All Chalk, No Cheese

All Chalk, No Cheese

Cowes, atop the Isle of Wight –
East and West, though much the same –
Victorian and seaside-y,
With boats and seagulls running free.
And not a single cow in sight –
No running of the bulls – for shame !
No fording droves between the piers,
No cowboys showing off their steers.
And don’t come here in Cowes Week, right !
It doesn’t live up to its fame !
It’s not the time when bullocks battle,
Not a trace of rutting cattle.
Why then whet our appetite,
To wastes its strange and lively name ?
There are no bovine sacrifices,
Just cream teas at tourist prices.

I know, I know, despite a spine of rolling chalk downs through the Island, Cowes itself sits atop clay…


Jenny von Westphalen & Jenny Lind (both born Johanna). Presumably their J’s were soft.


Women have answered to ‘Jenny’ far longer than ‘Jennifer’,
Whether they’re maidens or maids –
A pet form of Janet, Joanna, or even Siobhan,
She’s really a jack-of-all-trades.
Old English had a few Jinifers, sure,
But those weren’t Guiniveres, those were Junipers –
Then, from nowhere, Jennifer came –
From Cornwall, and from a parallel universe.

As the Twentieth Century progressed,
The Jennies were pressed into service
And switched their allegiance to Jennifer only,
And rode her success to over-abundance –
Then into the downward curve of redundancy,
No longer heroines, neighbours, or queens –
But surely we’ll always remember the Jennies,
As wrens, or as donkeys, or spinning machines.

Monte Rosa

Monte Rosa

Hamburg built, to take the Germans
Down to Argentina.
A prize of war, she soon was serving
Those who thought the grass was greener.

In her life, she’d carried Jews to Auschwitz,
But that’s over now.
Now she carried demobbed troops about,
A thousand berths from stern to prow.

Renamed for a Cotswolds river,
Some say that’s bad luck –
Fortune, though, would soon deliver
When her new name really stuck.

Under-occupied in Kingston,
Looking for some cash,
A bill in Parliament that worried some
Enough to make a dash.

She didn’t carry most who followed those,
Yet hers the fame –
The right ship at the right time, I suppose,
And with a poet’s name.


Pink Sugar by Olivier Ponsonnet


Aisha Asher always thinks her name
Has too few letters in it –
It takes a whole three syllables to say,
But not to write.
She likes the sound, but oh, that spelling !
How she longs to discipline it –
Make those letters toe the line,
And keep their phonemes tight.
Whenever a teacher or a stranger
Tries, and fails, to call her,
They’re guaranteed to get it wrong
If reading it as penned.
Ay-sha, they would call her, like the Geisha from Croatia,
It appals her,
But…she cannot really blame them in the end.
Her A is really said like I,
Her I is really said like E,
But who would know to see it written down ?
She toys with splitting them apart with Y,
To keep her diphthongs free,
Or adding dots above the E,
Despite her mother’s frown.
But nobody respects her favoured spellings, anyway –
(It doesn’t help that they are apt to change).
It looks like she is stuck
With a name no-one can say,
Eternally surprising in her strange.

Sons of Milka

The First Discord by De Scott Evans – I’m showing Cain & Abel here because Uz & Buz are inexplicably much overlooked by painters

Sons of Milka

Uz and Buz were brothers,
Way back in the Bible-time,
Who rightly cursed their mother
For her blatant naming-crime.

Uz was older, but Buz was bigger –
“The whole of you is held in me,
Yet I am more than your slight figure,
For you shall never be my B.”

“Not so !” said Uz, “For in the lore
Of old King James, I’ve letters three –
I have an H that stands before,
So they dub me Huz in the KJV !”

So, Uzz and Buzz, or Ooze and Booze ?
Or maybe one of each, who knows ?
And in the end, they got to choose,
But never told us what they chose.


Photo by Andrii Lobur on


The European Garden Spider
Bore a name both accurate and dull.
Till some do-gooding Victorian
Decided to give the matter a good old mull –
And, believing truth must always bow
To poetic hyperbole,
He grandly named them all orb-weavers
And wrote to the Times after tea.
Who cares if the webs are as flat as a silk cravat ?,
(Of course, monogrammed).
Should he have named them all plate-spinners ?
Geometry be d-mned !

End of the Line

End of the Line

I’ve never been to Cockfosters –
What strange exotic waits me there ?
A land where roosters shelter chicks,
And spread the corn for all to share ?

I’ve never been to Ruislip West
Where ‘U’s are silent all the day,
Or Barnet High, the net of bars –
And what of Watford, anyway ?

I’ve never been to Edgeware’s edge,
That surely teeters on the void –
Or seen the walths of Walthamstow,
Or beckoned Beckton, overjoyed.

There’s Abbey Wood, the timber church –
That’s just a train away, I swear !
And Morden Moor, and Stoney Weald ?
They’re waiting for me, if I dare…

Beyond Uranus

Devonian Constellations 1 by NocturnalSea

Beyond Uranus

Alfie O’Ryan is quite the star,
With a name as bloated as he –
Some call him Beetle Juice,
Some call him Battle Geese,
Lord knows what he was to Ptolemy.

And then there’s Wry Gull and Puppies in Booties,
If I eat a careener, will it turn out Serious ?
And do we get to call these,
The Piss Keys and the Higher-D’s ?
We need an Older Baron to make it less mysterious.

Well, how should they be pronounced ?
We have to teach ourselves by the ounce –
We read them in textbooks with no overseer,
Just Awful Yuccas and Cassy O’Pier.

As I’ve detailed elsewhere, Betelgeuse was pretty much dead to Ptolemy. I have heard it suggested that he didn’t care for the fixed stars because they were, well, fixed – unlike his real passion, the wandering planets.


Sheffield Fingerpost Signs by Leander Architectural


Dark Age place-names,
Leave-a-trace names,
Honestly-describe-the-space names:
Bearing no hyperbole,
They simply stated verbally
What ev’rybody thought the place was,
Giving not a thought to status.

And so we find throughout the nation
Sagebrush prison, Pighill station,
Goatranch airport, Crowfilledwood,
Watertown of the Sisterhood,
Snotti’s Homestead, Northern Trading,
Ladies’ Landing, Stags-are-Wading,
Cheesefarm Green and Hillhill Hill –
Names most Super-Mare and Brill.

But names can be the falsest friend:
Like Middlesex and Lickey End,
Or Swansea, Inkpen, Kentish Town,
The many heights of Lower Down,
Or Upper Slaughter, East Kilbride.
Or Leatherhead and Barkingside.
Nether Wallop, Ugley, Beer,
Towcester, Staines and Wigan Pier

But meanings can survive intact,
As more Bridgnorth than Pontefract:
With Sevenoaks, we safely stand,
And Newport, Battle, Westmorland.
There’s Mill Hill, Highgate, Firbank Fells,
The Mousehole Caves, and Bath, and Wells.
The Otter river is no riddle,
Unlike, say, the Ouse or Piddle.

And if I claimed I knew a place
Called Kismeke Wick or Running Chase,
Or Buttermouth, or Chattering,
Or Shepherds Peak and Hattersing,
Or Owland Buzzard, Wethergale,
Or Buxham Hills and Settingsale,
Or Swallow Spit, or Barnet Shears ?
Would you believe your English ears ?

Twenty-Eight Alone


Twenty-Eight Alone

February, February,
Went and gave his days away.
He lent a trio to July
(Who’d bent a few of his awry);
He loaned his days out to July,
But never thought they’d beg to stay.
“Oh please, oh please !” would cry each splinter,
“Please don’t send us back to Winter !”

February, February,
Short on shorter days, for sure.
He’ll get no refund from July,
For he’s a seizer on the sly;
His days are dogs, his summers high,
And cancerous his lure.
“I’ll send them back when good and through:
Maybe in a thousand years or two.”