A Malady of Arms

The Arms of Sir Swatch of Wristwatch


A Malady of Arms

Sir Lucas Drake was a dragon of a knight:
His scale-mail always polished bright,
Charging headlong into battle,
Stalling left and swooping right
To circle round and dive again –
His wind-filled cloak, his flying mane,
His sword as sharp as any talon,
Raining over foes with death
To make their sabres rattle.
He also had a fiery breath
From quaffing claret by the gallon.

Sir Lucas Drake was a dragon of a knight,
Yet his coat of arms would dishonour a sergeant:
Not for him a griffon argent,
Nor a wyvern passant gules
His blazon, rather, came a cropper,
Listing not a battle-stopper,
But a shield befitting fools:
‘Azure, a mallard with head vert,
Naiant contourny proper’
Oh, how that blazon hurt !
A green-headed duck upon a blue ground,
Swimming the wrong-way round.

Sir Lucas Drake was a dragon of a knight,
Though he bore much wit from his brothers-in-sword
Who rebuked his arms with much delight –
“It seems our Drake bethinks he a lord:
For look: Sir Luke, by his shield, is a Duc !”

Sir Lucas would curse “That’s just my luck,
To share a name with so artless a bird.
I’m one quack away from a chicken’s cluck !
What forebear had I who was so absurd
That such a pitiful nickname stuck ?
It should be a lion or a viper-snake,
Or a dragon – then they’d bloody quake !
But no, I’m a Drake – I’m a ruddy duck !”



A Malady of Arms – The Herald’s Cut

Sir Lucas Drake was a dragon of a knight,
But never one for courtly prattle.
Back at home, he spread his wings
Across his mountainous estate,
And hunted game and sheep and cattle,
Anything to fill his plate.
Never one for kissing rings,
Or hearing yet again the jest
The ladies made at his family crest,
So he’d retreat to his hilltop clouds
Away from kings and madding crowds.
Depressed, he’d often spend his days
Within his keep, atop his gold,
Asleep against the winter’s cold
As jealously he’d guard each chattel.



The second poem is an early verse which I had to cut, so I thought I’d include it here on the B-side.

Can I say how much I hate the language of heraldry – write in in English, or write it in French, but this weird Norman-middle English hybrid is…well, cime ti think of it, it’s the kind of snobbery we’d expect from people who still think that coats of arms matter.  I love them for their history, but we’re not living in history.

The facing-right bit is rare.  Since most knight were right handed, they held their shield in their left hand, so for the charge (animal) to be looking forwards, it has to face to the left.  Fine for in battle, but otherwise lokking like it’s facing backwards, and possibly retreating !



Aves Unblazoned

Shield of the Swifter family


Aves Unblazoned

There are many birds more beautiful
Than pigeons, ducks or crows,
But all these three are dutiful
In holding long their pose.
The kingfisher is but a blur,
The swift is like its name –
So why does heraldry prefer
The skittish to the tame ?

So lazy is the nightingale,
It sleeps the sun away –
Not like the busy hen or quail,
Who forage all the day.
And peacocks strut with tails shut
Yet still dress to the nines –
So why do seals all bear a glut
Of eagle-based designs ?

The dearth of birds, from rooks to crakes,
Is witness of malaise –
Instead, they turn to myths and fakes,
And let the phoenix blaze.
No herald’s crest shows blushing breast
Upon its unpecked field –
The cuckoos cannot reach this nest,
They’re all shooed off the shield.

The herring gull is widely known,
The puffin is a star,
An ostrich or a penguin shown
Would resonate afar,
There’s no excuse to make no use
Of all the vulture’s charms –
It’s time to loose the humble goose
Upon the coat of arms.



Ah heraldry, both endlessly fascinating and incredibly unimaginative.  The ‘seal’ in the second verse of course refers to a wax-based document authenticator, and not to a walrus, though full credit to Madeira for using a pair of monk seal supporters (it would be nice to think that one of them was female).

Also, honourable mention to Whitby for showing three ammonites, even if they did look more like Chelsea buns.  Alas, they were later changed to coiled snakes to tie in with the just-so story to explain the presence of the fossils, but coats of arms have always been appallingly bad at science.




Mercator’s Projection (A Requiem)

Mercator 1


Mercator’s Projection (A Requiem)

You always made the Arctic look so grand,
All strewn with mammoth archipeligoes –
As wide as the equator, so they spanned;
As tall as continents, so they arose.
And lurking down below: the vast Antarctic,
A bony finger raised above the thrall –
The rest so blanched and bloated and lethargic,
(Well, when you bothered showing it at all –
And when just done away with altogether,
The southern seas would stretch on down forever.)

You held no truck with Circles, howe’er Great,
For nautical advantages abound
When lines of constant bearing lie so straight,
Though actu’ly they took the long way round.
And if we’d plot your rhumbs, we’d best beware:
They’d run in true diag’nals, you’d allege,
Not spiral to the Poles (which were not there)
But fly on straight until they hit the Edge.
(And two New Zealands – just to keep on track –
But what strange lands must lurk upon your back ?)

You charted our imperial domains,
And painted up your map to show our broods;
You swelled the pride of rainy northern reigns,
Who gained good fortune by their latitudes.
You easily outstripped your upstart peers,
And served so well as armchair trav’lers’ muse.
You hung so proud in classrooms all those years,
And lent your gravity to ev’ning news.
You’re so ingrained, we’ve swallowed you since birth –
From here unto the Corners of the Earth.


Mercator 2

In Priase of the ‘Leaf’

Silver Wanger by Norman Foster & Ealing Council


In Praise of the ‘Leaf’

Well done, Ealing !  Macho, strong !
Build your towers, probe the sky,
Pump your concrete, raise your steel –
Bring the low-rise wimps to heel.
Bravo, Ealing !  Far too long
You’ve languished only four floors high;
Never felt the bracing breeze
When funnelled through a cut-price Mies.

Lord it over Christchurch spire,
Just a finely-sculpted fop;
It looks too good and stands too proud,
It mocks too much to be allowed.
Now we find when building higher,
So our expectations drop:
Mustn’t cling to ancient primes,
For now we live in av’rage times.

Your flats will sell before their sheen
Has moldered-off or ghetto-greyed.
So price them at a hefty wad –
For no cheap housing here, thank god !
And finally can Haven Green
Now bask all year in deepest shade.
Don’t be subtle: rage and shock,
By showing them the finger-block.

Well done, Ealing !  Ditch the mild !
You’re pissing down to raise a stink.
It’s meant  to be so out-of-scale,
This temple to the Thrusting Male.
Bravo, Ealing – stay beguiled !
And who cares what they locals think !
Quit the Nineteenth Century,
And welcome Nineteen Sixty-Three.



The ‘Leaf’ was a proposed wanger for Ealing in West London back in 2007.  Alas, this was ditched in favour of the Dickins Yard wangettes of only 14 floors, which is only three-and-a-bit times too high.  But just think what we could have had !



Wimples & Dimples

abbey ancient andalusia arch
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com


Wimples & Dimples

Abbey – a building with arches and towers;
And also a girl who fidgets and glowers.
Abbey – a building with gargoyles and gables;
And also a girl who hides under tables.
Abbey – a building with vaulting and chapels;
And also a girl who giggles and grapples.
Abbey – a building with windows and doorways;
And also a girl who’s curious, all ways.



Building Slump

abandoned architecture building dilapidated
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com


Building Slump

Oh, poor buildings !  Gutted inside;
They mistook your artisan pride for slumming.
They rip-out and knock-through, your subtleties egress
To plate-glass and concrete: the onmarch of regress.
Go, poor buildings !  Run off and hide !
The architects are coming !
They turn all to shit that they plan, draw and quarter,
But keep your façades as the trophies they slaughter.



Falling Standards

abstract architecture attractive background
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Falling Standards

I know a modern architect who really loves his jazz.
The hypocrite ! Still clinging to his Monk and Duke and Chas !
The music of the moment is the only sort allowed –
Hip-hop, pop and drum & bass – played endlessly and loud.
For any newly-written jazz is just a quaint pastiche,
So councillors and plutocrats must keep it on a leash.
Keep it stark and minimal, without such syncopation –
For finely-crafted solos are just needless decoration.
And as for old recordings: don’t restore them, but adapt:
Saxophones now synthesized, and melodies now rapped.
Drum machines inserted, so’s to tell the new from old;
Gut ’em out and fit ’em up – it’s brutal, brash and bold !
We’ll wipe the records clean to make the space for noises new,
For songs are just machines for lis’ning to.