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'.
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