Back in the day, the 3Bs used to play a central part in my weekly routine, playing host as it did to the legendary "Bohemian Night", Reading's premier open mike night. My friend Ivor and I would go every Wednesday, pitching up at the table nearest to the front to enjoy the finest talent Reading had to offer. Actually, that's not entirely true. Reading produced Kenneth Branagh and Kate Winslet. Reading was home to some bands which have troubled the charts - like the Hoosiers. Rumour has it the woman out of Sneaker Pimps might have been from Reading. Not to mention our one local band "Bennet", famous (or, more accurately, known) for their single hit "Mum's Gone To Iceland" which reached the dizzying heights of number 34 in the charts back in 1997. Yes, those people had some kind of talent. The acts that performed at Bohemian Night were another story.
So really, watching the acts at Bohemian Night was a bit like the musical equivalent of watching "Tomorrow's World" in the 1980s. Just as nobody believed that eventually people would market a digital watch that could recharge its batteries by being dropped in a glass of water, I didn't really think that "Preacher John" would ever be thrashing out his dirges on Later With Jools Holland or shouting "Hello Wembley!". But that was part of the appeal. I can't stand mediocrity, but I have an equal appreciation for the stunningly good and the heroically bad. Give me "Gigli" over "Fargo" any day. And in that respect Bohemian Night never disappointed.
I've seen singers who can't sing, guitarists who can't play guitar, jugglers who couldn't juggle, and I loved every minute. Ivor and I were the Statler and Waldorf of the 3Bs and I used to live for every Wednesday. Every now and again someone really good would come along and we were dumbstruck, but we enjoyed it safe in the knowledge that they were unlikely to be back next week.
The finest act was a pensioner known only as "Mr. David" - I think he was a genuinely confused old man who had wandered in to get out of the cold one week, liked it and decided to stay. Quite who convinced Mr. David that he had a gift for performing I have no idea, but thank goodness they did. Mr. David was virtually incomprehensible - I never got to the bottom of why this was, whether it was age, confusion or exceptional drunkenness. A standard Mr. David set would involve a few snippets of "My Way" (usually featuring those exact lyrics and little else), a half-hearted impersonation of Tommy Cooper saying "just like that" and, if you were lucky, a joke.
One evening Mr. David got up to tell a particularly entertaining joke. Leaning heavily on the mike stand in his carpet coat he said "This Paddy goes to a stable looking for a job... and the man says to him 'Can you shoe a horse?' and the Paddy says (mumbles incoherently)."
Silence. Mr. David stood there waiting to soak up the applause but nobody had caught the punchline. Curly Rob - the compere, guitar player and all round politically correct nice guy - intervened and asked Mr. David to repeat it clearly. So he did.
MR DAVID: This Paddy goes to a stable... looking for work. (pause). The groom says to him "all right Paddy, can you shoe a horse?" and the Paddy says (pause) "No. But I can tell two Pakis to fuck off."
A different kind of silence. Everyone looked faintly shocked by the bigoted little old man up on stage. In the midst of this bona fide Olympic standard tumbleweed moment I found myself thinking, Why two Pakis? Why not one? (which is bad isn't it, I should have been thinking My, how racist!). Mr. David was ushered off the stage to his table where he promptly fell asleep for the rest of the evening.
Anyway, this has nothing to do with Scampi Fries and I promised you the Scampi Fries story. At the time that Ivor and I used to go to Bohemian Night I was in the middle of what I can confidently say was the worst relationship of my entire life. She was nasty, small minded and very jealous indeed. Female friends were strictly verboten and my main escape each week was to go to Bohemian Night with Ivor and gaze idly at the other tables, packed as they were with women who weren't my girlfriend.
One night, an especially dire Bohemian Night, Ivor and I were supping cider and eating Scampi Fries. For those unfamiliar with the humble scampi fry, here's a picture. They are delicious hollow cereal pillows of fishy flavour designed to taste just like scampi in a foil packet. They also, and there's no nice way of putting this, reek to high heaven. When I was growing up my friends used to call them "minge flavoured crisps" because of their alleged resemblence to the odour of poorly tended lady petals.
Incidentally, "lady petals" is a term coined by Kelly to counteract the fact that all euphemistic descriptions of female genitalia are so deeply unpleasant. "snatch", for instance. Or "vag", "beaver", "axe wound", "vertical bacon sandwich" - they're not the language of Keats are they? Gemma told me at lunch once that one of her friends called it a "moofaf" which I thought was plain baffling.
Anyway, the evening was drawing to a close and Ivor grabbed the opened-out, empty packet of Scampi Fries and rubbed it liberally across my face as if it was some kind of bizarre cleaning wipe. "There!" he gloated drunkenly, "Now she'll think you've been up to something because your face smells of minge!". In my cider addled state I genuinely believed this was true. So when I got through the front door of the house the first thing I said to my then girlfriend, ill advisedly as it turns out, was "Listen, I know my face smells of minge but I can honestly explain. There was an accident with a Scampi Fries packet. Well, not an accident. Ivor wiped it on my face so you'd think I was cheating on you." I believe I may have carried on digging for another 30 seconds. Like I said, I was a bit drunk. Big mistake. Apparently that's exactly the sort of lame excuse somebody cheating on their girlfriend would think up - a point which was repeatedly and heatedly made to me during the post mortem, which if I recall lasted well over half an hour. Never again.
There endeth my rather bizarre sermon for this Sunday. Playing us out tonight, here's Bennet - as never seen at Bohemian Night. Enjoy!