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.

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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

 

Sheep & Wolf

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carlet shivers beneath her summer shawl,
As she strolls to granny’s under sinking sunset skies.

 

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erds of woolly creatures turn to stare at her,
With hooded, heavy-lidded, what big eyes.

 

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ach beast emits an eerie ‘Baa!’, all baaaa one,
A lone and darker one, who, much to her surprise,

 

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dges nearer, growls a little louder,
And appears an exceptional size.

 

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erhaps, she thinks, that is no sheep I see, but a
Bigger, badder sort of beast, in a sheepskin coat disguise.

 

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ho’s that?

 

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h, good!

 

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ittle Red Riding…

 

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ood!

 

 

Copyright © Jason Hook 2019

Frida and Diego

So, when starting work on a new children’s poem about chameleons falling in love, why wouldn’t I name them after Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera…?

Chameleon2

In a faraway land, by a sapphire-blue sea,
Two chameleons lived in a rainforest tree.
On the first branch, a boy named Diego was nesting
Next door to the branch where young Frida was resting.

Chameleons’ faces can often look glum,
But Diego was crying and sucking his thumb,
It was clear as he peered from the branch up above,
He was head over tails in chameleon love.

Now, they might not get tongue-tied when catching a fly,
But chameleon boys can be terribly shy.
‘I must go!’ said Diego, ‘I must say hello!’
‘Frida’s lovely and lives on the branch just below!’

Climbing down to the flower where Frida was basking,
He said to himself: ‘Well, there’s no harm in asking!
When left by myself, life gets duller and duller…
It’s hard to make friends when you keep changing colour.’

—Work in progress, Copyright © Jason Hook 2018

Chameleon3

 

The Butterfly’s Ball

It was a weekend of butterflies. Taking part in the Big Butterfly Count (just two large whites and two meadow browns in Brighton’s parched Queens Park), brilliantly promoted by Sir David Attenborough, was both a joyful nudge to take fifteen minutes to stop and stare at nature, and a more salutary reminder that the wonders of our planet are fast disappearing before our eyes.

I remember the abundance of dazzling peacocks and red admirals we used to see as children in our back garden, along with the flocks of sparrows, swarms of bees, and bristling, bustling evening hedgehogs. Just imagine our countryside without such wonders. Just imagine if that is the shameful legacy of our generation. Perhaps if enough of us imagine that reality, and recognise its prevention as the cause of our age, we will find a way to step back from the sickening precipice of everyday extinctions.

By coincidence, a friend reminded me of the old poem The Butterfly’s Ball, which illuminated my childhood in rainbow colours as bright as the butterflies themselves. Very likely that is where the seeds of my Dream Weaver poem were first sown. Perhaps it’s time for another version (one by Alan Aldridge and William Plomer won the Whitbread in 1973) to mark the ticking of the clock and raise the hope that some Watchman is waiting for us. Such rhymes are vital in capturing the imagination of the next generation, which is why it is so uplifting to see the wonderful The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris enjoying such success. I hope these original verses by William Roscoe might offer an alternative way to celebrate the importance of the Big Butterfly Count, and present a different sort of invitation to a Butterfly’s Ball that is fast approaching midnight…

“Come take up your Hats, and away let us hasteillo5-f
To the Butterfly’s Ball, and the Grasshopper’s Feast.
The Trumpeter, Gad-fly, has summon’d the Crew,
And the Revels are now only waiting for you.

So said little Robert, and pacing along,

His merry Companions came forth in a Throng.
And on the smooth Grass, by the side of a Wood,
Beneath a broad Oak that for Ages had stood,
Saw the Children of Earth, and the Tenants of Air,
For an Evening’s Amusement together repair.

And there came the Beetle, so blind and so black,
Who carried the Emmet, his Friend, on his Back.
And there was the Gnat and the Dragon-fly too,
With all their Relations, Green, Orange, and Blue.

And there came the Moth, with his Plumage of Down,
And the Hornet in Jacket of Yellow and Brown;
Who with him the Wasp, his Companion, did bring,
But they promis’d, that Evening, to lay by their Sting.

And the sly little Dormouse crept out of his Hole,
And brought to the Feast his blind Brother, the Mole.illo3-f
And the Snail, with his Horns peeping out of his Shell,
Came from a great Distance, the Length of an Ell.

A Mushroom their Table, and on it was laid
A Water-dock Leaf, which a Table-cloth made.
The Viands were various, to each of their Taste,
And the Bee brought her Honey to crown the Repast.

Then close on his Haunches, so solemn and wise,
The Frog from a Corner, look’d up to the Skies.
And the Squirrel well pleas’d such Diversions to see,

Mounted high over Head, and look’d down from a Tree.

Then out came the Spider, with Finger so fine,
To shew his Dexterity on the tight Line.
From one Branch to another, his Cobwebs he slung,
Then quick as an Arrow he darted along,
But just in the Middle,—Oh! shocking to tell,

From his Rope, in an Instant, poor Harlequin fell.
Yet he touch’d not the Ground, but with Talons outspread,
Hung suspended in Air, at the End of a Thread.

Then the Grasshopper came with a Jerk and a Spring,
Very long was his Leg, though but short was his Wing;
He took but three Leaps, and was soon out of Sight,
Then chirp’d his own Praises the rest of the Night.illo5-f

With Step so majestic the Snail did advance,

And promis’d the Gazers a Minuet to dance.
But they all laugh’d so loud that he pull’d in his Head,
And went in his own little Chamber to Bed.
Then, as Evening gave Way to the Shadows of Night,
Their Watchman, the Glow-worm, came out with a Light.

Then Home let us hasten, while yet we can see,
For no Watchman is waiting for you and for me,
So said little Robert, and pacing along,
His merry Companions returned in a Throng.”

—Based on the text from the Project Gutenberg Ebook

 

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…

big title

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