Come To Spelcheckia!
Although some of the names in this story may be slightly
familiar, the characterisations are nothing more than the product of a
deranged mind, fuelled by a combination of Bailey's Irish Cream and
Terry's Chocolate Orange. They should not be taken as reflecting on
anyone living, dead, or employed by the Inland Revenue...
...Or, as they say in Neath, "Only jokin', mun!"
It was a recent news item which started it : I read in a reputable
journal that the Prime Minister had emphasised that responsibility for
the continuation of the peace process in Ireland rested firmly on the
Republican side. Nothing out of the ordinary in this, except that the
story was headlined:
Blair puts anus on IRA
All this word-processing technology available, I thought, and people can still make a complete a**e of it.
But it set me thinking of a visit I made some years ago to the newly-independent Republic of Spelcheckia. Well, there was nothing for it but to dig out my passport, pop down to the surgery for my anti-pasta inoculations and book myself onto an EasyJet Put-It-AwayDay flight to that wonderful and mysterious land, in the hope of catching up with some old friends.
When I landed in the capital, Wordoc, a mere five days after checking in at Liverpool airport, I was greeted by a sign in Spelcheckian, English, Navaho and Javanese (Spelcheckia being the quintessential crossroads of the world's cultures). The English version read:
Nothing had changed, it seemed, since my previous visit, as I glanced up to see the national flag (a red exclamation mark on a white background) fluttering in the autumn breeze.
It was but a short taxi-ride to the city centre. The cab driver spat on the ground when I attempted to pay the fare in Euro, saying that it was, "'Ard currency or nuffink, guv, know wha' I mean?" (I discovered that he had learned what English he had from TVSpelcheckia's frequent re-runs of Minder). So I dug deep into my pockets to pay him off in the local currency (currently standing at 402 Zitts to the US$). He appeared to call me the "son of a camel-steriliser" (his dialect was unfamiliar to me), and threw my suitcase out onto the pavement. I later discovered that his annoyance was due to the impending revaluation and re-naming of the coinage, whereby 100 Zitts would now be worth 10 Oxy, the prospect of which had the currency spot-market in a real lather.
As the cab sped off (the driver muttering something about "economic migrants"), I was approached by a dark-haired young man who said that he ran the capital's only car-hire firm. He handed me a rather tatty card, which read:
He explained that he was new to the trade, having previously owned the country's only Reliant car dealership. But the Robin Concern hadn't worked out very well. Spelcheckians being a congenitally suspicious race, they had though that they were being ripped off. "Where is the other wheel?", they would mutter, gravely shaking their heads.
I explained that, as I would not be venturing beyond the city centre during my stay, I would hardly be needing a car. He said that that was OK by him, but added, "If you are needing car, sir, please to be looking up me. And if you need heavy thing moving, sir, I recommend my good friend Alison Cargoes ." And, with that, he disappeared into a nearby bar.
Having signed in at the Pest House Motel, I decided to take a stroll around town before sunset in the hope of bumping into some old friends. I turned left into Reagent Street, the main shopping centre of Wordoc. Western consumer capitalism has yet to spread its rapacious tentacles across this happy land, and most of the stores were still resolutely in the hands of local traders, as they had been the last time I was here. I had just walked past a shop bearing the sign "Donald Casual - Menswear", and was debating whether to buy an apple from Colin Damson the greengrocer, when a hand descended heavily on my shoulder.
I froze in panic, fearing that I had been apprehended by the Polite, Spelcheckia's notoriously well-mannered security force. Despite having been completely reconstituted following the fall of the hated dictatorship, when it was known as the Ministry for Conformity to the Rule Of Socialist Freedom and Truth (or MiCROSoFT for short), the Polite was still viewed with suspicion in some quarters, and lurid tales would occasionally circulate about suspects having to be administered life-saving doses of Eno's after a couple of days of the force's 'hospitality'.
The owner of the hand laughed. "So, old thing, what is bringing you here?". I turned around slowly, to be met with the sight of my old friend Richard Media; a man who, after suffering years of repression as a journalist campaigning against the Régime, now found himself head of the Ministry for Broadcasting, Entertainment and Video (or BEV for short). He it was who had the seemingly ridiculous but genius idea of broadcasting excerpts from Test Match Special on Wordoc FM every evening at 6.30. The city's population, starved of anything controversial on their radios through the long, dark years of tyranny, not understanding English, and never having heard of cricket, mistook the programme for a daring and challenging drama about a gay ménage-à-cinq in an attic apartment, and listened every night in their tens of thousands. Even when their error was pointed out to them (with help from a Jamaican exchange student at Wordoc-Škoda University), the audience ratings remained higher than for the preceding news programme, as people stayed tuned just in case they were being lied to. Indeed, on TVS' late-night culture programme Kicking In The Arts, a noted academic insisted that the Wordocian listeners' initial assumption was obviously the correct one ; a phrase such as "and he pulled that full-toss right through mid-wicket", he claimed, could surely only be a veiled reference to sexual practices.
"What, ho! So you are here for a spiffing holiday, yes?", asked Richard, as befitted a man whose first act on becoming minister was to import British TV dramatisations of P.G. Wodehouse in order to encourage the learning of English.
"Only for a few hours", I said. "The exchange rate won't let me stay longer."
"Ah, the Zitts!", he sighed. "It is putting us all in a bad spot." He smiled again. "Never mind, you come for drink with me, yes?"
I said that I was hungry after my journey and would prefer a meal instead.
"No probs!", he grinned. "I am knowing a place. Come on!"
(I should point out here that there are no fast-food joints in Spelcheckia: Macdonald's refused to set up here because of a dictatorship-era statute (left mysteriously unrepealed by subsequent parliaments) which ordered clowns to be shot on sight; and Burger King were denied permission to trade due to an unfortunate misprint on the letterhead of their licence application).
He led my down a well-lit but narrow alleyway towards a door with an ornately etched glass panel, from behind which the sound of clinking glasses and animated discussion grew louder as we approached. I glanced up at the sign above the door. I did a double-take and looked again. It said:
and underneath, in smaller writing:
SHARON JARS, prop.
Richard noticed my expression. "It's OK. Sharon is friend of mine, no? She always having plenty to drink. Now you come in - many old friends are keening to meet you again!"
(In our next convulsive episode: Spelcheckian café society, the difference between knick-knacks and doodads ; and why you should be very careful when constructing a golf course).