December 14, 2009

Robert Allen: The costly chimney cowl

Background by Clive Dalton

Graham Batey is the third generation of the Batey family of builders in Bellingham that traded under the name of 'Joseph G. Batey and Sons, Builders and Contractors'.

Graham was the last partner in the business along with his Uncle Arthur when he must have received an order from Robert Allen to fix a cowl on the chimney at Glebe house in Bellingham. Their bill head states 'Estimates Free' so presumably Robert had enjoyed that part of the deal!

Graham kindly sent me a copy of the Batey account for the job, and in reply, Robert's protest at the cost of it - in verse!

It's hilarious, and such a little treasure of a poem. It looks as if it was typed on Robert's old Remmington, badly in need of a new ribbon. The poem had no title but I have called it 'The Costly Cowl'. I hope Robert (my employer as a farm Daft Laddie) would approve.

The account below is made out to Mr R Allen, Esq., Glebe House, Bellingham, Hexham
Date 15 January 1979.

By Robert Allen

For Graham Batey of Lynn View,
Supplying of a poem or two.
With personal delivery to
His front door mat,
The sum of Nineteen pound is due,
Including VAT.

To such a sum my claim I stake,
So in your hand a pen now take.
And in the ledger quickly make
A counter entry;
You’ll find there has been no mistake,
It’s element’ry.

You think you’re over-charged a bit,
For simple shafts of poet’s wit?
We should not quarrel over it,
Nor cross our swords, -
You know inflation’s also hit
The price of words.

When Ossie Saint, the poor sowl,
Went up to fix that eight inch cowl,
He must have dropped his silver trowel
Right down the pot –
I think I’m charged for’t in this foul
Great bill I’ve got.

R.A. Jan 1979

But when I reach life’s final curse,
And ride away in some grim hearse,
May big fools with a bigger purse
To your house come,
And offer for this little verse
Three times the sum!


More Robert Allen
More of Robert's poems can be obtained on CD from the Northumbrian Language Society.

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