I am the Mudguard. I guard the mud. And, boy!, there is an awful lot of mud. It’s a full-time job.
The mud covers a large rectangular area on the outskirts of town, just beyond the duckpond and the viaduct. It is known locally as “the muddy field”, though its official name is Plunkett’s Meadow. Nobody living calls it that, but the name is shown on old maps of the area.
I patrol the perimeter of the field from dawn till dusk, day in day out, and sometimes at night too, for example when the regime has declared a state of emergency. At such times I am provided with extra supplies of strong black coffee and/or cans of fizzy pop infused with chemicals designed to stimulate the nerves.
Because of the long hours, and because I am the only mudguard, I live on site, or as near as dammit, in a hut, or chalet, slap bang next to the muddy field. It is, alas, far, far from the sea, but I keep on my bookshelf several paperbacks by Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad. They have a briny smell, having been dipped in seawater and dried by sea-squalls.
My uniform is best described as a blouse and pantaloons. It is a foolish outfit, and often the object of ridicule by wayfaring strangers. To cut a long story short, the Mud Bureau Chef d’Affaires was a fanatical devotee of Spandau Ballet early in their career. That much is true. I have grown used to the hysterical laughter of passers-by and no longer bother to throw pebbles at them.
On a typical day, I rise from my pallet before dawn, ablute, eat a slap-up breakfast in which sausages play an important part, put on my preposterous uniform, and am ready to begin my first patrol as the sun comes up. Brave Helios!, etcetera etcetera. I prance along each side of the muddy field, first clockwise then anti-clockwise, keeping an eye out for anybody or anything that might imperil the mud. I then take a break, perched on a stool outside my chalet for five minutes, but remaining vigilant. I then conduct the second patrol of the day, armed with a pointy stick. And so it goes on, until nightfall. It is very satisfying work.
Once a week, I receive a visit from a senior official of the Mud Bureau. It is rarely the same official. They go about their business in plain clothes, the only sign of their status being a small lapel badge. This depicts a patch of mud, above which hovers a disembodied head. I think this is intended to be a generic human head, but for my money it bears an arresting resemblance to Tony Hadley (b. 1960), the lead singer of Spandau Ballet. The official interrogates me, under a Klieg light, about each patrol of the previous week. I furnish the details using an agreed code, in which sausages play an important part. There is then a little break, during which we might chat about Melville and Conrad, if the official is sea-brained, or other matters, if not. For example we might talk about stamp collecting or foopball or the transubstantiation of the host in the Catholic Mass in Tudor times. During these discussions, the Klieg light is switched off.
As mud goes, the mud I guard in the muddy field, aka Plunkett’s Meadow, is pretty ordinary mud. I cannot claim to have studied it in any great detail, but as far as I am able to ascertain it has no particular features which would distinguish it from other mud, in other muddy fields, if there are any, elsewhere in the land, say on the other side of town, by the fireworks factory and the hen coops, or even further afield, blimey!, in remote areas such as the Security Zone, out towards the sea, which sloshes against the shore, where gulls screech.
Without wishing to boast, I must say that I am damned good at my job. To date, I have guarded the mud with resounding success, in that it has not been imperilled in any way by malefactors and ne’er-do-wells, whose numbers are legion, in spite of regular round-ups by the secret police. I can say with pride that the mud is safe under my watch, a watch shortly to reach its fortieth year of service. I am looking forward to receiving, on the anniversary, my commemorative award, a gorgeous cummerbund.
I am the Mudguard. I guard the mud.