Thursday 30 June 2011

Strike Me Pink, Bite Me Red

Well, the much-anticipated day has finally arrived. I've been so excited about it that I've been sleeping a lot better than usual. After a wonderful fish breakfast first thing this morning, I wandered from Caedmon's hovel to survey what was happening here in Streonaeshalch, and to gauge the mood of the people. Since I'm only a cat, I can make casual appearances, and no one gives my presence a moment's thought - if they even notice me at all.

My port of call was the local school - normally a hive of frenzied activity and noise. When I arrived there, it was closed as if the day were a Sunday. For a moment I wondered if I'd turned up far too early, since I have a different sense of time from human beings. But I didn't have to wait long before I noticed some bedraggled people arriving at the school gate wielding crudely crafted placards. They looked decidedly hung over, and their hair was dirty and unkempt. They were accompanied by myriads of flies. They didn't look at all like pedagogues; they more resembled the occupants of the hedgerows.

Soon, more people showed up with banners and bags of magic mushrooms, which I suspect were brought along to provide them with inspiration for the daunting task that lay ahead of them. After half an hour or so, there was a substantial crowd of educators with their mushrooms and placards. They started to drone, bawl, yell incoherently and jeer. I looked around to see the object of their vocal outburst, but I perceived no one. The mushrooms were evidently working.

In view of the fact that the school only has ten pedagogues on its staff at the most, I was intrigued by the high numbers of people protesting outside the gates, so out of curiosity, I edged a little nearer to the frenzied multitude. It didn't take me long to discern that the greatest majority of the happy throng weren't teachers at all. Their banners were carrying the insignia of the Redistributionist Workers Faction, which I happen to know is a professional political body consisting of magic mushroom addicts, no-hopers, wasters, political fanatics, ne'er-do-wells, luvvies, drunks, homeopaths and various other off-beat specimens of humanity. They all have one common denominator: despite the carefully-crafted name of their club, they have neither experience nor even a concept of industry or labour, since their revenue is provided from Northumbrian benefit groats. One of them staggered towards me with a malevolent gleam in his eye; I read the warning signs, and as my reflexes kicked in, I hastily sunk my teeth into his outstretched hand. I was pleased with the resulting cuts from my needle-sharp gnashers and his howl of protest, but decided I ought to take evasive action and climb a tree to avoid retribution.

Some passers-by - men and women on their way to their market stalls, fields and workshops - growled and sneered at them as they walked by. They too seem to understand that this Strike is a cause celebre for those who regard a life of Riley at public expense as a Divine Right while ordinary mortals suffer the deprivations consequent to over-taxation.

I wonder what will happen when the supply of magic mushrooms runs out? It would be tempting to assume that most of them would wake up from the illusion they've fondly carried around with them. But I suspect that some of them are so ingrained with the collective Redistributionist mentality that an alternative would be too horrible for them to contemplate. I only hope the blood from that protester's hand wasn't contaminated with fly agaric toxins. All the same, I can understand why Leo gets enthusiastic about his fantasy lunches...

Wednesday 29 June 2011

Meat The Strikers

Wherever I wander in the locality of Streonaeshalch in the lovely Kingdom of Northumbria, I find that everyone is animated and excited about the forthcoming Pedagogues' Strike. Even my fellow 4-footed creatures are quite enthusiastic about it. For example, I saw Feaxede the Fox yesterday; despite his constant rummaging around the municipal dump in the interests of archaeological research (not to mention his search for chicken carcasses in varying states of decomposition), he's still found the time to acquaint himself with the current issues of the Kingdom. When I asked his opinion about the Strike Action, he told me that he was all in favour of it. His answer puzzled me, so I asked him to explain. His reasoning was that this is a golden opportunity for the educators, their opulent and cossetted revolutionary Trade Guild commanders and all of the Redistributionist and Guildist hangers-on to utterly discredit themselves before the long-suffering, heavily-taxed Northumbrian public. He - like me - is of the opinion that any initial enthusiasm from the populace for the Strikers will soon transform into a simmering resentment - once they realise that they're supporting a hubristic elite, who naturally assume that those lesser beings of Northumbria who demean themselves by Making or Cultivating Things should continue to suffer deprivation, higher taxation, prices and the effects of the Cuts to subsidise the elegant lifestyles of elderly pedagogues.

Later on, I went to pay my old feline friend Leo a call. I feel so sorry for him, cooped up in that cage; he was born to be free and to roam the realm with his natural God-given dignity. Nevertheless, I'm always inspired by his stoicism when I talk to him. After all, he says, he gets his daily ration of meat, although I'm quite sure that this Cat wouldn't eat it, since it's in an advanced state of putrefaction and maggot-ridden. When I briefed him about the forthcoming Action by the Teachers and the reasons behind it, he salivated at the very thought of it. I asked him why. "Well," he said, "it's the thought of those Trade Guild commanders: they'll be so well-fed from the sumptuous banquets they're so used to attending that they'll make a succulent meal." But suddenly his expression changed from eager anticipation to one of doubt. When I asked what the matter was, he said, "It's suddenly occurred to me that the cumulative effect of years of magic mushroom chewing will contaminate the meat..."

Tuesday 28 June 2011

And Lead Us Not Into...

Since this Cat has been away on Mouse Break, the soothsayers have been jabbering away at very little that's new – and they've been banging on endlessly about the impending strike by the pedagogues, who are getting very hoity-toity about the prospect of losing some of their fabulous taxation-backed pension privilegesperks that ordinary day-labourers, artisans and other lesser forms of human life can only dream about.

While running the risk of sounding as tedious and repetitive as the soothsayers are in their monochromic selection of subject matter on which to pontificate, I really can't help but wonder what's really going on. Here we have a section of the Northumbrian public who – so we're led to believe – are reputed to possess some measure of intelligence. I suspect that this is indeed the case, but then – unlike the soothsayers, who are blessed with infallibility - I could be wrong. This moggy has been incorrect before; the teachers could actually be knuckle-dragging boneheads, whose sole purpose is to indoctrinate their charges with Redistributionist pseudo-intellectual claptrap in order to cultivate a generation of unthinking automata.

But I'm not sure that the educators are simply the mindless drudges of the Northumbrian state and the Holy Roman Empire (which is neither holy, Roman nor an empire). It seems reasonable to me to suppose that at least some of them have a capacity for independent thought; and if this is true, then surely a proportion of them are able to look beyond those issues which affect them personally and identify a greater perspective.

Of course, it's possible that they're so consumed by their hubristic self-perception that they're unable to see their own problems as being subordinate to those of the rest of the Kingdom. After all, the Devil is an extremely intelligent being, but it was his selfish ambition which led him to his insubordination, rebellion and his eternal expulsion from the heavenly realms

But I don't think that the majority of them are so self-absorbed as to ignore the plight of the rest of their (less fortunate) fellows in the realm and regard themselves as demiurges. I think there's another reason.

The pedagogues who are being invited to withdraw their labour and leave the Little Ones with Mother at home or on the streets are urged to do so by their Trade Guilds – membership of which isn't compulsory, but is presented to them as both desirable and necessary. These Guilds are led by elected self-appointed generals from among their ranks, who are paid substantially vast amounts of money from Guild subscriptions. If the Evil Alliance succeeds in significantly reducing public expenditure, these generals are going to command rapidly-diminishing armies – and their vast sinecures are going to proportionally decrease. So by force of powerful but empty, rabble-rousing rhetoric, they've persuaded their members that they're striking for their own futures – and that if they don't, they must be stooges of the Evil Trees. It's the oldest trick in the book...

And while the educators lose their wages, their commanders will inspire them from behind. In the lap of luxury, of course.

I'm off to find a locksmith. My big mate Leo desperately needs some exercise – and some fresh cat food…

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Battle Lines In The Playground

Everyone is so excited about the forthcoming strike by the teachers here in the lovely land of Northumbria. So much so, I saw three seagulls do a synchronised splatdrop out of sheer joy and elation. It was a wondrous sight to behold.

In fact, the loyal subjects of ancient King Alhfrith and his potty-mouthed Queen Hillida - or more to the point, the subjects of the power-crazed Emperor Jose Borracho - Chief Global Executive Officer of the Holy Roman Empire (which is neither holy, Roman nor an empire) and his dimwitted henchman Hermit Rumphole - are so excited about supporting the teachers in their bid to continue their cosseted lifestyles and their tax-funded gold-plated pensions, they're willing to make any sacrifice to give them their heartfelt support. There's no amount of hardship and deprivation that the ordinary people won't endure in order to coddle the beloved teachers. It's very touching. Pass the mushrooms, Guardy-Ann.

As for me - I know I'm only a cat, and my creaturely opinion counts for nothing, but I can't help thinking that those teachers who are up for a punch-up - and the fabulously wealthy armchair generals who lead and inspire them by remote control - are nothing more than magic mushroom-fuelled idiots who are burdened with an over-exalted view of their significance in the Universe. Perhaps I'm wrong - but if every human being in this lovely realm were a teacher, who would pay their wages? Even a mere cat knows that the people who make things and trade them are the ones who put groats in the treasure chest and oats on the table of the Kingdom.

I think they should stop chewing the fungi for a bit, ignore Guardy-Ann and her equally worthless poxy mates and their vitriolic outpourings, lie down an a darkened room and try to think - although admittedly it's not a trendy pursuit that many people favour these days. If they don't reconsider the folly of their ways, and this strike proceeds, the public are soon going to cotton on to the fact that these pedagogues - and their plutocratic rear admirals - are having a laugh at their expense. Then things will get ugly - especially when they realise that their children are no less ignorant without the services of their striking educators...

Friday 17 June 2011

How Much Is That Moggy In The Window?

As I approach a few days' Cat break - where mousing will be heavy, and blogging will either be non-existent (at worst) or light (at best), it's very satisfying for this Moggy to discover that there are other areas of this terrestrial vineyard where the idiocies of the Northumbrian politicos, their soothsaying country cousins and the ruling classes are exceeded. In fact, I'd go as far to say that they're not only exceeded - they're outclassed. If there were ever a Holy Roman Empire (neither holy, Roman nor an empire) Idiocy Games, the Northumbrian contestants should immediately pick up their knuckles from the ground and discreetly withdraw in shame to contemplate their crushing defeat.

My dear readers - wherever you are on this globe (yes - it is the circle of the earth: the Bible says so in the Prophecy of Isaiah), prepare for The Big One. Sit down - making sure you've found a chair first. Pour yourself a flagon of mead, chew a red, spotty magic mushroom - or find some alternative way of mentally preparing yourself for what I'm about to tell you.


Somewhere in the far-away land of Ultima Thule, an entire city has decided to ban the selling of pets to its citizens. Read it again - slowly. If any member of a human family in that benighted parcel of earth wants to take a kitty or a bunny home - or even a puppy if absolutely necessary - then he or she won't any longer be able to go to the shambles and make a purchase of a cuddly animal from a pet trader. An entire industry is going to cease - and pet stall proprietors are a species facing rapid extinction.

Of course, there will be an underground trade; business is business, and there's a hardy breed of entrepreneur found in every community who will continue undaunted to meet the market demand - with frequent, furtive glances over his shoulder. But at what cost? In that land - renowned for its savage and uncompromising treatment of those members of the criminal fraternity who don't achieve the exalted and privileged ranks of the political classes, the jails are going to be heaving with apprehended kitty merchants, and the gallows will be working 24/7 shifts to dispose of this evil - root and branch.

I know from Caedmon that he obtained me from a kindly local farmer; his pet cat - a formidable mouser - had surprised him with a litter, and once weaned, I was parted from my mother and siblings at no cost to Caedmon. Many of my feline peers were bought from the shambles and markets of the district.

The likely outcome for Those Wise Ones in the administration of Sacred Law in that Ultima Thule metropolis is that they'll reap the whirlwind from the breeze they've sown; a surge in good-neighbourliness and human kindness will result in animals being given away for free, and the population of cows, sows, cats, gnats, bats, rats, frogs, hogs and dogs is going to increase exponentially. There will be legions of street cleaners, hopelessly and frantically sweeping up brown colorectal statements from the pavements, unable to keep up with the volume of production.

I will be joyfully contemplating this over the next few days - if the supply of mice has reduced, that is...

Thursday 16 June 2011

The Mount Of Olives

We've had a lodger staying at the house recently; he's a man from the ancient land of Greece, and his name is Costas. He's travelling around the Northumbrian Kingdom on business, trying to drum up trade for his farm, which grows oranges, grapes and extra virgin olives. They'll never catch on over here... I - along with all other kitties - find the smell of orange peel simply revolting.

Costas is a personable
chap, with a fascinating accent which I find difficult to follow, but my master Caedmon seems to understand what he says. Apparently, times are hard, and there there are troubles a-plenty in his homeland, which is yet another provincial backwater in the Holy Roman Empire (which is neither holy, Roman nor an empire).

If I understand it correctly, the power-crazed Emperor Jose Borracho - Supreme Patriarch, Governor and Pastor of the aforesaid Evil Federation - with the aid of his half-witted henchman Hermit Rumphole, decreed that there should be a Common Currency throughout the reaches of his Empire. This was achieved with a limited measure of success a few years ago to the sound of trumpets and the clunking of wooden champagne tankards, as Westphalian Marks, Frankish Francs, Roman Lyres and Greek Drachmas were traded in for the new Uro. (I'd always been puzzled as to why it's called 'Uro' - it transpires that the hundredth part of this New Currency is called the 'Pee', but most people don't like the idea of smelly liquid waste in their pockets, so they call it a 'Scent' instead - it sums up garlands of sweet-smelling flowers.)

To cut a long story (with an incomprehensible Greek accent) short, the Uro has fallen foul of the Great Credit Crisis, and in order to bail out the legions of profligate Moneylenders - and to support them in their untold wealth at their time of need, the Beloved Emperor decided on a whim that those provinces dependent on olives, wine and oranges for their economies should suffer increased burdens of taxation and endure Painful Cuts in Public Spending.

Naturally, the poor inhabitants of Greece are Deeply Concerned - to the point where they've been assembling in the market squares and tavernas of their towns to politely protest about the injustices to which they've become subjected. Most of them are hopping mad - if only because they didn't contribute towards the Great Moneylending Credit Crisis in the first place, so they feel disinclined to pay off the debts of those who enjoy the Life of Riley and self-congratulation, and reward themselves handsomely for their catastrophic financial failures. The Greek provincial Governor - Georgos Papadocos Duvalis - has kindly acknowledged their pleas, and responded with soldiers and chariots. Bless.

The remaining Provincial Governors in the Evil Empire who preside over Uro economies are anxiously biting their nails; if the Greeks successfully resist the imposition of harsh financial strictures, other nationalities might be tempted to follow suit - and those poor Moneylenders would have to suffer. It doesn't bear thinking about.

And the hapless land of Greece would be left with a mountain of unbought olives, grapes and oranges, rotting in their barns, since no other provinces would continue to trade with them. There goes Costa's small fortune...

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Those Who Can't...

'Genius may have its limitations, but foolishness is not thus handicapped.' (Elbert Hubbard)

As the lumbering longboat of the Northumbrian Kingdom ploughs its weary way through the seas of history, yet more waves come a-crashing onto its decks, once more drenching the oarsmen of State. That's the metaphor over with...

Amid the ongoing, seething tide of idiocy, we're now confronted with yet another breaker to rock the boat. The Teachers Are Going On Strike against the Evil Coalition and their Malicious and Malevolent Cuts. Hooray for what little's left of Anglo-Saxon Education! I'm so pleased for them: this is a (monu)mental achievement.

The role of Teaching The Little Ones used to be administered by the Holy Church; faithful monks and nuns taught Anglo-Saxon boys and girls the skills of literacy and numeracy so that they could read the Holy Scripture and be instructed in the Ways Of Righteousness - and also to enable them to hold their own in the farms, the fields, the workshops, markets, smithies and the alehouses of the Kingdom. Education opens the mind. Or, at least it does so until the Northumbrian State gets its dirty paws on it. And that's exactly what happened. Jealous of the success of the Church's educational attainments, the State decided that it could go one better, and took upon itself the self-appointed role of Supreme Allied Educator-In-Chief, thus elbowing the Church out of the way and depriving it of its influence and its educational prowess.

Since the State pays for teaching staff out of the public purse through the burdens of excessive taxation, there have historically been Major Perks to the job (other retired military gentlemen have also been known to join their ranks.). Pedagogues - exhausted to the point of death after 6 hours of indoctrinating the Tiny Ones with the values of Redistributionist ethics (such as they are) - are permitted to go home and gloat at those remaining lesser members of the working population who still have several hours' worth of labour remaining - under the pretext of marking children's schoolwork. In actual fact, what they've been doing is to sit enchanted at the malodorous feet of Guardy-Ann - the pustule-faced weirdo soothsayer, imbibing every poisoned word that dribbles from her maniacal chops. As a consequence, many of them have become contaminated with the fly agaric-influenced drivel that propels the Redistributionist Faction.

Not only do the educators enjoy shorter working hours - for several thousand years they've successfully managed to persuade the public that their task is so hazardous to health and sanity that they require a Long Summer Holiday so that they can languish and agonise in the mead and ale houses of the Kingdom. All artisans and farm workers therefore hold Teachers and Politicians in equally high esteem.
But that's not all: they enjoy retirement benefits of humungous pensions - all paid for out of the taxation of the rest of the population. Bless.

But times have changed. The Kingdom is in the Deepest Financial Doo-doo, thanks to the window-licking stupidity of the Moneylenders. And guess who the poor mugs are, who have to pay for their folly and fund their expensive lifestyle choices? - The Northumbrian taxpayer. And to redress the imbalance of gazillions of groats, Cuts to the Public Purse have been Necessary. And the teachers are in the firing line, since they've enjoyed privileged status and special benefits above and beyond those of the ordinary day labourer. And they don't like the idea of having to face the same gritty realities as the rest of the working population. So they're going to strike.

They've chosen the Summer Holidays. The ale houses are in for a roaring trade... Sounds like a cheap win to me...

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Revolutions Per Minute

The Tree/Liberationist Alliance is perhaps the most detested administration ever to take the helm of the governance of the lovely Kingdom of Northumbria. This isn't too surprising; the reason for this is that there's been a steady drip into the public consciousness of fly agaric-inspired Redistributionist ideas over the last fifteen thousand years. This is mainly achieved through the machinations of the soothsayers - particularly the partially impartial Beeby See and her pustule-punctuated friend Guardy-Ann, who tirelessly campaign for the undeserved rights of the legions of homeopaths, diversity administrators, kindergarten managers, fish quota accountants, cat psychologists and ne'er-do-wells who idly litter the streets of the Realm. By contrast, those whose industry and enterprise produces wealth and prosperity are regarded as the lepers outside the gate - unwanted, neglected and forgotten.

(I'll give you a pause to dry your eyes.)

The Tree Faction traditionally represents the gritty values of the aforesaid thrifty, hard-working underclass, for whom the idea of receiving the miserable pittances of Benefit Groats is nothing short of the Ultimate Disgrace. Such self-sufficiency is roundly despised and condemned by the magic mushroom-led Redistributionists, who hysterically label it as 'Outmoded, Greedy Individualism,' earnestly desiring to see a monochrome culture of dependency on the teat of Mother State for all those specimens of human flotsam who sit in the outer darkness beyond the walls of their Blessed Faction.

But thanks to Caedmeron and many of his colleagues within the ranks of the Tree Faction, these outmoded, greedy and individualistic values are gradually being eroded. One by one. The Tree Party turns out to be one of the factions that's most rabidly in favour of the Holy Roman Empire (which is neither holy, Roman nor an empire), since there are untold riches available from expenses and back-handers for those who compliantly fall in line with the Powers That Be. It was a Tree Leader from three thousand years ago called Edweird The Teeth who led the Kingdom by the nose into the waiting deadly embrace of power-crazed Emperor Jose Borracho and his half-witted henchman, Hermit The Rumphole. Since that time, the values of the ordinary, hardworking Northumbrians have been stealthily and quietly discarded, while those guilty of such machinations have cleverly pretended to continue to espouse the very values they've abandoned - including Withdrawal from the Evil Federation. This, of course, is merely intended to give the impression to the unreflective Tree rank-and-file that it's Still The Same Faction. Whatever.

With this dissimulation in mind, this Cat can readily understand why a faction - hitherto blessed with a clear set of working principles - is now characterised by suck-it-and-see pragmatism and not a little of the same hallucinogenic substances that inspire the policies and the attitudes of The Enemy. It also helps to explain why Caedmeron - the silver-tongued, shifty and untrustworthy Shepherd of the Tree Flock - has changed his mind about key policy decisions several times within the space of a morning - just as the previous Redistributionist incumbent comedian Guffmund The Brown did when he formulated the policies that led the Kingdom to debt, bankruptcy and increased thralldom to the Accursed Empire.

I'm getting dizzy form all the policy changes that are taking place... I think I'll lie down for a bit...

Monday 13 June 2011

Castor And Pollux

The realm of Northumbrian politics has all the hallmarks of those of our illustrious predecessors, the Romans. Those who've been blessed with a decent education and a curious mind will doubtless be familiar with the stories of the Caesars, many of whom were either psychotic and paranoid sociopaths, psychopathic and decadent despots, ruthlessly ambitious rulers - or, like Caligula - just plain nut jobs.

When we learn about the Redistributionist Faction, we soon come to a shocking realisation that beneath a seemingly benign and dottily idealistic surface (nourished by the chewing of an endless supply of magic mushrooms) seethes a nest of vicious, backstabbing vipers. And that's just among the rank-and-file.. (For the sake of any vipers who might be reading this - I'm very sorry - I didn't mean to malign or demean you by comparing you with human politicians: I for one know that you're actually very charming and beautiful creatures.)

Edweird The Milliner - the present Beloved Ruler of the Witangemot Redistributionist Faction and Leader of His Majesty's Loyal Opposition - has been in the attention of the soothsayers a great deal of late. Not - I hasten to add - because of any significant pronouncement that he's made or majestic deed that he's done to further his deluded cause; the fact of the matter is that he's failed to make any gains in the credibility of the reflective members of the Northumbrian population. According to many soothsayers, it's a matter of conjecture as to how long he'll survive in office in view of the internal civil wars, plots and intrigues that are currently in motion.

Eddy Boy's meteoric rise to prominence in the Faction took everyone by surprise, given the fact that he's never been either a popular or a charismatic figure - unlike his predecessor Guffmund the Brown, whose cheery countenance, quick-fire humour and merry demeanour inspired admiration and respect throughout the Kingdom, which he successfully and joyfully bankrupted. Eddy competed with his brother Dagwald for the coveted prize of Faction Leader, and whilst the contest was in progress, it was assumed that Dagwald - the more outgoing and personable of the two chimps - would be crowned King of The Redistributionist throne. Alas - it was not to be. Like the ancient biblical story of Jacob and Esau, the likely lad was cheated of his natural birthright by the machinations of his devious younger sibling.

Since that traumatic day, the soothsayers have been surmising that Dagwald - bitterly disappointed at his defeat by his feckless brother - is biding his time, waiting for the One Catastrophic Failure that will provide him with the I-told-you-so excuse to seize the reins and direct the Faction to government, and propel the Kingdom to a further period of oppression, secrecy, profligate spending and unfettered borrowing. By my calculations, the Realm already has ten thousand years' worth of debt to pay off through taxation from the last Redistributionist administration..

Whatever happens, the Milliner boys had better watch their backs; stories - like buoyant dog jobs - are surfacing about the cloak-and-dagger activities of Edweird The Spheres, the slobbering, mendacious bully-boy who was appointed by Eddy to the position of Shadow Keeper Of the King's Balls. We're told that this unsavoury piece of work was responsible for bringing down Tondvig The Blur...

Personally, I'd like to see them all locked in a confined space - like ferrets in a sack. With any luck, only the bones will be left. I'm sure my mate Feaxede the fox would approve: it would make a change from chicken...

Thursday 9 June 2011

Balls Up

This Cat finds it quite curious to consider the topics the soothsayers love to obsess about. Like experienced circus jugglers, they're inclined to cast myriads of issues into the air and throw them around in a circular or elliptic orbit. And the juggler analogy works quite well, since what goes round comes round; the issues of the Savage Tree/Liberationist Alliance Cuts is a favourite ball, whose trajectory - or circuit - is quite short, since it never wanders away from their attention for very long. Other issues have a recurrence rate more akin to that of wandering stars or comets, whose appearance is cyclical, although comparatively infrequent. Of course, there are certain one-off issues which they simply drop, never to return to the cycle.

There are the other balls; take the Weather, for instance. For Dwellers In Other Places (welcome!), the Anglo-Saxon preoccupation with the elements is a strange cultural phenomenon or a national eccentricity, but for the inhabitants of these islands, it's a subject of practical significance, since we're continually subjected to a varied and unstable climate. We've been repeatedly told that the climate is being changed owing to the excessive burning of bonfires, and the annual rainfall in the Kingdom of Northumbria for this year is the lowest in all the annals of human history. (I wonder who's actually sad enough to make a daily note of this kind of information?) Despite the fact that we've been recently blessed by showers from above, we're nevertheless being harangued by the soothsayers and told that the Crops Are Going To Fail, and there's going to be a substantial rise in the price of food in the markets and shambles of the Realm. Apocalyptic visions of parched bones and camels trudging through the parched sands of the North Yorvik Moors, and Bedouin tents on drifting desert come readily to mind. We're doomed. No, really.

And then there are the Health Scares. No archer is complete without a quiver full of arrows, and no soothsayer is adequately equipped without a collection of frightening tales concerning the sensitive issue of Health. The recent E-Cauli scare is a typical example. These tales - like the ones of Goose Flu and Hedgehog Fever (remember that?) - are paraded before the bovine and unreflective denizens of the realm, with frightening (but apocryphal) accounts of horrible deaths, and overworked priests carrying out mass burials. I wander through the streets of Streonaeshalch, and I see life as normal. Go figure.

And then there's our old favourite - the War On Viking Terrorism. The Nordic Menace is one of the chief bogeymen in the soothsayers' armoury. Hordes of Vikings are plotting to sack the cities, kill the population and bring the Anglo-Saxon world into subjection to the Nordic yoke and the harsh laws from the Eddas. (Most Vikings I've met are ordinary people with families who work hard for a living and have no axe to grind.)

I could go on. The bare facts simply don't match the rhetoric - it's as if the soothsayers - and those who pay their wages - are waging a constant war of attrition on the minds of the public. So whenever I hear the soothsayers pontificating, one single word comes to my mind. It's spherical - and in the plural.