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They Choke Chimpanzees Don't They

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After the concert I mention the monkey business. There is a prompt harrumph from the Hartlepudlian gentleman who is manning the hotel bar after hours for our delectation.

"I'm fed up with that ****ing story!" he blurts.

Oops.

It's easy to appreciate his impatience with the absurd apocrypha that has long overshadowed his locale. There are more creditable things to say about Hartlepool, but it is written and oft reiterated that during the Napoleonic wars a French shipwreck occurred on Hartlepool's beach. The only survivor was Monsieur le Chimpanzee -possibly d'Orang-utan. He was confronted by slavering Hartlepudlian Francophobes who mistook poor d'Orang-utan (in his French togs bien sur) for the Corsican dwarf himself. With implacable hostility they placed monkey boy on trial, found the would-be invader guilty and unceremoniously garrotted him. Fin.

Earlier, Guy gravely warned that more than one friend had counselled him against mentioning this, so of course I heeded not. As usual it is Wikipedia (to the rescue via Smartphone) that proves most illuminating on the matter: the only known basis the story has (not in fact) is an old Scottish folk song. Supported by no other evidence, the jocose legend lives on in North East sport: Hartlepool's rugby team call themselves 'monkey hangers,' while Darlington FC call their nemeses at Hartlepool United 'chimp chokers.' Most Hartlepudlians think it's a tolerable legend, but couldn't actually give a monkey's, even though they can make a wish for the monkey (statue) at the marina. And then (wait for it) the current mayor ran for office as 'H'angus The Monkey,' campaigning on the promise of "free bananas for schoolchildren." Obviously, some locals are not averse to monkeying around with the myth, unlike laughing boy at the bar here.

Guy and I are here to perform for Music V Cancer, a charity specifically founded to raise awareness of a particular strain. We've come at the behest of one of the illness' most tenacious survivors, the inspiring Tony Larkin. He's pretty much dedicated his survival to raising awareness, believing more life saving diagnoses would occur if sufferers were less embarrassed about admitting to trouble with their 'plumbing.' Embarrassment potentially conceals lethal symptoms, so Tony makes a big noise to discourage what can be a fatal silence. Hence, our rallying to the Hartlepool Grand with Jono McCleery and Colin 'Black' Vearncombe to help Tony generate a bit of a rumble.

Next morning - post rumble and post monkey gate - I'm sprawled on the widest bed I've ever slept on. Thankfully, the clattering doors in The Grand's cavernous corridors haven't been slamming all night, but I'm such a light sleeper that it takes just a couple of reverberating clunks to jolt me this morning. I've shambled, scratching and yawning, to the sideboard and fixed myself this pitiful instant coffee that I'm clutching feebly to my chest. The freeze-dried granules just aren't doing the trick, but at least the sugar is. I'm consoled by the promise of a rare treat, Sunday morning politics on TV; I'm yet to realise that it's actually Saturday morning. It explains why the breakfast double-act is prattling on and on, why the menace of 'MasterChef' is being threatened and why there's no sign of Andrew Marr. Apparently, the top story in the UK today is that eighty per cent of cigarette smoke is invisible. Top story? My eyes roll heavenward.

Spookily, the blithering breakfast duo cease their chattering about invisible smoke percentages and we cut to a sedated senior chimp known as Dylan, surrounded by masked vets in myrtle overalls, who are delicately prodding at the supine fellow with speculums, syringes and what not. It is a report on aging apes in western zoos living longer than they do in the wild, and their consequent trouble with heart disease. After last night and in a week where my sleep has been discombobulated by the clocks springing forward, and El Boyfo has jauntily relayed the fun fact that this pesky annual modification sparks a seasonal surge in cardiac arrests, it is curiously post-Darwinian to discover that apes in captivity succumb to their primate captors' health problems. It is stranger still to awaken to this news in Hartlepool of all places.

As the camera zooms in on a syringe of monkey claret, I muse how odd it was to have puzzled over why Hartlepool had rung a bell with me, only to have the reason occur to me immediately before my departure for it. I'm not sure if it's connected to me watching lots of classic movies lately, but I swear, my waking realisation yesterday morning was "Oh yeah, they choke chimpanzees don't they."

Perhaps we should do a Pixies cover next time.