Hoodening Play 1975

(The sound of the party with Dobbin is heard. Molly enters, does her sweeping, and then calls:)
Come on, Joe; come on all of you
Come on inside — bring Dobbin too
I can't, Moll; he won't come inside
Then let the awkward brute abide
There in the cold; but shut the door
And let the room warm up once more
(Joe, Allan and the Boy enter. They make for the fire or, if there is no fire, the radiator)
Let's see the fire — my God, that's cold!
Ah, my old blood's gone thin and old
The hounds of winter, now let slip
Have got me in their icy grip -
Mumble and squeeze my very heart —
They've got me in a worser part
Their razor teeth, like icicles
Have grasped me by my testicles
And I can hardly gasp with pain
I'll never be the same again
Ah, Boy, none of us will. It's an old world and a bad one, and I don't reckon that can last much longer. Listen:
(Joe, Molly, Allan and the Boy face the audience)
It's cold outside — cold cheerless, dark and dead
From far and near around all life has fled
A cold wind stabs you like a thin steel blade
The trees stand shiv'ring, naked and afraid
And as the sun sinks down and daylight dims
Catch the cold fog upon their colder limbs
And now and then let fall a slow sad tear
And so lament the dying of the year
At plough this afternoon, my horse and I
We saw the sun float down the western sky -
And such a sun — it shed no warmth around
It gave no light — just rested on the ground -
Merely a large round sphere of pastel pink
A garish, tawdry toy — which made me think
The sun's great heat on which live things rely
Was fading, sinking — and would shortly die
As if this earth had been by God forgot
And left to shiver, languish, groan and rot
Yes, the earth's grown ancient — almost run its course
But still once more we're bringing round our horse
T'interrupt our groaning with a moment's mirth
And bring a little life to this dead earth
Bring him in then, Boy
He's coming of his own accord
Christ, he looks wild!
Catch hold of his bridle then, Boy, and lead him round
What, when he's in this mood? Not likely!
(Dobbin, by his aggressive gestures, makes it clear that their apprehension is well-founded)
See how his massive hoof descends
And all the earth about it bends
Feel the dread crash and great vibration
Which shakes the very earth's foundation
See how his jaws, a fearful gin
Would split an oaken stake thrust in
What black and fearful thoughts can lie
Behind the film of that red eye?
What thoughts invade that cool black mind
Deep in its bony box confined?
For your oppressor, what cool hate?
What dread revenge d'ye contemplate?
Within there lies the finished plan
To crush your one oppressor — man
I see the reason in that eye -
Five thousand years of slavery!
(Dobbin continues to look aggressive and to resist all attempts to approach him)
Let's go, and pick him up next year
We can't just go and leave him here
That's true, Moll, gal, but how to shift him?
The five of us could scarcely lift him!
No doubt a bucket full of bran
Would make him shift, or nothing can
Or juicy carrot which we'd dangle
Before his nose — or else a mangle
Or fistful of sweet lush green grass
Or else a spike thrust up his arse!
Or else a little mare on heat
Would no doubt make him move a treat
All of which things we have not got
That's true, friend. Now, I'll tell you what
Why don't we try to sell him here?
I fancies myself as an auctioneer
Temper, wind, legs have all gone now
He'll never pull another plough
He'll never more cart muck afield
Or harrowing make the stiff clods yield
Or pull back home the loaded wain —
Or mount our master's mare again!
Right, then, I shall need a chair. Thank you. And a hammer. You use that, Allan
(During the ensuing speech, Joe's testimony of Dobbin's virtues is frequently interrupted by ribald shouts of disbelief from the audience)
Now, gentlemen, let us commence -
I know you all for men of sense
Who'll start the bidding for this jewel?
Come, come, you know the man's a fool
Who has no eye for quality
First I shall tell his pedigree
The Tzar of Russia owned his sire
And spirited and full of fire
He found him too. He had a friend
An English lord, who once did lend
Some aid unto the Russian state
The Tzar did so appreciate
His friend's brave deed he let him choose
The finest from the royal mews
He chose his sire, as you'll have guessed
Who, shipped to England, proved the best
Mount of his age o'er sticks or flat
Why, my good friends, I tell you that
The Derby, Oaks and National
In '23 he won them all!
You'll find it in the record book
Next year he slipped at Beecher's Brook
And broke his leg. Although he won -
(By this time expressions of disbelief from the audience have become almost too much for even Joe's eloquence)
Alas, his racing days were done
And such the pureness of his blood
His sire was sent at last to stud
(By this time it is impossible for Joe to continue)
A voice from the crowd:
Stuff it — we weren't born yesterday!
I'm afraid this lot are not impressed
Come down, my friend, you've done your best
I'll buy him!
Joe, Allan & Molly:
Eh? You'll what? Don't be daft
I've said I'll buy him and buy him I will
What d'ye want him for, then, Boy?
Courting! Listen!
For my twenty-three years I have gone on two feet
I have plodded through marshes, the fields and the street
In summer so hot I have nigh sweated blood
And in winter been up to my knees in the mud
The man on two feet is despised and abused
Pushed out of the road, and in general ill-used
And chiefly by maids he's thought low, and despised
They honour the figure outlined 'gainst the skies
And so I'll buy Dobbin. Then, my manhood complete
Pick the prettiest wench and sweep her off her feet
With her seated before me we'll ride all the day
Till a pale orange moon will be lighting our way
She'll be tired and against me her body will sway
In the greenwood by then we shall be and I'll say…
That's all very well, Boy, but what will you pay?
We ought to pay him just to take him away!
Right, now then, Joe, boy, help me on
Oh, damn the jade, he's been and gone!
If only I could get astride
Try mounting from the other side
Come on! I'll help you; try again -
Hand on his back and hold the rein
And then vault up upon his back
Watch out! You'll tear his ancient sack!
Now hold him still; I'll try to vault
You've let him go…
          It's not my fault
Be gentler. Force is sure to fail
Try climbing up the bastard's tail!
Look, stand away, Joe… everyone
I'm going to try and take a run
And jump and land upon his back
You'll fetch your head a fearful crack
Now quiet! I shall wait until
He's quietened down and standing still
Right — now then, Boy!
          He's on! He's gripped
His bridle firm. There now, he's slipped
Look, now he's helpless on the ground
And Dobbin's seen
          He's turning round
He's kneeling on him. Come on, drive
Old Dobbin off
          Is he alive?
(Dobbin, the mischief in him for the moment sated, trots away, whilst the rest gather around the prostrate body of the boy)
Alive, Moll, how can he be? Look at his chest
Like a pear in November gone far past its best
Which a concourse of wasps hollow out to its skin
So the lightest of touches can make it cave in
My — look how his back-bone sticks out through his belly
Which area's turned to a noisome black jelly
And look how his hip-bone protrudes through his back
Like some ancient gnarled thorn roots crammed into a sack
St Michael and angels — come the final great trump
Will at last re-assemble this poor lifeless lump —
Put the femur and ulna back in the right place
And re-cast the bits that are lost without trace
Compose what's left as reverently as possible. There… wrap him up
(The Boy is wrapped up in his winding sheet)
Beyond the stab of cold or heat
His spell on this cruel earth complete
We wrap him in his winding sheet
Obscure his life, unknown his name
Sudden and violent death came
Plant in the earth his broken frame
Dull the modest life he led
Coarse, but sincere the tears we shed
In honour of our friend who's dead
The parson solemn words shall sing
And taunt old death about his sting
And then a solemn peal will ring
Nothing 'gainst death can make defence —
God pardon him his least offence
Let's bear our parted brother hence
(Joe and Allan, with the assistance of Molly, hoist the corpse on their shoulders and carry him to the accompaniment of the funeral march)
My God, Joe, my back hurts; I must have a rest
And the thews in my legs, mate, are none of the best
Let's put him down, then
Careful does it. Don't let him fall too hard
Joe and Allan arrange themselves comfortably on either side of the corpse. Joe is the first to speak)
Allan & Moll:
I said, "Alas"
Allan & Moll:
Why? What's up?
Can't you smell it?
Allan & Molly:
Smell what?
This village, this parish, St Nich'las with Sarre -
This vile nasty sty, this bog where we are -
This bubberling [sic] cesspit, this foul, blocked-up sink
From the centre of which comes a nauseous stink -
This pit of corruption, this iniquitous den
This embossed carbuncle, this boil or this wen
This foul fountain of filth, this throbbing black sore
From which thick curdling puss forms a stream on the floor -
This whorehouse, this Bab'lon, this later Gomorrah…
Keep on, Joe, like that…
          We will see you tomorrah!
This old menstrual cloth — Why, have you got to go?
We feel — well, redundant. Do carry on, Joe
No Molly; I've no more. I've finished my say
The place, I suppose, is all right in its way
But you know how in scripture just five righteous men
Could have changed the Lord's mind and made Him think again
About Gomorrah's and Sodom's annihilation
And the total demise of their vile generation
Well, there's Jack Marsh, and the parson, and you, mate and me -
And the fifth was that lad — but he's dead as you see
And not a man else but is steeped in his sin
So any day now, mates, the rot will set in
Ah, that's set in already, for, once God turned his back
The old devil entered to ruin and rack
The house which the Lord built which deserted he found
And commenced with great glee to knock down to the ground
First he sent a great wind and a great storm of rain
To batter the North Aisle again and again
Hail, rain and snow he sent faster and faster
Which eroded the stone-work and rotted the plaster
Then, one Sunday in Advent I was singing so well
That the sound of my voice travelled right down to Hell
Now God's praises the devils can't bear to hear sung
So a great lump of plaster at my bare head they flung
But lucky for me didn't throw with precision
For their arms had got stiff with long lying in prison
Then later in Lent Satan loosened a beam -
Held it poised for the parson and me it would seem
But God sent his angel; poised over our heads
He holds the beam up till we're safe in our beds
And then there's the tower — why, it cracked like dry cheese
(Some words of the prophet Isaiah are these)
A great earthen jar 'twill be mercilessly shattered
There'll be never a shard that lies broken and battered
But now, since the five men to four are diminished
Our fight 'gainst old Nick is presumably finished
So let's join with the rest in the riotous life
Like fed horses each neigh for his own neighbour's wife
There'll be dancing and feasting and drinking and all
And never a maid but we'll thrust to the wall
There'll be unnatural happ'nings and all kinds of sin…
Here, hold it a minute — I want to join in!
Joe, Allan, Moll:
He's alive! Who'd have thought it? Well, just fancy that!
How d'you feel?
Oh, not too bad — just a little stiff
Well, that's no wonder, Allan, if
Whilst he lay there cold and dead
He heard the sinful words I said
Well masters, it is time we went
We hope we leave you well content
When we came in we spoke of cold
The ailment of a world grown old
And showed you youthful promise slain
But now the boy's restored again
We turn our face from death and sin
And let a new hope enter in
This earth had all gone dead and bare
And we, cast down and in despair
Crawled round, devoid of dignity
Till One, in great humility
Came down to judge the quick and dead
And mend the hopeless lives we led
We told of a people sad, dismayed
An empty church…
          A church decayed
But he who can make all things new
Can alter that
          … He works through you
So open up your coffers, friends
Here is a chance to make amends
For acts of pettiness committed
For meanness said, good deeds omitted
These skinny hands you can't ignore
Give freely now, my good friends, for
If ye the Hooden Horse do feed
Throughout the year ye shall not need

Produced by Ben Jones (contact details). All rights reserved. .