Concern is growing that this coming weekend could see rival groups battling over the bronze statues in Bafflesby Town Square, especially if the weather turns out nice again.
It is feared that the long-standing controversy about who gave our beloved borough its distinctive name may be about to boil over once more. The two candidates face one another, as always, from their respective stone plinths.
Local tradition has it that Bafflesby came from the ancient Briton Barfa, a tribal chieftain best remembered for his spirited but doomed attempt to block Roman road-construction programmes in the area. Ten centuries after his gory demise, when the invading Normans demanded taxes to fund their fancy castles and churches, the legend arose that King Barfa would return from a long sojourn upon the Isle of Aldilidl and rescue his people.
If he ever came back it was unreported and, if he did, it was to no avail. Forced to forget Anglo-Saxon – having long forgotten Latin – we had to learn French instead. But the power of Barfa’s legend persisted and to this very day every protest march on behalf of the unfairly disadvantaged starts at his statue and follows its stern gaze towards whatever wrongs are to be righted, whichever injustices and oppressions must be overthrown.
That gaze appears to rest upon the statue of Sir Basil FFlesby – occasional philanthropist, serial philanderer, gentleman philosopher – who many claim to be Bafflesby’s founding father and originator of its name. He it was who built the magnificent Fflesby Hall – the major visitor-attraction to our town – from the fortune he made ferrying slaves to the cotton and sugar plantations of the New World and carrying the products of their forced labours back to our home markets.
Sir Basil, known simply as Ba to his devoted family, somehow found time to write several books on political economy and also gave his name to Fflesbyism – an unshakeable belief in the innate superiority of the moneyed classes and their natural fitness to rule in perpetuity – a brutalist philosophy which has adherents to this very day, surprisingly many of whom have very little money at all. Fflesbyites who, in other words, could aim for a bigger slice of the cake if they could only bring themselves to be Barfans. But some traditions, it seems, fly in the face of common sense .
So, given that the urge to defend very little is disproportionally powerful, what does not surprise is that trouble can be expected on Bafflesby’s streets this weekend. Shop windows, freshly decked-out for their post-lockdown re-opening, have had to be boarded up. The town council has invested in several coachloads of private security officers who will form human barriers around both monuments to protect Bafflesby’s historic heritage, whatever that happens to be on the day.
We asked town mayor, Councillor Colin ‘Cully’ Culper, for his thoughts on the heightened tension in the town. ‘We are prepared for anything and everything,’ he said with a polished smile, pouring himself a very generous whisky. ‘Strictly by way of celebration,’ he added, downing it in one. ‘I’ve just been told they’ve got the very last strip of duck-tape in place! Same stuff you’re standing behind, as it happens.’
Looking down, we noticed the name Culper running across the carpet in all directions. ‘My brother’s firm makes it,’ said the mayor in reply to our unspoken question, ‘so I know it’s the best damn duck-tape bar none! We’ve used up a whole truck-full dividing the Square into two-metre, um, squares and expect the demonstrators to maintain social distance at all times. Two birds with one stone, you might say, a cheep way to keep both virus and violence at bay – if you’ll pardon the pun! And then, if anything does go wrong, those fake newspapers can’t say it was our fault. Well, they can but they won’t make it stick – unlike Culper duck-tape, if you’ll allow a cheeky advert. Press freedom, my arse! Present company excepted, of course, you guys are a beacon of truth in a fog of lies.’
Clearly delighted with his poetic turns of phrase, Mayor Culper poured himself another large drink and waved the decanter in our direction. A little intimidated by all the family duck-tape, we declined. Did he, by any chance, have a personal preference in the town-name controversy? He shook his head slowly.
‘Strictly neutral, of course, but between you and me they’re barfing up the wrong tree with that Barka chappie. Know what I mean, all that people about him being a man of the piffle? What I heard was old Barfa develops a taste for plundered prosecco and Roman slave-girls and ends up in a designer villa with natty hypocausts and naughty floor-tiles and the whirl’s first-ever worldpool bubble-bath. So much for da great rebel hero, yeah? Not exactly a martyr to victimhood, was he? No, you won’t find it on Widipekia, that’s local knowledge! Handed down by word of mouth, see? Do yourself a favour when the pubs open up again and get yourself down The Dancing Bear. Ask anyone in there, come closing-time, and they’ll tell you all about bloody Barfa!’
The mayor went on to deny he was a closet Fflesbyite, as some had suggested, dismissing such claims as the politics of envy. ‘And, anyway, I no longer need to make money,’ he added, ‘because nowadays my money makes money for me!’ Ethical investments, we wondered? ‘Now you’re talking political correctness,‘ he laughed, ‘so all I’ll say about my investments is that they’re certainly right for me!’
We wished him continued good luck for the weekend. ‘May the best man win,’ he grinned, ‘or woman! Wouldn’t want the equal-opportunity brigade breaching my social distance, now, would I? Oh, that reminds me, do you need any duck-tape?’
An incredible sight greeted Bafflesby street-cleaner Hugh Broom (64) early yesterday morning when two bronze statues scheduled for bird-dropping removal in preparation for the large public gathering expected this weekend were not where he expected them to be. Instead, he found two empty plinths. ‘I gave them a bit of a tidy,’ he later commented, ‘but it wasn’t really the same, was it? You just do your job to the best of your ability, I suppose, come what may. On the plus side, it did give me a bit more time to clear all that loose duck-tape out of the drains so there won’t be another flood if it pisses it down. I think the weather forecast is quite good for Saturday but you never know in this country, do you? I mean, what kind of idiot buys duck-tape that doesn’t stick? Some faceless pen-pusher, no doubt, what gets off scot-free while the likes of you and me get it in the neck every bloody time! Writing this down, are you? That’s Hugh with a gee aitch …’
A police spokesman confirmed that they were making inquiries into the statue disappearances. It was also hoped that people would stay away from Bafflesby Town Square on Saturday morning as there will be very little, if anything, to see.
In what amounts to a worldwide scoop for this newspaper, we are delighted to report that we have tracked down the missing statues to the secluded garden of a Bafflesby home. Sensational news of their whereabouts came as a 71 year-old sculptor, Polly Tapping, walked into our office late yesterday afternoon and said she wanted to make a clean breast of her crimes.
Our first thought was that Polly had mistaken us for the police station but she soon made it clear she wanted a much wider audience. She preferred to talk in her back garden, she said, and was happy for us to make a recording. What follows is an unedited transcript of our conversation:
- Hello, Polly, how on earth did you manage to remove the statues?
- Brute force and ignorance, I suppose, with some help from an industrial metal cutter!
- Did you have any help?
- That’d be telling, wouldn’t it? But I’m not on the scrapheap just yet, you know!
- Were you aware trouble was expected in Bafflesby this weekend?
- Yes, I overheard two people talking about it. I was working here as usual and their voices came floating over that big hedge. No statue is worth fighting over.
- Your garden is a very private place, isn’t it?
- Oh yes, ideal for a pet project like mine. Though it is rather crowded now, don’t you think, with Barfa and Basil? And I’ve not even started their history plaques yet …
- Yeah, maybe time to describe what we can see here – phew, where to start? OK, Polly’s garden is full of life-size effigies. Wood, stone and metal. I recognise quite a few famous figures and …
- Only a few?
- Well, quite a few! Lots of them, really …
- Don’t worry, I struggle with faces! They’re a work in progress.
- But this must be the work of a lifetime!
- Some call it a hobby. Others call it an obsession. I call it a homage. Every single person represented here has a story to tell us, which is the whole point of all those big plaques. Half the work is researching and constructing those, which is why so many of the likenesses are incomplete. For some reason I have to wait for the story before I can get the expressions. The history is the mystery, you might say. Never mind, I’m only 71 …
- Is that why you took the statues – because you wanted to add their history?
- Well, you don’t want people fighting over figments of imagination. Besides, they complete my collection. I’m ready for the Grand Opening, or I will be by tomorrow, which is where you come in.
- The Bafflesby Bugle?
- Look up there! I want you to trumpet my true exhibition of Bafflesby history over those hills and far away. We open 8am Saturday, last entry 8pm. Numbers limited to ensure social distance. Put it through every letterbox. Hire one of those dreadful loudspeaker cars, if you must.
- Sure, no problem, online too! Only …
- Only there is a problem. Oh dear!
- No, no, it’s just … these figures of yours from all round the world … won’t people wonder why on earth they feature in a history of this little town?
- Of course they will. And when they read the plaques, they’ll find out. Every single statue has some local connection. Let them discover how much more there is to their town than whether it got its name from this or that local bandit. Nobody really lives in Bafflesby, you know, who doesn’t also live in the world with all her myriad beauties and terrors and wonders. Imagination can take you anywhere, everywhere, even into the heart of your worst enemy. But if they still want a fight, tell them the town was named after the River Baffle – so-called because of its infuriating tendency to meander. I haven’t lost you, have I?
- No, I’m still baffled by Nelson Mandela’s local link.
- His autobiography outsold everything else in Bafflesby Books for a whole week in the summer of 1994, I think it was. Some local schoolkids had written to him and got a lovely letter back, which may have helped sales of the book. I was their teacher.
- That must have been gratifying.
- Mandela was my very first statue. I’m gratified you recognised him.
- The shirt was a giveaway.
- Oh …
- And the plaque.
- Well, there you are, then! Knowledge is power.
- How about Barfa and Basil? Will their plaques be ready by Saturday morning?
- No, but I’ll cobble something together. Did I just say that out loud?
- Loud and clear!
- Finishing anything is a problem when you’re a perfectionist. Sometimes you have to seize the time – or else, a couple of old statues! Do you think anyone will come to see them?
- You’ll have them queueing round the block.
- Oh, that’s a worry! Only two of us here and the garden looks crowded. I haven’t any duck-tape.
- Worry not, I know a man who has. Anyway, there’s a much bigger audience online …
- Oh yes, I keep forgetting all that. Funny to think it’s just been my little secret up to now! Barfa and Basil have a lot to answer for.
- I’m sure you’ll help them tell their story, Polly.
Business returned to Bafflesby yesterday as shops opened their doors to customers for the first time since lockdown. Mayor Culper was keen to take full credit for the queueing system in the Town Square, where the two-metre rule was enforced by a large quantity of duck-tape. ‘It just goes to show the value of getting ahead of the game,’ he commented, perhaps mindful of the widespread criticism that he tended to take action after an event and only jumped on a bandwagon when other people had pointed it out to him. ‘And tomorrow,’ he promised, ‘I am going to present Polly Tapping with the keys to the kingdom, as we call Bafflesby round here.’