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



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