Sunday 21 December 2008

'The Okey Cokey' (extract from 'Sunsets and Dogshits')

Every other Wednesday I take my nephew to the Juniper and Barnardo Club on Cable Street for an evening of song and dance, a fortnightly revisitation of all those East End classics – ‘Roll Out the Barrel’, ‘Any Old Iron’, ‘Do What You Do Do Well’ – that always ends with that most edifying of spectacles, ‘The Okey Cokey’. My nephew’s favourite bit is when “you put your whole self in and take your whole self out”. I suspect that this is because Uncle Sean, though keen and committed when it comes to putting his whole self in, is, if he’s being totally honest with himself, a little bit slow at taking it out again. His right arm and his left arm, his right leg and his left leg, he can manage pretty well: these he is able to offer and retract with comparative ease, with almost as much agility as anyone else. But when it comes to the insertion and retraction of his entire corporeal being, well, no one struggles more than he. And no sooner has he finally contrived to remove his whole “self” from the ring of revelry in the traditional fashion (i.e. by jumping backwards), than the words to the song oblige him to insert and remove it again, double-time, almost at once! With the result that, while the other participants are going “in-out-in-out, shake-it-all-about”, Uncle Sean has fallen even further behind, is only just taking his whole self out again; and when, with excellent slapstick, he has finally executed this almost impossible manœuvre, this simultaneous insertion and retraction of his entire twenty-stone bulk, and is just on the point of “shaking it all about”, everyone else is going “Oooh the okey-cokey-cokey!” and waving their arms in the air. This spectacle of Uncle Sean marooned now in the middle and now outside of the ring, like the ever-excluded single-set in a Venn Diagram drawn specifically to illustrate his motor incoordination, is a delightful one to my nephew, for it always culminates in yours truly singing “Knees bent, arms stretched, rah-rah-rah” and performing the accompanying moves all on my own, in complete silence, the needle catching on the record’s lead-out grooves in mockery of this indefatigable soloist.

Heaven forbid that I should ever resolve to master ‘The Okey Cokey’, for to master it would be to diminish the achievements of my peers, would be to imply that anyone was capable of doing it – that no skill or style were necessary. To inflict such a heresy on the Juniper and Barnardo Club would be unthinkable, and would rightly result in my immediate exclusion. And yet, any such success, or even slight improvement on my part, would already be tantamount to my exclusion, for no longer would I have a role to play. I would become invisible; we would all become invisible, subsumed into a single unit of tight, flawless choreography. I am determined to prevent that. Determined.

Next week we will look at ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’.

The Hamilton Journal of Contemporary Dance and Physical Theatre, 2001.

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