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Pisser Willy’s Teeth

A tale

A man of my acquaintance tells
a story from the dales and fells
of County Durham under snow
now nearly sixty years ago,
in 1962-stroke-3.

His uncle was a farmer; he
enjoyed a — still undying — fame
and Pisser Willy was his name
or, rather, nickname, for this reason:
in all weathers, every season,
from his farmhouse by the Tees,
come rain or shine, come heat or freeze,
he went by paths and over stiles
three lonely upward country miles
of lead-mine workings, millstone grit,
to find his special chair, and sit
in comfort in The Miner’s Rest
and drink five pints of Durham’s best;
then, on the quicker downhill road,
discreetly void his liquid load,
arriving home prepared for sleep
prolonged, and sonorous, and deep.
Next morning, we should quickly say,
he rose refreshed to greet the day;
his eye was bright, his head was clear —
a tribute to the local beer.

At Christmas 1962
the snow began to fall, and through
the next three months, till spring awoke
the land, there lay a thick white cloak
which drifted high above the hedges.
People went about on sledges;
pipes froze up; babes were delivered
in the backs of cars. We shivered.

Pisser’s nature made him slow
to change a lifetime’s habits, so
he went, as usual, after dinner,
treading where the snow was thinner
up towards the friendly light
which drew him.

                                    One returning night,
unbuttoning at urgent speed
to meet a beer-related need,
he tripped up on a frozen root
and felt — aghast — his false teeth shoot
straight out of his mouth. They flew
into a six-foot drift. He knew
his biting gear was lost to sight,
deep in a wilderness of white.

Loss of NHS free dentures:
worst of rural misadventures!
Pisser long before had had
the teeth God gave him, which were bad,
exchanged for made ones, strong and straight
and paid for by the welfare state.

Lesser persons would, if caught
so inconveniently short,
have cursed the fates which rule our life.
Not Pisser; as he told his wife,
‘I’ll manage rightly with my gums
until the better weather comes.’

And so he did, though forced to eat
a softer diet, with less meat;
which to our more enlightened eyes
might seem a blessing in disguise.
Not so to him; unlike Jack Sprat
he sucked the bones and chewed the fat.

The vernal equinox had passed;
the thaw was on its way at last.
One lighter evening, Pisser strode
as usual on his upward road.
There, on a patch intensely green,
two hemispheres, white, pink and clean,
like strings of pearls which God had kept
unsullied while the earth had slept
all long hard winter, caught his eye.
He picked them up, and with the cry
of one who has restored a lack,
he put them, top and bottom, back.

That evening in The Miner’s Rest
the other drinkers were impressed
by Pisser’s rare exalted mood.
He said, ‘I’ve been a bit off food
without my teeth. But still, I think
I’ve taken goodness from the drink.’

Entire where he had been bereft,
from then on Pisser wisely left
his dentures on the window sill
each night before he climbed the hill.