A PAIR OF KINGS In days of yore, in days sublime, In days of Once Upon A Time, Two Kingdoms close together stood Divided by a Haunted Wood. The westward of these Kingdoms had As Sovereign the good King Bad; That on the east side of the wood Belonged in turn to bad King Good. The Haunted Wood was thought to be Impenetrable actually. Shunned by all creatures, there it stood A genuine enchanted wood, Sombre and dark like things that go With Tales by Edgar Allen Poe, Which everybody held in dread, Even the simplest dunderhead. Bushes with poisoned thorns and trees With leaves that gave you Elm Disease And clutching fingers on their roots To grab the passing stranger’s boots And trailing vines to snatch his hair, Or steal his hat, they all were there. No-one went in that wood, they said, That came out anything but dead, Not even Rent-a-Picket could Have forced a passage through that wood,
For all around the outer edge There grew an almost solid hedge, In which a gateway could be seen, Shaped like a bush and painted green. There was a notice overhead, “Spies Only – Secret Path.” it read.
Of the two Kings, it happened that King Bad was thin, King Good was fat, And one was bad and one was good And one liked Steak and Kidney Pud. The other favoured for his part, Sausage and Chips and Bakewell Tart, Though both of them were partial to A well-done dish of Irish stew. In common also, truth be told, Each had a Queen who was a scold. Queen Bad did everything she could To sing the praises of King Good, Giving it everything she had With which to vilify King Bad. Upon the other hand, Queen Good Praised every little thing she could About King Bad, his grace, good sense, His virtues and accomplishments, Just to heap obloquy and blame On King Good’s not unworthy name. The Sovereigns suffered silently Until at last, eventually, In course of time to each there came A hatred of each other’s name, From which they neither could be weaned Before obsession supervened. Both Monarchs rose at half past eight, Breaking their fast in regal state. At nine each Ruler would retract The current Non-Aggression Pact. By half past ten, or thereabouts, To patriotic songs and shouts And rolls of drums and cannons’ roar They both declared a mutual war, At which, within each Palace Yard The Sergeant would turn out the Guard. Then coffee time would intervene; The frontiers closed at twelve-fifteen. By one, all able bodied men Had been called up and there and then The Brokers started buying shares In industries that made bath chairs. And so to after dinner, when Both Kings declared war once again.
It might be asked, indeed it should, Considering the Haunted Wood, Through which no mortal man could go, How either side could ever know About the other. Usually One doesn’t know what one can’t see. In other words one only knows Of place where one comes and goes. This would have been the case, but they Had found the secret passage-way. So rumours came and rumours grew And everyone knew someone who, And though no one knew overmuch Odd raids occurred with rape and such, So that acquaintanceships were made. Besides, they used the Path for trade. It should be said while no one knew All of the entries in Who’s Who, The top ten persons in each Court Were very well informed, in short Each had a retinue of spies With cover stories and disguise, Passwords and codes and dirty tricks And traitors; just like MI6. A constant stream progressed each day, Constantly in each other’s way, Exchanging code words for the nonce Like “Honi Soit Qui Mal y Pense”, For “Adult Reading”, “Do Not Touch” “Smoking Prohibited” and the such. In course of time, in point of fact, The stream became a cataract. So many spies went through each day They put up signs to show the way, And with so many vans and carts The Path got widened out in parts, ‘Til finally, and by each side Traffic control at last was tried Alternate weeks and different ways (Particularly on Market Days) When measures such as Contra-Flow Did nothing for the status quo, Producing chaos and riots and worse With all the horses in reverse.
As early day of war went by King Bad began to fortify. He built a Castle, stern and tall, And reinforced the outer wall. He dug a moat all round about And stocked it up with rainbow trout. Across the moat there could be seen A drawbridge, this was also green. It did not always work, but that Was hardly to be wondered at Two of the winders every day Were Agents, men in King Good’s pay. The third, a simple minded wight, Knew not his left hand from his right, And though quite loyal to the Crown He neither knew his up from down. The Queen remarked, they knew she would, In no uncertain terms, ‘King Good,’ Ever the tireless autocrat, ‘Would certainly have none of that. He would decide that those in town Should see it going up and down, One fosters civic pride that way.’ Then, for the third time in one day, Maddened by what had gone before, King Bad declared another war. Outside the outer castle wall A coster kept a market stall From which he vended fruit and veg. Hidden nearby behind a hedge, He had a small, well ordered, troop Of homing pigeons in a coop. Outwardly honest on the whole The coster really was a Mole, Trained to discover and report All information of the sort Which, when interpreted, could bring Advantage to the other King. King Good, most anxious to posses State secrets, which he could assess With the intention to reveal His enemy’s Achilles’ Heel, Received a coded note to say, “He bought a pound of pears today.” In King Good’s Court, it must be said,
Mobilization raced ahead. Safely inside his palace walls He forthwith cancelled all his calls, Retreating to the Armoury, There to direct his strategy. He got some tables and a chair And maps, to make a War Room there, And from his Palace staff he drew A certain sycophantic few To man the doors and sweep the floors And then to practice forming fours. One of those that he picked out then Was really one of King Bad’s men. So King Bad knew a thing or two About his enemy’s HQ, Such as which way the tables faced And where the War Room chair was placed. Had he but known, the knowledge would Not have discomforted King Good Who said, ‘Beleaguered forces need Rations of food on which to feed So tell the Chef to make a start And get in lots of Bakewell Tart.’ With rubber bands and drawing pins And coloured chalk and litter bins And message pads, the worthy liege Prepared to meet the longest siege. As days went by and weeks went on Nothing occurred to act upon. His people, those that didn’t care, Almost forgot that he was there. The walls stayed bare, the drawing pins Unissued lay in pristine tins. The message pads bore not one word – The situation was absurd, No one reported, as they ought. ‘I should have laid that on.’ he thought. Which fact his Queen alluded to; She was expected so to do! The King was ill disposed to be
Disgruntled by uncertainty. He said to his assembled staff, Entirely on his own behalf, ‘The High Command will now decide To carry on the fight outside.’ Emerging somewhat sheepishly He then declared a victory. ‘The Army’ he said, ‘can’t be found To keep me buried underground. We need a plan, which will possess Strategical far sightedness, A military, broad based scheme Such as an Eisenhower might dream, A plan a Rommel might have had To put it over good King Bad.’ They hummed and hemmed and hawed and er-ed To bad King Good the thought occurred His High Command were at a loss Then someone said, ‘Let’s waste him Boss.’ This was one of the Under Cooks Who’d read too many comic books. For several minutes, fraught, The King stood, wrapped in silent thought, While all the time his Higher Staff Were gravely trying not to laugh. The King was somewhat ill at ease In terms of Damon Runyonese, But finally he said, ‘Okay. Who is the Duty Spy today? Send somebody to get him here.’ And made the cook a Brigadier, Which as the Queen said, had to be The ultimate stupidity. ‘Wars are not won’ they heard her say, ‘By burning porridge every day.’ Wearing his very best disguise And rubbing sleep dust from his eyes, The Duty Spy eventually Reported to his C in C. The King began without delay. He said, ‘I’ll brief you right away. For Information: You are late. Intention: To eliminate. Object: King Bad, and Method: Thus, Cross over with the least of fuss Approach him while his Army drills,
Bearing this box of slimming pills, (Of which, it just so happens, I Happen to have a small supply) And when he isn’t watching you Drop then in his Irish stew. Administration: Say you are A famous Rock and Western Star, With skin tight jeans and dopey eyes And stuff some padding down your flies. Your cover name is Mendelssohn In case they think you’re Elton John. The password will be Hamlet’s Ghost. Communications: Pigeon post. And then when you have done your stuff, He will be wasted right enough. So get the right disguise and go.’ The High Command said, ‘Good luck, Joe.’ The King strode off in high good cheer, Telling his newest Brigadier To build some observation forts, Equipped with clerks, to write reports. And runners there would have to be To get them to the Armoury. ‘In order that’ he said, ‘I shall Be fully operational.’ So agent Mendelssohn, the spy Set forth with heart and head held high, Becoming ere he got too far Fairly adept on his guitar. While on the way a tune he wrote Consisting only of one note. A lyric too but not one word, The way he sang it could be heard. There was no doubt, he thought, that he Could take it up professionally. Within no time at all he found He’d covered quite a lot of ground, Until he found himself to be Deep into King Bad’s territory. King Bad, he found, had gone berserk Trying to make the drawbridge work. ‘When I shout up, it’s up’, he roared,
The Spy drew up and struck a chord Whilst looking round to find the stew. The King said, ‘Who the hell are you?’ The Agent gave a discreet cough At which his false moustache fell off. ‘Spies!’ shrieked the King, ‘off with his head.’ ‘It’s alopecia, Sire.’ he said. Suspecting him, they asked to see Some proof of his identity. He said that he was Hamlet’s Ghost, Which blew it at the starting post. They penetrated his disguise. They found the padding down his flies – Paper, which bore the crumpled look Of pages from a ciphers book. They dragged him off; they cut his throat; They threw his body in the moat, Within whose waters that same day The slimming pills dissolved away. Not knowing this, the King just said, ‘Now wind the damn thing down instead!’ There came the day, at half past eight, King Bad gazed at his breakfast plate On which reposed a rainbow trout Enquiring, ‘What’s all this about? This fish does not look well at all’ It is so thin it’s skeletal.’ The Seneschal, behind his chair, Agreed it was a trifle spare. ‘Spare’ the King thundered, ‘spare you say; It’s almost wasted right away.’ The Chef said it was hardly fat, Remarking they were all like that. The Water Bailiff in his turn, From whom they sought the truth to learn, Reported all the rainbow trout Would very soon be dead no doubt, For each one had a spectral look, Like something out of Ravensbrucke. They asked the Doctor to find out What causes loss of weight in trout? They had a doctor, it is true
The MO of the forces too, But one, who in his practice there, Had never heard of Mal de Mer. (Quite natural in a doctor who Had never heard of oceans too.) He was a very busy man – Invariably his day began Prescribing with a discreet cough, Love philtres for the better off. Then, after lunch, by all reports, Removing spells and curing warts. They got the Doctor from his bed. Another philtre, Sire?’ he said. They took the Doctor to the moat In silk top hat and morning coat. His hands, scrubbed with carbolic soap, Nervously held his stethoscope. A sample from the moat he took; Read portions from his doctor’s book Tasted it and spat it out He smelled it to remove all doubt. He said, ‘It’s water’, finally And charged a consultation fee. Back to the breakfast room they went, The King, by now malevolent, Not normally a patient man, Counted to ten and pointing an Indignant finger at the dish Said, ‘Doctor, diagnose that fish.’ Professionally from the hips (And pursing his patrician lips) The learned Doctor suavely bent And eyed the fish with grave intent. Wielding his trusted stethoscope He said, ‘There’s very little hope. This fish has given up the ghost And furthermore; it’s fried – on toast.’ Unbreakfasted and sorely tried, The King was scarcely mollified. ‘This means another war’ he said, ‘Bring me scrambled egg instead.’ When King Good heard his spy was dead ‘We’ll have manoeuvres now’ he said. 9
Seated on his little horse He led his army out in force, Well armed with pitchfork, scythe and spear, Field Kitchens bringing up the rear. The King was very proud to see His special Field Artillery; All hand picked bowmen, dressed in blue, And some of them had arrows, too. The Corps of Drums was in the van, A taciturn, ill-tempered man, Performing, as he always did, With sticks upon a dustbin lid. The infantry, quite plain to see, Looked like a fighting force should be, In smocks and sacks and boiler suits; A few of them were wearing boots. The people cheered them without cease Even the Military Police, Two men, who marched with verve and pep, Except that they were out of step. They marched a while, they climbed a stile, They must have nearly gone a mile. They called the score: one, two, three, four. (Horst Wessel couldn’t ask for more.) And when they reached a field of corn The Corps of Signals blew his horn, And as the Corps of Signals blew The Army halted, “One! One, two!” At least the leaders did and then The others followed, “eight-nine-ten.” The King addressed the force he led. ‘What’s all this yellow grass?’ he said. The Farmer, dragged across his field, Told them of his agrarian yield Of oats and barley, maize and wheat And oil seed rape and sugar beet. The King was not to be denied. ‘But what’s it for, you fool?’ he cried. The Farmer scratched his rustic head. ‘My chickens eat it, Sire.’ he said.
What shall we do now we are here?’ The King asked of his Brigadier, A man who scarcely looked the part And still remained a cook at heart. ‘You’ll need to build a fire,’ he said ‘Before the Army can be fed.’ ‘A field of fire’ remarked the King, ‘A field of fire; yes that’s the thing. A field of fire. Ah well, you know That field of corn will have to go. A field of fire, it well could be A proper War Emergency, And I’m the one who wears the crown So fall in scythes and cut it down.’ The scythes fell in and hewed and chopped And very soon the corn was lopped. It lay quite flat and in a trice Was overrun by harvest mice. The Brigadier, with puzzled laugh, Joined the remainder of the Staff From whom he started to enquire, ‘I say, what is a field of fire?’ A Colonel said, ‘Nobody knows. It’s stubble burning, I suppose.’ The sun shone down, the field was flat, The King put on his General’s hat, Pausing a moment to get down And mount a guard to mind his crown. He fell his army in and then Numbered them and lost ten men. He numbered them again once more And found another fifty-four. Somewhat confused, he paused and said, ‘I think I’ll stop while I’m ahead.’
He marched them round the field in threes, He marched them round a clump of trees. He marched them up and down until
Extended bow and arrow drill Became engraved upon their minds, He trod on toes; he kicked behinds! He made them aim; he made them shoot. He made them, ‘To the front – salute!’ He made them Slope and Order, ‘Hup!’ And then he made the pick them up. He made them charge and scale and storm, He made them, ‘On the left; right form!’ He made them climb up palisades And practice throwing hand grenades. He wheeled them right and marched them through Some Dixies full of bully stew. Quite careless of the harvest mice He made them goose step once or twice. He wheeled them here and turned them there Waving his baton in the air. And shouting, ‘Hip, hip, hip, hooray!’ Defiantly, like a Stag at Bay. Then, just as it began to rain, He marched his army home again, Feeling that, since the die was cast, Something had been achieved at last. Of good King Bad they heard him say, ‘That upstart has been thrashed this day.’ Trained to a hair, his fighting force, Or those of them that stayed the course, Directly they got back to town Made haste to get their charpoys down. The only thing they thrashed that morn Was one cut crop of golden corn. The Farmer’s meadow, from that hour, Lay covered with a film of flour. Meanwhile, across the wood, King Bad Was taking stock of all he had. He felt logistics was the key To win the final victory. He sharpened up his feather pen And made a list of all his men. He made a list of stores and maps, He made a list of forage caps. He made a list of weapons, too And then he made a list of who Could be entrusted with their care. He made a list for cutting hair. His eye fell on the castle cat.
He made another list of that On paper taken from his drawer. The King had, several years before, Possessed the foresight to instil A proper, modern, paper mill. You may be quite surprised to know A paper mill, so long ago In days of Knights and Heraldry, Was something of a novelty, But hardly something to be missed; The good King was a realist. So when the salesman called that day He placed an order right away. Paper he thought, could prove to be A valuable commodity, On which economists would dote (Especially a five-pound note.) He used to say, ‘For heaven’s sake, Writing on granite tends to make Reports of matters, which occur Seem somewhat weighty, as it were. Besides, without it, how could we Ever vacate the lavatory, Or die, and leave a proper Will?’ And so there was a paper mill. Thus could the King, to his delight, Sit down and write his lists all night. ‘Till finally he had amassed A paper army unsurpassed In all the annals there could be Of military history, With which, his Spring Offensive would Launch retribution on King Good. Within the Castle Dining Hall He pinned his lists up on the wall, Affording him the chance to see His fighting forces during tea. Then, just above the serving hatch, He found there was an empty patch, In which he placed, without mishap, A long-range weather-forecast map.
He chose a vantage point to sight The colour of the sky at night. He got some sticks of chalk to show The Highs and Lows and where they go. He filled up all the empty tracts With small, magnetic, artefacts. He put up Fog and Sunny Spells, And Snow and Sleet and Funny Smells And Clouds and Periods of Rain. He even put up Hurricane, Taking good care, you understand, To place it over King Good’s land. He felt he had achieved this way A giant step to VE Day, Which, in his Diary, they heard He pencilled in for June the Third. In spite of all his Lows and Highs, Despite the colour of the skies. His Sunny Spells and Snows and Fogs, It started raining cats and dogs. It kept it up for days and days, However this did not amaze The good King Bad, who prophesied It would be fine when once it dried. On bad King Good’s side of the fence, Though viewed with some indifference, It rained as freely as it had Upon the ground of good King Bad. The Farmer’s field, where lay the flour, Was soaked by many a passing shower. This caused the flour to turn, no less, Into a nasty, mucky, mess. Eventually it dried and then The harvest mice came out again, Skipping about with leaps and jumps. This turned it into mucky lumps, Which really, as I’m sure you know, Were mucky lumps of mucky dough. As Autumn came and Autumn went The two Kings shared the same intent. The same obsession fired each King – The Grand Offensive in the spring.
King Bad the hopeful optimist, Relied upon his Army List To justify his industry And bring him final victory. King Good, for his part, placed his trust In marching, drill and hit or bust. He marched his army long and hard. He marched them round the Palace Yard. He marched them every day and night, Both by the left and by the right. Once for a morale boosting stunt He even marched them by the front. He bought them all new uniform In which they marched through sleet and storm. So much he marched his fighting force It quite fatigued his little horse, So sometimes he would stay in bed, Sending his Brigadier instead, Quite confident that, come what may, Fitness would triumph on the day. Our friend the Farmer, on his part, Surveyed his land with hopeful heart, And, mindful of his next year’s yield, Burned off the stubble in his field. This caused the harvest mice to go And hardened off the lumps of dough. One morning everything smelled new And here and there a crocus grew All down along the Secret Path. The two Kings took their annual bath. The thought that spring had sprung at last Occurred to both. The die was cast! When King Good called his army out He found they all had corns and gout And fallen arches, bunions, warts, Bad breath and athlete’s foot of sorts. Facing the active thought of war, They all went sick the day before. They might have all had brand new suits But every man was “Excused Boots”. A man of method more sedate,
King Bad preferred to delegate. Each military establishment By pigeon post was promptly sent His “Army Order Number 1” (The Spring Offensive had begun) Containing full instructions for The prosecution of the war. Copies of the lists were sent, Which, when they tried to implement, Were found to have by one and all, A disabilitating flaw. Resources entered on each list, In actual terms did not exist. The Army, ordnance, stores and guns, Like snow exposed to desert suns, Or ice cream on a summer’s day, Had melted silently away. Two Kings of fighting troops bereft Each found that there was nothing left For them to do but relegate Invasion to a later date, Determined, both, to persevere And get it right another year. But days rolled on and time slipped by And, grey of hair and dim of eye, They found it got much harder to Remain in touch with things to do, Since both were somewhat hampered by Advancing anno Domini. They found it easier in fact To sit and dream instead of act. The war went on but every day They sat and idled time away. King Good dreamt of a fighting force A well-armed regiment of horse, Drawing their swords in manner born A chopping down great fields of corn. And winning all their battles twice Defeating hordes of harvest mice. King Bad dreamed up in his mind’s eye A perfect Column of Supply, With ammunition, gas masks, spares, Provisions, trucks, and warning flares
And NAAFI, comforts, guns and maps But all his men had paper caps! The Queens derived some merriment And thought it well might represent, Of all the funny things they’d spied, The funniest since Will Rogers died. The Farmer carried on the fight On aphids, onion fly and blight. His chickens scratched for ears of wheat Which should have been beneath their feet. They found none there at all, and so They ate the lumps of hardened dough. In days of yore, in days sublime, In days of Once Upon A Time, That was the way, the wise man said, A pair of Kings invented bread.
Medieval hegemony and bread making for the under fives