Twenty years ago, or even less, would any thinking man have ventured to prophesy that this world could so suddenly shrink to its narrow proportions of today - so narrow, indeed, that virtually the whole of the British Empire can be simultaneously moved to concern and comment regarding the state of the unreliable feet of one honest poultry farmer dwelling among his hens in the pleasant shire of Nottingham, England?
I had almost said the whole of the English-speaking world; for, only the other day an American friend said to me:-
"Say, it sure gets me guessing the way you boys are all het up about that guy's doings. Even my home town papers are printing stuff about them feet."
But Australia and England understand and are concerned. So, to a lesser degree, do South Africa and the West Indies and even India. For momentous decisions hang about the well-being or otherwise of those uncertain, but immensely important pedal extremities of a poultry farmer in England's verdant countryside.
Snatching a rare opportunity the other day I managed to get a chance word into the deaf ear of my little, bald monologist, and so switched him from a long dissertation on bimetallism into a few brief comments upon this shrinking and uncertain world and the peculiar importance of one man's feet.
Man's conquest of distance (he assured me) was at the bottom of it all. Feet would not be so important nor fear so rife among the nations, had not progress found us unprepared.
It was all part, he said, of that mad race in which man discovered himself unready and outdistanced by his own triumphs of invention. Mr Wells has already warned us that we must prepare in haste for greater wonders yet to come, lest the machine become man's master and the story of Frankenstein be repeated on a tragically colossal scale.
It is utterly wrong to suppose (my monologist declared) that the drawing together of the nations was a wholly unmixed blessing, if, indeed, it was a blessing at all in the present state of our civilisation. Individuals and nations, who may seem excellent and well-meaning fellows at a distance, become mere domestic nuisances when they come to live next door. Yet every recent important invention led misunderstanding men into strange intimacies long before he was willing to accept them.
Long before wireless telephony, submarines, airships (he went on) had been put to anything like their best uses, television threatened to become a commonplace, and yet another destroyer of the crumbling bulwarks of privacy. And who could say how soon the busy psychologists might prematurely spring upon us the ultimate curse of telepathy, and thus rob a bewildered world of its one remaining safeguard - the diplomatic lie. For a little judicious lying (he maintained) as one might well believe, had saved the earth ere now from many a red, red war.
When we can quest across half the globe and, looking into other men's minds, see there the black thoughts that -.
At this point, greatly daring, I ventured to remind my little bald friend that his theme seemed to be straying a long way from the question of th epoultry farmer's feet.
"Feet?" said he, for a moment at a loss. "Of course. That is where we started, isn't it. Then let me say, in conclusion, that if the vagaries of these uncertain feet, and the world-wide controversies they engender, should lead to the disruption of an empire and the eventual doom of a world, I, as one of the sanely prescient people left on earth, will attribute the debacle to its true cause and not to any conscious fault in that excellent young man, Mr Larwood of Notts."
|Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2003|