Cockatoo memento mori

Cockatoo (image credit: http://thegraphicsfairy.com/vintage-clip-art-cockatoo-engraving-natural-history/)

Grandmother Mary once had a canary (or so it was said at the zoo)
though I was distracted, nay, even attracted by large piles of elephant poo.
It wasn’t the smell — this much I could tell — that drew my attention to these,
nor even the texture or neat architecture occasioning all my unease
but the terrible sight which ramped up my fright: a gaunt yellow-grey cockatoo!
The song that it sung as it strode up the dung was turning the air somewhat blue!

“Grandmother Mary once had a canary!” it trilled, but with four-letter words.
The bulk of the song was equally strong — it even appalled other birds.
The story it told in language so bold concerned sweet Grandmother Mary:
the bird did insist, “She’s a mad scientist and, me, I was once her canary!
She fed me oceans of foul-smelling potions to turn me from fair looks to foul.
Convinced, the old meanie, that she was Athene, she tried to change me to an owl!
She got it quite wrong,” or so went its song, “mistaking Birds Custard for glue —
for Grandmother Mary ate something real scary — and turned into elephant poo!

Old Gran we interred, as advised by the bird, soon after its heart-rending story.
It raves this sad song on her grave all day long: a cockatoo memento mori.


Doggerel inspired by the first line of the parody of the Scottish Cock o’ the North song and dance tune. One of the many bawdy versions includes these lines:

Aunty Mary had a canary up the leg of her drawers
When she farted it departed to a round of applause.

It is possible to sing my lines to Cock o’ the North — just — but you many need to take it at a funereal pace and possibly pop it into the minor key

The Joy of Books (1)

There’s something about book anticipation that gets to this particular bibliophile. When I was a kid I remember being intrigued by the packaging of Fry’s Five Boys chocolate bar with its fivefold image of one lad in various stages: Desperation, Pacification, Expectation, Acclamation and Realization. Maybe I won’t quite go through all five stages before acquiring the desired object — in my case, the book rather than a bar of chocolate — but that stage of expectation is one that I especially relish. Even the image of books (as in a watercolour of vintage paperbacks hanging on our wall) is enough to have me salivating.

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Multi-layered page-turner

Brian Aldiss, Helliconia:
Helliconia Spring, Helliconia Summer, Helliconia Winter

Gollancz SF Masterworks 2010

The Helliconian trilogy is a multi-layered composition, as long and as rich as The Lord of the Rings, as colourful as a medieval tapestry and as polemical as an eco-warrior’s handbook. Aldiss is a prolific author in various genres, not just in science fiction; but SF at its best can itself include a great many genres, and this trilogy therefore has aspects of romance, epic, fantasy, prose poetry and science writing all flourishing in symbiosis with each other. And, like any great narrative, it is not only a great page-turner but has you caring about its characters. Continue reading “Multi-layered page-turner”

Dial L for Library

Phone box library in Trecastle, Powys (https://www.instagram.com/p/BKDHBCGgYUE/?taken-by=calmgrove&hl=en)

These days most people have mobile phones (‘cellphones’ to transatlantic readers) and as a result many phone boxes (‘phone booths’) are becoming redundant, in the UK at least. As it is, many of those surviving and operating don’t accept cash, only cards (perhaps to lessen attempted thefts, probably because coinage is becoming a threatened species). The classic British red telephone boxes are being sold off as novelty items, garden ornaments or whatever, but a few — and more than a few, if Google Maps are to be believed — are being converted to … free libraries.

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The cat and the quilt

“Tabby drags her patchwork quilt up to the gate. She will not let it go.” One of Nicola Bayley’s illustrations for The Patchwork Cat

Nicola Bayley & William Mayne
The Patchwork Cat
Puffin Books 1984 (1981)

This picture book is both a delightful and a painful work to review. First the delight.

The text of The Patchwork Cat strikes a wonderful balance between using simple repetitious wording suitable for reading aloud to the preliterate child and pure prose poetry. Tabby the cat sleeps on a quilt. It is patchwork, like herself. She loves it. It’s the relationship she has with the quilt and with the milkman that form the focus of the narrative. “Oh milkman, milkman,” she says, “you can come and live at my house any time.” All is going well until the moment when she cannot find the patchwork quilt, her matching patchwork quilt.

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