Musical Traditions Records' first CD release of 2009: And then it Happened!: Ken Langsbury's Stories (MTCD348), is now available. See our Records page for details. As a service to those who may not wish to buy the record, or who might find the small print hard to read, I have reproduced the relevant contents of the CD booklet here.
1. Swindle 'em Station|
2. The Fire Brigade -
I Pity Myself, I Do
3. Old Jonas
4. The Man from the BBC
5. The Motor Man
6. Moreton in Marsh -
The Jumpers Song
7. How do you Spell Yokel? -
I'm Better Off in my Little Dugout
8. One Thursday Dinnertime
9. Carol Singing
10. My Dad's Got a Gun
11. The Cherry Tree
12. Any Two Sides of a Triangle
13. Nellie's Coffin
14. The Dog
15. No News!
16. The Wonderful Pig
17. The Bishop of Worcester
We met on numerous occasions subsequently and, when we moved to Wiltshire in 1973, Ken was one of the first people we called on. When the weekly session in Cheltenham's Old Swan Inn gave birth to a band, one of the most enjoyable things we did was acting as back-up to Ken at several of his gigs. We called ourselves The Cotswold Liberation Front, but it soon became apparent that everyone else was calling us the Old Swan Band - so we decided to as well.
Some of you may recall that the OSB included Ken's stories The Fire Brigade and Moreton in Marsh on our Gamesters, Pickpockets and Harlots LP, back in 1981, a record celebrating the local Gloucestershire repertoire. Yet, for some reason, since I started making Musical Traditions CDs in 1999, it never occurred to me that I ought to do a CD of Ken's stories until about six months ago.
Having now done so, I can't imagine why I was so foolish as to leave it so long. This is a great record, the stories are brilliant, and Ken is such a memorable performer that I can't imagine anyone not enjoying it immensely!
Rod Stradling - October 2009.
Ken Langsbury - in his own words:
I was born in 1938, in Ealing, West London. My father was Henry (Harry) Langsbury, a Gloucestershire man working at Vanden Plas, Kingsbury, as a Coach Painter when he met my mother. She was Harriet Harwood (Queenie) Brown, who lived in Northolt and worked as a barmaid in The Target pub when she met Dad.
The family (Mum, Dad, older brother Lionel and I) moved to Cheltenham after a neighbouring house up the road was bombed in 1940. This was the time when my Auntie Kath and Uncle Frank were married in Northolt church, and the Battle of Britain dog fight was going on in the sky above them when they came out of the church.
We moved in with my Dad's family, Gran, Grampy, Great Auntie Rose and Auntie May, in Cheltenham - but Mum couldn't stick it. She got a job as barmaid in The King's Head, Lower High Street, which was an old coaching inn, with a yard at the back where lorries parked over night. Also in the yard was a stable occupied by Jack Sivell, Rag & Bone Merchant, and a small cottage which the landlord let us live in, in exchange for Mum working. Much to the disgust of Great Auntie Rose, who said no decent people ever went down that end of town.
It was good; a great community. I remember, as a very young child, lying in bed at night listening to the locals singing and waiting for the pub to open; here's the song to the tune of Lili Marlene:
Down at the King's HeadWhen the air raid siren ('Wailing Mini') went off, Mum and us boys (not Dad, he was an Air Raid Warden) would go down the cellar of the pub and wait for a bomb to drop, or the All Clear. Mr Jackson, the landlord, would get out the Smith's Potato Crisps, which was unheard of during the war (he must have had them since before the war started). I did enjoy the air raids!
Every night at eight
Round at the back gate
That's were we stand and wait
And when the doors are open wide
It's then we take a step inside
To get upon the dart board
We are the backroom boys.
I started school at the Parish Infants, and then the Parish Boys when I was eight. I know now that I am dyslexic, but in 1943 I was labelled slow and retarded which was a shame for my Mum, but I didn't mind - it meant I was put with contemporaries just out to have fun and enjoy life ('wasters' is what they would call us today). A song I learnt from a mate at school:
My mother she told meAfter the war and the VE day street parties, they asked if any boys were interested in staying on after school - they wanted to start a school choir. I went along, but was told it was only for serious boys who could sing, and not to waste their time. But I didn't care, I had Mission Hall; the singing there was wonderful and taught me a lot.
To take him to school
And I should have him
I took him to school
And he fell off the stool
And his old grey head kept nodding.
... etc, making up different rhymes.
I left school at 15 and became a cabinet maker; my job was to make antique furniture out of Victorian furniture.
When I was around 16, or 17, Peter Kennedy had his Sunday morning programme on the wireless, As I Roved Out, with Sarah Makem singing Seventeen Come Sunday as the signature tune. Skiffle was becoming popular. And I knew where my musical interest lay - the nearer to the ordinary people the better.
In 1954 the family moved out of the King's Head yard to a shop in the Tivoli area of Cheltenham, and Lionel, who had learned the printing trade, opened the shop to sell stationery and do small printing work, notepaper and that.
At eighteen I was called up to do my National Service, and shipped out to Malaya. On the voyage, in a bunk next to mine was an old soldier going out to join his regiment after a spell of home leave; the rest of us were all new recruits. He knew so many bawdy ballads, and I learnt two or three. He also explained that the Communists (who we were going to fight) used to fight on the same side as us in the war against the Fascists, and were promised free elections after the war - which they did not get. I liked him.
I was in the Armoured Corps (KDG's), a driver-signaller in an armoured car crew, escorting food convoys up and down the Cameron Highlands, I didn't enjoy any of that, but I did enjoy the singing sessions we'd have in the NAAFI at night. One song in particular that I learnt from the old soldier on the boat going out (The Soldier's Abide With Me) won me a lot of popularity. I was only a trooper, of course, but was often in the officers' mess singing me songs. Here's one:
I knows where there's a blackbird's nestAs a member of an armoured car crew, I did not go on jungle patrol very often, but did on a few occasions. On one occasion I was in front of the patrol (this was taken in turns), and came across a clearing with two or three dustbins, and a Communist guarding them. I gave him a smile and he just wandered off. I told my troop leader, who was very cross with me for not shooting him, that he ran away, but he didn't, he just wandered off, he knew I wasn't going to shoot him. The dustbins were full of rice, and as punishment for letting the man go, I was given the job along with two other chaps and a guide, of carrying the bins of rice back to base. The bins were very heavy, and it was a hard, slow job carrying them through the jungle. The guide went charging on ahead, and we kept shouting at him to slow down. Eventually after several hours we came to a rubber plantation and some deserted buildings which had running water. We stripped off, had a wash, and picked off the leeches we had attracted on our journey. I came out of the building and there, standing on a bank, was a man with a gun pointing at me! It was an officer I knew from 2 Troop. I saluted and said, "Hello, Sir." He didn't shoot me, although I think he would have liked to; he was so disappointed we weren't what he termed 'The Enemy'; he held in his hand a metal pull-through for a sten gun we had dropped. He said we had walked right through an ambush that he had set up with his troop, and he was about to give the order to open fire, when we started shouting "slow down" in English, so they followed us. He said, "You'll never know how close you came to death today". When I used to relate the story in the NAAFI afterwards, I would make up a bit about speaking to the Communist and asking if I could come and fight on his side, and did he have a membership application form I could sign! And did he have a pen?
I knows were'e be
'E be in yon turnip field and I be a'rter 'e.
'E spies I, and I spies 'e, and 'e calls I a bugger and a liar
Wait till I finds that blackbird's nest
I'll set the bugger on fire.
Four and twenty yer, workin' on the farm
And they can't take the rise out a I
Der be'ant no bird on this yer farm
Can 'ide his nest from I.
Take I back to dear old Gloucester
All the crows 'ud flock round I
I'd wring my 'ands and clap like buggery
Just to see they blackbirds fly.
When I came out of the army, I met Wendy (who later became my first wife) and started going to singing sessions at the Cotswold Inn, Cheltenham. They weren't organised in any way, just a group of all ages, singing songs of the day and some old songs - I still sing a couple of the songs today that I learnt from Pop Latham. And one of his sons, Ashley, gave Wendy away when we got married. We first went to live in Shipton Oliffe, and then moved to Andoversford, but we still travelled in to Cheltenham on a Saturday night for the Cotswold Inn sessions. In 1963 a friend who also went to the sessions, says "There's a Folk Club started at the Crown and Cushion, why don't you come along?" "I don't think so," says I, "I don't like my folk music organised." But he kept on at me and in the end I did go, and found people who liked the people's music as much as I did, and do.
The Club was run by a group called 'The Songwainers'. After about six weeks of just sitting in the audience, I decided to get up and sing. I didn't think any of the songs I knew were good enough, so I learnt a song from a Ewan MacColl record Van Dieman's Land. I seemed to have the audience's attention while I was singing the song, and at the close of the evening, Bill Spragg (one of the Songwainers) says, "Do you know any more songs?" I says "Hundreds!" and set about learning some more. So I became a product of the Folk Revival, which I loved. And when Bob Davenport came as a guest to the club, I knew I was in the right place. I started singing my own songs, and found they were what people wanted to hear.
There was more printing work than Lionel could handle on his own, so I gave him a hand. I became a printer that couldn't spell for toffee. Me and Lionel have always got on well together, and I took to the craft. Now at the age of 71, I still enjoy my work.
I used to cycle in to work in Cheltenham every day from Andoversford (6 miles). Mum and Dad had a kitchen and outside toilet, behind Lionel's shop, with sitting room and bedrooms above. The first thing I wanted to do after cycling was go to the toilet - I'd rush through the kitchen, saying "Hello" on the way to the outside toilet. Next to the toilet was an old coal bunker, and on top of it was a bomb!
When I goes back in the kitchen, I says,"There's a bomb on the coal box." My dad says, "Yep, yer mother dug it up in the garden. It's not dangerous." I said, "It looks dangerous to me, we ought to ring the police, get them to come and look at it." Mum says, "We're not having the police here. I been private all my life, and I want to stay private". "It's not dangerous." says Dad. Mum says, "If you want to take it down the police station, you take it." "You can't walk into the police station with a bomb under yer arm," says I, "it don't look good - they'll throw a fit." "Well, we're not havin' 'em here," says Mum. "It's not dangerous," says Dad. "It's the tail end of an old incendiary bomb, the warhead's gone." No more was said. I went and got on with my work. Next morning the bomb had gone. Dad said, "Yer mother buried it in the garden," and no more was said about that. About ten years later some builders were working on an extension to a house that backed on to our garden wall. And late one day, after they had finished work, they came and saw my dad to see if they could work on the building from our side, and put their ladder up in our garden the following day. "Oh yes," says Dad, "you're welcome." "Ok," says the builder about to leave. "There is a bomb buried in the garden," says Mum, and they were told the story. "It's not dangerous," says Dad. "We'll see you tomorrow," says the builders. But they didn't turn up for work next day, or the day after that; the work was left unfinished for months. In the end, another firm of builders finished the building, but they didn't come into our garden. For years I would take my children to that garden to celebrate November 5th, with a big bonfire and fireworks. Mum always said that the bonfire was built where the bomb was buried. But after she sadly passed away we dug up the whole area, but couldn't find the bomb.
One night at the folk club Bill Spragg brought along a library book for me to borrow, Wold Without End by H J Massingham, saying there were some stories in it that he thought I should learn and tell at the folk club - which I did. I now know that the stories were from Charles Gardiner, clerk to Evesham council - an enthusiast in the different Cotswold dialects, and himself a collector of stories. The first Charles Gardiner story I learnt was The Fire Brigade. It seemed to go down quite well.
I had heard that Charles Gardiner had first become interested in Cotswold stories and dialect after reading Roger Plowman's excursion to London, which was published in A Cotswold Village by J Arthur Gibbs, so I obtained a copy. A few months later Cheltenham folk club had an exchange night with Swindon folk club, where the singers from our club went and sang at their club on the Friday, and their singers came and sang at our club on the Sunday night. I learnt the bit in Roger Plowman's about Swindon Station, to do at Swindon folk club. Ted and Ivy Poole, who became good friends, still talk about that visit and me telling Swindle 'em Station. After that I became an enthusiast; started finding my own stories.
I met George Hart (Jethro Larkin of The Archers) in a pub at Chipping Camden; he told me some stories, none of which I tell now, but I did notice that he had his own way of telling a story - it was the teller not the tale that was good, and that has always been my aim. If you live in the Cotswolds you don't have to go looking for stories, they come to you, through friends, family and people you meet. The last story I learnt out of a book was many years ago, and it was King George and the Bishop of Tewkesbury - I call it my 'Child Ballad'.
My newest story is The Greyhound's Egg. I happened to say to my oldest son Adam (Andoversford farmer and father of three) that large pumpkins up on they hills were called 'mares' eggs', and he says "I know" and told me the story. I says, "How do you know that story, where'd you hear it?" He says, "I don't know, it's just an old joke, everybody knows that one!"
The people that made up the Songwainers were always changing; when I first went to the club the group was made up of Bill Spragg, Dave Stephenson (Steve), Ken Ilott and Martin Talbert. Then Ken Ilott and Martin Talbert left, and Sue Burgess joined; it was then that the group dropped the use of guitars and became a harmony group. But then Bill left and Tim Tanner joined. Then Sue Burgess left and a few months later poor Tim was killed in a motor accident. All this happened over a period of about five years.
As Steve was left on his own, I said I would join him to do the gigs that were left on the books. But then when they were completed, we decided to keep it going and asked Ron Taylor to join us. With his superb top harmonies, Steve's dirgey bass, and my questionable melody we had a great time together, and travelled the country round.
We made an album, and on it I told the Old Jonas story. In a review of the album my old friend, the late Cyril Tawney, described my accent as being from Mummershire, which was fine by me - I loved him. When I moved to Andoversford the locals used to say "You're from Cheltenham aren't you? I can tell by your accent." So it's obviously a Cotswold accent. People from Moreton talk different from them in the Stroud area. And the Forest of Dean is something else. Chooksbury (Tewkesbury) something else again. I have a grandson, Elijah - the family all call him "Our Lige" pronounced with a very long i. I think that's very Gloucestershire, whatever part of the county you come from. But there again, they might talk like that in Mummershire, so what the hell, I'm no expert, just a simple country lad of 71. Cheltenham Town Fantastic Football Team (The Robins), of which I am a proud season ticket holder, have a song:
We can't read and we can't writeI would have thought they made this song up themselves, not some bloke from Mummershire. At this point I was going to go leading off about people singing Scottish songs, but that would be boring (if it's not already), and like I say "I'm no expert", and not qualified (who is?) to do that.
But that don't really matter
We all come from Cheltnumshire
And we can drive a track'er
'ow arrr 'ow ar. 'ow ar 'ow ar.
La La La
Cheltnumshire la la la
Cheltnumshire la la la
Cheltnumshire la la la
During this time I was still keeping up with the singing sessions. The Cotswold Inn session had gone, but I find that as one door closes another will open. I started going to a tumbling down shed, in Dog Lane, Bentham, on Sunday afternoons; the property was owned by Dick and Bert Parsons. Dick sat in a big chair at the head of a table which the rest of us sat round, taking it in turns to sing when the horn cup was passed to you. When you'd finished singing, you'd drain the contents of the cup (strong rough cider), it was then filled up and passed on to the next person. The shed became known as The Rampant Cat, and there was some fine singing; I have never heard The Life of a Man sung better than Dick Parsons, sitting in that big chair with a pet cockerel perched on the back of it.
I started morris dancing with the Gloucestershire Morris Men and for two years enjoyed it very much. I introduced it to some of my friends - Ron Taylor, Dave Stephenson, Tony Poulter (Tony is still with them) and Bernie Cherry, but my enthusiasm began to wane. It wasn't the side's fault, they were same as they had always been, but I wanted something more and left, and so did Bernie.
About six months later Bernie started a new morris side, The Gloucester Morris Dancers, which would be dancing only Gloucestershire dances, which I joined. The Gloucestershire Morris Men objected to the name - quite rightly, because it was too much like their own name. So we had a meeting, at which it was decided we should call ourselves The Gloucestershire Old Spot Morris Dancers, and only dance the tradition of the Gloucestershire village of Longborough, a tradition based on energy and precision. I was used to practice nights with the Gloucestershire men, just learning the dances once a week, but Old Spot was different. We tried to fly! To jump in the air and stay there for a few seconds and not come down till the music said. I've heard it said that Old Spot had such high leaps, but that's not true, we never leaped. All the steps were tight and controlled, and up in the air. We would practise jumping on to a table from a stand-still, both feet leaving the ground together. It was practise, practise, practise, not just once a week in the practice hall, but every day and all day, whenever you had the chance. Dancing as a set - there was no room for individuality - you had your single and double jigs for that. It was tight controlled steps together, as one man, keeping in line across and down the set. We had some swank, and we did it - we learnt to fly!
That year the Songwainers were booked at Sidmouth International Folk Festival and so were Peta Webb, Tony Engle, Danny and Rod Stradling who made up the band 'Oak'. I loved that band, with its repertoire from the living tradition, which of course meant a lovely late beat. I still think that Peta and Danny singing 'Let no man steal away your bunch of thyme' is one of the best things ever.
Soon after that Rod and Danny came to live in Cricklade, and I told Rod about Old Spot. I think at that time he was already playing for Bampton Morris Dancers but agreed to come and play for us, and then we really took off. Flying even higher. We were invited up to Garstang in Lancashire for a morris weekend. There were lots of other sides invited, but we left them all standing.
In the evening there was a dinner, at which, by the way, the squire from each side had to go and sit on the top table. We didn't have a squire, didn't think it was necessary to have one. We had a Foreman (John Willoughby), a Bagman (Keith Glover), and a Fool (me). So the bastards had a quick election and made me Squire. So I had to go and sit with all the town dignitaries while they had fun. Half way through the evening, John Willoughby comes up to the top table with a big fat fag, and says "We thought you were missing out, 'ere, have a blow on that." and there's me sitting next to the Mayor!
Anyway, what I was going to tell you about was the dance afterwards. All around the room were coloured lights strung up, not little fairy lights, but big bayonet fitting bulbs. In the foot up and down Keith managed to get the wire hooked around his wrist and then go into a side step, with his right arm circling in the air (start on the left foot, right arm raised), with this long lead of light bulbs spinning and exploding everywhere, and so it continued for the whole of the rest of the dance. He didn't stop and untangle himself; one of the unwritten rules is never stop the dance - even if someone dies. We had lots of unwritten rules; I don't know what they all were.
That was the weekend of the mystic coach. The story is well known now, but I will tell it again, because it shows the power of the Morris. The old coach that we had hired for the weekend was crap! The first thing was when we stopped at the service station on the way up to Garstang - we all had to push it to get it started again. And so it was all weekend, except the Saturday when we went on a tour in a coach supplied by Garstang, and that was a really posh job, with a driver in uniform, soft blue lights, good sound system, and antimacassars. But our old bus, on the way back to Cheltenham it got slower and slower; the driver turned off the motorway at Worcester (because we were going too slow for motorway traffic) to come back to Cheltenham via Evesham. But a couple of miles outside Evesham there was a terrible grinding noise from the engine and it stopped altogether. The driver, without a word, got out and walked off, leaving us all just sitting there in the dark.
We had nothing to drink and it was very late, so if we had walked to the nearest pub (we didn't know where it was!) it would be closed. There was no traffic on the road at all. I said, "What we must do is all concentrate very hard on a bottle of beer." There were a lot of groans and, "What do we want to do that for?" But I said, "No, I'm Squire. Think of a bottle of beer and some beer will turn up from somewhere." So that's what we did for ten or twenty minutes, thought of a bottle of beer. Then Fred says, "I found a bottle of Guinness." "How many you found Fred?" "Just the one." Why did we have to concentrate on just one bottle? But it perked us up, and we shared that bottle of Guinness between the ten of us. Then someone says, "We ought to concentrate on a coach to get us out of here." So it was decided that that was what we should do. "What sort of coach do we want?" "Any sort of coach." "No, we want one with a driver in uniform, soft blue lights." "And a good sound system." "Antimacassars!" "No we don't want antimacassars!" "Yes we DO!" We all sat in silence, thinking of this mystical coach for about half an hour. But no coach turned up. "We'll dance a jig, that'll do it." "What jig?" "Something to do with travelling." "Travel by Steam." "That's not a jig, and we don't want a train to turn up." "Jockey to the Fair." So that's the jig we did, in front of the bus, in the dark, and when the jig was coming to an end the mystic coach turned up, with a driver in uniform, soft blue lights, music from the sound system, and you've guessed it - a crate of Guinness!
Whenever we danced the sun shone, no matter what the weather before or afterwards. Every year on Whit Monday we were asked by Bampton Morris Dancers to dance at their traditional day of dance. Bampton dance all day starting at 8 a.m. and then invite the foreign sides to dance in the evening. And if it was a wet day, Francis Shergold would say, "The sun will be shining tonight at six o'clock when Old Spot dance," and it always did. The only time it didn't was once when we were dancing at Andoversford village show; it was a lovely day, but as soon as we started dancing it poured with rain. I couldn't understand it, what had gone wrong? But it was all explained when Martin Brinsford says to me, "You got your hat ribbons upside down." That would do it!
This was such a good time in my life in the 1970's, many things started happening. Friends Bernie Cherry and Micky Bugden walked in The Fairview Inn, one of Cheltenham's rougher pubs. After a few drinks they asked the landlord "Do you mind if we sing a song?" "Do what you want, mate," came the reply. So they sang, probably Shepherd of the Downs - they used to do that so well together as a duet - but as soon as they finished, a song came back at them from the other side of the room, in a rich powerful voice:
I was once young and foolishThat was the first time we met Wiggy Smith, a local Romany, and he and his family became good friends. Wiggy and his father Wisdom loved a session. Bernie asked Dennis Olding (who used to record the evenings at the folk club) if he would go to The Fairview and do some recording, which he agreed to do. Wiggy had asked the landlord if he could use the back room; it was small with just a serving hatch and bench seats around the walls, no tables. When we got there, there was a man sitting in there on his own. "This room is booked," says Wiggy. "I ain't hurting," says the fellow. In comes Dennis with the microphone stand. "Give us a hand with the rest of the stuff out the car," he says, so I goes and gives him a hand. When we got back in the room, there's this fellow unconscious down in front of the serving hatch. And Wisdom says, "He shouldn't talk to me like that, I'm an old man!" The landlord looked through the serving hatch and says, "Everything alright in there?" "Yes governor," says Wiggy. The landlord couldn't see the fellow, being as he wasn't in his line of vision. Bernie who was in the room at the time says the fellow said something to Wisdom about being a pop star, and Wisdom gave him one punch, so fast you could hardly see his hand move. Wiggy and his brother Joe picked the fellow up and put him outside the door, in the street - he'd gone when we went out at the end of the evening. They sang till the pub closed for the night. I now have access to Dennis' tapes, but I still haven't come across that one.
Like many who is here
I was fond of all night's rambling
And I was fond of my beer
Oh if I had my own home
And my sweet liberty
I would go no more a soldiering
By the land or by the sea…
When I saw Rod last week, at our regular Wednesday night sessions in the Little Vic, Stroud he gave me a proof copy of this CD, (that he recorded the week before in Miserden Village Hall). And I said "What do you want from me?" "Your life history, and how you got into folk music, would be good," he said. So I started writing this next day, but now I think it's getting self-indulgent and long-winded, so I'll leave it here in the early 1970s.
Ken has asked that the transcriptions of the stories should also be a 'translation' into ordinary English, since he feels that some listeners living in 'foreign parts' might not always be able to understand what he is saying. He also feels that written renditions of accent and dialect can sometimes make it appear ridiculous. Quite right, too!
1 - Swindle 'em Station
Roger Ploughman's Train Journey to London: Never in all my life did I go as fast; under and over bridges, through holes in hills. We were soon at Swindon, where a lot were at work, as black as tinkers, they was, and a fellow comes up to I in green clothes and says as how we had ten minutes to wait. Well, I could see as how a lot were going into a room where they be eating and drinking, so I says to meself, "Roger," I says, "thee be rather peckish. Go in and see what thee can do for theeself."
So in I goes, and a fine place it were to be sure, with some 'nation goodlooking women a-waiting.
"I'll half a quartern loaf, please"
"What d'you think we keeps here," she says to I, "a baker's shop?"
"Oh," I says, "have thee got some bacon then, a bit fattish?"
"Nope," said she, "but we got some sossingers at sixpence."
"Hand 'em over, young woman," I says, "and I'll thank thee for a plate of that there bread and butter, and I'll sit down and have meself a bit of a snack."
Well, the sossingers were good. They tasted moreish all the time. But the bread and butter, 'twere so 'nation thin you had to slap three or four slices together before thee could even get a mouthful - and it didn't last out as long as the sossingers. So I says, "I'll have another plate of that there, Missus, and I'll thank thee for a bottle of ale to wet me whistle, like."
Her comes trotting back and sets a tallish green bottle down in front of I, with a gold top on it. "Funniest bottle of ale thee's seen for a long time, Roger." I thought. But I was thirsty, so I knocks the top off. And then it happened! The darn thing exploded on I - nigh on hit the ceiling with its fizzle - and the time it'd stopped spouting there were only a drop left in the bottom of the bottle - but it didn't half taste good!
Then this young woman comes trotting back. "What's thee been and done, Sir?" her says. "That were a bottle of Moses' best champagne, that were, at 7/6d a bottle." "Go on with you," I says, "that weren't nothing but ginger pop, spouting like that." Well, I was getting fed up, because this whole darn place were laughing at this here fizzle and I, so I says, "How much to pay, young woman?"
"Thirteen scaramouches!" says I. "Does thee call that reasonable? Well, I'm not going to pay that."
Her goes off and fetches a feller. "Thee going to pay for what thee's had?" says he.
"To be sure I be going to pay," says I, "to be sure I be going to pay. Her says as how the sossingers were sixpence, and the bread and butter only cut off a tuppenny loaf, and a bottle of ginger pop threepence. That makes ... eleven pence altogether." So I throws down a shilling and says as how the young woman that waited on I could have the penny change.
"Look here, Mr Termit" - Mr Termit he calls I! - "Look here, I wants another twelve shilling out of thee, or else I'll take thee away and lock thee up for the night ."
"No disrespects to thee, Mister," says I, "but does thee reckon thee could do all that? Why! For two pins I'd pick thee up by the scruff of thee neck and the seat of thee pants and I'd toss thee in the roadway along with all the iron."
But I knew it were no good arguing, so I throws down a sovereign and gets me eight bob change. But I weren't going to let them think they'd got away with it that easy. Nope! I told them as how I'll tell the vicar. "I'll tell the vicar," says I, "I'll tell the vicar all about Swindle 'em Station."
From: 'Roger Plowman's Excursion to London in Zurich of Sairey Jane', to be found in A Cotswold Village by J Arthur Gibbs, published 1871 in Cirencester. The author preferred to remain anonymous, but he is believed to have been a village schoolmaster. It is said that Isambard Kingdom Brunel was particularly proud of the Restaurant on Swindon Station.
2 - The Fire Brigade
There's a fire brigade at Stow on the Wold, and one at Blockley. Brand new engines they've got and if there be a fire somewhere off they go like falling stars, and on the job in no time.
But it were different when I were a young boychap. We had engine what were called a manual'un, had six blokes on each side pumping a big handle. I remember as once when a fairish size house caught fire, and it were a good half hour after the alarm before the brigade turned up. Well, what with the driver being mumbly, and the old horse out in the field, it took a time or two to get on the road at all. Any road, when they gets to this here house the thatch had just caught, and everbody was rushing around like mad. Old Tommy Hadden were just about to go and lay the hose on it, when the foreman hollers out, "Wait a minute, Tommy, and let that flare up a bit; then we can see what we be at."
Last Sunday morning the Missus says to meFrom: Charles Gardiner. I Pity Myself, I Do I learnt from Freda Palmer.
"Where would you like to be buried, Timothy?
You're insured for a hundred of the best
And you'll be shortly laid to rest.
Ten pound down is all you've got to pay
To the undertaker Binks."
I says "You'll look very nice with ninety pounds for drinks."
"So, I do pity myself, I do, I pity myself not half.
When you've paid for the funeral and bought a bit of black
There'll be ten pounds down to be spent coming back;
There'll be gin for all relations, and rum for the coachman, too.
I'll be with you going there, I shan't be with you coming back.
So, I pity myself, I do."
Old Billy Brown, a sailor pal of mine,
He says, "I'm a-going on the brine.
Kindly look after my wooden-legged wife
See that she leads a sober life."
But last night, coming out the Robin Hood,
Her broke her wooden leg, oh my!
I knelt down to try and mend it if I could,
But she broke it off too high.
So I do pity myself, I do, I pity myself not half.
For her old man tomorrow's coming home from sea
And he left his wife, and her leg, in charge of me.
When he finds she broke her wooden leg,
And her skirt's all covered in glue,
And when he knows I've got a splinter sticking in me thumb,
Oh I pity myself, I do.
3 - Old Jonas
Old Jonas has just died, and they've been a-burying of him. A cantankerous old covey he always was. Why, you should have seen him after a couple of quarts, why, he'd have caused an upshot anywhere. Well, he was such an ungain man to look at; sadly out of shape his carcass were, to be sure, and even his voice were like the squawking of a starling.
Anyroad, he was dead and they were a-burying of him. And just as they was lowering the coffin into the grave, it slips off the webbing and lands skew-whiff in the hole. And there was another old covey there a-standing by. "Ha-ha! Dang you, Jonas," he says, "thee's always been a cantankerous old covey when thee was alive, and lumme days, thee can't help being awkward now thee's dead!"
From: Charles Gardiner.
4 - The Man from the BBC
We had a feller as what's come up from the BBC afore last week. He were asking old Ron Tobbins about farming in the old days. Said as how he wanted to know how they carried on when they had the Harvest Home and such like. Trouble were, old Ron Tobbins didn't believe in a lot of things - especially things like the Milk Board and the Commons Market - so he thinks as how if he tells this BBC gentleman all about the terrible, desperate state of farmers, he might get something done about it.
Well, off goes old Ron Tobbins, a-clipping on like a lot of hounds - you should have heard him! After about ten minutes, this here BBC gentleman whoas him up and says, "Quite, Mr Tobbins! Quite." says he. "But I has me doubts if your views on these subjects would be of a great interest to the general public. Nope!" says he. "What we wanted was a ... a delicate retrospector." "Oh, I see, Master," says old Ron Tobbins, a-taking off his billy-cock and a-gaping into it, "But I has me doubts if we grows one of they on the farm."
From: Charles Gardiner.
5 - The Motor Man
There was a motor man, as had taken a wrong turning up on they hills, and a-mithering he was as to which road he should take to be the right'un. So he turns into a rick-yard where old George was pitching dung into a cart. "Oy!" he says, "What's the way to Cheltenham, then?" "Don't know, Master - but I've heard of it."
Off goes the motor man, backing down the drive, a-wimmering and a-wommering all over the place, when he hears some hollering in front of him. Back he goes into the rick-yard, and there, standing next to old George, is the biggest feller he's ever seen in his life. "This here's Little Willie," says George. "He knows Cheltenham - and market day's on a Thursday. But he don't know the way."
From: Charles Gardiner.
6 - Moreton in Marsh
Moreton in Marsh be a desperate place for cricket - they does the job proper there: a mowed ground; a painted pavillion; and all of them playing in white trousers ... little boys' caps and all they've got. On Saturday they was playing one of the village teams from up on the hills - Longborough - as hadn't got all the tackle the Moreton men had got. Well, some of them was a-playing in their corduroys even, and they only had two pads between the whole eleven of them - and they was odd'uns!
Anyroad, comes their turn to bat against the Moreton men, "Oy, Bill!" one of them shouts down to the other, "Thee got your pad on the wrong leg!" "Have I?" says Bill, "Well thee best let him bowl at ye, and I'll go in up the other end." Old Tommy Hadden, the fireman, were umpire and he had half a dozen hats and six jumpers on, well it was such a blooming hot day. "Ha-ha!" he says, "You stay where you are, Bill" he says, "Both their bowlers be left-handed."
Oh, bah-bah black sheep,1 hot'un: fleece.
Have you any wool?
Yes, Sir! Yes, Sir! Three bags full.
Then give me your hot'un1,
Let your mutton go bare,
For all the girls are busy
Knitting jumpers everywhere.
And there ain't one that's worth Three and six, as a rule,
'Cos it's ten pair o' needles
And two ton o' wool ...
For all the girls are
Busy knitting jumpers,
Busy knitting jumpers all day long.
Can't you hear the jumper girls
Singing "first two plain
And then two purl."
Knit one, slip one,
Make a stitch and drop one,
Leave the needles on the chair.
So that Pa, with the hump's
Got to do the jumpers jump,
Singing "jumpers, jumpers, Jumpers everywhere."
Now in the trams and the b
Bses they sits,
And they knits, knits, knits, knits, Knits, knits, knits.
They buys the wool at
A guinea per pound,
And they gets a lot of little holes
And puts the wool around.
At ninepence a stitch,
Jumpers cost quite a lot,
And the little holes between 'em Cost God knows what ...
From: Charles Gardiner. Bill Pullen tells a similar story, and I use his ending. Jumpers Song (Weston/ Lee) I learned this from Howard Pritchett.
7 - How do you Spell Yokel?
'Twas September the 30th, 1939. Andoversford railway station was full of little'uns. They'd all come down from London to escape the bombing. The Government says they was the country's future, and needed looking after. It was the same for the Young Princesses - they was a couple of fields away at Dowdeswell - but we don't talk about that, because it's Top Secret. 'Walls Have Ears' ... 'Careless Talk Costs Lives'.
We marched them all off up to the Village Hall, and on the way we stopped at the farm. 'Twas the first time that some of they little'uns had seen the countryside. One little girl said as how she'd always liked a bit of cold tongue and pickle, but she weren't going to have it any more after seeing it in a cow's slobbery mouth. She was going to have a 'nice little egg from a nice little nest box'. We marched them all up the to Village Hall, and there they was collected by the various families that they was going to stay with. It was ten shillings per head, and eight and six if you had more than one. There was three young girls was staying with us, and after Our Mum had give them a good country meal, she sat them down at the table with a piece of paper and a pencil, and told them to write home and let their Mum and Dad know that they'd arrived safely, and how they was getting on in the countryside. And they scribbled there for about ten minutes - then one of the girls holds up her hand and says, "How do you spell 'yokel'?"
I'm better off in me little dugout, a long ways from you.I made this up, but the little girl who wouldn't eat tongue because it came from a cow's slobbery mouth but would like an egg, is well known - the punch line is Charles Gardiner's. I'm Better Off in my Little Dugout, I learnt this from Bil Dore.
You know that's true, so do stop worrying, do.
All day long where the cannons roar ...
But it's better than a-listening to your jaw ...
I'm better off in me little dugout, a long ways from you.
8 - One Thursday Dinnertime
'Twas one Thursday dinnertime - and that be the wrong day of the week for any victual, except 'taters or turnips - and all the little'uns had ate their dinner, and said, "Thank you, God, for our good dinner." All, that were, except young Tommy, as was six. "Aren't you going to thank God for your good dinner?" says his mother. "Not today, Our Mum." "Indeed!" says she. "And you will, as I hope." "I sha'n't then, because it were only 'taters and a diddly drop of gravy, and that isn't worth thanking anybody for!" "All right.," says his mother, "thee can sit there until thee can find something to say 'Thank God' for." "Thank God I weren't sick!" says young Tommy.
From: Charles Gardiner. This story is very well known; I have even heard of it being told from the pulpit.
9 - Carol Singing
'Twas the week before Christmas and all the little'uns were out carol singing. Young Tommy didn't go - he stayed at home to listen to the wireless; 'Toytown at Christmas Time' ... but it was rubbish! 'Twas so quiet, that wireless, you had to sit with your ear right up against it. Young Tommy knew what the problem were; there was none of the Special Water that you had to top-up the accumulator battery with. The little'uns had tipped it all away, so that they could take the bottle to go collecting the money for their carol singing.
Young Tommy went to his Dad to see if there was any more of the water. "Nope," says his Dad, "but I'll tell you what the soldiers do in the desert, when they haven't got any of the Special Water for the accumulator batteries. They drinks two pints of ordinary water, straight down, and then they goes and pees in the battery, and that's quite as good as the Special Water." Young Tommy didn't think he'd do that - knowing his luck, he's sure to get an electric shock, or his mother would walk in the middle of it, and think he'd gone mad. So he sat there with his ear right up against the wireless.
And then the little'uns come back from carol singing, making a noise, and tipping the bottle out on the table, and counting out the money - one and eightpence ha'penny. "That's all right," says the biggest. "That's ... that's thrupence ha'penny each and thrupence for the little'un." "Aaah! That ain't fair," says the little'un. "I knows more of the words to the carols than any of you, and it's always me that has to shake the bottle - I reckon as how I ought to have fourpence ha'penny and you can all have thrupence each" And that started the noise. There was such a row. Young Tommy got fed up with trying to listen to Toytown; goes to the back door, puts on his overcoat and his wellies. "Where you off?" says his mother. "I'm going carol singing for an ha'penny - shut them little'uns up," says young Tommy.
Off he goes to Parson's front gate, up the drive - as he's going up the drive he sings:
Father stole the Parson's sheep and a merry Christmas we will keep.Parson come to the front door and says "That's a good song. You sing that song again, Lad." (Sings it again). "I'll give you, Lad, a half a crown if you'll come to chapel on Sunday morning and sing that song for me. And I'll give you a new suit of clothes as well, so as you don't look like the urchin that you are."
A leg of mutton and a jug of beer, and I'll say nowt about it.
And I'll say nowt about it.
Young Tommy thought that were a fair deal, and he goes running home - goes in the kitchen, "How did you get on?" says his mother. "All right. Parson says he'll give me a new suit of clothes and half a crown if I'll sing my carol in chapel on Sunday morning." "What carol's that, young Tommy?" "This one, Mother." (Sings it again). "Oooh! I don't think that song's quite suitable for chapel on Sunday morning, young Tommy. I'll tell you what to sing."
Come Sunday morning, young Tommy puts on his new suit of clothes and off he trots to chapel, goes into the big room, and there's the Parson, up at the far end a-spouting. And he says "Sin is prevalent in Andoversford. Sin is rife in Andoversford. And there's a young lad here who is going to prove my point to you. I want you to listen to the words of this song, because it's all true. Sing your song, Lad." So young Tommy gets up and he sings:
It was a fine and summer's day, Parson Brown was very gay,
Romping Molly in the hay, he was Tickling her upside-down, Sirs.
Tickling her upside-down, Sirs.
This is from a well known cante fable. I first heard it from Bob Davenport.
10 - My Dad's Got a Gun
Young Tommy's Dad didn't go to war. Young Tommy says Our Mam wrote to them and said if they took Dad off to war there'd be nobody there to work the horse - and then they'd all starve. And they had a letter back from Mr Churchill himself; said he didn't want the country to starve, so it would be best if Dad stayed at home and worked the horse. The letter's there, on the mantelpiece, behind the clock.
Young Tommy didn't mind his Dad not going to war - because he couldn't abide fighting. Not like some of them kids at school. There was one of them last week, was stood up in the corner of the playground with all the little'uns sitting all around him. "My Dad's got a gun!" says this lad. "Cooorrr!" said all the little'uns, "Your Dad's got a gun!" "Yes - my Dad's got a gun! He keeps it in a box with his medals." "Cooorrr!" said all the little'uns, "Your Dad's got a gun! And he keeps it in his box with his medals."
"What's your Dad got, young Tommy?" "Nothing." And then young Tommy thought for a bit, and he says, "We got an old Army greatcoat." "Hoohooo!" said all the little'uns, "Young Tommy's Dad's got an old Army greatcoat!" "Got a brass button on it" says young Tommy. "Cooorrr! Young Tommy's Dad's got an old Army greatcoat, with a brass button on it." "Where's he keep it, young Tommy?" "He keeps it in the attic - over the tank," "Cooorrr! Your Dad's got a tank ..."
From: Bob Bray told a version of this story at the Fleece.
11 - The Cherry Tree
'Twas Christmas time and all the little'uns was out sledging, the other side of the lane, on the humpty-tump. Father had finished building the new privy at the end of the garden - posh job that were - he'd made it out of these warped elm boards as he had acquired from the undertakers. And with the wood he had left over he made a sledge for the little'uns. 'Twas a bit heavy; took three of them to drag it up the slope, but when it were going down it didn't half go. It had a brake and all, but that didn't work. 'Twas a stick, and when you pulled up the one end, the other end dug into the snow - but it didn't stop you, you just changed direction pretty quick.
When it came to young Tommy's turn to go down the tump, he turned the sledge around, to go down towards the house. "Our Mum says we weren't to go that way, because of the lane, and the house, and the ditch and all." "Don't you worry," says young Tommy. "There'll be nothing using the lane this time of the year, and I'll stop before I gets to the ditch." Down goes young Tommy - never in all his life had he gone as fast. Down the tump, over the lane, through the chuwer1, and as he came up to the ditch, he pulls on the brake, swerves and goes bang - straight up against the side of the privy. Over the top of the sledge he went, but he didn't hit the privy. Nope! That had moved. That was on its way down the bank, into the ditch. Young Tommy thought it was best not to be there, so he made himself scarce. But after about twenty minutes he was cold, tired, wet and hungry - so he went back home.
"Right young Tommy, I'm going to tell you a story." says his Dad. "A long time ago, in a country far away, there was a little boy. And, do you know, for Christmas that little boy had a bright, new, shiny little axe, and that little boy was so pleased with his new little axe, he went straight out into the front garden and chopped down a tree. Trouble were, it were his father's favourite cherry tree that he chopped down. And his Father said, "Did you chop down my favourite cherry tree?" "I cannot tell a lie, Father, I did." And his father said, "You're such a good, truthful little boy; I forgive you." And do you know, young Tommy, that little boy grew up to be the first President of the United States of America - George Washington!"
"Now, I'm going to ask you, young Tommy, did you knock the privy into the ditch?" "I cannot tell a lie, Dad, I did." And his father gave him a thumping good hiding. "Yaaah! That ain't fair!" says young Tommy. "George Washington's dad didn't hit him!" "No - and George Washington's father weren't sitting in the cherry tree at the time!"
1 chewer or chur: a narrow, often sloping, path between two buildings or pieces of land.
From: my brother Lionel, who told me this story when I was a very young boy chap. Bob Davenport says Jack Elliot told it, and it is well known.
12 - Any Two Sides of a Triangle
I was building the hay-rick, and I was sickle-ing these cross-ties on the top corners to hold them in, like. And this old archeologist feller was walking by - he had some young student fellers with him, about forty-five. "Do you know what you've done?" he says. I says, "No, Sir." He says, "You've built a triangle." I says "Have I? I didn't know." He says, "That's indestructible, that is. If anybody ever tries to catch you out, just you tell them that any two sides of a triangle is together greater than the third."
Couple of days after that I was caught taking a rabbit out of one of my snares, and had to go up before the Magistrate. "Anything to say?" he says. I says, "Yes, Sir. Any two sides of a triangle is together greater than the third." That had him! He didn't know what to do. He had to ask the Clerk. They had their heads together for about ten minutes. Then he says, "Five shillings." I reckon they'd have made that a Pound if I hadn't knowed that.
And I tells this here archeologist feller a few days later, and he laughed. He said "I can see I'll have to tell you all about the square on the pythagor-arse." I says, "Aye", I says, "And e=mc2. That must be relevant!" "Aha!" says all the students, "That's one up to the worker!"
A rip-off from Bernard Miles. I put the last line in just to show that country folk do know a thing or two - apologies for that.
13 - Nellie's Coffin
Between Cheltenham and Gloucester is Churchdown - I don't know why they calls it Church Down, because the church is Up! Saint Bartholomew's church stands right at the top of its Chosen Hill, and the path, the steep path up to the church is called the 'Slippery Pine'. And I'm going to tell you about a grand old village character, Nellie, and the day of her funeral.
In the winter of '47, when the snow was on the ground ... today they take the coffin up by Land Rover, but in them days they used to use a rope and pulley on a ratchet. Nellie was a very large lady in a very large coffin, and things weren't going at all well. They'd nearly got to the top when the ratchet jumps, and the trolley shoots back a couple of feet, and starts going forward, and Nellie in her coffin carried on down the Slippery Pine on her own, like a bullet from a gun.
Down the Slippery Pine: as she gets to a curve in the pathway she goes through the undergrowth; breaks down a fence; and takes to the air, as the ground fell away beneath her. Through the air she sailed with the greatest of ease, and as she came in to land she bounced, took off again, and cleared the stile at the bottom of the field, and landed in the Sunken Lane, with the snow piled up on each side.
Down she goes, a-wimmering and a-wommering from side to side - and you'd have thought she'd have gone on to Crifty Craft Lane; but she didn't! She hit a snowman that the kids had built, and veered off to the left, down that well-worn path to the pub - The Bat and Ball. As she went alongside the allotments, there was a couple of old boys there, a-picking sprouts - frozen to death they was - but it cheered them up. "Ha-ha!" they says, "There goes Nellie! She must be off for her glass of barley wine at the Bat and Ball."
But she weren't - as she came onto the forecourt she goes smack up against the side of the pub, and shoots at right angles across the road into the Chemist's shop. Bang she goes against the counter, feet first. The lid of the coffin falls off, and Nellie sits bolt upright in her coffin. "And what can we do for you, Nellie?" says the Chemist. "I'd like something to stop me coffin."
From: the late Ken Griffiths of Swindon Village, Cheltenham Parish Council. Ken told me this story when he was in our shop one day. We used to print the Swindon Village monthly magazine.
14 - The Dog
A long, long time ago, when the world was very, very young, there was a little dog - and he was very, very lonely. And he went out into the wide, wide world, and he met Hare. And he said, "Hare, will you be my friend?" And Hare said, "Well, I don't know about that - but we'll give it a go!" So all day long Dog and Hare went out hunting, and at night they lay down together, side by side.
Dog and Hare went hunting,And Hare said "Shhhhh! Don't do that! If you do that, you'll wake up Wolf, and he will come and kill us." So Dog thought "Wolf must be the strongest."
And then lay down to sleep,
Dog and Hare went hunting,
And then lay down to sleep.
In the middle of the night,
Dog went "Awoooo!"
So he went out into the wide, wide world, and he met Wolf. And he said "Wolf, will you be my friend?" And Wolf said, "Well, I don't know about that - but we'll give it a go!" So all day long Dog and Wolf went out hunting, and at night they lay down together, side by side.
Dog and Wolf went hunting,And Wolf said, "Shhhhh! Don't do that! If you do that, you'll wake up Bear, and Bear will come and kill us." So Dog thought "Bear must be the strongest."
And then lay down to sleep,
Dog and Wolf went hunting,
And then lay down to sleep.
In the middle of the night,
Dog went "Awoooo!"
So he goes out into the wide, wide world, and he meets Bear. And he said, "Bear, will you be my friend?" And Bear said, "Well, I don't know about that - but we'll give it a go!" So all day long Dog and Bear went out hunting, and at night they lay down together, side by side.
Dog and Bear went hunting,And Bear said, "Shhhhh! Don't do that! If you do that, you'll wake up Man, and Man will come with his gun and kill us." So Dog thought "Man must be the strongest."
And then lay down to sleep,
Dog and Bear went hunting,
And then lay down to sleep.
In the middle of the night,
Dog went "Awoooo!"
So he goes out into the wide, wide world, and he meets Man. And he said, "Man, will you be my friend?" And Man said, "Well, I don't know about that - but we'll give it a go!" So all day long Dog and Man went out hunting, and at night they lay down together, side by side.
Dog and Man went hunting,And Man said "Yes! That's right! That's what we want! If you do that, you'll frighten away the hare, and you'll frighten away the wolf, and you'll frighten away the bear, and you'll frighten away the burglars" And ever since then, Dog has been Man's best friend!
And then lay down to sleep,
Dog and Man went hunting,
And then lay down to sleep.
In the middle of the night,
Dog went "Awoooo!"
From: good friend and famous story teller, Taffy Thomas, who held a workshop at Sidmouth Folk Festival 2007 using this story, and finished up by saying "tell this story to someone else today and you will be a story teller." I went straight to the Volunteer Inn lunch time sessions and told it, and I've been telling it at my grandchildren's school, on 'Grampy Day', since then. On this recording Roger Grimes plays melodeon and sings with Jen Spencer. The song is by Sandra Kerr, I only heard it once so I hope I haven't got it wrong. I would like to thank both Taffy and Sandra for letting me use it.
15 - No News!
Introduction: A very wealthy man was advised by his physician to go away for a rest. He said, "You are run down, and you're suffering from stress. The only thing that will restore you to normal condition is a trip to the mountains. Go away where you will forget all about your business, and your business associates. Isolate yourself from everyone for a month or six weeks, and you should recuperate."
He went home and told the members of his family what the doctor had said. Then he said, "I've decided to take his advice, and while I'm away I don't want to be pestered with any letters or telegrams. In fact, I'm going where I can't be reached at all."
So he went away, and was gone about six weeks. When he arrived back at Stroud Station his health was very much improved, and he was naturally anxious for news from home, as he hadn't heard anything for so long. He got off the train and was very surprised to be met not by his chauffeur, but by old Tommy Hadden.
The following conversation ensued:
Master: "Well Tommy, how is everything at home? Is there any news?"
Tommy: "No! No! No news, Sir! No news! No news at all."
M: "Come on, you know I'm just dying for some word from home, you can tell me, any little thing, doesn't matter how trifling."
T: "No! No! No news, Sir! No news! ... Your dog's dead."
M: "My dog's dead? Oh, that's too bad. What killed the dog?"
T: "He ate some burnt horseflesh - and now he's as dead as the 'oss."
M: "Burnt horseflesh? Where did he get burnt horseflesh from?"
T: "Well, Sir, your barn burnt down, and all the cows and all the horses they was all burnt up, and when it had cooled down, your dog went in and ate the burnt horseflesh - and now he's as dead as the 'oss."
M: "My barn burnt down?"
T: "Yes, Sir, that's all burnt down. No more barn."
M: "Well how did it catch fire?"
T: "Ah! Well it was the sparks that flew over from the house, Sir. The sparks that flew over from the house, caught fire to the barn, and the barn all burnt up, and all the cows and all the horses were burnt up, and after it had cooled down, in goes your dog and eats the burnt horseflesh - and now he's as dead as the 'oss."
M: "My house must have burnt down too, then?"
T: "Yes, Sir, that's all burnt up, Sir."
M: "Destroyed completely?"
T: "Yes, Sir,"
M: "And how did that catch fire, then?"
T: "Well, that weren't my fault, Sir - somebody opened a window. It were them stupid chintzy curtains, Sir. The draft come through the window, blew the chintzy curtains into the candle flame, and up it went - whoosh! And the house was gone in minutes, Sir, and the sparks flew over to the barn, and up went barn, burnt up all the cows and all the horses, and your dog went in when it had cooled down, and ate the burnt horseflesh - and now he's as dead as the 'oss."
M: "They had candles, burning in the house, where I've got gas, electricity, a generator in case of power cuts? I never knew we had a candle in the place, at all!"
T: "Well, I was told to set the candles round the coffin, Sir."
M: "Coffin! Who's dead?"
T: "Ah! I meant to have told you that, Sir. Your mother-in-law is dead."
M: "Oh, my mother-in-law is dead, eh?"
T: "Yes, Sir, she's gone. No need for you to worry about that, Sir"
M: "Well, what killed my mother-in-law?"
T: "Well, we don't really know that, Sir, but there's gossiping in the village that it was the shock, Sir. The shock killed her when she heard the news."
M: "News? What news?"
T: "No! No! No news, Sir! No news! No news at all, Sir! Except that's why I had to come here today - because your wife's run off with the chauffeur."
From: 'No News, or What Killed the Dog' by Nat Wills. Here Danny Stradling does the introduction and Roger Grimes is 'The Master'. In Nat Wills' version, it is a black servant that relates the bad news, finishing up each time with "and that's what killed the dog." But "dead as the 'oss." is a Cotswold expression; that's why I used it. In the folk world I first heard it from Ted Stephens and Dan Quinn.
16 - The Wonderful Pig
We had a feller as what's come up from the BBC a-fore last week. He were asking old Ron Tobbins about farming in the old days - but you've heard all that before. Off goes this here BBC gentleman after the conversation they'd had, and calling old Ron Tobbins all the darned old fools as he could think of - when he gets to the farm gate, up runs a pig and opens the gate for him to go out. But the strange thing is, this pig had a wooden leg - made out of an old warped elm board. This here BBC gentleman gaped in amazement at this pig and its wooden leg, opening the gate. Back he goes into the farm yard. "Mr Tobbins!" he says, "Mr Tobbins! I've just seen a pig with a wooden leg." "Ah, Master, that's a wonderful pig, that's a wonderful pig, that is." "But it's got a wooden leg!" "That's right, it's got a wooden leg, and it's a wonderful pig. And it's amazing what he can do on those three legs and a wooden'un." "But why has he got a wooden leg, Mr Tobbins?"
"Well, you see, I remembers once when a fair-ish sized house caught fire, and it were a good half hour after the alarm before the brigade turned up - but I've told you all that before. But while we was waiting for the fire brigade, we looks up, and there in the top window of the farmhouse was a human face - it was one of the little'uns, calling "Help, help!" And in rushed that pig, bashes open the door, up the stairs, and arrives thirty seconds later, with this little'un in its jaws - had hold of her by the back of her dress - put her down, and she was as right as rain. That wonderful pig had saved her life. That's a wonderful pig." "Yes, Mr Tobbins. Quite, Mr Tobbins. But why has he got a wooden leg?"
"I remembers once when Moreton in Marsh was playing Longborough at cricket - but I've told you all about that. But at the end of the day we had to get eight runs off the last ball; it looked impossible. The bowler bowled the ball, and up runs that wonderful pig, grabs hold of the ball and runs around the inside of the boundary - round and round - while the batsmen run eight runs, and we won the day. We'd have lost that match if it hadn't been for that wonderful pig." "But why has the pig got a wooden leg, Mr Tobbins? Why has he got a wooden leg?"
"I remembers when it was Christmas time, and all the little'uns was out sledging on the humpty-tump - but I've told you all about that before. After young Tommy had had a good hiding from his father for pushing the privy into the ditch, he went out into the yard and starts sliding up and down on the duck-pond. And the ice broke, and young Tommy went straight through! And up runs that wonderful pig, bangs on the ice, all the ice shatters, and he jumps into the duck-pond, and pulls young Tommy out by the scruff of the neck. And young Tommy was fine! not a scratch on him - and we'd have lost him if it hadn't been for that wonderful pig. That's a wonderful pig." "Quite, Mr Tobbins. Quite. But why has the pig got a wooden leg?" "Well, Sir, when you've got a pig as wonderful as that you don't eat him all at once, do you?"
From: once again, a very well known story - but I first heard it from Mike Waterson, in The Bedford Hotel, Sidmouth.
17 - The Bishop of Worcester
When King George went to Worcester, once upon a time, he'd gone there to see the Bishop. And when he gets to the Bishop's front gate he sees a big brass plate which says 'Here lives the Independent Bishop of Worcester'. "Well, I don't think much of that," says the King to himself, and in he goes.
"I understands you calls yourself the Independent Bishop of Worcester." "That's right, Sire, because I don't give way to no man." "Well, I don't think much of it," says the King, "and I'll tell you what we'll do - we'll go off to London on Wednesday morning, and I shall ask you three questions. And the first question - 'How long would it take me to go all the way around the world?' And the second question - 'How much am I worth, right down to the nearest farthing?' And the last question - 'What am I thinking at the exact moment as we be speaking?' And if you can't answer all of they three questions, you will no longer be known as 'the Independent Bishop of Worcester'."
Next morning was Tuesday morning, and the Bishop was up early; he hadn't slept a wink all night. A very worried man he were indeed to be sure, and he goes out into his back garden and starts pacing up and down his garden path. And there were an old gardener feller there, a-working nigh. "Anything up, Governor?" "Nope", says the Bishop, and continues pacing up and down his garden path. After about twenty minutes, this here gardener feller whoas him up again and says, "You sure there's nothing wrong, Governor?" "Well, you've been a good and faithful servant to me all these years, so I'll tell you." "Is that all?" says the gardener - that was after he'd finished telling him, like. "Does the King know you very well?" "Nope, I only met the gentleman for the first time last night." "Well, I'll tell you what we'll do. I'll get up tomorrow morning, I'll put on your clothes, and off I'll go to London, to Buckingham Palace, and I shall answer all of they three questions for you, because I'm not a bit worried about it."
So that's what they does. Come Wednesday morning, he gets up early, put on his governor's clothes, and off he trots to London - Buckingham Palace - and goes into this great big room, and there's the King sitting up at the far end, with all his courtiers a-seated all around him.
"Right," says the King, "first question: how long would it take me to go all the way around the world?" "Thee must go by the sun, Sire," he says, "and that'll take you exactly twenty-four hours." "Very good!" says the King. "Ha-ha!" says all the courtiers - "That's one up to the Bishop!" "Yes", says the King, "but how much am I worth, right down to the nearest farthing?" "Nothing at all!" he says, "Nothing at all! There's only ever been one man that were ever worth anything, and he were sold for thirty pieces of silver, so by that reckoning, thee aren't even worth a farthing." "Very good!" says the King. "Ha-ha!" says all the courtiers - "That's two up to the Bishop!" "Yes", says the King, "but what am I thinking at this exact moment?" "Ah-ha," he says, "that's the easiest. Thee be thinking as how I'm Bishop of Worcester, but I'm not, I'm only his gardener!" And then they chopped his head off.
From: The Folklore of Herefordshire, by Ella Mary Leather - I think.
Firstly, of course, my thanks to Ken Langsbury for his stories, for the 'in his own words' part of the booklet, and for the old photos - except for that extraordinary Old Spot Morris picture, which came from Martin Brinsford. Ken should also be thanked for booking the Miserden Village Hall and inviting some family and friends to make up the audience. Thanks to Martin Graebe, who took the photos that night, and to Danny Stradling, Roger Grimes and Jen Spencer who made musical and spoken additions to the stories. The transcriptions / translations were done by Danny Stradling and myself. Danny did the proof-reading.
A Musical Traditions Records production
Rod Stradling and Ken Langsbury - 10.10.09