Take a pin, and winkle out the meaning

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The Independent Online
"Picture, if you can, a winkle ... (Funny start! peculiar, quite.)

Picture, if you can, a


Marching bravely through

the night.

Friendless, homeless,

homeless, friendless,

Friendless, yes, and

homeless too.

Picture, if you can, a


Merry Christmas! Same to


The above bit of verse has been running through my mind for the last few days, and I didn't see why I should be the only one to suffer, so I am bringing it to you today. It may, as far as I know, be the only poem about winkles in English. Not about shellfish: we already have "The Walrus and the Carpenter", about oysters.

Care for some more? The next bit is not about winkles, or indeed, about anything.

"Can you ...? No, perhaps

you can't.

The question's not a fair

one, too.

You don't know the


So of course how could you

knew? Er, know.

Woe is me and woe is you,

And woe is all of us, I


I hate woe unless it's cod's


Let's adjourn and have a


What is this all about? I'll tell you. Years ago, I loved my father's old 78s of Arthur Askey songs. There is a man called Michael Comber who lives in Preston and sends out lists of 78s for sale. Not long ago I noticed one on his list which was called "The Quest" by Arthur Askey, which I had never heard of, so I sent off for it. But it wasn't a song at all. It was a dramatic recitation about a winkle.

Here's another bit.

"Picture, if you can, a


With a face like New Year's


Clean and shiny, most


Here's a loofah - come on,


Days may come and days

may go,

But where they go is hard to


Where they come from we

don't know.

The days themselves don't

know as well."

This wonderful nonsense is well in the tradition of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, but, of course, as it is on an Arthur Askey record, and not written by a well-known writer, you will not find it in any anthology. It is, in fact, written by Kenneth Blain. I once asked my old friend Brian Blain, who works for the Musician's Union and knows everything about musicians, what he could tell me about Kenneth Blain, and he said: "Nothing." Let's have a bit more.

"Picture, if you possibly

can, a winkle ...

That last line seems wrong

to me.

It should be: Picture, if you

can, a winkle.

That's much better. Pardon


Watch the little children


Keep on watching them, I


If you don't, the little brats

Will pinch your coal and

run away."

What's wonderful about all this is that within living memory a well-known record company (His Master's Voice) had the confidence to put out a whole side of a man just reciting. "Unaccompanied talking", it says on the label. In those days people had novelty records and spoken records and doggerel records and Stanley Holloway. When was the last time anyone put out anything like that? Today we are all so cowed by the dreary dictatorship of rock and pop music that nobody dares do anything different.

"In the wilds of Piccadilly

Dwells a maid with

downcast eye.

She is dying of croup and


You don't care? No, nor do I.

There's a candle on the


Slowly burning down, you


Look, it's out! But where's

the flame gone?

What's the point of asking


Picture, if you can, a


In December's biting breeze,

Singing carols at the


Accompanied by the Stilton


Lonely, oh dear dear, how


Tightly caught in hunger's


Why so lonely, little winkle.

Mother's gone to have a


I think that must mean, "have a drink". And so to the final, philosophical verse.

"Dwell upon his sad


He who once was blithe

and gay,

For, you know, each one of


May be a winkle one fine


Thank you for listening. Back to reality tomorrow.