[Editor's Note: "Howon Howay" is an ancient traditional song invented recently straight out of Grandad's yellowing songbook by Jonathan Baker, who delivered it personally and in rousing fashion with full Bedlington dialect over the telephone from Manchester in England where he currently resides.]
Me grandad, as is well known, was the first man in Bedlington to drive a car. One day in 1947 some lads he knew fancied a trip to Blackpool- not just Whitley Bay or Cullercoats mind you, but bleeding Blackpool. That's 250 miles across the mountains, on bad roads, and with no signs up- they'd all been taken down to confuse the Germans in the event of an invasion, and they hadn't got round to putting them back up yet. No asking directions, either. With their frankly oulandish Northumbrian accents, they could all have been mistaken for Nazi spies and shot. Still, me grandad got them there, just like he said he would. Not that any of them were sure of it, until they came over the last hill in the Pennines and saw- guess! The famous Blackpool tower, looming on the horizon.
My family doesn't just specialise in Great Navigators, though. We also feature National Sporting Pioneers. Such as my grandad's Uncle Billy Butcher, who founded Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. That's right--they started as a factory team in north London, and Billy Butcher, who was working down there, used to take round the hat to collect the weekly subs. One year the players all put in a bit extra to buy a mascot for the clubhouse. And guess what they bought? A silver cockerel weathervane--the very same that now adorns the main stand at Tottenham's palatial White Hart Lane stadium, and is always featured when they are shown on TV. Impressive enough, eh?
What's that I hear you say? By 1947 no-one was shooting anyone, least of all Geordie holidaymakers on the A66? And your Official History of Tottenham Hotspur gives no mention of a William Butcher, or for that matter of his hat? (strange that, neither does mine). Well, it's all true--as true as I'm riding this bike. And if you'll believe it, well, you'll probably believe about The Songbook as well.
Me Grandad's Songbook dates back to the heyday of the Northumbrian Miners Picnics. When they had all finished their sandwiches and been roused by the Union delegate's fine oratory, the miners liked nothing more than to gather round for a sing-song. And there was nothing more they liked to sing about, those long summer evenings, than their lovely far North-Eastern coastline and the various days out they could be having along that coastline, if only they weren't bound by fierce class loyalty and centuries of tradition to attend a fucking picnic, for the love of Christ, with all the miserable bastards they worked with for 6 days a week, eat fucking corned beef sandwiches, and listen to some washed-up old windbag from the Union bang on for half the afternoon about The Struggle. Like they had time for Class War, what with Federation Pale Ale 4 shillings for a gallon at the Guidepost Social Club, and the Spartans at home to Cowpen Excelsior in the Cup. I ask you.
Anyway, you get the idea. Really, a sing-song was just about the only thing for it down at the Miners Picnic, if it wasn't all to end in tears like a bad wedding. Fortunately for all concerned then, The Songbook was to hand. So haway now lads- put your pints down, gather round the piano ( my grandad was the first man in Bedlington to have a piano) and get your best singing voices together. We'll belt out a few choruses of this here old favourite, and if we're lucky, no-one will notice its striking resemblance to a certain 'Whisky in the Jar'. And if they do notice, we'll remind them of Great Uncle Paddy Flanahan O'Butcher, the famous minstrel of County Cork, and inventor of the boiled potato, although that's another story entirely. Altogether now!