Old King Henry had six wives Whose days were full of dread For most of them led tragic lives Then often wound up dead. Catherine of Aragon To whom he first proposed Could not produce a princely son So he said Adios! Then Anne Boleyn, closer to home Demanded that they wed So Henry cut off ties with Rome And then cut off her head. Poor Jane Seymour was the one Who finally played her part When she, at last, produced a son But died, which broke his heart. Anne of Cleves, the next one booked Was regal, young and wealthy The problem was she didn’t look Quite like her royal selfie. Catherine Howard, it was said No man had ever dated But rumours spread after they’d wed So was decapitated. Catherine Parr, a lively sort Who wielded her own power Helped organise his kids and court Once she’d escaped The Tower.
All Henry wanted was a son A prince whom he could teach To rule his people when he’d gone But this was out of reach. The irony which overwhelms This patriarchal scene? He gave to England and its realms Perhaps their greatest queen Because Young Bess, put to the test Excelled in her employ And showed the world it takes a girl To do it like a boy.
Beware the Ides! foretells the fall Of he who rose to conquer Gaul And lands still further from his home This warrior, this son of Rome. On his return to claim his right A haruspex with second sight Met Caesar by the Senate arch To warn him of the Ides of March. They’d killed an ox and found no spleen An omen that could only mean The Consul should fear for his life As did, Calpurnia, his wife. But Caesar didn’t fear the gods For he had overcome the odds To overshadow mortal men And take his seat in Rome again. So came the day, but nothing passed Until the Senators amassed Fulfilling what was prophesied Thus, on the fifteenth, Caesar died. Of every haruspex, it’s said They earn their living from the dead And though they claim the role of seer It’s often what we overhear
Randomly flicking through the TV channels I happened upon a show called Child Genius, a programme whose aim is to discover which children in Britain have never been allowed to climb a tree, drink Fanta and make friends their own age. Contestants range in age from 8 – 12 in Earth years and from what I gather there are only two eligibility requirements: they must dress like Puritans and manage their own hedge fund. As for the parents, alas, there are no rules otherwise these same kids would be attending birthday parties and dancing to K-pop.
One distinctive family comprised Calliope (the child genius), Octavia (her overbearing mother), Peregrine (her hipster father) and 4 year-old twin brothers, as yet unnamed.
“We’re waiting for a Labour government first because then the whole ordeal will be less traumatic for them,” Peregrine explained.
“Watch out for the fat one – he’s a biter. He ate three of the gerbils in my control group,” Calliope warned. “Octavia, it’s 3 o’clock.”
Interviewer: What happens at 3 o’clock?
“I give Calliope her feed.”
Interviewer: Her what?
“She’s still on breast milk,” Octavia stated matter-of-factly, now fumbling underneath her burka. “Excuse me for a minute. I’m afraid these are more form over function.”
Interviewer: I was going to ask you about that, actually. Isn’t that a Peperami in your bag?
“Oh, I’m not Muslim,” she grimaced. “I don’t even believe in God. It’s more of a statement.”
Interviewer: Got it, but getting back to the feed: are you telling us that Calliope has lived on nothing but breast milk since she was born?
“Oh, no. I add my own juices to it as well.”
[viewers stopped eating at this point]
Interviewer: Please, God, tell me we’re talking about lemon grass.
“I have a juicer for vegetables and fruit,” Octavia confirmed, “but I also have all their placentas in the freez-“”
It was a shame really because Calliope seemed like a nice kid who wasn’t bothered whether or not she won Child Genius. Octavia, however, was on a mission. After years of subjecting her first born to stem cell shakes and hyperbaric chambers, this TV programme would vindicate her once and for all. After all, it wasn’t about the children; she was the true genius and, by her own calculations, Calliope only needed to make it to Week 4 before TV producers and the viewing public realized this. After that it would be book deals, speaking tours and Oprah.
Interviewer: Calliope, do you have any regrets about coming onto the progreamme? Did you ask to come on it?
“To be honest, I’d rather be doing something else,” she wrinkled her nose.
Interviewer: Playing with your gerbils?
“Gambling online. Every minute I’m in this stupid studio I’m losing money.”
Interviewer: I beg your pardon?
“My game’s Poker. Last night I was about to beat the bubble until my Aces got cracked. I ended up folding faster than Superman on wash day. I looked like a total fish,” she rolled her eyes.
Interviewer: Uh, okay. So you won’t be going to Oxford then?
“Oh, I’ll be going to Oxford,” she arched an eyebrow, “but it won’t be Flash Cards I’ll be playing with, if you catch my drift.”
Interviewer: How will you balance gambling with your studies? And is it even legal? You’re too young to gamble, aren’t you?
Calliope discreetly opened her FrozenII pencil case to reveal a wad of crisp one-hundred dollar bills. Drawing one out, she folded it expertly with one hand until she’d fashioned a small fish, which she handed to me.
“Why don’t you go buy yourself something pretty and leave the legal stuff to me? After all, who’s the genius here?” she asked, morphing from Girl Guide to Al Capone before my eyes.
Interviewer: What about your mother’s plans for you?
“Octavia’s seeking validation but it can’t come through me. Her insecurities stem from a lifetime’s inability to rise above her own mediocrity. The whole breastfeeding thing’s a manifestation of it: she believes she’s passing on matriarchal wisdom when she pumps that junk which, for the record, I pour straight down the drain. I prefer a single malt – it keeps me clear-headed.”
Interviewer: Won’t she be disappointed though?
“When isn’t she? Look, do you want me to wrap this up nice and neatly for your viewers at home? Give them my take on life?”
Interviewer: Please, do.
“Okay, here we go… in life, you need to play the hand you’re dealt. If you don’t like the dealer, switch tables and if you don’t like the odds, switch games. Then again…” she said coyly, throwing a piece of popcorn into the air and catching it in her mouth, “I’m just a kid, so what do I know?”