Beware Of The Beautiful Stranger

Annotated version
On the midsummer fairground alive with the sound
And the lights of the Wurlitzer merry-go-round
The midway was crowded and I was the man
Who coughed up a quid in the dark caravan
To the gypsy who warned him of danger
"Beware of the beautiful stranger"

"You got that for nothing" I said with a sigh
As the queen's head went up to her critical eye
"The lady in question is known to me now
And I'd like to beware but the problem is how
Do you think I was born in a manger?
I'm in love with the beautiful stranger"

The gypsy (called Lee as all soothsayers are)
Bent low to her globular fragment of star
"This woman will utterly screw up your life
She will tempt you from home, from your children and wife
She's a devil and nothing will change her
Get away from the beautiful stranger"

"That ball needs a re-gun" I said, shelling out
"The future you see there has all come about
Does it show you the girl as she happens to be
A Venus made flesh in a shell full of sea?
Does it show you the shape of my danger?
Can you show me the beautiful stranger?

"I don't run a cinema here, little man
But lean over close and tune in if you can
You breathe on the glass, give a rub with your sleeve
Slip me your wallet, sit tight and believe
And the powers-that-be will arrange a
Pre-release of the beautiful stranger"

In the heart of the glass I saw galaxies born
The eye of the storm and the light of the dawn
And then with a click came a form and a face
That stunned me not only through candour and grace
But because she was really a stranger
A total and beautiful stranger

"Hello there" she said with her hand to her brow
I'm the one you'll meet after the one you know now
There's no room inside here to show you us all
But behind me the queue stretches right down the hall
For the damned there is always a stranger
There is always a beautiful stranger

"That's your lot" said Miss Lee as she turned on the light
"These earrings are hell and I'm through for the night
If they'd put up a booster not far from this pitch
I could screen you your life to the very last twitch
But I can't even get the Lone Ranger
One last word from the beautiful stranger"

"You live in a dream and the dream is a cage"
Said the girl "And the bars nestle closer with age
Your shadow burned white by invisible fire
You will learn how it rankles to die of desire
As you long for the beautiful stranger"
Said the vanishing beautiful stranger

"Here's a wallet for you and five nicker for me"
Said the gypsy "And also here's something for free
Watch your step on my foldaway stairs getting down
And go slow on the flyover back into town
There's a slight but considerable danger
Give my love to the beautiful stranger"

midsummer fairground: Travelling fairs are a traditional feature of the summer season in English country and market towns, usually setting up for local feast or wakes weekends, or Bank (national) Holidays. In Cambridge the Midsummer Fair was established by medieval charter, and opens on June 22nd each year on the Midsummer Common. Wurlitzer: US manufacturer of organs, especially theatre and cinema types, now also well-known for its juke boxes. The Wurlitzer Band Organ provided the characteristic sound of the fairground carousel in its heyday. History of the Wurlitzer company. midway: North American term for the central broad avenue in a fairground, along which the sideshows are arrayed. No, Pete is not the man Joni Mitchell sings about in "That Song About The Midway". coughed up a quid: Tendered one pound sterling (English slang -- a quid pro quo?). Beware of the Beautiful Stranger: Traditional warning supposedly given by fortune-tellers. Alternatively (male) "tall dark handsome stranger". queen's head: In 1969 we still had the one-pound note (currency bill) in England. The one-pound coin took its place only in 1983. The gypsy was scrutinising the queen's head printed on the note, suspecting it to be counterfeit. known to me now: In recent times Pete has taken to singing "well-known". born in a manger: like Jesus, and thus above fleshly matters. called Lee, as all soothsayers are: Lee, as a gypsy name, is almost a cliché. I don't know whether Lee is a true Romany family name, but it seems predominant among travellers and show people, expecially in association with the booths of clairvoyants, palmists, fortune-tellers and such. During his student days at Cambridge, on a walk back to town from some outlying party, Clive James observed a travelling fair de-rigging its pitch, and was struck by the fact that almost every vehicle had the name Lee painted on the side. globular fragment of star: Crystal ball. re-gun: Here the television metaphor is introduced. Less so now, but in the days of black and white TV, a cathode-ray tube which had lost emission and become dim through long service could be fitted with a replacement electron gun to restore its brightness; the procedure was less expensive than, and almost as effective as buying a new tube, and was an economical means of recycling the glass envelope. The narrator here complains the ball is showing him nothing new. A Venus made flesh in a shell full of sea: Allusion to Botticelli's painting La nascita di Venere (The Birth of Venus), which depicts the classical goddess, the symbol of spiritual love, incarnated as a beautiful young woman, emerging from the sea aboard a sea-shell. pre-release: Pre-release showing, as of a movie. the queue stretches right down the hall: American readers might say "the line stretches right around the block," but for PA fans the song's phrase must have replaced any alternative in their everyday language. booster: A TV relay station built to fill in a gap in local broadcast coverage -- usually a low power transposer rather than strictly a repeater or booster. (Trivia spot: Around the time of this song your compiler, as a member of the BBC's Sandy Heath Transmitter Maintenance Team, was responsible for the operation of Pete and Clive's local BBC VHF TV and FM "booster" at the gasworks in Newmarket Road, Cambridge. Yes, we took care to avoid a spark!). The Lone Ranger: Who was that masked man? Archetypal Western hero of Saturday morning cinema, 1940s radio and 1950s TV series. Staple of BBC Children's Television through the '50s and into the '60s. Good fan page. invisible fire: Perhaps not intended as the Rosicrucian/alchemical/mystical Invisible Fire, symbolising the living spirit, rather to evoke the whitening by ash of barbecue charcoal, when the flames themselves are masked by sunlight. five nicker: Five pounds. flyover: -- clearly, whatever the inspiration, Cambridge isn't the setting!

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