Dabbler Diary – Soap or Sponge

To Leamington Spa, my first visit. When I was at school ‘Leamington Spa’ was – for no real reason other than it happened to catch on in my gang – a comedy name. The words were considered intrinsically funny, as ‘fish’ and ‘shrubbery’ are in Monty Python, and so the town became a recurring punchline. “Where are you going?” “Oh just off to Leamington Spa.” You had to be there really. There was even a song beginning “Leamington Spa/Is not very far”…I forget the rest. Funnily enough one of my gang ended up living in Leamington Spa, but I haven’t been in contact with him since the last millennium (that’s the millennium before this one, not the one before that with the Romans in it, but the most recent millennium immediately prior to this, with the Crusades and Napoleon and Blue Peter and so on.) But I digress. Royal Leamington Spa, an elegant midlands town. The heart of England. A poor man’s Bath. A very pleasant stroll can be had through the immaculate Jephson Gardens, wherein a well-designed brasserie overlooks the Leam and its little waterfall. I took all this in, and the fine All Saints Church (a good chunk of which has sadly been converted into a café), before having one of the oddest encounters of my life.

Across the street, outside the Co-Op, a man’s voice shouted “Come on, you wankers!” I glanced round and noted, with surprise, that the rude shouter had Down Syndrome. Further down the road, on my side, were his friends, at whom he was presumably shouting: two also with Down Syndrome plus a helper. But then I spotted that another young man, close to me, was crossing the street towards the shouter. He was hoodie-clad and baseball capped, black, shortish. “Oi, did you just call me a wanker?” he said aggressively. “Why did you call me a wanker? Did you call me a wanker?” The poor (albeit potty-mouthed) kid was quite bewildered and in his confusion he actually said “Yes.” It occurred to me then that I was about to witness an able-bodied man physically hit a Down Syndrome sufferer. I scurried over and found myself affecting an arm-waving, grimacing, pointy-shrug gesture intended to convey a David Cameron-like “Come-on-chaps-let’s-be-reasonable-we’re-all-in-this-together-aren’t-we?” message, which drippy pantomime was fortunately enough to distract the angry lad. He slapped his own face with both hands and declared: “Oh Christ, what a day, what a day,” then turned and carried on his way, leaving me, the rude Down Syndrome boy, and the wankers (who had by now caught up) all standing equally non-plussed and a-quiver. Strange place, Leamington Spa, but then I’ve known that since school.


By buying my daughters a trampoline it seems I was succumbing sheep-like to a middle-class trend, as detailed in this BBC magazine piece, which is thoroughly uninteresting except for this quote at the end:

“Trampolines are a bit of a fad. A bit like a new car – when you buy it, you wash it all the time, but after six months it doesn’t see soap or sponge,” Walsh says.

For hours after reading that I was turning the phrase “it doesn’t see soap or sponge” over in my mind. Soap or sponge, soap or sponge. It sounds as if it should be an old saying, like “chalk and cheese”. But Mr Walsh seems to have coined it, so well done to him.


Golf is a strange game, being a dull spectacle to non-enthusiasts in its normal, individual format, but extremely exciting in the team format, which we only get to see every two years in the Ryder Cup. Yesterday’s remarkable victory by Europe was that most marvellous thing of sport: the impossible comeback. In every impossible comeback the key thing is the mentality of the team holding the big lead. They start off thinking “We can’t lose this”, and then it’s “Don’t worry, we’re still not going to lose this”… followed by “Oh Christ, we’d better not lose THIS” and then the game is up.


I’ve admired most of Steve Coogan’s oeuvre for its intelligent bite, so it was depressing to watch him on Question Time. Coogan has a really chippy, ignorant, adolescent, prejudiced worldview in which one’s opponents must always be malicious, not merely wrong; in which everyone who went to a private school or comes from the south or has above-average earnings (except him) is a ‘Tory’ – that word alone being a sufficient insult; and in which everything the Conservative party does is designed to be of benefit solely to “the kind of people who will vote Tory.” Quite apart from being embarrassingly simplistic, this last notion in particular fails to recognise the main parties’ race to the political middle-ground. Blair and Cameron worked out that you can’t win an election simply by appealing to the people who vote for you anyway. Hence Labour ditching socialism and the Conservatives’ so-called ‘de-toxifying’. It would be closer to the truth to argue that politicians hardly do anything for the kind of people who vote for them.


Rather Coogan though, than Kelvin Mackenzie, who writes a shameless piece of self-serving crap in The Spectator here in which he claims to have been an innocent dupe of the South Yorkshire police when he published his poisonous ‘The Truth’ headline immediately after the Hillsborough disaster. His argument – and his recent demand for an apology from the police – rest on the fantasy that the falsehood of The Sun’s coverage has only just been revealed in last month’s report by the Hillsborough Independent Panel. In fact we’ve known that police failings were the main cause of the disaster since the Taylor Report in 1989. Mackenzie could have done his grovelling/outrage act at any time since then, but chose not to. What an odious, duplicitous slimeball he is.


Friday was harvest time: that golden annual lunchtime when I head for the lanes with m’Tupperware and collect a lot of blackberries. Blackberry-picking is the closest I’m ever likely to get to farming or indeed, gardening. It’s therapeutic, or it is when done once a year. Wouldn’t want to do it every day. I resent paying for blackberries – they seem absurdly expensive in the shops considering they grow wild everywhere. Then again, their harvesting is somewhat labour-intensive, guarded as they are by prickles and nettles and big spiders. If anyone knows how blackberries are farmed to produce volume for the supermarkets, I’d be interested to know. One year I collected a huge boxful and then dropped it all over the cowpat-strewn road while trying to put the lid on.  That was a bumper season, though, so it didn’t much matter. I went through a mad blackberry-and-apple crumble phase that year, made them practically every other day for a fortnight. Even went out and bought myself a dedicated blackberry-and-apple crumble oven dish, such was my mania, but of course these things never last long and you won’t be surprised to hear that the dish is at the back of a cupboard and hasn’t seen soap or sponge for years.

Dabbler Diary is brought to you by Glengoyne single malt whisky – the Dabbler’s choice.
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15 thoughts on “Dabbler Diary – Soap or Sponge

  1. Worm
    October 1, 2012 at 09:26

    “A poor man’s Bath” did make me do a genuine LOL!

    Leamington is currently a bit of a warzone as the town is full of student freshers at the moment and every year around this time there is a bit of town v gown argy bargy

    Warwick is where it’s at these days

  2. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    October 1, 2012 at 11:33

    Etched upon my memory where it will remain until I ascend, or more probably descend the last staircase, is the memory of Leamington Spa. In his student days Junior and a friend rented a large apartment in a Georgian crescent, how the hell they did this and how on earth they did it for what was a pittance of a rent is above my pay grade but they did. It was the epitome of shabby chic, Fired Earth would have given two quarters profit just to use it in an ad. Remarkably it’s owner was not called Mr Jamal, par for the course in Coventry digs, it was a local toff and full time piss-artist, the booze having numbed her napper, possibly the cause of the low rent situation. They had a ball and as I was at the time a frequenter of Coventry, on business, an ideal squat. The cost savings were not as dramatic as would be expected however, the town had a cracking Indian restaurant and working on the principle that three cannot eat as cheaply as one and as the word had got around, three turned into four and beyond, it would have been cheaper to have carried on using the Allesley.

    At that time the entire joint appeared shabby chic, not an accusation that can be hurled at gardens full of Argos trampolines.

    As for Coogan on Newsnight, a Billy Bragg wannabe in the bearpit, the audience clapping at every prejudice confirmation hurled at them, aided and abetted by a good example of nepotism at work. Harriet pterodactyl’s favourite rantform.

  3. Worm
    October 1, 2012 at 12:08

    also Brit – is the soap or sponge thing subliminally reminding you of Uncle Monty in Withnail and his ‘Are you a sponge or a stone, Boy?’…

    • andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
      October 1, 2012 at 21:38

      I truly hope not, a nightmarish scene.

  4. john.hh43@googlemail.com'
    John Halliwell
    October 1, 2012 at 12:34

    One of my earliest memories of listening to sport on radio featured a handsome lad from Leamington Spa: Randolph Turpin: in the early 1950s the British, European and World Middleweight Champion. The Leamington Licker must have been quite something at his peak beating the incomparable Sugar Ray Robinson to win the World title at Earls Court in 1951. I became aware of Turpin a little later than that; the fight nights on the BBC Light Programme were wonderfully atmospheric. I was fascinated to learn that Randolph’s trainer was his brother Dick Turpin – fancy having a highwayman as your trainer. Did he wear a mask over his eyes and a black pointy hat while using the sponge on Randy between rounds? Where did he keep his pistol? It came as a great disappointment to learn a few years later that Dick had been hung in York for horse theft. Whenever I hear the name Leamington Spa, I immediately think of Randolph, the BBC commentary team of Raymond Glendenning and Barrington Dalby, choking fag smoke, that gloriously clear bell sound, the roar of the crowd baying for blood, and of course Highwayman Dick.

    • johngjobling@googlemail.com'
      October 1, 2012 at 14:12

      Days of yore John, when sports men and women were not engulfed in the glitzy world of showbiz, not until Freddie Mills and Judy Grinham did the bit part enter their world (Six Five Special, Operation Bullshine). Remember Judy anyone? when Olympic swimming cossers were black, made from tarpaulin and anti-erotic.
      Mills, like Turpin expired from a surfeit of lead.

      Remember the Six Five Special?

      Over the points, over the points, over the points, over the points.

      The 6.5 Special’s steamin’ down the line,
      The 6.5 Special’s right on time.
      Coal in the boiler burnin’ up’n bright,
      Rollin’ and a-rockin’ through the night,
      My heart’s a-beatin’ ‘cos I’ll be meetin’
      The 6.5. Special at the station tonight.

      The 6.5 Special better not be late,
      The 6.5 Special platform 8,
      The train starts a-brakin’ hard as can be,
      The station is a-shakin’ like a tree’
      And I won’t be missin’ that special kissin’
      When the 6.5 Special brings my baby to me.

      Hear the whistle blowin’ 12 to the bar.
      See the lights a-glowin’ bright as a star.
      Now the wheels a-slowin’, can’t be far.

      Hear the whistle blowin’ 12 to the bar, pop music as art, don’t you think, oh well, please yourselves.

      • john.hh43@googlemail.com'
        John Halliwell
        October 1, 2012 at 17:27

        I’m not certain, Malty, but I don’t think I saw anything of Six-Five Special. I do remember it being discussed at school on the Monday morning: “Ooooh, did you see that Pete Murray; gorgeous he is. He could blow my whistle any day.” Sad, really; but in contrast, the girls were quite mature in their comments. I thought it better to keep quiet as we didn’t get a goggle box until 1960. I would have been laughed at if I’d come clean and said “No, I was listening to the football results on Sports Report read beautifully by Mister John Webster, followed by the Shipping Forecast, then a highlight of the week: Gardeners’ Question Time.”

    • Wormstir@gmail.com'
      October 1, 2012 at 17:33

      Thanks for the memories of Randolf Turpin, John! I am genuinely unsure as to whether Warwick or Leamington get to ‘claim’ him as their own, as there is a statue of him in the square in Warwick, and a blue plaque on his house in Leam, right opposite the Georgian crescent where Malty Jnr would have been residing

  5. Gaw
    October 1, 2012 at 13:40

    Here’s a good piece on sporting comebacks, specifically Man City’s last season:


    Regarding alliterative exhaustive summaries, I’ve always enjoyed, “neither hide nor hair”. I always try to say in a rolling West Country accent, which must be very irritating. Incidentally, I think the “neither… nor” construction adds a certain drama.

  6. joerees08@gmail.com'
    Joey Joe Joe Jr.
    October 1, 2012 at 23:55

    I thought garden trampolines were generally considered a bit, ahem, chavvy?

    • Worm
      October 2, 2012 at 08:49

      That’s the thing with children though JJJJ -= they are anti-style, as all those london parents who restyle their houses into a white minimalist designer pad soon find out to their horror.

    • andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
      October 2, 2012 at 15:33

      Yes, it’s surprising how uninterested three year-olds are in social nuance when they’re doing bouncy-bouncy.

      JJJJ and all keen snobs/reverse snobs/counter-reverse snobs should of course consult the Dabbler Style Guide (click on link right), which hasn’t seen soap or sponge for a while but still holds true.

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