Christmas at Camelot: four poems from my poetry collection A Knave’s Pretence which were a sketch for my recent novel Þe Wyldrenesse of Wyrale
Is this on? It is, is it? Can you hear me
at the back? Just show if you can. I thank you.
Incipitation of the pernarration of the fabulation of the matter of-
What the hell? I’ve only just started! Questions
At the end. Oh, very well- if you must. What
is it? That weird character in the title?
Haven’t you got past
that yet? Good God, this’ll be hard work. It’s a
thorn. No, not that thorn in the flesh that blessèd
Paul complained about in his second spasm
to the Corinthian
fornicators. Thorn is an Anglo-Saxon
letter: fourteenth century Middle English
used it but it’s obsolete now; the Y in
Ye Old-ee Tea Shoppe,
mispronounced, is one place it still survives to
tease a spurious frisson of Merrie England.
Technically? Fricative, dental, voiced; the
t. h. in this. That.
O.K? Now that’s out of the way, (the thorn’s pulled
out, ha, ha) I’d better come clean and say where
this is going. In any case, you’ve rather
stolen my thunder,
spoiled my careful incipitation with your
question, put things all out of order, spoiled the
blasted pernarration, the fabulation,
got me all flustered.
All right, mea culpa, it was pathetic.
Show of temper; trying to make my self look
academic, making up words that look like
I’ve been warned about the pre-emptive, leery,
self-inflicted critical strike. It don’t fool
no-one. (Double negative- shows I am a
man of the people!)
Shoot my cuffs and straighten my tie. A drink of
water. (Don’t suppose there’s a drop of gin? No.)
Can you hear me, there at the back? Sit up, then,
and pay attention.
A throat-clearing introduction, that; Merlin, tipsy,
glass in hand, not to be taken seriously,
a drunken stumbling speech, sense dragged out
over bumpy Sapphics until it yields. Here then is Camelot,
(aerial shot of Caerleon, Gwent, voiceover continues)
or Caer Legeion, as the Welsh called it,
castle of the legion, for they were many,
madly staring at the waters of Usk swirling by.
Then ’twas the Romans, now ’tis I, and you too
view this, Arthur’s house, manned by nobles,
knightly deeds done daily, dragons dealt with,
damsels duly de-stressed. Note the authentic
alliteration. Primus inter pares
as he liked to say, King Arthur lorded it over the
democratically round table, though, it being
Christmas, the mensa rotunda was back up
on the wall of the hall where to be honest it
gathered dust for much of the time as it
was a great idea- don’t get me wrong-
symbol of equality and all that,
but it did take up a hell of a lot of space
now required for festive clowning,
exempli gratia feasting and dancing
fire-eating juggling and indoor jousting
hopscotch and leap-frog and pass the pucelle
So, all day long the smell of cooking rolled
about the kitchen and the dining hall of Camelot,
King Arthur and Queen Guinevere presided from a
couple of high status chairs (his slightly larger
than hers, scilicet!) the others went where they whist.
None made so bold however as to usurp Lancelot’s
customary place next to the Queen, except the Bishop.
This is no game of chess, my Lord, Lancelot had hissed,
hand on hilt, into the episcopal ear, get thee a lower place.
Now the mitred one might’ve stood up to Lancelot,
knowing as he and everybody else except Arthur did
that Lancelot was as ‘twere, ah, shafting the Queen.
With a word I could pluck his highness’ frown upon you,
muttered the man of God. Aye, replied the knight,
and bring the castle down upon our heads.
Put thy tongue to its proper use, which is praying
and preaching, and meddle not in matters of amour.
The bishop, wiping knightly spittle from his face, glowered,
but said nothing, so that the castle remained intact-
until 1649, when it was slighted by order of a parliament
which had even less regard for a king’s feelings than Lancelot.
Its picturesque remains are accessible and well-protected by Cadw,
the Welsh Government’s historic environment service,
and are open to you
daily from 10 am to 4 pm,
(closed on the 24th, 25th, and 26th of December and the 1st of January)
Last admission 30 minutes before closing. Dogs
must be kept on a lead.
Gawain I would have you picture beneath the lofty
echoing smoky gloom of the holly-decked hall,
crouching on his stool, flickeringly fire-lit and
candle-lumened in his lowly place at the festive board,
(for he thinks himself lowly, an expert in Christian humility
and therefore paradoxically better at gentil parfait knightery
than… oh, you’re familiar with the problem, of course you are!)
he is a coiled spring of pride, what with his pinched purity
and knuckle-gnawing frustration with his wretched unworthiness
and moral superiority, (complex character, our Gary!)
impatient for the Christmas feasting to commence,
furtively eying the company, sizing them up,
groaning as the minstrels strike up Gaudete,
Christus est natus yet again. When would
the feasting start? He knew the answer to that,
of course. The kitchens had been busy all day;
the procession caput apri ferre
had already formed up offstage, but
it was traditional that the company could not
fall to until the king had heard some tale
of chivalry or a word of wonder worthy
of the occasion. He should stand up, he thought,
and say how he had seen proud Lancelot creeping
from the queen’s bedchamber in the early
hours of the morning- that would be a tale
to wonder at, though little about it smacked
of chivalry- but like everyone else, Gawain
He was afraid too of battle, of wounds and death.
He felt like an imposter sitting here among all these brave men.
He read contempt in their eyes when they deigned to glance at him.
He was not worthy.
he could find
(iv) The Green Knight
He’s kicked the effin’ door in- bloody hell!
He yells, “Who wants some then?” It’s like a scene
from Eastenders, except that this cunt’s green
all over, armour and his horse as well.
“You see this axe?” he says, waving the blade.
“Who’s man enough to use it?” No one moved.
“You frightened? Yeah? I thought so, now it’s proved!
You little kids should be on lemonade
not ale and mead. So much for Arthur’s court!”
Up springs the King, fists clenched and full of ire.
“Leave him, my Liege, the sod ain’t worth it, Sire,”
says young Gawain, “Give me the axe, I’ll sort
the bastard out in no time!” “Right my son,”
Said Arthur, “Cut the cunt, don’t hesitate!”
The green goliath gave Gawain the great
green axe, took off his helmet, knelt upon
the floor. “Come on, then, if you think you’re hard
enough!” Gawain said nothing; swung and chopped.
The green head rolled across the floor. “He’s copped
it! Well done,” Arthur said, “I’ll have the bard
compose a poem all about it. Let
the feasting start.” But “Not so fast!” the head
remarked. The body picked it up. It said,
“You think you’ve won, but this ain’t over yet!
“You cheating bastard,” said Gawain, “Don’t say
that you’ve been using magic all along!”
“Of course,” the Green Knight said, “you think that’s wrong?
I’ll hit you back, young pup, next New Year’s Day!”
A Knave’s Pretence and Þe Wyldrenesse of Wyrale are both available from Amazon books. Click the images to go to their Amazon page: