We are making steady progress on our journey down the River Oooze to discover it's source.
Today, we passed through the moat around Homeward and began our exploration of my vast domain.
A most extraordinary sight greeted our eyes, as we passed around the river bend, opposite Leapington Tower.
All along the bank of the river were hordes of men, in business attire, leaping, for all their worth, high into the air.
"Oh, yes" remarked my brother Rudolph coolly "These folk do this every four years - you see, all the inhabitants of Leapington Tower were born on the 29th February." he explained.
A Leap Year, as you may know, is a year containing one additional day in order to keep the calendar year synchronized with the astronomical or seasonal year. Because seasons and astronomical events do not repeat in a whole number of days, a calendar that had the same number of days in each year would, over time, drift with respect to the event it was supposed to track. By occasionally inserting an additional day or month into the year, the drift can be corrected.
For example, in the Homeward calendar, February in a leap year has 29 days instead of the usual 28, so the year lasts 366 days instead of the usual 365.
"You see," continued Rudolph "they leap to celebrate their birthday and their extraordinary good fortune!"
"I would hardly have thought that having a birthday only every four years would be something to celebrate!" I countered.
"But you see, dear brother, they are all as rich Croesus! Nowhere near as rich as you, of course, but still extremely well off! Do you realise that Leapington Tower is the only tower in Homeward that you don't own?" said Rudolph.
"I am astounded, that means that they must have bought it off old Wizard Blenkinsop before I bought Homeward! How in heavens name did they come by this fortune merely by an accident of birth?" I declared.
"Well," revealed Rudolph "Every single inhabitant is an offshore company - and because the 29th of February only exists every four years, other companies pay them a vast sum on this day so that it immediately disappears - because the day does not exist! The company then, having mysteriously lost the money, does not have to pay tax on it - in fact they can show a loss and get a rebate! Then the Leapingtons give the money back less one percent! All those one percents add up you know! It's a brilliant scam - the British Banks have been using the Leapingtons for years! "
Astounding - I'm surprised the British government has let them get away with it.
Today our journey began, to discover the source of that great river that runs through Homeward – The Oooze.
However, our journey would not begin from Homeward. For, The Oooze runs into the moat around my vast domain (that is how the water is continually freshened) and thence out to the sea near Homesea.
There are still quite a few hardy inhabitants of the Oooze Estuary who live on the marshlands around Homesea, but the majority now live in my greatest architectural accomplishments - the Seascrapers of Estuaria.
As you know, Homeward consists of hundreds of skyscrapers – for I firmly believe that it is the best way of living. So, when it came to sorting out the housing problems of the estuary folk, I thought, why not skyscrapers that went down – beneath the waves?
We took my traction engine to the mouth of the estuary and I soon spotted my brother Rupert, the intrepid explorer, supervising the loading of the boats.
“I hope that you have made sure that we have all the necessary requirements for an expedition of this magnitude?” I declared.
“Oh yes,” replied Rupert “We have banana cake, pumpkin soup, casks of lemonade, Jubba fruit, Whooshmeat with apple and sage stuffing wrapped in maple cured bacon, butter cabbage, Seaweed Slasher Porridge and a 1787 Chateau Lafitte !”
“Excellent! – we shall at least have the basic foodstuffs, then” I declared.
“However, I have been forced to leave the lifebelts out to make room for the provisions.” added Rupert.
I could see that the Old Monkey seemed somewhat aghast at this news; he is such a worrier, so I swiftly reassured him.
“No matter, I doubt we will need them with the expert hand of Captain Walrus at the tiller!”
Before we set the boats on course up the river I decided that we should pay a visit to the Estuaria School for Boys and Girls. A charitable foundation, set up by myself, it caters for the education of the youngsters of this fair creek. Elocution lessons are an important part of the curriculum. The peoples of the marshlands speak a strange dialect, which is very difficult to understand, called Estuary English.
As our boats passed the many towers of Estuaria I could not help feeling that they were looking very rundown and neglected. “They all look like they could do with a lick of paint – if they are not more careful with their maintenance they could spring a leak!” I remarked to the Old Monkey.
When we arrived at the School Tower, I was very disappointed to see how badly looked after the grounds seemed to be. Every tower in Estuaria has a large green surrounded by trees at the top. Here, the grass had been allowed to grow in wild abandon and scattered around were half a dozen decrepit Nissan Huts.
I stormed into the School reception demanding to see the Headteacher – Mr Snodgrass. An unsmiling and flinty receptionist made us feel that it was all too much effort to even speak. No pleasantries passed her lips.
“Impossible – he is in a meeting with the other CEO’s – leave your name and he might get back to you – if he feels it is important enough” she smirked.
“Do you know who I am?” I thundered.
“A rather large elephant, by the looks of you” she countered.
“I am the benefactor of this school and up with this I will not put,” I bellowed. “Come, Old Monkey – I hear voices emanating from the library, I have a lot of questions for Mr Snodgrass!”
The receptionist attempted to bar our passage, but was swiftly dealt with by Cloutman and Gubbins.
I could not believe my eyes as we entered the library. Denuded of books it now contained a large snooker table around which half a dozen fellows lounged around drinking beer.
“What is the meaning of this Mister Snodgrass! What have you done to the library I donated to this school?” I demanded.
“Oh Uncle, great benefactor, you should have warned us you were coming – so the children could have performed for you. Ah, now the library, you see – it became surplus to requirements so to speak. Modern technology and all that, you see, the kids don’t really need books anymore – they have their e-books. Or, at least, they will – once we have disposed of some more assets. This is now the Executive Lounge and I and my fellow CEO’s were just discussing that very issue” blustered Snodgrass.
“CEO’s?” I queried.
“Well, yes, Headmasters as was” murmured Snodgrass.
“A school does not need six headmasters!” I countered.
“Well there you are, sir, this is no longer one school – in fact, in a manner of speaking, the tower itself is no longer a school.” he burbled. “You see we felt it was no longer a sensible use of your funds to carry on using such a prestigious location merely as a school. It is worth far more on the open market as an office building. So we decided to rent it out and use the funds to build six new schools! This way we can give the people of Estuaria parental choice!”
“Parental Choice? – you mean those decrepit Nissan Huts on the roof are my school?” I shouted.
“Well, Sir, let me assure you that we have the parents and children’s interest very much to heart. By having six schools we are able to offer them choice. We have Eton Mess – that’s the rather nice Nissan Hut with the pretty pink paint – that’s where we train pupils to run the country. Then we have the hut, I mean school, that trains them to get a job that they grumble about – but on the whole is not too bad. Then another school where they train them for a job they hate but the money is good and our celebrity school, which also trains them in waitering, just in case you understand, and so on…it all works splendidly.” Snodgrass explained.
“This is what you are doing with my endowment?” I countered. I could hardly believe my ears.
“Well, Sir, I am afraid your endowment has proved insufficient. It only really covers staff costs. Specialist education like this comes at a price. To achieve these standards we are competing at an international level and you can only attract the right caliber of teachers if you are willing to pay the market rate. Also to get the best CEO’s to run the schools one has to be prepared to pay. “ He boasted. “I am afraid that we do have to charge the pupils a small fee.”
“The pupils pay for this? I don’t see how the parents can afford it, despite the fact that Homeward is the one place that seems to have weathered the financial storms besetting the world, Estuaria seems to have fallen on hard times!” I queried.
“Ah, well, I think that we may have accidentally contributed to that situation.” said Snodgrass sheepishly.
“In what way, exactly?” I asked, suspiciously.
“Well, you see we are always looking for ways to increase the school funds. So we came up with this very clever idea of selling derivatives based on the children’s futures. A Hedge fund, if you will, ‘hedging’ a bet on how well your child might do. The parents loved the idea, you see, because they all thought little Johnny would do so well. But then just in case Johnny might not do as well as Justin, we offered them ‘parcels’ of futures. They were given AAA ratings ! Well, they were at first, but then when the pupils left school and some of their careers did not pan out so well, it all started to go a bit pear shaped.
In a nutshell, the parents were left a bit borassic. Oh sorry, Sir, slipped into a bit of Estuary English there!” stuttered Snodgrass.
“We did lose quite a bit of money, Sir, but don’t worry we are building our reserves again. We have upped the fees to parents and our results are so good that we are still able to pay our CEO’s a bonus!” he smarmed.
“Well, at least your results are still good – I employed Doctor Lyre to set the exams – I take it he is happy with the standards maintained?” I replied.
“I am afraid we had to let Doctor Lyre go, we felt that the additional cost was unnecessary. We now set the exams and mark them ourselves. Here is a copy of our latest one.” he said.
“What does 3x3 equal ?!!” I read.
“Yes, and they all got it right! Absolutely splendid, a definite improvement on last year when they only knew what 2x2 equalled!” declared Snodgrass.
“Whose idea was it to destroy my school!” I shouted angrily.
“Why, the President of our Corporation, he gets the biggest bonus! – Mister Hateman!” replied Snodgrass.
“I should have guessed! Right, you lot are all fired. Old Monkey get all these people evicted from my tower, and get Doctor Lyre down here at once – he will have to take charge until we can get this mess sorted” I stated forcefully.
“Will we still get our bonuses, Sir” piped up Snodgrass.
“Yes, you can each have a Nissan Hut!” I answered.
Honestly, the whole purpose of this trip was to get away from all this nonsense.
My advice seems to be much in demand these days. With the economic situation so gloomy, everyone seems to expect me; with my great entrepreneurial skills, to sort things to right.
I have barely left my office in Homeward in months - frantic phone calls from Karolos, from the Oval Office or No.10 , seeking advice and aid, come at all times of the day and night.
In the early hours one morning, I decided to take a stroll around my residence to blow away the intricate cobwebs besetting my mind.
I was surprised to see Goodman the cat, still hard at work, in my library. There is nothing more he enjoys than sorting through dusty tomes for my librarian, Will Shudder.
"Are you finding it hard to sleep, too, Goodman?" I inquired. "No, Sir, it's just that I was having such fun cataloguing that I completely lost track of the time. Would you like me to recommend a good read – to distract you from your great burdens?”
“Sound idea, Goodman!” I replied.
“How about this, Sir, it’s called Angelmaker, by Nick Harkaway – it’s a ripping yarn!” he suggested.
Now, I must say, I am not usually that keen on novels, apart from the classics. I do enjoy Charles Dickens rags to riches tales – so like my own story. Little is known of it, but he once visited Homeward, in the darker periods of its history, and campaigned against the exploitative use of dwarfs as chimney sweeps.
However, I must say that this book by Mister Harkaway is a jolly good read.
Elephants, of course, play an important role in the adventure – if I were to level any criticism at the author it would only be the fact that I feel the book would have been much improved if the hero of the story had been an elephant. His hero tinkers with clockwork engines, not unlike are own Cowgill. Much as I respect Cowgill, I think, even he would admit, that he does not strike one as having a stature of heroic nature.
Today, Goodman, the Old Monkey and I took a stroll down Water-Chute Tower, around the Blowpipe Laundry, past the Dwarf’s Drinking Fountains to Money-and-Engine-Room Wood. “Fantasy! Pure fantasy!” I declared to the Old Monkey “Much as I admire Mister Harkaway’s book, it has to be said that a decent book on economics is far more useful – particularly in these troubled times!”
“That may be so, Sir, but sometimes one needs to escape – a mental diversion – so that one can come back to the fray refreshed, and mentally alert again” he replied.
“I take your point, Old Monkey – you are suggesting that I might have become stale in my thinking?” I queried.
“Oh no, not at all, Sir, but your absence on the interweb has been noticed – perhaps you have allowed your many good works to rather rule your life?” he responded.
“Well, I hardly think that readers of my missives would be interested in examining the probabilities of default implicit in observable market spreads or would wish to consider these calculations against sovereign debt dynamics!” I retorted.
“Well, know, Sir, exactly – may I suggest that you need to take some time out from all this and get back to having some adventures again?” he sighed.
“Hmmm, I must admit, my domain is vast and there are still so many unexplored areas. Brother Rupert has been badgering me to join him on his expedition to discover the source of the Oooze…” I pondered.
“Oh yes please, Sir, please can we go! I have always wanted to explore that mysterious river that runs deep into the heart of Homeward!” he said excitedly.
I must admit that the dark brooding force of the Oooze has always fascinated me – a force that has traced an intricate flow through the literature and mythology of Homeward.
“I would love to go – but what if Mister Obama needs to get hold of me urgently? I said.
“Don’t worry, Sir, with modern satellite telephonic communication you can keep in touch anywhere!” wheedled the Old Monkey persuasively.
He had persuaded me. I will be joining my brother on his mission into the unknown !