1990s >> 1997 >> no-1112-april-1997

The Last Word: A tale with two characters and two endings

Cartoon: Peter Rigg

Arriving home after a weary day of canvassing for The Extremely Normal Common Sense Party, Mr Cedric Opinion-Poll climbed out of his Ford Average, entered his regulation-size, semi-detached house in Ordinariville, and settled down to read the morning mail. He had left home early for his day as a financial mystifier for Inter-Useless, where he shares a desk with Ernie Smalltalk, a card-carrying non-voter who is tempted by those nice people with their yogic flying, but is ultimately of the view that you just can’t trust any of them.

Straight after work Cedric had thrown himself, with the moderate passion of a non-fanatic, into doing his utmost to return to parliament the same man who had represented Ordinariville East for the past ten years. He had met on the doorstep the usual stimulating responses: “Yes, I’ll be voting for him”; “No, I don’t think I’ll vote for him this time”; “Bugger Off, I’m watching Telly Addicts.” Cedric took all this in his stride. That’s politics, he concluded: everyone is entitled to their own point of view. Cedric himself was a man of no deep enthusiasms— but he knew what he liked, and The Extremely Normal Common Sense Party was for him.

I hope I have told you enough about Cedric to make it clear that he was not a man of extremes. Sometimes he would jest that the one thing he was extreme about was his hatred of extreme views. Stick to the middle ground, he concluded, and you’ll not go far wrong. For example, on the question of Europe Cedric took the view that it was good for Britain to be in, but there was no sense in going too far and all having to speak French. Cedric often found the newspaper editorials arriving at the same views as his.

Had I not seen it with my own eyes I would have thought I was looking at a different man. You see, it so happened that I had reason to call on Cedric recently with a view to borrowing a spanner. The man who came to the door was hardly the Cedric I have described to you.

“The bastards!” he shouted as he saw me, pulling me into his regulation-size living room. Now, it was not Cedric’s habit to use bad language. Something was clearly up. So I said, “What’s up, Ced?”

“The bloody little shits!” he shouted, holding out three envelopes as if about to perform a magic trick. All talk of spanners was off the agenda. Cedric was angry and as he showed me the contents of the three letters it was clear why.

“Nineteen years I’ve worked for the thieving little company. Nineteen lousy years of collecting my average salary and waiting for my nationally-mean pension. I was even invited to the directors’ Christmas party three years ago. And then they send me this. Don’t even have the nerve to tell me to my face. They just send it to me. Downsizing, they call it. Compulsory redundancies. They’re offering me unemployment counselling. I don’t need counselling. I need money. And I need it more than ever now.”

“Why?” I asked, as he thrust the second envelope at me.
“The bloody bank. All right, I admit I got a bit behind on the mortgage. All that money on a private health plan had to come from somewhere. A few months late on the mortgage and . . . “

Nobody likes having their home repossessed. It was enough to lead even Cedric to pour himself an extra-strong shandy—and kick the coffee table.

“So, what’s in the third envelope, Cedric?” I asked, almost as if I were a stooge in a political parable.

“It’s the latest election leaflet. They want me to go out and deliver two thousand this weekend. What a load of crap! ‘Those without jobs need to be given incentives to find new skills . . . every tenant deserves the right to buy their own home . . . ‘ I’m not handing out this old tripe. I don’t want a bloody job, anyway. I want work which is useful. Why spend my life making profits for a crowd of thieving directors who never lift a finger to produce anything. And why should I lose my home when there are thousands of empty homes they can’t sell and tens of thousands of building workers who want to build new homes.”

“You know, you’re right, Cedric,” I conceded.

“Am I really right?” asked Cedric, calming down and muttering, “Perhaps I’d be better off going down the Job Centre and seeing if they can find me a new job. Even if the salary’s lower, it would be something. And I suppose a house isn’t everything. As a matter of fact, a couple of rented rooms for me, Sheila and the nippers would certainly save on electricity. And I can always forget about that private health plan. The main thing is to get our man elected; he’ll see that these sort of problems are knocked on the head once and for all.”

It was then that I knocked Cedric over the head with his spanner. He fell unconscious: the perfect citizen of capitalism.

Steve Coleman