Our green and pleasant tableau

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The Independent Online
As you probably know, I am a great collector of modern folk verse based on our motorway system, and I bring you today part of a long rambling motorway ballad, which I picked up from a man I gave a lift to at Newport Pagnell. If he is reading this, by the way, could he get in touch, as he left his mobile phone on the passenger seat ...

When my daily work is done

I like to have a spot of fun

So after I've packed away my gear

I pop down the pub for a bit of cheer.

(I normally go to one of Camra's

Where the landlord's nice and the barmaid's glamorous.)

Well, as I was sitting at the bar

Drinking the first of many a jar

I heard the bloke right by me say:

"I drove from Birmingham today.

Along the motorway I came,

Avoiding Oxford, then past Thame,

And I saw the most extraordinary sight

- I'll swear it wasn't a trick of the light -

But on every bridge I went below

There was a picturesque tableau.

Up above me, in mid-air,

Momentarily frozen there,

Against the light, in silhouette,

The prettiest pictures you could get,

Of sheep and shepherd, pony and trap,

Old bucolic types in cap,

Herds of cows on milking bent,

Led by an agricultural gent

Wearing a kind of smock, I'll swear,

Or else Victorian underwear!

Every bloody bridge I passed

Had its full supporting cast

Acting out a rural scene

- Rummest thing I've ever seen!"

"Is that so odd?" his friend replied,

"The country's where cows and sheep reside!

That's where you find farm animals!

Not in towns or shopping malls!

They're all out there in the countryside!

No wonder you saw them walk or ride

Across the bridge on the motorway!

It's home sweet home for them, night and day!

It's where they live! Their habitat!

Don't you see what I'm getting at?"

The first man blushed, and stuck to his guns.

"Maybe you think that I'm a dunce

But these tableaux I'm harping on

Were only a bridge phenomenon.

No such groupings did I see

Behind or either side of me.

Every field to west or east

Was totally devoid of beast.

But almost every bridge I spied

Came with tableau pre-supplied.

Man on bike, girl on pony,

Woman called Joan and man called Tony,

Boy with dog, couple with pram,

Girl called Sue, boy called Sam ...

Every bridge was full up there,

Otherwise the country was bare.

Well, that's not natural, that's not right.

That's what I'd call a sinister sight.

Why should bridges teem and rave,

While the landscape's silent as the grave?"

A painful silence then ensued,

(Broken only by drink and food)

Until I leant across to them

And diffidently said: "Ahem!

I've been listening to you natter,

And I think I can help you in this matter.

I know why those bridges are so packed.

I know who does it, as a matter of fact."

The drinkers looked at me and gaped.

From one of them a sound escaped

Which roughly meant: "Who the hell are you?

And if you know it, tell us who!"

I smiled a smile of secrecy

And said mysteriously: "It's me ..."

The poem goes on for many a weary line further, in which the narrator explains that he works for the English Tourist Board, and it is his job each day to superintend those delightful little rural processions which we have often seen wending their way over motorway bridges, to give motorists the illusion that there is still an English countryside out there somewhere, but whether he is telling the truth or pulling their leg we never find out.

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