The Sad Tale of a Motor Fan by H. A. Field


Young Ethelred was only three
Or somewhere thereabouts when he
Began to show in diverse ways
The early stages of the craze
For learning the particulars
Of motor bikes and motor cars.
It started with a little book
To enter numbers which he took,
And ‘though his mother often said
“Now do be careful Ethelred.
Oh dear, oh dear what should I do
If anything ran over you?”

Which Ethelred could hardly know
And sometimes crossly told her so…
It didn’t check his zeal a bit
But rather seemed to foster it.
Indeed it would astonish you
To hear of all the things he knew
He’d guess the make and get it right
Of every car that came in sight.
He knew as well it’s MPG
It’s MPH and LSD,
What gears it had, what brakes and what;
In short he knew an awful lot.
Now when a boy thinks day and night
Of motor cars with all his might
He gets affected in the head
And so it was with Ethelred.
He took long drinks from mug and cup
To fill his radiator up.
And went about upon all fours
And usually, to get indoors
He pressed a button then reversed
And went in slowly back most first.
He called himself a Packford Eight
And wore a little number plate
Attached behind with bits of string
He looked just like the real thing.
He drove himself to school and tried
To park himself (all day) outside.
At which the head became irate
And caned him on his number plate.
And then one day an oily smell
Hung around him and he wasn’t well.
“That’s odd,” he said, “I wonder what
Has caused this rumbling pain I’ve got?
No car should get an aching tum
From taking in petroleum.”
At that he cranked himself but no…
He couldn’t get himself to go.
He merely whirred a bit inside
And gave a faint chug-chug, and died.
Now since his petrol tank was full,
They labelled him inflammable
And wisely saw to it that he
Was buried safely out at sea.
So if at any time your fish
Should taste a trifle oilyish
You’ll know that fish has lately fed
On what remains of Ethelred.

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45 thoughts on “The Sad Tale of a Motor Fan by H. A. Field

  1. Shiv Nagare 30 November 1999 / 8:00 am

    I happened to recall the first two lines of this poem and googled them to get the rest. I first read it when I was nine (that was fifty nine years ago), and found it delightful. Thank yoy for posting this!

    Like

  2. Mick From Tower HIll 30 November 1999 / 8:00 am

    I too recall young Ethelred from a book of selected verse belonging to my father. There were no doubt far more comendable works that I should have read and retained but alas the fate of poor Ethelred was a source of fscination and perhaps a cautionary note to me to curb my enthusiasm for motor cars.

    Thanks you for enhancing the memory now some fifty years old.

    Like

    • Bronwen Broadley 10 October 2015 / 10:52 am

      This was one we learnt at school too. Over 55 years ago.
      Have been searching for it for a while.

      Like

    • Mo 14 January 2016 / 7:18 am

      This is in a book called a punch anthology published in 1937. My grandad gave me this book whEn I was eight I’m fifty now and still remember it word on sword strange how it just gets you like that

      Like

  3. Karol Eager 30 November 1999 / 8:00 am

    HI, great poetry! can you tell me, who was H A Field and the title of the book? Is it still in print? Think my grandson would appreciate it !! Karol Eager

    Like

    • thomo the lost 30 November 1999 / 8:00 am

      I cannot help you on the biography of H A Field other than to say that as I recall, he was an Englishman and he wrote this poem in the 1920s (plus or minus). I heard it at school in 1963 and it was old then as I recall my father was familiar with the poem.

      As is the bizarre things of childhood, this poem has stuck in my mind since I heard it then. Sorry I can't help you more.

      Like

  4. Trevor the Pedant 30 November 1999 / 8:00 am

    I learned this poem many years ago from an English school textbook that the company employing my father printed. There are other poems but I have struggled to find them in recent years. I believe H A Field was a contributor to Punch magazine and that is probably where the poems first appeared.

    One of the others covered a cyclist:

    The thing young Stephen (?) chiefly liked

    Was racing others when he biked,

    Now you and I when we ride out

    We sit erect and look about

    To Mark such scenes on either side

    As man or nature may provide.

    Did Stephen cycle thus wise? No,

    His back was bended like a bow,

    With such a hump amid his ships

    His head was lower than his hips,

    And all along his nose were scars

    From bumping on the handlebars……….

    Another one:

    The greatest fault of Philip (?) King's

    Was walking on the edge of things………

    (He falls from a bridge parapet into a freight train bound for Scotland later in the poem!)

    Like

    • Bill Scott 9 March 2013 / 7:19 pm

      I came across this poem about Stephen in an edition of the “Contractor’s Record” or parallel magazine round about 1955. I still have a copy. If you haven’t managed to find it yourself, let me know.

      Like

      • Ian H 26 May 2014 / 8:04 pm

        Hello Bill, Trevor and Thomo

        I was searching the web for H.A. Field and up came your interesting posts. Both poems are very funny – I love the wordplay and whimsical style. The Steven/cycling one seems topical – with the Tour de France swinging by the end of our road in a few weeks.

        It was called “The Scorchers” and it’s not on the internet anywhere as far as I can see. Just the sections you quoted, Trevor. It would be good to see the full text online… so the poem doesn’t get totally lost. I’ve posted a few more of the words – below. But I don’t remember it all anymore.

        My late grandad knew H.A. Field through Manchester Grammar School and had an anthology of his poems, which sadly I’ve now mislaid … though there’s a remote possibility it could be in a suitcase in my loft. I’ve not seen the booklet for about 25 years.

        I learnt “The Scorchers” in the 1970s for a school verse-speaking competition… and still remember much of it. Would be delighted if someone could fill in the blanks for me… or to receive a copy by email Bill, if you have it available.

        …………………………..

        THE SCORCHERS By H.A. Field

        The thing young Steven chiefly liked

        Was racing others when he biked,

        Now you and I when we ride out

        We sit erect and look about

        To mark such scenes on either side

        As man or nature may provide.

        We pedal too at such a rate that we can

        Safely contemplate … the (something, something) of the day

        MISSING LINE ????

        Did Steven cycle thus-wise? No,

        His back was bended like a bow,

        With such a hump amid his ships

        His head was lower than his hips,

        And all along his nose were scars

        Through bumping on his handlebars.

        MISSING SECTION ????

        You’d think a place would only boast

        One such as Steven at the most

        But close to Steve resided Jim

        Who actually out-Stevened him.

        And each pursued his little game

        Unconscious of the other’s fame.

        Until one day, ahead of him, one day

        Steve sighted Jim some yards away.

        “O-ho'” thought Steve,,,

        MISSING LINE ????

        He don’t know who’s a chasing he.

        But faster though ??? he sped,

        Young Jimmy still remained ahead.

        MISSING SECTION ???

        Now just in front (not very far)

        Were gentleman at work with tar

        Too late…

        MISSING LINE ???

        Too late they saw the ropes and stakes

        And used their cantilever brakes

        Their cycles halted, they alack

        Pursued a parabolic track

        And half a second later sank

        From human vision in the tank.

        The workmen on their tasks intent

        Did not observe the incident

        And calmly carried on their spray

        While Steve and Jim dissolved away.

        Except that is for one or two who, sniffing, said

        “This tar, ‘ere, do smell extra fruity like and rich.”

        And little guessed what queered their pitch.

        Like

      • Ian H 27 May 2014 / 2:28 am

        I’ve remembered a little more at the start….

        We pedal too at such a rate
        That we can safely meditate,
        the while we amble on our way,
        The sundry problems of the day

        And all the while our minds are stowed
        So amply with the Highway Code
        We have the answer quite complete
        To each emergency we meet.

        Did Steven cycle thus-wise, No! …. etc

        Also, I can fill in the blank after “gentlemen at work with tar”….

        Too late did they descry
        The warning road lamp’s crimson eye.
        Too late they saw the ropes and stakes
        And used their cantllever brakes.

        Like

      • Ian H 14 January 2015 / 1:46 am

        I now have the complete text of H.A. Field’s cycling poem (mentioned by Trevor above). It’s from Selected Poems by H.A. Field, an anthology published in 1963 as a supplement to Ulula, the Manchester Grammar School Magazine, which also includes “The Sad Tale of a Motor Fan”…

        So, for the record …

        THE SCORCHERS by H.A. Field

        The thing young Stephen chiefly liked
        Was racing others when he biked.
        Now you and I, when we ride out,
        We sit erect and look about
        To mark such scenes on either side
        As man or nature may provide.
        We pedal, too, at such a rate
        That we can safely meditate,
        The while we amble on our way,
        The sundry problems of the day,
        And all the time our minds are stowed
        So amply with the Highway Code,
        We have the answer all complete
        To each emergency we meet.
        Did Stephen cycle thuswise? No!
        His back was bended like a bow,
        With such a hump amid-his-ships
        His head was lower than his hips,
        And all along his nose were scars
        Through bumping on his handlebars.
        In fact his shape was such that he
        When riding out could only see
        Beyond his tyre’s revolving tread
        The backs of cyclists on ahead.
        Now sight of these aroused in Steve
        Such jealousy you can’t conceive,
        And, as its flame began to burn,
        He’d down his head and up his stern,
        Then, revving till the casual gaze
        Could only see a sort of haze,
        Bend all his muscles and his mind
        To put his rival far behind.
        You’d think a place would only boast
        One such as Stephen at the most,
        But close to Steve resided Jim
        Who actually out-Stephened him,
        And each pursued his little game
        Unconscious of the other’s fame,
        Until, ahead of him one day
        Steve sighted Jim some yards away
        And promptly made his bike accel –
        Which, JImmy, hearing, did as well.
        “O-ho!” thought Steve, “it seems to me
        He don’t know who’s a-chasing he.”
        But faster yet although he sped
        Young Jimmy still remained ahead.
        Steve thereon made his pedals spin
        At several hundred revs. per min.
        Until his pace was rather like
        A locomotive than a bike.
        But JIm produced in turn a bat
        That titted Stephen’s every tat,
        Till no one could have found a pair
        Of swifter cyclists anywhere.
        Now just in front, not very far,
        Were gentlemen at work with tar,
        Who had, among the things they’d got,
        A tank of pitch, extremely hot.
        Too late did Jim and Steve descry
        The warning road-lamp’s crimson eye;
        Too late they saw the ropes and stakes
        And used their cantilever brakes;
        Their cycles halted; they, alack,
        Pursued a parabolic track
        And, half a second later, sank
        From human vision in the tank.
        The workmen, on their tasks intent,
        Did not observe the incident,
        And calmly carried on their spray
        While Steve and Jim dissolved away,
        Except, that is, for one or two,
        Who, sniffing, said, “This tar, ’er do
        Smell extra fruity-like and rich” –
        And little guessed what queered their ‘pitch’.

        Like

      • Thomo the Lost 14 January 2015 / 10:00 am

        Brilliant, just brilliant!

        Thanks Ian, a good find.

        Like

  5. Terry Rowe 30 November 1999 / 8:00 am

    This poem was published in "a Punch Anthology" in 1935 and presumably previously published in "Punch". I memorised it when I found the anthology in the early 50s in my mother's library. It — and Robert W. Service — have given me encouragement in my own poetry.

    Like

  6. Arthur Ridley 30 November 1999 / 8:00 am

    Many thanks for that.This poem was read out at school by one of the boys in my class in Camberley in France Hill House which was taken over during WW2 to educate we evacuees.I have always remembered the part of the poem up to "And sometimes crossly told her so"

    Like

  7. Arthur Ridley 30 November 1999 / 8:00 am

    Many thanks for that.This poem was read out at school by one of the boys in my class in Camberley in France Hill House which was taken over during WW2 to educate we evacuees.I have always remembered the part of the poem up to "And sometimes crossly told her so."

    Like

  8. Geoff McAuley 30 November 1999 / 8:00 am

    Amazingly I remembered the whole of this poem from school, 50 odd years ago. (About the only thing I did remember actually!). As mentioned , it was in a copy of Punch Anthology, though I hadn't realised it was published in 1935. Other tales I seem to remember from the book were, 'The Transmigration od Bowles' and 'Contents of a Small Boy's Pocket'. I'd love to find a copy to read it all anew…

    Like

  9. Geoff McAuley 30 November 1999 / 8:00 am

    Sorry – typo. It was the 'Transmigration of Bowles'

    Like

  10. Ken Chang-Kue 22 August 2012 / 1:11 pm

    Of all the classic poems that we covered (or memorized) in a book of selected poetry in my grades 9 and 10 English class in South Africa 52 years ago, this whimsical one was the only poem that stuck in my memory. I can recall only the first 14 lines, which I recited to my long-suffering wife tonight when she was trying to sleep. I vaguely recalled one more line about Ethelred being “caned on his number plate’ and that tale ended by his expiry after drinking petroleum. Now fully awake, my wife stomped out of the bedroom and googled “Sad Story of a Motor Fan” (My Title) and found that there was truth to my fanciful story.. I’m sure my wife will regret this action because I will soon be able to recite the whole poem to my bored friends (and wife) 🙂

    Like

    • thomo the lost 22 August 2012 / 10:36 pm

      Periodically and for no discernible reason that I can see, “young Ethelred was only three or somewhere thereabouts when he …” comes unbidden into my somewhat warped brain.

      I’m glad your wife will now be able to fully appreciate the cleverness of H.A. Field 😆

      Like

      • Rosemary Jay 2 November 2012 / 11:42 pm

        Also in that Punch Anthology was a very funny piece called The Knocking on the Door in Macbeth – does anyone remember that?

        Like

  11. thomo the lost 10 March 2013 / 12:49 am

    Hi Bill, I would appreciate a copy of the poem about young Stephen as I cannot find it anywhere.

    Cheers,

    Like

  12. Elizabeth 22 May 2013 / 10:03 am

    I first read about Ethelred’s sad adventures in 1967. It was in my sister’s poetry book from first year in high school … and that anthology was on my book list three years later. I have kept that book since then solely for that poem.
    When my son needed to learn a poem to recite to his class… and asked me for a suggestion… it was my first choice and Michael loved it! It was easy to learn and easier to love!
    A colleague was just mentioning that her son needed a poem to learn and recite… and so I hit the Google search with the first line… and here I am!!
    Michael is a happy bike rider and learning to drive.. so I need to find that cyclist poem!!
    With smiles and waves from Sydney, Australia
    Elizabeth 🙂

    Like

    • thomo the lost 22 May 2013 / 8:52 pm

      Ah, a cycling poem? One would be hard pressed, as a dinky-di Aussie, to pass up Mulga Bill in this case:

      ‘Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that caught the cycling craze;
      He turned away the good old horse that served him many days;
      He dressed himself in cycling clothes, resplendent to be seen;
      He hurried off to town and bought a shining new machine;
      And as he wheeled it through the door, with air of lordly pride,
      The grinning shop assistant said, “Excuse me, can you ride?”
      “See here, young man,” said Mulga Bill, “from Walgett to the sea,
      From Conroy’s Gap to Castlereagh, there’s none can ride like me.
      I’m good all round at everything, as everybody knows,
      Although I’m not the one to talk – I hate a man that blows.
      But riding is my special gift, my chiefest, sole delight;
      Just ask a wild duck can it swim, a wildcat can it fight.
      There’s nothing clothed in hair or hide, or built of flesh or steel,
      There’s nothing walks or jumps, or runs, on axle, hoof, or wheel,
      But what I’ll sit, while hide will hold and girths and straps are tight:
      I’ll ride this here two-wheeled concern right straight away at sight.”

      The rest of it is superb A.B. Paterson humour

      Like

  13. Angela 19 August 2013 / 2:50 am

    This brings back so many memories of diction lessons at Howells school Llandaff

    Like

  14. John B Polley 19 October 2013 / 4:06 pm

    In 1954 As a ten year old, for mucking about in an English lesson I was made to learn a poem of my choice over a weekend and to recite
    It in the next English lesson. So young Ethelred it was. It had the class in hysterics as I recited it word perfect at which the teacher was very angry. I can still recite the whole poem today.

    Like

    • Thomo the Lost 19 October 2013 / 5:06 pm

      🙂 there is always a little larrikin in us at that age and ethelred is the perfect vehicle for its expression.

      Like

  15. Steve Lipson 3 December 2013 / 10:22 pm

    Hubert A. Field was my Physics teacher at Manchester Grammar School in the 1950’s. He wrote poems of this sort regularly for the school magazine “Ulula”, and I believe some of them were published in “Punch”. I had an experience similar to that of John B. Polley, but in my case I learnt “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” from start to finish (and can still remember a lot of it)!

    Like

    • Thomo the Lost 3 December 2013 / 11:12 pm

      That is really neat. I always am amazed that I can recall the lyrics to songs from 30 or 40 years ago but can’t recall the lyrics to the latest effort by One Direction … actually … that doesn’t amaze me that I can’t remember One Direction’s lyrics 🙂

      Was it the Robert Browning poem with the wonderful use of words:

      Rats! They fought the dogs and killed the cats,
      And bit the babies in the cradles,
      And ate the cheeses out of the vats,
      And licked the soup from the cooks’ own ladle’s,
      Split open the kegs of salted sprats,
      Made nests inside men’s Sunday hats,
      And even spoiled the women’s chats
      By drowning their speaking
      With shrieking and squeaking
      In fifty different sharps and flats.

      – See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15700#sthash.HF35VWMT.dpuf

      Like

  16. Kit Turnbull 13 April 2014 / 6:21 pm

    Thanks Thomo, Googled for 10 mins only remembering the boy died drinking petrol and a Packford Eight and bingo up came your website. The Internet is amazing! First heard this poem at school in Stratford (New Zealand) in the 1950’s. great to be able to read it again.

    Like

    • Thomo the Lost 13 April 2014 / 9:04 pm

      It seems that to have known this poem one needs to be of a certain “maturity” level and have been schooled in the 1950s and perhaps early 1960s 🙂

      Like

  17. Gael 6 July 2014 / 3:16 pm

    Look how long is this string….from 1999 until 2014. Hubert Field you have achieved amazing immortality. I recall seeing the book with many poems, but they were written as prose, making it a challenge to read. Nobody here has mentioned Washington Jupp, who mumbled and mumbled and wouldn’t speak up. An unfortunate habit ascribed by his mummy to the fact that when tiny, he would have a dummy. “No true British baby,” sighed poor Mrs Jupp, “However neglected or badly brought up, from the east to the west, from the north to the south, would be seen with an object like that in its mouth.”
    The marvellous scanning, witty messages, clever rhyming and lilting rhythm has made them so easy for us to remember over the decades.
    Alas I can recall no more. Now the challenge is to find the book in one of the Book Depository resources.

    Like

    • Thomo the Lost 6 July 2014 / 6:19 pm

      I have to be honest – the 1999 dates came about when there was a problem with the blogging software I use interacting badly with an plugin and I had many dates change. I can confirm though that the conversation stream has been running since 21 April 2003 🙂

      Like

  18. Shazza 2 August 2014 / 4:24 pm

    Voila google is amazing! My nine year old niece recently asked me to help her find a poem she could recite at a school variety show and Ethelred was the one that quickly came to mind, having done it in myself the late 80’s at Baines Primary in Bulawayo Zimbabwe as a class. Thanks for the coaching Mr Fitz and thanks too for this website. It was a shot in the dark, punched in the first words of the poem I could still recall and up came the poem about the boy who was crazy about automobiles and when he died, quite to his own making, his epipath aptly captured his pet obsession. Wity poem indeed and easy to recite and act out.

    Like

  19. Jo Guy 30 September 2014 / 8:08 pm

    Back in the late 1960’s when I was just five years old my parents divorced. There was no welfare back then and both my parents went out to work. Along with my older brother and younger sister I went to live for a couple of years with my grandparents until my mother was able to support us. My grandfather was an intelligent, and educated man who used to read us stories and poems. My favourite poem he taught us was Ethelred. Although just a kid I read this poem over and over and could recite it word perfect. My grandfather passed away in early 2005 at the age of 97 and I was given a book of his with this poem in it which I treasure. Whenever I see this poem, I always think back to my kindly grandfather and the wonderful times he gave us. RIP my dear grandfather.

    Like

  20. birashanuman 17 March 2015 / 12:06 pm

    I am reminded by this delightful thread on Ethelred’s fate ,which first came to my notice as a schoolboy in the 50’s ,of Hilaire Belloc’s ‘The Garden Party ‘

    “The rich arrived in pairs
    And also in Rolls Royces .
    They talked of their affairs
    In loud and strident voices .
    The husbands and the wives
    Of this select society
    Lead independent lives of infinite variety .
    The poor arrived in Fords ,
    Whose features they resembled ,
    And laughed to see so many Lords
    And Ladies there assembled .”

    In a whimsical moment some thirty years later when the fortunes of Rolls Royce were at a low ebb I ventured an update to Mr Hilaire’s depiction :

    “The Rich arrived in Fords
    A preference well commended.
    They viewed amongst the hordes
    Rolls Royce’s run expended.
    The poor came in Rolls Royces,
    Old,shabby and pretentious,
    They winced to see so many Fords ,
    So sleek and fast and sensuous.

    Like

  21. Lionel 11 August 2015 / 9:58 pm

    I have just discovered your blog. Thank you so much. I first learned The Sad Story of the Motor Fan at school in Liverpool in the 1940’s and have entertained my family with it ever since!!!

    Like

  22. Yolande van der Merwe 16 September 2015 / 4:23 am

    I have been searching for this poem of Ethelred for a long time. Our library had no idea who the poet could be. Only remembering the first line I decided to Google and voila! My day is made!!

    Like

  23. Michele Kramer 27 September 2015 / 7:07 pm

    LIke so many here, Ethelred’s story is one that I’ve retained since needing to memorize it in primary school in 1970. And like so many, I’ve occasionally garnered laughs at family get-togethers by reciting it again. I remember, as a child, wondering what “diver’s ways” were? Not realizing until much older that the line had to have been “diverse” — a word I didn’t understand at all at age 8! Even more interesting to me in reading this blog is what seems to be the “colonial” history of our collective learning of this poem. I’m a Canadian — and it seems as though Ethelred managed to motor his way through the entire British Empire at a certain point in history 🙂

    Like

  24. Trevor the Pedant 28 February 2016 / 4:07 am

    True to my name, I have to respond……… the word in the original is “divers” meaning varied or several.

    Like

  25. Alan Etherington 23 April 2016 / 6:58 pm

    I came across the Ethelred poem in someone else’s set book at school in about 1956 at the age of 13 and was very taken with it. It stuck despite my not having “learned” it. Time progressed and the “Albert” poems drifted through my subconscious, “The Lion and Albert” stuck too. I recited it many a time at Folk Clubs and so on. My wife, then Brown Owl, had arranged a night for Brownies to achieve their Entertainers Badge, they’d have to make tea for the guests and make some form of recitation. At this point, being late home from work that day, I discovered one of my aunts and uncles sitting in our house and all geared up for the evening with the Brownies. They’d never been before and have never been since. Our daughter would recite “The Lion And Albert”. Off she went and completed it in fine form. My aunt’s face was a picture. “Did you know that this was your father’s Party Piece?” she asked. I pointed out that it was also mine. The odd thing was that my father died when I was 6 months old. Is this Nature or Nurture? Does it come in the genes? If Gilbert had written chemistry books with Sullivan setting them to music I could have been a genius. Most of their works have become attached in there somehow too.

    Like

  26. Alan Etherington 23 April 2016 / 7:31 pm

    We came across a tract in the Bible many decades ago saying that a bloke was suffering from Divers Diseases. This was thought to be The Bends.

    Like

  27. Celia Long 2 September 2016 / 7:24 pm

    I love young Ethelred and will be reading the poem to my Poetry Group this afternoon ….the subject is ‘ A funny poem ‘, so it fits the bill perfectly. It was published in a school poetry book entitled ‘Modern Narrative Poetry’ in 1953 by Thomas Nelson, compiled by B.W. Rose and R.S.Jones.

    Like

  28. bruce 7 March 2017 / 1:27 am

    Great Stuff , all of it. BIG AL

    Like

  29. Ernie Boughton 25 June 2017 / 1:09 am

    “Haffy” was my form master and Chemistry teacher in 1948-50. He was an excellent teacher and a lovely man. We all looked forward to his cautionary poems in the school magazine, and tried to guess which of us was the inspiration. I cannot recite any of those, but I can still remember all of “To Marmalade: an Ode”. I have (somewhere) a little booklet of his poems, which I think was probably published by the school (Manchester Grammar School).

    Like

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