Hark! From deep underground, in Stygian gloom lit only by flames from tarry and sulphurous torches, comes a relentless, thunderous din of booming and banging and clanking. Something is being wrought in this subterranean forge, but what? Here and there in the darkness, tireless workers, dressed in grease-smeared overalls, adjust dials and depress knobs and heave slabs and pull levers. Yes, look, here is one such worker, a Scotsman, of grim determined mien, atop a gantry that gives him sole access to the set of levers which he manipulates with hairy, steady hands. Or… or can we see those hands shaking, as if he is not quite so confident as he appears? Is he just pulling the levers at random, hoping for the best, hoping that his overseers, whomsoever they might be, are elsewhere, perhaps supervising the plugging of a leak in the miles and miles of pipework, or extinguishing a sudden blaze in the central chimney stack?
That, or something like it, was what I assume he was talking about, the Scottish politician I overheard on the radio the other day, insisting, more than once, that “we will control the fiscal levers”. Twice or thrice he said this, within the space of a few minutes, suggesting, to me at least, that it was some kind of Shandean hobbyhorse. I will leave it to a fiscalian to explain precisely what a fiscal lever is, but I think I know why the Scotsman seemed so obsessional in his claim that he had, or at some future point would have, the fiscal levers under his control.
It is, amazingly, five long years since diminutive northern pixie Hazel Blears announced that “the days of pulling the central lever are behind us”. Ever since, the central lever has hung there, loose in its once gleaming enclampment panel, its neglect and rust a reproach to all of us who care about the levers. None even approach it now, and the calls to have it covered over by a tarpaulin, or hidden behind a makeshift canvas screen, grow louder by the day. It is as if we no longer want to admit that the central lever ever existed, was pulled, regularly, with well-oiled efficiency, by heroic lever-pullers, square of jaw and mighty of sinew, fuelled by flasks of strong brown tea and burning cheroots.
Yet five years on, here comes a Scotsman, blithely announcing, without fear of contradiction, that he and his cohorts will take control of the fiscal levers. It is true he does not say they will actually pull the levers, merely that they will control them. But what on earth would be the purpose of controlling them if not to throw caution to the wind and, intoxicated by some inchoate messianic vision, to pull them, the fiscal levers, at least from time to time, down there in the deep dark grim thunderous forge?
Just because the central lever has fallen into desuetude does not mean, according to the fiscalian I consulted, that the fiscal levers cannot be pulled, happily and vigorously, as often as a Scotsman, or anybody in control of them, wishes or has the energy to do so. There is a part of me that would like to have seen, not just heard, this Scotsman. As he insisted, again and again, that he and his ilk would have control of the fiscal levers, it was easy to believe he meant exactly what he said. But I cannot help but wonder if his face – florid? sweaty? bepimpled? a stye in one eye and a duelling scar running livid down one cheek? – might have betrayed a certain queasiness about what he was claiming. After all, it is no small thing to pull even one of the fiscal levers. And there are quite a few of them, or so I am told, by my pet fiscalian.
Here at Hooting Yard, as you know, we always try to back up our babbling with rigorous research, and, where appropriate, hands-on experience. We are, in short, not afraid to get our hands dirty, especially since we now know where to go to obtain supplies of swarfega at source. (Deb Ltd, Belper, in case you had forgotten.) Thus it was I found myself standing lochside, at the mouth of the pit wherein intuition told me, far below, lay the deep dark grim subterranean forge. Down there, somewhere in among all the banging and clanking and hissing machinery, was at least one fiscal lever, possibly more. I was already dressed in grease-besmirched overalls, in readiness. I was about to step on to the topmost rung of the ladder, and to start clambering down, down, down, when my attention was caught by a flock of starlings, untold thousands of them, black against the slate-grey sky. I was entranced. And then, by the time I had my wits once more about me, I saw that the mouth of the pit had been covered over by a great granite slab, on which was etched a Scottish saltire, daubed blue with woad. I sighed, and made my way south. When would I ever learn? Yet again, my hopes and dreams were shattered by ornithology.
Fiscal levers ~ services fall
I was wondering if in the subterranean forge they were forging a sampo like Ilmarinen did in the Finnish epic Kalevala.
That’s a great anagrammatical work you’ve done there, R.