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1st June 2020


Of all the parts that Royal Mullins plays

He’s no psychologist. Trick cyclists,

His father used to call them, in the days

When language helped the speaker to enlist

In bold invention, metaphor, which plays

Its own tricks. I suppose, if you insist,

I’ll give a small representative vignette.

(To my best knowledge, poesie’s not a sin yet).


We say ‘a busted flush’ for something which

Goes wrong, or pear-shaped. Hold hard! There’s another!

A kettle of fish, a hair’s breadth, and a stitch

In time. These portables announce no other

Than that language is a lush and rich

Companion, sister, lover, friend or brother.

But words for Edmund T still prove elusive.

He says some things, but let’s not be intrusive.


Now something moves in Royal Mullins’ mind.

A buried thought, half-seen but half not seen,

A deep-sea eel which winds and then unwinds,

As black as coal but lit up with a sheen

From time to time. Poor Royal always finds

A cigarette would keep his memory keen.

He used to smoke… But wait! His mind is freed!

It’s Muriel the hypnotist we need!


Smoke? Why, what our man Royal did was not

Smoking as we know it. It was far more

A dedicated service, duty, what

Our fathers called ‘necessity of law’,

And eighty snout a day was not a lot

When you had seen what Royal Mullins saw.

To say his job was stressful’s euphemistic.

(I know. That rhyme? I wasn’t optimistic…)


But Muriel the hypnotist was found

And set to work to get RM off cigs.

She put him under, and when he came round

For cigarettes he cared not fig or figs.

He broke the habit with a single bound,

So why not get her in? Now Mullins twigs

That mesmerism could unchain Ed’s mind,

And ease the ropes that hold, the ties that bind.


The wise woman is sent for, and arrives

As on a magic carpet. Over dinner

Sally Q explains how Edmund lives.

His accident, his loss of speech, and in a

Moment Muriel looks up and gives

Young Sal a smile best described as a winner.

A godsend is our mesmerising Muriel.

I honestly believe that she could cure you all.


A moment now. Suspend the action, freeze

This therapeutic minute. Can we just

Assume all’s well with nonchalance and ease?

I think not. Yet it seems as though we must

Accept this treatment, if only to please

Young Sally, and in her to place our trust.

She, with no wish to stay a virtual spinster,

Conversed with Muriel, who’s now convinced her.


Hypnosis fascinated Sigmund Freud,

The dark unconscious summoned like a djinn.

His mentor, Charcot, often got annoyed

When critics claimed it was a mortal sin

To render women liable to avoid

The niceties of conversation in

A state of catatonia, alone,

And with a man without a chaperone.


So, Edmund sits with beatific smile,

As Muriel begins her practised art.

She softly talks to Ed, and in a while

His eyelids close, his breathing slows, a part

Of Sally which before was in denial

Can feel faith rise in her expectant heart.

She feels the tears begin to bathe her cheek

As Edmund smiles again and starts to speak.


Since coming under Sally’s care our Ed

Has spent his days with children’s picture-books.

For hours, delighted, he has sat and read

Of turtles, bears and bunnies, now he looks

At none of these, but reads them out instead

From memory. Now Sally’s crying brooks

No delay. She is weeping not through choice,

But from the silky sound of Edmund’s voice.


We’ll hurry time again, and crop its hide

To set it at a trot to run ahead.

As Muriel continues work inside

The labyrinth of Edmund’s shapely head,

Sally sees a turning of the tide,

The children’s tales are gone, and now, instead,

The lad partakes of normal conversation,

No more a stranger to communication.


And as the weeks glide past and Edmund T

Learns to talk and laugh and even sing,

His memory returns as perfectly

As though it never left. But here’s a thing.

His recall’s not quite perfect, for, you see,

There’s something not quite there, something missing.

Since meeting Sally he recalls each second.

Before that time? There’s not a moment reckoned.


Now, let us treat space as we treated time

And move our operations to the west.

It would be foolish to believe that crime

Will let its children be so disposessed.

And though Ed’s future now seems so sublime,

His past still lingers, actions far from blessed

Lurk in the shadows. Deals from Edmund’s past

Are present still, the die was long since cast.


We are the curators of Edmund’s life,

His prior dealings on the tracks’ wrong side,

And dealing drugs will also deal out strife

And cards malevolent. And woe betide

Those who live on the sharp edge of the knife

Should cross another, or offend the pride

Of street-scum whose dark memories are long ‘uns.

And Edmund’s fallen foul of just these wrong ‘uns.


So let us go back to the underworld

We came from when we followed Eddie’s course.

A twilit empire with black flag unfurled,

A country whose inhabitants are coarse

And rough-edged, where obscenities are hurled,

Whose rarest mineral is called remorse.

This nation’s damned, its native population

Is governed by a dark administration.


Villains, vagabonds and criminals

Are old as time, we never were without them.

They prowl and wait like hungry animals,

And lick their lips and keep their wits about them.

At bus stops, alleyways and terminals

They stalk like jackals, never think to doubt them.

Their path runs close to yours, and if you stray,

You will become their hamstrung, hunted prey.


This, as we know, was Ed’s environment.

Though violence was never his MO,

Associates of his were violent

Beyond the call of duty. And we know

That violence is vicarious. Absent

Morality, and jungle law rules. So,

Although young Tuppence never hurt a fly,

The spiders may hurt Tuppence, by and by.


You see, this world of warped morality

Still has a code of sorts, a type of honour

Which, far removed from our reality,

Is still a binding law graven upon a

Heart of stone. This chill normality

Could turn a transgressor into a goner.

And Ed transgressed, and more than once it seems

Betrayed the folk who stalk our darkest dreams.


Now, let us use our arts poetical

To join two miscreants at their abode.

Nappo Clark, wretched and dropsical,

And Clovis Dredger, neither of whom bode

Much good for anyone, and whimsical

Where violence is concerned, and they are owed

A certain sum of money. When all’s told,

The debtor is a cove we know of old.


A drug deal is a drug deal, or it should be,

But economics is a fickle wench,

And really not as faithful as she could be.

This truth is known to our two untermensch.

They gave young Edmund moneys, said they would be

Waiting on a particular park bench.

And so they were, a warm spring day, and sunny.

But Ed went on the razzle with their money.


From that day forth, the squalid pair had vowed

To ‘do’ young Edmund (sorry for the parlance).

They cursed our boy with imprecations loud

And showed themselves as mentally unbalanced.

Ed didn’t care, was positively proud.

Embezzlement was just one of his talents.

But actions long since finished with may yet

Return to haunt the actor, you can bet.


This underworld we previously described

As though it were a country or a nation.

And, like a state or land mass circumscribed,

It has a system of communication.

And after Clark and Dredger had both bribed

The quack who ministered Ed’s medication,

They had their means for criminal redress.

A name and, more important, an address.


So now, as we return along the breeze

To Sally, Ed and Royal, we must own

We feel discomfited, and our unease,

Matches our impotence. They are alone.

Had we a choice, and were ourselves to please,

We’d warn them, bid them pack up and begone.

But poets, though we seem omnipotent,

Are but mere scribblers, all too impotent.


Now Napper Clark and Clovis Dredger own

The means of their revenge; they hire a crew

Of n’er-do-wells. They dare not go alone.

They know of Royal Mullins’ presence. You

Should know his reputation sets a tone

Of fear that runs from Canning Town to Kew.

He is preceded by his reputation

For knocking heads together with elation.


And as the twilight falls this motley horde

Like Midians do prowl and prowl around,

Their hideous intention underscored

By weaponry they’ve bought and stole and found.

An army now, in violent accord,

Are in the garden, still without a sound.

And now they wait. We fear the worst, my friends.

We dread to think how this offensive ends.

The author of The Ballad of Edmund Tuppence will be taking a rest from his labours for a month or two. Edmund will return later in the summer.

Mark Gullick is a philosophy PhD from London, England, who went on holiday to Costa Rica four years ago and forgot to go home. He now works there as a musician. His debut novel, Cherub Valley, is available as an ebook here'.

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