Hedger And Ditcher Redux

My father’s a hedger and ditcher. My mother does nothing but spin. And as for me, well, I wallow in sin. At least, I would so wallow, were there any opportunities for sin in this godawful rustic backwater. Oh, how I would like to be a lascivious urban voluptuary, fat and greasy! Instead, I have to spend my days surrounded by straw and hay and pigs – pigs unnumbered! – and my nights tossing and turning on a pallet in a hayloft, exhausted yet sleepless, janglebrained and hopeless.

Sometimes I pore over maps, searching for a path or lane that might lead from this hellhole to a City of Sin. If ever I find one, I shall stuff a few sorry provisions into a hanky and tie it to the end of a stick and tote the stick over my shoulder and set off, one crack of dawn, to march along that path or lane towards my fat and disgusting destiny.

Yesterday the village priest came shambling past the pig sty and I hailed him. I asked him to hear my confession. We went into a secluded corner of a barn.

“Bless me father,” I said, “Though I have not sinned, much as I would wish to.”

“Then you are a pure and holy person, perhaps even a saint!” he replied.

“But what of my sinful thoughts?” I asked.

“Thoughts?,” he said, “You are a peasant, and the child of peasants. Surely you cannot claim to have an inner life? Are you not empty-headed, more akin to a beast of the field?”

“But I do have thoughts,” I protested.

At this the priest looked vexed and troubled. He told me that, if I did indeed have thoughts within my head, I must be a very peculiar peasant indeed. He posited that I might be a changeling.

“I shall have to question your ma and pa very closely, my child,” he said, “And get them to recollect the precise circumstances of your birth. It may be that they found you, bundled up in swaddling cloth, the abandoned babe of a wicked sophisticated urban person.”

“Gosh!” I said.

And thus it was that, later, the priest took me by the hand and led me away from the straw and the hay and the numerous pigs, away along a lane that led to a city. He did not allow me time to gather a few meagre provisions and bundle them up in a hanky and tie the hanky to a stick.

And so I was delivered to the city with nothing but the peasant rags I was dressed in and a letter of introduction to a morally bankrupt urban fop of the priest’s acquaintance.

After I waved goodbye to the priest, I made my way through streets teeming with sin to the fop’s bijou flatlet in a high-rise apartment. He was leaning against a mantelpiece with a glass of brandy in one hand and a book of evil poetry in the other. My heart was thumping. I realised this was the life I had been born to. The foppery, the bijou high-rise flatlet, the brandy, the evil poetry . . .

“You smell of pig,” said the fop, “Begone!”

“B-b-but what of social mobility?” I wailed, “If I have a bath . . .”

The fop held up a dainty hand to hush me.

“Cease your barbaric grunting,” he said, “You speak of phantasms.”

And from behind an arras his valet appeared and dragged me out of the flatlet into the lift, which sank, oh so rapidly!, back down to the street.

Later, sprawled in the gutter, drenched by city rainfall, spat upon by passing urban sophisticates, smelling of pig, weeping, when it seemed all hope was lost, I had a brainstorm, such as occurs perhaps but once in a lifetime. The idea sparked in my head fully-formed, clear in all its details, as sharp and glittering as a diamond. I had discovered the Blairite Third Way!

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