Precautionary Tales for Grandparents: Some of Which May be Read to the Young for Their Moral Improvement

Precautionary Tales for Grandparents: Some of Which May be Read to the Young for Their Moral Improvement

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by James Muirden, David Eccles

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Inspired by Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales for Children, whimsical and well-observed precautionary tales to amuse grandparents and impart moral guidance
Many readers remember with pleasure Hilaire Belloc's humorous and piquant Cautionary Tales. Ever popular since publication in 1940, the moral poems were supposedly for children&


Inspired by Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales for Children, whimsical and well-observed precautionary tales to amuse grandparents and impart moral guidance
Many readers remember with pleasure Hilaire Belloc's humorous and piquant Cautionary Tales. Ever popular since publication in 1940, the moral poems were supposedly for children—but, with their satirical reflections on the state of the nation and the human condition, were also enjoyed by adults. Likewise, these poems for grandparents will also delight their grandchildren. Read about Matilda, who was too truthful to be successful in business, and John, who lost at conkers and gained his father some useful publicity. Whether you grew up reading Belloc or not, this compilation of wit in verse is guaranteed to leave you smiling—and may even teach you a valuable lesson or two.

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"Sprightly, witty and utterly delightful, there are poems on animals, children, dubious peers of the realm and even a contemporary alphabet, all possessing the same gentle wit and moral message with a distinctly modern flavour."  —Good Book Guide

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Precautionary Tales for Grandparents

Some of which may be Read to the Young for their Moral Improvement

By James Muirden, David Eccles

Summersdale Publishers Ltd

Copyright © 2008 James Muirden
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-85765-583-7


        THE LION

    The Lion, the Lion, he dwells in the waste,
    And oddly enough he dislikes being chased
    By carloads of tourists, who seem unaware
    That it isn't good manners for strangers to stare.

    But the thing that the Lion finds really frustrating
    Is being observed when he feels like mating.
    So at such times be tactful, and look to one side:
    For he may be a Beast, but he's still got his Pride.

    The Lion's allowed to have more than one Wife,
    Which can't always mean a harmonious life.
    When things get too awkward, he climbs up a tree
    To ponder the problems of Polygamy.

    This means that the Lion, like all of his kind,
    May have a surprising amount on his mind.
    So ask his permission, before you impose —
    Or you risk ending up with a Scratch on your Nose.


        THE TIGER

    The Tiger on the other hand, is kittenish and mild,
    According to a friend who planned to find one in the Wild.
    But the lack of any feedback on what happened when they met
    Confirms my growing doubts about the Tiger as a Pet.

    The Tiger is symmetrical, so William Blake suggested.
    That's a statement needing courage to be positively tested!
    The only time his Right and Left could ever be reversed
    Is when he's wondering which bit of you to gobble first.


        THE WHALE

    The Whale that wanders round the Pole
    Deserves a bit of peace.
    He's paid a catastrophic toll
    For synthesising Grease.

    So, Child, though you'd get a thrill
    Harpooning one of these,
    Restrain your innate urge to Kill,
    Unlike the Japanese.



    The Polar Bear is unaware
    Of why the BBC
    Keeps sending programme-makers there
    To probe his privacy.

    And Oil underneath the snow
    (Which everyone relies on)
    Means boreholes sunk, and pipes that go
    Way over the horizon.

    And what of Global Warming, pray?
    If temperatures keep rising,
    The polar cap will melt away!
    It's therefore not surprising

    To find the Bear in some despair.
    The best thing he can do
    Is ask a Human if he'd care
    To put him in a Zoo?


        THE DODO

    The Dodo used to walk around.
        Alas! He lives no more!
    But, being Dead, he is renowned,
        Which he was not before.



    When people call this Beast to mind,
        They wonder, I suppose,
    How large a Hanky he must find
        On which to blow his nose?



    Rhinoceros, your hide looks all undone.
    You face extinction, if the rumour's true.
    You're anti-social, and you weigh a ton.
    I miss the Dodo more than I'll miss you.



    A Python I should not advise.
    If given one as a surprise,
    Return it, and explain
    That if your neighbours called for tea
    And noticed where their Pet must be,
    They might not come again.



    What! Would you slap the Porcupine?
    Don't strike him from the rear!
    Observe how every sharpened spine
    (Shown in the picture here)

        Defends him from such sly attack
        When he is off his guard.
        His back is not the place to smack
        If you would smack him hard.

        No! Mock your victim (if you dare)
        And slap him in the face!
        But all the same, you'd better wear
        A gauntlet, just in case.



    The Vulture eats between his meals,
    Though snacks are bad for you —
    Or so say nationwide appeals,
    Which means it must be true.

        The Nation's greatly overweight
        From all this tucking-in —
        Though it is just as bad, they state,
        To be extremely thin!

        But when you try to cross, alone,
        The Serengeti Plain,
        And realise that the home you've known
        You'll never know again,

        And high up in the burning sky
        You see the Vultures wheeling,
        Reflect, as you prepare to die,
        On whether this Appealing

    Has hit the target on the head;
    For it's a patent fact
    That Vultures never look well-fed
    Although we know they've snacked.

        But bear in mind the miles they flew,
        The hours they spent looking,
        Before they hovered over you
        And saw their dinner cooking!

    So turn your final thoughts to that,
    And you will realise
    It isn't snacks that make us fat —
    It's Lack of Exercise.



        The Chamois inhabits
    Swiss mountains, where rabbits
        Have nothing to chew
    (For they can't eat the View),
        And birds cannot fly
    (They're already too high);
    So there's not much around
    Where the Chamois is found
    Except Men, who ascend
    (With the help of a friend)
        On the end of a rope
        In the desperate hope
    That once up there, they'll find
        One or more of its Kind,
        And if they're too far
    They will stalk the Chamois
        Till they get to a spot
        That offers a shot
    Which they hope they don't miss.
        What's the point of all this?
        The risks are appalling —
    They might find themselves falling,
        Or killed by the weather!
        The answer is Leather.
        So the Chamois takes care
        That there's nobody there
        When reclined on a Peak.
        It's not Wimpish or Weak
        (As it would be in Man)
        To do all you can
        When you venture outside
        To Save your own Hide.


        THE LLAMA

    The Llama is a woolly sort of fleecy hairy goat,
    With a cheerful disposition and an insulating coat,
    Which he needs at his excessive Altitude.

    He's a native of the Andes (they're below us, to the left),
    And a family that lost him would be utterly bereft,
    For the Llama's many benefits include ...

    They can turn him into rugs, made from his shaggy outer hair;
    They can use his woolly inner fleece for thermal underwear;
    They can Burden him; and (lastly) he is Food.

    There's a Kent or Sussex Llama, which is similar in kind,
    Though the British Llama Farmer's Llama's vastly more refined;
    But I fear that, like his cousins, he is woefully inclined
    To use Precision Spitting when he thinks he's been maligned —
    Which is, as you're aware, extremely rude.


        THE VIRUS

    The Virus is so very small
    You cannot tell he's there at all,
    Until his playfulness is seen
    Displayed on your computer screen.
    His puckish face is wreathed in smiles
    As he corrupts your precious files;
    And few things give him greater glee
    Than wiping out your Memory
    And leaving nothing, at a stroke
    (Your backups, too, go up in smoke).
    The best protection is, I think,
    Not Firewalls but Pen and Ink.


        ABOUT JOHN

    Who lost at conkers, and earned his
        father some useful publicity

    John Vavasseur de Quentin Jones
    Had this world's values in his bones,
    And knew the censure and disgrace
    Of being pushed to second place.
    He's now a top Financier
    On twenty million pounds a year;
    But in his pre-pubescent days,
    When passing through the Conker Phase,
    A shattering humiliation
    Led rapidly to legislation
    Outlawing this divisive game,
    Which, to our everlasting shame,
    Had been permitted to be played
    Wherever Chestnuts cast their shade.

    * * *

    Where young John dwelt, in leafy Farnham,
    An Aesculus hippocastanum
    Grew by a place with swings and slides
    And lots of other things besides,
    Where children and au pairs could pass
    A happy hour on the grass.
    Yet no one had the sense to see
    The sly corruption of this tree!
    Those buds that held their secrets tight!
    Coquettish chandeliers of white!
    Then, with the first autumnal nip
    Green spiky purses would unzip,
    Disgorging from their pulpy lining
    Forbidden fruit, so smooth and shining!
    Do you recall that shameful thrill
    When you would fondle one, and drill
    A hole through which to pass a string,
    And wind it up, and take a swing
    At its opponent, shrunk and black,
    And after an almighty Thwack!
    Your chaste nut was no longer there,
    Apart from fragments in your hair?

    * * *

    John Vavasseur de Quentin found
    A splendid Conker on the ground
    And having got it bored and strung,
    He cried a challenge, aimed, and swung.
    His certainty of being First
    Was shattered when the Conker burst;
    He punched the victor, stamped and bawled,
    Ignored the au pair when she called,
    And was Impossible at Tea.
    His Father, an astute MP,
    Drafted a well-reported speech
    Praising the virtues of the Beech,
    Whose nuts are not the tempting sort
    That prompt such anti-social sport
    (When losing causes such distress).
    His campaign was a great success.
    They took the Devious Tree away,
    And children now may safely play.



Who exceeded the speed limit,
and paid the penalty

Young Algernon, the Doctor's Son,
Insisted on his daily run
Enjoyed a 100-mile hike,
Scaled mountains on his mountain bike,
Trained using weights five times a week,
Took stimulants for his physique,
Scampered on treadmills fast enough
To measure his amount of puff,
And borrowed (from his Father's store)
A gadget that he always wore
To tell him if his heart was beating.
His earthly tenure, though, was fleeting ...
One morning, as he jogged to school
(He never walked — it was a rule)
He saw a masked man with a bag
Bearing the helpful letters 'SWAG'
Dash from a bank, pursued by yells
That added to the decibels
Of electronic howls and hoots.
Cashiers clad in trouser suits,
And male bankers wearing ties
(Who had the know-how to advise
On which Account would suit you best),
Plus others much less neatly dressed,
As customers so often are,
All madly shouting 'Stop that car!'
Poured out onto the pavement, where
A vehicle (no longer there)
Had waited for the thief to board.
Our hero, of his own accord,
Paused only to re-tie each lace,
Gulped oxygen, and then gave chase.
Along the High Street roared his quarry,
Causing a waste-disposal lorry
To knock an AA kiosk flat
And make a mess of Habitat;
It reached the bypass, skidding madly
(The driver drove extremely badly),
Then hurtled down the outer lane,
Sounding its horn. But all in vain!
Young Algernon was not out-run
However fast the wheels spun;
In fact, thanks to intensive training,
He was inexorably gaining
At 90-miles-plus per hour
He still possessed reserves of power!
His shoes had worn completely through
(The upper parts had come in two);
His legs were just a blur; and then
He overtook the desperate men,
Forcing the speeding car to stop.
Thus the despairing Traffic Cop
(His blue lights flashing in pursuit)
Caught them red-handed with the loot
And booked them for excessive haste —
A charge our hero would have faced
Had not his Father's gadget said
That Algernon, his Son, was dead.

* * *

The church was filled to overflowing
To mourn his premature going
(Though sermon, sentiment and song
Did make the service rather long).
It was conducted by a priest
Who frankly labelled the Deceased
As 'something of a fitness freak',
And, warming up, went on to speak
Of how we shouldn't try to do
What we were not intended to!
Had we been meant to Ape the Cheetah
By being just as fleet, or fleeter,
We should possess four legs at least
To match this Supersonic Beast,
And possibly a couple more
(Although this arithmetic law
Breaks down, he could not but concede,
For life-forms like the millipede).
Let us (he said) be what we are,
Not emulate the Motor Car —
The motto for the Poor and Lowly
(That's you and me) is Hasten Slowly.


        AUNT JANE

        'Mamma,' said Amanda, 'I want to know what
        Conceivable use it will be
        To continue my studies until I have got
        A second-class Honours Degree?

    'This widely imposed educational goal
    Is simply a plan for reducing
    The number of people signed up for the dole
    Who haven't a hope of Producing.

        'A degree in your day, dear Mamma, was perceived
        As a way to sift, sort and collate us;
        But now every bog-standard Poly's received
        Its own University status!

    'It may hurt you, I fear, but I think it is right
    To consider the whole situation.
    I am not, let's be honest, excessively bright,
    Nor do I foresee a Vocation.

        'What talents I have I shall use to the full,
        So let me be utterly frank:
        If Father exerts his executive pull
        To get me a job at the Bank;

    'And you buy me a flat, and perhaps a small car,
    I shan't trouble you ever again.
    For I'll do what you did, my darling Mamma,
    And start finding out about Men.

        'Oh come on, Mamma – I know all about that!
        You got through five Lovers at least!
        That magnate who bought you a Bayswater flat;
        Then two Judges, a Peer and a Priest ...

    'Tell Father? Come off it! The poor dear would be
    Reduced to a state of distraction;
    Provided, of course, I can drop the Degree,
    And follow my own course of action?

        'Oh thank you, Mamma! No, I shan't say a word.
        I can't tell you who told me, of course.
        But the fact that you haven't denied what occurred
        Proves I had an impeccable source!'



Who offered his seat to a lady, and
abandoned a promising career
in the Church

The nicest child I ever knew
Was Charles Augustus Fortescue.
Once he had learned to read and write
He took unparalleled delight
In sending letters on the dot
Acknowledging each gift he got,
And gave his seat, without a fuss,
To Ladies in an omnibus.
His parents chose a public school
Where decent manners were the rule
To waylay that hormonal stage
(Once quaintly called the Awkward Age)
When Charles might take to lager-louting,
Attacking panes of glass, or shouting
In terms no citizen should utter
While urinating in the gutter.
But these precautions were absurd!
He gloried in the Given Word
(In Greek, which scholars much prefer)
Including the Apocrypha,
Which made it clear, without a doubt,
That Ministry had marked him out.
The last exam for his degree
(Vocational Theology)
Saw him entrain at Chiswick Park
Quite certain of the highest mark
When in the vaulted hall he'd sit
And do his stuff on Holy Writ
Or options equally Divine.
This journey on the District Line
Was just the chance the Serpent sought!
The train filled up at Barons Court,
And Charles was quickly on his feet
To let a Lady have his seat,
But she refused the proffered place
And slapped him hard across the face
For daring even to suggest
She couldn't stand up like the rest.
The passengers were polarised:
Men thought his gesture ill-advised,
The women blamed the Fair Deceiver,
And someone pulled the little lever
That brought Discussion to a halt.
Charles argued that his only fault
Was having been brought up too well;
But all this took so long to tell
That when he reached his destination
They'd finished the examination.
He now rents an impressive suite
Near Selfridge's in Oxford Street,
Where he will outline (at a price)
The risks incurred in Being Nice.



        Who argued that art is above life

    His Uncle came on Franklin Hyde
    Reading a Work he'd found —
    Shelley's Prometheus Untied
    (To be precise, Unbound).

        A gentleman of settled views,
        He said: 'I do not wish
        To see my sister's son peruse
        This play by Percy Bysshe!

    'He's no role model for a Child —
    That slave to Opiates!
    Byron, and others no less wild,
    Were his associates!

        'His wife jumped in the Serpentine —
        His first, for he had two.
        The second one wrote Frankenstein,
        Which Ladies shouldn't do.

    'What? Judge all Artists by their Art?
    Their life's their own affair?
    Take William Wordsworth, for a start!
    No dirty linen there!

        'You dare suggest that he could err?
        He liked his Bit of Stuff?
        A mistress, and a child by her?
        Now that is quite enough!

    'His sister's diary says what?
    That she adored him too?
    The apple cores he left to rot
    She'd gather up and chew?

        'And in her chilly bed she lay
        In morbid ecstasy,
        Wearing the Ring, before the day
        He took his bride? I see ...

    'Well, maybe Percy Bysshe does need
    A measure of restoring.
    All right then, carry on and read —
    But it's extremely boring!'


Excerpted from Precautionary Tales for Grandparents by James Muirden, David Eccles. Copyright © 2008 James Muirden. Excerpted by permission of Summersdale Publishers Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

James Muirden is the author of 100 Great Brits, The Cosmic Verses, A Rhyming History of Britain, and Shakespeare Well-Versed. David Eccles is the illustrator of Now We are Sixty, The Rhyming Bible, and Shakespeare Well-Versed.

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