(and possibly a few for grown-ups)
I am not by nature a poet. Or a musician. It’s probably just as well. My mother was a musician and spent part of her life as a music teacher. She taught piano, and also, for a while, worked as a general music teacher in several schools, until a voice problem forced her to retire. However, her attempts to teach me to play the piano soon passed into the realm of heroic failure. I was clueless, to put it mildly, and my misuse of the musical keyboard was rivalled only by my inability to type. I had to learn to type, as if you’re a writer, that does tend to be a necessity, but I’m still far from dexterous. However, despite being unmusical in the practical sense, I am fond of music and apt to wince very quickly if something is out of tune. But what I can do is write lyrics. Rude ones, usually. This specific skill came undoubtedly from my dad, who was a great improviser of songs and could also versify in an enthralling doggerel kind of way which enabled him to sully many an otherwise bland birthday card.
When I was working with a theatre company in the 1980s, I’d written a Christmas Show set in the Wild West during a the Colorado gold rush. (Don’t ask me why, I’ve simply no idea.) I think it must have been inspired by the fact that both I and the director had grown up in the era of the TV western, which had evidently affected us greatly. That and the awful Australian soaps to which my children were addicted at the time – you know, the ones where they all wore awful clothes, were polite to their parents and kept losing or discovering assorted relatives, thus frequently coming up with the agonised line “But you can’t marry her, she’s your sister! (Yes, I did use that one.)
Anyway, the original agreement, as I recall, was that I should write the script, and the director should write the music. Oh ha, bloody ha. I’d done my stuff when one morning he announced that he’d been really, really busy, and that he’d like me to write the songs as well. When I’d done the lyrics, he’d put them to music.
“But I’ve never written any lyrics!” I protested. “I wouldn’t even know where to start!”
“Well, come over here, then,” he said, “and I’ll show you.”
To be honest, I can’t remember anything at all of what he might have tried to teach me – maybe coffee break cropped up, or some theatrical or personal dilemma blew up at this particular moment I can only remember that a few days later, I walked in wishing to communicate something or other, to be greeted by the sight of him doggedly hunched over a guitar on a stand .
“Not now, I’m composing,” he announced grandly. I departed to attend to something else, and a few days later he said he was still really, really busy and had employed someone else to write the songs, but still wanted me to write the lyrics.”Right!” I said, possibly with just a hint of exasperation. I went home, gritted my teeth, and wrote 14 sets of lyrics in 3 days, which must be some kind of record. Amazingly enough, they were able to use 7 of them without any alteration at all, and 2 more which required some editing. Between us, we came up with, we decided later, was not a bad show at all. We had our teething troubles, but the audience loved it, and twenty years later, I was idly chatting to a complete stranger about theatre(coincidentally, her sister turned out to be a quite well-known actress)who said the funniest thing she’d ever seen at Derby Playhouse was this Christmas show set in the gold rush… Oh, and my mother loved it, too. Sadly, my dad had been dead some years by this time, but it’s probably due to him that I owe my staggering gift(ahem) as a lyric writer.
All of which is taking me a long time to get round to poems for kids, but bear with me…
Poems for Kids – ah yes. Well. Another 10 years or so on, I was the proud grandmother of one, and something or other set me to writing silly verses again. I think it was originally inspired by hearing some yapping and scuffling outside my window one night, and looking out to see 3 foxes, presumably mother, father and baby playing on the green. The adults were chasing the cub around, and dodging in and out of the trees , jumping up and down, and generally having a hilarious old time. So I quickly wrote a funny poem about it for my grandson, The Funny Foxes. The Goat With Funny Teeth followed, having encountered said strange-looking goat at a local farm, and The Panther of the Peak was inspired by yet another alien black cat sighting somewhere in the Peak District. (Which is, incidentally, about the only place in the British Isles where someone has actually admitted releasing big cats from a private zoo in the 1980s). However, the influence of alcohol and possibly a funny fag or two can’t be discounted. And I have seen one possible alien moggie myself, sans booze or funny fags, in East Staffordshire, but typically, it had vanished before I could get my camera focussed. So there you have it.