Time Out’s Executive Editor Michael Hodges has been dallying with danger so you don’t have to. This week’s thing not to do in London – No. 320: Go ‘Hey nonny no’
‘Tiddly-tiddly, diddly-diddly, tiddly-diddly-doh.’ Are those strange voices in the distance?
‘Tiddly-tiddly, diddly-diddly, tiddlydiddly, doh-de-da.’
Yes they are, and I am sure I’ve heard them before. Somewhere away, hidden at the back of my mind. But it’s been so long, I can’tbe certain where. It’s a stupid, slightly childish sound.
Was it the chant the entire fifth year shared when they threw me in the metal bin behind the sports hall on my twelfth birthday and smashed bottles against it? No, it’s not as echoey as that. It isn’t a city noise; it’s more of a rural racket. Without actually featuring oinking, baaing, lowing or crowing, it manages to evoke memories of the countryside. Like that time someone stole my tent – and my clothes, and my shoes, and my socks, and my money – after I fell asleep naked behind a cider farm in Somerset. It’s closer to that sound, but lacks the delighted cruelty of the villagers’ cries as I ran the gauntlet of their mockery in search of trousers the next morning.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I have never heard it before.
Anyway, what have I got to worry about? It’s a summer’s day, and a glorious one – as if a summer’s day from some other city had settled over London. The Madrileños must be fuming, the Athenians speechless with anger: we have their sunshine, they have our financial crisis. This is, perhaps, the only summer’s day we’ll have this year, and the temporary turnaround in the capital’s prevailing climactic condition has transformed the social landscape. What were shady establishments down back alleys with one window box containing a dead geranium and several dozen cigarette stubs have become delightful alfresco drinking locations. By a similar sunlit transformation, this pavement outside a pub in Borough has become Brighton beach, but without the unfortunate presence of Brighton (so, not Brighton beach, but you see the effect I’m reaching for). And I’m here smiling with other Londoners doing the same. In such circumstances it’s easy to feel smug, and because it’s easy, I do it. And yet, here comes that noise again…
‘Tiddly-tiddly, diddly-diddly, tiddly-diddly-doh. Bash bash bash. Doh-de-doh, de-doh-de-doh. Bash bash bash.
’ Slightly different, but from the same source. A little nearer now, and a percussive clatter has joined the voices. Is it a foreign noise? Perhaps it’s the long-awaited influx of Eastern Europeans that Ukip have tried so sanely and rationally to warn us of. Is it the Romanians piling off the train at London Bridge with spanners and tin whistles? Or worse, a horde of Nigel Farage’s dreaded Bulgarians, bearing outof- tune trumpets and jars of unwelcome pickled vegetables?
‘Tum-tiddly, tum-tum. Bash bash.’
And is that an accordion I can hear?
Eyes look up nervously around me. It can’t be, can it? Surely not? But it is. A frisson of almost primeval fear runs across the pavement. We should be safe. We are on a pavement by a road in SE1. How much further can you get from the countryside in the British Isles than Borough, an urban location since Roman times? But we are not safe.
Now I remember the noise and where I have heard it before. The countless country pubs spoiled. The perfectly pleasant market towns rendered uninhabitable, the frantic dashes for the train back to London on discovering that whole stretches of the Kentish coast had been overrun. It is the sound of England’s greatest terror and I have let them sneak up on me. Now, around the corner they come, with a ‘nonny-no’ and a ‘bash bash bash’. They gather around me on the pavement and pull out their pewter tankards.
The Morris dancers have arrived.
Read more urban folktales and pub horror stories (with bells on) from Michael Hodges.