I heard a Canary Sing by Bill Robinson RIP

As a tribute to Bill Robinson who has died, we are uploading one of his poems which his son read at his funeral.

Bill was a Teacher of English at King Edward VI School for his whole career. He will have shared his love of the Word with thousands of Retford’s young people. He has left an archive of poems which hopefully can be edited down to a good volume for later publication.

I know I heard a canary sing

Smile

you are together

today

because of me

Be glad you are

and see each other

for you are there

because of me

So proud I am

that you are here

not above but

right beside me

‘If He were King,’ a children’s story extract by Gerry Fruin.

Ben leapt up and thanked the wizard and said that he would have to leave right now and rush back to help King Will and his people.  The old man told him to slow down because he had heard that the leader of the Druiths, The Prince of Darkness called Muchadoom, intended to unsheathe Excalibur on mid-summer’s day and claim all the Kingdoms – indeed the whole world – for himself and become very rich.

            “Take Artur with you: train him as you go.  He is a very quick learner.  You will have to fight your way through the gangs but come the special day, Arthur Pendragon” (he laughed at the name Sir Ben had given him) “will…” (he tapped the side of his nose) “draw Excalibur from the stone.”  Well, Ben had heard lots of rubbish from magicians, wizards and witches in his long years but this was the best.

            “You cannot be serious, man.” he scoffed.  ” The oik can’t speak English: can’t even fight his way out of a paper bag (they didn’t have paper bags in those days but you know what I mean) and you think he can be King.  Get real pal.”  He took a deep breath.  He had had enough nonsense.

            “Did you know that Merlin foresaw this?”

            Well, that stopped Ben cold.  “Merlin saw this joker as King?” he exploded.  “What juice had he been slurping?”  He paused: better not to be too harsh on Merlin.  You never knew what kind of spell the maniac might put on somebody.

            The old man smiled gently.  “Merlin told me this many years ago.  Why do you think I looked after the boy and how did I know you were coming?”  Err…now that was not easy to answer.    

 

            Sir Ben de Ben mounted Thunder and thanked the wizard for the food he had given them.

            “Oi!” shouted Arthur who had been told he was to go with the Black Knight. “Where’s me ‘orse?”

            “Horse!”  Ben laughed.  “Horse.  Listen pal, there’s no horse for you until you can run fifty miles without stopping.”  Just to make it worse he added “In full armour, then practice sword drill before dawn for two hours, then cook breakfast.”  Arthur looked pleadingly at the wizard, who shook his head, and to Arthur’s despair said.

            “That, young Arthur, is only on easy days. It’s tough out there kid.”

            “But why are we setting off now its night time, I need to sleep.”

            “Sleep.  Sleep.  You better get used to living in the real world, young Arthur.  There is no sleep: besides Beedlebumbum thinks you might be a King.”  He laughed mockingly.  “Yes really, and Kings, as you should know, only sleep in Camelot.  Again, he wheeled Thunder round.  “Besides…” he sneered” we have to save the world.” ‘Fat chance,’ he thought, ‘with this hopeless oik’.  He charged into the forest because he was really angry that Merlin had sent him on a task that ruined his Quest to find a King.  Artur looked in total dismay at the wizard, who smiled kindly at him.

            “He is angry just now Artur, but I have faith that you will be the Once and Future King.  Go on young man; show him and the world what you are really made of.  We shall meet again when you have built Camelot”.  With that, Arthur squared his shoulders under the great weight of stuff on his back, waved once to Beedlebumbum and staggered into the forest.  What he thought was ‘what is Camelot?’  That was new to him.  Well, Camelot, as Ben would tell him later, was a fable: a kind of magic story that told the tale of a huge castle where people lived happily and were defended for all time by the truest and best Knights, who sat with the King at a round table so that no-one was better than anyone else.  It was only an ancient fairy story: a good idea, but impossible.  Arthur asked Ben why that should be.  Ben replied that he did not know: “people I guess” shrugged the Knight.  And that was the turning point for Arthur; why couldn’t there be a Camelot?  Now…. if he were King…!

My Mind Within by Brendan Stoneham

My Mind Within
 
The blurred edges of my mind get closer all the time.
I see the traffic flowing like a metallic orchestra,
Nothing is real, yet everything was.
Black and white is what I view.
There is no grey, neither colour too.
Yet black and white is not the starkest contrast of them all,
My mind and body are much more different, than even life and death.
Old and fragile is my flesh.
My mind rages on through the night.
Amazing answers and clarity I see, like no one else.
I run, but my body does not follow.
Once my mind was too old for my young self,
But now my thoughts are quick and the coin has flipped.
I am alone, or so I think.
But I am only a withered creature, with a mind like fire,
So no one cares, do they even know?
All my being is in my head.
What is this body?
All I know is that without it, I am dead.
I do not care for the body I now have,
But my mind I do,
So I will endure my body,
If only for the mind within.

The Willow Weeps? By Ruth Nunn

The Willow Weeps? By Ruth Nunn

On either side of waters wide,
Many beauties grow and compete,
Attention in a riverside,
Already hardly incomplete.

Fighting ivy, berries, flowers,
Long green grasses are growing dense.
And from amidst this growth towers,
A sight both wondrous and immense.

Favourite of many to be seen,
With branches stretching high and wide,
Stands tall and slender, draped in green,
A tree with great strength, power, pride.

Gently forming a graceful curve,
Each long and even longer arm,
Has fingers reach the steady swerve,
Of waters which wash slow and calm.

Or push now harder,harder yet,
As rain throws down and river will,
Now seem to pose a wicked threat,
Upon those tips as it does fill.

To wash them with the growing swell,
Off to distant lands, cold, unknown:
A nasty, cruel and wicked hell,
Far worse than man has ever known.

But when the storm at last does end,
The river slower, not so wide,
Has tree with almost sleepy bend,
Growing from its now steady side.

Consistent there by river deep,
Clothed in rich, gorgeous sleeves of green,
The willow’s arms can only weep,
Tears of joy to be ever seen.

As longest, most slender and still,
Strongest, most grand and impressing,
Of all the beauteous sites that fill,
A bank that just bursts with blessing.

‘Released from the gates of Newgate Prison’ by Grant Couzens

Released from the gates of Newgate prison, John Thomas Littlejohn, (not named for the size of his genitalia) armed with a warrant for a hackney carriage to take him back to the rookeries of south west London stopped on the cobblestones to consider his fate. It didn’t look to good. He had been supplied with clothing from the reject store of Newgate’s paupers release fund but dreaded the day he would be forced to change into the clothing that sported the distinctive blue striped shirt and trousers marked with the crow’s foot markings that would distinguish him as a released convict without a brass farthing to his name, and on his proverbial arse. As if this wasn’t enough to contend with he had the added discomfit of finding himself without somewhere to lay his distinguishably convicted shaven head, which had already caused a few God fearing people to cross their breasts in a crucifix and scuttle across the road. Desperate not to be lured back into the ill gotten ways of his past, chance had offered him no solutions or a way out. And so it was, much to his dismay that he was forced to open up the links back to the dark and shameful past of his former life.
It was while he was taking a ride in a horse drawn carriage heading to the London suburb of Mitcham way out in the countryside that Littlejohn had the idea to contact one of his former associates, the infamous, sneeringly suspect looking, Dougie ‘O’Docherty, opium addict, serial masturbator, grave robber and leader of the ‘O’Gurr gang of cut purses, pickpockets and forgers of documents. These were just a few of Dougies many qualities of which the list was long. It was whilst he was walking past the hawkers, beggars and bangtails of the old highway in Mitcham that he spotted Dougie shouting and swearing; wildly flailing his arms at innocent Victorian passers by, narrowly missing them with the bottle of Holland’s Gin he was preciously holding onto.
With his hair tied back in the style of a high seas Buccaneer, a wild staring look in his piercing, bloodshot, blue pupil less eyes, a Gothic looking black leather coat that could  easily be associated with the dark days of ‘Vlad the Impaler’ of Lithuanian, skin tight leggings and boots familiarly  reminiscent of the dragoons of Sevastopol, Dougie was a sight to be feared; most of the Peelers in that quarter of London had learned to leave him well alone, as had most of the inhabitants of that small and God fearing hamlet.
Making his way cautiously through the throng of spectators that were unwittingly surrounding the hypnotic, whirling, Dervish dance of Dougie, and consequently, who were being worked by the ‘O’Gurr gang of Pickpockets, Littlejohn smiled inside of himself knowing this old game that Dougie was playing; that later, at the end of the day after his dance of serpentinian mesmerization he would be splitting the spoils of the days takings with the drogues of the ‘O’Gurr gang that he employed. Some things never changed Littlejohn thought.
Pushing his way through the throng of spectators, Littlejohn caught the mad blazing gaze of Dougie. Dougie, giving recognition by an extra widening of the eyes and a sneer of the upper lip, began to feign an arrest of the heart, clutching at his bohemian double breasted velvet waistcoat; a sign for his entourage of pickpockets to break off, and meet back at the lodging house they used as their base to divide the spoils of their days work.
Dougie sat down on the cobbles and waited for the crowd of onlookers to move on. Feeling confident that the faked recovery of his heart and the arrest of his alcoholic dementia would pass unnoticed, so as to leave the scam secure for another day in the hamlet, Dougie, dragging himself up from the gutter, shook himself into a feigned recovery, ever vigilant of the possibility of any undercover Peeler’s that might be witness to their scam. Faking a startling surprise at seeing Littlejohn, Dougie embraced the returning felon, patting him on the back whilst at the same time casting an ever cautionary, paranoid glance over his shoulder, like the true professional that he was. Whilst in this deep embrace Dougie whispered into Littlejohn’s ear.
“Let’s go to the tavern, we’ve some unfinished business to attend to”
Feeling secure enough to walk comparatively unnoticed along the cobblestone walkway, the arm of Dougie embraced Littlejohn as the entered the appropriately named ‘Moll Flanders’ Tavern, a notorious haunt for ladies of the night, men of ill repute and every other type of criminal and villain looking for employment into the organized gangs of London’s underworld. Walking Littlejohn up to the bar Dougie signaled to one of the buxom barmaids, giving her the predatory glare of Lion that had cornered a disabled Gazelle.
“A bottle of Holland’s and a flagon of ale”

At this point, Dougie, showing discomfit in his face, looked down at his appendage, his eyes signaling his intention to make a swift move to relieve himself of a full bladder and thus excused himself with regal aplomb. At this point, Littlejohn realized he had just become victim yet again to the Grand Master of scams as he was left to pay for the drinks. When Dougie returned a serious look came over his face, Littlejohn new what was coming. So far the subject had been avoided, but now it had to be faced.

Dougie filled the glasses then made a short speech: “To the good friends we have lost, and to good friends locked in Newgate. To the good times we have shared, to the bad times we have endured. To the memories that we have left, of the possessions we hold dear, our bond is the one we cherish”.
Looking Littlejohn in the eye, Dougie’s eyes began to water as he motioned to raise their glasses “To Sleem, may you finally rest in peace dear brother, to Durj, May your time in Ketch’s Kitchen go quick”.
When this was said and done, their tankards were raised to the sky in a final salute to one of the dearest of degenerates life had given them, Sleem, and to one to one of their dearest friends that couldn’t be there who was locked in the cells at the notorious Newgate prison. The beers were downed in one and the tankards thrown across the room, Dougie shouted a roar and slapped his fists down onto the table, and then the tumblers were filled with Gin and knocked back in the same fashion. Littlejohn gasped as the fire burned his throat, the glasses were thrown, smashing on the ground. Tears began to fill the eyes of these two heathen looking men, the ritual was done, and life must go on. Each were silent as they walked from the tavern, Locked in their own thoughts with the memories of their brothers who had fallen or been captured in this war of attrition on life’s rocky road.
Dougie took one of the bags that Littlejohn had left Newgate with and they walked silently back to the lodging house Dougie used as a base to front his illegal activities and as a hideout for the members of the O’Gurr gang. When they arrived at the lodging house, Littlejohn was overcome with a desire to numb the pain of his present predicament, and so he hinted to Dougie that he was leaving to go on a foray into the nearby rookeries of Roehampton to contact a man he knew as  Chinky, whom Littlejohn knew would be able to purchase a  small quantity of opium, upon which he would return to Dougie and they would sit and entertain the Dragon for the evening whilst sipping Absinthe and smoking fine Indian Hashish from the mountains of Chitral.
Littlejohn bade a temporary farewell to Dougie and made his way back through the narrow alleyways of Mitcham to the cobblestone highways where he could board a carriage to Roehampton. A hackney carriage went past and Littlejohn hopped onto the back of it unnoticed by the driver who was busy holding onto the reigns of his horses steering the carriage along the cobbles of the crowded road.
The journey through the suburbs filled Littlejohn with a sense of foreboding; two and a half years in the belly of the great beast, Newgate Prison, and now it felt as though he had never been there at all. He jumped off of the back of the carriage as it pulled into the livery in Roehampton and casually melted into the throng of people that milled about. Nothing had changed here, nothing but himself.
Before he had been arrested by the peelers and incarcerated at Newgate for evasion of taxes, Littlejohn had been one of the largest suppliers of Opium in the South West on London. Walking along the cobbles he felt as though he had suddenly become possessed by the ghost of his former life and his footsteps had become automatic. Before he knew it he was at the dwellings of one of his former associates, Chinky. Chinky was a person of unknown origin, slightly discolored, he looked a little bit Chinese, Indian, and possibly Mongolian there could even have been a bit of the old Kwazulu in there.
Chinky responded to the sight of Littlejohn as if he had just popped down to the local pie shop and back, not as if he had just returned from two and a half years in the cities notorious prison. Littlejohn understood this though; Chinky had sold his soul to the Dragon a long long time ago, he was one of the true soldiers of the underworld, Satan’s soldiers. Littlejohn would always avoid the thought of what this made him, as Chinky had been one of his former associates and foot soldiers. But he figured that he wouldn’t be making the Pearly Gates too soon, that was a certainty.
Whilst Chinky was out purchasing the merchandise for the evenings entertainment Littlejohn began to grapple with his conscious, never before had he felt such pangs of guilt and remorse over his past and the fate that he felt awaited him should he have to return to his former employ and continue working for the big boss, Satan, peddling his misery to the lost souls of London.
A voice was whispering in his ear, a voice he had long since forgotten, as if it was calling from the pits of his soul.
“Littlejohn, make your way to the missionaries of the Queen Mary’s Sanitarium and ask for a Samaritan called Marcia also known as Sister Mercy. Tell them you are done with the Devils work and seek repentance and that you are turning yourself over to the will of God, good luck my child”.
With this message in head Littlejohn made his way to the Sanatorium and asked if there was a Marcia, also known as a Sister Mercy. He was directed to a ward near the front of the building and much to his surprise she greeted him with a warm and caring smile. Was this really happening? He thought. At this revelation, Littlejohn fell to his knees and begged forgiveness for all of his sins, and there were many, saying that he would rather go to the ends of the earth than to give his life over to the beast again.

Marcia bade him to get up, laying her hands on his shoulders she said “Littlejohn, if you are serious about your decision, this is a chance for you to turn your life around. You have been living your life in the darkness for too long, yet God has shone a light on you, for many times in your life you should have died, and it has been by Gods divine intervention that you are still alive. Pick up the sword and shield of righteousness and join forces with the power of the lord and you shall be redeemed. Go now my child and make your decision. But beware the forces of Satan; for once you have let him into your heart he will never leave you alone. Remember, salvation lies in the Lord God Almighty”.
With this message firmly rooted in his heart he left the sanatorium with instructions to make his way to the port of Southampton where he would be met by warders of a hospice for the care of the Lost Souls of Gods country.
As he was walking past the rookeries of the village of Roehampton, Littlejohn remembered  his commitment to his friend Dougie, and though it was one he no longer wanted to fulfill he wasn’t about to let his friend down, for anybody, even God, though at that time he felt he was on a probation with the Lord. As he made his way to Chinky’s he took a last look around the village he had once been the scourge of and decided that it would be better off without the likes of him. He knocked on the door of Chinky’s and was let in with the same old ritualistic welcome that is often associated with the Opium dens of London,
“Have you got any tobacco, have you got a pipe” the usual banter.
He bade Chinky farewell knowing he wouldn’t be missed any time too soon and hoofed it back on the pad to Dougie’s. After a further night of debauchery with his friend Dougie, Littlejohn awoke and picked up his bag saying his goodbye to his friend.
This was the first and last night Littlejohn had spent in London for two and a half years, and as this episode comes to an end, it is sure that this wont be the end of his story. And if you’re ever wondering what happened to Littlejohn, listen carefully on a windy night in the smog ridden rookeries of London and it is said you can hear him calling, “You haven’t got a smoke bud have you? Could you spare some loose change sir? Thank you sir, thank you kindly”.
Here endeth the first tale of John Thomas Littlejohn.