Full Disclosure: the following entry was largely written for another esteemed organ – Homily – a couple of years ago. In the interest of collating material from seemingly dead bodies and stuffing it into living (if shagged) ones, we will occasionally roast an old chestnut on the Bell End griddle. On this occasion, we were inspired by the town of Kumbag, recently spotted on a journey through Turkey. Do stop us if you’ve heard this one before.
The British are, in their own words, funny buggers. It all begins on the Virgin Atlantic Airbus with the doorbell chime of an individual calling herself the Cabin Service Manager interrupting your search for the item on the in-flight entertainment menu most likely to make your neighbour writhe uncomfortably in her seat (Meg Ryan eyeballing fellatio over Newfoundland and stroganoff) to welcome you on board with all the chilled cheer of an irritated elementary school teacher confronted by 540 five-year-olds who have all shat their pants in unison. This is followed hard upon by the unleashing of her attendant Valkyries, each an unholy cross-pollination of Jenna Jameson and Janet Reno, their faces an immovable mantle of stucco and spackle, features etched on in crayon by a jet-lagged toddler with Asperger’s. They proceed to counsel you in nursery-rhyme sing-song, to wake your sleeping 2 year-old, slap her about the face to get her attention, strap her into her washboard seat and stuff a polyester foamette pillow in her mouth to mute the ensuing caterwauling: better this, you are reliably informed by the Raggedy Ann Posh Spice dangling over you like a demented nasturtium, than have her brains dashed across the plastic console above you by turbulence with the injurious potential of driving over marbles in a Humvee. But in case you thought that the problem was limited to Richard Branson’s predictably suburban taste in perfumed, patronizing trollops from Pontefract … that this passive-aggressive violin snivel would cease once you walked the gangplank into Heathrow … think again. Each newly minted motorway service station with its environmentally sustainable fish-and-chips and its orange juice with juicy bits echoes to the same air-raid siren whinny of a thousand ‘Can I help you?‘s spoken as if you have just defecated in the baked beans dispenser. Each inglenooked and horse-brassed Olde Yorkshire Pubbe is landlorded by a surly, bloated wife-strangler who used to have an Audi dealership in Essex and now spends his days hanging on any opportunity to instruct you to Move Your Children Away From The Bar Please Sir. Shelf stockers in Sainsburys, throbbing with acne, pause in their sorting of packets of Rocket Salad Mix to enlighten you on the perils of your 10-year old momentarily riding the shopping cart, whinging the words ‘Health and Safety’ over and over like some wintry Elizabethan round. The mannish ladies manning the register of the village shop in Tinglebury, Bonglebury or Womblebottom squint silently sideways at you as you enter, barely pausing in their crusade to have scribbled a hundred ‘Nice To Handle, Nice To Hold, If You Break It We Say ‘Sold!’ signs by lunchtime. Innocent and eager Americans weaned on crumpled Fearnley-Whittingstallisms or anxious to claymate their way through a Not Even Wensleydale? Ploughmans go to bed of a night in twin-bedded rooms smelling of farts and old chip pans, above recently renovated, oaken-beamed pub-like curiosities such as The Queen’s Arse, The Old Duodenum and The Duke of Cumberland’s Lung, where
Flowered curtains, thin and frayed,
Fall to within five inches of the sill.
Cowed by the seamless English drizzle of condescension they have trudged the long day through, our victims impersonate sleep on tussocky mattresses to the accompaniment of The Eurovision Song Contest squawking through a blizzard on the 13-inch portable in the corner. Tomorrow morning, after being tepidly urinated upon by the weightless plastic truncheon that masquerades as a shower, they will greet the gray dawn with Nescafé in the breakfast room beleaguered by pallid and scrubbed natives, gazes averted, muttering in library whispers about the turgidity of the sausages. What happened? Barely twenty years ago ‘this happy breed’ was neatly segregated into graveyard-toothed hooligans from Ken Loach movies, their contributions of pink puke embroidering the flagstones of every pedestrianized town centre and car park … and weather-faced women called Lucinda in quilted vests and jodhpurs, Range Rovers bespattered with the corpses of pheasants. Did Tony Blair father an entire generation in his own simpering image by cramming Barnsley into the blender with Wendlebury, adding a soupçon of Damien Hirst, popular gastronomy, rabid property ownership, wet-gelled anemone haircuts, Blur and discount European air travel? If so, how on earth does this nation expect to survive another decade?
These are issues to be contemplated as you plod the sclerotic byways of the Sceptred Isle in a Citroën Picasso and stare at the map, seeking A-road, B-road, drover-path or badger-trail alternatives to traveling at 5 miles per hour on a four-lane expressway. And that’s precisely when you find the cipher: the key to Britain’s survival in the face of unerring anaemia. The clue, the mystical incantation that saw off the Armada, that left Hitler cooling his heels in Calais and may yet save this blesséd plot from being turned into one enormous, damp Ikea … is in the names of the towns. For years you have been veering off the M6 in Cumbria to buy postcards from COCKERMOUTH for your friends to affix to their refrigerators and titter. But you had thought the name to be nothing more than a humorous eccentricity, the unfortunate linguistic confluence of The River Cocker and Mouth of the. But then (and here the scene shifts to the shoulder of a roundabout in Worcestershire, a huddled family peering at what they had assumed to be a road atlas, which it now transpires is a pornographic novel butchered with a chainsaw) what possible explanation can there be for nearby LICKEY END? And wherefore its plump and similarly glistening neighbour BELL END which one circumvents on the gravelly road to SANDY BALLS, before picking up the A39 to ambrosial LICKFOLD in Sussex (forever to be accidentally rendered Lickflaps by these passers-by). God forbid that you venture down to Cornwall to be confronted by either COCKS or BROWN WILLY, the latter of which may be the result of a fleeting visit to RIMSWELL in Yorkshire, a county that boasts the capacious and piquant HOLE OF HORCUM and the fine hill settlement of PENISTONE (although not NOB END which is thankfully situated in neighbouring Lancashire). The residents of FINGRINGHOE in Essex were amply prepared for the digital era and declare themselves amazed that anybody would park downwind of BALLS CROSS in Sussex. Don’t eat the fudge from LICKHAM BOTTOM in Devon, neither that of SHITTERTON, Dorset. Step with assurance onto the rigid span of BONAR BRIDGE in Scotland, a region that boasts two TWAT’s and a TWATHATS, all in different locations, whilst cousin Wales possesses THREE COCKS in one and LORD HEREFORD’S KNOB in another. TITTY HO in Northamptonshire, seems like a nice way to say goodbye. But kudos to the canny householders of Magpie Lane in Oxford, whose real estate values more than doubled when they petitoned for it to be rechristened from its former moniker (and the terminus of a Lovely Brothers pilgrimage), GROPECUNT LANE. One wonders whether the same city’s venerable FRIARS ENTRY will ultimately be assigned a similar fate.
And so the nation of Shakespeare and Wilde, of Hardy and Auden and Larkin and Britten, staggering beneath the weight of decades of buregoning mediocrity was spared a fate worse than Belgium because its forefathers had the perspicacity to weave obscenity into the fabric of its hedgerows. And those dingleberries of the island race who have relinquished this chalk-walled dominion, preferring to ply their amplified Englishness upon New World strip mall prairies … they will nevertheless always understand that …
‘… there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever Gropecunt.’