King Cahunte and the Waves


After Marriott Edgar

Long ago in Merrye England
lived a monarch widely famed.
He’d a first in Summat from Oxford
and Cahunte was his regnal name.

His renown came not from virtue, though,
nor piety, nor grit;
he’d garnered no cognomen like
the Bold, the Wise, or the Fit.

His fame stemmed from some shabby
conduct in affairs of state,
and one notorious incident,
which I will now relate:

The realm was temporarily in
financial dire straits,
so he proposed to hawk lumps off
to a cabal of his mates,

who specialised in pillaging
and plunder in the extreme;
but he forgot to tell his barons
and jarls about the scheme.

He’d met with these rapacious brutes
(there was Suebi, Goths and Gauls)
wi’ contracts ready drawn up for ’em
on t’ table in t’ Mead Hall.

They said they would look after t’ Realm
‘As if it were our own,
though we might have to charge a premium,
and flog t’ crown jewels and throne.’

Cahunte thought this was a reasonable
reward for enterprise,
and t’ Barbarians laughed as dollar signs
rotated in their eyes.

But his courtiers caught him at it
and said ‘What have you done?
You’re giving t’ keys of t’ kingdom
to a gang of Vandals and Hun.’

He said, ‘I’m not.’ They said, ‘We saw you!
Handing over t’ deeds!’
And he looked a little furtive, scuffed
his feet in t’ flooring reeds,

then said, ‘It’s not my fault at all,’
and tried to call their bluff,
‘It’s you lot that’s the problem here:
you don’t work hard enough.

‘When t’ Realm’s imperilled, you should be
manning t’ walls and watchtowers.
Instead you whinge about weekend work
and antisocial hours.’

They said, ‘We don’t. You’ve made that up.
We’re very diligent.’
But he accused them all of treachery
and being militant.

Their patience tried, they called upon
the Venerable Bede,
said ‘We’ve got to get us message out;
illuminate a screed

to circulate to t’ serfs and peasants,
counter his propaganda.
Cahunte’s using t’ Witangemot
to perpetuate his slanders,’

But Bede said, ‘I can’t just put your side.
It’s not that simple, you see.
My Charter says I must maintain
scribal impartiality.’

With that they cornered Cahunte and said,
‘Enough already, schlemiel!
We’re going to fix your fibbing ways
with a trial by ordeal.

‘If God believes your porky pies
then in his Holy Name
he’ll stop the waves from drowning you.’
Cahunte said, ‘Right, I’m game.’

So, with t’ terms of arbitration
sorted, more or less,
they loaded an ox-cart baggage train
and set off for Dungeness.

They set him on scissor chair
at t’ very lowest tide,
but he seemed ultra-confident,
if not a little snide.

Soon waves were lapping round his feet
and soaking through his shoes,
T’ jarls said, ‘That’s game over, then,
and you, your Highness, lose.’

‘I don’t,’ he boldly stated. ‘Look.
I’m turning back the tide.’
Their brows furrowed with puzzlement;
they gawped and then replied:

‘You aren’t at all; there’s seawater
washing around your knees.’
Cahunte said, ‘I’m as dry as dust,’
and looked secretly pleased.

The Goths, meantime, while filling chests
with silver, gold and groats,
winked, ‘It’s TTIP Danegelt.’
and stowed it in their boats.

Back at the beach the courtiers,
by now quite saturated,
realized they’d get no sense from him
however long they waited.

The King mused he’d announce his win
by Royal Proclamation
and have it read in every town
and village in the nation.

For tinpot tyrants always think
their every dictum datum,
That’s why subjects so often feel
obliged to assassinate um,

and, since that day in Dungeness,
every overweening dunce
and all self-deluding despots
have been pronounced Cahuntes.


An Horatian Ode upon Cameron’s Return from Belgium.


The camera banks and podium are set
on asphalt by the cooling air force jet
as he, composed and statesmanlike,
descends to face the waiting mikes.
He pauses, waves. His whole career thus far –
Eton, Oxford, something briefly in PR:
the school fees were not wasted, though
he could have been a CEO,
he chose the life of humble public servant –
and all his works were leading to this moment.
He clears his throat, adjusts his tie
and prepares to almost sort of lie.
It’s not quite lying in the strictest sense:
more a Hermeneutics of Events
too nuanced for the common man
(or woman) to fully understand.
For where most versifiers come unglued’s
in underestimating just how shrewd
a rhetorician is our chief:
he, truly, beggars all belief.
So, let us use our artistry to praise him,
to magnify the nimbus that arrays him,
or we’ll be damned as simply ranters
and other loyaller bards supplant us.
As his domestic record will attest,
that slick patrician air of I-know-best,
(better, at the very least, than us)
is valid… well… because he does.
It’s bred, deep in the bone marrow, inherent –
and could come, in his case, from either parent –
bred in a world where no point’s moot,
nothing is open to dispute,
where there are no nuances or versions,
fact is alchemized from bald assertion,
every question’s fully loaded,
and each communication coded.
So take example from his Spads, who mix
their epochal linguistic fads and tics
with high-blown rhetoric, as proof
his precepts hide profounder truth:
the nation’s purse is like a household budget;
and charity’s recipients begrudge it,
if not dispensed with clausal tricks
to carrotize the salving sticks.
But greater eloquence is now demanded,
to convey the scene: the aircraft’s landed
and there the peerless statesman stands,
a piece of paper in his hand!
Small wonder he allows himself a smile.
With consummate diplomacy and guile,
he has squared the vicious circle,
won concessions from Frau Merkel,
outwitted Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker –
who are still spitting feathers in their bunker –
and, fêted everywhere he went,
secured the perfect settlement
It wasn’t always a foregone conclusion:
wading through black darkness and confusion
with faith his lantern, truth his sword,
he hauled assorted Slavs on board,
huffed and puffed from Lisbon to Helsinki,
and now’s confounded those who didn’t think he
had the nerve, let alone the nous
to shake the footings of this house,
defy the Eurocrats’ dominion –
in line with current polled opinion.
Rejoice, his triumph is complete;
his foes are supine at his feet.
It’s a whitewash bright as Dover chalk and’s
more glorious even than the Falklands.
Shout from the windows, mount your bike,
spread the gladsome tidings like
the Cabinet, who, confident their boss’ll
soon bestride the Continent, colossal
and revered, stir from their repose
and race to TV studios.
The copy-hungry commentariat
fall ravenous upon the unbagged cat,
take the joyous news and spin it,
Twitter like a flock of linnet,
and wrangle press releases into features
all overseen by Central Office creatures
and, flitting ghostly in their ranks,
antipodean mountebanks.
Meanwhile, a few haruspices and sibyls
raise, in broadsheet basements, crucial quibbles;
advising, from close-reading, these,
in their best-guess analyses,
suggest the Concord won’t stand close inspection:
that the Premier, perhaps, upon reflection
is like a nifty winger who
jinks, feints, cuts the field in two
to reach the line without the rugger ball,
and then rejoices scoring bugger all,
while in the press boxes and stands
the duped, ecstatic hacks and fans
are victims of contagious mass-hysteria:
his Promised Land looks like another Syria.
That said, the PM’s not dismayed,
nobody reads them anyway.
So while he still basks in refulgent splendour
he’ll get right on with winning referenda,
by harnessing his broad appeal
and easy charm to seal the deal;
and if this all goes nicely – who can tell –
he’ll chance another Scottish one as well.
Etonians who ride their luck
have scarcely ever come unstuck.
And when these victories are in the bag
remain assured his energy won’t flag:
though laurelled, not content to rest
he’ll put his mettle to the test,
and find another challenge for his talents,
a poser for his intellect. On balance,
he thinks that, at the very least,
perhaps he’ll fix the Middle East.