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  • Writer's pictureDavid Mathews

… and other words too rude to mention

They sailed and they sailed As far as they could, Along the river And into a wood. Aarrhh, they did!

Thus the Pirates of the River Medway.

World Book Day, 2 March (though only for the UK; 23 April for the rest of the world), and I was the visiting author at St Michael’s primary school at Withyham in E Sussex. The school wanted a male role model as part of their campaign to help boys see writing as something worth bothering with. They thought that Megan and Owen’s granddad might do.

I wrote a story for them, the daft adventure of four incompetent pirates blundering up the River Medway in search of treasure buried behind the excellent Dorset Arms in Withyham.

(Yes, it was there in 1817.)

No story can be spot on for all ages from 5 to 11. I found a simpler story for the youngest ones and read, as well as the pirates, an extra, darker one for the oldest.

They were great, the children. Terrific listeners for a start, and eager to ask questions. Who’s your favourite author? Your favourite character? Your favourite illustrator? Did that character die? What is your favourite page you have written?

… and the neatest question, about the pirates. After each disaster that befalls the pirates,

‘Drat and bother’ said Rufus, and other words too rude to mention

Had I written the rude words, but just not read them to the class? She really wanted to know what they were.

The classes voiced their enjoyment, one young man granting me the accolade of being, at least at that moment, his second favourite author. (Roald Dahl, since you ask - so we Cardiffians rule.)

In Silver Birch class, Years 3 and 4 (aged seven and eight), my granddaughter asked about the six-word story attributed to Ernest Hemingway, For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never worn. (We swop six-worders from time to time, Megan and I.) The children discussed what might have happened in Hemingway’s story, proposing a mixture of darkness and silliness.

A few days later, in the post, came 17 six-word stories written for me, a lovely present. Many thanks to Dan, Ella, Emma, Erin, Harry, Hector, Hetty, Heyden, Lewis, Logan, Madeline, Max, Meg, Megan, Mimi, Rhianna, Saul, Seb and to Emma Robinson their teacher for these wonderful examples of the enigmatic and the absurd.

Downstairs no TV, money. Broken window

Wooden chest rattles, but won’t open

Mean, cruel dinosaur in the toilet

A fair ground no monster trucks

James Ford ran a 10k marathon

Six story books with blank pages

A funfair, but no roller coasters

For Jack, toilet paper never used

For Timmy, failure bananas never eaten

I am banned from detective work

Someone’s grave, with no one in

The flowers bloom in the summer

Four grapes, purple, never eat them

Once there was a little girl

People were angry, but they sang

Her eyes were blue and green

Fat baby swam down the toilet

A coin that was never spent

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