A Satirical Phantasy
At around breakfast, on the dawn of a Suburban day much like every other
Suburban day, I contemplated forsaking home to quest for the Truth. As
usual, my preparation for the day ahead was a bowl of cereal, two slices of
toast with marmalade and butter, and a cup of instant coffee. The
television burbled in the background, catching the reflection of the early
morning sun slanting through the window.
Outside, the Suburbs was stirring. There was the low whir of the milk
float, the revving of cars preparing to leave for work, the slamming of
doors and the purposeful tread of commuters along the pavement towards the
train or bus. Sparrows and blackbirds serenaded each other from the hedges
and trees. A postman paced by oblivious to the stream of commuters as he
sifted through post that he would dispense with a dull thud onto doormats
already cluttered with free newspapers and unsolicited promotions.
The Suburbs was where I lived. Semi-detached house after semi-detached
house assembled in all directions, harmoniously separated by fences,
protected from the street by hedge, lawn, driveway and garage. Each house
adorned by television aerials, telephone wires, plumbing, electricity and
gas. Each house self-contained, and every Suburban occupant in a world
bounded by television and the garden fence. My house was no exception.
And indeed I was no exception. Except that today I was not a commuter.
Although I was not in the general procession of commuter traffic, I knew
it to be my destiny. I was to join the daily regiment heading to the City,
briefcase and umbrella in hand, to keep the Suburbs in garden gnomes,
Welcome doormats and nostalgic country ornaments. I would stampede, gallop
or trot to my destination, intent on a rat-race without which life had no
I left my house with no purpose and no destination, envying those
hurrying by with both. I ambled towards the park to mingle with the
mothers with their children and the elderly with their dogs. Here, the
orderly rows of semi-detached houses gave way to orderly rows of trees and
hedges along well-paved paths. There were children's swings and slides,
and ornamental flowerbeds. There were no clouds in the sky and the shadows
had a sharpness that enhanced the plastic clarity of the perfect flowers
and trimmed trees.
I sat on a bench, spaced at regular intervals like all the others,
indexed by a number, in this case the number One, and dedicated in memoriam
to a dead appreciator of the park. The manicured lawn extended ahead,
eventually meeting a hedge which secluded it from a less peaceful world
where double-decker buses and cars drove past. My mind was on many
things, mostly inconsequential. What would I need to buy from the
supermarket? Should I buy stamps from the post office to enable me to post
the bills that needed paying? How much longer should I leave the faulty
switch to the bathroom light before it required replacing? Were there
really rats under the floorboards? My mind was also occupied by meditation
of the Truth. There'd been an item on breakfast television that morning in
which experts declared that they felt sure they were getting quite close to
divining its nature. They still didn't know for sure what the Truth was,
but they had a clearer idea than ever before. Or at least they had a
better idea of what it most certainly wasn't. It was a fascinating
pursuit, occupying so many of the greatest minds of the time.
I was tempted to declare that the Truth already existed and was in the
Suburbs. Surely if the Truth was evident in a life as well organised and
purposeful as possible, blessed with the greatest degree of civilised
comfort, where else but in the Suburbs was there the degree of utilitarian
perfection which earned that description? Surely the purpose of life is in
the striving towards further perfection of an orderly state. All that was
needed was the tidying up of a few lawns, the elimination of litter and
better municipal planning of road crossings and bus stops. The striving
towards this greater perfection was constant, and, under the watchful eye
of good citizens, the perfection of the Suburbs would one day become a
However flawless a of perfection the Suburbs might be, I was not
convinced that the Truth was really manifested in this way. The Suburbs
seemed to lack something fundamental: an objective greater than its own
perfection. I looked around the park and beyond, at the roofs of
semi-detached houses and the greenery of privately owned trees. The Truth
must be beyond all this.
But if not in the Suburbs where could the Truth be found? In Love
perhaps? Generations have supposed this to be so. By radiating Love, the
Lover receives Love, and the Truth is revealed. One feels OK. One knows
everyone else is OK. The heart ascends above the rat-infested sewer of
everyday life and gallops beyond the mundane and predictable. You do only
the best for others. And in return others do the best for you.
Great though Love is, I thought, surely Love must be focused on an
object. I regarded a woman walking purposely by on the business of her
day. Behind her the sun heightened the greenness of the grass. A thrush
hammered at the ground, no doubt equally in pursuit of its own business.
It then took off and flew like an arrow into a tree. Perhaps the Truth is
to be found in meditative contemplation of the world. The Truth is the
immanence of all the world's beauty.
All beauty and all reason must be in the ordered perfection of nature:
the balance of the ecological order and the struggle for the most fit to
survive. But is that the Truth? It is at best only the manifestation of
it, not the Truth itself. And aren't there many evils in the natural
world? Is it not brutish and for those not most fit rather deficient in its
Divine Truth must then be the answer. I could see the spire of a church
above the television aerials casting a shadow on the houses beyond. Could
it be that God is the personification of the Truth? One would achieve
knowledge of the Truth through God. One would become one with the
omnipresence, omniscience and wisdom of God: the answer thoughtfully
provided by the prophets. A Truth, however, which required Faith. And
without Faith (and which Faith?) where then is the Truth? And if God
personifies the Truth, what is that Truth? Religion purports to give the
answer, but an answer that needs to be believed in. Not a self-evident
Truth to persuade the otherwise unpersuaded. And if religion does provide
the answer, then why the continued search for the Truth? And why the
competing interpretations of what it might be?
Ants were filing past, almost invisible in the cracks of the path's
tarmac. Everywhere you look there are insects! There are more insects
than any other phylum. Everywhere in the world there they are: beyond the
Suburbs where the Truth lies. The world outside was totally unknown to me.
I was certain that I really wouldn't like a great deal of it. Insects, for
instance. I'd heard that some were really rather large and frightening.
But if I were to find the Truth, I would have to face that and many other
hazards. I considered other aspects of life beyond the Suburbs. I had
often been told of its horrors, but some of those horrors actually sounded
quite good fun. How can one know the Truth until one has lived life to the
full? Which one cannot do in the Suburbs. The orgies and bacchanalia all
exist elsewhere. Perhaps the Truth could be found through a life of
indulgence and pleasure? But if this were so, then why have so many warned
against it? Over the millennia, there have always been arguments for
moderation. Perhaps a policy of moderation would lead me to the Truth.
Maybe I should be content to listen to those and wiser than I, who
have learnt from centuries of history and experience, and have divined
practices and customs that enshrine the Truth in tradition and received
wisdom. However, although I was no historian, I was certain that there was
no occasion in the past when the Truth had actually been found. And I was
equally certain that traditional ceremonies and rituals were not the result
of profound insight. Indeed, in the Suburbs at least, they appeared to
trivialise such insights. But what is timeless are the thoughts of the
great philosophers over the centuries. And perhaps one could attain
knowledge of the Truth through philosophy. Perhaps there is an a priori
Truth that could be found: a tautologous statement containing a greater
Truth than that of its own linguistic construction. I mused on this for a
while, not noticing the gentle brush of the wind on my cheeks, the
insistent yapping of a nearby rat-like lapdog, nor the rumble of the
I couldn't be certain that pure thought in itself could discover the
Truth. The Truth must be prescriptive as well as descriptive. It is not
just as an account of what there is, it is also a recipe for how to lead
one's life. And there, of course, lies the role of politics, also known as
the Art of the Possible. It is the means by which society organises itself
to achieve all that it can do. Contemplation is wasted when action is
required to improve an inequitable, unjust and inefficient world. It is
necessary for trains to run on time, for people to have faith in the
financial institutions, for the poorest to be provided for by those who are
most able to afford to do so, for the maximisation of the greatest good for
the greatest number at the most economical cost and the best
internationally competitive advantage.
Knowledge of this Truth must be provided by the education system. And
that incarnates the pursuit of knowledge. Perhaps then, the Truth is the
embodiment of knowledge, personifying all that there is already known, all
that is to be known and all that it is possible to know. Perhaps the Truth
is nothing more than the spirit of this pursuit. But can it also be other
things? Or maybe the Truth is all things, including things it cannot be.
But then how can it contain things that are not True?
My mind protested and I looked at my watch. It was now 11 o'clock. Oh
well! I thought, it's time for elevenses. I'll treat myself to a coffee
in a cafe. Whatever the Truth may be, it can surely wait for that.
Lunch, dinner, tea are essential signposts of the day marked by food,
celebrated and served at the Archer Street Cafe in pounds, shillings and
pence. Coffee at 17 shillings. Tea for a ten shilling note. A
traditional Suburban breakfast for £2 7/-. And for me a cup of coffee and
a small slice of cake for just over a guinea. The cafe was quite typical
of the Suburbs. It was adorned by flowery wallpaper, pictures of distant
meadows and valleys, a vase of plastic flowers on each Formica covered
table and plastic chairs secured firmly to the floor as a precaution
against theft. The cafe was neither empty nor full, maintaining a
comfortable middle ground where there were people to look at, but none with
their elbows up against mine. The customers at the cafe hardly warranted
any attention, being the usual collection of shoppers and shift-workers
either alone like myself and avoiding eye contact at all cost, or in
company and focusing their eyes exclusively on each other and their ears to
the affairs of the Suburbs. The state of the roads. The perennial litter
problem. The rubbish on television these days.
But almost all conversation came to an uneasy halt when the door of the
cafe tinkled open and a black woman entered. There are very few strangers
who ever visit the Suburbs, and usually they're visitors from other
suburbs. But a black person. Very rare! This in itself was remarkable,
but her impact was compounded by her wearing rather more skimpy clothes
than is normal for the Suburbs. In fact, the unspoken thought
reverberating among the blue rinses and hairpins was that she was barely
decent. Perhaps by City standards she was positively modest, but one isn't
to know much about that. All her clothes were white in significant
contrast to the blackness of her skin: a white slip supported her
substantial breasts, but revealed all her midriff, a short flared skirt
that just about obscured her knickers, short white ankle socks and white
tennis shoes. She looked as if she might have just finished playing tennis
on an exceptionally hot day. Her beaded hair dropped onto bare shoulders,
obscuring the straps of her slip.
She walked nonchalantly to the counter and ordered a cup of tea, handing
over a ten guinea note and expressed delight at all the change she was
handed in return. She then picked up her tea, balanced a plastic spoon and
several white cubes of sugar on the saucer, and then, for the first time
since she'd entered, looked around the cafe. She gave an amused smile,
strode towards my table and sat in the seat opposite me despite there being
several other empty tables. This woman was definitely not Suburban! No
one from the Suburbs would ever be so presumptuous or intrusive.
She put the plastic spoon into the cup and started stirring the tea,
while looking directly at me. "Hello, my name's Anna," she belatedly
introduced herself. "You don't mind me sitting here do you?"
"No, of course not," I said warily.
"The Suburbs are jolly odd!" She announced. "I've never been anywhere
so blinking reserved. You come from the Suburbs, don't you?" I nodded.
"Me, I come from the borough of Baldam. Near the University City of
Lambdeth. I've been travelling around, and made it to the Suburbs." She
glanced around her at the porcelain ornaments of country people on horses.
"And I wonder now if it was ever such a good idea coming here. What do you
In the Suburbs, one is never asked such direct questions. Especially
not from people you've never met before or who introduce themselves without
the usual excuses of circumstance. However, I coughed a little. "The
Suburbs has its own virtues. I'm sure there's some aspect of it you'd
"It's so boring!" Exclaimed Anna, ignoring my comment. "Perhaps that
its appeal. There just doesn't seem to be any life here at all. It's
dead! And no one wants to know you. Honestly, everyone looks at me as if
I've arrived from the moon. I'm not that odd! I don't have four hooves or
a furry tail. I don't have claws and sharp little teeth. Everyone here
looks so much the same. And they behave like the whole world was the
Suburbs. They're jolly polite enough, if you ask them the way, but they
say as little as they can."
Anna looked at me past the condiments in flowery plastic containers and
grinned very broadly. The whiteness of her eyes and teeth penetrated
through the Suburban air like beacons, tantalising advertisements of
another world of attitudes and lifestyle. "Er, what do you do?" I asked,
not sure whether a question that would in Suburban circles be almost as
automatic as a reference to the weather or the dreadful traffic was really
Anna openly laughed, and somewhat loudly for a Suburban cafe. I could
feel heads turn and eyes gaze malevolently towards us. I'd never be able
to eat at this cafe again in anything like my former anonymity. "Goodness!
What a jolly funny question! I just do what I blooming well like really.
I persevered. "I mean, what do you do for a living?"
"Oh! This and that! Whatever makes enough money, you know." She beamed
in paroxysms of silent mirth. "I suppose you're also going to ask why I'm
in the Suburbs? You people are so predictable!" She picked up her cup and
sipped from it. She put it down with a look of mild disgust. "The tea's
so strong here! And the coffee so weak! I'm in the Suburbs because I just
like to travel about the country. Get out and about, you know. I suppose
people in the Suburbs just never do things like that!"
"You just travel about the country?"
"When I'm not staying in my flat in Baldam, or with friends in the City,
that's what I do. I spend about a half of my life in Baldam. It's a
fantastic city. The rest of my time is divided between the City and the
rest of the country. There's just so much to do in the City that just
staying there's like travelling the rest of the world. Have you ever been
to the City?"
I shook my head. "It's very expensive..."
"Incredibly expensive! Fabulously expensive!" Anna exclaimed.
"Everything's so much cheaper here! And whenever I'm in the City, I always
earn a bit of money. Then I've got more than enough money for everywhere
else." She fiddled with a gold ring on her finger which looked like it cost
quite a few guineas. "But there's everything in the City! Everything!
You've got to be jolly tired of life to be tired of the City! You can find
whatever you want. All of life! Everything you could ever possibly want!"
I couldn't help wondering whether the Truth could also be found there,
but I was sure that if I'd confronted Anna with that question she'd
probably just think I was trying to be amusing.
"If you want to know anywhere that's the opposite of the Suburbs, then
just look at the City," she continued. "Where it's so predictable here,
it's totally flipping inconstant, erratic and varied there! Where it's
quiet here, it's bedlam there! Where there's nothing to do here, there's
everything to do in the City! And yet," Anna surveyed the Suburban world
through the curtain-draped cafe windows, "it's mostly people from the
Suburbs who work in the City." She frowned as if perplexed by this paradox.
"How is it," she asked me, running a bejewelled hand through her hair,
"that Suburbanites can go to the City every day and never seem to have ever
been there? It's as if they go there, but never actually see the place
Anna laid a wrist down on the table and studied her silver and gold
bangles. One was shaped as the head of what looked like a rat eating an
arrow-headed tail. She looked up at me. "Yes," she grinned. "They are
worth a bit, this jewellery, but I'm not rich. I've just known some really
wealthy people. You do, you know, going to Night Clubs and things in the
City and being, you know, an Independent Woman. But although I wouldn't
say no (not flipping likely!) if someone offered me a lot of money, I just
don't think that money's what I really want out of life."
"Why's that?" I wondered, hearing for the first time what was heresy in
the Suburbs. I'd always believed that one could measure the success of
one's life by the eventual size of one's pension at retirement. If
material wealth wasn't the object of work, and if work wasn't the object of
life, then what could be?
"I don't know," Anna answered noncommittally, perhaps sensing the
discomfiture her view had caused. "I just think that the actual pursuit of
wealth gets in the way of enjoying it. And how much more enjoyment does a
billion guineas give you that a million guineas couldn't? No! It just
seems like just too much flipping trouble to me. And people who're rich
... okay, they're not exactly miserable, but I don't think their happiness
is in direct relation to how much they earn."
"What makes you happy?"
Anna grinned with a quizzical furrowing of her brows. "You people ask
the oddest things! What makes anyone happy? What's happy? But in the
City I like going out. You know, there are oodles of Night Clubs in the
City. There are Night Clubs for every taste you can imagine. Night Clubs
for the wealthy. The young. The old. Students. Everyone. But not," she
glanced at a blue rinsed couple nearby, "I suspect for people in the
Suburbs. I just like to go out and dance the night away. And there are
all sorts of music. Bebop, House, Kora, Tango, Flamenco, Fox-trot, Waltz,
Lambada, everything. What do you expect me to do?"
"Does everyone go to night clubs?"
"Well, not everyone. Not everyone likes them, of course. Some people
simply can't dance. Or they don't like socialising. Or, of course, they
just can't afford it. You know, there are some people, even in the City,
who're what you call poor. So no nightclubbing for them."
"Are they very poor?"
"You don't have poor people in the Suburbs, do you?" Contemplated Anna.
"Or if you do they're kept away like a dirty secret. But in the
City there is an overabundance of poor people. Not just in the City of
course, but somehow it's more noticeable there. The poor live in the East
End of the City, though. out of sight, or probably just brushed to
one side. The City is like two different places glued together. On the
one side, there's the City of money, wealth and privilege. Theatres, Art
Galleries and Public Monuments. Department Stores, Shopping Malls and
Underpasses. On the other side, in tatty, unplanned disarray, there are
the rundown churches, dilapidated pavements, gutted shops, and bored people
sitting by the roadside throwing stones at each other. For everyone in the
City with a good job, there must be at least one other, or maybe even
eleven others, who're unemployed or doing flipping awful jobs that pay
barely anything at all."
"But you're not poor?"
"Officially, I am," confessed Anna with a conspiratorial grin. "And my
parents aren't that well off. In fact, I was born in a rather rundown part
of Lambdeth. You wouldn't want to go there at all. Suburban people like
you would just look jolly odd. Poor people would think you were there for
a reason: and they couldn't imagine it being a good one. But you wouldn't
want to go there anyway, unless it was for something illegal. The Night
Clubs are blinking horrible. The taverns are fairly intimidating. There
aren't even cinemas there, and certainly no theatres or anything like that.
So you couldn't even see a film! Mind you, I'm not so sure there's
anything very much more to do here in the Suburbs. I've seen no cinemas
here. Do you have anything like that?"
"No, not really. In the Suburbs, most people's entertainment is at
home. Mostly on television."
"Ugh! How horrible! I never watch television myself. I'd rather go
out and see a film or a play. There's so much choice in the City! There
are as many different kinds of live entertainment as you can imagine.
There are cinemas and theatres showing plays and films of the most elevated
classical art, obscure avant-garde films, popular entertainment,
pornography, ultra-violence, children's films, comedies, everything. Are
you sure there aren't any cinemas in the Suburbs? So, what can you watch
I described some of the situation comedies, quiz shows, soap operas and
general entertainment screened on Suburban television. Anna seemed
horrified. "I'm no art critic," she admitted, "but it does appear fairly
incontrovertible that the Suburban audience is irredeemably plebeian and
Philistine in its aesthetic preference! And isn't the value of a society
best judged by the culture it produces and consumes? In which case
Suburban culture is no culture at all!"
I was slightly affronted by this opinion, though I couldn't think of any
contradictory argument except to say that different standards prevailed in
"Well," mused Anna reflectively, "It's a funny world! And I've
certainly not seen all of it! There are strange you hear of the
most peculiar places in the most unlikely places."
"What sort of places?"
"Weird places. Places that can be found in Police Telephone Boxes,
through wardrobes, at the top of mountains, at the end of rainbows, all
sorts of places. But I'm a practical sort of person. I'm not at all sure
what I think of things like that. Corn circles. UFOs. Weeping virgins.
Levitating meditators. But one thing I'm sure is that in this world there
just seems to be so much and unknown."
"Surely scientists will find them," I said, stating a commonly held
"Science could never solve all problems. Science is about demonstrable
quantifiable truths. And the Truth is probably not that. But scientists
are certainly having a jolly good go at it. In the City, there's an
absolutely fantastically big building. The Academy, it's called. And all
the scientists are there. Looking for the Truth, I suppose. Or just
finding out about things, people and places. Or just studying things for
their own sake. Things like zoology, equestrianism, aerial mechanics, lots
"That sounds fascinating!" I commented, taken by Anna's reference to the
"There's just so much to learn," admitted Anna. She swallowed the last
of her tea in a single gulp and looked desultorily at the empty cup. "So
many places to go! The world's such a big place. And different countries
have such incredibly strange cultures. There are republics and kingdoms.
Democracies and dictatorships. There are some countries at war. So many
different languages, religions and customs." She leaned forward. "You've
not been anywhere abroad have you?"
"No. I've never left the Suburbs," I admitted.
"The Suburbs are as much a state of mind as a place," commented Anna
mysteriously. "You don't have to leave the country to see different things
though. Even in this country there's an incredible variety of people and
customs. It's flipping fantastic, the variety! Some boroughs and counties
are quite repressive and others are very open. There are some I'd jolly
well avoid like they were vermin. Some are jolly dangerous. Some are, I
suppose, pretty boring, like the Suburbs. But boredom is not the worst!
Or perhaps it is!"
Anna looked a little uncomfortable. She glanced up at the clock just
above the counter where the second hand circumnavigated a design of flowers
and fluffy rodents. "I suppose I ought to be going now," she announced.
She eased herself up out of the chair with a slightly embarrassed look.
"Well, I'm leaving the Suburbs now. I'll be taking myself back to
Lambdeth." She straightened herself up. "It's been really jolly
interesting talking to you. You know, if I were you I'd get out of the
Suburbs. See a bit of the world beyond. You don't have to prepare
yourself or anything. Just pack your bag and go. It's a big world outside
and you mustn't just ignore it."
With that advice she bade me goodbye and borne by the wind of Suburban
disapprobation she sailed out of the cafe and into the sunlit streets. I
watched her black and white figure recede into the distance, bending the
necks of the curious as she passed by. Perhaps, I thought, turning back my
head to the somewhat unsatisfactory normality of the cafe, the Truth could
be found through escape from the Suburbs. Philosophical musings continued
in my mind until beyond lunch time, beyond dinner time and onto nine
o'clock that evening. A time which found me wandering about the Suburbs.
There was no direction in which I was heading, but my composure was just
too disturbed to rest at home. Although my attention was essentially drawn
internally, the streets were in a part of the Suburbs I'd never been to
before (although only familiarity with the Suburbs could possibly have
distinguished one set of hedges and pavements from another). Occasionally
I caught sight of late commuters galloping home from work - and in one
case, at least, I was sure, these commuters, carrying their briefcases,
umbrellas and bowler hats, were making their way on hooves.
However unfamiliar this district of the Suburbs was to me, I hadn't
expected to see a rather tall figure looming out of the dark shadows,
several feet larger than a human being, wearing a tri-cornered hat and a
long overcoat. I froze in fear and stared down the street at a pair of
piercing eyes. This was not the usual stray fox, or rat one would
expect to see in the Suburbs at night. This was clearly something very
different. The figure loomed mysteriously in the shadows casting a long
shadow from a street lamp. Then it turned round and lumbered off,
gradually receding into the distance. I stood shaken by the sight. Where
did that apparition come from and what was its significance? The headlamps
and the low roar of a passing car brought me back to the ordinary world.
Perhaps I'd just imagined it, I thought, as I continued my wanderings but
this time back in the direction I'd come from.
As I wandered, my thoughts returned to my destiny. Could I be so
certain that it couldn't be found in the Suburbs, I wondered, as another
car's headlights caught me in its beam and projected an extending shadow
ahead of me? Then as it came close, the car slowed and, on overtaking me,
pulled gently to a halt. This was another unusual sight in the Suburbs: a
limousine with foreign number-plates, twice the length of an ordinary car.
The passenger's door opened and a dark portly shadow emerged onto the
pavement, turned round to ease the door shut and passed comments through
the window to the shadows inside. Then this figure ambled towards me.
It was a rather fat gentleman wearing brightly coloured shorts with a
camcorder strapped around his neck and a floral short-sleeved shirt.
"Hiya," he announced himself. "Ya know your way round here?"
"Well yes," I admitted.
"Perhaps then y'all be able to help us. We're lost. One goddamn street
here is really just the same as another. And nobody seems to know this
area any more'n we do."
"We've been driving around for hours and I'm sure we've been back to
this spot before. It's one goddamn heck of a maze here. All roads go back
to where they started. And me and my pals are just totally lost." I
glanced towards the shadows in the car that seemed to belong to figures
somewhat larger than the gentleman. "Back home things ain't like this, I
can tell you! Back home things are much better off. Bigger houses, all
with swimming pools and with bigger cars parked in the drives. The roads
are wider and the lawns are hectare-sized. And wherever you go there are
signs to help you. Here it's just row after row of the same goddamn
houses. And you people are so goddamn suspicious. You'd think we'd come
from another planet rather than just another country. You people here are
"Do you mean just in the Suburbs?"
"Gee! I don't know! But your Suburbs are most certainly weird! We've
seen a lot of your little country. And none of what we've seen so
far's anything like this! We've just been driving through the Country.
And that's so goddamn peaceful. You got a real quaint countryside here.
Beautiful green fields. Lovely woods and valleys. Lakes, hills and the
weirdest kind of animals. Some of what you've got here looks like
it's not changed for simply millions of years. And some of it's like what
you sort of just imagined in dreams. The Country's real quaint!"
"I've never been to the Country," I confessed.
"You ain't!" exclaimed the tourist. "Well there sure is a heck of a lot
to see. And we were real impressed by the Art Gallery on the border of the
Country and the Suburbs. A heck of a weird place for an Art Gallery!
Especially one as big as you've got! I mean, I don't know doodly squat
about Art but I'm sure I saw some real stuff there! There's some
weird stuff I don't understand at all. Funny doodles, bits of brickwork, dead rats decaying on darts boards. You must've been to the Art
Gallery? It ain't no distance from here!"
"No, I've not been there either."
"You ain't been nowhere!" the tourist exclaimed. "But then you live
here. You've got your whole goddamn life to see everything, ain't you!"
The tourist then asked for directions to the Centaur Hotel, which I was
thankfully able to give. It was a little complicated, so I had to draw a
map on the back of an envelope he had, carefully marking all the straight
lines and square parks that mapped out the Suburbs. He seemed genuinely
grateful and shook my hand warmly as he left.
"You must see more of the world, you know!" he advised me, as he
wandered back to his car with the camcorder bouncing on his belly. He
opened the door, and within seconds the car glided away leaving the street
appearing lonelier than before.
As I walked back home, it seemed that my thoughts and encounters this
day were surely leading only one way. I resolved at that moment to leave
the Suburbs and search for the Truth. I was sure I was not the first
person from the Suburbs, or anywhere else, to have made the same decision.
Famous kings, errant knights, little girls, chimney sweeps, commercial
travellers had all chosen the same path. To leave their homes where they
were safe and secure. And why not me?
The reasons for doing so seemed overwhelmingly compelling. I was
convinced from talking to Anna and the tourist that there was a larger,
more exciting world beyond. A world that offered so much more than the
Suburbs ever could. I could put new purpose and meaning into my life. And
what better purpose is there than the pursuit of the Truth? Not watching
television programs and saving for a mortgage. Not working five days a
week from nine to five and ending my days on the pension and savings I
would have earned. Not just passing my genes on to another generation and
dying with the clear conscience of never having seen, spoken and heard any
evil. No! A far better destiny to follow is that signposted by Greek
Travellers and Ancient Voyagers, and perhaps to actually attain the
Ultimate Object of Human History.
However, I pondered, I may not be the for this task. After all, a
Suburban life isn't generally considered the ideal background for an
adventurer. It had scarcely given me the experience of struggle against
adversity and deprivation. Nor had it bequeathed a tradition of adventure.
But the Truth must surely rise above both nature and nurture. And as a
purpose for my life what better could there be? I imagined myself fighting
against giant rats and drunken centaurs, in shining armour, a sword and
shield in hand, and finally discovering the Truth. The Holy Grail. The
Golden Fleece. Both Alpha and Omega.
And then, after a night of restless musing, breakfast once more. The
start of another day in the Suburbs. In front of me was food for the day
ahead and in the background the television. Outside the house, the world
was waking up to the sounds of the Suburbs. And today, I had decided, was
to be my day of departure.
My mind was in total turmoil. Wasn't I just leaving on an
ill-considered and possibly contrived fancy? Who could ever imagine that
the Truth could ever be discovered by someone like myself? What was I
expecting to find? Wouldn't I just be better off staying put in the
Suburbs? What could I achieve? Where was I expecting to go? And where
would I start?
I started where everyone leaving the Suburbs does: at the Railway
Station, one of the grandest buildings in the Suburbs, the point from which
trains leave every day packed with commuters on their way to work. I was
in the general mêlee of commuting, jostled gently from side to side by
people chasing anxiously past to catch the 08.01 or the 08.11 or the late
07.24. What I still hadn't chosen was my destination.
I looked at the computerised destination board broadcasting accurately
and to the second by exactly how much each train was late or going to be
late. At the top of the board were the trains first scheduled to leave -
most to the City - and as each one departed the entire board rumbled as the
destinations below shuffled up to take their new position of prominence in
the list and a new one would appear at the bottom. All around were
commuters apprehensively staring at the board and then either trickling
towards a ticket kiosk or streaming past the ticket inspector with their
annual or monthly train passes held up in arrogant pride. I was in much
less of a hurry and not at all sure which platform to head to.
I looked at a map that showed in the most sketchy form the routes taken
by each train, colour-coded and totally out of scale. The two focal points
of the map were the Suburbs and the City, with the latter and all its
associated stations perhaps occupying a third of the entire space of the
country judging by the map. I wanted to go somewhere totally different.
Somewhere distant from the obvious destination. Somewhere diminutive, with
a name I'd never heard of, that suggested a world a thousand miles or a
thousand years away from Suburban concerns. A tiny little place like
I settled on this destination totally by chance, and then queued up at
the counter behind a commuter with a rolled newspaper discussing the
relative merits of a leave-on-Friday-and-return-on-Monday ticket over a
Long Weekend Ticket for the same days at a different cost. When he'd
finally resolved the discussion to his satisfaction, I breathlessly
requested a single to Gotesdene.
"Godsstone?" queried the ticket clerk.
I was reduced to spelling out each letter of the name while the clerk
typed them into his console which soon issued a single ticket. He briefly
explained how it worked. It was a two-stage journey on a four-phase fare
matrix system. I would change at Ratford Central to get a steam train
which stopped at Gotesdene on its journey ultimately to Lambdeth
Peccadillo. The four phases of the fare were spelt out in pounds,
shillings, pence and farthings, which amounted to £14 6/8¼d which I paid in
a mixture of gold, silver and bronze. And then I walked towards the train
waiting for me on Platform One.
I sat somewhat nervously on a hard and threadbare seat in a tatty
compartment, watching the last of the commuters run towards it and jump on.
Then with a loud whistle and a wave of the station guard's flag, the train
growled with anticipation and purred out of the station and on towards its
destination. As the train shunted off, I could see passengers through the
misted glass waiting on the platform, station porters pushing parcels and
letters in trolleys and then the last vestige of platform giving way to
rows upon rows of the houses, parks and roads which compose Suburbia.
Before I had travelled very far I knew for sure that I had left the
Suburbs. The landscape through the train window became less precisely
ordered. The ragged hedges no longer enclosed well tended lawns and
flower-beds but rather rectangles of one crop or another, occasionally
enlivened by a tree or clump of trees. Goats and other agricultural
animals roamed freely about, sometimes raising their heads to watch the
train going by.
The transition from the Suburbs to the Countryside was not only apparent
outside the train but also inside. The uniform presence of Suburbanites
reading newspapers or staring blankly through the carriage window was
steadily replaced by a broader mix of people, representing a cross-section
of the people who live in the Country. The composition of the passengers
changed as the train stopped, paused and then moved on again from the
station platforms proclaimed by rustic Country names. At one station
several rats in precisely made and appropriately tiny clothes clambered
into a nearby compartment by steps provided for the use of such smaller
At each station, a loudspeaker trailed off a list of destinations and,
just as the train was beginning to leave, recommenced the list from the
beginning for anyone who wanted the first few names repeated. By this
means I was aware that I was approaching the station at which I would have
to change trains for Gotesdene. The train soon reached this stop and
shook, shuddered and clanked as it steadied to a halt. I reluctantly
sacrificed the warmth of my seat and disembarked onto the busy platform.
Barley Junction was quite a different station from the one I had left in
the Suburbs. Goats jostled freely about the platform place, some entering
the train I'd just left and some trotting out of it. One with a
station porter's cap and an official uniform was bleating more loudly and
insistently than the others, and I soon became aware that it was he who was
broadcasting the platform announcements. It took a few moments to adapt my
ear to his bleat and rustic dialect, but presently I managed to couple the
name Gotesdene with an appropriate platform number and with this
information I headed over the station bridge, sidestepping the of
rats I had seen before, and descended to where a Steam Train was waiting.
Being completely unfamiliar with the customs of the area - so different
from the Suburbs - I looked for an indicator board that might confirm to me
that this train, emitting large clouds of black smoke from its funnel, was
the one I wanted, but there was no digital display unit to be found
anywhere. There was only a wooden sign protruding from a post, with a list
of names including that of Gotesdene. So this was it. I searched for an
empty compartment, opened the door and sat on a hard upholstered seat by
the window and watched the bustle of activity outside.
There were the bleats of goats to one other: some advertising tea and
newspapers. Above all this, was the more resonant voice of the station
master listing where the train was due to stop. To lessen the platform
din, and avoid the unpleasant smell of smoking coal, I pulled up the
carriage window which promptly coccooned me from the world outside. I was
alone in the company of two facing rows of upholstery, two opposing mirrors
partly obscured by the rusting metal plate backing them and advertisements
for dental chewing gum, rat-killer, the Green Party and the Times.
I was not alone for long. The carriage door opened and in poked the
head of a woman about my age. "Is this compartment free?" She asked.
"Why certainly," I said in a slightly panicked voice. This was not
merely because her presence had perturbed my composure, but it also by her
physical appearance. Partly this was due to the strangeness of her long
straight green hair which cascaded down beyond her shoulders and to her
waist. Mostly however this was to do with the fact that she wore no
clothes whatsoever. This was not a sight often seen in the Suburbs. Her
pale but warm and friendly face was illuminated by sparkling bright green
"Then you won't mind us joining you," she continued climbing into the
compartment. Her bare feet walked obliviously over the varnished
floorboards and she sat on the seat immediately opposite me. I was
uncomfortably conscious of her bare apple-round and the green bush
of hair between her crossed thighs. She was followed by a of about
fifteen also with green hair, but in his case styled into a neat short back
and sides, and wearing an outfit that would not look out of place in the
Suburbs. Indeed only the colour of his hair might ever attract any
comment. His face was also pale, but the eyes failed to illuminate it at
all. He sat next to the and I felt sure I could see a resemblance.
"My name's Beta and this is my brother," continued the with an
unselfconscious openness very rare in the Suburbs. "We're off to the City
of Lambdeth. Do you know it?"
"I've heard of it."
"I've never been there myself, but Bacon has. He's going to there and I'm escorting him."
"Not that I need escorting!" The sniffed unenthusiastically. "I'm
just pleased to get away from the Country. It's about time I moved into
the Modern Age. I'm had enough of the ignorance and backwardness of the
"Oh, Bacon!" Beta responded. "You don't have to be so harsh on the
Village. It's where we've lived all our lives."
"Progress has just passed us by," Bacon continued. "The years go by and
the Village and the Country just remain the same." He looked at me with a
sardonic smile. "You just wouldn't believe how primitive the Village is.
If you went there you'd think you'd been through a time warp."
"It's the way it is because its way of life has been so successful over
the years," defended Beta. "Why change a place where people are quite
happy with things as they are?" She leaned forward towards me, her hair
falling off her shoulders and to drop in curtains of green in front
of her. "What do you think?"
As I had no wish to offend either the attractive naked or her
brother I decided to be diplomatic. "I don't know your village, so I
really can't comment."
"It's so beautiful and natural! A sweet little brook babbles alongside
a wood and open fields, and goats and other wander freely in the
lanes. Everyone is friendly and helpful - and, excepting my brother,
nobody feels the need to wear clothes..."
"So? How primitive can you get!" snorted Bacon. "If dressing like
savages was so wonderful, how come it's not more universal? People in the
Suburbs wear clothes. And so do people in Lambdeth. Babbling brooks and
goats aren't everything! You didn't mention, Beta, that the roads are
unmetalled; the electricity is unreliable and intermittent; the water still
comes from a well; there are no street-lamps and the only transport we've
got is oxen-, goat- or mule-driven. It's only a paradise if you think
deprivation's a good thing."
"But you don't need all those things if everything else is fine..."
"How can it be? The Village is barely self-sufficient at the moment.
It produces very little surplus product and not many people from elsewhere
are that enthusiastic about buying our organic vegetables and dairy
products. It won't be long until the Village will have to diversify its
production or everyone will starve."
"Who says the Village will starve! Everyone has enough to eat now.
"It'll happen! Nowhere can last forever contented on just enough
surplus to afford a single television for the whole Village and hardly any
of the other luxuries that people in, for instance, the Suburbs take for
granted. One bad harvest and the Village will collapse!"
"There have been people saying that for centuries and it's never
happened!" Beta indignantly retorted. "All that's happened is that more
people like you predict it to try and get people to change their ways and
become more progressive. And it is self-fulfilling prophecy when people
like you leave and it becomes more difficult for the Village to get by."
"And what's wrong with me for wanting to do that? If there's a better
world beyond, why not go for it!"
At that moment, the train discharged sounds of scraping, puffing and
snorting, and then accompanied by a chorus of cries, particularly from the
station announcer, the Steam Train slowly puffed out of the platform.
Bacon and Beta dropped their conversation to watch Barley Junction recede
behind and green fields open up ahead.
As the train settled into its rhythm of railway-track breaks and
occasional hoots, I continued the halted conversation: "There are certainly
a lot of goats around here! Far more than you'd ever meet in the Suburbs!"
"That just demonstrates how much more Progressive the Suburbs are!"
agreed Bacon. "You're right. There are far too many goats in the
Countryside. There really should be fewer of them."
"Now you're being unfair to goats!" Complained Beta with a frown.
"They smell. They eat anything and everything. Left to their own
resources they'd just eat the entire Countryside and we'd be left with
nothing but desert"
"But they still have rights just like everyone else. You can't dismiss
them just like that."
"Yes, you can! The issue is quite straightforward. There are too many
goats! What you've got to do is reduce the number. And if it involves
deportation or birth control then so be it."
"Or anything else, I suppose?" Wondered Beta sadly.
"Exactly so!" Bacon said adamantly. "Goats are a menace, and they've
got to be eliminated by one means or another!"
I could see that I hadn't chosen as safe a topic for conversation as I'd
thought, but I listened as the two siblings discussed what Bacon termed the
Goat Problem. Some of his solutions were quite drastic and not too
dissimilar to some I'd occasionally heard in the Suburbs when considering
eliminating vermin. "It's entirely a question of Progress!" Bacon
insisted. "There should never be obstacles set in its way. We're all
better off in the end - Goats too! - if less attention were paid to the
finer feelings of the outmoded and obsolete..."
"For no fault of their own!" Beta interrupted.
"It doesn't matter! If there is any purpose to life at all, it must be
the pursuit of Progress and Truth!"
I was just about to rejoin the conversation to announce my own interest
in the Truth, when the engine released a series of hoots as it noisily came
to a halt at another station. This one was extremely small, consisting of
a platform, a derelict ticket office and a waiting room. A border of
flowers and vegetables brightened the platform and beyond there was nothing
but an uninterrupted series of open fields with a few scattered windmills
in the distance.
"We'll be here for ages!" complained Bacon. "The train always is."
Beta stood up and pulled down the window. Instantly the Country air
rushed in, carrying the smell of hay and the buzz of little insects. "I
don't see why that should be!" she commented as she leaned her shoulders on
the top of the pulled-down window, her head and mass of hair outside and
her bare bottom sticking out in front of my nose. The sun sparkled on her
cheeks and lit up her hair, revealing long thin strands that floated about.
"Last time I was here I had to wait while they were shooing some off the tracks. I'm sure they were goats! You wouldn't get such gross
inefficiency in Baldam I'm sure!"
Beta ignored her brother. "It's such a nice place here!" She remarked
cheerfully. "There's a whitewashed wooden church over there. And a little
château. And some donkeys trotting by on their way to the fields." She
leaned out even further, her arms straightened, her buttocks tautened and
her face soaking in the warm morning Sun. "And there's a large mouse
"A mouse! Are you sure? Not a rat or something like that?" sniffed
"I've known enough rats and mice to know the difference!" Beta retorted.
"And I do believe this mouse is Tudor!"
"Tudor!" snorted her brother, leaning over to peer through the window
himself. "Why should he be catching a train I wonder?"
Beta didn't answer, but instead waved her arms and shouted. "Tudor!
Over here! Tudor!" I looked through the window to see what this mouse
might be like, but I didn't expect to see one standing upright nearly five
foot tall, wearing a smart blue jerkin, codpiece and with a
ruff round his neck just below the muzzle. He was bareheaded with whiskers
proudly displayed, bright eyes prominent in grey-brown fur and large flat
ears twitching with a life of their own. He waved a gloved paw at Beta and
strode towards us in boots while his other paw supported a sheathed
sword secured to his waist.
"Beta!" he cried. "'Tis thou! How dost? Art alone?"
"No, I'm with Bacon. We're off to Baldam. Come and share the carriage
with us!" Beta pulled her head in through the window to enable Tudor to
open the compartment door.
"Verily shalt I!" Tudor said resolutely, as he pulled himself in. "'Tis
most happy and meet that I should so encounter ye!" He nodded at Bacon and
me, and removed his belt and sword which he placed on the luggage rack
above my head. He then sat next to me facing Bacon, his long scaly tail
winding around behind him and falling discreetly onto the compartment
floor. He crossed his short legs, his boots reaching nearly up to his knee.
"Good morrow, sire," he addressed me. "Art also bound for Baldam?"
"No," answered Bacon on my behalf. "He's not one of our party at all."
"I come from the Suburbs," I explained.
"The Suburbs!" mused the mouse flicking his tail slightly. "'Tis a
borough to which I have never been. Art many such as I there?"
"No, not at all," I answered honestly. "I've never seen anyone like you
in the Suburbs."
"'Tis pity," he sighed. "Thou know'st me not. I am hight Tudor as Beta
hath told thee and I abide in mine estate many a league distant from here."
He looked up at Beta and Bacon. "'Tis rare I should venture so far afield,
but I have affairs to attend in Rattesthwaite. Dost thou know't?"
"It's further down the line," remarked the boy.
"'Tis so," Tudor acknowledged. The train shunted forward and back
unbalancing the mouse and forcing him to grip my arm with his sharp claws
to avoid falling to the floor. The train hooted and a cloud of sooty dust
floated past the window. It then puffed off. The mouse clung painfully to
my arm as the platform receded. While the train was moving, I observed a
large hoarding featuring two hands held together. Better Together! it
read ambiguously. I bent my head around to watch it go by and caught a
glimpse of green writing at the foot of the poster, featuring a person's
name and a green cross in a box.
"It's not long till the General Election's, is it?" commented Beta
noting the poster.
"General Election?" I wondered. "Is there one due soon?"
"Where have you been?" sneered Bacon. "Of course there is! Perhaps the
most important one this country's ever known!"
"I just didn't know about it," I admitted. It can't have seemed so
important in the apolitical Suburbs. "Which parties are contesting it?"
"Oh! The usual six," commented Beta putting up one hand of outspread
fingers and a thumb. She then withdrew all but her index finger. "There's
the Party. They're the left wing party."
"Bloody communists!" snorted Bacon. "Luddites! They'll have us all
living like peasants."
Tudor snorted equally disdainfully. "'Sblood! 'Twill be but the rule
of the mobus populis. 'Twould be a disaster unpareil an 'twere they the
Beta raised a second finger. "Then there's the Blue Party. They're the
right wing party. That's the one Bacon supports, I think."
"Dashed right I will!"
"Then there's the Green Party. They're the ones I quite like. They're
the party of the Countryside, tradition and environment." Beta now had
three fingers standing, and then before her could comment on her
choice, she hurried on by raising a fourth finger. "Then the Black Party.
I think Bacon's got some sympathy for them, but even he doesn't like the
militaristic aspect of the party or their dislike for foreigners." She
raised her thumb. "The Illicit Party, which is quite a new one, and I'm
not sure what they're about. And finally," she raised the thumb of her
other hand, "there's the White Party and I don't know what they represent
at all either."
"I don't think even they do!" scoffed Bacon. He smiled at me. "Perhaps
you do. I read somewhere that they always do well in the Suburbs."
"Yes they do," I agreed, but I couldn't answer what they represented.
They always appeared to win local elections by fighting for such local
issues as clearer markings on public highways, more books in the public
library and more flower shows. Their candidates always seemed frightfully
nice and when they spoke it was hard to identify any policy they advocated
that one could actively oppose. "But what's so very important about this
"I thought this kind of gross ignorance was confined to the Country,"
said Bacon disparagingly. "It's to break up the Coition Government that's
been running this country - badly! - for as long as anyone can remember.
They've changed the constitution such that whichever party wins will become
the sole government and not have to work with all the other parties."
"How are they doing that?" I wondered.
"It's terribly complicated," Beta continued. "Something to do with how
the votes will be transferred. But as a result they hope that it will
resolve the mess the government's got into - you know, with never being
able to make a decision without it being vetoed by some minority interest
in the Coition."
"What sort of mess is the government in?"
"Perhaps it just doesn't affect people in the Suburbs," Bacon commented.
"But everywhere else things have just drifted aimlessly for years. There's
virtually no central government at all. Everything is decided at a local
level and in the meantime there's a ridiculous budget deficit, foreign
policy is totally ineffectual, the taxation system is creaking at the seams
and not one part of the country fits well with any other part. In one part
of the country the roads are metalled and well-signposted, but as soon as
your car enters another borough, the dual carriageway abruptly becomes a
pot-holed dirt-track. In some districts the cars even drive on different
sides of the road. The gauge on the railways are all different, so that
you can't travel any distance by train without having to change. And the
cost of things just varies ridiculously from one place to another."
"I'sooth!" agreed Tudor. "'Tis great need for more consistency in the
nation. 'Tis all chaos and confusion."
"Who do you think will form the next government?" I asked.
"Nobody knows!" exclaimed Beta. "Past results are just no guide
apparently. I'd like it to be the Green Party, but there's probably not
enough support for them in the City or the Suburbs."
"I pledge my support for the Blue Party," Tudor said, twitching his
whiskers agitatedly. "But in truth there is but little in them that I
love. I have sympathies for the Black Party, but they too are unlikely to
triumph. 'Twill not be an ideal result for me, I fear."
"I've also got sympathies with the Blacks," Bacon confessed, "but I fear
they aren't sufficiently committed to Progress or the Modern World.
However, they are more honest than the Blue Party and if they were in power
they'd definitely get things moving! I too would like to see a final
solution to the problem, end all these damaging industrial disputes and
make the nation strong again. Nevertheless, informed opinion says that it
will be a fight between the Red, Blue and White Parties and I know which of
those I prefer!"
The train came to another halt at a platform equally as remote as the
one before. In the commotion of arrival, conversation came to a halt and
Beta once again took the opportunity to pull down the window and stick her
head and shoulders out through it. I also peered out and saw a about
the same size as Tudor sitting on his rear on a platform bench beside
another poster for the Green Party. Like Tudor, he was fully clothed with
only his head and front paws showing. He was reading a newspaper and wore
looser clothes than Tudor, but nonetheless quite colourful ones. They were
a blend of black, gold, green and blue, with trousers that reached to his
knees below which he wore white and buckled shoes. His jerkin
was decorated by a flamboyant lace frill around the neck, and like Tudor he
carried a sword attached to a belt round his waist. Beside him and lying
on the bench was a large broad-brimmed hat with a magnificent feather
sprouting from it. He didn't appear at all interested in our train and
must presumably have been waiting for another one.
"That's another sight you don't often see in the Suburbs," I commented
absently. "Cats like that are just not common at all."
"If only 'twere the same everywhere!" Sighed Tudor. "Wouldst 'twere
fewer Cats altogether. Sooth, I am content he hath no wish to embark."
The train didn't stop for very long, and soon chuffed off leaving the
feline beneath the station clock. "I detest Cats!" Hissed Tudor.
"Throughout history they have been a great enemy to mine people. It
matters not which continent nor island Mice have settled, Cats have ever
pursued us mercilessly and caused great grief. I trow 'tis but for jest
they do molest us. They kill us for their sport as we might kill flies.
And still now they pursue us: disinheriting and enslaving us." He looked at
me, his whiskers twitching agitatedly and his tail flicking up and down
with a ponderous rhythm. "Ere now, in the historic land of Mice, we art
under the occupation of the illegitimate Kingdom of Cats. A Kingdom
recognised by many nations but intent only on the supremacy of the Feline
scourge. In mine historic home there be Cats where once Mice stood tall.
'Tis said 'tis but fair recompense for many centuries of Feline
persecution, but 'tis verily unjust that now 'tis Mice who art scattered
like pollen on the wind throughout the world. 'Tis now my kind who art the
servile class in many a land, bereft of an ancestral home or spiritual
"Have you personally been dispossessed?" I wondered.
"Ay, spiritually!" Sighed Tudor. "In my heart and soul I too have been
dispossessed, but - thanks be to the Lord! - not in mine means. Mice have
been in this land for many centuries. Mice who have struggled hard against
injustice and prejudice. And to them I owest my wealth and repute." He
rested a paw on his sword which I was afraid he might choose to unsheathe.
"'Tis the Cats I hate. 'Tis they who have raped Mice of their land and
forced subservience to their pagan ways. 'Twere best that Cats wert dealt
with as they deserve. E'en here - far from the timeless struggle 'twixt
Mouse and - there be cause to hate Cats who bring misery and grief by
their ruthless exploitation of the wealth and riches of this land. 'Tis
they more than any other who have brought things in this land to such a
sorry state - and any support I hath for the Black Party ist in recognition
of their fine words in this crusade."
It wasn't long until the train came to another stop where the name of
Rattesthwaite was clearly visible on the station platform. Tudor preened
his whiskers with the claws of an ungloved paw. When the train finally
ceased to shudder, he eased himself off the seat allowing his long tail to
unravel behind him and fastened his belt and sword to his waist. Then he
bade us all farewell as he got off the train.
"It probably wasn't such a good idea to mention Cats with Tudor here!"
Smiled Beta as the Mouse hastened towards the ticket barrier brandishing a
cardboard ticket where a was collecting them. "It's a subject that's
bound to get him steamed up!"
"But essentially Tudor's right!" Butted in Bacon. "Cats have caused
considerable misery to Mice. It's a historic and unending conflict. And
the Black Party is also right. The world would be a better place without
"I just don't think that's true at all," Beta argued. "How can anyone
believe that Cats as individuals deserve to be treated any differently from
"But they are different and they'd be the first to say so! They are an
alien species who work only for their own individual benefit or the benefit
of their kind in collusion with international capitalism to appropriate the
wealth of the land and claim it as their own. I mean, have you ever come
across a poor Cat?"
"Well, no! But it doesn't follow that all Cats are bad and I'm sure
there are plenty that aren't particularly well-off."
"Essentially Cats despise everyone else. They ingratiate themselves on
people with their purring and apparent affectionateness, but all they're
concerned about is their own interests. And what they do is siphon the
wealth of nations from where the Feline Diaspora has taken them and send it
back to the Kingdom."
"Even if that were true," argued Beta passionately, "it doesn't mean
that Cats have to be locked in concentration camps, robbed of their wealth
or methodically slaughtered as the Black Party propose."
"That's only the view of a minority in the Black Party," disagreed
Bacon. "The main source of misgiving is the Kingdom itself. Ever since
it was formed by the international community in the so-called historic
homeland of the Cats - which so inconveniently overlaps the ancestral
homeland of both Mice and Dogs - it's been nothing but a blight on this
planet. Always having wars, always taking territory from other species in
its own interest and creaming off the wealth of countries such as ours."
"What's true of the Kingdom needn't be true for Cats as
individuals!" Beta contested.
Bacon ignored her. "It's essentially to do with the Feline notion of
Divine Right. Cats believe that they have a Divine Right to occupy their
territories just as their King seems to believe he has to rule that
territory. There's no democracy for the Cats - not like in our country,
however inefficient. What the King commands is what the Cats obey.
Whatever nonsense he comes out with." Bacon leaned forward towards me.
"You wouldn't believe the stupid decrees the King of the Cats issues on
occasion. In a Kingdom where the population is absurdly out of control,
there is no contraception or abortion. In a Kingdom where meat is in short
supply for a species which is necessarily carnivorous there are ridiculous
rules about what can and cannot be eaten. Rats, for instance, are
classified as unclean and therefore not to be eaten in a Kingdom totally
infested by them. All sorts of things are forbidden to the Cat. They have
to stay at home one day a week and are forbidden to do anything but sleep.
How can the Cats deserve to be part of the Modern World if they follow such
"I agree that some of the ways in the Kingdom of Cats are a bit odd,"
Beta retorted. "I've heard of how female Cats have to wear dresses which
cover all their legs and ankles and have to attend different schools to Tom
Cats. But what's true of Cats in their Kingdom isn't true of Cats
"Yes it is, Beta. It's what distinguishes Cats from other species.
It's their religious and cultural views which say that they are different
from everyone else. You might respect the Cats' rights and freedoms, but I
don't think they'd respect yours or anyone else's. If they are so
wonderful, why is it that they're constantly at war with their neighbours."
"You mean the various Canine Republics? I don't really know a lot about
them, but they don't appear to be blameless themselves!"
"They may not be blameless, but the Canine Republics have every reason
to be aggrieved about the Kingdom and the appalling way in which Dogs
are treated there. Cats show no respect for the puritanical and literary
traditions of Dogs in the land they've acquired. They even deny Dogs the
right to read books written in anything but the Feline language. They
don't even allow dogs to bark in their own tongue. And do you think the
Dogs relish the way that soldiers from the Kingdom intrude into their
sovereign territories for what they call security reasons."
"Whatever you say about the Kingdom," Beta asserted, "does not
change my view at all that Cats are individuals who shouldn't be
discriminated against on the basis of some characteristic that their
species might have."
Bacon was just about to counter Beta's view, but decided instead to
change the subject. "Anyway, I'm sure our travelling companion must be
getting tired of all this talk about Cats."
"No, not at all!" I said politely.
"So, why are you going to Gotesdene? It's quite an odd place for
someone from the Suburbs to be going to, isn't it?" Beta asked, leaning
forward towards me so that her curtains of green hair cascaded onto her
bare legs. "Do you know anyone there?"
"No, I don't!" I admitted. "In fact I don't know anything about it at
all. I'm actually going there to search for the Truth."
Bacon laughed out loud. "The Truth! You expect to find the Truth in a
primitive backwater like Gotesdene?"
"Well, I have to start somewhere," I feebly defended myself. "I was
convinced that I wouldn't find the Truth in the Suburbs so I thought I
might find it in a place so absolutely different."
"Quite so!" agreed Beta. "And why not Gotesdene, indeed." She tossed a
lock of hair back off her face revealing her bare bosom. "A search for the
Truth is an excellent idea! Think what a better place the world would be
if only we had possession of the Truth. There'd be no wars. Everyone
would be at peace because no one would be able to claim to be right and
someone else wrong, when everyone knew who was right or not. With the
Truth everyone everywhere would be rich - or as rich as they could be.
Everyone would know all that they would need to know to be as wealthy as
they desired. And with the Truth, there would be no more disease, no more
pollution, no more injustice and everyone would be happy! It wouldn't be
possible to argue like my and I do about issues like Cats because
everyone would know the answer. And so would the Cats themselves. And
there wouldn't be a need to have General Elections because government
wouldn't be determined by the whims of the people but rather according to
the dictates of the Truth!"
"I don't see how the Truth would necessarily achieve all that!" sniffed
Bacon. "And even if we had the Truth, would everyone necessarily agree on
how to use it? And would it really be used for the best?"
"I'm sure it would!" Beta continued enthusing. "With the Truth, there'd
be no cause for argument because everyone would agree about everything and
I'm sure everyone would work towards the best for everyone else. Why
should anyone ever do differently?"
"I'm just not so sure," Bacon countered. "I don't believe people's
nature necessarily works like that. Knowledge of the Truth could easily be
used for quite different purposes to those you imagine. It could well be
that peace and prosperity are not determined by knowledge of the Truth
anyway. Why should the Truth have to be concerned with the greater good of
"It wouldn't be the Truth if it wasn't!" Beta replied idealistically.
"That's making an assumption about the Truth that simply cannot be made
before knowing what it is. And anyhow, I don't believe the Truth is a
thing that you just find like a crock of gold or a holy grail. It must be
an abstract entity beyond material dimensions, and you can't just expect to
find it lying around. Do you expect to find it underneath someone's
bed? Or stored in a casket? Or buried in the ground? That makes nonsense
of the whole concept of the Truth. No. The Truth is what will be found
eventually as a result of scientific research - which is what I shall be
pursuing in Lambdeth - and I am more likely to discover it in a test-tube
than you will hanging around in archaic villages like Gotesdene. I don't
believe it will be found in my lifetime; and probably not for many
generations yet. But eventually it will be found as a result of empirical
and scientific research coupled with the genius of individual scientists."
"You think that Science and Progress provide all the answers," Beta
riposted. "I just can't believe that something like the Truth could
possibly be found by something as dry and abstract as a mathematical
equation or the formal proof of a theorem. If I could, I would join our
companion here and search for the Truth with him. I don't know where it is
any more than he does, but I doubt that the pursuit of Science and Progress
is at all the same thing as the search for the Truth."
I was about to thank Beta for her support in my quest, when the train
made another of its periodic hoots and drew noisily into another station. I
took my eyes off Beta and focused on the platform where the platform name
of GOTESDENE was displayed. "This is it!" I announced.
"So this is where we part," smiled Beta. "What a funny little place!"
She was right. The station at Gotesdene was nothing more than a raised
wooden platform and a platform name painted quite crudely on an wooden
board. On the platform were several goats and rats, and around the station
were open fields dotted by the occasional copse and windmill.
I proffered my farewells to Beta and Bacon, and clambered down onto the
platform. I waved to Beta as the train shunted off as she leaned out the
window, waving at me, her long hair lifted up by the rush of wind. The
train puffed away into the distance, the funnel trailing black and white
clouds as it departed.
I suddenly felt alone. I was at a place I'd never heard of before,
quite clearly dissimilar in almost every way from the Suburbs. Instead of
neat and tidy borders and hedges, pavements and roads, lampposts and
television aerials, I was confronted by a neighbourhood of nothing but
fields stretching away in all directions, bisected by the railway line from
one horizon to another. Perpendicular to that and proceeding only towards
one horizon was a long and winding brick road, barely wide enough for a
small car to drive along. The platform was populated mostly by goats who
were simply sitting about and not waiting for anything. Most of them had
barely stirred when the train had arrived and paid no attention to its
departure. A few watched me lethargically while chewing at hay or
thistles, their tails occasionally flicking aside the insects around.
I jumped off the platform - there were no steps provided - and strolled
to the brick road that didn't quite reach the station and terminated in a
patch of dusty worn ground. Just by the road was a signpost which pointed
along the length of the brick road to only one destination. As this read
Gotes Dene, I decided to follow this dusty brick road to start my quest for
the ultimate enigma.
Gotesdene and its surrounding environs were very different to the
Suburbs I decided as I walked along the long and winding road. There was
none of the obsessive order and neatness that characterises the Suburbs.
Rather, the fields on either side were a quilted hodgepodge of different
crops with goats, oxen and other working on the land: pulling
ploughs, walking around in circles to grind grain in primitive mills,
gathering crops in their teeth and throwing the produce into the back of
carts. On several occasions, I had to step off the brick road into dried
mud to allow an oxen- pulled wagon to ponderously lumber by. The midday
sun was beating down on me but there was no shelter to be seen: there were
few trees in sight and most of these were far off the road with many
branches torn off, and their trunks ravished by the gnawing goats.
Swallows occasionally dove down past me chasing after the insects buzzing
around the corpses of by the roadside.
After two or three miles of walking through this rural scenery with my
feet getting increasingly sore, I at last arrived at a village. There was
no doubt that this was the village of Gotesdene, as just outside the fence
barricading it was a painted board supported by two wooden posts which
welcomed me to the village and requested me to drive carefully. Large
ornate metal gates broke the monotony of the fencing, featuring the crest
of a rampant and ox, and supported by two pillars crowned by identical
statues of rampant elephants bearing arms.
Initially I thought there might be some kind of toll required to enter
the village as in front of the gates was a of goats kneeling down by
a wooden platter. They bleated at me piteously in a dialect I couldn't
understand at all, but I soon inferred that they were begging for alms: a
practice that had long been discontinued in the Suburbs. I pulled out a
groat from my trouser pocket which I threw into the platter, believing this
to be the absolute minimum that I could decently give. I wasn't at all
prepared for the effusiveness with which the incomprehensibly
expressed his gratitude. Although I could distinguish the occasional
English word, I speculated that he was speaking a totally different
I pushed open the gate, which creaked noisily as it resisted me, and
ventured in. The village comprised a wide space of open land around which
there were numerous wood and mud hovels, and was traversed by a dirt track
from which the slightest breeze blew up clouds of dust. Goats, oxen and
others wandered listlessly amongst the scattered waste and detritus. In
the centre of the patch of common land there were a stocks, a gallows and a
tall gaily coloured pole from which dangled multicoloured strands. There
were also some tall oak trees and a tall stone cross.
A collection of market stalls was gathered at one end of the common. As
I hadn't eaten since breakfast, I decided to look for a stall selling
convenience food, such as a hamburger or a pizza. As I approached, I saw
that there was little likelihood of buying a microwaved pizza, a deep-fried
chicken or even chips. The stalls mostly sold such things as agricultural
implements, live chickens and vegetables. Many of these products flowed
off the stalls and onto the ground, where decaying wicker baskets protected
them from the dust and dirt. One stall was conducting a profitable trade
in hay, around which gathered a crowd of acquisitive ungulates.
I understood very little of the stall-holders' cries, but I assumed that
they were referring to their produce and how much a pound of this or an
ounce of that would cost. I soon observed that the cost of living here was
substantially lower than that in the Suburbs. Very little cost less than a
florin or half crown in the Suburbs, whilst most goods in the Gotesdene
market were selling for under a penny. This explained the gratitude the
beggar at the gate had shown for a groat. I thought I might have a problem
finding a stall furnished with sufficient change for the smallest
denomination coin I had on me.
I bought a pound of apples for a farthing from a vegetable stall and had
to resort to gestures to express what I wanted. I carried the apples loose
in my pockets - as like other buyers I was clearly expected to have brought
my own basket to the market - together with innumerable ha'pennies and
farthings of change. While biting into a small acidic apple, I found
myself being addressed by a voice which despite a rustic accent I was at
last able to understand.
"You don't speak Anglo-Saxon, I presume?" asked a relatively small white
elephant standing upright, in very colourful silk clothes swathed by a long
red cloak secured by a large brooch beneath the chin.
"No, I don't," I admitted through a mouthful of apple. "Is that what's
spoken here?" I was surprised to find an elephant addressing me: especially
by a white one, who I had heard was very rare. I had never spoken to an
elephant, white or otherwise, before. He flapped his large ears using his
trunk to pull his cloak together at the front. He had two quite short
tusks, which nevertheless looked too dangerous to approach too closely.
"Ay, that is what they speak hereabouts," the White Elephant said.
"Gotesdene is a very old-fashioned place. You as an outsider must find it
"It's very different from the Suburbs."
"Very antiquated," the White Elephant continued. "But it is the village
for which I have the honour to serve as mayor. And as so, I feel it to be
my duty to take this underdeveloped little community however reluctantly
into the modern age. You sophisticated Suburbanites probably can't imagine
that villages like ours still exist: no running water, no electricity and
mains gas, no metalled roads, no supermarket or rental store. But I
shall ensure that Gotesdene will very soon be as modern a village as any
other in the realm. The centuries have passed Gotesdene by for far too
long. I pledge that every home shall have fibreglass cabling, hot and cold
running water and a roof. The roads shall have sensory speed detectors,
traffic lights and tar macadam. Gotesdene shall be abreast of the world,
with television, videophones and computer networking. You probably find it
amazing to discover a place so lacking in the basics of modern life."
"I didn't expect to find life in Gotesdene so very different," I
The White Elephant swung his trunk around dramatically, while prudent
villagers kept their distance from its range. "Gotesdene has probably not
changed in 1500 years. It is a fossil yet to make the transition into the
modern era. Almost everyone in the village and the surrounding countryside
live off the land, and as they are unable to afford to pay taxes to Her
Maphrodite's government, they provide work in kind to me, the Lord of this
Manor. This work provides the surplus wealth - agricultural wealth I admit
- which I sell to pay taxes. It's an arrangement by which we all work
together. But I am resolved that Gotesdene shall diversify. Move into
microchip manufacture, network services, aerospace and more.
"But great effort is needed to persuade the City to assist. I know that
City financiers and banks are reluctant to invest their capital where there
is so little infrastructure, where so few people have the necessary
technological and management skills and expertise, and where communications
are limited to the speed of an ox- drawn carriage. But this is just City
prejudice. Understandable, perhaps, given the vast contrast of culture,
but I am convinced that the low-wage opportunities here will eventually
persuade the City institutions otherwise.
"I have my own wealth, inherited from centuries of White Elephants here
in Gotesdene, and mostly invested in property throughout the realm. I
admit it is at least partly my ancestors' fault that Gotesdene has remained
so primitive, by repeatedly opposing any modern developments in or around
the village, but the base stupidity of the peasant is to blame as well." He
snorted dismissively, which through a trunk as long as his came out almost
as a trumpet call. "Look at them!" he said, waving his trunk about at the
villagers, many wearing very ragged clothes secured precariously by cord.
"You'd never see such a mean crowd of scum in the Suburbs, would you?"
I shook my head. It is unlikely that a single one of the villagers
could stay for very long in the Suburbs before being arrested on charges of
"White Elephants such as I have held the estates here from time
immemorial," he continued. "In that time, we have become increasingly
sophisticated. Connoisseurs of art, captains of industry, members of
parliament. It is people such as I who have selflessly guided and directed
the culture in the nation for the good of the peasant, whose rôle is to
support our exalted projects. The long and grand tradition of my has given communities like this the continuity and stability that it needs.
It is only now that it is necessary to force the pace. Make of Gotesdene
what it has to be."
"What plans do you have?"
"I have such plans. Such great plans! I will build factories, power
stations, mines and motorways. The primitive waste of this land, dedicated
only to inefficient and outmoded methods of agriculture, will be
transformed into a landscape of concrete and steel. Tower blocks will
replace the mud-huts. Airport runways will crisscross the open fields. A
giant shopping mall will be built where this market now stands. I have a
vision of industrial estates, tower blocks, factories, flyovers and
television aerials! All I need is the investment from the City."
"Do you work in business yourself?"
"I own many companies in the City and abroad. I own a hotel, a chain of
restaurants, several factories and shares in shipping, insurance and
defence. But while Her Maphrodite's government dithers and flounders, I
will never get the planning permission I need to modernise Gotesdene.
Perhaps after the General Election there will be more decisiveness and
direction. And then Gotesdene will no longer be dismissed as a primitive
Anglo-Saxon theme park, but will be recognised as a modern, thriving
The White Elephant shook his large ears and I followed him as he strode
away from the market through the dusty streets, past obsequious peasants to
the stone cross in the common land. We sheltered under the shade of the
massive overwhelming oak trees whose bark was protected from vandalism by
vicious spikes forced into the trunk. The cross was exquisitely ornate
depicting an elephant heroically brandishing a sword in his trunk.
"So, man, what finds you in our village so far from the Suburbs?"
the White Elephant asked. I told him of my quest for the Truth.
"I believe I should be flattered by the notion that the Truth abides in
Gotesdene," laughed the White Elephant. "I know that many have admired the
village, but you are the first I have heard of to come this way on such a
quest. But mayhap in a community such as this, unpolluted by the vices and
vagaries of modern irreligious heresy, the Truth you are looking for may
indeed be found."
"The Truth is here! What is it?" I asked enthusiastically.
"The Truth is balance and order. It is respect for the Lord and the
world that He has graciously created for us. And that essential Truth is
manifest in the elements of Earth, Fire, Air and Water. It is these to
which the universe is essentially reducible." The White Elephant waved his
trunk around at the village. "Everything here is composed of these Four
Elements, myself included. They govern the World physically and
spiritually, proportioned by the mystical qualities of numbers. Numbers
are the Universe's abstract foundations. The smaller the Number, the more
potent. The number One is the Universe and all in it. Two is the manifest
division between the Spiritual and the Material. Three is the Trinity of
the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Three is also the number of times
which something need be said to be known as the Truth. And Four is the
number of the Elements.
"From the Four Elements are derived the Four Humours which govern the
Soul of each individual. Just as a person is the physical union of matter,
energy, water and oxygen so his Soul is governed by different proportions
of the Spiritual Qualities of these Elements. There are, in addition, the
Five Senses, the thrice Six which is the Number of the Beast, the Seven
Sins, the Twelve Houses of the Heavens and the Twenty-Four Hours of the
Day. All in its natural and God-given place in the Universe.
"The Truth is but the balance and order in which God has invested the
Universe, and it is the Duty of all to ensure that this balance is
undisturbed by proboscidean, artiodactyl nor human endeavour. Nothing
hastens more the Chaos and Destruction of the End than the rejection and
perversion of the Natural Order by which the Truth is made manifest."
"How is the Truth perverted?" I wondered.
"In many ways. By the practice of perversions which transgress the
Natural Order such as Sodomy, Heresy and Witchcraft. These must be
suppressed with prejudice, or, as surely as Three is the Number of
the Lord, the Natural Order will unravel, power will be wrested by foreign
despots, laws will be disregarded, monsters will yet again roam the Earth
and the Heavens will open!
"The good people of Gotesdene strive hard to keep Satan at bay,"
continued the White Elephant indicating the stocks and the gallows with a
wave of his trunk. "Here is where transgressors are purged of their sins.
And if the Soul is to be purged from the Body to achieve its Salvation,
then that is a sacrifice worth making. Gotesdene has a long and proud
tradition of suppressing Witchcraft, and I speak proudly when I say that no
Witch who is accused is ever found other than guilty and punished
accordingly. Does this not compare well with the pusillanimity of Justice
elsewhere which so frequently permits Witches to wander free spreading
their vice, perversion, magic and heterodoxy?"
"How are Witches punished?" I wondered, looking nervously at the
"Not all Witches are hanged," the White Elephant sighed. "For many it
is felt that there is opportunity for redemption, and if it be that their
confessions of guilt are sufficiently sincere and detailed they may suffer
only a whipping or the stocks. This is especially so if they are and
pretty, because if the exterior is fair then the interior cannot all be
rotten. But occasionally a Witch will join the Homosexual, the Murderer or
the Heretic on the platform with the noose around the neck. These
occasions are a public event, where all can learn from seeing the
ignominious end others come to and will reflect on their own
transgressions. This is not, I believe, how Justice is conducted in the
"No," I admitted. "It's a much more complicated procedure - and many of
the things you mention are not illegal at all!"
"When the Day of Judgement comes," the White Elephant bellowed, "it will
surely visit the most ills on those who treat the Natural Order with not so
much contempt as indifference. Much as I admire the progress and order of
the Suburbs, there are many features I find alarming. These are so much in
conflict with the Truth that I marvel not that you should feel the need to
leave the Suburbs to seek the Truth elsewhere. All are treated equally in
the Suburbs: Women as equals with Men, the Poor as with the Rich, the
Believer as with the Unbeliever. How can this be right? When God created
the Natural Order, He didn't do so only that places such as the Suburbs and
the City should disregard it and substitute a New Order of their own
invention. When Progress and Modernity are established in Gotesdene, it
will not be to subvert the Natural Order, but to reinforce it. To ensure
that it is followed by all."
"However," continued the White Elephant reflectively, "the Suburbs have
but little sin and vice when compared to the City, where I have been many
times and have been many times appalled. From the virtue and decency of
the village of Gotesdene, through the indifference to vice and the Truth in
the Suburbs, to the depravity and decadence of the City is painted a
triptych of the ethics of Heaven, Limbo and Hell. In the City, there is no
limit to what is permitted and practised. There are no moral constraints.
No regard for the Natural Order. Indeed, the practice of vice at its most
vicious, sin at its most sinful and decadence at its most despicable. Have
you ever been to the City?"
"No, not once," I admitted.
"Perhaps, then, there is hope for you yet," snorted the White Elephant.
"In the City, there is no likelihood that you will ever find the Truth for
which you quest. Indeed, there is complete absence of the Truth. The City
is a Hell of fast-moving traffic on many-laned motorways; buildings which
scrape the very roof of the sky; frantic and hectic activity; ceaseless
noise and light; a wind that pursues the innocent pedestrian as he walks
between the towering buildings. In all directions the City spreads out,
enclosing pockets of green, whereas Gotesdene is a village enclosed by
countless green acres. There is nothing but concrete and steel; petrol
fumes and neon lights; people coming and people going. Not, as in
Gotesdene, merely being: they restlessly move from one place to another.
And so many of them!"
"The City is very big, is it?"
"It is tall. It is wide. It houses many millions. It is the economic,
financial, political, social and cultural capital of this land, and also
the nation's whorehouse, bordello and opium den. It is also very
expensive. In Gotesdene, the possessor of a guinea is a rich man. He has
enough to live for a long time on one single guinea, which composes two
hundred and fifty-two pennies! A fortune! That is over a thousand
farthings! In the City, a guinea is but what a farthing is here. Perhaps
less! But despite the expense and the hideous environment and the
loathsome depravity, despite all this, many millions choose to live in and
amongst its garbage and degeneracy."
"You don't recommend that I ever visit the City?"
"No. Not if you value your Soul!" the White Elephant said emphatically.
"I have visited the City many times, but I pride myself that I stay immune
from infection by its vices. I may admire the technical and material
progress and modernity of the City, and I may make my material fortune by
investment in City institutions, but I have no wish to further my
familiarity with it. I am always content when I leave the City and can
purge myself not only of the physical muck and grime of its noxious
environment, but can retreat to my private chapel and purge my Soul of the
temptations of the flesh and intellect to which I have been exposed.
"In the City, there is all the depravity and decline which will surely
hasten the Day of Judgment. As the City grows in its influence and its
geographical spread, it is like a cancer infesting the moral, economic,
political and environmental body of this land. The City congests its
inhabitants into smaller and less congenial spaces, spreads pollution into
the air, the street, the water supply and the ether, exhausting the
atmosphere, the soil, the reservoir and the power station. Worse than its
physical despoliation and exploitation, is its spiritual barrenness and
pollution. It spreads prostitution, pornography, atheism, sexual
perversity and a cult of instant gratification. And this is what is most
despicable in the City and what it represents. Gotesdene will not be so
corrupted as it pursues the path of Progress that I have planned for it.
It will forever remain a bastion of virtue, faith and, yea, the Truth!"
The White Elephant paused in his tirade and looked about him at the
village. His great claims for it did not seem particularly well
illustrated by the general atmosphere of poverty and decay. A peasant was
urinating against a tree. Several goats were plaintively bleating for alms
around a pottery saucer. One had both rear legs missing and one eye.
The ground was dusty and barren, dotted occasionally by piles of ox dung
and attendant flies. The White Elephant appeared not to see any of this
disorder, which would arouse automatic disgust in the Suburbs, but was
instead satisfied that the greater virtues of the village were immediately
"I have much business to which I must attend," he announced proudly. "I
shall leave you now. But I hope that as you stay here you will reflect on
all that I have said and focus anew your quest for the Truth." With that he
bade me farewell, and walked away from the village green, his cloak raising
a cloud of dust behind him, responding with a gracious wave of his trunk to
the obsequies of the villagers who stood aside for him.
A passing was selling meat pies which looked quite unappetising,
but my hunger resolved that I off-load some of the farthings I had
accumulated for a that was fortunately cool enough for me to eat with
my fingers. I sat down at the base of the stone cross with my feet resting
in dried mud and decomposing faeces. I passively observed the bustle of
the village, still slightly nauseated by the dirt and decay.
While chewing on a particularly unforgiving piece of unidentifiable
meat, I noticed some and women wearing unsophisticated flaxen clothes
roughly push a woman towards the common. They headed towards the stocks,
shouting and jeering at the woman as they proceeded. She was punched and
kicked and some of her clothes had been ripped off. She seemed resigned to
her misfortune and didn't struggle, but from the evidence of the bruises on
her face and her bare arms and shoulders, she'd probably lost all the
resistance she'd ever had. The stocks were opened, her head, hands and
legs were pushed through, and then they were clamped shut. She sat in a
very undignified position, with only the dusty ground on which to rest her
bottom which condemned her to exceptional discomfort. The forcing her
in didn't ameliorate this at all, and indeed made it worse by kicking her
when they'd secured the stocks with a peg through the by the side.
Her punishment wasn't over then, as the group of and women continued
jeering at her, and began throwing earth and moist cow-pats at her. One or
two children even threw stones - one catching her on the cheek and
immediately opened a bloody gash. An ox passing by did a very good trade
in the fruit he was selling, which judging from the messy way it splattered
as it hit her must have been less than fresh and firm. I had never seen
justice dispensed like this in the Suburbs, where punishment was generally
either monetary or concealed in penal institutions. I felt uneasy about
the unbridled enthusiasm with which this rough justice was dealt.
"Poor girl!" Commented a voice next to me. "Even if she is a witch, I'm
certain she doesn't deserve what she's getting."
I turned my head away from the action to look straight into the eyes of
a horse. At least, I initially thought it was a horse, judging from his
muzzle, but he had a graceful white body with delicate cloven feet, a long
sinuous tail and a single golden horn rising from his forehead. After
encountering so many singular individuals today, encountering a Unicorn
didn't appear so strange. But I'd always believed that Unicorns no longer
This Unicorn was by no means extinct. He shook his golden mane and
whinnied slightly. "It may be she is a witch. But if she is, there's not
a great deal to show of her sorcery. I'd always thought she was more a
veterinary surgeon, from the evidence of her care for pets and workers, but the good people of Gotesdene have clearly judged her guilty.
Not that I'm at all sure what's wrong with witchcraft, despite the fact
that in my several millennia I've not seen much to convince me that it ever
actually works. Still, she's lucky in a way! If you'd been here a few
days ago, you'd have seen the still decaying corpse of another convicted
witch hanging from the gallows."
"How dreadful!" I exclaimed. "What happened to her?"
"Well, eventually the maggots, or whatever it is that eats decaying
bodies, had loosened her neck sufficiently so that it snapped. Then her
head fell off where it cracked open and rolled towards the oak trees. Her
body just dropped down in a heap where the dogs straightaway pounced on her
rancid flesh. It wasn't a pleasant sight!"
"I'm sure it wasn't," I agreed, still in awe of the Unicorn whose long
tail gracefully looped round and with great accuracy snapped like a
whipcord at the many flies showing interest in his rump. "Why don't people
in Gotesdene like witches?"
"To say I don't know would be a lie. I've lived too long and in too
many communities not to understand how people everywhere feel the need to
find victims in their midst. Communists, Homosexuals, Jews, Cats,
Pakistanis, Goats, Cockatrices, - they've all been victimised at one time
or another. I suppose I should consider myself rather lucky that unicorns
have never really been disliked by anyone. People in Gotesdene are very
set in their ways, and anyone whose behaviour or attitude seems a bit odd
or unusual means that they will almost certainly be accused of Sodomy or
Witchcraft. And sometimes both at the same time. Which I suppose is just
"But I make a point of coming to Gotesdene every now and then. I'm very
popular with the villagers. There just doesn't seem to be anything that I
can't do as far as they're concerned. They probably think I can vault tall
buildings or stop speeding express trains. They certainly believe I can do
wonders for impotence and gonorrhoea. Absolute nonsense, of course, but
I'm certainly made to feel very welcome. But it's probably not so unusual
to find someone like me in a place like Gotesdene. What is bizarre is that
someone like you should be. Are you from the City?"
"No. The Suburbs," I admitted. "Indeed, I've never even visited the
"Really, that does seem curious to me! But then I've never been to the
Suburbs, although I've been to the City many times. Very many times. It's
changed so much over the centuries: you wouldn't believe! I recall when it
wasn't any bigger than Gotesdene here. In fact, I can remember when the
modern-day Gotesdene villagers would seem positive sophisticates. In those
days, people used to think I could cure them of laryngitis, leprosy or
haemophilia just by touching them with my horn. It seemed that it didn't
matter how many people I'd touch with my horn who didn't get in the
slightest bit better, my reputation didn't suffer at all. Often tales of
the medical achievements I'd made without the slightest recourse to surgery
or antibiotics preceded me and I was well fêted wherever I went. In a way,
those were good days, but I like to keep a lower profile nowadays. I don't
like the way some people think they might solve the mystery as to how I've
achieved so many miracles by dissecting me. I'd rather remain a mystery
The Unicorn shook his head sadly and blew agitatedly through his wide
nostrils. "I like the City. If I were you, I'd make a point of visiting
it some time. You can't hope to understand the world today without seeing
the City. It's the exact opposite to here. In Gotesdene (bless it!) there
really is nothing of any great interest, although I imagine its modernising
mayor might think differently. In the City is literally everything of
interest. It's almost too much. The reason people want to escape from the
City is not so much for what they are running towards, but from the
tremendous bewilderment they're running away from."
"It sounds very forbidding."
"I daresay it does. And the first time one is there, one is astonished
by how very busy it is. Everyone is rushing around from place to place.
There is an astonishing network of trams, buses and trains: all full as
they carry people to and from work, around the tourist sites, to the
nightclubs, theatres and brothels. The City is alive all day and all
night. In fact it's a cliche to say the City never sleeps, but it never
does. Quite unlike Gotesdene which you could say could hardly be described
as even fully awake.
"I'm forever astounded at how the City continues to grow and expand over
the centuries. I've often thought: this is it! It can never get busier,
or wealthier, or more crowded, or the buildings any taller. I've often
thought that I was privileged to see the City at the pinnacle of its
history, reaching the logical peak of its relentless progression, only to
see yet again how mistaken I was. But then I have a very unusual
perspective, having lived for such a very long time."
"How long have you lived?"
"I'm sure it's still considered rude in some cultures to discuss age,"
laughed the Unicorn. He shook his head with a rough snort through his
nostrils, while a couple of oxen passed by chatting and laughing as they
went. One of them shyly signalled to the Unicorn with his tail, and then
returned to his conversation. "I am, as it happens rather more than two
thousand years, probably close to three thousand. Quite a great age by
your standards I imagine, but not at all unusual for Unicorns. I suppose
we make up in number of years for what we lack in number of individuals."
I was quite astonished. This degree of longevity was extremely rare in
the Suburbs. Indeed, as I reflected, the Suburbs, despite its apparent
timelessness, probably didn't exist as such when the Unicorn was born.
"You must have seen and done an astonishing number of things in your life."
"I have that," he laughed good-naturedly. "I've been to almost every
corner of the globe at one time or another. I've had the luxury of enough
time to spend what you might call a lifetime in rather a few of these
places. In fact, in some of the better places, for rather more than a
lifetime. I've been the companion of royalty: quite a few princesses have
felt strangely enamoured towards me, but I've successfully resisted any
indecent advances. Perhaps it's the Unicorn's very ability to resist such
temptation, that's kept our numbers down, but like the manticore and the
chimera I have great reasons to suspect the propriety of some of my
ancestors." He glanced down at the cloven hoof at the end of his slender
deer-like legs. "I really am such a curious mixture of things. It's
difficult to imagine how anyone could ever have conceived of someone like
"What places have you visited?" I wondered, hoping that perhaps he might
give me some insight as to where I might find the Truth.
"Oh, so many places! Islands inhabited by moas, dodos and æpyornises.
Plains full of quaggas and aurochs. Forests of giant lemurs, pygmy
elephants and ground sloths. Seas full of great whales, giant auks and
dugongs. Countries where people are sacrificed to the sun, nations which
randomly enslave more than a tenth of their own people and work them until
they die, and nations dedicated entirely to the pursuit of pleasure. I
much prefer the last ones. I've been the guest of chancellors, viziers,
cæsars, walis and prime ministers. I've met some of the most people
in all history. In fact, I've had one of the most rich and fulfilling
lives you can imagine!"
"How do you manage to afford all this?"
"It's amazing how much a small investment can accumulate over a few
centuries, let alone a few millennia. I've always been very careful to
invest wisely, although I've lost a several fortunes in my time! The
cumulative gain on capital over that time, with quite a respectable long
term growth rate, particularly accelerated over recent centuries, has made
me altogether immoderately rich."
"If you're so rich why visit a small village like Gotesdene?" I
The Unicorn chose not to answer, but turned his head round to look
sympathetically at the witch in the stocks. Nobody was throwing anything
at her now, but the face, arms and legs protruding through the stocks were
covered in a mess of blood, vegetables and rotten fruit. Her head was
dangling to one side, eyes bruised and swollen, and her hair tangled in the
mess adhering to it. The Unicorn turned his head back to me, raising his
eyebrows sadly while slowly shaking his head to one side. "Wherever I go,"
he said resignedly, "there is always cruelty and injustice. As you can
see, Gotesdene is no different!
"So, tell me about the Suburbs," asked the Unicorn, concentrating his
gaze at me. "It's very different from here, isn't it?"
"Very much so," I agreed. "People live in much nicer houses, wear much
better made clothes and the streets are much cleaner. There are wastepaper
bins on alternate lampposts where people throw their litter, so there isn't
nearly as much filth. There are electric lighting, motor cars and no goats
and oxen wandering around."
"It sounds almost sterile..."
"Yes, it's very clean and tidy," I agreed.
"I can see that can be viewed as a great asset," mused the Unicorn.
"I've heard that it doesn't contain quite the variety and spread of
individuals as even places like this. And it also has no witches, I
"None that I've ever heard of. And no Unicorns or White Elephants
"So, why then have you left a place of such great material comfort and
apparent orderliness for a place like this?"
I then told the Unicorn of my search for the Truth, which had only so
far led me by train to the village of Gotesdene.
"I can assure you that if the Truth exists in Gotesdene, it's eluded
me!" The Unicorn laughed. "Did you seriously think you might find it
"I was sure I couldn't find it in the Suburbs. The White Elephant said
that the Truth was revealed in numerology and the four elements."
"You've spoken to the mayor, have you? I imagine he would think that
the Truth was something that could be reduced to a simple set of axioms.
It seems to me that if that were the case, then such views would never have
been modified and certainly never discarded, as they mostly have been, in
favour of science and logic. I'd have thought that the Truth would be more
obviously self-evident than that!"
"Do you know where I might find the Truth?"
"Goodness me!" Laughed the Unicorn shaking his muzzle from side to side,
his long horn narrowly avoiding grazing me. "I may have lived a long time
and gained a great deal of wisdom in that time. I may have done many
things, met many people and seen many places. But I am not one who has
ever found the Truth. If I had, I daresay I might truly possess all the
healing powers attributed to me. No! The Truth is as much a mystery to me
as it quite evidently is to you. But you aren't the first person I've ever
met on a quest for the Truth, but known by completely different names."
"Have any of these people ever found the Truth, do you know?"
"Well, many of them have found something, and sometimes it's been what
they were looking for, but I don't believe that what they'd found
constitutes what you might call the Truth. Quite often they've had to slay
dragons, fight monsters and do some quite gruesome things to get whatever
it was, but the rewards of their quest never seem to have changed the world
appreciably for the better. However, don't be too downhearted. There's no
particular reason, I imagine, why you need not be successful where others
"Do you have any advice as to where I should look?"
The Unicorn raised his muzzle and looked up at the mid-afternoon sun and
the oak-leaves rustling in the light breeze. He then lowered his head,
kicked a cloven foot on the dry earth raising a small cloud of orange dust,
and whinnied again. "Not in Gotesdene. In fact, I'd advise you to leave
Gotesdene before nightfall. There's no hostelry of any description where
you would be welcomed to stay and it's quite likely that one of the
villagers might get the idea that because you're a stranger to the village,
you must therefore be a witch..."
"They wouldn't think that would they!"
"Even if they didn't, they may not be particularly sympathetic to
someone who dresses and behaves so very unlike themselves. If I were you,
I'd look for a different place to stay for the night."
"But where could I go?" I wondered, having rather hoped that I could
stay at a motel or bed-and-breakfast in the village.
"There are other towns and villages around here. I don't know how far
you'd have to walk, but I'm sure you'll find one soon. Some are likely to
be a great deal more to your taste than this Anglo-Saxon relic. There's a
religious community near here. I don't know anything about it, but monks
have been for their hospitality throughout history."
The Unicorn looked towards the distance and saw a gathering of people
around the White Elephant near the market stalls. "I think my presence may
be required," he commented. He raised a hoof and gently pawed my leg. He
wished me luck in my quest and then strode unhurriedly towards the White
Elephant, his leonine tail raised high above his head. As he passed by the
villagers, they bowed their heads deferentially to him, which he
acknowledged with a nod of his head and a gesture of his tail.
I lingered by the stone cross and pondered the Unicorn's advice. As my
eyes wandered about the village and focused on the unfortunate and now
unconscious figure of the witch, I decided that although his wisdom might
not encompass the Truth, his advice to leave should not be disregarded.
I stood up and strode cautiously across the common land and through the
village gates. The road outside wound off in one direction towards the
station and in the other towards unfamiliar destinations listed by a wooden
signpost. I had some difficulty deciphering the names from the peculiar
runic characters, which may have been Anglo-Saxon handwriting or just
random doodlings. It was probably not going to take me any nearer to the
Truth to go back where I'd come from, so I decided to advance in the
opposite direction. I threw the last of my farthings at some very grateful
peasants and while they squabbled over them, I headed off alongside the
unenclosed fields towards the sun's afternoon aurora.
Dark shadows from lush foliage fringed the road leading from the
farmland of Gotesdene to a district where only the occasional tethered ox
enlivened the orderly, monotonous rows of vegetable and root crops. These
were regimented by an unending line of posts supporting barbed wire fences
to thwart the encroachment of undesired intruders. At regular intervals
signs warned me not to leave the path nor to appropriate what was not mine.
At one stage, I observed a very despondent merman tethered just like the
oxen, with a sign hanging round his neck and a black hood covering his face
and head. He was too far away across the fields for me to decipher the
writing on the sign.
The flat, grey paving stones of the road were undeniably better
maintained than before, as also was the lethal barbed wire supported by
posts in the grey earth, which had caught and killed the odd unfortunate
song bird. It was getting late in the afternoon, but, as everywhere was so
dark and grey, it seemed much later, although the sky was no less blue nor
the sun less golden. It was almost ominously quiet. There were no song
birds and the only sound was the gentle rustle of a light breeze through
the stiff orderly lines of cabbages, swedes and turnips.
Initially, I welcomed this tidier, more orderly, environment. It had
evoked the care and attention I was accustomed to in the Suburbs, rather
than the dirt and decay I had so recently left. However, after a few
miles, I hankered for a break in the monotony or just the sight of other
people. I had the distinct feeling that I was trespassing, although I'd
seen no signs warning me off private property or informing me that I would
After more than an hour of walking between the barbed wire and the
infrequent dark shadowy tree, I came in sight of a moderately large sign
under which sat a hunched-up figure wearing a long black gown and a tall
black hat. The sign informed me that I was in The Borough of Divinity and
underneath was copious small writing that I couldn't decipher until I came
fairly close. It was a list of rules and regulations pertaining to the
borough. Just behind the dark figure was a signpost which pointed in four
directions ahead - two indicating Divinity that were nonetheless in
opposite directions, one which read The Delta and the fourth which pointed
As I approached, the figure in the cloak scrutinised me silently and
curiously, while I debated which of these four directions I should take.
He was small and thin and his head was shaven. He turned to stare at me,
but made no attempt to acknowledge my presence.
"Excuse me," I ventured after a while. "Where would you recommend I
The figure cleared his throat, apparently resenting being addressed.
After a moment of uneasy deliberation, he informed me that one direction
led to the Holy Parish of the Divinity of Christ, which was the true and
rightful administrator of the Borough of Divinity. The other direction,
misleadingly also known as 'Divinity', was the heretical Parish of the
Divinity of Christ the Lord. The borough, especially that part under the
jurisdiction of the Holy Parish, was one which took true and unsinful pride
in its status as a truly Holy borough in which the Word of The Son, the
Father and the Holy Ghost was maintained as law and guiding principle. It
was a district that welcomed with open arms all right-thinking people who
honestly practised the precepts of the Holy and Sacred Scriptures, and who
had surrendered their will and worldly goods to the greater good of the One
True Religion of Jesus Christ Our Lord.
He didn't know from his brief acquaintance of me whether I were a
Christian: one who followed the dictates of Our Saviour and not the
heretical opinions of the Pope, the AntiChrist or the Devil (who are but
one in their sin and heresy). Only a true Christian, however, would be
welcome within the walls of the Holy Parish. His opinion at seeing my
uncovered head and hands (he sniffed disapprovingly) was that I was no
Christian. At least not a Christian who followed the true Word of the Lord
as faithfully practised by the good Christian people of the Holy Parish.
Even those of the misguided and despicable Parish of the Divinity of Christ
the Lord covered these extremities and purged their scalp of the vanity of
hair. If I were to have any likelihood of entering the Holy Parish I would
be obliged to at least cover my hair with a hat, several of which were
provided, with accompanying gowns, in a chest by his side, for strangers
such as I. He advised me to cover myself without delay if I were to stay
any longer within the borough.
I decided it was advisable to heed the pious gentleman, and selected a
tall hat large enough to cover all my hair, which I was assured would need
to be removed within hours of entering the parish walls, and a long black
gown which shrouded me almost to my feet. While I was dressing, the
gentleman commented that I must be speculating why a devout Christian such
as he was sitting alone outside the walls of the Parish, when all good
Christians were at prayer or devotion secure within the welcoming confines
of the Chapel and not out in the open air, imperilled by temptation and
He explained that he was in fact on indefinite exile from the Parish for
committing the unforgivable and irredeemable sins of garrulity, irreverent
laughter, vile thoughts and oversleeping. Sins for which he was pleased to
do penance, awaiting a decision from the Priests of the Holy Parish, and
the Lord God Our Maker who guides their deliberations, that he had atoned
for his sins and could now be rehabilitated into the community. In the
meantime, he was to spend his days working on the fields with his comrades
- never to utter one word to them on pain of more severe punishment - and
his nights here, at the foot of the sign, in contemplation of the great
mercy and goodness of Our Who Art in Heaven. When not praying, he
would recite approved texts from the Holy Scriptures and flagellate himself
with the barbed wire provided. In this way God the Most Wise and Merciful
would see the sincerity of his penance and the degree to which he regretted
The practices of the Holy Parish of the Divinity of Christ were derived
from the classical wisdom of the great prophet, Saint Isaac Newton, who in
his religious and secular writings had divined the profoundest depths and
meanings of the Christian faith as it should be practised. A faith that
had strayed too far over the centuries from the original fundamental tenets
as preached by Jesus Christ and His Apostles, under the lax and heretical
guidance of the Papists, the Lutherans, the Calvinists, the Baptists, the
Quakers, the Anabaptists, the Mormons and the Eastern Orthodox Churches. A
faith which had schismed so many times that it was only in the pure
unadulterated vision of the Great Saint, who had divined the Noble
Principles of Force and Motion, that it had regained the clarity and purity
of Our Saviour's Own Truth.
There are Four Pillars of the Faith practised by Deists, as the good
Christians of the Holy Parish are known by others blinkered by liberal
ungodly interpretations of the Holy Scriptures. The First Pillar (1) is
that of Unquestioning Faith. was not created by God to question His
Laws or His Desires. What is Good is what the Lord dictates. What He
wishes must be Good, because all that is Good is also the Wish of God. It
is a Sin to question the Letter of Holy Writ, to even suggest that there
may be error, misinterpretation or inconsistency. It is a Sin to even hint
that one quarter of one word of the Law as interpreted by the Priests of
the Holy Parish is anything but the complete and accurate precept of God
the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
Together with Unquestioning Faith is the Second Pillar (2) which is the
Absolute Observation of Ritual. When Jesus Christ commanded Christians to
pray at regular and frequent times of the day, to Labour not on the seventh
day - the Day of Creation - and to attend Church regularly to voice praise,
these were not meant as options for Christians to follow. Rather as an ox
must be tethered to prevent its escape, so too must Christians be tethered
or bound to the Rituals which characterise the One and Only True Church.
The Third Pillar (3) is that of an Ascetic Rejection of Material Values.
Material possessions and the means of measuring them by reference to
groats, shillings or florins were forbidden in the Holy Parish. A Good
Christian must follow the example of Our Saviour who had no possessions of
His own, as they were held entirely by the Church and in turn by God the
Father. A Christian must not own his own ox, woman or slave.
Possession is clearly the begetter of the Sins of Avarice and Greed, which
along with the Five others (especially Lust), must be extirpated forever if
Satan and his hounds of Hell are to be held at bay.
Not only must Material Values be rejected, but there must be conformance
to the Fourth Pillar (4) which is Rejection of Spiritual Corruption. Satan
is everywhere, ready to corrupt the Good Christian Soul as he endeavoured
so unsuccessfully with Our Saviour. Nobody can hope to withstand the
Temptations of the Devil as well as Our Lord Jesus Christ, so it is an
Eternal Unceasing Struggle. Spiritual Corruption is the deadliest and most
difficult of the Evils to ward off. It can lead to Atheism, Agnosticism or
Heresy. Doubts as to the Perfection of Creation. Philosophical debate on
the nature of Morality and Knowledge. Non-acceptance of class, status,
race or gender, and one's own position in the Hierarchy of Creation, a
Hierarchy headed by the Priests and Angels, under which, in descending
order, are Men, Women, Negroes, Animals, Monsters, Demons and Cats. All
such propositions are diabolic, and only an unflinching and Total rejection
of such luxurious unGodly doubts and discussion can possibly be tolerated
by the Good Christian.
I was not convinced that I really wanted to visit either of the Parishes
of Divinity, so I asked the Exile if he could tell me about the other two
destinations indicated by the signpost. He assured me that his knowledge
of them was not based on personal experience, for he knew better than to
risk Eternal Damnation by visiting known refuges of the Devil, but what he
knew convinced him that it was better for all men, and not just Christians,
to forsake these districts. In comparison to these, even the heretical
Parish of the Divinity of Christ the Lord was a preferable destination.
In one direction was the Insect City of Endon which must forever be
Damned for four reasons that were as follows. The First Reason (and one
which alone must surely give me pause to think) is that the inhabitants are
not Human and are therefore in no hope of Salvation. No can be
Blessed - and for that reason no is ever permitted into the Holy
Parish of the Divinity of Christ. The oxen who labour on the fields are
permitted outside its walls, but never within, only insofar as they must
never speak a word on pain of death and must only be seen as Beasts of
Burden, for which all were Created by Our Maker. The inhabitants
of Endon are all insects - and such insects! Many as tall as a Man, if not
taller, and pretend to Rights and Privileges which no Animal, nor even a
Woman, would be permitted in Divinity. Even insects of more moderate
proportions were not permitted within the Borough of Divinity: a principle
which partly inconvenienced the Good Christians of the Holy Parish in that
the fertilisation of all flowering crops had to be done methodically by
artificial means, but one which denied the Parishioners of much disease and
The Second Reason is that the inhabitants do not recognise the Primacy
of the One True Faith as practised in the Holy Parish. There are some
Insects who claim to be Christians, but how can this be when they deny the
superiority of over Arthropods or indeed any other Animal? It is true
that the Borough of Divinity is a tiny island of Sanity and Virtue amidst
an ocean of heresy, blasphemy and apathy, and in that regard the City of
Endon may be thought no worse than the Suburbs, Lambdeth, Delta or
elsewhere; but it is no less the Damned for that.
The Third Reason is the Licentiousness of the inhabitants. They are
known to indulge in physical procreation, to read literature and view
pictures not imbued with the Spirit or Word of Our Saviour, to freely
express opinions contrary to that of the Christian Faith and to draw no
ethical distinctions between race and species. Females are known to wander
free, attracting lascivious and unholy thoughts. There is little or no
public observance of Christian Ritual. There are private ownership, public
vice and no respect for betters and elders. Sin is rife, in all its Seven
The Fourth Reason is that the Borough of Endon as it currently exists is
Doomed, and it was not necessary to wait for the Second Coming for me to
see this happen. The Good Christians of the Holy Parish of the Divinity of
Christ would soon extend its boundaries to enclose the territory of this
great subterranean City and in the process would purge it of the last of
these oversized Insects; and the Spiders, Centipedes, Wood-Lice, Worms and
Silver Fish that also live there. The City of Endon would become a mirror
of Divinity itself: no longer a haven for Godless Arthropods. The cinemas,
brothels and arcades would be replaced by Chapels at which could
pray to Our Lord for forgiveness for our Sins and for the elimination of
Godless Exoskeletal Execrations.
In the other direction is the equally damned Delta where the Borough of
Divinity meets the Sea. This is another Godless district inhabited by
merpeople and water buffalo. The merpeople are as damned as the Arthropods
of Endon, for they are, in addition, cruel satiric jokes created by Satan
who has taken the Holy and Sacred Image of Our Lord, in whose likeness are made, and replaced the lower limbs by the tail of a fish, a form of
life lower than even an ox. These deformed people live wholly in the
saline and estuarine waters of the Delta, where they can breathe freely
both under and over water, and are known to wear no clothes. Indeed, it is
rumoured that the mermaids bare their naked flesh inviting Lust, that most
base of Sins: the mere entertainment of which is a capital offence in the
I expressed a certain amount of concern at the harshness in which
nonbelievers and were treated by the people of Divinity, to which
the Exile responded with a certain degree of anger. He advised me that it
was imperative for all Good Christians to purge the World of all
Godlessness and Sin. And part of that imperative is to forcefully convert
all nonbelievers, under threat of capital punishment if necessary, for it
is surely better for all that their souls should have some opportunity to
enter the Kingdom of Heaven and, if not that, at least Purgatory where
their souls could contemplate the error of the Sinful lives. And who have no Soul, and therefore no chance of the Life Everlasting, should
therefore be purged without recourse to appeal. For what value can there
be in the appeal of a being without Soul?
In the World of nonbelievers, there is a hierarchy of apostasy. Vile
though the Dieuists of the heretical Parish of the Divinity of Christ the
Lord may be, they are nearer to the One True Faith in that they departed
from its basic tenets in only recent centuries. And this is why the
greatest effort of the Holy Parish of the Divinity of Christ has been
towards the forcible conversion and Spiritual Salvation of these most hated
of reprobates. These Dieuists dissented from the Doctrine as prescribed by
the Prophet Saint Isaac and follow instead the heresy of the Apostate Renè
Descartes. May he be Forever Damned and may his sufferings be especially
intense! To people beyond the Borough of Divinity, it may appear that
there is little difference between the practices of Good Christians and
Dieuists. They lead a similarly austere way of life, but unlike Good
Christians, they place significantly less weight on the Natural Order as
manifest by the Laws of Force and Motion, and the Laws of Calculus and its
expressions of Differentiation and Integration. Instead they attach
greater significance to the Dual Identity of Mind and Body, believing that
the Soul rests in the Pituitary Gland and that the Laws of Classical
Physics have only passing relevance to the worship of the Holy Trinity of
God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
None of the destinations seemed wholly welcoming, and as it would soon
be dusk, I thought the best solution would be to head to the nearest,
whether it was a religious parish, a delta or a city of giant insects. The
Exile advised me that the Holy Parish was by far the nearest, being less
than four furlongs distant, but that he was sceptical about advising one of
such dubious character as I to sojourn at a Parish of such great virtue.
He also advised me that I may not be alone in my journey as another - a
woman, he admitted with some loathing, - had also passed by in that
direction. He hoped that I would not sully my slim chance of Salvation by
looking at, or, worse, speaking with this Temptress of Adam. I assured him
that I would do my best to keep my Soul intact and followed the unswerving,
grey paved path towards this one of the two Divinitys.
As I walked along, I pondered the Exile's reference to a woman preceding
me on this route. It was not long until I came upon a figure huddled up in
a long black gown under the dark shadow of a broad-leafed tree whom I
assumed to be a Priest. As I came closer I realised that this must be the
woman whom I'd been warned to avoid. My steps on the hard paving stones
attracted her attention. She raised her head and I could see that her skin
was black and her hair was beaded. I was sure I recognised her.
"What the blinking heck are you doing here!" She exclaimed. "It's a
flipping long way from the blooming Suburbs!" It was Anna, whom I'd met the
"I'm just looking for somewhere to stay the night." I noticed acute
misery in her previously self-confident face. Her eyes had lost their
liveliness: evidence that she'd may have been crying. She didn't stand up,
so I crouched down beside her at the foot of the tree. "What are you doing
"I was looking for somewhere to stay as well," she sniffed. "I'd left
the Suburbs yesterday and went by coach to the Delta which I thought would
be jolly interesting. Well, a lot more flipping interesting than the
blinking Suburbs, I reckoned. And I suppose the Delta is a lot more
interesting: but it's really just a place where merpeople live. You can't
see much of them, of course, as they mostly live underwater. All you can
see is the odd merman or mermaid sunning him or her self by the water's
edge or on a rock. There's a shop where you can buy souvenirs of your
visit to the Delta and a cafe where you can sit and watch them frolic
around in the water with sea-cows and dolphins. To be honest, though, when
you've seen one merperson - and they're fairly common sights in some places
- then you've seen them all.
"There's nowhere to stay in the Delta. Not unless you can breathe
underwater, so I thought I'd come here to stay the night in a motel or pub
in this borough. I'd been told that Divinity was a rather peculiar place,
where you had to cover yourself up like this..." She indicated with her
hand the long gown that covered most of her body, and then tugged at the
hood which would have totally her face if she'd put it up. "I got
all this gear from the souvenir shop in Delta when I'd been told what I'd
have to wear. I suppose it was meant as a souvenir of Delta's neighbouring
borough. It was jolly cheap - less than half a crown! But I'll be
blinking well glad when I can take it off. It's really heavy and
I felt the same about the gown I'd put on. "Didn't you find anywhere to
"No chance! I thought these people being Christians and everything
would at least have some kind of stable or something for me to stay in, but
I don't think I've ever been to a less welcoming place. If this is what
Jesus Christ is all about, I'm flipping glad I'm not a practising
Christian! When I got to that crossroads back there - you must've passed
it! - the chap there didn't even look at me, let alone say anything. He
just kept turning his head away as if I were the flipping Medusa or
something. But I went this way because I was sure it's nearer to this
Divinity - (Did you notice there are two of them? Weird!) - than anywhere
else. So I arrived at the Parish - and it's all surrounded by this high
dark wall - and outside I found this bell you pull, so I pulled it. Then I
stood back waiting for an answer. There wasn't one, so I tried again, only
more persistently and louder.
"Then this pamphlet suddenly appeared through a kind of letterbox in the
door. Look at it!" She proffered a folded piece of paper covered in quite
dense script with the heading On The Reason Why Women and Negroes are
Eternally Damned and Therefore Unwelcome in the Holy Parish of Divinity.
"I stood around to read the pamphlet, thinking that perhaps if I waited
long enough, someone would let me in and tell me it was all just a
tasteless joke. However all that happened was that I heard a sort of thud
as something hit the ground beside me. I turned round to see what it was,
only to hear something else hit the ground. And then another thud. It
suddenly dawned on me that the good people of Divinity were throwing stones
at me, so I just turned round and ran and ran. And then I stopped by this
tree where I read this revolting pamphlet. It really is flipping
"What does it say?"
"Well, it doesn't distinguish between being a woman and being black.
They're both equally damned. It seems that if you're either, you're some
kind of subhuman. I mean, how's that supposed to make me feel? There are
four reasons why I'm damned which they've got here in four helpful
sections. There are scriptural reasons, and there are a whole load of
quotations from the Bible about Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve, and Sodom and
Gomorrah. I don't know what all that's supposed to prove, but it seems
pretty jolly conclusive here. The second reason is that apparently women
and Negroes have been scientifically proven to be inferior. In fact,
that's the exact wording ... "scientifically proven to be inferior in
every detail to Man, created in the image of the Lord". I can't quite make
out what all this stuff is meant to prove, but it doesn't convince me.
Then in this third section, there are of historical reasons why the
'True Faith' has only ever been revealed to Caucasoid Men, and that no one
of any other ethnic background gets a flipping look in - and especially no
women. And then, when you'd've thought that three reasons were enough,
there's a fourth one where it talks of all the sins that women and Negroes
are supposed to have committed. It doesn't exactly sound like a litany of
damnation to me, but it seems these Deists have pretty high standards. You
just can't have a laugh or a good time with this lot!"
"So what are you going to do now?"
"I don't know. I just don't know. I'll just sit here I suppose. I
don't want to go wandering about in the dark by myself. I had this friend
I'd been travelling with, but he's gone off by bus somewhere. He was a
Cat, quite a decent sort, - not one of those who keep going on about how
badly History has treated them! He's much more interested in natural
living and organic farming and that kind of stuff. And he certainly didn't
want to come here. Good thing too! If they throw stones at me, just
imagine what they'd do if they saw a inside their precious borough.
They'd skin him alive. Or crucify him!"
I stood up leaving Anna still incredulously studying her pamphlet, and
walked through the encroaching dusk towards the Holy Parish, the high walls
of which I spotted at the end of the unflinchingly straight path, striped
by the posts' long shadows.
The Holy Parish certainly did not seem very welcoming when I stopped
below its forbidding high grey stone walls, by a large grey oak door with
monstrous black metal hinges. The precipitous walls rose imposingly from
the end of the path. It was very quiet. Much quieter than I was
accustomed to in the Suburbs, with not even the distant roar of aeroplanes
or road traffic. It was difficult to believe that a community lived,
worked and, presumably, slept inside those walls.
However, I broke the silence as I hammered on the door to attract
attention. There was no response. I waited a few moments, then hammered
again: the echoes of the heavy knocker perturbing the silent dusk. Again
there was no response, so I turned back. However, as I walked into the
gloom I turned my head round to see a silhouette entirely covered in a gown
and hood. I wandered back to what must be one of the Priests of the Holy
I could see nothing of his face beneath his hood, but when he spoke his
voice reverberated with authority, with a curious tendency to start off
loud and to finish each of his long sentences in a quieter voice than he'd
begun. He asked me first of all if I were associated with the Negro woman
who had so recently called, for if I were he knew that I deserved at best
pity and at most Eternal Damnation for my sinful acquaintance. Women were
damnable afterthoughts of the Creator, whose sole purpose was to maintain
the essential generation of Man, created in the image of Our Maker, but who
had betrayed even this humble duty by the Sin of Curiosity in the Garden of
In the Holy Parish of Divinity, in keeping with the Divine Wishes of
God, Women were kept totally separate from and from each other. They
were not to be seen by at any stage in their damnable lives for fear
they should arouse that most base of Sins, that of Lust, which made no
better than Animals, below which there were few orders of Creation of lower
regard. The rôle of Woman, as prescribed in the Divine Command To Go Forth
and Multiply was entirely for procreation, and for which the act of Sex
(intimately associated as it is with the basest of Sins) had been
proscribed, and, using scientific principles inspired by the Great Prophet
Saint Isaac Newton, the necessary task of procreation was now performed by
artificial insemination: a process which was sometimes fatal by virtue of
how it had to take place in total darkness and without bodily contact. But
this sacrifice of the potential Whore was far preferable to the loss of a
Good Christian's Soul. To prevent the Woman corrupting the Virtue of the
Child, the was necessarily separated from their progeny who are
inculcated in Good Christian Values by the body of Priests, unless, God
Forbid, the Child were of the Lesser Gender, in which case more than the
bare minimum of instruction in the Holy Scripture was both a luxury and a
grave danger to the Social Order. In short, in the Holy Parish, Women were
not permitted to be spoken to or heard from, seen or to be seen. This is
how it should be and how it should forever be.
The Priest stated his opinion that the only reason I could have for
venturing into the Borough of Divinity must be to seek accommodation for
the night, but that for even the briefest of residencies, it was necessary
for him to be sure that my presence would in no way corrupt the Godly and
Righteous ambience of the Holy Parish of Divinity. He needed to know first
of all if I were a Foreigner, because all those from foreign parts were
necessarily Sinners, as it was widely known, and said frequently in the
Holy Scriptures, that Sin was Abroad. I reassured him that I was not a
Foreigner, and not even of Foreign birth. The Priest was much relieved,
because he would not wish a Foreign Language or a Foreign Culture,
especially one of an atheistic or heterodox kind, to be expressed within
the confines of the Holy Parish.
The Holy Scriptures had often damned foreigners, such as Philistines,
Romans and Egyptians, who had so often brought misery to the Chosen People,
who are those who follow the One True Faith. Some foreigners were much
more to be feared than others, in particular Cats, who were nothing more
than the Children and Representatives of Satan. Not only are Cats Animals,
lower than Women or Negroes, but they are fundamentally damned for their
close association with Satan and Witchcraft (the Devil's magic), for which
they had been rightfully punished, purged and exterminated since time
immemorial. The Holy Scriptures hold Cats in the Greatest Abhorrence, an
assertion for which the Priest provided no Scriptural evidence.
All are no better than slaves for Man, for whom they were
created and by whom they were named. Those such as the ox have a
privileged rôle of servitude, for which they can be spared for as long as
they are willing and able to faithfully serve. Other have no such
privileges, and should be exterminated with prejudice. The is
the worst in the way that Satan's servants have inveigled their way into
the homes and by the very hearths of Man, seducing with their lustful
ways and their desire for food and comfort. Not one Sin is not manifest in
the Cat, for they carry Sin about them.
Were it not of sufficient disapprobation that Cats were Animals, they
have the vile heresy to pretend to religious practices and beliefs that are
in direct contradiction to those of Good Christians. It is said that it is
the strength of their religious belief that has kept Cats in fortitude and
courage in the face of the pogroms and concentration camps to which they
have been confronted over the centuries, but no punishment, by flame, live
burial, skinning alive or the most and gross torture, can not be
justified when a Right Thinking Christian is faced with the provocation of
a Cat's existence.
In addition to these two aspects there is also the Sinful presence of a
Royal in the Kingdom of Cats. There can only be one Kingdom of
worth and that is the Kingdom of Heaven presided over by God the flanked by God the Son and the Holy Ghost. How can any individual,
especially an Animal, pretend to higher authority than those of others,
even Her Maphrodite, when only God has True Authority which He divests only
in the Priests and those ordained to execute His commands?
It is also known that Cats are in possession of great wealth, which they
claim to have accumulated by hard work and endeavour. This can not be
true, for they have gained their wealth rather by prostitution,
racketeering and drug-smuggling. They may have a reputation for working
long hours and wisely investing their ill-gotten gains, but how can it be
right for any to possess greater wealth than the lowliest Man?
Good Christians know that Cats, together with Monsters and other have conspired in depriving of the Wealth and Bounty that is decreed to
him by God, who has created in His Own Image, and in the process have
caused great misery and deprivation among Men. Who knows how many crowns
and guineas that rightfully belong to have been sequestered by the
usurious speculation of the Cat, by which they seek to spread their pagan
beliefs, their sacrilegious Monarchy and their bestiality? There is a
Divine Order to be maintained, with at the Apex of all Earthly Things -
for these have been given to in compensation for the vileness of Woman
and the Serpent - and Cats deserve only the Eternal Fires, the Infinite
Tortures and Unceasing Misery that are their Deserved Lot in the Kingdom of
Hell, under the jurisdiction of Satan, the foulest of all Creation.
The Priest then asked me about my purpose for being in the Borough of
Divinity, so I explained to him that I was on a quest to find the Truth.
He appeared appalled by this, for, as he expostulated, a search for the
Truth must necessarily be blasphemous, as the Lord Jesus Christ through the
Great Prophet Saint Isaac Newton had already deigned to reveal the Truth to
Good Christians. To deny this fact was to express a heresy most foul.
The Truth is invested solely in the correct interpretation of the Holy
Scriptures as practised by the Only True Church. All that a Good Christian
need do is unquestioningly follow the Four Pillars of the One True Faith
and on meeting his Maker, all the Truth there is will be revealed to him.
The Priest then advised me to practise the Four Pillars of the One True
First, I should instantly abandon my heretical search and accept without
question the Doctrine of True Christianity. My Soul was not to be saved
unless I followed each one of the Christian practises as outlined in the
Ten Commandments and in the preachings of Jesus Christ and His Disciples. I
must accept all that I was instructed by Jesus Christ's earthly
representatives, the Priests of the Holy Parish of the Divinity of Christ.
Knowledge of the Truth could only be gained by a full understanding of the
Holy Scriptures as correctly interpreted.
This necessarily entailed conformance to the Second Pillar which is
Absolute Observation of the Rituals inspired by the Lord. I should
immediately take confession, pray the regulated number of times at the
appointed times of the day and attend Chapel at the recommended intervals.
The Truth could not be revealed to those who had not behaved in the manner
appropriate to a Good Christian: a Good and Blameless life.
I must abandon all material values. All that I owned must become the
property of the Holy Parish of the Divinity of Christ. In this way the One
True Faith would benefit and in recognition of my sacrifice I might gain
some opportunity of Eternal Salvation. The Truth could not be revealed to
those who clung stubbornly to material values and had not abandoned
themselves entirely to the Spiritual World.
I must immediately reject anything that would entail my Spiritual
Corruption. To even entertain departure from the Borough of Divinity to
seek the Truth elsewhere would naturally be sufficient evidence that I was
not one who wished to become a Good Christian and therefore acceptable to
the Holy Parish.
The Choice was thus quite clear to the Priest. I either surrendered
myself utterly and completely, until Death do come, to the Four Pillars of
the One True Faith, or my presence in the Holy Parish, and within four
leagues of it, was totally unacceptable and I should leave immediately, on
pain of death. The Priest then asked me directly if I were then, without
the least caveat, willing to follow the One True Faith.
When I replied, without great conviction, that I needed to think about
this proposal at greater length, the Priest informed me that this hesitancy
was in itself impermissible and that for fear of my pagan Soul corrupting
the Souls of Good Christians I should immediately depart from the Borough
of Divinity. He then turned around and left me to watch his dark-gowned
figure approach the door to the Holy Parish. He stood at the entrance and
waved his arm at me. I understood this gesture to mean that I should make
haste to leave, so I walked back in the direction from which I had come.
After a few yards, I looked back to see that the Priest had disappeared,
although I'd not heard the door open or close, and I was now left alone in
the long shadows of the late evening.
As I retraced my steps, the last of the daylight disappeared and it was
now darker than I had ever known it to be in the Suburbs. There were no
lampposts or belisha beacons to guide my way: the only light there was came
from the stars and a moon currently behind the clouds. In all
directions there was nothing but darkness and an encroaching night chill
partly warded off by the heavy gown.
I soon came to the tree where Anna was still sitting, her arms wrapped
around her knees and her head facing down. She heard me coming and raised
her head as I approached. "I thought you'd never blinking return! They
didn't want you to enter their precious parish either, I suppose?"
"No, they didn't," I admitted. "They were very firm about it."
"They're flipping nutters! I hate every last flipping one of them!
What are you going to do now?"
"I don't know."
"I'm not flipping staying here! We'll go to Endon, if you like. It's a
bit of a way, and I'm not that excited about spending my time with Insects,
but it must be better than Divinity."
I accepted Anna's suggestion, so she stood up and we walked along
together towards the crossroads where the Exile was sitting. He saw us
coming, but, as Anna noted, he turned around to face away from us. As we
approached closer, he deliberately avoided even looking vaguely in our
direction, rotating his dark-gowned body around to avoid facing us as we
passed by, while Anna made intentionally profane comments about what she
thought of the Holy Parish and its views regarding women and race.
I felt very grateful for Anna's presence as we walked in the dark, our
shadows projecting onto the dark road and into the fields beyond, as she
expressed gratitude for mine. It was undoubtedly unnerving to be in an
environment as wholly quiet and empty as this with only the stars to guide
our way. Anna wasn't very chatty - and I also felt very subdued - and this
was partly due to the way our voices reverberated like unwelcome intrusions
in the silence of the night, just as our physical presence had been to the
After a while, I was feeling very tired of the long monotonous walk, and
pleased when we approached a high dark wall which stretched out to perhaps
encircle the Borough of Divinity. We walked through a wide open gateway,
leaving the regulated order of the borough and into what seemed to be a
forest overshadowing the pathway. There was no sign of a place to stay the
night, but as soon as we'd passed through, Anna drew in a deep breath.
"At last! We're out of that dreadful place!" She looked around at the
overshadowing grass and flowers high above our head. "This must
be Endon! We'll just have to sleep in the open air."
"Open air?" I'd never slept outside of a warm bed before.
"No choice! But we've got these gowns: so we should be alright!" Anna
looked at me sympathetically, her eyes and teeth the only discernible
details in the darkness of her clothes and skin. "Don't worry. This may
not be the Suburbs, and it's certainly not comfortable, but it'll be safe.
And don't worry about the creepy- crawlies!"
I was now grateful for the heavy black gown and hat I'd acquired in the
Borough of Divinity, which made a very welcome blanket for me as Anna and I
stretched out on the long strands of grass beneath the wall separating
Endon from Divinity. It was difficult getting to sleep, however, as all
around were the strangest noises I'd ever heard of constant rustling and
occasional buzzing. Every now and then was the crash of something breaking
through the tall sheaves of wheat or monstrous weeds and a hum of movement
through the dark night sky. This was totally unlike the Suburbs, where the
buzz of night sounds was associated with preparing for the day ahead.
Here, however, the sounds were not those of pre-set clicking off,
aeroplanes flying overhead or the odd car driving by. They were quite
different: both unfamiliar and disconcerting.
Anna didn't seem too troubled, however. She lay down on the grass with
her hood covering her head and face and her legs pulled up towards her
stomach. I looked at her face which betrayed no expression, her eyes
closed and her lips slightly open. The rhythms of her breathing
slightly stirred the folds of her gown. I was comforted by her relaxation,
so I turned my head away and using my arm as a pillow, I gradually fell
asleep under the curious gaze of innumerable, concealed arthropoda.
Endon was imposing but most of all frightening, I decided when the
humming, buzzing, squawking and shrieking of its inhabitants compelled me
to open my eyes. Anna remained asleep, unconcerned by the appalling noise.
We had been sleeping under a dandelion more than fifty feet high, and the
long palm-like leaves beneath us belonged to some species of moss. There
were monstrous buttercups, several times taller than me, and towering above
everything were the long shadows of daffodils extending in the morning sun.
If the flora was of a scale completely beyond my previous experience, so
too was the fauna. When I warned that the borough of Endon was inhabited
by giant arthropods, I had not been prepared to see two-foot long ants and
termites, wasps half my size flying overhead, butterflies as large as
hand-gliders, centipedes whose legs and body stretched on and on, and
snails the size of small cars. Fortunately, none of them were particularly
interested in our presence, as we lay wrapped in our recently obtained
gowns: now so thoroughly soaked by dew they were best forsaken.
This was Anna's opinion when she eventually awoke, throwing her gown off
disdainfully and exposing a pair of tight white shorts and a singlet that
bared all her midriff. She wore rubber-soled boots at the end of long bare
legs which were altogether reasonable for long walks such as we'd had the
previous night. She raked her fingers through her beaded hair and viewed
the landscape with some amazement.
"It's jolly astounding! I just didn't believe there was so much
disproportion in such a small borough. It's a mystery these insects are
content to remain here and not take over the world! At least not everyone
here's an outsize crawlie..." she pointed to a tiger chatting to a
merman under the shadow of a toadstool, "...but there are still too
blooming many of them for my taste."
We abandoned the cloaks on top of some smaller mushrooms and followed
the path as it wound past clumps of daisies and knee-high moss,
and crumbled under the strain of cabbage-sized algae. The path had lost
all its rectilinearity and now wandered hither and thither, past
interminable columns of termites, underneath colossal spider-webs and past
the capsized body of a tank-like beetle whose companions were trying to
righten. Anna chatted as we walked along, now much more cheerful. She was
intending to go into the Subterranean City of Endon, which she was sure was
somewhere round here, and catch a train back to Lambdeth. She'd had enough
of travelling for the moment, and would be glad just to return to her
friends and relax.
The entrance to the City resembled the doorway to an underground railway
station and was announced by immense neon-lights. Outside were long lines
of ants and other small insects hanging around and seemingly without very
much to do. There was a general buzz of excitement, but no sense of actual
achievement. Gadflies were selling newspapers, ladybirds were selling
snacks and soft drinks, and a tiny stall attended by a woodlouse was
selling lottery tickets. A tiger reading a newspaper sat nonchalantly by a
family of mayflies. The tract was paved by tiny haphazard paving stones.
It was very peculiar to find such a portal, mostly enveloped in vines and
grass leaves, resting otherwise alone in the middle of such dense jungle.
A mermaid sat decorously and unclothed on a bench, just by an
advertisement hoarding for underarm deodorant. Beside her there were
several ants, one of which was particularly agitated and was arguing with a
six-foot high green grasshopper in a green top hat and frock coat, who was
gesticulating his four gloved forearms, while supporting his body on long
spindly hind legs. His antennae were waving as excitedly as his several
mandibles. The grasshopper appeared to be in dispute about something, but
whatever it was he settled by cuffing the ant very curtly across the face
and strode away leaving the smaller insect in humiliation and pain. He had
a newspaper under one forearm and a cane in another, leaving two buried in
the pockets of his waistcoat. He saw us and deliberately strode towards
"Did you see that Damned ant?" he exclaimed. "The fellow had absolutely
no Damned respect for his betters. He was trying to tell me - Sir George
Greenback! - that I had no more Damned rights than he. And he was trying
to extort more farthings for the services he supplied in carrying my Damned
bags. These ants: they always claim to work hard, but in truth they're
nothing but lazy idle sluggards! I don't how anyone can stand their
Damnable impudence. What do you think, my lad?"
I wasn't sure what to say, but Anna had no such problem. "It takes all
sorts make a world."
"It does indeed! Too many Damned sorts, if you want my opinion!" He
viewed us through the countless lenses of his green eyes, his antennae
twitching restlessly. As he spoke his mandibles moved sideways as well as
up and down. "You're not from these parts are you?"
"Not at all," I replied. "It's the first time I've visited the
"Ah! An exotic stranger!" chuckled the grasshopper. "And you, lady, I'd fain believe that you too are new here." Anna admitted so. "In
that case, may I have the honour of showing you around the City of Endon."
"It's jolly kind of you!" Anna remarked.
"It is that," Sir George admitted, "but I consider it my duty to extend
such hospitality to mammalian visitors like you. And furthermore I deign
that I can protect you from the unwanted attention of the Damnable ants,
termites and other scum who would offer to guide you through the
labyrinthine roads of Endon for nothing more than pecuniary advantage. I
heartily despise such opportunist trade."
The grasshopper's eyes scanned the gathered mass of insects. "Endon's a
Damnably complex city for those who have never visited it before. A
newcomer could easily get lost in its tunnels, and the unwary is easy prey
to predatory wasps or mantises. But if you know your place, you shouldn't
"And you know your place, I believe," guessed Anna.
"That I well do. I'm no proletarian or peasant like these Damned ants.
Grasshoppers are of the highest order: cultured, sophisticated and
courteous. Only butterflies compare with us in exaltation. Below are all
sorts from dragonflies to slugs, from locusts to worms. And in this great
city you encounter people of all orders and genera. There are the
industrious bees, who keep themselves apart from everyone else in their own
suburbs, and worms with which nobody would wish to associate themselves.
But when we enter Endon, you'll see for yourselves what the city has to
offer. Follow me."
Sir George strode ahead on his incredibly long hindlegs, while Anna and
I hurried to keep pace with him. The door led to a precipitous escalator
that descended down through the earth to a small square of light at the
bottom. Alongside the escalator were posters advertising perfumes, films
and financial services. The whole was lit by the soft glow of neon tubes
which extended along the roof of this tunnel and every tunnel through which
we subsequently passed.
"You need to know your place in Endon, for sure," Sir George commented
as we descended. "People from outside, I've noticed, have scant regard to
social position. Here everyone has his own status and standing, and woe
betide those, like that Damned surly Ant, who treat those such as I with
less respect than we deserve. But even though the mores and standards of
strangers such as yourself are totally alien to the good citizens of Endon,
we respect you and only require you to reciprocate in kind."
At the bottom of the escalator the city of Endon opened up to reveal a
vast neon-lit cavern spreading out in all directions to form a broad plaza
scattered with huge statues and tall monumental buildings. The statues
featured insects, spiders and snails in full splendour and regalia,
brandishing swords, seated on giant beetles or standing in pride of their
municipal glory. All about were small groups of insects with their heads
bent back to admire the monuments. I was particularly taken by the statue
of a tiger with its lower half composed of a large fish's tail.
Anna gasped. "You just wouldn't believe there'd be so much blinking Art
underneath a flipping forest!"
"It is Damnably impressive," proudly admitted Sir George, raising his
top hat dramatically. "The citizens of Endon have always prided themselves
on their æsthetic talents. You mammals never suspect that arthropods can
produce so much splendour." He pointed towards a grand building in the near
distance. "That is the Municipal Art Gallery, and if we had the time I
would take great pleasure in showing you round. There is so much to see of
Endon Art: its paintings, sculptures and architecture. You have nothing in
the City to compare with this!"
"I wouldn't be so jolly certain!" laughed Anna.
"Pah! You mammals always think that you have the best of everything!
But, God's Wounds! most of it is just foolishness. So much of what your
chordate Art Critics call Art has no essential value at all. There are
travesties of Art in your Art Galleries which could be produced by children
or imbeciles. And that which is not merely amateurish and incompetent is
just Hellishly obscene."
"So what is it that defines Art then?" challenged Anna.
Sir George strode purposefully towards a grand statue of a heroic
millipede raised on its hinder legs clutching a large cross in several of
its limbs and with a mitre perched on its head. We scurried behind him.
"Here, for instance, is Art serving its primary function which is to instil
virtue in its beholders. Art - Good Art, that is - should inculcate good
Christian values, respect for authority and order, a good life and a
ceaseless striving towards new greatness. What can Art be if the viewer
isn't uplifted by it? Simon Peter Wept! Art should galvanise the spirit,
fill one with aspirations of greatness and instruct the proletarian and
peasantry in proper awe of the society they also serve."
"Surely, that's not jolly well all that Art's about."
"It most assuredly is! It certainly is not for preaching amorality and
disharmony; as do the disgusting pruriences that masquerade as Art in
vertebrate culture which so unsettle the aesthete. Why should I choose to
rub my face in the excrescences of the world? There is already quite
enough filth and scum!"
"I'm sure there's more to Art than that," Anna disputed. "Surely all
this stuff - impressive though it is - shows just a small part of what
there is in the world. Shouldn't Art do more than simply show the higher
and more refined things in life?"
"Perhaps Art should show excretion, poverty and disease," scoffed Sir
George. "I think not! Art should elevate the Soul. Not oppress it. Art
is to instruct not revulse. And to do this it venerates the more splendid
things in the world. Art should be of recognisable things. Objects that
one can grasp, that reflect the physical reality of existence. I
know that in the City and elsewhere, there are Artists - as they mockingly
entitle themselves - who produce misshapen paintings, who eschew form and
structure altogether to cover canvasses in wild, random doodlings.
Charlatans who abandon the noble materials of canvas, paint and stone, to
flaunt their insanity with the most unimaginably gross materials. These
people do nothing more than decorate the walls of Hell, and I imagine
damnation is precisely what is waiting for them."
"That's a bit jolly harsh!" Anna replied good-humouredly. "I'm sure the
Artists who dedicate their lives to producing the sort of Art you don't
like aren't doing it just to tempt damnation."
"You may laugh, but I'm most Damnably serious. I am convinced that one
reason why mammalian culture is so decadent and reprobate is precisely
because of the tolerance it shows towards Art that subverts the Social
Order. I have heard that there are boroughs which even finance these
unholy execrations with taxpayer money. I would greatly object to know
that what little of my income my accountant permits the tax to collect
should be squandered on something which serves only to spread revolt in the
lower orders and dissent in the middle classes. Art is not, or should not,
be seen as nothing more than an excuse for the indulgences of a
self-appointed elite who want me and my kind deprived of their justly
earned wealth and position. God's Wounds! Do you envisage Sir George,
knighted for his Services to Industry and the Social Order, would for one
moment condone the very rubbishing of all that he stands for?"
Anna must have concluded that this argument was becoming too
impassioned, so she pointed at a group of troubadour ladybirds performing
at the foot of the statue of a large butterfly in a suit of armour. "Shall
we listen to them? They sound jolly good!"
Sir George turned his head in the direction of the music, but made no
attempt to move towards them nor indeed to change his subject of
conversation. "Performing Arts, whether theatre, film or music, serves the
same function as Visual Art. It must enlighten. It must enhance the
Social Order. And it must tell a story. However, I'm not a prude. I
enjoy music hall and comic opera just as much as the next man. I like to
go to the theatre with my companions, to sit in the box and watch the
Thespian entertain. But significantly seating arrangements of the theatre
reinforces the Social Order and affords the lower classes the opportunity
to reflect on the inherent superiority of those who by virtue of birth and
effort (in both of which I am a sterling success) are necessarily of a more
Anna was biting her lower lip, to restrain herself from criticism, so I
politely remarked that Sir George was evidently very passionate about Art.
"And Art is not all I am passionate about, man. I have studied
the Sciences as well, for which I have the greatest regard. And is it not
curious that the Sciences have again and again reinforced my views
concerning natural order and the probity of honest effort? Is this not
proved by the Theory of Evolution which has shown how advanced such
as Grasshoppers and Butterflies have ascended over lower orders by virtue
of the Survival of the Fittest? I keep myself very fit, I can assure you.
Has it not demonstrated that the pivots of the Universe are the larger,
brighter spheres, which resemble Her Maphrodite and the Aristocracy who
shine from the centre of the Social Universe? And even now the Science of
Economics is resolving those great eternal questions relating to the
generation of crowns, shillings and groats: the very oil which drives the
wheels of Commerce and Industry and ensures the generation of Wealth! If
Art always aspired to the expression of virtue as Science does to
describing and explaining it, then I would never have cause to complain
about the abominations pretending to such an elevated station."
We left the main plaza, past more municipal buildings, to where a number
of tunnels were radiating away in all directions. Some of the tunnels were
quite high and wide, sufficiently so to contain rows of houses and
apartment blocks. Some were only wide enough for a single car to drive
along. All were lit by the same neon glow that permeated the plaza.
"And what would you like to see? Where would you like to go? Endon has
everything you should wish to see; all that a body might wish."
"I wouldn't mind finding a railway station," volunteered Anna. "I'd
like to catch a train to Lambdeth."
"That should be no problem. Endon has a very impressive station, as
befits a city of its population and industrial significance. And you,
young man? Do you also wish to catch a train?"
"I've got no particular destination," I admitted. "I'm quite happy to
see more of Endon."
"And that you will! God's Wounds! He who tires of Endon, tires of life
itself! There is more to see than you could ever hope to find in
Lambdeth." He strode along one of the medium-sized tunnels which had shop
windows glazing its walls, with clothes, white goods, computer software and
locally manufactured honey tastefully displayed inside. The clothes shops
had the models of some very various arthropods accommodated by an
astonishing variety of fashions and styles. Clothes which flattered the
thorax, the abdomen and carapace of any insect or arachnid. Anna was
evidently less impressed by the shops than I, but her eye was caught by a
very prominent poster almost completely obscuring an empty shop window.
As my attention was distracted from the sight of insects, tigers,
spiders and others shopping, I noticed many other posters plastered about,
and most were connected with the General Election. The one that had
attracted Anna's eye featured simply the face of a koala wearing a
broad-rimmed hat looking benignly out at the world. Underneath was the
single word Illicit, which I recalled was the name of one of the political
parties contesting the Election.
"Who's the koala?" I asked naïvely.
"Don't you know!" exclaimed Anna, raising her eyebrows. "Golly! You
Suburban people are so jolly ignorant. It's Chairman Rupert, the leader of
the Illicit Party and president of his own country which he's renamed -
modestly I'm sure! - as the Illiberal Socialist Republic of Rupert."
"The Damnable imposture of the Marsupial!" Sir George assented. "How
can a classless four-thumbed like him claim so much self-importance
that he should name an entire country after himself. Even I haven't
arrogated my power and influence to the extent of renaming my land the Sir
George Estate, but there are those for whom pride knows no bounds!"
"So, what do you think of the General Election?" Anna wondered. "Are
you going to vote Illicit? Or have you got better options?"
"Are you an Illicitist, lady? Are you one of those who want to
merge this proud nation with the Illicit Republic and replace Her
Maphrodite by a eucalyptus-eating mammal?"
"Goodness, no! As if I jolly well would. But everywhere you go there
are more and more people switching their allegiance to the Illicit Party.
It's like some sort of fashion."
"Simon Peter Wept! For an antipodean dictator!"
"I think it might be to do with general disenchantment with the
established parties. After all, it's the only major party that doesn't
name itself after a colour..."
"And what's so Damnably wrong with that! It's the way parties have
always been identified, and I see no Godly reason why this proud tradition
should not continue. But, you're right, my dear, there is great
disenchantment. And can you blame the people when there are candidates
such as these standing for election." He gestured a long spindly forelimb
at a poster featuring a very sincere looking ant above the slogan The Party - Working for the People. "These scum who claim to represent the
interests of the poor, downtrodden and the workers. All they wish to do is
replace the rule of Law and Order, enshrined by status and tradition, by
nothing better than the rule of the mob. They would see this nation run by
ants and termites. They would destroy art, enslave the aristocracy in
concentration camps and thoroughly ruin the nation's economy. It is not
only self-interest which decides my opposition to these peasants, but also
concern for the interests of industry. Capital would flee these shores
were the Party to gain power and it would be an unparalleled disaster
for all those who have worked so hard to make this nation great."
"Would you support the Green Party, then?" Anna asked.
"They are little better than the Reds! Perhaps they have some ideas I
agree with, preserving many of the traditions of our nation, but all they
would do is reverse the thrust of Progress. They would demand unacceptable
restrictions on industry. Profits would plummet, economic growth would be
stifled, capital would flee, and we would all have to become vegetarians."
"What about this lot, then?" Anna indicated a poster featuring a very
heroic figure looking into the far distance carrying a sword with blood
dripping from its blade. The poster was mostly composed of bold black
lines on a dark blue background, with the slogan The Voice of Reason. "Do
you think the Black Party are the ones you'd support?"
"They are no more the Voice of Reason than the Party. In fact, the
two are equally Damned, I believe, because they both wish to subvert the
natural Social Order. They are a Party which takes good honourable
policies and perverts them with a doctrine of hatred and xenophobia. They
would also replace Her Maphrodite by a Damned president and would frighten
off capital as assuredly as the Party. They have some very strange
opinions regarding insects. Their wooing of the arachnid vote is extremely
worrying: I wouldn't like a hairy eight-legged individual telling me what
Sir George gestured at two other posters high above the shops on a
hoarding. One featured nothing more than a blank space, with the words
Vote White - You Know It Makes Sense. The other featured a mixture of
apparently contented arthropods over the slogan Continuity, Tradition,
Happiness, and by the side was a box with a blue tick in it. "The White
Party have never stood for anything I have disagreed with. Nor have they
stood for anything I have ever really believed in at all passionately. But
as always my vote will go to the Blue Party." He pointed a forelimb at the
poster of contented citizens. "It is the Blue Party which most assuredly
represents the Voice of Reason, and it is to them I have donated party
funds and it is they who, God Willing! will triumph in the General
Election and at last this nation will be steered gently and firmly to the
betterment of industry, commerce and greater weal."
Anna smiled and made no comment. She addressed me. "So you know
nothing about the Illicit Party at all."
I creased my forehead. "I'm afraid so."
"I'm no expert, but I've got friends who are jolly interested in it.
Mostly because they oppose it. The name Illicit is a kind of contraction
of Illiberal Socialist, I believe."
"Damnable socialists like the Party!" snorted Sir George. "How can
any right-thinking individual support a party associated with socialism?"
"I don't know that they are any more socialist than the flipping
National Socialists, but it's their name and I suppose it explains some of
their appeal for the working classes. But the party is one which has grown
very popular in a very short time. Five years ago, no one had even heard
of the Illicit Party or Chairman Rupert. Now the party is one of the
biggest in the country."
"The Damned bounder Rupert has lied his way to power and influence in a
way that even Machiavelli would find dishonourable. In his own country, he
has made his way from the leader of just one of countless fringe parties to
becoming its dictator. The people there must be of the damned to endorse
"I'm sure his rise to fame had something to do with the blinking mess
his country was in. Far worse than this country..."
"That would be Damnably hard to believe! This, so-called Chairman,
Rupert takes power by devious and fiendish means, and then suppresses all
free discussion and imprisons anyone who's ever disagreed with him..."
"I don't know what his does in his own country, but some of the tales of
book- burning, concentration camps, forced labour, purges, pogroms and
persecution ... It sounds flipping horrid! And he looks such a harmless
creature. You wouldn't blooming imagine that such a cute looking koala
could be the author of anything like that!"
"Nothing you Damned mammals do surprises me!" Sir George strode on, and
we again had to nearly run to keep up with his long elegant strides. "Just
look at the marsupial! He wears a hat like Napoleon, a collarless dark
suit, and shakes his Damned paws about like some insane lunatic."
"I've heard his political addresses are very inspiring," commented Anna,
"but I've never met anyone who could give me a good explanation as to what
Illiberal Socialist policies actually are."
"Isn't that just like the White Party?" I asked.
"There's nothing remotely sinister about the White Party. Nobody could
object to better street-lighting, more public libraries or wider
car-parking spaces. But the Illicit Party have some jolly odd ideas on a
whole host of things, and a lot of them seem to contradict each other..."
"He seems too Damnably fond of mites and spiders, I woot. But he does
have some progressive views regarding Art..."
"You mean the Art you like. A lot of Artists have had to emigrate from
the blinking Illicit Republic..."
"...Coming over here with their Damned decadent and amoral work. The
Art he encourages is at least inspirational."
"He is jolly keen on his own image, though," Anna commented. "If you
like huge statues, paintings or posters of Chairman Rupert looking heroic,
then the Illicit Republic is the place to be. He has even had arches
modelled from his furry limbs, castle ramparts modelled on his tufty ears
and his head is on all the currency."
"He has certainly stimulated the economy of his country..."
"...Only at the expense of the trades unions," countered Anna. "He has
been very kind to businessmen - slashing taxes and lavish with state
subsidies - but he's not been very kind to women, the poor, the unemployed
and, I gather, to what was left of the Aristocracy..."
"His Damnable treatment of his social betters is an international
scandal," agreed Sir George. "He exiled all the princes, dukes and barons
of his country and confiscated all their wealth, so that he could finance
his grandiose schemes..."
"It was jolly popular with the natives..." remarked Anna untactfully.
Sir George declined to comment. "The Illicit Party are getting to be jolly
popular in this country too. There are already several Illicit Party town
and village councils. I imagine they're fairly popular in Endon as
"Mostly with the Damnable Arachnids!" snorted Sir George. "I have
little doubt that good sense and reason will prevail and this borough will
reject the swine. I would not have thought it likely that the citizens of
Endon would surrender sovereignty to a mere pouched mammal!"
The tunnel widened as Sir George led Anna and me along past the shops,
houses and office blocks lining our way and the ceiling now arching high
above us. It was generally busier as insects ran back and forth on their
business. Termites pedalled by on specially designed bicycles. A small
trolley was pulled along by four disgruntled cockroaches. A spider sat in
an web high above us as houseflies, the size of dogs, flew
gingerly by. A tiger moth swooped down and brushed Anna with its dusty
wings before gliding off into the distance.
Anna was not amused as she brushed off the dust that had scattered over
her. "Uughh! I think some of it's got into my mouth!" she cursed, rubbing
the back of her hand over her lips. "Some of these insects are
Sir George laughed at Anna's discomfort. "God's Wounds! Don't think
that the people of Endon aren't similarly disgusted by you endoskeletal,
"All I can say," countered Anna, "is that I'm glad that not everywhere
is like Endon."
We arrived at another junction of tunnels by which there was a large
subterranean lake in which mermaids were frolicking with water boatmen and
caddis flies. The gleam of neon tubes reflected off the water's still
surface, on which floated waterlilies while immense reeds towered
overhead. Sir George escorted us to a car ferry which took us gently
across the dark waters to some more tunnels on the other side. Anna and I
leaned over the ferry's side to look at the dragonflies swooping above in
the distant heights of the reeds, while Sir George chatted amiably with the
ferry's skipper, a moderately bulky green beetle.
"I don't think I'm so enamoured by all these creepy-crawlies!" Anna
confided to me as the ferry ploughed through the dark viscous waters. "I
mean, Sir George is alright. But his funny face and those eyes! You don't
know where to jolly well look! And you can't be sure where he's looking
either. I'm dying to get away from here to more human company."
"So you're returning to Lambdeth?"
"You can come too, if you like," Anna offered. "It's a lot more fun
than Endon and I'm sure I can show you many more interesting things than
you'll ever find with all these scaly monsters. It's quite an arty place,
what with the University and all the students. And it's got at least as
much history as this place... Oooh! Look!" She pointed at a couple of
mermaids jumping in and out of the water in the near distance. They then
disappeared under the surface and totally out of sight.
"I'm not sure..." I said dubiously, not wishing to offend Sir George who
was waving at us cheerfully with one of his arms. He strode towards us,
holding his top hat in two of his other arms.
"We're very close to the Station," he announced. "You can see it there
on the shore." And there indeed, just by a quay where some boats were
gently bobbing in the quite still water, was the entrance to another tunnel
with timetables, maps and posters outside and the words Endon Central over
the top of the doorway. There was a general buzz of activity with insects
sitting by their baggage, some selling their wares and a few brawny
cockroaches and spiders waiting with rickshaws. The ferry finally docked
on the shore, and we disembarked. There was a train for Lambdeth leaving
within minutes at 11 o'clock, and so Anna rushed away rather swiftly to
ensure she wouldn't miss it. The next one wasn't due for another six
As a result of her haste, Sir George and I didn't have the opportunity
to give her more than the most peremptory of goodbyes. She briefly kissed
me on the cheek, assured me that we'd probably meet again, and rushed
through to the platform in a flurry of black skin and white clothes. She
waved at us from the platform, as she jumped onto the modern and very rapid
train standing there.
Sir George sighed as we turned away and headed down a tunnel past more
shops. "That woman is Damned impudent, don't you think, man? If she
were a grasshopper I don't think I could have stood for it at all, but as a
human being, I'm really not able to correct her. Women are necessary
evils, I believe. It is their duty to serve us in their dual rôles as
providers of domestic comfort and sexual pleasure, and beyond that it is
best they stray as little as possible. I know that my views on the natural
subservience of the weaker sex are unlikely to find much favour with the
modern miss, such as your dark-hued friend, but they are nonetheless
sincerely felt. Don't you find the futile attempts of females such as she
to stand up for herself in the face of the undeniable superiority of our
gender rather touching?"
A female grasshopper in a long dress whose train was supported by two
ladybirds happened to be walking towards us. Sir George halted and bowed
low with a sweep of his top hat as she passed by, one of her forelimbs
waving a fan in front of her face, and using the others to keep her dress
from trailing on the cigarette-butt strewn floor. He righted himself after
she had gone by.
"Naturally, I believe in gallantry, as well," Sir George assented.
"Just as it is the rôle of the stronger sex to provide and protect, the
woman's is to accept, with becoming demureness, her position to support the
male in his industry. A woman is to be useful as well as decorative: and
the service they best provide is, of course, in the generation of children.
I have sown my seed widely, I confess, and there are many batches of eggs
which I can claim to have inseminated, but my ambition, and that of all
good Christians is to sire offspring to the best of women and to provide
the best for my inheritance.
"Never let it be said that I don't have the best interests for women at
heart. But there is a limit to what a woman should be permitted to do,
which your friend from Baldam would no doubt dispute. I fail to see any
good reason why they should be allowed to vote. I fear it is the woman's
vote which may be to blame if the Blue Party fails to win the General
Election. That, and the imprudent over-extension of the franchise. It is
plain that women are the lesser sex. How many great female artists are
there, for instance? And can one imagine any woman having the leadership
qualities necessary to become a prime minister or a president?"
I didn't comment, although I was sure that there had indeed been several
women who had succeeded quite well in the very things Sir George believed
they couldn't. The tunnel wound along and away, and was now much narrower.
There was a curious form of lane discipline whereby everyone walked on the
left and all collisions were avoided despite the flamboyant wings sported
by several of the larger insects.
The tunnel became narrower and my attempts to avoid brushing against the
wings of the insect citizens were increasingly noted by failure. All along
the side of the tunnel, now constructed of clay-like earth, were holes
which were the doors and windows of very unsophisticated homes. The
inhabitants were now generally much smaller, represented primarily by ants,
mites and termites. A serpent-sized worm wriggled by between our legs. A
cockroach scurried past, furiously twitching his giant antennae.
"This isn't such a wealthy district of Endon," I observed.
"In truth, no," agreed Sir George. "The scum of the city must live
somewhere, and this, I'm afraid, is one of their districts. I apologise
for having brought you into such close contact with the lowest of Endon
society, dominated by ants and other inferior species."
"Are ants innately inferior?"
"God's wounds! By God, you cannot compare them with beings such as
myself with epithets other than inferior or unfortunate. There is a
natural order in Endon's society, as there is in mammalian society, and in
keeping with this, just as there are those blessed with intelligence,
æsthetic sensitivity and wealth, there must necessarily be those denied any
of these things. Beings such as ants were created by the Lord to be wholly
subservient to those of greater wisdom and aptitude such as I. It is only
just and right that they should occupy such a rôle, just as it is right
that I should have the advantages of my wealth and status.
"My views are, naturally, governed by sensitivity to the better
interests of the annelids, cockroaches, dung beetles and fleas who live in
these filthy districts. It is best they recognise their inferiority, serve
their betters with no insurrectious opinions; and to do so they are guided
by the greater moral, artistic and intellectual abilities of those like
myself. The conception that inferiors such as these, who enjoy only the
most base of popular entertainment and speak in a debased form of the
English language, should ever be treated as more than nominally equally is
enough to make me shudder. I am convinced that many of the great evils of
our time are due to the unwarranted freedom granted to them. Indeed, ants
are even permitted to partake of the electoral process, and have
representatives in the Endon City Council."
"Are there many poor districts like this in the city?" I wondered,
experiencing great difficulty in navigating through the scattered piles of
litter and rubbish. I hoped that we'd soon find our way to a precinct not
distinguished by peeling posters, huge heaps of neglected dung and with so
many insects squatting by the roadside with limbs outstretched, and
pleading for alms.
"Like any city, Endon has a full variety of districts from the highest
to the lowest," sniffed Sir George, studiously ignoring the beggars'
entreaties. "There are much better appointed quarters, such as where I
live, with magnificent, pleasantly designed houses. They have wide streets
and the houses have spacious gardens. It is there that the most peerless
of Endon's citizens live, with their staff of inferior invertebrates to
tend the gardens, clean the streets and secure our properties from invasion
by the scum you see here.
"Then there are these districts of urban hell, where the Party is
unquestionably very popular, preaching rebellion and disorder. Areas rife
with crime, murder, drugs and violence. Full of the unemployed, the idle
and the feckless. Areas which should by rights be purged from the city and
whose loss would not be in the slightest bit detrimental to the city's
"In between these extremes of sophistication and degradation, there are
the districts of the artisans, mostly bees, who toil hard and seem more
content living in modest homes where they manufacture white goods, honey,
electrical components and motor cars. Then there are districts inhabited
by merchants, accountants, dentists and teachers. More ordered than here
but less opulent than where I live. And finally there are the districts
for the honest workers - the clerks, factory-workers, soldiers and
policemen - not as poor as this but certainly not wealthy.
"But below all others and too far below for me to even bear to address,
certainly to touch and without which the city of Endon would be improved
are districts like this: for scum who have no real part in our society. I
am told that nearly 50% of the city live in these districts. I know that
if the Party were to have their way this mutinous crowd of the
unemployed, the criminal and the state-dependent would consume all of Endon
by fire, smoke and anarchy. I am just grateful that the majority of this
rabble is too illiterate, apathetic and disorganised to ever pose a threat
to the social order, but if they were to ever arise... Why then, Endon
would be Hell on earth! Grasshoppers and butterflies would be crucified
and their wealth confiscated. Bees and Wasps would be slaughtered by their
own stings. Ladybirds, Dragonflies and Locusts would have their wings
removed. That is a day I hope I shall never see."
I hoped so too, feeling rather uneasy as the kaleidoscope of the myriad
eyes expressionlessly watched Sir George and I proceeding quickly through
the long narrow tunnels intentionally not engaging their attention. There
were ants and termites gathered in menacing gangs by barred windows. There
were cockroaches lying in apparent stupor in the unglazed windows. A tiger
with dark glasses was huddled in conference with several ants by the stairs
of a fire escape, at the foot of a tall termite- mound. I definitely
didn't feel very welcome in this neighbourhood. The tunnel soon widened to
accommodate factories, abattoirs and warehouses, around which the streets
were strewn with plastic cartons, discarded newspapers and cigarette ends.
There were far fewer people, but I could see insects busy at work through
the windows of the buildings and there was a general hum of electricity,
steam and air- conditioning. The tunnel further widened as we came into a
district that must have been one of the more salubrious districts Sir
George had mentioned. The houses were large, and could just about be seen
behind tall featureless walls topped by broken glass. In front of many
houses were small sentry-boxes in which might sit an aggressive looking
beetle or spider. The air was clear and clean and songbird-sized
mosquitoes fluttered around in the decorative heights of gladioli,
rhododendrons and tulips. Besides the guards in front of the houses, there
were very few people, although there was plenty of space to hold them. The
occasional pond or fountain adorned our way, and monstrous buttercups and
daisies lined the roadside.
"Do you live round here?" I asked Sir George.
"Goodness no!" laughed the grasshopper. "Where I live is much better
appointed than this. Do you think I would choose to live in such close
proximity to the riffraff we've just passed? But many quite well-off
individuals do choose to live here, and quite a few residences are owned by
people not really native to Endon at all. Like Lord Arthur over there."
He indicated a colossal towering figure, easily thirteen foot high,
meandering towards us along the wide roads. He was too large to ever
venture down the tunnels we'd emerged from, but he was no insect. At
first, blinded by the bright light from the streetlights, I thought he
might have been a tiger, but he was in fact an lion quite tall
enough to glance over the walls at the houses. Not that he was doing that,
as he seemed totally lost in thought and appeared quite frail and weak,
despite his massive size and undoubted strength. A once glorious tawny
mane was now quite threadbare and portions of fur were shredding off. His
tail drooped sadly behind him.
"Good morning, Lord Arthur," Sir George called out to the lion when we
were within a few yards of him. The grasshopper seemed quite minuscule in
comparison to the beast towering high above him, who could easily toss the
gangling spindle-legged insect to one side with a single gesture of his
"Is it still morning, Sir George?" Wondered the lion raising his head
and coming to a halt just five feet ahead of us. "This morning has seemed
so very long. And so depressing. My Endon accountant tells me that I may
have to sacrifice all my holdings in your fair city." He scanned the
district with eyes quite as large as my head. "I have never really
appreciated the beauty of your city before, you know, Sir George, and now
that my estate and my factories and my shops are to be sold off to cover my
debts I feel I am appreciating it rather belatedly."
"Who are buying your holdings?" wondered the grasshopper.
"What's left of my holdings," the lion corrected. "Once I owned more
than a fifth of your city's businesses. The buyers are a consortium of
bees. And believe you me, they are robbing me blind! I'm sure the capital
wealth it represents is worth at least five times as much as they have
paid. And even the several millions of guineas they have paid will cover
barely a fraction of my debts. But every little helps."
"Are you staying in Endon for very long, your lordship?"
"Not at all, Sir George. I have business to attend to elsewhere. More
to sell, I'm afraid. If it were not for the kindness and, dare I say, the
great generosity of those friends of mine who have not abandoned me as my
stock has sunk on the Exchange, I would have nowhere to stay. Once I had
no shortage of homes in this city."
"Indeed I bought my home from you, Lord Arthur."
"You did! You enterprising arthropod. Not that I'd have ever visited
most of the properties I owned. I bought most of them for speculative
reasons you know."
"I'm sure you did," the grasshopper replied approvingly.
"But that was when business was good. Those were the days when the name
of Lord Arthur was feared and respected throughout the civilised world.
And further than that even. Now I can hardly open the financial pages of a
newspaper without seeing articles speculating about when - no longer if - I
will become bankrupt. These are sad days indeed, Sir George."
"God's Wounds! They are that! There is no longer the respect and
honour due paid to aristocrats and businessmen such as we..."
"That may be so, though I don't really recall life being any better for
it. But it is for me, not the world in general, that I complain. But
hold! I must not forever grieve. I have known some very good times. Who
is your friend?"
Sir George introduced me formally to the lion. "He is a stranger whom
I'm escorting through the city of Endon."
"A real stranger too," Lord Arthur growled indulgently. "There aren't
very many warm-blooded endoskeletals in this city are there? Except for
tigers and merpeople. I trust you'll be taking this fellow to the
"I hadn't thought of that, your lordship, but that would be a most
diverting way to occupy the afternoon. Are you also likely to come?"
"No. I'm afraid not. As I said, I have too much business elsewhere. I
have an appointment at one o'clock I believe with a representative from
Delta who wants to buy the last of my fish factory shares. I think I had
best make haste or the day will all be gone."
He twitched his monstrous tail, the tassel of which was larger than my
whole body, and unsteadily lumbered off in a different direction to that
which we were going. "Lord Arthur is money on hard times," sighed Sir
George. "He is a moral example to us all to retain by all means the wealth
we have either inherited or achieved. God's wounds! It's incredible to
believe that one as wealthy as he could ever have fallen so far. I
sincerely hope I never share the same fate."
"How did he happen to lose his wealth?"
"I'm no economic expert. I employ others to provide me with that
expertise and knowledge, but what I have read suggests that Lord Arthur
burdened himself with more commitments in steadily declining industries
than he could profitably gain from. And then, instead of divesting himself
of these commitments or taking advantage of new market conditions, he
simply ploughed more and more of his wealth into the hopeless task of
keeping these industries going. Eventually of course the whole edifice
collapsed about him. I will never allow that to happen to me. I blame the
lion for being too sentimental to his employees and not restructuring soon
enough." Sir George paused reflectively. "Still, less of that. I'll take
you to the Party as the good lion suggested. My carriage shouldn't be too
far from here."
Indeed it wasn't. Sir George led me through a wide archway, quite large
enough for Lord Arthur to have walked through, and I stood blinking in the
strong midday sun illuminating the forests of Endon. Sir George's carriage
was waiting for us, just as the grasshopper had predicted. It was very
exquisite, drawn by a host of swift stag beetles who were snorting and
pawing the ground while waiting. Sir George let me into the sumptuous and
luxurious interior of his carriage where he opened a bottle of champagne
and with a gesture produced a piping hot meal his chef had prepared for
"The journey is several leagues distant from here," the grasshopper
announced, "so we'd best have luncheon as we travel. I hope you enjoy my
The lavish meal of quail eggs, venison, caviar and champagne was
somewhat less simple than I was accustomed to, and not having eaten since
midday the day before I tucked into it with great relish as the carriage
trundled off through the of outsize flora.
Zest and chatter from mingling party-goers orchestrated with the remote
pulsation of a stereo system greeted me when I arrived at the Party. The
journey had been very pleasant. I'd already been impressed by the
expansive gardens estate that surrounded the large manor house. There were
large ponds full of trout. A tiger with shears was trimming
ornamental hedges near the rosebushes. The long neck of a giraffe rose
above a maze where he had a distinct advantage in navigating his way out.
In such surroundings I imagined a fairly restrained, possibly formal, party
and my main anxiety had been that I wasn't suitably dressed.
Within moments of entering the massive hallway I was separated from my
grasshopper companion in a confusion of unfamiliar people and totally lost
sight of him. I had been too intent on admiring the painted frieze on the
vaulted ceiling from which descended an crystal chandelier. A
wide staircase wound from the hallway to a balcony along which gathered
many other guests of every species holding glasses of wine or champagne in
their hands, paws or hooves, and often with cigarettes of various
dimensions drooping from their lips or mandibles.
I felt intimidated by this mass of strangers, which included a tiger in
finery, a dolphin in a comfortable leather-lined sofa, a megatherium
chatting with a comparatively tiny manticore and an archaeopteryx perched
high on a hat stand making drunken conversation with a beret. A pig, a
wolf and a similar-sized pygmy elephant wearing frock-coats and spats
chatted amiably in a circle. I saw a swirl of guests in other rooms
amongst wine-bottles and party food, some dancing to a curious amalgamation
of techno, baroque and waltz.
As I stood transfixed by perplexity, a girl, perhaps only fourteen
or fifteen years old, was descending the staircase. She wore a long floral
shoulderless dress with a wide-brimmed hat perched on long curly brown
hair. As she walked down, the guests greeted her respectfully as she passed
by: some with great flourishes as broad feathered or stiff tall hats were
swept by, some with respectful bows and some by simple nods of
acknowledgement. I guessed that this child was quite celebrated, but I
didn't recognise her from my limited knowledge of society debutantes
featured on Suburban television. She approached the foot of the stairs and
headed towards me.
"Hello," she greeted, outstretching a long thin ivory-white arm. A
single gold bracelet rolled down her wrist as she delicately shook my hand.
"My told me that Sir George had brought along a human to his Party.
He also declared that you don't know anyone here. Is that so?"
"Yes, it is," I admitted shyly.
"Well, I had better perform my duty as my father's and one of
the Party's hostesses. My name is Zitha, in case you didn't already know,
and I shall gladly show you around. The house is very extensive. It's got
absolutely acres of space. Even with the hundreds of guests we've always
got here, it never feels full. You could easily get lost in the hallways
and corridors. I often get lost myself, you know." She chuckled like a
child several years younger than she actually was. "I can stray for days
on end. People just can't find me! I still find all sorts of rooms I'd
never known about before. Rooms with such secrets, you wouldn't believe!
Still," she pirouetted round to survey the guests, "where's Sir George?"
In amongst the velociraptors, peacocks, smilodons, elands and moas
dressed in such wide diversity it just wasn't possible to distinguish a six
foot tall grasshopper. Zitha grinned. "Well, I'm sure he's found someone
to talk to. He's ever so popular, you know! However, I'll introduce you
to our guests. This gentleman is a police sergeant, aren't you?"
She addressed a tiger in a blue stiff-collared uniform. "Actually, I'm
much more senior than that..." he began, but wasn't allowed to finish as
Zitha introduced me in rapid succession to a minotaur who'd made a mint
from futures, a salmon in a wheelchair who'd inherited the biggest
underwater ever, a tapir who wrote ever such difficult poetry, a
phoenix big in insurance, a pterodactyl who was ever such a clever
professor and many others who, before I'd had the chance to properly greet
them or they'd had time to elaborate on Zitha's brief and sweeping
descriptions, was superseded by another whose main claim to attention was
that he, she or it was next nearest in proximity.
In this way, Zitha breezed me through a succession of large muralled
rooms, libraries, hallways and studies each brimming with guests engrossed
in wine, drugs and conversation. As we proceeded I encountered more
interesting and fascinating individuals than I would have been exposed to
in an entire lifetime in the Suburbs, saw some but not enough of
magnificent paintings, statues and furniture, and heard snatches of music
generated from sound systems, string quartets, jazz trios and singer-
songwriters balanced on stools. In all this, my hostess was a constant
provider of chat, inconsequence and distraction, but gave me no opportunity
to focus my attention on anything for very long nor to fully absorb my
surroundings. On the way, I collected and lost glasses of wine and
experienced the brief sniff, smoke and inhalation of a curious selection of
recreational drugs that Zitha insisted that I had just got to try. It was
no wonder that I was in a state of confusion my Suburban life had never
prepared me for when Zitha eventually halted in a book-filled study from
which the only doors led back out in the direction from which we had come.
"So what do you know about this Party?" wondered Zitha, leaning against
an oak fireplace carved with an array of gruesome gargoyles.
"Only what I've just seen," I answered honestly. "Is it your birthday
"Goodness, no!" laughed Zitha. "I wasn't even born when this Party
began. It's been going on for absolutely years. And years. It's
absolutely world-famous! Are you saying in all honesty that you've never
heard of it?"
I delved back in my memory beyond the haze of recent imbibings and
inhalations to news or magazine articles I might have read.
Perhaps things like this were just never considered newsworthy in the
Suburbs, though I knew that there were several magazines that reported only
the lives of the privileged and famous. "No, I really honestly haven't!" I
"My started the Party absolutely ages ago. I think it might have
been for his wedding reception, or maybe it was a housewarming party, or
perhaps it was just for the sake of it. If it was a wedding party, it
hasn't stopped my from divorcing him. The Party began, and my
father lavished so much attention and expense on it that nobody wanted to
leave the following day. Or the next day. Or the day after that. And in
this way it's just gone on and on. And now it's ever so famous. The
Eternal Party they call it. And despite people saying that eventually my
father will go broke in providing for it, and the money to pay for it has
to come from somewhere, it just continues unceasingly. I guess there's had
to be some sacrifices. Employees have been laid off or had to take pay
cuts. Land has had to be sold. Subsidiaries mortgaged or floated on the
stock market. But despite all the dire predictions, the Party goes on.
And on. It's a jolly good Party too, don't you think?"
"It's very impressive," I admitted.
"Of course, as time goes by, the guests just demand more and more.
There are films showing in the private cinemas my had to build.
There are several dancing rooms. There are orchestras, plays, circuses,
duelling, feasting, sex, drugs, poetry readings and soirees galore. The
meals provided each and every evening would feed several small countries.
The daily bill for alcohol alone is greater than most people's annual
income. This Party costs simply thousands and millions of guineas. If my
father wasn't so rich, generous and dedicated to the cause of satisfying
his guests, it just would never have been possible. And don't you think
it's really worth it? Have you ever been to a more splendid party in your
"No, I haven't," I admitted.
"Of course, it's a bit excessive to indulge in the Party all the time. I
have to go to boarding school all week, and I think my is quite
grateful to get away to do his business in the City and elsewhere. Some
people though just never leave, and only when they get truly obnoxious or
simply disrespectful to the wrong guests are they ever obliged to leave."
"Can anyone come to the Party?"
Zitha seemed visibly offended. "Goodness no! Not everyone! We
wouldn't want riffraff coming. Where would the guests look if servants
were admitted? Or proles. Or peasants. My goodness! Only the truly
suitable are ever invited. And their friends of course. I wouldn't want
these priceless carpets covered in working class vomit. I wouldn't like
the magnums of champers to be squandered on people lacking all taste and
refinement. It would be a total waste! Not everyone can properly
appreciate the finer things in life."
Zitha then led me out of the study and through more rooms, introducing
me to yet more people. We arrived at a room in which a few guests
were gathered around a collection of bottles on a table. This room was
really no different to any other that we'd been in except that for the
first time I saw someone I recognised. The large Mouse carefully pouring a
glass of mead into a tumbler, while sniffing the air with his massive nose
and whiskers, was undoubtedly Tudor. He raised his head and regarded me
"Sooth, good morrow, man," he greeted me warmly. "How dost? 'Tis
most curious that we should so meet again but less than one day since!"
"Fabulous!" chuckled Zitha. "You know each other. I don't have to
"'Tis verily so! 'Twas on a railway station many leagues distant that
we met. This hath travelled far from the Suburbs where he doth
"The Suburbs! How absolutely fantastic! You know, I've never been
there. I've heard it's a pretty wacky place." Zitha giggled. "But tell me
Tudor, are you travelling by train now? That's most terrifically
adventurous of you!"
"'Twas not by choice, thou canst be assured," the Mouse remarked,
lowering the warm tumbler of mead from his muzzle. "'Tis an adventure in
discomfort and indignity. And thou? Thy Party continueth unabated?"
"As always. And you've always been one of those pessimists who said it
just couldn't last forever..."
Tudor laughed indulgently, twitching the muscles of his nose and ears.
"'Tis but the way of the world. All things and all events have their
season. Winter shalt come nigh ere long, and the Party shalt be a mere
memory to all those who have known't."
"So enjoy it while you can!" chortled the removing her hat and
brushing her fingers through the long dense curls. "We're all going to die
in the end, so we might as well get as much pleasure out of life as we
"Thou'rt most frivolous..."
"Well, I can't spend forever talking philosophy," Zitha laughed
replacing the hat on her head. "I've got other guests to gossip with.
Enjoy!" With that she swept through the assorted guests greeting each of
them decorously and briefly. Tudor gazed after her as she departed.
"The Party shalt end one day," he repeated. "All Parties must end. And
in but two days from now, the party represented by the Coition Government
shalt also come to its end. 'Twill be a sad day for those who have
benefited from the too many decades of chaos, incompetence and corruption
that hath so much distinguished the realm. In a land riven by discord and
disorganisation, 'tis but the lowlife and the Devil they serve who hath
triumphed. Mine dread, however, ist that rather than peace and
tranquillity, the General Election shalt result in naught but worse
anarchy. We all stand perilously nigh to the brink of civilisation's
collapse, and 'twill take but the merest nudge for all to fall."
"That is a pessimistic view!"
"Perchance 'tis so. But for too long there hath been overmuch license:
Satan and his demons art liberated from their confines and march the land.
Vile sins art practised each day: pornography, blasphemy, paganism and
disrespect. Each person in this land believeth that he and he alone hath
the knowledge and wisdom to govern this once proud nation, willing to take
the real power once the sole possession of Her Maphrodite. The only
solution to this nation's great woes must be a return to traditional values
and principles once held so dear."
"What are those?" I inquired, having often heard similar opinions voiced
in the Suburbs.
"Less license. More respect. Less power granted to the unruly masses
who art the basest of beasts, only able to express themselves in an orgy of
drink, drugs, dancing and perverse sexual practices!" He paused to pour
himself more mead while the distant rhythm of salsa thundered from several
rooms away. A tiger in an expensive suit was collapsed outstretched on the
floor with a bottle of wine in one hand, a cigar in the other and vomit
stains on his silk shirt. I returned my gaze to Tudor who was holding a
raw fish in his red-gloved claws which he was about to drop down his long
muzzle. He glanced at me with his large round eyes, and then with a rapid
movement of jaws and tongue the whole fish was gulped down his gullet.
He belched appreciatively. "Mine host: he ist the most generous of men!
There is naught in the dominion of entertainment or diversion that hath not
been relished here at this Party. 'Tis oft I return here for pleasure and
relaxation. Food and drink art most plentiful. The company ist for the
most part pleasing and comely. But in all this cornucopia and generosity,
which 'twere most ungrateful not to shower praise on't, I fear there ist a
moral which reflects the greater waste and irresponsibility of this land.
Nevertheless, 'tis by the industry and effort of our host that all this is
possible. 'Tis not achieved by theft nor smuggling nor murder. In that
'tis justified. And 'tis a most splendid mansion, i'sooth!"
"Yes, it is," I agreed, ogling the paintings that lined the
walls between tall bookcases and alongside the most exquisite
leather-covered furniture. There were paintings featuring horses and
hounds chasing foxes, dogs tearing birds apart with their jaws, fish being
snared in fish-hooks, and gentlemen proudly displaying a shotgun with one
hand and a batch of dead pheasants with the other.
"'Tis most civilised," Tudor continued, picking at the salmon canapes
and the small sausages on little wooden spears. "But tell me, man,
where goest thou?"
"I'm not absolutely sure. I was escorted here and I haven't really
decided where to go next."
"Thou'rt a traveller, art thou not? Far from the exotic Suburbs. Dost
intend to rest here?"
"I'm not sure. I feel tempted never to leave."
"Hah!" laughed the Mouse, his whiskers and ears twitching madly. "Thou
wouldst not be the first to succumb to the easy pleasures of the Party.
Many come willingly and few leave, so 'tis said. But it hath been related
that although there be great pleasure in the Party there ist but little
purpose. Perchance if thou wishest to be enticed away from here, I canst
offer thee one night at mine own castle."
"Could you?" I asked, perhaps manifesting my enthusiasm a little too
strongly, but as I hadn't had a satisfactory sleep the night before I was
attracted to the prospect of sleeping in a comfortable bed. I was also
aware that I was unlikely to find the Truth in amongst all this jollity
unless, (and this thought slightly unsettled me), this was all the Truth I
was ever likely to find.
"'Tis but a humble abode in comparison to that of our host, but I trow
'tis but my duty as a good Christian to extend mine hospitality to thee. I
shalt be departing within the hour." Tudor sniffed. "Now, if thou canst
but wait here and forgive my rudeness, I have business to occupy elsewhere.
But thou needst not feel abandoned, for here I see again is our hostess,
the beauteous Zitha."
Tudor strode out of the room, his long scaly tail and the sheath
of his sword trailing behind him. He passed Zitha as she came in and the
two briefly exchanged pleasantries. The had somehow found the
opportunity to change into a green silk blouse, long pearl beads and baggy
trousers. She now wore was a small bright blue beret almost totally lost
in the abundance of her curls.
"Why hello, you silly Suburbanite," she giggled. "Are you having a good
"Yes, very nice," I assented, sipping from a wine glass.
"Well, don't hesitate to eat anything. Caviar, lemon sole, fresh trout,
angel fish, it's all here! Our chefs are amongst the very best, you know.
And there are perfect feasts served in the dining rooms later! There are
some films showing. Some jolly risque ones too, I believe! Don't forget,
all this is here for your benefit. I'll be most offended if you don't
thoroughly indulge yourself."
"Why thank you," I replied, not feeling at all hungry, but nonetheless I
politely nibbled on some caviar coated wafers.
Zitha scanned the assorted company. "I see Tudor's abandoned you. I
don't like to see a single guest deserted like this. Shall I introduce you
to the Ambassador? He's a jolly interesting chap!" She twirled around
and gestured towards a Cat, about the same size as me sporting the most
flamboyant clothes, adorned with lace and buckles, a sheathed sword like
Tudor's hanging from a belt around his waist and carrying a large
broad-brimmed hat with an feather in his white gloved paw. His
other ungloved paw clutched a large fish whose head he'd already devoured.
"How are you, Ambassador?"
"I'm fine. Fine!" Purred the cat, swallowing the whole of the fish with
a single drop down his gullet, his whiskers twitching with delight. "As
always, the food here is absolutely delicious. My compliments to your
chefs. And who is this gentleman?"
"He comes from the Suburbs. Have you heard of it?"
"The Suburbs? I'm not familiar with all the parts of your fascinating
land, but I'm sure it is another borough I would have great pleasure in
visiting." He picked up a glass of wine, raised it to his mouth and
decorously sipped from it. "Is it far from here?"
"It's a very long way," I replied. "And very different. There are cats
there, but I've never met any dressed as gloriously as you."
"Indeed, no. Your indigenous Cats seem to have little taste or style, I
deem." He addressed Zitha. "Tell me, has your reserved a room for
me for the night?"
"Of course, Ambassador. The usual ambassadorial suite. We've kept you
as far away as possible from any Canine guests who might be staying
The shuddered. "That is most thoughtful of you!"
"...And I'm sure you'll find that it has every luxury you require.
However, if you could excuse me, I have another guest to see to!" She
smiled apologetically and strode over to the tiger who'd earlier been
stretched on the floor but was now leaning unsteadily on the mantelpiece
with a glass of wine in one paw and the other struggling to keep himself
upright. Zitha floated to his side and chattered to him oblivious of his
"So, man," asked the Ambassador solicitously, "do you know many of
the other guests at this party?"
"Not really," I admitted. "I was brought here by someone who I appear
to have lost. But I have met someone I know. Tudor, he's called."
"Tudor?" Mused the Cat. "That's a Mouse name isn't it?"
"I suppose it must be. Tudor was the Mouse in here just a moment
"And I daresay he had some very unflattering things to say about Cats.
Mice are so Anti-Feline! They have no understanding or appreciation of the
Feline cause, and constantly bemoan the fact that to bring civilisation to
their so-called motherland it's been necessary to also bring them the
benefits of Feline Government. These Mice are so ungrateful! Do they
really believe they'd be better off if they were under the yoke of a Canine
"Is that what Mice want?"
"Well, they call it self-determination. But how can Mice be capable of
running a country by themselves? They've proved to be a damnably unruly
and uncooperative lot in the Kingdom. The only way they could possibly
take over in what they misguidedly call their ancestral home is by
mortgaging themselves to the wealthier Dogs. And I've yet to see evidence
that Dogs have anything like the standards of good government and tolerance
evinced by us felines!"
"Is there some dispute about sovereignty in the Kingdom?" I asked.
The Ambassador mewed. "You could say that!" He picked up another fish
and dropped it down his throat. His furry throat convulsed briefly as it
descended down his oesophagus. "It's a fairly meaningless dispute because
there really is no case for the land to be anything other than Feline. As
has been agreed by the international community which mostly recognises the
sovereignty of His Majesty the King. Only the damnable Canine Republics
and a few Mouse-sympathisers withhold their recognition, not that it ever
prevents them trading with us. After so many years of Feline Diaspora in
which Cats have been denied a nation of their own, forced to rely on the
open hearth and generosity of northern neighbours, we have at last attained
our historical homeland for which our rights by historical primacy cannot
be seriously denied. We imagined we would finally see an end to the
persecution that has hounded us over the millennia from the Canine scourge,
the false accusations of witchcraft and the compulsory sequestering of our
hard-earned wealth by whatever complexion of government has envied it. But
even now there are those whose claims on our land being so much more recent
are judged somehow to be the stronger as a result."
"Is it only because you're Cats that some people do not like you?" I
wondered, remembering Tudor's intense dislike.
"I daresay that for most of our enemies it is quite simply that we are
Cats they discriminate against us. They call us foul abusive epithets such
as and Moggy. They mock our purring as growls and our tail-wagging
as perverse. It may be that they are just envious of our arboreal and
hunting skills, our nimbleness and adaptability, and our ability to see in
the dark. However, that's not the professed reasons our enemies give for
their enmity towards us. Many pretend that it is distaste for our system
of government in which the King has prime political power. The Canine
Republics in particular oppose our of government as archaic,
arbitrary and unfair. They ask how a can be endowed with the Divine
Right to rule. However, surely hereditary government, vested in one
trained and tutored from birth in the arts of government, is better than
power which falls so arbitrarily into the hands of petty dictators, as in
so many of the Canine Republics, who might even have originally taken power
by democratic means, but more often in a coup d'etat, usually with the
unfulfilled pretext of restoring democracy. And few of these petty
dictators relinquish power, often bequeathing it to close relatives or
their own puppies. Moreover, the Divine Right of the King to rule is bound
deeply with the religious practices of feline kind. The King is both the
spiritual and temporal leader of the realm. He defends both sovereignty
and the faith. No Canine dictator can pretend to responsibilities as
grave, however much they may bark on about the Bible and religion."
"Does the Kingdom get on with the Canine Republics?"
"Not in the slightest. We're constantly at war with one Republic or
another. It's a great strain on our economy, but the wealth of Cats
throughout the world has ensured that this is a fight the Dogs can never
win. Whatever the complexion of - spaniel, terrier, poodle, collie or
whatever - the is too disorganised and stupid to do more than merely
harry and unsettle our nation. These Dogs just don't have the political
stability or historical traditions to compete with Cats. They dress like
undertakers, forever preaching about God and Duty, live lives of
unspeakable drabness and are just too incredibly diverse in kind. The is a racial mess. When you look at a Cat, you know it's a Cat. We're all
about the same shape and size, differing only in details like colour and
length of fur. What can be said about an of the mongrel varieties
of Chihuahuas, Rottweilers, Pekinese, Daschunds, Doberman Pinschers and
bulldogs? They're just a heterogeneous mess!"
"Who wins these wars with the Canine Republics?"
"Why, us of course. The Kingdom! Who else? As we have always
done. As we are destined to always do. It is our right and duty to always
triumph. It's not that we have any designs on the land of our neighbours,
although we have been reluctantly obliged to occupy some of their land as
guarantees of territorial security. We don't want our nation overrun by a
host of poodles, corgis or pit bull terriers. We're quite happy to leave
the Dogs where they are, - and only ask that they display the same
magnanimity to us. And to stop going on so much about these accursed Mice.
If they're that enamoured by rodents why don't they welcome them more in
their own territories."
"Still talking?" Asked Zitha who had unexpectedly come back. She had
found the opportunity to change yet again: this time into a long black
dress with a very high collar and another wide hat. The tiger she'd been
talking to had vanished, leaving only a pool of vomit and fish-bones where
he'd been slumped. "You must circulate, Ambassador! There are many more
guests to see. And you, as well, you must meet a few more guests."
"Actually I'm waiting for Tudor to return. He said he'd let me stay at
"Did he?" Laughed Zitha. "That's jolly generous of him. But I wouldn't
expect him to return while you're chatting to a Cat. The Mouse probably
thinks His Excellency would like to tear him apart for sport or something
"The Feline reputation for wanton cruelty is much exaggerated," mewed
"I'm sure it is," agreed Zitha. "But if you could excuse us please,
Your Excellency, we'll search for this gentleman's companion. There are a
number of other ambassadors in the main dining room, if you would wish to
"Thank you for your advice," the replied, nonetheless remaining
around the fish dinners that were laid out for guests, while Zitha led me
on out of the room, an arm locked through mine. We passed a
veritable scrum of guests milling about outside rooms lit by lights for
which Zitha gave no explanation. We passed a darkened room, where a number
of guests lay collapsed on cushions smoking from a large hookah-pipe
appended to an ornate glass bowl. We trod over inebriated guests,
including the tiger who had somehow negotiated his way along several
corridors only to collapse in another stupor with many clothes now
inexplicably absent. As we walked, Zitha chatted on about how the weather
had been particularly warm recently, but looked like it might soon be on
the turn; how she hoped that whoever won the General Election wouldn't in
any way spoil the fun of the Party by excessive taxation; how she wondered
at the dietary tastes and dining habits of several guests as we passed a
pile of empty snail shells, fish-bones and hay; and how she hoped that I
was enjoying her father's Party.
"Well," wondered Zitha. "What is it that takes you so far from the
Suburbs? We get very few people from that borough coming to this Party."
I explained to her about my search for the Truth as we walked through a
library in which books were stacked high up to the ceiling. "The Truth!"
she exclaimed. "We get many guests here with the most bizarre ambitions.
Eternal Peace. Love and Death. The Kingdom of God. But never one before
with a quest to find the Truth. This is really, I'd have thought, the very
last place in the world I'd visit if I were searching for the Truth. I've
never come across it here. We've got everything else you might look for,
and I'm sure there are plenty of books in this library on the subject. Not
that anyone ever reads them! Did you seriously believe you'd find the
Truth at my father's Party?"
"I don't really know where to look," I admitted. "When I was invited
here I thought I might find some clues as to its whereabouts."
"There are certainly a lot of guests here who'd say they could advise
you. Some of the best minds in the world come to this Party. That I know!
But I can't believe that even the brainiest or wisest or most widely
travelled can really claim to know what the Truth is or where to find it.
Quite honestly, I don't know why anyone would ever bother."
Zitha paused by a globe of the world standing on a desk. She put a hand
on it and theatrically spun it round. The continents and oceans passed by
caged in by lines representing latitude, longitude and the tropics of
Cancer and Capricorn. "Why bother? There are so many much more fun things
to do in life. Look at the Party. It's been going on and on, all in the
pursuit of pleasure. And however hard it is pursued, there is yet more
pleasure to be found. And aren't there absolutely of people who say
that the purpose of life is to find happiness? And, if that's the case,
isn't there just a fantastic amount of happiness to be found here? Look at
everyone! Aren't they happy? And is there really anything else you'd want
I looked around at the company which included a very drunken yale
chatting to a hippogriff, a couple of aardvarks smoking reefers underneath
the collected works of the Marquis de Sade, a canoodling pair of pygmy
chimpanzees on the top of a bookcase, a wolf chatting amiably with a
protoceratops, and a large hare slumped unconscious on a leather chair.
Everyone certainly seemed happy, but I felt sure that this apparent
happiness was not the Truth I was looking for.
"Life is for the living!" continued Zitha. "We're only on this planet
for a few years and then we die. It could all end tomorrow. And what
regrets we'd all have if we knew on our deathbed there were so many
pleasures we'd not indulged in. Culinary delights uneaten. Alcohol
unimbibed. Partners denied. Plays, films or games not enjoyed. How
can there be anything more to life than living it to the full? And where
can life be enjoyed more to the full than here?"
"I'm sure that there are no pleasures in the world that aren't catered
for at this Party," I agreed.
"Absolutely right! And the only struggle I think worth making is to
find new ways to enjoy them. And to find new exotic and unexplored
pleasures. These are the challenges that face every dedicated hedonist.
My struggles night and day, taking the advice of the greatest
expert, to provide pleasures for all: however bizarre, perverse, cruel or
refined. There is no pleasure that he would hesitate to provide: from
total immersion in sensory deprivation tanks, from virtual sex, from
blood-sports, from lively and witty conversation, from meditation, to
whatever else our insatiable guests may demand. And in this pursuit of
pleasure there are undoubtedly victims, but ultimately isn't their
sacrifice worth the greater pleasure of those fortunate enough to be guests
at this, the ultimate and eternal Party?"
"Are there casualties amongst the guests, though?" I asked, considering
the unhealthy state of several of them, such as the tiger Zitha had been
"In any great pursuit there are martyrs to the cause," mused Zitha,
folding her arms and frowning. "Drug Addiction. Venereal Disease.
Lethargy. Lung Cancer. Bankruptcy. Insanity. Delusion. Liver Disease.
But it'll all have been worthwhile if the pleasure gained in acquiring
these maladies outweighs the long term pain and degradation."
"I'sooth!" came Tudor's familiar voice. "Thou'rt being most
uncharacteristically philosophical, Zitha. Nay, thou'rt nigh metaphysical
in thy discourse!" The Mouse stood by us, supporting his weight on the
table where the globe was slowly losing the momentum of its earlier rapid
"It's the influence of your Suburban friend!" laughed Zitha, as if she'd
been discovered doing something she wasn't permitted. "He's got the most
"'Swounds! I little ken the Suburbs, but ne'er hath I heard it
described as the home of metaphysics or high discourse. 'Tis oft spoken as
a place bereft of all great thought, immersed only in its own perfection,
imposing little on the world beyond and intent only on the provision of
amateur dramatics, local history societies and supermarkets."
"It sounds absolutely bizarre!" mused Zitha. "There are places outside
the pages of literature and the situation comedy living room which engross
themselves in such things. I thought it was all a myth to make everyone
feel jolly smug that their lives were tons more exciting."
"I know not," admitted Tudor. "Perchance, man, thou canst impart
details of thy home unto us. Is't so 'tis but a land of small concerns
and, yea, smaller ambitions?"
"I don't know how best to describe it," I admitted. "It's very
different to here. Or anywhere else I've visited recently."
"Mayhap 'tis true!" sniffed the Mouse, scratching his muzzle with a
gloved claw. "But now, dearest Zitha, 'tis time, I trow, for mine friend
and I to depart. 'Tis as ever with the greatest regret that I do so."
"And I don't imagine it'll be too long till you come back!" giggled the
"I'sooth!" agreed Tudor, before ushering me through the mass of guests
to the main hallway which was far further away than I'd imagined. We
passed all conceivable species of guests along opulent corridors, past
defunct mediæval armour, Ming vases, tall and imposing portraits of Zitha's
ancestors, videophones, Hogarth cartoons, the heads of slaughtered deer and
foxes, velvet curtains and finally the wide expanse of the staircase in the
Tudor's carriage was waiting outside amongst a fleet of Mercedes, Rolls-
Royces, Porsches and Bentleys. It was quite modest in comparison, being an
open-top horse-drawn carriage, although the armour-covered horses were
magnificent and the carriage stout and resplendent. "'Tis but a few
leagues until mine estate!" Announced the Mouse as his chauffeur cracked
his whip and the horses thundered off away from the mansion house. It was
several furlongs until we passed through the garden gates past long avenues
bordered by grand statues of all examples of exotic and extinct fauna.
Evening descended as Tudor's carriage passed over the drawbridge to his
castle and parked inside its dark grey walls. Within his walls, as
without, there was great evidence of the Mouse's wealth in the form of
fishponds, ornate hedges and rosebushes. Several of Tudor's
servants, all hares in livery, gathered to greet us when we arrived. One
hare in dark clothes, a ruff about his neck only slightly less magnificent
than Tudor's own, came directly to the carriage to welcome his master.
"I hope 'twas a day of great success for thee, sire," he asked
"Indeed, 'twas. Only a malign election result shalt deprive me of mine
just reward. I have with me another guest," Tudor indicated me, "so I
shalt expect a chamber prepared and a place ready for him at mine table."
"'Twill be done, sire," the hare replied, conducting us through a giant
oak doorway into the main hallway of the castle. "'Tis salmon and trout on
the menu this evening."
"And plenty of mead I trust?" Tudor asked while his servant removed the
belt holding his sheathed sword and held it respectfully in his paws.
"As ever, sire."
I was impressed by the expansive hallway lit by great wax candles in a
giant chandelier above our heads. All around were portraits of illustrious
looking Mice posing with swords and horses framed by extensive estates
populated by all kinds of agricultural animals. Two suits of armour stood
to attention at the foot of a wide oak staircase. Even through the soles
of my shoes, however, the stone floor felt very cold, and although it was
not a cold day the air was distinctly chilly inside the castle's walls.
"Thou hast another guest, sire," the hare continued, one of his long
ears foppishly drooping. "'Tis Hubert. He arrived unannounced this morn,
and when I saidst that thou wert abroad he declared he wouldst await thee."
"Hubert! 'Tis many a morrow sin last I saw him. Thou didst right to
let him stay. But sooth didst he perchance relate for what reason he hath
"Nay, sire. But I woot 'tis as ever in his quest for the Great Bard."
"As incorrigible as e'er!" Laughed the Mouse. He gestured to me.
"Come, 'tis time to eat. Mine modest banqueting hall awaits."
It might well have been modest compared to the opulent surroundings in
which we'd met earlier in the afternoon, but it was still a very large room
compared to any to be found in a Suburban house. A long oak table extended
the length of it, on which was a comprehensive collection of crockery,
cutlery and unopened bottles of wine and mead. In a large leather chair
below another portrait of a proud Mouse, sat the figure of an teddy bear more than seven foot tall, wearing a long green waistcoat, a
frock coat through the sleeves of which protruded the lace cuffs of his
shirt and grey silk tights which just about squeezed around his tubular
legs. His paws held a large green tri-cornered hat on his lap. He gazed
at us through bright button eyes and as he twitched his nose I could see
the stitching in his fur.
"Good evening, Tudor. I hope you don't mind me intruding on your
hospitality like this," he announced, lifting himself up and strolling
"Not at all, Hubert. Nay, the pleasure, 'tis indeed mine to receive
thee once more. Thy quest for perfect poetry hath taken thee here again?"
"It has indeed! I seem to ever gravitate towards your castle in my
exploration for the works of the Great Bard. But who is your charming
"He hath come from the Suburbs. I met him on a train yesterday, and
again today at the Party..."
"On a train! I would never imagine you'd ever contemplate such an
uncomfortable means of travel! And, you, man. You come from the
Suburbs. Why! I was there just two days ago! From what I saw of that
place, I am extremely surprised to see someone from there in such a place
as Tudor's castle."
"Thou wert in the Suburbs? Thou dost greatly amaze me! Trowest thou
that the Great Bard hath abided there?"
"I have so heard. I have so heard," Hubert admitted. "But there is
naught for me there I confess. The relics of the Poet have been greatly
obscured by municipal statues and supermarkets. But let's speak no more of
that for I see that the first course is arriving."
Two hares dressed in tights, breeches and modest ruffs carried in large
platters on which were displayed the fish that composed the first course.
They were placed on the end of the table, where we were to sit, with Tudor
at the head in a splendid high- backed chair, and Hubert and I on chairs on
either side and facing each other. My chair was quite hard and rather too
large, while Hubert must have found his chair uncomfortably small for his
substantial bulk. The servants placed carved portions of salmon on our
platters with the fishes' eyes staring reprovingly up at me.
"It's not at all long 'til the General Election," began the large teddy
bear, choosing this topic as a means of stimulating conversation. "The day
after next, I think."
"I'sooth! 'Tis so," replied Tudor carving his salmon with expert ease,
while I was having great difficulty in separating the bones from the flesh.
"'Twill be momentous, I trow, whichsoe'er way 'tis resolved."
"I'm sure you don't agree with me, Tudor, because I know what an reactionary you are, but my hopes are on the White Party winning this
"The White Party!" Snorted the Mouse disdainfully. "Thou hast stayed
too long in the Suburbs, i'truth! Thou wouldst advocate a government of no
principles, no ideology, no beliefs. The Party of compromise and
"'That's exactly why the White Party wins my vote," Hubert said pushing
a forkful of fish into the dark lines of his mouth. "What this country
needs is a government of consensus. One which doesn't pursue an agenda of
its own designs and oppresses the interests of others. Not a party like
the Black Party who'd lynch Cats and other foreigners. Not one like the
Red Party who'd increase our taxes. Nor one such as the Blue Party which
will neglect the interests of the poor. No. What is needed is a party
which pursues the golden mean. Neither right nor left. Neither capitalist
nor communist. Neither catholic nor Protestant. Neither religious nor
"In short, Hubert, thou advocatest a government of pusillanimity and
uncertainty. Thou wouldst desire a government that governeth more for
short term convenience than long term strategy. A government that doth
naught that might ere disconsole the smooth order or life."
"You're quite right, Tudor, if a bit facetious. A White government is a
government that by driving in the middle of the road will avoid the
tragedies that befall those who veer towards the extremes."
"Then, Hubert, answer me this. Why 'tis thought needful for this
General Election at all which shalt result in but one Party governing our
great nation, when thou believest that government shouldst continue to be
run by the consensus, dithering and delay that hath so long characterised
it? Wouldst it better be 'twere all to stay as 'tis?"
"You may scoff, Hubert, but I do think that would be somewhat preferable
to government by any of the other five Parties contesting the Election. If
you consider the Suburbs, where the White Party has been in effective power
from the beginning, you must confess that there is order, contentment,
prosperity and peace. It is there that you will see the nearest to perfect
government that currently exists in this land."
Before Tudor could rebut Hubert's reply, the servants breezed in,
cleared away what was left of the first course, and lay another meat dish
on the table that appeared to be rabbit or some other lagomorph. One hare,
somewhat larger than the others, took slices from the carcass and placed
them on new plates along with roast turnips, swede and parsnips. Hubert
smiled appreciatively at his host while he took a forkful of white meat
into his mouth.
"Tell me," pursued Tudor directing the conversation into uncontroversial
territory. "How doth thy quest for the Great Bard for which thou hast
travelled to such exotic boroughs as the Suburbs?"
"It continues as ever, to exhume more of this great and the legacy
he has left. I have yet to find an authenticated tomb-stone nor indeed
proof positive of his birth-place but I seek still and will persevere..."
"Until when? What is't thou seekest?"
"If I didn't know you better, Tudor, I would have thought you a
philistine. Or at least woefully uncultured. The quest for Great Art is
an end in itself. Its discovery is a mere trophy of one's endeavours."
"Great Art ist worth but three farthings if 'twere for the sole pleasure
of the æsthete."
"Now, you are being facetious. Art is necessarily for all, though there
are those of undoubtedly greater æsthetic sensibilities than others. This
is just and fitting. There are also those with more wealth, more muscles,
more intelligence, more wit than others. And so, too, there are those
blessed with greater faculties of artistic appreciation. At the very apex
of æsthetic sensibility is the actual artist of which the prime exponent
must be the poet. He crafts the poor and unworthy materials of everyday
language into a finely honed tool which again and again elicits the great
feelings and passions that swell in all but the most lowly of breasts. The
poet evokes images of great profundity in daffodils, roses, fish and
wedding parties. He informs us of our condition and advises how best to
advance on it. And so it follows that the greatest of poets must be the
greatest of all creation, and that is incontrovertibly the Great Bard."
"Thou must needs forgive me, Hubert, for the very ignorance that thou
dost deride, but I little grasp the greatness of poetry. Thou canst not
live in it. Thou canst not eat it. And thou dost not become rich by
"Again I must beg to disagree. One most certainly does become rich in
the possession of poetry. One profits immeasurably from revelling in great
poetry which in just a few words, cleverly crafted, well honed, apposite
and exactly right, rise the level of consciousness and understanding far
above the morass of the world. Then one is at an elevated height bestowed
on us by the Poet's great insights."
"And I woot a very conceited lot these poets art! Why, Hubert, shouldst
I heed these petty scholars who hath lived little and gained but little
"Are you never affected by the wit and wisdom of poets who take any
issue, however improbable, and in a few apt words persuade us to behold it
anew? Surely you must recognise that the greatest wisdom is expressed in
the fewest words with the most delicate appreciation of the pentameter and
rhythm of the English language? And knowing as I do that you do appreciate
this, then I can only conclude that you mock me when you claim not to see
that the creation and veneration of Poetry are the most noble, refined and
imperative of all enterprises."
Before Tudor could challenge Hubert, the hares returned to remove what
was left of the main course and to replace it with a selection of cakes,
fruit, biscuits and cheese. They also brought in a bottle of brandy from
which Tudor took great pleasure in pouring us all a drink. He picked up a
glass in a claw and sniffed it with his long nose while his whiskers
twitched agitatedly. As if satisfied by the smell he swallowed the
contents entire and poured himself another glass.
"How was the Party, Tudor?" Wondered Hubert, decorously brushing the
crumbs of cake from the corner of his mouth with a serviette.
"As ever. As ever," sniffed the Mouse absently. "'Twouldst be better
an 'twere not for the presence of the Ambassador. How the host canst
be so persuaded to invite a to his Party illustrateth, wert
demonstration required, the malign influence of the in our society."
"I'm sure he was present more on account of his being an Ambassador than
of being a Cat," commented the teddy bear diplomatically.
"Thou'rt too liberal in thy views!" Exclaimed the Mouse. "A ist a
Cat, and as such ist innately damned. This Ambassador was disseminating
his malign propaganda at the Party, and was dressed in such immodest and
vulgar opulence that shouldst excite repugnance in all good Christian
"You really don't like Cats, do you?"
"Wouldst thou, wert thou a Mouse? Mine kind hath been attended
shamefully by Cats. I feel naught but sympathy for the Mouse Liberation
Organisation and Canine Freedom Fighters who struggle against Feline
oppression. 'Tis oft claimed by the Cats that they art the victims of
racism and intolerance, but 'tis a hollow claim when thou knowest the
discrimination practised against Mice in the Kingdom who art denied
expression in their own language and the rights of plebiscite and
representation, and whose land ist oft stolen by so-called Feline Settlers.
How canst the deserve respect when he depriveth other species of
"So you approve of the behaviour of Rodent and Canine terrorists
who blow up aeroplanes, hijack buses, gun down civilians, explode monuments
and bandstands, machine-gun inns and consign their own districts to a
constant atmosphere of fear and distrust."
"Is't unlike the terrorism executed by Cats by which they acquired the
ancestral homes of millions of Mice and Dogs? Plainly, I wouldst defend
those who by active or passive means art employed in reversing the wrongs
the hath wrought. And thou'rt mistaken - a thousand times so - when
thou sayest that the struggle ist entirely engaged by the terrorist. In
the Kingdom there art many who refuse to patronise Feline premises, to
pay taxes to the Feline oppressors or to down to the tyrannical rule of the
Feline King. They art engaged in a struggle that hath oft cost them their
"I don't believe that it's at all inconsistent for me to be sympathetic
to that kind of protest and somewhat less so to the terrorism of more
militant individuals," argued Hubert. "And furthermore I am a little
disquieted by the notion of the Dogs becoming a greater influence in the
region. Some of the Canine Republics are decidedly unpleasant not only in
the way they treat Cats, but even other kinds of Dogs."
"Necessity maketh strange bed-fellows," agreed the Mouse. "I wouldst
not wish the independent nation of Mice when it ariseth from the ashes of
the Kingdom to emulate the dictatorships and theocracies of the Canine
Republics. I'sooth, I wouldst not wish Mice to be bound to Calvinist,
Baptist or Evangelist dogma as the Basset Hound Republic or the Republic of
Cocker Spaniels. 'Tis true that I wouldst be an unlikely advocate for
temperance and I have but little patience with those who forever quote from
the Bible. And 'tis so that I wouldst not wish the future Nation of Mice
to be governed by such military rulers as those of the Labrador, Collie or
Whippet Republics. But I believe not that these nations shalt be the for the future Mouse nation. There art examples of government other than
those of our geopolitical allies, and 'tis calumny to insinuate that Mice
crave to mimic a species as heterogeneous as the Dog."
"I'm sure you're right," commented Hubert diplomatically, poking at the
inside of his mouth with a tooth-pick. "I was merely expressing
reservation about the use of violence to attain the ends you believe in."
"'Tis immaterial. The struggle ist one which shalt continue by fair
means or foul. And one in which my bank account ist much committed.
However, my friends, shalt we retire to the smoking room?"
"A splendid suggestion, my good Mouse!" Agreed the teddy bear, heaving
up his immense weight and then, clearly familiar with the layout of Tudor's
castle, leading the way through the immense oak doors to the adjoining
room, in which the servants had already prepared a fire. As we left the
dining room, the servants bound in and began tidying up the remains of our
meal. The smoking room was aptly named as it possessed a very strong smell
of tobacco which clung to the leather furniture and wallpaper, and had
discoloured the ceiling with a pronounced yellowish stain. We reclined in
comfortable upholstered chairs and sofas set around the fire which emitted
most of the light in the otherwise gloomy room. Portraits of Tudor's
ancestors lined the wall beyond the shadows cast by the fire. In front of
us stood a low oaken table on which there was more mead and wine, and,
appropriately for the room, a collection of long clay pipes, loose tobacco
and spills. Tudor and Hubert went through the rituals of piling tobacco
into the pipes and puffing away at them to keep them alight. In no time
the room was full of a sweet-smelling odour that saturated my eyes
and throat and made me feel distinctly unwell.
Tudor took a long draw from his pipe and exhaled a long twisting cloud
of smoke. "Tell me, man," he asked. "Why is't thou hast departed
the Suburbs and voyaged here? 'Tis rare, indeed, to meet one such as ye."
"My impression from my stay in the Suburbs," Hubert added, "is that for
the natives to venture anywhere beyond the borough's confines is considered
hazardous. The people I spoke to had very disapproving opinions about the
rest of the country, or indeed the rest of the world. It was almost as if
they'd never seen a seven foot tall teddy bear in a tri-corned hat before."
I explained to Tudor that I had left the Suburbs on a quest for the
Truth which I believed could only be found elsewhere. "It seemed well
worth the effort of leaving home."
"I'sooth, in comparison to Hubert's quest for the Great Poet 'tis
incontestable that thy quest seems a nobler thing by far. Few who wouldst
question the need to seek out and peruse all the Great Poet hath writ,
spake or thought wouldst quibble at the relative nobility of the Truth.
But I wouldst disagree with thee that thy search is the wiser or more
advisable. The very nature of thy quest suggesteth that the Truth canst be
found in a material or physical form. I wouldst avow that the Truth ist of
a spiritual nature that canst be attained only by total immersion in
philosophy, religion and contemplation. Moreo'er, thy quest conflicteth
with the Truth revealed in the person of Our Lord Jesus Christ who hath
suffered, died and been resurrected to spare us the need of similar
discomfort to save our souls."
"Religious objections like that are most untypical of you, Tudor,"
laughed Hubert. "I don't doubt the sincerity of your Christian beliefs,
but surely you wouldn't deny our Suburbanite credit in an equally
sincere search for the Truth. Perhaps it will lead him eventually to
conclude that the Truth does in fact lie in the Christian religion."
"I ken thee too well, Hubert, to accept that thou affordest the Word of
the Lord with the least respect. 'Tis known that thou'rt a damnable
atheist and thou no more think our shalt find the Truth in the
Christian faith than in a tureen of sushi."
"Tudor! You misrepresent me most cruelly! I am no atheist, as you
claim. I am a doubter. A skeptic. I believe that the Truth cannot be
known and that the best that one can hope for is a greater approximation of
knowledge of the Truth. Who am I to say that the Truth won't after all be
substantiated as manifest in the Holy Gospels? I hope that I am not too
arrogant to immediately doubt such a proposition. I would just say that I
entertain great doubts as to whether this will be the case."
"Thou mayest not know the Truth, Hubert, but I trow that thou hast thy
own opinions as to what the Truth mightst be."
"It's true that I have opinions, but I wouldn't be a skeptic if I didn't
say that they are mere speculation. It could well be that your views, or
the views of Cats, or the views of your lapin servants, are the ones which
are in actual fact a closer representation of the Truth. My belief is that
the Truth is the insight that one sees in just a flash of recognition in
the expression of great Poetry. It is in the wit, wisdom, conceits,
epiphanies and revelations that Poetry delivers. The Truth is in the most
perfect Haiku, the most devastating Sonnet, the most expressive pentameter
and the most scathing of dismissive satire. The pursuit of Truth is not a
pursuit of a thing in itself that can be held, examined or dissected; but
is in fact to be found in the greater and more exact expression and
statement of itself."
Tudor puffed silently at his clay pipe. His whiskers twitched with
their usual agitation and he blinked his massive eyes to avoid the smoke.
"From what thou sayest, I wouldst deem that thou believest that the Truth
hath been already found, with which I wouldst agree, and that the Truth ist
to be revealed by great insights made by the properly qualified. In this
we art agreed. Howe'er, I trow that the Truth ist revealed not by Poets
who but claim to spiritual, moral and æsthetic wisdom, but in those who at
the pulpit of the church hath truer claims than any poet to wisdom and
knowledge which hath the affirmation of the Truth, and that which hath come
on high from God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost."
"I would never dream of being as specific as that," Hubert contended,
putting down the glass of mead he'd been drinking. "The Truth I'm sure is
a single monistic thing of many aspects, of which the Poets have
illuminated just some. Poetry constantly strives towards a greater and
more accurate expression of that simple undoubted Truth. When it has
finally expressed the Truth in all of its potential manifestations then it
could be said that it has been found."
"Thou hast indeed a very grand notion of the profession of Poetry,"
laughed the Mouse. "I wouldst agree with thee, if 'twere not commonly
known that the majority of Poetry, e'en that scribbled by thy Great Bard,
hath no content of Truth in't at all. 'Tis but humour, scurrility,
conversation, digression and indulgence..."
"But these too are aspects of the Truth!" Insisted the teddy bear.
"'Tis all frivolity!" Concluded the Mouse, tapping out the ashes of his
clay pipe into the open fire. "Now 'tis time for ye to be shown your rooms
for the night."
Tudor then escorted us around the castle, which was very dark and quite
cool in the late evening. It was difficult to be sure of my tread as I
followed Hubert and he up the dark shadows of the oak stair-case and along
wooden corridors that creaked ominously under the heavy weight of the giant
teddy bear's footsteps. My bedroom for the night was a room somewhat
larger than the one I had in the Suburbs and in many ways very luxurious.
There was a large log fire blazing in the room which a hare was diligently
priming when we put our heads through the door. There were some very
expensive furnishings, some very valuable paintings, beautiful oriental
wallpaper featuring fishermen and fish, and the most ornate wood panelling.
But there was no electric light switch and I had to snuff out a candle with
a curious metal spoon. The four-poster bed had a very hard mattress and
was evidently designed for people that at their very tallest would have
been Tudor's size (and was most certainly not designed for people of
Hubert's dimensions). And despite the fire which undoubtedly heated one
seventh of the room, the remaining six-sevenths of the room remained
inexplicably cold. But I was very tired and after I'd crawled under the
several heavy woollen blankets that weighed down the bed I was soon able to
escape to my own dream Arcadia.
The following morning I was awakened by a hare who offered to dress me
before I joined his master and companions for breakfast. As I had great
doubts that an substantially shorter than I and significantly less
dextrous would dress me quite as well as I was capable of doing myself, I
declined the offer and waited until he had left the bedroom until I pulled
my feet free from the confines of the sheets onto the floor several feet
below. I grimaced at the sudden cold pang of the stone floor and got
dressed on the luxurious carpet in front of the fire.
I then stole out of the bedroom, trying to tell where breakfast was
being served. I looked up and down the long passageways at the suits of
armour, the portraits of illustrious rodents and the odd sheep-skin rug,
but could see no sign guiding me to the breakfast room or indeed anywhere
else. Consequently it was after several minutes of wandering around the
ill-lit hallways and through several unpromising rooms that I located my
host in a room where chairs were arranged in front of a fire on which some
hares were toasting some rolls and buns. Tudor saw me enter the room and
greeted me with a gloved paw while munching on a bread roll.
"Good morrow! Thou hast slept well, I trust?"
"Very well," I answered, as indeed I had when I'd finally got used to
the hardness of the mattress.
Tudor was accompanied by Hubert, who was sitting down with his columnar
legs stretched out in front of him wedged into boots which just about
accommodated them, and a Scottish Terrier about the same height as Tudor
wearing black clothes ornamented only by a grey lace collar. He had placed
a tall black hat like a stove pipe on the arms of his chair and his paws
were clasping a mug of tea. "Thou hast not met mine friend, the
Philosopher," Tudor remarked. "He hath travelled many leagues from his
distant land and ist once again honouring our fair nation with his
"You're very kind, Tudor," the barked. "I always enjoy my visits to
your pleasant land. And surely there is no pleasure greater than that
found in travel and good company. A weary foot and a glad heart are the
best comrades a soul can have."
"Are you also on a quest like Hubert?" I wondered.
"Goodness no, man. No amount of travel could reach the object of
my pursuit. Philosophical insights are gained only by great contemplation
and analysis. The deeper in you search the further out you may uncover."
I nodded, pretending to understand what he was saying, and allowed my
eyes to wander about the breakfast room. In the corner were two hares in
conversation and a in ragged clothes crouched on the floor
wolfing down the relics of the meal we had been eating the evening before.
He glanced up at me with a sheepish grin and then resumed his chewing on
the cold meat on a bone. I scanned my companions in the hope that they
might introduce me to this eccentric guest, but they were deep in
"...And the moral is that just as in any infinite series of numbers
there is an incongruity, so too in any ethical practice there is an element
of immorality..." The Philosopher noticed me while licking his tea-stained
chops with his long flat tongue. "Are you troubled by anything, man?
Perhaps you are not accustomed to ethical discourse. Be assured however
that the pursuit of knowledge is not achieved by conversation alone. A
bird in the tree may in a flash of inspiration see what has always eluded
the greatest thinker."
"No, it's not that," I commented, slightly puzzled. "I was just
wondering who that fellow is." I pointed at the who was scooping
at the insides of a soiled bowl with the crust of a stale roll.
The Philosopher suddenly burst into laughter, which was frighteningly
like barking. Tudor tittered, but explained my faux pas. "An thou thinkst
that wert a guest thou couldst ne'er be further from the truth. Nay, 'tis
the Philosopher's slave that thou cravest to know."
"The Philosopher's slave?"
"Slave. What could be simpler?" smiled the Philosopher. "Perhaps you
don't have such things where you come from?"
"No," I admitted. "There are no slaves in the Suburbs."
"'Tis verily true," agreed Tudor. "'Tis rare in this land to encounter
a slave. 'Tis forbid in many districts, and I woot the Suburbs ist a
borough where 'tis so proscribed."
"So what is seemly to the elephant is unseemly to the mastodon,"
commented the Philosopher. "No, man. In my country it is quite
normal for those who can afford it to purchase as good a slave or set of
slaves as they can. This slave cost me a few crowns I can tell you. He is
of course now my property and I am free to dispose of him exactly as I
would any other property. This is a rôle equally sanctioned by my slave
and he would no doubt not wish it any differently."
"Wouldn't he prefer not to be a slave at all?" I wondered.
"That is a most naïve and simplistic view. Wouldn't we all wish to have
a different life than we have. The on the other side of the hill is
always on the better side. But we are always best off as we are. Each is his most welcoming citadel. My slave benefits from his working
relationship with me because I provide him with security, safety, lodgings
and food for as long as his work continues to be acceptable. His rôle in
life is to serve, just as mine is to be served. The master needs the
slave, just as the slave needs the master."
"Why's that, Philosopher?" wondered Hubert who was chewing some toast.
"Because without the one then the other has no existence at all. How
can a master be a master if he has nothing to be master of? And for that
matter how can a slave be a slave without a master to serve? It is all as
it should be. The hare bounds in the field, while the safely graze."
"I may just be acting as the Devil's Advocate here, Philosopher,"
continued the giant teddy bear, "but have there not been many arguments
postulated quite to the contrary. That rather than being natural, slavery
is wholly unnatural and indeed unjust. This slave may look like just a
ragged wretch, but given different chances in life might he not deserve a
better lot? And wouldn't it be better to be wretched and free, than
well-fed and enslaved?"
"I don't really understand why so many people in your country believe
that liberty is prima facie a good thing. You wouldn't want dragons or
demons to wander free in this country. As free as the wind, but also as
free as the raft adrift from its moorings. Nevertheless, I recognise the
wisdom in such assertions, Hubert, and I would not advocate slavery if I
didn't accept its economic necessity. How could the economy of my nation,
or of the world, prosper without the very valuable contribution made by
slaves? How could we pursue philosophy and poetry, without the wealth
creation of this invaluable underclass? Even the worm is needed to aerate
the soil so that we can eat. For some to have plenty it is necessary for
others to have less than nothing at all."
I wasn't at all persuaded by the Philosopher's arguments but I had no
counter to them. I chose a line where I hoped I could get Hubert's
support. "I didn't realise that Poetry needed slavery to exist. I thought
Poetry was above the economic order."
"Poetry is the expression of Philosophy by elegant language," the
Philosopher replied, not really addressing my objection. "And language is
the means of all thought and expression. It is through a precise
understanding of language and how it is used to express sense that we
understand all subjects of discourse. But if a wrote Poetry would we
understand what it was saying?"
"Or even want to," commented Hubert. "Poetry isn't really Philosophy at
all. It may express great insights, but not all these are of a
philosophical nature. Some poetry is noted by its absence of
philosophical speculation and more by its unquestioning acceptance of what
they consider to be the truth."
"Isn't that fatalistic acceptance itself a concern of Philosophy? Great
thought is expressed through its absence as much as in its presence. But I
am sorry to hear you speak even indirectly of any virtue in Feline practice
or poetry. Their despicable behaviour in the war with my nation have shown
Cats to be wholly unpossessing of the finer sensitivities, and they are
certainly not eminent opponents of slavery. They are, after all, a species
who have allowed themselves to be governed by an absolute hereditary ruler.
It is true that I wouldn't advocate the rule of the anarchic mob any more
than the Cat. Good government by a tyrant is better than bad government by
the people. I would say, however, that government is practised best by
those selected and trained for their skills in the art than either the
unschooled mob or those born to luxury. Indeed, luxury is as foreign to
the skill of government as it is to logical discourse. A greenhouse is not
the best place to grow a turnip."
"I dare say you are right, Philosopher," smiled Hubert. He stood up
from the chair and towered above his company. "But I must be on my way. I
fear I have business to address elsewhere."
"Where goest thou? Dost thou return to the Suburbs?"
"No. I doubt I shall ever return to the Suburbs. I shall go to the
City. There are some archives I wish to examine." He then made his
farewells and strode out of the breakfast room followed by a hare whom
Tudor had detailed to see to his needs.
"Have ye both eaten well?" Tudor inquired as a servant closed the large
oak door behind the teddy bear.
"Very well, thank you, Tudor. When the stomach is full, the heart is
glad. As always your servants have prepared a sterling breakfast."
"If 'tis so, then 'tis meet we promenade the gardens before ye leave on
your travels. Where goest thou, Philosopher? Mayhap 'tis the same course
as our Suburbanite friend."
"The is quite welcome to accompany me if he so wishes. The
tread is merry when the tongue does the walking. I shall be heading to the
town of Iota, which I believe has been renamed recently, but I'm not sure
to what. But a town by any other name must be the same."
"'Tis also said that a change of title ist a change in nature."
"Exactly, Tudor," agreed the Philosopher, putting on his tall black hat.
"But lead on, dear sir, let us see your gardens. There is no beauty
greater than that of a well- tended garden. A rose brings joy to the eye
and relief to the weary thinker."
Tudor led us through a series of doors and eventually out into the early
morning sunlight. We were trailed by a retinue of hares and by the slave
who kept his head bowed as he followed. The light was radiant compared to
the relative gloom of Tudor's castle and I had difficulty in focusing my
eyes on what was around, but I was impressed by the its orderliness. The
rose bushes and herbaceous borders, the hedges and small statues, were all
distinguished by well-defined orthogony. Tudor commented that the garden
had been designed on the principle of the octagon, which as he explained
was a square with its corners halved. I soon lost track of his account,
but it appeared to be of great interest to the Philosopher who had much to
say about the number eight, which he remarked was very much like the symbol
of infinity. "And who can tell what significance that may portend?"
"I trow but little," Tudor replied. "'Tis just a symbol. The power of
the number lieth in its universality, not in its expression."
"Exactly so," agreed the Terrier, as if this was what he had just said.
"If one were two and two were one, their sum would remain the same."
I reasoned this out, and it was indeed true. But I couldn't really
understand what the Philosopher was trying to say. My attention returned
to the garden where some were grazing in the fields, tended by a hare
with a crook, and near a herd of grazing fallow deer. Tudor's grounds
stretched on with no apparent end, but this was partly because any
enclosing wall was obscured by the small copses of oak and birch trees that
scattered his estate.
My attention wandered back to the conversation between the Philosopher
and Tudor as we strolled along the well-paved paths of the garden, with the
servants just a few yards behind. They were discussing the coming General
Election which enthralled the Philosopher.
"Democracy has its merits, Tudor, but it appears to be a political
system intrinsically marred by its very openness. Only a fool leaves his
door open to all comers. Who can say with certainty who will come in?"
"'Tis so. The Election doth trouble me greatly. 'Tis possible that the
Red Party couldst gain the greatest number of seats and 'twere so 'twill be
great suffering in our land. I and many others would wish to forsake the
land of our birth. And where wouldst a Mouse be welcome?"
"Democracy is only one system of government. It is often justified as a
safeguard against the rule of a single person, as is the case in my
country. And as it is in the Kingdom of the Cats. Autocracy is a system
even more fraught as its good governance relies overmuch on the wisdom and
goodness of that leader. If that ruler is truly virtuous, wise and
far-seeing then that nation is truly a happy land. A firm hand at the
tiller and the boat sails fair. But too often the monarch, despot or
tyrant is flawed. By whatever means the power of the state is invested in
a single ruler, by fair means or foul, by inheritance or coup d'etat, there
is so great a threat that he will be attentive not to the welfare of the
people he represents but to that of himself and his family. Self-interest
is not the greatest motive for altruism.
"An alternative is rule by a group of people: by lords or senators who
have each gained power in the same way and thereby share their
self-interest. In this situation, not one person has greater power than
the others and power is levelled. But how can such a group of people act
in the interests of others not in this group? Will they not simply
aggregate wealth and power to themselves, and divest beneficences to one
another rather than work for the common weal?
"Here in your country, there is a Democracy which pretends to represent
the interests of the people and not of the rulers, but power is weakened as
it serves so many disparate interests. How can a boat be steered if it is
dragged both forward and back, sideways, and up and down? The boat will
just sink, or, as in your country, remain still as the holes in its hulk
are patched when they become too conspicuous. There is a clear failure of
democracy as your six main political parties fight and squabble over the
direction of policy and resolve nothing. It is a boat adrift on a sea of
troubles constantly threatening to overwhelm it, and in which many volumes
of discussion have served not at all to calm the waves. This is why your
Coition government has chosen to abandon its policy of compromise and
"'Tis so, but I fear 'tis better far so as 'tis, than a government of
communists, socialists or anarchists. 'Twere better the rule of one sane
ruler than many insane ones." Tudor's ears twitched in agitation as he
surveyed his gardens. "Mine estate which I hath the great responsibility
to tend wouldst be wrest from me. The labour of mine ancestors wouldst be
for naught, and peasants wouldst wander unfettered through my gardens and
castle rooms admiring not the legacy of a majestic tradition but its
remnants. They would leave their sweet-wrappers and cigarette-ends on my
garden paths. They would sneer at the portraits of my noble forbears.
'Tis a nightmare which I hope and I pray shalt ne'er be."
"What you fear, Tudor, is not democracy, which has left you and your
wealth intact, but the rule of the mobus populis. The anarchy of no
government at all, but a state in which no one can say to another: you
mustn't do that! You fear that your servants will arise, forget your
generosity and kindness, and the wealth your has accumulated
over the centuries. A dinner prepared by chance alone is fit only for the
dust-bin. Furthermore, the rule of the mob leads always and inevitably to
the assertion of dictatorship. That which the anarchists most detest
arises from the chaos, like a phoenix from the ashes."
"'Twere best then that the nation be governed by a single ruler from the
offing. 'Twould fit more well with the need for order and stability, and
'twould obviate the chaos in which mine inheritance wouldst be seized, the
portraits slashed, the garden razed, the castle defaced and mine wealth
scattered fruitlessly to the winds."
It was clear that these images troubled Tudor considerably, as he
paused, surveying his estate, a claw grasping the handle of his sword and
his servants trembling at the possibility that the violence of his feelings
might be expressed more physically. He regarded us.
"The way to the town known formerly as Iota ist beyond mine estate and
along the road. 'Tis less than eight furlongs distant. Dost wish to walk?
Or dost wish to travel by carriage?"
"It's a lovely morning, Tudor," the Philosopher replied. "I would
prefer to relish it on foot. Moreover the business I have in the woollen
trade will occupy many hours of unpleasant haggling, and I fancy a brisk
walk will set me well."
With that the Philosopher and I sauntered off along the path Tudor
indicated, with the Philosopher's slave trailing us by several yards.
Whilst the Philosopher strode along briskly and easily, pointing out with a
staff the various flowers and fungi that lined our walk, his slave was
burdened down under the weight of a heavy bag carried on his shoulders and
another which was strapped to his chest. He didn't appear to relish the
morning sunshine nearly as much as his master. After a furlong or so we
finally quit Tudor's estate by a gate where a hare standing on guard with a
musket was idly admiring the lambs frolicking amongst the daisies. He
saluted us as we passed, but relaxed quite visibly when the slave staggered
The countryside was very green and pleasant. The fields were open,
there were the occasional copses of trees and a stream babbled along the
side of the path, sometimes near and sometimes winding away. The sun
brightened the sky and cotton- wool clouds floated harmlessly by. Lambs
and leverets were bounding about together in the fields, savouring the
innocence of their tender years. The Philosopher revelled in the landscape
which he described as an earthly paradise, a of beauty and good
order, and a great source of obscure metaphor. He was very much in good
spirits, unlike his servant struggling under the weight of the baggage.
When I commented to the Philosopher on this, he merely commented that it
was his slave's duty to serve and not his right to complain.
The Philosopher's good humour somewhat lessened when we were greeted by
a modestly dressed by a milestone that had lost all legibility with
age. He was sitting down with a small bag on the end of a stick, a coat
that came to below his waist, below which he wore green jerkins and buckled
shoes. He wore a small hat on his head which fell between his ears and
shaded his eyes from the sun.
"Good morning, sirs. Are you heading this way?"
The Philosopher was clearly discomfited to be addressed in such a
familiar way, but he grasped his staff and replied in the affirmative with
a voice struggling to retain its previous air of jollity.
"You don't mind if I join you?" The asked, jumping up and walking
alongside us before the Terrier could find a reason to decline. "It is so
much better to stroll with convivial company, don't you think?"
"Good company finds its own stride," replied the Philosopher
cryptically. "Where are you heading?"
"Oh nowhere in particular," the replied. "I'm on holiday from the
Kingdom and enjoy looking at everything. I've had quite a jolly time so
far; and I've met some very interesting people. I thought I'd go to the
next town and perhaps catch a coach or train to the City or somewhere else.
I don't mind where I go as long as I am with friendly company."
"And do you meet much friendly company?" I wondered, reflecting on some
of the distinctly unfriendly comments Tudor had made regarding Cats.
"Oh, most people are very pleasant," the purred, "although there's
an awful lot of prejudice towards foreigners from some. Some of the round here, for instance, have been awfully rude to me. They gathered
around me bleating in a very abusive manner until I moved on. I really
don't understand it at all! Still, I just hope the people in the next town
are much friendlier."
"Perhaps the reason the abused you was that you're a Cat,"
commented the Philosopher.
The seemed somewhat puzzled by this comment, and his stride became
less confident, while his tail wagged in apparent disconsolation. Then he
mewed good-humouredly. "Oh, you would say that, because you're a Dog. No
offence, but I'd absolutely forgotten. In this country there are so many
different types of people that you just completely disregard things like
that. I mean, look at all the and hares round here. In the Kingdom
there are mostly only Cats. And a few Mice and Dogs, but you hardly ever
get to meet many of them. I suppose a lot of you Dogs aren't particularly
keen on Cats. Not that I can blame you. The King and his ministers have
some pretty bizarre views on Dogs and Mice, haven't they? You'd have
thought they'd learnt something from the way history have treated the
Feline species, wouldn't you?"
"Indeed," remarked the Philosopher without humour. "History is a lesson
in the school of life the Cats have definitely not attended. And without a
knowledge of History, the is like a tree detached from its roots."
The laughed indulgently. "I say! That's jolly good! Where do you
get all these sayings from? You don't make them up do you?"
The Philosopher didn't reply nearly as amiably. "I am a Philosopher.
It is my duty to observe, comment, cogitate and deliberate, and then to
disseminate the wisdom I have gained by my efforts."
"Well, the very best to you! As I say, I don't blame you Dogs for
feeling so sore, but I hope you don't think that all Cats feel the same way
as the King about things. I mean, quite a lot of Cats, and I'm one of
them, really think the Mice get a really raw deal. It's not their fault
they happened to have settled on our ancestral lands. And the same goes
for the Dogs in the occupied territories. It must be bad enough to lose a
war: it must add insult to injury to then be treated as second class
citizens in their own country. Mind you! It's not as if your Republics treat even Dogs very much better than the Kingdom does."
"What do you mean?" Growled the Philosopher.
If the suspected that his companion was less than delighted by his
company he didn't show it. "Well, look at the appalling way the Greyhounds
were treated in the tiny Spaniel Republic. Not to mention how the Irish
Terriers are being persecuted by the Dalmatians. And if you were a
Daschund, are you really better treated in the Canine Republics than you
would be as a subject of the Kingdom."
"The Republics are at least governed for Dogs by Dogs; not by
foreigners trawled in from all over the globe and planted on soil
cultivated for centuries by other species. They don't practise a heathen
religion which attributes a Divine Right to Rule on a by mere good
fortune of his parentage. They haven't plundered their neighbours nor been
the author of the atrocities that Cats have visited upon us. And the
Canine Republics don't administer foreign countries as if they were their
own nor disregard the sovereignty of their neighbours when searching for
"Oh dear! You really don't like Cats at all do you!"
"I'm not prejudiced," snarled the viciously. "I would never declare
that one species of is necessarily superior to another. We all
share the same basic design. But the practice of the Kingdom of Cats
demonstrates to me that the is as yet unready to govern, as has the been wholly unworthy throughout History. The Kingdom of Cats is nothing
more than a bastard state, a political abomination and a threat to regional
"I see," mused the thoughtfully. He looked around him nervously,
and then spotted the slave stooped down under his load behind us, sweat
dripping from his forehead and leaving drops along the dusty path behind
him. "And what about your friend? Don't you think he might do with some
help with that awfully heavy luggage he's carrying? I could help him,
don't you think?"
"I think not!" Snarled the Philosopher. "He is my slave and I don't
wish to have my property violated by feigned Feline kindness."
"Oh! Is that what you think?" The commented, rather unhappily, his
tail wagging agitatedly and his whiskers sagging. He looked around him.
"Well! Goodness me! An inn!" He announced pointing at one down a small
lane to the left. "What I fancy is a nice glass of milk! Would you care
to join me?"
"No, I would not!" Barked the Scottish Terrier, turning his head away.
He strode faster and I had to increase my stride to keep up with him, while
his slave almost had to break into a trot. The meanwhile stood alone
at the corner of the lane clearly rather unsettled by the Philosopher's
sentiments. My companion remained uncharacteristically silent for a
furlong or so more, not slackening his pace and his paws gripping his staff
so determinedly that his claws left distinct marks on it.
"Well, man," ventured the Philosopher at last, "what brings you so
far from your borough of the Suburbs? Is it merely a desire to travel?"
"Well, not just that." I told him about my quest for the Truth.
"The Truth!" Exclaimed the Philosopher. "That's exactly what my quest
in life has been, but not by travelling. I would be very surprised to find
the Truth in such an aimless way. The Truth can only be discovered by
intense ceaseless philosophical enquiry. With enough time and effort even
a worm can find its way to the end of a maze. With a powerful enough
microscope even a mole can see the atoms of fundamental creation. With
sufficient philosophical enquiry the Truth will surely be revealed."
"Do you have a hypothesis of what the Truth may be?"
"The pursuit of such metaphysical enquiry has not been my speciality,
but I have read widely on the subject and debated long with many of the
finest minds of our time. My opinion is that the Truth is such that when
it has been demonstrated as found, by rigorous logic, using only the most
undeniable of shared knowledge then the end of all philosophical enquiry
will have been achieved. The Truth will shine out from the predicate
calculus of its expression. Indeed it could be said that some of the Truth
is already known."
"Is that so?" I asked, speculating that I might be nearer the object of
my search than I'd anticipated.
"Indeed it is! In the mere expression of a thing then that thing exists
by virtue of its own expression. It is undeniable, for instance, when I
say that if all birds fly, then if that is a bird then it must fly. This
is true by virtue of its expression and is what the Truth must partake of."
"But not all birds do fly," I objected. "Penguins don't fly. Kiwis
don't fly. Ostriches, diatrymas and rheas don't fly. And if a bird
damages its wing or if the wing is clipped then it wouldn't fly."
The Philosopher smiled. "You are clearly not a logician. It matters
not whether a proposition is true. The Truth lies in the expression of
that proposition. It follows that if the reasoning is correct, then if the
propositions express the Truth then the Truth is revealed: however amazing
and unbelievable that Truth may be."
"Then the Truth must lie in the fundamental propositions," I commented.
"Exactly so. A house made of straw will surely fall, but one built on
firm foundations will weather any storm."
"Isn't the question then to find what these firm foundations are, rather
than in what they can be used to build?" I speculated, using the
"Philosophers have said that what we see in the world are just shadows
of the Truth. Our lives and our experiences are nothing more than the most
modest reflection of the Truth. And it has been said that it is impossible
to directly gaze at it, as we would be blinded like one staring at the sun.
We are just silhouettes of our real polydimensional selves. Indeed,
scientists have even concluded that at the smallest quantum level of the
universe the rules governing the universe are totally unlike those we
perceive. We see just the crudest outline of what the Truth may be."
"So the Truth is something that can't be directly experienced?"
"I didn't say that. But there are those who would say so. And there
are those who say that the Truth is not a physical thing that could be
experienced at all. It is just a proper reasoned expression of what the
universe may be, arrived at only from the most fundamental of axioms.
Cogito ergo sum, and others. By being sure of what we know by rigorous
logical enquiry then we can be certain that what we know is truly what we
know. We can be certain that the universe is so and not such."
"The Truth doesn't appear to be a particularly exciting thing in that
case," I commented with disappointment.
"Indeed why should it be? Others profess that the Truth is nothing more
nor less than God. They argue that the proper pursuit of the Truth is
merely to know God, in all His glory and magnificence. Some have sought to
prove the existence of God from the workings of the universe; asserting
that the Truth is nothing more than another name for the Great Mover, the
Original Being and the Creator of all things. I have my doubts though if
that can be, because it would not answer the question as to why there is a
God. The deeper you plunge, the deeper still there is to descend." The
Scottish Terrier looked at my puzzled expression. "I hope I have
illuminated your ignorance," he remarked. "Philosophical enquiry is like a
torch shone in the darkness, but like a torch it is painful to look
directly into its beam."
"Perhaps you're right," I mused. "Perhaps I'm searching for the Truth
in totally the wrong way. Maybe I should spend my time in thought and
"Thought should be adequate, man. But I see that we have arrived
at the town. Where's my slave?" He looked around him irritatedly, and
could see the slave quite a long distance behind us bowed further down by
the weight of the luggage and walking towards us rather slower than we'd
managed. "Pah! The lazy peasant. I'll be late for my appointment if he
doesn't hurry!" He barked urgently at the slave who stood visibly more
upright and hastened a little faster.
I left the Philosopher waiting impatiently for his slave by the
roadside, angrily muttering to himself, and proceeded towards the town
which I only knew by its previous name of Iota.
I was impressed by the many banners and flags hung up along the road
approaching the town. The Borough of Rupert Welcomes the Great Leader. We
Salute You, Chairman President. All Hail President Chairman Rupert. I had
the distinct impression that the people of the town were very enthusiastic
about President Chairman Rupert: a notion reinforced by portraits of the
koala in many striking and heroic poses hanging from lamp-posts,
embellishing walls and filling posters. These were intermingled
with election posters all for the Illicit Party. There were none at all
representing other Parties. Everywhere there was Rupert's face wearing his
broad-brimmed hat, accompanied by a single word next to a cross in a
square. The single word was sometimes self-explanatory like Rupert, Illicit
and Unity. Sometimes the word suggested something less obvious like 100%,
Republicity and Truth. This last word particularly caught my attention,
especially as it was one used more frequently than almost all others. Even
some of the slogans used the word. Only the Illicit Party knows the Truth.
Truth is Illicit and Rupert. The Truth belongs to the Illicit Cause.
The enthusiasm expressed for the Illicit Party and its leader built up
steadily as I wandered past a brand new sign that read in letters:
Welcome to the Illicit Borough of Rupert, under which were details relating
to the town being twinned to the cities of Rupertgrad and Rupertsville in
the Illicit Republic of Rupert. This enthusiasm wasn't constrained to
banners and posters, as I found myself in a town almost full to overflowing
with people all moving in one direction. Most townspeople were of
one kind or another, and I was nearly deafened by their excited bleating
punctuated with the chanting of political slogans. I couldn't easily
differentiate the slogans but many included the words Illicit and Rupert.
One sounded like: "Her Maphrodite Good. Rupert Better." Another referred
unfavourably to Cats, but over the competing noises I could catch only the
gist of a litany of crimes attributed to them and the tortures that Cats
deserved as a result.
I followed the crowd's flow, curious to find out what was attracting so
many people. It was very orderly and this was ensured by the presence of
small dragons standing on street corners emanating a steady stream of smoke
from their nostrils, nursing semi-automatic firearms between their wings
and their forearms, while their serpentine tails wagged from side to side.
The density of images relating to Rupert steadily increased, as not only
did his marsupial features gaze benignly down from hoardings on
the top of buildings and from the walls of every available building, but,
as if more were needed, many carried banners adorned by the koala.
These banners also had slogans relating to issues hinted elsewhere, such
as: 100% Turnout. 100% Rupert., Avenge the Sufferings of Feline Expansion
and Truth and Justice and an Illicit Government. The images of Rupert
included even a statue, at least nine feet high, standing on a tall
pedestal well above the crowd. The statue gazed towards the distant
horizon, one paw in the depths of a monstrous great coat and the
other held out horizontally in front as if showing the way.
The purpose of this large gathering, I discovered from reading some
posters, was that there was a political rally to inspire electoral support
for the Illicit Party. This had already started, and as I approached more
closely to the town square loudspeakers blared the voice of a small dragon
in a very dapper suit who was addressing the crowd of ruminant supporters
and raising the occasional approving cheer. However, this speaker, popular
though he clearly was, did not fully explain the large turnout. The reason
was that President Chairman Rupert himself was due to address the
gathering. He was actually meant to be speaking now, but even from the
hundred yards or so that I stood from the platform that had been erected
for the speakers, I could see that he was not even amongst those seated in
chairs behind the dragon.
Driven by curiosity I moved into the midst of a crowd fortunately mostly
somewhat shorter than me, so I could get a very good view and was soon able
to position myself where I could properly hear what was being said. An
enormous bank of speakers curved round in a semicircle to address the
heaving mass of woolly fleeced supporters who crowded out the entire
square, and spread beyond and behind the surrounding buildings. The odd
dragon strode through the crowd carrying an automatic weapon and puffing
menacingly to calm down the more over-enthusiastic lambs. The speaker was
clearly getting very excited by his own rhetoric in which he interspersed
the words Truth, Menace, Illicit Party and, most frequently of all, the
name of Rupert, for whom no praise seemed adequate.
The dragon brought his address to a close by repeating over and over
again the word Rupert, which was echoed increasingly by the audience. This
became a loud monotonous chant of "Rupert! Rupert! Rupert!" Then when I
was sure the chant couldn't get louder, the crowd let loose an thunderous
incoherent cry as a small figure appeared from the corner of the stage,
sporting a great coat which reached almost down to his ankles and a
flamboyant hat, and sauntered towards the centre of the stage. On cue,
enormous screens above and on either side of the stage suddenly flickered
into life to display identical pictures of the same koala waving his arms
at the audience in appreciation of the greeting he had earned.
This went on for nearly ten minutes in which I felt trapped in the mass
of people and threatened by a cheering that sent vibrations up from the
cobbled ancient ground through my legs, causing my jaw to tremble and my
ears to ache. And then. suddenly, with a single lowering of the President
Chairman's upraised arms, the crowd was hushed. There was not even a
single bleat. An image of his face filled the screen. A colossal
flag of green, and black descended to the back of the stage in the
centre of which was a single vertical black line that I presumed was the
letter I representing the Illicit Party.
"We have worked hard. We have laboured long. We have struggled against
all adversity. We have defeated our enemies. The enemies of Illiberal
Socialism and the Truth. Through astute and farseeing manoeuvres, we have
seen off traitors and have secured power for the great cause of Illiberal
Socialism in our land. And now we shall secure the same cause here." The
crowd roared its approval. "Here in the Illiberal Socialist Borough. Here
with all of you gathered here. Here. And Now. The cause of Illiberal
Socialism begins its relentless, unstoppable struggle which in the Election
or after will bring us to Power in this land. Here and Now is where the
The koala paused and the crowd took its cue for a wild abandon of
applause, much the same as before but focused now on the rallying cry:
"Lead us forward, Rupert! Take the nation! Exterminate Her Maphrodite and
the Coition ministers!"
"The success and the continuing success of the Illiberal Socialist cause
is the accomplishment of a political movement which addresses the needs of
all the people, which provides the engine of great economic growth and
which brings prosperity to all. The Illicit Party is the Party of
"Freedom!" roared the crowd.
"True Freedom is freedom from want, from poverty, from despair, from
indecision, from uncertainty and from the corruptions of the capitalist,
imperialist reactionary. Freedom to serve the greatest causes. Freedom to
follow and obey. Freedom to build up the strength of the Illicit State.
With a strength, untainted by knowledge and bourgeois liberal caveats, to
crown the achievements of the Illiberal Socialist Republics with victory
here, led by you, the people of the Illiberal Socialist Borough. Pooling
together your untutored strength and your determination to wage war for
Peace and Prosperity. For it is only by unceasing struggle using sticks,
stones, firearms and missiles that true Peace will be attained. And then
we will be Free. Free from the corrupt Coition government and its
communist, capitalist and imperialist ministers. Freedom!"
"Freedom! Freedom!" came the chant.
"And what does this Freedom the Illiberal Socialist movement desire so
much? Is it the freedom from oppression and dictatorship so desired by the
petty bourgeoisie? The liberty that promises so much, but furnishes us
instead with vile pornography, immoral literature, repugnant art and so
much opinion that no one knows when they are right or when they are wrong.
The freedom which borders on chaos and anarchy in which crime is rife and
the mob wanders where it pleases. What freedom is that? No freedom at
all! And is it the freedom advocated by the Party? A freedom measured
by the freedom to learn, the freedom to eat well, the freedom to achieve.
The freedom to organise, rebel, destroy and usurp. No! The freedom
advocated by Illiberal Socialism is the freedom to serve, the freedom to
struggle in a great cause. The freedom which serves Illiberal Socialist
Party and therefore of the greater good. And that is what we mean when we
advocate Freedom. We want freedom now! Freedom from the Reds, the Blues
and the Greens!"
"Freedom! Freedom!" The crowd chanted, stomped and enthused in a
regular rhythm partly coordinated by the dragon stewards mingling with the
crowd and raising smoke from their mouths as they yelled out a refrain that
gradually shifted to a repetition of "Rupert! Rupert!"
The koala raised a paw to silence the crowd, who did so with remarkable
promptness. "There are those who criticise the Illiberal Socialist Party
for contesting the General Election. They say that as we do not practice
democracy in the Illiberal Socialist Republics then we are hypocritical to
participate in the process here. But democracy is nothing more than the
means by which the people of a country choose how they wish to be governed.
And in the Illiberal Socialist Republics that decision has been made.
Unequivocally. Unanimously. And Eternally. As it will be made here
tomorrow!" The crowd roared its approval and perhaps prematurely a section
of the audience recommenced a chant of "Rupert! Rupert!" He let it carry
on for nearly a minute before silencing it with a gesture and continuing.
"When the people of this nation so wish, and by the flawed process of
Representational Democracy if necessary, the Illicit Party will take power
in this land. Then this country will enjoy the more genuine democracy as
it is practised in the Illiberal Socialist Republics. Not a paper
democracy where once every four years or so, the people are allowed the
rare privilege to register their approval or disapproval of the governing
parties. Not a democracy where the people's sole method of making
themselves heard is by entering a cross against the appropriate candidate.
The democracy that the Illicit Party believes in is not one where each
candidate is presented to the people only for the campaign for election and
then squanders the rest of his tenure in the City far away from those he
supposedly represents. No! The democracy practised in the Illiberal
Socialist Republics is a more active one. One where a Party official is at
hand in even the smallest community ready to listen to the representations
of the people and report his findings to a pyramid of party officials able
to respond swiftly to each specific issue. Or as quickly as possible.
Within weeks or even days of the representation there is prompt and
decisive action. The faulty shearing machines are repaired, the broken
cobbles are mended and the new by-pass built. The corrupt landlord,
bureaucrat or intellectual is appropriately punished. The statues and
posters reminding each of us of our duties to the Illiberal Socialist cause
are erected in response to popular demand. The shopkeeper, cafe-owner and
hairdresser insufficiently reflecting the Illiberal Socialist zeal of his
customers is chastised. And in addition, the local Party official also
guides the community in the ways of Illiberal Socialist doctrine, weeds out
the shirkers and malcontents, and ensures that everyone is happy with their
lot. In fact, in the Illiberal Socialist Republics discontent is gravely
frowned upon and the future for a Party official in a discontented
community is unlikely to be prosperous. So, to all the doubters and
cynics: Yes! we are not afraid to hear the opinion of the people. So! I
beseech you! Go ahead tomorrow and register your vote for the Illicit
Party and your excellent local candidate!"
The crowd immediately erupted into more cheering and chanting. I felt
increasingly crushed by the pressure on me from behind as more and more
people moved forward to be nearer the President Chairman. I was grateful
indeed that the crowd were fleeced so well. However, no matter how crowded
it was, there seemed to be no obstacle to the flow of the stewards through
"It has been said that the Illicit Party has no policy on wealth and
power. It is proclaimed by these sceptics that the only political debate
of value is that addressing the two issues of wealth distribution and the
concentration of power. All other issues are mere distractions from a
great class struggle that has been taking place since the earliest of
times. What nonsense I say! What poppycock! Have you heard anything so
ridiculous!" The crowd was invited to laugh which it duly did, but I still
wasn't sure what the joke was. "It is this spurious debate which seemingly
divides the two wings of political opinion: the Reds and Greens on the one
side and the Blues and Blacks on the other. The Party and other
communists throughout the world claim to represent the interests of the
poor which they would achieve by a dictatorship of the proletariat, in
which all wealth and power is distributed amongst the poor. What utter
nonsense! Is society to be turned upside down? Is the servant to tell his
master what to do? Is the student to teach his lecturer? Is the shop
floor worker to dictate to his manager what should be produced? What
arrant and dangerous nonsense!"
The crowd laughed appreciatively. These were more like jokes.
"The Blue and Black Parties represent opinions of the right, by which
they assert that the preservation of law and order is dependant on the
continuance of the current distribution of wealth and power. They claim
that by acting in the interests of the rich and powerful they act as
guardians of law, order and common decency. But if the law be corrupt? If
the order be fractured? If the rich and powerful act against the interests
of the people rather than in their interests? Where then is the argument
for preserving the wealth and power of the established order? We say that
the interests of the people are best served by seizing it from the present
corrupt, immoral and uncaring establishment. Then transferring it to safe
custody in the interests of all the people and in the furtherance of the
Illicit cause. We say to you corrupt businessmen, condescending
aristocracy and overpaid intellectuals: Enjoy your wealth and privilege now
for as long as you can. For soon it will belong to us!"
The crowd erupted again in great cheers. "Rupert! Rupert! Rupert!" A
few dragon stewards raised their small-arms above their heads and waved
them in exultation. A few firecrackers exploded noisily and celebratorily
in the distance.
While the crowd continued to show its approval by cheering, chanting,
banging drums, whistling and waving banners, I scanned over their heads to
see who was there. Amongst the and dragons were humans, mermen,
lions, crabs, scorpions and there in the distance a solitary whom I
felt sure was the traveller I'd recently met on the way to the town. He
was rapt in attention and showed no evidence of having seen me.
"Government is always fraught by uncertainty and indecision," continued
the koala, his face beaming out from the screens to the whole crowd. "Even
an Illiberal Socialist government is run by imperfect beings, of which I
must count myself. Bad decisions are made which seem so right at the time,
but later appear so wrong. The Illicit Party has made such mistakes, it
must be acknowledged. Once we were too tolerant of criticism from
intellectuals and academics: a mistake now rectified. Once we allowed too
much power and wealth to remain in the hands of the aristocrats,
capitalists and counter-revolutionaries. Although corrected now, the
Illiberal Socialist Republics still suffer from the legacy of this
indulgence and lack of unswerving zeal. There is only one way that a
government can be sure that what it does is right, proper and for the best.
There is only one way to ensure that government is truly for the best,
without regard for the petty bourgeois tendencies of its administrators.
And that way can only be achieved by possession of the Truth!"
"Rupert! Rupert!" chanted the crowd in agreement, while I reeled at the
import of the President Chairman's remarks. Was the Illicit Party, like
myself, on a quest for the Truth? What did the koala mean by the Truth?
Was it the same thing that I was looking for?
"This is why I have authorised a search for the Truth!" Rupert announced
as if echoing my thoughts. "With the Truth, there will no longer be doubt
or indecision. With the Truth it will be known for sure where mistakes may
be made and how they can be avoided. Armed with the Truth an Illicit
government can ensure that government is fair, just and accords best with
the aims of the Illiberal Socialist cause. It is the right, indeed the
prerogative, of the Illicit Party to be armed with this, the most potent of
all weapons, against which we need have no fear of contradiction, no fear
of wavering from the best path towards the proper exercise of power. So I
tell you now. Go out! In your thousands! In your greatest numbers! And
seek the Truth! Seek it here! Seek it there! With the massed effort of
all Illicitists, the Truth will be found and will forever serve the
interests of our great movement! The Truth! The Truth!"
The crowd echoed this cry and all around me I was surrounded by the
chant: "The Truth! The Truth!" intermingled with "Rupert! Rupert!" and
even the combination "Rupert is the Truth! Rupert is the Truth!" The koala
allowed this last chant to dominate, orchestrated as it seemed to be by
some dragons whose cries came out in bursts of sulphurous fumes. He raised
"No! No! I am not the Truth! The Truth is not I! No person however
good and wise can embody the Truth. It is a thing beyond mere corporeal
being. Beyond even the knowledge and wisdom represented by the Illiberal
Socialist movement. The Truth is the embodiment, the expression and the
undeniability of all that can be. It contains the essence of morality,
government, wisdom, knowledge and power. It is all that has ever been
desired. All that could ever be desired. The Truth is all that there is.
Omnipresent, immanent and elusive. It is there. It must be there. Under
all the superficialities of life, seen through the distorted lens of all
the senses, there it lies waiting to be demonstrated, experienced and
learnt from. And the Truth is what we shall all seek!
"The Illicit Party is the only cause which admits that its objective is
that of attaining the Truth. The other parties heretically claim to
already be in possession of it. A Truth mysteriously found in the works of
Mohammed, Marx, St. Paul, Hitler, Adam Smith, Confucius or the Buddha.
The Party say that it lies in the redistribution of wealth and power.
The Black Party in the certainties of dogma and prejudice. The Blue Party
in the continuation of tradition and the practice of capitalism. The Green
Party in the maintenance of the ecosystem. The White Party in who knows
what. Only the Illicit Party is humble and modest enough to admit that it
does not have sole possession of the Truth. Only the Illicit Party is
willing to strive for the Truth, not trammelled by an ideology which claims
prior knowledge. And on this greatest quest of all, all of us, of whatever
species, race, epoch or mythology, are together called upon to seek it out.
To look for the Truth. Wherever it may be. In the Country. In the City.
In the Suburbs. Wherever! So when you leave today, let your thoughts be
only on the Truth. After you have voted for the rightful succession of
power by the Illicit Party's candidates, your minds should be focused on
only one thing. And that thing is the Truth! The Truth!"
"The Truth! The Truth!" obediently chanted the crowd. I stood in a
degree of confusion. Had my quest been superseded? With so many people
searching for the Truth, what chance was there in my quest being
successful? And where would the search take all these thousands of Illicit
"It has been said that possession of the Truth would make no difference
to the conduct of government. Politics, Power and the State are entities
wholly divorced from the theoretical constructs embodied by the Truth.
Even with the Truth, it is said, there would be no change to the conduct of
government. There is already sufficient wealth in the world it is said for
everyone to be moderately well off and yet there is starvation. It is
universally agreed that murder and crime are wrong and yet they are still
prevalent. How should possession of the Truth make any difference? But
here there is a difference in kind. The Truth is absolute. It is eternal.
It is incapable of being denied. And in the custody of the Illicit Party,
which, under my chairmanship, is committed to following the edicts of the
Truth however unpalatable they may be, possession of the Truth will make
all the difference. All the difference there can be! You have my word!
So! All of you! From the smallest lamb to the largest wyvern, it is now
that you must take the initiative. Follow the Illicit Party banner. And
all in your vast numbers to seek out the Truth. To find it. Secure it.
And then bring it back to me. And to the Illicit Party! Find the Truth!"
"The Truth! The Truth! The Truth!" echoed the crowd. I gazed at the
small distant figure of the koala as he gestured wildly at the crowd whose
cheers crashed like waves in crescendos of volume and whose face on the
screen expressed satisfaction through beady eyes shadowed slightly by his
large hat. For several minutes the cheering continued, waxing and waning,
now thundering, now almost a murmur. And then just as I was thinking that
the speech was to an end, he drew his arm out in a horizontal
sweeping gesture which quite suddenly cut off the cheering and chanting
like someone turning off the volume switch of a radio.
"There have been many slanders expressed about the Illicit Party by our
enemies and recidivists. From what I hear it would seem that it is the
author of great injustices and crimes. And that I, as Chairman of the
Party, am myself a vile criminal. Such slanders cannot remain
unchallenged. It is not true that government in the Socialist Republics is
maintained by terror and fear. It is not true that anyone other than the
convicted criminal is ever arrested without trial. And it is not true, as
some have said, that the Illicit Party is a racist or speciesist party. It
is wholly contradictory to the policies and practises of Illiberal
Socialism that any individual should be discriminated against on account of
the number of legs they may have, the furriness or scaliness of their skin
or their height. Such discrimination is wholly against the fundamental
precepts of Illicitism. Ungulate or pachyderm. Saurischian or
ornithischian. Cretaceous or Pliocene. Chimæra or dragon. All are the
same in the regard of the Illicit Party.
"However, the sternest critics of the Illicit Party are those who
themselves discriminate against all species other than their own, and have
done so since their inception in the shadow of the earliest pyramids.
These are, of course, the Cats, who, under the leadership of their King so
cruelly discriminate against Mice, Dogs and Sheep."
The crowd gasped. "Death to the Cats!" chanted one section of it.
"Death to the Kingdom!" chanted another section. I glanced over at the
Cat traveller who appeared untroubled by these remarks.
"One reason why the Feline critics have libelled the Illicit cause is
because we alone of all the parties have a constructive policy towards
natural selection. The Illicit Party recognises that with time, the people
of a nation become genetically inferior unless an effort is made to
encourage the breeding of superior stock, and, at the same time, to
discourage the breeding of the genetically inferior. In this way, the
people of Illicit nations will be only the most intelligent, most
physically fit and most loyal. Already the people of the Illiberal
Socialist Republics are obliged to petition for the right to bear children
and are awarded quotas of production according to their fitness to do so.
For those who are especially well-qualified, these quotas are quite high
and it is made plain that it is viewed as the individual's duty to achieve
these reproduction quotas. For the least fit, the Illicit Party offers
(free of charge!) methods to ensure these individuals are relieved of the
ability to reproduce should they be so tempted. The demand for these
services has been quite high, and consequently the treatment has been
rather brusque and irreversible. It is also believed that for those who
are not obviously fit or unfit, which includes many Illicit Party
officials, it is necessary to demonstrate fitness to reproduce measured by
devotion and loyalty to the Illicit cause. In this way, Illicitism will be
maintained forever on the deoxyribonucleic acid of the people."
The crowd seemed less inspired by this discourse, and the President
Chairman may have noticed that the resulting cheers and chants were less
than overwhelming. He didn't dwell on this subject, and instead raised his
voice to bring the crowd to attention.
"It is the view of the Illicit Party that there is such a thing as
inferior stock, which results from millennia of inbreeding and unselective
breeding. A prime example of this is the Cat. The is a degenerate
species that has lost many of the proud attributes of its ancestors. This
is reflected by the primitive nature of government that the has
adopted. Whereas all other species have aspired to modern governments led
by presidents or democratically elected individuals, only the has opted
for a form of government in which power is invested in a single individual
whose qualifications to govern are merely to do with the 'nobility' of his
birth. The Illicit Party is utterly opposed to such hereditary
dictatorships and is therefore opposed to the very essence of the Kingdom.
"The is also an inherently war-like species. While others have
forsworn their carnivorous tendencies, the has reversed the process in
its fierce wars against the Dogs bordering the Kingdom's frontiers and
the Mice who live within. The will never be satisfied until he has all
other mammals under his merciless yoke, no doubt feeling free to feast on
them. How can the civilised world permit the to fix his teeth and
claws in the flesh of his enemies?
"Not only is the exemplary of all that is wrong, as the result of
centuries of inbreeding, but in all lands the has cunningly and
deceitfully amassed wealth which by rights belongs to other species. The
Cat has become the archetypal capitalist and speculator, by his
manipulation of the hard-saved earnings of those foolish enough to invest
in their concerns or to buy at their shops or to wear the clothes they have
made. How much of the wealth that should by rights belong to us all is
held by the foul feline! The cunning cat! The manipulative moggie!"
The crowd was more excited by Rupert's condemnation of Cats. I regarded
the traveller who seemed visibly nervous even from this distance: his
tail wagging involuntarily and his whiskers twitching. He was presumably
hoping that by keeping a low profile he'd be able to sneak away from the
large crowd who were looking at him with hostile interest.
"Not only does the take your money! He takes the jobs that should
go to and others. How often have you applied for a job only to find
that a contentedly purring has taken it from you? How often have you
applied for a bank loan only for a in an office miles away to turn you
down? How often has your life been ruined by the devious, inscrutable
Feline malefactor? How long can decent people stand by while Cats take,
take and take from others? How long can we continue to suffer the Feline
yoke? How much more can we take?"
"Death to Cats! Down with Cats!" chanted the crowd in unison. Then
quite suddenly, the traveller, who'd somehow remained standing in
amongst the hostile crowd was knocked over onto the back of a ewe. He
picked himself up only to be knocked over again. The area around him
erupted into a whirlwind of aggression as people of all species descended
on the who could be glimpsed in the scrum. His clothes were torn off
and the rags remaining were thrown up into the air. The President Chairman
paused in his address and impassively viewed the proceedings, but notably
made no attempt to calm things down.
The last I saw of the was of a battered naked figure with a torn
ear, blood running from where his eye might have been and a crooked waving
tail, fur pulled out in chunks revealing his bare flesh and mewing
piteously. Then before I could really make out more details, the battered
figure was once again submerged under a mass of hooves and claws with
flaying limbs and blood. In the scramble for the unfortunate I could
hear the bleating of lambs being pressed by the mass of their neighbours
and saw a dragon steward rescue a pelican who'd been trampled by the mob
and whose white feathers were a mess of blood and whose wings were
painfully broken. While this was happening, the orchestrated chants and
cheers continued unabated, accompanied by a frightening more primæval roar
"Death to Cats! Kill all Cats! Down with the Kingdom!" shouted the
crowd. Gradually, the chant became more positively: "Rupert! Rupert!
Rupert!" and the references to Cats appeared to be forgotten as easily as
the passion of hatred had began.
President Chairman Rupert commenced his speech after calming the
passions of the crowd with another gesture, but I had lost my appetite for
the rally. I couldn't help wondering whether the wrath of the crowd might
soon be directed away from Cats and towards people from the Suburbs. So
while he continued his speech I struggled out through the crush of the
crowd to the quieter streets beyond the public square. It was not easy
threading through the tightly pressed bodies and it was with considerable
relief that I found myself at last in the relatively deserted streets
beyond. It seemed as if everybody in the town had been at the rally.
There was a small cafe open several streets away, so feeling hungry as
it was now past midday I entered and ordered myself a hamburger and chips
from the counter where I sat. In very little time my order arrived in a
small plastic container and I paid the shilling and sixpence that the meal
cost. The cafe was not unlike similar fast food places in the suburbs, but
the walls were pasted with Illicit Party posters, and a massive portrait of
President Chairman Rupert dominated above the plastic laminated pictures of
muttonburgers, beefburgers and french fries. The person serving was a
small dragon wearing the green costume of his job with a paper hat
carrying the symbol of Mutton King, the title of the store. His name was
written on a plastic badge on his lapel amongst a plethora of badges
bearing Rupert's face.
"Have you been to the rally?" he asked me.
I nodded as I bit into the hamburger and removed a strand of onion from
"I wish I could have gone, but Mutton King just wouldn't understand.
I'd love to see the Great Leader myself. He's been speaking, hasn't he?
What did he have to say?"
I reflected on what I could remember while chewing on the meat. "He had
a lot to say about the Truth."
"The Truth!" mused the dragon thoughtfully. "So the great quest is on!
I heard it would be! And so close to the General Election as well! The
Great Leader is so wise! I hope to join the search for the Truth myself."
He scratched his chin with a claw while a small cloud of smoke billowed
from his nostrils. "Are you going to be searching for the Truth, too?"
"Yes, I am," I admitted positively. "I've been searching for the Truth
now for several days."
"You're certainly ahead of me! You're sure to find it before anyone
else! You must be a very true supporter of the Illicit Party."
"Not really," I admitted. "I decided on my quest for the Truth before I
knew that the Illicit Party was also doing so."
"Really!" said the dragon, clearly quite impressed. "How wonderful!
But of course it will be the Illicit Party who will find the Truth. As is
only right. It is the prerogative of the Illicit Party to find it before
anyone else can. Only the Illicit Party is able to fully utilise the Truth
for the greater good of everyone. How did you decide on this quest before
the Great Leader showed us all the way?"
"I'm not sure. It just seemed like a good idea."
"And of course it's a good idea. It must be! Otherwise, the Great
Leader would never instruct us all to follow it. Do you have any idea
where the Truth might be?"
"I don't know. I left the Suburbs with just that question."
"The Suburbs! I've heard rumoured that the Truth may be there. But you
obviously don't believe it is?"
"In the Suburbs? That would be the very last place I'd expect to find
it. I'm sure it's elsewhere. Perhaps in the City. Perhaps in a distant
country. I really don't know."
"And have you any idea what the Truth might be?"
"None at all. People have told me all sorts of things about what they
think it might be, but I've yet to come across anyone who can convince me.
Whatever it is, I'm sure I'll know it when I find it."
"That's what I hope, too! I'm sure that if I'm the one that's lucky
enough to find it, I'll recognise it. And when I do, I'll so gladly come
galumphing back to the Great Leader carrying it like booty and presenting
it to him so humbly. 'Here it is!' I'll say. 'It's yours to do with
whatever you like!' Wouldn't that be wonderful! Perhaps he'd make me a
Party Official. Maybe a member of the Inner Party. And then I would be
able to stand in his presence all day long. What do you think?"
I finished my beefburger and left a few of the more soggy french fries
lying in a puddle of brown sauce. I re-entered the street outside where I
could distinctly hear the thunderous sound of Rupert's address
reverberating from opposing houses. The streets were eerily empty in
comparison to the crush in the square, and all the other shops were shut. I
peered inside them, and noted that all of them had several portraits of the
President Chairman on the walls. I didn't have to search hard to see his
face, as it was also gazing down on me from the many posters and billboards
I decided that I was unlikely to find the Truth in the borough of
Rupert, so I wandered out from the town the way I'd come in search of a bus
stop to take me elsewhere. I had no real idea where I wanted to go, but I
felt sure that the Truth was to be found in quite a different arena.
Keeping in the direction indicated by signs of a silhouetted coach, I
made my way to the bus station just by the main road outside the town.
Although there were no buses or coaches, there was a reassuring assembly of
travellers. I was unable to get past a group of bulls who had converged,
stomping and disputing, in front of the bus timetable and so could not
decide which bus to take. A small dragon in an official cap and overcoat
was standing by a poster promoting holidays in the Illicit Republics. I
contemplated approaching him to ask where the buses were heading, but I was
somewhat intimidated by the smoke billowing from his nostrils.
I looked around in some perplexity. Where should I go next? And would
I be travelling nearer to or further away from the Truth? I stood on the
tip of my toes and scanned the depots in the hope of seeing some helpful
signs or indicators. A Gryphon approached me, carrying a newspaper under
his claws. "You look lost, man. Can I be of help?"
"I was just wondering where the buses went from here."
The Gryphon cawed slightly. "Is that all? Well, I can assure you they
go to quite a few destinations. And if you are willing to change at
particular destinations, you will probably be able to reach any point on
the globe you choose. Where is it that you actually want to go?"
"I'm not sure," I admitted with embarrassment.
"You're not sure? You must have some idea. It is just not possible for
one to have no destination at all. Do you want to go to the Suburbs? To
Lambdeth? To the City? To the Country?"
"Lambdeth sounds a very agreeable destination."
"And indeed it is. The great University city of our fair land. The
seat of learning and the font of knowledge. Is that where you want to go?"
"Yes!" I said decisively.
"Well, let's have a look at the timetable if our bovine friends will
just allow us to squeeze through..." The Gryphon approached the company of
bulls, many wearing cheerful straw boaters and scarves, and with a few
polite and firm excuse mes, he made his way to the front and gazed up at
the timetable finding instruction from its seemingly arcane symbols. He
placed a claw on the back of a bullock, with the newspaper headline (Red
Victory Likely) prominent. His other claw traced a route across the
columns of destinations and times.
"There's a bus to Lambdeth Central in just a few minutes from bay
number..." his eyes gazed up at the headings, "...bay number Nine. The
same bay where my bus is leaving in fact. But a little later than yours,
I'm afraid." He squeezed back out past the broad backs of the bulls. "Now
the next thing is to buy a ticket. I trust you have sufficient for the
journey. It'll cost you nine shillings and nine pence."
The Gryphon led me along to the ticket office window where another
dragon took my two crowns in his claw and hesitated over a groat, before
handing me three pennies as change. "Are you sure you only want a single?"
He wondered. "The return fare is only a shilling more expensive."
"No, that's fine," I replied returning with the Gryphon to a bay where
the huge number 9 was displayed, but no list of destinations. We sat on
the narrow flap-down seats, and the Gryphon unfolded and refolded his
newspaper. The headlines tantalised my eyes during this rather fastidious
process: Whites Certain to Win Suburbs, Illicit Gains Spider Vote, Blacks
Threaten Immigrants. A diverse selection of other passengers were lined up
on the plastic seats or stood guard by their luggage. There were a few
jocund bullocks; a woman in a long green overcoat; an elderly dragon
with a pitifully thin column of sulphurous smoke trailing from his
nostrils; a diprotodon in a dapper three-piece suit; a snowman sweating in
the mid- afternoon heat; a turtle in a bonnet with a basket of eggs; and a
large black swan.
"There are quite a few heading to Baldam," I remarked to the Gryphon.
He frowned slightly, wagging his large tufted ears. "I'd be very
surprised indeed if very many were going to Baldam, however attractive a
destination it may be. Most will, like me, be catching the following bus,
which is for the City. More people go to and from the City than any other
destination, so statistically I would assume so too is the majority of this
"Do you live in the City?"
"Goodness no! Although I have been tempted there by the pay and the
availability of work. I'm a teacher, man. I teach at a school in a
town perhaps nine leagues from here. I teach Mathematics and General
Science at a Lower Secondary Modern. I have been enticed by the
opportunity to teach at a City Grammar School or perhaps even one in
Baldam, but my and children are happy where they are so relocation is
quite unlikely for the moment."
"What's your school like?"
"A very ordinary school, man. With a very ordinary syllabus:
Latin, Greek, Home Economics, Physical Education, Geography. Not very
different, I imagine, from the school you may have attended."
"Perhaps," I replied, reflecting that none of my teachers had beaks,
wings and leonine tails. "I suppose schools are much the same wherever you
"Well, you're showing your ignorance there, man. As a result of
the incoherence of the Coition government's education policies there's
quite a free-for-all of approved syllabi in this nation. Boroughs are at
liberty to institute any of education they wish. In this town, for
instance, the children are not so much educated as indoctrinated. And
indoctrinated it seems to me in the most appalling nonsense that there ever
was. And such practice isn't unique to this pillar of political bias.
There are boroughs dominated by one or other of the multitude of churches
where even such basic facts as the law of evolution, the principle of
genetics, the curvature of space and Gödel's Theorem are denied them. I
abhor education which seeks not so much to enlighten but to conceal."
The Gryphon snorted his distaste and reorganised his newspaper. Whites
May Lose Out to Blacks, I briefly glimpsed. Reds Get The Blues, another
headline ambiguously announced.
"The objectives of education are forever perverted by ideological or
religious prejudice. Education isn't simply to fit students into a mould
determined by national or local government. It has the much nobler task of
adapting future citizens to an unpredictable future and inculcate values of
common decency and virtue without which the realm will degenerate into
ignorance and dullness. I recognise the difficulty in distinguishing
between the aims of schooling a pupil for the society in which he or she is
born and that in which he will ultimately belong. The world changes so
fast! Steam Trains. Computers. Phasars. Interplanetary cruisers. Who
knows what next! And the poor teacher is no better at predicting the
future than the futurologist whose predictions swing so wildly from the
complacently optimistic to the deeply depressing. It is education's duty
to anticipate the changes ahead and ensure that the student has the
appropriate grounding in Ancient Latin, Classical Mythology or Euclidean
Geometry to confront that future.
"Undoubtedly, education must also pertain to the ethical instruction of
future adults. Without moral guidance, who is to say what degrees of
amorality may pervade in the future? I would hate to see any pupil of mine
ignorant of the proper rules of etiquette; lacking appreciation and respect
for their elders and betters; and unprepared for the mores practised in the
factories, workshops, power stations and supermarkets that will employ
them. Unless of course such jobs become totally superseded by
mechanisation. I despair of the so-called modern schools in the City which
provide not even the minimum of moral guidance, complying with anarchistic
doctrines which assert that the pupil's character is like a flower which
will blossom when abandoned to free expression. Such a flower will simply
be swamped by weeds and be a very sorry sight indeed."
"Aren't there other reasons for education?" I questioned, finding the
Gryphon's views remarkably similar to those held by teachers in the
"Yes, indeed," the Gryphon agreed, thoughtfully scratching the feathers
on his chin with a claw. "There is the motive which inspires governments
of all complexions to fund the education of its younger members; and that
is the provision of an educated and skilled workforce. What hope has any
society unless it has the army of doctors, lawyers, accountants, clerks,
estate agents, teachers and Classics scholars that all societies need?
There has to be a material justification for any society to disburse so
much of its Gross National Product on something of no immediate benefit.
If education were measured in terms of productivity, shares dividends,
stimulus to consumption and national defence, I daresay it would rank very
low; but every society needs to have its eye on the long to medium term
however much its snout may be buried in the trough of more immediate
The Gryphon paused to further re-organise his newspaper. He smoothed it
flat with a claw so that the half-finished crossword faced upwards. He
looked back at me. "Where is it that you come from, man?"
"I guessed so. People from there are very distinctive. But you don't
find many of them so far away as this. So, why have you left the Suburbs?
Are you considering settling down in the fair city of Lambdeth?"
"No, I'm actually on a quest. A quest for the Truth."
"The Truth? You're not an Illicitist are you?"
"No, not at all. I was intent on finding the Truth before I was aware
that anyone else was interested in it."
"Is that so? I must say it is a most curious quest for someone from the
Suburbs to be engaged in. I would have thought that Suburbanites would be
the very last to indulge in such a cockeyed fanciful endeavour. But as
they say, it takes all sorts! And I suppose it would be unlikely that even
in such a homogeneous environment as the Suburbs there wouldn't be some
with a penchant for the crazy, the futile and the misguided. My advice to
you, man, is simply to abandon your quest now, take your bus to
Lambdeth and, after a short holiday, return to the Suburbs. You will never
find the Truth by travelling about the nation by omnibus."
"Is it totally futile?" I asked, discomfited by the Gryphon's apparent
"In the way you're going about it ... frankly, yes!" The Gryphon
lowered his eyes to his crossword, hummed softly and then returned his gaze
to me. "The Truth, man, is not a physical thing that you can just go
off and look for, whatever these fanatics in this town may say. The Truth
is nothing more and nothing less than the accumulated wisdom and knowledge
of the ages: exactly what I am paid to impart to my pupils and with which
they will carry on the noble tradition of imparting the same wisdom to
future generations. The Truth is just a convenient term for the knowledge
gathered under such more precise headings as English Literature,
Trigonometry, Algebra, Political Geography, Inorganic Chemistry and
Religious Education. There is nothing mystical, fantastic or exotic about
the Truth. It doesn't wait for us in a pot of gold at the end of a
rainbow. It doesn't live with the fairies at the bottom of the garden (and
they have assured me of that!) It is something to be unearthed only after
long hours of dedicated study and research, poring over books in libraries,
taking notes in lectures and doing the exercises attached to the end of
every text book chapter."
"Is the Truth really as dull as all that?"
"It is. It must be. It is prosaic, unexciting and unremarkable."
"Is it possible to know all the Truth there is to know?"
"Of course not. Well not for anyone of your species or mine, although
no doubt the boffins are working hard at inventing machines which could
store all the knowledge that currently exists and all that may exist in the
future. What they would make of such an amount of knowledge, I
don't know. I have heard that with enough data one can extrapolate
patterns and shapes of fractal, multidimensional and complex systems which
help in the understanding of the world, finding simplicity in chaos and
complexity in order. But for all that, how can the Truth be anything other
than the sum total of disparate disciplines? In studies as diverse as
linguistics, logic and electronics, metaphysics, religion and quantum
mechanics. So, if you still seek the Truth, take advantage of your visit
to Lambdeth and ensconce yourself in the university library."
The Gryphon sighed and looked at the company gathered around the bus
station. He discreetly indicated the woman in the green overcoat who was
reading a magazine on her lap. "Do you recognise her at all, man?"
I scrutinised the woman carefully. She was too engrossed in her
magazine to notice that we were watching her. "No, I can't say I do."
"I may be wrong, and I am definitely not an expert on these matters, but
I believe she's a film actress. But what she's doing here, I don't know!"
"A film actress!" I examined her with more care, but there was nothing
about her that resembled what I imagined an actress might look when not
working. "Are you sure?"
"Not at all. But if she is the actress I think then she makes her
living from displaying her naked body to the prurient and dissolute. An
immoral and shameless harlot."
"A pornographic actress?"
"No less! And what more disgusting occupation can there be? Other than
prostitution of course. Spreading filth and low morals to the weak minded
and the easily led. Totally perverting the moral purpose and æsthetic
value of her profession. I have often had to confiscate pornographic
material from my pupils and I am certain that her face is one I have seen
in magazines about the pornographic film industry. Well, not certain, but
the likeness is otherwise rather remarkable."
"Is that so?" Although fairly attractive there was nothing about the way
she dressed or behaved that would lead me to suspect this.
"Pornography is just one thing about the modern film and theatre I find
impossible to condone. And it is not merely the nature of pornography
itself I find most unacceptable, but the way it has demeaned the noble
theatrical tradition represented by Shakespeare, the author of Titus
Andronicus and The Rape of Lucretia. Theatre should raise the
sensibilities of the audience with unambiguous moral messages and refined
æstheticism. It is, or should be, an educational tool to supplement the
pedagogical tradition in moulding the character. It is an effective means
of disseminating knowledge to one in full possession of the requisite
"What are those?"
"An understanding of the subtleties of the medium. An ability to
penetrate the superficialities of the and action to see the moral
truths expressed therein. An appreciation of the metre and structure of
language in expressing these great truths. Without such things the
audience is merely entertained, and not instructed."
"Is that such a very bad thing!"
"Yes, it is, man!" The Gryphon insisted, indicating a poster for a
film, Georgia Brown and the City of the Undead, amongst the political
propaganda, featuring several heroic characters painted above a lengthy
listing of the cast, producers, director and technical staff. "Films like
that, promising nothing more than sex, violence and action, beget an
æsthetically and culturally illiterate population, who believe life is
nothing more than a sequence of events lacking moral significance and in
which the most disgusting and unwholesome activities are routine. It
trades on being entertainment, when in truth it is a perversion of even
that term. How can it be entertainment when it features violence, death,
sexual perversion, crime and gross horror?"
"Perhaps the film isn't aspiring to be art."
"Only film and theatre aspiring to art is ever worth making. And if it
fails to achieve any artistic value, it should not have been made at all. I
cannot accept that any creative endeavour should aspire to merely divert.
That is such a sad waste of effort."
At that moment, a double-decker bus pulled into the bay with the words
Lambdeth Central prominently displayed above the driver's cabin. The doors
of the bus opened with an exhalation of air and several people disembarked.
Then, after bidding farewell to the Gryphon who continued to wait for his
own bus, I queued up behind a couple of bullocks in straw hats who were
being escorted in by a diminutive dragon in an official uniform. Once they
had filed down to the front of the lower deck, I entered the bus and
climbed up to the totally empty upper deck. I walked down the aisle to sit
at the front, shaded by the tinted green glass of the windows, and
stretched out my legs.
While waiting for the bus to stir and gazing at the Gryphon reading his
newspaper, I heard another person clamber up the stairs and stumble down
the aisle. I turned my head round to see who it was and saw the woman in
the green overcoat the Gryphon had been discussing. She smiled at me, and
slumped in the seat across the aisle from me. "Are you off to Lambdeth
Central too?" She asked, crossing her long legs demurely.
"Yes, I am. I've never been there before."
"No? Well there's a first time for everything." She shook the hair that flowed onto her shoulders and ran her fingers through it from her
temples. "Did I hear you and your Gryphon friend talking about me at the
I blushed slightly. "Yes. He thought you were a film actress..."
"...And a pornographic one at that, too, I suppose? Well, your friend
is right, I'm afraid. I am an actress. And a good living it is too! I
gathered also from what I heard your friend was saying (so loudly and
clearly!) that he believes film and theatre is all about art and education.
He seems to think that it can never be entertainment."
"I think he was saying something like that."
"How amusing. I suppose that all of life is some kind of school lesson?
How jolly dull! Why can't things just be fun? Why can't we do something
just because it's enjoyable? If we only ever do something because we think
it's good for us or because we might learn something from it, it merely
debases life, which must contain an element of fun in it."
"I think the Gryphon was also saying that film and theatre shouldn't
"He did, did he?" Mused the Actress as the bus's quietly purring engine
changed its tone and the bus moved slowly out of the depot. It curved and
cornered onto the main road, leaving behind Bay Number 9, where another bus
was manoeuvring in. It sped along black tarmac past fields of cattle,
wheat and barley, demarcated by tall trees with white-painted trunks which
filed past with the same regularity as the white markings in the centre of
"Your Gryphon friend has a point, though," admitted the Actress.
"Whether films or plays aspire to be art or entertainment is irrelevant,
they will always inculcate values into the audience. It is the task of
those involved in their production, in whatever capacity, to be aware of
these values however deeply they may be. It is quite simply
everyone's moral and political duty to ensure not only that their
principles are not compromised, but that they are furthered in whatever
work they do."
"Are you saying that films should be like propaganda?"
"Intentionally or not all films, all art and all creative enterprises
are propaganda. They all reinforce the cultural and social structures
which led to their creation. It is an inevitable and inescapable aspect of
everything one does. In my performances I always try to further my views
on the rights of women; the struggle of the working classes; the value and
vulnerability of the environment; and the self- determination of all
species. It may have to be done subtly in the context of the rôles I play,
within the constraints of the script and the athleticism and pathos the
part demands. But it is there nonetheless. Just as it is expressed in the
angles and close-ups selected by the operators. Just as it is
implied in the justice and deserts the script-writer metes out to each
character. Just as it is revealed in the final cut released from the
editing room. Everyone involved in a film has his or her input and this
indisputably affects the final product and produces a particular effect in
the viewer (which may or may not be that intended!)."
"So you do believe that film is a kind of propaganda."
"In a way. But only insofar that film cannot avoid being so. And
usually the message generated is really nothing more than a restatement of
the comforting status quo, reinforcing the principles of the film
financiers and the target audience. Films can also be appreciated in their
own terms: is it entertaining, thrilling, erotic, frightening or funny?
The viewer has to judge whether he or she has been entertained, thrilled,
aroused, frightened or amused. And if the film achieves what it intended,
then it must be deemed a success."
The Actress smiled disarmingly and laid down a copy of her magazine, The
Struggle, the cover of which featured a of a figure huddled in a
blanket in the entrance to a shop with the words Homeless and Hungry!
scrawled on a piece of cardboard. "I'm sorry to go on like this. I just
get so jolly fed up when I hear people like your Gryphon friend going on
about things he really doesn't know anything about. But on a different
note: who have you voted for in the General Election?"
"I haven't voted for anyone," I had to admit. "The General Election
wasn't very well advertised in the Suburbs."
"Typical White Party indecisiveness, I imagine. And if that's where you
come from, and judging from the way you dress I can't imagine it being
anywhere else, there isn't much point in voting for anything other than
White or Blue unless you want to waste your vote. Parties like the Reds
and the Greens just don't have the smallest chance there."
"No, they don't." I agreed. "Nobody in the Suburbs votes for either of
"Not like the City or Baldam where the Party almost always triumphs.
I imagine people in the Suburbs simply agree with the general
misrepresentation of the Party: that they will immediately shut down
the Stock Exchange, nationalise all industries, depose Her Maphrodite and
instantly impose punitive taxation on the rich."
"Isn't that just exactly what the Party wants to do?"
"All socialists, including me, would like to see the capitalist system
replaced by a fairer system which focuses on the needs of the poor and the
most disadvantaged, rather than perpetuate the injustices which make such a
misery of the lives of those least able to defend themselves. All
socialists are affronted by a system of patronage which permits wealth to
be amassed by those like Her Maphrodite who have gained it entirely by
virtue of birth. All socialists want a more equable distribution of wealth
and power. But the Party represents a very broad amalgamation of
socialist, communist, anarcho-syndicalist and social democratic interests,
and although individual comrades may have opinions and views much more
radical than others, the Party is actually committed to only a gradualist
reformist policy. It would not do in a society as complex and integrated
as ours to make changes that are too sudden and too radical. Experience
has shown that the immediate satisfaction it might give to the more far
left members of the party is more than outweighed by the distrust and lack
of co-operation it engenders in society as a whole. And a true socialist
utopia cannot be achieved without the full approval and commitment of all
members of society."
"Are those your views?"
"If they are the views of the political bureau of the Party then as
a comrade in the struggle towards a fair and just society they will be my
views as well. The Party will not gain power if it does not present a
unified and coherent front, attractive to all factions of the working class
and unlikely to alienate too large a proportion of the bourgeoisie. Once
in power, it will not hold onto it for very long if it does not consolidate
its support nor forward its policies in a way that endangers their success
by prompting a rapid loss of capital and endorsement from industry and
commerce. Otherwise, the socialist revolution is lost before it has even
The Actress studied me carefully. "I know that you're unlikely to have
voted for the Party. It would be incredible that anyone from the
Suburbs would vote for the relief of poverty and prejudice they have never
witnessed and will never suffer from. So, what are you doing here on a bus
to Lambdeth so many leagues from the Suburbs? Why haven't you stayed
behind and voted in the General Election?"
"I'm on a quest for the Truth."
The Actress raised her eyebrows in surprise. "That's a jolly odd thing
for someone from the Suburbs to be doing! The Truth! Flipping heck! It
must be a jolly fashionable thing to do these days. These flipping
Illicitists are searching for it I believe. Are you in the Illicit Party?"
"Not at all. I just think it's a worthwhile thing to do."
The Actress smiled wanly. She leaned forward, her overcoat opening to
reveal a plunging neckline and a pearl necklace. "I really don't agree
with you. The search for the Truth is diversionary and counter-productive.
And anyway, I just don't believe it can ever be found."
"Surely if it exists, it can be found."
"Even if that axiom were true, I would like to know how anyone could
ever be sure that what they'd found was actually the Truth. How can you be
sure that it is not something that merely looks like the blooming Truth,
walks like the Truth but is merely masquerading as the Truth? How can
anyone ever be sure that it is the Truth that one has found? And even if
one could be sure,. even if it could be verified as the Truth by some
expert, or had a label attached to it reading The Truth, The Universe and
Everything, or if the certainty of the Truth was intrinsic in its own
discovery. What then? What do you do with it? Is it going to feed
people? Or house them? Or solve all the terrible problems of war,
pestilence, plague and famine that trouble the world? How are people's
welfare any way contingent on the Truth? If the Truth exists, it's always
been there, and hasn't needed to be found to alleviate the world's ills.
In fact, I believe that if the Truth were ever found, by you or anyone
else, it would become just yet another expensive luxury stored at colossal
expense in a museum or research institute, further diverting attention from
the needs of the underprivileged, the underdeveloped and the
undernourished. Even the search for it merely diverts valuable resources
away from where they need to go. Surely, it is better to sort out all that
which is wrong in this world before leaping ahead and looking for things of
interest only to philosophers, scientists and academics."
"You don't believe that my quest is at all worthwhile."
The Actress laughed kindly. "I don't wish to down-hearten you too much.
You do exactly what you like. You're only one individual, and what you do
isn't really going to change very much. Even if you do find the Truth,
which I frankly doubt. However if you think that you're going to find it
in Lambdeth Central, you'd better steel yourself as I believe it's just
I looked out of the window and noticed that the bus was no longer
speeding along past fields or forests, but along a series of raised
roadways around which were tall buildings and warehouses. The view was
dominated by hoardings, neon-lit product names, traffic lights
soaring above and road signs. The roar of the bus's engine was partly
obscured by that of other traffic passing above it, below it, and on either
side. Then, sure enough, the bus turned off the main motorway, descended
down and around a loop of roads, through a tunnel illuminated by the
message Lambdeth Central Welcomes Careful Drivers and finally drew to a
halt at a bus station attached to a much larger railway station.
The buildings all around were constructed of plastic, steel, glass and
concrete. People swarmed around escalators, elevators, robots, blinking
lights and small trucks. "So, here we are!" Announced the Actress,
standing up. "It's been jolly nice meeting you. I'm off to the City now,
but I hope you enjoy your stay in Lambdeth. I warn you though. It may be
a pleasant sort of place, but it's no utopia!"
Lambdeth Central was quite simply the largest railway station I had ever
seen. Several times larger than any in the Suburbs. Indeed, it was like a
complete town: consisting of a network of pubs, cafes, shops and amusement
arcades. Quite clearly it was designed to divert those expecting to wait
several hours for their next train. I wasn't at all sure whether this
reflected on the frequency of the services or the likelihood of there being
delays. Amongst all this provision and behind the electronic indicator
boards, were the numbered platforms where trains of all kinds were waiting
on distinctly different railway gauges, some purring menacingly with the
apparent ability to exceed the speed of sound while remaining terrestrially
bound, while others puffed cheerful clouds of smoke from coal-filled
furnaces. The station was not crowded, although it was in the midst of the
evening commuter rush, and many of the waiting passengers seemed to have
only a passing interest in the trains. There were oxen sitting on
specially designed seats; a couple of serpentine centipedes reading
newspapers; a dire wolf selling magazines in a stall to a boa constrictor
who rather ingeniously managed to both pay for a magazine and then hold it
open to read; a dimetrodon hastened by with his umbrella in his mouth; and
a hippogriff was engaged in selling lottery tickets behind a large of
a blobby pink figure with yellow spots.
There was quite enough to see at the railway station, without venturing
through the main entrance past the squawking sparrows and pigeons into the
university city itself. I could see the tall stone buildings, the clocks
ticking with civic pride on ornate towers and a flurry of black gowns and
mortar boards on bicycles. For the moment, however, I was more interested
in finding something to eat, or at least a coffee to drink.
I wandered along the station grounds, peering at the signs to find a
place that sold food and drink rather than compact discs, lawn mowers,
fluffy toys with I ? Baldam written on them and magazines. I carefully
trod over the length of an anaconda lying rather untidily outside a Ye Olde
Croissants shop, and when I looked up after this difficult manoeuvre I saw
a familiar figure waving at me and running in my direction.
It was Anna, whose hair was now very short, with massive hooped earrings
dangling from her ears, light-weight floral cotton shorts and a very loose
white tee- barely long enough to cover her midriff. "Flipping heck!
We keep meeting!" she exclaimed. "One moment in Endon and the next in
Lambdeth Central. So, are you still with that oversized grasshopper?"
"No, I last saw him at a party a long way from here."
"Well!" Anna exclaimed again. She looked at me and around her,
apparently not quite sure what to do. "Where are you going now?"
"I'm looking for somewhere to eat. I feel quite hungry."
"That's a super idea! Let's go to one of the cafes here ... Let's see
..." She stood on her sandalled toes and scanned the station. "Let's go to
an Uncle Joe's. They do pretty good kirsch and I wouldn't mind sharing a
samovar with you." She pointed to a cafe promoted by a very avuncular
character with a moustache and a collarless jacket, just between a
Big Frank's Frankfurters and a take- away. We strolled towards it
across the plastic carton littered expanse and were welcomed in by a small
bull with a ring through his nose and a plastic hat on his head. He
escorted us to a table by a window looking out past the cardboard figure of
a cheerful Uncle Joe to a waiting steam train.
I was somewhat undecided about which of the rather unfamiliarly entitled
items on the menu to order. There was never so much variety or choice in
the Suburbs. Anna, however, was considerably more knowledgeable than me
and with her assistance I selected something that approximated to a steak
and chips, while Anna ordered a samovar for us to drink from. I was glad
that she was knowledgeable of the ceremonies and procedures associated with
such a strange kind of teapot.
"You've changed your hairstyle," I commented while Anna poured out the
first cup of tea. "It's much shorter."
"Well, that's fashion for you, dear! I'm only away from here for such a
jolly short time and it's all change! A can't stand still for an
instant in the modern world! You leave it for a little while and when you
get back you have to be jolly quick to avoid looking like yesterday's
"Where have you been visiting?" I asked as Anna put down the samovar and
I picked up my blisteringly hot cup. My lips were scorched by the liquid,
so I chose to leave it to cool for a few moments.
"Oh! Here and there! Well, you know where I've been! I've been to the
Suburbs amongst other places: and a more blinking tedious place you
couldn't imagine! Bourgeois, dull and smugly self-satisfied! That's what
I call it! Yes, I know you come from there - you poor thing - but a girl's
got to have an opinion! I had ever so much difficulty finding somewhere to
stay there. You just wouldn't believe the number of bed and breakfast
hotels which were full, despite having Vacancies signs outside! I don't
really think I'll be going back to the Suburbs in a hurry! Meeting you
there was almost the highlight of my visit. Having seen other places, do
you think you'll be hurrying back to live in the Suburbs again?"
"I'm not sure," I admitted. "The Suburbs is where I come from and where
my home is."
"I suppose that's true. But it's not for me, I'm afraid. I much prefer
it here. Or in the City which is where I'd been visiting before the
Suburbs. And in comparison to the City, the Suburbs are bound to be
blinking dull! Now, there's a place to go! If it wasn't so flipping
expensive that's where I'd live. It's about twice as expensive as here.
Six guineas ten shillings for a cup of tea for instance! There's just so
much to do there, but I was feeling jolly poor after a few days there, I
can tell you. In comparison to the City, Lambdeth is almost as dull as the
Suburbs. Well! that's exaggerating! But you know what I mean. And as
well as the City I've been to the Country, and what could be more of a
contrast. All that oxygen! It really makes you feel like a new person.
All those fields, forests, lakes and things. And so much of it. If I
didn't like city life so much, I'd live there! What do you think?"
"There's rather too much Country for me to be sure where I'd
particularly choose to live," I admitted. "I'm sure it would be very
"And cheap as well! I felt like a blooming millionaire. I could just
pick up a bit of cash here or in the City, working as a waitress or
something, and spend most of the year in a little cottage by a lake or in
the mountains or by the sea. I'd be able to live like a queen, as long as
I'd be able to go back and earn a bit more. On the other hand, there's so
little to do. The Suburbs may be dull, but so too is the Country! It's a
dashed size more pretty and a heck of a lot more restful, but what do you
do in the evenings? Some parts of the Country just haven't experienced
civilised life at all. Heaven only knows which century they belong to.
Still in the eleventh century. And I don't know whether that's anno domini
or not. But if there's anywhere I'd never live, however much you paid me,
and that's that horrible borough of Divinity. Wasn't it dreadful!"
"It wasn't very friendly," I admitted, remembering the unwelcoming way
in which Anna had been treated.
She smiled sadly, picked up a cup in her hands and raised it to her lips
as the single golden bangle slipped down her bare black wrist. "That's
putting it jolly mildly. It was the most unfriendly place I've ever
visited! I've still got that pamphlet they threw at me. Friends of mine
in Baldam just can't believe there are people like that. It's only a
couple of days since I was there, and I'm still jolly relieved I got out.
Those humourless religious fanatics. They must lead the most dreadful
lives! If they didn't like me for being a black woman, the dickens only
knows what they'd think of the waiter there," she indicated the bull who
was idly standing at the bar with a cigarette in his mouth, "and as for
those snakes at the table over there! Well! I've heard about the snake in
the Garden of Eden. They'd probably just skin them alive if they ever saw
them, don't you think?"
"You may be right," I admitted. "They had a very low opinion of all
"And some lower than others, I bet!" Anna shook her head and sipped
thoughtfully from her cup. An earring rang hollowly against the cup as she
leaned forward. "Well, now we're in Lambdeth. My home town! What do you
think of it?"
"I've only just arrived. I've only seen the railway station."
"Pretty impressive, isn't it! Almost as good as the ones in the City.
There are a few cinemas and even a night club on the premises. Baldam's a
really impressive borough. There's not just the university of course. The
borough spreads for miles. Much of it is suburban like where you come
from, but not nearly so deadly dull. There is a much larger range of
species represented for a start. And although some of the people there
commute every day to the City, as they do from the Suburbs, most of them
work in Lambdeth, which is quite a big city itself. Compared with the
City, it's jolly tiny; but there's enough of it to keep me jolly content.
It's got most of what you'd expect to find in the City, but on a smaller
scale. That suits me, I suppose. And most of my friends live here, of
course. Friends I've had since I was at school."
"Is its prosperity just based on the university?"
"I'm sure it jolly well helps. Some students are well off: bringing
their City money here and spending it like they were millionaires. But
it's not just the university. There are plenty of businesses based here,
and of course having such a good railway station it acts as a kind of
halfway house between the Country and the City. People from the Country
usually get no nearer to the City than here. And people from the City who
don't want straw in their hair or too much oxygen are quite happy to do
business with Country people in the business and industrial estates in the
borough. Not all of them come here by train, of course. The motorways
from the City to Baldam are very good, so you can drive here, do business
with Country people and not have to cope with those awful erratic,
unmetalled roads which criss-cross the Country and make travelling so
blinking uncomfortable. And then there's the cathedral. Quite an
important religious centre, apparently."
"What's that like?"
"It's absolutely flipping monstrous. Not as big as the cathedrals in
the City of course, but apparently more important. Pilgrims come from all
over. I gather there's a lot of dispute between all the different
religious groups as to which one has priority there, but you'd expect it
from that lot! They often have fights about who should worship when. Some
of them jolly violent! People have been killed, I gather. But most of the
time, the cathedral's a jolly serene place. I'm not religious, but I like
going there. I feel so tiny and insignificant under its dome.
And although the organ music's a bit slow, it's flipping loud! I just love
the statues and stained glass windows, although there are always religious
fanatics that try breaking them down or destroying them."
"Why do they do that?"
Anna shook her head. "Don't ask me! I'll never be able to understand
these people. Some religious people, however, go dool alley over the icons
and things. They light candles, bash their foreheads and go into raptures.
Others think it's all idolatry and blasphemy. What can you say about such
At that moment, the waiter returned to our table carrying our orders on
a cleverly designed tray. The food was piping hot, looked edible but
unidentifiable. Anna and I took our plates off the tray with the gloves
provided and placed them on the table mats in front of us. I looked at my
serving a little uncertainly, but Anna had no reservation in tucking into
"It's lovely!" she exclaimed, her face distorted by a bulge of food in
her cheek. "You'll love it!"
I tucked in hesitantly, and found it very tasty if a little rich.
However after so many exotic meals recently it didn't take long until I was
eating with the same relish as Anna. A bottle of house wine was also
added to the bill, after Anna had succeeded in attracting the waiter's
attention. She poured me a glass and raising hers she prompted me with a
I picked up my glass and sipped it, while Anna gazed at me. "You don't
seem to me a person who's left the Suburbs much at all in your life. So
what are you doing here in Lambdeth?"
Lubricated by the wine and food, my tongue prattled on about my search
for the Truth and the different advice I'd had: from the very hostile in
Divinity to the relatively enthusiastic. I confessed that it was only a
small minority who'd extended any encouragement.
"I'm jolly well afraid that I'm not one of those. It seems a jolly
silly idea to me. I just can't see any blinking point to it. After all,
is the Truth going to feed anyone?" She raised another forkful of
unidentifiable mush to her mouth, and chewing it continued to speak:
"There's so much famine and starvation in this world. Millions who haven't
got enough to eat. I know! I've seen it on telly. All those swollen
tummies and sunken cheeks." She put her forefinger and thumb into her mouth
to remove a very stringy strand of something from between her teeth. "And
if you can't eat it, what are you going to do with it? Put it in a museum
and look at it, maybe? That won't make anyone any happier."
"Those who are searching for the Truth will be happier when it's been
"Don't be so sure! Most people will be jolly disappointed when they
find the Truth is nothing like what they thought it was. Well, it's got to
be! There are so many different ideas of what the Truth is! And
personally I think the Truth's going to upset plenty of people who've never
ever considered looking for it. It's only my opinion mind, but the Truth
is going to make everyone feel rather desolate. I think the universe will
just seem a jolly sight more unfriendly and purposeless than it does now.
Every new thing they find out about does make it seem a lot more
discomfiting, don't you think? Black holes. Polydimensional superstrings.
Curved time. Uncertainty principles. Doesn't it just make you shiver?"
"Surely knowing that for sure will affect how people behave?"
"I don't flipping believe it! Too many people like to think whatever
they like whatever you say to them. Tell them it's day and they'll say
it's night. Tell them that one and one make two, and they'll insist it
makes three. The Truth might be there - undeniable and incontrovertible -
but there'll still be people who'll say the world is flat, that the moon is
made of green cheese and that pigs can fly. I know! I know! There are
pigs that can fly, but only the ones with wings. And they're not proper
Anna chewed thoughtfully on another forkful of food, and washed it down
with a sip of wine. She smiled at me. "Come! Don't look so downcast!"
she remarked patting the back of my hand. "You do what you like. Don't be
put off by me! If I were you, and I were searching for it, I'd take my
trusty sword and vorpal blade and head off to the City. If there's
anywhere you'd find anything, it'd be there, rather than in a much smaller
place like this!"
"Do you think so?"
"Oh! I'm certain! Pay your fare at that kiosk there and get a one-way
ticket to the City. It'll be expensive mind you: and that's just the cost
of getting there. But you've got to visit the City once in your life! And
your jolly little quest seems the ideal excuse."
"What's the City like?"
"Didn't we chat about the City in the Suburbs? But there the City
seemed such a distant and unreal place. Even here, it seems pretty much
unbelievable! It's quite simply the most jolly exciting place there could
possibly be! The social life! Ooh!" She splayed her hand dramatically to
emphasise her wonderment. "It's everything you could possibly want!
Everything! They have these weekly listings magazines saying what's going
on: the cinemas, theatres, night clubs, opera houses, art galleries,
museums! Everything! You couldn't see and do everything you wanted in a
whole lifetime in the City. If you've got the money then the City is just
one incredible round of socialising. You get to see the world's most
famous artists, musicians, writers, politicians, celebrities. There are
enormous hospitals. Monstrous airports. And the roads! You just can't
believe that there could be so many cars in the world. And although the
roads are so wide, there's still not enough space for the cars. They
positively crawl along. Often, it's quicker to walk than drive. But there
are excellent underground railways. They take you everywhere, from the
night-clubs and restaurants deep in long sinuous tunnels beneath the
City to the views at the top of gargantuan buildings hundreds of feet high.
When you stand in the street and bend your head back you can only just see
the top of them! Doesn't it sound jolly exciting!"
"It does indeed," I admitted. Perhaps Anna was right. Perhaps a place
with so much happening was exactly where I should be heading.
"I get such a flipping buzz from the City!" Anna enthused, mounting the
last shreds of food onto her fork and pushing it into her mouth. She
looked sadly at her now bare plate, holding her glass in one hand and a
napkin in the other. She glanced around the cafe, at the snakes still
chatting on one table and the waiter who leaned rather heavily against the
till which was attended by a Australopithecus wearing heavy make-up
over her face. "Some of the people here: I'm sure they're from the City.
But usually you just can't tell. There's just everyone in the City! All
sorts. Prostitutes. Gangsters. Millionaires. Royalty. Her Maphrodite
as well, of course. The seat of government, commerce, culture, depravity,
vice, virtue and literature. You name it. It's there! And so many
people! So many millions and millions of people! Running backwards and
forwards. To and fro. Hither and thither. Everywhere. If you think
there's action here in Lambdeth (and after the Suburbs I'm flipping sure
you do!) in the City you'll think this place is just dead."
I was still rather impressed by the grandeur and scale of Lambdeth
Central. It was difficult to believe that there were really buildings
which could truly dwarf this place.
"And after the Suburbs! My dear! So dull! The City is probably just
the excitement you need in your life. It's all the excitement you'll ever
need! I'm not saying the streets are paved with gold. Well, not all the
streets, anyway. But there's money to be got. Things to do. Things to
see. Okay! It's flipping expensive. The tiniest, dingiest little bedsit
will cost you an absolute fortune. It's a Lambdeth salary to get a seat in
the Opera Houses. Some restaurants will charge you more for the grubbiest,
meanest piece of celery than Uncle Joe's will charge us for an entire meal.
But if you're earning in the City, then, believe me, there's money to be
made. And real money. Millions and millions of guineas! So, if I were
you, I'd head straight off now. Don't bother with tiny little university
city Lambdeth. Go where the real life is! Head to the City! Make a
fortune! See and do everything you ever wanted."
"You make it sound very impressive!" I remarked, finally finishing my
Anna picked up her glass and gazed through the cafe window at the hustle
and bustle outside in the station. Even though the rush hour had finished
there was enough activity to persuade the shops to stay open into the
evening. There were some bullocks in university gowns running by. A
chameleon was shifting to match the kaleidoscope of colour given off by the
lights of a gramophone record store. Then I saw a more familiar figure
stroll by, looking through the shop windows with an expression of intense
curiosity. It was the still naked figure of Beta with her long hair
trailing behind her and the soles of her feet conspicuously blackened by
the station floor dirt. She frowned while looking through the window of
Big Frank's Frankfurters, paused briefly and then stared directly at me
through the window of Uncle Joe's. It was evident that she recognised me,
but was somewhat hesitant that I recognised her. I smiled at her. She
"You see someone you know?" wondered Anna turning her head round. "Oh!
What a sweet girl! She must be from the Country dressed like that. Her
hair! So unfashionable! Invite her in!"
Before I had a chance to do anything myself, she beckoned Beta to enter
the cafe. She pushed open the glass door and strode in. "I didn't know
you were going to Lambdeth," she declared as she sat next to me. "I
thought it was just Gotesdene you were going to. And who's your friend?"
I introduced the two women to each other, and explained how I had met
Anna in many different places. "It's very odd," I remarked.
"Oh, I don't know! I'm always meeting the same people all over the
blinking place!" Anna remarked. "You do when you travel. But tell me,
Beta, what's brought you so far from the Country? It is the Country you
come from, isn't it?"
"Well, yes. Everyone seems to guess that here," Beta laughed. "It's my
brother Bacon. He's enrolled at a here. He thinks it's better to
be a student in Lambdeth than stay in the Village."
"I don't imagine you have many colleges where you come from."
"There are a few but they're all such a long way from home. But this is
even further. Much further. It's so busy here! And so many people! You
could spend all day walking up and down the main roads and not meet anyone
"If you think this is busy, Beta, you should visit the City. I've just
been telling your friend here how jolly super the place is. It's to
Lambdeth what Lambdeth is to the Village!"
Beta smiled sceptically. "I can't believe the City is much bigger or
more crowded than this. How can it be?"
"It can. And if you don't believe me you ought to go there and find out
for yourself. In fact, I've just been trying to persuade this here to go there on his search for the Truth."
"Is that so?" marvelled Beta with a warm friendly smile. "That sounds a
wonderful thing to do! Do you think you'll find it there?"
"I don't know," I confessed. "Anna says if it's anywhere, it'll be
"Of course, it is. No doubt about it! But, Beta, what have you been
doing in Lambdeth? Have you been here long?"
"Only a couple of days. Just long enough to see that Bacon, my brother,
was happy in his digs and that he could find his way about. I've met some
of the other students on his course, visited the cathedral, looked at the
university, and just got to know the city."
"So what do you think of my home town?"
"I like it," Beta enthused thoughtfully. "I don't know that I'd want to
live here permanently, mind, but it's what Bacon wants and I'd love to
visit him here again. Even if he is argumentative!" She smiled to remind
me of his conversation on the train to Gotesdene.
"Argumentative?" wondered Anna, leaning forward.
"Oh, he just thinks everything modern is good and everything traditional
is bad. That's why he's come here. To get away from a traditional way of
"Tradition! You can't get away from it here any more than you can in
the Country. Or for that matter in the City. It's everywhere. The
cathedral's tradition. The university's tradition. I imagine what your
brother wants is a place where there's a modern world as well as the
traditional, but even the modern world has a history. It didn't spring
from thin air, you know!"
"I'm not sure I'm that keen on the modern world, really. It's very
exciting, though. I like all the shops and the concrete and steel
buildings. But the roads are terribly congested and the air's so filthy. I
just long for fresh air on my skin again."
"Where are you going now?" I asked.
"I was thinking of going home. That's why I'm at the station. But I'm
not really in such a big hurry to return to the Village. Being so far away
is such a treat. I'd love to see more of the world."
"Go to the City then. See what the real modern world is like."
"I'd like to, Anna, but I'm frightened of going by myself. I'm sure
people will take advantage of the fact that I'm a Country girl. Even here
I feel really out of place. People ogle me and treat me as if I were
stupid. It must be worse in the City."
"Oh! There's flipping everyone in the City! No one would look at you
twice, not with the range of species, nationalities and cultures crammed
into the place. I'd give it a try if I were you."
Beta stared at the waiting trains. "It is very tempting! I just don't
"Well, don't take too long to make your mind up. Look! I'll settle the
bill and be off now. I'm meeting some friends of mine. I don't know what
we'll do, but I'm sure it'll be fun."
"Surely I should pay," I protested.
"Don't be silly! If you're going to the City you'll need all the
flipping money you have. No, you two stay here and finish the wine.
There's still a glass or two left!" Anna attracted the bull's attention
with the flash of a plastic card embellished by the holographic image of
her face dancing on the surface. He compared the holograph with the real
thing, and then slid the card through a reading device he carried in his
hand which flashed up the digits £79 19/9d: a sum of money considerably
greater than I'd anticipated. Anna's face showed no expression, though
Beta's flashed with alarm.
Anna stood up, kissed me tenderly on the cheeks and then hurried out
into the station foyer and off into the distance. Beta sidled round to the
other side of the table.
"Seventy Nine Pounds Nineteen Shillings and Nine pence!" she gasped.
"More than Seventy Five Guineas! A meal and a bottle of wine would cost
less than a groat in the Village. If there were any restaurants there, of
course." She smiled back at me. "But it's wonderful to see a friendly face
again! I was terribly afraid of being all alone in this place. It's so
frightening and intimidating!"
Beta poured wine into an empty glass and sipped it while staring
thoughtfully at the station. "If there are all sorts in the City, what
sorts could there be that aren't in this place. I just didn't believe
there was such variety on even the whole planet. What do you think?"
"I haven't ventured out of the railway station yet," I admitted.
"You haven't? You can't have been here very long! You ought to at
least see the cathedral if you ever get the chance. It's absolutely
colossal! It's quite the biggest thing I've ever seen! The church in the
Village could fit inside and there'd be of space above and around it.
And such a lot of people there. You wouldn't believe there were so many
religious types about. Some wore brightly coloured clothes, shaking bowls
of incense and chanting. Some were bowing right down to the ground,
covering their clothes with dirt, and wailing. Some just sat around
trembling and shaking as if in some kind of a fit. There were a few
visitors like me, really not at all bothered to pray or chant or anything
like that, admiring the icons, the tombstones and all the little chapels
dedicated to different Saints. There are shops and stalls where you can
buy rosaries, beads, postcards, books and fluffy toys. There are several
model sets of the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve and a vicious looking
snake wrapped round an apple tree. There are fluffy models of asses and a
scale of the golden calf. Are there cathedrals or churches like that
in the Suburbs?"
"Nothing like that at all. Most of the churches are neglected and in
danger of falling down. Religion isn't that popular in the Suburbs,
although a few sects ring the doorbell to ask for contributions."
"Religion's still very important in the Village. We often receive
itinerant preachers and all the villagers come out to hear them preach.
With only one television in the whole Village, it's quite a treat. The
preachers can be quite fanatic, talking about hell and damnation, fire and
brimstone, but none as fanatic as a really horrid group of pilgrims I met
in the cathedral. I hope I never meet them again!"
"What was so bad about them?"
Beta frowned as she recalled the encounter. "They were so abusive. It
was by this chapel dedicated to Saint Renè Descartes. I hadn't even known
the philosopher had been sanctified and to be honest I don't believe he was
that for leading a religious life. But there it was: in a dark
corner of the cathedral just by this painting of the Lord Krishna on a
white cow (and I've no idea what that was doing there!) And in the chapel
were nearly a dozen in dark cloaks with hoods that completely covered
their faces. It looked rather spooky so I just stood there and stared as
they bowed and prayed silently in front of this very plain altar decorated
only by a gruesome image of Christ on the Cross.
"One of them noticed me, and he and three of his companions approached
me. They weren't at all polite. They told me I should be thoroughly
ashamed of myself in shaming consecrated ground by dressing so immodestly.
Indeed wearing nothing at all. They told me I was a shameless harlot and a
whore who should shave off my hair, which they said was nothing better than
blasphemous vanity, and cover every inch of my shameless flesh. Well, I
know that in Lambdeth there aren't many people who dress like me, but in
the Village nobody wears clothes. It's just not thought necessary. Nobody
had ever accused me of being a prostitute before and no one in Lambdeth has
been nearly as rude. In fact, nakedness and long hair were only two things
I was meant to be ashamed of. I was sinning by even being out in public,
as these fanatics believe that all women should be locked out of sight for
good, so as not to tempt Good Christians away from the light. Have you
ever heard such nonsense?"
"I've heard opinions like that. Anna had stones thrown at her by people
"Had she? How horrid! But I'm sure these fanatics would have done the
same to me if they'd been allowed. And anyway I was far from the only
naked person in the cathedral. This pilgrim told me that even the smallest
display of flesh was considered sinful as it promoted lust and pride.
That's probably why they wear such clothes. He also said that even
modestly dressed women were an abomination. Honestly! If I'm an
abomination, what on earth isn't!" Beta looked at her half-empty glass with
concern. She brushed a lock of green hair off her face. "He told me that
my shamelessness had already condemned me to an eternity in hell and that
my soul could never be saved: however many prayers and confessions I made;
however penitent I was; however many pilgrimages and fasts I undertook. He
said that I would face an eternity in which my eyes would be carved out of
my face, mushed to a pulp and then reinserted. That I would be frozen to
temperatures marginally above absolute zero and that my limbs would congeal
in the intense cold. I would then be roasted, causing my hair to blaze, my
skin to blister and peel off, and my pubic hairs to flame in perpetual
agony. My body would be hung, drawn and quartered; and then reassembled to
begin again. Knives and spears would be thrust through every orifice of my
body transporting me to agony as my internal organs emerged at the end of
these instruments. I would be raped, ravaged, eaten and tortured forever
and ever. I would be hung by my extremities from great heights and then
dropped at great velocity. Have you ever heard such an obscene list of
"How did you get away?"
"I was terrified. I was just rooted to the spot and couldn't move, as
these pilgrims went on and on: tormenting me by recounting all the horrid
things that would happen. How I would be sawn in half by blunt saws. How
I would be forced to eat my own entrails. But a priest, a bull with a tall
hat and golden gown, told them to leave me alone or be expelled from the
cathedral. He was very stern. How can people be so beastly! I reckon
that if they had their way they wouldn't wait until I was condemned to
hell, but would start subjecting me to all those horrid tortures in this
life. I didn't believe Christians were supposed to feel so much hatred."
Beta was clearly distressed by the incident. She cupped her hands round
her now empty glass and stared into it. A lock of hair gradually released
itself from behind her ear and flopped down over her face, but she made no
effort to replace it. She looked up with wide blue eyes. "But the rest of
the cathedral was lovely. You really ought to visit it."
"I'd like to, but at the moment I'm undecided whether to stay in
Lambdeth or to follow Anna's advice and go to the City."
"Oh yes! I remember now. You're on a quest for the Truth, aren't you?
All I can say is that I didn't see any sign of it. If there's anywhere in
Lambdeth you'd expect to find the Truth it'd be the cathedral. And I
didn't see it there. Anna's probably quite right. The City's a much more
likely place to find the Truth. Anyway, how is your quest? Have you got a
better idea of what it is and where it might be?"
"Not really. I've been given a lot of advice, but it's all been
contradictory. In fact, some people have said the Truth doesn't exist.
And others have said that the Truth might exist but that I couldn't
possibly find it."
Beta smiled sympathetically, looking directly into my eyes. "I'm sure
your quest is a good thing. It sounds so good and noble. I'm sure there
can't be a better one. Don't be disheartened! It's exactly the sort of
thing I'd like to do."
Beta frowned in self-reflection. "Well, yes it is!" she answered
positively. "Yes, I think it may well be. And now I'm here, so far from
the Village and not really expected back at any particular time, it seems
especially tempting. The Truth! What quest could be better than that?
And even if I weren't to find it, there wouldn't be any harm in having
tried." She smiled at me thoughtfully. "Perhaps I ought to go with you to
the City and look with you there. What do you think?"
This proposal was totally unexpected. "It sounds a very good idea," I
spluttered in reply. "Very good. I'm sure two people would have twice as
much chance of success as one."
"Although if there's no chance of finding the Truth at all then we'd
still not find it," remarked Beta with a grin. "Yes, now I think of it: a
search like that would be very exciting. We could meet some really
interesting people. Heroes striving out to do battle against evil and in
pursuit of good. Across dry, dusty plains. Over windswept barren hills.
Through dense jungle. Along the crowded, busy streets of the City. I
can see myself peering out to the horizon, scanning in all directions to
see if the Truth is in the East or the West, the North or the South. We
could meet knights errant, lost princesses, buried treasure, and who knows
what else! It sounds very exciting!" Beta's wide-open eyes sparkled with
the illumination of her imagination.
"It hasn't been nearly as exhilarating as that," I remarked, ruefully
recalling an uncomfortable night's sleep in the open air. "But I have seen
some interesting places I'd probably never have visited otherwise."
"Well, that sounds exciting enough. There's so much more in this
country than a life in the Village would suggest. Or even one spent in the
Suburbs, I imagine. Are they really as tidy and well-organised as they
say, with litter-bins on alternate lamp- posts and trees lining all the
roads? Do all the houses have lawns, garages and security lights?"
"Yes, it's true."
"It sounds so tranquil and restful. And not a trace of poverty!" She
slid out of her seat and stood up beside me, watched by the indolent gaze
of the waiter. "Come on, then! Let's head for the City before it gets any
darker. With any luck we might find the Truth before night falls."
I swiftly swallowed the rest of my wine and followed Beta out of Uncle
Joe's, across the station foyer to the ticket kiosks signposted in several
languages and went to one of the clear glass cubicles advertised by the
word City. Another glass cubicle proclaimed the word Suburbs and I felt
some trepidation in not buying a ticket to take me back to the comfort and
security of home. Some of the other ticket kiosks were somewhat more
shabby and were for an itinerary of destinations in the Country that I'd
never heard of. A few people were ahead of us in the queue, but we
patiently waited our turn, while Beta excitedly speculated about what the
City had to offer. The ticket attendant, a cobra with a peaked hat, was
surprised that neither Beta nor I had any credit cards, but he accepted a
cheque which he slid it into a machine and asked me to sign a sheet of
clear plastic card on the counter. As I wrote, my signature was embossed
onto the cheque and the figure of £111 1/2d was inserted.
"Surely it's not that far to the City!" Beta gasped.
"Special evening one-way concessions," the attendant hissed amiably.
"Two for the price of one. Enjoy your visit to the City!"
The train we boarded was a very large fast train that purred gently as
we entered. The doors opened automatically as it sensed our approach and a
small platform extended out and down to assist our entry. An illuminated
floor-plan greeted us to show us which seats were currently unoccupied,
with a little sign that read: 'To reserve your seat, please leave something
behind so the seat can sense your continued presence'. We sat facing each
other on two very comfortable seats and gazed at the hubbub of activity on
the platform as trolley-loads of mail were loaded onto the train by busy
little robots assisted by porters who were dashing up and down with
hand-held computers. The train's engine abruptly changed its note and an
announcement, first in English and then in several other languages,
informed us that the train was now about to leave. There then emitted a
warning siren, a thud as doors were secured and the train eased out of the
station with barely any more noise than when it was stationery.
We couldn't see more than the lights from office-windows and lamp-posts
as the train sped on, but we could sense that it was getting progressively
faster. The landmarks we passed - small railway stations, automatic signal
boxes, overhead cables, weather indicators - sped by in progressively less
time. It was too dark to enjoy very much scenery, so we chatted together.
It was less than an hour later when the train drew into the City. It
smoothly decelerated from its earlier rapidity and we were at last able to
distinguish the lights that sped by.
It was just before midnight and we had arrived in the City with nowhere
to stay. This prospect would normally have terrified me, but I was
comforted by no longer being alone. We disembarked and travelled along a
series of walkways and escalators past other trains until we came to a
series of waiting rooms, shops, restaurants, newsagents, cinemas and cafes.
Everything was lit by bright unforgiving neon reflected on smooth tiled
"What do we do now?" Beta asked. The City wasn't at all a friendly
place to be this late at night. All sorts of sinister looking figures were
lurking around the shadows of the station. Pigeons looked down at us from
above, seeming to laugh at innocents like us arriving so unprepared.
Everyone else seemed to know exactly where they were going. No one else
seemed to be in our dilemma.
"I don't know," I admitted unhappily. "Find somewhere to sleep, I
We were too tired and disorientated to know where to go. We walked
aimlessly around the City station following misleading signs. After
several minutes of fruitless wandering, we resigned ourselves to spending
the night in a waiting room, only to find that others had made the same
choice. We drifted in to lie on the padded plastic seats that seemed so
welcoming at this late hour. There was a bull slumped against a column; an
eagle on the floor under a chair clasping a can of beer in his wing; a
python slumped unsteadily over several steel-framed chairs; and a
struthiomimus slumbering on another set of seats, head drooped over his
chest. It was not going to be a pleasant night's sleep, particularly as
the bright neon glare from the ceiling showed no evidence of being dimmed
during the night, and knowing that not all passengers would necessarily
view the waiting room as a place to sleep. I chose a padded seat
relatively close to the door, whilst another seat just opposite was chosen
Morning was heralded by a cacophony of platform announcements, the
flutter of circling pigeons and the hiss of the python chatting to the
struthiomimus. I looked across the tiled floor at Beta lying spread across
her seat, head resting on her arm and eyes that were wide open and staring
"I thought you were never going to wake up!" She said with a mocking
smile. She swung her body round, ran her fingers through the long tangles
of her green hair and rested her feet on the floor. "It's getting ever so
much busier now!"
Although in the tedious hours of the night, I had longed for morning to
arrive while listening to Beta's gentle breathing and the distant sound of
unidentifiable machines, the seat now had never seemed more comfortable nor
the prospect of continued sleep more welcoming. Nevertheless I prised open
my eyes and tried to focus more clearly in the bright neon light that had
never dimmed at all, although there was enough natural light streaming
through the windows for it to be superfluous. "What do we do now?"
"Let's see more of the City!" announced Beta jumping up and frowning at
my recumbent figure. My tongue tasted the sour rawness of my mouth and my
fingers carefully detached small grains from the corner of my eyes, while
just behind my forehead a persistent thud was commanding me back to sleep.
However, I knew there was no prospect of that, regarding the commuters
sitting around with their business suits and rolled umbrellas. I followed
Beta as she pushed open the glass door to the waiting room and confronted a
greater density of people running backwards and forwards than I had ever
seen before. I was pressed against the wall by this whirl of activity,
anxious of losing sight of Beta who strode ahead fearlessly.
The jostling flow of commuters, - many no doubt coming from the Suburbs,
- marched forward in determined haste towards the signposted underground
stations and bus stops. Watches were glanced at, newspapers tucked under
arms, tickets stuffed back into wallets and eyes set dead ahead with
contempt for all distraction. Beta preceded me through the tall portals of
the railway station, past newspaper vendors yelling in staggered unison
"Latest Election News!" and "Election Latest!" I dashed after her and
caught up with her outside where she stood unabashed and unembarrassed
staring around her.
The City was all that I'd imagined it being and more. All around and
towering high above were the tallest buildings I could imagine. A narrow
corridor of blue sky ran parallel to the road below. People bustled by in
two streams of motion on the wide pavements, separated by a slow, nearly
stationary, procession of buses, taxis, lorries and cars. Above and
passing between and through the tall buildings were monorail tracks from
which trains were hanging and standing commuters stared at the pavements
below. At street level, shop windows were displaying clothes, electrical
goods, robotics, leisure facilities, foreign holidays, luxury lets and
anything else that someone with substantially more money than I could
afford. Dotting the pavement were advertising boards, bus-stops, litter
bins and traffic lights.
"I just can't believe it! I just can't believe it!" Uttered Beta again
and again as she surveyed the scenery. "And this is just a tiny corner of
the City! How can there be so much? So many! So ... oops!" A pair of
diatrymas jostled past her and caused her to fall forward slightly. I
caught her by the arm before she was trampled underfoot.
"Let's get out of here," I suggested.
"Anywhere. Somewhere not by the station. It's bound to be busy here."
I looked at a signpost illuminated by a stick figure with a purposeful
stride. "How about Her Maphrodite's Royal Palace?"
Beta agreed. We followed a stream of commuters, at the same rapid pace,
dodging the feet of the odd beggar or other figure sprawled out in front of
the shops, and constantly in danger of being knocked down and under the
crowd ourselves. All we could see, smell or hear were the backs of
commuters ahead of us and the fumes and noise of the impatient traffic.
Eventually, the push of the crowd lessened and we were in a much quieter
area adorned by but no less splendid buildings. The skyscrapers and attendant monorails were supplanted by palaces and town
houses circumscribed by high walls, towering railings and tall trees.
"Let's stop!" commanded Beta breathlessly, pausing by an elm tree and a
pair of peacocks chatting to a couple of anacondas. She gazed through the
railings of a majestic building guarded by soldiers in blue uniforms and
bearskin hats, who were marching with eccentrically held rifles. As they
approached each other from opposing directions they performed a pantomime
with their rifles, spun around and marched back in the direction from which
they had come.
Most of the people in this district were carrying cameras and wearing
tee-shirts emblazoned with such words as I ? The City. The building that
was the object of their attention and the focus of their cameras was an
architectural montage of styles from every period imaginable. Corinthian
arches, Palladian pillars, round domes and grandiose glass windows framed
by magnificent velvet curtains. All of this was beyond high golden
railings, forbidding guards, several furlongs of concrete and ornate lawn,
and a towering row of flag staffs with the blue, and green standards of
several nations waving slightly in the breeze.
"Doesn't this make you feel proud to belong to this country?" commented
one of the pair of peacocks standing by us, a videocamera strapped around
his neck. "Don't you just feel awed by it all?"
"It's very impressive!" admitted Beta. "Do you think Her Maphrodite
might be in residence?"
"On the day of a General Election? Of course!" Enthused the peacock.
"Someone's got to be on hand to give the new Prime Minister constitutional
authority. Where would we be without Her Maphrodite? It just makes my
feathers preen!" He splayed out his orange-eyed feathers. "I just feel
sorry for foreigners. They are so deprived. They don't have a monarch to
look up to as we do. No wonder they envy us so much and clamour to
immigrate in such vast numbers!"
"Is it possible to approach any closer?" Wondered Beta, grasping the
railings in her hands.
"For the likes of us, of course not! Royalty have to stay apart from
the mass of ordinary people. It wouldn't do to mix their blue blood with
the debased genes of commoners! They're over there. And we're over here.
And that's the way it has to be!"
"I see" contemplated Beta. "Are they really so much better than us?"
"Someone has to be. And royalty have more entitlement than anyone
The peacocks returned to their serpentine companions who were wrapping
themselves around an ash tree and lifting themselves as high as they could
to get a better view of the palace grounds and the stiffly marching
soldiers. Beta and I stood against the cold iron bars with the crush of
tourists behind us and the broad empty space ahead, in which the soldiers
performed their unchanging rituals and the flags gently fluttered.
We left the palace and the tourists who, even this early in the morning,
were amassing in increasing numbers to glimpse at this world of privilege.
We drifted into a precinct of magnificent shops where people in fur coats,
jewellery, pearls and gold watches strolled by in total indifference to the
majority of the population who were admiring goods they could never afford
through massively plate glass windows. I certainly couldn't afford
the ten thousand guinea suits, the ten million guinea watches, the five
hundred guinea silk ties, the four hundred guinea packages of caviar,
chocolates or game fowl, the cars in excess of two million guineas and
quite modest portraits at several hundreds of millions of guineas. These
numbers, with their long string of zeroes, were shocking to me, but even
more so to Beta.
"Even the newspapers cost more than five guineas!" she exclaimed. "In
the Village, a newspaper costs less than a groat! How can people afford
"I imagine they must earn more money in the City," I remarked, but still
awed at the cost of a bar of chocolate at three guineas, a packet of
cigarettes at thirty guineas and cassettes at nearly two hundred guineas.
"But how much do you have to earn to be able to afford what some of
these people have!" Beta exclaimed, indicating some rather fat in
opulent and ostentatious clothes. One was smoking from a cigar nearly
as long as his forearm and disdainfully flicked ash over a boa constrictor
sitting by a cardboard sign which read in scrawling biro: Cold & Hungry!
Please Help! The snake squirmed to avoid the ash. "Did you see how much
one of those fur coats cost? It would feed the Village for hundreds of
years! Where does all this wealth come from?"
The answer to Beta's question was perhaps provided after we had walked
beyond the expensive shops; the hotels guarded by smart looking security
guards in anachronistic uniforms; the Rolls-Royces, Bentleys and golden
carriages parked outside lavish buildings; and the women sporting luxurious
fur coats and snakeskin handbags. Tall buildings reappeared, but taller
than ever: marble, concrete and glass towering higher and higher. At the
top, eagles and condors circled on the up-draughts from the slow-moving
traffic below. The buildings had large plaques outside, often set in small
grass plots adorned by statues of both modern and antique origin. The
names gave me no doubt that this was where in the City there was most
wealth: the Country and City First Agricultural Bank, the National &
Provincial Assurance Society and the Bank of the New Canine Republics.
Each building housed a bank, an insurance company, an investment group or
other financial institution. Although only the reflection of other
buildings could be seen through the glass windows, I imagined rows upon
rows of clerks and computer screens, frantically ringing telephones and
stock brokers frenziedly shouting at each other as trillions of guineas
were exchanged across international time zones and between other financial
centres. Beta was very impressed by my suppositions.
"I've just never thoug