The ragman always made us jump
When he came round our way
Shouting " Ragbone " in the street
In the middle of the day
As we ran out to meet him
To give his horse some bread -
Touch it's nose and stroke it
And pat it on the head
While he went round the back yards
Calling loud and bold
For old zinc tubs and boilers
And rags and woollens old.
It had a warm and sticky tongue
And two great hazel eyes
And off it's big broad shiny back
The steam would gently rise.
We'd stroke it's mane and shoulders
And pat it on the rump
And sometimes if we got too close
It sneezed and made us jump.
He'd give us cups and saucers
Or a couple of donkey brands
For old scrap iron, rags and clothes
And take them off our hands
And as he moved off up the road
We'd follow for a spell
To the clippety clop on cobbles
And shout "Ragbone" as well.
Clippety-clop on cobbles
With it's big brown wooden feet -
We'd watch the ragman and his horse
Go round from street to street
To the sound of shiny metal shoes
Clanging on the stones
As the ragman called out "giddy up"
And shouted out "Ragbone"
And sometimes he`d give us a ride
For a little spell
And let us climb up on his cart
And shout "Ragbone" as well!

Rocking Chair.

A rocking chair we had in Ince -
A full-sized wooden one
Which had a wide and slippery seat
With a big square cushion on.
It was our prized possession
And we rocked away in pairs
Between the hearth and coal-hole
Near the wooden stairs
Back and forth and back and forth
It did it's job all right
And never got a minutes rest
Morning, noon and night.
Twas old and full of scratches
And squeaked and creaked a lot
With two big heavy rockers
On which we'd stand and rock.
One arm was loose and wobbly -
It's joint had worn a bit
So we packed it in with paper
To make a tighter fit.
It came down through the family
And it's face could tell a tale -
It's legs were thin and nobbled
And it's back had lost a rail
But it did perform with relish
And took us through the gears
And gave us plenty exercise
Up and down the years.
Often we would fight for it
And squabble for a go
And push each other tirelessly
Along the old stone floor
My Aunty Mary loved it
And we had to watch our toes
How she didn't cut them off
Only heaven knows -
She'd start off at a canter
And then accelerate
Humming in a frenzy
At a most alarming rate.
Back and forth and back and forth
Slowly shifting space
It crept across the fireplace
And moved from place to place.
It rode upon the hearth rug
And inched across the floor
From the back wall to the table
Towards the pantry door.
It was our rock of ages
Our infant lullaby
And gave us much to think about
As the years went by.
Twas a member of the family
Like a best friend - always there
And if there's anything I miss in life
I miss that rocking chair !

Roller Coaster.

You're either high or either low,
Either weak or strong,
Either fast or either slow -
We just get carried along,
Life is a Roller Coaster you see,
Where the peaks and the valleys do hide,
Unknowing where the next place will be,
Is in the mystique of the ride.
You're either here or either there,
Having a rise or a fall,
Down on the ground or up in the air,
And scarce on the level at all.
Life is a Roller Coaster my friend,
With no control of the trip,
Can't avoid a swerve or a bend,
And can't pull out of a dip.
We've just got to take the ride as it goes,
Along with all of the rest,
Taking the twists with the highs and the lows,
And simply hope for the best.

Saint Williams.

Saint Williams church is closing down -
So the rumour goes
Why and when exactly
No one really knows
But we are shocked and horrified
That such a thing could be -
We've known it all our adult life
From our infancy.
Our ancestors and fathers
All went there to pray
And now it's closing down for good?
God forbid the day!
We shouldn't let it happen
And we shouldn't take it light -
It's an ecumenical matter
But it's definitely not right.
What will we do without it
It's been around so long
Propping up the heart of Ince
With mass and evensong.
It's our ancient institution
And It's always been the same
Behind the cherry blossom trees
Down in Ince Green lane.
Who's going to listen to our sins
And dish out bread and wine
And pass the silver tray along
As we worship the Divine?
We shouldn't let it happen -
This blow is much too hard
It's an outrage of religion
And a sin against the Lord.
It's been our rock of ages
In this little parish town
And life will never be the same
If they choose to close it down.
Who will read the scriptures
And wear the holy frock
To sanctify our families
And bless our little flock.
Who will then look over us
And teach us wrong from right -
Harken our confessions
And guide us to the light.
Who'll baptise our babies
And keep out children blessed
And when our little lives are through
Lay our souls to rest.
It's a crime against all Incers
Wherever they may be
To close Saint Bills for ever
For all posterity.
It's all too unacceptable -
This catastrophic news
We should occupy and barricade
Our little church with pews
We should climb upon the vestry roof
And get down on our knees -
Wave our crucifixes
And shake our rosaries.
We shouldn't let it happen
It's far too much to face -
It's bang out of order
And a spiritual disgrace
To shut down our Saint Williams
After all these years
Can only bring us heartache
And penitential tears.
What the devil's going on
To meddle with our creed?
We'll call on Saint Theresa
And Paul to intercede!
We'll tell the Holy Mary
And the blessed Sacred Heart
This cruel and ungodly act
Will tear our lives apart.
We'll reach out to Saint Benedict
And pray to help us cope
With succour, strength and fortitude,
Deliverance and hope
And if our prayers are in all vain
And we don't hear a thing -
We'll get on to the Vatican
And give the Pope a ring!

She has an Ageless Smile.

She has an ageless, warming smile
A wise and gentle face -
Kind mother of remembrance
And time's reward for grace.
Nostalgia is the sweetest thing
That makes us yearn and sigh
As we recall the golden days
And happy times gone by.
But let us not deceive ourselves
Those times were bought with tears
Through doubts and sore misgivings,
Anxiety and fears.
It's the challenge and the struggle
That made the memories sweet
And the way we strove and triumphed
And overcame defeat
It's the way in which we did it
With the consequences hid
That makes the fondness memorable
And not the things we did.
So when we feel nostalgic
As oft we like to get
Remember that it's not with joy
We pine in retrospect
But with a fain and grateful heart
That we are here today
Though sadness and uncertainty
Plagued us all the way
That makes nostalgia what it is -
Not the love we yearned
But sweet congratulation
For the victories we earned.

She is my Friend in the Kitchen.

She's my friend in the kitchen - my treasured P.C.
It's a kind of affair between you and me.
She's there in the morning and last thing at night -
Slim and attractive - what a beautiful sight.
Our minds work together - we've got this rapport -
I wish I had met her a long time ago.
She always responds to my every command,
And brings up the goods straight to my hand.
She doesn't complains, argue or slack,
Just gets on with the job and never talks back.
She shows me the world at the click of a mouse,
And I don't need to go out of the house.
We're good for each other and we get along,
And never gets cross when I do something wrong.
She's silent and modest with so much to say,
And works so hard for me every day.
Without her now just where would I be -
MY friend in the kitchen - my treasured P.C.

Sign Upon a Church.

There was a sign upon a church
Which lit up in the night
In the long, dark hours of winter time
And it was a guiding light.
It guided me along the way
In the uncertain days back when
And it's lit the darkness of my life
Along the way from then.
' I am the light of the world ' it said
On the road from Higher Ince -
I often see it in my dreams
And I've not forgot it since
On Little Rose Bridge Methodists
From Wigan on the right
Is where the light shone down on me
As I passed there in the night.
And it lit my many wanderings
In the darkness of that time
With a red cross on the background
Of a little neon sign.
With a message of salvation
In crimson words above
Preaching faith and righteousness
And universal love.
Twas a sign supernatural
Mysterious and calm
Which lit the dismal world around
With a radiance soft and warm
With hands that reached towards me
And drew me ever near
And arms that folded round me
Dispelling all my fear
And with a smile it lead me on
With whispers sweet and low
To realms of peace and wonder
I'd never been before
And it brought me to the love of God
And a bright new world apart
Which woke my soul to joy of life
And opened up my heart.
I used to pass there often times
Through the grim, dark streets of strife
And it guided me in loneliness
Through the struggles my life
And it gave me strength and comfort
Just by those words alone
When I was lost and searching
In my life in Ince back home
And it gave me hope and fortitude
From those days ever since -
' I am the light of the world ' it said
On a church in Higher Ince.

Skilly Levi.

Eternal seemed those boyhood days so wistful to recall,
The times we splashed in little streams and scaled the factory wall -
The tireless games of Tick and Pass - the summer cricket fought -
The magic hours of winter fun the sudden snowfall brought.
Those darkened nights held treasured light unique in memory laid,
The hidden thrills of Hide and Seek and other games we played.
Through the dim-lit streets of then, excited souls would run,
When Taplatch rapped his victim door the evening chase begun.
Those dens of frolic, random romps, the cobbled courtyard crowned,
And there amidst the bandit gloom the latest scheme went round.
Skilly Levi, one, two, thee - coming ready or not -
The backstreet chase was under way - the winter's chill forgot.
Beneath the gaslamp's crooked arm, it's spreading amber ray,
The game of Ticky off the Ground a nightly group would play -
Leapfrog by the old school gated - Jack Shine the Light -
The paths of freedom brought us joy throughout the endless night.
Down the carefree slopes of then a happy sledge would ride,
And earlobes tingled to the boil upon the moonlit slide.
Towards the towering gable end a wandering band would slow,
Pause to gather winter's fruits and splat the wall with snow,
And there upon the corner step where passed the hardship crowd,
Enshrouded in November mist the tattered Guy sat proud.
Skilly Levi, one, two, three - coming ready or not -
The backstreet chase was under way - the winter's chill forgot.
Securing warmth surrounds the spot and charcoal smiles amazed,
And crackling wonder gathered round to where the bonfire blazed.
Closer towards the dwindling flame a faithful few would stay,
To nurture out the dying sparks and prod the night away.
Those Backs behind the huddled row where many a venture trailed,
The sloping pantries, open yards. the prowls of mischief hailed.
Often by the crumbling gate the rascal deed was cursed,
And from the lighted corner shop the culprit band dispersed.
But the doorstep scoundrel stood to shine and angels came to see,
When heaven pulsed a festive joy upon the Christmas tree.
Skilly Levi, one, two, three - coming ready or not -
The backstreet chase was under way - the winter's chill forgot.
Bent to beat the fading light, the grey October close.
Higher up the chestnut trail our busy missions rose,
And full returned, the bounty shared, the polished prize was wheeled -
A few jagged shells at random strewn the morning light revealed.
From early eve until the pitch a hearty game we played,
Till bedtime called us home at last and peace patrolled the shade,
Then up and down the narrow street - across the midden mound,
Each entry echoed through the night that old familiar sound -
Skilly Levi, one, two, three - coming ready or not -
The backstreet chase was under way - the winter's chill forgot.

Smile Unforgettable.

The smile was unforgettable,
Unfading, deep and rare
It spoke of generosity
And beamed with human care.
I knew him well and proudly
Was honoured by his life -
His smile was warm and gentle
In a world of human strife.
I watched him play and wondered
How such a gentle soul
Could have the grit and passion
To fight for a try or goal
And still he smiled no matter,
Regardless or in spite
From ear to ear so bashfully
Like a beacon in the night.
I knew him well and honestly
Was lifted by his gaze -
His shy and calm demeanor
And kind and thoughtful ways.
I wondered where he came from
And what made him glow
With humble, sweet sincerity
Those happy years ago.
Such was my impression
And admiration then
He stood apart in many ways
From most other men.
His visage calm and constant
Assuring, fixed and bright -
His frame relaxed and postured
And eyes full of light.
I knew him well and blessedly
Loved the man I knew
For his sympathetic nature
And heart good and true -
His smile is everlasting -
His soul will linger on
Through the darkness of this rueful world
Long after he is gone.

Sometimes on a Sunday.

Sometimes on a Sunday
If a house ran out of food
In Ince it was a tragedy
For the common multitude.
There's nothing worse than hunger
And the gnawings of the gut
And you can't do nowt about it
When all the shops are shut.
Tis then we used the Back Door
Of the local corner shop
For Cow and Gate for the baby
When her crying wouldn't stop
"Mi mam said can you serve us with"
Is what we meekly said
"With a jar of bramble seedless jam
And a thin sliced loaf of bread" -
A bottle of milk - five woodbines,
As the time was getting late -
They wrapped it up in paper
And put it on the slate.
Thank God for the local Back Door
And the grocer's sigh and frown -
They'd pull a face and grumble
But never let us down
With sugar for the morning
And tobacco for the mine -
"Can you never come" they'd say
"At a proper time"?
They pulled out of trouble
And strictly broke the law
But they wouldn't see us hungry
And that's what they were for.
Our saviour's in the retail trade
Looked after us in Ince
But they never do it nowadays
And I haven't used one since.

Spring's Branch.

Springs Branch sheds was the place to go
In Ince for a growing boy
Who loved the old steam railway
And the engines were his joy.
They used to let us wander round
At leisure to and fro
To see the old steam locos
Standing in a row -
All waiting to be fitted,
Inspected or repaired
And we could walk around all day
Once we got the word.
It was a fascinating place
And the atmosphere relaxed
With all those mighty engines
In lines along the tracks -
Motionless and silent,
Lifeless and at rest
After years of heavy labouring
And giving up their best.
Outside the speeding passengers
And the ceaseless rumbling freight
Rattled by in clouds of steam
At a loud industrious rate
A mile or so from Wigan
And the busy stations there
The clanging, screeching, belching sounds
Were music to the ear
And the ghostly rows of signal stacks
Scattered up and down
Gave a pleasing air of eeriness
To the edge of Wigan town
For a boy with a book and pencil
In the pocket of his coat
Bewildered - yet excited
In a haze of smells and smoke
In the midst of a steaming frenzy
And a world of iron and steel
Hissing, chugging - clashing by -
Twas like a passing dream,
Filled with the vacant wonder
Of a great experience
At Spring Branch in the morning
For a boy from Higher Ince.

Strangest Sight.

The strangest sight in all the world
In Ince I've ever seen
Was not a miner coming home
With a visage nice and clean
Nor was it a mill girl
Chirpy, bright and fair
Carrying her basket
Without cotton in her hair
And it surely wasn't lovers
Making fancy talk
Or someone eating pie and chips
With a knife and fork.
It was the Indian salesmen
Walking round in pairs
Carrying a suitcase
Full of silken wares
With their bright coloured turbans
And face of golden brown
Peddling cravats and scarves
Up and down the town.
I'd seen the gypsy's come and go -
Ponies, pets and all
And camp out by the rabbit rocks
Upon a social call
With their wagons, kids and caravans -
They came up all the time
Selling sprigs and rabbits feet
And clothes pegs for the line
But I'd never seen a beard before
Or pearl-white, shiny teeth
With a spot upon the forehead
And a shirt and tie beneath
I'd seen an engine push another
And a double dragonfly
But not a hawker from Bengal
In a raincoat. shirt and tie.
I'd seen the grinder on his bike
Sharpening tools and knives
And various professions
From all walks of life
But I'd never seen an Indian
Like an oriental prince
Striding on the cobble stones
Up in Higher Ince.

Strangest Thing.

The strangest thing I've seen in Ince
Is a mystery to me yet -
Why women rubbed a little stone
Around the front door step.
It seems insanity today
To scrub and wash a stone
At the mercy of all weathers
Outside a terraced home
Yet scrub - they always did it
Like some religious rite
With pinnacle and detol
Then chalked it round with white.
The same with paving stones inside -
They treated them the same
Like sacred ancient monuments
Up and down the lane.
They got them from the ragman
Or from the hardware shop
And used them with a scrubbing brush -
A bucket and a mop.
I've never known why they did it
And why they loved it so
Stretched out on their hands and knees
Chalking on the floor.
There's nought amiss in bleaching slabs
As far as I'm concerned
To brighten up the household
And kill off all the germs
But then to use a donkey brand
To edge them round with white
To me does not seem sensible
Logical and right
And I still fail to understand -
That's all that I can say
It was a mystery back then
And still remains today.

Suffer the Little Children.

"Suffer the little children
Not to come to me"
Said the good lord Jesus
On a stroll through Galilee
But he didn't have them all the time
Like our children do
That's why we grand uns hand them back
When the day is through
I'm a silly Billy granddad
Whenever they come round -
The mental transformation
In me is most profound -
My aches and pains just vanish
And my worries disappear
And I become as one of them
Whenever they come here -
I get for nowt excited
And try to wind them up
As soon as I set eyes on them
Like a giddy pup.
It's like a second shot at it -
Childhood in a flash -
Acting like a circus clown -
Reckless, bold and brash
And but for lack of energy
I'd drive them to their bed
But they always see a day of me
And put me there instead
I'm a silly, giddy granddad
And grandma is the same -
It's all apart of being in
The evolution game -
Round and round the circle goes
From strict and trying times
Back again to being young
And singing nursery rhymes
To the innocence of infancy
When we were same as them
Rejuvenated for a while
To be back there again -
Carefree, happy, fresh and new
And free from earthly woe -
Alive and full of oxygen
And miserable no more
I'm a silly, Billy granddad
And give them what they like -
I take them to the toffee shop
And put them on my bike.
They love to be around us
Cos we don't shout at all
And threaten them with discipline
If they drive us up the wall.
But you can't be too hard all the time
And this I think they know
So we have to spoil them just a bit
With love before they go.

Sweetest Sound.

The sweetest sound I heard in Ince
Was not the nightingale -
The sunset yellowhammer
Or the skylark o'er the dale
Twas the sound of cloggs on cobbles
As the miners made their way
In the misty early morning
To the mine at break of day
It meant the bread was coming
And the rent was being paid -
Twas sweeter than a violin
And the music that it played
The clatter on the cobbles
And the sound of steel on stone
Would keep a roof above us
And keep us in a home
And only one sound sweeter
And only one alone
Was the sound of cloggs and cobbles
Of the miners coming home!

Squeaky Pulley.

We had a squeaky pulley
Back home in Irish Town
Upon which rode a clothes line
That rumbled up and down
Whenever a hand did raise it
Or gently let it fall
With a rope tied to a little hook
Upon the pantry wall
And on it went the towels -
The nappies, sheets and drawers,
Corsets, socks and trousers
All on three wooden bars.
Up and down it went all day
As the flaming hearth did burn -
It rumbled all the floorboards
And squeaked at ever turn
As it pulled our shirts and ganseys
Cottons, wool and lace
And raised them to the ceiling
Above the fireplace
Where it dried our fond belongings
And all the clothes we wore
Straight out from the dolly tub
And wringer down below -
Our linen, quilts and duvets
Shirts and underwear
And placed them by the chimney breast
With tender, loving care
And it squeaked and rumbled on and on
As the years went by
Pulling all our laundry
Above our heads to dry -
Our vests, skirts and bloomers,
Coloureds, darks and lights,
Curtains, bras and stockings,
Rompers, bibs and tights
And like a yoyo up and down
It dried our worldly wears
From the cradle to the playground
To our adolescent years
Drying shorts in Summer
And cottons in the Spring -
Throughout the Fall and Winter
It dried most everything
And as it did it rumbled
And squeaked out with delight
In the clamorous early morning
And the quiet and peaceful night
Never fainting from the task
As if it really knew
Without our little clothes line
What else could we do ?
And thanks to that squeaky pulley
Which held so fast the line
We never got pneumonia
And our clothes were dry on time.

Take Me Back.

Take me back to the buntings
And let me hear them sing -
To the lapwings in the meadow
And the skylarks on the wing.
Stand me by the slagtip
And leave me free to roam
O`er the memories of my childhood
And the old grey hills of home.
Let me see the bullfinch
And smell the scented breeze -
The moorhens by the waterside
And the sparrows in the trees.
Let me feel the freedom
To stride those carefree ways
To the hawthorn by the wayside
And the winding waterways.
Take me to the hilltops
Where as I child I stood
To see the cattle in the fields
And the rich green shaded wood
Our little house in the distance
And the winding county lanes -
The soaring kestrel up above
And the trails of aeroplanes.
Sit me on the Rabbit Rocks
On a lovely summer's day
Above the wandering towpaths
To watch the butterflies play -
By the grassy boulders
Where once I sat before
In the smooth, warm sleepy hollows
As the engines passed below.
Take me back to Higher Ince
To the smiles and cobble stones -
To the backs and sloping pantries
Of Incers and their homes
And let me walk those streets again
Where I was raised and grown
Among the simple gradely folk
And the old grey hills of home.
Then lead me to my little house
And sit me at the sill
Of my bedroom facing westwards
To Scholes and Parbold Hill
Where often I would watch the sun
Decline with an orange glow
In majesty and splendour
Over Wigan town below
Then I will lay me down to rest
A wise, contented man
To end my days in triumph
At home where I began.

Tek All In, and Se Nowt!

Tek all in and se nowt -
My wise old granddad said
Before he passed away in Ince
And "deeud" - he was dead
But he left me with some magic lines
Written by the Bard
While whittling with his penknife
On a stick in his back yard -
"What light through yonder window breaks" -
Yelled one of his despairs
When someone left the bulb on
Or the landing light upstairs
Or "well met by moonlight"
To the world he did implore
When the kids turned off the gaslamp
In the street outside his door
And that "to be or not to be" -
When feeling old and bored
He thought that he'd be better off
Away and eyt u road.
"True love never did run smooth" -
That is "the course" of it
(But I had to write it down like that
Cos I couldn't make it fit.)
He left some pearls of wisdom
When he "shuffled off his coil"
Which no amount of constant use
Can passing time despoil -
"Upon this bank and shoal of time"
He'd cite with both eyes shut
When skint and feeling sorrowful
Walking down the cut -
"My kingdom for a horse" he'd beg
When he ran out of luck
When the bookies took him for a ride
And his pockets came unstuck.
"Wake Duncan with thy knocking"
He'd shout when crossed and sore
When he didn't feel like getting up
To answer his front door
And "all the world's a stage" he'd smile -
Instead of "there's the rub"
When he got a big ovation
Singing down the pub.
He left me with some clever stuff
My dear old granddad did
And they were better than his watch
Or a couple of hundred quid -
He left me with his spirit
And personality
Enriched in wisdom by the Bard
And passed it down to me
"Full of wise saws and sayings" -
So often heard today
From the days of granddad and the Bard
In Ince along the way.

Thank God for the Dandelion.

Thank God for the dandelion
Ince's floral queens
Who peeped between the cobbles
To brighten up our dreams
In the long, hot days of summer
And burning dustbin lids
When the tarmac melted on the road
And trickled in the grids
One o'clock, two o'clock,
Three o'clock more -
They told us all what time it was
Before the age of four.
We put them in a bottle
To please our mother's eyes
While digging round with lolly sticks
And making muddy pies
In the long, hot days of summer
With nowhere else to go
We made a little garden
To sit and watch them grow
And edged it round with pebbles
And watered them each day
In the lazy days of summer
To while the time away
While mam was making dinner
And dad was down the mine
We'd blow the little seeds away
To tell us all the time -
One o'clock, two o'clock
Three o'clock, four -
In the long, hot days of summer.


There were toomanyonus
When I was a lad -
One short of a dozen
Including mam and dad.
No sooner had the nappies gone
Another would arrive
In a family of eleven
All fighting to survive.
To feel relaxed and free
Squabbling and niggling
And queueing up for tea.
We`d lean against the sideboard
And sit upon the stairs -
There were toomanyonus
And not so many chairs.
Toomanyonus -
Oh what crowded life
Full of noise and bickering,
Anarchy and strife.
We all sat round the table
Mostly on the floor
Or stood up in a corner
With nowhere else to go.
To ever feel at ease -
Life was one long tussle
Without a thanks or please -
A daily fray for living space,
Light and elbow room
Waiting for an empty cup,
A towel or a spoon.
We couldn`t see the fire
And fought to feel it`s heat -
There were toomanyonus
To hear each other speak
Toomanyonus -
What a nightly squeeze
Lying on our sides in bed
In two`s and often threes
Fidgeting and fumbling
Poking in the rears,
Tugging on the bedclothes
And coughing down the ears.
Toomanyonus -
To beat the morning squash
Bleary-eyed and zombified
Waiting for a wash -
How we ever got to school
Only heaven knows
All struggling to dress at once
And searching round for clothes.
There were toomanyonus
That`s what it was -
Tolerable in Summer
But Winter was a crush.
We had a little three-piece suite
Which sat us close and tight
To watch the television set
In the house at night -
Twas everybody for himself
And we treated it like forms -
With five sat on the cushions
And six on the arms.
There were toomanyonus
To ever be forlorn,
Lost and God-forsaken,
Lonely and withdrawn.
Toomanyonus -
Oh what a way to be -
At least we moved around a bit
When we were only three.
Six was almost bearable
By nine - the room got small
And when we reached eleven
We couldn`t move at all.
Why not just have one or two
Or maybe three or four
And why we had so many
I will never know
For toomanyonus
Was such an awful strain
But if I had a second choice
I`d be one of nine again.

Copyright 2018 Kevin Holcroft