Reason in rhymes

By Robin Bennett

There was a sad and grumpy king

Who said, ‘I’m bored as anything,

I’d share my kingdom half and half

With someone who could make me laugh.’

Seriously Silly Stories by Laurence Anholt and Arthur Robins (Illustrations)

… and, frankly, so would I.

I could have picked almost any quatrain in this gem of a book: it saved my bacon on more than one occasion with the kids. But the start (up there) had me hooked – you just know you’re in for a treat.

… a bit like our Jim

There was a Boy whose name was Jim;
His Friends were very good to him.
They gave him Tea, and Cakes, and Jam,
And slices of delicious Ham,
And Chocolate with pink inside,
And little Tricycles to ride,

Cautionary Tales by Hilaire Belloc,

This is brilliant, about as good as it gets. Partly because it reads like he was making this up as he went along: artless and artful insight into just what makes people tick conveyed with the language of the nursery.

Talking of which Milne, in my humble-ish view, is the master of perceptiveness mocked up as innocent humour [and Mackesy should pay his estate a royalty]

And I keep in the squares,
And the masses of bears,
Who wait at the corners all ready to eat
The sillies who tread on the lines of the street

And some of the bigger bears try to pretend
That they came round the corner to look for a friend;
And they try to pretend that nobody cares
Whether you walk on the lines or squares.

When we were very Young, AA Milne

Because it all boils down to what we Brits prize above all: the quaintly preposterous, the elevation of the plain daft.

The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.

Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl

Or, more recently

A fleet of spaceships heads this way,

They’re fifty zillion miles away

But getting closer every day –

The aliens are coming

Some have one head, some have two.

(There’s even one with none, it’s true!)

What on earth are we to do?

The aliens are coming!

                                                            Here come the Aliens! Colin McNaughton

And the understanding of our vanities

The clever men at Oxford
Know all that there is to be knowed.
But they none of them know one half as much
As intelligent Mr. Toad!

Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame

No-one devotes as much time to teaching their children how to laugh at the world by turning things on their head: transforming little girls to contract killers, kings to clowns, ordinary streets into jungles … and how to poke gentle fun at our own egos and (very human) weakness.


For – yes – we all would give half our kingdom for the ephemeral relief to laugh at a world that can be mad or cruel or simply mundane.

This blog was written to mark the launch of Funny February with Firefly Press #funnyfebruary (or #fireflyfunnyfebruary) and my book, Monster Max and the Bobble Hat of Forgetting out 18th Feb.

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Max is an unusual 9-year-old. He can turn himself into a huge, bin-eating monster by BURPING. Being a monster is brilliant, unless he sneezes (which turns him back) and he finds himself far from home in just his pants.

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