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To Alfie, on his thirteenth birthday, 30 April 2010

inscribed in: Your Inner Fish 

A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, by Neil Shubin

Whenever in a crowd you jostle

Consider, pray, the lonely fossil,

Who lived some billion years ago

In tropic swamp or Arctic snow,

Who slumbers now in rock entombed

In lapidary state bedoomed;

And yet this fossil lived a life,

Perhaps he even had a wife

And procreated children too,

The ancestors of me and you

To whom I send this birthday wish:

Appreciate your inner fish!

Dated with my felt-tip pen:

April thirty, twenty-ten!

Black Swan

On First Looking into the Tswaing Meteorite Crater

Pretoria, January 2011

In single file we climbed the narrow trail

Through bramble thicket to the crater’s rim,

Where warming sun cast shadows on the brim

And bathed the bushveld scrub and scattered shale.

Concealed beneath the gently waving grass

By saline lake, the haunt of duck and plover,

O’er diaplectic quartz and feldspar glass,

Lay snakes and lizards in the rain-soaked clover.

In prehistoric stone-age time of yore, 

At hypersonic speed a chondrite fell

On  shocked impala,  thunderstruck gazelle,

And vaporized upon the forest floor.


Black swans are not so rare, I heard you say!

Beware! One may befall this very day!  

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Political comment on the G20 summit

London, 2nd April 2009

Gee twenty

In the land of plenty

   How long can this last?

They’re just fine,

Good food, fine wine,

   But the planet’s fading fast!


We watch enthralled

As they save the world

   These first-world Presidents,


But it doesn’t mean 

An extra bean 

   For third-world residents.


Banks lose control,

Half the world on the dole,

   And the globe keeps getting hotter;


The bubble’s burst

While billions thirst

   For a cup of pure clear water.


Gee twenty!

In the land of plenty,

   Just you wait and see ---


They’ve pledged a trillion,

Just a million million,

    That’s a sandwich for you and me!

Scottish Independence?

Athelstaneford, 9th June 832 AD

(but Athelstan was born a bit later!)

Long years ago when Athelstan deployed

His army on these Lothian hills of gorse,

The marauding Scots were hardly overjoyed

To find themselves engulfed by such a force.


The sky was cloudless azure blue that day

When Angus called his men his words to heed,

To kneel upon that hallowed ground and pray

For succour in their desp’rate hour of need.


And lo,  in swift response they saw displayed 

              White Saltire cross on blue revealed above                                                                            

The cross on which St Andrew had been flayed:

They read it as a sign of saintly love.    


Those Scots forthwith rose up with mighty shout

And put the force of Athelstan to rout.         

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Mnemonic for Maxwell's equations


From bodies charged there is no doubt    

Electric field diverges out;


When currents deep within abound,         

Magnetic field goes curling round.


Magnetic poles? They don’t exist –            

You needn’t look, please just desist!


But move a loop and here’s the crux:         

E is induced with changing flux.


Now let’s consider what transpires            

When current’s not confined to wires:


If current lines themselves diverge,          

This must decrease the local charge,                


Which to its field is coupled back            

Like couplings on a railway track.                  


Then further shrewd manipulation,         

Yields the familiar wave equation,


Which holds in any moving frame;

Hence Maxwell’s lasting claim to fame!

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David Copperfield

an Abbreviated Version


His step-father viciously hit ’im,

So Dave understandably bit ’im;

    Childhood labour being over,

    He ran off to Dover;

Aunt Betsy agreed to admit ’im.


While Ham was out fishing for flounder,

Steerforth, the arrogant bounder,

    Eloped with sweet Em’ly,

    Shaming the family;

But Peggoty sought ’er and found ’er.


While Steerforth was drowned in the deep,

Ever ’umble was rascally Heep,

    Exposed by Micawber

    As fraudster and robber,

What a nasty despicable creep!

To Bathsheba on her 14th Birthday, 11 October 2013,

inscribed in the Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer



Whan that October with his winds hath blown 

And farmers in the fields their crops have mown;

Whan that wee birdies fly to warmer climes

And school demands that you be up betimes

And not be late and not forget your books

And coats and bags and other things on hooks

Or on the floor or somewhere p'raps upstairs

Or on the shelf or maybe under chairs;

Then when you're home from school and have some time

For tea and cakes and reading prose or rhyme,

What better words to rhyme with cup and saucer

Than all these tales composed by Geoffrey Chaucer 

Six hundred years and somewhat more ago,

When pilgrimage was hazardous and slow; 

When horseback was the only way to travel,

On bridleway of grass and muddy gravel ?


Here anyway's a birthday gift for you,

Dear Bathsheba, with love from your . . . guess who!



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. . .and three further limericks to conclude:


It's a wonderful city, Kyoto,

I'd be happy to send you a photo;

    You can get there by plane

    Then taxi or train;

If you haven't, then really you ought'o.


While reading an Anthony Trollope

An Irishman choked on a scallop;

    Having well wined and dined,

    With great presence of mind

His wife brought it up with a wallop!


A Fraulein from old Katowicze

Wanted to work under Nietzsche.

    Show me, he said,

    How you function in bed,

Then I'll be happy to teach'ye.

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