Just Another Face in the Choir

Pleated Angel
an angel by Francesco Botticini


Just Another Face in the Choir

She rises to the golden glow
From ev’ry cloud beneath her feet,
And curls her hair in ringlets so,
In waves romantic, loose yet neat.
She pins each blossom into place
To form a halo round her tress,
And adds a paleness to her face,
And dons her fine and pleated dress.
She plucks her harp and tunes its strings,
And warms her voice to sweetermost.
And so, with flexed and polished wings,
She finally rejoins the host.


This poem was written in response to the painting shown above (sorry she’s so small).

Dusty Jackets

pile of assorted novel books
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com


Dusty Jackets

If we can’t judge a book by its cover,
Then doesn’t that just tell us that their marketing is junk ?
Amateur and changing with their ev’ry new edition –
How can they hope to build a brand when faced with corp’rate bunk ?
So why are all these authors acquiescing to the bland,
And hiding all their bindings ?, shied away behind such flimsy card
That creases up and tatters through the simple act of reading.
You wouldn’t catch a band conceding for such vagaries unkind,
That leave their babies ripped and scarred
Cos publishers won’t go the extra yard.
After all, who thinks that Sgt Pepper should be redesigned ?
Or Dark Side of the Moon, perhaps, or Bad, or Nevermind ?



Sunnis & Cartoonies

detail from Portrait of the Prophet Muhammad riding the Buraq, 1820-30 Indian


Sunnis & Cartoonies

Tell your children, tell your spouse,
Use a biro, use a mouse,
Ev’rybody in the house:
Doodle up Mohammed !
Take a minute, take a day,
When at your lunch or at your play,
Ev’rybody, sketch away !
Scribble down Mohammed !
Draw his eyes and draw his nose
Draw his fingers, draw his toes
What’s he look like ?  No-one knows !
Draw, you all, Mohammed !

Draw him as an analyst,
Draw him as a Knicks fan,
Draw him as an anarchist,
Draw him as a stick man,
Draw him seemly, draw him sleazy,
Draw him dreamy, draw him cheesy,
Draw him any way you pleasy
Draw your pen but not your blade.
Draw to show our common sense
Or draw to show we take offence
Or draw to show they try to censor.
Draw to show we’re not afraid.

Tell the Arabs, tell the Brits,
Use your pencils, use your wits,
Ev’rybody, Bics not blitz !
Don’t let’s awe him, let’s all draw him !
Ev’ry colleague, guest and mate,
Join the party, bring debate.
Ev’rybody: love not hate !
Come, let’s draw Mohammed !


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, come to 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 looking 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 !