Brian Jacques: “Bobby”

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Fair warning, readers!  This is a sad one.  Definitely tugs at your heartstrings.  Sometimes better than than the boy meets girl stories are the man meets best pal dog stories, and here’s one of’ ’em for ya by the late, great Brian Jacques, author of Redwall, a reading from his Jakestown radio program on BBC Merseyside.  Have a listen and a read…and get those tissues ready!

Bobby, by Brian Jacques

Now, looking back, he could remember the first time

He had ever seen Bobby.

It was a bitter winter night in min-January.

He’d been coming home from the pub,

The snow was being driven into drifts by a howling wind.

Ice made the pavement slippery underfoot.

It wasn’t a fit night for man nor beast to be out in.

 

Yeah, that’s when he’d first met Bobby.

The dog had followed him, slinking and cringing,

Always about ten feet behind him,

Right from outside the alehouse, along the main road, and up the street

He stopped and turned to get a good look at it.

 

It was only a puppy, really, about four months old.

Its tail and ears drooped in the wind-driven whiteness.

It wasn’t a particularly good looking hound, either.

A little mongrel, no pedigree,

Just the usual 57 varieties.

Probably it had been given to some kid as a Christmas present

And slung out unwanted, when the holidays were over.

 

He’d stared at the dog; the dog had stared back at him.

It took a pace backward, as if expecting him

To aim a boot at it.

Poor little beggar.

You could have played “Rule Britannia” on its ribs.

 

“Here ya are, come on old fellah.”

He crouched in the snow, held out his hand

To the freezing, half-starved pup.

It hesitated a second.

Then, as if it sensed everything would be okay,

It shook its head, wagged its drooping tail,

And trotted slowly up to him.

 

He patted it, and scratched behind its ears as he talked.

“Hello there, old fellah- where you from?

Been slung out, have ya?”

The puppy came closer into him,

As if he could protect it

From the cold, hostile world.

 

That was a lot of years ago now.

He’d taken the puppy home with him,

And named it Bobby.

Not for any particular reason, other than

It looked like a Bobby,

And always came when the name was called.

 

It was a good little dog,

Quite clean, and didn’t need a lot of looking after, either.

One decent meal a day and a bowl of water-

Oh, and a saucer of tea every morning-

Proper ole fashioned, Bobby was.

Always liked his saucer of tea with his dad.

 

You know, when you come to think of it, he thought,

It wasn’t much.

A bit of scoff, and a drink.

Somewhere warm and dry for it to kip every night.

But the returns he got from that dog Bobby!

 

It had been a companion

Always ready to wag its tail and be stroked.

And if he ever felt depressed or fed up,

There was Bobby, gazing at him with those

Soft, gentle dog’s eyes,

The old tail going twenty to the dozen.

It never failed to cheer him up.

 

Bobby was his mate.

Someone he could tell his troubles and his dreams to.

But Bobby had been dead about six months now.

They’d been inseparable, went everywhere together.

 

What was it that fellah had said in the pub?

“Dogs are only animals and they haven’t got a soul.”

 

He smiled to himself, and thought

Just shows how much that fellah knows,

Doesn’t it?

Brian Jacques: “Plonky”

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Brian Jacques had a gift for creating a voice for his characters, not only in his Redwall series, but also in his poetry.  And sometimes that voice was quite striking in its forlornness, such as the character of McCann in “Plonky,” a drunk wandering Paradise St. in Liverpool, England, circa 1970s.  Give it a read and listen here.

Plonky, by Brian Jacques

 

Even the cheapest wine was expensive now

McCann held the bottle out at arm’s length

So he could read the label without putting his specs on

“Fine Olde Port Style Ruby Wine-

Produce of More Than One Country” it said

Heh.  Plonk.

 

Two pretty young girls passing along Paradise Street

Saw the old man holding the bottle out.

They both laughed.  One of them said “Cheers!”

McCann stared at them

And to discourage further familiarities

He stuffed the bottle back into his Mac pocket

Horked noisily, and spat on the pavement.

The girls hurried off back to work

As he closed his eyes, and leaned back on the bench,

The dappled Shadows from the bushes behind giving

His face a leprous look.

 

Plonk.  Where’d had he first heard the word?

1944.  On the front steps of that little Italian church-

What was it called now?- Santa Therese de Liscious-

Or something.

He could remember the statue outside.

It was a lady, dressed as a nun, with a face like a Madonna.

 

Sargent Thomas had translated the Latin inscription

Beneath the statue for the benefit

Of McCann and his mates.

“After my death I will let fall a shower of roses.”
The soldiers had laughed and sang “April Showers.”

They bought rough red wine from a man

Who sold it off the back of a cart.

“Chianti del Classico” it was called.

One of the lads from McCann’s regiment

Said it was only plonk.

 

McCann stood up and swayed as he took out his bottle again.

“Plonk!  It’s all only plonk!”he told the whole of Paradise Street,

Aloud, with his arms stretched wide.

Nobody was taking any notice,

So he broke out into song.

“St. Therese Of The Roses”

The panda car stopped at the curb alongside,

And he found himself looking into the face

Of a young policeman.

 

Immediately, McCann straightened up

And threw the constable what he imagined

Was a smart military salute.

“It’s s’alright.  S’Alright, Sarge!  Just goin’…” he mumbled,

As he pocketed the bottled and retreated

Along Paradise Street in the direction of Duke Street

 

The young copper watched him go,

Shook his head in disgust

And climbed back into the car.

“Another plonky,” he said to his mate.

 

McCann wandered aimlessly, staggering

And talking to himself.

People avoided him, and crossed over the road

When they saw him coming.

 

Plonky.

 

McCann didn’t worry, he didn’t care.

Let ‘em move out of the way for him.

He fought and bled for the likes of them.

Yeah- fought and bled!

I caught shrapnel in me left leg

And a silver plate in me skull.

Let ‘em move out of the way!

 

He wished he hadn’t sold his medals-that’ve showed ‘em!

Oh he still had Marty’s medals, but…

They belonged to Marty, not him.

I’ll bet he didn’t get much plonk out in Korea-

That was where Marty was buried- by the 39th Parallel.

Betcha no one even remembers that-

The 39th parallel.

That was where his son, Corporal Martin McCann was buried.

 

 

It was never the same after that.

Mary left him, and went to live

With her sister and her mother.

Plonky, she’d called him.

Said he lost all his self-respect,

Especially when she caught him taking the rent money

Out to the bars on the dresser.

He hadn’t seen her since.

Probably wouldn’t recognize her now.

 

McCann looked around at the doorway he was leaning against.

It was a church.

Let’s go in and ‘ave a look around.

He liked churches.

 

The parish priest was in the vestry,

Composing Sunday’s sermon

When the little altar boy walked in.

“Hello, Father!”

“Hello, John.”

“Hey, Father- there’s some old man out there-

Sitting by St. Therese’s statue

And he’s drinking out of a bottle and singing

“St. Therese of the Roses.”

 

Ah, that’s alright John, he often does that,

Poor fella.

He’s only a plonky ya know.

There’s no harm in it.

 

Brian Jacques: “The Do”

Another great poetry reading by the late great Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall series, and host of Jakestown on BBC Radio Merseyside.  Here Jacques waxes lyrically and nostalgically on the old “do’s” (street parties) from back in the day in Liverpool.  Makes you want to break out a few Guinness and some Sinatra.  Take a listen and have a read:

The Do by Brian Jacques

When houses were houses

And streets were streets.

The cobbles, and dogs, and kids,

And washing lines piled up with jammers and sheets,

And cats looked in bins or out beds.

 

Remember the do’s on a Saturday night.

And the alehouses closed at ten.

Jars out the window, and a bob for the light.

Of course, families were closer then.

 

You could hear the lads crossing over the road:

“Hey Billie, will ya carry that crate?”

Stout Brown and Mild

Sharing the load.

“Which house is the do in, mate?”

 

“Which house is the do in? Are you off your head?

The one with the door opened wide!

You know Tony’s sister?  Well it’s her Uncle Fred’s.

Pick that ale up and get inside!”

 

The back kitchen set up like the Iron Lung Bar.

There’s butties, and ribs, and shanks.

“Come in, son, and take us as we are.
“I’ll have some ribs and a Guinness, thanks.”

 

In the front parlor, the Joanna’s playing loud.

There’s snogging on the stairs up the lobby,

And the woman next door’s shouting

“Hey you crowd, stop that now or I’ll call the bobby!”

 

“Come in, girl, you’re one of ours!

Two to each side and no spittin’!

The bobby’s been here the last two hours,

He’s helpin’ me gran with the knittin’!”

 

Big Paddy’s singin’ the Rosa of Tralee,

Mrs. Jones murders Ave Maria.

Mr. Brady plays the banjo he brought home from sea.

I think the whole street is here.

 

Heart of my Heart” and “Barefoot Days

 

“There’s no work in the mornin’, ya know!”

 

I’ll be Loving You Always

 

“Allo, Queen, how’s your Joe?”

“Hey ya, gerroff, will ya have a dance?”

“It’s as good as the Grafton in here!”

“Someone spilt ale on ‘Arry’s best pants.”

“Better get him another beer!”

 

You’re Cheatin’ Heart Will Tell On You.”

 

Are you watching the telly tonight?

Or would you sooner be at a do

Long ago?

The ole do’s.

Hey, they were all right.

Brian Jacques: “Heaven Is”

Brian Jacques not only wrote the Redwall series, he was also a poet.  He would occasionally do poetry readings over music which he would present on his radio show Jakestown on BBC Merseyside.

I figured the old boy’s in heaven now, so I drummed up a slideshow of Brian with his reading of his poem “Heaven Is.”  Text of the poem is below the video.  It’s a brilliant, upbeat, blue-collar vision of what’s beyond the pearly gates…

Heaven Is by Brian Jacques

I imagine heaven to be a place

Where old ladies go ‘round

Mugging teenagers.

And employers roam ‘round in a mob

Grabbing older people and sayin’

“Hey lad,  ya wanna job?”

Where you can walk in a pub

And sit yourself down

Anytime after half-nine;

And the manager shouts

At twenty to eleven

“No worries!  There’s plenty of time!”

Heaven’s a place

Where pensioners have cottages;

Where they’re allowed to own

Ten dogs or ten cats.

And only city planners

Have to live in high-rise flats

Heaven is a place

Where they don’t have Mondays;

And it only rains late at night.

And when two people argue

They always win…

‘cause it turns out, that both of them’s right.

Heaven’s a place

With no alarm clocks;

And twenty seven miles

Of working docks.

Where nobody has to pay fines

For leaving their cars on two yellow lines.

Where both teams are at Wembley every week,

And the kids don’t give their mothers no cheek.

Where everyone has a deep freeze

Full of lobsters and steaks;

And the poor people

Have no bread to eat…‘cause the cupboards are full of cakes!

Yes, I reckon heaven must be a place

Where the street parties last for a year;

And the people say

“Come and sit down, lad.

It doesn’t matter

If you’re not from ‘round here.”

What Happened to the Magic?

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Two years ago today, author Brian Jacques (pronounced “Jakes”), creator of the Redwall series, passed away.  He authored 22 books of series in all, which featured the mice, otters, moles, hedgehogs, squirrels, and hares of Mossflower Country and Salamandastron, and their epic struggles against all manner of villainy.  Inspired by the memory and actions of their resident spiritual guide, Martin the Warrior, the goodbeasts of Redwall strived to create a place of peace in a hostile world full of rats, weasels, stouts, and other vermin.  Readers come away from reading Redwall with the satisfaction of having read a darn good yarn, full of feasting, fighting, riddles, cliff hangers, and songs.

I got addicted to these tales not too long ago, after getting sick and tired of contemporary “literary fiction ,” with its typical loner protagonists and navel-gazing ruminations.  I, like Brian Jacques at point, was wondering “What happened to the magic?!”

Jacques went off and wrote his own magic, and the gift he receives is in the giving, and with all the humility in the world.  As he once stated it:

“I don’t worry so much about the prizes for books, the accolade for me is the kids.  And the librarians, who’ve had an education, who are looking at a scalawag, who’s conned his way in—an exlongshoreman, ex-seaman, ex-truckdriver, who’s suddenly popped up as an author — and they say, “Oh, Mr. Jacques, we love your books.” I think, isn’t that nice, here are these people with this great education speaking to me as if I’m somebody—it’s a big thing.”

I thank him for creating magic and sharing it with the rest of the world,  especially late  thirtysomethings like myself who need some reminding.  His death two years ago today left many heartbroken.  But take heart, I think Jacques would say: join me anytime between the pages of Redwall.

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Medicine for the Recovering English Major: Brian Jacques and Redwall

Have you ever been enamored of a book because of who wrote it?  The story may be good, excellent, even, but the sheer force of the personality behind it lends the book an extra “star” or two or whatever is your cosmological equivalent of a good rating.  Such is the case for me when it comes to Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall series, which recounts the epic struggles of good and evil between rats, mice, stouts, weasels, cats, badgers, moles, hares, and other woodland creatures in the land of Mossflower and beyond.  Think Lord of the Rings meets Wind in the Willows.   Now, in my self-imposed literary “reeducation” process (in which I forego the literature that makes me look and sound smart and instead find enjoyment, once again, in a darn good yarn), I stumbled upon Redwall.  My curiosity was immediately perked by the picture of the author on the back cover.  This is Brian Jacques:

I know, right?  He looks like the grizzled old captain of a whaling ship,  not a children’s author.  Downright scary.  So I did a bit of googling, and found some audio/video of him speaking at a Borders and as a keynote speaker in Liverpool, his hometown, and seriously, if my first choice of which author to have a pint of beer with is C.S. Lewis, a close second is Brian Jacques.  A truly infectious personality, he tells bad, corny jokes and laughs at them himself if no one else will (“What creature goes ‘zubb, zubb, zubb’?  A bee flying backwards.”);  and he’s self-deprecating (“I originally thought all authors had first names of “Sir”- Sir Walter Scott, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle- I didn’t realize I could be one.”).  He’ll retell the same stories about himself over and over like he’s saying it for the first time.  There’s an old-fashioned sense of uncontrolled vitality about him- keen, refreshing, like a good, sharp, chilly Northeasterly wind.

He’s decidedly old-school as well.  A definite “medieval dinosaur,” as CS Lewis once put it.  “My chief delight and satisfaction,” Jacques once wrote, “Is annually to desert the world of modern technology.”  Delivering milk to a school for the blind, he was eventually invited to read to the students, and noted that publishers used to send books for the kids, and, as he tells it, “I didn’t like those books.  Technology, teenage angst.  Ugh.  They were all about the now.  What happened to the books that I used to read?  What happened to the magic?”

It comes out in his books.  Amid the clutter thrown at us in our daily lives, when modern technology seems to yell in a digitized voice that disrupts all quiet conversations over a pint of stout, a Jacques book invites a warm fireside to illuminate its pages, rather than the glow of a computer screen.  It sounds quaint (and incredibly ironic, as I write this on my laptop), but Jacques writes the kind of books we need for an “out,” from our daily hustle and bustle.  Not, let me be clear, as an “escape,” but rather, like all good literature of its sort, as a “recap,” or reminder of what being human is truly all about: fidelity to friends and family, sharing of food, discovery of purpose, and acknowledgment of the worth and value of those who may be different from you.  And hey, as the prospect of becoming a dad 🙂 begins more and more to fill my everyday reality, it’s good to know books like this are still being written.    “Questing, feasting, singing, and battling to defend good against evil,” as Jacques puts it.  What a marvel concept for a post-modern age.  All this from a man, who states, quite simply, that an author is “a person who can paint pictures with words.”