Sunday, 5 November 2006

Blue men

Although the Blue Man Group originated in New York in the 1980s and now has many shows running in the States and elsewhere, it would be pleasant to imagine that its successful current run in London’s West End is in recognition of the fact that there were blue men among the earliest inhabitants of our islands; the woad they painted themselves with is now being used again in the UK in inks for inkjet printers—it is biodegradable and safe in the environment, though the Ancient Britons probably didn’t care too much about that.

These brave people were over-run by successive invaders throughout two millennia, but those who take this as a reason to deplore recent and current waves of immigration have failed to realise that, compared to earlier ones, they have all been fairly benign, from crafty Huguenots, clever Sephardim and industrious Ashkenazim and so on, all the way up to the last sixty years‘ assortment, and none have come anywhere near to destroying our native culture as did those who arrived before, say, 1100. By then we had had the Romans bossing us about while playing out their decline here, hairy great Vikings with their axes, Saxons, Angles and Jutes pillaging away and finally the Normans imposing yet another language on us.

I say “we” and “us”, but of course we are nearly all descended not from the real natives but from one or another of those gangs of rapacious foreigners. Call yourself a Briton?

The least we can do is to honour the true original owners of the land that our forebears seized. This song, though anachronistic, admirably expresses their defiance and courage; let us sing it loudly, to the tune of Men of Harlech.
(It was written by an unknown hand and first appeared around 1921—though spats had gone out of fashion decades before—and may have been a Scout song; the perfection of its rhymes puts it in a different class from most.)

All together, now:

What's the use of wearing braces, vests and pants and boots with laces
Spats and hats you buy in places down the Brompton Road?
What's the use of shirts of cotton
Studs that always get forgotten?
These affairs are simply rotten, better far is woad.

Woad's the stuff to show, men, woad to scare your foemen.
Boil it to a brilliant blue and rub it on your chest and your abdomen.
Ancient Briton ne'er did hit on
Anything as good as woad to fit on
Neck or knees or where you sit on.
Tailors you be blowed!

Romans came across the channel all dressed up in tin and flannel
Half a pint of woad per man'll
Dress us more than these.
Saxons you can waste your stitches building beds for bugs in britches
We have woad to clothe us, which is not a nest for fleas

Romans keep your armours, Saxons your pyjamas.
Hairy coats were made for goats, gorillas, yaks, retriever dogs and llamas.
Tramp up Snowdon with our woad on,
Never mind if we get rained or blowed on
Never need a button sewed on.
Go it, Ancient Bs!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting these lyrics! My dad used to sing this to me all the time when I was a kid - it brought back memories.

Tony said...

Glad to inspire your nostalgia, Massachusetts.

Tony said...

Or Norfolk VA

Chris Hughes said...

At last! I remember singing this at Scout camps in the late 1940s, and have only been able to remember fragments of it.