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This article is taken from PN Review 185, Volume 35 Number 3, January - February 2009.

The Mummers Return Alison Brackenbury

What do we inherit? In my case, large feet. Reliable happiness in the company of animals (four generations of shepherds must have carried a herdsman's gene). And a penny notebook.

The notebook is falling to pieces. It is in many hands. It has remedies for horses with worms, and for lambing ewes. Then, amongst the careful copperplate of the 'recipes', there is one page in a bold black hand. The words run without pause from line to line as though scribbled down from a quick voice, or before the writer's memory failed. The page has a heading:


I am a lady bright
and fair my fortune
is my charm, its true
that I've been born away
from my dear lover's
arms. He promised for
to marry me as you
will understand, he
listed for a soldier
and went into foreign
What care I for your
gold and silver what
care I for your house
and land what care
I for your world and
treasure, all I want
is a nice young man

The rest of the page is filled with triumphant black flourishes. The occasional date in this 'Sheep Book, 1881' belongs to the youth of my great-grandfather. The Lady, I soon discovered, has stepped amongst the lambs and laudanum from a Lincolnshire Mummers' Play, performed by farmworkers at ...

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