The Once And
I descended the Welsh
hillside, past the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel to the shore
of the reservoir. The mist remained dense, even
at this lower level, and I could not see the
waters edge until it was just a few feet
I sat down upon a fallen
tree trunk to draw breath, intending to shortly
return to my car, left at the parking area on the
far side of the dam.
As I rested, my attention
was suddenly drawn by the sound of a horses
hooves. This clip-clopping became louder, until,
before me on the lake shore, a horse and rider
emerged from the mist. The magnificent animal was
decorated as if for a medieval pageant. The rider,
though slumped in his saddle, was clad in the
finest medieval armour. To complete his ensemble,
he wore a jewel-encrusted crown, albeit
lopsidedly, upon his head.
The rider dismounted
lethargically, still oblivious to my presence,
opened a saddlebag and withdrew a laptop computer.
Then he glanced across his saddle, and our eyes
My new companion appeared
startled, and neither of us spoke for many
seconds. Are you a spirit of the Sacred
Lake? he finally enquired.
Er, no, I
replied. Im a walker. Swan
Morrisons the name. You can call me Swan.
There was a further pause. Who are you?
I added to end the embarrassed silence.
said, developing, as he spoke, a new-found,
aristocratic composure, am Arthur Pendragon.
He straightened the crown on his head. The
Once and Future King of Britain. He paused.
You can call me Sire.
Im surprised to
see you here, Sire. I ventured, deferring
to his preferred style of address.
Why is that, lowly
surf? he questioned.
Well Sire, I
replied, you were last seen in the Avalon
area of Somerset around the mid fifth century AD.
This is Powys, and its now 2011.
You are an Arthurian
scholar, he surmised.
I watched your story
in a Disney cartoon, I modestly corrected.
I have come to visit
Nimue, Arthur explained.
The Lady of the Lake,
I noted, once again employing my Disnarian
She moved from the
West Country to Mid Wales when the property
prices here collapsed, clarified Arthur.
She got a four bedroomed bungalow in
Llanfyllin for the price of her one bedroomed
terrace in Glastonbury.
I thought that the
Lady of the Lake lived in
Nobody lives in a
lake. A gentle female voice caused both
Arthur and me to look southwards along the shore.
A few feet away from us,
near the waters edge, the mist cleared to
reveal a small hummock on which sat a young woman
in a long, white, flowing, semi-transparent dress
of silken fabric - the weave incorporated golden
threads which brightly sparkled; even through the
sunlight was obscured by the mist.
I was having a swim
when Arthur first collected Excalibur, the
woman continued. The story was misreported,
but, after that, it became the expected tradition
to distribute sacred and legendary artefacts from
said Arthur, focussed on his task,
Ive come to return Excalibur.
He approached the woman and proffered to her the
I thought Excalibur
was a sword, I said.
Nimue responded without
looking at me: The name denotes the sacred
artefact best suited to engage in the battles of
its time, she explained.
Nimue stood-up and turned
towards Arthur. So, you are returning
Excalibur to the Lake, she concluded, sadly
accepting the machine.
Its symbolic of
me giving-up, said Arthur to Nimue with
resignation. The laptops useless. You
shouldnt have given it to me from beneath
the water, this time. Submerging laptops buggers
You are giving-up on
a quest, Sire, I questioned in surprise.
The world has moved
on, he replied, Im not up to it,
anymore. Arthur sat down upon a nearby rock
and placed his head in his hands. He paused for
some time before speaking again. Before I
sailed from Avalon all those centuries ago,
he continued, glancing up at me, I made a
solemn vow. I pledged to return if England was in
crisis and in need of a leader to once more unite
our Great Land. Thats why Im here,
Youve come at
the right time, Sire, I said. The
Labour Government left the economy in ruins, and
now Cameron, Clegg and the coalition are re-enacting
the Muppet Show.
concurred. It couldnt get much worse.
I felt duty-bound to return to prove my sacred
So whats the
problem? Nimue asked. The
Countrys still in a mess. I wasnt
expecting you to get it sorted and come back for
It was easy in the
fifth century, Arthur explained. You
only needed to slay the odd dragon and cleft a
few helms in twain. Any really tricky quests
would be sorted with a bit of magic from Merlin...
Nimue appeared slightly
I glanced sideways at her.
I heard about you and Merlin, I said.
She raised her hand to
arrest further comment. Id get a
super-injunction preventing discussion of that,
if it wasnt already all over the Internet.
Arthur continued, indifferent to our exchange,
Britains problems are economic, socio-political
and global. I dont have the skill-set.
Frankly, I said,
I dont think anyone does, but you
could contribute something vital.
What do you mean,
lowly serf? Arthur responded.
Its not what
you did in the Arthurian legends that
mattered, Sire, I clarified. It was
the values and attitudes that underpinned your
Nimue and Arthur looked
blankly at me.
Did you ever
dishonestly claim expenses for a castle that
didnt exist, Sire? I asked Arthur.
No, he said,
emphatically, and I always had my moats
cleaned at my own expense.
Were you ever
complicit in selling swords to despotic rulers of
far away kingdoms?
No, he said.
Did you ever make
pledges to your people and then not fulfil them?
Never! he said,
Were you ever
unfaithful to Guinevere, even when she was having
a fling with Lancelot?
Of course not,
Did you ever ask
Guinevere to take the blame when you were driving
your carriage too quickly?
That would be
contrary to the chivalric code, Arthur
No one remains in
British public life who has your level of
integrity, I pointed out. As a result,
lowly serfs, such as I, have no moral example to
What can Arthur do?
I think he should
sell that horse and get a more up-to-date
wardrobe, I replied. After that, he
should get involved in politics and hope that his
moral example will inspire others. Maybe
itll catch on.
The lowly serf is
right, said Arthur with renewed enthusiasm.
I cant go on behaving as if this is
the fifth century; were not in the Middle
Arthur rose and retrieved
Excalibur from Nimue. He then re-mounted his
The animal reared upon its
hind legs, and Arthur majestically waved
Excalibur, his sacred laptop, in a gesture of
farewell. He then galloped away into the mist.
I looked at my watch and
turned to Nimue. The Tower Bars still
open at the Vyrnwy Hotel, I said.
OK, she said,
winking, just a quick one.
Table in the Great Hall at Winchester
Reservoir, Powys, Wales
Photographs © Swan