There comes a time in life when some people discover that they can no longer continue in the career that has supported them so far. The rooftop burglar finds that his knees have taken too much damage from ridge tiles and tilting fillets. The man-at-arms discovers that he can no longer vault onto the back of his destrier when in full armour and has to be lifted with a crane, like a sack of meal. The politically inclined sinecurist discovers that he has finally exhausted the patience of his partisan cronies and steps down from the limelight, his credibility finally run out. They all move to the next phase of their lives, genteel retirement, funded by the wise investments they have made in the course of their long and occasionally lucrative careers.
Obviously this is unlikely to happen to a poet. For one thing, my depth of wisdom, my body of work, my mastery of techniques, all increase with age. For another thing, as I teeter permanently on the edge of penury, I have no funds put away to support such a retirement. But for some this isn’t an issue.
I was entertaining at the charming summer home of Madame Longwing when I chanced to glance out of the window. Now her house is on the family estate south of the Paraeba, and lies in that area which was at one time almost but not quite Partann, but at the same time was nearly, but not quite, in Port Naain. Eventually, administratively, and with the absolute minimum of fuss, Port Naain quietly annexed the area. This came as a surprise to the inhabitants who had assumed they lived in Port Naain all along.
Now nothing might have come of it, had it not been for the fact that our city has a small coterie of bureaucrats who find life a sore trial. Because we rely upon sinecurists organising things, such bureaucracy as the city does maintain finds itself pushed sideways into semi-irrelevance. In other times and in other places, bureaucrats can amass, with no real effort or justification, immense power and influence. If a document lacks a signature, if a date is unclear, of if lunchtime beckons and the desk has to be cleared, your paperwork can be dismissed as inadequate and cast back into your face. In some places even the most petty of officials can destroy lives and careers by the simple expedient of losing a document in the files and on the strength of this, refusing requests.
Can you imagine the frustration faced by our bureaucrats? Condemned to virtual irrelevance, largely ignored by much of the populace, they could only hope that one day they would get their day in the sun. With the administrative annexation of this area south of the estuary, they realised that day might have come. After all, this new area was not covered by the existing Sinecurist system. Immediately our bureaucracy set up an administration for ‘Trans-Paraeba.’ There were offices, regulations, licences and the full panoply of clerical supervision. They ran into problems immediately. Saskadil and Roskadil, the fiercely self-administered suburbs of Port Naain, south of the river, objected vociferously. They produced adequate evidence to prove that they were entitled to maintain their own systems of self-government and in the face of their fury (supported by many within the Council of Sinecurists) the bureaucracy had to back down. ‘Trans-Paraeba’ became instead, ‘Trans-Paraeba, not including Saskadil and Roskadil.’ Even this didn’t meet with approval, there are villages along the coast who also consider themselves to be part of Port Naain. They too found their advocates and the area shrank once more to become, ‘Trans-Paraeba, not including Saskadil, Roskadil; or the littoral villages, hamlets, farms, shrines and fanes.’
Whilst the area covered by the new administration shrank, the number of bureaucrats needed to administer it in point of fact increased. Initially the increase was justified with the argument that a new area with new boundaries needed staff to handle the mapping. The administration may indeed have been the first in history to keep land registers of areas it did not administer as a way to working out what area it did administer.
Now other than the expense of this new bureaucracy, which seemed to be mainly borne by the inhabitants of the area, there was also ‘the rules.’ It seems that once allowed out to play, the nascent administration imposed all those rules that it felt ought to be imposed on Port Naain as a whole. The idea may have been that the area acted as a proving ground for regulation.
Now this isn’t entirely unreasonable, but I have to ask, why would you impose a regulation forbidding people from stretching washing lines from house to house? Yes in Port Naain it might make sense, but in this area where it can be at least a five minute walk from one house to another, it verges on the fatuous.
But I seem to have drifted from the subject, or perhaps I have been diverted into providing necessary background. I was talking about the house I saw through the window of Madame Longwing’s house. As you can see, this house is a fine house. I was privileged later to entertain there and can vouch for the fact it is indeed impressive. It is laid out like a keep with the central tower being the house proper, and the various outbuildings surround it. Their outer walls are a tremendous thickness, their roofs are turf and there are scatter guns mounted in embrasures which are almost impossible to see from more than a few yards away.
The house was built by the Cavalier Qualan, the condottieri captain. Apparently as he grew older his lady wife insisted he campaign less and entertain more. Blessed with the wisdom of years he fell in with her wishes, purchased the land and started building. As you can see, between them, husband and wife certainly have an eye for a fine house. They employed the finest architects and builders.
Yet back to the view through the window. Madame Longwing had regularly complained to me about the restrictions imposed by the bureaucracy. When she explained about the neighbouring house, I asked if the Cavalier Qualan had had problems with bureaucracy.
“Oh no,” she replied, “He has an oubliette.”
Should you wish to learn more about Partann
As a reviewer commented, “Any story that contains immortal sayings like “I will merely point out that whilst the little ship did not lack ambience, it was an ambience that clung, and it took three washings before I could get it out of my shirts.” Is well worth reading.
Additionally, this tale refers to maps, missing gems, pie eating contests and even a marimba – what more could a reader want?”