A wise old man once said ‘good fences make good neighbours’ but history is chock full of territorial disputes nonetheless. Woefully, ancient land claims and cross-border irridentism reared their ugly head on the pages of the Daily Telegraph as well. These two columns, the fifth installment in our series introducing you to the greatest newspaper columnist who ever lived and breathed, retells just such a territorial dispute which erupted over changes in the layout and denomination of the newspaper page on which the Peter Simple column perenially (since the dawn of time, beyond the age of our forefathers) appeared.
For some time now, the eastern part of the region in which my column occasionally appears has been headed “End Column” no matter what appears on it, whether literary criticism, humour or chess (which has taken permanent occupation of the southern part of the territory). Then one morning the world woke to a startling innovation: the territory was simply headed “Chess”. What had happened? Had an extremist group of chess writers suddenly claimed sovereignty over the whole region? It was the more surprising in that of all the paginal powers, Chess, devoted as it is to pure intellect, has historically always been the least aggressive, well satisfied with the ample territory it occupies and threatening no other power.
A serious diplomatic incident followed. Our own columnar government was not slow in sending a strong protest to the chess authorities. Partial mobilisation was ordered. A squadron of Blériot Mark II reconnaissance aircraft was sent to patrol the whole area. A gunboat of the Don Carlos class was despatched to the Interpaginal Sea.
Fortunately, the traditional panic and flight of the peasantry was quelled in time. Soon, wiser counsels prevailed and the crisis evaporated as rapidly as it had arisen. But it cannot be too strongly emphasised that in the event of a serious threat to the paginal balance of power, the column could not and would not stand idly by. For although this column is not always corporeally present in the eastern territory it is always present in a metaphorical and mystical sense, in all the territories where it has ever been.
AS veteran readers of this column will recall (“Are there any others?” our boring expert “Narcolept” never fails to ask), a diplomatic impasse was caused last month when the chess flag was raised over the territory formerly known as “End Column”, implying an exclusive claim to suzerainty over a territory shared by other powers including ourselves.
The situation was supposed to have been normalised when, as is so often the case, wiser counsels prevailed. Sadly, this is not so. Extremist elements in the column, who have long been impatient with its conciliatory policy, are thought to be planning direct action by launching a surprise attack on the heartland of chess itself, the southern region in which its authority has never been disputed, and setting up a puppet state with only nominal allegiance, perhaps, to the parent column.
Are these hotheads and firebrands harking back to the so-called “time of troubles” in the 1970s, the time of “Peter Simple II” and the labyrinthine intrigues that led to a coup by General Waugh and the present “binary” dispensation? As a timely pronunciamiento from the Ministry of Columnar Guidance warns, “Such irresponsible day-dreaming could have the gravest possible consequences,” even leading to the onset of the long dreaded Fimbul Winter and the end of the column itself.
To make matters worse, certain elements seem bent on defying the basic columnar Law of Non-Interaction, which prevents different aspects of the column from interfering with each other. For example, it is rumoured that certain senior officers of that normally inactive regiment, the Stretchfordshire Yeomanry, are sympathetic to the extremists and, in the event of an attack on the chess territory, might join an expeditionary force (which would be styled a “liberation army”). As the pronunciamiento insists, this would be “playing with fire”.
Nor is this all. General Sir Frederick (“Tiger”) Nidgett, veteran war hero, founder of the Royal Army Tailoring Corps and Saviour of Port Said in the “dark days of 1942 when the Nazi hordes were bawling tastelessly at the gates of Egypt” – see Nidgett’s autobiography Up Sticks and Away (Viper and Bugloss, £25; paperback, £15; bulk orders welcomed) – is reported to have offered his services to the insurgents as military adviser and expert on combined operations. In a startling development, sources in the Columnar Foreign Office have dismissed Nidgett as “a buffoon and play actor whose boasted wartime service was in fact confined to looting bales of cloth and blackmailing shopkeepers in the bazaars of Cairo”. But a statement issued “from the desk of Gen Sir Frederick Nidgett” countered these criticisms with a firm “no comment”. Members of the Tailoring Corps Veterans Association have already hit back in defence of their founder, threatening reprisals with their traditional weapons, the dreaded armoured trouserpresses, failing an immediate withdrawal and apology.
To add to the confusion and breakdown of basic columnar principles, Sir Alywin Goth-Jones, the unpopular chief constable of Stretchford, has offered to place a squadron of his controversial police submarine force (currently patrolling the lake in sex-maniac-haunted Sadcake Park in pursuit of drink-drivers) at the disposal of the proposed expedition for a landing on the supposedly undefended shores of chess’s southern territories.
The pronunciamiento goes on to say that the extremists have “stirred up a veritable hornets’ nest and it is high time wiser counsels prevailed”. But will this deter irresponsible hotheads encouraged by intelligence reports, almost entirely fallacious, of growing dissent within chess itself, and signs of a modernising tendency which would put this noble and august game under the control of that most un-English authority, the Ministry of Sport?
This would lead to assimilation in the West Midland Chess League, responsible for the up-to-the-minute vandalism and hooliganism which mark the disgustingly popular annual matches between Stretchford Chess Circle and Nerdley Boardsmen, when drunken fans invade and overturn the board, and even assault the pieces without distinction between queen and pawn.
As the pronunciamiento inevitably states, it is time to draw back from the precipice. Equally, it cannot be too strongly (or too often) emphasised that, in the event of a serious threat to the paginal balance of power, this column could not and would not stand idly by.