Tribute paid to virtue


I once asked young mistress Mona Quinrohan how she came to write as she did, and I felt her explanation was worth recording. Whilst her father was adequately remunerated, she had sought employment. Her father regarded this with favour and suggested that rather than asking her to contribute to the family income from her wages, she save that proportion for some later date. Not only that but whilst she was no longer paid ‘a dress allowance’ her father did regularly give her cash to ‘put towards something nice.’ Whether this was clothes or books seemed to bother him not at all.

Hence being well read and nicely turned out she managed to find employment in the University. There she worked in some dark inner sanctum where accounts were balanced, strong letters were written to debtors and creditors were soothed with courtesy and occasional payments which held out hope of some final settling of the account.

Because this happened deep within the bowels of the establishment where no student was ever likely to venture, even by accident, the student body seems to have assumed that Mona was one of them. Thus they treated her with such civility as they habitually extended to their fellows, rather than with the casual disregard they kept for the lower orders forced to work for a living.

Now it chanced that Mona’s father was a Sinecurist. Not only did he fund a sinecure, (from memory it was something to do with keeping the river channel dredged) but he was also active in the Council of Sinecurists. Now whilst he never joined with any particular clique or faction, his opinion was often canvassed and his vote regularly sought. Thus many leading political figures from the Council would dine at their household, and ever since she was a child, her father had encouraged Mona to dine with them and even to ask questions.

Thus by the time she was in her teens Mona had a fair grasp of the city’s politics. She also had a fair grasp of the politicians. It was obvious to her that whilst they naturally formed into blocs which maintained a formal antagonism, in reality they were all largely people from the same background, were all persons of substance, and when in power tended to be pragmatic rather than dogmatic. The vague political principles they claimed to be guided by were respected, but not where they were irrelevant or clashed with the reality of the situation.

Thus she was surprised when she discussed politics with those who regarded her as a fellow student. They clung to the most doctrinaire beliefs. Indeed they sneered at anybody who wished to allow the reality of the situation inform their decisions, deriding them as a ‘sell-out.’

Still, rather than argue, she developed the technique of listening with an expression of rapt admiration. This, she discovered, encouraged the speakers into raptures of ever more extreme extrapolations of policy. Indeed if, in an excess of cynical exploitation of their madness, she clasped her hands together in apparent girlish enthusiasm, they would go so far as to explain their deepest thoughts. No matter which faction they were members of, their deepest held beliefs seemed identical. These beliefs were that only the true believers were safe with power. Those from opposing factions who opposed them were mad, venal, and depraved. When she asked them about the common people, she would be met with lofty explanations as to how such folk were not to be allowed anywhere near the levers of power as they could not be trusted to be guided by the wise, but instead they blindly followed the instructions of the aforementioned mad, venal and depraved. Thus it was necessary for them to be protected from themselves so that the wise could set the world to rights.

Obviously she pondered this and she noted a number of things. The first was that the less connected to reality the speaker was, the more extreme the politics. She also noted that the more extreme the political stance, the more politically irrelevant the speaker. She wasn’t sure whether this was some underlying political rule, or a side effect of the fact that the adults who were running things made sure to keep the excessively ideological away from any sort of influence.

She did attempt experiments of her own. Once or twice she would attend political meetings dressed more as a shop girl or junior clerk. On these occasions she tended to be ignored, patronised or propositioned. At other times she introduced into meetings people who claimed to be of immense wealth and vaguely appropriate political leanings. She marvelled at how they were fawned upon. This fawning lasted until the apparently wealthy individual had started to identify with one of the cliques present, at which point the others would immediately denigrate them. (But initially at least, behind their backs in case they came to their senses and put funding where it ought to go.)

It was on one fine afternoon, as she sat on the common at Roskadil, that she had her revelation. I don’t know whether you know the common, but it has fine views across the estuary to Port Naain. Mona was pondering her political contemporaries. She felt she had tried to understand them. She concluded that she now did and the process had not been particularly edifying. She felt that she had tried and failed to gently lead them back to a more balanced view of the world. It is then that she took her most welcome decision. She would write novels and satirise them in print. As she explained to me, “Whilst I cannot change them, at least in this way I can gain some small compensation for having to put up with them.”


Life is never simple in Port Naain


More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Meet a vengeful Lady Bountiful, an artist who smokes only the finest hallucinogenic lichens, and wonder at the audacity of the rogue who attempts to drown a poet! Indeed after reading this book you may never look at young boys and their dogs, onions, lumberjacks or usurers in quite the same way again.
A book that plumbs the depths of degradation, from murder to folk dancing, from the theft of pastry cooks to the playing of a bladder pipe in public.

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