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THE KINGDOM THAT KEPT CATCHING FIRE And

OTHER CHILDREN’S POETRY FOR ADULTS

~

JAMES R LONG

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THE KINGDOM THAT KEPT CATCHING FIRE

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n solemn Council one fine day The Vizier was heard to say That taxes really should be higher, When suddenly his beard caught fire! A Member rose, before he spoke, His beard as well went up in smoke.  The House broke up in disarray, No-one could think quite what to say, Though it could scarce forbear to cheer When someone woke and said, ‘Hear Hear!’ The Vizier’s beard was well ablaze As members rose and tried to raise A Point Of Order, suddenly Without a cause that one could see Each Member found that he was the same, Unanimously put to flame.  The House adjourned, each Member tried To douse his beard before he fried, Each thinking it as like as not A subtle Opposition plot. Sir Harolde, he was heard to say, ‘I’m all right Jack; I’m paired today.’ A comment doubtless meant to be Interpreted pragmatically.  The PM said, ‘We’re not to blame.’ As her beard too went up in flame. Then Order Papers caught on fire, Tables and chairs; the flames grew higher. Hardly a sitting Member slept As flames insidiously crept Along the Government Front Bench, Exhibiting scant consideration for The Under Secretary for War.

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hey rushed outside and met the sight Of streets and buildings all alight. The Courthouse burned, the Town Hall blazed, The Fire Brigade were well amazed, Running around with hectic zeal Like mice inside a little wheel. ‘Nonsense’ intoned a leading Wet, ‘The wheel is not invented yet.’ 

Fire as far as eye could see Even the Public Lavatory Was gutted, though I’m pleased to say All the residents got away. Though this occasioned some to frown: One of them had his trousers down!

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burning question,’ said the King, ‘Is what is it that’s caused this thing?’ Conjecture reigned; the IRA Naturally claimed that it was they And police manpower was soon hard pressed As leading psychopaths confessed.  Mistrust arose, suspicion grew But no-one positively knew. Informed Opinion seemed to back A phantom pyromaniac.  ‘Stuff and nonsense,’ said the Queen, ‘It’s obvious that these fires have been Combusted, it would seem to me, To coin a phrase, spontaneously.’  They hurried through, without delay, Also al fresco by the way, A quick Emergency Decree That everybody could agree. (Experience had trained them to Always support Her point of view)

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The King in passing, disagreed Although he didn’t feel the need To give the matter voice and cause Too great a matrimonial pause. He entertained a private hunch Persuading him throughout his lunch The Queen’s solution had its flaws And there had been some other cause. Likewise he should promptly get The Chef to put on Crepes Suzette, Or, failing which, to come to grips With ways of serving flambé chips.

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nd thus, despite the Royal Decree The fires remained a mystery Becoming worse as days went by Thick smoke and ashes filled the sky. One could not see it was so dark, No Royal Tennis in the park. The foreign tourists stayed away: At all the cricket grounds – “No Play.” Museums, Churches, Disco Clubs, The Betting Shops and licensed Pubs Were closed or burned; in every town Even the hoardings were burned down. There was not anywhere to say: “G Davis Innocent – OK” Or “Yanks go home” or “Skinheads rule” Or “Billy Parsons is a fule.”

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he Vizier now drew up a plan To nationalise the Working Man. He formed three shifts throughout the Shires The first for putting out the fires. The second shift cleared rubble and Made off with useful contraband. The third shift toiled, though quite in vain Putting the buildings up again. In vain because, without respite, Hurry and worry as they might, Before they reached the second floor Each building had burned down once more. No one knew what to work on next Particularly all the Architects: In the event however, they Were left with fewer bribes to pay.

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n time the nation grew quite thin There were no beds for sleeping in, So tired too each workman yearned At least one meal that was not burned.

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he Council, flushed with good intent, Spent days and nights in argument, Considering for hours and hours Emergency and Special Powers. They sought a man of vacuous face, A master of the commonplace, Possessing to the nth degree Potential non-ability. They chose the Minister of Sport, Outstanding but a last resort, Which could not fail but to inspire And made him Minister of Fire. 

He occupied himself each day Getting in everybody’s way With office staff and underlings, Pencils and paper, all the things, (Like rubber bands and paper knives) With which a Ministry contrives In measured, uninspiring way To fill its normal working day.  He transposed all the fires and burns Into statistical returns With graphs and footnotes, in a word, He counted them as they occurred And, though his figures daily grew, (His Ministry was burning too) He was accounted nonetheless As an unqualified success. No better choice could there have been. ‘Who needs a Jester?’ said the Queen.

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ell noted for their charm and tact, High Churchmen too got in the act. With congregations in despair The Royal Archbishop wrote a prayer Especially to make it rain… And then his Church burned down again.

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ne day within the Royal Square, With smoke and ashes everywhere, A flash occurred, they were surprised, A Fairy had materialised. It was the Fairy Tinkle-Wing. ‘A curse! I knew it.’ said the King. The Fairy said, ‘Be not aghast, Whatever I did in the past Is over, I am good this time, To qualify for pantomime. I’m sent to tell you what transpires To cause this incidence of fires. So you may know where you are at.’ The Fairy said - they spoke like that.

The Council hastily convened And as they did the Fairy preened, ‘Conceited creature’ said the Queen, ‘Fifty if she’s a day, I ween.’ The Fairy twitched and in a flash The Queen developed a moustache. (Curling and ginger, to this day No-one could spirit it away.) The Fairy said, ‘Last Pentecost The great Panjandrum Antifrost Sent me to tell the man in charge’ Said she, ‘A dragon is at large!’

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ragon!…A dragon!’ This dread word On everybody’s lips was heard. The Queen said, ‘But…’ The Vizier paled. His Majesty the King exhaled. ‘No dragon’ he said ‘has here been seen Since my late father’s second Queen.’ ‘But me’ the Fairy said, ‘no buts, Spontaneous combustion – Nuts!’  But even as the Fairy spoke The Jester tried a little joke, ‘Methinks, if I might make so bold’ He said, ‘yon dragon hath a cold And every time he blows his nose Another row of houses goes.’ The Fairy laughed, ‘Ha. Ha.’ Said she, ‘So slay the dragon and be free.’ And cast, before she disappeared, A fungus in the Jester’s beard.

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he Council and the King conferred. ‘With that moustache she looks absurd’ The King complained, ‘…and Queen or no With that moustache she’ll have to go. There is no way it can be hid. A dragon! Well I never did.’ 

They racked their brains behind the scenes Deliberating ways and means Whereby the dragon might be slain. ‘Then I could grow my beard again, ’ The Vizier said, ‘all we do need Is one good Knight and one good Steed To venture forth and save the day But who will ever do it pray?’  ‘My daughter’s hand will have to go To he who saves us from our foe.’ The King proclaimed but Princess Pink Said to him, ‘Mister, if you think I shall stand still for you and wait,

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For you to pick me out a mate From all the serried ranks arrayed Of fairies in the Guards Brigade If thou thinkest that, thou art, you’ll find, Out of thy cotton picking mind.’  The King, with deprecating cough, Thought he would never marry off By any means or crude design This Princess of the Royal Line, Whether or not as a reward. So back to the Regal Drawing Board.

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he Jester diffidently said, (The fungus in his beard had spread.) ‘Consider Sire but is there not A thousand curses on this rot, A knightly champion on thy books?’ The Vizier said, ‘There is - Gadzooks.’ The King looked blank and scratched his head, The Vizier hurried on and said, ‘But as you may remember, Sire, He’s not a man whom you admire. You may but then you may not, know You banished him ten years ago. That was because he would not fight An ogre on St Crispin’s Night And so a scourge on him had been Placed on orders from the Queen.’  ‘The Queen again, this is too steep,’ The King remarked, ‘where is this creep?’ ‘Woe is me,’ said the Vizier, ‘Woe, But really Sire we do not know. He rode off to some foreign shore, Banished for life and ever more. The ogre grim he never fought Then claimed the title by default, The whole thing caused a frightful row, I don’t know where we’ll find him now.’ They scratched their heads, they though and thought, The Vizier became distraught, Then said, to everyone’s surprise, ‘Perhaps we could, er - advertise.’

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Never a person to eschew A split infinitive or two. The Jester said, ‘He isn’t bound To even read the Lost and Found.’ ‘God give me strength,’ remarked the King, ‘We want to find him - that’s the thing. Where do dishonoured Champions go? We’ll ask the Wizard he might know.’

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’er unmade benighted roads, Through forests filled with bats and toads The Royal Party went that day, They took a guide - he knew the way.  Across a morass filled with snakes And glades with human skulls on stakes, Until the smell of foetid air Identified the Wizard’s lair. There was a notice overhead “A Wizard. Alchemist.” It said.  ‘What have we here?’ the Wizard croaked. The King felt ill; the guide had choked. The Vizier said, ‘Alas alack, Now how shall we be getting back?’ The Queen was made of sterner stuff, (Besides she liked her pinch of snuff) ‘Where is Sir Pudgibum?’ she said. The Wizard scratched his ancient head. ‘He was here but he didn’t dwell, He seemed to think there was a smell. He was here but he went away. Am I my brother’s keeper pray?’  A lizard, one of monstrous size, Crept forth and tried to socialise. ‘Don’t pick it up.’ remarked the Queen, ‘One doesn’t know where it has been.’ At that a large bird eating bat Flew out and ate the Vizier’s hat. While newts and frogs and toads and things, Manoeuvred darkly in the wings.

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The Wizard seemed to have dismissed His visitors. An Alchemist, Especially in his pointed hat, Can get away with things like that. A spider on a sticky thread Dropped on the Queen’s unguarded head And burrowed in to her moustache She quickly said, ‘We’ll pay - In cash!’ The King remarked, ‘Well if you please, At least we know how to appease The Wizard. Once you’re in his thrall You only need the wherewithal.’ The Wizard said, ‘How did you guess? To business then, already. Yes?’ They then with bribes and honeyed words Persuaded him to ask the birds.

He whistled high. He whistled low, He did con molto, tremolo And finally, from out the sky, A raven dropped with knowing eye. ‘Find Pudgibum.’ the Wizard said. The Raven cocked his ragged head And nodded once and nodded twice And scratched his poll and named his price, So high it would have been absurd For even a gold plated bird. 

They haggled then for half a week, Wizard and Raven cheek to cheek, Looking just like in murky light An unmatched pair of bookends might. But finally and none too soon They reached agreement Friday noon. The Wizard scratched his weary head, ‘He’s their Shop Steward too.’ He said, ‘But now he’s got his price it’s true We’ll see some action PDQ!’ 

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Then even as the Wizard spoke They heard a thousand ravens croak, ‘Sir Pudgibum, Sir Pudgibum, Come out Sir Pudgibum, come come.’ Then other birds were joining in A wild dipterous, feathered din. Pheasants and doves and larks and owls Magpies and rooks and farmyard fowls Even the bantam cockerel crew Though why he did he never knew For, though he crowed with all his might He really wasn’t very bright.  From forests, mountains, dales and farms The birds all called the Knight At Arms In liquid notes both pure and sweet In cackle, whistle, squawk and tweet.  The King and Queen were most surprised At times they almost harmonised. ‘A Pudgi’ from the Thrush was heard And ‘Bum. Bum’ boomed the Mockingbird.  The Wizard said, ‘be of good cheer, With all this noise he’s bound to hear.’  And so it was e’er three days passed That news came winging back at last. With tail akimbo, worried frown, Dishevelled plumage, all flaps down, The Raven dropped in from above And briefly said, ‘He’s coming Guv.’

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e can go back’ the Vizier said And with the Raven on his head (Because, you may remember that, He was the one who’d lost his hat.)

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They got back home without mishap The Wizard drew a little map (Since he remembered that the guide Had inconveniently died.) On which he wrote, by word of mouth, That East was North and North was South And South was West and West was not Very far from this little dot. (When serving in the Army he, Had failed map reading naturally.)  The King and Queen were well content, The Lizard bit them as they went. Within no time at all thought they Sir Pudgibum would win the day. 

Back in the Royal Market Place, Expectancy on every face Crowds waited daily in delight To welcome home the gallant Knight. They strewed the road with woodland flowers And bunting flew from several towers,

For there were still some parts of town That, even yet, had not burned down. Though from appearances it was clear Their days were numbered, never fear. Then, suddenly at half past two Sir Pudgibum hove into view.

His coat was green; his nose was red; He had a saucepan on his head. His sword was drawn and he had made A lot of notches on the blade. His shield said: “Heaven Preserve The Right� And shewed an Ooslem bird in flight.

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His charger bold, a horse named Blaze, Had obviously seen better days, And at the rear, through smoke and fire, Brought up his woe begotten Squire A rustic youth whose name Hey You Clarified who was spoken to.

The Knight was not content to ride Peacefully through the countryside, Seeing the crowd he lost his nerve And, reigning in with too much verve, Fell off his horse and on his head Into the Royal Onion Bed, At which he promptly fell asleep Against the Regal Compost Heap.

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ext day they scrubbed him down with Vim And at the Court presented him. ‘Saved’ said the Queen, ‘now God be thanked.’ As up the Knight in armour clanked, ‘This champion will save our plight.’ ‘You have a moustache!’ said the Knight. 

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They told him what he had to do They gave him food and water too. He hung around for days and days Devising schemes and plans and ways To fight the beast. Religiously He trained each day at half past three, Drawing his sword for hours and hours He chopped the heads off woodland flowers. Some blackboard tactics too, he drew Like Manchester United do

And signing autographs and stuff ‘Til everyone had had enough Deciding that the time had come For action from Sir Pudgibum. They seized the most illustrious Knight And kicked him out and bade him fight. 

‘Wait, wait good folks, we don’t know where To find the dragon or his lair’ He said, ‘you see.’ ‘Well’ said the Squire, ‘Let’s go towards the largest fire.’ ‘That’s very good’ the Knight said, ‘but Why don’t you keep your big mouth shut!’

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ith nothing else to do but go He staged an awe-inspiring show Of bravery and zeal and zest (His inner feelings he knew best) He made his charger rear and prance. He practiced lunges with his lance. With visor up he rode through town Then back again with visor down. He drew his sword and cut and slashed And shouted war cries, unabashed. The highlight of this tour de force Occurred when he fell off his horse, Taking an accidental dip Into the Council Rubbish Tip. His saucepan hat fell off and he, Was covered all in verdigris, His lance went north, his sword went south Rubbish and ashes filled his mouth. 14


He hurt his knee, his face was wan The Ooslem from his shield was gone. (These birds when faced with stress or fear Are apt, in flight, to disappear.) They picked him up, his horse they caught, ‘Twill make him grit his teeth they thought.  Then after only three false starts, He got together all his parts. Sir Pudgibum, his horse and Squire Set off towards the largest fire. With trembling limbs and quaking heart And some reluctance on his part.  When well outside the people’s sight He went on tiptoe and by night. That way he thought there would have been Much less chance of being seen. He also bound his horse’s hooves With rags and string, because it proves The wisdom of Sir Pudgibum The dragon would not hear him come. ‘The object of this exercise Is to achieve complete surprise, For dragons are and that’s a fact, Better approached with certain tact.’ Our hero whispered to his Squire, ‘Slow down my boy. So where’s the fire?’  When daylight dawned at dawn next day Nothing but burned out corn and hay And smoking barley, oats and maize Encountered their reluctant gaze. ‘Where is the dragon?’ said the Knight, ‘There is no trace of him in sight And nowhere here that he could hide.’ ‘He must have gone.’ his Squire replied. To Pudgibum it had occurred That even so they might be heard. ‘Don’t shout so loud, you’ll wake the dead; In fact don’t even breathe.’ He said. ‘There is no dragon here, that’s plain, We might as well go back again.’

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Just then a dragon sound was heard. He said, ‘That might have been a bird.’ And then another. Hopefully, ‘Perhaps it was a mouse.’ said he. They stood a moment, listening, It didn’t sound too threatening. ‘It was a bird is my belief.’ The Knight remarked with some relief. Just then they spied behind a clump, A baby dragon, small and plump. A tiny thing with frightened eyes, Uttering the most piteous sighs, With every one of which, a flame Out of his nearside nostril came.  Mastering his immense surprise At this small dragon’s lack of size, ‘Come out ye scoundrel’ roared the Knight, ‘Come out I say and stand and fight!’ Shouting with all his might and main Made Pudgibum feel brave again. ‘Before’ he shouted, ‘half past three I’ll pin yon dastard to a tree.’ ‘Yuk’ said the Squire, ‘a nasty mess “Dastard” you said?’ The Knight said, ‘Yes.’ The Dragon said to Pudgibum, ‘Please sir’ it said, ‘I’ve lost my Mum.’  The Knight was not disposed to be Deterred by any sympathy. ‘Honour requires,’ he said, ‘you know The name of him who is your foe. I am Sir Pudgibum, the Third, Of whom you doubtless will have heard. This is my Squire, his name’s Hey You.’ The Dragon said, ‘How do you do.’ Then thought a while and scratched his head And racked his brains and then he said, ‘I don’t think that I’ve heard of you. What happened to the other two?’ 

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‘I’ve not the time to be polite. So have at thee!’ replied the Knight. ‘Heaven Preserve the Right.’ he roared And spurred his horse and drew his sword But fear and sweat had loose’d his grip And as he struck he felt it slip. The sword described a graceful arc; The Dragon with an eager bark Exuding trust from every pore Retrieved it, like a Labrador.  Sir Pudgibum said, ‘By the Lord, The rogue hath brought me back my sword. Honour compels my hand to stay. I cannot shed his blood today. And so, young friend, however slight It seems you’ve gained a small respite.’ The Dragon beamed a grateful grin And rubbed himself on Hey You’s shin. His tail was just a little stump And so instead he wagged his rump. ‘He seems to like us.’ said the Squire, ‘He certainly isn’t breathing fire.’ The Dragon said, ‘My eyes are dry, It only happens when I cry. Misfortune makes my breath run hot Right now, unhappy, I am not.’  ‘What puzzles me’ remarked the Knight, ‘Is how you got into this plight. Many leagues hence in lands afar Is where the only dragons are. In lands afar, many leagues hence, Surrounded by a fireproof fence. It therefore seems a little queer Exactly what you’re doing here.’  ‘My parents say I’m apt to roam And then I don’t know my way home.’ The Dragon said and as he spoke His eyes grew moist, his nose puffed smoke. The Knight with some alacrity Said, ‘Now, now, now’ and ‘Oh dear me. Don’t cry or it will soon transpire

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You’ll start another forest fire. So this is what we’ll do,’ he said ‘Have supper first and then to bed We’ll build a nice campfire and sit And talk about and ponder it And solve it somehow’ said the Knight, ‘Between us - have you got a light?’  The Dragon looked a little cowed. ‘Matches’ he said, ‘I’m not allowed. My parent both have always said, You play with fire, you wet the bed.’

The thought of hearth and home again Once more brought on the dragon’s pain His eyes filled up with tears I fear. ‘Well done.’ the Knight said, ‘cry just here.’  And so the campfire blazed apace. They ate their food. The Knight said grace. ‘I like it sitting here with you. It’s nice,’ the Dragon said, ‘…Grace who?’  After supper up they curled And fell asleep, dead to the world And as they slept a passing Djinn Swooped down and quietly tucked them in.

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ext morning early, at first light As he awoke the worthy Knight, Not normally a thinking man, Found in his head a full fledged plan Solving the problem fair and square. (It seems the Djinn had put it there.) He said, ‘We’ll take the Dragon to The Parcels Office, Waterloo. Labels with writing on there’ll be “Fragile”, “Express Delivery.” “Ne Pas Se Pencher Au Dehors.” And “This Way Up” and ”Mind The Doors. ”

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And what is more, so all will know, We’ll write down where he wants to go. In due course, give or take a day A week, a month or anyway, In due course he’ll be on a train And then he will get home again, Like regular commuters do Mondays to Fridays. Change at Crewe. Well send a telegram today To tell his Mum he’s on his way, Unharmed and safe and never fear, And that is that…er…it say’s here.’  So this they did but on the way They all got lost at Harringay And Tooting Beck and Watling Street

Though there a policeman on his beat Performed his good deed for the day And put them firmly on their way. He must have been suspicious though For as they turned away to go He wrote down in his book, in red – “Saw man with saucepan on his head.”

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’would take too long for me to tell All the adventures that befell The Dragon with the stumpy tail Within the maw of British Rail. Enough that by some quirk of fate He reached his home some eight weeks late And there, for ever after, he Lived out his life quite happily, Without regrets and no remorse And fond remembrance of the horse.

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ne might well say ‘All right for some, But what about Sir Pudgibum?’ The last I heard he had been seen With horse and lance at Hither Green. That said he caused an awful fuss Charging a Green Line Omnibus. Trouble, like tax and bills to pay, Never come singly, so they say, But rest assured, when troubles come, There’ll always be a Pudgibum.

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ack in the Kingdom time flew by. The fires stopped, no one knew why. Annually, ever after, they Held a Commemoration Day, Wearing a blue Forget-Me-Not, But Pudgibum they quite forgot. It was as though his very name Was never heard of: such is fame! 

The Jester has become quite weird, It seems the fungus in his beard Has turned his nose and jokes quite blue, Too risqué, quite, for You-Know-Who. Of whom, I hear, it has been said Her moustache, no longer red Has turned quite grey but that’s the way The cookie crumbles, so they say.  The Princess, keen to do her thing, Retains the Fairy Tinkle Wing In a sub-rosa, honorary, Advisory capacity. Her more persistent suitors may Just at the very time when they Offer proposals on their knees Be stricken down with Bright’s disease. The less persistent, through the years, Pursue their military careers Feeling they’ll be better off Devoid of Plague or Whooping Cough.

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hat happened to, you may enquire, Our friend the Minister of Fire? The Minister has kept in touch With forms, demands, returns and such, With which a Ministry contrives To influence the people’s lives. His aims like tentacles have spread: He now controls the price of bread, The height of houses, cost of booze, And motor cars and children’s shoes. 

No new commercial enterprise Has yet escaped his eagle eyes Particularly in the Building Trade He taxes everything that’s made From bricks and mortar, sand and lime From abdomen to breakfast time.  His office desk on second floor Has in its upper right-hand drawer A confidential list of lists. Oddly enough he still persists In writing, although why may be Beshrouded in obscurity, A daily bulletin to say: “Friday the Third – no fires today.” With which it cannot be denied He keeps the public mollified. Now this, as everyone should know Tends to preserve the status quo. Riots, the King and Queen agree Are best left to posterity.

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n solemn Council, one fine day, The Vizier was heard to say, His new beard waving as he spoke, ‘That having beaten fire and smoke, Now that the Realm is peaceful, Sire, The taxes really must be higher.’ 

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Apart from his allegiance to A thriving Inland Revenue Mainly he seems content to be Remembered for his oratory…

‘…History’ he says, ‘of me will say He set The House alight one day!’

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The Kingdom That Kept Catching Fire