Elf On The Shelf – A Christmas Verse

Now I’m not one to complain at such a festive time of year:

I wouldn’t want to spoil December’s fun and festive cheer.

But now and then, please spare a thought for one poor tired elf

Who’s feeling overworked and rather sorry for himself.


I once made toys in Santa’s state-of-the-art factory:

Where we elves were master craftsmen: the best that there could be.

I spent hours making train sets and horses out of wood:

And the pay and the conditions were really very good.

But few kids now want wooden train sets, or a rocking horse:

And so I signed myself up for an Elf Outplacement Course.


There were a few jobs out there that I thought that I could do

Which would take me from the factory and on to pastures new.

I could help on the sleigh team, but I’m not a sleigh mechanic

And the thought of flying always did put me in quite a panic.

Helping in a grotto seemed one way to earn my pay:

But at my age, it gets tricky to be on your feet all day.

And then I found the perfect job (or at the time it seemed)

As a member of an elite squad – the Elf Surveillance Team.


I joined up, and straight away I signed up for my shelf –

The perfect job, I figured, for an ageing, footsore elf.

All I’d have to do was sit up on the shelf – or so I thought –

Watch the children playing nicely, and then write the odd report.

So I put on my red suit and promptly jumped into the post

All ready to be unwrapped by a festive family host.

The adults were delighted and the children shrieked with glee

How little did I know then what would be in store for me!


Since then I’ve been woken up at some ungodly hour

To make snowballs out of water and half a tonne of flour

To decorate the tree with streamers and old toilet rolls

And write “HO HO HO!” in icing sugar round the cereal bowls

I’ve driven plastic cars around with dinosaurs inside

Been forced into a marriage with a Barbie as my bride

(we’re divorcing)

I’ve scattered all the Cheerios around the kitchen floor;

I’ve hung upside down for hours from the top of the front door;

They’ve even got me buying bedding! I’m really quite perplexed:

I dare say they’ll be asking for a brand-new sofa next.


Now I’m flat broke and exhausted, and waiting for the day

Where someone comes to rescue me and smuggle me away

I did find a firework, which I hid up my sleeve

So I can send a distress signal sometime on Christmas Eve.

Perhaps Santa will hear me, and hurry to my call –

For getting out of here would be the finest Christmas gift of all.

I’ll go back to the North Pole, just grateful I’m alive

And exchange my resignation for a nice P45.


This Poem Is Not To Be Read In A South London Accent

A poem about poetry.

This poem is not to be read in a South London accent.

This poem will not begin by walking in a shoulders-dropped,


baggy-trousered swagger towards a microphone,

lower its eyes,

point its tattooed arm towards the sky

and after a dramatic pause



(which lasts for some time)



say “London!” or “Yo!”

No, this poem is not going to be like that.

This poem doesn’t roll that way.


This poem does not wear its origins on its sleeve,

Giving its home town a shout out at 2am from the top of a tower block,

Turning the place where a pirate radio mast once stood into a theatre of words

And sprinkling whoever cares to listen with magic urban dust and a beat

for the after dark warriors

that knew that the coolest city in the world was always theirs.

This poem might look out from a multi-storey car park in the middle of the night,

Looking down on nothing but taxi queues, pissed kids and the odd rat –

(Everything is shut

Everything is shit)

This town just gets deader after midnight

Apart from the odd fight that nobody can be arsed to break up.

Tell the world its name

And the response will always be the same:

“Where’s that, then?”

So this poem won’t bother wearing its home town on its sleeve – or showing it on a map.


This poem will not swagger through the mean streets

Watching the spray-paint Michelangelos turn the old warehouses into modern shrines,

But it might wander past pound shop after pound shop after pound shop

Where some kid wrote ‘I WOZ ERE’ in biro on a boarded up window

And maybe tagged the statue of the kid with the boat at the end of the high street in Tipp-Ex

This kid wasn’t making a statement, crying out for change,

Shouting out that the media is controlling our minds –

No, they were bored, and it passed the time.


This poem will not tell you of the philosopher with an addict’s face,

The bohemian who won’t beg but will write you a poem in exchange for a few quid

The people the city sweeps under its carpet and make the night more interesting.

We have the more prosaic sights:

The lady outside the post office,

Smelling of piss and not being sure it’s not 1956 –

Because her carer’s not been for the last six weeks

And there’s nobody to check since they cut back Social Services

But if she gets her slippers and her nightie on she might make it to town

Where the flags are still up from the Coronation

And nobody starts up a conversation.


No, this poem will not be read in a South London accent.

This poem will not be read or composed on the night bus.

(This poem will be shuffling slowly forwards in the queue for the rail replacement bus

Muttering to itself –

As it does every single day –

that it’ll all get better when Crossrail comes.)

This poem will not be fashionable because it exists.

This poem will not be cool because it was read by someone with an asymmetrical haircut.

This poem will not be read in an unnamed pop-up bar that was never advertised but is mysteriously full of people drinking imported craft beer.

This poem will not be followed by a DJ set.

This poem will not be broadcast on Radio 1.

This poem will not be filmed in the toilets of a bar in Piccadilly Circus and broadcast as a late-night filler on BBC 4 for National Poetry Day

This poem will not be adopted as a statement about the state of the nation.


This poem is not to be read in a South London accent.


He’s sixteen.

Should be drinking in the park

Get pissed on cider from a neon can

Discussing which band’s good and which sold out

And scoffing at sad, bland pop music fans.

At least, he should be sneaking into bars

Where everyone can tell he’s underage

With fake ID swiped from his brother’s room

Or ordered from a magazine’s back page

He should be stacking shelves on Saturdays

And hiding his hangover from his mum,

Or playing sport, or in a band with mates

And feeling nervous when exam week comes.

That khaki jacket with its stains of mud –

It should be worn at gigs watched in the rain;

Those heavy boots should be a Camden thing

Or be reminders of some outdoor game.


But that is now. For times were different then –

They say –  concepts of ‘teens’ didn’t exist:

Sixteen year olds were practically men –

They say –  and all were desperate to enlist.

These pretty lies won’t mask the long-dead sounds

Of young men’s screams on bloody battlefields,

Won’t change the roll call of the millions dead,

The ‘shell shock’ and the wounded left unhealed.


And now he’s just a name chalked on a stone

Where annually people might convene

With well-meant ceremonies of regret

Young soldier – killed in action – aged sixteen.

Read about the ‘ghost soldiers’ project #wearehere  – a powerful and moving tribute to those killed in the battle of the Somme.

Referendum Groceries

We’ve had a lot of talk about the EU referendum in the UK of late, and much of it has been pretty nasty. Occasionally, when surrounded by argument, a person has to resort to a coffee and pastry to cheer themselves up: I did, and wrote this.

I’ve made a plan for this week, for this show-down’s not for me:

The bickering and posturing between rival MPs;

Mud-slinging in the media, both social and in print:

And prejudice from journalists once thought intelligent.


The Leave campaign yell: “If we stay, we’ll sink into the sea

Between the cost of membership and swathes of refugees

We’ll drown in Greek-style penury and then we’ll lose our jobs

Which will probably be taken by hordes of Turkish mobs

The politicos in Brussels will take our sovereignty

And force us to adopt the single Euro currency!

We’ll have no more such nonsense! And we strongly believe

We can pay for all our hospitals by simply voting Leave!”


And judging by their single bit of paper through my door

The Remain campaign’s main rhetoric is similarly poor.

“If you don’t tick the Remain box on June 23

Then our entire population will attempt to flee!

For businesses won’t deal with us: there’ll probably be war

Between Britain and the rest of Europe by June 24

There’ll be no more foreign holidays to Portugal or Spain

For nobody will let us in if we don’t vote Remain

The Scots and Welsh will both devolve and be off like a shot

And we hear that even Cornwall has a devolution plot

And lastly but by no means least – who do you want in charge?

Do you really want a country led by Boris or Farage?”


Meanwhile, arguments fly back and forth on Facebook and on Twitter

And many sound quite personal and not a little bitter

So I’ve made a plan for this week that will keep me quite objective

And ensure that I maintain a purely rational perspective.


I’ll start by having breakfast, and I know just what I’ll want:

An Italian espresso and a French almond croissant

Then I’ll stroll along the pavement in my shoes that came from Spain

(With my German car as backup in case of heavy rain)

On the way to work, I may decide to make a stop

And pick up my weekly shopping at the local Polish shop

I could buy olives (which might well be Cypriot or Greek)

Or a bar of Belgian chocolate to see me through the week

If I’m feeling decadent, Dutch waffles could be an idea

And for later in the evening, a Czech or Polish beer

And perhaps I’ll buy some port (exported by the Portuguese)

Which always goes quite well with slices of Danish blue cheese.

If I get a call, I’ll answer on my Finnish mobile phone

With a tune from Mozart (Austrian) as a tasteful ringing tone

My work will be obliged to let me leave when I am through:

Since the European Working Time Directive tells them to.

Finally, I might meet up for coffee with my mates

Who hail from all around the European member states

And as Thursday dawns, I’ll sink into my Swedish-made settee

And ponder what the EU has ever done for me.

Whatever your views on the referendum, please vote on the 23rd if you’re eligible – there is some impartial information out there. I found this lecture from the University of Liverpool very informative.

My Instagrammed Day

If Jane Austen were writing today, she might opine “it is a truth that should be universally acknowledged, that the pictures one puts on social media bear varying resemblance to what actually happens in one’s life.” That is, if she wasn’t paying the mortgage by writing inspirational memes or book 105 in the ‘Poppet, the Socially Anxious Puppy That Nobody Noticed” series.  It is something I often remind myself about, when perusing the sunlit photos of smiling children and happy parents on social media. It can often appear that everyone else is doing better than you in this weird parenthood game, and if you’re feeling a bit lacking in the Superparent (or even just Superperson) stakes, a glance at Facebook or Instagram can have you sobbing into your tea and damning yourself to parental purgatory.

“A big thumbs up from Jacob for his kale smoothie! #cleaneating #whoneedschocolate #parentwin!”  (Yours has just asked for chips for the ninth day in a row and regards anything green that isn’t cucumber in the same way they would regard radioactive waste. Then again, the poster lost you at ‘who needs chocolate’.)

“Daria wins the Swimarathon AGAIN! Just goes to show what a little perseverance can do. #proudparent #shegetsitfromhermother #swimmingsintheblood’  (Yours refused to go into the water for nine consecutive swimming lessons, the cost of which you’re still trying to block from your memory)

“Glastonbury sunrise – mojitos at 4am after a hard night’s partying. Foo Fighters were amazing! #festivallife” (This year, you will be spending Glastonbury weekend volunteering on the bouncy castle stall at the school fete and wondering what you did wrong in a previous life. You would really prefer a mojito, though you know that you will be asleep at 4am before your child wakes up an hour and a half later.)

I wouldn’t say that I never share positive things on social media, of course. The minibrioche has had some great achievements that I couldn’t resist bragging about – sorry, sharing – but I tend to stop short of photographing the report card (not least because we all know what ‘natural leadership tendencies’ really means). I share photos of sunny days, plants (being able to grow a carrot without killing it or having the squirrels get to it first is up there with passing my driving test), festivals and things that make me smile. I’m quite sure that somewhere, someone is looking forlornly at my vegetable pictures and saying ‘why can’t mine be like that?’

Of course, it’s worth acknowledging the flipsides of all the perfect images and remembering that they may only show a fraction of what actually happened (Jacob spat out the smoothie as soon as he actually tried drinking it, Daria’s photo was taken after bribing her with a tonne of candy floss that led to a meltdown from her sister, and the Glastonbury hangovers will be even worse when the tent floods tomorrow. You know what they say about ‘red sky in the morning’…) As for me, I haven’t yet photographed the shred of courgette plant that was destroyed by the #bastardslugs or the sad-looking beans that I may have poisoned through my homemade, super-organic, everything-friendly slug repellent spray (#lovenature?)


A typical dinner in the brioche household. Naturally.


Then again, there are positives here. I liked the #100daysofhappiness challenge, where people were encouraged to share things that made them happy for a hundred days, and to appreciate the small things in life. Cynicism aside, this attitude can only be a good thing. It’s easy to forget the things that make us happy in the maelstrom of guilt and unfinished tasks that make up everyday life; and it’s important to smell the roses occasionally.

More to the point, the Instagrammed life can be embraced wholeheartedly once you accept the idea of the barefaced lie. In the spirit of these things, I’ve taken a test run on my half term experience.

The reality: it poured. Watched awful crap on TV and worried about daughter’s lack of exercise. Forgot I had agreed to look after daughter’s friend* for the afternoon. Visiting child thinks that smacking adults is hilarious. Threatened to take visiting child home after fourth smacking incident until I remembered that both parents were out for the day. Googled ‘indoor soft play’ and spent a small fortune getting both children into one that was open. Every single person in the UK clearly had the same idea. Coffee awful. Children whinged in chorus for madly overpriced ice lollies, gave in after about 3 seconds. Drove home to cries of ‘my mum’s car is much bigger than this’ after both children had fought over who sat in which identical car seat and I’d threatened to make everyone walk the six miles home. Remembered half-term homework, daughter refused to do it, had no energy to insist. Consumed more caffeine than advisable.

Not something I’d put on Facebook. Unless…

(Picture of daughter in pyjamas) ‘Having a chilled out morning with my little girl. Nothing better than snuggles on the sofa on a rainy day!” #feelingblessed

(Picture of daughter and visiting child eating ice lollies) ‘Cheeky monkeys! A quick soft play session and an ice lolly before our fun afternoon of indoor craft.** So happy that minibrioche has such wonderful friends!’#BFFs #makingmemories #feelingblessed

(Picture of daughter standing next to a bicycle. Any bicycle). ‘Poor minibrioche! Rain stopped our half term bike ride treat today – but at least we had fun!!’ #landsendtomorrow #victoriapendleton #proudmummy

(Picture of a test tube, hastily culled from a stock photo site) ‘Minibrioche fitted in a few tests on antibiotic resistance before dinner. We’re getting there!!’ #sciencegenius #proudmummy #mariecurieridesagain

(Picture of a watermelon salad, again, hastily culled from the Guardian recipe page) ‘Mmmmm – yummy dessert! Well – it is half term after all!!’ #watermelon #specialtreat #nomnomnom

Yep, I think I’m getting there.

(*disclaimer – if your child is a friend of my daughter’s, it’s almost certainly not them, and I know mine is probably worse. Incidentally, if you send her home early because you can’t stand another rendition of ‘I know a song that gets on everybody’s nerves’, I’ll back you all the way.)

(**disclaimer – we didn’t do any craft. I haven’t quite worked out what ‘craft’ is, but everyone else seems to do it so figured I’d include it here)

What was this writer thinking?

I came across an interesting post that has been doing the rounds on facebook recently, regarding a ‘slow writing challenge’ that had been set to primary school students.

Since I quite enjoy writing myself, I was looking forward to seeing ideas to write from the point of view of a villain, for example; or of an observer – however, it appears that the challenge is to cram as much grammatical theory as possible into a short paragraph. It got me wondering what on earth would have happened if some of the classics had been subjected to a similar evaluation.

Here’s the homework:

"Sentence 1: This sentence must contain seven words

Sentence 2: This sentence must start with a simile

Sentence 3: This sentence must contain an adverb

Sentence 4: This sentence must start with an interesting opener

Sentence 5: This sentence must use personification

Sentence 6: This sentence must start with a fronted adverbial

Sentence 7: This sentence must use an expanded noun phrase

Sentence 8: This sentence must have a clause in it

Sentence 9: You must use a thesaurus to up-level two words in this sentence

Sentence 10: This sentence must contain a high-level connective"

‘Here’s an example of a 10-sentence paragraph from Charles. I won’t shame Charles publicly by giving his last name, but suffice it to say, as someone who wrote this well after his 7th birthday, he really ought to be producing better English prose than this.

charles dickens writing “Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was dead as a door-nail. Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what is particularly dead about a door-nail.I might have been inclined, myself, to think a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile: and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was dead as a door-nail.”

Now, let’s evaluate this piece against our Slow Writing requirements.

Sentence 1, as you’ll have noticed, is one word shy of the quota. There is no simile in sentence 2: a pity, as there’s quite a good one later on, but that doesn’t go by the rules, so we’ll mark it wrong anyway. Charles missed an excellent opportunity for an adverb in sentence 3, and frankly, since sentence 4 merely reinforces the previous sentence, we can hardly regard the introduction of the book’s main character as an ‘interesting opener’. Charles obviously doesn’t understand the difference between personification and a simile in sentence 5 –we recommend that he has a few catch up lessons during break times to address this. Sentence 6 – I can’t begin to describe everything that is wrong with this sentence. Not only are there no fronted adverbials, but a single word followed by an exclamation mark is not a complete sentence according to our KS2 guidelines. Charles must try harder. Once again, Charles misses a good opportunity in sentence 7 to use an expanded noun phrase – we’ll return to this when we revise the paragraph. Sentence 8 just about passes muster as a subject-verb clause – if an obtuse one, and we can award a recognition mark for ‘unhallowed’ in sentence 9 – well done, Charles! It would be preferable for Charles to have used one of the more common connectives but we’ll give him half a mark for ‘emphatically’: sadly, we don’t see any of the curriculum-approved connectives in sentence 10.

How should Charles have approached this piece of work? With a little adjustment, Charles could easily have met all of the requirements of the exercise using the knowledge he should have gained as part of the KS2 curriculum.

“Marley was definitely dead, to begin with. Like Christmas falling on the 25th of December, there was no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed clearly by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. With a scowl and his customary speedy signature, Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. The wind whispered all around that Marley was as dead as a door nail. Whatever you might think in your own case, I don’t know what is particularly dead about a door nail. An old, rusty door nail might be worn and weathered, but I don’t think it is the deadest thing you might imagine. Many people, who are interested in nails, might think of a coffin nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile: and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was dead as a door nail, moreover, Scrooge knew he was dead.”

Isn’t that better?


Unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of low marks in this Slow Writing challenge. I hope you will all take this in the spirit of constructive criticism, but Jane – your extensive use of dialogue means that you’re not showcasing all the grammatical requirements you need to demonstrate. Try using description instead of introducing the conversation between Mr and Mrs Bennet in your opening paragraph. Mary – sorry, George – you have done well on your expanded noun phrases and your similes, but remember, don’t use too many of them: I’ve not seen a single fronted adverbial from you this term. And as for you, Geoffrey – not only does your spelling and grammar leave much to be desired, but that story was completely inappropriate for a school essay. Oh, and Mr Cummings -I shouldn’t have to remind you –  Remember Your Capital Letters!

Keep using all the grammar you’ve learned, and your writing will really improve!’


The Doctor’s Lament

To be sung to the tune of Que Sera, Sera

When I was just a little girl

I asked my mother – what shall I be?

Can I help people when they are sick?

Here’s what she said to me.

“Join the NHS

You would be a good GP

A job and a family

Join the NHS!”


When I grew up and went to school

My teacher told us in History

Aneurin Bevan changed the UK

With a new policy

Called the NHS

All medical care for free

No health inequality

1948 – it’s the NHS


When I was in my early teens

I asked my teacher what I should be

“I like helping people, and I like science,”

Here’s what she said to me

“Join the NHS

You’re good at Biology

Make sure you’ve a good degree

Join the NHS!”


When I grew up and left my home

I studied medicine at university

It cost lots of money, I studied for years,

But here’s what they said to me

“Join the NHS

People always get sick, you see

They’ll help you pay back your fees

Join the NHS!”


Now I’ve a doctorate of my own

Spend all my hours in A&E

I see lots of patients, day after day

And I am proud to be

In the NHS

From scrapes to neurology

We treat everyone for free

In the NHS



(this verse to be sung in a minor key)

Yesterday in the House of Commons

A politician called Jeremy

Said we should treble our working day

‘Do more with less – for free:

Or the NHS

Is consigned to history

We’ll bring in a PLC!”

So we’ve gone on strike.

We’re the NHS

Not a PLC

Healthcare should be free!