EPISODE 47: ROBERT LEARNS ABOUT LIQUORICE
My love and I did meet
And many a burdened licorice bush
Was blooming round our feet;
Red hair she had and golden skin,
Her sulky lips were shaped for sin,
Her sturdy legs were flannel-slack'd
The strongest legs in Pontefract.
from The Licorice Fields At Pontefract by Sir John Betjeman
with Guest Presenter Queen Victoria
Greetings, our loyal subjects! We were particularly delighted to be asked to participate in this instructive and entertaining series of educational presentations. We have always believed in education. We have long held that a nation that ignores the education of its children is likely to have the biggest and bestest Empire of all, but we are not one to ignore the lessons of history or to stand in the way of progress, as we have evidenced by our patronage of the likes of Mr Disraeli and Marie Lloyd. Furthermore, being dead, we are in no position not to be amused at the way that our nation has developed since our death. Indeed, as I was often wont to remark to Albert, it is.......[that's quite enough of that, nobody's interested in all that rubbish these days - Ed.]
Today, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart are in the bracing seaside resort of Bridlington on the North Yorkshire coast. They are here to sample the sea air, the Bridlington Bay panorama and later they will be on the beach with fisherman Jackie Nabbox as he inspects his nets to see how many sea bass he has caught this fine, if blustery, day.
But what's this, pals? Kristen is restless. She is looking at a blank sheet of paper entitled What's On In Bridlington? Here we go again! Yes, there she goes, off in search of gothic excitements and vampyre vanities. She's heading for the fun fair, where, no doubt, she will soon attract the unwelcome attentions of common loafers, hawkers, swells, roughs and gentlemen of the clergy.
Indeed, they will be at her "like to the buzzing bees under their pot in honey", as my dear Albert would have said. They will be "like unto the flies that gather at a cow's arsehole", as Mr Gladstone was often heard to remark, when he was playing cards and enjoying a few restorative glasses of laudanum at Madame Chang's in Upper Swandam Lane. To witness Mr Gladstone at Parliament is one thing. To see him at Madame Chang's, seated between a brace of Chinese Ladybirds in his fez and smoking jacket when he was relaxing after a hard day's governing is quite another. Albert used to tell me such tales. Once he told me about how Matthew Arnold and Charles Dodgson had been round the alehouses, and then they rolled up roaring drunk at Madame Chang's at three in the morning. Mr Arnold had somebody else's top hat on and Mr Dodgson's braces had burst and he was singing "Twinkle twinkle little bat" in a voice like Mr Disraeli's. Then, who should walk in but Charles Kingsley, with an actress on either arm. Well, Mr Arnold took one look at Mr Kingsley, and.......[how many times do I have to tell you: get on with it, people haven't the attention span these days, they will be wondering what all this has to do with Robert Pattinson - Ed.]
Will poor Kristen ever learn? I expect so, eventually, when she is in a home for fallen women and is quite quite ruined, but, until that day shall dawn, and even after it, Robert will have to seek educational opportunities on his own again....... [ look, just get on with it, I won't tell you again, we could have got Florence Nightingale you know - Ed.]
And so then, there we were in Pontefract. Robert had consulted his Bradshaw and an idea had occurred. "Let us go to Pontefract", he said, before he got there (it would have been the act of a foolish young man to have uttered these words after disembarking at Pontefract Tanshelf station), and so, the tickets were vouchsafed, and we wended our way thereto.
"Let us go to Pontefract, Queen Victoria", said Robert, while he was yet in Bridlington, "for there we shall see the old liquorice fields and surely we must learn all about liquorice, for is not Pontefract famed for its Pontefract cakes, which are the unique small liquorice sweets upon whose renown the renown of Pontefract is surely based. I have heard so much about these Pontefract cakes from fellow Twilight actor Taylor Lautner and my friend String who sings in the famous skiffle band The Police.
"And", continued Robert, as we stood at Bridlington railway station, before we departed for Pontefract, "did not you yourself, Queen Victoria, eat rather too much liquorice, and did not this wreak havoc upon your very bowels and ravage your erstwhile pearl-white teeth?"
I was forced to admit the truth of this, with the exception that my teeth were rotten long before I acquired my liquorice habit. But let us not dwell upon the past.
Soon we were a-visiting. And what we visited was nothing less than the home of one Mr Albert Dunghill, who is a descendant of the last liquorice-farming Pontefract family.
We stood and looked at the Tesco store which is all that remains of the former liquorice fields of Pontefract, that was owned by the Dunghill family. Robert was silent, a tear forming in the corner of his left eye. I could not observe his right eye, as I was only able to view his profile. "This is indeed a pathetic vista", he whispered.
Albert Dunghill - who I must admit I found to be a rather bombastic, huff and puff sort of person, and whose every sentence seem'd to be prefaced by the phrase "My Great-Grandfather who built this house and built up the business" - said "My Great-Grandfather Ivor Dunghill, who built this house and built up the liquorice business, told me that the reason people call liquorice 'Spanish' is because the liquorice plant is a Spanish plant", and then we were away down the lane bordered with dog rose and the creamy froth of hawthorn blossom, in earnest search of the factory that makes Pontefract cakes.
This we discover'd - precisely where we must have expected to find it - in a factory that makes the Pontefract cakes.
Afterwards, as we rested outside, Robert said: "I have always wanted to see these Pontefract cakes being made, Queen Victoria, and, now that I have seen them being made, I can say without fear of contradiction that I have seen them being made.
"And what is more, I have learnt something new. I always thought that the cakes were hand-made by Yorkshire milk-maids and urchins in flat caps and knickerbockers with rickets and the irrepressible charm of the pauper.
"But now I see that this is not so, notwithstanding the possibility that it was indeed the case in days of yore. Verily, I am one who is humbled and saddened to discover that the cakes are now manufactured by machineries, for I now know that my friends Taylor Lautner and String have been playing me for the fool, with their tales of milk-maidens and cheeky pauper urchins kneading the liquorice dough and trimming the diminutive Pontefract cakes with their unwashed hands."
It was an older and wiser Robert Pattinson who accompanied me in the first class carriage on the short journey back to Bridlington.
"Once again", he sighed, "I have discovered that we learn something every day in this life." I smiled, glad to have helped a young man on his journey to manhood.
Back in "Brid", we were forced to put all liquorice thoughts away, for it was time to find Kristen again.
"Poor Kitty", said Robert. "I am afraid that we shall find her dishevelled and bedraggled, a mere waif, now that those toughs and low fairground fellows will have had their fill of her. We shall have our work cut out again, but we must persevere, for she is a good girl at heart, if a right slapper when she gets the urge."
And so we hied to the fun fair, in search of our errant companion. I was forced to muse upon two problems, as we walked along Quay Road.
- I fear that "Kitty", too, will have learned something new on this fateful day of days
- these crinolines are a bugger to walk in, authentic period detail or not
- I'll have to apologise for the dodgy shift from present to past tense in this article - being dead has played havoc with my temporal sensibilities
Next week: Robert learns about molasses with Lord Boothby