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…

WAR AND BEETS- From Godfrey

Worzel here…yes, he was a dreamer, my vagabond, coming of age in the 1960’s, in a sheltered Welsh village. Godfrey’s school work was usually judged rubbish, the laugh of the teachers room, he expected to be paddled and sent home with a terse note for his Ma. “Mrs Wncomnco, your son is odd”.  This gem survived, in his sister Alice’s packet of writing, folded up in the wrapper from a cheese. From Godfrey at twelve…

I was terribly self concious, in my early teens, as I entered poetry. That summer Alice refused to journey with us, to visit with Ma’s family in Glasgow. “They eat herring daily, I will not wear a dress, their table is wobbly, I won’t be seen in that car with Godfrey”. Stomped for emphasis, did Alice. What of Ma?, “Righty O’ dear, it’s all okay…sister Alice stood in shock as the car roared away..

“Sit on your crate, shut up, no singing, do not breathe on my arm,” the extent of conversation Ma and I shared that day.

Uncle Hamish-  I barely knew the very old gent, in his chair before the fire sat, bent and cranky, hard of hearing was he, but uncle remembered me. He used an old ear trumpet, down which I blew- “Hello, I am Godfrey who dislikes beets, your nephew”. “He squinted- “Who the hell cut your hair with a knife and fork?” I yelled into the ear horn, “My sister Alice, she also painted me blue not long after I was born”.

Uncle Hamish napped, I lay on the carpet, Un hoovered for many a year, watching telly with no Alice to step on my face or interfere. Distant flitting figures, horses mired in mud, bodies in barbed wire of a long ago war. Bejasus, I swore, what a nightmare…indeed lad, replied uncle Hamish, indeed it was laddie, I was there.

My heart was still a fluther when called down to tea, beets and herring on the wobbly table, I did not eat, was not the beets that bothered me. I had learned a great deal from uncle Hamish, who was not as deaf as he pretended to be. All my aunts were a worry .. Ma told all,” when we get home, he has an appointment with Dr Uren, M.D”.

Doctor Uren M.D.- “Do not return Godfrey to school”, the headmaster wrote, until he sees Dr Uren and is given a signed note”. I was to stay home from class, and get stern lecture on my future, no more dreaming away the days, no impish sass.

I dreaded Dr Uren, looming over me, as trembling I hand him a sample of warm wee.Dr poked, he peered, made me take all but my drawers off, then cross my eyes and cough, show my tongue, when sure I could hear and see, Dr Uren took a ball peen hammer to my knee. I assured the doctor all my “tackle” worked, as the nurse Mary Mulgrew wrote it on a chart and smirked. Dr Uren had the longest nose hair I had ever seen, only doctor then in Batley, shooed the nurse out and asked, so what is troubling you so, Godfrey?

“I dislike beets, war, greed and bombs and bigotry, and am old enough now to comprehend the world around me. Soon I will be off to meet it, seeking wisdom and sowing random pathways for whirled peas through poetry. Yet I’m told it is too odd a vision, what do you think, Dr Uren?. “Granny Clatt is waiting,” came a shrill voice beyond the Dr’s room door. “Godfrey dislikes beets, guns, bombs, greed and inequality, needles in the arse, and all levels of authority, color him odd, I deem him fine, stalwart and healthy”..

Dr signed the note, I grabbed my kilt, hat coat and dignity, in the clinic waiting area as I fled by, was every lass in town who had ever caught my eye.  “Twmffat”, Betsy Oatley called me….

War and Beets-  Here is the essay that got him in such a “bovver”.

Oh makers and droppers of weapons and bombs, I ask, what would you do if such nasty things rained down on you? All who profit from missile and gun, ought be exiled to where there are none, and all wealth be of no use with nothing to spend it on. In place of weapons factory, plant beets as far as the eye can see, and if a people should disagree, set them chose sides in a hot, flat field where beets can be hurled.

Mother’s daughters and sons who march off to war will come home again only bruised and sore.”They ambushed us, the skies were red, the beets were buzzing past my head” “I rescued my buddies, pinned tharn in their cross hairs, but our beets were bigger and fresher than theirs”.

Beets hurled only in bunches of three, no flaming beets dropped on village or city, pickled beets must be drained if jarred, frozen slices only allowed if thawed. Imagine a vast plain, no poppies or crosses, no need for valor, no more tragic losses, inequality and anger will slowly cease, and no more cannons overhead on holidays, I implore, all weapons into tractors to cultivate beets, beets make great weapons for war.

Allivictus!  Allivictus!-Into the breach!, Eat a large bulb of garlic each, for when inevitable the beet battle looms, non violently take out your aponnant, at close range with the fumes.     My essay- From Godfrey.