The Orraman is on holiday so for the festive season we have rooted out an episode of 'Twixt Desk and Shelves' set in the fictional publishing offices of The Pelican, in the equally (almost) fictional town of St Congan's. This is from December 2016. A lot of things (and people) in St Congan's haven't changed much in a century! This episode deals with the fallout of an argument about who can use 'the club.'
‘I read your dialogue on the club scandal,’ said a visitor, ‘it was quite right except for one thing, as far as I know.’
Printer: What was that? Of course the conversation was given very much as it took place. I was only mildly interested, and I knew nothing of the facts at first hand.
Visitor: You spoke of whist and whisky having too much of a show. But it’s a dry club. There are no intoxicants supplied on the premises.
Printer; I repeat that I gave the conversation as I got it. I am positive about certain names having been mentioned of fathers who had withdrawn from membership themselves and forbidden their sons to go because they came home later and not sober. (Here the speaker gave several names.) And that isn’t all. A teacher friend called one night, having business with one of the leading members. He found two leading members there – men well up in years – and both were in the state which is called, ‘well-to-do,’ probably on the principle of contraries. They started to quarrel over the business the teacher has broached, and words ran so high that he left in despair of getting any sense or satisfaction. Both the men called upon him next day and apologised. (Here again names were mentioned.)
Visitor: That may be; but you’ll find it as I say. The old provost, one of the founders of the club, stipulated for no drink, and in this he had his way.
Printer: Well of course there are two different ways of carrying it in. There is deck cargo and there is stowed cargo.
‘I read your article about the club,’ said another visitor , a young man, a day or two later. ‘I may tell you that I was one of those who voted against the use of the rooms being given. I didn’t object to the wounded men having the run of the place, but to the way the thing was gone about. I should have let the Red Cross have the sole right to the place as tenants. The club is nothing to me; though I’m going up there to have a game of billiards now.
Printer (feeling there is some amount of contradiction here): But, my dear chap, what’s the good of voting against a thing if you favour it?
Young Visitor: As I say, I objected to the way the thing was gone about. And for that matter I was not altogether averse to the course taken by the majority. The matter was very fully considered, and there’s a good deal to be said for the majority .
Printer: Now you’re talking! Let’s hear what you have to say. I believe in giving both sides a show.
Young Visitor: Well, some of those who voted against the rooms being given knew something. For one thing, the wounded are being used by some folk for self-advertisement. Miss Dugald got the loan of Andrew Wilson’s cars, and drove the men here and there. Her name alone appeared as the Lady Bountiful, while Andrew was finding both the cars and the petrol, and his name never had a look in, though it should have helped his business to have the fair acknowledgement. Petrol costs money just now.
Printer: I had him in the other day, and he said he had read the article, but he offered no comment either way.
Young Visitor: Yes, that’s Andrew all over. And he had had some experience of the wounded men too. He gave them the use of a room at the Harmony and they carried in drink, and were very noisy and rackety. He had to stop it. They were stopped at the Duff Arms too. They walked upon the billiard table there, and were a downright nuisance. Still, I would have been in favour of letting them the rooms outright, and holding the Red Cross responsible for any damage done.
Printer: It’s a pity you didn’t carry a motion to that effect. I daresay the future before these poor fellows is calculated to make them a bit regardless.
‘A man was saying last night that you had stated in The Pelican what was not correct.’ So said a neighbour, coming in and starting to his tale without preliminary courtesy.
‘Good morning Mr Gill,’ said the Printer, bowing with marked elaborateness from behind his machine.
The hasty visitor repeated the omitted flourish, and proceeded with his story. ‘The Pelican said that no small businesses had been closed up locally, and this man pointed out that Cunningham the painter had had to shut shop and join the colours, and that you yourself wouldn’t have got your present premises if the previous tenant hadn’t had to go up for service.
Printer (smiling): Well, that’s what the Yankees call ‘a fair hoist.’ But did the Pelican say that? Oh, I remember! There was a note of four or five lines. The note stated, among other things, that while the English Tommy jeered at and insulted the slacker, the Scottish soldier congratulated him on his escape, and that I hadn’t seen a single badge being worn or heard of a business having to be sold to meet the call. This was written partly under your own inspiration. I had said that I thought the reference, in certain verses, to buying a ‘graip’ [Angled, dung-fork] from the military representative was a little below the belt; that I thought he was not to be brought in that way; and that he was independent to the point of brusqueness. You answered that, so far from being the case St Congans was famous for a great many exemptions since I came here – of young men too, and not even young men who are actually in charge of business. The whole position is different in large centres. There the members of the tribunals do not know the men who come before them; know nothing of their circumstances except what is stated in evidence; and consequently can have none of the sympathy that acquaintanceship naturally begets.
Mr Gill: Well, you see that the military representative has been changed.
Painter: Yes, but I take it that he has made the change himself- has resigned. I’m not denying that St Congans men have done and are doing their full share of the fighting. The casualty list shows that. But I do say that there isn’t much State-consciousness, or Community-consciousness, in the local population. I haven’t met an ardent politician since I came here. Start what subject you will, the local man tends to swing round to local gossip. Parliament is, of course, far away. There’s Taylor, the Socialist, of course. He is keen on all public questions. He is understood as an exception. He and I have a certain grim satisfaction in the way in which the war has brought home the fact of citizenship and personal political responsibility to people who have always spoken and acted as if politics didn’t matter. And now, by the Lord, it is evident that politics are all-important” If all the working men of Europe had been like Taylor and myself there wouldn’t have been a Kaiser or a war-lord in the civilised world today. The fact that working men neglected this, and turned up their noses at those whom they called ‘Socialist cranks’ is costing them their very lives. As I wrote long ago, ‘Duties neglected are as crimes committed, and may be even more deadly in their consequences.’ The penalty of neglecting to take your fair intelligent share in the government of the country is that you shall be misgoverned by other people, even to the taking of your life in a quarrel of which you don’t understand the most elementary meaning – even now. It is said that we are fighting for freedom, and I fervently hope and trust that we are; for I have always exercised my freedom to say and do what seemed to me good against the powers that be, both great and small. But is Rome fighting for freedom? Will the Czar give his own subjects freedom? Will he stop sending his subjects to Siberia without trial? Will he discontinue rewarding the leaders of the Black Hundred who massacre Jews on the holy days of the Greek Church? Freedom is not mere absence of restraint. It means the power to do things as well as the mere liberty to do them. I am free to play the fiddle or read Greek: but I never had lessons so I am without the power. A man who is uneducated is not free; the doors of opportunity are barred to him by his ignorance. The man whose means of livelihood are the property of another is not free. He has to accept the master’s terms. He has to work to accept the price the masters class is willing to give. With all his trade unionism – where he has any – he has not lessened by one penny the blackmail that the master-class is able to levy upon his labour. Only one thing will do that, and that is public ownership. And we’re going to have some of that.
Gill (doubtfully): Socialism?
Printer: Yes, Socialism and plenty of it. Unlimited nationalisation and municipalisation in the interests of the public as against the profit-mongers. Socialism, the only sincere politics that ever were or any good, the only politics that please everybody when once the thing is socialised.
The Orraman will be back in the New Year.
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