The Chancellor and the Songstress Part 7 – The Lion Unloosed

The songstress clears her husky throat and dons

her lioness outfit. Pride of the pride

she was, back in the day, she muses

and begins her song.

The yarn commences

in the 70s, when charabancs would ply

the bumpy B-roads of West England, chock full

of OAPs. The coach party blasts westwards down

the recently installed M4; does Avebury; stops

off in Bath; hurtles through nondescript market towns,

shaking the tower of the County Hall

and war memorial; barrels through Cheddar Gorge

and parks off for a stroll around the flowery groves

of Heaven’s Gate, the grass strewn with the corpses

of the multicolored rhododendron blossom,

turning to sepia in their various states of sweet

decay. The bus speeds past the Pheasant and the Hart,

the Cat and Fiddle, and The Lamb and Flag–the Plough–

and turns off up into the car park of the White

Horse Inn; a squad car, siren blaring, rushing off

in the opposite direction after a bank-

robber, the flat-capped cops flicking their cigarette

ash nonchalantly out the rolled-down windows,

as pollen-laden early summer air blows through.


The Chancellor strides in, decked out in all the full

regalia of a coachman; smiles, picks up the mike, 

and gazes into the songstress’s pale eyes

and moon-shaped face; their voices melting together

in mellifluous duet.  

The coach has crisscrossed

Salisbury Plain, sweeping past standing stones, and mud

and Chieftan tanks, and tall cathedral spire, to stop

off at the pub for bladders to be relieved

and ploughman’s lunch washed down with pints of Watney’s ale,

as driver and his mate sit on the barrels out back,

nursing a crafty half between puffs on their Silk Cut

fags and dirty jokes. One more round for the road.

The theme-park lioness enjoys a leisurely

post-prandial yawn, wondering why aristos have such

a fondness for big cats and put them on their flags

and monuments, their forecourts and front-door knockers,

and even on the bonnets of their fancy cars.


‘Think I’ll nip out and grab myself some lunch,’ she thinks,

and bounds over the fence past docile park-keepers

to trot off down the local watering hole, puffed up

with pride for the great nation she is emblem of.


Fled from her stately homely faux safari-park,

the lioness feels curiously unhinged, missing

the chimps clambering over the Ford Cortina

estates, sun roofs and squeaking windscreen wipers

of the caravan of family cars that daily

wends its way through her familiar neck of the woods.

The routine ration of food furnished by wary

zoo staff is no more. No more hearing the roaring

of the kingly male-cats with their comely manes,

she suffers the strangeness and the isolation

of the open road; mourns her captivity

and moodily stretches her jaws. Lost & unleashed

she prowls resentfully among the vehicles,

clawing at high-walled coaches, tipping a moped

over with a terrible clatter, hauling

the odd packed lunch out through the soft top of a sports car.


Dissatisfied with this meager repast, the lioness

stalks round the backyard of the pub. The drivers

freeze in fright. Lioness roars, mauls the blue oily

uniform of the one who used to be a boxer,

before she’s scared off by a fire-extinguisher-

wielding landlord and his boozy mates and scarpers

off to cower shudderingly under the bins and skips.


The old dears doze off after downing roly-poly

pudding, soothed by the silky syrup and a couple

of tranks. ‘Sweetness from strength’ the slogan on the can

proclaims, a sentiment that is amplified each day

by plummy voices on the radio and the thump

of guns saluting monarchy and crushing

dissent at home and overseas. The pride of Empire

rears its mighty mane and lords it proudly over

the sorry remnants of its onetime realm.


The souls of Hazlett, Fox and Lamb look down

upon the scene and sigh, brandishing quills, scalpels,

and order papers to ward off the beast, now  

startled by the panda cars, lights blazing, parked

on the zebra crossing where to a halt it screeched.

The vets and carnival barkers are after her

with giant nets to coax her back into her cage.


Unfanged the lioness lets out one last bored yawn.

This whole damned bloody country, she thinks, has gone

right down the drain and to the dogs, is rotten

to the core, and now is hoisted up, unsteady

and elderly, solely upon a set of shaky

staddlestones set in a groaning bog fought over

by parasites and strays. This mighty house she cowers

under in couchant attitude abased amidst

a bed of fleur de lys is tumbledown and fit

only for condemnation and the wrecking

ball, she thinks; as from somewhere inside the pub

she hears plucked from a harp a melancholy air.


The songstress and the chancellor bow and are wheeled

out back into the big wide world to claps and cheers

and the odd long-stemmed rose strewn in their path.

The whole hospital staff joins in the sing-along

before they leave the premises in separate blacked-out cars.

Shaken a little by the business with the lioness,

the tottering senior citizens are gently placed back

on the coach by their obliging drivers, talking

of how they’ll still be telling the story of this outing

to their little ones many a year from now. The coach

revs up, pulls out, and speeds off down the motorway

and all eventually is well.