P. G. Wodehocracy

Alternative Forms of Government

(an occasional series)

Number I

P. G. Wodehocracy

As laid down in the many works of theory penned by the great political philosopher P. G. Wodehouse, primary legislation is proposed by hatchet-faced aunts who chew limes and breed suspicion and Pekingese.

The office of Chancellor is performed by a series of interchangeably bluff American millionaire businessmen.  Money, outspokenness, and attractive unmarried offspring are the only requirements for this post.  It is preferred if they make their money from a single, slightly-humorous commodity, so that they can be known as "The Pickle King" or "Mr Wonder Tonic."

Debate is achieved by various bright young things, who support or oppose each motion via surreptitious acquisition of culturally significant tokens such as antique Spode coffee pots, drafts of the black-sheep uncle's memoires, prize Persian cats, policeman's helmets etc.  Separation of interests is achieved by assuming different names and/or disguise for each new piece of legislation.

For matters of greater constitutional weight, larger cultural tokens are required, such as prize pigs, Bentleys, or the hand of the attractive niece of the under gardener (currently engaged to the American millionaire's son.)

The role of the Civil Service is taken by a host of butlers, footmen, bookies and private detectives.  Each funds his department by accepting "considerations" for activities such as overlooking two young, titled gentlemen manhandling a marble urn up the stairs.

Budget for larger capital expenditure is controlled by conspiracy to acquire money from aunts, uncles and the American millionaire on the pretext of needing to pay bookies, get married, open small crêpe restaurants...

All those in favour: pursue your fiancée to Cannes and sneak about trying to catch her having lunch with Squiffy Elberforth; those opposed: hide in the shrubbery and await a chance to swipe the watercolour that your friend the artist sold the Duchess by mistake...



A poem about the limitations of a Theory of Everything, two people having an outdoor restaurant meal on a warm summer's night, and the difficulty of relationships.

This was quite a long time in the making.  It stemmed from an observation about a T.S.Elliot poem: about how intimate a particular moment was in the flow of a larger and more philosophical section.

However it has evolved a lot and been through many revisions.  There was an early version that I discussed with people in 2009, and I'm not sure how long I'd been working before then.  After that it languished for a long while, until I found myself alone in a nice Italian restaurant in Cambridge in November last year with just my phone and some sort of really hearty tomato and bean soup for company.

So I did an edit... and then it languished again.

Until a few weeks ago I did one of my periodic sweeps for poems that I really ought to finish, and this one came first on the list.  So I forced myself to get the remaining awkward bits together, and I work shopped it bit on Poet's Graves and although I'm still not 100% that this really is final I think it is good enough to be going one with.

 (Oh, yes, and I read one word wrong in the recording, but I'm not doing the whole thing again just for that...)


So maybe there is one: some master equation;
some sequence of symbols a lover might write
on a napkin, angled to catch at street lighting,
one elbow leant on an outdoor table, ignoring
the promise of rain in the cool summer air --

a young woman passes, all little black dress
-- some sort of equation might grab the whole mess:
the warping, the weaving of mass for an atom;
the elegant building of colour for light
to shade any evening that I might hurry through.

We were eating dessert when the urge overcame her
to scrawl mathematics, the night ticked on;
I drank my whisky, her Merlot grew warm.
Until, sudden-smiling, she holds out the paper:
a simple equation with nothing crossed out.

She's laid it out like a mantrap for ultimate truths,
as if to say: Darling! I mastered it all
even down to the various youths who call 
you only on your other phone.  Watch her face;
we should stay here: a moment not questioned or answered.

She might lick her lips; I might feel ice
that mutters in the glass, but our moment breaks;
she crushes the napkin; takes a drink, a breath, and says:
There are in the maths no stains for the tablecloth,
no moth by the light bulb, no artificial flower...

She shrugs, expansively, moderate drunkly;
her black bob asway, flesh rounds beneath fabric.
...and can ever there be terms at all
for the small dark men with their small sharp knives
who open the oysters in the back.

She drops crumpled paper.  We flee,
a little too damply, play-fighting and hugging,
beneath such a midnight enfolded in cloud
but not annotated on scales we can reach
from her bedroom, where we make a better maths

for just a little while.  Elsewhere
rain continues:
a lost napkin straightens,
symbols blur and merge
and the world moves on.