Ron’s back with one of his war stories. It needs no introduction from me but I have appended some short explanatory footnotes. All yours, Ron.
First, an apology to those of you who were led here by your researches into the work of Siegfried Sassoon or Wilfred Owen: neither is featured here although there are some conflict-related lyrics later. You may quote them in your thesis if you wish.
There are often French themes running through Bill’s blogs so I take that as a loose excuse for sharing the following with you. (If what follows is of any literary relevance, it examines the springs of poetry, so to speak, and how one can use the muse.)
I was returning from an idyllic French holiday: weeks in the VW campervan with my wife, my parlour guitar, no TV or radio, the bread and wine, dips in the Med, exotic encounters with lovely French people. (Because I don’t speak the language, even someone telling me to get off his land sounds to me like a romantic or adventurous proposal.) Anyway, you get the picture; we had a great time.
On our way back to the north coast and the ferry home, we stopped at a busier site than usual. Obviously a popular stop for Brits, there was hardly a foreign number plate to be seen. And that was fine; all part of the gradual return to the ugly reality of England. So the wine tasted slightly more acidic that night and we left some Camembert in the box. But it wasn’t raining and we’d set the van so we could breakfast in the sun.
The wars in France are never far from one’s thoughts, particularly in the north, and I sent myself to sleep imagining the journeys of allied troops in world war two who, like us, were making their way to the coast and to Dunkirk and, who knows, sleeping under these very trees.
So, when the tank approached at four in the morning it took me longer than usual to focus. Was it a mistake to avoid the news for the last month? Had there been a coup? The noise grew as the flashing orange lights lit my wife’s wide eyes. The tank was rolling over and crushing our neighbours as it thundered through the trees towards us.
Not a tank, of course. The dustmen had arrived, at 4 am, to empty the giant bins, which were scattered across the whole site. The reversing alarm made sure that any malingering sleepers were roused. Why they couldn’t drive forward I have no idea, although the lyrics that follow hint at possible reasons for this and for the whole debacle.
Which is where I return to that ‘springs of poetry’ notion. When dawn finally broke, instead of going to the office and complaining about this outrageous municipal intrusion, I took to my pen and wrote this song, to be sung to any raucous tune you like, but only at dead of night, in the centre of a quiet French village and accompanied by a full British brass band.
On a camping site at dead of night
At a place called Val de Vesle
Of men with chests and orange vests
A story I will tell.
With a lift and a crash and an orange flash
Before it gets too smelly-eh
In the darkest dawn of a Wednesday morn
Make way for the brave Poubelliers 1
While England’s best were at their rest
All in their campervans
In the woods of France they took their chance
But the French had other plans
The poubelle 2 crew came two by two
Their schedules for to keep
The truck reversed and the English cursed
At the endless beep beep beep.
At Agincourt the English sought
To put an end to them
Now the Frenchies keep us from our sleep
At 4.15 am
And that, dear readers, is why Bill does what he does and I do what I do. 3
- Poubelliers are dustbin men (or, more probably nowadays, when bureaucrats prefer to con their employees by conferring spurious status on them rather than pay them decent wages, OPTICIANS, i.e. ‘Operational Personnel Tasked with the Implementation of Council Instructions regarding the Accumulation of Non-essential Substances’).
- A poubelle is a dustbin, except in the USA, where it’s a garbage can.
- Unlike Ron, I am not a nomadic van-man. Since my gilded youth, I have preferred hotels, obsequious servants and cosseting.