Dave Barlow's Hazy Memories

October 1997

    When I first started with the Plough Jag we performed during the week, not on a Saturday as now. Our first performance of the day was usually at a primary school in front of the children and we all agreed that they were our best audiences. It was also very satisfying to go to Old Peoples Homes on a couple of occasions because we met residents who remembered the plough jag from their youth in various villages around Scunthorpe.

    When we started performing the Jag on the Saturday nearest the 6th January, we were at a loss as to what to do in the morning until the pubs opened, until it was pointed out that they opened at 10 a.m. in Gainsborough. Our decision was made - Gainsborough would be our first port of call.

    When we told Mrs.Cropper, the Mencap Chair-person in Scunthorpe that we would be collecting in Gainsborough first, she told us that would be impossible because Gainsborough had its own Mencap branch and that we would be poaching.

    She introduced us to the Gainsborough Mencap members and so began our regular sessions at their headquarters near the Old Hall where we were treated to cups of tea and thick slices of buttered fruit loaf with cheese- an ideal way to set us up for the day. Afterwards we would go into the Market Square and perform the Jag and the Mencap ladies would collect the money. We would then proceed to other pubs, notably the Tiger, although I remember making a detour to the White Hart Hotel on one occasion with Sue Dalton and her collecting tin. She never ceased to amaze me with her ability to get blood from stones. A broad smile and a fluttering eyelash or two and her tin began to fill relentlessly! We did all go in to the RumRunner once but received such a bad reception that we vowed never to enter the door again.

    (Editor’s note - the Black Bull became the Rum Runner for a few years, but then reverted to the Black Bull, It is now called The Extra and we now go there for breakfast – so much for our New Year’s resolution to never darken their door again but the smell of those bacon butties....)

    The Tiger, now named Lord’s, however, was a different thing altogether - much more welcoming, although rather run down. I remember Dick Skinner as Flash Hatman having a Lagerphone- a broom handle with a boot on the bottom. On the handle were lots of lager and beer bottle-tops nailed loosely all the way down. It was a wonderful percussion instrument when stamped on the ground in time to the music. At the end of one session in the Tiger a clean boot print could easily be seen in the carpet where Dick had been, with a pile of dust around the edge.

    On another occasion in the Tiger I remember none of us appeared to buy any beer. A gentleman at the bar kept paying for a large jug to be filled with beer and then he would walk around topping up our glasses. He kept doing this until we left. - Maybe we should have taken him with us for the rest of the day.

    After our sessions in the various pubs we would return our tins, and Sue's full one, to the ladies at the Mencap centre before making our way to the Berkeley Hotel for lunch.

    When we stopped collecting for Mencap in Gainsborough we needed another starting point and the White Horse became our regular haunt - and still is to this day. The landlord in those days had a large Alsatian dog, which barked when we entered the door. When we went in, he (the landlord, not the dog) would say “Oh no, not you lot again - is it really a year since you were here last?”

     I remember that in the late 70’s our main preoccupation was collecting money for charity. We aimed to perform where we could get the most money, so our evenings were planned around Dinners and Dances at the major hotels in town - the Wortley, the Berkeley, Royal and Bridge. Schedules were very tight - go in, perform, collect the cash and on to the next hotel! After a few years of this we decided that performing the Jag and enjoying the day was the most important thing for us and so we took the pressure off in subsequent years and went to smaller village pubs during the evening - a much more pleasurable experience.

    For a couple of years, around 1980-81, we finished the day in the Flixborough Inn. A large crowd of Folk Club regulars were there too, and a good time was had by all. It was a wonderful party atmosphere to round off an excellent day.

    When I performed the part of Dame Jane I always thought that it was important to give the Doctor a fighting chance to catch the ping pong ball I blew in the air. To this end I tried to judge the wind direction when outdoors and the height of the ceiling when inside. Our success rate was still no better than average! Once, when the Doctor, Geoff Miller, pretended to give Dame Jane (me) some medicine he uncorked the bottle and poured some Jameson Irish Whiskey down my throat - very considerate since I was in danger of hypothermia through lying on frozen pavements all day.

    At one time part of the performance of the Hoss involved dropping artificial turds at one point and Besom Betty collected them with her broom and put them in her apron. One year she had a terrible problem when we performed in the centre of Caistor on a steep slope - the turds rolled downhill faster than she could run. It was Ralph Tomlins, during his term as the Hoss, who introduced the idea of dropping the last turd wrapped in tin foil and shouting “Hi Ho Silver away” (perhaps we should do this on the Silver Anniversary!)

    Plough Jag Trip to Clamart

    In 1976 the Scunthorpe Folk Song Club was asked represent the town at the Town Twinning Ceremony in Clamart on June 19th. It was decided that the Plough Jag team would go and perform the Plough Play. In addition to the team themselves, I remember that Paul Empson and John Connell (a well known duo at the time) went with us, as well as Gill Walker, in her position as club Secretary, and Marion Hill as interpreter.

    We were told that all expenses, including the channel crossing, would be paid for if we could get ourselves to Ramsgate. A total of 16 of us hired a coach from Hornsby's for £150 so our four days away in France cost us less than £10 each! When we reached Ramsgate I remember seeing the Mayoral car from Scunthorpe depositing the Mayor, Mrs Joyce Abey, at the Hovercraft terminal - What a lot of expense - if we had known we would have offered her a lift down in our coach from Scunthorpe.

    On arrival in Clamart we were taken to our small hotel and left to sort out our sleeping arrangements. I remember sharing a room with John Davies. I seem to recollect falling asleep one night to the sound of John's mandolin and John Connel's guitar accompanied by the sound of dustbins falling over outside - and waking to the sound of him calling for “Hughie” down the great white telephone. This story is no doubt apocryphal - a story embellished through the mists of time and alcohol.

    On another occasion we were taken to a restaurant for a meal and I can remember Mo’s ability to converse with the French very eloquently even though he had a very limited French vocabulary. Una Stubbs on “Give us a clue” had nothing on Mo.

    One of our groupies thought that it would be a good idea to do a tour of the cafes one evening, but getting around the town would be a problem for us all. This was solved when another of our guides returned on a coach that he appeared to have hijacked from the local bus station - together with a driver for the evening.

    At our hotel, one day, we noticed that preparations were being made for a wedding reception later on. Never ones to miss out on a party we found ourselves invited in return for some entertainment. I think that we enjoyed ourselves but my recollections are rather hazy.........

    One afternoon we were all sitting outside a cafe singing and playing, and an occasional passer- by would put some coins in a saucer on our table. Eventually the cafe proprietor came outside, picked up the saucer and started accosting more pedestrians for cash (in the very best Plough Jag tradition of course!) and then putting the saucer back on the table. He did this a few times and we thought he was being very kind to us until we realised that he was bargaining on us spending the money in his cafe!

    We eventually got around to the reason for our visit, the Twinning Ceremony went without a hitch, we performed the Jag on stage, in front of a crowd of bemused French people, who were beginning to wonder what they were being twinned with, and whether it was too late to back out…………