The Number 17: Ondine and
Lucien’s Great Adventure; 

Or, The Kind that Can Float

from The Bus Poems: A Tale of the Devil,
currently in preparation.

Now this is a tale of two very good friends;
They lived on a road made entirely of bends.
And he was called Lucien and she was Ondine,
And one day they thought they would visit the Queen.

But coming to London the Queen wasn’t there;
Then somebody said she was doing her hair.
And when she’d done that it was always her nails,
And that’s why she’d travelled to Cardiff in Wales.

So Lucien suggested they hire a bus
As going by spaceship was always a fuss.
Ondine was delighted with Lucien’s idea,
And travelling by spaceship was also so dear.

Besides, it was draughty at high altitude,
And that’s why the waitresses spilt all the food.
And sometimes the draught blew the spaceship away,
But nobody cared and you still had to pay!

And just this had happened to someone she knew,
And Lucien and she would be paying for two.
And so they agreed they would hire a bus
To save themselves dosh and avoid all the fuss.

The very next morning they set off together,
But then came a terrible change in the weather.
It started to rain and it started to pour;
It rained till the water came up through the floor!

“Oh dear,” said Ondine (who was starting to fuss)
“We need a big boat not this silly old bus.”
“Don’t worry,” said Lucien, “we don’t need a boat:”
“This number 17 is the kind that can float!”

And so they continued their journey to Wales,
The bus’s big chassis becoming their sails.
But when they reached Cardiff the Queen wasn’t there;
Then somebody said she had finished her hair.

She’d gone back to London in time for her tea,
So now our two heroes returned there by sea.
They buffeted tempests; they nearly capsized;
(Ondine thought the choice of route most unadvised!)

But finally docking at Buckingham Pal,
Now sited inside its own private canal,
They entered the Palace where everyone bowed,
While millions of onlookers cheered in the crowd.

The Queen then invited them both into tea;
She normally charged but for them it was free.
They sat and they peered at the strange-looking cake;
She said it was cheap: “It’s the family make.”

“But do,” said Her Majesty, “eat what you like;”
“I’m off now to try my new exercise bike.”
“The cake’s a bit odd but not really that old,”
“I do recommend though avoiding the mould.”

Her Majesty rose and adjusting her Crown
Gave each of the footmen an ominous frown.
She winked in the mirror, admiring her hair,
And then gave her nails an appreciative stare.

She turned to the children and bade them farewell,
Her nose in the air from the mildewy smell.
Her guests did their best now to curtsey and bow,
The footmen majestically showing them how.

Then lifting her Orb and her jewel-covered Sceptre,
She swung them around like a modern-day Hector.
She lunged out at scores of invisible foes:
A warrior queen from her head to her toes!

She sauntered away in her ermine-trimmed cape,
The children left speechless, their mouths all agape.
And that was the last that the friends saw the Queen
And where we depart this magnificent scene.

And so our two heroes partook of their tea,
And their great adventure went just as you see.
A story they had to tell children when old—
But only because they avoided the mould!


dosh: cash
dear: expensive



Paul Martin Freeman is an art dealer in London. His book, A Chocolate Box Menagerie, is published by New English Review Press.

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8 Responses

  1. Roy Eugene Peterson

    I find “Number 17” extremely clever and witty interlaced with great storytelling! This could only be written by someone with a great sense of humor from the UK! In other words, I loved the story within the poem. And yes, I have been to London and ridden on those great buses!

    • Paul Martin Freeman

      Thank you, Roy. That’s very kind of you. I’m absolutely delighted the humour got across the pond and didn’t drown on the way!

  2. Paul Freeman

    This reads like a fevered dream on a roller coaster.

    Where’s the nearest no. 17 bus stop?

    Thanks for the read, Paul.

  3. Morrison Handley-Schachler

    This is a fun read, very enjoyable with neat rhymes. It would be a good challenge for an illustrator.

    • Paul Martin Freeman

      Thank you, Morrison.

      On the rhymes, in fact the idea for the story came from the need for a rhyme for the girl’s name. So, “Ondine” gave “Queen”. And I had to have her name at the end of the line as the wording of line 3 was the only way I could get the two children into one line.

      So no Ondine, no story!

  4. Norma Pain

    Your poem was a lot of fun Paul. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you.

    • Paul Martin Freeman

      Thank you, Norma. As a Brit by birth, you’ll be familiar with “the family make” (Duchy) now sold exclusively by Waitrose.


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