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

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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.

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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


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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.

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