Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories

Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 01 – Slice it Thin

Slice it Thin

Each of the Ales n Tales sessions had a different feel to them, a unique atmosphere and a whole bunch of expectations. Here we were in The Court; the bistro bar at the Dean Court Hotel the home of the monthly Open House for storytellers and poets, at this session the feel perhaps was less to do with memories of the personal experience and more a sense of story. Here we have an exception to this, in the tale of the ham family.

Only small and visiting the distant relatives for an experience that would never be forgotten. We are in the Wolds and we are in the late fifties and we are with a family that are a little careful with their money; a little too careful. Hams were hung over the fire to smoke and there were several of them, so many so that some of them were starting to mould. You have to have a store of cured meat and it would seem almost a crime to give food away; to the extent that sometimes you would go round to visit, we hear, and there would be a ham on the fire, so old it was only of use as fuel.

There was a mat on the quarry tiles in front of the fire, it was a sack; it got smaller and smaller until it was too small to kneel on when one was setting the small fire, then at last it would be replaced from the stock in the corner.

Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 02 – Stack it High

Stack it High

In the splendour of our surroundings, with an enormous meringue and a froffy pint it seemed incongruous to hear more of the ham family. Whilst visiting the Wolds to see this family of distant relatives the first thing you would see upon entering the large farmhouse room were the large rectangular piles. One couldn’t tell what they were initially, for all around the room were large blocks all along the sides of the room. These piles were all the papers they had ever read, they were laid flat and unfolded in date order so the piles at the start of the room were very dark brown and the last, unfinished pile was crisp white.

Years later, when the old couple passed away and these newspapers were cleared away, this huge archive was got rid of, but as the piles were being carried out onto the smallholding to make a bonfire someone noticed something else in the pile. In among the newspapers, again laid flat, carefully hidden, was lots of money. The family that used an old sack for a carpet had stored away all their money among the papers all their lives. The money at the modern end of the pile was crisp fresh fivers and tenners, then as you went along the pile ten shilling notes would start to turn up, till by you got to the darkened end of the piles you would be finding those massive white five pound notes.

Footnote: Apparently it was thought that the old money was out of date and it went on the bonfire, with the newspaper archive that themselves would be worth a quite a lot nowadays.

Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 03 – A Case Full of Family

A Case Full of Family

distant grandmother.jpg

The ‘above’ stories of the ham family came up as a result of my opening my battered old case and bringing out the set of old photos. Two in particular had caught their attention, I believe they are my great great, and a few more greats, grandparents and I suppose this is by way of a ghost story, as my parents tell me of the original pictures flying about. These stern sepia photos have brought out all sorts of stories as I have travelled about; telling people about how they won’t stay on the wall has brought even more tales. Dad tells me that whenever they talk about any of the family from way back they hear a bang and when they look in the hall g. g. g. g. granddad is on the floor.

Recently Dad set too and fixed it to the wall with a drill, brass fittings and a great deal of determination, ‘There,’ he said, as he walked back into the lounge, ‘he won’t be going anywhere.’ Crash!

Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 04 – Old Hat

Old Hat

old hat 01.jpg
old hat 02.jpg

So yes, I had my battered old suitcase with me at the Dean Court Ales n Tales evening and it is full of props I had been using at a previous performance and a few people wanted to see what I had in there. After a good rummage between us, (darning mushroom, old beer mats, Romany peg, old bottle opener etc), we came to, the knitted item. Younger members of the gathering wanted to know what it was, while older people were able to tell them straight away; it was a tea cosy. Well that’s what they said, but not to me it wasn’t, we are talking a tea cosy that my mum has had since I was very little, so as soon as it was out of the box I had to do with it what I had always done throughout my childhood; put it on my head! The ears no longer stuck out of the spout and handle holes, but it fitted on my head all the same. I must say it was much admired so I may well wear it down the pub more often.

  Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 05 – Shoshanah’s Tea

Shoshanah’s Tea

The tea cosy tale brought us memories from one of a group, Shoshanah; a lady who had lived in Israel for six months as a teenager and had brought back a gift for her mother-in-law (future mother-in-law rather). Yes she had brought back a tea cosy but it was a rather unique one; for a start, she had made it herself but there was a bit of a problem with it too. She had been in a Bedouin market and had seen large piles of naturally coloured wool that had caught her eye. She liked the mixture of browns, whites and creams and the texture was totally different to any wool she had ever used before. When she asked about the balls of wool she discovered that they were very cheap and were camel wool rather than sheep. The idea that it was natural and hadn’t been processed in any modern way quite suited her and she bought a bag full. She had missed knitting since she had ran out of the wool she had brought with her so had set too straight away. Yes, of course, the thing she made was a tea cosy, and she couldn’t wait to give it to her future mother-in-law, (even though she did have somewhat of a reputation with her own mother for wonky knitting). At the end of her sojourn and eventually returned, she brought out all her gifts; her mother-in-law appeared thrilled with the unusual hand-made gift. Upon inspection everything looked to be as it should be, this seemed to be Shoshanah’s first attempt at a knitted item that wasn’t totally wonky, her mother-in-law-to-be must have been impressed, as she went straight away and made a pot of tea. Shoshanah was quietly pleased with herself that at last she had knitted something that had worked out. The tea cosy went in place and the milk was poured into the cups in preparation and the tea brewed.

The raw wool however still had the essence of its source within it and as it gradually warmed, the whole house was filled with the overpowering odour of camels.

 Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 06 – Deep Winter

Deep Winter

It’s a year since Ronnie and Connie came to the Open House here but people still recall them and their performances; such as, eating sweets in church and being a good Yorkshire wife. Someone even managed to tell us one of their tales from memory. So here for you now is the tale of The Duke and Young Ronnie. We are going back to the days when a driver had his own engine, he perhaps didn’t own it exactly but there was a brass plaque in the cab with his name on it; Marmaduke Wildman Pickering. Young Ronnie the fireman knew that for certain, because he had to polish it every shift.

This is 1947, the terrible winter of 1947 and Ronnie the fireman struggled through impossible conditions to clock in on time at the loco-shed. The Duke (pronounced Dook) was already there and had been informed that they wouldn’t be going out on that frozen morning. At that the managers came striding out of the office with two very official looking gents, (turns out they were officials). The line was closed a few miles out, there was a whole valley full to the top with snow and the lines lost far beneath. Their job today was to drive their steam engine out to the brow of the hill to look down on the snow so the officials could ascertain how long the line would be closed. As they climbed up to the open side of the cab The Duke commanded through gritted teeth, ‘We are going to need a lot of steam Ronnie, a lot!’ So, sure enough, once the two inspectors were up and by them in the cab Ronnie got shoveling that coal. ‘Proceed.’ commanded the inspectors, and off they went. The speed got up, the steam was full and they were approaching the hill in little time. The inspectors instructed that they should progress to the top of the hill so they could survey the situation. Up they went, at full hurtle, and when they got to the top – they kept going. The inspectors were shouting for them to stop, but they carried on, right down the other side of the hill and through the valley. As they tipped the top they headed straight into the lake of snow, they kept going. The engine drove straight in, it pushed the snow as it went. The strange thing being that as the snow was forced out of the way in front it turned to ice along the sides and started coming into the open sides of the cab. As they careered along in the darkness the fire was bristling and the ice was a wall at each side getting closer and closer. There was less and less room in the cab and the inspectors were screaming. Down the hillside they went, and across the deep valley floor then up the further hillside and eventually Boom they were out and at the other side of the valley. Marmaduke looked at the two very shaken inspectors, who had been sure they would never have survived the journey through the tunnel and said, ‘There. You’re line is clear now.’

  Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 07 – Siren Call

Siren Call

Whilst sitting sipping a glass of the guest ale in The Court I was intrigued to hear this tale from a young woman who is a regular visitor here. Her early school memories were of air raid sirens. They were often practices but you could never be sure, especially as she was only four. At the time, in her school in Saudi Arabia, there was constant fear of the threat of attack from Saddam Hussein’s regime. As she recalled it, there were several different alarm sounds; there was a warning sound, then a sound that meant they had to go under their desks, followed by a sound which indicated time to crawl to the door, there was a whole process. They would be alerted when it was time to proceed along the corridor and then down into the cellars, then of course they would wait in anticipation, and hope, of the all clear sound.

As well as all this disruption in her school time it seems she recalls some disorder and noise at home too. This was less disturbing but a little unsettling perhaps; a memory from the time was of lots of work being done on the house, there always seemed to be workmen milling around. She does recall at least one of the workmen being friendly and helpful around the home however.

  Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 08 – Love Conquers

Love Conquers

As I heard the previous tale of memories of childhood experience in times of strife I had a feeling there was more to come and I was right. The young lady who had experienced the war sirens, and to some extent, the noise of workmen being around at home, also had a recollection of trying to climb out of her cot; she was perhaps at four a bit too old to be in a cot, or at least a bit too young to be expected to stay in one. She had climbed out in the night, but the drop at the outside of the cot was a bit far and she fell. As she laid there crying on the floor someone came to help her; her recollection was that it was one of the workmen. He lifted her up and smiled at her, then laid her back in her little bed and smiled at her, she said she had a feeling he felt he shouldn’t be there, but that he was glad to have been able to help her. He had seemed familiar and she had always remembered him, because, she said, as well as being caring, he was quite ugly. Somehow she felt safer and cared for and had more settled nights afterwards.

Years later as a young adult she was spending time with her grandmother and while tidying she came across an old box of photos; so they sat down with a cuppa and had a look through them. In among the many happy memories and smiling faces of loved ones, there suddenly in her hand, was a photograph of that ugly man from back in her childhood. She exclaimed of how she recalled this man and how helpful and caring he had been. She was told that she could not possibly have met him as he was her grandfather who had died before she was born.

  Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 09 – Behind the Door

Behind the Door                                                

The glass of ale I had been sipping whilst I listened to the story of the loving grandfather from beyond was the York Brewery beer; Ghost Ale. Commenting on this brought up the tale of a York pub and its forgotten room. A local landlord who was brought up in a very eerie room in a haunted pub had explained how he was never frightened of the ghost in his bedroom.

He did recall his father’s experience however; his father had told him of the noises in the night downstairs, of how he had heard disturbance in the pub below in the early hours. Three in the morning or so, his father had been woken by banging sounds downstairs, and had rushed down the stairs, flung open the door, snapped on the light and stared into an empty pub. Then slowly he became aware of a figure, or rather a shape, a shape of a man; a man who was stood on an old floor beneath the present surface. A man who was a warrior. He was there, yet he was translucent. He was there yet unaware of this world. Then slowly as the landlord stepped towards the figure despite himself, the shape started to become aware of him. The warrior from times gone by slowly started to turn in his direction. He slowly came to realise there was another in his presence, and his eyes latched on to what he perceived as an intruder, an enemy; the landlord saw those eyes and turned and ran, ran back up the stairs to his apartment and slammed the door shut behind him. His son, who was brought up in the haunted room upstairs would never forget this tale.

  Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 010 – Beyond the Door

Beyond the Door

Once you have recovered from the tale Behind the Door ‘above’ you may well be ready to move on to this follow-on tale. We hear for the landlord who was brought up in a haunted room, interestingly he was just a child then of course, and his father was the landlord, now years later he has returned to the pub he was brought up to become the landlord himself; he returned not just to the pub but to the haunted bedroom as well, the haunted bedroom we must add which he had never been afraid off.

Now this room has a small door in it; a small sealed door which is set at higher than bed height. There is a number eleven on this door which suggests it is the missing house next door; the numbers along the street seem to miss this number out. When he was a small boy he used to say that he had heard crying coming from beyond the door. Indeed over the years as he grew he said that the crying started to move along the wall away from the door. Then, when he was in his teens, the door burst open, spilling its six inch nails across the floor. He and his father dared to investigate and found a small room within with a small bed and a small chair in it.

Recently he had been awakened in the night, not by crying, but by a strange noise downstairs; the bar has a large bell behind it for calling time and he distinctly heard it ring out three times. There must be an intruder! He ran down the stairs, grabbed the door to fling it open, then he remembered his father’s story of long ago of a ghostly warrior figure who stood in the bar in the night. He didn’t open the door; he turned and went back up the stairs. He went back up the stairs to the haunted room that he had never been frightened of.

  Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 011 – Joy of Bargains

Joy of Bargains

We shared a joy within the group at the thought of our mutual love of charity shops; one even worked in one just because she had a love of a rummage. Finding bargains when you work in a shop is a joy discovering items that will sell well to raise funds. Finding bargains when you visit a charity shop is a whole different thing, between us we counted seventeen items of clothing or footwear which had been bought, or should we say grabbed, in charity shops around the York area.

One who worked in a charity shop told us of how the belts are hung on the wall in a line and people often come in asking for a belt. The main reason that people decide to buy a belt is because they have put on weight. They often ask yes, and what they ask is, which of the belts will be bigger ones. The shop worker says she replies that the bigger ones are those which are longer than the others on the rack. Obvious isn’t it.

Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 012 – Mother Earth’s Typhoon

Mother Earth’s Typhoon

You can’t really predict what will come out at such gatherings, getting a group of people together to share stories brings their own idea of a good topic and the following was an intriguing piece of mythology which came out of our gathering.

Mother Earth had been building her anger for a long time, Zeus had destroyed humanity in one way or another a few times now, and as he didn’t seem to be learning or mellowing she was building her anger into something momentous, something typhoon-like.

Out of the oceans burst Typhon himself, stretching up he was as tall as the sky. His thighs were snake bodies and his arms, which reached right across the world, were serpentine; each of his limbs was divided into a myriad of writhing serpents with ferocious poisonous bites. Up beyond the scattering clouds his head was the monstrous form of a donkey’s head and his eyes shot fire. When Typhon spoke the bellowing sound which could cause tidal waves was accompanied by hurtling boulders; each of his bellowing yells of dire warning sent out enormous boulders towards his victim.

So it was that word of his coming came to the gods, the last of the godly ones to hear the news was the goddess Athene and she flew to Olympus to see what Zeus had planned. He was nowhere to be seen, she searched and she searched and then there in the far field she saw a harmless group of farm animals. There in the meadow below she spotted a sheep, and she knew; she called accusingly to Zeus to show himself. The sheep grew to become the squirming Zeus. She told him he must overcome his fear and face the behemoth so reluctantly he did.

One blast of boulders was enough to knock him down and then Typhon swept him up in its arms and flew. He took him to a deep cave and pulled out his sinews, so Zeus lay there helpless.

The great Goat-Pan screamed his impossible scream and all the world froze, all except Hades who crept in under the darkness of his helm and rescued Zeus and his sinews.

Once repaired Zeus rode his flying chariot, carrying his thunderbolt and his golden sickle and this time he struck Typhon so fiercely that he fell so hard that he became a volcano. He burns still.

The Graphic novel version

Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 013 – All or One

All or One

One of our number recalled a fairly recent visit to a production of Orland by the Nutshell Opera Company here in a York arts centre; a production which she tells us drew heavily on the original Ariosto and she told us of how we came to have this poetic book in English.

John Harington’s antics in court came to the attention of Queen Elizabeth I and she called him before her. It seems that he had indeed translated from the huge work of Ariosto, but he had only translated parts; he had translated pieces which were rude or titillating and had used these to amuse and intrigue the ladies of the court. He was punished for this intrigue which had allowed him to win over several of the courtly ladies; his punishment was metered out by the Queen herself. She said that he must be banished from her courts until such time as he had translated the whole mammoth work. It took him quite a while.

Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 014 – Chicken Dinner

Chicken Dinner

One of the pieces shared with the group had been created during the recent Journeys project by the group York Stars. The ICANGO2 group had been asked for advice on how to live your life and came up with this wonderful piece:

How to live your life well

Overcome your fears

Have strength, be healthy, keep up your muscles

Eat well, learn to be a chef

Being safe is important

Be calm and caring

Call for help if you need to

Always tell the truth

Being truthful is the best way

Help others when you can

Show others the way, teach others

Show them how to learn to fly

Take lessons

Learn storytelling

Do some acting

Act out to explain things

Keep positive

Be polite and be nice

Share your skills

Cook a chicken dinner

Above all be fun

And do what makes you happy

Get out more, meet people

You need to have friends

To tell your troubles to

To talk to

To help each other

Keep in touch, share, go out have a drink together

Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 015 – Most Important

Most Important

We shared out the prompt cards and one lady drew the one saying most important things in life and she felt that – The most important things are children, they keep you sane, especially in later life where they keep you grounded.

Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 016 – Old Wormy

Old Wormy

One of those socialising in the Court bistro bar had recently been to Iceland where she had socialised with people who love a good folktale, and the love of a good folktale can be mainly centred around the strangeness of the tale. None less so than in the case of a little worm which I cannot quite give credit to here but will attempt to give you an idea. If you live alone and seem to do well in olde England you were suspected of being a witch, in Iceland, although it was similar, you would most likely be suspected of having one of these odd creatures as a pet. I say these things are small, but that is while they are heading off to the nearby farm. Once they have reached the farm they will grow huge as they milk all the cows. They will then return and grow small again as your churns fill with milk. This might be all well and good but the things were said to feed on you and drain you and you would age rapidly. The only chance of rescue was, wait for it, to gather up enough sheep poo to give it a good big meal and then it would have to leave. Well, something like that.

Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 017 – Unreal Whale

Unreal Whale

We are treated to another folktale with roots in Iceland, and partly in Denmark, while we supped our ale; the Guardian Spirits. King Harold Gormsson had plans to invade Iceland and he sent a wizard to discover the lay of the land; a wizard with the power to change his shape. He chose the form of a whale and off he went. He swam to the Fjord of Weapons and was confronted by a huge dragon which was surrounded by its followers; reptiles, worms and lizards. He hurried away from there and came to the Fjord of Isles in the North. There he was greeted by an enormous bird with wings that stretched as far as the mountains. The whale wizard swam to Wide Fjord, only to discover that it was guarded by a huge bellowing charging bull, a bull that was surrounded by fearsome ghosts. He turned again and sought to land at the Sands of Vikar, here he found an army of rock giants awaiting him.

He swam home.

Footnote: Ah so this is why the Danes invaded Jorvik!?

Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 018 – Bull Story

Bull Story

Something in the Icelandic folktales we heard that night brought up a mystery for us all to consider; the place of origin of the tale of the bull in the church. Apparently this old tale relates to an old church close to York, the only clue we have at present to the whereabouts of this church is that it is cracked and bowed outwards. The old tale tells us that this was because of a bull and an evil priest. There was this story long ago of a priest that had risen to power out of a need to be cruel and selfish. He was spiteful to others all his life. Upon his sudden death it is said that a bull in a nearby field became wild and went on a rampage through the village. Priests were called to pray over the bull and to calm and cure its spirit. They lured the bull into the church and when it charged in after them they started to pray, it is said that the bull not only began to calm but began to shrink back in size too. The priests recalled the fearful leader who had just passed away and became afraid and lost faith. As soon as they faltered the bull became ferocious and grew and grew; it grew until it was so large that it began to burst the very walls of the church. At that a young priest new to this area prayed and the bull shrank back down and calmed and returned to its field and never roamed again. The church has never been repaired they say, so if you know where it is…

Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 019 – Looking at Luck

Looking at Luck

One of the items from my case of many things that was handed round caused interest and responses in a few of the bars visited and I will gather the lucky peg tales here. An old peg, a wooden peg, and for those of you who have seen one before there is the familiar circle of tin around the top to hold it together. Before this old peg was handed around anywhere there was a need of a little note of caution; as it was a lucky peg, people needed to be made aware of this before they chose to touch it. The thinking behind this was that people are funny about luck; some don’t believe in it and don’t want to encourage it, some are very pleased for the thought of a bit of luck in their lives, but there are some of us, it has been discovered by experience, who are frightened of the idea. Nonetheless most people took the peg as it came around and smiled at the thought that they had allowed their selves to believe in such a thing.

Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 020 – Gripping


Now the tale of the peg that has been passed around in all these Ales n Tales bars goes something like this. A relative, who has now passed away, told of how he had made this peg among a batch a long time ago, while encamped on the outskirts of York. He had been six at the time and had sat in with the others as they set too to make these much admired tools of the washing line. They had done very well, it might be said that they had done too well, as there were far more pegs than could be sold door to door in the time they were in the York area. So, father, had decided that they would hide them away; a leather bag was brought out and the spare pegs were stashed in the depth of an old hedge at the side of the site. The plan was, that when they were next travelling to this area they would retrieve them and have a ready product to sell. They never returned to that particular site. The maker of the pegs did though, sixty years later, and the partly rotting bag was still there and the pegs in one piece. This is one of those pegs that we pass around our group now, and this is the tale of it.

Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 021 – Enjoining


‘Ah a gypsy peg,’ commented one feller upon sight of this old clothespeg. He looked at it with admiration and with a hint of a wry smile. This was a feller who had told me several stories; a chap who had been brought up to speak well, which in his trade as a joiner had sometimes caused others to comment. He had been asked his trade in many a pub and often people from Llandudno to Edinburgh would take note of his clear way of speaking and say he couldn’t be a joiner – he was, he explained, a gentleman joiner. With this old wood peg in his hand he started to relate times of seeing them before. Nowadays one might be expected to say Romany or Traveller but he recalled how folks who knocked at the door with pegs back then would have described themselves as gypsy and probably done so proudly.

Several observers have commented that these pegs were proper pegs, you could jam them right on and they would stay put. They didn’t fall apart like the plastic ones which were made from chemicals and oil resources. Such comments were rife among places visited, here however there was a different reaction recollected. Our chap with the peg said how his mother was terrified when there was that knock at the door, she would peep out of the curtains and mutter about curses. She would pull herself together and go to the door to buy a peg, to be on the safe side.

He looked at the peg fondly and then asked what wood it was made of. My reply was, well I had thought I should ask a joiner.

Footnote: His opinion was that the peg was probably made of Ash or Meadow Willow. The clip of metal holding it together was of course snipped into shape from a cocoa tin or a treacle tin, or was that perhaps a custard tin.

Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 022 – Gentleman Biker

Gentleman Biker

Our joiner friend recalled how at the age of 16 he had a motorbike, nothing flash and nothing too expensive, but it went. It went so far, then it broke down, on this particular day anyway. He was a long way from home and on a road outside of the circle of York and he felt stuck. There was nothing for him to do but start pushing; it would be a very long journey back into the city.

After much effort he was passing an encampment of trailers and vans when a head popped up over the hedge: an elderly lady, ‘Lads!’ she shouted and out of a gap in the hedging a few young fellers came running, ‘They’ll push yer,’ She explained. ‘Come and have a rest and a cuppa.’

The guys pushed his bike so far into the camp and then stopped, ahead was a fire and there by it was the old lady nodding him over. He described her as an old granny who had experienced a lifetime out in the weather who was sat in a pinny smoking a clay pipe. In her red headscarf and shawl she nodded to the proffered cup in her thin hand. He took the hot sweet tea and was about to take a thankful gulp when she looked at him over her pipe and said, ‘Now then young Gregory, what are you up to?’ He froze, looking into her glinting eye, his first thought was, ‘She knows me,’ then a little more pondering and he thought that, no, he had never seen her before. He just sat there with his mouth opened for quite a while, after a while she nodded a smile towards his cuppa and he set too to drink it. When he was done she nodded over behind him toward his bike, as he turned and looked one of the lads was kicking it off; it started and the lads laughed. While he had been sat staring they had been fixing it for him. He thought back to how his mother had always feared the curse and it seemed to him that he had been blessed.

Footnote: His lad by his side commented that his dad had always had amazing luck all his adult life, and perhaps here was the answer. I took the peg back.

Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 023 – Tick Tick Tick

Tick Tick Tick

An image displayed during the Ales n Tales in the Dean Court Hotel that set off a fair few memories and experiences was the test card, the old BBC black and white test card.

A child watching an old black and white comedy came to mind, who turned and asked, ‘Dad? Were you alive when everything was black and white?’

One or two of us there might not have lived in a black and white world (nobody ever has) but we were old enough to recall when there was something terribly different about television; it wasn’t on all the time. You had to wait for television to start. If you turned it on before the programs were due to commence what you would see was, the test card. Someone tells us that this was the Redifusion test card, and it was on there because you had hired your set from them.

Others recalled the test card with the girl with the teddy, but no this was much later, it was in colour in fact, so much later.

You might be disappointed when all there was was the test card looking at you, but when the next change came you would be excited; when the card went and the clock appeared. What you did then was, you watched avidly as the seconds ticked away till the third hand got to the top. That was when the programs started. The rather grand crisp clear voice would announce a welcome to the British Broadcasting Corporation and on would come the things you wanted to see.

Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 024 – What We Call Entertainment

What We Call Entertainment

Well, when we looked back at what we would watch in the old days of black and white television, we might have been looking forward to it all, but entertainment wasn’t quite the same in those days. One well recalled feature for those of us of the more mature nature was – the interlude. Yes we would be ‘entertained’ by such delights as a set of hands turning a pot upon a potter’s wheel, or another set of hands (presumably) strumming a harp. Someone recalled the images of spectacles spinning, and of course the footage which was accompanied by John Betjamin reading W H Auden’s Night Mail as the mail train hurtled through York.

Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 025 – Bit of a Clanger

Bit of a Clanger

Suddenly someone went and did it and mentioned Tales of the Riverbank, all those old enough to remember it were sitting back and sighing, ‘ahhhing’ and smiling wistfully, so the younger among us had to ask… Describing it didn’t make it sound all that appealing, as far as we could all remember it was a model boat with hamsters and guinea pigs running about on it and a voice-over pretending they were doing things.

Further forward in time were similar reactions to Bagpuss, very wobbly, but very fondly recalled.

Then here in our midst in this bar in York was someone with a revelation; a revelation and a connection. One of our number had worked with the person who did the Clangers. Now you all remember the Clangers, (if you don’t you should find out), they made noises. Fans will be offended by that statement perhaps, but yes they made noises, all you got from anything on the screen was strange sounds. Turns out, and here we go, there was a script. The writer actually wrote scripts for the whole series. They were found in his garage years later. There was a whole set of dialogue for each line, with all the details of what they were saying. Then, when they were filmed the scripts were handed out to the voice-over actors and they just made the noises of the words. It is recommended that you go back and have another look at the Clangers and see if you can make out what they are saying.

Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 026 – New Job

New Job

There were those among us who recalled working at chocolate factories in York, in particular Terry’s. There were tricks that were played, we are talking sky hooks and long stands and all the old old pranks that used to be thought of as funny. It seems it was even funnier if the big serious boss was brought in to play the trick. One recalled how as a teen in the midst of winter a container lorry had arrived, it was full of milk. When the lorry’s cargo was piped out there was some spillage, and of course, it froze. There was a layer of frozen milk all the way under the lorry. The newbie, the teen amongst the crew inside was brought out, they were told that they were the only one young and fit enough to do the job. The truck couldn’t move with all that ice under it and they were the one to do for the task of removing it. They were given a paint scraper tool and told to get under there and scrape it all away; there was loads of it. They did get under there and had a try at scraping, then after about fifteen minutes or so they looked up and the whole crew were outside watching them and laughing. One of them was holding a hot water hosepipe, ‘Run!’ he shouted and the ice was washed away in no time.

Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 027 – Set to Melt

Set to Melt

The teen from the Terry’s story ‘above’ who had only just got away from the burst of water remembered this incident and vowed never to be caught again. So it was that a week later they were called through into the next room to help out. Now this was a genuine incident, chocolate had spilled all over the floor of the work room and quickly set; the full team in there were on their knees trying to scrape it all away. The room needed to be cleared so the trolleys could be pulled through with the new deliveries on. They really were all scraping away at a bit of a horrid job, but one of them, the instigator of the previous prank had a trick up his sleeve for the newbie. What he told him was that the only way they would be able to clear this all away in time was if they had a bucket of steam. Now a bucket of steam might seem like a ridiculous thing to believe, but there was some logic in it. There in the room was a large mopping bucket on wheels and in the next room was an actual steam hose. The toffee room next door had a short hose attached to each machine that squirted hot steam at any stuck toffee to clear the workings. There was no way of course that the steam could be put in a bucket and wheeled back through, but they thought the newbie would fall for this. Our newbie teen had them worked out now though and thought of a way to go along with them. With a promise to be back straight away the mop bucket was pushed through to the next room. As the door was closing there was the sound of sniggering behind them. What they did was, went straight through to the next room and then carried on, straight through into the empty break room; feet up, coffee, cigarette, radio on, they stayed there an hour or so; then headed back pulling along a bucket of hot water. When they got back in there, all the work was done and the gang were all demanding to know where they had been. ‘Ah,’ replied the one they had tried to fool, ‘I’ve been trying to fill the bucket with steam but it kept melting.’ The smirk on the ‘newbie’s’ face was noticed and no more tricks were tried on them.

Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 028 – Oh No, I’ve got a Pop Song Stuck Inside My Head

I was thrilled to be offered copies of these smashing two poems below. They were performed at the Ales n Tales evening and went down great.

Oh No, I’ve got a Pop Song Stuck Inside My Head

Oh NO, I’ve got a pop song,

Stuck inside my head,

It’s been in there all day now,

And it’s still there now I’m in bed.

It’s jammed between the synapses,

Of my poor aching brain,

And my mental tape-recorder,

Keeps on playing it again.

Nothing that I do,

Can seem to shake it out,

It just keeps on repeating and

Sort of echoing about.

This afternoon at half past three,

Whilst standing in a crowd,

To my dismay I caught myself,

Singing it out loud.

And I don’t even like the song,

In fact I hate the thing,

And I’m very sure the public,

Don’t want to hear the way I sing.

I know I’m not the only one,

With this tune stuck in their head,

I’ve heard several others humming it,

Or whistling it instead.

The very next one that I hear,

To you I hereby swear,

I’ll walk up calmly in the street,

And kill them then and there.

I don’t even know whose song it is,

Or how it first go in,

I just know that I can’t shake it out,

Oh this accursed din.

Who writes this kind of poppy-pap ?

And who plays it all day long ?

And how do you stop it maliciously,

Driving you to song ?

The situation’s now becoming,

Really rather sad,

If I can’t erase this from my thoughts,

I’m sure that I’ll go mad.

So concentrate on something else,

Fill my mind with peace,

Yes, this is surely the way,

To secure my release.

Oh no, oh damn, oh tish, oh poo,

There I go again,

That’s it, this bloomin tune

Has finally driven me insane !

There’s only one way out now,

I hope that you won’t cry,

Take out revolver, point, click, bang,

Goodbye, cruel world, good-byeeeeeeee.

        Dermot Boylan © Dermot Boylan 2013

Ales n Tales – The Dean Court Stories 029 – The Runaway Robin

The Runaway Robin

The shame has been a constant throbbin’,

Since the day I were run down by a Reliant Robin.

There’s a kind of shame that you just can’t hide,

When the tyre tracks go up’t middle,

As well as up’t side,

That says thy’s not as sharp as needs,

At getting out ov’t road in the middle of Leeds.

A sunny day, just after three,

When I saw the Robin coming for me.

Since it were one wheel short already,

It certainly didn’t look too steady,

But coming now straight for me, HELP,

I let out an unmanly yelp !

I darted this way, I darted that,

But in the end it got me, SPLAT.

I mean, if tha’ must be spliffed, do it in style,

By a Jag or a Merc or some expensive pile

Of metal that out of decency,

Has four bloody wheels instead of three !

A Robin, a Robin, of all damn things,

The very thought it nearly brings

My blood to’t boil,

Specially lyin’ there in’t shit and oil,

And everyone around me smirkin’

An’ looking at that stupid berk in’t

Road who didn’t have the nouse,

To stay this morning in his house.

Revenge, revenge is on my mind,

And other thoughts that aren’t too kind,

I’m going to buy a Sherman Tank,

And squash that Robin in the mank.

More subtle, though, perhaps, I feel,

To simply pinch it’s middle wheel !

        Dermot Boylan © Dermot Boylan 2013

Back to Ales and Tales – for tales from other pubs

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 01 – Right Reverend

Right Reverend

Well I think my first encounter set the scene for the rest of project. Ales n Tale around the pubs would bring me York residents who had very wide ranging and interesting experiences to relate. My very first conversation was with an intriguing young woman; widely travelled and adventurous and apparently a minister too.

She had returned to York to focus on her art work which very much drew on her international travels and the timeless symbols of the cultures she had gathered from. I thought I was adventurous going around the pubs asking people to help me out with a tale; here was someone who had dropped everything, popped on a back pack and headed off into the depth of a jungle.

She had heard of this tribal community in the Peruvian Rainforest, and as she had always had an interest in the mythology and historical culture of the forests there, she had enquired about visiting.

Here was a village within the rainforests where local people lived and shared, and visitors were welcomed to join and belong for a while. The cost of staying there as a guest was a little more than she would like to spend so she had contacted them and asked if there were other ways she could become involved. There was a good response to this and her way forward turned out to be, to save up for a flight to South America, then arrange herself a long bus journey to a town at the edge of the forested area, and then another bus deep into the wilder areas.

Once in the village itself, as well as spending time with all the visitors from around the world, she worked in the kitchens with the local people. She tells me she had a wonderful fun time mixing with people who had no English and who spoke a language she had never heard of before.

I heard a great deal about the whole experience and it seemed fascinating. I was also impressed however with her next plan. She had decided that while she was in the Americas that she ought to visit the United States too. Indeed she was invited to the Salt Lake City area to spend time in an artistic community there. It was there that she became registered with a ministerial order and that she was now registered to perform ceremonies. This was a possibility for the future, but her main focus was her art work and illustrations contracts.

I moved on across the pub intrigued to see who I would meet next.

Footnote: There was only one problem with all this travelling; none of the places she had visited had decent cider! No matter where you go it is always good to get to York.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 02 – Peeked


Two guys who are regulars here, had been expecting me along, and were very animated when I arrived, they had been reminiscing at full whack for a couple of hours, a couple of thirsty hours; so I went up to them as soon as I had settled in, but they said that they had peeked too early and were ready to go. They did however, before they nipped home for a nap, have a chat about steam days and the things that went on a shovel.

So here for you now is the tale of The Duke and Young Ronnie. We are going back to the days when a driver had his own engine, he perhaps didn’t own it exactly but he was definitely the only driver, to the point that there was a brass plaque in the cab with his name on it. Young Ronnie the fireman knew that for certain, because he had to polish it every shift.

The Duke’s cab was all well polished, and he made sure the engine was well fired and full of steam. Well he made sure Young Ronnie kept it all so. Once all was done though, there was always the time for something to eat. And with all that coal ablaze you had the perfect cooker. The cooking pot wasn’t too appetising however; the shovel! They would clean it off and then pop it in there for a little while to sterilise, well almost sterile?!  Eggs in lard = five seconds, Onion roasted = two minutes Bacon = three minutes to crispy etc

That shovel had a long handle, and the engine driver had a strange sense of humour. Both came in useful when they were stuck outside York waiting for a signal. It was a goods train, so there was only the two of them, and it was a long wait, so they started to have a good look around. There in a field several trucks back down the line from them was a farmer wandering about. He was of more intent than they had realised though, as he walked right up to the hedge, had a look around, all he saw were empty fields and a long row of goods waggons behind him. Unaware that he was being watched from the far off engine cab, he had clearly felt a call of nature, for he unbuttoned his britches and squatted down behind the hedge. He hadn’t taken the quirky sense of humour of The Duke into account; The Duke and his long handled shovel. He crept down from the cab, and ever so quietly snuck along the side of the waggons till he was right at the opposite side of the hedge to the farmer. Yes, you guessed it, and I am sorry to relate such an unsavoury idea of what is funny from way back in the past, he quietly slid the shovel through the hedge and under the farmer. After a while he withdrew the shovel and snuck back along the line side, back up into the cab and Young Ronnie had the fire-door open ready, in went the shovel.

Now I don’t know if it is true but I am informed that when you have a call of nature when you are, er, out there in nature there is a tendency to turn and have a look back at what you have left behind. This may well be true, it definitely was in this case, and ‘naturally’ there was nothing there to see. The engine driver and his fireman were peeping out of the cab looking back and laughing with glee, as the farmer searched the area, round and round, ‘Maybe it was further over there?’, he scratched his head in mystification, no he was sure it was here. At that the signals changed at last and they were able to pull away, as they did they could not resist a last look back. The farmer was in the process of unbuttoning those trews of his and was going to have a look in there. He probably never worked out what had happened and forever wondered.

It is hoped that before setting out again on their next shift they requisitioned a new shovel.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 03 – Long Tall Teller

Long Tall Teller

As I was here doing Ales n Tales I felt I ought to have some ale, it seemed only right and proper, but I didn’t want to be drinking large quantities of strong ale, especially as I was doing two sessions in the first day. So I opted for a taster tray. It turned out to be of some interest all around this friendly hostelry. The landlord brought out the wooden platter and set three glasses in the holes. For around the price of a pint you get three dinky quaint glasses; a third of a pint each. I thought random was the way forward so said I would have the first three from the left.

When I was asked to stand and tell a couple of tales to kick start the session I stood there with my miniature pint and strangely felt very tall. A guy I talked to later wondered if I felt stronger.

‘So you are doing ales n tales then are you?’ I was asked, as I came over to the bar with my titchy glass. ‘Are you on expenses?’ ‘Do you get to claim for all the beer you can drink?’ I was devastated to realise I hadn’t thought of that?! Clearly I should have talked to these guys a month back when we were planning this!

Later I was asked if I had been bought a lot of beer so I thought the best answer would be, not yet!

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 04 – A Step Down.

A Step Down.

There’s a few who say they use the city walls it turns out. Some just like to have a wander occasionally for the pleasure of it. Others use the city walls as a short cut and a break away from the roads. One regular here tells me he often cuts along the walls from opposite the art gallery, but if it is a warm day he then finds himself looking down into the beer garden for the Lamb and Lion and wishing there were stairs down to it.

An older guy who had a busy life, and always had, tells me how he was approached a few years back now by a group of workmates who were all about to retire. They were all worried about leaving work as they were not sure what they could do with their time. So his suggestion was that they went around the city walls. His plan for them was that as they wandered along they look out for pubs that came into view. Then as soon as they came to a set of stairs they should go down and go to that pub. He said they would be seeing new places, but they would also be meeting new people. Go in there and chat to people was his advice. Then the next time you go out start from the same spot and go along looking out for another pub to visit.

The guys took up his suggestion and a few months later at a works night out for retired workers they all gathered around him to report back. It turns out that as well as enjoying themselves going out together and the general enjoyment of meeting new people in pubs, there had been allsorts of opportunities that had come their way. One chap had got talking to someone who played bowls and had ended up joining the team. Another had seen a notice about a history group who met in an upstairs room and decided to join. A third had met someone and fallen in love. They all had found activities, hobbies and interests through simply chatting to people in York pubs.

The feller who had given them the advice in the first place was bought a few pints that night. And his finishing words to me were, if you want some interest in life, go out there and chat to people over a pint, you will be surprised by how interesting people are.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 05 – You Are Lovely People

You Are Lovely People

Everyone told me where to go; the landlord of the Ackhorne among them, lots of locals too: If you want to meet a character go see Mussy. He will have plenty to tell you, lovely chap. I didn’t have far the go, there he was at the corner of the bar. And they were right, he was a great guy. Folks tell me that he is likely to say things like, ‘Hello’, as people walk in the door, ‘you look like lovely people’. He greeted me warmly too. I was expected and welcomed. Mussy had brought allsorts of paraphernalia with him from his many happy times at the Ackhorne and was full of tales from here and from other real ale pubs around the city. He and his pals kept me company for quite a while and I got to see photos of all the characters who have visited this place over the years and become friends of the lively Mussy.

‘You stand at the end of the bar and the whole world comes in through this door.’ They all want to spend time with our friendly local too. Whether they are lasses from Norway inviting Mussy to visit, pals from Dundee with pics of cow pie, a crowd from Broughty Ferry, or a couple from Taiwan, they all keep in touch. Mussy has a collection of postcards from around the globe from people thanking him. Thanking him for, their very first cigar, a trip around the local pubs, an introduction to a quality real ale, and an offered friendship. Many return too.

Footnote: There were a whole host of beautiful stamps upon the collection of postcards and there among them I was surprised to see an actual Mussy stamp, all the way from Taiwan, and there is his face on the stamp on the card.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 06 – Turn into a Team

Turn into a Team

Among those who have become frequent visitors or regular locals since being welcomed to The Ackhorne by our pal Mussy are a whole host of characters with a wide turn of skills, trades and interests. Hammy who runs a string of sandwich shops in the west end, Lee who brings his bagpipes, a crowd of visitors whenever its fancy dress such as for VJ day when all the butties were wrapped in grease-proof, minibus trip organisers who offer to take the gang around the pubs of such as Liverpool, Railway Keith who strips down old locomotives and services them as his flourishing business in Henden, Whispering Bob; a top man at the gas board with the power to shut down motorways, Alan who has his own massive pub in Bennington, Steve who retired from the Thames Valley water board and Mr Gadget who sells telecommunication systems world wide. Quite a team.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 07 – Trips with the Team

Trips with the Team

Hammy is the leader and organises the coach driver and all the details, then off they go. All this started, I understand, when Mussy was at his corner of the bar and he overheard a group of guys talking about being from Stevenage which is his home town. They then went on to mention the Tilbury, his old haunt so conversations were definitely in need of being started. ‘Do you mean The Inn off the Green? Which it turns out is what everybody round there calls it, but only a local would know the nickname.’ They gathered straight away that he must be from around those parts, so as friendships grew, a trip was organised. Twenty years back that was.

Since then two of the guys have a flat in York which Mussy was instrumental in finding for them, and from then on there have been trips together many times, for real ale pub crawls, to such as a pub in Lancashire which has 16 hand pumps and, wait for it, 300 whiskeys. I think they stayed there quite a while.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 08 – Mussy by the Bin

Mussy by the Bin

That shot of Mussy stood by the bins had all his mates wondering why he had taken a picture of the pub bins. He hadn’t, he had captured the memory of that pint that was stood on show on the wheelie. This caused the group to wonder why on earth you would want a record of a pint of beer. The answer is, that this, wait for it, was a pint of Orkney Red McGregor. Now all understood. We are talking a very special occasion, we are talking about the party of the decade; Mussy’s fiftieth. What a do. There were seventy in here that Sunday afternoon, and the beer was flowing. That excellent character Fred would have been in here bless him, was bound to have been, because this was a Sunday. Lots of old pals from far and wide; Ian and Lee and many others. All the way from Stevenage, Lee had brought something very special with him; his bagpipes. That was brilliant. Those who had just happened to call in for a drink without knowing it was a special party for Mussy’s fiftieth would have been talking and wondering. For once any fellers came back for the loo they would have been telling their party of the surprise they had had. Lee had to warm up his pipes you see, and he need to get them get them pumped up, so he had gone into the gents to get them going, quite a surprise for the unsuspecting visitor: Even more of surprise for all though when he piped the Orkney Red McGregor in.

What a welcome, what an announcement for such a special beer. The landlady had gone to a lot of trouble to get that beer delivered all that way for this special party. We are talking Mussy’s favourite beer. It became a favourite of quite a few of the party that afternoon: That afternoon which is still talked about.

(I am thinking of making a trip to Orkney)

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 09 – Ten Years On

Ten Years On

Yes we have moved forward in time, to pub regular Mussy’s sixtieth. Now this was an event, and it definitely is still being talked about. It wasn’t in the Ackhorne though. No, it wouldn’t do to put his big party on in the Ackhorne, because he wanted all his pals on the staff to come along and enjoy themselves. So the plan was to go off to its very popular sister pub; The Slip. It took a lot of organising, but everyone was willing and keen to make Mussy’s ideas work.

A special thank you to Lucy, he couldn’t have done it without her. Now the Slip Inn might not be the largest pub in the city but it has a big back yard and that’s where the food was going to be. Mussy knew what he wanted. He got looking in the Yellow Pages and he found the place that would do the job. Over near Hull there was a firm who would bring over a hog roast. He asked how many it would serve and they said 180. It cost him a fair few hundred, but he knew what he wanted for all his mates.

Then there was the beer. There were two beers of choice that Mussy must have. Yes you guessed it the renowned Orkney Red McGregor, and from the Treboom Brewery in Shipton By Beningbrough; Kettle Drum. They were glad to get him the brilliant Kettle Drum sorted, but the other big favourite was a bit of a worry. They don’t do deliveries of that stuff any lower down this nation than Newcastle.

There was the suggestion that a few York pubs could come in on doing an order big enough to entice them down here. Take note here, neither the brewery nor the collection of landlords and landladies would take any charge from Mussy for all work involved. Dark Islands was a popular choice for a few pubs following a recommendation from our party host, and the Tap ordered a barrel of another Orkney beer too.

I commented at this point that he must be very well thought of, as they had all gone to a lot of trouble for him. Mussy told me that there had been a slight concern at one point. They owned The Swan as well and the landlord from here was down The Swan having a drink and he heard folks mentioning the name Mussy. So he asked them how many people they thought he would manage to get in. Did they think he would manage to get fifty in? The reply was, ‘You don’t know the power of Mussy!”

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 010 – Mussy’s music

Mussy’s music

When the landlord was concerned that enough people would be at Mussy’s sixtieth he was informed by those in the know to expect about a hundred: there was an open invite out to all his many pals and to all his mates at the post office. They were to expect crowds at the Slip. As well as sorting out his favourite beers and that much looked forward to hog roast with its 180 sizeable portions there was the music to think about. Mussy likes his blues, so Lucy got the Money Makers in who are well known for playing at the Volunteer Arms. Lots of harmonica, just as he liked. There was another feller for him to go and talk to, the soloist that plays The Maltings. Mussy goes down there on a Monday night so he asked him if he would bring his popular covers of such as Neil Young and Bob Dylan to start the afternoon off.

On the day, everyone was outside in that big beer garden so the acts said they would play out there and the party kicked off around two and ran right through to the England match in the evening. I asked if it had turned out busy? It turns out, that hog roast which would fill a hundred and eighty bellies had not only gone down well it had completely ran out in less than two hours! That’s a party!

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 011 – The Power of Mussy

The Power of Mussy

Stood at Mussy’s corner of the bar chatting about his sixtieth birthday do, and he told me how he had told everyone he didn’t want presents. Did you get any? I asked. Turns out seventeen people bought him bottles of malt whiskey. I couldn’t help commenting that it would take a week or too to get through that lot. As a night worker, there is nothing like a morning cap before you go off to your kip. It had lasted him six months. By you are reading these stories from Mussy he will have retired from the post office and I expect he will have had a load more presents brought when he left.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 012 – Fave Picture

Fave Picture

At 6 in the morning passing the end of the lane, Mussy had found himself looking up there and thinking it was a view he wanted to capture for posterity. The lane towards the Ackhorne, there was Barnum’s Barn on the left opposite the pub, selling second-hand furniture, long gone now of course and the grand row of terrace houses and the old church along the sides of the pathway. This was Mussy’s favourite picture out of all his collection of Ackhorne pictures.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 013 – Least Fave Picture

Least Fave Picture

Mussy’s picture of the alley leading up to the Ackhorne may have been his favourite photo; Not so for me. That picture made me think of running away. I did run away in fact, not during Ales n Tales (I was enjoying myself too much), we are talking way back. I will give you an idea of how far back, (for all of you who have been in York for an age and a bit anyway), I am going back as far as the old Wednesday night acoustic sessions at the Acorn (note spelling). Now those are a thing that is definitely still talked about. They were heaving. This is back when there were two rooms there, and a bit more room behind too, before it was all knocked through into one. That main room on the right as you came in was really bustling. That’s what I ran away from. A lady-friend at the time had seen my poetry and said I should go along and read some out. So I had got my courage up and gone up that alley. When I got to the door I bottled (as Mussy’s mate put it) and turned round and ran home. Nobody was expecting me, nobody knew I wrote poetry even, I could have walked in and sat and sipped a pint quietly in a corner, but no, it was too terrifying; I ran. The very next Wednesday however, I picked myself up, marched up that alleyway, strode up to the door… and turned and ran home!

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 014 – Acorn Accoustic

Acorn Accoustic

A couple of Ackhorne regulars recalled the old Wednesday night events, and even remembered me getting up and performing in there. They wouldn’t believe my story in fact, of me running away too frightened to go in and perform. Back then I became a regular and was recalled as a wild challenging and slightly crazy poet (oh how things change). Yes though, I had been terrified of getting up, but on the second Wednesday I went there, my name was announced as soon as I appeared through the door. We are talking a lot smaller a room then and as many as two hundred folk squashed in there with hardly room to raise your glass. While they were clapping I had to squeeze my way through and jump onto the raised area. The following week much the same, except I was introduced as the Acorn’s Resident poet! Was I thrilled, and I took to writing especially to perform there.

In no time of being a regular there I was offered a couple of paid performances, in folk clubs and art galleries, and, (foolishly perhaps), thought ‘I could make a living out of this’. So it is thanks to the wonderful nights at the Acorn that I turned fulltime.

Footnote: One of my drinking buddies commented wryly, ‘And look at you now’.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 015 – Thank You Mussy

Thank You Mussy

As the photos got popped away Mussy concluded, ‘That’s my history of the Ackhorne. It has been home for a long time; it has been good. The place is consistent, with a variety of people in, from locals, to new to York, to tourists from around the world.’

His only regret? That they don’t do corn beef hash anymore cos it used to soak up the beer.

To sum up; get yourself down the Ackhorne – and go and meet Mussy too! Me? I am already looking forward to his seventieth.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 016 – At Heart

At Heart

There was a lot of talk of those bigger birthdays, and how they come round quicker once you are past your big fortieth. We also talked of holidays, but when we were on the subject of being over fifty, or being over sixty, or….. well, these things creep up on you and you don’t always notice them coming. It doesn’t matter though; it was decided by all around, because you don’t feel that age. All of us, of the more mature variety, all said it, inside is what counts, inside we all feel like we are 17.

As for holidays, one was reminded of their trip to Egypt and of looking round the pyramids and museums. All the images of pharaohs that you see are looking young, because they were thought of as gods it was believed. They might have lived to a ripe old age but the image adorning the wall made them all look about 18. If a pharaoh had died before this age, they were still depicted as looking in their prime of being 18, but for one difference, they are sucking their thumb. This denotes that they passed away before adulthood. As for all the eternal pharaohs who are depicted as being forever youthful, whatever age they were, they would all have been the same as us we decided; in their heart they were 17. Just like us.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 017 – Staring Into the Middle Distance

Staring Into the Middle Distance

One gang at a table got on the topic of maturity, maturity as it heads towards the extreme as one of them put it. All of us around were the same age, and had lots of similar recollections. ‘So’, one summed up, ‘we will all be 59 this year’. ‘Ah’, one of them said turning to the life-long bachelor guy at the corner of the table, ‘you are bit older than the rest of us. So, you will be sixty this year.’

The guy at the corner was just about to take a swallow of his drink, the glass was just about to his mouth, he paused, looked stunned and then said,’ No, no.’ the glass went down, the glass went back up again, it paused again, and he said, ‘No, No.’ This piece of information was clearly not accepted.

He put the glass down on the table, stared into the distance, for a full ten minutes, then when there was a lull in the conversation he said, ‘Oh, god, you are right, I will be won’t I!’

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 018 – The Boss

The Boss

Have they told you about the cat? The pub has a cat. Ask the landlord he’ll tell you, there is a pub cat right. And there are two doors if you look. There is a door at that end and a door at the other end. Well, if you sit by on of those doors, you can bet your life, you will have to get up and let the cat in. Whichever door it decides it wants to come in, it will be there and you will have to let it in. We all know. We laugh when people sit there, because they don’t know and they soon will. They will probably have to let it out again as well.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 019 – That Burns Night

That Burns Night

We are going back a lot of years, well if we are going to be totally accurate, a lot of years and a week. One of the times when the gang from here headed off together. As one among them was a Lance Corporal in Fulford Barracks catering there was an open invite for them all to head off for a real Burns Night, an all in Burns Night at the barracks: the Officer’s Mess no less. What a night. At four in the morning one of the officers called them together, ‘Look, you Ackhorne guys have drank us dry of whiskey, so I think it is time for us all to go.’

He got on the phone and called in one of the squaddies to drive them all home. It turned out the squaddie was new to York so it was quite a long journey as they all tried to explain where each of them lived. He got them all home though, and it was quite a night.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 020 – Dream Jobs

Dream Jobs

I wasn’t the only one with a dream job, (listening to people’s stories in real ale pubs), when you did an apprenticeship at the carriage works in York and quite a long career in similar fields, the Pickering Gromont railway was a great place to be offered a job. After taking early retirement the opportunity came up and off he went. He was all smiles talking about it, renovating old steam engines and carriages for this steam team. There was constant maintenance but he relished every task and was happy to see all the people climbing aboard a train that was running because of him. Not that he said a lot, it was his mates who told me the whole story while he sat and smiled, ‘Yes I suppose it is a dream job, I am very happy there.’

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 021 – Steam-days Bathing

Steam-days Bathing

‘I know where you live.’ Hearing this might have concerned me had it not been in the middle of a conversation on the topic of renovating steam days carriages. A regular visitor to The Ackhorne does renovations so I thought I would chip in with the tale of the railway carriage at our old house. There were some there who already knew of it. York is a small place, but then again so is the world. I explained how I had been performing at a folk festival in Warwick and had been telling a steam enthusiast there about the railway related bathroom at my parent’s house. Their bathroom was actually a railway carriage on legs. It was an LNER director’s suite. Much like the Queen’s train I suppose, with a bedroom, lounge ect. This was the original bathroom, with a huge deep bath and lots of brass and old wood fixtures and fittings. Around a month after I had told the guy in Warwick about it my parents said that they had looked out the back and a bunch of folks were getting out of a minibus and standing in the lane taking pictures. They had come all the way up from Warwickshire just to see it. When I was relating this tale in The Ackhorne a couple of people in the group already knew of it and had been to have a look as well. We don’t live there any more and I am thinking of taking a walk over to see if it is still there.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 022 – Theatre Prompts

Theatre Prompts

My prompt cards were of interest and people enjoyed picking one and getting an idea from it. One fell flat though. A chap chose the card; Treading the Boards, and then said that he never had. Any kind of performance memory would do, being best man, having a go at karaoke, any situation of standing up in front of people; nope nothing. Then it turns out, he used to run the theatre bar. We are going back to the days of the De Grey Rooms having a bar, (back to the times when Theakstons had just hit York). Myself and a few others recalled dropping in there for a drink. When he ran the bar that was where you went for a drink if you were at the Theatre Royal, so, before a show and in the interval. It was a popular bar throughout the evening but when the theatre had its interval it would get really busy. Then after the show all the actors would be in there.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 023 – An Unusual Life

An Unusual Life

The prompt cards created interest and brought out memories and tales. One of those cards had said, Not all relationships are the same

This made people think of individuals who lived life their own way. It also reminded us that people are not predictable, you think you can look at someone and get an idea of that they are like, this often isn’t so.

There was a recollection of a quite elderly fellow who was always at the corner of a bar, sitting quietly sipping his drink, and how, upon talking to him on one occasion it turned out he had had quite an unusual life. (The teller of the tale mentioned that the guy had been in his nineties and that this conversation happened around twenty years ago.) Someone had mentioned marriage and he had stirred from his usual quiet reveries to comment that he had never really been married. The small group turned in anticipation. It turns out that when in his twenties he had been invited to visit a lady for the weekend. Not only had this worked out well, but that he had continued to visit each weekend for many years; until she passed away at the age of seventy five in fact. He added that for all those years, each weekend morning there had been a knock at the bedroom door and a breakfast tray was brought in for them.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 024 – Lift That Sneck

Lift That Sneck

A bloke who does the shelves in Morrisons said you aught to use the names of beers to set people off. There are loads of intriguing names nowadays. You could do a tour of the beers and have a tale for each bottle. When this was shared with the group one well known beer came to mind; Snecklifter.

There were a couple of theories around this name.

One was that there was a ‘sneck’ on the door at the back of the pub that led to the outhouse in the yard; and that drinking this beer would cause you to need to go fairly often and the name was a warning that after a few of these you would become a snecklifter.

The other suggestion was, that there is a latch or sneck on the front door of the pub and you would not be able to go in there, (by lifting that sneck), unless you had money. You might want to get down the pub with your mates, but if you were hard up it would be beyond your pride to turn up and expect others to buy you beers. If you could afford one drink however, you would be able to go in. Who knows, once in there, if you sipped at your beer for long enough someone may say, ‘Shall I get you a pint?’ If you were real lucky that one drink that got you in there might lead to you being in there all evening. There would always be other times when you would have money and you would remember them if they didn’t have more than the price of a pint. By having the price of a pint you hadn’t had to actually ask any one for a beer. So, a snecklifter was the price of a pint; the price of lifting that sneck and going in without the shame of not having any money. All about pride perhaps, but it is likely that you had gone to a friend at work beforehand and asked for, yes you guessed it, a snecklifter.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 025 – That’s Jazz

That’s Jazz

You see someone propping up the bar and until you get to know them you have no idea what they might have experienced. There was this old man, quite some time ago we are told, who was always in the corner of the bar. Turns out he had been president of the York Jazz Club back in the 1930s and had put on all sorts of well-known acts. All the greats had come through to perform. Among the names was Duke Ellington and it was he who had said at the end of the gig, for the president to jump into his limo and head back to the hotel for a drink. The crowd of them had sat up jamming and drinking brandy until the early hours: had been a highlight of his life.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 026 – Test of a Good Wife

Test of a Good Wife

Can I pester you for five minutes I asked and the guy who wasn’t expecting to be at Ales n Tales looked up and said yes of course. When I elaborated he wondered what sort of stories I was after and my explanation and offer of my prompt cards brought out a fair few tales. We started off with Romance, and this made him think of how he first met his wife. They had met on holiday in Spain and as she was a Mansfield lass they were able to get together again afterwards. The second time she came over to visit he thought it was time she met his pals. There was a group of about eight strong and they all hung about together on an evening for a drink around the pubs. They had started drinking as teenagers and back then they would have a drink locally and then go and see if they could get in in town. Now, when just a little older, they still met up at the Rose and Crown on Hull Road. Mostly they didn’t have girlfriends so he felt he should warn her of what to expect. Said to her as they headed there, the lads are going to tease you, either through, well, just to see how you react;’ they will try and get a jibe off yer, to try to get at me, cos I am bringing a girl out, stuff like that.

She didn’t say owt, and in we went. One lad was first to try, said, ‘Right, I hear you are quite a lass.’ ‘Because I’d told them, you know,

all about her. Said she was different to everyone else, cos I was falling in love with her.’

So, mi mates says, ‘Tell you how you can prove it, if you are coming out with us. Here’s this pint, I’ve bought you a pint.’ (Tetleys as it was then

In the Rose and Crown) ‘If you can drink it straight off…’

She took it off him, picked it up she did, and without a word… She drank it straight off. Downed it first time she did.

They came to me said, ‘She is going to make you a good wife.’

And now we are married.


Does she still drink all the beer I asked? She likes fruit beer.

Still drinks pints; Fruit beers, ciders, stuff like that. We go to all the beer festivals together.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 027 – Feeling Ginger

Feeling Ginger

My drinking pal took another prompt card. Slightly connected to his tale of going out round the pubs, was his love for different real ales. He started to drink real ale when he was still fairly young but none of his mates did. One thing he still likes to do is go to pubs he wouldn’t normally go to and sit and have a few drinks; try a few beers. He will sit at a table, maybe read the paper. In no time somebody will come up to you. This one time, eventually people came up to him and started talking. You get on, even though you are never going to see them again.

The Tap and Spile on Monkgate was having a beer festival. Eventually it gets full, and two couples sit near him while he’s reading the paper. They’re talking; he is listening as he reads the paper. They see him smirking, so they know he can hear them; so they get talking.

And then they ask what he is drinking. He couldn’t remember now what brewery it was, but he recalled the name of the beer and it is one I cannot repeat here. They reckoned there was no such thing and they had a five minute conversation about whether there was.

He didn’t think I would be able to use his story, but I said I would be able to use it when I was at the next Ales n Tales pub.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 028 – Castle Passage

Castle Passage

This time instead of looking through the prompt cards my drinking pal went for picking one at random; he got The Unexplainable. It turns out his tale was of something that was unexplainable but got explained in the end. His brother in law; his girlfriend’s family, run a hotel, well it’s a castle, in Scotland and he had got them a weekend away there. So off they went.

In one of the sitting rooms there’s a door at one end and a door at the other end and the door at the one end seems a lot smaller even though the floor didn’t slope or anything; so they couldn’t work out why it looked smaller.

They had a few drinks and still didn’t work it out, and were looking, and then all of a sudden one of the bar persons seemed to appear, he didn’t come out of that door and he didn’t come out of that door, he just suddenly appeared collecting glasses. Where the heck did he come from? They said and stuff like that.

Eventually they found out, the guy who owned the castle, well, he used to own the castle, he was only a short guy. Turns out he didn’t want to look small when he appeared in the room, so what he did was, he had the door at one end made smaller, and he would appear there so he looked taller. He had a secret door fitted and he would come through there and stand in front of the small door. So when he was announced they would look up and see him looking tall as he was looking down the hall at them all. So they just use the secret passageway now so the staff seem to appear suddenly from nowhere. Have a look if you are ever near Edinburgh, round by Castle Dalglish.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 029 – Teatime


‘So what have you got there?’ my next group asked. Well I had been busy listening and hadn’t thought about it. In fact I had started at the wrong end of the taster tray, in the opposite direction to the order they were poured.

I had chosen a taster tray of three different beers in little third of a pint glasses and it was wondered which I had tried. I had asked for the three from one end of the row of pumps, and we worked out that the beers I was sipping were Hobgoblin, Strongarm and the middle one was an unusual one; Orange tea beer; Clockwork Orange. Its quite hoppy, so not all of us would like it it seems. I enjoyed it. The Hebden Bridge tea company donated the tea to make the beer with, there is the equivalent of a pillowcase full per brew. I had wondered why they had given the tea for free and was told the guy knew the brewer personally and he reckoned they had given the orange tea just so they could get their name on the pub clip. Selling tea from beer, this seemed approved of all round, more tea more beer.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 030 – The Scruffy Daves

The Scruffy Daves

I offered my pick-a-card set to see if a random one brought up any tales. Out came, How Things Used To Be. Well there was Scruffy’s came the response; Scruffy Murphy’s. It’s not that long ago, he tells me, but that he is still relatively young. It was a fantastic pub. They often went there, the five of them. Five of them all called Dave, yes so one night there were literally five of them all called Dave in a line along the bar and they started thinking they ought to have individual names.

So they decided they were called:

Cajun Dave, because he worked across at Old Orleans

Spud, as in spuds and gravy rhyming slang for Davey

Neurotic Dave – ‘I am not saying anything about that one’

Codders from Hull

Marmite Dave

What is that Marmite Dave? Turns out this was because he was in the army, this meant nothing to me, seems it was an advert I don’t remember, my mate Marmite.

‘Yeh good times in that pub.’

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 031 – Pub Trip

Pub Trip

There was the time you fell down the stairs and broke your nose.

Yes, I blame the single shot of Tequila at the end of the night.

That you were bullied into drinking? Oh yes, definitely, by Marmite Dave in fact. Yes nothing to do with the 8 pints of Guinness earlier, no of course not. Definitely the Tequila shot. Yeh, it was a swan dive right down the stairs, landed right on my nose.

Now father and son have matching noses, as Dad used to be a boxer when he was younger.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 032 – Slipping Home

Slipping Home

This winter’s heavy snow and sudden freezing had brought a few calamities for folk wandering home. Leaving Lendal Cellars seems to have been the one that caught everyone’s attention; that slope. Half way up, slip, fall, get back up, slip, fall, this went one for quite a while and in the middle of it the guy saw another feller going backwards down the slope. He was stood straight up but with no way of stopping himself, as he passed our current storyteller he looked round in a wild-eyed panic. As our friend eventually pulled himself back up to his feet he reckoned the feller slipping by had gone right in the door of Jamie Oliver’s! That wasn’t the end of the journey, for our teller, three more occasions of the feet going out from under him, and a passer by advising, ‘Take Pixy steps!’ he eventually made it to the taxi rank. That path at that rank slopes, now he is sure that no one knocked in to anyone, but in unison the whole queue started sliding forwards in a synchronised journey to the curb. As one they slipped off the curb and were all stood in the gutter, just as a load of taxis arrived.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 033 – Mild Only

Mild Only

‘Oh I don’t know if I have any tales’, a guy’s dad assures us, ‘I’m so old it’s all forgotten’. Son seems to think that Dah used to go in the Volunteers. Turns out not so, it was the Locomotive next door to there that was his first haunt. Yes, that place is gone, it’s flats now. He used to live round there, so would go in. In fact he was only a teenager so they wouldn’t let him drink bitter because they said he wasn’t manly enough. It was alright to have a pint of mild though.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 034 – First Wage

First Wage

Loads of people have said about going out with work mates. The first wage packet it often was. So all the team at work would say right it’s your first wage packet come on you are coming out to the pub with us. Often only a teenager and dragged out.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 035 – For a Leek

For a Leek

Up in the North East if you were going out on the strength of your first wage packet it was a whole different experience. It was recollected for us how, with that first ever earned money you would be down the working man’s club with all the crowd from work, and after a couple you would be in the need of a trip to the gents. You weren’t allowed however, all they would say was, you can’t go to the loo, it is Dave’s turn tonight, or Bert’s, or Gus’s or whoever depending on the turns. All would make sense at the end of the night, by which time he was absolutely busting to go. They would all head off together, and down an alley towards Dave’s backyard. His wife was there to open the door into the back garden and there lined up were Dave’s prize leeks. There was big money in them prize leek competitions and they had to be protected and given everything they needed. Here available were some nutrients that would help them to flourish; all the guys would line up and, er, water the leeks.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 036 – Festival Square

Festival Square

Festivals in St Paul’s Square. We only really went to have a drink because pubs stayed open all afternoon because of the festival. The zany magician and his assistant wee recalled, she used to climb on his back under his cloak to ‘disappear’. One a little younger among us recalls the opening hours just before the law changed, and how when he was just 18 they still were closing in the afternoon. ‘You would go out and they would kick you out just after lunch.’

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 037 – Bit of Trouble in the Big Coach

Bit of Trouble in the Big Coach

The Big Coach was remembered, now derelict (on the corner along from Dutton’s for Buttons) and a sad waste of an old building, there are still memories for a few of us of going in there. You had to be quite brave to go in though. It was known for the fights and gangs and for trouble. One of our Ales n Tales team sat here relaxing told us of how he had been in there with a friend when they were young men and there had been trouble. Trouble is an understatement; he said the whole pub was fighting, like something from an old western, the whole pub except for him and his friend. They were sat quiet in a corner, gripping their pints and watching it all.

It had revolving doors, so no one could be thrown out who was in a fighting mood still, and the doors had been jammed by the landlord. As the fight was eventually going out of everyone, the police arrived. They were let in through the back in great numbers and the sergeant turned to the two sat quiet in the corner and said, ‘Get out of here,’ and gesticulated towards the back way. Now this might have been because he knew his father, but most likely it was because he didn’t want any witnesses, as back in those days they dealt with such troublemakers on the spot and metered out a heavy punishment before dragging them all out of there.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 038 – Lock In

Lock In

Keep the troublemakers in. Others recalled times when a pub somewhere or other had suddenly had a fight going on, and the landlord’s way of dealing with it was to pull down the shutters on the bar and lock the front door so no one could get out. The younger guy telling us this reckoned that this worked in that it kept the troublemakers in so they could be dealt with by the law, but for him it meant that he and his friend were locked in with all the fighting, and they would far rather be off and away from it all.

Footnote: The Karaoke carried on throughout.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 039 – A Footnote

A Footnote

I went back to the guy who had been sat alone at the end of the room and started talking about that beer that I cannot name, and half way through asking him about his (beer name censored) I realised it was a different feller who had happened to sit in the same seat. He did look at me strange.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 040 – Gin and Shivers

Gin and Shivers

There had been a birthday party and as people turned up at this cosy gathering they were getting out their bottles. One visitor brought out a bottle of gin. Then there was a wonder about what to mix it with. The guy who was having the birthday remembered how way back, when you were in a pub how spirits were served. Those days, believe it or not, if you ordered a gin, it would be gin and orange; no we are not talking a long tall drink, this was a gin with cordial, just cordial, no water. So the party-goers had tried it, it was awful. The face contorted and the mouth turned to the consistency of a prune. Those listening around The Ackhorne who were younger couldn’t believe this. A few recalled though, those small short drinks, and one commented, ‘You weren’t meant to enjoy it you know!’ All the spirits were the same, a vodka and lime was this small green thing that almost burnt your mouth. A rum would be a rum and pep, a short blast of peppermint with a bite of rum within. Pretty intense: and pretty dehydrating too.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 041 – Wine Invented

Wine Invented

These were the choices, bitter, lager, spirits and that was about it. If you wanted a soft drink there was probably only the option of a bitter shandy. Oh and the lager? You drank lager with lime in it, or perhaps worse still with blackcurrant, you weren’t meant to taste the lager.

This was before the invention of wine! Well, that’s what one of our visitors recalled. I am not sure how far back we are going, but if you wanted wine you went to a very grand shop and paid a fortune. Then suddenly one company brought out a wine that was sold through ‘off-beer shops’. Suddenly you could buy wine to have at home; it was a social revolution. Dinner parties became the thing, with your guests bursting in the door full of excitement brandishing a bottle, ‘I’ve brought a bottle of wine!’ ‘So have I!’

This exotic drink was a social revolution.

Ales n Tales – The Ackhorne Stories 042 – Dinner Parties

Dinner Parties

What was the usual fare at a dinner party back then? It was almost always; prawn cocktail, Chile-con-carne and lemon meringue pie to follow.

Back to Ales and Tales – for tales from other pubs

Ales n Tales – The Pre-Project Run-up

Ales n Tales – The Pre-Project Run-up 01 – Skating on the Knavesmire

Skating on the Knavesmire

I mentioned the flooding on the Knavesmire and it set the whole pub off, if someone hadn’t seen it they had heard about it. There was much discussion but mainly all people were saying in the end was that it is like a lake. Then someone pointed out that they remember it being like that and then just as it was going down it froze, froze solid in fact. I actually recall this myself and it was just as they told us, well, amazing is the only way to describe it. It was more popular for York people than a firework display. There were thousands there, word had gone round, not just that it was frozen but that it was quite safe. The water had been subsiding at the time so there was only two or three inches of it when it froze solid. (Ice always freezes solid doesn’t it!) I think it was about twenty five years ago because I recall a mob of us going down there with all the kids. It was an amazing sight, we were well wrapped up and needed to be, yet I recall it was bright and sunny that Sunday as we all herded towards the huge open plain of white glittering ice. Yes there were thousands there, right across the area. We did hurtle on there and I suppose it wasn’t completely safe, as someone went straight over as soon as they set foot. Once we had the idea however that one had to move carefully yet confidently we were off. There were huge slides built and one could slide really long distances. Some slides seemed to be easier and safer as they were on a slight incline (that would never happen on a lake!) and one could set off slowly with just a slight push off and then go for ages. There were people skating, and what seemed most exciting, two or three people had brought not only their sledges but their dogs and were going flying by at great speed with the dogs roped up and hurtling forward across the ice field. The kids still talk about it now.

Ales n Tales – The Pre-Project Run-up 02 – Spider Chasers:

Spider Chasers:

Raising the head above the parapet but still not reaching the conkers

When you stand up to perform you are stood up in front of people, well obviously, and they not only see you there telling stories , or singing songs, or whatever it is you do, they also see you as being in charge of everything; where the loos are, how the world works, everything. Take the recent Gunpowder Plod event, (which I thoroughly enjoyed by the way) someone marched into the marquee I was performing in as I was setting up and said, “You moved it.” Sorry? “You moved your tent.” I hadn’t. “When you made the map you put the tent over there and then when you set up the site you put your tent here.” I had found the tent straight away when I had walked in and that was before all the bunting went all over it, and of course I am nothing to do with site arrangements or the problem with avoiding pitching in a muddy area.

It is the same with York Stories 2012, well more or less the same. I am thrilled to be part of this exciting project and in particular to be hosting Ales n Tales around the pubs of York in the near future, but does that really mean I am to blame for conkers?!

“What are you going to do about this problem with conkers?” I was a bit taken aback and wondered how I could be responsible; I was also intrigued as to what the terrible problem was. I almost wish I hadn’t asked, for as soon as the explanation came out that it was to do with fear of spiders, not only did all the table prick up their ears and join in but so did the folks at tables all around. Fear of spiders, a very emotive topic. A topic that perhaps had fired my colleague up a little too much but, as with the map critic in the marquee earlier, she was actually a nice fun person. Turns out there is a shortage of conkers this year, not just outside the Acomb Working Men’s Club which is normally the scene every year of passers by of all types and ages stopping to gather pockets full of the shiny wonders but even in Scotland, even in Tang Hall (or is that walnuts?). The reason word has spread so widely is because it has been rumoured that conkers, wait for it, keep away spiders. This was not a rumour, I was informed, this, was a fact. One friend was quite put out that she had said this quite a while ago and no one had taken any notice. It wasn’t until someone mentioned it on local radio that interest was peeked. Then another friend, who reckons to be a witch or something, had been doing research into the Pendle Witches and had come across the claim, this  consolidated it into fact; Conkers keep away spiders! There, it was decided, but as word had spread so had running feet and all had returned with very low results. One conker here, a couple there. Social networking revealed that the problem was British Isles spread. Scotland, Ireland, Mull: postings, comments and tweets were spreading the panic wider and wider.

What we have to wonder is, what is all this to do with York Stories 2012, well it is a York story of sorts, but it is this responsibility thing, that we seem to like to foist upon the first person to dare to raise their head above the parapet or to ‘make a fuss’ about anything. “I would be gathering stories from around the pubs for Ales n Tales right!?” Well if you are gathering you had better be able to do something about them. Personally I wasn’t sure that’s how it works. But I felt responsible, so promised there and then that I would find a whole heap of conkers and bring them along as spider chasers. So far I have found two; and they were all wizened up at the back of a shelf at home. Perhaps a bag of Chestnuts would do the trick, or at least get me off the hook around that table.

I was about to say can any readers out there help? But no, I had better not I might get inundated, but if anyone has any further information, tales, anecdotes, other remedies for what ails us, do please send them in as stories for us.

Watch out for conkers!…..

Ales n Tales – The Pre-Project Run-up 03 – The Swans

The Swans

“What’s all this about you being asked to go round pubs collecting stories?” asked a friend of mine over a pint, “Ales and Tales isn’t it?”

I admitted that I was about to be spending time going around pubs, (as a complete change from my ordinary evenings out). At that a guy across the way called out, “I’ve seen you! You were doing a thing about swans. Waving your arms about all funny you were. – It were good”

“Nasty things swans” says my pal Gra, turns out he used to have two hang out near his takeaway where he worked. People were frightened of them but the swans were frightened of him. He would see people not daring to come across to the shop because the swans were there, and he would have to deal with it. One time a couple were in a car outside and there was a swan at each side looking at them and the couple shut the doors back up and sat tight, so Graham went out to sort it. He said he would just go out the door and look at the swans, swing his head and say “Go on, off you go” and they would wander off with their heads down.

Here is the swan story people may well have seen me telling (no arm waving this time though):

As a small child I was told by my mother that we were going out as she had heard of a special discovery and that I aught to see it. We walked down to West Bank Park and in through the huge ornamented gates, the path meandered, enclosed by trees and banked gardens, to approach the regal Victoria and then on through the rose walk. We came out as expected to the open garden of the park with the swings ahead; she carried on though, until we came to the woods. The woods that no one went in, there were no paths and this area had been left to nature, and to the dark.

She ceremoniously took my hand and we worked our way through the undergrowth, noticing others had been this way of late. In the depths of the wood as it seemed to me, there was a narrow covered clearing. Here in the gloom she walked me to the edge of a small pit. From the times of this whole area being known as ‘Yackum Sandoils’ by the locals, when the region was quarried for clay and gravel and all had been left to fill as ponds; here was one small example of this history. It was deep with steep sides with only a little water that had found its way through the trees. There in this shallow darkened pool swam an old old creature. This once elegant swan seemed drab and somehow downcast as it turned slowly around the circle of the pit.

My mother explained to me how swans when they meet mate for life. This old swan used to be seen upon the river with his beloved, always together. Then in later years somehow she had died and he was alone. Broken-hearted he wanted nothing from this life and had flown into the depth of this wood to live out the last of his days in deep sadness. People threw him scraps as they visited occasionally and he circled in there for quite a long time. On other visits as we played in the sunshine and rode on the swings, sometimes we would turn to each other and us children would whisper of the old old swan left alone in the dark of the wood. We would see adults wander away in among the ferns and briars to find him and offer him a little of our picnic.

They do say, that when he did at last pass away that his spirit rose up from that deep dark hole and flew low over the park, they say that if you were to walk across the path of that journey you would be overwhelmed by deep deep timeless sadness. They do also say that at the edge of the path where a clearing among the trees points across to the way to the river that if one was to pass through that area one would be intermingled with the echoes of the two beloved swans reunited forever and that as their necks entwine in embrace one would feel their spirit and be engulfed with a powerful lasting feeling of love.

Together at last their spirits rise to fly, to return to their home upon the ways of the river and they are together at last, in spirit and in future lives, forever a couple in love.

Back to Ales and Tales

Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories

Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 01 – Darkly Seen

Darkly Seen

Terrible winter weather on the night made one expect that things would be quiet for the Golden Ball Ales n Tales session. There were public transport warnings too. Setting off in really good time to make up for this led to jumping straight on a bus (which was probably a really late one from earlier) and getting there ages before expected. There were just five of us in the bar and a roaring fire in the corner. Then came the power cut; it hit most of York apparently. Strangely the five of us got talking once it was dark, and oddly enough I realised I knew two of the people in there once we were in the dark too. Candles came out and with the roaring fire we were looking at an atmospheric yet, shall we say, cosy evening. As we were starting to think this would all be great, the alarm started and couldn’t be turned off.

Just as Ales n Tales was due to start, back came the power, off went the alarms, on came the till, and in came the crowds. No really, real crowds; all gathered in and waiting for a show. It was a very good night; and my freezer was alright when I got home too.

Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 02 – Golden Happenings

Golden Happenings

Now one cannot narrate the experiences gathered at an Ales n Tales session in the Golden Ball without acknowledging the atmosphere there. It is owned. It is owned by the people who love the place. The details recreated here are mainly anecdotal but the understanding gathered whilst listening over a beer is that a whole host of folks made this thing happen. This pub continues to exist because they got together and now own shares – or ‘a share’ anyway. It is clear that the email list of those involved runs into hundreds and they all wanted this jewel of the community to continue.

Earlier in the story above there was the impression of a quiet start, given that my evening began with just five in the bar; this doesn’t take into account the other rooms, or the vibrant spirit of the spot. The snug was well huddled, the side room had some sort of society in it (a history group as far as we understood), the back room held a union meeting; this place always seems to be alive and happening.

Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 03 – Golden Readiness

Golden Readiness

It was the energy of the Golden Ball which made the Ales n Tales evening a real experience, Word had got out, messages had been sent, flyers distributed, posters had really worked (for a change) and the gang were there. The dynamic of these Ales n Tales events has been mentioned before, the expectation that the public (the public hosted by the publican) would come along and do exactly what we asked of them. That isn’t how people work, especially while relaxing in a beloved pub where they feel like part of the team. Tales was the word that had jumped out of the publicity, and tales is what they were expecting. They weren’t a random selection of people at tables they were ready to be entertained; entertained in the old way with stories and human experiences. So here we will see a fair few stories with a wide range of topics which were requested from the storyteller.

Footnote: of course, pubs being what they are, once the performance was over, everyone wanted to chip in and add their wisdoms and thoughts; experiences and comic happenings. Read on…

Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 04 – Snappy Break

Snappy Break

There was a call for a look in the case, the battered brown case of things from way back, so out came, the pipe; the clay pipe which actually is a modern one, probable made for collectors (certainly one among us recalled a rack of these by the fire which were never smoked, but avidly added to).

Here was a memory straight away, the hard working tenant farmer; just a little ways out from York, where relatives would sojourn and become part of the country while they visited hard-working rural folk. We are talking calendar-country, as in many of the beautiful old villages where people feel part of York, yet are just a little removed and have something special; contemplate this… They have us surrounded.

Here a recollection of that clay pipe, and the labourers out with the ‘Maister’ working the fields. After hard toil and yet still only part ways through the day, there would be a call for a bit of a rest. With their Massey–Harris band around their legs to fend off the rats and with their caps on backwards to keep the sweat out of their eyes they would flop down and accept the delivery of refreshments from the ‘this-and-that-there-man’.


‘Maister’ would sit apart a little, not out of any kind of elitist principle, but because, he was the one who thought; thought deeply. For such vision and contemplation one obviously had to have a pipe, for a mere tenant farmer this had to be a clay pipe. There would be another rest time and the pipe would come out from the west-cohit pocket and it was a little shorter. Another day, another field and the routine was repeated, but this time the pipe was snapped even shorter, a look of acceptance and the pipe was lit regardless. Never to be daunted the pipe would always do until the return to the farm. The ‘Maister’ was even seen on occasions to pull a pipe out of his pocket which was hardly more than a bowl; he would fill it nonetheless and with the tiny bit of stem in his mouth would set to and light it… ‘Ooch! Ouch’; he burnt lips. The way forward was to take a good quick drag and then step back from the heat; smack the lips to try and cool them, then dare to face the heat of the shortened clay pipe again. There was nothing like a good smoke, (they used to say), when one was having a break, and a bit of a think. Ouch!

Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 05 – Rest Room

Rest Room

If you, like a lady amongst us in the Golden Ball, are thinking of the idea of getting that old clay pipe and blowing a few bubble then you are as good as in there with us among the atmosphere of Ales n Tales; back in the time of childhood. So we were all to become, as we were called over to the topic of the Hungate dig. Now there might have been in-site recoveries of such as the cordwainer’s guild, tanners, and even older than these medieval findings; the thing that was of fascination for us was the slums. Call them slums if you will, these people were un-homed in the late 1930s and resettled in another area, hopefully better than here. Lets face it anywhere would have been better than here. All that remains are narrow streets and bare brick foundations; one up one downs with no back way and up to seventeen people lodging together in an area smaller than a modest caravan. Stinking workplaces at either end of the street; these people hardly got away from the street. Unless of course they were to find some contemplative solace in the row of toilets at the end of the lane.

Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 06 – Pipe in Pipe

Pipe in Pipe

Here we are at the end of the 1937 lane in Hungate and upon the toilet, in the row shared by all, was an old fellow, an old Irish fellow most likely, most probably new to the city. Outside was a queue and they were becoming quite impatient; this didn’t faze our subject however, he was smoking his pipe. He was almost certainly thinking back to the old land of home and you can be sure there was a woman on his mind. The woman he was dreaming of was Erin, the love of his life most likely.

We ‘know’ this because a commercial archaeologist went down into the site to check on progress; she found the team working away and all looked good. There by the side of the dig was a skip which caught her attention, it was filled with old red clay sewerage pipes, stacked high they were. She ‘just had to’ ask the team what they were planning to do with them. They said that they were finished with them and were moving onto another aspect of the project. To her they represented a whole deep chunk of history. She turned back to the diggers and pointed out that some of them may have contents. The crew appeared disinterested and reckoned she could do what she liked with them. She took up a red clay u-bend at random and threw it to the floor; here among the shattered pot was a complete pipe, a clay pipe; it was fashioned to have a harp on the one side and the name Erin upon the other.

Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 07 – Whimsical Discovery

Whimsical Discovery

Here’s where the collection of Hungate stories runs a little childish perhaps; with an imagined cheeky kid; for when the exhibition was shown from the dig, as well as the pipe, another thing which caught attention was a small blue piece of twisted glass. When these few inches of delicate glasswork were asked about it was explained that, this was a whimsy. This answer served to further intrigue without really giving any answer. Further explanation was offered that a whimsy was a thing which was of no real use; some of us with memories of older generations making comments on us ‘young uns’ may well recall the phrase ‘neither use nor ornament’. This bit o glass would have been an ornamental possession; something to show the value of the bearer. For this shard of the past comes from an ornamental walking cane. Go back there now: tiny street, stinking factories, massively overcrowded dwellings, barely a scrap to live on, and here processing grandly comes a long-suited, fine-bearded, elderly strutting fine gentleman with all the pomp and ceremony of one who had been brought up in privilege to prosper with finery; he owns these people in his mind and he is perusing all he commands. Stand back poor people and see the grandeur of the man you respect. Now this shard of glass could have come here to this scarp of earth for many reasons, but the idea of the fine gent rise up and stay in the mind. Stay there now and conjure for yourself the image; now be the small poor child with nary a crumb o food to live by, who is struggling to survive in the only life he has ever known. Step out now, in your vision of the past, and lift a stone, be ready, and, throw. The stick is smashed. The tiny bit of glass discovered all these years later.

Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 08 – Final Attempt

Final Attempt

All of the ‘above’ on the topic of the whimsy could well be true; the imagined story line, the archaeologist’s studied opinion, but, there was a cry from the crowd. From within the group who had come along to support the storytelling, (from the Aspire club), came a new idea; this was an idea that we cannot really argue with, for there was history in it. The piece of twisted glass might not have been strutted along here by a fine gent, it may very well have been laid down here in the earth as a belated record of a glass workers efforts; of the skill required to become a qualified and respected worker of the lightning blast of turning sand to the magical thing that is glass. This young person had made a ’masterpiece’. This was a test piece; make one yourself if you can, for here is your final challenge coming back to you from the past. All those years of learning; now make something that surpasses all that has gone before. There will be an examination of your prowess; they will inspect. You have made a twisted blue glass walking cane you are now entitled by acclaim to become a testified worker of the glass.

Step back into your life and see if you have been tested to such a standard, have you excelled; is there a masterpiece from you?

Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 09 – A Good One

A Good One

There were other Ales n Tales nights where we have talked of the crew of retirees who had found a way to fill their partly panicked, possibly worried, time; of how their solution was to go out together for a walk, for a walk around the walls of York and to stop off as they spied untried public houses.

They had found allsorts of experiences by trying out new hostelries and getting talking to people; here in the midst of the heady ales and fancy tales was a reconnoitre with this experience. A chap who had retired and been part of a wandering party, who had turned from the walls towards a pub that had changed his life, and he came to us this very night to tell. The end of life had come, he had no job; he tried to portray confidence of being a solid happy regular person but inside he was worried that his time of being part of things was over. That drink, that choice, that moment, had made a difference and lifted him, he was moved forward. When you have given your life to a job, the job of receiving deliveries, recognising the product, seeing the label, knowing the dress, the hat, the shoes, you knew where they needed to be, you knew all the details, all the aspects. From being a guy who had retired from working in a department store with a brown work-coat on to being unneeded, to suddenly hearing from someone in a pub that there is a need. The next thing you know he is working in a charity shop and they have never before had anyone with such experience. As a bag is delivered a dress is lifted out, its value, its size, its season are all immediately understood; The guy? He is very much appreciated and is making a difference in a glance, in a glance, in a glance. ‘That one goes there.’ ‘Store that one for the wedding season!’

Keep this guy, he is a good one.

Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 010 – Sprightly


We cannot talk about this next topic, you haven’t heard; this didn’t happen.  It did and they were out there. Well we are going back a long long time to a group of workers of around fifty years of age back in the 1940s. These workers back in wartime, one of whom passed on the tale of the main office being bombed; everything was gone. This was a night time event and was an office, so there were luckily no casualties. We could see the repercussions for many a year though. For in no time, there they were on their pensions and looking far too sprightly for their age.

All the place was gone, all the records were destroyed. There was a shack set up as an office and staff set to to restore the state of the records, and all the workers got a letter; fill in the details and send them back to the new records office. Suddenly we are looking at a canteen full of folks who had no identity, they sat there and looked at their letters and supped at their coffees. An idea struck one of them and it spread. All of them made a pact, they all stuck to it, and they were older as a result. All the workers around that canteen decided; they would add five years to their age. They agreed, they stuck to it. They all retired early. This is being recorded here on this website, but we don’t know who they were, or who they worked for – they had a long happy retirement.

Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 011 – Bonfire Fever

Bonfire Fever

The little recording device used for note-taking set off discussions. Someone called it a Dictaphone, and another said not so, that was a device from the past. They were not long after cassette players apparently, which were ancient recording devices. Not so for one of our group who tells us they still use one.

This sparked recollections of a cassette tape of gathered memories from an old cassette recorded in the early eighties by a chap in his nineties. There were some fascinating details which came from the recollections of this. One in particular was of him remembering the Mafeking bonfires. Most didn’t know what this was about so the moment was relived. Well, we didn’t start a bonfire but the time of the relief of Mafeking was related to the group. May 1900 was the time of the rescue of the forces under siege and news spread to Britain and everyone celebrated. In quite a wild way it seems. There were bonfires built in the streets almost everywhere and folks danced and shouted and celebrated. A fair few things which would have been useful were lost and the crowds threw anything to hand onto the fires to help keep the spirit of the party going. Around the country old buildings still show the signs of blistered, buckled paint and woodwork as the fires grew larger. We partied and we celebrated.

Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 012 – Rattling Gun

Rattling Gun

Now if you have an interest in the Seige of Mafeking you might want to research further but here in an anecdotal way are the details related of the tale. Baden-Powell and just a crew of officers were dispatched to Africa and the troops that he commanded were gathered from the area as volunteers, these included many lads in their teens; these were used as scouts and runners and the whole scout movement came out of this as a result. They withstood 217 days of onslaught, and mainly we hear, due to complete resourcefulness.

Stakes were driven into the ground and the troops were instructed to step over imaginary barbed wire. They had but one machine gun and an old light. During bombings everyone hid underground in tunnelled bunkers, and when night came, troops were sent out with the gun and the light. The light had been placed in a polished biscuit tin so it seemed like a search light. The gun would fire a few shots in one direction, while the search light beamed out from the opposite side of the town. Then they were both moved round a bit, a few shots from the gun, a sweep of light across the open ground, then off they went again. This way they had it seem that they had lots of guns and lots of lights.

There was one other gun eventually; as they were digging, something metal was discovered in the ground. It turned out to be an ancient cannon with a stock of cannon balls. So it was dug up and made ready for use. It had lettering emblazoned on the side, no one knew what the lettering had meant originally, but it stood out clear what it meant to them; all the lettering said was, BP1.

  Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 013 – A Lady’s Wildness

A Lady’s Wildness

How do we know of what went on during those 217 days of siege? The tale recounted for us talks of a Captain’s widow. Alone, except for her maid, it was felt that it was unfair on her to be subjected to the bombing and risk of being in Mafeking. So she was smuggled out of the camp while a distraction was made at the other side of the circle of imaginary barbed wire. She was free from the terrible restrictions of war, but she was free in Africa. She, and her maid, found themselves in a wild land with big cats and hyenas and hazardous conditions. They survive for a long period and then decided it would be less of a risk to be back in Mafeking. They somehow managed to smuggle themselves back in there. She then started to write of her experiences and her diary notes were smuggled out on a regular basis and ended up in the British papers. Everyone wanted to read her records of these exploits overseas. The struggles of Baden-Powell and his forces held the nation gripped as a result. There was a timely feel to these accounts it seems with comments such as, ’Sergeant Johnson bought it today, as a result of the confounded bombing, but we had a jolly good game of cricket’.

Footnote: During the relating of these tales one chap sat quiet in a corner smiling, then as all quietened he told us how he had listened to these stories way back when he was a scout at St Paul’s.

  Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 014 – It Just is Cricket

It Just is Cricket

Cricket! – How could they play cricket in the middle of the siege of Mafeking you may be wondering. This is a tale from a different age, with a different sensibility. There were Sundays to consider. Terrible bombings continued throughout the week, but when it came to Sundays all the hostilities stopped. Baden-Powell ensured these rest days were full of fun and distraction for the troops we hear. Concert parties were arranged. There was of course always a game of cricket to be played.

The hostile forces observed these activities from a distance, and in the end, the commander of the Boers, we are told, telephoned Baden-Powell. He said how he had noticed that they played cricket every Sunday and how his troops didn’t really have anything to do. So he suggested that next Sunday a team from his side come across and had a bit of a game. Baden-Powell explained that they were already in the middle of a game of cricket and that they couldn’t entertain the Boers until the present game was over. So the commander asked how long their current game of cricket had been going on. Baden-Powell replied, ‘Two hundred days not out!’ and hung up the phone.

  Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 015 – Little Reassurance

Little Reassurance

Is it just York, but you step up to the bar and end up in a conversation and the next thing you know, you are hearing tales of personal experience from all around the globe. I think we are talking oil drill workers here, but we are certainly talking polar bears. This was a chap who had worked in a team up in the far north of Norway. The land of the Sami he tells us. Here as they went out surveying they were at risk of encountering polar bears. This concerned them quite a bit and they had enquired of their manager what the best action was. The guy tells us that they were given a pistol. They were instructed to take turns to carry it. So he had commented that it would be that person’s job to stand and shoot the poplar bear if it attacked. He was told that there was no ‘if’ involved, if they came across one it would attack. He was also told that his thinking was wrong. Shooting a vicious polar bear would only make it fiercer. In no circumstances were they to try and kill a polar bear with just a pistol. So there is left the question what the pistol was for. They were instructed that when they saw a poplar bear they were all to run as fast as they possibly could and keep going as long as they possibly could. This still leaves the question of the pistol. They were instructed that whoever had the turn of carrying the pistol had to spin around and shoot the man at the back for the poplar bear to attack; that way the rest of them had a bit of a chance of getting away. I thoughtfully sipped my beer and felt grateful I was in Bishophill.

  Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 016 – Party Crasher

Party Crasher

A lady at a table informed us that she always had ghosts in her houses wherever she had lived; she also said that they seem to follow her around from residence to residence. One story she related was of an unwelcome spirit encountered when she was young. This figure of a man was seen wandering in the house, he seemed lost, but he also seemed antagonistic as if they were the ones who shouldn’t be there. A neighbour told them of how she too saw a figure and she described his appearance. Her father said that she was describing an airman and that a plane had crashed in the wartime in the area which was their gardens.

  Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 017 – Spooky Attic

Spooky Attic

I was informed by one person during the course of the evening that they enjoy listening to my ghost stories on the radio. They listen to them on a regular basis when they come on early in the morning. Strangely I haven’t done that spot at that time for well over a year, so how the stories are working their way through to them I do not know. One that had stood out for them was the tale of the man in the attic. A woman had approached me in the street (I get loads of stories this way) and told me of when she had moved house several year ago. She had gone up the ladder into the attic to put some boxes in there and had felt unwelcome. She had frozen to the spot and was just about to turn and go from the place. She was pushed. She dropped the box and tipped over backwards. The hatch was behind her and she tumbled down the ladder breaking her collarbone. She didn’t ever go in the attic again; she didn’t want to upset ‘Cyril’ as she called him. The boxes? They are still up there and she plans to do without their contents thank you very much.

  Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 018 – The Nature of Hob

The Nature of Hob

Hob. There is debate about the nature of Hob. Especially the one which stands on Hob Moor. There by the plague stone is the figure of a small fellow. Now the verse beside this says that Hob was a knight who set up this stone upon returning from crusade; that this is to remember him. Others say that Hobs of long ago where creatures, creatures from the realm of faerie! – That the meaning of the stone has become changed over time and that the knight placed this stone here originally to warn all those who might choose to travel across ‘Hob’s’ Moor. There is certainly a log tradition within folklore of talk of Hobs. There were many types and it perhaps is a local name for anything of a pixy or fairy nature from our past; a generic name in the north of this land for magical creatures.

Following this conversation I made a pledge to myself to keep away from the moor, at least at night.

  Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 019 – House Hob

House Hob

There are also household Hobs we are informed. Another chipped in that these are like the creatures in the Harry Potter films. In fact this is correct but the other way around. Housey Hobs would keep you safe from trixy spirits. Creatures such as Eggy who comes creeping out of a cracked eggshell and forms into a wobbly white being who climbs out of the pan to cause mayhem in the home. Dusty who constructs himself from the messy bits you have been too lazy to clean away from the corners. There was a host of these such creatures in the stories of old. One has to wonder at the state of the poor children who were told of these things in such a way as to be sure they were real. Watch out for Sleepy, or Sneaky or Scaredy-pants.

  Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 020 – Spotted Fairies

Spotted Fairies

There are fairies at the bottom of the garden we are told, it was cried out in fact, but upon enquiry the commenter said that they believed in many things but not in fairies.

The call came up to consider the case of the Cottingley Fairies. Famous in their time as the photographs of them, taken by young Elsie and Frances, were spread across the globe. Now at the time they were believed for a long time (and some still do so) yet it was also claimed that they had made them out of paper and pinned then to the garden. Both Elsie and Frances were interviewed when they were quite elderly. We understand that is was Elsie who told magazine The Unknown that they had made the whole thing up; that there was never any truth in it all. After she had passed away another magazine interviewed Frances we hear, and she commented that Elsie would have said that as she never liked any fuss. Some were paper cut-outs yes, she explained, but that was only because the fairies at the bottom of the garden wouldn’t let themselves be shown on film.

  Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 021 – Craning You See

Craning You See

So we’ve had interest in folklore, bargain hunting, history, travel, archaeology; we’ve seen people pouring over maps and plans in a corner, we seen folks playing board games (Dominion and Cluedo but thankfully no Jenga). One has to have interests, and these include cranes, yes cranes. There are those who love steam, some who are gripped by tractors, others Manga, here we have a feller who has a comprehensive understanding of the nature of lifting items high and placing heavy loads.

So he enjoyed the story of the bargain hunter which was told on the evening. You may be one of those who goes hurtling round fields at dawn in the search of some illusive wonder. There are plenty of car-booter’s among us, not many though that come back with a Portacabin. There it was at the car boot with a ‘for sale’ sign on it and this chap just had to have it. It was delivered thankfully. It was delivered on a lorry but presumable this flat-back had some sort of lifting equipment to lower to the ground (over to the expert for the facts on that one). The buyer didn’t want it in the front garden but that was the only place the lorry driver would deliver it; the future, guest room, the study, the retreat, the hobby room, the possibilities were endless. There was only one problem; the partner wasn’t too keen on it being on the front lawn – who would be. When you are a bargain hunter one should always think through the repercussions of a purchase. Here was a large house with no back access and a huge thing the neighbours were starting to complain about. Enquires were made, many enquiries, in the end the only solution was offered by a firm with a very large crane. Now the exact type of crane isn’t recorded (sorry) but we are assured it was like one of those huge really tall ones you see on sites where they are building tower blocks. It filled the street, it filled the sky-line, but it did the job; eventually the Portacabin was lifted up (at great expense) and was lifted right over the house and placed perfectly in the back garden.

I think the purchaser had to hide in it for quite a long time before he dare come out and face the wrath at home.

  Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 022 – Final Facts

Final Facts

Now tales get around, and they vary with the telling. This is a small world too. One as a teller knows that sometimes you get up and relate a gripping real-life experience and someone in the audience calls out that they were there, that this was a relative of theirs, that you weren’t there, that you nicked the story off someone else. This has been true in the case of prize bare-knuckle fighters down old Walmgate, engine drivers with shovels, family anecdotes and of course, perhaps more so of all, with ghost stories.

Now back at the Ales n Tales at the Fulford Arms we heard the tale of the old man who wandered through the house. He went through without raising concern, he was the owner of the rented house and had a right to be there; a smart-casual, confident old man who hardly glanced at them as he paraded through the house to the dining room. There he was with his bright red cardigan and his brimming confidence and the students who lived there never questioned him. They discovered later that he had died years beforehand and they then set to thinking about it and realised; they saw him walk through the house to the back room a few times every week, but had never thought before – they never saw him come back out.

Well here at the Golden Ball we had the partner of that guy who had been the student then, and she too told the story. When I said how her feller had told me the tale previously she said how she bets he told me that the guy always wore a red cardigan. I accepted this as an acknowledged fact yes. ‘Nonsense,’ she exclaimed. It turns out whenever she had seen him she swears he was wearing a brown cardigan; Red? Nonsense!

Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 023 – Same Old Same New

Same Old Same New

Dreams, over the sipping of a draft ale, there was an interest in dreams. I was stood buying a packet of p-nuts and in a little world of my own at the time and out of the blue the guy stood by said, ‘Dreams’; he had been thinking about dreams. It strikes me that now I have done Ales n Tales, wherever I go people will want to tell me their stories, their experiences, and their contemplations. Such as this, Dreams! He had been thinking about dreams, how people say that they have a recurrent dream. People do indeed often say (to me anyway) that they have had the same dream over and over, that they dream a dream that they last dreamed years ago, or that they frequently wake after the very same dream as before.

Well, our friend has been thinking about this, over his pint, and something different to this strikes him about the issue; and here it is. – When you dream a dream that is the dream you dreamed as you have dreamed before and you see real echoing significance in this, what has actually happened is, you have dreamed a completely new dream, which you have never had before, but – in the dream you dreamed that it was a recurrent dream that you had experienced many times before.

Folks in pubs think deeply.

  Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 024 – Not Like That

Not Like That

We heard about Tommy Cooper, and about comedians generally. It was wondered by one, that if a famous comedian nowadays is wandering about in life, or is visiting the shops, if someone spots them, are they still funny? Do people laugh at them all the time?

As for the late great Tommy Cooper, one of our many here tells us that he used to live in the same street as Tommy. Apparently before he was a magician (if that is what he was) he was a police officer; the local bobby.

We hear of what he always had in his pocket. In his top pocket of his jacket for when he was a called upon to offer a tip; a waitress, a taxi-driver, a hotel doorman – Tommy would say, ‘Here’ and pop a crumpled gift into their hand, they would feel the paper texture and be quite pleased, ‘Have a drink on me,’ he would say as he walked off. They were very pleased, then they looked down to see what size note they had been given by the great comedian Tommy himself. There in their hand was not a fiver or even a pound note; they were holding a t bag.

‘Have a drink on me.’

  Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 025 – Like That

Like That

By chance, in the battered old suitcase of props there was a trade mark item associated with Tommy Cooper, yes a Fez. As one of our attendees stood up to tell a tale of the late great Tommy the hat was brought out and popped upon his head. He recalled how Tommy Cooper had met the queen. After the show (presumably at the London Palladium) he had lined up with all the other stars and along had come the Queen to great them all. When she approached Tommy and shook his hand, (no she didn’t pop a t bag in his hand), she had a quiet and friendly chat with him, and thanked him for his marvellous show. As she turned to talk away Tommy asked if he could ask her a question. She replied, yes, that he could do. He asked if she liked football. She replied that no she didn’t really enjoy the game, so Tommy asked, ‘So can I have your cup final tickets?’

  Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 026 – Indigenous Welcome

Indigenous Welcome

The full story was told, the background to the experience of someone who had been to America recently. They had been over there during Thanksgiving so we heard the tale behind that special day. The day of Thanksgiving is about to be told here, (as told in the pub), but it is also the story of how Americans came to speak English.

Those pilgrims disembarked in an expanse of arable land and they had their farming stock with them. They planted their seeds as they had always known to do. Seasons are different at opposites sides of the world, and the seeds faired very poorly. So did the settlers, there was much illness and poverty. In desperation a few of them went hunting. As they travelled they saw a group from an indigenous tribe, these tribal people did not seem concerned about them. Indeed as they passed them the group overheard their English voices and said the only word they had in that tongue, ‘Welcome’. This didn’t seem possible, how could they know an English word. After attempts to communicate, they realised they had no other English. They did have something though, knowledge, knowledge of where they could lead them to be understood. They directed the settlers to a tribe somewhat further off, and there the group met ‘Squanto’.

He had fluent English and he helped them, He brought about their survival in fact. They flourished and prospered as a result of his guidance and tuition on the ways of this new land. So much so that the group expanded over the coming years and formed new communities. Word spread among ships and other English people came and joined them. Gradually over the years the coast had settlements all along where English was the language. So as other settlers arrived from around the world, be it Spanish, Polish or wherever from, the language they heard spoken was, yes, English. New arrivals thought that this meant the dominant language in this land was English, which indeed it was. So they all decided they would have to learn it.

  Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 027 – The Full Story

The Full Story

We hear of ‘Squanto’ in the ‘above’ story. How he came to be in the western lands with a fluency in English is an amazing journey with the twist of fate that has changed the nature of the states and helped all flourish. Here is that tale as recalled from the telling at Ales n Tales. Years before the pilgrims arrival he had been kidnapped. A Spanish ship took him away with them and used him as a slave. At a European port he was sold and worked another ship to England. When harboured here he escaped. He lived as a free man here and found work and took up the local language. Then he began to think that it may be possible to see his loved ones again. So he approached a ship that was bound for the Americas. He asked them if he could work his passage. He would need no payment and would only ask for his keep for the duration of the journey. He was of course widely experienced in the tasks of the seaman and he was fluent in the Captain’s language. He worked his passage and eventually saw the site of his homeland. He disembarked, he was here, he was unfortunately around two hundred miles from his own tribe and had a very long and difficult walk ahead of him. At last he found the way and there before him were his tribe and his loved ones. Amazed to see him again and eager to hear his tale they welcomed him with open arms and floods of tears.

  Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 028 – Spooky Rachel AD

Spooky Rachel AD

Clothes don’t die do they! This statement over a pint had this humble story-gatherer intrigued. The sense of what they are on about was enquired upon. It seems the thinking is, that clothes are not a living thing, yet people say they when they see a ghost it has clothes on. If there is such a thing as ghosts and they can appear back from the dead then surely they would be nude.

Another among us claimed that the spirit of the person returning doesn’t look like they did when they were here anymore. They perhaps are all shining spirit and wispy or they look like an angel or something, but that they show us an image of what they were like when they were known by us so we will accept them and believe that we have been visited by a loved one long gone.

Yet another explained that ghosts are not a person who had passed away but rather were a projection from the mind of the onlooker, they were a sign of their wish to see someone again projected into the world from their own unconscious mind.

A further member of our current discussion pointed out that he hopes the first person was right and that ghosts cannot wear clothes when they appear to us, because he was hoping to see Rachel Welsh.

  Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 029 – The Devil’s Door

The Devil’s Door

This is a factor for our history and perhaps a ghost tale of sorts. There was mention of the hooded figure which is reported to be seen exiting the church down Peaseholme through the small door in the side. There is another being that was supposed to come out of that door too. Not a ghost as such, the devil; for historically many churches had these small doors. They go back to the days when it was felt that a new born baby had vulnerability; that they were in danger of being connected to the devil. There was risk from them which was perceived until the child was eventually christened. At the service the small door was opened and at the point where the infant was blessed by the priest, the evil spirit within them was expelled; the devil himself was believed to fly out of the babe and be expelled from the church, to speed out through the small open door built there especially for the purpose.

The devil gone through the devil’s door.

  Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 030 – Choched


The ‘above’ tale of the devil’s door and the historical belief that there was something evil inside a child until it is christened struck a chord. I don’t exactly go back that far, although I do go back a long way. When I was born there perhaps a remnant of this kind of thinking left within the culture; you had to be ‘Choched’.

My mother will have been discharged from the maternity unit and taxi was waiting for her. She carried me out of the hospital and instructed the driver of her destination (not home) and of the stop off point along the way. She asked him to drive by way of the church. Once there the driver had to wait while mum carried me through the church yard up into the open church (yes churches were open all the time back then). All she did was stand still in the church for a short while, and then I had been ‘choched’. The taxi then took her to the local pram shop. Here the pram was waiting. It was all bought and paid for but it was bad luck to have it at home before the baby. The driver was paid off, I was carried into the pram shop and inserted in my new pram. Then my parents proudly walked the rest of the way home. As people saw them approaching they would become excited and rush to see the new born baby. Just as they approached the pram and just before they reached in to touch the child, (and give it a lucky coin), they would pause. They would take a slight step back and look up at the parents and say, ‘It has been choched has it!’

  Ales n Tales – The Golden Ball Stories 031 – Ghost with Teddy

Ghost with Teddy

Another child to finish this section, but this time it is a ghost story. The lady who had told us of a few ghosts she had encountered relates the tale of the ghost in her current house, a shy small spirit she says she started sensing being around. She had a feeling there was some sort of ghost in the house and she eventually mentioned it and others agreed. After a while she started hearing footsteps pottering about upstairs; small feet, running steps. Then she would see a fleeting figure, small and appearing to carry something. Gradually it has come to her that this is a boy, a boy carrying a teddy bear. The timid spirit had steadily become more accustomed to them being there and has drawn neared and nearer. The last sighting was of a diminutive figure in the doorway of the living room, obviously trying to conjure up the courage to come into the room. She awaits a sense of a small extra weight upon the sofa beside her.

Back to Ales and Tales – for tales from other pubs

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 01 – Fruity Evening

Fruity Evening

What a busy night, what a crowd, what a lot going one. The ‘Rook’was heaving, there was a party booking in with live acts, there were people there for Ales n Tales and there were crowds of visitors many of whom were willing to share a tale or two. There was even someone there who thought I was talking everyone on a storytelling walk. The beer was good. Following my interest in the orange tea beer at the Ackhorne I decided to try a glass of Rhubarb beer; I enjoyed it. Not everyone goes for these beers with a fruit element, some find this one too sweet. I noticed that the rhubarb effect got less as you headed down the glass, the barman reckons that they can’t go too far with the flavour or it becomes too much. I didn’t want too much rhubarb for other reasons; concerned at the possible effects I switched on my second glass and went for a Citra.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 02 – Pub Trip

Pub Trip

There was a host of guys around the bar, they were a lively lot with no idea about the Ales n Tales, but they soon switched on. Told me some right tales they did. Here’s a good one (that I can repeat).

When you have a busy job on a farm it seems perfectly natural that a couple of times a week you might decide to leave the farm in Dunnington and head into town for the day. It seems eminently sensible to get the bus; the number ten. Staying out all day each time shows you are probably really enjoying yourself. And who wouldn’t when the drinks and food are free.

The job? We are talking about the rat catcher. We are talking about the rat catcher Ratty, yes Ratty is a Jack Russell. Sadly he passed away a little while back but he spent his life taking these happy visits.

It seems he has always wandered the village and it is thought he must have happened to be at the bus stop as the number ten drew up, so, being adventurous, he must have just hopped on. When he got off he was right outside the Black Bull in York; so he went in. He was made very welcome, given water and a plate of sausages and lots and lots of fuss. As it turned out the barmaid recognised him, so she rang his owner who came to fetch him. As this turned into a regular visit she took to taking him home and dropping him off at the end of her shift. Sometimes the owner would get a phone call from someone who knew him and would have to go down and fetch Ratty, (he must have had to do this dozens of times), he said that when he drove up to the pub Ratty would come running out and jump in.

The management changed at the Black Bull and dogs were no longer allowed in, this didn’t stop Ratty, he just stayed on the bus a bit longer and started visiting the Rose and Crown.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 03 – Bobby the Dog

Bobby the Dog

A couple who were visiting York and had come along especially to take part told us they had been in a pub called the Yorkshire Terrier and wondered if it was named after another pub-visiting dog, perhaps it was a habit with dogs around here. They came eager to be part of things but knew little about York so they told us the tale of another dog, this time in Edinburgh. Yes we are talking Greyfriar’s Bobby, a renowned dog. Many visit the grave where he stationed himself all his life, indeed people leave sticks for him even now and there is a huge pile. There is a statue to the dog that showed such great faithfulness. When his owner passed away he found the grave and stayed there. People would bring him food and he became renowned all his life. There are those who say that after he passed away tourism would go down so another dog was brought in each day, then another, then another. They all worked hard for their many treats, but a few doggy lifetimes before them Bobby was a genuinely faithful dog. He stayed by his owner’s grave all his life.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 04 – Manufactured Tales

Manufactured Tales

Our visitors from the North East might have been new to York but they had some insight and vision and suggested ways which York could be improved as a tourist attraction. They asked about industry in the area and learnt of railway carriage manufacture and of course the huge sweet and chocolate industry. They had a big interest in industrial museums and wondered what had happened to all the equipment and paraphernalia from all this industry. We had no answer for them and wonder if there are still collections of such things preserved in York which could be re-established in their original sites.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 05 – Slap Happy

Slap Happy

As a just seventeen year old who had gone for a job as a psychiatric nurse only to be told they had the clearance for training but that the starting age was eighteen the chance of a year at Terry’s factory here in York was a most welcome filler. There ahead is a year of good wages and a steady job, it was a very steady job; toffee making involves a huge lump of the stuff being brought over to your machine (darker long lumps were stuck to the sides and these would become the stripes). This dollop of sweet gooey stuff was laid in the machine and rollers kept it moving, as it turned upon the angled rollers, it would snake its way down the work-surface getting smaller and smaller. As it weaved its way it towards the chopping end of the business it would sometimes over-weave. There was a danger that the line of ever thinning toffee would go off the edge of the machine, so one had to ‘go like that’. Yes the job involved watching the stream of toffee and every now and then whapping it back in line. This could happen every five minutes or twice a day. There was a lot of concentration involved in maintaining the stream but not a lot of work.

So our worker was glad that all were aware of their temporary nature, for whenever another job needed covering elsewhere the ‘temp’ would be sent.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 06 – White Chocolate

White Chocolate

The Terry’s temporary teen here in York had some rare experiences being moved about the factory. On the occasion of the first move came the discovery of the chocolate making room, a huge place filled with noise and the overwhelming smell of chocolate. When approaching here through the corridor, shelves were noticed along the sides which were filled with unwrapped blocks. It was hard to tell it actually was chocolate as it had developed a thick white coating over time. When the purpose of these unpalatable slabs was enquired upon a tour was conducted. There ahead were the enormous machines making the chocolate, with great high pouring devices to dispense the substantial liquid when it was ready. It was a scene reminiscent of the mother creature in the Alien films.

A steady line of receptacles were lined up and processing into place. These massive metal tubs were on wheeled bogeys and someone had the responsibility for pulling each one to its destination (often several floors away).

A batch was not always the right size for its container. Sometimes there was a bit too much so the pourer would be swung over to a row of moulds and each one filled, (one new manager had suggested they keep pouring and squash it in, but of course you cannot squash liquids). When these chunks were set they were flipped out onto the open shelves and sat there until such time as a batch had not quite enough and then a couple of them would be grabbed and chucked in.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 07 – The Playboy Club

The Playboy Club

Being a temp at Terry’s in York wasn’t always a terrible position; yes you got moved a lot, but it wasn’t always to places where:- you were so hot you fainted, so cold you couldn’t move your fingers, such terrible hard work it hurt your back, or a place where you were picked on horribly, no, some jobs were a lot better. The easter egg room for example. This wasn’t a room full of easter eggs it was where the beans were stored, apparently they used a different kind of bean for eggs. This room, if room is a big enough word, should rightly have been called the speciality bean store. For this was where certain cocoa beans were stored till needed for particular product. It was an enormous room but it clearly wasn’t large enough for purpose; because the pallets were well over-stacked. The rule was four pallets high as far as is recalled. These pallets with their heap of stacked bean sacks were right up to the ceiling. The whole room was full, with just a small manoeuvring area in the centre for the forklift man. As our helper was walking in the vast doorway forklift-man was wheeling rapidly backwards calling out over his shoulder that help wasn’t needed. Our temp wasn’t to go however, the instructions were to head between the beans, four pallets from the end and down as far as the wall. There was a gap just wide enough for a sideways person and the looking up was terrifying; far up ahead was a glimpse of the ceiling between the tall narrow stacks. The voice called to turn right and to keep going then right a bit at the end. As our teen wended the long dangerous way, there eventually was the aim of the journey. A small door, a forgotten room, (at least forgotten by the supervisors), and its purpose was made clear. There was a large sign painted across the door, ‘Playboy Club’. Entering revealed a circle of battered chairs, a makeshift coffee table; a corner shelf held a kettle and all. The radio was playing but a voice could be heard from way behind the beans, just as the door was closing, this voice instructed that one would be called at lunch time. This easy morning was followed by a very quiet dozy afternoon and the afternoon was followed by a constant hope of being sent to ‘help out’ in the easter egg room again.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 08 – Collated Collected

Collated Collected

On the very edge of launching themselves as a full-time writer our bar companion, who is about to benefit from an Amazon Kindle promo, (whatever one of those is), has been working on an interesting project of late. We seemed to suddenly be in a huddle of those with experience as a worker in mental health services and were interested to hear of this project designed to empower those who suffered from forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s. This module was set up for student nurses to get together and compile a book of the stories they had heard from the people they worked with and from the families. Then the student nurses write all the stories up and compile them into a book for sharing. A lot of energy and interest was generated by the project and lots of positive feedback was received from those using the book in a practical setting. A huge benefit of the project was people working together, sharing and listening to each other. They are doing something together which will make a difference and it was making a difference for them personally. The team had created something interesting.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 09 – Old Money

Old Money

I was intrigued by the details of the ‘above’ project. Just recently someone had approached me from years back and thanked me for the help I had given when a relative of theirs had suffered with memory problems. I had recommended a photo album of memories with details such as name, connection, age; clearly labeled. This had helped, staff, conversation and orientation in time, place and person.

I was also reminded of having some involvement in a project recently, it was based at Space 209 with York’s own Mary Passeri and Thea Jacob. Here are a selection of the poems created during the session whilst catching moments of conversations and demonstrating twentieth century artifacts:

Mothers Day Card

Only small words

But beautiful

I do love them


Ha’penny Schooner

Yes this see

Wind blows

Sailing out across

In this big one

All sails

We would go a long way

Everywhere across


Old Coins I

Endless fascination

for the younger among us

Eleven pence and two hape’ny

‘All that to carry!’

and what is it worth?

Just five pee!


Old Coins II

For the older among us

Coppers, are,

Timelessly familiar

Ah yes these

Not so good though are they

Well, nice to see

But, look (she rubs)

(Grime on the thumb)

I suggest a soak in vinegar.

Oh no

They just need a good go at

Perhaps, me and you…

Another time

We could set to

Make them shine

Yes it would be soon done

And then…

We smile


Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 010 – Skills Recalled

Skills Recalled

As a young staff nurse it wasn’t just the job which was hard work, there was the getting there too. It was matter of cycling from Acomb to the long gone Naburn Hospital and sometimes there were problems. When a puncture led to the staff nurse arriving late the night staff were unhappy that they had needed to stay on. One of them helpfully suggested that the puncture victim bring the bike in and mend it in their break. We are not talking an expert in the field of mechanics and the job took longer than the morning break. So the cycle was left half done in the back corridor off the dormitory.

Now the elderly chap who tended to wander should not have been able to find his way through the dormitory unobserved as he was quite confused and not really able to communicate. Wander off unobserved he did however, all the way from the lounge, through the dormitory and to that passageway. When lunchtime came he was missed and a search of the ward was instigated. There he was on his knees by the, now gleaming, bicycle. The bike not only had its puncture repaired, it had been given a full service. The staff nurse said the bike had never been in such good condition.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 011 – Rook Factor

Rook Factor

One chap was here at the ‘Rook’ to say goodbye, he and his partner were leaving York to start a new life in America. Work opportunities were part of the attraction and the cheaper lifestyle he tells us, but they mainly were going because of chances to further their success as musicians and singers. Leaving York was a terrible wrench however.

Many say they move to York and intend to hover here for a year or two and the next thing they know they have settled. One tells us they think that the city traps you.

Yes, this place becomes home to many who come here for a short while and intend to move on for a promotion in their field. It is a city to love and feel at home in.

Someone even wondered if the circle of stone walls had a psychological, or even psychic effect, on us all and made us feel we should stay.

Mostly we just love the place, and several assure us that the ‘Rook’ was a big factor in this.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 012 – Midnight Feast

Midnight Feast

We are gigging in the seventies, loads of memories, always being on the road; there was little time to catch a proper meal either. Then a character had joined them, Brian, some said he had escaped the army, some that he was shell shocked. He kind of adopted them though, he was roady and driver and it turns out also chef. He could cook up a real good meal for after a gig. He would do things like find a way into the kitchens at a club you were on at, raid the stores, put together a big slap up meal and have it ready in the coach for you when you were done. His huge all day breakfasts were the thing that was most fondly remembered. They had never eaten like that before.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 013 – Cook House Crowds

Cook House Crowds

Another here told us of working in the army barracks; Fulford Barracks this is. He was in the Catering Corp all his career and is retired now. We hear about the huge set up of equipment, enormous ovens, stainless steel boilers which could hold enough cabbage to feed several hundred. They had a very varied week. In any one week you would be running a banquet for VIPs and the next couple of days serving up food for four hundred at a time. Then you would look at the rosters and on one of your shifts you would be cooking for only seven people. He would have to cope, putting on those huge boilers and popping a bit o veg in there etc. Every day was different but those quiet days were the hardest to ‘cater’ for.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 014 – Sticky Surface

Sticky Surface

Funny the ‘Rook’ int it! There is that long thin bit in the middle with the bar along one side and loads seem to congregate in that area. There are roomy room-spaces at either end that most likely have a few seats going, there will certainly be more room to stand. No, up by the bar, either stood hovering or along the other wall at the small tables. When you arrive you have to meander through ‘em all. One attraction of course is the array of real ales and other drinks to peruse and consider (and discuss the minutiae of). Whatever it is which draws us all together there is the result that we are all close too and can join in one big conversation or dip in here and here where it suits; ah perhaps that is what glues us all together in the middle.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 015 – Through the Rose Window

Through the Rose Window

One couple sat in the bar area at the ‘Rook’ tell us they are not from York and are new here. They had enjoyed a day around the city and had been attracted to the Ales n Tales session as a good way of finishing off the day. They came along with an expectation of being entertained and everyone around seemed to help with this. The Minster was not their favourite cathedral however. Perhaps it had been the poor light that day but the Five Sisters seemed to be all lead compared to other cathedrals; ‘Too much, too overpowering’.

One of our number wondered if the chap was the one who had toured all England’s cathedrals with a rather strange aim. It had been on the news that a feller had won a bet that he could lick, yes you heard that right, lick all the cathedrals in England within the year. He had a blog on it and everything; ‘Durham: salty and surprisingly smooth’ – that sort of thing. No, this wasn’t the guy. The couple had been about however; Gloucester was their favourite.

All Saints Church on North Street as recommended and described as having one of the finest arrays of stained glass in the British Isles. They asked directions and were all set to be there on the morrow.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 016 – Durham Saint

Durham Saint

Our couple from the north east were keen for me to tell them tales, which I did as the evening went along. They explained that they were not from round here and didn’t have any for York. There was nothing they could tell us. They had recently been to Durham to visit the cathedral however and told us a bit about their fondness for this particular church which they had visited often. Well, there was a very strong connection with York here, at least historically. It is a popular destination now, but it was more so in medieval times. The connection was Cuthbert and we were to learn a bit about him. There was an expectation to go on a pilgrimage if one possibly could and a very popular destination was Santiago we are told. Those who traveled so far may possibly have been hoping to view Saint James riding upon his ghost ship, well according to legend anyway. If you were not of sufficient means for such a grand trip and you were from round these parts, you were likely to go and visit Saint Cuthbert. He is laid to rest there, in Durham, yet was described as being busier after he died than he was in his life; more widely traveled even. There he lies and perhaps is still visited as a pilgrimage.

Do they still open up his coffin and have a look at him was a question from across the bar. Apparently this saint from the Viking age and from the Lindisfarne raids was renowned for being very well preserved; so much so that his coffin was opened every seven years for people to have another look at him. Some around us suspected some trickery being involved in this, but it was said that whenever the time came to observe him he looked just the same as when he had been alive. We don’t think this practice continues nowadays but he is still very popular.

Footnote: As with all passages here which are of an historical nature, these are record of a conversation in a bar and further research is recommended if your interest is peeked.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 017 – Looking at York

Looking at York

The suggestion that Saint Cuthbert had a further connection to York plus the mention of the idea that he traveled further after he died than when he was alive had raised interest and a call for discussion. As a hermit he was very popular and much sought out. It was felt by those among the group here that he must have been very nice. He did indeed travel quite a lot when alive, but following his death his coffin is said to have been transported for quite a few years. There was a visit to York involved; well very near York at Crayke. The hill there was the scene of a ceremony directed at York, at the Minster, at the service being held there. Now this is a bar tale and even if one was to look into it the information revealed may well lean towards folklore and legend. It is said that a ceremony was held on that hill as an attempt to convert Vikings to Christianity, the Viking King in fact. The ceremony, we are told, involved ancient relics and symbols and Saint Cuthbert in his coffin. There were some there all those many years ago who are recorded as reporting that they saw the spirit of Cuthbert rise up from his coffin and preside over the blessing of the Viking King. Christianity was certainly well established from that moment on. So we hear.

Footnote: Our couple of visitors pointed out that there was no photographic evidence for this occurrence, no but the teller of the tale felt very able to visualise it all for us.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 018 – Escapee


There is an anti-hero feel to our next subject, for some of us anyway it seems. The man who burned down York Minster; Jonathon Martin, now it would be good to be able to turn back the clock and prevent him from doing this awful act, yet there is something about his resilience which some admire, in a cautious way. He certainly was good at escaping. He was in an asylum and got out of there and went to be a sailor, he was re-caught and ‘left’ again and went to be a minister, he ended up back in asylum, got out and studied the trade of being a tanner, he was returned and escaped and that is where it all turns bad. He threatened a bishop elsewhere and no one apprehended him, he then came to York and went to a service in the Minster. When he called out that the priests were all too full of roast beef, plum-duff and beer, they perhaps should have called their staff (the forerunners of the nation’s police) to have him evicted. He not only stayed for the service, he hid and later that night set fire to the cathedral, near the organ apparently, this smoldered throughout the dark and eventually, as light came, turned into a huge terrible blaze.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 019 – Ball Lightening

Ball Lightening

There is a fair bit of folklore among York people centered around the Minster, the tale about why there is scaffolding, the reports of the curse of ‘windy corner’, the business of the area when lightning struck is a resilient theme though. While we were on the subject of the Minster I couldn’t help asking if anyone had been near there when the lightning had struck. There was someone who had seen it. They had been out walking their dog at the time. Now we are going back a fair bit, so it is older folks who have this claim to fame. Trouble is, the amount of people, who say they were there and saw it strike, adds up to quite a few. Indeed, if all of them were actually there then about half the population of York at the time must have been out down that street walking their dog at around four in the morning.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 020 – Appealing to Peelers

Appealing to Peelers

The mention of security at the Minster in York brought out a tale, of the nation’s safety in fact. Now the story goes that the Minster had a very good team of well organized officers and that they were recruited and trained by a man who was the brother-in-law of John Peel. Mr Peel visited and saw the set up and was so impressed that he set up the Peelers as a result. The Peelers; the forerunners of the modern police force were modeled on the Minster Police of the day we are told.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 021 – York to Mexico

York to Mexico

So if we were wanting tales, the sort of tales that you would hear in a bar, then this feller had one for us, one that was quite chilling. He told us about the woman who had a boa constrictor as a pet and it took to lying on the bed next to her, laying there and yawning. Her vet told her it wasn’t yawning; it was stretching its jaw; it was laying there to measure her up and see if it thought it could fit her inside. She doesn’t have a pet snake any more.

This tale caused a woman in our midst to report that she had an eel once; a baby eel. Looking round in tentative interest it was enquired whether she still had this eel and if it had grown at all. No she didn’t still have it; it had given her the creeps. It turns out that this little eel didn’t like being in its tank. She would get up on a morning and it was on the carpet by the bedroom door. This happened quite a lot; she even taped the tank shut tight. There it was again though, by the bedroom door, as if it was waiting to go out.

‘You do know where it was going, of course?’, we were asked. The Sargasso Sea was the answer. Now we think this is the curvy bit of the Americas where The States gets thin down at the bottom, we think. They all go there; all the eels from Europe, all the eels from York, all the eels from the little pond in the middle of town there. They all make their way across the world. This is where all eels are born and then they follow their parents all the way back and return to the pond. Yes that pond you see as you are on the bus. They even crawl across dry land to get out of the pond and into the river that leads them all the way there. So that’s where the baby eel was going.

Footnote: They don’t crawl all the way there.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 022 – Dick’s Chicken

Dick’s Chicken

Some of the gathered listeners and tellers at this crowded pub session were visitors to York and had been to see Dick Turpin’s cell. Now quite a few of us had not been to see the cell since the refurbishment but we were to learn how he got caught; he shot a chicken – A prize cockerel actually, as he rode by on a return from a drunken binge. He was arrested for this, and yes other crimes came out, but all in the name of John Palmer. He hoped for leniency and in desperation wrote to his ex-wife’s brother asking him to write a letter of good character; a shorter sentence or deportation, we are told, were his aims. This was not to be though, in those times the receiver of the letter paid the stamp and his estranged brother-in-law saw the letter and refused to pay. This letter sat unnoticed in the postal office until by chance, Dick Turpin’s old head teacher happened by. He saw the letter and recognized the handwriting. Word was out; the papers were full of it, hundreds turned up to look at him claiming to be able to identify him. Dick himself even took a bet that he really was himself. The end, well, we all know, he was hung at Tyburn, the York Tyburn that is.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 023 – Suited To Us

Suited To Us

Dick Turpin was a very popular figure here in York, in a way he perhaps still is. There were crowds on his side in the end. He was to be hung there was no doubt about that, but he intended to go out in style. He had a tailor come to his cell and fit him with a fashionable suit made of fustian cloth (a bit like corduroy but without the lines were are instructed). He also purchased a sizable stock of lady’s black gloves and of black armbands and had them sent out to be distributed among the crowds. Upon the following morn he was led to the cart and paraded through York and down through the Kings Way (Micklegate Bar) to the now racecourse. York Tyburn was heaving with people but here he was in his grand suit and being followed by a troupe of well-dressed hired mourners. There they were in their armbands or waving their gloves and all stood in awe as he climbed towards the noose. Now they say that he chatted, that he talked about the weather; the likelihood of rain later and how it wouldn’t be bothering him. They say, that as he talked he walked over to the noose, placed it around his own neck, and mid conversation, leapt off.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 024 – Mob Support

Mob Support

The grandeur of Dick Turpin’s exit from the world made him a popular figure here in York. Now he was, there is no denying, a very terrible man. He had tortured to get what he wanted, been horrible vicious just for the sake of it, but here he was a hero. The bodies of murderers were much sought after by the medical profession at the time for investigation. Body-snatchers crept to the grave and took his body. The people of York were up in arms; they rose up as a mob and went in search. They went to every medical establishment in turn, beating down the door and seeking him out. Until, eventually, they found the body and had him reinterred but deeper.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 025 –

Barking Ghost

Dick Turpin’s grave is haunted, but not often do people claim to have seen him there. They do claim to see him wandering at older haunts such as the Red Lion. The ghostly shape that is attributed to Turpin Esquire’s grave is dog-shaped. There are many who have visited the grave, especially when it is no longer quite light, and say they have seen a black dog rise up from within the grave and prowl towards them. Many of you readers will be quite confident that there is no such thing as ghosts but we don’t suggest a visit to find out.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 026 – Alley Warning

Alley Warning

Ghosts of an ancient city. This famous book which started so much was referred to. York has an array of ghost walks to choose from and this is to a great degree because of the book of York ghosts by the late headmaster of St Peters School in York. The tale shared with us of the ghostly dog at Dick Turpin’s grave brings to mind the many stories of the black dog seen around York. At the time of the book being written research was done and the old microfiche records in the library archives revealed a whole history of sightings of a large black dog roaming the alleyways of York. The Barguest beast from old folklore is a definite fact. This must exist because we are told so since Viking times. They say that the dog which roams burial sites around the British Isles slunk off the Viking longships. Now yes we do know this for a fact on record because it came here off those Viking ships right after the storytellers.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 027 – Cleaning Rag

Cleaning Rag

Tyburn, the York Tyburn that is, was no doubt the site of the deaths of many who had committed terrible crimes. What was viewed as terrible or even as a crime was different than. Insanity was a hang-able offense, admittedly often in association with worse other crime such as poisoning. Witchcraft was also something you might be hung for; Jennet of the famed Pendle witches was hung here. Many others will have met their doom for precious little however. That long road from the centre, through the Kings Way (The Traitors Gate – Micklegate Bar) and down to the Tyburn of the north was a last route for folks who had committed little in the way of a sin; one woman was hung for the crime of the theft of ‘wearing apparel of no apparent value’. They were quite keen on hanging people up by the racecourse. So make sure you own that rag you are using.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 028 – Yule Recall

Yule Recall

Talk of Vikings here in York brought us to the origins of Christmas. A couple of the traditions which continue today come from the tales of the Viking practices; namely via the Jul Log. You would have a great big log in the middle of where you live, and you would set fire to it. While it burned you would sit and eat and drink and sing and tell stories. The next morning if you were lucky the log was still burning and your party could continue. If you were really lucky your log would keep burning for a full twelve days of Jul. You, however, might prefer to get a chocolate one.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 029 – Amazing Life

Amazing Life

A guy here with us was well known for his work as a mechanic at the York glider club. He retired recently and while we were chatting at the bar he was asked if he knew of the lady in her nineties who had been training to be a glider pilot. Now sadly this lady has passed away fairly recently, and before she could complete her glider training we understand. As we hear of her life though it is felt that we must commemorate her amazing achievements. Listening to the tale of the eulogy at her funeral, and of the discussions afterwards fills one with amazement and heartfelt admiration. This scientist who also was an amateur archaeologist was trained as a scuba diver; she was a black-belt in judo and a qualified first aider. Among her many other activities this well traveled lady had also been somewhat of a chess champion and in her youth an all-in wrestler. As we stood in awe of this amazing life and commented that it was sad the glider training hadn’t finished we were told that she had flown before, she had flown in the war. She had piloted Flying Fortresses.

Ales n Tales – The Rook and Gaskell Tales 030 – Train Tale

Train Tale

There was a couple among us from York and he was in training as a glider pilot at present and once one had chatted about this his partner chips in with that she has had an interesting conversation recently. She had been on a train back to York when the chap opposite leaned forward and asked if she might help him with some advice, he was holding his phone and was referring to a text he had just received.  What he wanted to know was, could she suggest a good topping for pancakes as he was being asked for his favourite. He couldn’t think what to suggest and he wanted his visit to his parents to go well. They were inviting him over to cheer him up. A considerate pause led to him filling in the details. It seems that he was a young professional person and that recently he had split with his partner. Just before Christmas apparently, a month before the wedding was due, he had been left alone, he had been told, because he didn’t earn enough money. He was looking forward to seeing his parents, as well as the pancake treats, he had some news for them; he had just been made a full partner in the firm he worked for and his salary had gone up massively.

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Ales n Tales – Other Ales n Tales Tales

Ales n Tales – Other Ales n Tales Tales 01 – The Knowledge

The Knowledge

There is a phenomenon that cannot be covered in the individual pub session sets of tales, the tales of taxi drivers. Following each session the journey home became a part of the experience. Taxi drivers all wanted to know what I had been up to and all of them had something to say. Whether it was telling me about the new ram barriers at York Station or coming out with amazing perceptions or relating one of the best stories of the whole experience. Some of those tales are related here.

Ales n Tales – Other Ales n Tales Tales 02 – On Going

On Going

As well as the tales from taxi drivers there are the repercussions of announcing you will be travelling around gathering tales. It seems that I will be in this role for ever. Word is out and folks all have a tale to tell. Whenever I stand at a bar now or at a bus stop or in a taxi rank, there is someone there who has one to tell me. People are an endless fascination.

Ales n Tales – Other Ales n Tales Tales 03 – Fish Tale

Fish Tale

An amazing twist of fate brought about this following tale. I had been sharing stories from my experience at a session and was on my way home, it was late and I decided to get a taxi home. A chap in the queue came up to me. He had seen me at a recent session and had listened with interest to tales told about the Pendle Witches and subsequently about Queen Elizabeth II. During the course of this pub discussion we had covered the topic of her beliefs and this had included the fact that she had a unicorn horn in her possession; this was used for testing for poison in drinks. Now whether Queen Elizabeth knew that is wasn’t a real unicorn horn or not, we cannot be sure; it was in fact a Narwhal horn.

This chap in the queue explained that he had heard this and thought he aught to tell me that these things were very large. He knew this because he had recently caught a Narwhal. I looked at him intrigued as he went on to say how he had been working a fishing vessel up above Norway in the Arctic Circle and in among the catch they had an immense Narwhal. These things are as long as a room and then the horn nearly as long again. There was one alive and on the ship with them. This was, he tells me, an experience he will never forget.

Ales n Tales – Other Ales n Tales Tales 04 – Round Here

Round Here

And on a bus; another member of the public approaching me, another tale. There has been a feature recently in The Press on archaeological discoveries in the Holgate area. Now how this tale was told to me was, that they had discovered the remains of two large round buildings and had thought they had something very old. If you are on a double decker bus and you are going over Holgate Bridge and you look down at an open area below you are looking at the site; this was the site in living memory for some of us of the loco sheds. Two round houses which were for storing and turning engines. It is believed that one was built to replace the other and these were the turning houses, one round and one thre’penny bit shaped.

Ales n Tales – Other Ales n Tales Tales 05 – World Dragon

World Dragon

I was engaged and enthralled upon returning home from one of my Ales n Tales sessions as the taxi driver regaled me with a story that had me gripped, perhaps more so than any other tale I had heard. His parents had travelled in Australia in the sixties and had always wanted to return. So recently they had gone to visit a relative. While travelling his mother recalled an old friend she had lost touch with so she placed an advert in an Australian newspaper in the hope of being able to meet up. She heard nothing, but on her return to Britain she received an email. They are in touch now after all these years and they got to chatting. When she was asked where she was living there was a real surprise reaction to her answer. As I recall it, our York taxi driver’s mother lives in Kelton in the low borders of Scotland, and her friend all the way over there in Australia lives in the same town; Kelton.

It also turns out that they both have an interest in history and in particular in folklore. So as his mother tells her about the ‘Wyrm’, (the local dragon story), there is surprise in the reaction; they have the same story over there in the Australian Kelton. One of them even turns out to be a descendant of the knight who is said to have killed the dragon. There is a statue to commemorate his deed.  Many had tried to kill the thing, no spear could harm it, so the priest fashioned a spear with a Catherine Wheel of fire at the top. This did the trick and the knight vanquished the Wyrm.

Both of them tell this story at gatherings and now another gathering is planned. All these years later her friend (who lives in the same town as her) is coming over and the two friends will be getting together.

They will no doubt meet in a pub.

Ales n Tales – Other Ales n Tales Tales 06 – Angelic Journey

Angelic Journey

Another driver who was intrigued to hear of what I had been up to and wanted to know the nature of the stories I had heard. I told him how I had been really surprised by the diversity of the experiences told to me. I had gone along originally expecting to hear tales of times gone by and the history of pubs and that sort of thing. People are highly individual though, and they tell you of their thoughts, memories and experiences as and how they wish. I explained how I had heard quite a few mystical tales. When he asked me what I meant, I honestly thought that he was not going to know what I meant or wouldn’t be able to accept this. I said how as well as lots of old folklore there had been a few who had talked about beliefs; one had even told me of meeting angels. I sat back to see the reaction. The driver tells me that people often talk about such things in his cab. They talk about how they feel about the big questions of life and beyond. His thoughts are that there are many different types of people out there, and many these days don’t seem to go along with accepted beliefs; they make their own minds up. Lots of people tell him that they don’t believe in anything, yet, there is one thing that just about all people seem to accept and believe in – the existence of angels.

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Adrian’s Ales n Tales Prompts

Adrian’s Ales n Tales Prompts

Here are the topics from the prompt cards that I used around the pubs in February 2013 during the Ales n Tales Project for York Stories 2012. They were very stimulating for conversation and for bringing out tales from people. They either fished through my pack of cards and found one that suited them or just took one or two at random to see what came to mind.

They might set you off with a tale too, or you may wish to use them in a group setting.

Adrian Spendlow

The Prompts:

In old buildings…

A pub date…

Why you are unique…

Summat heard said…

A snippet of history…

Any mysteries?

That funny thing what happened…

Old shops and pubs…

In your pocket…

Old images…

This place…

In times of troubles…

Someone famous…

Visitors say…

Topics down the pub…

How things used to be…

Coming back. Going away.

Sum up York…

Who is important to you?

Night life…

What is lost?

Treading the boards…

What is brewing?

Anything unusual?

It happened after ale…

A possession…

Long ago forgotten…

A wisdom learnt…


Secret skills…

Ways to make a living…

Historical intrigue…

Blissful days…



Famous quotes…

Item of interest…

That job…

Spooky goings on…

York Fame…

Games, toys, hobbies…

What a social life…

Surprise us about someone…

What has improved?

Special days…

A seven word story…

Forgotten papers…

The real meaning of the word…

Hidden tales…

A story that teaches us…


The unexplainable…

A lucky moment…

Memories of the senses…

Items of yesteryear…

Wedding activities…

Ways and means…

It is valuable now…

Tales from history…

Predicting the future…

Funny sayings…

All about a ghost…

What a pong!

Moments from youth…

School days…

What do you love?

What do you hate?

Getting educated…

Not all relationships are the same…

Strange things happen you see…

The gift of giving…

What we wore then…

Childhood days…

Good advice…

Things were different before the changes…

Getting there…

Your unusual activities…

Ways of talking…

What weather…

What about work…

Ales and Tales Stories gathered by Adrian Spendlow – Back to Ales and Tales – for tales from other pubs


Ales n Tales – The Fulford Arms Stories

Ales n Tales – The Fulford Arms Stories 01 – A Pocket or Two

A Pocket or Two

It was a busy evening in the pub of dreams, busy with diners, so as I didn’t want to disturb them I thought I was in for a quieter session; I ended up gathering some fascinating tales. One by one a select and interesting few would wave one of the Ales n Tales flyers at me and I would be drawn in to listen.

You sit and you have a chat and you steer the way towards hearing a tale and then you listen; in this case to listen to someone telling me how they were a pick pocket. They worked a barge they tell me, and as you can imagine, as well as being intrigued to hear more, one part of my mind was on my pockets and my possessions. We are being led astray here however, this was a medieval pick pocket, you may be wondering if this is going to be another tale of someone’s past life belief, but no, they were dressed medieval. The time setting is the seventies, and I was relieved to hear that this was a play. There is still a film out there of this production and we started to wonder if it might be on the internet somewhere. This had been a play set on a barge primarily to be filmed but I wonder if readers of this site have memories of seeing this going on upon the river Ouse? It is a past life experience in a way, from life in the past of a person you meet in a pub, who you discover all sorts of things about that you didn’t know.

Strangely the next person to sit down with me was a director with his own theatre company, so perhaps a new career is imminent for our, er, pick pocket?

Ales n Tales – The Fulford Arms Stories 02 – More Thievery

More Thievery

This time in the form of the man in green (who probably wore scarlet), yes the legendary robber of the rich who gave to the poor: Robin Hood. The man in the hood isn’t coming back to life exactly. This is a play, or perhaps more like a pantomime, an April production that our friend is the producer for. So here with me at the table was the creator of a new production company; York Footlights Theatre. York is an interesting place, during the course of the evening; I was to meet an actor, a producer, a singer, a writer, members of a band and a burlesque artiste.

Ales n Tales – The Fulford Arms Stories 03 – Man in Red

Man in Red

Which brings us to ghosts; a man in red of sorts… Our pal, the producer, tells us that he has had an experience of a ghost at almost every place he has lived. As someone who came to York initially as a student, that is probably quite a few places of abode. There was one tale that stood out in particular, the old man who wasn’t a ghost. There were a few students shared that house together and they got on well with the landlady, the landlord however didn’t really mix but he did turn up quite a lot. He would just turn up and wander through; he didn’t ever really react to them but would overlook them with such an air of belonging that they didn’t like to question him. He was elderly and quite smartly turned out and always wore a bright red cardigan. In he would come and go through the living room, they would be in there, watching TV, or on a games console, or even occasionally studying, and he would just look at them and then carry on. He always just went straight through into the dining room. The students never managed to work out why he was there or what he was doing, but he didn’t seem to bother them so they didn’t mind. They did think it was odd that he visited so often and acted like he owned the place, but then again he did didn’t he.

After a while of this our narrator says that when the landlady next visited he would bring the subject up. So once all the bits and pieces of business were sorted out he decided to ask her. He explained that he didn’t mind the chap visiting but that he and his housemates had wondered why her husband needed to visit so often, was there something wrong that they should know about. He was informed that her husband definitely hadn’t been visiting and wanted to know what the man looked like. So he described the man in the red cardigan. She responded by saying this did indeed sound just like her husband but that it was impossible because he had been dead these past five years. The group of students had never for a moment thought that they were being haunted, because their visitor was so very real, just as real as me and you, well, in appearance anyway. He always had this sense of belonging about him too, with a calm need to be there and travel through into the next room. It was only later that the group of housemates got to thinking, the chap had often visited and had always gone through into the dining room, they hadn’t thought till now though; they had never seen him come back out of there.

Ales n Tales – The Fulford Arms Stories 04 – Messages From Within

Messages From Within

The story of the ghost which didn’t seem like a ghost got the party thinking and deliberating. The fact that the students in the house had felt that the man was alright and that he belonged; they didn’t feel a need to question him, or to doubt his existence in reality, led our current group to express an idea; The ghost was communicating with them! Somehow he was sending a message to their brains to not be concerned, he was the landlord; he was inserting an impression in their minds. Ghosts communicate on a different level, straight into your consciousness. Well, when I started Ales and Tales I didn’t expect to be collecting discussions such as this. Here was a concept the group were getting their teeth into. I say group, the discussion carried on outside with yet more chipping in with an opinion. Other ghost tales came to mind, and other firsthand experiences. The one who had been in an empty house late at night finishing a renovation and the hoover kept either being switched off or unplugged, he felt a really strong antagonistic sensation, he wasn’t welcome there – he ran. Another pal from the pub reminded us of his story, he had been in an empty house late at night, yes, doing a renovation, and, yes, his hoover kept switching off or being unplugged; to him, in his mind, this was mischievous, he felt the impression of a playfulness, he smiled and told the thin air that they were cheeky.

The two ghosts had communicated straight into the brain, but had given a distinctly different message. Someone else chipped in, so we are all psychic but on an unconscious level! Another sees a child in their present home and feels they are in need of love. How did I react to all this? I supped up my pint and I ran!

Footnote: The two guys with the hoover experiences were good friends and the discussion of their ghostly tales made them realise that they had both worked for the same firm before they had met?!

Ales n Tales – The Fulford Arms Stories 05 – Self Image Dressed-up

Self Image Dressed-up

The guy having memories of being in a medieval play in the past led folks to bring up the topic of my storytelling, and a few people had seen me round and about in my medieval costume; which to put it bluntly is skirt and tights basically. I might not be the most authentically dressed character for the period, with my elasticated hose, and my burgundy tunic, but I am generally entertaining to see (or so I am informed by those present). One, had seen me wandering down Marygate a while back in my outfit and I felt I had to tell the tale of why I was there. I had been asked to meet a group off a coach, why they thought Marygate Car Park was a good place for a coach to drop off I do not know. So I had got there half an hour early, then a text came in, they were running late; an hour late. So I ended up standing an hour and a half down a dark little lane by a street lamp in what is basically a skirt, tights, cape and furry hat!

Footnote: the following evening I had met up with my family for a meal out and my mother said a strange thing, how something odd had happened that day. She had been in town in the afternoon and two women had passed her. She heard one of them say, ‘That woman is the mother of that man from last night.’ The other lady replied, ‘Which man?’ And the first said, ‘That one who was wearing women’s clothing!’ Oh no, let me explain………

Ales n Tales – The Fulford Arms Stories 06 – Seals and Good Times

Seals and Good Times

We had memories of when the world went to Whitby, via York. Here in our company was a member of the brilliant York-based group Chechelele. This world music choir have travelled afar and have much renown. Our happy memories weren’t of an African township or a Romanian village square however; they were of Whitby and the Musicport Festival. I was not just host on stage I was also host for the lodgings for the acts. And we would all get together and watch seals, share good times, and generally feel great about our time at the festival. As the exciting young band was setting up across the room from us in the Fulford Arms, I was thrilled to be in the company of someone whose voice I recall resonates through your spine.

Ales n Tales – The Fulford Arms Stories 07 – A Stinking Singer

A Stinking Singer

My poem what I wrote to introduce Chechelele was fondly remembered. Those Musicport times have stayed with us all and we are always glad to get back there again. The guy from Chech tells us that at a recent Chechelele party someone had read out my introduction poem. As well as being thrilled that they had kept a copy I couldn’t help but wonder which version. I had rewritten the poem to fit their style and experiences every time I had introduced them. Mentioning this made us think of the kippers. One of my poems to introduce them had cause ‘ruptions’. Now the main stay of my original poem had been a jibe that all of their songs (back then), whatever language they were in, had the same message; basically I claimed that all the songs were about two women in the market arguing about halibut! Not so that one fateful weekend at Musicport. My poem set off a right clammer, and one poor guy was almost ousted from the lodgings, almost ousted from the band! That was the poem which referred to the fateful morning of the kippers for breakfast; the microwaved kippers for breakfast; the kippers that filled the whole of the lodgings with their reek for the whole of the weekend.

Ales n Tales – The Fulford Arms Stories 08 – Angelic Moment

Angelic Moment

Yes so I went into this project with a bit of a preset mind about what kind of conversations I would be listening to. How I was wrong. When people are relaxing they can talk about whatever they want to of course, and there was such a wide range of subjects, some quite surprising. Those who had travelled far came out with some very interesting experiences and sometimes such steps away from our normal existence bring out elements that are seldom shared. One person shared a tale with us that they had never spoken about in all their life, an ordinary steady person with a regular life. Their friends were stunned to hear their tale of when as a young person they had been for a long walk through the woods and had seen something amazing, at this point there were misty eyes and a little bit of hesitation along with a blissful smile; there was movement ahead, a sunlit clearing, and light was coming down into the flowered area. There ahead of them suddenly were a group of figures all made of light and gradually turning less translucent. They smiled so lovingly, they were beautiful and they were angels. You might think that this is an imagined thing, or a dream or a quirk of the light, but you aren’t there listening to this person and seeing the joyful pleasure of sharing at last, or the blissful look into the distance as if still there: The hair, the light, the shine in the eyes, the overwhelming feeling of safety and welcome.

The conversation switched, the same person was back to telling us about setting up home and building a life and a happy relationship with children growing around them and all the hard work of general living. There was a moment there though, there was a moment.

Ales n Tales – The Fulford Arms Stories 09 – Places


Talk of angels had led to discussions, when outside, of magical places, someone had said there were places which had some odd but wonderful resonance, another mentioned Robin Hoods Bay; we then got to hear of the small area of woods just along the coast, all new to me, but familiar to a few, here was a place that many had visited over the years. Perhaps long long years of visitors had been there on a quest or a vigil. One of our group had heard of this place and way back, when young, he had decide to go there, he had entered and sat and waited. Well, our friend, who is now rather stanch and almost ordinary, couldn’t recall to tell us of anything that happened to him, he still finds it hard to articulate or recall, but he did still feel that it was one of the defining moments of his life.

I had walked that area at one point, along the cliff tops viewing the coast as you go. I and my party had got lost and roamed a wood till it had got very dark, at last we came back out to the cliff path. We had lost our tent but here ahead was a ramshackled abandoned coastguard station. We went in, propped the door back in the space where it had fallen from and got the gaz on to make a hot drink. I started worrying that coastguards might come and get us and throw us out; at that, I was hit on the head from behind. I was convinced it was the coastguards come to throw us out or arrest us for trespassing; it was the old loose door being blown over in the strong wind and landing on my head.

Not really magical my tale, so I felt a bit left out?!

Ales n Tales – The Fulford Arms Stories 10 – Me, the Blonde and the Rambler

Me, the Blonde and the Rambler

Not long after arriving I had thought I would go to the bar, whilst receiving my pint of blonde the guy being served next to me smiled and let me know that he had a tale to tell. I said I would wait till he had finished his meal and be over.

When I joined him he started off by saying that he wasn’t sure his story was about York. I said not to worry because I was sure I would find a connection. Turns out he had had quite an experience. He and his partner had been on a bit of a walk; they had walked to Rome: Quite a ramble. Did you by any chance set off from York I wondered? They had. So I had my connection.

Whenever I have mentioned this since, people have said that they have heard of it and that the couple who did it are writing it all up as a story. Yes indeed he did say that he is currently writing it as a blog and he has promised us that he will forward a link to add in here. I had another connection, a nun had walked from York to Rome to see the Pope, I had to ask, if it had taken him seven years like her.

Ales n Tales – The Fulford Arms Stories 11 – Road to Rome

Road to Rome

The guy from the couple who had walked all the way from York to Rome tells us of the path which they found themselves upon. Once they were in France they followed a path which led the way to Rome. A good clear path, and they started to realise this was a busy path. Their informal, yet exciting, walk had changed to being a walk along an ancient path; a pilgrim’s path. They were following a route which had been walked for a century or two. They were in the company of many of those pilgrims. He tells me that everyone presumed that they were pilgrims too, they treated them like pilgrims and he found himself saying to his partner, ‘OK then we are pilgrims now.’  People befriended them, and helped them. They were advised on where to stay and where to stop off for good food. There was a guided visit to a ruined castle and around fascinating monasteries. They were in very good company.

Ales n Tales – The Fulford Arms Stories 12 – Passport to Experience

Passport to Experience

As our couple journeyed along the pilgrim’s way towards their far off destination they made friends and teamed up; two in particular travelled with them, a man who turned out to also be from York and a lady from East Germany. They started telling them of where to stay and indeed they all would stop off together. One stop at a nunnery for the night led to a good evening out dining and to quite a worry in the morning. As they were preparing to move on the next morning the woman travelling with them was suddenly in a terrible state; she had lost her passport and all her money. She searched everywhere to no avail so it was decided they should all retrace their steps of last night. The walk to a lake and a return visit to a pizza place and a general tour around were fruitless, so they decided to go back to the nunnery and tell the nun about it to see if she could help. She was a very small elderly woman, well under five foot, and after she had listened to their tale she said that they should follow her. As they followed her through the town everyone greeted her and as they turned to cross a road all the cars would stop for her. She led them down a little side street and there hidden away at the end of a cul-de-sac was the police station. She walked in and asked to speak to the person in charge, out came a very tall young man and he looked down at her as if he was looking up at her and followed her instructional finger-pointing with his eyes. He would do whatever she asked, and it was imagined that she had probably christened him and had connections with his family all through his life. They were intrigued with this conversation and decided that she was great. It was felt that all would turn out alright.

Ales n Tales – The Fulford Arms Stories 13 – Last Bite

Last Bite

The tale of deep respect for the diminutive nun was told so well that I had thought it was ended. There was of course still the mystery to be solved. The lady our couple were travelling with had lost her passport and all of her money. Once everything was tried and had failed she was in a bit of a pitiful state. She had no idea what she would do, or how she would cross the pilgrim’s way over into Rome when they got to the border. She seemed to pull herself together however and said how a body still has to eat and that at least she could sit down with the food she had been carrying and dine in the sun in a beautiful setting. They all sat together and unpacked their food from their bags. There was a recap of their long futile searches as she brought out her loaf of bread and spilt a chunk apart; then out came a jar of olives and last of all her large pack of cheese. She was pleased with this cheese because it was very good quality but also that it came ready sliced; she peeled off a slice and dropped it upon the bread. The slice seemed strange, it felt heavy and it sat high upon the bread. She lifted the large slice of cheese back off the bread and turned it over; there stuck to the back of it was her plastic wallet with her passport and all her money in it!

Footnote: She had put her valuables back in her bag the night before and they must have slotted into the opened pack of cheese in her bag without her knowing.

Ales n Tales – The Fulford Arms Stories 14 – Fun of the Walk

Fun of the Walk

I asked the walker to Rome if the pilgrimage road he and his wife had found their selves upon was to see a particular saint and it wasn’t but there was a saint’s remains at one place they had stopped over at and as well as visiting her they had been taken on a tour of extensive catacombs.

The topic of connection with York came up and we were told the story of The Venerable Mary Ward. As I remember it from that telling within the pub, she set up a Catholic community for women in York and travelled far, setting up similar communities. We were told that she too had walked that way along the road to Rome to ask for the Pope’s blessing. As she had stopped off along the way to set up further communities her walk had taken seven years. We are told that the Pope said no.

The Pope didn’t say no to our walkers to Rome, for as it turned out he was on holiday when they arrived.

Ales n Tales – The Fulford Arms Stories 15 – York Travellers

York Travellers

As our teller of tales along the road to Rome is writing a blog he tells us that he looked for connections to York and for others who had walked that route. He came across the fact that York’s very own Alcuin had travelled that way from York to Rome, but it turns out, when he looked further, he hadn’t walked, he had travelled by boat up the Rhine and rode on horseback over the Alps and most of the way.

We were just a pocket of people around a table and I may not even recall all the details properly, so if anything peeks your interest do look further into a story, but the above reminded one of us of the tale of an Archbishop of York who didn’t have the blessing of the Pope so he sailed away to Rome to seek his approval, he didn’t get it either. This didn’t lessen his popularity here in York however, upon his return the majority of the population were out to greet him; So many in fact that as he approached the bridge the weight of welcomers caused it to collapse in to the Ouse. No one was hurt and it was declared a miracle and the Archbishop who wasn’t an Archbishop became a saint.

Back to Ales and Tales – for tales from other pubs

Ales and Tales Stories gathered by Adrian Spendlow

Ales and Tales Stories gathered by Adrian Spendlow

I am pleased to present for you the gathered stories from Ales n Tales. As a storyteller, and a writer it was quite a change to be asked to travel around listening to others telling me of their experiences. On a few occasions indeed, the people I was mixing with told me that they believed it was a dream job; the reason for this of course that the job involved hanging around in pubs. An experience that I must admit I quite enjoyed. The chief element that made this job enjoyable was the company; the people I met. It became obvious to me almost straight away however that I would have little control of the situation throughout the series of visits; when folks are relaxed they talk about whatever they want, whatever interests them. I can tell you there are some interesting people out there.

When I turn up for a performance somewhere I always plan to do ‘what it says on the tin’, no matter what I have planned out for a set if the publicity says something slightly different then that is what people will be expecting. It wasn’t quite like that with this project. The brief was to gather tales, anecdotes, memories, historical info from York residents on the topic of York and indeed on the topic of York pubs. As I say, relaxed and chatty people cover the topics they want to cover.

This is the big York story: my week of travelling around listening gave me an overall impression of York people that may represent a larger feel or atmosphere, either just in pubs and bars, or perhaps more generally across the city, and here it is – We are global – We are aware – And we are interested in the world.

As ‘Mussy’ said while showing me his collection of postcards and photos, you can stand at one end of the bar and the world comes to visit you.

I was overwhelmed by tales, whether simple experiences or vivid memories, York people have been everywhere, met everyone, and have stuff to report back.

International ghost stories, Wide ranging connections with family and friends, Mystical experiences in rainforests, the happenstance of catching a Narwhal, how to run from polar bears; York people do indeed have lots of memories of pubs and of York through the ages but they have a far wider range of interests and experiences. Read on for a bit of an adventure in the pubs of York…

The Pre-Project Run Up

The Ackhorne Tales

The Fulford Arms Tales

The Court Bar Tales (The Dean Court Hotel)

The Golden Ball Tales

The Rook and Gaskell Tales

Ales n Tales Tales other

The Prompts

Here are links to all the sites, pubs and organisations who helped make Ales n Tales possible.


The Dance

And we dance…


She’s my mushy peas n gravy

Dip in your chips

This plastic fork is a promise of delicacies

Smash the batter in

And how we laugh

Yes there is a dance to it

From the bad sound radio site in here

To the universe of who I am

And I am glad

Glad to be invited in my friend

My very good forever friend

Thank you missy

Let your ‘who you are’ stream through here

In your very quiet and private way

You allow me in to such chippies as this

With so much promise of



by Adrian Spendlow