The melancholy balladeer has a field day

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The Independent Online
As today is National Poetry Day, I feel I ought to enter into the spirit of things by bringing you some modern folk verse. Regular readers will know that I am a great collector of motorway ballads, these being folk ballads, often quite long ones, which I get from people at service areas or to whom I give lifts.

Today's verse was told me by a melancholy man whom I picked up at Leigh Delamere on the way to London and who spent a long time sniffing before he recited these verses.

The fields beside the motorway

Are often full of straw and hay,

Though which is which I do not know

As I am an urban so-and-so,

So ignorant of different crops

I can't tell maize or flax from hops,

But yet they make a glorious sight,

These fields, when they are coloured white

(Which means, I think, the flowering broad bean)

Or blue (is that flax?) or just plain green.

In springtime, when it's brilliant yellow,

"Rape!" is what you'll hear me bellow.

In autumn, when stubble smoke drifts by,

"Bloody farmers!" you'll hear me cry.

Not that you often see a farmer,

On foot or in his tractor's armour;

These fields are always empty of folk.

A lonely ash or big old oak

Is often the only thing you see

Breaking the field's monotony.

Except in summer, when they place

Those huge great sprinklers on its face

To shoot out loads of water - whoosh! -

And give the thirsty plants a douche.

(It seems as if they never can

Be subject to a hosepipe ban.

How can farmers get permission

For such endless water emission ?

Perhaps it's easier to make an oasis

If you've got friends in higher places...)

Yes, when I'm driving down the M

And suffering from motorway tedium,

I often let my eyesight wander

And play upon the great, green yonder,

Away from the road, where it should be,

And roam around the scenery

In search of pleasure for the eye,

In fields of wheat or oats or rye,

Rippling like the far-off prairie

Or full of cattle for the dairy...

But there's one field I can't abide.

A field past which I quickly slide,

A field from which I avert my gaze,

A field which fills me with malaise,

And that's the field which now stands bare

But once had a horse, and jumps, in there.

A field where a rusting petrol can

Shows where the horse jumps once began

Shows where a teenage girl and horse

Lived for jumping round the course.

Betjeman country! Thelwell land!

Where horses are lovely and girls are grand!

Where a groom is a chap that holds the halter

And not a man who stands at the altar,

Where the horse is centre of the universe

And parents are glad it's nothing worse.

For while a girl is keen on horses,

There won't be marriages and divorces.

Ah, this is the stuff of girlish dreams,

Where the hay lies thick and the harness gleams!

Once the grass was short and kempt,

And the pony was groomed, and dreams were dreamt

Of horse events and three-day shows,

But now the seeded dandelion blows

And the poles lie rotting on the ground,

Awaiting in vain another round.

The grass grows long and the horse grows stout,

And the teenage girl is no longer about.

No longer the pairing of girl and pony,

For she is off with her boyfriend, Tony.

At this point the man broke off and burst into tears. When I asked him gently if he, too, had lost a daughter, he said no, but he had lost several thousand pounds equipping one with horse and fields and jumps, and every time he saw one of these abandoned fields he sobbed at the thought of all that money wasted.