Lucy Vickery

‘Around the House in 80 Days’ and other titles for lockdown

‘Around the House in 80 Days’ and other titles for lockdown
Shirley Maclaine and David Niven in Michael Anderson’s 1956 Around the World in Eighty Days. Credit: United Artists/Kobal/Shutterstock
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In Competition No. 3149 you were invited to tweak an existing book or poem title for lockdown and provide an excerpt from the resulting work.

This excellent challenge, suggested by a reader, produced a vast entry and some cracking titles, including Masefield’s ‘Cabin Fever’ and Jane Austen’s Compulsion, as well as several variations on ‘Come Not into the Garden Maud’. There was more Tennyson from Sally Fiery, whose impassioned ‘Charge of the Price Hike-Brigade’ begins: Half a quid, half a quid,/ Nobody wondered,/ That was the price of soap,/ Now it’s six hundred…’ Commendations also go to Brian Allgar, Barry Baldwin, Frank Upton, Nick Syrett, G.M. Southgate and Iain Orr, whose tweaked title, Joseph Heller’s Covid-19, was an inspired one in these crazy times. The winners below pocket £25.

The hues that once were pure and bright

Are yet a well-remember’d sight,

When first we sank into the void

Our radiant hair was unalloy’d,

Yet time, unerring, doth expose

The root’s deception, as it grows.


Those locks, combed out and neatly layer’d

Cannot from nature’s growth be spared,

They yet become a troubled ocean

Impervious to styling lotion,

Untamed, they wander as they will

Lacking yet the stylist’s skill.


Whene’er our freedom is restor’d

Neglected tresses shall afford

This lasting memory for the nation,

A symbol of incarceration.

‘To a Shock of Hair’/Sylvia Fairley
They lock you up, the government.

They make you stay inside the house

Until your mind snaps and you vent

Your irritation on your spouse.


Then off you go, for ‘exercise’

On lonely streets, in empty parks,

Or queue for requisite supplies

In Sainsburys or Marks and Sparks.


For once, the British public knows

Exactly what two metres means.

Coronavirus boldly glows

In colour on a zillion screens.


Back in the home that’s like a cell

You feel yourself a viral martyr.

It’s life sans others that is hell,

So suck a lemon, Jean-Paul Sartre.

‘This Be the Virus’/Basil Ransome-Davies
‘Passepartout,’ Phileas Fogg declared, ‘we have much time to lose and only this, my Savile Row home in which to lose it.’

      Knowing the punctilious habits of his master, Passepartout attended carefully to the detailed itinerary. Over the coming months they would repeatedly proceed, by staircase, hall and connecting door, to every room in the house, withdrawing to withdrawing-rooms, studying in the study, staging circular arguments as to the precise day and date during equally circular turns about the garden. Cook having been furloughed, Passepartout would have sole charge of the kitchen and all related domestic duties while Mr Fogg would concentrate on perfecting a new variant on whist and the cultivation of his beard.

      ‘An excellent plan, Monsieur,’ Passepartout observed. ‘We, at least, will not succumb to the coronavirus.’

      ‘Ah,’ Fogg explained, ‘I fear that, as seasoned travellers, we likely brought it here.’

‘Around the House in 80 Days’/Adrian Fry
Imperially did Kubla Khan

the locked-down pleasure domes decree,

and he advised an expert plan

to isolate each Xanudan,

an extramural nookie-ban

applied to you and me,

since R was measureless to man

as anyone could see.


He cut the corner, jumped the queue,

and though his model was precise

a demon-lover rendezvous

was to become his Waterloo,

‘Do as I say not as I do’

became his sage advice;

so now he rues his honeydew

and powdered milk of paradise.

‘Kubla Khan’t’/Nick MacKinnon
I wandered round my living room,

locked down, hung over, green of gills,

when all at once my morbid gloom

was lifted by some daffodils;

upon the table, in a vase,

like trumpet-wielding saffron stars.


Since then I have been working out,

read books and seldom watch TV;

those daffodils transformed this lout

who’s swapped tequila shots for tea;

and though they’re but a plastic bloom,

they’ve saved me from pandemic doom.

‘Daffodils in a Vase’/Paul Freeman
The sea is banned today,

The shops are shut, the dog goes spare

Behind the gates; after French toast, we play

Cards for a while; we swiffer the kitchen floor,

Shimmying the hips, ready to wax parquet.

Think of the seaside, God there’s no one there!

Except on the re-runs of Coast,

Where Nick Crane yomps the once-free shore —

Listen! You think of the battered cod

With chips, in their polystyrene traps,

Backchat and banter, what life is for.

Yawn, the police patrol, and one more yawn,

Make tedious payments, take some naps,

Imagine the seaside crowds reborn,

But we’re still here, trying a sparkling pink,

While ignorant swamis tell us what to think.

‘You May Not Walk on Dover Beach’/Bill Greenwell

No. 3152: domestic bliss?

You are invited to submit a poem about the pleasure — or pain — of a staycation. Please email up to 16 lines to by midday on 3 June. NB. We are unable to accept postal entries for the time being.