A couple of recent promptings arouse Alan Riach to gather in some literary reflections on royalty and subjection, the society of this Great Britain or shall we say our Dis-United Kingdom …

I’VE been talking in recent essays about the idea of a canon of Scottish literature and one of the things about a list of great books – whoever devises it – is that it insists that there are some things worth remembering.

Of course, there are some things we all too easily forget. The poet Kate Tough has reminded me of that perhaps already forgotten date earlier this year, May 6, when our new King Charles III was properly crowned. I confess it had mercifully slipped my mind and gone into the world of oblivion.

Readers will surely have kept a written record of the famous coronation quiche – a recipe published by Buckingham Palace – and borrowed here by Kate, who often makes work by utilising an existing text.

In the following poem, which I’d call a “negative recipe” or a healthy contribution to the “Cancel the King Culture” movement, just to make certain you know: “keech” – pronounced keeCH, like the sound in loCH – is a Scots word which means excrement and “Not My King” is a slogan of a republican campaign in the UK.

Coronation Keech


Not my 125g plain flour

Not my pinch of salt

Not my 25g cold butter, diced

Not my 25g lard

Not my 2 tablespoons milk

Not my or 1 x 250g block of ready-made shortcrust pastry


Not my 125ml milk

Not my 175ml double cream

Not my 2 medium eggs

Not my 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

Not my salt and pepper

Not my 100g grated cheddar cheese

Not my 180g cooked spinach, lightly chopped

Not my 60g cooked broad beans or soya beans

The next poem substitutes a symbol from physics for one alphabet letter, its effect akin, perhaps, to an MSP swearing in while keeping their fingers crossed.

To offer a little explanation, “ohmage” is a measure of resistance expressed in ohms. The Homage of the People was a sequence of words for human beings throughout the UK and Commonwealth to say aloud proudly on May 6 to celebrate the coronation of Charles III, as suggested by Lambeth Palace, the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, which is a very high office within the Church of Christianity.

OhmΩge of the People

I sweΩr thΩt I will pΩy true

ΩllegiΩnce to your mΩjesty,

Ωnd to your heirs Ωnd successors

Ωccording to lΩw. So help me God.

Kate’s second reworking of the Lambeth Palace Homage incorporates unofficial titles given to Charles III when he was Prince of Wales, translated from Maasai and Tok Pisin respectively – as noted at: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_titles_and_honours_of_Charles_III – sounds better when you say it:

“I swear that I will pay true allegiance to he whom the cows love so much they call for him when they are in times of distress, and to the heirs and successors of the number one child belonging to Mrs Queen, according to law. So help me God.”

And the following little squib, written at the height of the coronation fever which gripped the media, takes as its source the British styles and titles of King Charles III read out at the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth by David White, Garter Principal King of Arms.

The motto of The Order of the Garter is “Honi soit qui mal y pense” (Middle French for “Shame on him who thinks evil of it”) and “Not My King” as noted, is the slogan of a republican campaign in the UK.

Shamed be whoever thinks ill of it this week, or, Not My King Head of State

Let us humbly beseech Almighty [but not everyone’s] God

to bless with long life, health and honour, and all worldly happiness

the Most High, Most Mighty and Most Excellent [not my] Monarch,

[not] our Sovereign Lord, Charles III, now, by

the Grace of [not everyone’s] God,

of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

and of His other Realms and Territories [not my] King,

[not my] Head of the Commonwealth, [not my] Defender of the [not everyone’s] Faith,

and [not my] Sovereign of the Most Noble Order of the [seriously, what?] Garter.

Kate Tough has good precedent for these poems, and her gentle ironies at royal expense. Some have been less gentle, as with this poem by Hugh MacDiarmid, from his book, Second Hymn to Lenin (1935):

In the Children’s Hospital

“Does it matter? – losing your legs? ...” – Siegfried Sassoon

Now let the legless boy show the great lady

How well he can manage his crutches.

It doesn’t matter though the Sister objects,

‘He’s not used to them yet’, when such is

The will of the Princess. Come, Tommy,

Try a few desperate steps through the ward.

Then the hand of Royalty will pat your head

And life suddenly cease to be hard.

For a couple of legs are surely no miss

When the loss leads to such an honour as this!

One knows, when one sees how jealous the rest

Of the children are, it’s been all for the best! –

But would the sound of your sticks on the floor

Thundered in her skill for everymore!

In 1934, the Clyde Shipyards produced a marvel of engineering, an enormous vessel as gross in its shape and size as it was buoyant and seaworthy despite its weight and ponderous grim demeanour. After much speculation, a bottle of champagne was wasted on her, and the Queen Mary was named and launched.

The title of the poem Die Grenzsituation is an extremely useful idea these days. It means “A Limit Situation”. Limit situations are disturbing, unsettling, defined or circumscribed moments in which individuals are broken out of their normal comfort zones tic mindsets, places where a shocking disclosure reveals the falseness of their normalised identifications, moments that remove people from their conventional social bonds, and by which they are forced to wake up and find new ways of expressing themselves.

They can be bewildering. They can be infuriating. They can be moments of revelation or extreme anxiety, as when you watch someone die.

Die Grenzsituation

Was this the face that launched a thousand ships?

No! But it frightened one right smartly down the slips

When – while the whole world held its silly breath –

She gave it her own holy name – as sure as death!

Deeming that the greatest compliment that she,

After a profound spell of Queenly secrecy,

To duty nobly yielding her notorious modesty,

Could pay this miracle of Clydeside industry,

And everybody (almost!) hastened to agree

And marvelled how she’d got the great idea,

Perfect, sublime, the very peak of poetry,

An epic in three words, The Queen Mary,

And not one honest soul in Glasgow, or Christendom, laughed!

It seemed – and was – as though she’d stricken all mankind daft.

THINKING of working people, the people who worked so hard to build that ship and so many others – people of earlier generations, many made redundant, cast aside as people are, in the system we have made for ourselves, and whose descendants are now so inundated by the world of assumption of falsehood put about by media lies and government design and general incompetence and an utter sterility of imagination – sometimes a simple contrast makes the point where a more subtle argument won’t do.

Here’s MacDiarmid again, this time from 1947:

Royal Wedding Gifts

It is unfortunately understandable enough

That gifts should pour in from all over the earth:

Not so the greed of the girl who accepts so much

And so monstrously overrates her own scant worth.

The daughter of a base and brainless breed

Is given what countless better women sorely need,

But cannot get one ten-millionth part of tho’ they slave and save

Relentlessly from the cradle to the grave.

Rope in the shameless hussy – let her be

Directed to factory work or domestic service

Along with all the other spivs and drones –

Our life-stream’s clogged and fouled with all these damned convervas.

What on earth could Ted Hughes have been thinking of in 1972, when he signed a collective open letter to The Times advocating that Hugh MacDiarmid should be chosen to succeed C Day-Lewis as the United Kingdom’s poet laureate?

Well, as the royal year rumbles along on its merry way, with Keir Hardie’s 21st-century namesake burbling his way to the top of the heap of oblivion to the tune of you-know-what, all draped in the Butcher’s Apron, let’s pause for a solemn moment with MacDiarmid’s momentous poem for that glorious year, 1953:

A Coronation Dream

“For a rag and a bone and a hank of hair” – Kipling

A’ that’s left o’ the Coronation noo

Are a puckle memories o’ the hullabaloo

Like somebody sookin’ in vain through straws

At the bottom o’ a toom ice-cream glass.

Shairly naebody can hear sic a raspberry

And no’ be whummled by a very

Tidal-wave feeling o’ sinfu’ “idiocy”

In the Athenian sense. Fegs, no’ me!

For the Coronation for a wee like a toposcope

Displayed a’ the rhythms o’ human thocht and hope

In the form o’ sparklin’ lichts, sune slain

By oor dowf fatuity again.

The presentation o’ the Bible to the Queen

May no’ be a thing Scottish ministers want

Broken into as in America

By a plug for a deodorant.

Yet the interventions o’ Providence

Can be nae less disconcertin’,

God shows nae consideration ava’

For Earl Marshall’s arrangements, that’s certain.

The pomp and glory last a wheen ’oors,

Syne if ony trace can be seen it’s

In lumps o’ sodden papers on the pavements

And cherry stanes and husks o’ peanuts.

It minds me o’ a fearsome dream I had aince.

I dreamt I was at a muckle Fair

Whaur a’ the things folk think they need

Were laid oot roond me like the things frae a loon’s pockets there.

Yin ’ud think it ’ud tak’ hunders o’ years

For a man to get used to this world, brim fu’

O’ millions o’ things, into which he is born

An endless complexity to adjust himsel’ to.

But in fact he gets used to’t sae incredibly fast

It’s almaist as tho’ he had expectit

A’ thing to be as it is. Wha kens? Folk are sae quick

To tak’ in what they see and come to terms wi’ it,

As tho’ the idea o’ a’thing existit

Ready-made in their heids, a kind o’ conjurer’s trick.

Weel, there I was at that


Wi’ croons and coronets, the sceptre, the orb

And a’ the rest o’ the paraphernalia,

An endless museum for a’e glance to absorb.

I turned clean dizzy in my dream, for I kent

I was seein’ a’ thae things for the first time, sent

Up oot o’ the void yince-yirn to see

A’ this nonsense cluttered aboot me!

What fleggit me was that naething o’t

Astonished me in the least. I’d got

The feelin’ o’ kenin’t a’ sae weel

I was fair at hame in that endless reel.

Yet hoo could I ken what the Cap o’ Maintenance was

Or the Gowden Ampulla frae wha’s beak oil fa’s

Or the Armills, and a’ the rest o’ the junk.

Flotsam frae which History’s tides ha’e shrunk.

Syne in my dream a’thing hardened to stane,

Ilka trumpery gadget seemed to attain

Eternal status. A’ that rubbish till then

Hadna maittered muckle. Noo to my hert it cam’ ben,

Suddenly different and somehow sublime.

I felt nae human being until that time

Had reckoned wi’ sic a possibility

And wondered why that had been left to me.

Forenenst me noo was a’ this hocus-pocus;

A’thing superfluous, a’ that’s gane sour

Or run to seed, made into a memorial to mock us

Everlastin’ as God Himsel’ in this dreidfu’ ’oor.

A’ petrified, preserved for the haill o’ Eternity!

But what’s Eternity? What’s God? Is He

Juist anither idea o’ Man’s, e concrete

Because no’ seemin’ worth while? Albeit

Like a’ the perishable rubbish that had taen

Eternal form in my dream sae suddenly

God micht ana’! The idea lowed in my brain

Like a terrible tantalisin’ possibility.

Archangels gaed by this way and that

In the midst o’ that unco masquerade

And gutchers wi’ lang beards and God himsel’

– Or Churchill – as tho’ a’ the Abbey statues joined the parade.

Syne an angel came and comfortit me

In my horror and led me oot o’ my extremity

– And I saw nocht but toom beer-bottles and banana skins attour

And was mortal glad sicna Coronation was owre.

It’s a strange poem, isn’t it? It seems at first like doggerel satire, a republican antidote to royalist pomp, mindless adulation, vacuous consumption but it takes a weird turn when the dream comes in and a fairground festivity suddenly turns into a concrete permanence, a solid reminder of what we humanly create in our wastefulness, how we squander our wealth, how we disengage from the reality of nature’s vast multiplicities to let the ruling class roll over us.

The London government’s recently announced £8 million plan to hang King Charles in school classrooms (I mean portraits of him, not him, literally, of course!) would be another example.

Empty beer bottles and banana skins might come as a relief, after all that. We should remember such things, even when, as MacDiarmid says at the end of the poem, we might be glad when they’re all over. The trouble is, they are not over yet.