The Scion, the Wheat and the Cabinet – Chapters III and IV

As Australia careers back into the 19th century, and as Mr Downer is about to be translated to London, I think it’s high time for some more historical satire from Malcolm B Duncan. As a special treat, here are Chapters 3 and 4 of The Scion, the Wheat and the Cabinet.

(Image Credit: Phil Bray)

The Chronicles of Nadir
As told from the grave by Tom Lewis

Tale the First

The Scion, the Wheat and the Cabinet

Chapters III & IV

“Wheat?” asked little Lucy, “Why ever do you want to know what I know about wheat?”

The Cabinet Secretary looked at her gravely and said, “There is no wheat in the land of Nadir anymore and the Inner Cabinet and the White Witch are sorely troubled.”

“I heard she’d got over that” said little Lucy.

“Hold your tongue, child, and answer my question.”

“Well, if you don’t mind me saying so, I think that presents a certain logical difficulty, unless you mean it literally in which case you might not understand the answer because a lot of the syllables might get lost and…”

“You’ve been in local government, haven’t you?” said the Cabinet Secretary.

“Well, yes, I have. I was Lord Mayor between Frank Sartor and Clover Moore.”

The Cabinet Secretary turned an interesting shade of puce. “There are some things we don’t want to contemplate, even in the land of Nadir,” he sputtered.

“I meant in between, temporally.”

“That’s a relief,” said the Cabinet Secretary.

His colour changed again, this time to the shade that old parchment has after it has been scraped back by obliging novices in a convent. He shuddered and a moment later, his face changed back again to the normal colour of Cabinet Secretaries, finely lined by thin red veins pumping port and other spirituous liquors.

“What’s the matter?” asked little Lucy.

“Something has happened,” said the Cabinet Secretary.

“What?” asked little Lucy.

“I don’t quite know,” said the Cabinet Secretary slyly as a piece of paper emerged from a strange machine just by his left elbow. “No one told me.”

“What’s that?” asked little Lucy as the Cabinet Secretary took a piece of paper from the machine. “Nothing,” he said, “I haven’t read it.” He glanced at the paper on both sides and fed it into a box on the other side of his armchair. There was a whirring noise as the piece of paper was shredded into thin ribbons.

“What was that piece of paper?” asked little Lucy.

“What piece of paper?” asked the Cabinet Secretary.

“That piece of paper you just put into that machine.”

“Machine? What machine? There are no machines in the land of Nadir ever since the great Emperor Keating, may his name always be revered, dismantled all manufacturing industry and we moved to a modern economy without bananas.”

“Bananas?” asked Little Lucy. “You mean there are no bananas here?” (Bananas were a particular favourite of all the children and Lucy was distressed to learn that they were not available in the land of Nadir.)

“Yes we have no bananas,” said the Cabinet Secretary. “But, more to the point, my mistress, the White Witch, will want to know what you know about wheat.”

“Well, really, all I know is that, like bananas, we grow it. Apart from that, no-one tells me anything. You’d be better off asking Alexander. He’s in charge of wheat. He was telling us only the other day how hard it is to export in competition with the Canadians and the Americans and what a sophisticated commercial network filled with the very best brains one needs to ensure one is paying the best price on offer but still within limits. Or was that getting the best price? And even if he doesn’t know because someone hasn’t told him something or something like that, his friend, the Boy Dweeb, is sure to know.” (Little Lucy didn’t know exactly why the Boy Dweeb was called the Boy Dweeb. There was a rumour that the name had been given to him by Doug Anthony but since no-one knows who Doug Anthony is any more, it needn’t detain us long.) “Do you get Yes, Minister here?”

“We get a lot of Ministers here,” said the Cabinet Secretary “but they are mostly the double-negative type rather than the Yes type. Do you think I might be able to have a chat to Alexander?”

“Well, I don’t know whether he’s made it through the Cabinet yet,” little Lucy replied. “I could take you to see him.”

“Oh no,” said the Cabinet Secretary, “that would never do. My place is here. There is much to do in the Land of Nadir: press leaks to plug, rumours to set running, scandals to paper over, the Dwarf to be kept happy, and the White Witch appeased all with no-one being told or knowing anything.”

“Sounds like Alexander is your man,” said little Lucy. “Perhaps I should get him for you.”

Unknown to little Lucy, as she had been warming herself by the fire, two terribly important things had happened. As we shall learn, the Cabinet was not the only way into the land of Nadir. There were many and varied entrances and incantations which could transport people (even bi or trans-sexuals) into the land of Nadir.

The first important thing which had happened was that Alexander had found the Cabinet and made his way through it. Just as he did, Little Johnnie and Jeanette arrived at Nadir airport after lunch with the Victorian backbenchers. As soon as they entered Nadir airspace, a miraculous transformation overcame them. The aeroplane they had been traveling in miraculously transformed itself into a sleigh, Little Johnnie sprouted the most enormous beard and Jeanette was transmogrified into a very, very tall, beautiful, white-faced, radiant red-lipped creature covered from head to toe in various furs of various animals who had been sacrificed to serve her whims (one of them was said to be Barry Jones). Were it not for all the fur of all the different creatures covering her hands, it would have been apparent that the White Witch, Queen of Nadir, aka Jadis, was red both in mouth and claw. The sleigh crunched into the hard-packed snow and turned into a curving path just as Alexander reached the smart pole. Being an art lover, Alexander’s attention was captured by the kaleidoscope of colour and did not at first notice the sleigh bearing down on him until it came to an abrupt swishing halt.

The Queen said to Alexander, “What manner of creature are you?”

“I’m a Downer,” said Alexander proudly.

“No doubt of that,” piped up the Dwarf.

“Hold your tongue, Dwarf,” said the Queen.

“Yes Dear, er, Your Majesty,” replied the Dwarf.

“That’s better,” said the Queen, turning again to Alexander. “Are you a son of Adam?”

“Er, no, Papa was another Alexander, Sir Alexander, actually.”

“Where are you from?” asked the Queen.

“Well, actually, I’ve just sort of come out of a sort of closet really. It’s very cold here and I didn’t bring anything to eat.”

“Perhaps …” said the Dwarf looking slyly at the Queen.

“Yes,” she said. “Bring forth the Fruits of Office. Would you like to eat of the Fruits of Office, Alexander son of Sir Alexander Actually?”

“Wot you got?” said Alexander in a sort of Billy Bunter pose.

The Dwarf brought out a box of delightful-looking Darrell-Lea confectionary, each piece topped with a little fez labeled variously: overseas trips accompanied (wife); overseas trips unaccompanied; overseas trips accompanied (not wife); Com Car; Drinkie Poohs; State Dinners; postage allowance; office equipment; ministerial loading; backbencher (female); backbencher (male); backbencher (surprise assortment). That was just the top layer. It looked as though the box was almost bottomless.

Alexander’s eyes went wide as he reached greedily for a backbencher (surprise assortment), defezzed it and popped it into his mouth. He groaned with delight and eagerly reached for another of the top layer almost before the backbencher had fully passed his gullet. “It is still rather cold,” said Alexander around yet another of the Fruits of Office.

“Come and sit by me and I shall warm you under the Dwarf’s beard. Bring the Fruits of Office with you.”

Alexander slid up into the sleigh with a sense of considerable (and unbeknown to him, justifiable) foreboding. The Dwarf immediately whipped it into action. “Giddy up, Corder” sad the Dwarf. As Corder had a tendency to dress to the right, the sleigh would only go in circles which, after all, was the only way anything in the Land of Nadir went and after a while, they met themselves coming the other way.

Neither the Queen nor the Dwarf had told Alexander that eating of the Fruits of Office sometimes came at a very heavy price. There was a very nasty inquiry about and Alexander was about to be summonsed to appear before it and would have to swear on the Beard of the Dwarf to tell the truth on pain of never being in the Cabinet again.

As they whizzed along, Alexander finished the second of the layers of the Fruits of Office with a large intern and eagerly attacked the third. Here he met his first defeat in the Land of Nadir: there was nothing in any of them, it was simply a layer of fezzes labelled “Wheat.”

* * * * * * *

(Image Credit: Rocco)

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Cabinet, Peter and Amanda had found an illegal immigrant and were torturing it. Peter was taking money out of its pockets while Amanda wrapped it tightly in razor wire so that it could not move without cutting itself.

The disheveled CLERK came along and said, “Are you colour-blind? Put that immigrant down at once – it’s Papuan. There may be an inquiry.”

“What immigrant?” asked Amanda.

“What would there be to inquire into?” asked Peter “We don’t know anything.”

“Nonsense,” said the disheveled CLERK. “We may even have to send you to the Coleface.”

Peter and Amanda went white. “But it’s only Alexander and the Boy Dweeb that have to go there.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure, if I were you. These things have a habit of taking on a life of their own, you know. The Dwarf was there only yesterday,” replied the disheveled CLERK.

Just then, Lucy and Alexander walked up. “Where have you two been?” asked the disheveled CLERK.

“Tuck shop,” lied Alexander without blinking, then he belched.

“We’ve been in the Land of Nadir,” said Lucy proudly.

“Don’t listen to her – she’s naf,” said Alexander.

“Ooh, fibber,” said Lucy. “We really have been in the land of Nadir – it’s been winter there for 10 years and there’s no wheat and it’s full of strange creatures and a nasty White Witch and they’ve got no bananas and…”

“What’s that around your mouth?” the disheveled CLERK asked Alexander.

“Nothing,” said Alexander sheepishly.

“That’s the remains of a first-class domestic air flight, isn’t it? You’ve been eating of the Fruits of Office, haven’t you, boy?”

“Might have had one,” said Alexander pulling out a dirty pink handkerchief and wiping his mouth.

“You children have been inside the Cabinet haven’t you? The SPEAKER must hear of this at once. I must send a message to the CLERK OF THE ASSEMBLY. Now, where did I put that black rod?”

“Are you going to beat us?” asked Alexander just a touch too eagerly.

“I’ll beat him if you like Mr CLERK. I just have to get rid of this immigrant,” said Amanda.

“Yes, well there’s that too. But as I say, it’s Papuan, it’s got a visa,” said the disheveled CLERK.

“Well, I didn’t give it a visa,” snapped Amanda. “No-one told me.”

“Can I go now?” asked the immigrant.

“Yes,” said the disheveled CLERK. “Have you applied for your newstart allowance? The rest of you come with me.” He handed the immigrant a mobile phone and after dialing a 1800 number, left him on hold.

“But it’s stateless,” grumbled Amanda.

“No it’s not, it’s Indonesian. Give it to Brendan then, and he can push it out to sea and the Navy can deal with it. How old is it?”

“About 5,” answered Amanda.

“Problem solved,” said the disheveled CLERK. “Brendan will have it overboard in a trice. Now hurry up and don’t tampa with it.”

“But how’s it going to pay?” asked Peter.

“Don’t worry about that now,” said the disheveled CLERK. “Brendan can extract some body parts or something – he is a doctor after all.”

“Well, just so people know that I’ve got a budget to balance,” said Peter.

They all trooped off to see the SPEAKER.

By this time, the Papuan, who was a really nice fellow called Bruce but very short for his age, had run up a mobile bill of about $283. Finally, he got jack of the whole thing, flashed his visa at reception at the Hyatt, booked a suite and settled in with Foxtel and the room-service menu. As he was ordering, he asked the concierge, “Where’s Fyshwick from here?” Bruce had been around but he didn’t really think of himself as an Indonesian.

As the children trailed behind the disheveled CLERK, little Lucy said, “It’s so sad. I really don’t know how they manage for breakfast in Nadir. They don’t have any wheat.”

The disheveled CLERK rounded on her and said sternly, “You mustn’t mention the wheat.”

Peter said, “That’s export dollars that is – wheat.”

Amanda, going against the grain, said, “It’s imports I worry about.”

Alexander drew himself to his full height and walked into a lintel. “I’m supposed to be in charge of wheat.”

To be continued. Sometime.

The Perception of Excellence

Today’s Guest Poster is Jaycee, with another acerbic take on politics and meeja Oz-style in these strange times. To explain the lead picture (not, unfortunately, one of Jaycee’s OH) – Jaycee’s OH shows Hanoverian horses, with Jaycee as strapper, stable lad, and Mellors (his words, not mine …).

Perceptive Pubsters will be aware that Jaycee posted this as a comment earlier today. I thought it excellent, and asked permission to republish as a thread-starter. Jaycee kindly agreed, so – once again – many thanks, Jaycee, for another thought-provoking piece.

(Image Credit: Equestrian Life)

Something interesting came to my attention over the weekend. I was assisting my partner at an equestrian event where she competed in several classes with her two horses. She is a good rider, and I have been her strapper and video recorder for around a dozen years…so both she and, even more so, I have been able to assess the standard of rider opposition and judging levels over those years.

Of course, as everybody who rides horses knows, it can all come down to “the horse on the day”, but there are consistencies and they are the judging criteria that make or break the ride. These criteria are the ones handed down from eons ago using a set of standards of excellence for each level of competition. These standards evolved from centuries of cavalry manoeuvres required to keep a squadron of horses manageable in a battle situation. I hardly need tell you what sort of discipline THAT would require! Of course, such “hard core” training has been eased somewhat to accommodate the use of sporting horses in a social day out.

But … a strange realisation came to me this past weekend. My partner had competed in two events at the same competency level, with the same horse, same competitors, and with me observing. As I have said , I’ve been watching these competitions for around a dozen years and am not deluded enough to “gild the lily” on my partner’s behalf, so I was surprised when she came in second-last in one event and second place in the other! – with little discernible difference in performance in both rides, but with two different judges.

If you Google “Methods of training for horse riding”, you will come up with a plethora of individual styles, from “Rough-riding” to ‘Touch-therapy’ for horses. I won’t go into it – for my real purpose in this missive is to discuss ‘Perceptions vs. Standards of excellence”. Sufficient to say that, along with the creeping in of many and various breeds of horses, some quite unsuitable for the competitions they are entered into, along with the many and varied styles of training and riding of competition horses, has come softly, slowly , with a generational change, the “sympathetic” assessment of horsemanship down from a set standard of excellence to more of a perception of excellence. So, while both the horse and rider may be exhibiting those moments of in-the-frame composition, both have not been brought there by setting the solid / correct foundations to create that frame, but have been confected to behave as if has been trained thoroughly in horsemanship skills

This confected perception of excellence has permeated through many branches and skills of our society, from excellence in manufacture, to science and medicine, to management, to politics. It has damaged our society and left it vulnerable to persuasive propaganda that shifts opinions and sways decisions on little more than false-reality instant gratification.

(Image Credit: Modern Analyst)

Self-esteem is everything in our society … no-one is a loser. Sure, there are many ways of skinning a cat, but in some things, near enough is NOT good enough, and you can’t get away with “fake it till you make it”. In my trade, building, structure is everything, and it is too late and too dangerous to get wisdom in hindsight. There are standards of excellence. In lens-polishing, for instance, a milli-point or two from perfect would be disastrous. As in any demanding profession, there ARE set standards of excellence that MUST be adhered to for success to be achieved. We cannot let these slip, yet that is exactly what has happened in our politics, in our parliament – and the judges of those standards have foolishly let themselves be persuaded that it was THEY who had “got it right” when they allowed the outrageous destruction of House Procedures to slide into the mire of LNP corruption that is the present government.

Like those sympathies that have corrupted the set standards of excellence in many skills, the MSM Press Gallery journalists were spoon-fed, in small increments over a long period of time, the perception that Labor were incompetent, even though they had moved swiftly to alleviate the hardships of the GFC,

(Image Credit: Peter Martin)

not to mention the collapse of Storm Financial Limited, moved on climate change legislation, tried to apply regional refugee solutions. Then there was the NDIS,

(Image Credit: Alex Ellinghausen)

the NBN,

and all the rest.

But somehow, all the press-gallery could see was “leadership, leadership, leadership” … Why? Because the moguls who owned them told them so, the LNP press releases told them nothing more, their own egos sought to be the “first with the latest” … In short, they reported Labor as a lost cause because of a mistake with their perception of excellence, and reported the Abbott opposition as the best thing since sliced bread, in spite of his many quite glaring and ghastly failings. Because of their failure to report with the standard of excellence – once the cornerstone of their job-skill – their stupidity and gullibility is now written in Australian history.

This dangerous twisting awry of what is required to make an action standard best practice to accepting an action as perceived best practice has leeched into the electorate and allowed the lie of the “motherhood” statement to be accepted as a near-enough perception of done-deed. Thus, the LNP’s “200 policies costed and ready to go” and “We will bring the ‘out-of-control’ budget back in the black by 2016″…were embraced as actual policy. promised and delivered …

Or should I say, Perceived as delivered?

The electorate, by allowing its self-esteem to be stroked and massaged in this way, has given away democracy for the price of a couple of magic beans. Someone is going to have to tell them that fairy-tales do not come true: magic does not happen, God does not save little children from drowning, and economic rationalism is not going to deliver a better standard of living …

But with this whole-hearted and utterly deluded embracing of a perception of excellence, it is going to be a bloody difficult job!

(Image Credit: Grabzon)