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Robb Johnson, A Break in the Clouds

Man Walks Into a Pub

Pennypot Lane

As I walked out this morning
You could feel the world was turning
The mist was on the common
And halfway down the lane
I met a fox called Autumn
and found all the fruits of summer
Raspberries and blackberries
and I gathered them for you.
Down Pennypot Lane.

We’d drive out on a Sunday
Through the neatly tended suburbs
Ten thousand little Englands
And all the dead of two world wars,
But when we reached the hedgerows
There were all the fruits of summer
Raspberries and blackberries
and I'd gather them for you
On Pennypot Lane.

Now I push my shopping trolley
Round the big bright supermarket
Where there’s one the same as this one
Then there’s one the same as that
And it's only ever Christmas
And from far away all year
They got raspberries and blackberries
But they have no taste at all
Of Pennypot Lane.

Now I’m walking home past midnight
From my last surviving local
Where their best is second best now
But by moonlight clear as day
I meet a fox called Autumn ,
And I ask him where he’s going
And he stops and looks and smiles at me
And says he’s on his way
Down Pennypot Lane.

This song was started when, one night, tottering back from the pub, streets all silver, wet and moonlit, I'm walking home and turn a corner and in the middle of the empty road is a fox. He looks at me. I smile, he nods once and continues, unperturbed, on his magnificent way.

Foxes, particularly when I find them trotting the streets with me late at night, always cheer me up, and this one gifted me with the idea for this song. When I first started running a folk club, my mate Andy "Sniffer" Norton did this great version of a traditional song he called "Reynardine",so I have always associated foxes with folk songs, and the survival of Reynardine to me is a bit like the survival of folk song, so it seemed there was no other way to start this song than with the very traditional line "As I walked out this morning."

Pennypot Lane is - or maybe was - a real place from my childhood. It was something of a narrow little wilderness just over the Surrey border (in the days when such places hadn't been concreted over by neat housing developments) and it seemed to me we'd be driving there every Sunday to pick blackberries, when I'd much rather have been staying at home watching "Lancelot of the Lake" or "The Golden Hind" on TV. You can probably detect the temptations of nostalgia in these verses; Thomas Hardy does it better (of course) in his poem "The Self Unseeing". But although there's a fair amount of (deliberately) unresolved ambiguity in the lyric, I hope this song manages to balance personal biography with social history, without doing too much of a disservice to either perspective, and within that framing, to talk about change and loss, and continuity and survival, and how things stay, precariously, in some kind of balance.


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