Late spring, Saturday night, sitting here surrounded by the trees and garden in full bloom, everything lush and full of life, my view from the front porch of verdant trees and garden, everything so very green. Peaceful. Relaxing. Would that this evening could go on forever.
Glass of Sledgehammer Zinfandel to round off the evening, a couple of books to read on the table beside me, the dog and two cats outside with us. Doesn’t get much better than this. Well maybe if we had opened a bottle of Cardinal Zin… which we both think is a better wine. But we’ll make do.
Books beside me include Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens, and The History of Hell by Alice Turner. The former for entertainment (after seeing the BBC series, I had to read the book, which is equally entertaining but richer), the latter to complement my studies of the mythologies of the afterlife. This is research for a novel I’ve been working on the past year or so. Well, longer, but seriously for only a year. It’s about… well, that’s another post. When I’m closer to completion. Only about 30,000 words so far.
Fiction isn’t my forte, but I am trying. I’ve tinkered with a couple of pieces, including a few chapters of a humorous novel about small town politics (chapter one was published on this blog some time ago – I’ll get around to posting chapter 2 soon…)
Writing fiction is as much a learning experience as anything else. But even in that it’s worth doing. Learn every day or you die, as my friend Stan used to say.
I had two books of nonfiction published last year, a third submitted to the publisher earlier this year, and a fourth in the works for later this summer. And I produced a rewrite of Machiavelli’s classic, The Prince, but no publisher found. Yet.
My real passion is to be able to write good fiction. I have tinkered with it – even written whole novels of 100,000 or more words. Scifi and fantasy mostly, and some mysteries. But they’re not very good. It’s a craft I need to work at, more. But not tonight.
Tonight is for enjoying a beautiful mid-spring evening with my wife, who happens to be my best friend. And contemplating how good it is to be alive and in Collingwood on such a night.
A recent comment on Facebook – “You just can’t resist poking the bear…”* made me remember a poem by Marriott Edgar that I enjoyed as a child in the 1950s: Albert and the Lion. I actually first heard it orally – we had a collection of old 78s and a wind-up gramophone in the basement. Among the musical treasures were several monologues by Stanley Holloway who read this and several other poems about Young Albert, accompanied by a piano that accented his words.
There was a book, too, probably brought from England by my father when he came over in the late 1940s. It had this and several other poems by Marriott. It was published in the 1930s and had great illustrations.I found the cover online at another blogger’s site. The poems were funny, but also darkly comic, like this one:
I’ll tell of the Battle of Hastings,
As happened in days long gone by,
When Duke William became King of England,
And ‘Arold got shot in the eye.
Or this one about the headsman and the ghost of Anne Boleyn:
The ‘Eadsman chased Jane round the grass patch
They saw his axe flash in the moon
And seeing as poor lass were ‘eadless
They wondered what what next he would prune.
He suddenly caught sight of Albert
As midnight was on its last chime
As he lifted his axe, father murmered
‘We’ll get the insurance this time.’
I may still have a copy of Edgar’s wonderful book in my own collection. Not sure what became of it, but it was well-read even when I first found it. I remember it well. remember the feel of it, how the pages smelled, how it folded in my hands as I sat on the couch and read it. It had the English price on the cover, which was a number very odd to a boy raised in Canada. Just added to the magic.
My father had brought an odd assortment of books with him, including several Boys’ Own Annuals, some dating from the early 1900s. I read them, too, in that basement, while 78 rpm records played. I still have a couple of those Boy’s Own books, upstairs. We used to get parcels at Christmas with Beano and other British comics in them. But I always went back to the Albert poems.
I can still hear Holloway’s Lancashire voice intoning the words as I read them in the book. “Sam, Sam, pick oop tha moosket, Sam,” said Holloway, dryly. My father was from the north, outside Manchester, and probably didn’t find the accent funny or his odd grammar mysterious, but I delighted in it and loved to imitate it.
I loved those recordings. I listened to them over and over and I can still remember many verses and lines. And of course many of these are on YouTube today. Wonderful memories… here’s what I used to hear. Imagine an eight-year-old strutting, pretending to be the characters, making faces like the bemused parents, frowning like the dour magistrate, poking his imaginary stick at the lion:
Here’s the poem itself. The verses that came to mind are in bold:
There’s a famous seaside place called Blackpool,
That’s noted for fresh-air and fun,
And Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom
Went there with young Albert, their son.
A grand little lad was their Albert
All dressed in his best; quite a swell
‘E’d a stick with an ‘orse’s ‘ead ‘andle
The finest that Woolworth’s could sell.
They didn’t think much to the ocean
The waves, they was fiddlin’ and small
There was no wrecks… nobody drownded
‘Fact, nothing to laugh at, at all.
So, seeking for further amusement
They paid and went into the zoo
Where they’d lions and tigers and cam-els
And old ale and sandwiches too.
There were one great big lion called Wallace
His nose were all covered with scars
He lay in a som-no-lent posture
With the side of his face to the bars.
Now Albert had heard about lions How they were ferocious and wild And to see Wallace lying so peaceful Well… it didn’t seem right to the child.
So straight ‘way the brave little feller Not showing a morsel of fear Took ‘is stick with the’orse’s ‘ead ‘andle And pushed it in Wallace’s ear!
You could see that the lion didn’t like it
For giving a kind of a roll
He pulled Albert inside the cage with ‘im
And swallowed the little lad… whole!
Then Pa, who had seen the occurrence
And didn’t know what to do next
Said, “Mother! Yon lions ‘et Albert”
And Mother said “Eeh, I am vexed!”
So Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom
Quite rightly, when all’s said and done
Complained to the Animal Keeper
That the lion had eaten their son.
The keeper was quite nice about it
He said, “What a nasty mishap
Are you sure that it’s your lad he’s eaten?”
Pa said, “Am I sure? There’s his cap!”
So the manager had to be sent for
He came and he said, “What’s to do?”
Pa said, “Yon lion’s ‘eaten our Albert
And ‘im in his Sunday clothes, too.”
Then Mother said, “Right’s right, young feller
I think it’s a shame and a sin
For a lion to go and eat Albert
And after we’ve paid to come in!”
The manager wanted no trouble
He took out his purse right away
And said, “How much to settle the matter?”
And Pa said “What do you usually pay?”
But Mother had turned a bit awkward
When she thought where her Albert had gone
She said, “No! someone’s got to be summonsed”
So that were decided upon.
Round they went to the Police Station
In front of a Magistrate chap
They told ‘im what happened to Albert
And proved it by showing his cap.
The Magistrate gave his o-pinion
That no-one was really to blame
He said that he hoped the Ramsbottoms
Would have further sons to their name.
At that Mother got proper blazing
“And thank you, sir, kindly,” said she
“What waste all our lives raising children
To feed ruddy lions? Not me!”
Memory’s like that. Sometimes the oddest things happen. I spent a pleasant morning finding this stuff.
* The comment was not related to the poem, by the way, but rather ab irato; critical comments by another blogger about what I write here.