Life in the slow and sleepy lane

'You still find old men and women who will recite vast reams of traditional motorway verse'
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The Independent Online

OLDER READERS will know that I have a great enthusiasm for modern folk songs, especially motorway folk songs. Often, in out-of-the-way service areas, you still find old men and women who will, under gentle pressure, recite vast reams of traditional verse associated with the motorways, a little suspected part of our cultural heritage.

Older readers will know that I have a great enthusiasm for modern folk songs, especially motorway folk songs. Often, in out-of-the-way service areas, you still find old men and women who will, under gentle pressure, recite vast reams of traditional verse associated with the motorways, a little suspected part of our cultural heritage.

For instance, there has been a lot of talk recently about the dangers of falling asleep on the motorway, but this has been an ever present theme in motorway verse for many years, and many is the motorway lullaby I have come across, short and to the point.

Like this one:

Go to sleep, my little man
Got to sleep in your little white van
Go to sleep and rest your head,
And when you wake up, you'll be dead.

A lot of them do have a rather macabre end, like this one:

Hush a bye, baby,
Daddy's asleep,
He drove through the countryside
Counting sheep
One hundred, two hundred,
Three, four, five
And now poor daddy's
No longer alive.

Some of these little rhymes have a happier ending, if you can call it that, as in :

Look at Daddy.
He's fallen asleep.
Thank goodness he's driving
An armoured jeep.

But it is far more common for the rhymes to fully spell out the danger of sleep:

"Tiredness kills"
Said the motorway sign
So he took some pills
And then he was flyin'!
 
Flyin' along
At ninety-five
And that is why
He's no longer alive

One or two rhymes have that ghostly quality which we associate with dozing off:

I fell asleep on the old A4
And awoke on the A303,
And I still don't know
– Which worries me so –
How I got from A to B.

But far more of them celebrate the methods we all use to try to stay awake on late-night drives. Here, for instance, is a curious little rhyme which seeks to sum up the various bits of the BBC:

Radio 1
Is not much fun
Radio 2
Is old and blue
Radio 3?
Sean Rafferty!
Radio 4
Makes you snore
Radio 5
Won't keep you alive...

Still, possibly my favourite is a chorus number which lists as many as possible of the other things beside radio which people use to stop themselves going into the last big sleep:

Flasks of coffee
Harrogate toffee
The final movement of Grieg
– These are some
Of my favourite things
To counter driving fatigue!
 
Acid drops
Gobber stops
Strong mints – two at a go –
Gums (fruit pastilles)
Ciggies (Three Castles)
And peanuts all in a row.
 
Eating, drinking,
Smoking, thinking,
Chewing bits of gum
– These are some
Of my favourite ways
To stop the brain going numb!

And so on, and so on, listing all the kinds of mineral waters and even at one point trying to rhyme "cashew" with "cachou". But there simply isn't space for all that, nor for the wonderfully ribald overnight ballad called "Dan, Dan, Motor Lodge Man!" For the full text of all those, and many more, you will have to wait for the publication of the forthcoming The Oxford Book of Motorway Verse.

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