The Banner

The Banner: jeans on a pole
verse epic


Part 2:Nails

Auksford crest: a great auk displaying an open book with the words "Ex ovo sapientia"
-  Auksford  -

©  Copyright Robin Gordon 2006


Canto 1: in which the author confesses his limitations

Canto 2: in which Nails professes his faith

Canto 3: in which Nails’s faith is put to the test

Canto 4: in which we learn of Marlene’s sorrow and Tommo’s joy 

Canto 5: in which Tommo suffers a reverse and devises a plan

Canto 6: in which Tommo makes new friends and Nails prepares his revenge 

Canto 7: in which Tommo carries out his plan and Janice agrees to become a heroine 
Canto 8: in which Janice meets Marlene 

Canto 9: in which Janice confronts Nails

Canto 10: in which Nails is bewitched, bothered and bewildered  

Canto 11: in which Marlene learns of this reverse  

Canto 12: in which Tommo makes his demand 

Canto 13: in which Nails must make his choice 

Canto 14: in which Nails proclaims himself the winner 

Canto 15: in which Nails suffers and is comforted  

Canto 16: in which Tommo’s hopes are dashed and Janice holds on to Mouse



Canto 1:
in which the author confesses his limitations

An author who would boldly go
where none have gone before,
and sun himself in Phoebus' glow,
and think he knows the score,
knows how to mount Parnassian heights
and Pegasus to bridle,
may find his genius is slight
and all his hopes are idle.

Alas, the bourgeois poet meets
the scorn of artists true.
He may have talent for quite sweet
verse, but it won't do.
A poet must be born, they say,
receive grace from the gods -
and those, who, after work all day,
compose, are odds and sods
who lack enthusiasm's breath,
consign their lines to certain death,
and waste their lives in futile strife.
Their verses never can have life.
The artist knows there's nothing worse
than bourgeois people writing verse.

We read the views of many masters
who all condemn as poetasters
those who try to write in verse
without the blessing - or the curse -
of heavenly inspiration which
alone can save us all from kitsch.
At least, say Boileau and Racine,
an author really mustn't preen
himself on genius he lacks,
but choose with care among the tracks
that lead to Mount Parnassus' peak:
in other words, that he must seek
a subject fitting to his skill,
and, if he be but run- o'-t'-mill,
he shouldn’t try his hand at tragic
history, for, lacking magic,
his verse will slump along the ground
instead of soaring.  No profound
sentiments expect from me,
for I shall stick, as you will see,
to my last, like any cobbler -
my Pegasus is quite a hobbler -
and tell in my familiar manner
the further happenings round the Banner.

The story so far, you’ll recall,
was that Nails Palmer chanced to fall
as prisoner to the Swarrell gang,
who grabbed him quickly and all sang
the praises of Sid Thatcher, who,
it seemed, had captured him – not true
for accidents had brought him down.
They sent poor Nails back through the town,
as climax to their little game,
trouserless, to his great shame.
Not often can a gang debag
their rivals’ leader, so as flag
they kept his trousers and proclaimed
that Halden’s honour had been maimed.

Then Nails, instead of venting rage
in battle, quietly left the stage
and skulked in shameful and discreet
hiding, till he chanced to meet
a Christian girl, who saw her chance
to make him join her Saviour’s dance
and meekly turn the other cheek.
His gang just thought that he’s turned weak.

Canto 2:
in which Nails professes his faith

Through Halden’s streets comes Nails,
and Tommo sees.
Now Tommo never fails
to catch the breeze,
and to his ears it whispers, “Nails is done.
The Swarrell lads have had their mocking fun

with him.  He is disgraced,
and doubly so:
he should have turned and faced
his shaming foe.
His hiding has besmirched the Halden gang,
his cowardice become a poisoned fang

that numbs his Halden chums,
who can’t reply
when Swarrell jeers and hums
when strolling by
the song that tells so mockingly the manner
his trousers had become the Swarrell banner.

Our Tommo is a cautious sort of lad
who’d never risk his life upon a single
throw of the dice, and so he lets commingle
in his words to Nails more than a tad
of loyalty, encouragement, support,
as if not quite believing that report.
It can’t be true, his manner seems to say,
that Nails, the greatest leader Halden knew,
was stripped by Swarrell, let them get away
with it, and, like a coward will eschew
his just revenge, all for religion’s sake.
A plot to lull them, then he’ll vengeance take!

But Nails replies with Bible quotes and verses,
and says he should be grateful to the boys
who stripped his pride.  What others count a curse is
for him the road to all-consuming joys:
an hour’s humiliation led to love
of Janice, and, through her, to Heaven above.

Now Scouse, best friend of Tommo, has his say.
Not grasping yet his leader’s stratagem,
he urges Nails to act and seize the day,
attack the Swarrell lads and batter them,
snatch back the trophy that had marked his shame,
and make the Swarrell leaders’ trousers now fair game.

In Roman times it was a dreadful blow
and deeply felt if standards should be lost.
A legion’s pride would thereby be brought low.
Its men would strive and never count the cost
until their noble eagle they had won
again, nor pause till it was done.

When Crassus fell on Parthia’s distant hills
and lost his eagle standard in the strife,
the Roman Senate thought, of all the ills,
the standard’s loss the worst, far worse than life
of many men.  It meant humiliation,
a slur, a blot, dishonour to the nation.

So Halden is dishonoured by the loss
of Nails’s trousers.  He who was their boss,
their leader and their general in strife,
they would far rather see bereft of life,
an honoured martyr for the Halden side,
than stripped of honour.  Better far he’d died.

Thus seething hot in Scouse’s breast there raged
these feelings of dishonour and of shame,
but, inexpressible, they stayed, all caged
within him, for no silver-tonguéd fame
was his, no muse had opened up his heart
to teach him any great rhetoric art.

And as for Nails, he will not deign to hear,
for he’s convinced himself that it’s not fear
of ridicule that holds him back from war
but love, that’s won his heart as ne’er before:
first, love of Janice, then his love for Christ,
the which above all honour he has priced.

Thus spake to them their former leader Nails:
“I’ve left the things of earth behind.
They’re all corrupt, and even honour fails.
I see where once I was but blind.
You speak of shame?
It’s just a game.
My name’s now entered on the heavenly roll.
Much better lose my pants than lose my soul!”

Downcast stands Scouse:
“They’ll laugh at us forever.”
But higher than a house
swings Tommo’s mood.
This turpitude
will favour his endeavour.
By the cowardice he’s shown
will Nails be overthrown.
This Tommo can foresee,
and full of glee
he says to Scouse that Nails is finished.
He can’t be leader when he’s so diminished.

So Tommo sees his chance
to win himself the throne.
He feels that Fortune’s glance
has made of him her own
favourite son.
What must be done
to clear Nails from the scene?
Denounce him to Marlene,
the reigning leader’s moll,
and win both crown and doll.

Canto 3:
in which Nails’s faith is put to the test

Our poem now must turn to thoughts of love,
for Nails,our hero’s on his way to meet
Janice.  See, he lurks around to greet
her when she leaves the library.  His dove
coos when she sees her faithful escort there,
but when he tries to kiss her she adjusts her hair
and skilfully obstructs his longing lips
manipulating tresses, comb or clips.

With honeyed smiles she binds him to her fast,
invites him to a dance that very night
to meet her friends, the Fellowship, at last,
and put his life upon the road to right.
Then Hotrod passes, whistling John Brown’s body,
infuriating Nails.  Forgetting God he
swings round to attack, remembers then
Janice and controls himself again.

She’s puzzled, but he can’t tell her his shame.
Her invite he accepts.  His hopes are high.
She pats her hair, continuing her game.
She’s curious, but still he won’t say why
the tune should anger him.  He vows he will
control his passion, and, for good or ill,
he’ll join the Fellowship.  To win a bride
the leader of the gang forgets his pride.

At the YPF there’s dancing,
   boys and girls together prancing,
   doubtless also some romancing
   as they move around the floor.
Nails and Janice enter gladly,
   look around at all the madly
   dancing couples and those sadly
   partnerless, none to adore.
Nails, in doubt, is hesitating
   like a bather on the shore,
   vacillating at the door.

Janice takes him by the hand,
   pulls him in among the band,
   dancing all to music canned,
   he stumbles like a Dumbledore.
Then he hears the whispers rising,
   for they all find it surprising,
   and at once fall to surmising
   why it is he’s come, what for.
Nails, embarrassed, blushes hotly,
   feeling bashful to the core,
   and tries to edge towards the door.

Janice heads towards the Curate.
   Nails, unwilling, must endure it.
   Janice grips him to ensure it,
   drags him forward evermore.
Mouse gives him a friendly greeting,
   pleased that once again he’s meeting
   another soul who in this fleeting
   life has found the narrow door,
the only door that leads to Heaven,
   that so many souls ignore.
   But Nails is feeling pretty sore.

He has heard across the room,
   like portents of impending doom,
   their tongues, like shuttles on a loom,
   wagging as they spit their store
of gossip, tittle-tattle, tales,
   two girls who weigh in judgement’s scales
   Janice, how she captures males
   with cunning wiles to bring some more
souls to church, not out of love
   for them but just as presents for
   the Curate, Mouse, she did adore.

Now Victor Mouse calls others to
   converse with Nails, the stranger who
   is in their midst and looking blue;
   but conversation proves a chore,
so Mouse suggests it would be good
   that Janice to the dance floor should
   lead Nails, but she does what she would,
   drags Mouse onto the dancing floor.
Nails is left alone, bereft.
   He tries this insult to ignore,
   though sweating now from every pore.

The dancers once again are whirling
   to a sound like bagpipes skirling,
   and Nails within himself is curling,
   worse than ever heretofore.
Snatches now come to his ears,
   confirming all his darkest fears,
   and almost he’s reduced to tears
   alone upon that hateful floor.
Hears them whisper words like trousers,
   describing how his captors tore
   from his limbs the jeans he wore.

Now there comes to him one Julie,
   slipping snakelike through th’ unruly
   throng, and she surveys him coolly
   as though he were an alien spore.
“So you’re the trophy Janice brought,
   the little gift with which she’s bought
   Victor’s favour.  Bet she thought
    she’d really make a score!”
Open-mouthed now stands Nails Palmer,
   alone upon that hostile floor,
   with insults that he can’t ignore.

Mouse and Janice disappear
   into the office.  Nails’s fear,
   increased by what he’s forced to hear,
   propels him to the door.
“Surely you cannot be leaving?”
   Julie calls, quite falsely grieving.
   Who does she think she is deceiving?
   “Come dance upon the floor!
Oh promise me you will come back,
   for ever open is our door!”
   Quoth Nails Palmer: “Nevermore!”

Canto 4:
in which we learn of Marlene’s sorrow and Tommo’s joy

O Muses, once again I call on you
to lend your inspiration to my pen,
for now we turn to womanhood again,
whose cheeks are mantled with a saddened hue.

Not far from where the lofty spire of Sweyne’s
church juts up towards the lowering skies,
as if its top would pierce the clouds, bring rains
tumbling like tears from Heaven’s eyes,

there walked two maidens. deep in conversation,
and one spoke of her boyfriend’s curly hair.
The other mutely stood in desolation
as if weighed down by some oppressive care.

“You haven’t heard a word I’ve said, Marlene.
You take no interest in my boyfriend, Keith,”
said Claire, but Marlene ground her pearly teeth
in silence, wondering where Nails had been.

“I bet,” said Claire, “you’re mooning over Nails.
Forget him!  He’s a goner, just a nowt!”
“I’m not!” said Marlene.  “I have thrown him out.
“I’ve better things to do than sigh for males.”

Now Tommo comes upon this fateful scene,
and he brings news that Nails has found a new
girlfriend, and he sticks to her like glue.
“What’s that to do with me?” blurts out Marlene.

“Just thought you’d like to know how things now stand,”
grins Tommo, “cos you know he lost his kecks
in Swarrell when we had the battle, and
he’s lost his head now for the fairer sex.

It’s Janice Greenwood from the church he loves.
His honour and his pants to him mean nowt.
They’re like a pair of spooning turtle doves.
Just look at them together.  There’s no doubt.”

“Well, thanks for telling me,” said Marlene coldly.
“I’ve got no further interest in that lad.
If he’d invaded Swarrell and had boldly
got his trousers back, and if he had

brought other trophies too, and been a hero,
I might have thought that he still had some charms.
To me his value’s something less than zero.
I’ll not be held by any other arms

than those of him who leads the Halden gang.
Why, even you I would prefer to Nails
if you can lead.  I’d come without a pang.
There’s nothing in my heart for one who fails!”

Then Marlene flounced away,
for Tommo’d won the day,
and so he turned to Scouse.
“Now that’s the way to douse
the flames of love,” he said.
“Nails is as good as dead.
The victories are mine,
all along the line.
The leader I shall be,
and Marlene will kiss me,
and do for me the things
that queens all do for kings.
I’ll stay with her all night –
my pants are getting tight
just at the very thought!”

But Scouse said that they ought
to take a saner view,
for others would try too
to win the leader’s throne
that Tommo thought his own.

Said Tommo, “I don’t care!
There’s none of ‘em will dare
to do what we will do –
we few, we happy few –
It’s in the gobbin’ bag.
We’ve made off with the swag.
You’ll see, I’ve got a plan,
and I will be the man!”

Canto 5:
in which Tommo suffers a reverse and devises a plan

So is all set for Tommo’s triumph now?
You think so?  Let us see.
You must remember that I told you how,
in any tragedy,
before the end come many great reverses,
and songs of praise give way to desperate curses,
and so it is in these poor humble verses.

For Nails now rushes up.  He’s in a rage,
and “Where’s the gang?” he cries.
“What’s that to you?” sneers Tommo, who can’t cage
th’ ambition in his eyes
and in his voice and manner.  Then he quails.
At sight of Nail’s fury his nerve fails.
If anyone is leader it is Nails.

“They’ll not treat me like that, by Hell they won’t!”
Nails thunders out.
“They think that I just take it.  Well I don’t!
“I’ll give her such a clout!
She’ll use me as a trophy?  Well, they’ll find,
when we invade the YPF, I’ll grind
them all to bloody bits.  I hate that kind!

They posture and they primp, look down on me!
I’ll kill the gobbin’ lot!
And after that I’ll lead the gang – you’ll see –
right into Swarrell, where we’ll fight a war,
and trample all the Swarrell lads in gore,
and win a victory like ne’er before!

My blood is up!  I’ll never let them rest!
I’ll have the gobbin’ pants
off every Swarrell lad, cos I’m the best;
exterminate like ants
anyone at all gets in my way:
the YPF, the Swarrell lads.  Today
they’ll find I’m back as leader – and I’ll stay!”

Dust and ashes, dust and ashes!
Tommo’s glory downward crashes.
All his hopes are sadly shaken,
Nails once more the crown has taken.

Bitter wormwood, bitter gall!
Tommo’s soaring hopes all fall.
Never woe was felt so keen:
lost the crown, and lost Marlene.

Rudely cast out from his dreaming,
Tommo’s brain now turns to scheming.
Soon he knows just what his plan is:
Nails he’ll trick by using Janice.

Tommo says, “What we must do
is quickly warn the Christian lot,
tell them Nails is someone who
takes his vengeance like a shot,
tell them Nails was dead offended
by the way they treated him.
If his feelings can’t be mended
he’ll attack with might and vim.
Tell them that the gang are coming
to attack them in their hall,
then, when we have set them humming,
that’s the time when we will call
on Janice Greenwood, and we’ll say
that she alone can change his mind.
We’ll tell them that’s the only way.
What d’you bet?  I think you’ll find
she’ll brave the gang and risk her neck –
it’s something Christian people do –
and that’s the way that we will wreck
the gang’s attack – Nails Palmer too!

She’ll slobber on him, kiss his cheek,
and stroke his hair and call him sweet.
Before you know it he’ll turn meek,
and all the gang will lose their treat.
The YPF he won’t attack.
Invading Swarrell?  What a thought!
He’ll follow her.  She’ll lead him back.
She’ll have him tamed.  She’ll have him caught.
The gang will need a leader then.
There won’t be much dispute or quarrel.
Tommo and his merry men
will lead th’invaders into Swarrell.

Canto 6:
in which Tommo makes new friends
and Nails prepares his revenge

All passed off as Tommo said.
The YPF was filled with dread
when they saw the lads appear,
and the reason for their fear
was that they knew that their behaviour
fell far short of what the Saviour
would expect.  It would have earned
His rebuke, for they had spurned
an eager soul and had subjected
him to scorn, so they expected
to be punished for their action,
for Nails would want some satisfaction.

But no, their expectation’s overturned.
Their visitors have come with friendly smiles.
They claim in conversation they have learned
the YPF’s the place for juveniles
who want to pass their time in innocent
pleasure with good friends.  It’s time well spent,
and so they’ve come to try out what they’ve heard
so much about.  That’s what they both averred.

It was to Mouse they said all this, and he
believed in what they said and was quite free
and easy.  He bade welcome to them both
as if their statements had been made on oath.

The boys, however, were much more suspicious,
attributing to Tommo some malicious
motive.  Was it vengeance that he sought?
The curate should be warned was what they thought.

Now, as for Julie, well it made her sick
to think that Janice, by her little trick
of bringing Nails to Christ with sexy smiles,
had really brought in converts by her wiles.

Tommo, meanwhile, thinks it’s time to go.
Nelly, Claggy, Wank and ‘Utch could slow
Nails Palmer’s gang a bit but not all night,
so he addresses Mouse in tones polite:

“We’ve had a great time here, and we’ll return
next week, for that you need have no concern.
We’ll bring our friends as well, but just at present,
we’ve got to go.  Goodbye.  It has been pleasant.”

I sing of female ecstasy.  Marlene
with joyful visage come upon the scene,
and, rushing up to Nails, asks if it’s true
what she has heard that he’s about to do.

He tells her that he’s going to attack
the YPF, then get his trousers back
from Swarrell and retrieve his honour,
and, as for Janice, well, he’d spit upon her.

She’s nothing now to him, less than the muck
beneath his shoes.  He doesn’t give a fuck
for her.  Now that’s what Marlene wants to hear.
She throws her arms around her darling dear.

Now Tommo, seeing this, is quite put out,
and interrupts them with an angry shout,
then swiftly turns it to a question bland
if Nails will wait while he collects his band.

“Hurry then!” cries Nails, who’s altogether
impatient to be gone and slip the tether
that’s held him back from vengeance for so long.
The iron’s hot.  He’ll strike now while he’s strong.

Canto 7:
in which Tommo carries out his plan
and Janice agrees to become a heroine

In the hall the music’s playing,
couples dancing, gently swaying
to the rhythm of the record.
Life’s not simple, always chequered.

To the door now Tommo comes.
Their cheerfulness he swiftly numbs.
“Nails is coming to attack!
The gang have somehow won him back.

They’ve called him coward, yellow, chicken,
said that you lot made him sicken,
made him turn the other cheek,
forget the honour he should seek.

They’ve goaded him and made him turn
back to violence and burn
to lead them furiously to war
as fierce as a tyrannosaur.”

“But what has this to do with us?”
asks Mouse, bewildered by the fuss.
“They’ll go right past us into Swarrell,
for we’ve no part in any quarrel.”

“You have!” cried Tommo, loud and clear.
Don’t think that you have nowt to fear,
The lads blame you for Nails’s failing.
They say that Christians set him ailing.

They say that you made him forget,
and turn from violence and fret,
instead of fighting to retrieve
his honour.  That’s what they believe.

That’s why they’re going to beat you up.”
“O God,” prayed Mouse, “please take this cup
away from us, as just reward
for those who trust in Christ the Lord.”

“There’s cricket bats and other gear,”
cried Tony.  “We could meet them here,
and many a skull we’ll bravely crack
in driving those invaders back.”

The boys rushed forward all to get
weapons.  Mouse cried, “I can’t let
you fight, for violence is wrong.
Besides, I fear the gang’s too strong.”

“You’re right,” said Tommo.  “They will slay
you if you fight.  There’s just one way  --
a chance that you may think’s quite slim –
you’ve got to send his girl to him!

If Janice goes and seeks out Nails
she’ll bring him back.  He never fails
to listen to his loved one’s voice.
I think that that’s your only choice.”

Now Janice pales and hides her face,
but Mouse sees here the work of grace,
for love can bring the sinner back
and guide him to the narrow track

that leads us up to Heaven’s gate;
but Janice would avoid her fate,
and weeps, and begs for mercy here,
while Julie cruelly mocks her fear.

She’s torn twixt fear and warm desire
that Victor should at last admire
his Janice, hold her in his heart,
as she’d designed with female art.

“I’ll go,” she cries, “if Julie comes,”
for she has quickly done her sums
and reckoned that this way she’ll throw
the blame on Julie, who’ll say “No”.

But Julie won’t be bested by
her rival.  She would rather die.
“Of course I’ll come with you,” she shouts.
“How could you ever have had doubts?”

The YPF all hail this dawning
of hope, but Tommo gives a warning:
“Don’t try to leave till we get back
or you may trigger swift attack.

Just now you need to take good care
they don’t find out that you’re aware
or they’ll come down upon your head
and make you wish that you were dead.

Play music.  Do not lock the door.
Stay normal, do not change before
we all come back and bring good news,
unless its battle that you choose.”

Canto 8:
in which Janice meets Marlene

Tommo led them to the corner
of the street where Nails’s gang,
jostling like the wildest fauna,
catcalled, mocked and jeered and sang.

“I can’t face them,” Janice wailed.

“Well, if you don’t, our mission’s failed,”
said Julie, with determined air.
“You promised Victor.  Would you dare
disappoint him, flee the scene?
Wait a moment, there’s Marlene!”

“And who,” said Janice, “might she be,
and what has she to do with me,
or I with her?  She looks a tart.”

Then Julie said, “If Nails’s heart
belongs to anyone, it’s her.
Don’t you see?  She’ll be the spur
that we can use to change his mind,
for men defer to womankind.
I think that it’s quite likely she
will grant to him the favours he
desires, and let him worship Venus
with offerings made by his penis.”

“Oh, Julie, don’t be dirty!” cried
Janice, who felt cold inside.
“I’ll talk to her, as you suggest.
Perhaps it’s really for the best
if I resign to her my Nails
and she his vicious plan derails!”

In the café Claire and Marlene smoke,
while Marlene talks about her bloke.
This time she knows that Nails will never leave her,
never part from her or grieve her.

Then, by the pricking of her dainty thumbs,
she feels that something wicked comes,
and, looking up, to her dismay she sees
Janice Greenwood buying teas.

She and her friend now walk across the floor.
Marlene prepares for war.
She’s bristling to the core.
Then Janice tries to smile,
but all the while
she thinks Marlene’s a whore.

“May we sit here?” asks Janice, so politely.
“Free country, innit?” answers Marlene brightly.
“I wonder if you know just who I am,”
says Janice.  Marlene says, “Don’t give a damn!”

“I’m Janice Greenwood,” Janice then continues,
summoning up the blood and stiff’ning sinews.
“I’m the girl that Michael Palmer loves,
in fact we two are close as hands and gloves.”

“Oh yeah,” says Marlene, “well I never knew
that you posh girls would let the fellows do
whate’er they want to make them with you linger.
What he put in your glove was not his finger!”

Janice flushed, and Marlene blew some smoke
into her face, and made her cough and choke.

Then Janice once again tried to appeal
to Marlene’s better nature and conceal
the fact that she detested and despised her
and couldn’t see why Nails had idolised her.

“Please hark to me,” she said,
and hung her pretty head.
“We girls must stick together,
never minding whether
we’re rivals for a man.

We’ve got to stop the boys!”
She really thought her poise
in such a situation
beyond all emulation.

“Your rival I am not.
Though I’m the one that got
the prize, I will release
my man to you and cease
to love him right away

And all I ask of you
is cause him to eschew
violence and leave
us, give us a reprieve.
Come, Marlene, what d’you say?”

“Ooh, look at that!
You dirty cat!”
said Marlene with a sneer.
“You’ll give him up
just like a pup
that you don’t want.  Well here
is where you learn
that you don’t spurn
Nails Palmer, cos he’s mine.
I’ve won him back,
and he’ll attack
if I say – don’t you whine.

You think you’re great,
and so you prate
and preach at girls like me,
but I have won,
and you’ll be done
over, just you see.

It’s all your fault
he’d not assault
his enemies and gain
his manhood back,
but sadly lack
the courage and the brain
to fight the war,
you little whore,
but I have made him see
that might is right
and he must fight
to win a girl like me!”

Then, as she spoke,
Marlene blew smoke
at Janice, made her splutter,
then off she strode
out to the road.
Now what did Janice mutter?

“Come, Julie, come!
Don’t sit there dumb!
We’re looking for Nails Palmer.
I think she’ll find I’ll change his mind,
for I can be a charmer.”
But Julie quailed.
Her nerve had failed.
She sat there turned to stone.
“Well, never fear,”
hear Janice sneer,
“I’ll just go on alone!”

Canto 9:
in which Janice confronts Nails

Unfriendly faces all around her,
stinking breath and jeering hound her,
but she bravely pushes through,
knowing what she has to do.

Half a pace, half a pace, half a pace onward,
through volleys of bad breath strode Janice Greenwood.

Jeering lads are pawing at her.
She tries to think it doesn’t matter,
pushing through the crowds to Palmer.
Surely he won’t let them harm her.

Half a yard, half a yard, half a yard onward,
through the alley forced her path and pushed Janice Greenwood.

Hotrod cries, “Come on!  Let’s rape her!
Get her knickers!  What a caper!”
Encouraged thus, the lads grow bolder.
Hotrod grabs her by the shoulder.

Someone grabs her round the hips
and plants a kiss upon her lips.
A cheer goes up, and all the rest
are groping at her waist and breast.

What can she do?  Her dearest treasure
will be defiled to give them pleasure.
Bitterly she screams and wails,
then Tommo cries, “Bring her to Nails!”

He says, “This girl was Nails’s tart.
If she gets raped, he’s got to start.
So come on lads, let’s drag her to
Nails, so he can tame the shrew!”

Now Hotrod’s gang don’t want to lose
the prize they’ve won, so jeers and boos
are launched at Tommo’s luckless head:
“Try to stop us and you’re dead!”

But Nails has heard the wild commotion,
and, like a liner through the ocean,
he ploughs his way to where they stand,
and Janice grabs him by the hand.

When Nails arrives, the lads retreat.
He’s left with Janice – bittersweet:
for once he loved her to distraction,
but now he is a man of action.

He’s cast her off.  He won’t be fooled.
His ardour’s definitely cooled,
and though she wheedles, pleads and sighs,
rejecting her he loudly cries:

“I’m wild again,
and riled again.
Don’t treat me like some sort of child again.
Bewitched, bothered and bewildered
was I

Don’t cling to me,
or sing to me.
Your caresses don’t mean a thing to me.
Bewitched, bothered and bewildered
was I.”

See Janice smile,
using guile,
hinting that he’ll lead her down the aisle.
Bewitched, bothered and bewildered
is he.

“Be mild again,
reconciled again.
Jesus wants you for His child again.
Bewitched, bothered and bewildered
are you.

Take wing to Him,
and cling to Him,
your soul you must faithfully bring to Him.
Bewitched, bothered and bewildered
are you.”

Will we find
love is blind
and that Nails will change his mind?
Bewitched, bothered and bewildered
is he.

He’ll yearn for her,
and burn for her,
to Christianity return for her.
Bewitched, bothered and bewildered
is he.

Canto 10:
in which Nails is bewitched, bothered and bewildered

She stroked his hair, she stroked his lips and cheeks,
while all the while she softly, sweetly speaks
words of love, then gently paws his chest,
and makes him feel that he’s the very best
of men for her, then slyly strokes his leg,
and even touches … what? … some sort of peg
‘t were better that we shouldn’t even mention.
Whate’er it was, it sprang up to attention,
and Janice let her fingers linger longer,
while his desire for her grew ever stronger,
but when he tried to throw his arms around her
and press her to him, suddenly he found her
gone.  From out his grasping hands she’d slipped away.
The time for love and sex was not that day.

“Not now,” said she.
“My reputation’s very dear to me,
but I’ll give thee my very life
when we two are man and wife.
I want to make it crystal clear to thee
that thou shouldst never ever fear to be
the man who only does what’s right,
and turns aside from violent fight
Pray do not think that it is queer to flee,
e’en though some boys would always jeer to see
that you will always choose the better part,
for that’s the way to woman’s heart.”
And so she plied her guileful art.

He yearned for her,
and burned for her,
his leadership he even spurned for her.
Bewitched, bothered and bewildered
was he.

Hear Tommo sing,
as joyfully his heart takes wing,
“Bewitched, bothered and bewildered
is he!

He’s mild again,
reviled again,
I’ll detrouser him just like a child again.
Bewitched, bothered and bewildered
is he.

He’s had his fling,
now I will sting
and my sting’s a deadly thing.
Bewitched, bothered and bewildered
is he!”

The gang now stood aghast,
withered by Fate’s blast,
for Nails, who was to lead them,
had now contrived to bleed them
dry, and leave them lying,
like fallen leaves a-drying
and crumbling into dust.
They thought it most unjust.

They recalled to him the quarrel
that they all had with Swarrell,
and cried out for invasion.
In vain was their persuasion,
for Nails would not be moved,
and thus his love he proved.
Convinced of this at last,
the gang all stood aghast.

Canto 11:
in which Marlene learns of this reverse

A murmur’s running through the crowd,
quiet at first, then getting loud,
and louder as they vent their rage.
Then Marlene comes upon our stage,
and she at once sees what’s the matter,
sees Nails with Janice, and spits at her,
“What is that cat doing here?”
Then Janice says, in tones so clear:

“Oh, Marlene, thank goodness you’ve come
to share in my wondrous delight,
for Michael has had to succumb
to Christ and to reason tonight.
He’s given up fighting, you see –
and all just to please little me.

Oh, Marlene, I’m brimming with pleasure
at all my achievements tonight,
for now I am Michael’s dear treasure.
From darkness I’ve brought him to light.
He’s coming with me to the church
and leaving his past in the lurch.

Oh, Marlene, the winner am I.
Poor darling, you’ve lost him again.
My spirits are soaring on high,
for I’ve conquered the best of all men.
Poor Marlene!  It’d such an ordeal.
I know in my heart how you feel.”

“Nails!” cried Marlene.  “Is this true?
Just back there you said that you
were going to lead the gang to Swarrell
to get revenge – and now all moral
you’ve become.  What’s going on?
The lads are standing woebegone.”

“The battle’s off, I think you’ll find,”
said Janice.  “Are you deaf and blind?”
“It’s true,” said Nails.  “I’m off with her
back to church, and you’ll incur
my anger if you interfere
with them at all.  Is that quite clear?”

Poor Marlene in despair was plunged.
Her fury burned, and then she lunged
at Janice with the clear intent
of scratching her.  She was hellbent
on her revenge, but Nails threw out
his arm and gave her quite a clout.
Was it intended, or perhaps
just one of those ill-chanced mishaps?

Tommo saw it, was appalled,
confronted Nails and loudly bawled,
“You coward!  Hit a girl would you?
I’ll fight you, beat you black and blue!”

Nails raised his fist at him and scowled,
while Marlene wept and sobbed and howled;
but Janice, taking Nails’s arm
steered him quietly out of harm.
“Come on,” she said, and leave them be.
A street brawl’s not the place for me.
To louts and tarts be blind and deaf
and come back to the YPF.”

Marlene was howling, and the gang
listened to her next harangue.
“I want them killed, want blood and slaughter!”
“Then Tommo said, “We’ll give no quarter.
Come on lads to Marlene’s aid.
For Marlene we will first invade
the YPF and beat up Nails,
and then – oh holiest of grails –
we’ll go to Swarrell and we’ll take
the banner back, and then we’ll make
those pants the flag of Halden’s mob –
and I will lead you on this job!”

While Tommo speaks the gang around him cluster,
and Marlene stands alone and sobs and cries,
while bitter tears bedim the peerless lustre
of those twin orbs, her pretty, shining eyes.

Oh pity, pity, pity poor Marlene,
caught in the age-old tragedy of love,
a situation worthy of Racine:
the Nails she hates is her own turtle dove.

On Marlene Tommo now has set his heart,
but she loves Nails, who by the guileful art
of Janice and her simpering deceit
in love’s entrapped, while she presents the feat
of winning him for Christ to Victor Mouse
in hope that he’ll choose her to be his spouse.

What hope is there?  What will the outcome be?
Read on!  Read on, and you will quickly see.

Canto 12:
in which Tommo makes his demand

Wonderful news!  Cry jubilation!
Janice and Nails have brought salvation.
The YPF, from fear set free,
cluster round and all agree
that Janice and Nails are jolly good fellows.
Some clap their hands, and Tony bellows,
“Come on, you chaps, let’s give three cheers.
Hip, hip…”  “HOORAH!” for all appears
peaceful, and the night is quiet
and free of every sign of riot.

Even Julie must confess
that Janice is a hero-ess
and proved herself extremely brave
in doing what she did to save
them all, and Janice simpers shyly
as they praise her, watching slyly
to see how Mouse is taking it.
Such modesty!  She’s faking it.

Beside heroic Janice stands
Nails, and clasps in both his hands
one of hers, and whispers to her.
What a shudder’s running through her.

“No,” she says.  “Don’t tell them now.”
Then on she goes, describing how
her great desire has always been
to be her lover’s secret queen.
Besides, they’re all much too excited
to take it in and be delighted.
“Announce it properly – next week.”
She pecks him quickly on the cheek.

Then Mouse calls, “Let’s bring out the chairs
for Quiet Time!”  That’s hymns and prayers.
The YPF all quickly dash
to get the chairs – but then a crash,
as through the window pane is thrown,
by somebody outside, a stone.

Glass lies shattered on the floor,
and somebody kicks in the door.
It’s Tommo and his gangster chums,
who stand there boldly with their thumbs
hooked cowboy-fashion in their belts.
The Christians look.  Their courage melts.
Their faith in Providence quite fails.
Then one stands forward – who but Nails?

“Hey Tommo!  What is going on?
Have you lost your gobbin’ mind?
I’ve told you once!  You’d best get gone,
or, I think, you’re going to find
you’ve bitten more than you can chew.”

Then Tommo answers, “Tell me who
you think you are, and where you’ll get
lads to help you.  Black as jet
was Nails’s brow as he cried out,
“I’m the leader!  Those who flout
my orders find themselves in trouble.”

Tommo stroked the dawning stubble
on his chin and gave a sniff.
“I wonder what would happen if
you started giving orders to
the lads.  I wonder what they’d do.

Nails had not the slightest doubt.
“Grab him, lads, and throw him out!”
to the Halden gang he yelled,
expecting him to be expelled.
Instead they looked with insolence.
He realised his impotence.

Tommo grinned and said to Nails,
“You’ve reached the point where your word fails
From our eyes we’ve dropped the scales.
You wouldn’t fight to keep your honour,
but found yourself a bella donna,
and fastened all your hopes upon her.
While we all fought and risked our necks,
you let the enemy take your kecks.
Instead of vengeance you sought sex.
Well, now’s the time that we want payment,
and each and every one’s a claimant.
Your honour’s lost, now lose your raiment.
Perhaps you thought you hadn’t heard
aright, so I’ll repeat the word:
its raiment, and you’ll feel absurd,
for no longer I’ll disguise
our intent, or euphemise.
We want your trousers as our prize.”

Canto 13:
in which Nails must make his choice

Said Mouse, “I don’t know what is going on.
Please tell me what he’s done so to offend.
Whatever it may be, I think you’ve gone
a bit too far.  I really ought to send
for the police, or Canon Tollgate, who
would swiftly turn you out into the street.
Now listen, chaps, it really isn’t meet
that you should shame him as you plan to do.”

Mouse’s words were met with scowls,
then the gang broke into howls:
“We want his pants!  We want his knickers!
Don’t stop us, or we’ll have the vicar’s!”

Then Tommo yelled that Nails was just a traitor,
a useless coward and a masturbator.
(The word he used, of course was rather shorter,
the sort of word a poet didn’t ought to
make use of in a poem such as this,
the sort of dirty words like f--- and p---,
for, while some authors think it very bliss
to use them, they are not the words for me).

“It doesn’t matter if we have to scrag
the lot of you, we’re going to debag
Nails, to teach him that he can’t ignore
the honour of the gang.  You know the score,”
said Tommo, with a sort of wolfish grin.
“If Nails gives us his trousers, well that’s fine,
but if he doesn’t, well then, we’ll begin.
So hand him over.  Don’t be asinine.”

Nails is now alone and fearing
   that the whispers he is hearing
   are more hostile than the jeering
   that he heard when stripped before.
Will the end of Tommo’s game
   cast him into bare-legged shame?
   He’s very sorry that he came
   and followed Janice through the door.
Will he fight to save his trousers,
   throw the place into uproar,
   or surrender and withdraw?

Nails is ready for the fight,
   in his eyes pugnacious light,
   he will uphold his honour’s right,
   and, if they challenge him, it’s war.
Janice hooks on to his arm
   and cries, “Please save us all from harm,
   if in your eyes I’ve any charm,
   the promised one, whom you adore.”
Nails, struck dumb, is hesitating:
   surrendering he does abhor,
but love for Janice is his law.

What’s his choice, and what’s his fate?
   Take Janice as his promised mate,
   and so let Tommo confiscate
   his trousers and his honour, or
leap boldly to a swift attack,
   punching like a maniac,
   and give that Tommo such a crack
   with both his fists upon the jaw?
Now Janice, who is whimpering,
   begins against his arm to claw,
   and promises him more and more.

“Oh, Michael, please, just let them take
   your trousers off, for Jesu’s sake.
   Oh save us please.  Do not forsake
   your friends to welter in their gore.
Oh think of your immortal soul,
   and add your name to Heaven’s roll.
   Just get us all out of this hole
   and you will be rewarded for
your kindness and your bravery,”
   she whimpered, and began to paw
   his body like an eager whore.

Was it hope of Heaven’s splendour,
   attraction to the female gender,
   or something else made Nails surrender,
   which he’d resisted heretofore?
He sighed, and then took off his jeans.
   They swarmed around him like sardines,
   hostile all as wolverines.
   This time he knew he’d not restore
his claim to lead the Halden gang.
   He’d lost his chance to overawe:
   trouserless for evermore.

Canto 14:
in which Nails proclaims himself the winner

Lost his trousers, lost his honour,
Nails is surely now a goner,
but he holds his head up high,
cries, “I’m the winner.  This is why!
You lot think of nowt but fights,
but other things bring me delights.
Janice is the girl I love,
and I swear by Heaven above
that she and I will soon be wed,
embracing in our marriage bed.
You can battle in the streets,
life for me holds other treats.
You lot really ought to grow up.
Sometimes you make me want to throw up.
Do you think I care a jot
that the Swarrell lot have got
my old trousers as their banner?
It’s for the best.  I’ll shout Hosannah!
I’ve found my girl, I’ve found religion.
Fighting Swarrell’s not my pigeon.
I’ll just leave all that to you,
cos I’ve got better things to do.

Here he turned to Janice and
clasped her warmly by the hand,
promised her he would belong
to her forever, with this song.

“Maybe, baby, you will stay beside me.
I won’t care if they should dare deride me.
I’ll build a home for two,
just me and you
atop the hill
and then we will
live in perfect harmony,
just you and me.

I’ve even planned a
grand verandah,
where we two can sit and think,
and maybe take a drink
or two,
while we enjoy the view.

Then, when the night will fall,
and owls all call,
and the light has completely fled,
we’ll snuggle up in bed,
and there we’ll kiss
in perfect bliss,
when we two are really wed.”

Fuming, Janice Greenwood
was central on the stage,
in unavailing struggle,
full of helpless rage.
Married to Nails Palmer?
She would rather die.
If he would only shut his trap,
she would tell him why.

Nails turned to embrace her.
She couldn’t get away.
Held by him so firmly,
she simply had to stay.
Then, as he bent to kiss her,
she kneed him in the balls.
Pain now overcomes him.
He staggers and he falls.

As Nails now feels the pain in his testicular
region so intense and all-consuming
that he’s impelled to leave the perpendicular,
Janice, in her fury, still is fuming.

“D’you think I’d marry you?
Well, if you do
you must be mad!
Any other lad
would surely better suit.

You think that you can stand
and hold my hand
in just your shirt!
You’ve really gone and hurt
my feelings to the root!

You’ve really got a nerve!
What you deserve
you’ve got, you beast!
Well, at the very least
I’ve given you the boot!”

Canto 15:
in which Nails suffers and is comforted

Nails lay upon the cold, hard floor,
hunched in misery and pain.
He’d given up his honour for
a mirage.  He had hoped to gain

a loving bride to share his bed,
a guide for his immortal soul.
Now all illusions he had shed.
He saw her as a female troll.

Yet still she blasted out her rage,
like a parrot in a cage
screeching at a passing cat.
Syllables poured from her tongue,
reproaches, insults; all were flung
down on Michael – ratatat!

All the YPF were huddled,
   feeling puzzled and befuddled,
   for the sense of this seemed muddled.
   Nails Palmer lay upon the floor,
while his gang stood all around him,
   eager all to jeer and hound him,
   now that Tommo had uncrowned him,
   like dogs that snarl around a boar
that’s wounded, bleeding and unable
   to charge or toss or bite or gore –
   while Tommo waved the pants he wore.

The trousers that he wore as leader,
   when he stood lofty like a cedar –
   imagine if you can, dear reader –
   were brandished now in Tommo’s claw.
Nails Palmer on the ground is lying,
   in pain and disappointment crying,
   while Tommo sends his trousers flying
   up and down, from paw to paw.
Then they hear someone arriving,
   someone opens up the door,
   and Marlene steps onto the floor.

When she sees poor Nails a-weeping
   and his jeans in Tommo’s keeping,
   to his aid she comes a-leaping
   in the middle of the floor.
Cries Tommo: “See how we have dragged him
   from his friends and really scragged him!
   To please you, Marlene, we’ve debagged him!
   His honour’s gone for evermore!
Janice in the balls has kicked him,
   that is why he’s feeling sore!”
   Marlene turned to him and swore.

“Tommo, you’re a gobbin’ bugger!”
   Tommo, who had hoped to hug her,
   thought she should be feeling smugger
   now he’d evened up the score.
He thought she should be quite elated
   that Nails and Janice were deflated,
   for surely this was what she’d waited,
   prayed and cried and begged him for.
But now it seemed, from what she shouted,
   she’d not rejoice but would deplore
   that Nails lay squirming on the floor.

From Tommo’s hands the trousers snatching,
   her fingernails his visage catching,
   and painfully his cheek then scratching,
   she turned to Nails, who lay before
her, quivering just like a jelly,
   his hands still pressed below his belly,
   and said, “Come on, you big, soft Nelly,
   don’t just lie there like a raw
chicken, plucked and ovenready.
   Put on your pants and let’s withdraw,
   for you’re the one that I adore.”

Canto 16:
in which Tommo’s hopes are dashed
and Janice holds on to Mouse.

Nails, retrousered and reshod,
leaves with Marlene.  “Oh thank God!”
cries Janice, as she clings to Mouse.
Tommo mutely clutches Scouse
by the arm, then mutters sadly,
“Something here has gone quite badly
wrong.  She should have stayed with me,
for I’m the one who is to be
the leader of the Halden gang.”

But, while he muttered, Hotrod sprang
to the front of all the crowd,
waved his arms, and cried aloud,
“Now we’ve finished off with Nails,
it’s time to snatch the Grail of Grails.
Shout hooray! and shout hosannah!
and follow me to win the Banner!”

They poured out from the YPF,
while Tommo stood there, blind and deaf,
and, while they sang about the harm
that they’d inflict, on Tommo’s arm
Scouse laid a friend’s protecting hand,
and tried to make him understand
the time had come to leave the place
where Nails’s sorrowful disgrace
had failed for Tommo to procure
the leadership or his amour.

“Come on, chaps, let’s get the chairs,”
   called Mouse.  “It’s more than time for prayers.
   I think that after all these scares
   we need them more than e’er before.”
Janice hooked on Mouse’s arm,
   exuding all her artful charm.
   She sighed, “Thank God we’re safe from harm
   and our frail barque has reached the shore.”
Mouse edged away to lead the meeting,
   thinking, “After shock and awe
   like this, a whisky I should pour.”

So Nails’s leadership is over.
   The YPF all praise Jehovah,
   but Tommo doesn’t lie in clover,
   for Hotrod led the gang to war,
and Marlene’s lost to him for ever,
   despite his very best endeavour.
   He really hasn’t been too clever.
   No wonder he is feeling sore.
The Swarrell gang still holds the Banner,
   of further battles guarantor.
   Read Effie next to find out more.

    The song "Bewitched, bothered and bewildered", which I have used as the basis of one recurring piece of verse in "Nails" is from the musical "Pal Joey", lyrics by Lorenz Hart, music by Richard Rodgers.
    I am grateful as well to the late Mr E.A. Poe, who suggested one particularly complex rhyme scheme that I have used in recurring stanzas throughout this work.  
    I am also indebted to Mr J. Racine for assistance with certain aspects of the plot.


The Banner, mock heroic epic, Part I: Sid

The Banner, nick-heroic epic, Part III: Effie

Chronicles of Halden: The Banner: Index

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