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Coalition of the Willing Short Story Satire
politics, satire, psychology,
The Coalition Of The Willing
'Here comes Mr. Self-Employed,' said Roland the Tramp.
'You what?' muttered Zorba the Prophet, looking up from planting out onion seedlings and wondering where he was. He became aware of several clues provided by his surroundings. The clues included air (so he must be both awake and alive); birdsong (outdoors); a breeze (somewhere spacious, possibly rural); a coolish temperature (probably England); various smells, the favourite to his mind being the aroma issuing forth from his compost heap (Ahha, I know where I am, he thought); Roland the Tramp, the long-term occupant of the lean-to built against his allotment shed (Yes, I'm definite); and Ann Other.
'Jobsworth,' Roland explained, and sighed.
Jobsworth, the real name of Ann Other, an overweight, middle-aged purveyor of fruit and veg from a mobile stall, and the proud wearer of an 'Alliance Of The Self-Employed' badge came to a halt on the main path where it joined Zorba's allotment.
'You're wasting your time growing a few plants,' claimed Jobsworth.
Roland started to gently fume as Jobsworth took his bible from his pocket and played with it absent-mindedly. It should be mentioned that Jobsworth is not a church-goer in the generally accepted sense, and his bible is, in fact, the Daily Mule.
Zorba is generally acknowledged to be of a similar disposition to Roland in most circumstances, i.e. philosophical and absent-minded to the point of being in real danger of forgetting to perform minor tasks such as eating, getting dressed before leaving the house and completing crossing the road before sitting down to continue a crosswords puzzle. Or sitting down planning to finish a crossword puzzle but forgetting to do so and examining the texture of the road instead.
Their disposition differs in this one detail - whereas Roland lost his habitual cool in the presence of Jobsworth, Zorba did not.
'Why?' Zorba inquired, being more than happy to consider the possibility.
'Why what?' asked Jobsworth, many adrenaline-laden seconds having passed since his opening remark while he and Roland glared at each other, then looked away, then glared anew.
'You were saying,' began Zorba, making a valiant attempt to focus his thoughts away from seedlings, crop rotations, the meaning of life, the life-span of mean and various other unrelated topics that he'd been toying with 'that I am wasting my time, growing a few plants.'
'Ah!' said Jobsworth, jumping slightly and glaring down his nose at the two much taller men who had now stood up and commenced rubbing their backs. 'It's all very well having hobbies, but you should leave the cultivation of fruit and vegetables to the farmers. One needs real jobs to pay income tax, N.I., business rates and so on.'
'Really?' asked Zorba as Roland fumed. 'Why?' It always struck him as the obvious question in virtually any circumstance.
'To pay for the military!' blurted Jobsworth, unfolding his Daily Mule and perusing the headlines.
'Excellent,' exclaimed Roland, 'We're not paying the military!'
Jobsworth bristled, indignant at such a blatant display of treason. He smoothed his moustache, which was bristling in solidarity, an increasingly elaborate affair that had developed over the years into an exaggeration of a stereotypical world war 2 RAF pilots job. Zorba was surprised to realise that this style was becoming increasingly popular with those who hadn't been in the war for one reason or other.
Hold on, thought Jobsworth, this is a mere tramp and a lunatic I'm talking to.
'It's all very well for you,' he sneered, pleased to note that he was becoming more proficient with practice, 'tinkering away at your hobbies down here, protected by the British Armed Forces. How will you feel when Saddam drops chemical weapons on your allotment?'
Zorba pondered. How will I feel? More to the point, is it going to happen and if so, why?
'He's jealous of my onions?' Zorba tentatively suggested. They seemed very tiny things at present, though he had high hopes for them over the coming months.
Zorba looked up from the freshly planted seedlings and caught sight of his rhubarb. He'd long had the suspicion that Roland the Tramp may take a leek there (no, not the vegetable) on his occasional late night returns from QT's tavern. Zorba's rhubarb burst forth from the soil like a lone Bradford City FC fan out of Elland Road, its leaves showing traces of unusual, frankly suspect colours as it tried desperately to cope with the overabundance of growth promoting ammonia and minerals. I really must have a word with Roland, Zorba decided, but not at this precise moment.
'He's threatened by my rhubarb?' Zorba hazarded.
Jobsworth harrumphed indignantly, his cheeks blowing in and out, and he gestured speechlessly towards the front page headline of the Daily Mule. 'The Coalition of the Willing,' George W Bush 3rd's spokesthing had declared. Then Jobsworth replaced the paper in his pocket as Roland the Tramp turned purple, then glanced in horror at his hands which had apparently bent a solid steel trowel in a less than useful manner.
'You'd better quit the board of Reading FC so they can struggle woefully from the bottom of division 2 to the playoffs for entry into the Premier League, and lead Exeter onward and upward to the dizzy depths of relegation to The Vauxhall Conference!' said Zorba.
Roland smiled despite himself.
'What?!' asked Jobsworth, increasingly feeling that he'd entered an alien culture.
'The Spoon-bender,' Zorba explained. 'He's left the board of Reading and joined Exeter. I'm sure the Daily Mule must have done at least one article on spoon-bending. I mean, it's about obtaining money from the vulnerable by deception. But hey, think of the income tax!'
Jobsworth struggled to regain his bearings. He stamped his feet with no obvious aim in mind, looked first one way then the other, his mouth opened several times without words being created...
Eventually he felt he'd got a grip of the situation and was able to make a contribution.
'I don't suppose you pay any council tax, living as you do in a shed?!' Jobsworth sneered at Roland the Tramp.
Roland pondered, 'Why don't I live in a bedsit?' he began. 'I've worked it out many times, but keep forgetting. Let me see. Housing benefit is paid to the poor, they give it straight away to their landlords, they invest it in more properties, this forces house prices up, the poor (especially youngsters) end up in a poverty trap on housing benefit or become rabid mercenaries, the housing benefit is paid from your council tax, a tax on independence and industriousness. Yes, I knew there'd been a reason and that was it.'
'A modern economy needs careful, rational planning by businessmen,' explained Jobsworth, turning to rant at Zorba.
Fair enough, thought Zorba, and scanned his memory for historical verification of the thesis that rational, extravert, materialist determinism was the ultimate guide in the ordering of civilisation. Who had most influenced the people he knew?
Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Boudoir Holly, Gandhi, John Lennon, Jung, Fromm, Freud, Aristotle (or was it Harry Stottle, Roland kept insisting he'd spelt it wrong), Eckhart, Shakespeare... The argument wasn't 100% convincing.
'And you think you're clever with your tin-pot independence - growing your own food,' Jobsworth added.
Roland fumed on Zorba's behalf and declined to comment. He had a vision of making a huge noticeboard headed 'For the Attention of U. Pillock' but knew Jobsworth would never read it.
Zorba, detached to the point of being practically severed, patiently considered the possibility that he was a) clever b) tin-pot independent c) growing his own food.
Jobsworth turned to march away as soon as he'd delivered his tirade of abuse and before the abusees had chance to respond, a trait that is still not punishable by death-sentence though one may wonder why. However, Roland the Tramp saw the clear signs of cogitation on Zorba's brow and decided that Jobsworth would wait for a reply. He achieved this objective by standing on Jobsworth's toes. It is very difficult to walk away without one's toes.
Zorba hummed snatches of barely recognisable tunes as he pondered. The first two allegations weren't worth consideration. He knew he wasn't clever. No one was really independent, tin-pot or otherwise. For example, he received his gas through a pipe and had no intention of making his own miniature gasworks. Of course interdependency seemed vastly more ambitious and civilised than dependency. But did he grow his own food? Even that seemed rather a vain claim.
Meanwhile, Jobsworth was tempted to remonstrate with Roland, but a creative positioning of the distressed trowel gave the impression that Jobsworth would only depart unhurt if he shut his mouth and listened for a while. Zorba stopped humming and his eyes brightened. A synchronistic puff of smoke issued forth from his compost heap signalling the fruition of the thinking process.
'I just like being around growing things,' he explained. 'It is rewarding. But I'm not convinced I do the growing. I do turn over soil and remove a few weeds and sow the type of seeds I wish to grow, but the growing is performed, facilitated, aided and so forth by a vast army of co-operative elements. Sun, rain, bacteria, soil, worms, enzymes, negative feedback mechanisms that preserve the earth's temperature, our orbiting satellite that keeps the earth rotating in the same plane. The number of factors that combine to make sustainable life possible on this planet is truly astonishing - a coalition of the willing, one might say...'
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