Standing in my kitchen one day when I lived in Sprowston on the outskirts of Norwich, I became aware of a squawking noise in the house, accompanied by heavy banging. On investigation I found it came from our staircase where my Siamese cat Max was struggling to the top dragging a young chicken between his legs. By dint of much praise and coaxing which meant he opened his mouth to thank me back in Siamese, I managed to grab the chicken and affect a rescue.
The next thing was to secure the fowl, so I emptied and up-ended the laundry basket and penned the bird in the garage with some grain while I tried to find where it had been stolen from. I was unsuccessful and the only place I knew that had chickens was a little old-fashioned bungalow a long way off at the end of the road. It was called Mumpers Dingle.
I had peered over the back fence once or twice before, fascinated to see many fancy chickens of every shape, size and variety scraping away in the unkempt grounds pecking at grain the old lady who lived there sprinkled for them. Some sported great floppy topknots of feathers and others heavily-feathered legs. They were every hue of white, gold or black. Cockerels strutted importantly and flashed iridescent colours of blue and green while the duller hens cackled submissively.
There was only one thing for it. Under cover of darkness I stole up the road with my rescued bird under my arm and lobbed it over the gate. Perfect!
I like to think my little rescuee went on to have a happy life at Mumpers Dingle and was sad when the scruffy old property was sold, torn down and urbanised, the little estate of houses built over the grounds primly renamed Holly Bank.
I will never forget the charm of its name though and immortalised it in a song I wrote not surprisingly called - Mumpers Dingle. Of course, the little old lady may or may not have been a spinster called Maisie Green...
Maisie Green was young and keen,
Always fresh and always clean,
All the lads gave her the eye,
Preened themselves when she went by.
Only problem they could see that made them shake and tingle,
Was when they came to take her out and called at Mumpers Dingle.
‘Twas when the boys came calling on that luscious Mistress Green,
They faced a demon cockerel – the like they’d never seen!
Eyes they felt upon them, feathers rustled rough,
Spurs held sharp and ready, their kneecaps for to cut.
Somewhere laid in ambush a cockerel on attack,
Intent on warning suitors that there'd be no coming back!
He’d have their eye, he’d peck their knee
He’d fly their head and hair he’d shred - their very hearts did tremble. (x 2)
Maisie did grow desperate; on boys she was so keen,
Though Ma always insisted that they met with Mr. Green,
Dad was not the problem, so well-disposed was he -
‘Twas crossing the yard from gate to door –
Would they make the kitchen floor?!
The yard it was haphazard, with feathers like a blizzard,
Chicks and hens of every hue,
Around the garden squawked and flew.
Plumes on their legs and crests on their heads
Beaks of yellow and combs of red,
Fancy hens a’scrapin’ at corn and dust and shingle,
Running and a’squawkin’ for the pride of Mumpers Dingle.
Would they come to lasting harm?
(That gave them cause for deep alarm.)
Could they ever spoon with Maisie?
Maisie drove ‘em crazy!
Alas! Alack! Each suitor soon threw down his hat
And called with voice a-trembling:
“Forget our date sweet Maisie Green, I love you dear as you have seen,
You may be young, you may be bright, you’re able, lithe and nimble,
But while that cock is so cock-sure, I’m leaving Mumpers Dingle”.
That cock he lived for ever, ruled the roost ‘til death –
A wizened, old crone now tends his plot, a batty lady time forgot,
All suitors gone, her time dragged on Miss Green was destined single –
Perhaps by now she’d be a wife but for the cock of Mumper’s Dingle?