Welcome to Episode Sixteen of our nightly audio adventure, The Prisoner of Windsor - my contemporary inversion of Anthony Hope's Ruritanian classic of 1894. Before going any further, I should thank Simon Croft and other listeners for pointing out a Finnish faux pas in last night's episode, which I blush to mention, and which we've hastily corrected. We strive for a degree of verisimilitude - I think I've visited all the places we reference in this tale, including, albeit without enthusiasm, tonight's corridors of Euro-power. Of course, those visits took place before the ChiCom-19 lockdown, so who knows what they're like in their present state.
In tonight's episode the dispossessed Rudy Elphberg finds himself threatened by a cabal of Euro-grandees with a fate that sounds oddly like that of King Rudolf V:
"We just want you out of Europe," said Annika Maksten. "So everything can go back to normal."
"Do you know what's beneath us?" asked Herman Bersonin.
"The will of the people?"
"I meant literally."
"Four-hundred-and-thirty-seven stories of Euro-bureaucracy?"
"And beneath that is the Zenne."
"Zenne," said Herman Bersonin. "Or Senne in French. The ancient river that runs through Brussels, like the Thames in London or the Danube in Vienna. Except that in Brussels we covered it up in the nineteenth century. Put it underground, and then diverted it. But all the old tunnels are still down there. And I know where they are." He gave me a shove in the chest.
"We could take you there right now," said de Haan-Zaaier. "And no one would ever find you. You would be the prisoner of Zenne."
Veronica, a New Zealand member of The Mark Steyn Club from beautiful if Jacinda-afflicted Auckland, writes:
I love this story and look forward to every new episode, it is very well written and actually, despite the comedy, full of sorrow for all the lost things of this world, including lost kingdoms and dispossessed kings.
Speaking of that, I appreciated the mention of Lady Mary Grey, the youngest of the most tragic trio in English history, the Grey sisters. Jane the Nine Days Queen was the legally designated monarch after Edward VI's demise (see his 'Devise for the Succession' etc) but a widely supported coup put Mary Tudor on the throne who then had Jane and her young husband sent to the block. Elizabeth I finished off the next Grey sister, Catherine, by separating her from her husband, declaring their sons illegitimate, and placing Catherine under house arrest. She subsequently starved herself to death. Mary fared little better once she married poor Mr Keyes, against the wishes of Good Queen Bess. Mary was, of course, the rightful queen and therefore had to be either neutralised or eliminated altogether. The Tudors were good at that.
Indeed, Veronica. As I said when we started, the ol' lightbulb popped when I thought of how Anthony Hope presents Ruritania as seen through the Englishman's eyes: agreeable but backward, primitive, superstitious, a land of sword fights and escapes across the moat. But in the developed world today it seems to me the least insane people are those of Eastern Europe, the former Warsaw Pact, who (having lived under the alternative) now think and function as citizens of more or less conventional nation states. Whereas the further west you go, the nuttier and more irrational things get: Diversity is our strength, even if it requires abolishing the entirety of our history; tear down that statue of Kate Smith because she made a supposedly racist record ninety years ago, change the name of "Coon Cheese", invented by a blameless man called Mr Coon - but leave blackface governors and prime ministers in office after assuring the citizenry that dressing up as a mammy singer in the twenty-first century doesn't mean you're racist, no, not at all. So the idea of a supposedly advanced western society seen through Ruritanian eyes struck me as funny. But you're right, of course, Veronica, that ultimately it's tragic - and the historical echoes add an elegaic touch.
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