Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The Three Young Men - a folk tale

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there was a land which was ruled over by a great and mighty leader called The Iron Maiden. Now this land was divided into two unequal parts: the Northlands and the Southlands. In the Southlands the sun always shone, the women were beautiful and the men were rich; in the Northlands, it was always cold, the women were ugly and the men were mostly unemployed.

Then one day the people saw on their television screens news of a terrible disaster which had befallen a small mining village in the Northlands — a mine had flooded and twelve miners had been killed. On hearing of this tragedy the noble people of the Southlands immediately did what they thought would best help the distraught families: they sent money by the bucketload and having satisfied their consciences filed away the details and forgot about them.

Now among the beneficiaries of this remarkable generosity were three young men, sons of one of the miners killed. The money they received was more than they could hope to earn in a lifetime (which, admittedly, is not long for a miner) and they decided to leave the life they had always known and head south to the land of milk and honey.

Arriving in due course at the capital city of the Southlands, the first young man decided to buy a flat on the waterfront (they were shocked to discover the price of houses in the capital) and visit the local wine bar. “A pint of your best bitter, landlord,” he cried. A hush fell upon the room. Was this man from the Northlands or what? A journalist in the wine bar immediately began to question him about his roots. On discovering that not only was he from the Northlands, not only from the very village in which the terrible tragedy occurred, but that he was deeply involved with it, the journalist took him under his wing, drew out his most personal and intimate details and sold the story to a national newspaper. This new-found fame bought the young man many friends who danced and dined and drank with him until the money ran out. Then he discovered that the agreement he had signed for the flat was a tenancy agreement and not a purchase. Who would expect to get a flat for that sort of money? Finding that he had no money left to pay the rent, the kindly landlord gave him two hours to move out and the young man found himself on the street.

The second young man, walking through the gold-paved streets of the city, saw the Porsches and, being a well-read young man, realised that the only way to succeed in this life was to speculate. You have to speculate to accumulate. He booked into a smart hotel, read all the financial newspapers and started dealing. He quickly made new friends who offered him the chance to invest in their company, a surefire winner he was assured. The first he knew of the stock market crash was when he read about it in the daily newspaper delivered to his hotel room. His bank refused to honour his debt and he left the hotel in the middle of the night. Shares can go down as well as up.

The third young man took a job in a large department store, met and married a very nice young woman and settled down in a pleasant house on the edge of the city. When in time his two brothers turned up on his doorstep he was happy to give them accommodation because that’s what families are for. Then one day a letter arrived from the local council telling him that his home was to be demolished to make way for a new road. The young man and his wife and his brothers and many friends straightaway barricaded themselves in and refused to move. Hundreds of their supporters signed petitions, marched in protest and generally made nuisances of themselves until in the end, the council knocked the house down anyway. The brothers found new accommodation at Waterloo and filled their time selling The Big Issue to young executives with furrowed brows in fast cars.

And the Iron Maiden lived miserably forever.

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