Verses on Various Occasions

Cambridge Hands-On Science: Roadshow

Written when I should have been helping to write the proper report for one of the roadshows.

We've boxes full of weird things,
More cornflour than the average shop,
Assorted wood, tanks, fans, pens, strings,
And hazard tape to fence a drop.
We've kiwi fruit (Italian crop),
White plastic skulls of Man and Ape,
Much lemon juice, a broom, a mop,
And miles and miles of Gaffer Tape.

We pack it in a hired van
Of modest measure, and contrive
To squeeze it all in, trying, if we can,
To squash in the locusts somewhere they'll survive.
Uncertain volunteers arrive
Who view the van with mouths agape:
They don't know how we mean to drive
Kids to science with Gaffer Tape.

We roll up at a village show,
Town hall, or school. We only need
Some water, power, and tables, though
We're partial to a place to feed.
Experiments are set with speed.
The darkroom's pitched, and cloaked with drape.
(For safety, each extension lead
Is well fixed down with Gaffer Tape.)

The public come to look around -
Are blown away by a floating ball
On a stream of air - can see the sound
They giggle through - let bridges fall
And build them back - run through the hall
And in the darkroom - see the shape
Of what's outside the darkroom wall
Through lenses (held by Gaffer Tape).

There's more to see: you couldn't miss
The spooky ultraviolet light,
Exploding electrolysis,
And cornflour splattered left and right.
And if you wonder - as well you might -
Why Polaroid blocks light's escape,
A bright boxed light will give insight
With twisty-arrowed Gaffer Tape.

There's stationed next to every stand
A volunteer who tugs your wit:
You've tendons like the model hand;
Your eye works like the darkroom kit.
We'll show you how your insides fit
An organ-studded Velcro cape
(And if the Velcro ever bit
The dust, we'd sub. in Gaffer Tape.)

At five o'clock we siphon dry
Our wetter demos, and describe
To one last kid, who's asking why,
How water flows up ('gainst its "vibe").
We quickly pack the van, the bribe
Being dinner, and fermented grape
An option, since one can't imbibe
A potion made of Gaffer Tape.

A campsite is our home on tour.
We play at Frisbee, sleep, or fix
Experiments, not dead, we're sure:
They'll work again with tools and tricks.
We'll fix the world; we'll spice its mix
Of science with fun, and thereby scrape
More interest, given string and sticks,
And miles and miles of Gaffer Tape.

A Song for the SKA

You need a longish aerial for decent Radio Four,
But catching Radio Alien requires a great deal more.
"Extremely Large" is just too small, so here is now our wish:
Two hundred and fifty acres of acute receiving dish.

It's spread two hundred miles across, this electronic ear,
A spiral steel galaxy of wireless listening gear.
Each station every minute gives a terabyte all told,
And we'll process all the data - well, as long as Moore's law hold.

It's not just E. T.: finding lots of pulsars would be neat.
We'd think of them as rubber ducks on Einstein's rubber sheet
Of space and time, and watch them nod, as ripples run in sight,
If trembling General Relativity is working right.

With wavelengths down to half an inch, we'll see, in radio tints,
In several different ways at once, like Argus when he squints.
We'll look at things that fit inside degrees ten thousand-fold,
And we'll process all the data - well, as long as Moore's law hold.

Perhaps one of the pulsars that we're hoping to have found
Has taken hands with a big black hole, and's swinging round and round.
We'll time them as they tug and spin, and knowledge will advance,
As we find out if G. R. applies in such a dizzy dance.

We'll go somewhere where radio noise is low and skies are blue:
The grand High Veldt of the Meerkat, or the land of the Kangaroo.
We'll find a firm to make the dishes out of a jelly-mould,
And we'll process all the data - well, as long as Moore's law hold.

We want to know why magnetism forms in outer space,
And track the growing Universe by measuring its pace,
Learn more about dark energy, where hydrogen belongs,
And several other things that don't explain so well in songs.

The major fibres carry more of information flow
Than all of Europe's Internet, so where's it all to go?
We'll need about an exaflop, and they're not exactly sold:
So we'll process all the data just as long as Moore's law hold.

Verse from CUSAGC's Sky Blue

Mostly made of CUSAGC in-jokes

Ballade on Punting

Strong sweating souls with straining knees,
A tannoying cox who tries to steer
Cool fibreglass, it's things like these
That make an eight a force to fear.
Yet open the race and they'd take the rear;
A common bike could nip in front.
The river's not meant for racing gear:
Let's glide along inside a punt.

He triple-dares, his mate agrees,
They kick the bridge and vault the weir.
(They're ignorant of Weil's disease
And rather full of fizzy beer.)
The Mill Pond's cold and murky here;
They coughing crawl and climbing grunt
"Next time we'll choose a softer cheer
Let's glide along inside a punt."

Brushed by light from dappled trees,
And clasped by water cool and clear
It's glorious to lie at ease
Or take the pole, make water shear,
While tourists pause in mid-career
And grinning spin, and spinning shunt,
And learn the strokes that don't appear,
Let's gilde along inside a punt.

If ever, Prince, you've dreamt to spear
Leviathans in princely hunt,
Pray drop it, heed a wakeful seer:
Let's glide along inside a punt.

Ballade on CUSAGC lunch

The great King Ahasuerus asked to dine
All citizens of Susa; at this treat
He ordered every guest his choicest wine
In golden goblets; pearls beneath their feet
They had the best (each on a silver seat)
From six score seven provinces to munch.
But, though such opulence is hard to beat,
I'd really rather be at CUSAGC lunch.

In Nero's day, 'tis said, were banquets fine:
A wild boar (one course they liked to eat)
With pastry piglets laid out in a line
And stuffing with live larks was made complete.
I won't deny such elegance is neat,
But, called to arbitrate, I have a hunch
I'd not with such extravagance compete:
I'd really rather be at CUSAGC lunch.

There's crisps, until the Chairman gives the sign,
Then sandwiches, with cheese or jam or meat.
There's salad, Jaffa Cakes (for which we pine),
Delicious cake, and bright satsumas sweet.
There's people new to meet, old friends to greet,
Protected from their work, a merry bunch.
You keep your feasts with luxuries replete:
I'd really rather be at CUSAGC lunch.

Now prince, a banquet must your soul deplete,
Your stomach turn as if it's had a punch;
For one pound twenty join us, I entreat:
I'd really rather be at CUSAGC lunch.

District Camp

Some Cubs of the Eleventh-Ninth
With Newnham as their base
Arrive at Little Abington
Where District Camp takes place.
They quickly stuff their tents with kit;
Akela has prepared
Some wide games, lots of running round,
Till Supper is declared.

We take our box of orange plates
- There's one for every Cub -
And queue up where each pack awaits
The dishing-up of grub.
We gobble what we're given. When
The feeding run abates
We exit with our box again
Of dirty orange plates.

It's bed time, so the tents are filled
With wakefulness and noise.
It's silly trying to settle
Such unsettled girls and boys.
They sleep and quickly wake, as dawn
Is seived through hornbeam, brings
More running, shouting, playing, till
The bell for breakfast rings.


The loudest do the washing-up
Of sticky breakfast grease
(A punishment inadequate
For lost nocturnal peace).
The camper's badge is next, we make
Some eggy bread to munch;
The Cubs try pitching awkward tents
And soon it's time for lunch.


The leaders wash up after lunch
(of easy jobs a winner).
Activities I don't recall
Are followed soon by dinner.


A giggly six does washing-up
And somehow finds it fun,
And soon, though sunlight still streams out,
The campfire is begun.
With "Campfire's Burning", "Gin-Gang-Goolie",
Classic Scouting rhyme,
"He fell without a parachute",
"A bear hunt", supper time!


They sleep a little faster now,
But still are up just when
The darkness fades, and shout around
Till breakfast's called again.


I shan't describe the rain, badge, lunch
Or washing-up-brush-scrubs:
The muse is getting fractious
Never mind the tired Cubs.
But they seem to go home happy
As they stumble through the gates:
They've run and thought and sung and been
Well-fed off orange plates.

Alternative Radio Protocol for Forward

Using different verse forms to show who is speaking: surely it would be simpler than all of the "Scout Camb Yankee this is Scout Camb Zulu" business?

[N. B. This one is almost entirely made of CUSAGC in-jokes, except for the small part that is made up of jokes about prosody.]

- The sun is shining where a diamond's set
In heaven's ring: it's twelve, and all is well.
My bases, do you anything require?
First Alpha, I'll send Mobile that way first. -

- A chocolate fountain, a strawberry mountain
A break-dancing Count in a shirt of chiffon,
A puppy-dog yappy, some oysters, made snappy.
We're otherwise happy, but haven't seen "One". -

- You shall not have these things so frivolous.
Now Bravo, can you help locate team one? -

- They might have skirted round the wood;
They could have struggled through.
I doubt they did quite what they should:
It isn't what they do.
Perhaps they missed out Alpha, but
We haven't seen them here.
Control, when mobile leave the hut
Please make them fetch some beer. -

- Stay - this life is opposites bound together.
"One" could by some fate-balanced chance have taken
Clockwise route-cards. Mobile, if gifts you're bearing,
Lyres would be lovely. -

- Look, ask for nothing more, my patience wears,
We pinpoint teams, and maybe Charlie's right.
So Delta, are they going in reverse? -

- We've not seen the team from Fen Drapers'
Whose number is one on the papers.
Though it does seem to me we'd have more chance to see
With a searchlight to pierce the vapours. -

- The fog at Delta's lifting, almost gone.
A searchlight isn't my priority. -

- True: beer, not light, would be spot-on
To help us more to see. -

- And a puppy-dog yappy and oysters made snappy... -

- Enough! Now quiet! I must find team one.
My last hope's Mobile, they may save the day,
So Mobile, have you seen them on your way? -

- We've driven through lanes that are winding; we've traced a muddy track,
In case there were teams needing finding, and now we're coming back.
We saw a group near Charlie, a little bit like that team one,
But, Control, you shouldn't be rhyming,
Rhyming, rhyming,
You're blank verse, without rhyming, or all of our system's undone! -

- Team one's three hours behind its proper timing.
These bases have intolerable cheek
To challenge protocol, not lost teams seek.
I must know if they're sighted! Charlie, speak. -


- Their metre's quite tricky, they must answer quickly
It's really a stickyish state to be in... -

- Though we scan well we get no beer... -

- You're getting none. Remove your likely grin.
All bases find team one! Am I not clear? -

- I'm wond'ring: team one, is it real?
They may not have started, I feel,
And it would be a shame if we upset the game
For a card that we didn't deal. -

- Oh, maybe, Delta. I'll check if they came. -

- Presence, absence, notions without a heart, for
Subtle fluctuations, existence linking... -

- They started or they didn't start:
Base C's is sloppy thinking. -

- Let's burst the bright bubble: we've caused enough trouble,
Enough that the club'll be angry about.
Your first team's no rover: we took Alpha over.
We're lounging in clover - over. And out. -

Devotional verse

For the Epiphany

Where's wisdom? And where should the people demanding
To get understanding have chosen to cling?

Perhaps with the tracers of planetary orbits,
And spinners of proteins, and ravellers of rays,
Who, freshly distilling their thinking with checking,
Can rightfully revel, revealing God's ways.

Perhaps with the readers of deep human motives,
Exalting low cunning insightfully high,
Who, stooping in empathy, sharing the shadows,
Can shuffle them, showing God's children the sky.

Perhaps with the painters, and dreamers, and singers,
Obliquely expressing what logic's compressed,
Who must be forgiven inflammatory darkness:
How else could God's beauty be fitfully guessed?

Perhaps with those seeking harmonious balance,
As ships with the optimal sails unfurled,
Who synthesize reasons, desires, and morals,
To play in the round on the stage of God's world.

Not, surely, with Persia's outdated astrologers,
Wrong in their science, deceived by a king,
Enthroning a baby whom farm workers fuss over,
Shedding proportion for one needful thing.

There's wisdom with all, but for all that the Magi
Surpass any sage I could sensibly sing.


On Emmanuel College ducks

Who owns College?

The verdant Emma Front-Court lawn
Is fragile, porters growl.
Those silky blades are only worn
By dons, and water-fowl:

Exceptions since, for all their bellows,
The porters cannot quite
Contrive to educate the fellows.
(The ducks are there by right.)

The tufted drake

Emerging from the murky deep,
Stark white and black, a drake,
Determines what to get and keep,
Tugs tails when bread's at stake.

I wonder, can our minds descry
What drifting lies lie hid
When that malignant yellow eye
Is glaring at its lid?

With pitchforks pushed in both his wings,
He bobs on boiling pitch.
"Now go, good duck," the demon sings,
"Dunk sinners in this ditch!"

He wakes, and I exaggerate:
A spring of mortal troubles
Would not, in voice, approximate
A clarinet blowing bubbles.

And on his head a tuft is stuck
Too floppy for a horn.
He's only, after all, a duck,
And doesn't mind my scorn.

A mallard duck

Now once a duckling nosed, and peeped,
And tumbled in a drain.
But shuffling there where leaf-mould seeped
Could not jump out again

Whereat an ugly monster, tall,
(I must confess 'twas I,
Attempting to extract the ball
Of fluff that couldn't fly)

Crouched loomingly, and placed a stick.
The duckling squeaked in fright.
(I'd hoped to make a stair for the chick.)
But Mother heard its plight.

She dropped her fear for Baby's sake;
She summoned all her force.
She couldn't let her darling make
A foil for orange sauce.

She leapt up, wings at buzzing-pace
In Yoda-like attack,
And flapped and hovered in my face,
And furiously went "Quack!"

Lessons from the pond

They say the great Sir Thomas Young
Saw light behind the swans,
In waves of aether bubble-strung
And bet against the dons.

So when the goal of SPS
Is reached, when someone's clever
(For it's not, as jealous Nat. Sci.s guess,
To learn to sleep forever.)

When human nature's answer's found
When Comte's drear dream comes true,
In one equation, so profound,
It knows what you will do,

If this great theory, sleek and fat,
Comes from an Emma hack,
Then say you know the model, that
It waddles, and goes "Quack!"

Copyright Matthew Smith, 2003 to 2011. There's also a couple of epithalamia written for friends' weddings, which aren't going on the web...