I’m not sure I’ve come across too many sentences better than "Muggsy Spanier was the cornet players’ cornet player”, but the most devastating line I’ve ever heard delivered was: “He lived with a girl in Ilkeston.”
This requires some explanation.
Ilkeston (pronounced "Ill-ker-ston"), as I’m sure you know, is a town adjacent to the city of Nottingham, and it was in that city that New Year’s Day, 1997, found me unshaven, hung over and scrunched in the back of a Vauxhall Corsa (or something like that) with two other similarly unshaven, hung over chaps. Driving the car was another chap, and he was driving it with care, partly because conditions were snowy, and partly because, from the look of his swollen eyes and dark frown, he was attempting to micro-manage a headache of terrible dimensions.
Next to him, in the passenger seat, was his girlfriend. She, apparently, was not feeling quite as bad as the rest of the car’s occupants, for she had been talking non-stop for the previous twenty minutes (it may as well have been twenty years). On and on she went as the four of us sat in tortured silence, a stream of gossip delivered in a high-ish pitch that provided the ideal atonal accompaniment to the intermittent scrape of the windscreen wipers. The gist of the long, long narrative was that some man (whom none of us knew) had left his partner, gone missing for some unspecified interval, and then – the great denouement – it “turns out that all that time he lived with a girl in Ilkeston…”
And suddenly our driver spoke the devastating line. Except he said it like this:
With a Girl
It is hard to convey in writing just how much force and weight this utterance carried. It wasn’t just a snide piece of sarcasm. It was total, it was final and it cut straight to the black heart of humanity. It was the Voice of God, passing final judgement not just on this particular titbit, but on all forms of gossip, tattle and trivial chitchat, and casting them into the flames forever.
It was a bringer of awful self-realisation, for all of us but especially for the gossiper herself, who choked up immediately and gaped in open-mouthed shock. In the awe-frozen back seat a fair few seconds had to pass before we could break the silence with nervous giggles.
Quite a moment.
“He lived with a girl in Ilkeston” – I still mutter that under my breath when any particularly irksome prattling and backstabbing is taking place in my presence, but I could never hope to recreate the power of that original delivery.