MIKE HARDING - The Adventures Of The Crumpsall Kid
Before I embark on writing this review, let me declare an interest of sorts.
I was, from the early 1970s, a big fan of Mike’s work.
And I like to think that I have seen all the singer/comedians who were his near contemporaries to have emerged from the UK Folk Scene. And seen them in their pomp. You know the names: Stan Arnold, Max Boyce, Tony Capstick, Jasper Carrott, Billy Connolly, Vin Garbutt, Fred Wedlock, etc.
And I have to say that a set I saw Mike do on the Main Stage at Cambridge Folk Festival in 1976, remains the single funniest set I had ever seen. Before, or since. I was still laughing at the thought of it a month afterwards.
But then fast-forward to toward the end of the millennium, and him taking over as presenter of BBC radio’s flagship folk programme. Initially, I was not unreceptive to the change.
But I do not know whether it was a case of familiarity breeding contempt and just too many references to the cowshed, but after a short while, I began to involuntarily tune Mike’s contribution out, and just listen to the music.
And so we come to the present day. And this book. With me momentarily wondering if I could stop my animus to all his whimsical “cowshed” type references, from running full throttle.
Guess what? I could and I did. For this book is a delight from first page to last: we (especially those like me born within three years of Mike) are bewitched by his magical spell, as this born-writer takes us on an action-packed nostalgic journey through the 20 years after WW2.
Tough years of austerity, and Mike does not spare us some of the stark details. But they are not depressing references: those hard old days are not glossed over, but instead are looked on with a positivity that warms the heart.
And mentioning the word “look” there, leads me to say that my hardback edition has the appearance of a book that would do credit to the most handsome of bookcases. It is also complete with a very solid index, and 24 sweet sepia photographs. The photo of his most photogenic parents on their wedding day is especially touching: and what is evident is, such is his similarity to his dad, that there was zero danger of anyone ever querying his parentage!
I could easily pad out this review by lifting some of his myriad quips and presenting them for your delectation. Like what exactly? Well, try just these two on for size:
(Of his first communion): “It had come into the church as unleavened bread and during the mass the priest had turned it into Jesus’s body. Since we were used to things like Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, transubstantiation didn’t seem too much of a leap of faith”.
(And of a boyhood bout of measles): “The next thing I remember was waking up in bed with the lights out and a glass of Lucozade at the side of the bed. I knew then that I must be very ill because Lucozade was too expensive for anything except life-threatening illnesses”.
What can one say about a book that makes one laugh almost from first page to last, with the occasional lump in the throat thrown in? “Buy it”, would be a good start. And not just if you are a folkie. I reckon that anyone not remotely interested in folk music, but fascinated by social history, would also find this a gold mine.
I said earlier that there is nothing depressing here, but that is not quite right. In truth there is one very saddening section where he describes his years at his RC grammar school, and the corporal punishment meted out by some of his sadistic masters there, with sexual connotations thrown in. Outrageous cruelty.
But if it is any consolation to Mike, I went to a state grammar school where we had one staff member of a similar bent. Thank heavens it has now been outlawed, but that said, I reckon that’s why teacher recruitment is down these days. The profession was a powerful draw to kinky sadists.
But - back to positive aspects of the book – let me say that for someone like me, who once used to drive a 3 ton lorry containing houseplants to all the major florist shops in Manchester, it was a treasure trove of memories, as I got out my city map and followed his boyhood escapades through this street and that.
True, there is the odd thing that raises the eyebrow: surely to compare Nigel Farage to Mike’s unforgettably dreadful Uncle Len, is a tad hard on ...Mr Farage! And when Mike finds Churchill guilty of “bringing in troopers to fire on striking Welsh miners in Tonypandy”, let me say (as a native of Porth, just three miles away) that some serious historians dispute that this was ever his intention.
But these are minor quibbles. When books are this enjoyable, book reviewing seems the easiest job in the world.