for a moment.

“Yeah, well, I prefer other bands that didn’t follow the Beatles,” he replied.

“Like who?” I asked.

“Siouxsie and the Banshees,” he said, with a big smug grin on his face.

I gave it a moment as I stared into his eyes, savouring the moment. It only took two words.

“Dear Prudence,” I offered.

His eyes widened as he looked at me.

“Erm, yeah, but they did it much better,” he retorted, but he knew he’d already admitted his mistake.

Don’t like The Beatles, don’t like life.

 

Want more? Live in the UK? Follow this link to watch ‘Sgt Pepper’s Musical Revolution with Howard Goodall.

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