Sunday, March 30, 2014

the tinker's horse


My dad was a great storyteller and this is one of his I remember from long ago. Just to give you some background, at the age when most of us were dreading our first day at high school my dad went to work in one of the coal mines of northern England. He would certainly have preferred to stay in school but, as the eldest boy once his father had died, the mines were the only place to earn money enough to feed his mother, sisters and brother.

Anyway, this story is about a man and his pony who lived in the village just before the turn of the 19th century - so likely a story my father had heard rather than one he witnessed. The man was a tinker who spent his days going round the local villages fixing things that were broken as well as buying and selling whatever came to hand. There's nothing odd in that but what was strange was that so long as the tinker himself was sitting on the cart bench his horse went to whatever village he knew to be next. The tinker never used reins. If he decided to go to a different village he simply told the horse which one and off they'd go.

In those days the miners worked six and a half days a week with just the morning off on Sunday so they could attend church. Not surprisingly, they gathered at the local pub on Saturday nights to relax and enjoy themselves. (I'm guessing not all made it to the services next morning.) Normally his horse was well cared for except for those Saturday nights the tinker spent in the pub while his horse waited patiently outside. What invariably used to happen was that the tinker would get very drunk, so much so that all he could do at the end of the evening was to climb onto his cart where he'd fall asleep. The horse could be relied upon to take him home.

Late one night when the pub had closed some of his co-revellers followed behind the horse and cart that was carrying the drunken tinker. The horse stopped in front of the dark house (the tinker lived alone). The men had decided to play a trick on the tinker. They lifted him off the cart and put him down in a comfortable spot, then they unhitched the horse. After that they took the wheels off the cart, lead the horse into the house, carried the unwheeled cart inside, put the wheels back on, hitched up the horse to the cart and, lastly, carried the unconscious tinker inside and put him back on the bench.

Next morning when he awoke they all just happened to be waiting not far from the tinker's door. He came outside rubbing his eyes and said, 'Ah elwis knew pit wes a clivvor cuddy but ah nivvor knew ha bloody clivvor til neeo.'
(I always knew he was a clever horse but I never knew how bloody clever until now.) 

16 comments:

Sean Jeating said...

Chapeau . . . especially to the boy your dad was.

marja-leena said...

Hee, love the story! Reminds me a little of the tall tales by some elderly Finnish men I used to know. Probably every village everywhere has their share, and it is wonderful your father had some under his hat too! Also another fantastic illustration, Susan.

susan said...

Thanks, Sean. I'm sure my dad appreciates your thoughts too. He was a very good man.

susan said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it, Marja-Leena. Stories, both true and perhaps not quite so true, were a staple of village life back when people had to provide their own entertainment. Dad's stories certainly kept me (and my friends) laughing and also sometimes amazed.

I'm happy too you liked the picture :)

Tom said...

Loved the story, even if I did read it with tongue in cheek. I certainly hope that the miners who clearly were sober enough to carry out the exploit described in this lovely story, were not amongst those who didn't make it to church on the following Sunday. Tch! Tch! Loved the picture.

susan said...

It always sounded perfectly reasonable to me but, then again, perhaps I don't tell a story with the same conviction as my dad :)

Ah yes, for good reason those people were regular attendees at Chapel. Dad's stories about the mines themselves could make my hair stand on end.

Glad you like the picture. My best ones are always those I feel most strongly about - even if they do come out looking like scribbles.

Should Fish More said...

Enjoyed this a lot. I love stories, they tell us something about the teller often. As a kid, I grew up listening with my cousins to our dad's in the evening, sitting on the porch and regaling each other with stories they'd told and re-told many times, watching as they passed a jar of mysterious liquid back and forth, guffawing and injecting comments. Oral tradition is fading away, sadly.
Thanks for the read.

susan said...

One of the main reasons I've kept blogging so long is that I too love the stories people tell. I'm glad you enjoyed this one, Mike, as I did the idea of you and your cousins being entertained on that porch. It's sad that these traditions are slipping away now.. but I have a feeling they'll be back some day.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Great story and drawing to go with it; here’s a poem I composed in its honor.

A tinker’s horse awaits his Master’s voice
Under the shadow of the inn, a master’s flask
overflows with good cheer, the innmates scheme.
A plan that doth become a bedtime joke
So at daybreak he awakes to exclaim
Halleluiah, what miracle hath now ordained
My horse, now my Master, put me to bed.

susan said...

Thanks so much, Lindsay. It's an excellent poem that describes the essence of the story beautifully.

okjimm said...

hmmmmm....now if I could only train my bicycle that way... I would be all set.

by the by...if you are not familiar with William Maxwell.....I think you may well enjoy his fabulous short storiesl

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2008/09/08/080908crat_atlarge_updike

clairesgarden said...

lovely story and nice spelling on the geordie accent, I can just hear it.

susan said...

My dad used to enjoy telling the story about the annoyed farmer whose donkey died right after he'd finished training it to live without eating. Real life can be so aggravating, can't it?

I will definitely check out William Maxwell's stories. Thanks for the link.

susan said...

Thanks, Claire. My dad was a Geordie as were my grandparents. As a teenager my mother went to St. Alban's where she learned to speak Estuary English.

clairesgarden said...

I don't know the area, my mother is from Lowfell and my dads family are from Gateshead, both those areas in Newcastle. me and then my daughter are the only Scottish born ones.

susan said...

Both my parents were from Weardale but I'm no longer sure exactly what the villages where they were born were called. My dad's was a coal mining family while my mother's mother was a post mistress and shop keeper and grandad was a stone mason. The last place they lived where I remember visiting them was a tiny village called Eastgate near Stanhope. As a child I was taken on a couple of driving trips to southern Scotland but, unfortunately, I never went back.