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GUY HENDERSON: The real meaning of jollyrobins

By Herald Express  |  Posted: February 21, 2013

Jollyrobins personified

Jollyrobins personified

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I WAS taken to task the other day over my use of the word 'jollyrobins'. I used it in the caption of a picture on Facebook, and I felt it suited the situation perfectly.

It was a picture taken just before 7.45 last Tuesday evening, and it was taken from the press bench at Plainmoor, the home of Torquay United FC.

Laptop plugged in and primed, I was keenly looking forward to Torquay's home match against Rotherham, looking forward to writing the usual live blog of the match and exchanging banter with readers old and new.

Regular readers in Spain, Yorkshire and Colorado were already logged in and waiting patiently for the match to begin, along with many closer to home.

It was a dry, clear, cold February evening and I fancied Torquay for a win.

Beside me, high up in the rafters of the magnificent new Bristow's Bench stand, sat my colleagues John Uzzell and Ross Reid.

Mr Uzzell is a former Plymouth Argyle and Torquay United defender who casts an expert eye over proceedings. Mr Reid is a Cornish fellow with whom I have worked, on and off, for more than 30 years.

They both shared my enthusiasm for the forthcoming encounter with Rotherham, and I quickly snapped a picture of them.

In it, Mr Uzzell smiles out from beneath the fur-lined brim of his winter hat, while Mr Reid's optimistic smile is accompanied by a raised right hand that is caught somewhere between a thumbs-up and a clenched fist.

We were in ebullient mood, and I later posted the picture to Facebook, captioned: "Didn't we all look full of jollyrobins before kick-off?"

And that sparked a debate that lasted long after the final whistle had blown on a match that had ups, downs and disappointment by the bucketload. What, exactly, is the state of jollyrobins?

As is the fashion nowadays, I looked online to check that the word genuinely exists. It does, after a fashion.

The only reference I could find was one from someone posting on a forum to say it was something his nan used to say, and he could never work out what it meant, either.

I think I know what it means, so let me try to explain.

My old mate Captain Kay is a Lancashire man, and very proud of the fact.

He's not really a Captain, of course, but his military bearing means he could pass for one.

He has cropped up in this column before, taking photographs of Sinclair C5s careering down South Hams hills with me at the controls and getting us roughed up by the French secret service for getting too close to then-President Francois Mitterand.

The good Captain and I worked in Totnes for several years, he taking beautifully-composed black and white photographs to accompany articles I hammered out on an ancient typewriter in the smoke-logged newsroom of the town's weekly newspaper.

Totnes in those days was not really all that different from Totnes today.

It was an old-fashioned market town with large — and now long-since-departed — industrial employers such as the timber yards, the bacon factory and the big dairy.

At the same time it was already being feted as the alternative capital of the UK, a reputation built solidly through the 1970s by Dartington and those who came to be part of the groovy, Bohemian goings-on there.

If you think the current Narnian Army v Take Back Totnes conflict is new, think again. This has been going on for many a long year.

By and large though, the two very different sides of the town get along pretty well.

Every now and then there's a spat, the Narnian Army girds its loins in hemp and batik and takes to the streets to protest in favour of or against something.

"Be careful now," they say. "Down with this sort of thing."

And everyone generally agrees they have a point, and signs their petition or buys a hand-made badge, then gets on with daily life.

One day, Arthur and I went to visit an artist who lived in a purple bus down a muddy lane. I don't recall her name exactly, but it had something to do with herbs and moonbeams.

She was very welcoming, completely charming and utterly bonkers.

She ushered us on board the bus, which had drooping curtains across its windows, a wood-burning stove in one corner and native American dream-catchers hanging from its roof. There were at least four cats living in the bus, but it was hard to count them because they kept moving about.

It was a vehicle that had once, when it was shiny and new, carried holidaymakers for days out to places like Great Yarmouth and Rhyl, and there was a sense of fun about the whole contraption.

She made us herbal tea in jam jars as we sat around the stove smoking roll-ups. She was enthusiastic and passionate about her art. She relished the opportunity to tell us about it, She had been looking forward to our visit all day.

When we left, me with a notebook full of herby moonbeams and the Captain with a camera full of meaningful monochrome portraits, we paused a few paces from the bus.

"That woman," said the Captain. "Has a head full of jollyrobins."

And with that he marched purposefully back up the lane towards his Vauxhall Chevette and the real world. So there you have it.

Jollyrobins. It's a state of other-worldly fun and excitement, a slightly loopy lust for life. It's like having your head full of fluttering birds.

Puppies have it, artists who live on buses have it, and Torquay United fans have it in the moments immediately preceding kick-off.

I hope you have it too. It's a very pleasant state of mind.

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