To the wilds of Mid-Suffolk, where erstwhile SftBH banjo-botherer Turny Winn has decamped, all the better in order to be able to get it together in the country. He lives in some converted cottages amidst many unpacked boxes in a village with two pubs, a Co-op and a transitory weekend population – principally through choice rather than for geo-politically motivated migratory reasons. As a permanent resident he is therefore considered somewhat of a social reformer locally, not being given to arriving on a Friday in time for a late supper before packing up his Macbook again on a Sunday night and cursing the A12 road works during his enforcedly slow journey back to a glittering media career in That There London. In the village there are also, we are to discover later, street lights, which provoke a faux-Randy Crawford inspired outbreak of car singing on the way home. We don’t get out much.At the point where you join us however, The Fragrant and Charming Helen Mulley has already invested in a lengthy journey from her home in Posh North Essex in order to collect myself* and Mr. Wendell from the IP postcode ‘hood, and we are engaged in quite the discussion regarding her forthcoming dinner engagement, a ‘Red, White and Blue’ affair, for which she is invited to bring a bottle of red wine, a bottle of white, and a blue joke. La Mulley is not, by nature, the most natural progenitor of bawditry and has enlisted our help in order to prepare. We suggest a short vignette of such filth that she cannot in truth bear to repeat it out loud. We wipe tears of self-generated mirth from our rheumy old eyes. As I say, we're not out a lot these days.
Darkness falls. A sense of foreboding pervades. “It’s a good job he moved out here once we already knew we liked him” offers Helen, well into her second hour of driving. And this is just to rehearse. “Ah – here we are!” she trills. Wendell and I despatch thoughts of who we’d have to eat first in order to survive from our minds as we are ushered hospitably into the welcoming hearth and home of The Winns. There are, satisfactorily, roses around the door and a sturdy latch with which to secure it. No mobile coverage mind, but at least it has its own post code.We are here to revamp, reboot, rewrite and reverse engineer material for a forthcoming performance under the nom-de-song Helen and the Neighbourhood Dogs – it’s not a great moniker, I know, but offers just the right amount of flexibility in that as long as there’s a nominative Helen we can make up the rest of the numbers in pretty much any fashion we prefer. After a couple of hours of capo shifting, note searching and unfolding bits of hieroglyph-ridden paper – notes written in the white hot crucibles of previous rehearsals, aides memoires from another age - or, in one case, “Come on Tony, you used to play this!” we have five songs of consistent quality which we can perform from start to finish and in mostly the right order of verse, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus, outro. That’s pretty much most of what we’re going to need. “Once you start talking, that’ll fill the time up” says Tony, sanguine through experience. I demur. “I’m all about standing at the back tuning between songs these days”.
“Hey, Helen” suggests Wendell, brightly. “Why don't you tell them your joke?”
*I read somewhere on social media that use of this word rather than ‘me’ or ‘I’ was driving someone crazy. This one’s for you.