Tha Clerb

There are some who think that the peak time Saturday evening viewing TV programme “Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club” was a parody of the northern working mans scene in the 1970s.

However, for it to have been a parody it would have had to ridicule the scenario in your average working mans club of a Saturday night and in the event it never got anywhere close to ridicule, in fact it barely scratched the surface.

My own dead father was a trustee at a working mens club, the parody being that its constitution, its reason for being, was that it was “supposed” to be a Conservative Working Mens Club which is a contradiction in terms for a start for as every foo-el knows, “Conservative” and “Working” don’t often appear in the same sentence, however, the club’s saving grace was that if you ever admitted to voting Conservative during your membership, you’d be thrown down the fire escape.

His most prized possession was his CIU card, the Club and Institutes Union membership that allowed him access to any one of tens of thousands of similar clubs across the land, and he made full use of it in a relentless search for new talent to mock and belittle and compare to his own “Comedy & Sinatra” turn which he was want to perform if perchance a microphone ever came free and was switched on.

My own dead father-in-law, located 100 miles to the north east was also a life-long committee-man at his local Working Mans Club but his “turn” was to call the bingo and I never failed to burst into spontaneous laughter every time he took up his seat on the corner of the stage behind the ping-pong ball bingo machine at 9pm sharp every Saturday night for in that instance my own dead father-in-law changed in an instant from the broadest Geordie that you could never understand to Alvar Liddle at the BBC,

“Reet, yous all shut yer mooths noo, quieet at tha ba-ar noo, ah’m ca-aallin tha hoosey…”
*switches bingo machine on, takes first ping-pong ball*
“I say, Four and three, forty three, this wan for a la-yne ladies and gentlemen, wan and wan, legs eleven, my, my”

…and now the Boxer Foggit story for we cannot broach the subject without the Boxer Foggit story.

Every New Years Eve there was a huge party in “Tha Clerb” but being in the north-east it was the thing to visit everyones house int he village at the stroke of midnight, not getting home until 6am at the earliest and having drunk hundreds of shots of whisky in the course of your traverse, and so Tha Clerb closed its doors at 11.30pm to allow the celebrations to continue out on the street.

To compensate for this, in those days of very strict opening hours, it got a special licence to operate all day long on New Years Day, opening 11am to 11pm, a special treat, a special opportunity to drink all through the night on New Years Eve, have two hours sleep in the morning and then back to the club for a twelve hour beer fest during which various “turns” would get up on stage and do their worst, their worst getting worse as the day dragged on to its ultimate climax.

Women would pop home to make up sandwiches to sustain their menfolk in their annual quest to personally consume enough alcohol to easily sink the largest battleship, some women would return to the fray with a full sunday lunch on a plate wrapped in tin foil and by the middle of the afternoon the place would be awash with beer, the bones from chicken legs, discarded sandwich wrappers and unconscious people who couldn’t stand the pace.

And then at around four pm, after almost 24 hours of solid boozing, the chant would start to rise, quietly at first but growing louder and louder until the roof was almost lifted with the refrain of “Boxer, Boxer, Boxer”, a simple ditty, but effective.

Boxer Foggit was an old miner, had never left the village and had spent his youth as a prize fighter with the squashed nose and cauliflower ears so beloved of that trade to prove it, in his eighties he was still a formidable sight and if Boxer Foggit asked you to move then you would snap to attention and salute as he shoved past, if you were in the mood to pick a fight with any eighty year old in the village then Boxer Foggit would be the one not to pick a fight with.

After five minutes of chanting he’d start to make his way from the bar at the back of the concert room to the four narrow steps up onto to the stage to give the audience their annual treat, the refrain of his favourite song…

…and we never found out what his favourite song was.

Being well pissed by this time Boxer Foggit could barely stand let alone walk down narrow aisles littered with dinner left-overs, discarded empty pint pots and spilled beer but willing arms would guide him on his way inexorably to the stage, the chant for “Boxer, Boxer” reached ear-splitting pitch as he finally made it to the four short steps up onto the stage where he would, every single year of my recollection, make the first one, trip on the second, and fall flat on his face in the centre of the stage where he would lie for the rest of the night snoring loudly with the turns, and the professional turn later on that evening, having to carefully step over him lest they awaken the most feared eighty year old in the north east.

We made our own entertainment in those days, oh yes.

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