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Of Woad And Death

Biography > Holidays And Travel

I went to the Walsall Grammar School Queen Mary's from 1966 to 1972. At the school during my entire time there was a Master (that's what we called teachers then) who taught French called Mr Hutchinson. He started about the same time that I did and was very keen to do his best.

The Masters in those days all had pet topics which they felt would be of interest to boys who were generally a bloodthirsty lot. For example the Chemistry Master could be persuaded to discuss in graphic detail how to produce nerve gas and it's effects on the human body.

Mr Hutchinson's pet topic was the Ancient Roman way of committing suicide which he felt was superior to all others. He would describe the technique which involved slitting one's wrists and then descending into a hot bath in detail.

Mr Hutchinson was one of the Masters who accompanied us on a trip to Paris in 1969. We caught the coach outside the school one April morning at 3.00am and drove via the ferry to Paris. The coach took a long time to get there and sometimes when the joys of playing cards, smoking and drinking palled we actually sang a song or two. The pop songs we sang were repetitive and at some point Mr Hutchinson produced the following song. I kept a scrapbook at the time and transcribed it.

In the early 1990's there was photographs in the local paper of men clad in white coveralls with masks who had been tasked with the grisly business of recovering a body from a flat in Walsall. It gradually emerged that the body was that of Mr Hutchinson who had taken his preferred exit rather than face death by terminal disease.


To the Tune Of Men of Harlech

What's the use of wearing braces
Coats and ties and shoes with laces
Spats and hats you buy in places
Down on Glossop Road

What's the use of shirts of cotton
Studs that only get forgotten
These affairs are simply rotten
Better far is woad

Woad's the stuff to show men
Woad to beat the foe men
Boil it to a brilliant blue
And rub it on your abdomen

Ancient Britons never hit on
Anything as good as woad to fit on
Neck or knees or where you sit on
Tailors you be blowed

Romans came across the channel
All wrapped in tin and flannel
Half a pint of woad per man'll
Dress us more than these

Saxons you can waste your stitches
Building beds for bugs in britches
We have woad to dress us in
Which is not a nest for flees

Romans keep your armours
Saxons your pyjamas
Hairy coats were meant for goats
, Gorillas, yaks, retriever dogs and llamas

Tramp up Snowdon with your woad on
Never mind if you get blowed on
Never want a button sewed on
Go it ancient B's

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