Uncle Ben

 

The Striking Down oF Uncle Ben: A Warning to all Sporting Men

A Story by Dave Garnett, Illustrated by Alex

A Leaping Frog publication Bristol 2005

Warning: This story is not suitable for those of a nervous disposition. It contains violence, bad language and excruciating puns.

The Striking Down of Uncle Ben[1]

[Study Notes: [1] For those studying this text as part of an examination course, a set of companion notes are included at the end.]

 Uncle_Ben_gun

Like an unlocated cenotaph
What I was stands in the past
With half-remembered epitaphs
For disembodied faces
That are my childhood memories
And which, like ghostly traces,
Into a picture book cascade
To be held like dusty photographs,
Sepia brown and bound to fade.

One denizen of my distant past
Was Uncle Ben.
I must have been no more than ten
When he cashed in his stamps at last.[i]
In his youth no rockers shocked,
Jagger was no Rolling Stone,
There was no dark side of the moon[ii]
And singers were still heard to drone[iii]
On wireless and on gramophone.
Some, a few, were heard to croon
Many-a-steady-foxtrottable-tune.

I was not eleven then
And he no more than sixty three
When tragedy struck Uncle Ben.
As you will see, to be precise,
It struck him twice –
Once below each knee.

Nineteen hundred and twenty three,
The sounds of war were hardly dim
When the demise of this uncle
On my father’s side
Caused some surprise,
Not the least to him.

The old stager was a major,
Came up through the ranks,
Promoted in the Great War
For spanking German flanks.
A feat that made the Kaiser sore
But from the King earned thanks.

Though a fearless fighting type,
He never fought his appetite.
But foreign food he felt unfit,
And to it he could not commit.

But now I come to think of it,
Some foreign food was favourite.
I remember once away in France,
Whilst on a hearty gourmet jaunt,
He raised his haunch to make a stance
And launched his paunch at a four-course lunch.
As Auntie said to young Annette,
“He never stops at one baguette.”
And of him it was often said,
He’d eat a horse alive or dead.

Although he’d eat food raw or cooked,
He cared about the way he looked.
He greased his hair,
Waxed his moustache,
Never failed to shave and wash
And daily turned out looking posh.[iv]
Hideously fastidious,
Unkempt or casual dress he spurned
And for the formal form he yearned –
Except in June I noticed that
With blazer, tie and boater hat
He looked just like a Henley prat.

As Aunt Meg told my youngest child
“On sunny days he looked obscene,
Dressed in ways to be reviled,
A truly ghastly mix between
Hercule Poirot and Oscar Wilde.”

Henley_Prat

In his lapel he sought the smell
Of freesia or azalea.
But sad to tell
Though quite a swell,
He was a social failure.
Aunty always said of him
He had a love of discipline,
Clean latrines, gay marines,
And feminine regalia.

On summer nights at nine o’clock,
Prim and proper, finely scrubbed,
You’d find him down there by the dock
Cropping young tars off the tubs
Dressed the way he liked the most,
In knee-socks, bra and pretty frock.

Uncle_Ben_dress

With sweaty sailors down the pub
Off trawler, tanker, skiff or sub,
He’d tell tall tales and swank and boast
Of how he’d fought from coast to coast.
By closing time, still talking tosh,
He’d become completely sloshed,
And have a tendency to blub,
Drunkenly goose up ‘mine host’,
Then offer up the loyal toast.

“Every time that he gets pissed,
He turns into a royalist”,
As Aunt Meg said to her friend Jean,
“Well, not so much a royalist,
More a raging queen.”

Despite his love of boys and booze,
And socks and frocks and apple pies,
T’was not these things that blew the fuse,
And brought about the crackdown
That cut him quickly down to size
And forced him then with startled eyes
To buckle up and back down.

Other factors did comprise
The causes of his felling.
To terminate the tale I’m telling
Of my Uncle’s hack-down,
I need to speak a little more
About the old boy’s background.

Though he sought the status quo,
Avoided change and hated quakes,
Ironically fate did prevail,
And caused a sequence of mistakes
That changed things on the Richter Scale.

To understand this tragic tale
What you really have to know
Is how technology can fail
And deal you out a deadly blow.

Ben always had a dexterous touch,
Inventing things and making much
Of wood off-cuts and rubber bands
Or bits of string and old tin cans.
As Aunt Meg said the night they wed,
And noticed he was not in bed
But hammering in the garden shed,
“The Devil finds work for bridal hands.”
(She wasn’t literally absurd,
It was a simple play on words).

One night sometime in September,
Leaving from a dock-side bender,
Flushed with booze plied by the fleet,
Gender-crossed but looking neat,
Staggering as on bunioned feet[v]
He drunkenly declared
His first and vowed intent
To invent a sock suspender
That would render other tenders
As obsolete as items
On some long defunct agenda.

Arriving home that night quite late
He burst indoors to advocate
That every single pair of socks
Be straight and plain and not baroque.
Aunt Meg then to pacify,
Agreed with him and did reply,
“You’re right my dear, I’ll tell you why:
A man whose socks are not awry
Can look the world straight in the eye.”

In soporific reverie
He fantasized about success
And how extremely clever he
Would be to build a factory
Producing countless stocking grips.

Aligning socks from toe to tip
He’d make the calf look smarter
And thus he might become ‘ere long
A doctor of philosophy
Or, depending on the workmanship,
Get the Order of the Garter.[vi]

It was the dream of Uncle Ben
To be remembered now and then
When people speak of famous men.
Like them he wanted high acclaim
And credit for his acumen,
So his name would then be matched
With giants of the science game
Whose names have now become attached
To modern bits of bric-a-brac.

As Aunt Meg said to Uncle Mike,
“In the Engineering Hall of Fame
He’ll join great citizens of science like
J. Edgar Vacuum,[vii] and Christopher Wren,
Polly Filler and Sir Ballpoint-Penn[viii] –
Not to mention J Arthur Rank,[ix]
Inventor of the sceptic tank.”[x]

Like industry’s progenitor
He overcame each little hitch.
From his task he did not shirk,
Until one day he got a stitch,
Brought on by stress and overwork.
Grafting hard as Hercules
On endless days of long duration
Caused him gallstone pains acute
Leading to an operation
By a surgeon of repute.

Having overcome this glitch
He convalesced without a hitch.
With fame and profit now in sight,
For past failures he’d atone.
He worked his fingers to the bone
To build a second prototype
Modelled on the ‘Sports Grand Prix’
Displayed and made in Gay Paris
Back in eighteen ninety-three.

This time he sought a new design
To make the product bendier.
Old features he would redefine
And make the whole thing trendier.
The new idea of Uncle Ben
Was advertise the product then
For use outdoors by active men –
As the “GT Sports Suspender!”[xi]

To give the thing its proper due,
The completely redesigned ‘Mark Two’
Embodied features that were new.
Sharp, smart and chromium-plated.
He made it out of toughened wire
And springs and pins and steel.
It was non-rusting, self-adjusting
With a highly polished lustre
And automatic height adjuster.

According to the press release,
Its newly fashioned clasping hook
Guaranteed a smarter look.
Whether catching trout or fox,
Trapping hares or shooting geese,
They maintained the orthodox
And put the fieldsman’s mind at ease
By supporting sporting socks
And eliminating every crease.

Before contracts could be sealed,
They must be tested in the field.
So my uncle upped and paid
For working models to be made
That could be worn on mountain hike,
On a boat or on horseback.
He hoped the tests successfully
Would demonstrate for all to see
That whatever the activity,
On hunt or punt or on a bike,
They’d stop knee stockings falling down
Or from even going slack.

Despite his recent loss of health
At nine a.m. on June the twelfth
He set out with sporting gear
To test the prototypes himself.
With thoughts of pheasant, hare and deer,
He visited the highland moors
With loaded gun and tweed plus-fours[xii]

Dressed to kill both fur and feather,
With the trade press witnessing,
He’d test his gadgets to see whether
By firing hard into the heather
He could shoot and hit something
Whilst keeping both socks up and tethered
To the chromium hooks and springs.

On north-facing weathered moors,
Reliving episodic scenes
From his past colonial wars,
He mustered cartridge after cartridge
And with a smile set on his mouth,
He tickled up a startled partridge
And bagged a brace of flustered grouse.

Then suddenly without warning
From behind a bush of gorse,
Appeared a bearded anarchist
With a placard in his fist
Campaigning for a change of laws
To undermine the blood sport cause.

Said Uncle Ben with temper scarce
“This protester is grotesquer
Than a hippy psychopath –
I’ll finish off this ghastly farce
And shoot the bastard in the arse.”

Then in front of all to see
He was clamped below the knee
As suddenly something
Went “ping”,
(Perhaps it was a tension spring).
Both contraptions snapped shut tight,
And locked on sock and leg alike.

As the apparatus failed
And both his legs became impaled
On his own sock fashion ware,
His gun discharged into the crowd
Where the shot then disembowelled
The editor of Hound and Hare
Who, before expiring,
Criticised the firing
By bellowing this speech out loud:
“You crazy sod, I’m telling you,
This thing’ll get a bad review!”

No sooner had the scribbler died
And before they called a hearse,
Things went from sad to bad
And then from bad to worse.
The contraptions failed to slacken,
Biting into flesh and bone.
They caused Ben’s legs to crack and flatten
And eventually to subdivide.
Letting out a gruesome curse
He slowly sank into the bracken
No bigger than a garden gnome.

With circumstances thus reduced
And both suspenders firmly fused,
My father’s younger brother railed,
“Yet again my grips have failed!”
Uncle Ben expleted then
“Bugger! Sod it! Shit! and Blast!
Stuff inventing – you can fuck it!”
Having this way breathed his last,
He looked about him quite aghast
And shortly kicked the bucket.

When told of Ben’s diminished frame
Cut down in the Scottish glen
Auntie crossly did exclaim,
“The bastard’s legless yet again!”

Moral
Unless your favourite colour’s gangrene,
And your lucky stone is gall,
Pay attention to this tale
Of pride that comes before a fall.

Beware of wearing wire suspenders,
As was said by Aunty Meg
“Better live with naked calf
Than die with half a leg.”

Sports_suspenders

Unsolicited Testimonials

I am an unmarried middle aged lady teaching a class of unruly eight and nine year olds at a Methodist school in the East Midlands. A favourite trick of my pupils is to put pepper on my notes so that I sneeze. This invariably causes my false teeth to be violently ejected and my stockings to fall like vast woollen concertinas around my ankles. For some reason this seems to afford the little buggers no end of merriment. Your excellent device has cured what in the staff common room has become known as “the hosiery problem”. In addition, with the help of Mr Appleton the metalwork teacher, I have adapted a second set to go round the back of my head and restrain my teeth at the corners of my mouth. This keeps them in place but it makes them move independently of my jaw, so speech is somewhat problematic. “Afternoon” for example, coming out as “Aaarrrrrgggghhoon”. However, we must count our blessings and keep on smiling.

A. Biddlecombe BA (Miss)

As a professional cricketer I have always regarded the ‘GT Sports’ as an essential part of my recreational equipment. I have lost count of the times that a fast out-swinger has been deflected off my pads to the leg boundary for four as a result of the additional velocity imparted by the underlying tension spring attached to the right hand side suspender. We must, of course, never forget the part played by the earlier model of the GT in the infamous “box and socks incident” at the Taunton Oval back in nineteen hundred and twelve. It is now generally recognised by historians of the ‘summer game’ that had Sir Barrington Hutton not been wearing one of your products at the time, it would almost certainly have led to the demise of the British Umpire and would probably have advanced the Great War by some six months.

Col Rupert Fletcher (rtrd)

Study Notes

 

[1] For those studying this text as part of an examination course, a set of companion notes are included at the end.
[i] Euphemism for the Great Gift Shop in the sky.

[ii] Witty reference to classic rock number. On Desert Island Disks chosen by Pamela Stephenson but completely ignored by Dame Janet Baker.

[iii] E.g. Arthur Askey ‘Busy Bee’ song circa 1892.

[iv] The etymology of this word is traceable back to the days of the old steam liners. It refers to the practice of separating the high-paying first-class passengers on to one side of the ship where they were given special treatment. The tradition was to provide this group with a complimentary glass of port on the way out and with a five star champagne dinner on the way home: hence the phase Port Out Starboard Home – eventually shortened to P-O-S-H. The other passengers were housed on the other side of the ship in less salubrious quarters. In particular, third class passengers had to share cabins and sleep on the floor on straw-filled palliasses – hence the phrase Shared Cabin Unsprung Mattress.- eventually shortened to S-C-U-M.

[v] Hideously contrived reference to Sir Arthur Colon Bunyon’s fable of how a fallible cobbler became converted to chiropody.

[vi] This is one of the highest honours in the land and is in the personal gift of the monarch. Along with the Order of the Boot, it is only conferred on individuals who have made a conspicuous contribution to enhancing national well-being below the waist.

[vii] The early version of J Edgar’s cleaning machine was hand-pumped and required twelve servants to operate it. When President Hoover tried to clean the White House with one in 1886 he was most unimpressed and is reported as saying, “This thing sucks.” Eventually Hoover provided Federal funds to design and build a petrol driven version This was commissioned from the long-since forgotten inventor of the ceramic motor car Anthony Wedgewood Benz. Having failed in the cleaning business J Edgar Vacuum eventually went on to make his fortune as a female impersonator spying for the Portuguese.

[viii] To protect his anonymity, Sir Ballpoint registered his invention under the nom de plume Kevin Biro.

[ix] J Arthur Rank became a multi-millionaire and, as a result, his name eventually became used as rhyming slang for ‘merchant bank’.

[x] By shooting human effluent at the enemy trenches in the First World War the sceptic tank played an important part in defeating the German Kaiser. It was given its name by Field Marshal Haig who had grave doubts about its effectiveness. At its field trials the field marshal was heard to ask, “What happens if this thing sucks?”

[xi] Unfortunately no illustrations of the infamous ‘GT Sports’ exist, and as there are no known survivors amongst its users, we cannot be sure of exactly what it looked like. However, adverts and testimonials for the French ‘Grand Prix Sports’ (upon which the ‘GT’ was modeled) have been found in the archives of the still popular magazine The Garter and Gusset Fanciers’ Gazette (see below).

[xii] This is now the traditional dress of the English fieldsman. It was developed by the seventeenth century British army signals battalion who, in all weathers, had to venture onto the moors to send semaphore messages from camp to camp. The battalion’s official dress regulations soon became known as the ‘moors code’.