Mummy, Mrs Carpenter said I’ve got to think of some stories about the Civil War.
The Civil War? Those were hard times! There were people called Royalists who liked the King, fighting against groups called Roundheads who ––
No, not that Civil War! The one we’ve got now – with the Council.
O-oh, you mean the Civic War!
No, the Civil War, mummy.
It’s almost the same, darling. There are groups called ‘parties’ in charge of us, who shout loudly at each other and try to get people on their side. In a way it’s fighting. It started just before you were born.
Why do they fight, mummy?
Well, because they want to be the ones making important decisions.
What sort of decisions?
About what’s important for us and how much money to spend on those important things.
So, what stories shall I tell Mrs Carpenter?
Okay, you know the street up into town?
With the chariots and horses?
That’s right. When you were little that used to be a road like the one that goes alongside the river past Waitrose and Morrison’s. But with the change in the weather – all the frost and rain – the holes in the road got very, very bad, and after a lot of shouting and nasty words the parties decided it wasn’t important enough to spend money fixing them. Eventually there were so many holes that they all joined together to make big, deep ruts, meaning cars couldn’t get along there any more. Just like the road crossing the little bridge over the forest.
So do they have to use chariots now instead of cars?
No darling, the chariots are just for filming – to show on television. You see, the street is now a very good place for people who make films about the olden times, because it looks like it would have done back then. It saves them having to go a long, long way to old ruins like Pompeii – near the volcano you learnt about.
And is the forest for filming too?
Yes – films like Robin Hood and Tarzan. A pathway once went up to the town with lovely trees on each side. But the parties decided it wasn’t important enough, and let the trees grow across the path till it became a jungle. It’s the same with that new silver birch forest; children used to play there and people walked dogs, until the parties decided it wasn’t so important after all and said it could become forest again. And in another park children played on swings and skateboards with lots of flat grass to run around on. But that wasn’t important enough either, so they let it grow into a field with bushes and long grass full of rabbits and mice and weasels and curlews that nest there in the spring.
Are the forests and fields a good story?
Yes, you can tell Mrs Carpenter that the film people pay the parties a lot of money to borrow the forest and fields for their filming, and the parties can spend that money on what they think is important.
So, what is important, mummy?
Well, none of us are sure, darling. The people who do all the shouting don’t always agree what’s important and don’t always tell us why.
But why can’t they just do everything?
Everything costs money, dear, and they only have a certain amount of money for doing things.
How much money do they have?
Not much. You see, in London there are bigger parties who send the money to our parties. But they stopped sending a lot of this money, so our parties had to decide what was most important with the money they still had left.
But why did they stop sending so much money?
Because the London parties got their money from the people in London who actually make it in the first place. And about the time the Civil War started some of those moneymakers lost a lot of their money and others decided to keep it for themselves rather than sending it to parties any more.
What are they called, the people who make the money?
They’re called bankers, dear. And they’re the most important people of all.
Are there any other stories?
Lots! Next to the curlew field was a building where young people met and played, rather than playing on the streets. But the parties closed it because they felt it wasn’t important enough. And just along from that was a Fire Station with two fire engines which could be taken out quickly if there was a fire. But since the parties thought they weren’t important enough to be in the middle of town, they made them find another Station many miles away, which wasn’t good if it took a long time to get to a fire.
Like ambulances, mummy. If someone was poorly, it wouldn’t be good if they had to come a long way either.
In fact they do, darling, because they were sent a long way away too. And the police.
Where were the ambulances before?
Right next to the fire engines – where Sainsbury’s is now. The swimming pool was there too, where the school used to take you every Thursday before the parties decided swimming wasn’t that important. That’s why you now go to the rain pool, where the water has collected naturally ever since the parties decided clearing the road drain wasn’t important. It’s very safe because cars can’t get past any more, what with the water and the big ruts that have spread into that road too.
Is Sainsbury’s important, mummy?
The parties think so, darling. Just like they think Waitrose and Morrison’s are important, and the Asda being built by the new houses past the viaduct. It’s like the filming; each new supermarket has to give the parties a lot of money, so they try to get as many new ones as they can.
Were things the same in the other Civil War, in the olden times?
Well, in a way yes. In the olden days the roads and forests would have been like they are now and swimming would probably have been outdoors. And those houses past the viaduct are very close together and stick out at the top the same as in olden times.
Because before our Civil War there were people called Planners and Building Inspectors and Environmental Health Officers who made sure the people building houses put lots of space and fresh air around them, so that everyone stayed nice and healthy. But the parties decided those people weren’t very important, meaning the men who built the houses were able to build them as close together as they liked without getting told off. That way they could build lots more houses and make lots more money when they sold them.
But why do they stick out at the top, mummy?
Well, because they look old, it makes them good for filming too. But it’s mainly so that the people who live there can reach out and drop their rubbish in the street, like in the olden days.
Why don’t they put it out for the rubbish men to take?
Because, darling, the rubbish men only call every six weeks, and if you keep rubbish that long, things like fish and rotting fruit get very smelly. It’s easier to drop it on the streets between the houses and let the rain wash it into the river. Before the Civil War the rubbish was collected every week, but when the parties decided rubbish men weren’t that important, people had to find another way of doing it. Do you understand?
I think so. Is it the same as people weeing in the street?
Well, kind of. Normally people wee in their own houses, but if they’re out for a long time or are old and need to wee a lot, they have to wee where they can, and let the rain wash it away. Once, there were proper toilets in the town which anyone could use, but since the parties decided weeing wasn’t important, people have to use the street sometimes. It’s easier for them in the evening of course, because they can hide once the street lights have gone off when it’s dark.
But don’t street lights come on when it’s dark?
No, the parties think they’re only important when it first gets dark. Once your eyes are used to it, they’re switched off. A bit like the olden days when there were no street lights at all.
What other stories have you got, mummy?
Well, let me think. You could tell Mrs Carpenter that you’re glad you’ve still got a library in the school with loads of lovely books, even though there’s no longer one in the town that everyone can use.
Was there one in the town that stopped being important?
You’ve got the idea, darling! Yes, and some towns also had museums, with lots of very old, interesting things to see. People loved browsing through books and chatting to each other and learning things, until it all became unimportant. And next to the library was a building called a Tourist Information Centre where people visiting the town could ask where to go and what to do. But the parties decided that was unimportant too, and made visitors go to a shop up the road where a man tried to help but didn’t really know how. It was a shame for people visiting our lovely town, although not many have come since the buses stopped running.
Why aren’t there buses any more?
Because the buses used to pick up older people living in the countryside to make it easier for them to do their shopping and meet friends, and the parties used to pay the bus people money to do this. But after a while they decided it wasn’t important enough.
Mummy, is there anything that is still important enough, apart from Sainsbury’s and Waitrose and Morrison’s and Asda?
Well, I do sometimes wonder, darling. I think people who need looking after are still important, say very old people and children like you.
So is my school important enough?
Yes it is, because the parties have said they won’t take any money away from your school, so you’ll still have all the teachers and books, and you’ll carry on learning a lot and doing all the exciting things you do now – even if it means the teachers do have to work twice as hard and the books get a bit raggedy and you have to stay on till the evening before I pick you up.
So tomorrow, when I tell Mrs Carpenter my stories about the Civil War, can I tell her that she’s still important enough?
Yes you can, dear.
Paul Costello © February 2014
UTTERLY UNDISCOVERED by Paul Costello
Hilarious tales from a Shropshire Bed and Breakfast!
Available through bookshops (ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2) or direct from Fineleaf Editions