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U3A Writing: The Well: 3 Father

....If it hadn't been for people dying of cold.
You remember, sixteen weeks it froze
The Thames solid enough for a coach and four.
There was no work to be had with the ground so hard
Nothing to be dug from the garden. We were hungry
Most of the time....


Paddy Webb continues her account in verse of the life of her great grandfather John Charles Ayling, the first of three generations of elder sons of that name.

Today’s episode brings memories of hard work and harsh times.

You say I walk as if I own the earth.
My missus says I plod.
Well, I'm heavy, and see these hands,
Like spades, do anything, they will;
Dig ditches, build wells, hang gates.
Those gateposts at the Hall, they're mine,
The ones with eagles on the top.
But wells are my speciality. People ask
Me how I know the water’s there,
Sweet and cool, waiting for me to delve.

I used to stand the lad, and say
Now Jack, can't you feel it in your feet?
But he never got the hang of it.
I don't know how we'll manage if he's gone;
I can't afford another wage
With three girls and a wife to feed.
Now, Landlord, I'll not be gone just yet,
Another pint, and one here for my friend.

The Missus brings a bit of money in
But not regular. She minds the mortuary
That brick building by the cemetery, a few coppers
Each week, but paid by the corpse, ten pence a time,
Poor souls dragged from the river and such.
A good laying out can be worth
A fat tip when the body is claimed
And she does it very respectful, with
A starched sheet, and flowers to disguise the smell.
So you could say we feed off the dead.
But mostly it's Poor Law stuff. When it's cold
The cough is a terrible killer of the old
And kiddies too, poor little mites.
But the parish pays less if they're small.
Sometimes I help with digging, can knock up
A coffin too, not a brass handle job, but enough.

Yes, thank you kindly, I will. The wife is
Upset so I'll not be home till she's in bed.
Two winters back we'd have starved
If it hadn't been for people dying of cold.
You remember, sixteen weeks it froze
The Thames solid enough for a coach and four.
There was no work to be had with the ground so hard
Nothing to be dug from the garden. We were hungry
Most of the time.
We got coppers, Jack and me, sweeping the ice
For skaters, chopping wood for the braziers.

A man took our pictures, posed with our brooms
In front of the pig they were roasting.
He gave me the head and I carried it home
In the big canvas bag I take to work.

What's that you say?
That's not the only thing
Goes in that bag?
Anyone dares to say John Ayling's a poacher can step outside In the yard now and I'll show him.
All right, apology accepted, fill her up.

No, he's not come back yet.
He will When his belly's empty and the cold sets in.
Whatll I do? Beat the living daylights out of him,
The silly young fool. Gave me a turn when that well
Caved in.
No I wasn't! You saw Landlord
I'd not had more than a few, steady as rock.

Right, I'm off home while there's still a moon.
I don't know; Kids, they break your heart.


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