darkly witty mystery poem cover image

NOTES : In case you’re not familiar with some of the slang, word-play and references I have used in the poem, you may find these notes helpful.

Book cover:
The figure (inspired by a painting by Edvard Munch) is holding an ice-cream cone (a popular treat at the British seaside)

Edward Lear
19th Century British author of nonsense poetry (eg The Owl and the Pussycat)

The Usual Suspects
American film thriller from 1995 with a convoluted plot


Poem:

Down – the soft feathers in a pillow, mattress or duvet

Ill blows the wind that profits nobody – quotation from William Shakespeare’s play “Henry VI”

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Razor Bill – nickname associated with the habitual use of an open razor as a weapon
Bill – short for William
A razorbill – also a black-and-white seabird
Bill – a term for a large or strong beak
Auk – another name for the bird razorbill

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Sean – Irish name pronounced Shawn
Well... Well... Well...  an expression of false surprise
You’re welcome to...  you’re free to have… if you want (also implied: I don’t want them)

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She sells sea shells on the sea shore – traditional tongue-twister

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Rip Van Winkle – short story by Washington Irving, published 1819
RIP – abbreviation used on tombstones: “Rest in Peace”

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You are what you eat – title of a 1942 publication by Victor Lindlahr (nutritionist)

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Ebbing and flowing – normal movement of the sea
Sobbing – loud weeping

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In ropy nick – in poor condition
Bought on tick with... – bought with credit
Tacking – zigzag manner in which a sailing boat makes headway against the wind
Tack – temporarily or roughly stitch fabric
Tacky – poor quality or in poor taste
Shabby – in poor condition
Weaving its way – making zig-zag progress
Peeky – feeling rather unwell
Dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s – take care of every detail, be meticulous
Captain Ahab – character in Joseph Conrad’s novel “Moby Dick”
Wailing and gnashing of teeth – quote from the Bible – meaning anguish

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Flighty – capricious or unstable
Flock – a group of birds or of sheep
Birds of a feather flock together – a saying meaning that people / animals associate with their own sort
Look down on – consider someone or something of little value
Fleece – a sheep's coat
Fleecy clouds – fluffy cloud formation
Act the goat – behave foolishly

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Brush – touch lightly
– tidy hair with a brush

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Howzat – in cricket, call to umpire by bowler: ‘How’s that?’

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Get a buzz from – be excited / stimulated by

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Nature red in tooth and claw quote from Tennyson’s poem “In Memoriam”

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Mexican wave – wave effect when a crowd in a stadium rise up and down from their seats in succession
Flying by the seat of one’s pants – acting on one’s own judgement and initiative without the use of aids
Volga Boatmen – traditional Russian song

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Bar – unit of pressure equivalent to atmospheric pressure at sea level
– where one can buy alcoholic drinks
– a sandbank
Shoot the breeze – chat, talk idly
Do nothing by halves – be unstinting
halves – half-pints of beer

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Round the bend – around the corner
– mad / insane
Hearties – sailors / comrades
Pukka – authentic, genuine, first class (Hindi derivation)
Close shave – a narrow escape

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The morning after – reference to a hangover in the morning
A fate worse than death – originally a euphemism for rape
see Edward Gibbon's “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” 1781;
also Edgar Rice Burroughs' “Tarzan of the Apes” 1914
Over a barrel – having no option
Hung out to dry – abandoned by friends or associates to one’s fate
To get the rough end of someone’s tongue – to be severely told off

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Eight Bells – bell struck 8 times on board ship to indicate the end of the duty watch
– Bells is a brand of Whisky
I bin took – I’ve been cheated
Sling one’s hook – leave / depart
Throw in one’s hand – throw down one’s playing cards
Rig the game – cheat
Rig / rigging – naval terms
Swab the deck – mop the floor

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Ready salted, Salt and vinegar – popular flavours of potato crisps
Smith – major UK manufacturer of potato crisps
Taking the piss – (vulgar) insulting or mocking someone

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Legless – drunk
Four sheets to the wind – sailing term
– to be drunk
Sailors hornpipe – a popular naval tune

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The Merchant of Venice – play by William Shakespeare
Guinness – popular Irish dark beer (stout)
Shylock – a central character in “The Merchant of Venice”
- also a term for a moneylender
Loan shark – a moneylender

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POW – Prisoner of War
Wop – derogatory term for an Italian
Dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s – take care of every detail, be meticulous
Hit the ground running – get off to a brisk & successful start
Quick on one’s feet – react quickly to circumstances
On his beat – (eg policeman) making a regular patrol in an area
Step on someone’s toes – upset someone
The Firm – refers to an illegal gang or organisation
Cover – subterfuge / false identity

back to "Ciao ‘Wop’ Ciao ‘Pow’"

Muscle-bound – have large powerful muscles
Egg-bound – to be constipated
Prop up the bar – stand at a bar counter
Prop up – to support
Schooner of port – large measure of port in a specialised glass
Schooner – sailing ship
Floozie – woman
Chips – French fries
Cold fish – hard-hearted, unfeeling
Fish-fingers – rectangular pieces of fish coated in breadcrumbs

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Aye-Aye – naval term acknowledging an order
To eye – to look at appreciatively
Artful Dodger – young pickpocket in Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist”
To dodge – to shift suddenly from place to place
Jolly Roger – flag of a pirate ship often depicting a skull and crossbones
Roger – have sexual intercourse with

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Yo Ho Ho (and a bottle of rum) – traditional pirate’s song
Hoe the ground – remove weeds with a specialised tool
Cornish pasty – traditional meat & potato pie from Cornwall
Look back in anger – 1956 play by John Osborne
Private Eye – private detective
Privateer – person or ship engaged in piracy on behalf of a government

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Call someone names – insult someone
Eyewash – nonsense
Apprenticeship – period of training for a young person
Buck the system – ignore the rules
Grog – ration of naval rum

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Grin from ear to ear – to smile broadly
– to have one’s throat cut
Sea-dog – experienced mariner
Hard but fair – rigorous but just enforcement of the rules
String someone up – to hang them
No messing – without delay
Treat without fear or favour – treat impartially

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Captain Bob...Ghislaine – Robert Maxwell (newspaper proprietor), often nicknamed ‘Captain Bob’, disappeared from his sailing-ship Ghislaine. It was later discovered that he had embezzled his company’s pension fund
Mizzen-mast – the third mast from the bow of a sailing ship
Scum – disreputable people (During the Napoleonic Wars the Duke of Wellington famously described his own troops as ‘The scum of the earth’)
Public schoolboy – a pupil at a private (usually expensive) boarding school
The Admirable Crichton – a play by J M Barrie
Learn the ropes – learn how to do a job properly
Walk the plank – method of execution used by pirates

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The sound of one hand clapping – Zen saying
Dog days – hottest days of summer (late August)
Doggo – remain out of sight
Dog-end – cigarette butt
Cocks his leg – urinates
Dog and bone – Cockney rhyming slang ‘telephone’

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Hooch – illegally-distilled grain alcohol
(In 1989 there was an American film (with Tom Hanks) starring a dog called Hooch)
Duty free – untaxed
A free spirit – someone who lives unconstrained by society

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Sea eagle – bird of prey
Legal-eagle – lawyer
Fine-tune – make small adjustments to maximise effectiveness
Give something claws – embed powerful sanctions
The devil hides in the detail – traditional saying

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Mole – coastal promontary
Foaming at the mouth – enraged
High-flyer – ambitious person
Road to perdition – song & film title
Perdition – loss of the soul / eternal death

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Working lunch – lunch over which business is discussed
Time to kill – (unproductive) time to pass
– also a quote from the Bible
Liquidation – murder

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....come and go talking of Michaelangelo – quote from TS Elliot “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
Racket – illegal but profitable activity
Due up in court – obliged to go to court to answer charges
Pack heat – carry a gun
Tooled up – carrying weapons
Black & Decker – manufacturer of electrical tools
Smith & Wesson – US manufacturer of hand-guns
Stanley knife – workplace utility knife with short retractable blade
A job – an illegal activity (eg robbing a bank)

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The Kray twins – 1960’s London gang leaders
Crayfish – crustaceans

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Donkeys years – a long time
A spin – pleasure trip in a car
Jack – male donkey
Jenny – female donkey
Diogenes – Greek philosopher
Young Turk – restless young adult impatient for change
Dicky ticker – heart susceptible to heart attack
Bootlicker – sycophant

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Nobody’s fool – astute person
Foal – young donkey
Barrel of fun – entertaining person
(reputedly Diogenes lived in a barrel)
Dodgy knees – knees prone to injury
Get off the fence – support one side against another / make one’s mind up between options
Budge – move

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Footprints on the sands of time – from “Voices in the Night : a Psalm of Life” by H W Longfellow
Groucho Marx – comedian
Karl Marx – philosopher
Jelly-roll Morton – Ragtime / Jazz pianist
Elvis Presley – singer (renowned for his appetite for food and drugs in his later years)
Go Man Go – a line in Elvis’ hit song ‘Blue Suede Shoes’

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Loner – isolated person
Slacks – casual trousers
Slack – not tense or taut
Slip – lose one's foothold
Slip on – put on clothing / shoes
Drunk and disorderly – public order offence
Duncan – common Scottish name
Gurn – pull faces
Reel – highland dance
Croon – sing in a sentimental way (eg Dean Martin)
Moon – bare one’s buttocks in public
Merry-go-round – fairground / playground ride
Kilt – Scottish garment (under which traditionally no underwear is worn)
Out of kilter – out of balance / wobbling
rrrrs – polite for ‘arse’ (buttocks)

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Breakdown – mechanical or psychological collapse
Pull oneself together – reassemble one’s composure
Pull up one’s socks – improve one’s attitude / performance
Pull it off – succeed
Postman Pat with his black-and-white cat... theme song to a children's cartoon
Van Morrison – a singer
Street cred – acceptance and respect among young people in an urban environment

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Fired – dismissed from one’s job
Fire ball – energetically enthusiastic person
(I don't want to) set the world on fire – song by the Ink Spots, 1941
Under fire – subject to verbal criticism or attack
Fireworks – a row / violent argument
Fired up – excited
Round the bend – round the corner
– insane
Approaching sixty – nearing sixty years old
– nearing sixty miles per hour
A driven man – obsessed, someone pushing themselves to their limit

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The Count of Monte Cristo – novel by Alexandre Dumas
Polo, Golf – models of VW cars
Toe to Toe – close combat
Neck and neck – very little margin between competitors – a close race

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A stone’s throw away – not far away
Castaway – someone abandoned by a ship/ shipwrecked
Having the time of one’s life – enjoying oneself greatly
God moves in mysterious ways – Biblical saying

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Navel gazing – excessive introspection
Navel – type of orange

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Graze – feed on grass
– a minor abrasion to skin
Cowed – intimidated
Dry expression – to look unimpressed
Dichrome – being able to see in only 2 colours (blues and yellows in the case of cows)
Until the cows come home – for a very long time (proverbial)

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Colossus of Rhodes – a giant statue – one of the seven Wonders of the World
Molossus – a metrical foot in formal poetry (example: Tennyson ‘Break Break Break’)
Quarry – source of stone for building etc
– prey

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All quiet on the Western Front – a novel and a film about the battlefront in World War I
Balloon goes up – indication that a military offensive is about to start
The back of beyond – remote, far away from anything
Pillbox – concrete gun emplacement
Pillbox hat – style of headgear

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Dedicated to Mars – trained in military skills

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Nippers – young children
Pampers – disposable nappies
Woggle – device to fasten a neckerchief
Duffles – duffle coats
Toggles – (on duffle coats) horn fasteners and loops in place of buttons
Bombshell – glamorous woman
Molotov cocktail – home-made incendiary device

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Brad Pitt – actor
Doggerel – bad poetry

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Black sheep – disreputable member of group or family

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Wise guy – member of a criminal gang
Wisecrack – flippant / witty remark
Burger King – fast-food outlet
Shooter – gun
Pea-shooter – toy: tube through which to fire peas
In the frame – to be a suspect or implicated in something
On the hook – to be in an awkward situation
A brew – a cup of tea / glass of beer
Caff – cafe
Shake a leg – hurry up
See a man about a dog – deliberately vague explanation of why one is leaving

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Skip – large open-topped metal container for rubbish
Kip – sleep

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Scar Face – nickname of a person with a scar on their face
Scarf – knitted neckwear
Ace – expert
A-C Cobra – sportscar from 1960’s
Knit one’s brow – frown

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Pull the wool over someone’s eyes – fool them
A big hitter – someone who has power / influence
Hit – murder

back to Scarface

Top dog – boss

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Sweeney Todd – a fictional 19th century character – a murderous barber
Mrs Lovett – Sweeney Todd’s partner in crime (made pies from the flesh of his victims)
The Hollow Men – poem by TS Elliot
This is the way the world ends.....Not with a bang but a whimper – from the poem “The Hollow Men”
Crimper – hairdresser / barber

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