There is a patch of ground I often pass, when I am walking from the chalet to the bins, and it is rife with bugloss and vipers. I composed, in my head, a little song about it. The lyrics were as follows:
There is a patch of ground I pass
It’s rife with bugloss ‘n’ vipers
Bugloss is a rough-haired herb, it is akin to borage
Just in case you didn’t know, the latter rhymes with ‘courage’
The viper, like an asp, crawls the earth upon its belly
If you have not courage, your legs will turn to jelly
Vipers and bugloss in that patch
Let us sing our jolly catch
Bugloss and vipers ‘twixt chalet and bins
Let us confess our several sins
Lust! Envy! Pride! Wrath!
Gluttony! Greed! And! Sloth!
I devised a simple tune to which the words could be sung, but let’s face it, I do not have a musical bone in my body. What I heard in my head was pleasing enough, and made my little potters between chalet and bins a highlight of my otherwise soul-sickening days. But I knew that if my song were ever to be professionally recorded, and become a smash hit single, and be performed in packed stadia to adoring crowds waving the flames of their lit cigarette lighters, it would need a better singer than me, and a better tune than the one I had given it. And so I went in search of a collaborator.
One evening I left the chalet and passed the patch of ground rife with bugloss and vipers, but I did not stop when I reached the bins. No! I pressed on, indefatigably, until I arrived, about an hour later, at the folk club. Here, I thought, I was likely to find a person with musical talent who could set my words to a memorable and globally-adored tune. I sat down on a wooden chair near the back and listened to various folk sing various folk songs. There was much fol de rol and rusticism, repeated references to abstruse agricultural implements, and a smattering of disaster in mineshaft and on the sea.
During the interval, I approached one or two persons whose songs had brought tears to my eyes. I wanted to ascertain that my future collaborator had a “feel” for both bugloss and vipers. I cannot put it more precisely than that. It was not that they needed to be obsessive, maniacal, about the herb and the snake, more that they harboured due appreciation of both, knew a sprig of bugloss when they saw it, could tell a viper from an asp or a boa constrictor. To winkle out of my putative collaborators whether or not they met my requirements, I had prepared a couple of questions.
“What do you know of bugloss?” I said to the first folkie I buttonholed. He was an hairy man with a lairy eye, who had earlier sung a lengthy dirge about hedging and ditching.
“The herb related to comfrey and hounds-tongue and borage?” he rapped back. I noted that he pronounced the latter to rhyme with ‘porridge’, and my heart sank.
“Yes, that bugloss, none other,” I said.
“Not much,” he said, “Other than that there is a type of bugloss called viper’s bugloss, also known as blueweed.”
This was news to me. My jaw dropped and my heart began to beat very fast.
“What about vipers?” I babbled, “What know you of vipers?”
“Funny you should ask that,” he said, “For when I am not strumming my banjo and wailing mournful dirges in folk clubs up and down the land I am often to be found haunting the bottomless viper pits of both Gaar and Shoeburyness. I have kiosks at both viper pits, selling a variety of souvenirs and knick-knacks.”
When I came to, it was to find a jet of ice cold water being sprayed into my face. I was lying on the sawdusty floor of the folk club, a gaggle of concerned folkies gathered about me. My collar had been loosed, my hair mussed, my forehead rubbed. None of the faces gazing at me was that of the hairy man with the lairy eye.
“That man I was talking to . . .” I managed to mumble, “Where is he?”
But nobody seemed to know who I was talking about. I began to wonder if he had been a figment of my pre-swoon imagination. I staggered to my feet and charged about the folk club in search of him, and then outside, in the pitch dark, in the middle of nowhere. Not knowing his name, I cried “Hairy man! Hairy man!” repeatedly, into the night, in vain.
At dawn I returned to the chalet. Almost there, I passed by the bins, and then the patch of ground rife with bugloss and vipers. In my mind’s eye I saw the swaying crowds in the stadium, lighters held aloft, hypnotised. And I heard, in my head, a melody so beautiful, and one that fit my words so perfectly, that I burst into tears, and sank to my knees. Unfortunately I sank slap bang in the middle of the patch, and an enraged viper uncoiled itself and stabbed its fangs right through the tweed of my trousers and into my soft soft flesh, just above the knee.
“Ouch!” I cried.
As the venom coursed through my veins, and I began to lose consciousness, a vision of an hairy man with a lairy eye swam before my eyes. He had a banjo, upon which he began to strum a beauteous melody, and then he began to sing . . .