“My mother made me a lesbian …”

25 Nov

I neglected to mention, in my post on paraprosdokians, that some of the finest examples are to be found in our streets and public conveniences in the form of graffiti. Take this classic of the genre, reportedly seen in a women’s loo on a university campus, bewailing or boasting that:

My mother made me a lesbian!

(Everybody – you, me and Philip Larkin – knows as a matter of bleak existential fact that it’s all mum’s fault. She’s the model for misogynists everywhere, male and female both.)

It positively cried out for the next pen-wielding penny-spender to scrawl her paraprosdokian response:

If I give her the wool, will she make me one too?

In fact my all time favourite was also on a bog wall. Baby boomer Sheffielders who walked the dope and bohemia side of life will recall the Raven Tavern at the top of Fitzwilliam Street, a few yards down from its confluence with West Street and the stuff of legends. Benighted souls torn, as weekend drew nigh, between spending their last few bob on food or on ale could have cake and eat it at the Raven; one of the last of the city’s pubs to let go of the northern tradition of giving out free grub – mountains of black dag with cheese-spread and cuke sandwiches piled on platters ferried across the tap room for eager hands to snatch by the fistful – every Thursday, Friday and feverish Saturday night.

It also had a terrific jukebox, where Jimi’s cover of Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, and the Who’s of Summertime Blues, great as they were, would be frequently pipped in the popularity stakes by Mario Lanza’s Drinking Song. What a pity Leonard’s Closing Time was still twenty years in the future. On second thoughts, maybe not. In the run up to 22:40 – landlord grimly seeking to enforce the law on a clientele in no mood to drink up and go quietly – we’d have heard little else.

So we’re drinking and we’re dancing/And the band is really happening/And the Johnny Walker wisdom running high …

… but the boss don’t like these dizzy heights/We’re busted in the blinding lights/Of closing time …

I digress. One day I’ll dedicate a post to this oasis, and the more colourful of those who drank and cut deals there. Meanwhile, a word about its gents’. You reached it by exiting a side door – mindful of the darts match, perilously close and played by the type of alpha male who regards anything less than six pints as suboptimal to his aim – to a cobbled courtyard. From there you followed your nose.

It was a primitive affair: no roof, and a single terracotta gutter running wall to wall across a cement slabbed floor. You pissed onto a vertical sheet of dark-tan porcelain and watched the results streak southwards to said gutter which, on a good day, flowed unimpeded to a black hole at the far corner before draining from view.

On a good day.

On all the other days that flow would be interrupted by a succession of hazards, the heedless discards of antisocial elements who spoil things for everyone; in this case by way of miniature dams, impromptu and inadvertent, to halt progress and create stagnantly yellowing pools.

Causing Lol and Madge – the husband and wife team who, along with Madge’s lover Maurice, ran the Raven – to put up a sign at head height.

Do not throw cigarette ends into the urinal!

You wouldn’t get away with that nowadays. Everybody knows somebody whose kid works in a call-centre but has a degree in Leisure and Hospitality from the University of South Rotherham. And everybody knows nobody likes being told what to do without accompanying explanation, however intelligence-insulting. It was just a matter of time before some public spirited citizen added the helpful elucidation that:

It makes them soggy and difficult to light.


17 Replies to ““My mother made me a lesbian …”

  1. One I recall was “Jesus Saves, but Currie scores on the rebound.”

    Don’t ever recall going in the Raven. I do recall The Bucaneer on Leopold Street – always a good place for plod to get an easy under age drinking collar – and later, after it closed, The Wapontake.

    Our locals were the Horseshoe (top of Bellhouse Road) and the Wharncliffe at Firth Park. An establishment which a year before reaching drinking age was terror incognito for those of us with cropped hair and Crombies on account of being occasionally frequented by a visiting clan of Angles from Glasgow who were dossing somewhere on the old Kelvin flats opposite the Coronation Cafe.

    They nearly caught a group of us chatting to a young lady at the bus stop at the side of Firth Park one winter evening as they roared down Sicey Avenue on their way to The Cannon Hall at Fir Vale. Surprisingly, as three of us dashed across the old tram roundabout to seek shelter on the number four bus they gave us a fighting chance by following the Highway Code and going the correct way around the roundabout.

    By this time we were on the top deck crouched down under the front seats listening to the roar of bikes outside and wondering what size of adversary it was we could hear coming up the stairs. To be greeted by a grin as long as Carlisle Street as the bus conducter asked for our fares.

    I was okay and that night as I was stopping in Town. The other two lived on the Flower Estate and chose to alight near the school and take their chances being pursued through the large square communal green between the houses at the back of Wincobank Avenue/Bracken Road/Cowslip Road/and Honeysuckle.

    A few weeks later I was stopping on the estate and making my way back alone from Firth Park up the hill that is Beavercotes Road past the Wharncliffe and a row of bikes – desperately hoping no one came out as I walked past only to hear the door swing open behind me as someone left the establishment who just happened to be going in the same direction.

    This resulted in a scene reminiscent of a silent film as each of us, for different reasons, shot up the hill at an increasing pace. By the time I reached the top I was calculating the chances of reaching the other end of the estate unscathed only to feel the dread of a hand clamped on the shoulder as the pursuit ended…….

    …….With my turning around to find not a six foot leatherclad Glaswegian but one of the estates more colourful characters who, on exiting the Wharncliffe had recognised me and sussed out what was going through my mind as he silently kept pace with me up the hill.

    Most of these old haunts, which were a form of education in their own right, no longer exist. The Broughton and The Salutation down near Attercliffe/Carbrook; The Norfolk at Norfolk Bridge where the bin workers from the Bernard Road bin depot used to drink (which was till recently a house of negotiable affection); The Black Swan, Stonehouse, Crazy Daisy in Town.

    Along with Pond Street Nora (there probably remains a whole cohort of “boomers” still alive who drunkenly proposed to Nora at one time or another in their youth); the Duke of Darnell (who used to stand in the middle of the street in Town “directing” the traffic); and the Hartshead Cowboy.

    All worth their weight in rocking horse droppings.

    • One I recall was “Jesus Saves, but Currie scores on the rebound.”

      I first spotted that on a recreation ground just outside Cardigan, with Currie replaced by ‘Eddie’. As elegant a paraprosdokian as ever graced public wall.

      Yes, the Buccaneer (like the nearby Wapentake) was known for ease of entrance to the sub-eighteen year old drinker. But it had a mean set of bouncers: not especially big but dependably vicious.

      Pond Street Nora! She too merits a dedicated post. And many of those other places take me back. The Flower Estate’s southern border was at Sheffield Lane Top, where I was born; its western border the south-east edge of Parson Cross, where I spent a good part of childhood and youth. Sicey Avenue? I did a milk round there in’68.

      Ah, those halcyon days when motorbiked youth – thugs, yes, but our thugs – had some respect for the highway code …

  2. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I remember that in the Raven and Pond Street Nora with her wellies on. Regarding P Larkin, and a different city, they put a statue up of him on Hull station hurrying for the train as in The Whitsun Weddings. Last time I was there it had a face mask on – the poet moving with the times. WW does seem a bit misogynistic in parts but I wouldn’t blame his mum for that

      • Early days of mobile phones, when text messages were two or three lines, tops, they ran a phone text poem of the year contest. Here’s one of the winners:

        They phone you up, your mum and dad …

        • I like it, Jams.

          Of course, parenting styles may differ markedly. One dark joke – not quite a paraprosdokian but, like many paraprosdokians, a play on literal versus metaphoric understandings of a word or phrase – has Fred and Rosemary West on a mini-break in the Cotswolds. First evening, Fred pours them both a drink and settles down on their hotel room sofa:

          Great innit? Not having the kids under your feet all the time.

  3. Your closing lines bring to mind an alternative response to your first line of “Please don’t throw your cigarette ends into the ‘toilet'” which I read in the public convenience that was just around the corner from Upperthorpe Library in Sheffield: it read, “after all, we don’t piss in your ash tray”.

    I do indeed remember the Raven pub and also being able to buy a packet of crackers and pickled onions. Here’s looking forward to a blog post on the Raven. No doubt Tikka and the commune will get a mention. All the best, Jim.

    • Tikka will assuredly feature, Jim. As will a character going by the name of Shirt. Busted by drug squad for selling quid deals of grass which turned out not to be grass at all, Shirt was prosecuted instead for fraud, prompting the Sheffield Star to run the header:

      Parsley never hurt anyone says city man!

      Your Upperthorpe specimen, while not technically a paraprosdokian, is a corker.

      • An underappreciated aspect of the ‘war on drugs’ was the way frustrated drug squads would resort to the fraudulent selling charge when nothing else would stick. I read of a guy busted at Glastonbury Festival with large amounts of cash and a bag of tiny blue ‘microdot’ tabs which forensics found to be dyed sugar.

        In court, his lawyer said his client had genuinely believed the tabs to be LSD.

        • Yeah. I was once offered in the gents toilet of the famous ‘Byre’ pub in Byres Road, in the west end of Glasgow, a genuine plastic bag full of best, hallucinogenic, – (what turned out to be when I smelt it) – parsley!

  4. He was right too. Off topic (but still on British cities) you can get Xmas cards of Banksy’s hula girl, reduced price for 3. I’ve ordered some – already a classic of the genre

    • I might just knock up a few of my own, Mick. I snapped her, with bike still in place, just days after Banksy’s nocturnal visit.

  5. If paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which:

    the latter part of a sentence or phrase is unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to re-frame or re-interpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect [so] is extremely popular among comedians and satirists.

    then it seems to me that Theodore Adorno spent his entire life writing them. It’s just a shame they weren’t funny.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *