World Poetry Day: The Absurd Genius of Spike Milligan

Books, Poetry

Today I saw a little worm

Today I saw a little worm
Wriggling on his belly.
Perhaps he’d like to come inside
And see what’s on the Telly.

Spike Milligan - Today I saw a little worm

I was helping to clear out the garage at my brother’s house some weeks ago, before he moved house. Sorting through almost three decades’ worth of toys and accessories, games and crayon drawings, I came across “A Children’s Treasury of Milligan” in one of my boxes. Amongst those stacks of cartoons and pieces of Lego and school books in the old ratty cardboard box, the cover of this hefty book shone out and I needed no time to remember what I was looking at.

There was a young soldier called Edser

There was a young soldier called Edser
When wanted was always in bed sir:
One morning at one
They fired the gun
And Edser, in bed sir, was dead sir.

On the three hour long drive back after our visit to my brother, I sat in the passenger seat reading from cover to cover this old prized possession, whose words I barely remembered. And page by page, line by line, rhyme by rhythm, I saw some of my origin, a little bit of where I came from. Spike’s poetry, the humour, the intelligence, and the irreducibly creative absurdity that he placed in everything he did, seems to have had a home in me for some time. I was always odd, I never fitted in – nothing has changed, I can report – and this man led a life completely devoted to that, devoted to the thing everyone gets bullied for at school, being different, being weird. I’m a little absurd, too.


A baby Sardine
Saw her first submarine:
She was scared and watched through a peephole.

‘Oh, come, come, come,’
Said the Sardine’s mum,
‘It’s only a tin full of people.’

spike milligan - sardines

Too many people are so concerned with fitting in and making friends and being part of a crowd that their weirdness is reduced down to minor hobbies or repeating every week that they think they’re going down with something (but they never actually do). So today I’ll be reading more of Spike’s poems, not because he was always silly, sometimes he was serious, but because I’m still far too worried about fitting in.


Said Hamlet to Ophelia,
‘I’ll do a sketch of thee,
What kind of Pencil shall I use,
2B or not 2B?’

A Political Book Haul

Book Haul

The Rise of Islamic State – Patrick Cockburn

Waiting for a train at London’s Waterloo station, I found myself inside Foyle’s, drawn instinctively as any bibliophile awaiting a train generally is found to be. Patrick Cockburn, quoted by the likes of Chomsky et al, seems unfaltering in his ability to make me rethink my position on dauntingly serious subjects, and so to see a book about ISIS written by him was irresistible. 

The following were bought from the beautiful Daunt Books, in Marylebone.

No One Left To Lie To – Christopher Hitchens

I’ve been writing a post about Hitchens for a while now, I finished his Letters to a Young Contrarian several weeks ago but haven’t found all the words in the right order to do him and the book justice. He was cutting in his life and in what he published, ruthless and sometimes wrong, but always superb in his writing, and his style in general, and so with Hilary Clinton now preparing her candidacy for the Presidential bid, it seems only right to read this. I’ve seen from many essayists that the dark, manipulative side to the Clintons is something to be feared, especially when in power, and so this may well turn out to be a book I shout about over the next year.

The Atheist’s Mass – Honore de Balzac

Balzac is a name to me, I am ashamed to say, and nothing else. Though with only a name, there is mystery and so I chose this tiny volume for that very reason. The title offers a sort of irony that I enjoy. I make no secret of the fact that a passion of mine is the philosophical, the scientific and the literary interplay between faith and atheism, and in the form of these new pocket size Penguin Classics, it felt only right to delve a little deeper and further away from what is familiar.

The Invisible Man, by H G Wells: A Note From A Lost Generation


Never have I so romantically been engaged in the reading of a book as I was this one. It happened some years ago now, in my first year at university. Desperately unhappy, as I am often found to be, I was seeking solace on my own and slowly discovering the power of fiction to console me in those moments of solitude. One day, as the fire alarm went screaming above my head, rousing me in a panic from an uncomfortable sleep on the thinly mattressed university bed, I had an idea. It was a scheduled thing – the alarm, not having ideas – every Wednesday morning, some time around 8, that the alarm test was performed – woe betide any student foolish enough to have earned a hangover from the night before – in that moment, I decided that I would no longer be there for that goddamned screaming red bell. Instead I would take a beautiful battered old book and have breakfast in the cafe on campus. 

A large black Americano coffee, strictly no sugar, and a plate of Belgian waffles generously drizzled in warm, silken Canadian maple syrup. I do hope you will appreciate the further joy that this literary, gluttonous breakfast afforded me on those mornings (usually ice cold, in January and February): people watching. At a university this means world renowned academics trundling in, looking downtrodden and anguished in their long clothes and achingly artistic fashion sense. I hoped the anguish was at the state of the world in some deeply philosophically cruel way, but it may have been sleep deprivation. 

The book I chose was The Invisible Man, by H G Wells – to date the only one of his I have read. I picked it up in a charity book shop in the city. The city was Canterbury, England, by the way, where the head of the Church of England resides some of the time and where you will hear some of the greatest buskers that this country has to offer. If you’ve never been, visit, but don’t live there…live near there if you must.

In the cover, this note is the first thing after the pencilled pricing that you see. I have always wanted so desperately to know who these people were. Lovers? Family? Friends? And why was the book a gift, for what occasion? But more gravely than anything, these other queries fade into insignificance to my overriding worry: did they know what was coming? Did they outlive the next four years of hellish brutality just across the channel?

This book provided me with an escape and the opportunity to begin forging the identity I wanted, I needed, to be true. Although I was terribly alone at university, fraught with fear and anxiety, this tale of an invisible man tortured by his own monstrosity, as well as the world’s, was enough to keep me going from day to day. Whatever happened to Brian and Peggy, I’ll probably never know.