221B; Flying


“Cut out the poetry, Watson,” said Holmes severely

(“The Adventure of the Retired Colourman”)

With a flickering in the firelight and a rattling in the pane,

A history unfolded like a drumming in the brain,

And the people on the pavements moved like shadows in the rain.

         *         *         *         *         *         *         *         *

When my uncle, with a taste for beauty, baccarat and booze,

Lost his head, his heart, his honour and his money to the Jews,

He was shipped out east of Suez having nothing left to lose. 

Early morning, Port of London, he invested twenty quid

In a suit of clothes, a pistolet, a pickled hominid

And a ticket to Rangoon to make his fortune. Which he did,

As a mystic and a medico prescribing pill and potion,

So successful as a sawbones (he was poetry in motion)

That his brilliance spread its lustre right across the Indian Ocean.

But alas, he slew a nabob, threw his liver to the hounds,

Drowned his wife and fourteen children, burned his palace and his grounds,

Had to scurry back to Surrey with a hundred thousand pounds.

There he lives in wicked splendour in a folly on a hill

With a score of dusky savages, alert to do his will,

An albino Kurdish butler and a mistress from Brazil.

Lord! I swear you never saw the like, a godless foreign crew

Who maintain a strange menagerie, as foreign people do:

Viz. the Demon Duck of Doom, the Great Tasmanian Kangaroo,

Seven hydra-headed scorpions, an acephalous baboon

And a colony of zombies purchased in the Cameroon

Who will weep and wail and witter at the phases of the moon.*


When you take the primrose path and there’s the Devil left to pay

Then the Devil takes his portion on the final Judgement Day.

Till that time the Law is powerless and none dare say him nay.

And yet … the English Governess who educates his ward—

Mathematics, French and German for a pound and bed and board—

Mr Holmes, what will become of her among this hellish horde?

Miss Tressilian … Penny … Mr Holmes, you have to understand,

With the flutter of her eyelid, the ungloving of her hand …

She is fit to fill the place of any lady in the land. 

She is proud, with all the pride of one who works to earn her bread.

How often have I begged her fly and marry me instead.

Still she thanks me very kindly and she shakes her pretty head …

         *         *         *         *         *         *         *         *

In a haze of shag tobacco (he was half the man without it)

The Great Detective brooded. As he mulled the facts about it

He would surely find the answer; not a moment did we doubt it.

* The first two of these animals do have a sublunary existence, though not, I confess, in this present continuum. The last three are as fictional as the Giant Rat of Sumatra and the fatal Worm in the Matchbox, unknown to science.


Flying? There’s really nothing to it

Since birds and bats and insects do it.

Ten thousand butterflies from France,

With natural grace and elegance,

Are fluttering through the fields of Kent

In an auroral non-event:

No passport/ticket/visa crap,

No baggage magicked off the map,

To languish there till God-knows-when,

For they are insects, we are men

Who cannot fly without connivance

Of some diabolist contrivance

To hurtle through the immense inane,

To wit, a bloody aeroplane.

I love a ship, a train, a car.

I cannot love a winged cigar,

Nor yet the deserts we have made

Where aeroplanes can ply their trade:

The tacky bars, the horrid shops,

The toilets blocked with squalid slops,

The queues that snake from here to here,

The smell of sweat, the stink of fear,

The fear we do not care to name,

Of crashing in a sheet of flame.

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