Banksy, a bandit? Musing on masked mayhem. And who really was the original Al Fresco?

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So was the original Al Fresco a Chicago band leader? And did he inspire these boys, last caught playing in Godzone in 2013?

That picture in the latest Banksy’s Week got me thinking.

Banksy looking like a masked bandit

It was a shock to see how like a bandit the masked Banksy looked. Was he about to raid a bank? And how could he do that while maintaining proper social distancing? I guess he’d burst in with his sawn-off shotgun (I know the drill), chuck the black hold-all over the counter and shout, “Fill the bag with used notes: and don’t come nearer than two metres, or I’ll fill you full of lead!”

Banksy the bandit meets Dirty Harry

If my mind’s racing, it’s because my film hero, Clint Eastwood, was 90 last week. Ninety!  It means that, when I was nobbut a lad, the Man with No Name was already in his forties. I still love those Spaghetti Westerns, with him as the mostly anonymous hero, Sergio Leone directing, and the amazing Ennio Morricone (also in his nineties) composing the unforgettable music.  Marvellous.

The masked bandit Banksy? Sounds like a case for Dirty Harry!

Clint was impressive as implacable cop Dirty Harry, too. I’ve been studying Banksy’s modus operandi so, when he perpetrates his next heist with the saintly Mrs Banks gunning the getaway car outside, I shall pull up in my sedan (all right, my boring small SUV), pull out my revolver and mutter, “.44 Magnum, most powerful handgun in the world: do you feel lucky, punk?”

Ah, if only! I dream dreams, and in the harsh light of day they fade and vanish (blimey, I should have been a poet!). Under lockdown there’s no chance of such excitement, particularly in the tranquil parts we affectionately term Godzone. Though I think my own face-mask, which boasts a rural theme, fits in well, and creates no criminal impression.

Now, that’s what I call a mask!

A real, live bank robber – or not

Still, I did once tangle with a possible bank-robber, back in my days of living and working in the West Midlands.  Local TV showed gunman, equipped with the obligatory sawn-off, caught on CCTV in a number of Building Societies in Shropshire.  This guy, whether wearing a mask or a broad-brimmed hat, bore an uncanny resemblance to a member of my teaching staff, who lived in that county.

Entirely innocent, he tired of being hauled in for questioning by the Salopian Old Bill. I wish I could say his colleagues were entirely supportive and kind. We tried to be, honestly we did: but the thought of him as a crook was so grotesque and frankly hilarious that we too often greeted his tragic accounts of his latest arrest with shrieks of laughter.

Don’t call a West Midlander a Brummie!

The West Midlands is a unique region, with an accent all its own. Don’t call its inhabitants Brummies: the area is much richer and more complex than that. But talk of the Black Country (referring to its proud history of coal-mining and metal-bashing), and its people love to share their jokes based on the area’s impenetrable accent.

Take, for instance, the recent news item that an enormous sink-hole had suddenly opened up in a main street in Walsall (it’s riddled with old mine-workings): the events made for a classic, and entirely traditional, linguistic misunderstanding between Aynuk and Ayli (Enoch and Eli), the legendary characters who are the area’s answer to Andy Capp.

“Oi were droiving into Walsall when Oi saw a huge owl .”

“An owl? Were it a tawny, or a barn owl?”

“Neither. It was a sink owl.”

Maybe you had to be there.

The real Al Fresco

Finally, while all of Godzone welcomes the news that Milfield’s Red Lion is preparing to serve meals safely al fresco when permitted, Banksy and his farmer mates have the derivation of the name all wrong.

Any jazzer (I am one) knows that the original Al Fresco was a band leader in Chicago in the Roaring Twenties. Indeed, many commentators (well, a couple) have compared my trumpet-playing – or, at any rate, my roaring – to that of the immortal Mr Fresco.

Wingy Manone: now, he could play a bit. even with one arm (and an artificial one for balance and holding the trumpet)

More truthful, someone wot knows did say my style was reminiscent of the legendary Wingy Manone, so nicknamed because he lost an arm but kept playing.

I’m not sure if the comparison was meant kindly or offensively: still, one-armed or not, old Wingy could certainly play. And swing – though with care, perhaps.

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