Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Piper of Teignmouth

The Pied Piper

The Pied Piper

There’s one more Keats poem to come but I thought today I’d come back to modern times with a salutary tale about a problem which plagues Teignmouth like many seaside towns – seagulls.  Last year a Teignmouth cafe hit the news with a novel technique for dealing with the rampant gulls – ‘water-pistolling’ them.  Meanwhile Don Pearson borrows from the Pied Piper of Hamelin with this imaginative  but ultimately flawed solution.  This was written for Eleanor, Suzanna and Harris.  Enjoy ……!

The Piper of Teignmouth

Don Pearson (6th July 2011)

Once upon a time, a family went to the seaside for their holidays …

Teignmouth town’s in Devon
Near famous Exeter city,
The river Teign, so deep and wide
Flows to the sea on the southern side…
… ditty … vermin … pity …
… Whatever, but
You get the picture.

Quick as a flash the tourist points his mobile at
a seagull and ….. (snap)

Seagulls soar and cry and swoop
Nest on rooftops, shriek all night,
Heavy footed, sleep-disturbing,
Opening bin bags, scattering, throwing,
Plundering, fighting, scaring cats,
Dropping shellfish, stabbing crabs,
Treading for worms or stopping traffic,
Falling down chimneys, waking babies,
Mating, carousing, holding parties,
Turning white the hats of ladies,
But never, ever catching fishes.


searching for vulnerability,
susceptibility to kindness
or hope of Karma from giving alms,
the thronged beggars
line the path to the ghat.
The pilgrims
drop coins into their
outstretched hands,
without contact
and loss of caste,
then pass onwards to bathe,
and finally, drift homewards
the bottle
of Ganga water
or fish and chips.


Seagulls hang around cafes,
Smoking fags and looking cool,
Chatting up the local ladies
(Just as we did years ago.)

Tourists come and give them titbits,
Encourage them to pounce on chips,
Eviscerate a quarter-pounder,
Finish off with bacon bits.

Seagulls go and teach their babies
How to bow and beg and scream,
If that fails, to dive on children
Frighten them and steal ice-cream.


Booted, suited, swaggering, brash,
protected by law from the ungrateful public,
(altogether, just like the seagulls)
The town council met to consider the problem.
Elections were looming, the trough nearly empty
for those unlucky enough to be dropped.
An all-night sitting, increased desperation,
The crowd outside was baying for blood.
The mayor tapped the ash from his Cuban cigar
(The last Latour had long since been emptied)
And he cried out loud to all who would listen,

“Can no one rid us of these meddlesome gulls?”


Gates of dawn opened and a sound of pipes
arose and swelled, mystic and clear.
Leaves swayed in the branches of aspens
and a dream-song floated on quivering air.
The piper approached and the town fell silent
and the mole and the rat bowed low to the earth.

Sorry – wrong piper. This is what really happened:

A knock on the door, the room falls still,
From the passage outside there sounds a trill
And into the room there steps a fellow,
Strangely attired in red and yellow . . .
And he doffs his cap and he speaks strite aht
“Lor’ lumme, yer Worship,
I’ll see orf the gulls,
Strike me dead if I don’t,
But it’ll cost yer ‘alf a dollar.
By the way, they call me ‘The piper’
Dahn the Smoke,
Cos’ I’m good wiv me flute.”

Cutting a long story short, they struck a bargain and

Onto the Den “the piper stept
Smiling first a little smile
As if he knew what magic slept
In his quiet pipe the while;
Then, like a musical adept
To blow his pipe his lips he wrinkled,”


A gull named Silver,
Bearded, lame,
Had learned his trade
On the Spanish Main,
Parrot on shoulder,
Patch over eye,
Bold as a tiger,
Pirate, spy.

He swooped on the piper
And snatched up his flute
Then over the river
He flew with his loot.
He paused on The Ness
And shrieked out with glee
And soon the pipe lay
In the depths of the sea.

The piper turned with a look of despair
As Silver’s crew appeared in the air,
Screaming and pecking, they dived for his head
Within a few minutes the piper was
Disillusioned with the entire affair
(and dead.)

There’s a motleyed yellow scarecrow
To the West of Teignmouth town
There’s a skeleton inside that’s never still
And the seagulls scratch and pillage
As they scavenge all around
And people here believe they always will.

The tourist pocketed his mobile phone, dragged the rest of the family back into the car and returned to the city where they spent their time complaining about the nuisance caused by pigeons and looking at the photographs of their holiday by the seaside, particularly admiring the beautiful seagulls. As far as I know, they lived happily ever after.

Want to know more?  Checkout “Seagulls in Teignmouth


Over the Hill and Over the Dale

Keats Dawlish Fair letter  to james RiceOne of the interesting aspects of research is the discrepancies you find. I had planned this post for 25th March because one source which I had assumed to be reliable had given that as the date when Keats wrote this short poem. It was wrong. The poem was written yesterday, 24th March, 196 years ago. Written in Teignmouth it’s actually about Dawlish Fair on Easter Monday (23rd March). I’ve tracked down a copy of the original letter which contained this fragment of verse. Here’s the copy, here’s the verse and if you want to know more follow the link at the end.

Over The Hill And Over The Dale

John Keats, 24th March 1818

Over the hill and over the dale,
And over the bourn to Dawlish —
Where gingerbread wives have a scanty sale
And gingerbread nuts are smallish.

Rantipole Betty she ran down a hill
And kicked up her petticoats fairly;
Says I I’ll be Jack if you will be Gill —
So she sat on the grass debonairly.

Here’s somebody coming, here’s somebody coming!
Says I ’tis the wind at a parley;
So without any fuss any hawing and humming
She lay on the grass debonairly.

Here’s somebody here and here’s somebody there!
Says I hold your tongue you young Gipsey;
So she held her tongue and lay plump and fair
And dead as a Venus tipsy.

O who wouldn’t hie to Dawlish fair,
O who wouldn’t stop in a Meadow,
O who would not rumple the daisies there
And make the wild fern for a bed do!


Want to know more?  Check out ‘Keats and Over Hill and Over Dale

The Poet Clan

Festival brochure front pageThis was written on the final day of the first Teignmouth Poetry Festival – fantastic.

The approach to the poem and its content was inspired by a combination of:  Don Pearson’s poem ‘The Piper of Teignmouth’; Andy Brown’s idea of ‘having a rule’ – mine being to include the words ‘numen’, ‘haibun’ and ‘cynghanedd’; Roselle Angwin for being there as the lyrical maid and mentioning the three words.

Check out the link at the end for more information.

The Poet Clan

In Teignmouth did the poet clan
a pleasure-dome of verse decree
where Teign, the ancient river, ran
through channels measureless to man
down to the boundless sea.
In welcome rooms the fertile minds
in enclave gathered for all kinds
of cadent visions bright with sinuous thrills,
where flourished pens of sonnetry;
connecting senses ancient as the hills
dipped in honey’d pots of poetry.

Roselle Angwin with a dulcimer
of lilting words there I saw:
she was an eco-poet maid,
with vowels and consonants she played
tunes of Tamar-edged Dartmoor.
Could I revive within me
her River Suite, its song,
to such a deep delight ‘twould win me
that with haibun short and strong
I would fill that dome with care.
That honey’d dome whose caves entice!
And all who heard the stanzas rare
with muffled groans of mmmmm beware!
His flailing arms, his vacant stare!
Weave a circle round him thrice
and close your eyes with holy dread
for he on numen-dew hath fed,
cynghanedd milk of Paradise.

Want to know more?  Check out Poet Clan and the Poetry Festival

Some doggerel

Keats earliest portrait by Joseph Severn in 1816

Keats earliest portrait by Joseph Severn in 1816

A quick blog today since I’ve come full circle to where this blog started two months ago.  It marks the day 196 years ago today that Keats penned his ode that is now writ large on the wall of the New Quay Inn.

Want to know more?  Check out:

Some doggerel

Keats in Teignmouth

Power to the People

Power to the People

Power to the People

Unknown to me part of the weekly health walking group I lead were photographed one day outside the public loo in protest at its proposed closure as a result of cutbacks to local service budgets.  The accompanying photograph originated from the local paper and the story prompted me to write the following verse.

The story had some resonance with the introduction of fresh water provision to the town 160 years ago.  See the link at the end.

Power to the People

I leave them for an instant,
a freeze-frame in time,
a sliver of a nanosecond
when they’re out of my sight.
And what do I find?

They’re rebels at heart, protesting their right,
believing the voice of the group just might,
just might, just might
make the local council humbly contrite
in the face of a budget increasingly tight.

The spirit of Mao, of Trotsky, of Che
got into the heart of the group that day
as with passion and pride I can hear them say:

“Walkers, walkers of the world unite,
join the revolution and light the light,
take up our fight against the plight
of the Teignmouth public loo;
for some day, just one day,
you’ll find you might
yourselves get caught short too!”

Want to know more?  Check out ‘Sanitation

Where be ye going, you Devon maid

Keats - the most famous picture

Keats – the most famous picture

196 years ago today Keats wrote this his second poem from Teignmouth.

There is an interesting observation in Clayton Mackenzie’s essay on “Keats in Teignmouth – The Imaginary Landscape‘‘ where he says ….. “the landscape has proffered more liberal license, a freedom to be trivial, risque´ , lusty. Keats, in a sense, epitomizes the freedom of a society poet on holiday.”  What do you think?

Where be ye going, you Devon maid

John Keats, 14th March 1818

WHERE be ye going, you Devon maid?
And what have ye there i’ the basket?
Ye tight little fairy, just fresh from the dairy,
Will ye give me some cream if I ask it?

I love your meads, and I love your flowers,
And I love your junkets mainly,
But ‘hind the door, I love kissing more,
O look not so disdainly!

I love your hills, and I love your dales,
And I love your flocks a-bleating;
But O, on the heather to lie together,
With both our hearts a-beating!

I’ll put your basket all safe in a nook,
Your shawl I’ll hang up on this willow,
And we will sigh in the daisy’s eye,
And kiss on a grass-green pillow.

Want to know more?  Check out ‘The Imaginary Landscape’

The Human Seasons

Keats earliest portrait by Joseph Severn in 1816

Keats earliest portrait by Joseph Severn in 1816

Keats came to Teignmouth on March 11th 1818.

Two days later he wrote to his friend Benjamin Bailey a letter containing the first draft of a sonnet he had written in Teignmouth.  The final version is reproduced here.  If you want to know more, follow the link at the end.

The Human Seasons

John Keats  13th March 1818

Four Seasons fill the measure of the year;
There are four seasons in the mind of man:
He has his lusty Spring, when fancy clear
Takes in all beauty with an easy span:
He has his Summer, when luxuriously
Spring’s honied cud of youthful thought he loves
To ruminate, and by such dreaming high
Is nearest unto heaven: quiet coves
His soul has in its Autumn, when his wings
He furleth close; contented so to look
On mists in idleness–to let fair things
Pass by unheeded as a threshold brook.
He has his Winter too of pale misfeature,
Or else he would forego his mortal nature.

Want to know more?   Checkout the link ‘Keats – The Human Seasons