Sir Walter Scott had a tame dot
He kept locked in a book on his shelf.
It was stolen by gypsies,
Forced to join an ellipsis…
Thus losing its concept of self.
Next show at three o’clock.
The clock strikes. We remember the tatty window. Striped canvas framing a series of shabby events. There have been whispers of wife beating, but the Policeman avoids involvement in mere domestic upsets.
The clock strikes again. We remember the Beadle arriving at the same time as the photographer. He’s terribly attracted to Judy and considers that adultery would not be out of the question. If the circumstances were right.
In another part of the hotel Mr Punch makes plans. Judy has taken an aspirin and is lying down in their dark bedroom. Mr Punch shows tact. “No more tears in the wardrobe,” he tells her. She has concealed Mr Punch’s stick under the sink.
Is the hotel haunted? Sometimes Mr Punch’s imagination daubs white bodies across the counterpanes. He scratches improperly and giggles.
That afternoon Mr Punch watches his audience gather. His colleagues talk quietly, destined for failure, trying to elect a spokesman. The baby is the subject of some discussion. “Democracy is the refuge of nervous old men,” claims Mr Punch.
The baby is quiet now and we shall know the reasons behind that in due course. The crocodile arrives and poses for pictures.
The Policeman detaches himself from the huddle of minor characters. “In marital disputes,” he observes, “One must ask oneself, are the weights more or less evenly distributed? What was she looking for? Did she belittle him with intellectual discussion? What comments does she make about him to her friends?”
“In my marital disputes decisions are reached through compromises,” counters Mr Punch. “One must ask oneself, how heavy are the utensils? Are the advantages evenly distributed? Had she already been discarded?” In the hotel every evening Mr Punch makes comments to his friends about the women who walk through the foyer. In his diary he writes their names, which change daily.
Should the Policeman have found out the connections between his treatment of close family members and his relationship with casual callers and passers-by? Joey the Clown is now running the American operation so we can’t ask him.
The photographer arranges the minor characters in a shifting range of poses, woes paraded for the camera’s flash.
Does Mr Punch hear crocodiles every day? Next show at three, the clock says. Each person signals his desires and fears. Mr Punch is frightened each morning by dreams of his baby crying. There are teethmarks on his stick. “We become subject to the needs of our children,” he cries, momentarily impotent.
The doctor talks gently to Judy and administers the white pills. Chuckling to himself, Mr Punch reconstructs his daily fantasies.
He accepts easily the cheers of the audience. They are here as actors on his stage. All will be made to illustrate exactly what shocks them when they perceive it in others.
Mr Punch kills his baby. There are reports of crocodiles. What has been done in the name of Mr Punch? In Judy’s eyes, Mr Punch exists. “He is real,” she claims.
In the hotel room Judy is naked. Mr Punch turns on the television. There is general agreement that their hourly screams are the closest they’ll get. Mr Punch plans and giggles. Let her eyes be closed while his hand is on her. Kissie, kissie.
Judy laughs, she is young and strikingly beautiful. “Women can be ambitious, demoralised, abused even,” says Mr Punch, who has just finished making love. “Or they may scheme with the Hangman.”
Snatching shots between shows, the photographer wonders how often Mr Punch’s scriptwriters lose their nerve. His camera catches Judy smiling, the sun sparkling in her eyes and on the sea lapping.
“He is just a trickster,” Judy tells the onlookers. She is sunbathing before the next show starts. In his office desk Mr Punch now stores napalm. Judy, according to rumours, will retaliate this time. She looks in the mirror, noting what has been missed by the camera.
More talk in the hotel foyer. The Beadle arrives. Where is the baby? Everything must be questioned by the Policeman. Before the end of today he will ask the Hangman to give up his noose.
Mr Punch slips off the padded hump, removes the false nose and relaxes. Judy brings the evening papers which he scans for complaints about the quality of his performance and the number of deaths resulting from it. The comments of the children please him. Apparently in the past year his stick has been stolen by souvenir hunters nine times.
Judy arrives with a cup of tea for Mr Punch. Stirring it, he sighs, “We actors are always confused with our roles.” Judy wears the apron Mr Punch bought for her.
Mr Punch muses on his women. Their red tongues flick so, speaking as if talking is to know. He plans and giggles, ignoring his manager’s proposals to stop Dog Toby fouling his parking space and the sands where the children are to sit.
The actors gather for dinner. Soup is served as their dreams shiver in the evening light. Mr Punch will watch them play their parts as if free from observation. Their words are like flags they wave at him, flags which flap at us all, echoing the crack of the canvas on the empty beach.
The photographer reloads his camera. “Must look as if we’re busy,” croaks the Hangman, clutching his copy of The Daily Mail while swinging pop-eyed from his own gibbet. There are reports, again, of crocodiles.
Twelve hours and three deaths later Mr Punch pauses carefully for our laughter. Congratulatory telegrams and roses wait in his room, clichéd and unanswered.
The be-ribboned pavilion is empty now. Most of the children have been beaten to death with spades. The few survivors are being buried alive beneath ingenious sand-castles, topped with little paper flags on sticks. What a pity.
There were so many highlights in 2016 that it was really difficult to pick just ten. So many memorable moments and photos to choose from. Photographs here:
10 Tango at the Dance Connections holiday in Paphos, Cyprus.
9 Minack Theatre in Cornwall.
8 Parasailing in Paphos.
7 Extensive tapas lunch on the Jeep Safari, Cyprus.
6 Cruising on the Nile.
5 Abu Simbel, Egypt.
4 Chatsworth, Beyond Limits sculpture exhibition.
3 Doomsday South: The Ripper Walk with Tracy Wise.
2 Rufford Park with Anna, Harley and Maggie.
1 St Ives.
In fact the whole of 2016 was a highlight! Thanks and very best wishes to our family, friends and all who shared these and other bits of our year together. Happy New Year from Julie and Russell xx.
Here is this year’s Christmas verse for my grandchildren. I’d intended to write a follow-up to Matilda’s Magic Christmas, but it didn’t really work out satisfactorily. So, meet Timmy…
’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house
Nothing was stirring, except Tim the mouse.
His Mum was asleep and so was his Dad,
But poor little Timmy was feeling quite sad.
He’d heard about Santa and all of his toys
He dropped off each Christmas for good girls and boys.
So this Christmas Eve he’d said to his Mum,
“As we don’t have a chimney, will Santa still come?”
“A visit from Santa,” she said, “Would be nice,
But Santa’s for humans; he’s no gifts for mice.”
Christmas, thought Timmy, was really unfair,
And down his nose ran a solitary tear.
So on Christmas Eve he lay in his bed,
Thinking of Santa and what his mother had said.
Then in the distance he heard a soft jingle…
His whiskers were twisting and starting to tingle.
He crept from his bed and through the mousehole,
And spotted a sight that gladdened his soul:
A guy dressed in red with a long curly beard!
Timmy, on tiptoes, got as close as he dared.
Then Santa turned round, giving Timmy a fright,
“What are you doing awake on this Christmas night?”
“Sorry Santa,” said Timmy, “I just couldn’t sleep,
I’ll go to bed now; you won’t hear a peep.”
He set off for his hole, but Santa called, “Wait!
Why the sad face on this joyous date?”
“Well you see,” Timmy said, “I’m only a mouse,
But I know that at Christmas you visit each house,
Bringing for all the good girls and the boys
Some sweets, or a book or lovely new toys…”
“That’s right,” said Santa, “Look under the tree.”
Timmy ran over, and what did he see?
Presents wrapped gaily, laid out in a row,
At the end a big package tied with a bow.
He grasped the box tightly between his two paws
For the label attached read ‘To Tim, from S. Claus.’
“Thank you Santa,” he said, with a smile ear to ear,
“Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year!”
Those of you who notice these things may have noticed that there is a gap on this blog betwen Terrible Tales 2 and 4. Not unnaturally, in this case, that position was filled by Terrible Tales 3, which, because of the dance connection, I posted on my tango blog. To save you having to click over and expose yourself to unwanted terpsichorial esoteria, I thought I’d repost it here in the earnest hope that it will serve as a warning to anyone contemplating tripping the dark fantastic on the heaving deck of a small to medium sized sea-going craft.
Norm’s Last Tango
Norman was a square-dance caller
On a North Atlantic trawler.
Should the crew be feeling low
He’d get them all to dosey-do.
Even in quite stormy weather
He’d gather all the guys together.
“Come on chaps, let’s get dancing.
You’ll find it really life enhancing!”
One day he thought he’d raise the bar…
Which turned out to be a step too far.
How much further could a man go
Than teaching fishermen to tango?
When walking backwards in high heels
He tripped upon a box of eels,
Which quite upset the swarthy captain,
Whose close embrace poor Norm was wrapped in.
He’d planned on cutting quite a dash
But his hopes all ended with a splash.
He’d probably be still alive
If he’d stuck to salsa, waltz or jive.
[Vintage photographs of Hull Trawler SS New Zealand adapted from whatsthatpicture.com]
As an alternative to burial or cremation Mabel’s approach may be seen by many as deeply inappropriate. But is it right that we should criticise without knowing truly what her intentions were? She and her dear brother may have been animal lovers; perhaps Mabel saw her actions as respecting Freddy’s feelings as she perceived them, and thereby giving him the opportunity, in death, to provide for the animals he loved.
Mabel and Freddy at the Zoo
Mabel Eddy loved her Teddy
And her brother, Freddy, too.
But when poor Fred died in bed
She tried to sell him to the zoo.
The keeper smiled and shook his head,
“We have no use for Freddy dead.
If you’d brought him round here yesterday
We might have been prepared to pay.
“The lions and tigers think, what a bore,
With meat that lies there on the floor.
But their ears prick up to hear the sound
Of little lads that run around.
“We like our dinners quietly steaming
Not chasing up and down and screaming.
Lions and tigers aren’t the same
The chase for them’s part of the game.”
Mabel thought for just a tick,
“What if I poke him with a stick?
That might help them make their mind up,
Unless they catch on it’s a wind-up.”
So they threw poor Freddy in the den
And counted slowly up to ten.
A lion appeared and looked around
And spotted Freddy on the ground.
The keeper hissed, “Wait for my nod,
Then grab your stick and start to prod.”
The lion approached with steady tread,
But seized poor Mabel’s stick instead…
One mighty heave, without a pause,
Till Mabel reached its slavering jaws.
The moral of this story’s true…
Don’t take dead siblings to the zoo.
We should all be free to follow our dreams, that goes without saying. But sometimes such dreams, or fantasies, may have unexpected consequences; whatever we may perceive as the initial benefits. This was certainly true in the case of Henry (“Hen” to his friends) Pendragon-Brown…
A Cautionary Story
My brother’s a chicken, at least that’s what he said.
He eats nothing but cornflakes and lives in our shed.
We should call a doctor, our Sis often begs;
I reckon we could do, but Mum needs the eggs,
They’re tasty and fresh; we have them on toast.
But I’m worried about Dad… he loves Sunday roast!
Trick or Treat
We’re going out for Trick or Treat,
Dad, please drive us down the street.
Dad said No, now off you go…
So, a little petrol and a wire,
Now it’s father’s funeral pyre.
A few years ago I started to collect curious, and often extremely weird, photographs. Many are quite disturbing and lead you to speculate about the story behind them. Later I began to write short verses to go with these oddities.
A few days ago I read Ransom Riggs’ excellent book Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, itself inspired by and illustrated with similar vintage found snapshots. That stirred me to go back to these photographs and my stories in verse. Perhaps I’ll post a few here….
No Bacon Saved for Arthur Batley
Arthur Batley thought it neat
To dress himself in sides of meat.
Until one day he ventured out
With ne’er a second thought or doubt.
His wife said, “Arthur, don’t be late,
Supper time is half-past eight.”
At nine a knock came at the door,
“Open please, this is the law.”
A policeman there with visage grave
Said, “Arthur’s gone too far to save.”
He handed her a battered hat…
“The rest’s been eaten by a cat.”
“Oh dear, that’s sad,” said Mrs B,
“Won’t you have a cup of tea?”
She wiped away a sudden tear,
“Or perhaps you’d like a glass of beer?”
“I poured it out at half-past eight,
And Arthur’s meal’s still on the plate;
You have it, he won’t be wanting that
After being eaten by a cat.”