Marrow among the courgettes

(This moves pretty quickly to men’s genitals, so it’s not appropriate for kids or the sexually modest.)

From the distinguished phonetician John Wells (in England — the England part is significant) on 9/18, this garden photo, with John’s caption:

(#1) Look carefully, and you’ll see a big marrow hiding underneath the courgette.

A FB reader (since I’m not sure about privacy protections, I won’t use their name) then wrote:

[A] Oh what a beauty

to which John replied

[B] …never seen one as big as that before!

taking us right into the world of sexual double entendres having to do with penis size. I admired the move (John and I are both openly gay, and that too is significant), and John delicately provided me with the source of the A – B sequence; it’s a famous quote from BBC comedy.

Background: the plant. From Wikipedia:

The zucchini or courgette (Cucurbita pepo) is a summer squash, of Mesoamerican origin, which can reach nearly 1 metre (40 inches) in length, but is usually harvested when still immature at about 15 to 25 cm (6 to 10 in).

… Along with certain other squashes and pumpkins, the zucchini belongs to the species Cucurbita pepo.

… The name courgette is a French loanword, the diminutive of courge ‘gourd, marrow’, and is commonly used in France, Belgium, and other Francophone areas, as well as in the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Africa.

In the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, Malaysia, and Singapore, a fully-grown, matured courgette is referred to as a marrow.

(I note that in #1, the marrow and the courgette are from the same plant. In other cases, somewhat different varieties are cultivated as either marrows or courgettes.)

Courgettes are people food, marrows are mostly animal fodder. But the main thing is that  courgettes are sleek and elegant, while marrows are big and fat. Which is why they call up all the dick-size lore that floats around in the culture that John and I share. And gives rise to the joking in the A – B exchange.

Background: dick size. (There’s a Page on this blog on penis size.) The lore connects dick size to masculinity and power: the bigger the dick, the more masculine and powerful the man; and, significantly, the reverse — the smaller the dick, the less masculine and weaker the man. In a way, this is an odd constellation of beliefs, since the literal repository of physical masculinity lies not in the penis but in the testicles, where semen is stored; the penis is just a delivery system.

However, dicks are visible. And, as it turns out, guys notice other guys’ dicks, even though they believe they don’t (because that would be faggy). Life among men, especially young men, is competitive, with a lot of jockeying for power within male affiliative groups, so symbols of physical power — height, broad shoulders, muscularity, penis size — provide considerable advantages in those competitions. (In the straight world, the competition for sexual partners works very differently, because in the end, it depends on what women value in their potential male partners, and that doesn’t have a lot to do with what men value in their competitions with one another.)

Significantly, in the gay world — one of the worlds that John Wells and I live in — we get pretty much undistilled male attitudes towards masculinity and power, so dick size plays an, um, outsized role in relations between gay men. And this is relevant to the A – B exchange above because that’s a quote from a decidedly queer comedy routine by the English actor Kenneth Williams (who can be fairly, and very sadly, described as, in real life, a tortured poofter). (Look, I can say these things out loud, because I’m an outspoken faggot.)

The Marrow Song. A  music hall classic, laden with double entendres. The text, with the chorus boldfaced:

There’s a man lives down in the street I’d like you all to know
He grew a great big marrow for the local farmers show
When the story got around, they came from far and wide
When they saw the size of it, all the ladies cried:

Oh, what a beauty! I’ve never seen one as big as that before!
Oh, what a beauty! It must be two foot long or even more.
Such a lovely colour, so nice and round and fat;
I never thought a marrow could grow as big as that.
Oh, what a beauty – I’ve never seen one as big as that before.

He was leaning on his garden gate the other day,
He beckoned to a lady who lived just across the way,
He took her down the garden path and showed her it with pride
When she saw the size of it that little lady cried: …

Then the feller showed it again and everybody went
To see his great big marrow lying there inside the tent.
Then the judges came around to give the prizes out
They only took one look at it, and they began to shout: …

Here you can watch Kenneth Williams performing “The Marrow Song (Oh! What a Beauty!)”, from the 1960s BBC Radio comedy series Round the Horne. (Other performances are available on the net, but Williams is especially salacious and delicious.)

Background: Round the Horne. From Wikipedia:

Round the Horne is a BBC Radio comedy programme starring Kenneth Horne, first transmitted in four series of weekly episodes from 1965 until 1968. The show was created by Barry Took and Marty Feldman, who wrote the first three series. The fourth was written by Took, Johnnie Mortimer, Brian Cooke and Donald Webster.

Horne’s supporting cast comprised Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden and, in the first three series, Bill Pertwee. The announcer was Douglas Smith, who also took part in the sketches. All except the last series featured music by Edwin Braden, played by the band “the Hornblowers”, with a song in the middle of each show performed by the close-harmony singing group the Fraser Hayes Four; in the fourth series, the music was by Max Harris with a smaller group of players than the earlier series.

The show was the successor to Beyond Our Ken, which had run from 1958 to 1964 with largely the same cast. By the time the new series began, television had become the dominant broadcasting medium in Britain, and Round the Horne, which built up a regular audience of 15 million, was the last radio show to reach so many listeners. Horne was surrounded by larger-than-life characters including the [AZ: totally outrageous] camp pair Julian and Sandy, the disreputable eccentric J. Peasmold Gruntfuttock, and the singer of dubious folk songs, Rambling Syd Rumpo, who all became nationally familiar [AZ: note the shameless anal joking]. The show encountered periodic scrutiny from the BBC management for its double entendres, but consistently received the backing of the director-general of the BBC, Sir Hugh Greene. Horne died suddenly in 1969; the BBC decided that Round the Horne could not continue without its star and they cancelled plans for a fifth series that year.

Background: Kenneth Williams. From Wikipedia:

Kenneth Charles Williams (22 February 1926 – 15 April 1988) was an English actor, best known for his comedy roles and in later life as a raconteur and diarist. He was one of the main ensemble in 26 of the 31 Carry On films, and appeared in many British television programmes and radio comedies, including series with Tony Hancock and Kenneth Horne.

… Williams insisted that he was celibate and his diaries appear to substantiate his claims — at least from his early forties onwards. He lived alone all his adult life and had few close companions apart from his mother, and no significant romantic relationships. His diaries contain references to unconsummated or barely consummated homosexual dalliances, which he describes as “traditional matters” or “tradiola”. He befriended gay playwright Joe Orton, who wrote the role of Inspector Truscott in Loot (1966) for him, and had holidays with Orton and his lover, Kenneth Halliwell, in Morocco.

He suffered from depression and died explicitly believing that his life had been useless. These are the wages of homophobic prejudice, and the only appropriate response is rage, that this delightful and ornamental man should have been convinced that he was just a pathetic poofter, a piece of shit.

You will say that I have surmounted this, and by and large I have, defiantly. But I have suffered from crippling depressions, some directly related to my homosexuality, some a consequence of my rejection by every male affiliative group I’ve encountered in my life (though I learned how to achieve some sort of acceptance on the margins, by being useful or entertaining). So my heart aches for Kenneth Williams; he deserved much better. His talent was for fairly crude silliness, but that is a talent (I remind you that Mel Brooks has constructed a huge career out of crude silliness, and he’s not the only one).


3 Responses to “Marrow among the courgettes”

  1. Gary Says:

    Does John Wells still post publicly? I used to follow and enjoy his phonetic blog.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      John no longer maintains his phonetics blog; he’s even older than I am (just by a year and a half, but older), so now 81, and he’s entitled to do whatever he wants. He does have the great grace of a companion in life, his husband Gabriel, from Montserrat, so he has rich family lives both in England and in the Caribbean. I am immensely pleased that he still continues to post to friends on Facebook about his daily life. (Oh yes, he’s a great linguist and a very good man. But you knew that.)

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