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Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Don't Take A Fence

'Don’t Take A Fence' by Paul Curtis.

Don’t Take A Fence

My uncle John the fence died

When I heard I felt quite sorry

It was poetic justice though

As he fell off the back of a lorry
Copyright © Paul Curtis. All Rights Reserved

This is a lovely little poem which may need some explaining for non-English readers. In Wales 'John the fence' would be a man who erected fences; in England and elsewhere it would be a man who received stolen goods.
And in British English (I'm not sure about elsewhere - please let me know), something that 'fell off the back of lorry' means it was stolen so I can sell it to you cheaply!
I'm listening to the wonderful John Prine singing his own song, the achingly sad, Hello in There. He was past his best in this live recording but still has the power to convey a moving story. You can listen here.
There are also good versions by Bette Midler and Joan Baez.

14 comments:

Andrew said...

Fell off the back of a truck is our term. I don't think fence is used here, more likely dealing in stolen property by the police, but given I don't mix in such fencing circles, I am not sure of the lingo.

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

Yes, it has the same meanings here. John did meet his end in a very fitting way. A few weeks ago there was a string of robberies near here where someone was going through unlocked cars in driveways and removing anything of value. The robber was not caught but the goods were recovered from a known fence in a different investigation.

I have not heard the John Prine rendition of Hello in There, but I have heard the wonderful Bette Midler’s versionI. It is beautiful and very sad.

Parnassus said...

Hello Bazza, Yes, the meanings are the same in America--fence is the same, and we of course substitute truck for lorry. Sometimes when something falls off the back of a truck, it gets slightly damaged, so that "it is perfect except for a scratch on the serial number."

In Taiwan there is a somewhat equivalent phrase "water goods," for questionably legal (or totally illegal) smuggled goods.
--Jim

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Now that you explain the terminology, I really like that poem. Very clever! The term "fence" for someone who sells ill-gotten goods is familiar, but not the "falling off the back of a lorry." (or truck" Closest thing to that I knew was along the lines of, "I didn't fall off a turnip truck," meaning I'm not that gullible.)

The song? Wow! I wasn't familiar with either the singer or the song, but it sure struck a resonant chord with me. My eyes are still a little teary.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - English is one funny language ... even in Welsh! Let alone where the goods fell off that truck ... Paul's poem is so sad, yet with a wee tipple could be so true ... absolutely love your listening track ... cheers Hilary

bazza said...

Andrew: I'm glad to hear that you aren't involved in fencing! I think the term 'lorry' would be understood in Australia though.

bazza said...

Arleen: I don't think leaving the car unlocked, even in the safest neighbourhoods, is a good idea! When I was a child in a 'respectable' working-class area, people would often not lock their front-doors - not so now!
I think John Prine is undervalued as a song-writer.

bazza said...

Jim: I think most British people would understand the majority of American words that differ from ours. It's not a two-way street though!

bazza said...

Susan: Ah, you've clearly led a sheltered life Susan. Maybe you fell off the back of a turnip truck! That's a new expression to me which I love. I'll use it on my daughters...
John Prine was unfortunate to appear on the scene just after Bob Dylan and, because he sounded a bit like him, was somewhat overlooked as a copycat. He's gone on to prove that's not the case.

bazza said...

Hilary: I really enjoy short punchy and pithy poems. I'm glad you enjoyed the John Prine song. Try Bette Midler's version too.

Hels said...

Ha ha

If a person fell off the back of a lorry, he was being very careless.

If goods fell off the back of a lorry, he was being very shifty :)

bazza said...

Hels: Poetic Justice (these days it's Karma) is a sobering thing!

Sherry Ellis said...

I'm glad you explained the English meaning of this. Otherwise I would have never known it was about a thief.

bazza said...

Sherry: Yes, it had occurred to me that, as Winston Churchill said, we are two nations divided by a common language.