Hole in the Ground

Hole in the Ground - cribbins

You know what’s missing from this blog? A touch of humour. Now, I’m no comedian but I can find some funny songs for you to listen to. I’m not talking about laughable novelty songs like I Taut I Taw a PuddycatItsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini or Gilly Gilly Ossenfeffer, which I’m sure you all love as much as the sloppy wet kiss your aunt used to give you as a kid. No, I mean songs that are genuinely funny – songs that wouldn’t leave you feeling acutely embarrassed if you were caught guffawing at them. Well, not so much that you’d have to take up holy orders and hide in a monastery for the rest of your days, anyway.

The foremost exponents of the humorous song must be Flanders and Swann and I very nearly chose The Gas Man Cometh as my Track of the Week as it’s the funniest one I know. There were two other tracks on my initial shortlist: Flanders and Swann’s Ill Wind (a classical horn concerto with added words) and Bernard Cribbins’ The Hole in the Ground. In the end I plumped for The Hole because it’s not just the words that tell the joke – if you were to turn it into an instrumental it would still tickle Queen Victoria (and she wasn’t easily amused).

The Hole in the Ground announces its intentions right from the start. There’s the noise of a diesel compressor quietly chugging away, resting after the pneumatic drills have broken up the tarmac. And there’s the steady chuff and splodge as a spade slices into the earth and plonks sods of wet clay onto an ever growing pile. Accompanying these natural sounds we hear a trad jazz quartet of clarinet, acoustic guitar, string bass and triangle imitating an old fashioned typewriter: clickety clack ting, clickety clack ting ting. Four men in striped blazers and straw hats are about to provide the backing for a light-hearted song and it’s no surprise when Bernard Cribbins’ soft cockney voice begins to sing.

There I was, a-digging this hole,
A hole in the ground…

He drops his aitches, as all cockneys do, but his story is told with the clarity and weary conviction of a working class man who is all too used to being looked down upon by pen-pushers and jobsworths. Bernard knows how to dig holes. He knows it’s a job anyone could do but he is making his contribution to society as best he can and he’s not going to stand for criticism from someone who has probably never wielded a spade in his life. So, when a bloke in a bowler hat looks down into the hole and offers unwelcome advice, Bernard is not amused.

The rhythmic clatter of the typewriter rattles on as a pointed discussion ensues. The bowler hat complains that the hole is the wrong size, the wrong shape and in the wrong place. But the digger just shrugs his shoulders.

If you disagree it don’t bother me,
That’s the place where the hole’s gonna be.

The song doesn’t tell us how the argument develops, it just describes the scene when it is all over. The hole has been filled in again and the ground is all flat. And if you haven’t heard the punchline, well, you’ll have to listen to the song. I’m not going to spill the beans here. Actually, listen anyway, it’ll brighten your day. A little bit of humour is good for the soul.

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