The Billy Goats Gruff

A ‘Verse a Day’ fairy tale told in who knows how many parts.

Do you remember the Billy Goats Gruff, and that fearsome Troll lurking under the bridge they wanted to cross? One by one they tried, each asking the Troll to spare them with the promise that a bigger, fatter prize was following behind. Perhaps, today, those three brothers might appear something like goateed gangsters, or horned Peaky Blinders, and I hear them speaking in gruff Yorkshire accents as they discuss their search for grass that is greener and thistles that are tastier. This new version of the fairy tale has something to say about both billies and bullies…

(Illustrations by Christa Hook, copyright © 2020)

Billy Goats Gruff fairy tale 1

1
In a valley of green, back in Fairy Tale days,
Gangs of billy goats fought over which land to graze,
There were billy goats tough, there were billy goats rough,
But no goats were as bad as the Billy Goats Gruff.

2
These three billy goat brothers ate thistles and thorns,
And they butted their rivals with curly, sharp horns,
Growing fat in a field by a fast waterfall,
Where the thistles grew thickest and richest of all…

3
But one dark autumn evening, the Gruffs felt a chill,
Looking over the valley from high on their hill.
‘All our kingdom’s grown muddy!’ one growled with a shiver.
‘The grass looks much greener beyond the Great River.’

Billy Goat Gruff Fairy Tale 3

4
‘My brothers! It’s time for us Gruffs to expand!
We must cross that Great River and grab our new land.
But there’s only one bridge, under which lives a Troll,
And she’ll drown any strangers who won’t pay her toll.’

5
‘Let me cross over first!’ bleated Tiny Goat Gruff,
Who was youngest and smallest, but made of tough stuff.
He was wide as a wolf, with a beard of blood red,
And a hat with a crow’s feather perched on his head.

6
Tiny rolled out a motorbike, polished and black,
Started up the loud engine and climbed on its back.
And then, dipping his horns, gave his brothers a poke,
Before roaring away in a great cloud of smoke.

Billy Goat Gruff Fairy Tale 6

7
Tiny stopped at the crossing and stroked his red beard.
On the bridge, in the moonlight, a figure appeared.
She was really quite small, dressed in rags and old shoes,
And her bald head was covered with goat’s-head tattoos.

8
‘Your whole business,’ said Tiny, ‘is one we’ve admired.
But Gruff Brothers Inc. think it’s time you retired.
I’m taking your bridge, cos that grass looks much greener.’
He tried to look mean… but the Troll looked much meaner.

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 8

9
‘My dear Tiny Gruff,’ sighed the Troll, ‘Can you float?
Do you fly? Can you swim? Did you bring your own boat?
This stone bridge is my castle. This river’s my moat.
And we’re stronger by far than some hillbilly goat!’

10
‘Take a look,’ she went on, ‘at my inky-blue head,
Each tattoo shows the face of a goat that lies dead.
They all drowned in this river, one hundred all gone,
If you fight me, I’ll make you one hundred and one!’

Billy Goat Gruff Fairy Tale 10

11
Tiny’s hair stood on end, his legs started to shake,
And he bleated: ‘I think there has been some mistake.
I’m not worth all this bother, I’m just skin and bone.
Please await my big brother and leave me alone!’

12
‘I will let you cross over my bridge,’ hissed the Troll,
‘If you leave me your bike and your suit as my toll!’
So, poor Tiny was stripped of his bike, suit and pride,
Before galloping off to the opposite side.

BillyGoat12

13
‘It is time I set forth,’ bleated Curly Goat Gruff,
Who was older than Tiny and smelled very rough.
He was big as a bear, with a beard full of curls,
And his horns wore a bowler hat covered in pearls.

14
Curly entered the barn through a large, sliding door,
And from inside the building there rose a great roar,
Before Curly drove out in a black limousine,
And cruised off down the hill in the groaning machine.

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 14

15
Parking close by the bridge, Curly stepped from his car
And called out: ‘Brother Tiny, point out where you are!’
But instead saw a Troll, who was bald as a coot
And was dressed in what looked like his brother’s best suit.

16
‘I have followed,’ said Curly, ‘this river’s direction,
To sell you some shares in Gruff Brothers Protection.
We’re taking your bridge, now then where is my brother?’
‘He’s gone…’ trilled the Troll. ‘He ran off to his mother!’

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 16

17
‘My dear Curly Gruff,’ sighed the Troll, ‘Can you float?
Do you fly? Can you swim? Did you bring your own boat?
This stone bridge is my castle. This river’s my moat.
And we’re stronger by far than some hillbilly goat!’

18
‘Take a look,’ she went on, ‘at my inky-blue head.
Each tattoo shows the face of a goat that lies dead.
I have drowned me one hundred and one just like you,
If you fight me, I’ll make you one hundred and two!’

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 18

19
Curly’s knees started knocking, his face turned quite pasty,
‘Hold on now!’ he bleated, ‘No need to be hasty!
I’m sorry to see that my offer offends,
Please await my big brother, and let us be friends!’

20
‘Oh, you grizzling, grovelling, grotty goat Gruff,’
Said the Troll, ‘Did you not think that I’d call your bluff?
Leave the keys to your car, and your pearl-covered hat,
Then please cross, and cross quick, ’cos you smell like a rat!’

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 20

21
Meanwhile, high in the valley sat Biggy Goat Gruff,
Who was thinking: ‘I’ve waited up here long enough.’
He was huge as a horse, with a beard of jet black
And a mane of grey hair down his billy goat back.

22
Biggy pulled on a greatcoat of scarlet and gold,
And he growled, ‘I’ll make sure that troll never grows old!’
Then he hauled back the sheets from a rusty green lorry,
Jumped in, turned the keys, and drove off in a hurry.

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 22

23
On reaching the bridge, Biggy searched for the others,
But try as he might found no sign of his brothers.
And there in the moonlight a little Troll sat,
Wearing Tiny’s best jacket and Curly’s best hat.

24
‘I have come,’ Biggy rapped, ‘for your bridge and your river.
This message my brothers were meant to deliver.
I’ll butt you, and beat you, and bite you in half.’
But to Biggy’s amazement, he heard the Troll laugh.

BillyGoats24

25
‘Oh, my dear Biggy Gruff!’ sighed the Troll, ‘Can you float?
Do you fly? Can you swim? Did you bring your own boat?
This stone bridge is my castle. This river’s my moat.
And we’re stronger by far than some hillbilly goat!’

26
‘But I see by your size, and the gold of your cuff,
You’re the greatest by far of the Billy Goats Gruff,
So, I’ll give you my bridge, and I’ll bow down my head,
If you’ll just let me keep one small stone for my bed.’

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 26

27
‘Be my guest!’ Biggy roared, growing careless with pride,
‘But beware, as my truck is both heavy and wide!’
So, the Troll gently slid out a stone marked with moss,
Before stepping aside to wave Biggy across.

28
Roaring over the crossing, the truck gave a moan,
As the bridge’s loose stones groaned a terrible groan,
And the Troll wore a grin as her bridge tumbled down,
Dropping Biggy Goat Gruff in the river to drown.

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 28

29
Never knowing their big brother’s fate in this matter,
The two younger Gruff boys grew fatter and fatter.
They grazed their new grass with such monstrous greed,
That they gobbled up every last thistle and weed.

30
‘Little brother,’ said Curly, ‘Our luck has turned bloody!
Once more, it would seem, all our land has grown muddy,
While over the river, there’s green grass and flowers,
We’ll have to return to reclaim what is ours!’

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 30

31
They galloped to where the Troll’s bridge had once been,
But as hard as they hunted, no bridge could be seen,
Just a pile of stones, stacked up neatly enough,
With a sign that read: ‘Here lies poor Biggy Goat Gruff.’

32
On the opposite bank, where a garden had grown,
Stood a little, grey cottage of moss-covered stone.
On the drive, in a limousine, there the Troll sat
In a greatcoat of scarlet and pearl-covered hat.

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 30

33
‘I’m much bigger than last time we met!’ Tiny hissed,
Throwing pebbles and shaking his billy goat fist.
‘All that grass would be ours if we’d thought to remain!’
Grumbled Curly, ‘Now help us cross over again!’

34
‘My dear Billy Goats Gruff,’ called the Troll, ‘Can you float?
Do you fly? Can you swim? Did you bring your own boat?
Your big brother has left you no bridge, just a moat,
Now I’ll never be crossed by some hillbilly goat!’

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 34

35
The next morning, with needle and ink of deep blue,
Her friend Fox gave the Troll one more goat’s-head tattoo.
‘Did you really drown one hundred goats?’ old Fox said.
‘Golly, no!’ laughed the Troll, ‘Only Biggy lies dead.’

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy tale 36

36
‘Like the pearls on my hat and the stripes on my cuffs,
There are all sorts of ways to beat bullies and Gruffs.
You don’t need to be bigger and badder by far,
But it helps if the bullies all think that you are…’

37
They both sat back and laughed as they heard the Gruffs quarrel,
And Fox said: ‘Your tale has at least one more moral.
You’ll never be happy, and always act meaner,
When grasping and grabbing for grass that is greener.’

Billy Goats Gruff Fairy Tale 38

THE END!

 

Text Copyright © Jason Hook 2020 
Illustrations Copyright © Christa Hook 2020

 

 

 

Washing the Lions

01524d6342b565a278fa7be96daba7d399ccf5af7f-2B-2-1Today at the Tower of London it is the annual ceremony of the Washing of the Lions. All tourists must only watch by lockdown link this year! The noble beasts are to be released into the moat, where their keepers will take up brush and water and perform the dangerous yet dignified ritual of the annual scrubbing of the Kings of Beasts.

Lions have been kept at the Tower Menagerie since the year 1235, when the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, presented a gift of three lions to the English King Henry III, to celebrate his marriage to Henry’s sister Isabella. Those three lions have endured as the symbol of English royalty, and the history of lions as residents of the Tower of London is a long and fascinating one. Meganerie2

(Most of the above is true. However, the lions will not in fact be washed today. Since 1698, it has been an April Fool’s Day tradition among Londoners to advertise the Washing of the Lions as a lure to unsuspecting tourists and a jape for those in the know. Sometimes, gilt-edged invitations have even been printed. But while lions were indeed resident at the Tower Menagerie for hundreds of years, they are no long present. And even if they were, any gathering to see them soaped would join the many who over the centuries have been left swallowing their missing pride.)

Happy April 1st!

 

Turning the World Upside Down

On Valentine’s Day, I’ve treated myself by spending a little time and showing some love for my unpublished children’s book, Isabella Mawtle’s Immortal Vanishing Cream. This excerpt is from the chapter where Pip and Molly Mawtle, trapped in their Great-aunt Isabella’s bewitched house, tumble through a revolving floor, and find their world turned upside down in every conceivable way.

I hope you don’t mind me sharing…

“As the Cursery Rhyme whirled about her ears, Molly’s end of the see-saw soared too high. Molly see-ed up and Pip saw-ed down, and the floor revolved until it stood on end – and then tipped completely over. Their world turned upside-down and Pip and Molly were sent somersaulting into the darkness as, high above them, a fading violin voice whirled…

‘I’ve looked inside your hearts
To see the whats you whish to do!
You’ve dreamed all night, now hold on tight,
We’ll make them all come true…’

Faster they fell, the air rushing cold over their cuckoo-cropped scalps. Down and…

d

o

w

n…

 

faster…

 

fasterfasterfaster…

 

f

a

s

t

e

r

.

.

.

until, at last, a blood-red floor rushed up to meet them. They gritted their teeth. They clenched their fists. Remembering suddenly the wish they had made never to grow old, they thought for the first time of just what that wish might really mean, what double meanings it might hold, and how careful you should be when you whisper the words of your wishes in a witch’s house. And for the first time in their young lives they felt a vague sense that life might not last for ever. They held their breaths and waited a witch’s tick for the coming true of that careless wish: for the thud of young bone on stone, the thump of young skull on floorboards, the thwack, the crack

…the squish!

Pip and Molly hit the floor without thud, thump or thwack. They landed not on hard as rock, but on soft as jelly; not egg on concrete, but rubber ball on space hopper.

They felt themselves sink gently into the softest, the bounciest, the most trampolinest of floors…

‘Balloons!’ Molly cried.

‘Balloons!’ laughed Pip.

And they remembered how in the back of a black carriage an age or so ago they had wished for a house with floors of balloons and ceilings of feathers, so that they might bounce up into the air and then fly back down again.

The first of these they did now, for what goes down must come up. With a squeal, the floor of balloons sank beneath their weight, and then sprang up and launched them into the air. They trampolined towards where they had fallen from, as if the cogs of the morning had been put into reverse. And as they flew back up through the darkness, Pip and Molly peered up towards where they knew a wooden floor to be – a floor that was now a ceiling, and a ceiling, since they were falling upwards, that was also now a floor! Never had their world felt more turned upon its head.

They had wished for balloons and they had got balloons. Now they wished even harder for feathers. And the darkness above sang out to them in a choir of honey-toned hoots. It sounded like an orchestra of bassoons blowing one huge ‘HOOT!’ above them, around them, inside them. They vibrated like reeds in the two ‘Os’ of that hoot, as if they had been sucked into the wind-pipes of a church organ. And as they flew towards the floor that was now a ceiling, the ceiling that was now a floor, they waited for the sharp rap of wood. Instead, they felt the soft wrap of feathers. They flew up into down – beautiful, feathery down – which caught them as softly as a woollen mitten catching two dandelion seeds.

For a moment, Pip and Molly were suspended there, side by side, sensing in the darkness the soft outlines of giant feathers. In silence, they hung there, happy to be neither falling nor rising, glad just to be still there and still.”

Copyright © Jason Hook, 2020 

Wendy and the Wallpaper Cat: the show

IMG_0862When Grandpa Walter opened the door,
he was wearing a green suit that looked
just like his garden. ‘Welcome to my world
of wonderful wallpapers!’ said Walter.
‘I wonder which room will be your favourite…’

When I wrote Wendy and the Wallpaper Cat for V&A Publishing a few years ago, my idea was that a picture book about a magical house in which the wallpapers come alive might in turn bring fresh life to the wallpapers in the V&A collection by inviting young visitors to the museum to look at the patterns and pictures not just with their eyes but with their imaginations. Grandpa Walter was named after Walter Crane, whose wallpaper designs form the backdrops in the book, and the artist Ilaria Demonti breathed life into the characters of Walter, his sleepless grand-daughter Wendy, and the fiddle-playing Wallpaper Cat with her fabulous illustrations.

We published the book, we celebrated, and that might well have been that. But if cats have nine lives, then it seems wallpaper cats have at least two. Last week, I had the thrill of watching Lisa O’Hanlon and Dan Willis perform Wendy and the Wallpaper Cat at the V&A theatre to row upon row of young, wide-eyed, shrieking spectators. Now the wallpapers, and the book itself, really did come to life. Butterflies flitted over Walter’s wallpaper garden; rose petals tumbled from the sky; sea-shells carried the sound of the ocean to a hundred eager ears; a giant orange was bounced from hand to hand; and, wonder of wonderful wonders, children gasped at nothing more, nothing less, than projections of Victorian wallpapers as Wendy dashed from room to room.

When the electric-blue Wallpaper Cat leapt from the walls to play enchanted fiddle music, not just Wendy but all the children in the audience ran through the midnight garden and danced. And so the Wallpaper Cat lives on, summoned from the wall to play for any child struggling to get to sleep.

Many thanks to Lisa and Dan for their wonderful work, to Ilaria, and to everyone at the V&A including Astrid, Harriet and Tom.

“Wendy looked up at the roses on the walls.
When she reached up to touch them,
a red petal fluttered down.”

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“And when at last she caught up with the cat,
he played his fiddle and they danced together
the whole night long.”

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Copyright © Jason Hook 2019

The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38

 

There are a number of butterflies hidden in the poem.
In a Small Butterfly Count, can you find and count them?

1SwallowTail
Welcome all of you here to this barren small heath,
Where the speckled woods rise from the plastic beneath,
And the dead meadow browns under orange-tip sun,
Which glares down clouded yellow on all that we’ve done.
We have gathered today, as we’ve gathered each year,
To record and survey all our planet holds dear,
Tell your last swallowtail, and remember the date,
The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38.

 

2Gatekeeper
In my childhood days, all you needed to do,
Was to laze in your garden while they came to you,
And the air would grow bright with their scrap-paper hues,
Green-veined whites, purple hairstreaks,
small coppers, large blues,
Like kaleidoscope blossoms blown down from the trees,
A collection of postage stamps thrown on the breeze.
Let us wait as the gatekeeper closes the gate,
The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38.

 

3ChalkHillBlue
Where they once flew in wildflower meadows and parks,
Now they shrivel and die like a bonfire’s sparks,
Chanting brimstone and treacle, on large heath or small,
There’s no witchcraft can roll back this butterfly ball.
We have broken their butterfly wings on a wheel
That stops turning for children whose ringlets we steal,
And the last chalk hill blue is wiped clean off the slate,
The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38.

 

PurpleEmperor4
When a butterfly won’t flap its wings in Brazil,
Will the wind cease to blow and the oceans grow still?
Will we go to the wall with our hothouse neglect,
As we gaze through the glaze of our greenhouse effect?
Will our butterfly minds flutter on and forget
The last butterfly stitch in our butterfly net?
Now the old purple emperor lies here in state,
The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38.

 

5BrownArgus
Is there anyone here who remembers last year,
When we waited all day for just two to appear?
But how lucky we were! Now our race is near run,
As we set out to find and record the last one.
Because all of our one hundred eyes looked away
While the last painted ladies made peacock display,
And the northern brown argus predicted their fate,
The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38.

 

 

6
There it is! The large white! What a sight! What a tale!
A great white that’s as rare as Old Ahab’s white whale,
Like a blank scrap of paper, a snowflake, a ghost,
As the last grizzled skipper abandons his post;
We are stood on the bridge looking down on the drop,
This is not just a comma, but final full stop.
Sail a fleet of red admirals before it’s too late,
The Big Butterfly Count of July ’38.

RedAdmiral

© Text copyright Jason Hook 2019

A Verse A Day: 3 Little Pigs

1
A letter arrived at the Pig Pen one day,
From Great-Auntie McPig to her three little nieces.
It warned of a Wolf that was heading their way,
Who would chew them all up into bacon-sized pieces.

image1

2
“Och, dears!” said that note. “You had better be quick!
I have sent three gold coins that I managed to borrow.
Now build your defences, and build them from brick,
For that Wolf will arrive the day after tomorrow!”

3
“Now mark my words well,” wrote Great-Auntie McPig,
“So that when that Wolf comes you will know him by sight:
He walks up on two legs, like a man only BIG,
While his tail has a twist, and is totally white.”

4
“He has wire-wool whiskers and whiskey-stained teeth,
And his fur is as thick as a blackberry thicket.
One eye has a scar like a star underneath,
And he boarded the train with a second class ticket.”

5
The eldest pig, Ada, reached out a plump trotter,
And took down her bicycle clips from the shelf.
“Let’s ride to the market, that Wolf sounds a rotter!
We’ll each take one coin. Every pig for herself!”

Pigs2

6
Off they rode down the higgledy-piggledy track
Through a forest with piles of logs on the ground,
Past a farmyard with hay in a high, yellow stack
To the tumbledown town where the market was found.

7
At the first stall, the eldest pig, Ada, jumped down,
“I am rich!” she declared, “I can buy what I choose!”
And she spent her gold coin on a leopard-print gown,
A fur coat, a silk hat and a pair of red shoes.

Pigs7

8
“What about your new house?” Ada’s two sisters squealed,
As she stared in the mirror and grinned more and more.
“Don’t you worry,” she oinked, “I’ll ride back to the field,
Where I’ll tear down that haystack and build it from straw!”

9
At the next stall, the middle pig, Bessy, drew near,
“I am rich!” she oink-oinked, “I can choose what I buy!”
And she spent her gold coin on a bucket of beer,
Pickled eggs, cheesy chips and a blueberry pie.

IMG_9468

10
“What about your new house? You can’t build it from chips!”
Squealed her sisters, “That junk food will do you no good!”
“Don’t you fret!” Bessy belched, loudly licking her lips.
“I’ll go back to the forest and build it from wood!”

11
The last to the market, the youngest pig Hilda,
Was tempted by trinkets and trumpets and tricks,
‘Til she came to the stall of an out-of-work builder…
And spent her gold coin on a cartload of bricks.

Pigs11

12
Hilda hitched up her bike to the front of the cart,
And rode higgledy-piggledy home to her door.
In the wood she passed Bessy, who let out a fart!
In the field, she passed Ada, all covered in straw!

13
It was half past eleven, the following day,
A tall gentleman stepped from the back of the train,
And he asked the conductor: “Please tell me the way
To find Number 3, Higgledy Piggledy Lane.”

Pigs13

14
The conductor was struck by the size of the brute,
By the scar like a star on his whiskery snout,
And the twisted, white tail that hung down from his suit.
But he gave him directions, to help the gent out.

15
Near the station, the stranger arrived at a farm,
Where he saw a small hut built completely from straw.
“Let me in!” the gent whispered, “I mean you no harm!”
And with one furry fist, he knocked hard on the door.

16
When there came no reply, the gent peered through a crack,
And it’s hard to say who suffered most from the shock:
The strange gent with a twisted white tale at his back,
Or the pig in red shoes and a leopard-skin frock!

IMG_0246

17
“What a sight!” drooled the gent, “I believe I smell bacon,
You look like a pig who’d taste good in a stew!”
“You’re the Wolf,” Ada squealed, “If I’m not much mistaken,
Great-Auntie McPig warned me all about you!”

18
After thinking out loud, “I will first marinade her!”
With huff and with puff, the Wolf blew the house down,
Then with jaggedy teeth he tore into poor Ada,
‘Til nothing remained but her leopard-skin gown.

Pigs17

19
It was one hour later, the stranger was sighted,
His wire-wool whiskers all covered in blood.
He was holding a chainsaw and looking excited,
Approaching a house made of logs, sticks and mud.

20
With a roar of his saw, the gent carved up the place,
And his starry-scarred eye gave a look of surprise,
Because inside sat Bessy, still stuffing her face,
She looked just like her sister, but three times the size.

Pigs20

21
“You’re the Wolf,” Bessy cried, “With the twisted, white tail!”
“Go away! Can’t you see that I’m eating my brunch?”
“Look at you!” laughed the Wolf, “You’re the size of a whale,
“You will do for my supper, my tea AND my lunch!”

22
Bessy tried to escape, but stuck fast in her chair,
And the Wolf thought out loud: “This is sure to get messy!”
Then, fixing the pig with a terrible stare,
Made a horrible mess… and that mess was poor Bessy.

Pigs22

23
At just past nine-thirty, the following morning,
A postman reported that he’d seen the stranger
Emerge from a hedgerow while stretching and yawning,
Down by the sharp bend where the road sign reads: ‘Danger!’

24
His neck was wrapped up in a leopard-skin scarf,
And his whiskers were stained with a blueberry stain.
Of the postman, he asked, with a whiskey-fumed laugh,
“Can you point me to Higgledy-Piggledy Lane?”

Pigs24

25
Meanwhile, Hilda was home in her new house of bricks,
With brick walls, a brick roof and a bright-red brick hearth,
She was thinking: “I’m safe from that Wolf’s dirty tricks,”
When she heard the soft pad of large paws on her path.

26
“Let me in!” growled a voice through the sturdy brick walls,
“Go away!” Hilda squealed, when she heard three soft knocks,
And she loaded a pistol with powder and balls,
Before locking her door’s seven shiny, new locks.

Pigs26

27
Filled with fear, Hilda peered through her spy-hole to see
The Wolf’s paw lift a sharp, silver pin from his pocket,
And use it to pick the door’s locks like a key –
But as quick as he picked, Hilda rushed to relock it!

28
The Wolf took a sledgehammer out of his case,
Which he swung at the house like a furry fanatic,
He hammered the bricks until red in the face,
And he huffed and he puffed (for the Wolf was asthmatic!).

Pigs28

29
“Damned bricks!” wheezed the Wolf, with a baffling look,
Then his whisky-stained teeth formed the thinnest of smiles,
As he took out a rope and a grappling hook,
Which he whirled and he hurled so it gripped the roof’s tiles.

Pigs29

30
With the rope round his waist, the Wolf muttered and cursed,
And he climbed to the roof, which he crossed at a canter.
On reaching the chimney, he dived in head first…
And burst out of the hearth like a fur-coated Santa.

Pigs30

31
“Don’t shoot!” cried the Wolf, as he looked up to see
A small pig’s silver pistol aimed straight at his chest.
“I have three things to ask you!” he begged on one knee,
“One last meal, one last whisky, and one last request!”

Pigs32

32
“Last request?” Hilda squealed. “Yes, I wish to confess!”
Growled the Wolf, seeing Hilda look suddenly shaken,
“A secret accomplice gave me your address,
It was Great-Aunt McPig, just to save her own bacon!”

33
On hearing the news, Hilda felt her heart break,
And she shot at the Wolf with her eyes full of tears.
Hilda aimed at his head, but instead, by mistake,
She succeeded in shooting off one of his ears.

34
Now the Wolf poured a whisky and toasted poor Hilda,
“To one last request, one last drink, one last meal!”
After drinking his whisky, dear reader, he killed her,
And, lighting the grill, toasted Hilda for real.

Pigs34

35
With a wailing of sirens, and blue lights all blazing,
The stranger was seen being led by a chain,
From the pretty brick house where they said he’d been lazing,
At Number 3 Higgledy-Piggledy Lane.

Pigs36

36
When they dug up the garden, they found what – when tested –
Turned out to be piggy belongings and bones,
Mr Wolf and Great-Auntie McPig were arrested,
For trial in the courtroom of Judge Piggy Jones.

37
When the trial was over, the judge bashed his hammer,
The courtroom fell silent, the Wolf stood on view.
And pronouncing his sentence with barely a stammer,
The judge cried: “Not guilty! It’s just what wolves do.”

38
When Great-Auntie McPig was brought forward for sentence,
The judge sighed: “Ten years for such beastly betrayal!
And always remember, while seeking repentance,
Beware of a Wolf with a twist in the tail.”

Pigs38

THE END

Text © copyright Jason Hook 2019
Illustration © copyright Christa Hook 2019

 

Blood Moon

blood_moon_with_howling_wolf_by_hunters_m00n

The moon is rising full and round, a deep red-setter red,
The brighter that it shines, the more these voices fill my head.
I want to run and chase a ball, to boldly sniff your arse,
To urinate on lamp-posts and to defecate on grass.
I’ve torn off all my clothes but still I just can’t seem to sleep,
I long to ride into the countryside and worry sheep.
I ate a poodle late last night, my bark’s less than my bite,
Lock up your doors, chain up my paws, the Blood Moon’s up tonight.

The moon is rising full and round, with bloody lipstick lips,
I want to go out riding in my bicycle eclipse.
The beast in me is breaking free, the bat came out of hell,
I want to dress in leather and throw pussy down the well.
My booty call’s a duty call, do not pick up the phone,
I’m sniffing round a graveyard trying to find this dog a bone.
Lycanthropy, misanthropy, Lon Chaney’s out of sight,
Bring out your dead, and turn your head, the Blood Moon’s up tonight.

The moon is rising full and round, a scary clown’s balloon,
It lures me to the sewers of my friends’ impending doom.
I thought I was a vegan, but there must be some mistake,
I’m raving at this craving for a rare and bloody steak.
My claws are out, I’ve grown a snout, I want to see you bleed,
I’ve drunk a trunk of claret and I’ve turned all Ollie Reed.
Foie-gras and steak tartare, please pass the claret to the right,
The menu’s fresh with human flesh, the Blood Moon’s up tonight.

The moon is rising full and round, a bloodspot, bloodshot eye,
I feel a strange compulsion to start howling at the sky.
A glass of water terrifies, I’ll take a Bloody Mary,
I’ve always been hirsute but now I’m Wolverinely hairy.
My fingernails need filing and I’ve started having fits,
I’m running out of razors and my toothbrush is in bits.
This lunacy is killing me, my shirt is much too tight,
Let’s fire that silver bullet, there’s a Blood Moon up tonight.

 

Vintage-Wolf-Image-GraphicsFairy

—Copyright © Jason Hook 2018

 

 

The Dream Weaver

There is something both thrilling and terrifying about that moment when waking slips into sleeping, when watching drifts into dreaming, and when the veil that separates the imagined from the real blows aside so that we suddenly cannot tell one from the other.
If a spider happens to be dropping from the ceiling on a long, black thread of silk at that magical instant, who knows what we might dream…

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The Dream Weaver

Tonight, as you snuggle up warm in your bed
With your eyes nearly closed, cotton wool in your head,
A spider drops down from the ceiling above…
He’s wearing a top hat, striped socks and one glove!  

Crawling over your pillow, the spider creeps near,
And whispers what sounds like a spell in your ear:
‘I am the Dream Weaver, as strange as it seems,
Not spinning my webs now, but weaving your dreams!’

Your blankets grow cobwebs, your bed legs grow roots,
And your curtains sprout mistletoe, thistles and shoots,
As the spider swings by in his gold-buckled shoes,  
Shouting: ‘Quick! Follow me! We have no time to lose!’ 

Your head starts to spin and you slip from your pillow
And fall through the leaves of a sad weeping willow,
Who weeps as his whiskers are hooked on the reel
Of a hunch-backed old toad at an old spinning-wheel.

With whirrs of her wheel, and a nod of her head,
The old toad spins a waterfall wave of white thread,
Which coils like spaghetti on trays held by waiters –
Who look just like beetles in tailcoats and gaiters.

With trays piled high from the white-cotton fountain,
The beetles climb over a tortoise-shell mountain,
To bright-coloured rivers where rainbow trout lie
And chameleons’ tails stir up ponds filled with dye.  

Each beetle dives into the pool of its choosing,
In which a chameleon keeps the dye oozing,
Selecting its pattern by changing its skin
From zig-zags to polka-dots, thick stripes to thin.

In one pool, a rubber-gloved frog feeds a tangle
Of nettles and weeds through the jaws of a mangle,
While crickets with nutcrackers squeeze a French bean,
And the thread turns from snow-white to gooseberry-green.

In the next pool, a hairy-legged bluebottle settles,
And tears up a heap of forget-me-knot petals.
He wrings them together and gives them a chew,
And the thread turns from milk-white to blueberry-blue.

Purple plums dropped like bombs by fat moths in fur capes
Stir a pool where a centipede slowly treads grapes
On a waterwheel turned by his one hundred shoes,
And the thread turns the shade of a freshly made bruise.

The threads are now lifted on dragonflies’ tails,
Silhouetted like bi-planes with long vapour trails.
Into clouds made of dandelion flowers they swoop,
Tying knots in the threads while they’re looping the loop.

Flying up from the dye-ponds, past mushrooms and weeds,
Diving down through a storm cloud of sycamore seeds,
Taking turns through the creepers, the vines and the brambles,
The rainbow-tailed, dragonfly flying squad scrambles…

—Excerpt from The Dream Weaver, unpublished 32-page picture book

Text copyright © Jason Hook 2018
Illustration copyright © Christa Hook 2018

Sweet and toffee, trough and snout…

You never forget the moment you first hear a witch sing a Cursery Rhyme. Not in a letter or from faraway. But up close. In the flesh. So you can smell her liquorice breath as she weaves her spell and tells you all the things she’s going to do to you, and all smuggled into your ears disguised in the old rags of a familiar verse…

“Beneath the causeway, they glimpsed again those strange orphan shadows that had chased them from the awfulage and which had played hide-and-seek among snow and pine trees during their carriage ride. Dark and plump as carp, they drifted now beneath the surface of the blood-red River Mold, diving or drowning among the weed, it was hard to tell which. And as those shadows swam by, Isabella began to sing. Her voice sounded both like the high note of a violin and the low rasp of the bow being scraped across it, and the burbling, bubbling voices of children rose from those diving, drowning shadows to join in the chorus. At the same moment, the handle of the music box around Molly’s neck began to turn, as it played along to the tune of Isabella’s song…

‘Two blind mice! Two blind mice!baba1ef7747dbede4146594decc5d391--arthur-rackham-halloween-decorations
See how they run! See how they run!
Cut out their hearts with a carving knife,
To see all the wishes they wish for life.
Hang up their hats on a thorny tree,
To let all the thoughts in their heads go free.
Cut off their tails for the cooking pot,
Tie them all up in a witch’s knot.

Sweet and toffee, trough and snout,
See a tooth and pull it out.
Conker, marble, snout and trough,
See a finger, chop it off!

Feed them cheese to make them dream,
Catch their nightmares when they scream.
Tease their ribs with prods and tickles,
Turn their giggles into pickles.
Call them names to make them cry,
Prick the teardrops from their eye.
Made from nephews, brewed from nieces,
Auntie’s little bits and pieces.

Sweet and toffee, trough and snout,
See a tooth and pull it out.
Conker, marble, snout and trough,
See a finger, chop it off!

Boil it in a jammy jar…
Melt it to a sticky tar…
Mix it to an oily ointment…
By a witch’s royal appointment!
Wear it where the wish-bones chime,
Cast it to a Cursery Rhyme.
Spell it right, her name’s a portal:
Isabella, Izzy Mawtle!
Two blind mice! Two blind…

…NICE!’ Isabella whooped.”

 

From Isabella Mawtle’s Immortal Vanishing Cream, © Copyright Jason Hook 2018
Illustration by Arthur Rackham

 

1914 & Other Poems

Old books make perfect time capsules. The turning of their pages can transport you back to the moment they were written, printed, bought or given.

In a charity shop this week, I happened upon an edition of 1914 & Other Poems by Rupert Brooke. The book looks plain enough, its dark board cover blank but for a sepia label on the spine displaying title, author and publisher, Sidgwick & Jackson. It contains an ethereal portrait of its writer, and was printed in June 1915. The date carries you back to a world still in the first convulsions of the First World War – amid which, life carried on, and someone stepped into an English bookshop and made a purchase: an old pencil note on the title page records the sale: ‘2/6 nett, 15.6.15’.

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Two months previously, on 11 March 1915, the Times Literary Supplement had published two of Brooke’s five war sonnets, ‘IV: The Dead’ and ‘V: The Soldier’. Written late in 1914, the sonnets capture the tragic idealism and patriotism of a nation yet to confront the full horrors of the conflict. On Easter Sunday 1915, ‘The Soldier’ was the reading at St Paul’s Cathedral, resonating with the poet’s most famous line: ‘If I should die, think only this of me: / That there’s some corner of a foreign field / That is for ever England.’

Three weeks later, on 23 April 1915, Rupert Brooke, at the age of 27, was dead. Sailing for Gallipoli with the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, he suffered blood poisoning from an insect bite, and was buried in an olive grove on the Greek island of Skyros. The poet was mourned throughout England and 1914 & Other Poems was published the following month. My copy was the second of eleven impressions made that year alone.

The book holds an additional secret. Whoever bought it that June day was buying it as a gift, and the half-title page bears a small inscription: ‘F.M.T from EEP, June 1915, p.24’. I step into the time machine and, as another hand once did a century before, turn to the instructed page. I find the most beautiful verse, the perfect poem to offer as a certain kind of gift: ‘The Great Lover’.

Immediately, I long to know the identities behind the inscription. Was EEP a soldier himself, presenting his lover a book before he went away to fight. Did he nurse the same noble ideals as the poet? Was his life cut as tragically short? Or was he, instead, F.M.T., carrying his lover’s gift in an army coat pocket as he stood knee-deep in mud in the trenches and thought of home?

I would love to think those initials could somehow be decoded, what time travel that would be! In the meantime, we are left with the poem, printed two months after the ‘drowsy Death’ of its poet, and kept safe in the small, plain, dark-boarded covers that have travelled who knows where. Somehow, it has survived its journey, and now passes on the words that were once a lover’s dedication. They are, heartbreakingly, a love song to such simple pleasures as it is easy to imagine a homesick soldier reciting in a foreign field: a celebration of life at a time of dying. And I feel humbled a century later to hold them in my hands. Something remains. He loved.

THE GREAT LOVER
by Rupert Brooke

I have been so great a lover: filled my days
So proudly with the splendour of Love’s praise,
The pain, the calm, and the astonishment,
Desire illimitable, and still content,
And all dear names men use, to cheat despair,
For the perplexed and viewless streams that bear
Our hearts at random down the dark of life.
Now, ere the unthinking silence on that strife
Steals down, I would cheat drowsy Death so far,
My night shall be remembered for a star
That outshone all the suns of all men’s days.
Shall I not crown them with immortal praise
Whom I have loved, who have given me, dared with me
High secrets, and in darkness knelt to see
The inenarrable godhead of delight?
Love is a flame;—we have beaconed the world’s night.
A city:—and we have built it, these and I.
An emperor:—we have taught the world to die.
So, for their sakes I loved, ere I go hence,
And the high cause of Love’s magnificence,
And to keep loyalties young, I’ll write those names
Golden for ever, eagles, crying flames,
And set them as a banner, that men may know,
To dare the generations, burn, and blow
Out on the wind of Time, shining and streaming….
These I have loved:
White plates and cups, clean-gleaming,
Ringed with blue lines; and feathery, faery dust;
Wet roofs, beneath the lamp-light; the strong crust
Of friendly bread; and many-tasting food;
Rainbows; and the blue bitter smoke of wood;
And radiant raindrops couching in cool flowers;
And flowers themselves, that sway through sunny hours,
Dreaming of moths that drink them under the moon;
Then, the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon
Smooth away trouble; and the rough male kiss
Of blankets; grainy wood; live hair that is
Shining and free; blue-massing clouds; the keen
Unpassioned beauty of a great machine;
The benison of hot water; furs to touch;
The good smell of old clothes; and other such—
The comfortable smell of friendly fingers,
Hair’s fragrance, and the musty reek that lingers
About dead leaves and last year’s ferns….
Dear names,
And thousand others throng to me! Royal flames;
Sweet water’s dimpling laugh from tap or spring;
Holes in the ground; and voices that do sing:
Voices in laughter, too; and body’s pain,
Soon turned to peace; and the deep-panting train;
Firm sands; the little dulling edge of foam
That browns and dwindles as the wave goes home;
And washen stones, gay for an hour; the cold
Graveness of iron; moist black earthen mould;
Sleep; and high places; footprints in the dew;
And oaks; and brown horse-chestnuts, glossy-new;
And new-peeled sticks; and shining pools on grass;—
All these have been my loves. And these shall pass.
Whatever passes not, in the great hour,
Nor all my passion, all my prayers, have power
To hold them with me through the gate of Death.
They’ll play deserter, turn with the traitor breath,
Break the high bond we made, and sell Love’s trust
And sacramented covenant to the dust.
—Oh, never a doubt but, somewhere, I shall wake,
And give what’s left of love again, and make
New friends, now strangers….
But the best I’ve known,
Stays here, and changes, breaks, grows old, is blown
About the winds of the world, and fades from brains
Of living men, and dies.
Nothing remains.

O dear my loves, O faithless, once again
This one last gift I give: that after men
Shall know, and later lovers, far-removed
Praise you, “All these were lovely”; say, “He loved.”

Copyright © Jason Hook 2018