Thursday 21 October 2021


                                   St Helen's Church, Northwich, aka 'Witton Church'                                                     

by Dave Roberts

Here's a sad memory from my third year at Sir John Deane's Grammar School in  Northwich. 

Founder's Day was always a big occasion for the school and every October 21st we all made our way through the streets of Northwich from the school's present site in The Crescent, off London Road,  to St Helen's church (usually known, more simply, as 'Witton Church') to celebrate the life and times of Sir John Deane.

Really, it was the school returning to its 'Witton Grammar School' roots, as the site of the original school was close to Witton churchyard.

And when I say 'made our way' I really mean that we were marched to the church in the closest we could get to 'impeccable' school uniform. 
It was impressed on us all that we were 'representing the school' on this most important day in the school calendar and warned to be on our best behaviour.

I was astonished to hear the admonitory speech we were given each year before starting out spoken almost word for word by Michael Palin in 'The Life Of Brian'. This 'representing the school' schtick must have been a standard grammar school thing all over the country. 

My recollections of the service of thanksgiving for the life of SJD and his benevolence in founding the Grammar School are lost in the mists of time.

All I can remember are the school song: 'Floret, Floruit, Floreat Wittona' and the hymn 'God is working His purpose out, as year succeeds to year'.

I must have been a part of this Founders Day service five times from 1964 to 1968, but the only one I really remember was in 1966.

After the service I went home on the North-Western Road Car Co's bus to King Street, Middlewich and switched on the TV, where the story of a horrific happening in Wales was unfolding.

It was the day of the Aberfan disaster in which 116 children and 28 adults were killed when a coal tip above the village was undermined by water seepage, turning the whole structure into a mass of slurry which slipped down the hillside engulfing the school.

Dependable, friendly old Cliff Michelmore was there on the screen telling us of the almost unspeakable horror of what had happened.

It was the second major disaster to impinge upon our young lives (the first being the Kennedy assassination three years earlier) and it was all very hard to take in.

What gave me, personally, pause for thought was that I was at the time reading Robert Llewellyn's 'How Green Was My Valley' in which something like the Aberfan disaster is explicitly forecast. 

Even now, fifty-one years later, I can't hear 'Floreat Wittona' or 'God Is Working His Purpose Out' without thinking of that dreadful day.

Illustration: WALES ON LINE

© Dave Roberts/Salt Town Productions 2017

First published 4th September 2017
Re-published 21st October 2018
21st October 2021

Tuesday 4 February 2020


Note: This originally appeared on QSC (and on our sister site The Middlewich Diary) as a straightforward plug for Lost In The Mist's annual appearance at the Middlewich FAB Festival. 

What we didn't know at the time was that circumstances would conspire to make this LITM's last appearance at the FAB Festival and one of my last  appearances with the band, instantly turning this poster/flyer into something of a historical document.

I'd been working with Bob Webb, doing 'humorous' poems and the odd song, for around five years when it was decided to form a band, with melodeon maestro Ian Murfitt as the third member.

This band needed a name and Lost In The Mist was thought as good a name as any. The band celebrated its tenth birthday in May 2018.

 We had some good times and played some really fab places as well as some really naff ones - the lot of the 'pub band' for ever, of course.

Like any other band, Lost In The Mist's personnel changed over the years, and eventually, in 2017, it was time for another personnel change, when what might be called my 'musical career' came to an end and the sound of LITM was 'refreshed' once more.

No loss at all, of course, to the band. I was never a musician of any sort, and my singing voice was not the best.

But I like to think that, if nothing else, I added a touch of fun and good humour to Lost In The Mist.

I'd hate to be seen as pretentious, but I have to admit that I've always  identified with the words of the immortal Noel Coward:

'I believe that since my life began, the most I've had is just a talent to amuse...'

Better than nothing, though, eh?

Dave Roberts

February 2018

P.S. Current publicity for Lost In The Mist suggests that the line-up changes every two years or so which, apparently, 'keeps our sound and performance fresh and full of life'. Well, thanks a bunch!

P.P.S. February 4th 2020. It was announced during January this year that Lost In The Mist and Bob Webb would not be accepting any further bookings after the end of February.

This also appears on THE MIDDLEWICH DIARY

First published 4th June 2017
Revised and re-published 12th August 2018
and 4th February 2020

Saturday 3 March 2018


If you hold copyright on this photo, please let us know



'Fatal Traction'

A Love Story

by Dave Roberts

My cousin Geoff had an old ERF
Which he loved like a wife and called Nell.
She was way past her prime and the passage of time
Had made her as cranky as hell.

She was falling to bits and she suffered from fits
As her engine had seen better days,
But Geoff loved her still, as a true trucker will,
And put up with her crotchety ways.

The faithful old truck, less by judgment than luck,
Kept on going and seemed to be fine;
But Geoff knew the truth - she was way past her youth
And was close to the end of the line.

She was Geoff's only friend, and he cried at the end
When the plucky old girl broke her crank,
And stopped with a scream in a shower of steam
At the bottom of Congleton Bank.

Blinded by tears, after twenty-five years,
Poor old Geoff bade his Nellie farewell,
And went for a drink and a bit of a think
In the Lion & Railway Hotel.

His Nellie was gone, but life must go on,
And he still had his living to make;
So he phoned up a bloke at a garage near Stoke
Who was known in the trade as Big Jake.

By a great stroke of luck Jake had just the right truck,
A flighty young thing known as Tanya,
With stainless steel wheels - Geoff fell head over heels
In love with this eight-wheeler...Foden...

And they travelled from Kent down to Clwyd and Gwent;
And from Land's End to Southend-On-Sea.
They dropped in at Crewe, in the way lovers do,
And they drove up the A1 for tea.

Meanwhile, for Nell in a scrapyard near Chell
There was nothing but rust and decay.
Forgotten and cold and covered in mould
She was quietly rotting away.

It seemed like the end, but Nell still had a friend,
And it wasn't the close of her story;
One day, at last, a young enthusiast
Bought old Nell and restored her to glory!

He worked very hard in his father's back yard,
'Til she ran like a bat out of Hell,
With an engine he'd bought from a bloke in Southport,
And a new diff and gearbox as well.

One glorious day old Nell went on display,
In her fresh coat of paint she looked new.
Cousin Geoff went along and stood in the throng;
He still loved her, to give him his due.

Old Nell spied the lad, and she felt pretty mad,
When she thought how he'd left her to rot
And gone off for a fling with a cheap Swedish thing
Made from tin cans, as likely as not.

On vengeance intent straight towards him she went,
And just like a fool he stayed put
And smiled with great charm, which turned to alarm
As old Nellie ran over his foot.

The Moral

As this dreadful tale shows, fate can deal awful blows,
And even a truck can be skittish,
And doing a bunk with some cheap foreign junk
Leads to aggro - you're best buying British!

© 2018 Salt Town Productions


This epic love story was written in the 1990s when I was working for ERF Ltd and the company was making a big thing of being 'the last British truck maker' and plastering union flags all over everything in sight.

Even those slanting 'sun rays'  in the ERF trademark (put there because of E.R. Foden's belief in the health giving properties of sunlight - hence 'Sun Works') were made to look like bits of a union jack.

Photo: Commercial Motor

This little bit of doggerel was my attempt to capture the mood of the times. 

A little taste of what ERF's Middlewich operation looked like during those final, fraught days before a series of take-overs finished the company off altogether can be found here:

Just a word on the illustration. We usually like to acknowledge all the photographs used in our blogs,and would like to do so with this one. Unfortunately the photo in question seems to have been put on file without attribution. The fact that it's on our files must mean that we asked for, and were presumably given, permission to use it. If it's your photo, please let us know so that we can acknowledge the fact. Or, if you prefer, we can remove it. But please don't make us do that because, of all the photos I looked at in my search for a truck to play the part of Old Nell, this is my favourite. That's Old Nell as I envisaged her, right there in that photo. Oh, and Geoff's telephone number, as quoted on the truck is, as far as I can recall, ERF's Sun Works telephone number from way back when...

I've had a lot of fun with this little bit of nonsense over the years. Audiences love it, because the story of Nell has obvious 'highs' and 'lows' and, if they're in the right mood, those audiences will respond with cries of 'Awwwwww...' (for the sad bits) and 'Hooray!' (when you get to the happy bits).

It's obvious, of course, what kind of truck Tanya is. I'm not saying that in a censorious way. I'm not trying to imply that she's 'no better than she should be' (even though she isn't, of course). She was obviously built by that Johnny Foreigner company whose name rhymes with hers. It's just that when the audience knows what's coming (or thinks it does) and you substitute something else at the last moment, confounding their expectations, you should get a laugh.

All true-born Cheshire folk will not need to be told that the word 'bank' in verse four - as in 'Congleton Bank' - is pronounced 'bonk',

And you'll notice that our favourite pub, the Lion & Railway gets a mention as the place where Geoff goes to drown his sorrrows. As I've said before, the nearest pub to us with that name was in Northwich and closed down many years ago.

All the characters in these poems frequent the Lion & Railway because the name fits so well into comic verse like this.

I hope everyone will take 'Nellie's Revenge in the spirit in which it is intended. 

It's just a bit of fun. 

And the sub-title, 'Fatal Traction', was just too good to resist...

Dave Roberts
March 2018

This also appears on our sister site


Monday 19 February 2018


This poem, written in 1988, seems appropriate for the first official posting on 'The Queen Street Collection'(formerly 'The Odd Exception'). It's all about that feeling you get when living in a small town that no real harm can come to you and that, as Tanita Tikaram memorably put it: 'All the bad things happen far away'. Here are the original four verses  There are a few more, which can be found here. I've performed this piece more times than I care to remember and it always goes down well wherever I happen to be at the time. It's written, and designed to be performed, in the old music hall style. Imagine Norman Evans talking 'over the garden wall' or, a little more recently, Les Dawson's immortal 'Cissie and Ada' sketches. If you feel like pinching this, or any other of the pieces found here and performing it/them in public, all I ask is that you mention my name. More notes on this and the other poems to be featured here will be added as time allows. DGR.


You know that funny woman down the street? She's got those feet
And plays the piano in the pub on Friday nights?
Well, apparently, her mother has a most peculiar brother
Who is rather fond of wearing women's tights.
He was seen last night in Crewe at a most exclusive do,
In a floral cretonne frock and matching hat.
Well, I can't speak for you, but I think that's fine for Crewe 
- In Middlewich We Don't Do Things Like That.

And that rather dozy looking little man, who knows your Stan
Has lived in Winsford for a month and won't go home.
His wife is going spare, but he doesn't seem to care;
Well, they get that way when once they start to roam.
And he's shacked up, as they say, with a girl down Wharton way,
And she's only half his age and rents this flat...
Winsford is as Winsford does -  but it wouldn't do for us
And In Middlewich We Don't Do Things Like That.

And you must remember Edna's Uncle Fred who knocked his head
One Christmas Eve and fell downstairs when he was slewed?
And was never quite the same? Someone told me that his name
Was in The S*n last week for doing something rude,
It occurred in Stoke-On-Trent, and the judge said he was bent
And he should try to stop behaving like a prat.
Well I think the poor old bloke should have kept away from Stoke
And stayed in Middlewich. We Don't Do Things Like That.

And I've been told that poor old woman Mrs Miles - the one with piles
Who has a daughter who is Not Right In The Head,
Was going frantic yesterday, because the daughter's run away
And now she's living rough in Sandbach, in a shed.
And I think it's very sad. They say she's gone completely mad
And seems to think that she has turned into a cat;
But then that's Sandbach for you dear, and things are rather different here
In dear old Middlewich, We Don't Do Things Like That.

© Dave Roberts/Salt Town Productions 2011



In February 2018 WDDTLT, like Winston's New Shoes before it, got the Monologue John treatment at what looks like a fairly lively session at Semitone Studios in Stockport,  filmed, to use a time-honoured phrase, before a live studio audience...

Many thanks to John and everyone else involved in immortalising this classic.

This was the first ever posting on THE ODD EXCEPTION on 1st September 2011

First published 1st September 2011 on The Odd Exception.
Published 12th April 2017 on The Queen Street Collection
Amended and re-published 19th February 2018

Wednesday 24 January 2018


Every town should have a poem written about it, though I'm not sure that the Derbyshire town of Glossop would have chosen this one, written in 1990, for preference. It's nothing personal, of course, but 'Glossop', being just two syllables, fits the metre of the poem well.
There's an old saying among writers of 'humorous verse' - 'If you're stuck for an idea, just grab an old joke and make it into a poem'. Which is just what has happened here. 
But never let me be accused of lacking the courage of my convictions, or of cowardice. I have performed this piece in the town of Glossop itself.. It was in  the late 1990s at a lovely old place called the Davenport Theatre. I also performed my epic trainspotter poem Crewe South Shed at the same gig, but that's another story. Suffice it to say that Glossop went down well in Glossop.
The origin of the classic first line is interesting. When I was at ERF Ltd in 1990 I worked with a young chap called  Steve Mountford. He was usually called Jimmy, although this wasn't his real name. Steve  could never remember anyone's name and habitually referred to everyone as 'Jimmy' so, naturally, as happens with these things, the name got itself transferred to him).
He came up to me one day and said, 'I was talking to an old friend of yours in Coppenhall last night. You must know who I mean. He went to Pakistan in a Gas Board van.'
I didn't know the person he was rambling on about, but I'd defy anyone to resist such a fabulous line.
So, suitably adapted, it became the first line of 'Glossop'.

Steve Mountford, whose mate 'went to Pakistan in a Gas Board van' and thus inspired this poem.
Photo used with permission

A few notes: In verse seven 'Derbyshire' has to be pronounced so as to rhyme with 'soul on fire'. In the last verse, you could substitute 'Network Rail' for 'British Rail', but I've found that 'British Rail', despite the fact that it went out of existence years ago, still has the required resonance.
The rhyme in the first line of verse five is sublime. Just perfect. And the fact that William, in the same verse, has a name that rhymes with Glossop is nothing more than an amazing coincidence.


by Dave Roberts

Well, I'd been to Pakistan in a Gas Board van,
I'd been threatened in Morocco with a knife;
And I'd been aboard a tanker which exploded off Sri Lanka,
But I'd never been to Glossop in my life.

Though I'd sailed to Indo-China on an ocean going liner
And spent time in Brisbane lying on the beach
and been swindled in Calcutta by a woman with a stutter
The elusive Glossop stayed beyond my reach.

So I caught a train to Paris with a gentleman named Harris
Who was first mate on a freighter from Quebec.
He had sailed the seven seas from Kirabati to Belize;
Had he ever been to Glossop? Had he heck.

And a paralytic sailor in a bar in Venezuela
(Or some other hot and God-forsaken spot)
Asked me if I'd been to Chad and I said of course I had;
Had he ever been to Glossop? No, he'd not.

I was eating a banana in my digs in Tijuana
When I heard a voice come from a nearby bed
Saying, 'my name's William Mossop and I'm from a place called Glossop,
But I don't suppose you've heard of it,' he said.

I shook him by the hand and I said, 'well this is grand,
'That's the one place in the world I've never seen;
'Will you tell me what it's like? Can I get there on my bike?
'Can I do it in a fortnight, if I'm keen?'

William told of Glossop's sights, and romantic Glossop nights,
And the magic of the hills of Derbyshire;
'Til I felt that I'd explode if I didn't hit the road
And head towards the town which set my soul on fire.

So I stole an old Ford car and drove it down to Panama
And stowed away aboard a steamer from the Clyde;
I was nearly going frantic as we sailed the broad Atlantic
For I had to visit Glossop 'ere I died.

Well, it took a month or two 'til old Glasgow came in view
But at long last, feeling haggard, tired, and gritty
And very nearly mental, I arrived at Glasgow Central
And I sneaked aboard a southbound Inter-City.

Down to Manchester we sped, and by now I'd lost my head
And had Glossop well and truly on the brain,
So I didn't think it silly to be there at Piccadilly
Waiting for the little local Glossop train.

Now the best laid plans can fail, thanks to dear old British Rail,
And the engine on the train had gone kaput;
But I didn't make a fuss, I just caught a local bus;
And when I got to Glossop, it was shut.

© Dave Roberts/Salt Town Productions 2011

Originally published on THE ODD EXCEPTION 10th September 2011

First published here 12th April 2017
Amended and re-published 24th January 2018

Wednesday 19 July 2017


Hot on the heels of the Artisan Market (June 2012 - March 2014) and the Makers Market (April 2014 - May 2017) comes a brand new and this time purely local venture, the Middlewich Mexon Market!


From Middlewich Town Council:
Middlewich Town Council, Middlewich Vision, partners and volunteers would like to announce the creation of a new market for Middlewich. The market will be a not-for-profit venture and all proceeds will be used to sustain the market over the coming months. It will take time to develop but we hope that you will give it your support to make it a success and a welcome enhancement to our town centre.


Find out more about the Middlewich Mexon Market at:


Middlewich Heritage Society   Photo: Salt Town Productions July 2017

There's a long history of markets in Middlewich, stretching back to at least the 13th century (our first Market Charter was granted in 1260), and the Mexon website features an article with information from Allan Earl giving a brief run-down of that history and explaining where the name 'Mexon' comes from. 
 'Mexon' doesn't appear in the OED, so it may be that the word is obsolete. Or it may be a word of purely local origin, like 'Lompon'.

Photo: Bill Armsden

Historical note: This is not the fIrst time that the name 'Mexon' has been revived. In the 1970s local businessman Steve Wells used the name The King's Mexon for a restaurant in Wheelock Street, where the Blue Ginger Indian Restaurant & Takeaway currently (2017) is. In the interim years this former furniture shop and warehouse has always been a restaurant on one form or another. After Steve Wells moved out, for example, it became Franco's.


And here's our celebratory MD Masthead for July 2017 featuring the advent of this

great new venture...

We wish the new Middlewich Mexon Street Market every success!

This also appears on THE MIDDLEWICH DIARY