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.
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 ?
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.”
Lis’ning to psychelic music, Joss stick sending up a stream, Lava shadows on the ceiling, Red wine drifting off to dream. Don’t need drugs to taste the acid, Just an over-yellow mind- It’s gonna be one of those fitful nights When the gears of my conscious grind.
Too much psychedelia, It’s not from the drugs, this trance, though – I swear, just wine, and a lack of coffee, So why do the colours dance so ?
I guess that I must be dreaming ? I really hope that I’m dreaming… Cos if this is really psychotrope Then I’m trapped inside a kaleidoscope.
I guess there are folks who deal with this ev’ry day – Does it make me a bad person to say That I never wanted to end up that way ? Like this way. Like slipping down the slope.
Lis’ning to psychelic noodling, Playing somewhere, distant, bleak – It’s gonna be one of those endless nights When the door of perception creak.
Too much recycled dioramaa, But if not drugs, then what have I taken ? If only I’d swallowed some bloody caffeine Cos I need to reawaken.
So why am I still here dreaming ? Or what am I not here dreaming ? It’s not any pills from off the shelf, But maybe my brain has brewed some itself ?
Maybe it’s cloning its own serotonin all day, Or morphing endorphins to help it to play. Or doped-up on dopamine, drooling away ? Who’s to say ? Is it madness by stealth ?
Lis’ning to psychedelic mumbling, Needle jumping, stuck on repeat – It’s gonna be one of those Mobius nights When Alice can’t find her feet.
Too much psyched-out sepia – I don’t even own a secret stash, But these uninvited thoughts wanna dance, Now this party’s about to crash.
Can I still hope I’m nothing but dreaming ? I gonna need help if I find I’m not dreaming Cos I just don’t know how I’m gonna survive If I’m right here awake and I’m streaming this live.
I don’t want to crash, but I don’t want to stay, So help me to crash to an overcast day – Cos there’s so many colours, I can’t find my way – Help me, pray, when the DTs arrive.
Lis’ning to spaced-out psychic music, Sometimes my mind is not my friend, Cos psychedelic may sound angelic, But it’s based on the blues in the end.
Poor little child, for now comes the naming, The blanding and saming, The cautious conforming, The def’nitely not standing out from the norming. But, loving parents, just look to your child, For whatever’s chosen is hereafter filed – For eighteen years onwards they cannot correct, So only with courage and passion select.
For do we so need yet another Amanda ? Or Johnny or Sandra ? Or Alan or Gary ? And are we deficient in Tom, Dick or Harry ? So please do not foist them with Julie or Sam, Nor Timmy, nor Mary, nor Philip, nor Pam. For Cathy and Bill are as common as Claire While Helens and Davids are found everywhere.
Now these names aren’t bad, they are just overused, Their power diffused. While others, no fairer, Must serve in a purpose beyond their poor barer – To label a kid with your own precious name Is vanity foremost, to make them the same, To moniker sprogs just to honour the dead Is dubious burden to thrust in their head.
Yet some names stand out from the Susan and Ron – Like Homer or Marlon, Like Kingsley or Rudyard, Like Heathcliff, or Linford, or else Isambard. So Brooke and Keanu and Kelsey and Storm Can ease off some pressure from Amy and Norm. Give each of us fewer with whom we need share – A little less common, a little more rare.
One of my first attempts to document my fascination with names, and also an early foray into my habit of versifyig a checklist. I note that all of the examples in the final stanza call to mind a particular individual, which I’m sure I intended, but which I now think would be just as unfortunate on the poor kids as calling them Alfie or Sophie.
The Anglo-Saxons had their own names –
Had no need for our Kate or James –
Some, like Swithin and Thunor, perhaps,
Are only found on churches and maps –
Yet some, like Edward and Hilda, survive,
Though Cedric and Cuthbert are barely alive –
And Mildred and Wilfred are old-fashioned now,
Yet rather less Saxon than Dickens, somehow.
The same with Ethel and Edith – I swear
They sound quite common, for all that they’re rare,
While some like Dunstan, Wymond, Wystan,
Are as old-money posh as Aubrey and Tristan. Stanley and Beverley back then were place names,
While Hengist and Offa are leave-just-a-trace names,
And Osborn and Osmond are now only surnames,
While Hrothgar sees Roger become the preferred name.
So Alfred and Albert are still doing fine,
But Harold and Winston are on the decline –
And Edmund and Edgar are straight out of yore,
While Edwin and Winfred are winners no more.
Barbara Blacksheep bears a name Belonging to a shepherdess, A damsel in a dirndl dress. But Barbara won’t play this game – Whyever did her parents think Her life should be a nod and wink ?
Barbara Blacksheep, twelve years old, Is fighting hard against the path Her name intends to telegraph. Defiance, though, makes Barbara bold – She won’t be traipsing downs and dales From soggy Kent to chilly Wales !
For she’s a city girl at heart – The only sheep she ever saw Was supermarket mutton, raw. She’d struggle how to play the part – She couldn’t be a wannabo-Peep For anyone, not even sheep.
She doubts all that nostalgia, though – They weren’t romantic spirits, free, But serfs a meal from poverty. Yet things have changed since long ago – The modern herders of the moors Use phones and drones and four-by-fours.
But then she sees a painting in a book – A shepherdess amongst the gorse Just leaning on her crook – Rather chocolate box, of course, With unshod feet and peasant’s dress But in her eyes a knowing look That said here was a shepherdess That knew her pasture’s ev’ry nook And knew her ev’ry sheep by sight And knew she’d get them home alright.
She was maybe fifteen, sixteen, Not much older than Barbara now – The latter who would struggle between Telling a sheep from a cow Yet somehow, if she’d only end her war Upon her name, Then give her three years, give her four, To give herself an aim – And could she be that confident of gaze To watch them graze ?
And so she got to thinking deep About her future, taking stock – And made a choice to guard the flock. So Barbara Blacksheep will never lack sleep Counting ev’ry one of her charges As each bleats and bustles and barges.
She made herself a solemn vow To shield her yearlings from disasters As playing fields become her pastures – For she’s a playground monitor now – Her lambs aren’t sheep and kids aren’t goats, But tykes in woollen hats and coats.
Siroccos blow across the Sahara, North from the desert to the inland sea, Where Mistrals meet them, off the Alps, To buffet the coasts of France and Italy. The Helm roars in from Winter Norway, And the Bora from the Steppes out East, But most of all, from gale to zephyr, None can blow as often as the beast – From out the West, with not a name but Westerly, He comes, and comes, and rarely drops for long. He’s blowing turbines, hats and weathervanes, From Summer-teasing soft to stormy-strong – Bringing the Atlantic in his clouds, And laden schooners in his wake, From Kerry landfall to the Humber, He’s the one for whom the branches shake. In truth, we rarely name our winds in Britain, Save to tell us where they’ve been – And Westerlies are born on ocean-blue, In cloudy-grey, to keep our island green.
Don’t call me a philistine, That’s racist ! Don’t call me a vandal or a thug. Don’t think just because you’re lower-case-ist That these words don’t have history to lug, That each was once intended to be place-ist, And keeping up old rivalries is strictly for the mug.
Or am I being studenty and smug ? The slandered tribes are all long gone, They’ve changed and merged and all moved on, And only pedants care enough to bug. Of course, the history involved Is fascinating to behold, Yet language doesn’t care, as it sweeps it all beneath the rug But if you disagree, that’s fine, You’re free to call me philistine – And even though I’m not, I’ll only shrug.