Popular Folk Tales For The 25th Century - Tom Cox

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Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Popular Folk Tales For The 25th Century


Old King Idiot And His Goose

Largely due to the seemingly endless reign of The Sexy Queen, it had been aeons since the country had experienced a genuine simpleton as its sovereign, so when Old King Idiot took over he was a great talking point among the population. “Old King Idiot/Old King Idiot/Got A Goose In His Bed And A Chapati On His Head,” went the popular playground rhyme of the time, stemming from the rumour that Old King Idiot wore a variety of Indian breads as hats. “There goes Old King Idiot, and his goose,” the royal staff would chuckle to themselves, as Old King Idiot was seen strolling through the elaborate palace gardens, talking to his goose who, for some reason known only to him, he referred to alternately as “Colin” and “Anna-Marie”. 

Old King Idiot might have been the official ruler of the country, but he was rarely trusted with anything important, and mostly just stayed at home while his cousins went about the real business of overseeing state affairs and fighting wars. His ascension to the throne was generally thought of as an unfortunate accident, due to three of his siblings perishing - along with two thirds of the rest of England - in the second and most devastating of the Red Plagues. For the monarchy, it could be best viewed as a temporary blip, and it was just a matter of getting by as best they could. After all, Old King Idiot was very old and would die soon, as would his goose, who now had a noticeable limp. But little known to his family and the general public, Old King Idiot was not an idiot at all; he was an extremely shrewd and learned man: the most shrewd and learned, in fact, that the monarchy had seen at its helm for centuries. His outward asininity was just a facade to enable him to avoid all the royal duties he would have hated, such as posing for glossy magazine photo shoots and opening cyber malls. While his brothers and sisters and cousins did bullshit stuff like that, he had time to read books and hang around with his transgender goose, who was also brighter than any of his relatives. It was a very nice life. Nice, that is, until the dawn of The Great War with America, when the life of everyone on the island - including King Idiot himself - became irrevocably threatened

For two years the war raged, and it seemed that the United Kingdom would have to surrender, finally becoming America’s 51st state, after so many brave centuries of resistance. As the USA’s great robot longboats encroached on the shore of Cornwall, the king’s family gathered for an emergency meeting in the palace’s Great Hall, but it seemed all was lost. Then, from a dark corner, an old croaky voice piped up. It was Old King Idiot. 

“MIght I make a suggestion?” he said. 

“Shut up, Old King Idiot,” said Zirius, the most arrogant and square-jawed of his fourteen arrogant, square-jawed cousins. “Nobody wants to hear from you. Go and play with your goose.”

“No,” said his slightly kinder niece, Delawney. “Let him speak. It will probably be just some surreal waffle about cheese, or upholstery, as usual, but we’ve tried everything here, so how can it hurt? Let's see what the ancient bonkers fuckwad has to say."

What Old King Idiot said next amazed everyone. His words were precise, clear and erudite: the result of years of quiet learning, done well away from the spotlight. King Idiot read widely, and, having exhausted much of the rest of the library in the catacombs below the palace, he had over the last few years boned up extensively on robot warfare, and learned the codes needed to crack it. With his knowledge, the United Kingdom’s cyborg seal army was able to use the correct binary to thwart the American robot longboats. The nation was saved and went on to live many prosperous years under Old King Idiot, who died at the grand old age of 141, just one day after Colin/Anna-Marie. So was coined the popular saying  “Never underestimate Old King Idiot, or his goose” which is still used to this day.



Big Lev And The Origin Of ‘Unlucky Thirteen’
It was long into the time of The Self-Righteous Men and England was divided: not by north and south, as it once had been, but by west and east. In the east, electricity remained, for the moment, and the greedy and dynastically entitled lived well, as they always had, but more so. In the rewilded west, weeds and trees burst through tarmac and vigilantes roamed back and forth across the wood border, picking off rich travellers with the organic arrows from their organic crossbows, then taking back their spoils to large forest communes and distributing them under the eyes of fox and badger effigies. With the new hunting laws, any man pledging allegiance to Commander Michael under the eyes of God was permitted to hunt any creature, anywhere in England. 

One day, a party of seven young wealthy graduates set off beyond the border to the Moorlands, scoffing at the dangers they had been warned about, as naive men who have never known suffering or hardship are wont to do. “We will stay in this wild land until we have caught thirteen brown hares,” announced their leader, Godfrey. He had heard legend of Big Lev, the giant hare who roamed the high moor, but had dismissed it as hokum put about by the pagans and tree shaggers of the New West. And, just as he expected, the first few days of the expedition went smoothly. The Pagan highwaymen and karate wild women they had been warned about were nowhere to be seen. As for Big Lev, he was clearly nothing more than a fable straight from the overactive imaginations of the useless poor. After two days, a dozen hares had been neatly shot and roasted, Godfrey and his party posing with their carcasses and taking images of themselves using the magic boxes on sticks that were still prevalent in the east, to send back to their wives and elders. He knew his father, Godfrey Senior III, would be proud of him.

On the third day, the weather turned, violently and quickly, as it often can on the Moorlands. Sleet and hail rat-a-tatted on the anorak hoods of the hunters so fiercely that they could not hear each other speak. A wind from the icy security gates of north hell growled down over the high stones on the moor and screamed fuckwords at the hunter’s chattering teeth.

“Can we go now?” asked Othelbert, the shortest and least entitled member of the party, as they struggled to set up their motor homes, following a fruitless third day. “What’s the difference between twelve and thirteen hares, anyway?”

Godfrey turned on him with eyes of smarmy purple fire. “I set out to slaughter and cook thirteen hares, and, by Cameron’s Chin, thirteen is the number of hares I will slaughter and cook!”

Another day of devil’s weather followed, with scant prey in sight. Even the one creature at which Godfrey got a clean shot, an adder, slithered away effortlessly into a hole, looking back with sarcastic pity as it did so. Coming over the brow of one of the moorland's highest points, Hangman's Tor, on exhausted horses, the men were surprised by a very sharp and sudden incline, and barreled and zigzagged down it, horses slipping in the fresh mud. Riders and horses hurtled and skidded down the hill, some men holding on for dear life, some dislodged to roll on the peaty ground, clipped and clouted by rocks on their descent. When they finally came to rest, they found they were surrounded by several witches in dark green gowns: exactly as many, in fact, as they numbered men. The witches were gathered around a cauldron which, in the maelstrom, had been turned on its side. Dark green juice bubbled out of it, onto the tight mossy ground.
   “I’m sorry,” said Othelbert, pathetically. “We didn’t mean to.”
   “It was foretold, and you have arrived exactly on time,” replied the head witch, although she was really just the witch who was best at public speaking, rather than the head witch as such, since the witches tended to think of themselves as a democracy, where nobody played The Johnny Big Bollocks over anyone else.
   “We really are very sorry,” said Othelbert.
   “It was foretold, and you have arrived exactly on time,” repeated the witch with the great public speaking skills.
   “Don’t apologise,” said Godfrey. “They’re the ones who should be apologising to us. Look at them, wretched hags.” But Othelbert was not listening to him, and neither were the rest of Godfrey's men; they were too busy watching a giant, long-eared form materialise from the green steam where the upturned cauldron lay, becoming clearer and clearer, more brown, and more towering.
   “Hi everyone! How you doing?” asked Big Lev, as he became corporeal. “I’m Big Lev!” And with that, he bit each of the hunters’ heads off, spat them out, and turned them into stones.
   You can still see the giant stones now, if you are travelling the north moor. If you look closely, you will notice that the fine cracks that time has wrought on each stone resemble faces. Their expressions have been said to sum up “the exact moment where smugness turns into excruciating agony”.

The Two Fellows In The Big City Social Media Office
There was two fellows in a big city social media office. Working on vague social media marketing, they was. And one he stop and leaned on his laptop and he mopped his face and he say, “Yur - I don’t believe in these ghosteses.”

And t’other man said, “Don’t ‘ee?”

AND HE VANISHED!


The Minstrel And The Magic Snow
Once, long before The Great Dark Era that ruptured civilisation, there was a young awkward man who liked to play his banjo. He played his banjo everywhere he could: at home, high on wild forsaken hills, in less reputable local taverns, and once even in his local 7-11, for which he summarily received a two month ban. His family encouraged his banjo playing but none of them could tell him the truth, which was that it sucked horse cock in a fairly major way. They knew the man could never work in a conventional office or retail job, as he was too dreamy and impractical, so they figured that at least it was a way of keeping him from the traditional nefarious pursuits of the idle young. He seemed happy, which most people on the border between youth and adulthood weren’t, what with the vain and troubling excesses of the electrical era. But with age often comes self-awareness, and one day, when playing his banjo to a raven on his favourite coastal path, and watching the raven fly away in apparent pain, an epiphany hit the man. 

“Oh woe,” he said to himself. “I am not the musician I think I am. I am a deluded, untalented fool and I am never going to earn a living playing my banjo.” 

Then, curling up in a ball, right there in the middle of the path, he began to rock and weep in a gentle way. The sound he made was not particularly loud but it was nonetheless pathetic to hear coming from a youth legally old enough to drink mead and ride a tractor, and even the gulls on the cliffs nearby seemed kind of cringey about it.

The man rocked and wept in a ball for seven days and seven nights. When he opened his eyes, he looked above him, and there, surprisingly, was the raven that had flown away in fright earlier. It was perched on the arm of a very old, looming man, with a long white beard and a cape. The young banjo player couldn’t help also noticing that the clifftops were covered in snow, which was odd, since snow never settled in this region, due to the salty air and mild, damp climate.

“I heard you playing your banjo last week,” said the old man with the long white beard. “It was a bit wank, to be honest, but I heard some potential there. Also, you fit into what we’re looking for right now.”
   
“Who’s ‘we’?” asked the young awkward man.

“Don’t you worry about that. Just take this,” said the old man with the long white beard, handing the banjo player a pouch of gold a polythene bag containing some leaves.
   
“Oh, thank you,” said the banjo player. “What’s this green stuff in the bag?”

“It’s a magic plant. Eat some of it, and it will help you play more colourfully and interestingly.”
   
“What about all this snow? Where did that come from?”
“That’s magic snow, not real snow. But it’s not magic in the same way the magic plant is magic. You must never, on any account, lick it or sniff it.”
   
“Why would I want to lick or sniff snow?”

“I don’t know. But just don’t, ok?”

The young awkward banjo player and the old bearded man with the raven went their separate ways: the banjo player back along the path towards the village, and the old bearded man through a recess down into a cave below the cliff edge which looked for all the world like a shimmering psychedelic portal to a silvery netherworld. The young man’s family were glad to see him back, although it had been a busy week for them, what with it being lambing time, and if they were being frank it had been only in the last quarter of an hour or so that they’d noticed he was gone. That night he plucked his banjo with renewed enthusiasm and, after a couple of tumblers of mead, decided to ingest some of the magic plant the old man had gave him. Next, something amazing happened: he began to play his banjo more beautifully and colourfully than ever before. It felt almost as if he wasn’t actually playing it himself: that the tunes were somewhere in the ether above him, and he was simply reaching up and gently grabbing them, as if they were perfect, docile butterflies.

Over the next few years, the man played his banjo at alehouses and taverns all around the country, drawing larger and larger crowds. Rarely was there a night when a comely young lass did not accompany to him to bed and let him ejaculate on or at least around her. Back in his home village, few old friends recognised him as the awkward lad they’d once called ‘Banjo Boy’. His large awkward jug ears were now covered by a lush mane of hair which made the maidens of the high street swoon every time he walked down it. One even asked him to sign her cleavage, which left ample room for all of his four names. It was only afterwards that he realised this was Eleanor, the girl who’d once planted a cruelly exciting sarcastic kiss on his lips in the final year of school, purely to distract him while her brother crept up from behind and pinned a post it note reading “I like to bang sheep!” on his back.

It was generally thought that the man’s first, second, third and fourth albums were among the greatest that had ever been recorded with just a banjo. But, upon recording his fifth banjo-only album, he experienced a bewildering creative block. His magic plant supply - which oddly, perhaps as an intrinsic part of its magic, never seemed to diminish - was not having its usual effect on his songwriting. Taking twice his usual dose seemed, if anything, to exacerbate the hindrance. He possessed so much he’d once dreamed about: his own horse and wagon, seventeen pigs, five banjos, a beautiful girlfriend - plus another, three villages away, in case he got bored - but he felt engulfed by an intangible emptiness. In desperation, he wandered to that same cliff top path where he had liked to play his banjo as a youth but, not feeling any more positive, curled into a ball again and, as the snow began to lightly fall and settle, started to weep just as he had all those years ago. This time, though, he didn’t carry on for seven days and seven nights, since, let’s face it, that really is a long time to curl up in a ball and weep, and as you get older you develop an awareness of the sanctity of time, even if you’re in a jaded spell, as the banjo player was. Also, as he sank to the ground, a snowflake landed on his nose and dripped slowly down into his mouth.

 “Mmm. That’s kind of nice,” he thought, tasting the snowflake. Cupping his hands, he scooped up more of the snow, and began to put it in his mouth and nose. 

Then a funny thing happened: the self doubt he’d been experiencing so acutely recently began to evaporate. Picking up his banjo, he began to pluck furiously, and sing, and the results were to his ears phenomenal. Soon he was thrashing around the clifftop furiously, plucking out song after song and furiously stuffing snow into each of his orifices. “This could be my best work ever!” he said aloud to the big white sky, after laying down what felt like another sweet track. “I will call the album that will emerge from these sessions… ‘Snow Jesus’!”

Just before the banjo player headed back from the clifftops to the village, he thought he caught sight of a vision from his past, about fifty yards away, through the snow. If he was not mistaken, it was the old man he had met here all those years ago, his beard even longer than ever, the same raven obediently perched on his bare mottled arm. It was hard to tell, as the snow was falling heavily, and because he really was quite off his face by now, but before the old man turned back to pass through his shimmering psychedelic portal, he seemed to shake his head in a sad way and mouth a sentence which, though indistinct in the noise of the weather, would have been made out by expert lip readers as “Same every bloody time.”

After that, and before his moneyed, lonely death in a beach house thirty years later, the banjo player made five more million-selling albums, each steadily more awful than its predecessor, apart from maybe the last one, which some people called “a return to form” but mostly in a wishful way which was entirely down to context.

The Wee Whaplode Winklewinch Of Whaplode St Cuthbert
Deep in the Lincolnshire fens - a region of the country so unnervingly flat it was said that on a clear day you could see a dog walking towards you from a mile away - lived a youth who worked as a DJ. Well, he told people “I work as a DJ” but what he really did was just play records all day in his bedroom at deafening volume, if you overlook that one time his friend had got him a gig at a chain bar, to which, after thirty one weeks, he’d still not been invited back. 

Nextdoor to the youth - who was actually 25, and not really a youth at all any more - lived a tiny old lady with nine cats. “I wondered if you might turn the music down a little, please,” the tiny old lady would ask the youth, but he’d never listen. Sometimes, he’d even turn up his favourite song of the time in response, which was usually extremely bass heavy, with greatly monotonous lyrics. “Get lost, you old biddy!” he would shout through the wall. This went on for well over a year until one day, not long before the execution of England’s final Prime Minister, the little old lady was suffering from a terrible headache and, driven almost insane by the beats coming from nextdoor and the resultant shaking of her furniture, decided to write a gently worded note and put it through the DJ’s door. This was too much for the DJ, who, having read the note, stormed to the old lady’s door. “Balls to you!” he shouted, as she opened it, storming straight into her living room, as she could not afford a house with a hall. “You don’t know how it makes me feel when the music pulsates through me. You don’t know anything. You don't know about people, or life! You’re just a shrivelled old crone whose only friends are cats.” This was his big final mistake, since the old lady was The Wee Whaplode Winklewinch Of Whaplode St Cuthbert, who had the strength of forty men and had lived for a thousand years, since before the Fens were drained and they were populated only by swamp people. With one casual upward slice of her hand, she broke his neck, then, calmly switching the radio on just in time for her favourite gardening programme, proceeded to cut off his genitals* and feed them to her cats in a pie.

* From here derives the fenland saying of mothers to boychildren who lingered too long naked at any time: “Put some clothes on, or the The Wee Whaplode Winklewinch Of Whaplode St Cuthbert will fly through the window and get your bits.”
    
Little Goth Twat
The popular dandy was on an adrenaline high from a comedy show and, all around him, attractive members of the opposite sex fanned and jostled, telling him how much they liked his hair and trousers and jokes. Despite being self-deprecating about his allegedly calamitous love life during the show itself, he did his usual thing of getting his minders to hand out raffle tickets to offer four not quite randomly selected women under the age of 22 the chance to have sex with him. But one callow maiden stood out above all the others. Her name was Clematis and she came from a small mining village over the way. Her mother had died from eating pebbles when she was not more than the age Clematis was now, leaving her father to raise Clematis and her brother alone on the paltry wages of a fast food restaurant employee. “Ooh yeah, I like you,” said the popular dandy, evaluating Clematis’ porcelain skin and bob of meadow-soft hair. “You can come and live in me big gothic mansion with me, in the Southlands. All you have to do is promise to make me trousers for me. As you know, I do like me trousers, ooh.”

Clematis was a very bright girl, but she was also yet to reach that age that women reach when they become more perceptive about when men are being dickheads. Also, the mining village was very hard to get out of, in a social or financial sense, for those searching for a better life, and, with the popular dandy’s trousers being such a legendary part of his image, she felt rather honoured to be given the chance to be directly associated with them. So she accepted his offer and set off to live with the popular dandy in his big gothic mansion in the Southlands, departing by velvet-lined coach, with her father and brother waving their handkerchiefs tearfully in the background (which were not actually handkerchiefs but just recycled kitchen roll, as they couldn’t afford real handkerchiefs). 

Quite quickly, it became clear that life with the popular dandy would not quite be as Clematis had pictured. The main problem being that, every day, he locked her in a room in the turret of his mansion and would not let her out until she had sewn him a pair of his famous trousers. He was also very hard to please. “Ooh, these are not me trousers,” he would say, after Clematis had spent a long day sewing. “They don’t have me signature look, guv'nor.” His demands became more and more taxing: first four pairs of trousers a week, then five, then seven. One day, having stabbed herself in the cheek with her sewing needle through sheer exhaustion, Clematis broke down and began to cry.

“Oh, why did I agree to this?” she said out loud, to nobody. “I miss father, and the village, and Jack, and even the old industrial chimney that used to belch black smoke into the air, all around.”

Just then she heard a strange low knocking at the door. Opening it and expecting it to be the popular dandy, asking for yet more trousers, she was amazed to see the oddest little thing she’d ever laid eyes on: not more than two feet high, coal black in appearance, covered in cobwebs, and with a long tail, flapping on the floor behind it. 

“Who are you?” she asked.

“I’m Little Goth Twat,” said the thing.

“That’s not a very nice name.”

“No, I know. It’s what him downstairs calls me. I hate it. He bought me from a circus a long time ago and promised me a better life, but it was a lie. One of his rich Satanist friends put a spell on me which keeps me locked in this place for eternity. He gets me out and makes me dance for his guests sometimes. It’s no kind of life, even for a stunted otherworldly being. I can’t even remember what I used to be called. It was so long ago.”

“He’s a bit of a bastard really, isn’t he?”

“Yep.” The little thing handed her a handkerchief, which he seemed to produce from a pocket: a curious turn of events, as he wasn’t wearing clothes. “I am sorry you have fallen foul of him too. I would like to help you, though.”

“And how do you propose to do that?”
 
“I’m very good at sewing trousers, and very quick too. I will take over your job.”

“Goodness! Really? And what will be your payment for this?”

“I will give you three attempts to guess my name. If, by the third attempt, you have not guessed correctly, you must take my hand in marriage.”

“But you just told me your name. It’s Little Goth Twat.”
  
“Oh MAN. I always do that.”

And, without further ado, just as he had done with her eleven predecessors, Little Goth Twat led Clematis down the secret escape tunnel, and opened up the great iron door at the end of it, allowing her to run to freedom. 

That night, having got truly pissed off with the situation by now, Little Goth Twat crept into the popular dandy’s chamber and used a tiny hammer to cave in his oppressor’s skull. The mansion took the local estate agents ages to sell afterwards, at a rate far below market value, as houses with infamous supernatural murder stories attached to them often do, even if they are very gothically ornate and vast with rare and lavish wallpaper.


Read my new book.

Hare print by my mum. See her cards here.

Old King Idiot's goose illustration by Sophie Gilmore. See more of her work here.



Popular Folk Tales For The 25th Century Reviewed by Tom Cox on 09:20:00 Rating: 5 Old King Idiot And His Goose Largely due to the seemingly endless reign of The Sexy Queen, ...

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Make sure you don't annoy people from Lincolnshire whose only friends are cats!
Also check out 'Fungus the Lincolnshire Cat', who is a bit folksy himself.
Has Ralph given you some of his weed, Tom?

Kitcat said...

Think we've met Little Goth Twat before, in another guise. 😉 Loved the wacky tales.

Anonymous said...

Stumbled on these by accident and enjoyed immensely. I must begin spreading these folktales immediately.

Kiley Quinn said...

Stumbled on these by accident and enjoyed immensely. I must begin spreading these folktales immediately.

Mz Wind said...

what the heck did I just read?

..so advent garde

Anonymous said...

These were lovely....but weird. Mostly weird.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Tom.
Best dollar a month i have ever spent.
i really appreciate all that you do.

Fern.

ellen zahl said...

A favorite:

-The kind of cringeness of the gulls on the cliff toward the youth's gentle weeping.-

And much, much, more!