I am of low birth. If you go back a few generations, my forebears on both my mother’s and father’s sides were peasants, struggling to eke pitiful subsistence crops from the muck of Flanders and Ireland. Though my parents themselves had risen a little higher in the world, they had not risen by much. I grew up on a council estate, and though I too, rose a little, debauch put paid to whatever material gains I made, and now I am mired in poverty. Granted, in comparison with the poverty of my peasant forebears it is the veriest luxury, yet by modern Western standards I teeter on the edge of destitution. In my mind, however, I am a king, or, if not a king, at least a baron or a magnifico.
I am not labouring under the delusion that I am some kind of changeling, a prince switched, at birth, with a pauper. I have not spent my life in fruitless quest of some illusory document that will, if ever found, prove my claim to title, riches, lands and chattels. What I mean, rather, is that my material circumstances are of no account in comparison to what might be called my attitude – and my attitude is that of Scriabin’s nobler being who would emerge after the performance of his, alas unfinished, unperformed, Mysterium.
It has amused me, in recent years, to watch our leaders – worthless gits all of them – attempting to deny or disguise their own elevated backgrounds and to pretend to a woeful fantasy of “ordinariness”. Of course these ploys are based on ruthless political ambition, yet it is laughable to witness Blair’s estuarine glottal stops, Brown’s purported delight in the Arctic Monkeys (does anybody remember them?) and Cameron’s kitchen sink video clips. I take a completely opposite approach to the common people. Our leaders are desperate to be at one with them, whereas I rise above them, and look upon them with contempt. It is not, perhaps, an attractive quality, but it keeps me getting up in the mornings and ploughing my furrow.
Having said that material circumstance is trumped by attitude does not mean that I am averse to the trappings of nobility, or of royalty, if they can be obtained. Such trappings, after all, are merely what I deserve, and would be gifted in a more sensible universe. Thus it is that recently I considered installing my own household cavalry. The monarch has a household cavalry, and I shall have one too! That was the thought sparkling in my brain as I leaped out of bed. My penury being what it is, I live in a flat rather than a house, but I take the word “household” in its broader definition, as used in the census and elsewhere, to mean a separate living unit.
So much for the household element. Next I will require horses. Though I have never been the keenest aficionado of westerns, I have watched enough cowboy films to know that the standard method of obtaining several horses is to rustle them. Generally speaking, I abhor theft as a mortal sin, one to which the lower classes are habitually prone, as indeed are those higher in the social strata, if they think they can get away with it, as, regrettably often, they can. I will therefore have to engage in some fairly tortuous moral justification if I am to rustle horses, but that is not beyond my wit. Weak though the argument is, I can claim that my peasant forebears probably rustled a few horses in their time, and thus I am merely obeying the dictates of my cultural inheritance. It is not an excuse I would entertain for a moment were I a magistrate sitting in judgement over an oiky indigent, but let that pass. I shall have to locate a paddock and set out at dead of night for a spot of rustling.
I have considered the matter of the minimum number of horses required for a cavalry, deciding I need four. They will be somewhat cramped in the flat, which cannot be helped, but I shall keep the windows open. My downstairs neighbours may be disturbed by the clattering of their great iron horseshoes, what Father Hopkins described as the drayhorse’s “bright and battering sandal” because it rhymed with Felix Randal, the eponymous, if dead, hero of his poem. Perhaps when the neighbours hammer upon my door to complain I shall simply fling it open and recite Hopkins at them to befuddle their tiny, barely flickering brains. George Melly, I recall, used the same tactic when set upon by grunting ruffians one dark night outside a pub where he had been singing. As a thug smashed a bottle preparatory to enacting savagery upon the chubby jazzman, Melly took from his pocket the book he was carrying – a volume of Kurt Schwitters – and began to recite a Dadaist sound-poem. The ruffians reeled in cognitive confusion and fell away. (The anecdote is given in Melly’s memoir Owning Up (1965).)
For the feeding of my four horses I shall require an enormous supply of hay. Quite where I might obtain it is something I have yet to settle. Obviously, were I a dweller in some squalid rustic backwater I would have hay coming out of my ears. Instead, I shall have to identify and locate urban hay. I am creating a rod for my own back, but that, perhaps, is one cost I must pay for having rustled the horses in the first place.
A second, more onerous cost, is that I shall require riders for my horses. And not just any riders, but riders dressed from head to toe in livery, livery so gorgeous and ornate and Ruritanian that spectators will be almost blinded by it. The livery is not the problem. But where on earth am I going to keep the riders? I cannot have them cluttering up my flat, gabbling their horsey gabble and quarrelling about their epaulettes and generally being loud and boisterous and hearty, as I suspect members of a household cavalry are when they are off duty. I suppose I could have them break in to the downstairs flat and terrorise the neighbours into fleeing, and then set up home there, but in that case it would be unclear exactly whose household cavalry they were – mine or the downstairs flat’s? Once installed downstairs, they would want the horses with them, so I would be back to square one, the only difference in my circumstances being a daily delivery of huge bales of urban hay.
Thinking it through, it may be an idea to modify my plans. Rather than having my own household cavalry, I could send my four rustled horses sweeping out across the globe, the riders mounted upon them Conquest and War and Famine and Death. That will be tickety-boo!