Uncle Herbert’s Machine

This is the first monologue I wrote, in 2011. I’d just retired and I was looking for a way of telling new stories in storytelling clubs. I thought there was a place for hearing tales about our recent history. We’d moved into a converted mill in Hebden Bridge. I used to think about the people who used to work there. At the same time, I was reading a biography of Einstein. I was intrigued by his discoveries about time and imagined Albert having a short break in Hebden in 1905 and befriending an amateur music hall performer. I happened to call in at The White Lion, the oldest pub around here and read again the framed newspaper report of the night when Liszt stayed at the pub on a tour around Britain. I read my new story to Kath on a sunny day in our garden, affecting a Music Hall voice. The first time I was ready to perform it the words slid right out of my head and I put it off till after the interval. Afterwards, Pam Dimbleby told me to let the audience know it was my own work.

‘This pub,’ said our local landlady,

‘Once accommodated Franz Josef Liszt.’

I said, ‘What about Brahms?

Did he succumb to its charms?’

When an old chap behind me said, ‘Pssst!

 

Never mind talk of fancy composers,

Nor off comers of mighty renown.

Whilst tha drinks that sherbet,

I’ll tell of a Herbert,

As wor born an’ brought up in this town.

 

There have been some amazing inventions,

But t’ greatest invention I’ve seen,

Wor in 1905,

I wor first one to drive,

Uncle Herbert’s Time Travel Machine!

 

T’ contraption wor not much to look at,

Two seats an’ some levers an’ gears.

An’ a set of dials,

Not for counting miles,

But to show distance travelled in years.

 

Uncle said, ‘Will tha be my co-pilot?’

An’ he helped me to set t’ target date.

So we gave t’ dials a tweak,

Months, years an’ weeks,

An’ they stopped in 1968.

 

Now mother wor most disconcerted,

She said, ‘Don’t fetch him back late for his tea!’

But uncle just laughed,

He said, ‘Don’t talk so daft!

Think on Einstein’s Relativity!’

 

So we waved goodbye to all t’ family,

An’ smoothly moved up to top gear.

An’ to my surprise,

When I opened my eyes,

We’d leapt forrard, 63 year!

 

When all t’ dust an’ smoke had quite settled,

I couldn’t believe what I saw,

It worn’t room I know,

No carpets or lino,

Just cavemen, sat round on our floor.

 

All t’ men had hair down to t’ shoulders,

An’ passed round an’ old cigarette.

An’ t’ lasses’ short skirts

Fair upset Uncle Bert

It’s a scene I shall never forget.

 

Then t’ leader o t’ cavemen came forrard,

Wearing bearskins, a right proper mess.

‘Good trip, man!’ he said.

Then, shaking his head,

‘What’s tha doing in that fancy dress?’

 

Happen uncle wor proper offended,

For he pushing on t’ levers right hard.

We leapt forrard 50 year,

All t’ way in top gear,

An’ landed outside in t’ back yard!

 

Then uncle stared up at t’ mill chimneys,

Saying, ‘Look lad, no smoke’s coming out!’

An’ all down our street,

Folk worn’t using their feet.

Horseless carriages took them about!

 

An’ some dined at pavement cafes,

Or cruised on t’ canal in a barge.

But t’ best thing of all,

Wor this hole in t’ bank wall,

That wor giving out cash, ‘Free of Charge!’

 

‘Bye, this is all right,’ said my uncle.

But we promised to get back for tea.

An’ when we reappeared,

All t’ family cheered,

For my uncle Herbert an’ me!

 

But nobbut 3 days later,

I’ll tell thee summit that’s weird,

Uncle Bert had a date,

Wit’ Barmaid’s best mate,

An’ both of them an t’ machine disappeared!

 

Still, there’s been some amazing inventions,

But t’ greatest invention I’ve seen,

Wor in 1905,

I wor first one to drive,

Uncle Herbert’s Time Travel Machine!’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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21st Century Man

I had the tune for this and then I dreamt a performance by Mervyn Johns, who played Petula Clarke’s dad in a film. In my dream he sang the song full pelt, accompanied by a kind of jug band, but really BBC orchestra types, in black suits and shirts with wing collars. They repeated the line about seasons and the next line and probably the joined in the chorus. Unfortunately, I didn’t dream the rest of the words. But my own words are inspired by a story I heard about a guy I used to work with, who retired early after his wife died. Eventually he got a companion, Thai I think. His son told him he wouldn’t speak to him again if he married his new partner because he was frittering away his grandchildren’s inheritance.

I start the verses slowly and ask the audience to join in the Chorus.

I’ll tell a tale that starts with ale,

One night I came in from the pub,

And found a note that said, ‘Dear John,

You’ve joined the Singles Club!

I’m sorry, John, I’ve left you.

I’ve found my special one.

And everyone – except you –

Has known that I’ve been carrying on

With Tony, don’t phone me,

We’re touring in a Camper Van.

And as we watch the seasons go,

He’ll help my memories to grow,

‘Cos he’s a late blooming,

Baby booming,

21st Century Man!

(Chorus)

Hold hands, last stand,

Living till we drop!

Lad, lass, bus pass,

Till the bell rings: ‘Your Stop!’

2.]

My wife had left, and so bereft,

I quit the tele and the pub.

A hand above gave me a shove,

To the 3rd Age Social Club.

My favourite night was Tuesday,

When we did free form dance.

And in ‘Ladies Excuse Me’,

I often thought I’d have a chance,

With Maureen, Doreen,

Sheila, Cynthia or Jan.

And as they watched the seasons go,

I’d help their memories to grow,

I’d be a late blooming,

Baby booming,

21st Century Man!

(Chorus)

M8]

Don’t try to ring me Maria,

You chose your mother to see.

Since then you’ve hardly been near,

You’ll not get a penny from me!

3.]

Now my best bet wor t’ internet,

I set myself up with a hub.

And using Skype, found just my type,

At the World Wide Dating Club.

And now she’s my fiancé,

Although she’s half my age,

(She looks just like Beyonce),

I help to supplement her wage.

Niagara, Viagra,

A honey moon is in the plan.

And as we watch the seasons go,

She’ll help my memories to grow,

I’ll be a late blooming,

Baby booming,

21st Century Man!

(Chorus)

(I like the idea that the fiance just might be bogus – despite seeing her on Skype)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home for Christmas

Oh they told me ‘Home for Christmas,’

When they took my name from me.

When I told them, I’m an orphan,

Said, ‘We’re your family.

But if you’ve a Miss you’ll miss,

Better leave their name.

Tell them you’ll be home for Christmas,’

And I thought of you Elaine.

[Drum]

And I thought I saw you running,

When we marched towards the train.

And the drums were gently drumming

To the patter of the rain.

And you brought your lips to kiss

‘Fore we pulled away.

Telling me, ‘Be home for Christmas,’

As I waved to you Elaine.

[Drum]

And the ship’s engines were churning,

To the beat of that refrain.

And I thought of all the sailors

Lying deep beneath the main.

And their voices whispered

Like a chorus of the slain,

Telling me, ‘Be home for Christmas,’

As a mantra for the sane.

[Extended Drumming rising to pitch]

 

And the bullet was a greeting

Sent by a stranger’s hand.

And again I am an orphan

Lying here in No Man’s Land.

And my last wish

Is to kiss you again.

But the drums are slowly fading

As I think of you Elaine.

[Drums…slowly fade out]

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Monologue About A Bog

Early in our history/When everyone spoke Welsh/It should be no mystery/They’d 20 words for ‘Squelch’/For when thick mist descended/Folks sometimes went off course/ And they’d be found upended/In t’ blanket bog on t’ moors.

But t’ Romans hated roamin’,/They just walked in straight lines./Happen they weren’t at home in/Our ‘Northern Appenines’,/For, marching through our region/They wouldn’t Take detours/That’s how they lost t’ 9th Legion/In t’ blanket bog on t’ moors!

Unknowndb4_GoblinSubracesBack when times wor chivalrous,

T’ Authorities didn’t quibble,

If boggarts, most carnivorous,

Sometimes had a nibble.

A traveller strayed from springy heath,

Then heard demonic roars…

Soon his bones lay underneath,

In t’ blanket bog on t’ moors.

 

But when a Lord wor exercisin’

His favourite hunting horse,

An’ t’ Boggart, materialisin’,

Ate a double course,

Nobles said, in consternation,

‘We’ll have to write new laws.

T’ Boggart’s bit above his station,

In t’ blanket bog on t’ moors!’

 

When an Alternative Witch,

By name Morgan La Fay,

Wi’ spells for Bog and Ditch,

(She lived down Hebden way),

Said, ‘Probiotic yoghurt

An’ other natural cures,

Will pacify that boggart,

In t’ blanket bog on t’ moors!’

 

T’ Boggart – all crepuscular –

At twilight left his lair,

Returnin’- big an’ muscular –

Found Morgan sat in t’ chair.

‘Ah knows tha needs, old Butch,’ quoth she,

‘My Supper!’ he guffaws.

‘No, what tha need’s a Woman’s Touch,

In t’ blanket bogs on t’ moors.’

 

And then that Witch Contrarian,

Through Spells and Incantations,

Turned him vegetarian –

But don’t tell his relations.

T’ next Spell she cast for ‘Heavy Sleep’,

(Some say they’ve heard his snores),

Used t’ clever trick o’ countin’ sheep,

In t’ blanket bog on t’ moors.

 

An’ right through t’ next millennium,

A thousand shears of fleece,

Wi’ pleasant dreams about his mum

He slept through war an’ peace.

Till underground he heard a sound

Of revving’ four by fours,

And his disturbance wor profound,

In t’ blanket bog on t’ moors.

 

For bulldozers wor digging gunge,

On t’ orders o’ t new boss.

‘This bog is like a massive sponge,

Let’s burn off sphagnum moss!’

But, after burning, loss of heat,

And t’ Boggart knew what caused

Him having frozen hands an’ feet

In t’ blanket bog on t’ moors.

 

And to t’ new owners of our moors

T’ Government gave Great Wealth.

‘For improving The Great Outdoors,

In time for The Glorious Twelfth.’

An’ some o t’ bog wor burned an’ drained,

But fear made t’ workers pause.

An t’ Boggart’s warren still remained

In t’ blanket bog on t’ moors.

 

But rain on t’ tops now hurried down,

An’ soon wrought devastation!

Folks down in all t’ valley towns

Received an inundation!

First one flood an’ then another

Broke through each water course.

An’ Boggart stayed down under cover,

In t’ blanket bog on t’ moors.

 

Now, generations as tha knows,

In mills an’ houses an’ shops,

Had allus dealt wit’ overflows

With extra supply of mops.

But with this global warming’,

T’ floods filled valley floors.

So minds turned – Non Conforming’ –

To t’ blanket bog on t’ moors.

 

But, just as sense o’ grievance nagged,

Folks heard o’t record kill:

A Shootin’ Party t’ Boggart bagged,

High up on t’ Boggart’s Hill!

Most said, ‘It’s what t’ hunters deserved.’

And t’ Boggart felt no remorse.

For each hunter wor well preserved…

In t’ blanket bog on t’ moors!

 

As t’ Inspector said, at t’ local station,

(T’ hunters’ families to sweeten),

Except in terms of education,

None of them wor eaten!*

An’ then laughter he stifled –

A credit to t’ Local Force –

When asked where t’ Boggart shoved all t’ rifles,

An’ did he shout, ‘Up yours!’

 

An’ don’t dismiss this fantasy

Because folk lore an’ mystery

Connect us to our history.

An’ back down t’ hill each Jack an’ Jill – 

Shopkeepers wi’ empty tills,

Homeowners wi’ insurance bills

An’ waiters who’d stopped earning’ –

Said, ‘That’s our bog they’re burnin’!’

An’ Scientists wi’ detailed log,

An’ you an’ I are going’ to dog

All those who desecrate our bog!

 

* The Inspector has subsequently taken early retirement!

 

Note on the Text

In an unusually prescient fashion, I wrote to HebWeb in June 2012 to alert locals to the desecration of moorland above the Upper Calder Valley, based on a report by George Monbiot. Monbiot detailed how the Government had dropped court proceedings against the moorland owners, the Bannisters (owners of Boundary Mills), instead opting to pay them millions of pounds to help to ‘preserve the moors’. There followed a couple of letters for and against, with one chap writing, ‘Farmers have always burned back the heathland. Live and let live, I say.’ Showing a confusion in the writer’s mind over heathland and bog. But soon this trickle of letters became a surging river, when the Calder Valley was duly flooded on Midsummer’s Day. On 12th August a Mass Trespass was made of the moor. I was in Whitby at the time and these events caused me to write A Monologue About a Bog. I’d long been interested in the connection between the northern English folk lore of Boggarts and the Norse mythology of Trolls. Although English Boggarts are often typified as miniature, mischievous, shape shifting creatures, who can take on human form, I decided that these Little People had been ousted from their original habitats and subsequently adapted their activities along with their stature. Legends around Morgan La Fay from Cheshire and Lancashire also seem to suggest this interpretation. In Yorkshire it is contended that saying a Boggart’s name brings bad luck – so I’ve avoided that! As well as helping to reinstate some almost lost northern folk lore, I thought it was useful to use the art of storytelling to support polemic. I was invited to perform the piece for the first time at a meeting of tenant farmers and local activists from organisations such as Treesponsibility at Hebden Bridge Trades Club that autumn. They were sitting widely apart as I got up on stage, hopeless for any performer. I’m glad to say I managed to move them together. It was a start.

Cautionary Tales for Adolescents

Damien, who mocked his Elders, but…

That’s why he ended up in t’ Cut!

 

Damien had one Great Defect,

He Showed his Elders No Respect.

At Secondary School, it’s Sad to mention

How often he wor on Detention.

He hoped to get more Friends, Alas,

By being t’ Biggest Clown in t’ Class.

That Whoopy Cushion on a Chair,

On Speech Day? Damien put it there.

For Damien thought it wor Smart

To Cause our Lady Mayor to FART!

 

But imagine a POET, most August,

(I’ll be your Model, if you Must),

Strolling along, in His Own Time…

Antennae tuned in to t’ Sublime…

Sucking on a Haliborange,

Whilst trying to find a Rhyme for Orange…

Enjoying that Scene he Loved So Well:

T’ towpath on t’ Rochdale Canal…

When Out of Nowhere! You Know Who:

Damien Leapt out Shouting ‘WHOOOH!’

He hoped he’d make his Friends all Laugh,

Poppy, Gaz and Gorgeous Kath,

Because he thought this Frightful Din,

Would make our Bard Jump out o’ t’ Skin!

But he discovered, to his Distress,

Our Poet wor once in t’ S.A.S.!

And Damien’s Plight wor quite Precarious

T’ Poet wor Tuned like a Stradivarius.

He’d been a Soldier and then a Spy,

And that is the reason why,

Although he wor Four Decades Older,

He THREW young Damien over t’ Shoulder!

An’ Somersaulting through t’ Air he Fell,

Wit’ Giant SPLASH! into t’ Canal.

And after a few moments pause…

Our Poet’s ears Filled with Applause!

For Damien’s Mates, as Youngsters can,

Felt Great Respect for that Old Man.

Who Smiled at them and Blew a Kiss,

Then Wondered Off in t’ State of Bliss…

Could this be True? Who wor this Fella?

Why, it wor me, your Storyteller!

So Remember Damien, I think you’d better:

A little Wiser, but so much Wetter.

 

[Note. This was inspired by an incident on the towpath in Hebden Bridge. I was strolling along quite contentedly. The four people were actually in their 20s, so I hadn’t expected a juvenile prank, nor one guy to treat me as a disposable butt for his humour. It’s one time when the feeling that old people don’t count came home to me. …The rest of the tale is also true.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marjory Dexter, School’s Inspector!

(A retired Headteacher, my friend Lin, told me that OFSTED no longer give schools a ‘Satisfactory’ grade. I wondered how this would work out in other areas of life. This is a SONG! You’ll know the tune if you are au fait with the pizzicato tune from the ballet Sylvia, by Delibes…as I am sure you are.)

Richard Perkins, most parts working,/Looking for late romance,/Joined a Dating Agency/Met Marjory Dexter, Schools Inspector/She gave ratings after datings, in 5 categories!

Your manners and opinions I endorse: Grade 4s!

Your country house and cars deserve applause: more 4s!

But Sex was only satisfactory: Grade 3!

So really, Richard, don’t start boasting,

Friends agree that you’ve been coasting,

On this website, I am hosting!

If we should date again by any chance, Dickie!

You really ought to think of ambience, Dickie!

So stoke my fires down below,

You’ll never make my embers glow,

By playing tracks by Barry Manilow, Dickie!

 

Marjory Dexter, Schools Inspector,/ Thank you for your ratings in all 5 categories./ You say our mating was deflating/ Satisfaction calls for action,/ But you’re hard to please!

 

Though you’ve got charms I find hard to resist, Marjory!

Every move I made you ticked a list, Marjory!

And then you put on T’Ride o t’ Valkyries, Marjory!

And it did not increase my pleasure:

Contemplating parts I treasure,

When you took out your tape measure!

Your website says that you admire Restraint, Marjory!

But when I saw your whip, I felt quite faint, Marjory!

At bravery I’m not a champ,

I draw the line at Nipple Clamps,

In fact I’m satisfied I scored Grade 3, Marjory!

 

 

 

 

Frank’s Ramble

(I was reading about the Bloomsbury group. On a sunny day in the 1920s, at their country retreat, one of the group was reading a pulp fiction novel and wouldn’t stop to Bloomsbury about with the others. He described to them the eerie plot of the now long lost potboiler. I have moved the action to the present and the north and elevated it onto the Pennine moors.)

When Frank went rambling up on t’ moors,

His venture seemed romantic.

But then a heavy mist came down…

Now Frank wor feeling frantic.

 

He’d got no signal on his phone

And day had turned to night.

And mist had blanked out moon and stars.

But then Frank saw a light.

 

A coach lamp hung beside a door,

But t’ house wor dark and shuttered.

‘IS ANYBODY HOME?’ he shouts.

‘To ring for t’ taxi?’ mutters.

 

Three times he raps upon that door…

Faint echoes each recall.

But as he turns to walk away,

Sharp footsteps resound in t’ hall.

 

And t’ door opens to dazzling light!

Frank thinks himself inspected.

‘Who is it, my dear?’ a voice enquires.

‘It’s he whom we expected!’

 

Frank follows her as if in thrall,

Muttering apologies.

But as he turns into t’ front room,

He’s shocked at what he sees…

 

He looks at one face, then at t’ other.

Then, ‘Lord have mercy!’ he begs.

No eyes…no nose…no mouths at all.

Their faces a smooth…as eggs!

 

He stands transfixed before them both.

Then he hears an inner yell.

He concentrates, then hears more clear…

And t’ words are, ‘Run like hell!’

 

He staggers off down t’ dazzling hall,

And sprints down t’ gravel track.

And plunges into mist and moor.

And never once looks back.

 

But on some lonely moorland path,

Dipped headlights, at last he spots.

And Frank strides out on t’ tarmac road,

And t’ car slows down…and stops.

 

T’ car’s engine purrs as they set off,

Frank states his destination.

In time, his hooded driver asks,

‘What caused your perturbation?’

 

Relaxing then, Frank tells his tale.

And t’ driver listens intently.

Then smoothly slowing t’ car to stop,

‘No features at all?’ asks gently.

 

When Frank turns to his rescuer,

His courage leaks its last dreg.

No eyes…no nose…no mouth at all:

His face as smooth…as an egg!

Fiery Jack

(This story is worked up from an anecdote told to us in the 1980s by Jack Noble of Cottonstones. It features in The Bad Old Days section of Hippy Valley.)

Now after t’ War, some Posh Folks in our Nation,/ Started to install refrigeration/Freezers came into fashion,/While most folks had to ration/Thus saving upper classes from starvation!

Here’s a bawdy tale entitled Fiery Jack/ An efficacious treatment for pains in joints an’ back./ But, as every careful customer understands/After each application,/Be sure to WASH YOUR HANDS!!!

A kitchen maid with an infatuation,/Decided to take charge o t’ situation/That kitchen had some gin in,/To fortify her sinning,/A set of keys and jars of embrocation.

At dead of night, she stole into a room,/Hoping to seduce the handsome groom/But drinkers now will pardon her/That room belonged to t’ gardener,/An ancient flower of England, past full bloom!

His big white eyes stared out at her from t’ black,/ She said, ‘I’ve done a damage to my back!’/And he wor right impressed, when she lifted up her vest,/ And said, ‘It needs a rub with Fiery Jack!’

From t’ windows pale moonlight, with spinning head/ She stumbled cross his floor to his dark bed./T’ old gardener took her tub,/ An’ he give her back a rub,/But then she whispered,/ ‘Now do t’ front instead!’

Then Walter up an’ bolted out o’ t’ door,/ But not much later, he came back for more./But t’ consequence wor boring,/T’ kitchen maid wor snoring,/An’ poor old Walter cursed himself an’ swore!

Then snuggled in his bed, he held her tight,/ Waiting for next morning’s breaking light,/When round her front he reached/But she leapt up an’ screeched,/An’ poor old Walter cowered back wi’ fright!/

He said, ‘Hush thissen, or else we’ll both get t’ sack!’/She said, ‘Your hands are flaming covered wi’ Fiery JACK!’/When she saw she’d slept with Walter,/Her fury didn’t falter, she pummelled him about both head an’ back!/

Now this commotion had woken Jack, her groom,/Who padded cross to t’ door of his own room./ Where he saw a sight, bewitching,/ As Mabel ran to t’ kitchen/ Wailing like a Banshee facing doom!/

So he follows her to t’ kitchen,/Then he sees her:/Standing, almost naked, next to t’ freezer,/Showing sheer delight she’d got em,/ Frozen peas clutched to Front Bottom,/He felt a surge of passion then to seize her!/

First he’d heard her shout his name,/But here in t’ larder,/She wor using frozen peas, to cool her ardour!/ Oh, how blind he’d been!/ Such love he’d never seen!/ how much his cold indifference must have scarred her!

Jack moved towards her,/But Mabel froze!/ She said, ‘Jack, I’m temporarily, indisposed!/ Jack didn’t mean to be alarming,/ And like a right Prince Charming,/ He fell down on one knee,/ And he proposed!

 

 

 

 

 

Cautionary Tales for Adolescents: Michael

Michael, who always made a mess,

But now his Family are one Less!

 

Michael, like some other Boys,

Never tidied up His Toys!

And Outdoors, when Eating Sweets,

Threw their wrappers down in t’ Streets!

 

He grew to be an Uncouth Youth –

His Sweetheart Vickie wor Far More Couth.

But on a Country Walk, her Poodle

Made a Pile of Doggy Doo Doo…

 

Wit’ Special Glove on, Swift and Deft,

She Scooped it Up till Non wor Left.

But in a Test of Michael’s Love,

She Handed Him that Dog Poo Glove!

 

Now, some way off there wor a Bin

For putting Doggy Poo Bags in,

But Michael had hoped for a Canoodle,

Not a Parcel of Poo, Pood by a Poodle!

 

And so he reached up, Brazenly,

And Hung that Poo Bag FROM A TREE!

Well, this wor Seen by Farmer Kath,

Who muttered, ‘That Michael’s Having a Laugh!’

 

And on Patrols, it wor Kath’s Habit,

To take a Gun to Shoot at Rabbits.

She didn’t want young Michael Dead –

But FIRED A SHOT above his Head!

 

Then back Down t’ Hill ran Little Lulu –

And Vickie raced to Catch her Poodle.

But Michael ran and leapt in t’ Bin,

Where Good Folks put their Poo Bags In.

 

But by a Strange Coincidence –

T’ Odds on which wor Quite Immense –

Bin Men drove up, Young and Strong,

And Did Not Hang About for Long!

 

They’d been Parked Up, Reading t’ Sun,

And thought Kath Fired at Them wit’ Gun!

They ran wit’ Poo Bin Double-Smart,

And tipped its Contents in their Cart.

 

Then they Drove Off, past Dog and Vickie.

Who Shouted, ‘STOP! You’re Taking Micky!’

In t’ back o t’ Dust Cart, Michael stirred…

And Muttered t’ English word for Merde!

 

But in that Dust Cart, HIGH SPEC KIT

Chewed up Michael…BIT by BIT!

And at a Landfill, where they Recycle,

DUMPED: 3 Parts Poo to 2 Parts Michael!

 

Michael’s Parents said, ‘We’re One Child Fewer,

But at least he’ll make a Good Manure!’

 

 

 

 

 

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