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DAY 269: Penning a Cautionary Tale

27 May

IN EQUAL measures impish and grisly, cautionary tales moved from folklore to fashion in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

I’ve always been fond of ‘master of whimsy’ Hilaire Belloc (Jim, Who ran away from his Nurse, and was eaten by a Lion; Matilda, Who told lies, and was Burned to Death, etc) and German compendium Struwwelpeter (The Dreadful Story of Pauline and the Matches)… which inspires me to write my own bombastic verse.

It’s pretty simple. I have to adhere to rhyming couplets that fall into an iambic pentameter (if you give them a bit of a shove), and I need a very naughty subject.

First, though, here’s a cautionary tale by Hilaire:

George (The boy who played with dangerous toys)

When George’s Grandmamma was told
That George had been as good as gold,
She promised in the afternoon
To buy him an Immense BALLOON.
And so she did; but when it came,
It got into the candle flame,
And being of a dangerous sort
Exploded with a loud report!
The lights went out! The windows broke!
The room was filled with reeking smoke.
And in the darkness shrieks and yells
Were mingled with electric bells,
And falling masonry and groans,
And crunching, as of broken bones,
And dreadful shrieks, when, worst of all,
The house itself began to fall!
It tottered, shuddering to and fro,
Then crashed into the street below-
Which happened to be Savile Row.
When help arrived, among the dead
Were Cousin Mary, Little Fred,
The Footmen (both of them), the Groom,
The man that cleaned the Billiard-Room,
The Chaplain, and the Still-Room Maid.
And I am dreadfully afraid
That Monsieur Champignon, the Chef,
Will now be permanently deaf-
And both his aides are much the same;
While George, who was in part to blame,
Received, you will regret to hear,
A nasty lump behind the ear.
The moral is that little boys
Should not be given dangerous toys.

And now here’s mine.

Young Rosie (Who Fell Under the Hooves of a Galloping Deadline)

In a room deep in Stoke Newington
There bounced a great deal on the Futon
A Child, by turns, Wild and Woolly
In fact, she demanded one’s attention Fully.
Upon Daybreak she would Sally Forth
And insist that Grown-Ups be her Horse.
With a plaintive Cry of “Don’t Go, Don’t Go”
She’d Launch Herself upon their Torso
And Fling her arms around their Throat
So Tightly they were apt to note
That Rosie ought to wind it down a fraction
Or leave a Houseguest prone in Traction.
Alas, our Young Charge failed to forsee
That all these Boisterous Games of Horsey
Could only end in Sulks and Tears
When a Houseguest’s deadline nears.
But no, the Child would not be Told
In fact, she became Increasingly Bold:
The guest, Tappety Tapping on her Computer
Copped a deliberate Knee to the Hooter.
Once day Young Rosie made to Pounce
And duly Leapt quite Unannounced.
The Guest, alarmed, Caught Unawares
Hurled the Poor Child down the Stairs.
To Conclude, the Best Thing you can do
When spying a Careerist stuck like glue
Is tip Ribena betwixt the keys
And give a plaintive little “PLEASE”.

Keeper? Found my calling! I’ll write you one for fifty bucks.

DAY 221: Cracking a wishbone

9 Apr

HELEN won the break, which is fair enough as it was her chicken.

Keeper? Ultimately unsatisfying. Hold tight, I reckon there’ll be exciting stuff happening soon.

DAY 217: Automatic writing. REDRUM! REDRUM!

5 Apr

Back to the age of licking batteries (try it before you knock it) and highly flammable pajamas. Cool.

IF you’re right-handed and you try writing with your left hand, you supposedly access the right hemisphere of the brain – that which is more emotional, creative and chaotic.

“Using your non-dominant hand is a direct link to that portion of your ‘self’; without filtering it through your logical/analytical left brain,” says some website or other I can’t find now, probably because my right hemisphere has just declared anarchy.

To find out what my ‘self’ has to say, I decide to start with “my name is Jenny” and then just see what happens.

I get unnerved by the sight of my handwriting as a six-year-old before I even reach the end of the second word. Asking myself questions like, “What do I like?” and “What do I want to be?” brings back immediate answers, worries and wishes from that age, and surprise that someone wants to know. I can clearly picture everything in my bedroom. It’s not to a Twilight Zone extent, but it is like I’ve zeroed in on the inner child, which is going unchecked. Usually it’ll be silenced by the adult side with a wry chuckle or patronising putdown, but now it’s flying under the radar.

Whether it’s the right hemisphere talking or just memories triggered by the sight of my handwriting, I couldn’t say, but it feels like a bit of a Pandora’s box, so I stop. Shaddap, kid.

By the way, if you’re bored, here’s a quiz that determines whether you’re right- or left-brain dominated. If right, you are probably a new-ager. If left, you are probably a cold fish. I think I was about 90 per cent right-brain, but since the left-brain’s good at maths, I might be wrong.

Keeper? Might have another go. Maybe I could find out where I put my ET keyring.

DAY 211: Get knotted

30 Mar

I’M in a shithouse mood today, so it’s a fitting time to learn now to tie murderous knots; like, not the kind of knots you learn in Brownies – unless Brown Owl’s got some explaining to do.

1. Slip knot
For: A gallows
Also: Knitting

Slip knot. I don’t have any actual rope – what kind of a freak do you think I am?

2. Honda knot
For: Lassoing
That’s it, really

Honda knot.

3. Double constrictor knot
Tying hogs
Improvised cable tie

Double constrictor. That remote's not going anywhere.


Keeper? I dunno. Found lots of ‘knot games’ websites for Scouts. Might leave them to it.

DAY 203: Forcing berets down people’s throats

22 Mar

TODAY I’m on a campaign to make berets fashionable. It’s a lonely crusade all right, but one I’ve been forging since primary school, when I published my daring debut, Girl’s Mag.

I count four berets and a disturbingly phallic post box.

And then there was the editor’s pic in my sophomore magazine aimed at sort-of adults, which earned me derision from the art editor and posturo-rockers Grinspoon alike – the latter after I simply remarked on the fact that one of their number was wearing socks and thongs in a national photo shoot.

Grinspoon "aren't about to take fashion advice from someone wearing a beret". But you would, wouldn't you?


Enough with the subtle leading-by-example – it’s time to step up my game and start forcing my rhetoric down throats. Haughty women in berets (it’s pronounced “be-rrr-AY”) are sexy, and I’ve got the pictures to prove it. What’s more, I’m sticking them up all over Melbourne’s lampposts and dunny doors in an insidious attempt to influence locals. Naturally I’m wearing a beret as I do so.

The propaganda.

Viva la resistance beret.

Keeper? Indeed. Winter approacheth, and with it, fashionable head gear.

DAY 202: Drawing naked commuters

21 Mar

THEY say if you’re feeling nervous you should imagine people naked, but I say it’s something you can do any time.

Bored on a train and can’t be bothered playing Bejewelled on your phone? Try and guess what kind of nipples the fellow opposite you has.

Might there be freckly biceps under that RM Williams shirt? A whisper of a crab ladder? And cut, or not?

And you, madam. Have you a tufty birthmark somewhere curious?
Have now!

Keeper? Was amusing, but feel a bit bad actually. And could one get arrested for this? I will stick to just picturing people naked in my head. THAT MEANS YOU.

DAY 197: Soliciting a letter from a stranger

16 Mar

BALTHAZAR lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and we’ve never met. I tell you what, though – from his business card he looks like a really nice chap with good teeth.

If you head to his website and write him a note about who you are, he’ll send you a story about yourself on good quality paper, and a polaroid that – 9 times out of 10, I’d say – will feature some nudity.

In my story, he suggests I bury myself up to the chest in my garden. It’s punchably cute though – it could have gone no other way, considering I told Balthazar I live in the country with Mr Thumpy the rabbit. I’m curious as to how a letter would turn out if someone said they were a homicidal maniac who collects ornamental weapons and books on serial killers.

For some other examples on how strangers have infiltrated my life, see:
Strangers pray for me
Strangers dress me

Keeper? Yes. If anyone wants me to send them a postcard, they can first please me by leaving lots of comments in the blog comment boxes. I can even use a commemorative stamp of my head.

DAY 191: Learning poetry for those after dinner gatherings

10 Mar

The fact that Philip Larkin looks like Eric Morecambe is a bonus in my book.

BACK in the olden days, everyone could recite poetry after the dessert course, but now it’s a lost art.

A quick poll of Facebook associates reveals one person can recite Wilf Owen’s ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ while the rest are caught embarrassingly short at soirees that call for poetic expression.

Personally, I know half a ‘Jabberwocky’ and that’s about it.

I like poems written in layman’s language with a grudging sentimental humour, like those of Philip Larkin and self-proclaimed hack John Betjeman; no metaphysical meanderings or frothy layers of meaning here.

I won’t lie, though – I’ve only heard of Betjeman because he wrote a slightly self-righteous ode to my hometown, which is the one I’m going to memorise, while Larkin’s ‘This Be The Verse’ (“They fuck you up, your mum and dad / They may not mean to but they do…”) people don’t so much recite as hold up as evidence.

Doesn’t matter. It’s made me go out and read more by them.

Oh no. Pixie Geldof has a Larkin tattoo.

Betjeman’s ‘Slough’ (pronounced “ow!”) was written back in 1937, when I would have thought the town was comparatively lovely. Having said I like layman’s language, I’m particularly fond of the Biblical-style line “Swarm over, Death!”. NB: Funnily enough, bombs did fall on Slough a couple of years later, during World War II. Not enough, though.


Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn’t fit for humans now,
There isn’t grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!

Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those air-conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,
Tinned minds, tinned breath.

Mess up the mess they call a town
A house for ninety-seven down
And once a week a half a crown
For twenty years.

And get that man with double chin
Who’ll always cheat and always win,
Who washes his repulsive skin
In women’s tears:

And smash his desk of polished oak
And smash his hands so used to stroke
And stop his boring dirty joke
And make him yell.

But spare the bald young clerks who add
The profits of the stinking cad;
It’s not their fault that they are mad,
They’ve tasted Hell.

It’s not their fault they do not know
The birdsong from the radio,
It’s not their fault they often go
To Maidenhead

And talk of sport and makes of cars
In various bogus-Tudor bars
And daren’t look up and see the stars
But belch instead.

In labour-saving homes, with care
Their wives frizz out peroxide hair
And dry it in synthetic air
And paint their nails.

Come, friendly bombs and fall on Slough
To get it ready for the plough.
The cabbages are coming now;
The earth exhales.

Keeper? You know it now, but you can still test me – I did learn it.

DAY 183: Telling a good yarn

2 Mar

NO offence, right, but I’m more charged in my own company. When I’m around people I feel like my brain is idling in neutral and I can’t get it to engage. People drain my battery. They may not mean to, but they do.

In my teens I’d experiment with how long I could go without talking, and now I keep things ‘economical’. Needless to say, then, I’m rubbish at telling yarns. My mind goes a-meandering, distracted by my ever-present desire to physically wander off. An anecdote is likely to peter out at first corner like a faulty motor, belching smoke and a final “um”. Oh to be effortlessly erudite and witty like Lucille Ball, or Ronnie Corbett, or Kochie… or anyone, really.

While some people are born raconteurs, others – I’m sure – work at it. Like a muscle, verbosity needs to be developed or you’ll get anecdotal sand kicked in your face.

With this in mind, I hit up notorious stand-up comedian, media rabble-rouser and enfant terrible Catherine Deveny for her tips on how to deliver.

Catherine says:

1. Give someone one word to remind you of your point before you start.

2. The more you lose confidence, the louder your voice should get and the larger your hand gestures should get.

3. When in doubt apply the words ‘moving forward’ liberally.

4. Type the story out and listen to it on a speech-to-text device. You can buy one on iPhone called Speak It. Best way to commit to memory is listen or read aloud while moving. Gets into your muscle memory.

5. If you break your yarn down to five bits you can attach those bits to your fingers. Write the word, then just the first letter on your finger and eventually you will just remember: Goldilocks, bears’ house, porridge, chair, bed.

Dammit, I should have asked Catherine to help me with my expansive hand gestures while I was at it.

Thanks, Dev. I’m going to try all the above when it comes to remembering classic anecdotes that ought to make me sound legendarily but currently make me sound really vague. For more everyday, unexpected stuff, like being asked a joke or what bands I’m currently digging (what? Beyond 1996?) I will learn the answers by heart, or at the very least stick them in my iPhone Notes application.

Keeper: Ask to hear my one about the old lady at the ATM.

PS – Catherine’s one-woman show, ‘God Is Bullshit’, is back for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Go along and shake her hand – you might rub the cues off her fingers.

DAY 160: Leaving cryptic messages

7 Feb

One of my lovely missives.

THE English love cryptic messages, from Stonehenge, to Hawkwind, to Lewis Carroll, to backwards exhortings on Judas Priest records.

Yesterday I just kept coming across them, from a nonsensical egg-based riddle on the toilet door at work, to a giant rabbit up a tree in Collingwood (where a few streets away I saw a chap tip out the contents of a wrap onto the pavement and then attempt to snort it up) and a miniature fanzine on the tram.

If I subscribed to “everything happens for a reason”, I’d be buying gift subscriptions for all my friends.

Suitably inspired, today I decide to plaster my own confounding messages around town. At first I wrack my brains to think of some, but then I remember the fortunes from my fortune cookies. Four immediately go up in the toilet stalls at work. I listen intently when someone enters the cubicle next to me, but there comes no delighted “Oh!”

An hour later when I go in to check, all four fortunes have unfortunately been removed – presumably for health and safety reasons.

Keeper? Yes, enjoyed this – but got distracted from making it a more exhaustive mission.

This was stuck to the toilet door yesterday.

This was on the tram!

This was up a tree!!