THE first single I wasted my pocket money on was the Shadows’ Wonderful Land.
Its backside – is that the right word? No, I think it’s B-side ... its B-side was Stars Fell On Stockton.
I don’t know why I remember that. Nor do I know why the Shadows thought stars fell on Stockton. My youth was a place of great mystery.
Anyway, that particular single has long gone to the juke box in the sky, as has, I suspect, the second single I bought.
I am ashamed to say that this was Bernard Cribbins’ Hole In The Ground. It was a novelty song and also a sort of 1960s protest ditty.
For those unfamiliar with the lyrics, the 1962 song pokes fun at a Man in a Bowler Hat who is telling Bernard that the hole he is digging is in the wrong place and should be round and not square.
Our working class hero in this instance lost patience with Bowler Hat and buried him in the hole.
And this was just the start. The next year Bob Dylan told us that the answer to everything was blowin’ in the wind. How dangerous was that, then? We were really rebelling.
Cribbins and Dylan were then just the latest in a long two-fingered catalogue of jibes we, the people, have levelled at officialdom over the centuries.
I suppose it started with the Normans and Domesday. Duke William of Normandy was known officially as William the Conqueror and unofficially as William the Bastard. He was actually illegitimate, but the description, as far as the Anglo-Saxons he brutally subjugated or ‘harried’ in these parts, could have applied equally to his nature.
Harrying is really unpleasant. It didn’t really matter if you were a peasant pig-farmer minding your own business and getting on with the mucking-out.
If you lived in Yorkshire then William the Conqueror’s men would find you out and harry you.
This was because the people of York had the temerity to reckon William wasn’t their king at all. They bashed up a few of his men and burned a few of his barns.
William had something of a temper and when he found out, Big Bill’s chain-mail bruisers came to Yorkshire to teach us all a lesson.
They came without warning. They came with swords drawn. They ripped up our vegetable patches. They burned our thatches. They skewered our cattle, sheep and pigs. And when we offered an ‘I say, chaps, that’s a bit strong, don’t you think?’, they kebabbed our wives and kids.
And then, just for good measure, they lopped off our heads too. That’ll shut him up, they said. And they were right.
In Honley, where I used to live and where a lot of this harrying business went on some time between 1066 and 1086, the entry in Domesday Book is poignant. ‘Ilbert (de Lacy) has it; but it is waste.’
Ilbert was one of Big Bill’s pals, very probably part of the 1066 invasion force. He may well have supplied the bully-boys who turned Honley from a thriving settlement of farms – between two and four square miles of arable land – into a wasteland. And it really was wasteland.
William ordered that every man, woman and child, every cow, horse, sheep and pig, every plough and every piece of woodland should be recorded in the Domesday Book.
There was nothing left in Honley to record. Other villages – Denby Dale, Holmfirth, Marsden – fared better, but not much better.
Gideon – sorry, George – Osborne’s demands on our resources may not be as devastating as Big Illegitimate Bill’s, but you can see where the Chancellor got the idea.
And in fact the amount of officialdom we tolerate these days is a thousand times greater than we tolerated under the Normans.
For an example we come back to Bernard Cribbins’ hole. Look at the roads.
No fewer than 17 different organisations have the right to dig up our highways. I can’t list them all, which is quite worrying.
Despite efforts to force these people to co-ordinate their activities – dig one big hole, replace or enhance all the services, then put it back in fine fettle for the next 30 years – they still don’t get on the phone to each other.
Officialdom. Tsk. The result is that the water authority will dig a hole and fill it in just days before the electricity company digs it up again.
Just days after that hole has been filled in, the gas people, followed by the lighting department, followed by the cable company ... you get the picture.
Kirklees has had more than its fair share of this digging recently.
A lot of it is necessary. Even a mild winter plays havoc with old water and sewerage pipes, drainage and road surfaces.
But if the 17 road-digging organisations can’t get their act together, isn’t it time somebody invented an unzippable or peelable road surface?
Actually, they have. A Dutch company called Machinale Bestratingen does it and you can see them doing it above.
I’m beginning to like The Man in the Bowler Hat. He has the right idea. He is not some distant descendant of Big Bill the Conqueror. He’s quite a sensible chap after all.
You can’t dig it here, dig it elsewhere, peasants.