The life and times of a dialect poet, Jack of all trades and a rolling stone
Last updated at 20:20, Thursday, 31 May 2012
Bandylan Bet was born in Penruddock.
That’s what old time Cumbrian poet John Rayson tells us in his dialect poem titled, quite appropriately, Bandylan Bet.
I mentioned Rayson a few weeks ago when he undertook the translation of The Song of Solomon into Cumbrian dialect for Prince Louis Lucien Bonaparte, who’d obviously heard about his reputation as one of Cumberland’s dialect writers.
Knowing little or nothing about this local versifier, I did a spot of reading up about him. And that’s when I came across this poem – one of many which he penned about Cumberland lasses.
I do hope she wasn’t a real person. She’d most certainly have been aggrieved if she was. How about:
“Her thick tatty hair is aw leyke a ling bosom
And hings shaggy down oer her dun heavy brow;
Her rough heavy skin is aw like an Egyptian’s,
Her tongue is as big as the swole ov her shoe.”
I know it’s in dialect, but nothing you can’t work out for yourself.
The next few verses catalogue further her physical shortcomings: eyes like tea cups, hairy chin, legs like mill posts – and “feet flat as flounders.”
Added to which, the poet observed that “she’s nit verra wise.”
She eventually married some poor soul who she bossed around and “kick’d at his shins till she’s made him quite lame.”
Not a nice person! Was she a real person? Did any of his poetic “lasses” ever exist?
Probably not! I suspect that many of his verses were written to be read out at dinners and socials – and they were meant, albeit in a rather quirky fashion – to be humorous.
In 1845, he’d written the following for an anniversary dinner for the officers of the Penrith Union. The Deil’s I’ The Lasses o’ Pearith.
“The Deil’s i’ the lasses o’ Pearith,
For navvies they’re aw ganan mad;
Sin Sandgate is full o’ thur fellows
Each lass has forsaken her lad.”
The area was full of navvies who were building the Lancaster & Carlisle Railway – and they’d attracted quite a number of camp followers. On a serious note, the officers responsible for the administration of the poor law were only too aware that the eventual outcome of this fraternisation would be an unintended increase in the population.
Rayson would have been only too aware of this because he was appointed assistant overseer for the Penrith Union in 1845.
Rayson packed a lot into his relatively short life – he died, aged 56, in September 1859, after suffering a severe heart attack.
Trying to piece together all the details of his life is a challenge. Rayson was obviously a restless individual. I see him both as a rolling stone and a Jack of all trades.
He relocated on many occasions during his lifetime and creating an accurate chronology of his achievements poses a few problems.
He was born, one of three brothers, in Aglionby, three miles from Carlisle. His father’s family had lived there for “centuries.” For some reason, his father moved the family to Irthington for a few years, before returning to Aglionby. His father, reputedly, was planning a life as a farmer for him.
This was bad news for his education. Sons of farmers were often kept home to work on the farm – often only infrequently attending school. But farming was not for him and he opted to train as a draper in Carlisle. But he didn’t stick at it.
Then followed a spot of school teaching. He was persuaded to “enter into business” in Carlisle – but, again, it didn’t last. Then he went off to London, as a draper’s assistant, followed by “engagements” in Bristol, Bath and Sunderland. Doing what?
Knowing his mother was seriously ill, he came back home to see her. But on the very evening he arrived, she’d already been buried in the day.
A number of jobs followed, none of them lasting for very long. He resigned from his Penrith Union overseer’s post in 1849, leaving Penrith to live near Carlisle. He came back to Penrith and set up as an accountant.
He also did a spot of reporting for local papers, but then that was nothing new. In his early years he’d written for the The Citizen – a Carlisle paper – and, when in London, he’d also written for literary magazines.
He might have given up on many projects during his lifetime – but he never gave up on his writing.
First published at 19:22, Thursday, 31 May 2012
Published by http://www.timesandstar.co.uk