Second-Hand Words

alphabet close up communication conceptual
Photo by Pixabay on


Second-Hand Words

English has many a-loanword;
Absurd a-name, as if to suggest
(Despite how much they’ve grown so blurred
And settled-in, so you’d never have guessed)
The day may come when they must pack
And once and for all be all given back.

French, please take the biscuit,
And Persian, fetch your cash,
Norse, collect your brisket
And Arabic, your sash.
Chinese, we have to unravel your silk,
And German, it’s time please to drink up your milk.

Greek, fly out your planet,
And Spanish, kill your roach,
Italian, shift granite,
And Hungarian, take coach.
Tongan, please, release taboo,
(Though we’ll never shift Tahitian tattoo).

So Hebrew, take Israeli, then,
And Dutch, stop pushing foist.
And Latin – now an alien
With all your words unvoiced.
We hand them back all bent-up and slurred,
And full of…thingy…you know…oh, what’s the word ?



The Advent Carol



The Advent Carol

Who’s behind the first door ?
The solstice is behind the first,
The time the winter Sun is at his least.

Who’s behind the second door ?
The Sun again – the Sun reborn,
Who ushers in the great midwinter feast.

Who’s behind the third door ?
The Holly and the Ivy are,
The evergreens who never drop their cloaks.

Who’s behind the fourth door ?
The Mistletoe !  The Mistletoe !
The green and living soul of sleeping oaks.

Day-by-day, let us remember –
            These are the days of December.

Who’s behind the fifth door ?
Osiris, Mithra, Herakles,
And Zarathustra – ancient gods and myths.

Who’s behind the sixth door ?
The same Gods and their Virgin Births –
And each is born upon the 25th.

Who’s behind the seventh door ?
The ancient and be-sandal’d Greeks,
Engaged in boozy Bacchanalia.

Who’s behind the eighth door ?
The ancient Roman copycats,
Engaged in likewise Saturnalia.

Day-by-day, let us remember –
            These are the days of December.

Who’s behind the ninth door ?
It’s Nicholas, the bishop-saint
Who secretly leaves presents for the poor

Who’s behind the tenth door ?
White of beard and furred of robe:
It’s Odin !  God of gifts and God of war.

Who’s behind the eleventh door ?
It’s Yuletide, when the Wild Hunt charges,
Through the sky and through the feasting halls.

Who’s behind the twelfth door ?
That’s Sleipnir, Odin’s flying steed,
Who lets him drop down chimneys when he calls.

Day-by-day, let us remember –
            These are the days of December.

Who’s behind the thirteenth door ?
It’s Father Christmas, dressed in green,
And feasting heartily, and draining beer.

Who’s behind the fourteenth door ?
Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen,
Comet, Cupid, Dunder, Blixem – Reindeer !

Who’s behind the fifteenth door ?
The Ghost of Christmas Present shows,
That even bustling London has its pause.

Who’s behind the sixteenth door ?
It’s Haddon Sundblom, illustrator,
Painting Coca-Cola’s Santa Claus.

Day-by-day, let us remember –
            These are the days of December.

Who’s behind the seventeenth door ?
It’s Prince Albert’s Tannenbaum –
He’s bringing back the good old the Christmas Tree.

Who’s behind the eighteenth door ?
It’s lots and lots of Christmas Cards,
Showing scenes of seasonality.

Who’s behind the nineteenth door ?
It’s Oxford Street illuminations,
Well-dressed window-shopping costs us nothing.

Who’s behind the twentieth door ?
A Turkey !  Waiting for the chop
With roasties, Yorkshires, bread sauce, sprouts and stuffing !

Day-by-day, let us remember –
            These are the days of December.

Who’s behind the twenty-first door ?
It’s robin redbreasts in the snow –
Though never three together, as a rule.

Who’s behind the twenty-second door ?
A Crib from a Nativity,
As seen on stage in ev’ry prim’ry school.

Who’s behind the twenty-third door ?
Her Majesty, with speech in hand,
Addressing all the little folks to carry on.

Who’s behind the twenty-fourth door ?
It’s Christmas Number One !  Our song !
We know the words, so once more sing along:

Day-by-day, let us remember –
            These are the days of December.

And finally, the twenty-fifth,
So open up and see –
Why look, it’s Mum and Dad, and Gran,
And You, and You, and Me.



The Haunted Schoolyard

black wooden door frame
Photo by ramy Kabalan on


The Haunted Schoolyard

We’ve all heard the stories in the school lunch-queue,
Every village has its ghost or two:
Headless horsemen, women in white…
’Course, we don’t believe you, and you’re just kidding, right ?

Witches had a presence – there was always one around,
But werewolves and vampires, were rarely ever found.
We knew them from the telly, sure: a terrifying throng,
Yet somehow in the villages they didn’t quite belong.

And then there was that we·ird guy who hardly ever spoke,
Since ever since he’d lived alone, and never smiled at folk,
And his house was full of boxes full of empty snail shells,
And it made these funny noises, and sometimes funny smells.

The heroes of the playground were the locals who won’t rot:
The strangled and the drowned and the poisoned and the shot
Spirits of our neighbours – though they’re long since dead and gone –
Except, of course, they’re not.  They’re out there.  Pass it on.



Listen, Children…

low angle view of man standing at night
Photo by Lennart kcotsttiw on


Listen, Children…

Listen to the east-wind as it rattles at the window latch…
Listen to the mice behind the skirting…scritter-scratter-scratch
Listen to the garden foxes gnawing on some unearthed bones…
And listen to the creaking and the thumping and the sighing groans…

Now the sun has gone to bed and now that night has spread its gloom,
Then shall I tell you, children, of the ghost that haunts this very room ?
Listen closely…closer still…behind the death-watch beetle’s click…
And there he is…the ghost of time…the never-ending tick-tick-tick

Shall I tell you, children, shall I tell you what is worse than witches ?
Scarier than sprites and spectres…filling sleep with sweats and twitches…?
Listen then…and listen for the tiny voice on nights like this…
The tiny voice that ev’ry child must hear…must hear its icy hiss…

Never witches…never spectres…nothing ever living on…
Nothing from an afterlife, and nothing but oblivion…

Listen…can you hear it ?  Can you hear the voice from the abyss…?
Listen to the tiny voice that terrifies on nights like this…



Night of the Restful Dead

orange plastic bucket
Photo by on


Night of the Restful Dead

Halloween, when the dead don’t walk,
The wraiths don’t keen and the sprites don’t stalk,
The shades don’t slink, nor devils prowl,
The vamps don’t drink, nor werewolves howl.

Halloween, when the dead stay dead,
The walls aren’t green and the sheets aren’t red,
And physics’ laws still reign supreme,
We’ve got no cause, yet still we scream.

Halloween, when the ghoul-less roam,
Or sleep serene in their haunt-less homes;
We walk this night with carefree airs,
And won’t take fright, nor whisper prayers.

Halloween, when the kids raise Hell –
It’s always been within their spell –
They may look gaunt, but fake their gore –
They only haunt from door-to-door.

Halloween, when the pumpkins smile,
And folks convene in a gothic style –
With tongue-filled cheeks and boozy breath,
They dress as freaks and laugh at Death.

Halloween, when the graves aren’t stirred,
The ghosts aren’t seen nor the banshees heard.
Yet still we fret by thinking dumb
When we forget how far we’ve come.

Halloween, when the mind plays tricks,
And the silver screen gives us frights for kicks.
For this one night, let’s dig suspense;
Just don’t lose sight of our common sense.



One Spot, Two Spot

ladybird on finger
Early Ladybird by Gavin Clack


One Spot, Two Spot

Ladybird, Madam Ladybird, so good of you to call
Will you stay here a little, pack your wings up to crawl ?
Ladybird, Madam Ladybird, have you flown a long way ?
Do you come, Miss, for feasting, or have you eggs to lay ?
Ladybird, Madam Ladybird, your wing-case is ajar;
Won’t you stay a little longer, ere your au revoir ?
Ladybird, Madam Ladybird, how longer is your reign ?
Shall I meet you on the morrow, or never now again ?



Not Telling

exercise equipment skipping rope gym sport
Photo by Dom J on


Not Telling

(a skipping chant)

I’ve got a secret,
Maybe I shall speak it –
Maybe I shall leak my secret indiscreet.

I’ve got a story
Told to me by Rory –
Maybe I shall store my story safe and sweet.

To how many folk
Shall I utter not a croak,
Shall I never chat or jaw
What I saw ?

And how many days
Shall I mutter not a phrase,
Shall I never breathe a word
What I heard ?

Your hunger’s getting bolder,
Your guesses getting colder;
But promise to be good
And I’ll tell you when you’re older.

Five fives are twenty-five
And three threes are nine
I’ve got a secret
And it’s mine, all mine.


There have actually been whole studies conducted into skipping chants and clapping songs, and it seems ti’s a surprisingly conservative world, with endless variations around a few old standards – number one in the playgrounds for the past few decades has been A Sailor Went to Sea, latterly morphed into We Went to a Chinese Restaurant.  I don’t hold out much hope of entering the canon, and quite honestly until it’s been playtested by proper six year olds, we’ll never know if it even meets the brief.