Saturday, 29 August 2009

Her worship the sheep-driver

As reported in the Express & Echo - Topsham alderman's sheep drive rights - Topsham Carnival Day events began with Mary Evans, recently elected an honorary alderman of Exeter, exercising the archaic right to drive sheep through the streets. What more appropriate a literary link than His Worship The Goosedriver, the lead story of Arnold Bennett's 1905 Tales of the Five Towns (Gutenberg EText-No. 13293).

The "Five Towns" are Bennett's fictionalised version of the towns (actually six) comprising the conurbation of Stoke-on-Trent: Stoke-upon-Trent, Hanley, Burslem, Tunstall and Longton became Knype, Hanbridge, Bursley, Turnhill and Longshaw. Bennett omitted Fenton because he felt it had less of a separate identity and thought "Five Towns" was more euphonious (for more about their context in Bennett's works, see Arnold Bennett - Son of Stoke-on-Trent).

His Worship the Goosedriver is a story about small-town political spin. After a session at the pub, Josiah Curtenty, Deputy Mayor of Bursley, gets into banter with a goosedriver and foolishly buys a flock of geese. Forced to drive them home himself, he leaves a trail of escaped and dead geese. The exploit becomes known around the Five Towns, so that when he is elected Mayor, he is nicknamed "His Worship the Goosedriver". But his ambitious wife, worried that this will affect his career, enlists the help of an ex-suitor to spin the goose escapade as a bet in aid of charity.

- Ray

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