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Could be Verse...

By Paul Slade
Murder Ballads
Secret London

Trastevere, SE1

Shortly after publishing my Cross Bones Graveyard book, I spent a couple of hours rewriting its introduction as a set of ballad verses. As with the book itself, my intention was to celebrate Southwark’s long history as London’s outlaw borough and the unique role that’s always given it in the city’s life.

“Where to, guv?” the cabbie asked,
As I climbed in the back,
No single answer would suffice,
Instead I gave a stack,

To London’s outlaw borough please,
Which sheltered Roman slaves,
The Bishop’s Clink-chained Liberty,
Of sad, neglected graves,
Beyond the law of London town,
To Bankside’s sordid thrills,
Where all the wildest acid raves,
Were fuelled by party pills,

Where Shakespeare worked and made his home,
Stole wood to build his stage,
Where Falstaff and Doll Tearsheet roamed,
And bears danced in a cage,
Where Renzo’s jagged shard of glass,
Glares down at women’s power,
A shiv waved in a poor man’s face,
A soul-dead, ugly tower,

“Where’s that?” the baffled cabbie cried,
“I need a real address,”
So many answers came to mind,
But which would serve him best?

To over-crowded, bone-strewn earth,
Where paupers, thieves and whores,
Were left to rot in unblessed land,
Far from the church’s doors,
Where ruthless resurrection men,
Prised corpses from their rest,
For sale to learned surgeons,
And never faced arrest,

Where ribboned gates bedecked with gifts,
Now form a modern shrine,
Where pilgrims gather every month,
To further them entwine,
Each name they add’s a love that’s gone,
A misfit, outcast sect,
These gates the sole memorial,
That grants them some respect,

“But where?” the cabbie sobbed. At last,
I knew just what to say,
“To Southwark’s dark and rainy streets,
We’re going to Redcross Way.”


My TLS dinosaur limericks

The Times Literary Supplement's January 14 issue included a highly contentious claim from one of its writers. "If there is a great poem about dinosaurs, I have yet to meet it," declared AE Stallings while assessing a new Edna St Vincent Millay collection.
The paper's weekly podcast picked up on this, challenging its listeners to prove Stallings wrong by citing the best dinosaur poems they knew of. I had nothing to contribute there, so instead I spent a couple of hours writing silly little dinosaur limericks of my own, which the podcast's Lucy Dallas liked enough to read aloud in its February 10 episode. Encouraged by this, I commissioned the cartoonist Nick Gowman to produce the splendid illustration above.
Here's the limericks.

A musical young stegosaurus,
Whose songs he felt sure would restore us,
Set off on a quest,
To give of his best,
By forming a dinosaur chorus,

Young Steggy sang bass in this choir,
The others (thank goodness) sang higher,
Their six-ton soprano,
Leant on the piano,
And smashed it to splinters and wire,

Though scared they would prove megaflops,
They finally pulled out the stops,
And stuck out their necks,
With songs by T. Rex,
On Tricera-top of the Pops,

Up front they had two brontosaurs,
Who snapped out a beat with their claws,
The songs that they sung,
Provoked in the young,
Vecilo-rapturous applause!

A four-legged fiend

Tyson was a vicious dog.
In Satan's wheel, an evil cog,
He'd eat your babies if you let him,
And bit the fools who tried to pet him,

His owners just could not see this,
(How Tyson always took the piss),
I knew it from the day I met him,
And laid my plans to one day get him,

Tyson died a week ago,
His pain was great, his spirits low,
The cause was meat with added ketam-
ine, a dish which much upset him,

And who, you ask, had fed him that?
My name is Fluff - the family cat.

My coronavirus limerick (May 2020).

We're battling a virus called covid,
Which struck like a plague out of Ovid,
To get through it quick,
Constant testing's the trick,
But Boris and Trump can't be bov'id.


Lines inspired by a Jimmy Olsen caption

I came across this glorously silly Jimmy Olsen story in Chris Sims' Comics Alliance essay The 10 Most Insane Jimmy Olsen Moments of All Time. For some reason the caption shown here stuck in my mind, and that evening I produced a bit of doggerel to go with it.
The story, written by Leo Dorfman and drawn by George Papp, dates from Mort Weisinger's reign editing the Superman books. This was what comics fans now call the "Silver Age", a delightfully daft and innocent era of Superman's adventures, which looks all the more charming when set against the torture porn and rape fantasies superhero comics routinely traffic in today.
The plot of The Red-Headed Beatle of 1,000 BC, briefly, is this:
A traveller from the future turns up at Jimmy Olsen's apartment, introduces himself as Kasmir and tells Jimmy he's a policeman from the future.
The Legion of Superheroes (of which Jimmy is a honorary member) has lent Kasmir a time bubble, he explains, so he can collect Jimmy and the two of them can carry out a vital mission into the past.
Jimmy agrees to go along, but Kasmir turns out to be a crook, who needed our hero only to teach him how to operate the time bubble's controls. He strands Jimmy in the Holy Land of the Old Testament, where he's forced to earn his keep by selling home-made Beatle wigs and performing Beatles-style songs in the marketplace to an enthusiastic dancing crowd.
It's this scene which provides the issue's Curt Swan cover. "That catchy drum beat!" one passing Hebrew babe declares. "I can't keep my own feet from twitching!"
Eventually, the teenage Samson (who Jimmy's befriended) punches Kasmir out and Superman turns up to take Jimmy back to present day Metropolis. "You've really started a 'Beatle' fad here, Jimmy," Superman says. "You seem to be as popular as Ringo, the Beatle drummer!"
Sims has more details, including scans of the cover and several more key panels. That link again is: The 10 Most Insane Jimmy Olsen Moments of All Time.

Shortly, in the distant past,
The first comes in behind the last,
The evening's early, morning's late,
Your history fills a future date,
Time's arrow turns the other way,
And points ahead to yesterday,
Slow progress circles backward fast,
Shortly, in the distant past.


A sonnet in praise of PG Wodehouse

I love Wodehouse's books, and they're always the first place I turn when I need a bit of cheering up.
Because his characters lead such privileged lives, some class warrior types deem Wodehouse unacceptable, but I always feel they're missing the point. Politics doesn't really exist in his books' world - anymore than sex does - and why would anyone deprive themselves of the chance to read such sublimely funny prose?
This sonnet - in a slightly different form - was first published in Wooster Sauce, the PG Wodehouse Society's newsletter. Line four's a bit dodgy, but otherwise I'm quite pleased with it.

It's no surprise Plum's called the master scribe,
As antidote to gloom he can't be beat,
His subjects are the leisured English tribe,
Named Bingo, Bertie, Gussie and Catsmeat,
Their revels are conducted at the Drones,
Where bread-roll missiles nightly fill the air,
A world unstained by death or mobile phones,
Where lovers' tiffs and scrapes are worst you'll bear,
Where foolish, harmless, innocent young men,
Invite us in to share their sunlit bliss,
All problems yield to Jeeves' advice and then,
Each man's united with his ideal miss,
Inverted snobs who shun the pleasures here,
Achieve but this: to rob themselves of cheer.


The Ballad of Helen Titchener

My murder ballad about a high profile storyline in BBC radio soap The Archers. I've explained how I came to write it here.

Helen's heart always got damaged,
She never had much luck with men,
The winged god of love always managed,
To pick her a wrong 'un again,

First it was Greg the gamekeeper,
He wasn't a barrel of fun,
Greg made a date with the Reaper,
Gave his last kiss to a gun,

Helen thought, "I know the answer,
"I must be too fat for romance,"
Developed an eating disorder,
Led all her family a dance,

Cheese-making proved her salvation,
Thank God for Borsetshire Blue!
Helen enjoyed its creation,
Set up a shop for it too,

Still she could not be contented,
Decided she wanted a brat,
Her parents both thought her demented,
When she used a sperm bank for that,

Henry was born nine months later,
They both lived in bliss for a while,
Helen climbed out of her crater,
Helen was learning to smile,

But then - and we all might have guessed it,
For some are just put here to sob,
Her next prize from out of the cesspit,
Was married and bullying Rob,

Rob left his wife to wed Helen,
Soon she was pregnant again,
Though sometimes they seemed to be gellin',
Poor Helen was losing her brain,

Rob moulded Helen like putty,
Wormed his way into her head,
Told her her dresses were sluttly,
Forced himself on her in bed,

Threatened to send Henry packing,
Made her quit work at the shop,
Told her, "Your sanity's lacking",
Told her her driving must stop,

Kirsty saw what he was weavin'
Rob was destroying her friend,
Kirsty told Helen to leave him,
Bring this abuse to an end,

Helen screwed up all her courage,
Told Rob he was ruining her life,
Told him, "I'm ending the marriage",
Rob handed Helen a knife,

"Go on, then, Helen," Rob told her,
"Your suicide's much for the best,"
Helen grew suddenly bolder,
Stabbed rotten Rob in the chest,

Now Helen's awaiting her trial,
And Rob's in a hospital bed,
For all of his cunning and guile,
Rob might very well end up dead,

Will Helen face charges for murder?
Will Henry be put into care?
Will Ambridge discover what stirred her?
Just tune in tonight - if you dare.


Twitter Poetry

Twitter is perfect for short-form poems like limericks, clerihews and haikus. Remaining within the 140-character limit while still maintaining a strict rhyme sceme and making sure everything scans adds an interesting extra discipline.
Under my somewhat arbitrary house rules, punctuation is optional, ampersands allowed and bonus marks awarded whenever you hit 140 characters on the nose."

Limerick tweet (character count: 140)
Why limerick tweets don't abound?
The reason is simple & sound
12 squared minus 4
(Not one letter more)
Will drive you right into the ground

Clerihew tweet (character count: 99)
Clerihew tweeting,
Is quite self-defeating,
It's only in Heaven your,
Count will reach seven-score.

Iambic pentameter tweet (character count: 140)
I say we all must write in iambs now
Pentameter as well, as did the Bard
He often wrote in this poetic form
& we do well to copy him in that


"Mushy peas for ninja stealth farts"

You either find farting funny or you don't. Guess which camp I'm in?
This one was inspired by a genuine piece of playground grafitti I spotted near where I live in north London. The rhythm of the key phrase made it stick in my head, so I wrote these lines to try and make it stick in your head too. You're welcome.

"Mushy peas for ninja stealth farts",
Chalked up on the playground wall,
"Mushy peas for ninja stealth farts",
Free advice for one and all,

"Mushy peas for ninja stealth farts",
Silent farts, I think it means,
"Mushy peas for ninja stealth farts",
(Also powered by sprouts and beans),

"Mushy peas for ninja stealth farts",
Noiseless burst of noxious air,
"Mushy peas for ninja stealth farts",
No-one knows who left it there,

"Mushy peas for ninja stealth farts",
Bobby's planning further fun,
"Mushy peas for ninja stealth farts",
Brewing up another one,

"Mushy peas for ninja stealth farts",
Smugly, he lets loose the next,
"Mushy peas for ninja stealth farts",
Foul air spreading from his kecks,

"Mushy peas for ninja stealth farts",
Birds fall choking from the skies,
"Mushy peas for ninja stealth farts",
Stench so bad it burns your eyes,

"Mushy peas for ninja stealth farts",
Passers-by drop to their knees,
Meanwhile, Bobby, back at home, re-
Loads his tum with mushy peas.