Brian Viner swapped London for the Herefordshire countryside, and his column ‘Country Life’ documents his attempts to chase the rural idyll. Chiefly a sports writer, he pens a weekly sports column and interview for the paper. He is the author of 'Ali, Pele, Lillee and Me: A Personal Odyssey Through the Sporting Seventies'.
Saturday 19 November 2011
Further to your obituary of Jackie Leven (17 November), when I was writing a book about the British on holiday, and wanted to include a chapter on cruising, a mutual friend put me in touch with the singer-songwriter, who in his droll Scottish manner told me about his experience as the "entertainment" on a two-week cruise of the Norwegian fjords in 2002.
Jackie had serious misgivings about the trip, not being a man even to cover an Elvis Costello song, let alone Dean Martin's "Amore". He was no Jane McDonald. But the money was good and the Norwegian "ents" officer was happy for him to perform his own rather poignant material. On the first night, however, after he had sung three of his songs and was about to embark on a fourth, a big Englishman in his sixties walked purposefully towards the stage. "Can I have a word?" he said. "Sure," said Jackie.
"You see that table over there," said the man, jerking an agricultural thumb towards a large group of glowering Lancastrians. "Well, they're my friends, and we've saved up for years to come on this cruise, and you're depressing the hell out of us. Now, we're going to be in this bar most nights. And if we hear one more song from you, I'm going to lamp you. In particular, don't ever, ever sing 'My Way'. Is that understood?"
There was never much chance of Jackie singing "My Way", but he reported the threat, which had also contained about 30 expletives, to the ents officer, who listened sympathetically. "I think all you can do is not play," she said. "It is one of these things. Just relax and enjoy the cruise. Very often we get English groups like this, and they get drunk, fall out and stop speaking to each other, and many of them leave the ship at Hammerfest. It will be OK."
The Lancastrians did get drunk, did fall out, but didn't leave. So Jackie didn't play. Instead he shared a dinner table every night with a genteel group of German birdwatchers. "I kept passing the English guy and his friends on board, but they didn't say anything," Jackie told me. "There was just this kind of menacing low-level rumble."
Eventually, the cruise returned to Bergen, and everyone disembarked. But as they walked down the gangplank, Jackie found himself behind his nemesis, and couldn't resist crooning, "Regrets, I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention..." The man spun round, ready to confront him, but Jackie stopped him. "I did as you asked, but now we're off the ship, I'm no longer an employee and you're no longer a passenger. So if I see you again, I'll be the one lamping you. Is that understood?"
The man fell instantly silent, as if injected with some sort of meekness serum. It was a classic case of the bully bullied – and, by all accounts, classic Jackie Leven.
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