In more recent posts, I digressed to tell the flashback story of the young Lady Emerald. Returning to the original thread, after Karen Zipslicer’s first night in Lundern, we left her eating breakfast with Winton, the cobbler. Before Karen can explore the rest of Lundern, there is one place that Winton must take her…
Though sunlight peered through the thin veil of mist, it was chilly outside. Karen stamped her red-booted feet, in a bid to warm herself and relieve her impatience. They were a hundred yards from Winton’s shop, near the corner of the street. Winton was cheerily standing, facing a locked door.
“It’s good to be early. They’ll open in one minute, and we’ll be first in the queue,” said Winton, still standing poised in front of the door.
“Is this a bank?” asked Karen, a little off-handedly. The signage above the shop read ‘Municipal Financial Emporium’. Karen thought the lettering was most unwelcoming. “And there’s nobody else in the queue,” she added.
“What’s a bank?” asked Winton.
“Don’t you have banks in Lundern?”
“We have river banks.”
“Banks are places where you keep money.”
“You could keep money here, if you wanted. I keep my money in my shoe, when I have some,” laughed Winton, as he waggled a foot in Karen’s direction. She did not humour him.
“So it’s a bank then?”
“Like I say, I don’t know what you mean when you talk about banks. But this is a place to do things with money.”
Karen paused for a moment, and then loudly pondered, “why are we here?” Winton did not answer because at that moment a short man in a disheveled suit came to unlock the door. He bent over to open the bolt at the door’s base, then jumped up to open the bolt at its top. Winton was so eager to get in that he pushed the door almost simultaneously with the short man pulling it open.
“Are you here to collect more stamps today, Mr. Weddle?” asked the short man, speaking to Winton. He held the door open as Karen followed Winton, and then he walked back to the far side of his teller’s counter. On his way round, he needed to squeeze past a large and forbidding desk that sat at one end of the room. Though the teller was short, his head was several feet above everyone else’s when he sat on his high stool.
“Yes Ronnie,” said Winton, as he pulled out a thin booklet from inside his jacket. “But today we’ll be needing to buy some insurance for this young lady, Karen Zipslicer.” Winton gestured towards Karen by way of his introduction, and his gesture turned into a comforting hand on Karen’s shoulder.
“Cor blimey! Insurance?” asked Ronnie, the teller, as if this was the most extraordinary request he had heard in a long time. “I’ll have to call in Ron to give you advice about that,” and he leaned back and shouted loudly at a closed door: “Ron, Mr. Weddle’s wanting to buy insurance!”
Some time past, and to Karen it felt as if everyone was staring very intently at the door that Ronnie, the teller, had shouted at. They waited for the Ron who was behind the door to eventually emerge from it. But whilst they all looked at the door, a badger steadily climbed up his ramp and carefully sat himself behind the desk. That badger was called Ron, and was who they had been waiting for.
“Cor blimey!” exclaimed Ronnie, the teller. Karen gritted her teeth when he did. “Ron, we was looking for you at the door, but you never came out from behind it! I was calling you, shouting that Mr. Weddle’s wanting some insurance for this young lady… Miss… erm…” but he did not know Karen’s name.
“Zipslicer,” said Karen.
“That’s it. I was shouting that Miss Zipslicer needs some insurance, and we was waiting for you, and you didn’t come through the door, but now you’re here!”
“Yes,” was the monosyllabic reply of Ron, the badger.
There was an awkward silence. Ronnie Corblimey seemed a little hurt by Ron Badger’s reticence. Eventually Ron Badger relented.
“I was sleeping under my desk. You woke me. I heard the conversation with Mr. Weddle and Miss Zipslicer.”
Ronnie Corblimey was greatly cheered by this modest exchange, and he beamed at Karen and Winton as he gestured for them to sit at Ron Badger’s desk.
Karen and Winton took the two vacant seats on the opposite side to Ron Badger’s desk. Upon the desk there was a large typewriter, and in a silver frame, a black and white photograph of Ron Badger with his family. Black and white suited them. As Karen and Winton sat, Ronnie Corblimey continued to chime in: “they want insurance for the young miss, so I said you would need to give them advice about that.”
“I will, Ronnie.” Ron Badger had a serious disposition, or maybe he wished he was still asleep.
“You’d better ask them what kind of insurance they wants,” added Ronnie Corblimey, not particularly helpfully.
“I’ll do that,” and he turned to look Karen deeply in the eyes, then looked Winton deep in the eyes, and then looked back to Karen, and he said: “what kind of insurance do you want?”
Winton answered: “miscellaneous short-term”.
It was unclear what expression Ron Badger had on his face, but Karen wondered if it was meant to be ill-tempered. There was a long pause and it looked is if Ron Badger was about to speak, when Ronnie Corblimey butted in: “cor blimey, you can’t have miscellaneous short-term, you knows!”
Rob Badger, turned to look at Ronnie Corblimey, and looked him deep in the eyes too. There was something hypnotic and paralyzing about his stare. It left you intently attentive, whilst still and silent like a stone. At least, it left Karen and Winton that way. Ronnie Corblimey was more immune, and added to his early comment: “you can’t half short-term miscellaneous as a policy, no you can’t. That’s right, isn’t it, Ron?”
Maybe Ron Badger’s eyes widened just a tad. Karen was not sure what he was doing, but he looked gripped in a battle of mind control with Ronnie Corblimey. As she had no idea why she was here, she just sat there quietly. As she did, it occurred to Karen that their enquiry about insurance might be the follow-up to last night’s shenanigans, where she had needed a waiver from the ticket inspector just to walk with Cecilia. Ron Badger’s eyes opened even wider and finally Ronnie Corblimey fell silent, after exhaling a semi-audible whimper.
Turning back to Karen and Winton, Ron Badger clarified: “I recall that ‘miscellaneous long-term’ is one of the policies we sold to you, Mr. Weddle. The name of that product is shorthand for a discounted bundle of some of our most popular policies. We don’t provide a similar bundle for short-duration policies,” with this, Ron Badger looked up at Ronnie Corblimey, and opened his eyes very wide. Karen and Winton followed his lead, and looked around too. They saw Ronnie Corblimey had his mouth open, as if about to speak, but Ron Badger’s stare seemed to have gripped his tongue. Ronnie Corblimey closed his mouth, and swallowed. “Please specify each individual policy Miss Zipslicer needs,” continued Ron Badger. And then he asked Karen: “what insurance do you have already?”
“I don’t know,” she replied, a little meekly, “my dad normally takes care of that.”
“Hmmm,” after a moment of reflection, Ron Badger continued. “Let me briefly list the kinds of insurance I recommend for you,” and then he paused, and took breath, before continuing, without further hesitation. “There’s life insurance, for when you die, and health insurance, for when you’re ill, and housing insurance, should you be left homeless, and possessions insurance, if you lose yours. There’s transport insurance, in case you cannot get to where you are going, accident insurance, in case of the unexpected, and theft insurance, in case someone expects to take your things. There’s face-washing insurance, in case of soap in your eye, and clothes-washing insurance, in case of reds mixed with whites. There’s tall trees insurance, in case one falls on you, and climbing insurance, in case you fall from it. There’s money insurance, in case of devaluation, honey insurance, in case of bee stings, runny insurance, in case of not completing a marathon, and funny insurance, in case of being a failed comedian who is booed off stage. There’s belt insurance, if your trousers fall down, hat insurance, if it blows off, and bum insurance, which covers landings both hard and prickly. There’s hair insurance, in case it falls out, bear insurance, when in the woods, tear insurance, for clothes snagged on loose nails, and share insurance, if nobody can agree how to split the bill at the restaurant. There’s near insurance, for when surrounded by people you don’t like, tear insurance, for dry eyes or smudged makeup, fear insurance, when you want the reassurance of a policy that covers things you otherwise needn’t worry about, and deer insurance,” and here Ron Badger finally took another breath, before opaquely adding “in case of deers.”
Ron Badger looked up to Ronnie Corblimey with the widest eyes yet. Karen and Winton looked over their shoulders too. Ronnie Corblimey had barely pursed his lips to speak. He froze in that pose for a few seconds, before sealing his mouth again. Ron Badger turned back to Karen and Winton. “There’s land insurance, if your hot air balloon blows off course, sand insurance, for uncomfortable return trips from the beach, canned insurance, for when you lose your tin opener, stand insurance, if there are no seats left in a waiting room, hand insurance, if lacking moisturizer, command insurance, for when nobody listens to you, demand insurance, for when they really should listen to you, and offhand insurance, for those who purchase insurance on a whim. There’s a set insurance for your china set, a set insurance for broken bones, a set insurance for those working in the theatre, a set insurance for when you’re losing at tennis, a set insurance for misplaced traps, a set insurance for fast clocks and slow watches, a set insurance for failed jellies, a set insurance if you pull a face and the wind changes, a set insurance for those needing more daylight, a set insurance for those unable to order à la carte and a set insurance if the diamond falls out of your ring.”
At this point, Karen felt compelled to interrupt the interminable list, “As you’re a badger, I suppose you also have sett insurance.”
“I do, but that’s not a policy that humans qualify for,” replied Ron Badger, without humour. He eyes glanced at Ronnie Corblimey, but the teller’s mouth was firmly shut.
Ron Badger paused before continuing. “We shouldn’t forget chalking insurance, in case of blackboard difficulties, hawking insurance, in case parallel universes are real and you fall into one, gawking insurance, in case somebody spots you looking too intently at them, walking assurance, when putting your foot on the street, and talking insurance, in case of putting your foot in your mouth.”
“Karen needs the one before last,” commented Winton, excited to finally be making some progress.
“Everyone does. It’s the law. Miss Zipslicer, don’t you already have pedestrian insurance?”
“And you’re not covered by your father’s policy?”
“Not that I know. You see, I’m from somewhere else. I’m new here, and I’ve never needed insurance just to walk around before,” observed Karen, accurately. Feeling that she might be forced into buying a lot more insurance than she wanted, she decided not to ask about the hawking insurance, even though it seemed most relevant to her current circumstances.
“Cor blimey!” but by now, everyone knew to ignore Ronnie Corblimey, and they carried on as if he had not spoken.
“Have you been walking around without an insurance policy as mandated by the Municipality of Lundern?”
“I had a waiver to walk around,” pleaded Karen, though now she realized she had no idea where it was, and wondered if Cecilia had taken it with her. “And nobody told me about any other insurance that I needed.”
“I suppose it’s lucky you made it here without incident. In Lundern, you must have walking insurance, to perambulate its streets, ocular insurance, if using its light, and breathing insurance, for respiratory exercise.”
Karen sat back in her chair, rather glumly. “How much will that cost?”
“That depends on how long you take out the policy for. The longer the duration, the greater the discount.”
“One day?” suggested Karen.
“Cor blimey!” exclaimed Ronnie Corblimey. At this, Ron Badger seemed to finally lose his temper with his colleague’s repetitive interjections. Unmistakably directed at Ronnie Corblimey, Ron Badger gave his hardest stare yet, and by the end of it, all of the blood appeared to have drained from Ronnie’s face. That unpleasantness over with, Ron Badger appeared to twitch a little, but continued whilst attempting to sound unruffled.
“Are you leaving today?” asked Ron Badger.
“That’s my plan,” answered Karen, suddenly conscious of how much time she was wasting in this office of the Municipal Financial Emporium.
“Normally it takes two months to process the paperwork needed to apply for these policies. In a hurry, we can do it around eight or ten working days, but no quicker. You should have submitted your application before you arrived in our city.”
Karen had no answer to that. Ron Badger looked dead-eyed at her, but Winton intervened again.
“A few weeks is fine. Karen won’t be going that soon. She doesn’t even have her tickets booked.”
Karen was upset with the implication that she would be staying longer than she wanted, but Winton’s words seemed to help the situation. Ron Badger turned to Ronnie Corblimey and instructed him to bring over the necessary forms for Karen to fill. As Ronnie Corblimey went through his drawers, Ron Badger recommended to Karen that she take out a year-long policy. He said she should request a refund if she needed to terminate the policy early. Karen found this administrative nonsense to be annoying, though she tried to bear it without show of any displeasure. However, Karen could not hide her dismay when Ronnie Corblimey stepped beside her, holding a pile of papers thick enough to comprise an encyclopedia.
“Do I have to fill all these out?” squealed Karen at Ron Badger, though Ronnie Corblimey answered on his behalf.
“No dear, don’t be silly. You don’t fill out all of these papers. On some of them there’s boxes marked ‘official use only’. You should leave those bits for me and Ron to complete. You just fill out the rest.”
Ronnie Corblimey put the papers in Karen’s lap, then scuttled back to his high stool behind his counter.
“It’ll take me all day to complete these forms!” complained Karen.
“You don’t need to do them right now…” began Ronnie Corblimey, talking from the vantage point of his stool, but he stopped when he realized Ron Badger was once again staring at him.
“You don’t need to do them now,” repeated Ron Badger, “you can do them tonight. Just return them to me by tomorrow, please. In the meantime, I’ll issue you a waiver, so you can go about your business whilst we wait for the paperwork to be processed.”
Karen sighed, though she was mildly intrigued to find out how a badger would fill out a waiver form. Would he hold the pen in his mouth? But the solution was simple. Ron Badger depressed one button on the keyboard of the ‘typewriter’ on his desk, and it noisily whirred into action. A minute later, it had spewed out a waiver form, which said it was official and had been issued by the Lundern Municipal Financial Corporation, Auldsbury branch. Karen pulled it out of the machine and examined it, noting that it expired in a month. Hopefully she would be long gone by then.
Karen motioned to stand up, but Ron Badger coughed and Winton smiled sheepishly, on her behalf. Ron Badger spoke in a direct and no-nonsense tone.
“Now for the matter of payment.”
Karen blushed; would her money be any good in Lundern? She asked the cost of her new insurance.
“Three shillings, five farthings and a pfennig.”
The money they used was evidently different to the kind that Karen carried with her. “I don’t have any Lundern money,” she began…
“Co…” began Ronnie Corblimey, but he quickly stopped himself as Ron Badger looked at him, disappovingly. “C…ripes. Cripes. Yes, that’s what I was going to say. Cripes!”
Now feeling more embarrassed than before, Karen had to proceed regardless, and she asked: “do you accept pounds sterling?”
“Sterling it may be, but the pound’s not welcome here,” said Ron Badger, flatly. “The Lundern Municipal Financial Corporation does not accept strange currencies from faraway places, unless you’re asking to make a currency exchange, of course.”
“Yes, that’s right, a currency exchange,” said Karen, suddenly optimistic.
“But as I’ve never heard of the country of Sterling, we can’t accept their currency.”
“The money’s not from Sterling, it’s from Britain,” protested Karen
“Then why is the money called pounds sterling, and not pounds Britain?”
Karen had no answer for that. She thought she had been clever to know it was called a pound sterling, and knew no more than that.
“Britain’s a country, Ron,” chirruped Ronnie Corblimey, who suddenly appeared to have found a purpose. “I know it’s a country because I sometimes hear of seagulls and rats and otters who have been there and decided to come back. And pigeons. Pigeons especially. Apparently they’re not welcome there.”
“If pigeons are not welcome, then these Britishers have uncommonly sound judgement. But I’ve still not heard of Britain and can’t sanction a trade of their currency. Mr. Weddle, you’ll have to pay on the girl’s behalf.”
At first Winton did not respond to his surname. He was looking down at the booklet he had pulled out earlier, which now lay on his lap. Karen nudged Winton and he became conscious of what Ron Badger had said.
“I suppose you’re right. Not that I can afford it right now.”
“We’ll add it to your line of credit,” said Ron Badger, without a moment’s hesitation.
“Even if it’s on credit, I’ll still get the stamps for my loyalty book, won’t I?” asked Winton, holding the booklet aloft and trying to make the best of the situation.
“Of course,” and with those words Ron glanced at Ronnie, and the teller scurried around from his counter. In one hand, he held the forms for a credit promissory slip. In the other, between thumb and forefinger he loftily carried two loyalty stamps. They looked like tiny postage stamps. On close inspection they bore the face and name of someone called ‘Lord Gold’. Without a word, for once, Ronnie Corblimey snapped up Winton’s booklet, licked the stamps and carelessly pasted them into the next available slots. He handed the booklet back, with pages open, for Winton to inspect. Looking across Winton at the booklet, Karen read that a full page of stamps was worth a day trip to the seaside. Winton still needed twenty more stamps to complete the page.
“Sign here, and here, and initial here and here, and here please, Mr. Weddle,” indicated Ronnie Corblimey.
“I’ll pay you back,” insisted Karen, who felt guilty at depending on Winton’s generosity. She suddenly felt herself unforgivably ungrateful for helping herself to food that morning, and for wearing the red boots that Winton had made. After all his kindness, Winton had only ever asked to examine Karen’s Heelys. “I’ll pay you back, by working for free, in your workshop,” offered Karen.
Winton looked up and looked Karen in the eye, ruefully saying: “I thought you said you’d be leaving today.”
Karen had no answer to that, but Ronnie Corblimey, still leaning over Winton and marking out places that needed initialing, had something to say on that matter. “Well dears, there’s no point making a fuss if the young lady really will leave by the end of today, and hence if she never returns her application forms, completed or otherwise. We’ll just forget all about adding the premium to Mr. Weddle’s account, and no one need know about the waiver that we issued.”
Ron Badger coughed loudly at the teller’s indiscretion, but this time Ronnie Corblimey was not going to be cowed. “Won’t we, Ron?”, continued Ronnie Corblimey, leaning a little across the badger’s desk, as he shuffled and straightened the forms that Winton had just signed.
Ron Badger was clearly not pleased with Ronnie Corblimey’s impertinence, but he said nothing.
“Will I still get to keep my stamps?” asked Winton, with eyebrows raised.
“I don’t see why you shouldn’t,” continued Ronnie Corblimey, now ignoring the stares he was getting from Ron Badger. “They’re such little things, and it would be a flippin’ nuisance to try to take them out of your book again, now that I’ve stuck them in. Everybody deserves a day at the seaside, now and then, don’t they?” Whilst he was talking, Ronnie Corblimey escorted Karen and Winton to the door, his hands on their backs, discouraging them from looking back at Ron Badger, who silently fumed. Holding the door open, Ronnie smiled and spoke under his breath: “paperwork is such a fuss and bother, isn’t it? I tell you, I’m not filling out any forms that list a lot of tittle tattle about whether you returned this or that piece of paper or whether you claimed such-and-such a waiver. And nobody else will fill them out either,” he added, winking. “Life’s just too short, isn’t it?” And Ron Corblimey nodded happily as Karen and Winton stepped out into the remnants of Lundern’s morning mist.