Nearly eight years ago, the first of the late Malcolm B Duncan’s satires (based on The Narnia Chronicles) was published on Margo Kingston’s Webdiary. Some time ago – I can’t remember whether it was at The Pub or elsewhere – someone mentioned Mr Duncan’s work, and expressed a desire to read it again. So, ladies and gents, here’s Chapter I for your entertainment. We need a little frivolity in these dire times.
(Image Credit: Rocco)
The Chronicles of Nadir
As told from the grave by Tom Lewis
Tale the First
The Scion, the Wheat and the Cabinet
The country had been plunged into war and, to keep the children safe, Peter, Amanda, Alexander and little Lucy had been sent as far from the reality of conflict as possible: Canberra.
When, weighed down with all the usual baggage those going to Canberra carry, they arrived after their wearisome journey on the Sydney-Melbourne XPT having endured the usual 36 hour trip including lay-bys, unscheduled freight trains, track-work and giving way to slow-moving insects (a new Federal Policy to appease the Greens), they were met by STAFFERS who bundled them into Commonwealth Cars and driven to the House on the Hill (well, in it, actually).
The House on the Hill had many rooms (some with ensuite), a vast number of toilets for the disabled and a rehabilitation wing which was filled with journalists. When they arrived, the STAFFERS (none of whom was much older than little Lucy) introduced the children to the CLERKS.
One was a slight man with a slow stammer and wore a black outfit with bands at his collar reminding Peter of the only time he had seen the Moderator-General of the Uniting Church back in the days before it had united and it was still allright for men to wear silk stockings and buckled shoes. Peter, of course had always been brought up to be a good Uniting man (and had once sued for it but, naturally, given his age, by his next friend, a pugnacious boy called Tony.) The other CLERK was a bearded, dishevelled man who gave the impression of knowing all there was to know about knowing everything but not taking any direct responsibility for the Knowledge.
The CLERKS took the children to meet the SPEAKER, a nervous, elderly man who spent most of his time trying to watch his back.
“Welcome Children,” he said in a reedy voice apparently coming form the back of his head, “the CLERKS will show you to your rooms and, once you have put your things away, you will be free to explore but you, Amanda, and you little Lucy, especially you, little Lucy,” he said looking directly at her with his back turned “must never go down to the end of the town to Tilley’s without Alice.”
“Can’t they go down with me?” said Alexander.
The SPEAKER turned a full circle and said “I cannot imagine how that would be necessary, let alone, in your case young man, possible.”
The children were duly shown to a suite of rooms opening off a central study where, after carefully packing away their clothes and necessities (in Alexander’s case, including a Pooh bear) they started to inspect the maps and menus that the CLERKS had left them. Peter and Alexander had green rooms (as boys do) and Amanda had a red room (as Amandas do) while Lucy had a beige room because no-one had ever elected her to anything in her own right and it was no more than she expected.
Contemplating their new lives away from the dangers of war, the children started to speculate on what might happen to them in their new home.
“We might find treasure,” said Peter.
“Or a pedigree,” said Alexander.
“An adventure perhaps,” said little Lucy.
“Immigrants,” said Amanda.
“I know”, said Peter, who thought he was a natural leader, “Let’s explore.”
“Spiffing,” said Alexander. “I’ve got string.” Alexander had read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and had a particular soft spot for Jim.
“OK,” said Amanda. “I think I saw some dogs on the way in, I might be able to pick up some illegals.”
Alexander divided the string into four equal parts keeping the longest for himself and the children began to explore.
Little Lucy came into a room that was empty except for a Cabinet. She opened the door and saw a coat-rack filled with furs. Little Lucy loved the smell and feel of fur, especially when it was wet but we probably don’t need to go into detail in a children’s story essentially designed to be an allegory.
As she moved through the furs, salivating, she went deeper and deeper. There seemed to be no end to this cabinet. As she pressed harder inward, suddenly, she emerged under a smart pole advertising the latest attraction at the National Gallery – a Paul Keating retrospective. As she was dazzled by the colours, constantly changing from black to brown to deep olive and back to black again, she failed to notice the presence of another creature just on the other side. She heard a voice (little Lucy often heard voices but this one was different) and looked up. “Hello” the creature said. She noticed that it had horns growing out of the side of its head. “Er, hello,” she replied. “I don’t want to be rude but I’ve been told not to talk to strangers and Peter particularly has a thing about horned creatures.” “Oh, it’s perfectly allright,” explained the creature, “I’m the Cabinet Secretary.” “Oh,” said little Lucy, “you look after that Cabinet then.”
“I do,” replied the Cabinet Secretary. “And you must be a daughter of Eve?”
“NO. I’m a Roman Catholic, actually,” little Lucy volunteered. “And, if you don’t mind me asking horny Cabinet Secretary, what do you do apart from looking after the Cabinet?”
Suddenly, the Cabinet Secretary adopted a more stentorian tone.
“It’s better you don’t know – plausible deniability and all that. Now, how is it that you have come into the Cabinet in the Land of Nadir?”
“What’s nadir?” asked little Lucy.
Even more severely, the Cabinet Secretary declared: “It is the land at the end of the earth where nothing can sink lower. Now,” even more severely still, “how did you get into the Cabinet without me knowing?”
“I came through that door” little Lucy said pointing behind her.
“But that’s the Outer Cabinet. You can’t come into the Inner Cabinet unless the Dwarf gives his personal permission.”
“Well, I’m sorry but I just walked through. My husband works here you know,” little Lucy added, a touch of desperation tingeing her voice.
“Well,” the Cabinet Secretary said, even more severely than before, “Nobody told me. Then again, that’s as it should be in the land of Nadir.”
“It’s very cold,” said little Lucy.
“As it should be,” said the Cabinet Secretary. “It has been winter in the land of Nadir for these 10 years ever since the Dwarf took control of the sleigh. Come with me little Lucy and I shall give you to eat of the fruit of the land and to sit by a warm fire.”
So they went to the Cabinet Secretary’s private office (with its own ensuite) and he fed her and told her stories of the land of Nadir and the Cabinet and life in the House on the Hill: the midnight dances at Tilley’s; the deflowering of backbenchers; the Ministerial meat parades; the cocaine parties; the health farm where tired and emotional members of the coalition were sent to dry out for a while; the junkets; and the all-night shredding parties before estimates committee hearings or as soon as Royal Commissions were appointed.
Finally, he said: “What do you know about wheat?”
[To be continued]