Flouncing along the insalubrious streets of my bailiwick the other day, I passed a shop, the windows of which were plastered with a riot of signage announcing, I supposed, the goods and services available within. Among these, the one I took particular note of was BUTCHERS’ TRAVEL CARDS.
It had never occurred to me that butchers required special permits to roam beyond their immediate premises, but the more I thought about it the more it seemed a sensible measure. After all, there are few experiences more unnerving than boarding a bus and finding that the only spare seat is next to a butcher in his bloody apron, waving his bloody cleaver. In such circumstances, it would be reassuring to know that the butcher had special permission to be aboard the bus, and had not just taken it into his head to go riding around on a whim. Freely roving butchers, on the look out for a cow or a pig to hew, are a menace.
Here I am making the assumption, of course, that butchers are vetted for soundness of mind and moral probity before their travel passes are issued. Otherwise the system falls apart at the seams, much in the way the carcass of an ox does when, spotting the living ox in a field from the window of the bus, the free roaming butcher forces the driver to halt, uses the emergency knob to open the doors, charges across the field towards the ox, fells it with a blow from his axe, and then chops it to pieces.
It follows, then, that the shopkeeper has a duty to check the credentials of a butcher before handing over his travel card. Butchers cleared for travel must be in possession of a certificate or warrant, signed by a person authorised to allow butchers to travel, and stamped with an official mark. The bureaucracy of all this is bewildering but admirable.
Just as there are rogue butchers who will sneak out of their premises and go a-wandering without a pass, it seems likely that there are also rogue shopkeepers who are prepared to hand out butchers’ travel cards like confetti, without first making the proper checks. I sincerely hope my local shopkeeper is not such a moral pygmy, but given the general insalubriousness of my bailiwick, it would not come as a surprise.
It occurred to me that I could test the shopkeeper by prancing into his shop and asking to buy a butchers’ travel card. But by the time I was struck by this thought I had passed far beyond the stretch of street where stood the shop, and I was reluctant to turn back. I had come to a different string of shops, one of which was a butchers’. As I approached it, the door was flung open and out came the butcher, in his bloody apron, waving his bloody cleaver, roaring and shouting. He had spied a small pig at the trough in the square.
I was about to intervene, with mad yet civic-minded bravery, when I spotted, slotted into the band of his butchers’ hat, in full view, a blue and yellow laminated plastic rectangle. It was his butchers’ travel card! I waved him on his way – though in truth he was taking no notice of me – and he fell upon the small pig with horrible inhuman cries, dismembering it where it stood.
It was only later, back at home, that I realised the butcher may have obtained his butchers’ travel card under false pretences. Legally, he may have been properly confined within the walls of his butchers’ shop. I resolved, next time I went flouncing about my bailiwick, to call in at the Central Butchers’ Registration Office, to report my suspicions. You may think me an interfering busybody, but better safe than sorry.