Thursday 29 September 2005
Miles Kington: There was a young driver called Herbert...
When he looked inside the bonnet he seemed to cast a spell upon it. He made the engine kick and roar
This ballad I was told by a travelling bard whom I encountered recently in a service station in Lancashire ...
Young Herbert was a clever man
Who liked to tinker with his van,
And give that heavy, lumbering thing
Some zap and go, and snap and spring!
Yes, when he looked inside the bonnet,
He seemed to cast a spell upon it He jiggled this, and fiddled that,
And tweaked the little thermostat
(Or is it called the carburettor? My knowledge of motors could be better...)
Until it made a fearful sound
It seemed to nearly paw the ground!
He made the engine kick and roar
And go so much quicker than before
That many a motorist, driving fast,
Looked round to see Bert's van go past.
No one likes being overtaken
But what would leave them really shaken
Was that the van just looked so slow
And had no right so fast to go.
Yet this dowdy vehicle
Was really much more powerful
Than anything like it on the road.
When he made it go, it go'ed !
(The factory where the van was made
Would, I think, have been dismayed
To see their unassuming child
Give a performance quite so wild.
They would have checked their order book
To take a very serious look
At why this van had gone insane.
They would have looked - and looked in vain.)
One day young Herbert took the wheel
And set off down the road to Lille.
(His business was the export trade,
Though what he exported, I'm afraid,
I am not legally free to say,
As right now it's sub judice...
Just let me tell you that his boss
Sometimes did business with Kate Moss ...)
And as he purposefully went
Through the countryside of Kent
Towards the busy port of Dover,
A police car tried to pull him over.
(The keen-eyed policeman had espied
A defective back light on one side,
And being bored, with nowt to do,
Thought he'd give Bert a talking to.)
As soon as Herbert realised
What was up, he was galvanised.
He put his foot down on the floor,
The engine gave a sudden roar,
And, sprinting like a startled hind,
Left the policeman far behind.
The copper could not believe his eyes.
"To go that fast with a van that size
Is quite impossible," he said.
" So I'll let him get a bit ahead,
Then catch him up and give him hell
And put him in the cells as well!"
He switched his flashing blue light on,
His siren too, then he was gone,
Hurtling down the motorway,
After his retreating prey.
But however fast the police car went
It could not even make a dent
On the gap between the fleeing van
And the police car driver (whose name was Dan).
It is a very chastening thing
For a man who thinks he is the king
Of traffic on the open road
To see that title now bestowed
On a hitherto unknown man called Bert,
Whose van is totally covered in dirt...
That is as much of the ballad as I have room for today, I am afraid, as it goes on for hundreds more lines. It tells the story of how the two men run out of motorway, still driving at top speed, and eventually run out of road altogether near Hove, when they agree to settle it by personal combat in a muddy field on a hillside, as the dusk falls. Some more of this epic poem some other time, perhaps.
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