Murgatroyd was contemplating the crest over his lintel. As in so many Border
areas, it featured a lion and a unicorn. Pity the unicorn was losing its gilding.
The lion and the unicorn were fighting for the crown;
the lion beat the unicorn all round about the town.
Some gave them white bread and some gave them brown;
some gave them plumb [sic] cake and drummed them out of town.
Murgatroyd’s curiosity was aroused. What’s all that about?
Oh, it’s an old nursery rhyme. I think it refers to the fact that the Union was
less than amicable. There are various stories about which animal achieved
ascendency. Like a certain First Minister, the unicorn believed its horn-oil?-
was a universal panacea. I think it was the poet, Edmund Spenser, who
relayed how the unicorn was trapped in a tree and impaled itself by its horn
when it made a rash assault on the lion.
Murgatroyd looked thoughtful: I think that George Orwell published
something called ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’, come to think of it. He thought
that the conflict between them would create a new kind of democratic
socialism. I seem to remember that he wanted to retain the Royal Family,
though, and he cautioned that everyone considers themselves British, as
soon as the need for defence arises.
Hmm, interesting, replied Diana. Lewis Carroll in ‘Through the Looking
Glass’ referred to the rhyme. Both heraldic beasts belong to the same
king and are supposed to be on the same side, making their rivalry
absurd. The Unicorn, like the Adam Smith wannabe, the Great Narwhal-
-cum Pinocchio porky pie eater, nay porcine teller himself, appeals to Alice,
aka the electorate, for mutual trust. David Cameron seems to be positively
leonine, as he asks for the cake to be handed round first and cut in slices
Oh, I remember that, enthused Murgatroyd. The cake kept returning to its
unified whole, didn’t it? Even when divided into three.
Mrs Connolly came out into the garden carrying a tray, very much in the
manner of Mrs Overall from Acorn Antiques. A pot of tea and a fine plum
cake was sliding precariously to one side.
What do you know about the lion and the unicorn, Mrs C? asked
Murgatroyd, relieving her of the weight of the comestibles.
Weel now, my understanding is that they represented the union of two
warring nations and they showed that the natural order was supported
by the balanced forces of Nature-ie/ the sun and the moon, held in
harmony. Individually they are imbalanced, but together no other creature
can match their strength, because they are a union of opposites. Their
styles of sovereignty may be different, but they are complimentary.
Well expressed, Mrs C! cheered Murgatroyd, pouring the tea himself and
forgetting that she liked to play ‘mother.’
Encouraged by the response, Mrs C continued:
Wert thou the unicorn, pride and wrath would confine thee,
and make thine own self the conquest of thy fury.
Who said that? asked Diana.
Och, The Bishop of Rochester, when he recorded an obscure Aesop’s
fable concerning the twa beasties. Aye, the lion can be tricky when he
appears to be conciliatory. The unicorn should never relinquish its horn
to him, even on the appeal for a crutch. She’ll just be hoisted with her
own petard. They should all listen to Her Majesty and think very carefully.
Well, it’s late in the day now, Mrs C, volunteered Diana. But the White
King had the last word in Carroll’s story: ‘Fair play with the cake!’ If they
don’t justly divide the spoils they’ll both be drummed out of town.
Very true, agreed Mrs C.