Thursday 3rd November 2011
TOWN criers, often corpulent figures, are thin on the ground these days. The rôle has become almost entirely ceremonial. Some supplement modest incomes with pantomime appearances.
Not all criers were men. The Chester Chronicle tells of a 1793 cry from the town of Northwich, delivered by ‘one of the fair-sex, who has filled that office audibly and laudably more than 20 years’. She is said to have proclaimed:
“This is to gi’ notice that there’s two pigs lost an hooaver brings um to me shall be well rewarded for ther truble, so God save the King an’ the Lord of our Manner – ton’s a red on, and t’ other’s a black on.”
I reckon it would be quite fun if, every now and again, the on-the-hour radio jingle was replaced by a good old, ‘Oyez! Oyez!’ – with Shakespeare employed as a news presenter, encouraging us to listen…
“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!
And gentlemen in England now abed;
Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too.
I’ll put a girdle round the Earth in forty minutes.”
…before announcing the day’s top stories…
“Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war.
Now all the youth of England are on fire.
Truth will come to light; murder cannot be long hid.
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
…followed, perhaps, by coverage of a royal visit overseas…
“The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne,
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up
With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine,
This precious stone set in a silver sea;
Her voice was ever soft, gentle and low.”
…and an NHS report into the dangers of bottle-feeding…
It’s too full o’ the milk of human kindness:
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Dost thou not see my baby at my breast?”
…before concluding with the weather forecast:
“Now is the winter of our discontent;
It droppeth, as the gentle rain from heaven,
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow;
Hence! home, you idle creatures get you home.”
Perchance to dream.