Friday, 28 October 2011


Jennospot 42  Poppies

'Ere's somefink different fer a change. It's a poem wot was writ by Peter St John fer November 11, wot is Armistice Day. It's the day wot marked the endin' of the two World Wars. It's the day when we fink real special about them wot died in these two great conflicts, and we fink about the reasons why they gave their lives: It were fer us remember.

Armistice Day is called “Poppy Day” in Britain. On Poppy Day, people volunteer ter sell artificial poppies. They are already on sale now. This is so's there's some money comin' in fer wot's called the Earl Haig Fund. This Fund was set up to 'elp former combatants and their families. Let us not forget:

The Poppy Seller

Buy a poppy, lady?

A few pennies for a poppy?

Please give, just for a poppy.

Won't someone buy a poppy?

Some pennies for a poppy?

Buy a poppy, mister?

Just a poppy sir.

Poppies grow in upturned land 

Such as dug by bombshells. And

Fed by blood and bone manure

They bloom bright red. As pure

As spikes of crimson sun—

Flowers fit for everyone...

Buy a poppy, lady?

Retail poppies, up for sale.

Poppies tell a wartime tale.

Poppies peeping where none grow—

Hats, and buttonholes also—

Buttonholes instead of eyes.

Button-eyed, a whole world cries...

A few pennies for a poppy?

Buttons trimmed with petals red;

Lacquered holdfast to the dead.

Button up and cry inside.

Batten down and seek to hide.

Poppy fields were blooming there

In the smoking, stinking air...

Please give, just for a poppy.

Scarlet petals, blood-like stains;

Black dark pit of stamen grains;

Poppies waving in the breeze;

Poppies writhing into wreaths.

Opium for a suffering few;

Drugged with poppies. Poppies new...

Won't someone buy a poppy?

Black death; red death; poppy bright;

Only death can stop the sight.

Poppy bright evoking blood;

Poppy shining from the mud.

Hope, despair, gut-wrenching fear;

Fleas, disease, and tin-can cheer...

Some pennies for a poppy?

Pretty poppy pepper-pot,

Blood-red petals now forgot,

Shake out far your hard black seeds;

Poppy flowers are not weeds.

Some saw carnage; poppies there.

Shake my can, and show you care...

Buy a poppy mister?

Just a poppy, sir.

© Peter St John

Sunday, 23 October 2011

First Past the Post

Jennospot 41 First Past the Post

Peter St John 'as been redoin' the drawin's fer "Gang Warfare". Oi've pinched a couple of 'em ter show yew 'ere. They're about a cart race down the Mountain Glide against them 'orrible Streeters from the ovver soide o' the river. Any'ow, Oi can't jus' show yew the pictures wivvout sayin' somefink about 'em. So Oi've took a bit outta the book. Only trouble is, the race ain't got me in it, 'cos it were before Oi got moi cart:

‘Everybody ready?’ repeated Leta. ‘The rules are as follows: The course is from here down to the finish line by the stream at the bottom, passing by the three clumps of bushes on the slope. The first clump is to be turned round to leave it on the left-hand, the second to the right-hand and the third to the left-hand again. Anyone who crosses the start line before I call go is disqualified. The first past the post is the winner. Best of three races; otherwise, no other rules. The six racers, stand by your carts. I will call ready, steady; go. Are you ready steady go!’

At the command ‘Go’, I punted furiously to accelerate down the slope towards the first clump of bushes. Reenie, with her long legs had an advantage here, and I saw her on my left slightly ahead of the field. The Streeter on my left turned deliberately wide to force me even further down slope than I wanted to go. I decided to counter his trick by braking with my toes and turning sharply behind him, to place myself behind Reenie, and slightly down slope of her.

As we turned the first clump of bushes, I saw Roy on my left, neck and neck with a Streeter. Reenie seemed to be slightly in the lead, but she was followed closely by a second Streeter. I was below her, and about a length behind. The Streeter who had tried to force me down slope was now below me on my right, but because he now had to turn upslope again to go round the bushes, was rapidly losing speed. Barring accidents, he was already out of the race.

If I had been just slightly more ahead, I would have been well-positioned for the turn round the second clump of bushes, but Reenie was in front of me and I could not obstruct her clear route around. On the other hand, the two other Streeters with Roy between them, being upslope, were accelerating downwards towards the turn.

I positioned myself to protect Reenie's left flank. I moved slightly to the left, and found myself at once behind a Streeter who clearly intended to force Reenie into the bushes on the turn. I reached forward over the steering bar and grabbed the back of his cart, pulling his rear wheels against my front axle for an instant. This slowed him sufficiently to allow Reenie a clear run round the turn.

At the exit to the turn, Reenie was almost a length ahead of the field. I was a length behind. The other three were bunched together, Roy in the middle, heading for the final turn. It was still anyone's race, apart from the third Streeter trailing well behind.

As Reenie brushed by the bushes at the turn, I saw the Streeter immediately behind her, try the trick I had used on his companion. He reached forward to grab Reenie's back axle.

Roy, at his right side, spotted his move. Before the Streeter could get hold of Reenie's cart, Roy swerved into him. They both went into the bushes. I, just behind them, had to swerve violently to my left to avoid a collision. I heard a commotion of snapping twigs and swearing, as the two carts disappeared from my view.

Three of us were now left in the race, with a clear straight run to the finish. Reenie was in the lead. A Streeter was just behind her. I was just behind him. We all put our heads close to the steering bar to reduce wind resistance.

Lightning had ball-bearing wheels all round and ran well. I began to catch up with the Streeter, but the slope was decreasing and we were all slowing down. And so the race ended with Reenie the clear winner, the Streeter second, and myself a close third. The remainder came straggling in at intervals, Roy and one of the Streeters were slightly scratched around the face and hands but otherwise okay.

"Gang Warfare" Chapter 13

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Bath Night

Jennospot 40 Bath Night

It were bath night, at his aunt's, on Saturday. Cripes, I wish Oi could've been there that first Saturday, but Oi 'eard about it after. This is 'ow it went:

‘My bath is almost ready.’ said my aunt

She was clad ludicrously in what looked like a man's bathrobe that came to just below the knees. Her skinny, hairy legs protruded underneath, to end in bright red carpet slippers, each decorated with a yellow pompom at the toe. On her head was a shapeless waterproof hat that might have belonged to a North Sea fisherman were it not for the fact that it was brilliantly printed with poppies and marigolds.

‘Hurry up now,’ she said. ‘Get undressed and put on your dressing gown while I take my bath. As soon as I've finished, you can have yours.’

She went into the bathroom and closed the door. I heard the geyser give a ‘pop’ as the gas was turned off. Then the water was turned off too and there was silence except for a faint splashing.

I went to my room and got undressed. I put on my new dressing gown. It was an arrival gift from my aunt. I had never had one before. They weren't necessary in the communal shower room at the orphanage.

I wandered towards the bathroom, believing that I still had plenty of time, for I had not heard the geyser start up for my bath. To my surprise, my aunt stood on the threshold, clad as before except for the hat. ‘Come along, hurry up. The water's getting cold.’

Was I to have the first bath after all?

She followed me into the bathroom. I held the dressing gown closely around me. I didn't like the idea of my aunt seeing me without it. ‘Hurry up slowcoach. No need to be shy. I know what boys look like. Get that dressing gown off and into the bath.’

I took the dressing gown off reluctantly, and peered into the tub. ‘But there's hardly any water.’

‘Hardly any water?’ echoed my aunt, ‘What do you think this is: Buckingham Palace? Don't you know there's a war on? Three inches per person per week is the regulation to save energy for the war effort, and there's at least three-and-a-half inches there!’

She reached behind my back and unhooked a curious object from the geyser and plunged it into the water. I had seen it hanging there and wondered what it was for. Now I was given a practical demonstration. It was a celluloid depth gauge especially designed to help people comply with the wartime regulation.

‘Now, in you get!’ she said peremptorily.

‘But the water's not clean.’

She bridled at this. ‘Not clean!’ she nearly shouted. ‘Not clean! Are you insinuating that I'm dirty? I'm the only one that's used it. How dare you say it's not clean? Get in there immediately or I'll show you whether it's clean or not!’

This threat of violence defeated utterly my objections. Very reluctantly, I cocked a leg over the side of the tub and climbed in. I stood there in three-and-a-half inches of second-hand tepid water, my elbows pressed to my sides, shivering like a puppy submitting to its first shampoo.

‘Sit down then,’ cried my aunt impatiently. ‘I'll wash your back.’

I sat gingerly down, my whole body cringing from contact with the grey, lukewarm liquid. She rubbed my back vigorously with a coarse cloth. It hurt and I cringed even more, keeping my elbows fast to my sides.

‘No need to act as though you like to be dirty,’ said my aunt petulantly. ‘Anyone would think you'd never taken a bath before.’

I didn't think it would be helpful to tell her that indeed this was true.

She went thoroughly around my neck and shoulders and poked a corner of the cloth into each ear. The experience was abominably uncomfortable and humiliating. ‘Stand up now,’ she ordered. ‘I'll wash your waist and legs.’

I reached out with my hands to grasp the sides of the bath and stood up. It was best to cooperate to the maximum and get this nightmarish experience over as quickly as possible.

She resumed her detestable washing of my reluctant body. When it was done, she took a sponge, wet it in the bath, and squeezed its revolting contents over me to rinse off the soap.

At last the interminably hateful procedure came to an end. She pulled the plug from the bath and the ghastly grey fluid it contained began to gurgle away.

‘You can step out now,’ she said, holding a skimpy towel at the ready.

‘Do you mind if I dry myself?’

‘Oh, all right,’ said my aunt grumpily, ‘but be sure you dry yourself properly under your arms and behind your ears.’

Did she think I was a baby, or did she just enjoy tormenting me? I was at last released from her water torture chamber, and I gave thanks. I got myself dry, shook myself into my dressing gown that felt protectively secure after the frigid, exposed nakedness of the bath, and set off towards my room to get dressed.

I was intercepted by my aunt who, in her long nightdress and hanging hair, reminded me of engravings of Dickens' gaunt Scrooge. ‘Isn't it nice to feel clean all over?’ she asked.

I said nothing in reply. I felt it would be less than tactful to point out that never, since I had arrived in Widdlington, had I felt so disgustedly dirty.

"Gang Territory" Chapter 7

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Tower of London

Jennospot 39 Tower of London

Peter'n me went ter Tower Hill, where that famous bridge is by the Tower of London. But there was an air-raid. Yeah, we 'ad ter take shelter an' all. It were a real adventure, an' cripes, was Oi ever 'ungry:

‘I can see the bridge!’

‘The sky's all red behind it.’ said Jenno.

‘The docks are over there. Listen, there's an ambulance bell.’

‘D'yew reckon they've been bombed?’

‘I reckon.’

‘C'n we go across the bridge?’

‘What about the Tower of London?’

‘Wot about it? Oi c'n see it. We're roight outside.’

‘It's famous.’

‘Yeah, but it'll be closed now. Let's cross the bridge afore it gets dark.’

Jenno looked up at the bridge.

‘Cripes, it's big when yew gets up close. D'yew fink they'll open it while we're 'ere?’

I shrugged. ‘Dunno Jenno. We might be lucky. What d'yew want to cross over for anyway? There isn't much the other side, only docks and warehouses. And look at all the smoke!’

‘Oi jus' want to. That's all.’

A policeman stopped us as we came out of the arch on the other side of the bridge.

‘Oi— where d'you kids think you're off to?’

‘Nowhere special, officer. We're just looking.’

‘D'you live here?’

‘We're visiting from the country.’

‘Have you got family here?’

I shook my head

‘Well then, you'd best go on back to the country right smartish. You can't go further along here. There's been a raid. There's a lot of damage and burning buildings.’

A fire engine clanged across the intersection ahead of us.

‘Come on Jenno— let's go back.’

Jenno didn't protest but turned and came back with me. In the middle of the bridge she stopped. We leaned on the parapet and gazed into the darkening water. Flecks of reflected fires rippled across from the flaming docks.

‘Moi mum must be worried.’

‘My aunt too.’

‘D'yew reckon they know we're in London?’

‘Mr Trundle would know: I bought a ticket from Lost-a-tanner Reggie. But who knows you're here too? Did you tell anyone?’

‘Oi reckon they'd guess.’

‘D'you suppose Roy or somebody told them about the petition?’

‘Oi reckon they'd 'ave ter tell 'em when we din't come back.’

‘You should have gone back when I told you to. Then at least your mum wouldn't be worried.’

‘Oi reckon— but Oi ain't sorry. Not if'n we c'n still save Dummy.’

‘Me neither.’

‘Cripes, Oi ain't 'alf 'ungry.’

‘Me too.’

‘D'yew reckon we c'd buy some food. We've got sixpence.’

‘There don't seem to be any shops around here.’

‘P'raps there's somefink up by the underground.’

‘Let's go and see before it gets completely dark.’

We stood on Tower Hill in the dusk looking around for food. There was a kiosk for sandwiches but it was closed. We wandered down towards the river but found nothing.

‘Cripes, that perliceman weren't wrong. Look at all them flames beyond the bridge.’

The siren sounded again. Searchlights came on. They swung stiffly around the sky seeking out the enemy. Anti-aircraft guns started firing in the distance.

‘Come on Jenno. We'd better find a shelter.’

We started up the slope, but were stopped by an air-raid warden. ‘Hey you kids. Get under cover quick. Come with me. There's a cellar next to the church.’

"Gang Petition" Chapter 21

Saturday, 1 October 2011


Jennospot 38 Telephoning

We seem ter be inter telephones this week. Cripes, there aren't many in Widdlington 'cept fer the one in front o' the Post Office. Only Mrs Jackson, the postmistress, listens in on the calls; leastways, that's wot everyone says. Any'ow, we worked out a little diversion ter take care o' that. Still an all, we 'ad ter get the money from somewhere. This is 'ow it went:

‘Now about telephoning Bish’ said Roy. ‘We need to do it as soon as we can on Monday morning.’

‘If we can get his number,’ said Dismal.

‘Shut up Dismal,’ said Jenno. ‘We'll get 'is number all roight. An' if'n we don't, Oi'll be gettin' yer number, an' no mistake— don't yew worry none.’

‘You know all about telephones I suppose,’ said Dismal.

‘More'n wot yew do.’

‘How many times have you telephoned then?’

‘As many times as yew 'ave, Oi'll bet.’

‘I've never telephoned.’

‘There yew are then. Oi telephoned twice from moi aunt's place. So there!’’

‘I meant from a public telephone.’

‘Shut up, Dismal,’ I said. ‘You're getting us nowhere. I know how to telephone. Besides, the instructions are written up in the kiosk.’

‘Why don't you tell juggins Jenno to shut up?’ complained Dismal.

‘Shut up, Dismal,’ said everyone.

‘We'll need some money,’ said Tommy.

‘Jenno said it was free,’ objected Katy.

‘That's for directory enquiries,’ I said. ‘We'll have to pay to talk to Bish.’

‘How does she know it's free, if she's never used a public 'phone?’ said Dismal.

‘She happens to be right,’ I said.

‘If you can't say something helpful, Dismal; just keep quiet,’ said Brian.

‘Oooh, listen to Brian,’ said Dismal. ‘Thinks he's the big boss now. Just because he's ten feet tall with a nose to match.’

‘Shut up Dismal,’ said Roy. ‘This is an important meeting, not a political free-for-all. How much money will we need Tommy?’’

‘Better ask Peter that; he's the expert.’

Roy turned to me. ‘How much, Peter?’

I lifted my shoulders and rolled my eyes towards the sky. ‘It'll cost tuppence to make the call and start speaking. After that, it depends on the time and distance. I don't really know how much it might cost; we don't know where Bish lives.’

‘It can't be too far away,’ said Tommy. ‘Widdlington is in his diocese.’

‘D'you think sixpence would be enough?’ asked Roy.

I shrugged. ‘Better have at least eight pence. In pennies— so that we don't have to put in more than is necessary.’

‘Where are we goin' ter get the money? asked Jenno. ‘I 'aven't a bean: it's moi bruvver's turn fer the pocket money this week.’

‘I've got thruppence,’ I said.

‘I can put in tuppence,’ said Roy. ‘What about you Brian?’

Brian shook his head.


‘I'll put in a penny.’

‘Me too,’ said Katy.


‘My mum hasn't given me anything yet this week, but she usually gives me four pence. I'll put in a penny when I get it.’

‘That makes our eight pence,’ said Roy with satisfaction.

‘I just hope it's enough,’ I murmured but nobody heard me.

"Gang Petition" Chapter 9