Archive for November, 2013

A little bit of butter for my bread

24 November 2013

A few weeks ago, a chore landed on my desk. It had started somewhere near the top of the company, and been rapidly bounced down through the layers before it skittered to a halt on mine. Someone asked me about it, and I said, well, the king told the queen, and the queen told the dairymaid, and then the dairymaid went to ask the Alderney – and then I realised, from the blank looks, that no-one had a clue what I was talking about.

This might be a generational thing, and the taste for A.A.Milne’s children’s poems, written in the 1920s, died out sometime in the ’60s or ’70s. Or it might just be me, or rather my family, because my father used to love that particular poem, even reciting it all from memory from time to time. (And no-one could call him a fussy man).

So here it is, for younger readers, courtesy of the Poetry Foundation.

The King’s Breakfast

By A.A. Milne

     The King asked
     The Queen, and
     The Queen asked
     The Dairymaid:
     “Could we have some butter for
     The Royal slice of bread?”
     The Queen asked
     The Dairymaid,
     The Dairymaid
     Said, “Certainly,
     I’ll go and tell
     The cow
     Before she goes to bed.”
     The Dairymaid
     She curtsied,
     And went and told
     The Alderney:
     “Don’t forget the butter for
     The Royal slice of bread.”
     The Alderney
     Said sleepily:
     “You’d better tell
     His Majesty
     That many people nowadays
     Like marmalade
     The Dairymaid
     Said, “Fancy!”
     And went to
     Her Majesty.
     She curtsied to the Queen, and
     She turned a little red:
     “Excuse me,
     Your Majesty,
     For taking of
     The liberty,
     But marmalade is tasty, if
     It’s very
     The Queen said
     And went to
     His Majesty:
     “Talking of the butter for
     The Royal slice of bread,
     Many people
     Think that
     Is nicer.
     Would you like to try a little

     The King said,
     And then he said,
     “Oh, dear me!”
     The King sobbed, “Oh, deary me!”
     And went back to bed.
     He whimpered,
     “Could call me
     A fussy man;
     I only want
     A little bit
     Of butter for
     My bread!”

     The Queen said,
     “There, there!”
     And went to
     The Dairymaid.
     The Dairymaid
     Said, “There, there!”
     And went to the shed.
     The cow said,
     “There, there!
     I didn’t really
     Mean it;
     Here’s milk for his porringer
     And butter for his bread.”
     The Queen took
     The butter
     And brought it to
     His Majesty;
     The King said,
     “Butter, eh?”
     And bounced out of bed.
     “Nobody,” he said,
     As he kissed her
     “Nobody,” he said,
     As he slid down
     The banisters,
     My darling,
     Could call me
     A fussy man—
I do like a little bit of butter to my bread!




Quoted #1

16 November 2013

I often see quotes which are worth sharing. So, a new feature here, with a shameless nod in the direction of Public Strategist, and his long-running series of Aphorisms.

All art is political in the sense that it serves someone’s politics. (August Wilson)

The cost of fear

16 November 2013

I’ve written here before about the Battle of Britain, and on Remembrance Sunday there was a documentary about one of the two Polish squadrons – 303 Squadron – that fought in it. The Polish airmen are immortalised in the Battle of Britain film in two scenes. The first is when, on a training flight, getting impatient with training, they find themselves in the middle of a midair skirmish, and join in the dogfight. They are torn off a strip when they get back, but are made operational the next day. The second is when a Polish airman is shot down and is treated by English farmworkers as if he is a German.

The documentary was based on a diary that members of the squadron kept that eventually ran to seven volumes, and it seems that both stories were true, according to the documentary. In fact the second one had a better twist: the English soldier firing close to ┬áthe feet of the Pole on the beach where he landed knew that he was an Allied airman, but was trying to make sure that he didn’t move – because he was standing in the middle of a minefield.

The Poles were only allowed to fly operationally quite late in the summer of 1940, partly through British prejudice, partly because of language isssues, and partly because of the need to train them on RAF planes and methods. A British officer says lconically early in one of the film’s dramatised sequences, “They lasted three days against the Luftwaffe.” But that was in the Polish air force’s old slow planes, and all were experienced pilots. Once behind the controls of a Hurricane they were devastating, breaking records for the number of enemy planes shot down.

Indeed, their commanding officer, a Brit, who was suspicious of their claims, followed them into the air to see if they were exaggerating. He found that they were not. One of the reasons was that because they were more experienced pilots they were willing and able to fly much closer to the enemy before opening fire. And of course, once flying, they were too good a propaganda story for the British to resist.

But the most interesting part of the film came from an interviewee who talked about the relationship between fear and combat expertise, which is worth quoting in full here:

Fear makes everybody cautious, so a degree of fear is a good thing. The important thing is to overcome the fear. And naturally, the longer you fly, that process, of initial fear, of overcoming the fear, wears you out.

By the day of the decisive air battle on 15th September 1940, some of the Polish pilots had been been flying continuously for fourteen days. It may not sound a lot, but the RAF learnt – not just from the Poles – that eight days of continuous operational service was enough for pilots. After that the fear became too much, and you needed to take a break.

The image, from the excellent site Polish Squadrons Remembered, shows King George V visiting 303 Squadron. It is used with thanks.