The island’s system of justice is innovatively silly. If someone accuses someone else of a crime, they have to challenge the accused to an egg-and-spoon race. If the accused wins, he or she then tortures the accuser for twenty minutes, using both pairs of eggs and spoons. If the accuser wins, the accused is sentenced. The sentences are determined in accord with the principles of whist. The criminal has to guess what sentence the judge will pass. The difference between the criminal’s guess and the judge’s sentence becomes the actual sentence that the criminal then serves.
Another ethics-related custom on the island, slightly similar to ‘masochists and sadists’ described below, occurs on 23 February at 10.30 am. Everyone on the island lines up in a horseshoe shape, according to how good they are. Then they pair off, with the best person pairing off with the worst person, etc., etc. The pairs have to go out for an evening together. The good person’s boringness is considered appropriate and proportionate punishment for the bad person’s badness, while the bad person’s naughtiness is considered appropriate and proportionate reward for the good person’s goodness. It’s all very progressive/stupid.
To add at a little spice/Old-Testament style to the ritual, the person in the exact middle of the horseshoe shape (an odd-numbered population total is assumed here, in contrast to ‘masochists and sadists’ below) is given a peculiarly awful punishment, as a kind of sacrifice to something or other. Regular readers (yes I know it’s a pathetic delusion that I have even any irregular ones) will not be surprised to learn that last 23 February muggins/yours truly was the person in the exact middle.
My punishment was horrendous. I got banished from this fictional realm, and cast out into reality.
On 19 October each year, all the inhabitants of the island gather on the beach to play ‘masochists and sadists’. The starting point of this game is the presumption that there are exactly as many masochists on the island as there are sadists. The next requirement is that all the masochists line up on the beach in order of the extent of their masochism. Then, three feet in front of them, all the sadists line up in order of the extent of their sadism. Next, everyone pairs off with the person three feet away from them. Pain is then inflicted appropriately. Thus, the most extensive sadist inflicts the most extremely strong pain upon the most extensive masochist, the least extensive sadist inflicts the most extremely mild pain upon the least extensive masochist, and everyone one else does something in between. It’s an impressive exercise in social cooperation.
Sadomasochism, however, is unique amongst sexual practices in that it is spiced up by logical conundrum. For, if a masochist receives the pain that satisfies him or her, it’s not really pain but pleasure. It would be more painful for them to have their ‘pain’ denied. This conclusion was reached by a team of academics, after several years’ research at the island’s top logic laboratory. On the following 19 October, sadists denied masochists their pain by merely making them cups of tea, or by chatting inanely about the weather.
Several years later, though, a more sophisticated team of academics worked out that causing masochists pain by denying them pain was still providing them with pain nonetheless. It was more painful still to deny them the denial. So on the following 19 October whipping etc. was back on again. It took less time for this research to be capped by a team who concluded that denying the denial of the denial of pain was one exponential stage further: back to tea and weather discourse. The team who asserted that denying the denial of the denial of the denial of the denial of pain was where it was at actually got their findings in before the team who merely advocated denying the denial of the denial of the denial of pain had worked out their case.
On the following 19 October, masochists felt thrillingly thwarted by logical conundrum. Exasperated sadists, on the other hand, gave up on sexual gratification and retired to the pub.
At quarter to eight, the quarter to eight girls come out to play.
‘What’s the time?’ says a man who doesn’t know what the time is.
‘It’s quarter to eight’ say the quarter to eight girls, in unison.
At half past three, the half past three girls are summoned. What do they do, where do they go to, at half past three?
‘Hurray! Hurray! Hurray!’ said everybody, for the squelch bears were coming to the island. The air of anticipation was even greater than anticipated: everyone was so preoccupied with looking forward to the arrival of the squelch bears that concentration on what was going on in the present lapsed dangerously, and reflection upon the past became a practice of the past, temporarily.
This state of affairs continued until they actually arrived, in a blue hovercraft. A fat mayor stood on a specially constructed podium on the beach and made a great long speech, which everyone completely ignored. Brass bands came out of hiding and mad a right din, albeit of a dignified nature. Acrobats spontaneously balanced on top of each other, and ladies young and old waved their knickers in the air, this being evidently an old island custom, a token of respect and welcome.
We all remained on the beach until sunset, at which point the entertainment began in earnest. After a support slot from a local singer-songwriter, our brown and hairy friends waved their muzzles in the air, and commenced their trademark hilarious formation dance. We laughed uproariously. Twenty-nine people split their sides.
Then the bears began to squelch. Honestly, we were all in the palms of their paws, nay the crevices of their navels. Ooooh! Oooof! We became the chocolate sprinkling upon the froth of the squelch bears’ metaphorical cappuccinos. The island rugby team screeched unlimited devotion. Learned professors offered themselves as toothpicks for the bears. Members of parliament died of euphoria, resulting in several by-elections. Statues fainted. All sorts of weather happened at once. Neighbouring stars tried to enter the solar system to crash the party, but the sun bounced them back to whence they came, or to within half a light year at least.
For their next number, the squelch bears did a cover of a song by Fleetwood Mac. This didn’t quite achieve the same level of response from the audience. For the encore, the bears performed a three-hour-long kitchen-sink drama, in the original Japanese. I do appreciate that artists need to develop and to try out new styles, but in some cases I wish those who’ve hit upon a winning formula would stick to what they do best.
Island audiences are fickle. Half an hour after the performance, everyone had forgotten the squelch bears completely. As the bears attempted some sightseeing, motorists accused them of holding up the traffic, and tourists asked them to get out of the way of their photographs of local monuments. Soft-hearted as ever, I took pity on the mammals and invited them all back to my small patch of beach, for a squelching and noughts and crosses party.
The island has decided to call a meta-election. The following parties are standing in it:
The Vote For Me Party: This bunch go on and on insufferably about how they are the best party to vote for. Their lack of humility churns the sturdiest of stomachs. They’re an ugly-mugged bunch; they walk round and round in circles interminably in the market square and repulse everybody. They always win.
The Vote For Someone Else Party: This gentlemanly party believes in courtesy and self-doubt.
The Scepticism And Misanthropy Party: This party reckons that the human race in general has proved itself to be both stupid and undeserving, so it advocates that the winner of the election should be the candidate with the least votes. Its extremist wing advocates further that the entire electorate should be rounded up, transported in large helicopters to a position above the middle of the ocean, and dumped into the sea.
The Astrology Party: This party believes that human character and activity is really determined by the stars. It advocates that electors vote for their favourite planets and constellations. It also proposes investing in a huge space travel programme, so that if things aren’t going the way people wish, a team of astronauts could be sent up to move the planets and stars to more astrologically favourable positions.
The Birthday Party: This party believes that it should be everybody’ s birthday everyday. Receiving financial support from the greetings card, wrapping paper and saucy telegram industries, their employment policy is to give over the entire working day to signing cards for fellow workers you’ve hardly ever spoken to, and eating unhealthy celebratory confectionery ad nauseam every coffee break. They respond to criticisms that their policies will turn newborn babies into old age pensioners within three months by blowing paper whistles and wearing silly hats.
The Cruel Practical Joke Party. This party intends to rig the ballot so that whenever a voter writes a cross on a ballot paper, a device will be triggered that sends a big net down from the ceiling of the polling booth, trapping the helpless elector, regardless of age, creed or political inclination. This will precipitate a national emergency, to the amusement of all, with non-voters being too apathetic to come to the rescue.
I can hardly contain my indifference. I shall be rolling up my ballot paper and smoking it with Fair Trade tobacco.
The island’s proud tradition of kinky sex is rapidly dying out. Ancient practices such as sado-masochism are being rejected by the young generation. Occasionally one still sees an elderly couple whipping each other, but such sights are becoming increasingly scarce.
Westernisation is sweeping the island in the form of noughts and crosses. It’s all the rage with the under-25s, despite official disapproval. Disused bondage clubs are being squatted by the rival gangs – the Noughts and the Crosses. Actually, neither gang is very good at the game, they haven’t really got the hang of it at all. I tend not to to frequent such circles, but when occasionally I cross their paths and I am challenged to a game, I always win in three goes.
There’s a smelly old prophet who appears on the beach every so often. He stands on a soapbox and berates everybody about the pernicious influence of noughts and crosses and how sexual deviancy is essential for the soul. He used to stand on a metal chest, but he won the soapbox in an auction on eBay. Now he feels much more authentic. He told me I could take all the bars of soap inside it.
Two weeks ago, though, and a quarter past four, the prophet was exposed as a hypocrite. He was spotted practising noughts and crosses with a pencil on the back of his soapbox. Later he confessed that he can’t even tie up a shoelace, let alone a nubile maiden coated in extra-virgin olive oil. But he deftly confounded criticism:
‘What this island needs is more hypocrisy,’ he spouted. ‘We must return to the old ways of rank dishonesty. Commit yourself to never telling the truth.’
Of course, this kind of talk soon ends up getting tied in boring logical knots. Thus I guess our prophet got his bondage after all, if only of a metaphorical sort.
‘We must all live more metaphorically,’ he spouted. ‘Repent ye of your literal ways.’
Meanwhile, I am very much enjoying using up my supply of soap.
At a quarter to nine a party of modernisers arrived at the island, on a raft. One of them had a clipboard. He addressed the others:
‘Right, you should separate and scout around different sections of the island, finding things to modernise. Return to me with your findings, and I will write them down on the piece of paper on my clipboard. Off you go.’
At twenty past two he read out the list of findings:
‘Not much needs modernising in this section.’
‘It all looks pretty okay to me as it is.’
‘No need to change anything here.’
‘It all looks good. It would be rather a shame to alter it.’
‘I don’t think we should risk spoiling anything.’
‘Righty-ho.’ he summarised. ‘Well, in the words of the old adage, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Lets go the pub.’
I rather liked this bunch. Later it came out in conversation that they were actually inept modernisers, who’d been made to walk the plank.
At ten to five, however, a group of futuristic modernisers arrived at the island, on a time machine. They revealed that they were on a mission to modernise the past.
While they were doing their scouting around, I sneaked up to their time machine, set it to autodrive and sent it off to ten o’clock in the evening, 23 March 1957. The futuristic modernisers were now stranded forever in the present (tee-hee). Feeling disgruntled at this, they went off to the pub as well.
In the pub, I said, nominally to the inept modernisers, but in a very loud voice so that the futuristic modernisers would overhear:
‘I hear modernisation is now regarded as old-fashioned.’
This sent the futuristic modernisers into such a tizz that I took sufficient pity to buy a packet of peanuts for them to share.
Please do not feel very sorry for them, though, readers. In no time at all modernisation will come back into fashion, as retro-chic.
I made a friend on the island. She was called Katie. Katie was a witch. Here is a list of some of the spells she was working on:
Making all the right-handed people in the world left-handed.
Making all attackers in football play like defenders.
Renaming everyone called Timothy, as either Robin or Derek.
Turning paperback books into hardbacks.
Turning all the novels by Doris Lessing into ones by Iris Murdoch.
Whenever anyone followed a recipe to make tomato soup,the result would be minestrone.
Making everyone believe that their birthday was a week earlier than it actually was.
Turning Cornwall into Devon.
Turning the world upside down, so that Australia would be at the top.
In the evenings, after Katie had hung up her magic wand for the day, we would play Monopoly. Have you ever played Monopoly with a witch? I can’t say I recommend it. After about six hours, just as the game was beginning to get going, Katie would start doing spells, pertaining to the game. Houses would turn into hotels, Chance would turn into Community Chest, Go would turn into Free Parking, Mayfair would turn into Old Kent Road. In spite of this occult pandemonium, I did manage to render Katie bankrupt on one occasion. Jealous of my success, though, she instantly turned herself into me, and me into her, and proclaimed herself the winner. Well, this wouldn’t do. As I was now Katie The Witch I used my newfound magic powers to turn myself back into Deborah The Great. Being at heart an uncompetitive egalitarian, I refrained from turning the new quasi-Deborah The Great back into Katie The Witch (and Loser), but shook hands with her, and declared both of me to be the winner.
In the long-term, however, my strategy backfired. For as neither of us were Katie anymore, neither of us had the magic ability to transform anything any longer, so we were both stuck as Deborah The Great. Brilliant! I’d already had an unsatisfactory encounter with a double earlier in the blog, thanks very much. This one wasn’t much better. We soon found out that we had little in common, and started to live separate lives. Now we are barely on nodding terms.
So now I have got no one to play Monopoly with me in the evenings. I have to play alone, trying to bankrupt myself.
Therefore it looks like Australia is going to remain at the bottom of the world after all.