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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