Ballad of the Spooky Books

Ballad of the Spooky Books

Ray Hearne and children sing the Ballad of the Spooky Books at the Reading Sheffield Celebration Event 2014.

rayhearnearrivingArriving in the Carpenter Room, Sheffield Central Library.

Ray-Hearne-1w Ray-Hearne-2

Performing Ballad of the Spooky Books with Sheffield primary school children.

 

Ballad of the Spooky Books

I feel particularly lucky when they tuck

Me up, my nose stuck in a book…..

CHORUS

Spooky books are great books, rattling with bats

Ravens croaking and creepy-crawly cats

A dragon in a dungeon or in a mucky nook

Some crooked looking witches duck, and I’m on tenterhooks

 

The ‘Journal of a Zombie,’ that was very good

As ugly as an ogre, he had to wear a hood

And the story of a goblin, glimmery and green

Who turned a king into a kidney bean one Halloween

 

I love the paranormal, the freaky and the weird

A wizard with a pointy hat and beetles in his beard

A goodie or a baddie, I’m very rarely fussed

As long as there’s some blood and guts, that truly is a must

 

A greedy little vampire, starving underneath

A gloomy doomy bell-tower sharpened up her teeth

She couldn’t wait for midnight, then on the very stroke

Of eight o clock, she brushed and flossed, and buttoned up her cloak

 

A dapper little biter, proper claws and fangs

There’s lots of them in Sheffield, they hang about in gangs

Someone’s got to fight ‘em, but where we gonna start?

We’ll have to google ‘how to stick a stake in someone’s heart’

 

Teachers can be monsters too, we know for sure

It’s nasty when they are werewolves, there isn’t any cure

A silver bullet sometimes fettles ‘em they say

If anybody’s got one, we could do with it today

 

Every house should have one, a boggart or a ghoul

Poltergeists are far more noisy as a rule

In your laundry basket or underneath the sink

Panicking your manikins and kicking up a stink

 

A cellar full of trolls I could never recommend

Though I’ve only read the version I borrowed from a friend

They guzzle up gazpacho, gulp your guacamole

And leave their smelly socks to ripen in the cubby hole

 

A cackling in the dark night, a slither and a hiss

A corridor of mirrors to a bottomless abyss

They’re menacing behind me, all slimy up ahead

Malodorously vivid – it’s the best I’ve ever read!

 

Ray Hearne         16/07/2014

For Spooky Book drawings by Stradbroke children click here.

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Dickens: not the London papers for you, child!

I met Jessie in 1997, still living in the Norfolk Park estate near the vicarage of St John’s Park where she had begun work at the age of 14 in 1920.

St John’s Vicarage, where Jessie worked. (Reproduced by permission of Sheffield Archives)

I visited her to interview her about her reading because I was writing about popular fiction in the 1930s. On every shelf in her tiny flat were pictures of her grandchildren, most of them in their graduation gowns. Yet Jessie herself never had any formal education.

Charles Dickens and Little Nell (Philadelphia, USA. By Smallbones. Reproduced under Creative Commons licence)

Jessie was born in 1906 and in 1920 became a wage-earner. The story of how she came to love Dickens in the 1920s reveals how much the status of Dickens has changed from the interwar period to the present day: from ‘childlike’ popular entertainer to classic author. The Cambridge academic Q D Leavis asserted in 1932, in Fiction and the Reading Public (p 157), that Dickens’

originality is confined to recapturing a child’s outlook on the grown-up world, emotionally he is not only uneducated but also immature.

Mercifully Jessie never encountered this diatribe against her favourite author and the class of people who were seduced by him. But by chance it was a comparably low opinion of Dickens and his association with uneducated readers that enabled her to gain access to his complete works.

I used to read the Times when I was 14 because my first job was in a vicarage as a cleaner. Now the Canon Greenwood he was a Londoner. At 14 I went to the vicarage and it was an old house and it was dreadful, scrubbing . . . I stayed there till I was 19 but he used to take the Sunday papers and of course I had a field day with them because we used to have an hour for lunch and the housekeeper she used to go to sleep and of course she seemed to resent me reading the newspapers. I don’t know why.  . . . He had some fantastic books – he had all Dickens’ books and she had all these in the kitchen in her bookcase.

Jessie’s employer, Canon Henry Francis Greenwood, Vicar of St John’s Park Sheffield

She said to me one day. ‘Now I think you will get more education, child,’ (she never called me my name, always ‘child’) ‘with Dickens’ books’ which when I did start I was a real Dickens fan, and I am now you see. Anything on there of Dickens or Shakespeare I am there, but it was through her – even her resentment gave me a gift. And I love Dickens’ characters – she let me take them home.

Charles Dickens (public domain)

She used to let me take the paper home if it was two or three days old but she used to resent that. Some of these people they resent poor people like we were, very poor, because my dad died when he was 47 and I was 14 and my mum was left to bring up three girls and she used to go out washing and cleaning. 

[The housekeeper] was so possessive with everything he the Vicar had – she was a proper giant to me.  She resented me probably it was because I wanted to know things and I knew things but she lent me the Dickens because she resented me reading the papers, the London papers.

In his book, Welcome to Sheffield: A Migration History, David Price makes the point that churches and chapels broadened the horizons of many who came into contact with them because their leaders had been educated outside Sheffield.[i] Her job at Canon Greenwood’s vicarage introduced Jessie to the London papers and the novels of Charles Dickens. Despite the drudgery she endured, the vicarage in which she spent the first five years of her working life made her aware of a world elsewhere.

St John’s Park Sheffield today

[i] David Price, Welcome to Sheffield: A Migration History (2018), p 4.

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