Up higher Ince I saw the ghost,
Of a bygone hero loved by most,
Who dived into the cut and then,
Never came back up again.
On Rabbit Rocks he gave a sigh,
And nodded as he passed me by,
Then just as quick as he was there,
He vanished in the morning air.
So now compelled I will relate,
The story of this poor man's fate,
Then let you ponder on the plot,
And quibble if it's true or not.
It is a bleak and chilling yarn,
Of pride and glory come to harm,
Of men who drank when ale was strong,
And sometimes how they got it wrong.
How in a moment, precious life,
Can slip like butter from a knife,
And how one fluke, mad circumstance,
To one gave not a second chance.
But all fond hearts and those who care,
This tragedy we all can share,
And proof of this man's swift demise,
Was witnessed by my very eyes.
So bear with me a little while,
And with a nod, a wink and smile,
In rhyming lines I'll tell the tale,
Of a man who lived and died for ale...

Down by the old canal where cushion grasses grew,
Many a summer's crowd of heated brow the cooling waters drew
Upon those beachy banks where clover sands were laid,
Beneath the skylark`s rising shrill the village clamour swayed.
In silent pose upon the bridge a sturdy figure leaned,
Above him blazed the midday sun, below the water gleamed.
All fifteen pints on tiptoe stood old Bushy Tom the diver -
Many a daring leap had he defied and taken home a fiver.
That afternoon upon the banks the children watched with awe,
And people gathered round the spot where Tom chewed on his straw.
With bathing cap upon his head and hairy chest inflated,
Every eye among the crowd upon him concentrated
With fifteen pints of best Bush ale this man was such a dare,
He spat his straw, drew a breath and rose into the air.
Fifteen stones of a dolphin plunge from fingertips to toes,
He hit the surface like a blade and up the water rose.
And when he struck the tranquil pool, a gradely splash was made,
Some twenty feet the fountain sprang and o'er the capstan sprayed.
Old Wilf Jones was soaking wet, his smouldering pipe was quenched.
From polished boots to white cravat, his Sunday best was drenched.
But such a splendid dive it was that many were amazed -
Folk sat clapping in the grass and much applause was raised,
And even when the bubbles burst where Tom had disappeared,
Bending heads looked smiling down while others simply cheered.
A minute passed, the water calmed then interest slowly mounted,
And every minute after that, with grave concern were counted.
Tom was good at holding breath as well as supping beer,
But such a spell beneath the deep indeed gave rise to fear.
Now while the Skylark sang above, the dreadful silence grew -
" Where might be our Bushy Tom " ? it's certain no one knew.
He was so fond of playing tricks and many a time surprised,
And fooled the folk by coming up far from where he dived.
Now while the Skylark sang above, the summer sun sat burning,
And many tongues denied the hope that Tom might be returning.
" Fetch the Locky ", someone cried as fear began to spread,
So young John Smith lept on his bike and down the bank he sped.
Summertime for Locky Joe was such a busy season,
And hard was he to action call without a stirring reason,
But Bushy Tom so well he knew - a friend of his Aunty Nellie's,
That when he heard the tragic news he soon put on his wellies.
A speedy man was Locky Joe - a miler he had been -
No sooner had he left his hut he arrived upon the scene.
The situation called for tact - experience gave him plenty.
With rapid turns he wound his key and the lock began to empty.
Inch by inch the water drained - the crowd began to wonder,
Attention focused on the spot suspect to the blunder.
Vacant gaping from the bridge on elbows propt supported,
And fingers pointed to the wall where Bushy Tom's straw floated.
Meanwhile, across those ferny fields where lawns rose tall and plush,
Anxious whispers spread around and murmurs filled the Bush.
Along that stoney road where dust lay dry as salt,
An urgent treck of local lads came trailing from the vault.
Up by Daisy pond where ducks sailed on the shallow,
Farmer Hesketh left his plough and trudged across the fallow.
Bill the bargeman too was strolling by and near the fence had stopped,
And while he pondered, scratched his head, the murky level dropped.
Now while the skylark sang above she sang a song of woe,
Another foot the water fell - the parish clock struck four.
Half the lock had drained away and eager eyes were peeled,
Still not a trace of Bushy Tom the fateful spot did yield.
At ten past four the solemn truth so painful to disclose,
Protruded through the gleaming sheen - a pair of quivering toes.
Old Bushy Tom that devil dare, no pride now to defend,
Saluted to the sky above and faced his muddy end.

(To be continued)


So further on I'll strive to go,
To milk my tale a little more,
And when we both come to the end,
I hope I've gained another friend.
Now Bushy Tom, as all had feared,
All but ten toes disappeared,
Trembling, rigid, cold and dry,
And pointing to the summer sky.
And the frantic actions of a few,
Brings us to a stage that's new,
Where broken hearts and lasting shame,
Pry for cause and mine for blame.
As Bushy lies submerged and still,
No one knows the answers till,
He be removed and brought to grace,
From that dark and lonely place.
So finally I will resume,
To bring conclusion to you soon,
Then if I've failed to touch your heart,
I've rhymed for nothing from the start.
The Legend of Bushy Tom.

As if to sense some grief afoot, the faltering lark withdrew,
She folded up her tiring wings and tumbled out of view.
The bargeman groaned a painful sigh, the farmer drew away,
And Locky Joe could not absorb the horrors of the day.
In all his years upon the flight this man could tell a tale,
Of valiant men doing dangerous things under the influence of ale,
And time after time he warned them, " Have fun but stay alive -
Twas not a sin to splash and swim, but look before you dive " !
For the sludgy bed of the old canal was fraught with perils blind,
And many an unseen boulder had crippled a man's behind,
And many a sharp obtrusive rock did gash the paddling foot -
Such were the invisible hazards of messing about in the cut.
Up and down the bank he strode, with slow-decreasing pace -
The anguish of the afternoon was stamped upon his face,
And as he paused to glance once more, he knew it was the end -
The cursed deceiver alcohol had claimed a lifelong friend.
In the blistering heat of the desert sun he stood by the lowering brink,
Where the dragonfly zig-zagged her way by and his dog would stoop for a drink.
His head in his hands and heart in his mouth, dejected and truly depressed,
He wondered how it all happened and what to do for the best.
Was it the entry or take-off that caused the prank to go wrong,
Was it the gauge or maybe his age, or was the bitter too strong.
Perhaps it was a mudbank or an unseasonal build-up of silt,
Or was it the place where two barges embraced and a cargo of coal was spilt.
Too late now to fathom excuses - the opposing gambler had won -
The coined had been tossed, Bushy had lost and the unfortunate mishap was done!
The wounded cry of a wren flitting by was the only sound to be heard,
Except for the trickling of water, no one uttered a word.
All along the silent shore the carefree frolic died,
Many a heart was torn apart and many a hard man cried.
The wounded squalk of an inquisitive coot, the plaintive call of a plover -
The feeling was strong that something was wrong - the holiday was over.
As the golden lamp of life looked down in sympathetic glare,
Where smiles once beguiled and the slumbering child was oblivious to care,
Through the thick and humid air, a tipsy cabbage-white,
Fluttered over Bushy`s feet and wobbled out of sight.
Close up to the watery tomb the glum procession came.
The angry keeper fought them back but still they came again.
Old Wilf Jones sank to his knees and slumped against the wall -
The loss was overwhelming - the pain was felt by all.
Elsie Higgins, plump and low, her shoulders red and raw,
Came storming to the water's edge, incensed at what she saw.
" You brainless fool, what have you done " ! - the frantic woman cried,
As she gazed upon the dizzy height which Bushy had defied.
Now Elsie was the only love the reckless diver knew -
To him she was so loyal - to her he was so true,
Such cause had she to weep and rage in this her darkest hour,
For Bushy was her bumble bee and she his only flower.
By the grassy verge she stood with hands pressed on her hips -
Her tears fell like a cataract upon her trembling lips.
" Someone help " ! - the wench cried out, with panicking increased,
So young John Smith lept on his bike to fetch the local police.
With wiry limbs, elastic lungs and swift determination,
The chariot wheels of the nimble youth screeched outside the station.
Rope, grappling hooks and prayers were all the tools they had -
The sergeant and his frogman pursued the dauntless lad.
If time and motion went to war, they fought a dire affray -
Each minute seemed an hour - each hour seemed like a day,
Yet in the true dimension which shocks exaggerate,
It was less than fifteen minutes since Bushy met his fate.
As the parish clock struck quarter past, the hazy sunlight frowned,
As a mass of menacing storm clouds crept o`er the shimmering pound.
The motionless air began to stir and rush through the swaying corn,
And over the hills dark vapours distilled around the edge of the storm.
Now while the skylark strutted home towards her secret nest,
A clap of thunder shook the earth and all the folk got dressed,
Succeeded by a rumbling roar and then a mighty crack,
As raindrops fell like splashing pearls upon the bobby`s mac.
In jumped Ted the frogman with a rope coiled round his neck -
He was half drowned already so he didn`t give a heck.
With a furious flap from his flippers and slick profession haste -
The twine went down, then twice around, he had him by the waist.
Now while the skylark sat below she blinked a winking eye -
The storm flew past the heavens at last and all the world was dry.
The sun shone down a radiant smile upon the clover spread,
And glistened on the buttercups around old Bushy`s head.
The sergeant threw his helmet down and called for space and light,
But as he knelt by Bushy`s side he got an awful fright.
The bargeman beamed a cautious smile - the farmer came up close,
And Aunty Nellie darted back and stood on Elsie`s toes
Locky Joe was not amused but later found it funny -
The weed-strewn corpse upon the grass was an ingenious plastic dummy!
No doubt it was a cunning hoax - a well-planned faked disaster,
And as they marvelled at the plot the crowd cracked up with laughter.
The buzzing throng was jubilant and milled around with glee,
As one by one they slipped away and drifted home for tea.
And as they left, the sluice gated shut, the gushing torrents stilled -
The weary Locky ambled home and the glorious pound was filled.
The bargeman and the farmer exchanged a fain goodbye,
Leaving Elsie on the towpath scowling at the sky...
Where...in sheepish pose upon the bridge a bashful figure sat.
He nibbled on a piece of straw and clutched a bathing cap.
How he got there no one knew, or where he had come from -
He`d played the smartest prank of all - his name was Bushy Tom.

Copyright 2018 Kevin Holcroft