Of Mammon, Methane and Mosque

by John M. Joyce (June 2010)


The county town of B____shire is an ancient settlement deep in the heart of rural England. In its medieval alleyways, Georgian streets and Victorian squares the customs and festivals of the shire are honoured year in and year out. No festival is more cherished for its oddity, more loved for its difference, than the show held in early autumn in the vastly spacious Agricultural Hall that occupies the centre of the magnificent nineteenth century Aboulia Place in the upper town. This particular show is unique to B____shire – it is the Royal B____shire Agricultural Association’s annual Vogelferret show.
 
The Vogelferret is a creature found in just a two places in Europe: B____shire and Ruritania. Correctly it is Mustela putorius furo subspecies legovolator, or, more plainly, the Hen Herding Ferret and it is used in both of its European homelands to help farmers gather in the one particular breed of foraging hen (Gallus gallus domesticus) which is popular in both places – the Giant Lakenfelder. The Giant Lakenfelder is the original Westphalian, Ruritanian and B____shire Tel Megiddo fowl and is unruly and difficult to keep unless the assistance of herding Vogelferrets is employed.
 
It is not known how the first century AD Jewish settlers of Westphalia, Ruritania and B____shire managed to bring the Tel Megiddo hens to Europe nor how they managed to breed the more common Silver Lackenfelders and the rarer Giant Lackenfelders from them, but it is indisputable that Vogelferrets must have been involved from the very start for otherwise the task would have been impossible. Vogelferrets, however, have one characteristic which obviously seemed of greater importance to our ancient Jewish ancestors than the details of their breeding programme – Vogelferrets flatulate constantly, and in a violently copious manner if startled! Every document in every archive, Jewish, Christian and pagan, records this fact whilst neglecting entirely to mention the breeding particulars of the Lackenfelder bloodline at all. Despite the Vogelferret’s charming character and cuddly good looks it is an animal that has to be kept in specially ventilated quarters and never admitted to the dwelling places of mankind and much Christian and Jewish folklore has grown up around the gaseous anal emissions of Vogelferrets.
 
However, enough of Vogelferrets, dear readers, although, as you will see, they will play a big part later on in this story of greed and corruption. In early spring, some months before the annual Vogelferret show, as the birds in the trees were billing and cooing and mazzards, urged on by mere zephyrs, were throwing wild festivals of flower petals across the verdant awakening countryside, Councillor Lady Onesta CcConstupator, Leader of B____shire County Council, was exceedingly worried. The papers spread over her desk by the Chief Executive to the Council quite clearly indicated that B____shire was on the verge of losing out on claiming many millions of pounds in funding from central government – funding that would be of great use for all sorts of projects in these straightened times. The stately, red-haired, blue-eyed, clear-skinned figure that was Lady Onesta fumed in a manner likely to set off the smoke alarms in her office.
 
“This is just so silly!” she exclaimed to the Chief Executive, frustration evident in her well-bred intonation, “You mean we are to lose out on millions of pounds because we are too ordinary?”
 
“Not really because we are too ordinary, your Ladyship, but because, according to the Ministry for County Affairs, we are not diverse enough, apparently,” Mr. Dominic Sceptrum, the Chief Executive, replied.
 
“But that’s quite, quite stupid of them. This is a very diverse County. I used to remark often on that very fact to my late lamented husband. ‘Dick,’ I used to say to him, ‘It is so nice living in B____shire for one meets all manner of people here from honest sons of the soil to tradesmen and the middling sort of folk as well’ and he always agreed with me – I could tell his grunt was quite clearly of agreement even though he had his face buried in The Times. I knew all his different grunts, don’t you know. We are definitely diverse. Why, we even have a Green Councillor – you know, that nice Mr. Madide who is always hic-coughing his way through meetings.”
 
The tall, thin and vaguely moustachioed Mr. Sceptrum privately thought that it would be a brave man who failed to agree with Her Ladyship in full flood, but he kept the thought to himself. It should be noted here, gentle readers, that Lady Onesta’s late husband was that well-known and much lamented local bigwig Lord Richard (Dick to his friends) Estrecho CcConstupator. The family fortune depends upon the mining of smooth aqueous lead paste from the deep mines in the north of the shire. The paste is the principal constituent of CcConstupator’s Genuine Elbow Grease (£4.99 per tin) which is absolutely guaranteed to take the stiffness out of the elbows of any coat or jacket thereby allowing the wearer better and smoother hand and arm movements. A similar product – CcConstupator’s Knees Up (£4.79 per tube) – is available for increasing the flexibility of trousers in critical situations.
 
“Lady Onesta, I think that the Ministry is referring to different races and religions rather than to the full spectrum of the social order that we are lucky enough to enjoy in this Shire. The Ministry obviously thinks that in its terms we are not diverse enough and has therefore decided that we are ineligible to apply for the monies.”
 
“But what does the Ministry base its assessment on?” Her Ladyship asked plaintively.
 
“On the decadal census returns,” Dominic replied.
 
“But they’re nine years old!” Lady Onesta exclaimed, “There’s a new census due next year.”
 
“Yes, I was coming to that. Our own Planning Department compiles intercensal statistics using sampling techniques. I’ve asked for the latest report to be sent over for you to look at. It might give us grounds for appeal. After all, B____shire must have changed just as the rest of Britain has during the last ten years – we must be stuffed full of diversity by now given how much of it our so-called Government has been letting into our country over the last several years.”
 
“Thank-you. That’s a good way forward. I’ll see what the figures say then I’ll put an enabling motion before the Council and get an appeal started. Securing the additional funds will be plain sailing.”
 
By some extraordinary and very strange definition of ‘plain sailing’ as it turned out; as you will see my much-appreciated readers.
 
***
 
Some days after her meeting with Mr. Sceptrum, Lady Onesta was to be found on her knees in the Church of St. Azide offering up a private prayer or two to God for the success of the shire’s appeal in the matter of the extra diversity funds. She was not sanguine about the outcome of the appeal for the intercensal reports had revealed that B____shire was home to a mere half-dozen Buddhists, two Jains, one hundred and fifty Zoroastrians and one hundred and twelve thousand seven hundred and eighty-six Christians (mostly Church of England). Crucially, there was absolutely no Muslims and Lady Onesta didn’t know whether to be glad or to cry about that fact. Some heartfelt prayers, she reasoned, would not go amiss at this juncture.
 
The Church of St. Azide the Parenthetical is a beautiful Saxon foundation overlaid with medieval embellishments and Victorian restorations and additions (the modern Rectory is by Staudinger and is built from waterproof starch bricks in the Makromolekule style). It stands on the opposite side of the road from, and just to the north of, the great east doors of the Agricultural Hall in Aboulia Place. Saint Azide himself was chiefly famous for resisting the temptation to be celibate – he fought, and won, a long battle with that – and also for being the only person who has ever lived who has been able to vocalise punctuational brackets in speech; although it has to be admitted that the Chairman of The Amalgamated Guilds of Cheese Painters and Sausage Skin Knitters, Mr. Caiphas O’Tang (a Chinese Jewish Irishman from Hong Kong who believes that Triads are divinely inspired and authorised by the Council of Nicea), comes very close to being able to do the same thing.
 
Beside the Church and immediately opposite the doors of the Hall was a small piece of Council owned waste ground which civic-minded volunteers had roughly formed into a small and attractive park. This had rapidly become the favourite phrontistery of Mr. Rurik Canardly, the newly appointed Director of Planning for B____shire. He happened to be wandering in this little bosky garden just as Lady Onesta rose from her devotions, left the Church and decided that she, too, needed the solace of verdure. As one would expect, she espied his blond, athletic form and determined to have conversation with him.
 
“You, you there, fellow,” Lady Onesta didn’t quite bellow, “Aren’t you the new Director of Planning?”
 
“Indeed I am,” replied Rurik Canardly rapidly closing the gap between them with outstretched arm ready for handshaking, “You must be Lady Onesta CcConstupator!”
 
“CcConstupator,” she replied firmly.
 
“CcConstupator,” he copied.
 
“Correct,” she affirmed, “The first and third ‘C’s are silent otherwise one sounds like one of Sir Hiram’s guns. Never mind all that, however, we have a problem.”
 
“The first and third ‘C’s; why not the first and second or the second and third?”
 
“Good heavens! That wouldn’t be very grammatical, or English come to that, would it?”
 
“Ah, yes, I see,” said Rurik, not really understanding at all, “Anyway, is there something wrong with the intercensal reports your office requested?”
 
“No – and you could say that that is the problem!” she replied, “If they’d been falsified to show what’s not here then they’d be wrong but useful. As it is they’re perfectly correct but useless.”
 
“Correct but useless?” he queried, “How come? What exactly did you want to find out from them?”
 
“I wanted to find out that we lived in a very diverse shire and that we would qualify for loads of extra loot from central government to help fund our various programmes. Instead, I find out that we are about as diverse a shire as porridge is a multi-grain breakfast dish. There are about four hundred and ninety non-native English people in the whole shire and only about one hundred and sixty of them aren’t Christian. Worse than that, however, much worse than that as far as our great Ministry for County Affairs is concerned there isn’t one single bloody Muslim and not the faintest trace of a Mosque – not even somebody’s front room doubling up as one. Not one! Not one single sodding Mosque; not a single one.”
 
A strained silence ensued.
 
“I’m so sorry,” Rurik finally said, “But there really is nothing I can do about the statistics. The fact of the matter is that B____shire is not very popular with immigrants, especially Muslim immigrants. That’s one of the reasons that I wanted to work here. In general, but with one or two notable exceptions, Muslims are not our sort of people, you know. Believe me, we’re better off without them even if the lack of a Mosque does mean that we miss out on millions.”
 
“The lack of one blasted, damned Mosque,” Lady Onesta said vehemently through gritted teeth, “Just one blasted.... damned...”
 
She tailed off into silence and stood in the small ad hoc park apparently gazing with rapt attention at a small flowering currant bush. The blameless bush shuddered slightly in the light breeze and seemed to Rurik to want to crawl behind a nearby ornamental flowering crab apple tree. He didn’t blame it for he, too, found Lady Onesta to be somewhat hard going.
 
“But that’s it!” she eventually exclaimed, “That’s the very thing to do!”
 
“What is?” Rurik asked her in some trepidation.
 
“We’ll build a Mosque and then when the Inspector comes to check us out as part of the appeal process I’ll hire the entire theatre Repertory Company to act as Muslims and put on some sort of show in the Mosque. In fact, we’ll build the Mosque right here in this park in the very centre of town. The Council already own the land and I’m sure that your Department will see the necessity of granting planning permission speedily. Right next to an ancient Christian Church it’ll all look very cosy and integrated and diverse. It’ll all work...”
 
“Hang on a minute, Lady Onesta,” Rurik interjected, “Even if that were a good idea and legal it just can’t be done. The Inspector from the Ministry will be here this autumn – just six months away – and a Mosque just couldn’t be designed and built on this site in such a short time.”
 
Lady Onesta was momentarily downcast. Then her eyes lit up and a small and impish smile crossed her lips.
 
“Where there’s a will there’s a way,” she said to Rurik, on which note she bade him good day and headed towards the County Buildings and her office at some considerable speed.
 
***
 
Just one week after his encounter in the park with Lady Onesta, Rurik Canardly was obliged to grant planning permission for a temporary ‘architectural sculpture’ that looked very much like a Mosque, to be built in that self-same park by Fallo Enterprises Ltd. – a small company wholly owned, as it turned out, by CcConstupator Private Holdings. The ‘sculpture’ was to grace the park for the autumn arts festival and was to be constructed from plastic covered reinforced cardboard. Sensibly, Rurik decided to keep his misgivings to himself.
 
***
 
The summer, for Lady Onesta, passed in the usual agreeable way that her summers always did – parties; work as Leader of the Council; more parties; work on running the family business in order to keep it shipshape for her young sons to inherit; even more parties; work supervising the building of the cardboard Mosque... oops, sorry, the ‘architectural sculpture’; and, just in case she was a little bored, the summer ball in the Assembly Rooms on Anspruchsvoll Street – a charming neoclassical thoroughfare built by that great German architect Leo von Reiniger (1784-1864). There was only one incident of any note that summer and it was just the trivial theft of twenty tons of ANFO blasting agent from one of the CcConstupator opencast aqueous lead paste mines.
 
The County Constabulary had but few leads and reckoned the thieves were just amateurs and that the explosive would soon turn up. Even Scotland Yard Detectives, who were always inclined to see Muslim terrorists behind any such theft, agreed that it seemed improbable that it was a terrorist theft. This point of view was reinforced by the fact that the thieves had had to steal the 1954 ERF 44G lorry from The Gentlemen’s Sanitary and Safe Storage Company Ltd. in order to transport their swag, thereby seriously inconveniencing that firm’s deliveries according to the Managing Director, Mr. Grapplemonger. The truck was found two days later empty and abandoned just outside the county town and speedily returned to its rightful owners, but there was no sign of the barrels of explosive and nobody was able to work out what the thieves might have done with them so close to town.
 
Interestingly, The Gentlemen’s Sanitary and Safe Storage Company Ltd. is the last remaining builder of lead-lined boxes for the safe and hygienic storage of gentlemen’s athletic supporters. The hand-rolled lead lining for these elegant boxes has a mild antiseptic effect as well as preventing, and this is most important, ones supporter from absorbing radiation when not in use thereby helping to ensure the health of future generations. Needless to say The Company buys the waste mineral lead from the CcConstupator mines and, after careful processing, highly skilled craftsmen hand press each lead insert into the beautiful Madeira Mahogany boxes. No gentleman’s dressing room should be without one! I, personally, dear readers, own two – both extra large, naturally – and they really do set my dressing room off a treat.
 
However, there really wasn’t too much to disturb the even tenor of Lady Onesta’s summer in B____shire. Why, she had even found time to train the entire chorus of the local Repertory Company in how to walk and talk like Muslims. The bossy and domineering swagger was not quite as easy for the actors to acquire as was the loud voice and its querulously demanding tone overlaid with menace; but the habitual Muslim threatening and rude shouting came more naturally to the actors than even the swagger and the whining did. Once the make-up department had glued on some beards and wardrobe had provided misshapen and horrible clothing of indeterminate gender relevance then the illusion became complete and very convincing. The entire cast of Lady Onesta’s little make-believe really could have passed for Muslims on any street in Britain.
 
By the end of the summer even Rurik Canardly was beginning to think that she might just pull the trick off.
 
***
 
It was the evening of a tangy autumn day in the middle of October when the Inspector from the Ministry of County Affairs arrived in the county town of B____shire. No fanfares greeted him as fell off the train, for there was no one to meet him nor was Lady Onesta, or anyone else for that matter, aware that he had arrived. His name was Mr. Bernard Torpe and he was quite the most ordinary and unremarkable person that one could ever meet. He was thirty-five years old, of medium height and indeterminate colouring with a pleasant face and an average build. The only thing that distinguished him in any way at all was his seeming inability to control his body. He and his luggage had avalanched from the train onto the platform where he had collided with a roof support column then ricocheted into a porter. As if that were not unusual enough – finding a porter, that is – he had then tripped over a pigeon feather and sat down heavily on his own suitcase. Then his glasses slowly fell off the end of his nose into his lap. Even in repose, Mr. Torpe was a disaster waiting to happen to someone!
 
I think, dear readers, that I shall a draw a discreet veil over Mr. Torpe’s collision with a taxi on the station forecourt. I shall not mention the details of his tussle with the revolving door of the National Hotel on Pennydiritto Street (it lost); nor shall I regale you with the facts about Mr. Torpe’s close encounter of the waitress kind during dinner – and that just a short while after getting stuck in the lift doors whilst taking an unplanned detour through the basement. Suffice it to say that by that time the hotel’s highly experienced manager had told off a member of staff to shadow Mr. Torpe at all times and on no account to let him operate any machinery – not even a door!
 
Thus it was that as Mr. Torpe sauntered into the courtyard after dinner in order to enjoy a cigarette or two he found helpful staff at every turn opening doors and guiding him. He had no sooner taken out his cigarette case than no fewer than five staff members leapt forward with lit matches. A sheltered seat under the Victorian projecting stained-glass canopy was easily found and it was near enough to the slightly raised outdoor stage for him to be able to see and hear the band thereupon.
 
The postprandial music on this particular evening was provided by the Merletto Mills Treen Band. The lush sound of this old-established band filled the courtyard with the sweetest of tones – it was a fulsome, almost blasphemously velvet, sound that seemed to stroke ones very soul and Mr. Torpe found it soothing and a superb aid to digestion. He stayed to very end of the recital and applauded enthusiastically. Indeed, so struck was he by the sweetly melodious sounds that the band had produced that he approached the leader and enquired as to the nature of the instruments.
 
“Ah, ve haf ein sehr percipient listener!” exclaimed Herr Steuerknuppelruttler expansively, “Ve are playing upon the holzerne Instrumente... how you say, the wooden instruments. All our instruments sind hand geschnitzt... you say hand carfed I think, all from English oak. Aber nicht die Kornette... the cornets, they are from Ruritania, like me, and gebildet von das Holz der riesigen Kirschbaume... built from giant cherries. Der ist der einzigartige Ton unseres Treen Band – the distinctive tone of our Band.”
 
Herr Steuerknuppelruttler pressed a large glass of some clear liquid into Mr. Torpe’s hand and bade him drink it whilst he himself took a large swig from a bottle of what appeared to be the same liquid. The bottle was labelled ‘Zahnol’. Mr. Torpe eventually recollected enough German to work out that that translated as ‘Tooth Oil’ but by then it was too late for he was deep in conversation with one of the band’s English members and far too intrigued to be bothered by the fact that he seemed to have lost his senses of smell and taste after the second full glass.
 
“But why make the instruments from wood? Surely brass is more usual for a works band?” Mr. Torpe asked.
 
“Ah, well, you see: there’s a shortage of naturally occurring brass in B____shire,” replied Albert Laiton, the Flugelhorn player, “We’ve dug all over the place but there just doesn’t seem to be any.”
 
“I see. But carving everything in oak must be very hard work – not to mention very skilled?”
 
“Oh, aye. But it’ll not be as hard as carving instruments from a big block of brass, I’ll warrant you!”
 
On that note Mr. Torpe retired for he wanted to be up before dawn to check on the attendance at the local Mosque, and also because he couldn’t help but feel that the conversation had somehow gotten away from him. Mr. Torpe’s hovering attendants guided him to his room and left him to the tender mercies of his bed – even they could not help him should anything go wrong with that.
 
I’ll bet, dear readers, that you thought that that projecting Victorian stained-glass canopy was not going to last the evening. How wrong you were!
 
***
 
Mr. Torpe slept exceedingly well and awoke in plenty of time to shower and shave and get dressed and yet still be able to saunter to the Mosque before dawn broke. He could vaguely remember the previous evening and wasn’t really worried that he could neither taste his toothpaste nor smell his aftershave. He didn’t suppose for one moment that those effects of the Zahnol would be permanent and he presumed that they would wear off along with the slight headache he was nursing. When he returned from his inspection he supposed that breakfast would taste of cardboard, but he confidently expected the situation to improve by lunchtime.
 
On that note he left his suite and made his way down to the lobby where Sebastian Trager, the young, handsome and virile night porter, let him out into the chilly pre-dawn air. There was a stiff little breeze blowing from the West but the air contained a promise of one more pleasant autumn day at least. He made his way up Pennydiritto Street, across Petti Crescent, down Venter Street and through Viscus Park onto the west end of Aboulia Place. By the light of street lamps he read the wording on the enormous banner hanging over the huge West facing double doors of the gigantic and ornate Royal B____shire Agricultural Association building: B____SHIRE ANNUAL VOGELFERRET (ALL CLASSES) SHOW.
 
Mr. Torpe had absolutely no idea what a Vogelferret might or might not be but he was pretty certain, deducing from the noises emanating from the Association’s building, that it must be an animal of some sort. Now Mr. Torpe knew himself well enough to know that he and animals of any persuasion simply did not mix – the incident of the avalanche, the goat, the gallon of yoghurt and the kilted hiker sprang readily to his mind, as did the unfortunate encounter with four cucumbers and a small white dog that he couldn’t help himself thinking of as a West Highland Terrorist. As he turned and started to walk around the vast and magnificent building towards the Mosque he noticed a wizened somewhat elderly man in some livery or other approach the great West doors and gently open them wide and then he also set off around the outside of the building paralleling Mr. Torpe but on the opposite pavement (or sidewalk if you prefer).
 
They walked the southern length of the great building in this fashion, one man on each side of the road. Mr. Torpe reached the end first and crossed the road then rounded the corner to stand in front of the eastern facade of the building. The elderly Association servant followed him but Mr. Torpe did not notice this for he was gazing at the Mosque as the first rays of dawn outlined it against the eastern sky. Lady Onesta and her firm had done a really good job and without ramming a sharp pointed instrument of some sort into the fabric no-one was ever going to be able to tell that it was made of nothing more than painted, reinforced, heavy-duty cardboard – the minaret all by itself was a work of art. Quite by coincidence Lady Onesta and some of her team of ‘Muslims’ were just about to enter Aboulia Place from Fides Avenue at the north-eastern corner beside St. Azide’s Church and practice walking to dawn prayers.
 
Everything was going to work perfectly. Mr. Torpe was going to get his Mosque and some Muslims making their way to prayers. Lady Onesta was going to gain several million pounds for her beloved B____shire. The annual Vogelferret show was going to have a fine day. Mr. Torpe was going to be back at his hotel in plenty of time for breakfast. God was in his Heaven and everything was for the best in this the best of all possible worlds.
 
The elderly retainer opened the great east doors and the stiff little westerly breeze blew through the building carrying the overnight noxious gaseous effluvium of two thousand cooped up Vogelferrets with it. Mr. Torpe, unable to smell a thing and by now standing directly in front of the east doors and directly opposite the Mosque, chose this moment of all possible moments to light his first cigarette of the day. There came a bang and a mighty roar as a great goutte of flame shot out of the east doors and hurtled across the road directly towards the Mosque. Mr. Torpe was knocked to the ground by the shockwave and his cigarette and match were snatched from his fingers and whirled away into the maelstrom of flames that subsequently engulfed the Mosque.
 
The bang of the first ignition startled the Vogelferrets into producing a huge surge of their methane rich by-product. This caused a second stream of flame to shoot from the east doors which ensured that the Mosque well and truly caught fire and that Mr. Torpe’s back became somewhat uncomfortably singed.
 
Dawn began to flood into Aboulia Place just as the bottom of the minaret took light. A loud explosion was heard from the base followed by a jet of flame and slowly but surely the minaret ascended skywards. At about one hundred feet above the ground a second explosion took place which produced an even greater jet of flame from the base of the minaret and propelled it faster and further into the sky. It should by now, dear readers, be patently obvious to you, as it was to all those on the ground, where the ANFO (ammonium nitrate and fuel oil) explosives thieves had hidden their haul.
 
With each loud explosion from the airborne minaret the overwrought Vogelferrets produced more and more combustible emissions and the flames from the east door engulfed the Mosque and ensured its utter destruction. Only the minaret, now soaring above the city like a demented rocket, seemed to be reasonable intact and it kept emitting loud bangs and fresh jets of flame as it climbed ever higher. Eventually, the explosions from the flying minaret became distant enough not to startle the Vogelferrets and the river of flames from the east door dwindled to almost nothing then died.
 
Lady Onesta and her band of ‘Muslims’ stood by the Church of St. Azide and watched their Mosque burn to a cinder. Lady Onesta’s hopes and dreams of spare millions for her shire almost perished along with her Mosque. Almost, but not quite!
 
“Quick, riot!” she instructed her players, “Go on, behave as Muslims would do if they had just seen their mosque destroyed by accident. Yell! Riot! Threaten people! Punch people! Destroy things! For Heaven’s sake use your imaginations, just summon your basest instincts and behave like Muslims would!”
 
She had a plan!
 
For one tiny moment her troupe stood stock still in silence, then the light of mayhem glowed in their eyes and with a very loud and incomprehensible shout they moved off obviously intent on putting fear into the hearts of decent people. With one accord they charged down the street and veered into the Agricultural Association’s magnificent building where they began to lay about the liveried servants and break open the cages full of Vogelferrets. They then charged out through the west doors and into the town turning over litter bins, breaking windows and generally behaving just like Muslims on the rampage over some imagined grievance.
 
In their wake the aged servants of the Association were too dazed and bruised to prevent the Vogelferrets from taking to the streets as well. Those worried little sociable creatures formed themselves into many small bands of forty or so related animals and scampered off in a haze of intestinal gases.
 
That was not a good thing to happen, dear readers.
 
Although the county town of B____shire is a small town it nonetheless has peak traffic times just like other boroughs and just after dawn on that autumn morn the traffic in the streets was beginning to build nicely towards the rush-half-hour. Vogelferrets being country animals were quite unused to the noise of vehicles and every time a band of them encountered a car, truck or van they flatulated in fear. The methane rich gases invariably came in contact with either the hot engine or the hot exhaust pipe and the resulting explosion usually incapacitated the vehicle in question and caused minor injuries to its occupants and damage to nearby windows. All over the town wandering bands of small, furry Vogelferrets were constantly being startled, farting and running away from the subsequent small explosion, only to rapidly encounter a further cause for alarm.
 
By the time that Lady Onesta, who was standing surveying the cooling, clinking cinders of her Mosque, had worked out what was happening it was fairly obvious that the little creatures’ anal emissions had also managed to start a fire or two. The westerly breeze was certainly carrying the smell of burning buildings towards her. She turned away from the Mosque and regarded the ambulance which was picking up the singed and sore Mr. Torpe. He had been laid face downwards on a stretcher which had been gently slid into the back of the vehicle. Just as the medics were about to close the doors and drive away a band of Vogelferrets appeared round the corner of the building. Scared by the blue flashing lights of the ambulance they all simultaneously farted – not once, not twice, but thrice – then fled the scene. The expanding cloud of gas contacted the hot exhaust pipe of the ambulance. There was a significant explosion and Mr. Torpe, still horizontal and face down on his stretcher, shot out of the back of the vehicle like a bullet from a gun, rapidly followed by one of the medics.
 
Lady Onesta was on the stretcher’s flight path. The driver of the ambulance was on his colleague’s flight path. Injuries of a painful nature were sustained by all parties. The ambulance caught fire then blew up in a noisy fashion! All over the town Vogelferrets farted and a rash of further explosions could plainly be heard by the injured in Aboulia Place.
 
Meanwhile, sixty thousand feet above the town the cardboard minaret ran out of fuel. One last explosion had taken it to the edge of the stratosphere but it was never going to reach the Karman line. Instead, it gently cartwheeled until its pointed end faced downwards and then it began to fall earthwards. As it did so it began to shed the empty barrels which had contained the ANFO. Obviously their tops and bottoms had been severely punctured by the many consecutive explosions which had driven the minaret to the top of the troposphere, but even had they been intact they would still have been unable to sustain flight. Gravity is not just a theory so they fell, but they fell beautifully – tumbling and rolling in an intricate ballet as the air thickened along their downward paths.
 
The plunging tube of the tower of the minaret caught fire as it fell rapidly through the air. It then broke up sending a coruscating display of sparks and red-hot cinders across the sky. Wherever these landed fields of autumn crops, copses of carefully tended trees and thatched roofs of ancient cottages burst into flame. Feral Vogelferrets (escapees from the chicken farms) panicked and not infrequently made matters worse with their spontaneous anal eructations. All across B____shire small explosions disturbed the pastoral peace.
 
Eventually the pirouetting barrels hit the ground. However, they were travelling so fast and spinning so furiously that they didn’t stay there – they began to bounce across the landscape like refugees from rehearsals for The Dam Busters (indeed Sir Barnes Wallace would have admired their bouncing ability) causing even more damage to an already suffering shire.
 
One barrel fell on the town. It bounced several times before falling into the courtyard of the National Hotel on Pennydiritto Street. On its way down it crashed through southern end of the projecting Victorian stained-glass canopy. On it way back up it completed its work of destruction by crashing through the northern end. It finally came to rest embedded in one of the interior walls of Lady Onesta’s office.
 
***
 
Several months later Lady Onesta was sitting in her hastily repaired office. There was still a sheet of plywood covering one window hole and dangerously sharp bits of barrel still poked out from the plasterwork behind her desk but she was still a happy lady. Mr. Sceptrum, the Chief Executive, sat opposite her.
 
“Eight hundred and twenty million pounds from the Ministry of Agriculture,” she intoned as she glanced at the paper which Mr. Sceptrum had just handed her.
 
“Ninety-two million pounds from English Heritage to repair our historic buildings,” Mr Sceptrum read out.
 
“Four hundred and six million pounds from the Urban Regeneration Fund for repairs to the town,” she read out.
 
“One hundred and fifty million pounds from the Department for Industry to repair our industrial base.”
 
“Two hundred and ten million pounds from the Department of Education to rebuild our burnt out schools,” Lady Onesta giggled.
 
Mr. Sceptrum frowned at her.
 
“Well, they were burned out,” he said, “If they were so stupid as not to ask when, what am I supposed to do?”
 
Lady Onesta giggled a little more. A smile crossed Mr. Sceptrum’s face – he couldn’t help it.
 
“And three hundred and twenty-five million pounds from the Ministry for County Affairs to be spent on, ahem, diversity projects,” they both chorused before collapsing into fits of laughter.
 
“Well,” Lady Onesta finally managed to get out, “They couldn’t admit that it was all their Inspector’s fault, could they? Oh, I do love hush money!”
 
The final total of special grants came to just over two billion pounds.
 
The actual size, in monetary terms, of the damage inflicted on B____shire and its county town came to well less than one billion pounds – just as Lady Onesta had hoped – taken an educated guess – that it would as she instructed her brave actors to riot.
 
A risky plan, you might think, dear readers. You would be correct, but two thousand years of history has taught us that no mere Ministry could ever win against an English aristocrat who wants benefits for his, or her, people! Why, it would be contrary to laws of nature were she to have lost!



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