In the last episode of Karen Zipslicer’s adventures, Karen had just ventured into Farrago Square, and seen the enormous crowd gathered there…
As her awe subsided, Karen puffed out her cheeks. She would be stuck in Farrago Square for a while, so scanned for a convenient place to watch events. Many sat on the steps that ringed the square. Karen walked a quarter of the way down, spotted a space, breathed a sigh of relief for her feet, and slipped into the gap between a deer and a duck. Neither complained, though each had to budge up. Many others kept flowing down. From afar, they looked like rivulets, coursing into the assembly of thousands. A temporary stage sat in the middle of the square, in the shadow of Gilbert’s column. A burly man came to the front of the stage, walked past the microphones, and lifted a loudhailer to his mouth. The crowd hushed. As the man shouted through his loudhailer, he punched the air as ferociously as if he was fighting for his life against an invisible enemy. Karen struggled to hear what he said, but there was no problem hearing the audience’s passionate response.
“Hello everybody, it’s amazing you’ve all come here today, it really is. We all know what a sacrifice it’s been, giving up half a day’s pay, making your way from all over to be here. But I promise you that it’ll be worth it. It’ll be worth it because you’re all worth it. That’s right – you’re worth it!”
“Let me ask you a question. Are you glad to be ignored?”
“No!” shouted the crowd.
“Do you like being second-class citizens?”
“Should we give up our rights without a fight?”
“Are you getting what you deserve?”
A microphone crackled into life and feedback whined from the speakers, making the crowd wince. The speaker put down his loudhailer and grabbed the microphone. Now Karen could hear him much more easily. His voice boomed all across the square.
“Let me ask you, all of you, are we going to be shouted down?”
“Will they ever shut us up?”
“Then let’s hear it. What do we want?”
Some in the crowd paused, others answered without hesitation. They cried:
“Justice!” “Fairness!” “Soup!”
“Free elections!” “Revolution!” “Hot running water!” “Quiet neighbours!”
“Cake!” “Lower taxes!” “Loft insulation!” “More holidays!”
“Liberty!” “Piety!” “Pie!” “and mash!”
“Umbrellas!” “Free tea!” “Educational opportunities!”
“A late night train service between Gannet Head and West Mumbley!”
“Pyjamas!” “An end to corruption!”
“Respect!” “Free love!”
“A haircut!” “Can you repeat the question please?” “A good night’s sleep!”
And they cried it all at once. “Exactly!” replied the speaker on the stage, much to Karen’s bemused amazement, and amazed bemusement. “And I tell you what else we want right now…”
“An end to curfew!” shouted somebody in the crowd.
“No. Well, yes, we do want that, but that’s not what I’m saying we want right now. What we want right now is…”
“Larger helpings of our favourite puddings!” shouted somebody else in the crowd.
“True, though from the size of you I’m thinking you’ve already had seconds. Right now we want…”
“An end to rain!” shouted another voice from the crowd.
“Too right brother! Rain is a pain! But now we all want to listen to somebody who’s really going to tell us what we all want to hear, because that’s what she’s here to do. Let me introduce… Marianne Hardbun!”
There were cheers and clapping as a woman walked across the stage to the microphone. She wore an ugly bulging black waistcoat over a tailored brown suit. Karen squinted, making sure her eyes were not fooled. No, she really was wearing a waistcoat over her jacket. Two golden eagles landed behind Karen, which prompted Whiteley to run down from Karen’s shoulder, into the safety of her pocket. “It’s for protection,” said one of the eagles to the other. Karen eavesdropped. “Protection from what?” said the other eagle. “From all the people who want to do her in,” said the first eagle. “She should go around wearing a suit of armour then,” laughed the other eagle. A nearby vole shushed the pair of eagles. Karen was amazed at the vole’s bravery, and that the eagles quietened down instead of eating him.
Marianne Hardbun stood behind a microphone stand. The crowd cheered. She waved, and waited for an assistant to adjust her microphone so that it was perfectly positioned. The crowd applaud, or stamped their feet as a mark of approval. She waved some more. Her assistant nudged the microphone up a bit, then down a bit. She frowned. He nudged it up a bit, up a bit more, down a bit, then left a bit. Finally she nodded her perfectionist approval. Now that Marianne Hardbun was satisfied, she held up one palm and waited for quiet. The crowd obeyed her wishes. “Cousins, compadres and crustaceans,” she began, “let me tell you what you’ve told me is the reason why we’re all here today. Lundern’s so-called leaders have presided over the vicious desiccation of our coconuts and the unprecedented out-saucing of our cycle liveries. We’re facing the worst ergonomic crisis since the sticky marker clash of the 20’s. Our deferred seat is no longer in our hands, and it will soon be completely out of our control. We’ve been assailed by the three-headed evils of money tourism, crow-kneed hospitalism and yodel mornings. And nobody can deny any of it – I’m just repeating what’s already been said by the offal stair mystics!” At least, this is what it sounded like to Karen, who started clenching her bum in boredom.
Marianne Hardbun continued, speaking over the cheers of support. “I think the question we all need to ask is this: who is to blame? Not you. You’re not to blame. Don’t blame me, either. So whose fault is it?”
“The Vizier!” answered most of the crowd, though a lone voice, drowned out by the others, blamed her Aunt Trudy.
“That’s right. The Vizier, Lundern’s ruler, is to blame for literally everything that’s wrong with Lundern, just as we’re responsible for literally everything good in Lundern. I ask myself this: do we want the Vizier to be our ruler, and I think we all know the answer. The answer is no! We need to send him a resolute message. We shall overcome, no matter what may come. We shall not be moved, unless we want to be moved. And we do feel moved – we’re moved to act! We must give the Vizier no choice but to listen to us, and having listened to us, he’ll have to step aside and let us take his place, though we can’t all take his place, so I’ll temporarily and reluctantly take his place on your behalf. Who can argue with that?”
Karen had to agree. There could be no argument. It all sounded like nonsense to her, and it was impossible to argue for, or against, nonsense. Karen realized she was attending some kind of political rally. She had no idea what they wanted to achieve, or how they were going to achieve it. She could only tell they disliked the Vizier, whoever he was, and that Marianne Hardbun was determined to say what everyone else was supposed to be thinking already. Karen wondered why she bothered. She rubbed around her ankle, which was sore. She puffed out her cheeks, tried to concentrate, and hoped the speech would get better.
“Lunderners, I ask that you lend me your ears, and if you do, I promise to repay you with interest. In return, I’ll give you what I’ve always given you – metaphorically speaking – which is my very own blood, sweat, soil, ears, nose and mouth. And whilst I’ve got your ears in my pocket, so to speak, let me say something else. Let it never be said that I don’t say what needs to be said. And when I say that, I say that most sincerely. Need I say more? I don’t, but I will, because I know you want me to. We’ve heard excuse after excuse from the Vizier, justifying why night always follows day, and why it gets cold in Winter. We’re tired of excuses. Don’t we all deserve a change? Don’t we all deserve better? Don’t we all deserve a trip to the seaside, and for it to be sunny when we get there, and to have an ice cream, and for the ice cream to have a Flake in it? And let me say one more thing. Unlike the Vizier, we can be rightly proud of our collective records. We’ve been fighting for Lundern, and we’ll keep on fighting for Lundern. Our record is one of hard work, fairness, goodness, and rightness and freedom-ness. That’s our record, which for the record, has never been off the record, and this sets the record straight, unlike the broken record of excuses that we keep hearing from the Vizier!”
Karen sat on her hands. The speech was not getting any better. She blew a stray hair away from her face.
Marianne Hardbun persisted. “Let’s remind ourselves of what the Vizier said before his last victory. He promised us that ‘yes we can’. That’s what he said: ‘yes we can’. But after his victory, he changed his tune. Instead of ‘yes we can’, he started saying ‘why don’t you then?’ What an outrage! We all know the answer to that. We would but we can’t because he won’t let us. The Vizier is in our way, so we must get him out of the way. And I ask myself, can we get him out of the way? I think we all know that the answer is that we can. Yes, we REALLY can. Come on, repeat after me, yes we REALLY can.”
“Yes we really can,” repeated the crowd.
“Yes we REALLY can,” repeated Marianne Hardbun.
“Yes we really can,” repeated the crowd.
“Nearly! Yes we REALLY can,” repeated Marianne Hardbun.
“Yes we really can,” repeated the crowd.
“Close enough,” said Marianne Hardbun. “Yes we REALLY can. You, me, everyone here, we can REALLY make a difference. Answer me this: why isn’t the Vizier here today, speaking to you now? I’ll tell you why: because he wasn’t invited! And why didn’t we invite him? Because we don’t want him here. And why would we? Even if we did invite him, we wouldn’t listen to him, because he never listens to us. There’s no point talking to him. And if we did listen to him, we’d soon realize he’s not worth listening to, and that we’d made a big mistake, and that we should send him right back to his big palace with all his snooty servants and his fancy clothes and his comfy furniture. We’d send him straight back to his palace and when we’d done that, we’d all go over to his palace and kick him out of it! That’s right – let’s kick him out of his palace! So instead of listening to me saying let’s not listen to him, let me tell you what I would tell him if he was listening, which he isn’t, though he should, and we’ll make him. I’d tell him to step aside and let all of us decide what really needs doing and what really needs deciding. Can we make the decisions, for a change. Can we do that?”
She stopped talking, but the crowd looked at her, then looked at each other, not realizing it was their turn to speak.
“Can we really make better decisions than the Vizier? Can we…? Well, can we?” She paused, then prompted the crowd by saying, “yes… we…
“… erm… umm… wha?… oh!… yes WE can!” said the crowd.
“Yes we REALLY can,” said Marianne Hardbun.
“Yes, WE really can, said the crowd.
“No, you’re not listening: yes we REALLY can,” said Marianne Hardbun.
“Yes, WE – REALLY – CAN,” said the crowd, who were trying their best, but kept struggling with their lines. Meanwhile, Karen checked on Whiteley. He was fast asleep. Lucky ferret.
Marianne Hardbun had not finished yet. “I appeal to you, my fellow brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, sheep, otters, mice, housewives, fishwives, stepmothers, goatherds and in-laws. I appeal to you, to let me ask you just one more thing. Do you trust the Vizier? Do you? Please allow me to tell you the answer I know you’d tell me. No you don’t! You don’t trust the Vizier. And you don’t need to tell me the reasons why you don’t. I’ll tell you the reasons because I know you’d be only too glad to tell him, if he was here, which he isn’t. The Vizier has no substance, that’s why you don’t trust him. He’s like glass, he’s so see-through, unless you want to know what he’s up to, and then he’s against transparency. Let us turn the tide of tyranny and end the rule of the Vizier, and not let any other wannabe vizier take his place. Let us replace the Vizier with a freedom-loving democratic government that represents all of us, by which I mean everyone here, and not our enemies who aren’t here, or even our enemies who are here, because they may be in disguise so we’d better be careful. And who can we trust to do this for us? Nobody but ourselves. We’ll have to do it, which we will, if I have anything to say about it, and I have, and I just have, as I’m sure you’ve just heard, because you leant me your ears. Because, for all the empty talk, we know that if we remain true to ourselves, and keep faith in ourselves, and have trust in each other, then our voices will be heard, by which I mean my voice will be heard, because I’m the one with the microphone, which I’m holding on behalf of all of us, metaphorically speaking, because I’m not literally holding it because the microphone stand is doing that. And that’s all I want to say at this time. Thank you for listening.”