There will be jam tomorrow. The announcement was made on the front page of The Tinderbox. I was absolutely sure, in my own head, that we had been promised jam today, but I can only conclude that I was wrong. Perhaps this is the first flickering sign of a descent into madness.
The announcement, signed by the Regional Captain of the New Peasant Army, is unequivocal. There will be jam tomorrow, he says, and he goes on to give the locations of kiosks where we can form orderly queues to exchange our coupons for jam. Several different flavours are promised, including raspberry and strawberry and quince. Marmalade will have to wait for another day. Isn’t that always the way?
I decided to reconnoitre the site of my nearest kiosk, on the corner of the square. Shortly after dawn, the square was empty save for birds pecking orts and scantlings. There was no sign of a kiosk of any description. I checked all four corners, even though the announcement in The Tinderbox was clear that it was the north-west corner, where stands the big stone statue of Charles Hawtrey, miraculously undefiled by the roving goon squads of the New Peasant Army. The sculptor omitted the eyes, choosing to have two blank stone discs for the lenses of Hawtrey’s specs. It grants him a weird, blind authority, and I think it may be this that deters the thugs. After all, they lost no time in smashing to smithereens the statue of Eric Sykes in another square in another part of town.
That there was no kiosk did not of course mean there would not be one, on that very spot, tomorrow. It takes no time at all to put up a kiosk, and to pack it with jars of jam. It is likely that the erection of the kiosk will take place in the small hours of the night, when all good citizens are tucked in their beds and their windows shuttered and their radios silenced. Then, at dawn, when the hooters blare, or shortly thereafter, we can make our way to the square and form an orderly queue, those of us who have the necessary coupons.
I am fortunate to have coupons for jam and coupons for marmalade. For safety, I keep them in a concealed cubby locked with several different padlocks, the keys of which I keep on a string tied around my left leg just above the knee. I have a tale at the ready in case I am patted down by one of the patrols. It is not that my coupons are forgeries, and I have every right to them, but in the present climate they are like gold dust, especially the marmalade coupons.
I was there when they smashed up the Eric Sykes statue. I just happened to be passing, and thought it prudent to stop and clap. The wreckers were a gaggle of new recruits, the newest of the New Peasants in the New Peasant Army. I have turned the phrase over and over in my mind, this idea of the “New Peasant”. How does he differ from an Old Peasant, except in his fanaticism? Not that one sees many, or any, old peasants nowadays. Where have they all gone?
When they had finished smashing the statue, I watched them depart, on their way to a rally. They passed close by me, so close I could have touched them, and I was sure I saw, on their moustaches, smears of jam. But how could that be? There was no jam that day, nor the next, nor indeed will there be any jam until tomorrow. So I must have been suffering from a hallucination, another sign of incipient madness.
I have learned to cope with jamless picnics. At first it was hard, so hard, to pack the hamper and to realise that, yes, one had done packing, that was it, there was no jar of jam to cram in at the last minute. Out, then, heaving the hamper along the lane towards the grassy splendour of Hattie Jacques Memorial Field, still there were jam pangs, for the first few picnics at least. Plopping the hamper on the grass I would find myself somehow expecting a jar of jam to appear, miraculously, when I lifted the lid. It took several picnics for this hope to die in me. But die it did.
And now it has been revived. As I said, I thought there was going to be jam today. I am sure that was what was announced in yesterday’s Tinderbox. In my mind’s eye I can still see it, big bold black block capitals, accompanied by a cut-out-’n'-keep mezzotint of the Regional Captain, his face grim yet puckish, his specs glinting, his moustache fabulous. Was that merely another hallucination? I would be tempted to go to the clinic, had the clinic not been burned to the ground by a gang of Old Peasants.
The gang was still at large, and we were warned to be on our guard. In a further depredation, they had stolen a consignment of jam destined for our kiosks. At a rally, I bawled my undying hatred of them along with everyone else. But truthfully, there was no real hatred in my heart. They were welcome to the jam, as far as I was concerned. By then I had grown so used to my jamless picnics that I could barely imagine a picnic with jam.
But then came the announcements in The Tinderbox. Not every day, but often enough to raise my hopes, to have me salivating. Once more it became a trial to pack the hamper. Once more my mind played tricks as I headed along the lane towards the field. The stone statue of Hattie Jacques gazed kindly upon me as I chewed my dry husks of bread and slurped my brackish water, as if she too were saying, “Buck up! Buck up! For there will be jam tomorrow!”