The BALLAD OF ALICE and OLD VERN THE PENSIONER

Hello from Worzel here is an up date on our saga, and of seeking a publisher for it, our grand work. Latest in rejection- “Miss Odd?, “Though your prose is amusing, we at Sheep’s End Book and Wyrd” do not currently embrace “Doggerel”. Your story of wit, pathos and utter stupidity is too much a condemnation of beets for us to categorize…

Nudge Giggleswick said it best- “Fel rhech pot jam” Welsh- Oh fart in a jam jar. Thank you, Nudge.  

Found this wee ad in my newspaper chip wrap when Alice provided dinner- LOST- Stolen or lost set of steps to house. Yellow in color, reward if returned- Vern in Bognar.  

Was Benny, of Sonsie Farm who wrote the song … Beatrice and I had spent glorious summer working on our book, “The Collected Wisdom Of Godfrey”.  Benny and partner Adelaide had been away roaming by donkey cart, seeking yellow houses, and any thing they could pinch or scrounge..

This   day from my seat in the rocker on Beatrice’s verandah all was at peace, sun slanting dusty down the fig arbor, hens scratching about, Beatrice cleaning harness, clink of buckles, slath of wet rag, tang of fresh saddle soap, idle thump of tail from ancient, dreaming sheepdog,   Beatrice whistling through her teeth as Godfrey had done…I watched the farm horses gang up, stare down the road, there was neighing and pacing. A donkey brayed…

Benny and Adelaide were home. The donkey cart was laden with cases of apples, lumber, a set of steps from someones house, books for the bed of books the old couple slept on…grinning Benny, with the heart of a balladeer, later that eve sang this one for us.

Beatrice knew well of Alice and Vern, did most of their bickering in Welsh, I will translate for you best I can.

” Oh sing, sing of Alice, Alice the prankster, just not in the presence of Brian the town cop or old Vern the pensioner”

I sing of Vern who lived on a pension, oft seen in white shoes mid the lawn bowling grounds down in Bognar.When Alice strode by stick in hand, the two chose to insult one another. “Fondle your groats” Alice shouts over the fence to Vern clipping the green. “Cachu hwch”, a reference to pig poo Vern called back. You nasty old pout worm, Alice chided him, that was mean.

“Ceri Grafu” ” Vern (Go and scratch) where the girdle you wear pinches you”.  Vern and Alice met up by chance, in line  at the same bank. Twixt ancient Miss Crapper and Sugar Mulgrew’s  nosy mother. Alice and Vern regarded each other, all went silent no one clacked on machine or counter. Alice produced from her poke fresh garlic, offered a plump clove or more to Miss Crapper.

Alice   knew well Vern could not bear the rank odor  . “A silent marauder be garlic” she happily ate it, did tiny Miss Crapper, retired school teacher, thank you demurely from my old bowels and liver. “Alice pranked Vern effectively , Vern tried but could not out guffaw Alice. They teased without out ire or acrimony, two old curmudgeons both born in Batley.

Poor old Vern with a churn gave up place in line, to gag in his hat outside. It was chilly December and all Vern knew, as Alice did to, all their lives they had caused chaos together. As a lad Vern cheeked Alice when she sang in the streets, he pelted her odd brother Godfrey with beets.

Years ago, Alice showed up at Vern’s wedding wearing rubber boots, wielding a fresh boiled Haggis, quite greasy. It burst when pierced by the brides hungry nephews, got Haggis on the ceiling, on Vern’s white shoes quite a bit on the vicar to…

At a Skibbereen pub, “The Slug and Lettuce” said Alice’s partner “Nudge” we would sing on stage when the landlady let us”. In the corner most Tuesdays sat old Vern the pensioner, retired now, family grown and gone. Vern, when not tending the bowlers fine lawn or down the cafe’ for beans on toast (Friday’s poached Kipper”. Vern knew only herring bothered Alice brought one to the pub on a string to torment her…

Nudge reported- “I was keeping time on a length of rubber hose, Alice sang.” Along came Vern leaned out with a pole, dangled rotten herring, under my loves  bulbous nose”. She was singing “I’d Rather be in Bognar”  as had her old Uncle Lou (sadly passed) Vern, silly Vern made egregious error..Alice when irked could really move fast.

Half the herring in hand, Alice chased after Vern, the pub crowd erupted in laughter. The sensible fled or hid neath the bar, down the steps, they ran, Vern in kilt hiked high, round and round his old car. Gasped Alice, “Vern when I catch you I have paint in my poke and shall paint your old buttocks blue”.

“Tumffat !! “Alice you sing as well as that herring before it was netted and died”. “Bampot !! both skidded to a stop, through the gathered crowd lumbered Brian, Batley, Skiberreen, and Bognar town cop.  “Fel rhech mewn pot jam ” cried silly Nudge Giggleswick holding Alice’s hat and coat, her heavy poke and precious stick.

“No worries Brian, harmless fun”, holding tattered herring stood stalwart Alice, fond sister of Godfrey, unrepentant curmudgeon. as agreed old Vern, with the fishes tail, winded he was and really quite pale …they got away with a fine for “Disturbing The Queen’s Peace a night in the cells, a lecture, that went in one ear and way past the other.

Alice to this day is a prankster, cheeky she is to old Vern the pensioner….

Adelaide ululated and clapped, proud Benny finally finished singing possibly the worst ballad I had ever heard…Beatrice had crept off to bed by the third verse. Guitar strings were carefully wiped down, beer produced all around  to contented belching. Impossible to categorize indeed…

APRICOT CHICKEN- from Godfrey

Worzel here, ever try to duplicate a much loved dish from your travels?,  Godfrey did , when he pined it was for the Australian food he gorged on.” I believe, he wrote, it was redolent of sun and soil and simple life always outdoors”. I oft make apricot chicken now, on Tuesdays of course. 

I have always loved chickens, as a lad all about our home they ranged free, they gobbled the beets I threw out the window each morning, provided fine, fresh eggs perfect for chippy tea.

Landing up in Australia, I was hungry for adventure, the pies, peas and damper, the bully beef I scoffed left the memory of beets and herring, far away back home cross the sea.

I was smitten by her beauty, the bonny, sunburned faces, the brown, rolling hills, the folks welcomed me, I gloried in Vegemite, fresh fish, roast pumpkin, and every corner I roamed there was Apricot Chicken.

Boiled and broiled , sour and sweet, twice just the apricots, once just the chicken feet. I had it with sauces, chunky and smooth,even tough old rooster full of pin feathers barely removed.

I have always loved chickens…running for the food scraps, fighting over tinned spaghetti, enjoying a dust bath, hot itchy afternoons. Try it baked in Russian Dressing, or freeze dried in a packet for to camp. And shared with friends, neath the southern stars, round the fire at the fruit pickers camp..

Of course, I also learned early how deftly beetroot could be hidden in burger and sandwich roll…indeed I learned.

MY SECRET MOTHER-From Worzel

Godfrey and I were indignant with one another. Concerned with his wheezing, I had dragged him to a medical clinic. He sat, muttering in Welsh on an ugly, orange plastic chair, mine was itchy ass wicker. A lethargic goldfish stared at me from a lonely bowl. There were sticky magazines, and a grubby “Golden Book Of Bible Stories”. Two nurses behind glass discussed evening plans- “I’m seeing Pierre again tonight”…ooh, he’s big!’…

Across from Godfrey a chap sat bleeding, the result of cleaning a grill with a meat cleaver. An elderly lady asked us if we knew the lord. Godfrey’s reply in Welsh seemed to satisfy her. Finally his name was called, he stomped off, complimenting Pierre’s date on her smock. I waited, and waited, until coolly informed my vagabond had bolted out the toilet window. I found him two blocks away, feeding his face with doughnuts, pretending to admire a hedge.   

Over the years Godfrey spent with us, we delighted in observing the characters riding the #50 city bus. One we oft saw was a prim woman our age, always absorbed in the same book- “My Secret Mother”. The cover art featured a blond woman in pearls, a buck-toothed child eating bread and jam, a man is leaving out the saggy screen door, carrying plumbers tools. It was quiet on the bus this day, “I smell beets”, Godfrey griped, “Shut-up, I replied.

As he would talk to anyone, talk of anything but beets, to my dismay, he introduced himself to the book reader, and asked if he could borrow “My Secret Mother” when she was done. She clapped it shut, stuffed it in her bag, and gravely informed Godfrey that, “Such a good book, I never want it to end!’…

All many years ago, today I rode the bus out to Devonian Park where still roams a multi generational flock of feral chickens I promised Godfrey I would feed on Tuesdays. Only the people on #50 have changed- sleepy Kevin has moved on, the clanking sweats of tired builders, the loud group of young women claiming to be “The Supremes”. And the book reader, who inspired me to write of my own “Secret Mother”… 

I had a secret mother, she was unafraid of thunderstorms or bees or cattle, or to join me in battle, an old blue blanket rumpled as the sage prairie, or oft a wild, roily sea.  No dolls, just tin ships and plastic horses once the school bus ate my siblings, she played all morning with me.

My secret mother, sent me outside in all weather, to happy dig for treasure with spoons, pennies hidden neath the pansies. Let me eat raw pie dough, and burnt ketchup on thick toast, chicken soup from a tin, and she never made me sit politely when her friend Mrs Vowel  dropped in.

I later learned from my sister, and Inkerman our older brother, we all had that year before starting school, without you or Cudberth, alone with our secret mother. “Lacking a working car she drove us once by tractor to the shops, down main street roared the rusty Massey- Ferguson, us waving and smiling to everyone.”

Afternoons we watched “The Edge of Night”, and “Galloping Gourmet”…came the day, end of summer, I was wedged into a cousin’s dress and shoes, our Aunt June took all of us to school. Teacher loomed, pointer in hand, told the class- “Worzel’s mother, Three Mile Lil, has left by train for the coast”. I had a self embarassing lunch that day, sister Fillipendula packed burnt ketchup on thick toast.

Most days I was sat in the old, cold cloak room, in company of others who did not listen or had wet themselves. I learned to hide a book to read, behind spare chalk on the high shelves. Hid it in my arithmetic work book cover, told any one who asked that indeed, I had a secret mother.

Three Mile Lil sent one birthday card when I turned eight, said she missed burnt ketchup on toast, and all the tinned soup that we ate. Inkerman, Fillipendula and Cudberth got the same card for years always on the wrong date.

I recall with odd fondness though, my wayward mother, who oft drank along with that “Galloping Gourmet”. And called on me to stash empty wine bottles, to shoo pixies away down the drain. All that hit a wobble, no more ketchup on toast, when stepmother Mrs Gibberflat soon came…

Yes so long ago, here I sit a silly old woman feeding chickens…and recall an early work of Godfrey-” Apricot Chicken”.

WHEN I WAS VERY YOUNG- FROM Godfrey AND Worzel

Worzel here, When I was very young recall an empty, old tobacco tin filched from an uncle. It made a drum, and rattle for snake chasing, made tiered manure- mud cakes for baking pleasure, frog spawn in spring, wonderful tin for penny pirate treasure. If today, I walk a quiet country road,  a reminder of when very young, I still kick a stray tin along at my leisure…

Godfrey did not speak often of his very early years, most of the stories I have gleaned from Beatrice, or his sister Alice’s “Alice” versions. This is a rare work of Godfrey, set from age 4ish, to age 8 when his dad ran off.

When I was very young- It snowed heavily up our valley, in this vivid memory, we walked down to my grandparent’s cottage. They had gas for heat, and blankets piled deep for Alice, Ma and me. All about was dark and silent, but the crack of branches breaking off the trees as we made our way slow, snow above my churning knees. Snow was fun, when I was very young.

When I was very young- I got cow manure on the church pew from the long hem of my baggy kilt, dragged through puddles.Created a mess on the dress of Mrs Trimyn, who suggested to my sister Alice, I be paddled, and Alice complied before the end of the next hymn.

When I was very young- I found an ancient bicycle, buried in a field of hay, dad dragged it out, run over by the farmer it was bent, but dad hammered and tinkered, and fixed it up for me, then down the pub he traded for a painting, then again for a fat, gray pony. Out to the paddock every morning I’d run, when I was very young.

When I was very young- I was horrified of beets and terrified of The Pope, leery of the black dust mop, though I don’t know why, and most of the stories Alice told at bedtime made me cry. One day I found a chicken loose, lured the hen with crumbs inside, “We can have eggs, and feathers, I told Ma with pride, and build a coop”. Next day no pet, but all week a great pot of chicken soup…

When I was very young- Riding a city bus was was the biggest adventure, to visit aunts and uncles who had toilets down the hall. Indoor loos that flushed with a roar at pull of chain. “Alice said, “A Bog Troll is on the end of that chain, to catch nasty little boys and yank them down the drain”. In dread, I weed in the pansies of my aunties front garden, earning me a slap on the head”.

When I was very young- I trod to school with wet sweater cuffs, and old wool coat that tickled my chin, and never once passed teacher’s cleanliness inspection. By the coal stove she made me sit, with Abner Mulgrew. Now I realize Miss was being kind, as Abner was always wet and cold to.

When I was very young- Summer lasted longer, Father Christmas smelled familiar of cigarette and swore when she tripped on the dog’s paw. Hills were for rolling down the other side, I cheeked the odd looking old men, who wore Tams, and the bicycles they’d ride.

When I was very young- My sister threw a beet at me, it missed and Ma’s Barometer was knocked from the wall, the shards clipped an oil portrait of an ancient piper, shattering the front window pane. The beet hit nasty Uncle Lou, coming up the walk, it left a stain.

When I was very young- “Beets and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you”..Ma would oft repeat when I came home bruised, picking beet pulp out of my hair. Too young to fully grasp her meaning, I sought solace in the company of words time and again. Sought the company of words and rhyme, when I was very young..

HOW TO RUIN EVERYTHING- Bye ALICE- as told to Beatrice

Twas mid day..clank of gate, she did not bother shutting behind her, goats bolt at sight of her great, black car, chickens scatter, horses and donkeys watch, askance from afar. Turkey and  young, under-wing safe in the tree, for Alice, Godfrey’s sister Alice, has come to visit me.

A notorious, lifelong prankster- “Bring cake, I now own a fish-shop, hooray for me, here is some of my poetry”, all this said in partial pause for breath before reaching the door, (removed for summer), of my Sonsie Farm, old puce house. “hooray for me, I need to wee, where is the loo?” I pointed out the roof of the dunny, that was down the garden path, in the deep grass.   Alice thrashed about down there and came back cheerful, pockets of her pinafore stuffed with tomatoes, ripe from the vine. “Coffee, and cake, no raisins,  read the poems yet?, they are mine”

TEA LEAVES- My life by ALICE-  The story of my life was written on a bitty box of tea-leaves.

Most of the contents already drank…I was seeking a quiet place to pull a prank. When I paused…Keep away from strong odors- And indirect light- measure with care- never steep too long- Unpleasant if stewed- no need to stir . – Naturally  sweet- Full bodied- rich with exotic smoky allure- keep away from children. The story of my life, on a bitty box of tea-leaves…From Alice.

HOW TO RUIN EVERYTHING- By ALICE- When we were young, I cut my brother Godfrey’s unkept  hair. Bald on top he was, bowl cut as a monk’s tonsure. He was sent home from school with a note for our Ma from a teacher fearing Mange, and questioning why one half of his scalp was painted blue, his eyebrows shaved. I found it years later, in a drawer full of Godfrey’s rubbish notes from teachers Ma saved. Found the list of advice I wrote him before he left, at 15 for his first date, with Clementine, the fish  monger’s daughter from Peru, advice lost to Godfrey I now share with you.

HOW TO RUIN EVERYTHING- Impress her with garlic oil in your greasy pompadour, ask if she’d care to feel your lip hair. Peeling raw onion in the car, will get you far when dating- talk incessantly of how you loathe beets, she will find it fascinating.  How to ruin everything?- sing- I have done this often, in public, miles off key, sing neath her window late at night, a shmaltzy old tune, sing Godfrey. Tell her of the wedding of our Auntie Mavis Sue, when I ate all those Petit-Four cakes and the bride stepped in sick down the hall, how everyone blamed it on you.  Use those words of yours like “Nabivagant”‘ to describe how she walks, and Sauce on Sticky Toffee Pudding , is how her accent flows when she talks. For a romantic dinner, chose the chip van by the castle, the one with no tables, where you sit on damp, cold rocks. How to ruin everything, by Alice…oh yes, there is more, she assured me, volumes nine to two, sage advice Godfrey took to heart, and applied  to his Daring Clementine, true romance with the fish lady spawned from the start. With Clementine to thank, I learned to work harder on “The Classic, How to Ruin Everything Prank.”

RHUBARBATIVE-   Alice rummaged in my Fridge-Adaire for bread and an onion, for to make herself a nice tomato sandwich. “Alice smells all food and drink before slurping, because my sister is Rhubarbative”, long ago when we were teenagers, quoth Godfrey. “An aloof girl, formed of thorn, hears only in music, Rhubarbative apparently when born”. “She is that last, stubborn leaf in autumn on the bare tree, that clump mid-lawn that refuses to be mown .”My sister, Alice has all the couth, of two hyenas with a bone”.   “Indeed, Alice chewed on her sandwich, I will leave you this box of nonsense to read, and of course get in the last verse- “If your goal in life is to guard your heart, from all who may come near” “Laugh as you live- chose life fully Rhubarbative my dear, many, many things could be worse” Thank you from Alice.