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Fenland Facts and Fancies

Woman's Work is Never done

Fenland Facts and Fancies by Michael Delanoy


The distant horizon blends into the sky
No beauty here to the stranger’s eye
They all find it very hard to see
The beauty of a gnarled willow tree.
They say that it all looks very fine
But there is no beauty in a straight line.
There are no mountains, no woods, no lakes
But to realise the beauty — more time it takes.
Fenland Sunsets just can’t be bettered:
Our vision by mountains never fettered.
On the Eastern horizon we can watch the sun rise;
'Til behind Western horizons it disappears from our eyes.
No glacial action, volcano or fault;
A landscape created with banks made of gault.
The view that you see looking over the Fen
Was created entirely by the Drainage Men.
The Duke of Bedford and his Adventurer Friends
To drain these lands went to limitless ends.
The Fenman with fish and fowl scraped a living
And with these Drainers they were unforgiving
They realised that when all the land was dry
There would be nowhere to fish, no duck in the sky.
The lock gates were broken, the banks destroyed.
Beware the Fen Tiger when he gets annoyed.
But alas. their efforts were to no avail
Never again on the meres would they be able to sail,
For the meres dried up, and the reed beds died -
At last the Adventurers were satisfied.
The Fenmen, they had to admit defeat,
All is now potatoes and sugar beet

BUT .........
The story does not quite end here;
The Fenmen made a prophecy I fear -
“That Captain Flood will have the last say
And the farms and villages will be washed away".


We all know of St. Paul’s and Sir Christopher Wren -
But there were others, unknown, who were just as great men.
They built Ely Cathedral, seven hundred years ago,
Just how they did it we will never know!
How long did it take? How many men died
In order that their God should be glorified?
Their names aren‘t engraved, no stone effigy,
The cathedral their monument for us all to see.

The Lady Chapel, an architectural delight
With its lofty ceiling and so full of light.
The geometry, triangulation: imagine if you could
Building the lantern tower, almost entirely of wood!

But in spite of the years, storm, rain and gale,
The "Ship of the Fens” continues to sail.
For that is the name by which it is known -
That glorious monument hewn out of stone.

To the lonely traveller in the night
Midst the yellow sodiums, stands out a white light;
it’s the lantern tower shining out over the fen
To join as was intended, God and men.


A young lad from London visited the Fens -
He must have had a discerning eye!
His comment when he stepped from the car:
“Cor, int you got a lotta sky!"

He had spotted in that brief moment
One of the great features of the Fen -
To depict the sunrises and sunsets
With brush or words. defies men.

Even the camera can’t truly capture
Those brilliant multi-coloured skies.
The effect of the light on the landscape
Can hardly be accepted by one’s eyes.

But there are those who scurry on,
Never taking time to look so far...
Sunset, alas, only means to them
It’s time to put the lights on in the car!


We have some strange words in the Fens -
Lunch is DOCKEY or GRUB.
And when the land gets over-wet,
We say it’s gone to SLUB.

Small potatoes are known as CHATS!
Others are SPUDS or TATERS;
And when conditions are very wet,
We wear LALLYGAGS. not gaiters!

Wildlife does not escape strange words -
A HODMEDOD is the name for a snail;
And that little friendly creature
The frog, is the FEN NIGHTINGALE.

And if something belongs to you
We would say it is YOURN.
SHOCK doesn’t only mean trauma,
It may be sheaves of com.

And if something is very small
We would say it was DODDY. 
There must be others I don't know - 
I'd like to hear from anybody!


From my mother a protective hug,
Overhead the rumble of a “doodlebug”;
On her face, fear when the engine stopped.
I can’t even recall now where it dropped.

From the RAF Hospital, in bandages swathed
Came airmen, the results of bombing raids braved.
The clanking train as it went over the river
Pulling truck-loads of bombs for more airmen to deliver.

Over the fields by the stickleback stream
Were men behind barbed wire — prisoners it would seem.
“B” for banana in my alphabet book;
I was ten when my first bite I took.

Another thing, I thought it was funny,
That “coupons” appeared more important than money...
“When the war is over, Daddy will come home” —
 But he didn’t.

These verses, describing the author’s childhood in Ely, have been added to the 2015 print to commemorate the end of World War Two.


Extract made available with the permission of the author Michael Delanoy. "Fenland Facts and Fancies" Poems by Michael Delanoy. Illustrations by Ann Biggs ( Printed by David J Richards, Chatteris ( )