Ethelred: For Teddy

Young Ethelred was only three
Or somewhere thereabouts, when he
Began to show in divers ways
The early stages of the craze
For learning the particulars
Of motor-bikes and motor-cars.
He started with a little book
To enter numbers which he took,
And, though his mother often said,
‘Now, do be careful, Ethelred;
Oh, dear! Oh, dear! What shall I do
If anything runs over you?’
(Which Ethelred could hardly know,
And sometimes crossly told her so),
It didn’t check his zeal a bit,
But rather seemed to foster it;
Indeed it would astonish you
To hear of all the things he knew.
He guessed the make (and got it right)
Of every car that came in sight,
And knew as well its m.p.g.,
Its m.p.h. and £.s.d.,
What gears it had, what brakes, and what –
In short he knew an awful lot.

Now, when a boy thinks day and night
Of motor-cars with all his might
He gets affected in the head,
And so it was with Ethelred.
He called himself a ‘Packford Eight’
And wore a little number-plate
Attached behind with bits of string,
And cranked himself like anything,
And buzzed and rumbled ever so
Before he got himself to go.
He went about on al his fours,
And usually, to get indoors,
He pressed a button, then reversed,
And went in slowly, backmost first.
He took long drinks from mug and cup
To fill his radiator up
Before he started out for school
(‘It kept,’ he said, ‘his engine cool’);
And when he got to school he tried
To park himself all day outside,
At which he Head became irate
And caned him on his number-plate.

So week by week he grew more like
A motor-car or motor-bike,
Until one day an oily smell
Hung round him, and he wasn’t well.
‘That’s odd,’ he said; ‘I wonder what
Has caused the sudden pains I’ve got.
No motor gets an aching tum
Through taking in petroleum.’
With that he cranked himself, but no,
He couldn’t get himself to go,
But merely buzzed a bit inside,
Then gave a faint chug-chug and died.

Now, since his petrol-tank was full,
They labelled him ‘Inflammable,’
And wisely saw to it that he
Was buried safely out at sea.
So, if any time your fish
Should taste a trifle oilyish,
You’ll know that fish has lately fed
On what remains of Ethelred.

It was called Sad Story of a Motor Fan, by HA Field, who apparently contributed to Punch from 1924 to 1931, which I never knew until I Googled it. My English teacher at Dalziel High School, JK Scobbie read it with great gusto. He did everything with gusto. As Class 1A’s car-struck student, I came to be Ethelred. Teddy isn’t three yet. He’s barely two, but anything that moves fascinates him. It did me.