How Joe Found a Living
Adam Harrington

Who says they don't tell fairy tales any more? The characters have just changed, that's all.

<b>1. In which Joe leaves home to find his fortune.

One light and bright day as excited spring breezes danced around the new green shoots in the meadow, Joe's mother hooshed Joe out of the house with the end of her broom.

"You're old enough to find a living now," she said. "Go to the town and get one."

Joe pulled on his boots and wrapped some bread, some apples and the money his mother gave him to carry through a rainy day in a red-striped handkerchief and tied it to the end of a stick. He slung it over his shoulder and set off for the town.

At the first house near the town he politely knocked on the door and stepped back with his hands behind him.

"Hello," said the fat man who opened the door. "What can I do for you?"

"I'm looking for a living, sir," said Joe. "Do you know where I can find one?"

"Not here, son, at any rate. Good day." He shut the door none too gently.

Joe picked up his stick and walked to the next house.

"Good morning sir," he called up to a thatcher patting down the cut straw on a barn roof. "Do you need any help? I'm looking for a living."

"Good morning to you, my boy. Have you any experience in thatching?"

"No, but I'm quick to learn."

"So are hundreds of others. I need an experienced thatcher--I'm competing against all the other thatchers in the area for speed, quality and price. I can't afford to teach anyone."

"Surely if no one is teaching thatching, when you retire there will be no more thatchers."

The thatcher shrugged. "That won't be my problem, son. Good luck finding a living."

Joe walked on to the next house, chewing a sweet grass stem and whistling.

"Good morning madam," he called over the garden fence to the woman tending her flower beds.

"Good morning young man," said the woman. "What can I do for you?"

"Please madam, could you tell me wherever and ever I can find a living?"

"Ooh, now you're asking," she said. "There's not been any of those in these parts for years. Why don't you try the center of town?" So Joe thanked the woman and walked to the center of town.

He came on a house with a few broken windows and in desperate need of paint.

"Good afternoon, sir," Joe said as the owner-occupier slowly opened the door. "I see that your house needs some renovation--would you be willing to hire me?"

"Only if it costs nothing," said the man, who was wearing a dirty vest. "This isn't the only house in town that's about to disintegrate. Nobody has any money to fix such things because very few of us have jobs. All the family's money is going on the mortgage. I'm sorry, but we can't afford you."

Joe then went to the town hall and found the director of public works.

"Good afternoon, sir," said Joe. "Your marketplace is awfully dirty--I can clean it for you if you like."

"That's very good of you, young man. Very public-spirited. There's a mop in that cupboard there."

"How much would you be willing to pay?" said Joe, who wasn't stupid, even though he wasn't from the ABC1 social group.

"Oh no, we can't pay. We don't get enough taxes anymore because nobody is buying or selling anything and nobody has a job. You can use the mop for free, if you want."

"That's not quite the point," said Joe.

"Oh well. The market will have to stay dirty, then."

Joe found a queue leading up to a grand old house near the market square.

"What's the queue for?" Joe asked a man at the back of the queue.

"The Duchess lives here--she's the only one with any money in these parts and she hires people to do things for her. She takes in ten people at a time and finds out who of them will do her work the cheapest. Sometimes she only has to pay a few pennies for a whole week's work."

"That's silly," said Joe.

"That's life," said the man, looking dejected.

"I'm going to find out why this has happened."

"Well," chorused the queue, "when you find out, come back and tell us please, 'cause we're in as mighty a high dudgeon about it as you are."

Joe sat on the steps of the market cross as the moon rose and wondered where to start. The King is bound to know, thought Joe. He has more advisors than you could shake a stick at. He curled up in the doorway to a house and fell asleep.

2. In which Joe meets Blackberry the Squirrel

In the early morning he set off down the road to the big city. He had to walk through the Dark Forest, which was so big that he had to stop in the middle to rest on a tree stump.

From within the tree stump came muffled protests. A squirrel popped through a door and squeaked up at Joe, "Get off my roof! Get off my roof! You're cracking the ceiling, you great oaf! I don't go 'round cracking your ceilings! Oh, look what you've done! Look what you've done! Deary me, deary deary me."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Squirrel," said Joe, hastily getting off the tree stump. "I didn't know squirrels lived in tree stumps."

"They don't usually, and the name's not Mr. Squirrel. It's Blackberry, and I'm a Mrs."

"Oh, I am sorry."

"Never mind. If you go and get some sticks about this long," and Blackberry gestured with her two front paws, "I'll shore up the ceiling. Bring some white mud from the creek and some grass too. Hurry hurry!"

Joe dashed into the woods to get the sticks, mud and grass for Blackberry. When he returned, she asked him to place the sticks inside the stump by shoving his hand through the front door under her directions of "Left a bit, a bit more, stop, right a bit, in a bit... that's it!"

"Why on earth do you live in a tree stump?" asked Joe.

"Some gray squirrels moved into my old neighborhood. Brought the tone of the entire tree down--they're not really the Oak type, you know. Don't get me wrong, some of my best friends are grays, but honestly, they are lazy, smelly thieves who have no sense of decency. They should go back where they came from, in my view."

"Where do they come from?"

Blackberry made a brrrrr noise as she thought.

"Not sure exactly. Somewhere down south, I think. What are you doing in this neck of the woods?"

"I was looking for a living, but to do that I need to find out why there aren't any left."

"If you humans lived like us animals then you wouldn't have this problem. None of us ever need to look for a living."

"Yes, but lots of you animals die in gruesomely horrible ways--disease, starvation, cold, being someone else's dinner..."

"That is a bit of a downer, I must admit. Where do you plan to go?"

"I thought the King might know why there are no livings left."

"Perhaps, but have you tried the famous Three Economists yet?"

"No. Where are they?"

"They live in the ever-so-middlest of the forest at the top of an Ivory Tower. They know everything, they say, and Kings and Chancellors come from all over the world to consult them."

So Joe and Blackberry, who said she needed a holiday, set off by hill and scented valley, down wide cart tracks, muddy paths and hidden greenways to the Ivory Tower. The journey went on and on, rather like most wanderings in fairy tales, and I won't bore you with it.

3. In which Joe meets the Famous Three Economists.

At last they came to the tower and climbed the Ivory steps to the Ivory top where the venerable Three Economists sat reading authoritative books on the nature of economic strategies in the incredibly real real world in today's real world.

"Good day, venerable economists," said Joe, "I have a question for you."

"Let's discuss the fee first," said the first economist, who was smoking a pipe.

"Surely we can leave such vulgarities until later," said the second economist, who was bald but had a mustache.

"I really don't think that's the issue," said the third, who wore gold-rimmed spectacles.

"Let the boy speak," said the first economist.

"I suppose we ought to settle the fee first, actually," said the second economist.

The third economist tutted and rolled his eyes. "The boy manifestly has no money."

"Then he ought to go and earn some like the rest of us," said the first economist.

Joe tried to interject but only got to say "That's..." before the second economist interrupted.

"Perhaps that's why he's here. We've got no appointments until three this afternoon--why not entertain him for a while?"

"I agree wholeheartedly," said the third economist. "Except that I have an appointment at two."

The economists sat in silence watching Joe expectantly.

Blackberry nudged Joe. "Go on, then," she whispered.

"Ah," started Joe. "I would like to know why ever and ever there are no livings left."

"Easy-peasy," said the first economist.

"As plain as the nose on your face," said the second economist.

"Its far too complex to explain to a layman," said the third.

"The paucity of economic opportunity is a symptom of the decline of a fat, exhausted and overpriced economy in which we have efficiencied ourselves out of a job. Consider: A bank that used to employ twenty cashiers now only needs two employees and a cash machine. This makes things cheaper for the consumer until such a point that the consumer also loses his job through mechanization. Hence a very streamlined supply side of the economy and eventually no demand, because everybody has been streamlined out of the supply side, which is the side offering all the jobs. My suggestion is that you become a machine, son."

"Nonsense," said the second economist. "We had boom-and-bust cycles before mechanization. It's part of the natural--possibly even invigorating--cycles of life and death, summer and winter, day and night. It happens and will continue to happen. Such factors as stock market crashes, unemployment, deflation of both economy and currency et cetera are but symptoms of this decline, not the cause. The cause is innate in the system--the cause is the system."

"Oh come on now," said the third economist. "The reason is that we, meaning us the country and us the business community, have built economic successes on ever-expanding credit. When the debts are called in, panic ensues because nobody can pay without calling in their debts. Everybody goes into a frenzy demanding debts and deferring payment of their own until they go bankrupt; confidence in the system is lost and investment slows, if not ceases. No investment, no business, no jobs. Added to this effect is the effect of allying our economy with Europe, whose economies run on different lines--when Germany decides to put up interest rates to encourage foreign investment to pay for their internal affairs, so do we, because we have to, to keep our currency at the tagged rate, benefiting creditors and damaging debtors until the debtors default and everybody goes bust."

"Does that answer your question, son?" said the first economist.

"Which of you is right?" asked Joe.

"We all are," said the second economist.

"But you all gave different reasons. You can't all be right."

"Economics is a very complex science, a multi-layered flow of variable interlocking currents which traverse the whole world," said the third economist expansively.

"Well, whose fault is all this?" asked Joe.

"Progress and capitalism," said the first economist.

"Nobody's. It's chaos theory in action," said the second economist.

"It's the government," said the third economist.

"So how are we to get out of this hole?" asked Joe.

"Move to the far east," said the first economist.

"God only knows. Wait for a change in the weather, I suppose," said the second economist.

"Oh, the usual, encourage the growth of business through lower taxes, firm currency control, a suitable interest rate and such," said the third economist.

"So it's going to get better, then," said Joe.

"I doubt it," said the first economist. "Our economies are overloaded galleons just waiting to capsize."

"Oh, it will, given time, but no one will know why or when," said the second economist.

"When the government pays back the legislative debt, undoing all the damage of the last few years and providing a background amenable to business," said the third economist.

"It's not surprising that the King doesn't have a clue how to run the economy if he has you lot for advisors," said Joe.

"Harumph," said the first economist. "I am emeritus professor of fiscal psychology at the University of Bad Znuckensitzen, I'll have you know. Have you never heard of Europe's Ersatz TV economist? You know, I'm on Drang nach Osten. It's particularly popular with the Germans."

"I hold the Piaf memorial chair of Apology Negation at the University of Sansculotte, and they don't call me Mr. Money, Our Economist Who's Friendly and Funny for nothing," said the second economist.

"And I am senior advisor to Herr Doktor Doktor Doktor Gemeinschaft of Bank Swabia, Switzerland," said the third economist. "I have a regular program on Radio Ryokaplatz beamed across Scandinavia and the Baltic. So don't tell me my advice is no good."

"Thank you," said Joe, who was quite polite even when dealing with self-important second-raters.

As they descended the ivory steps Blackberry made a face.

"They weren't very useful, were they?" she said.

"Oh, I don't know. At least we know that nobody has a clue what's going on. Whom do you suggest now?"

"Let's forget about why this has happened. Why not find the famous Three Personnel Consultants and see what they have got to say about finding a career?"

"Where do they live?" asked Joe.

"They live behind a huge wooden door with gold leaf lettering deep in the forest which can only be found by following a narrow winding six-lane motorway which runs in a huge circle and is permanently clogged with slowly-shunting traffic, depressed husbands, hysterical wives and vomiting children."

"Sounds fun," said Joe, unconvinced.

4. In which Joe meets the Famous Three Personnel Consultants.

Joe knocked at the door Blackberry had led him to. On it was written The Famous Three Personnel Consultants--Please Knock and Enter, so Joe did. The Famous Three Personnel Consultants sat behind a leather-topped desk and all wore glasses and were bald, including the woman, though she wore a wig.

"Good morning," said the leftmost Consultant. "Did you have a good journey?"

"Well..." Joe started.

"Good, good," said the middlemost Consultant. "Did you have a good journey?"

"Not bad..." Joe started.

"Can I take your coat?" said the rightmost and most female consultant, the one who wore a wig.

"But I'm not wearing..." Joe started.

"Good, good," said the leftmost Consultant. He flipped over a notepad sheet and chewed the end of his pencil. "What experience can you bring to this post?"

Joe looked surprised. All three personnel consultants looked at him in the friendly-yet-expectant manner they had been taught to use, and which had driven their respective spouses to the verge of a violent divorce.

"I, er, er," Joe thought hard. "I know how to cut down apple trees."

There was a long and meaningful pause which was supposed to elicit further details from the interrogee. Usually this resulted in a stream of meaningless babble and the Consultants knew with satisfaction that they had managed to humiliate the quivering heap of pathetic flesh that lay damp and snickering in front of them.

"Ye-es," said the rightmost and most female Consultant lengthily, marking something off slowly and deliberately on her checksheet. "In what way do you suppose the skills of arboreal pruning can be transferred to the post of filing clerk and general dogsbody?" She stressed transferred because this was an In word and she really desperately wanted to be a fashionable Personnel Consultant.

"None really," said Joe in a fatal flash of veracity. "Actually, I came here to..."

"I see from your CV that you only scored 90 percent in your end-of-term spelling test ten years ago. Why was that?" said the leftmost Consultant.

Joe drew his brows together. "Um..."

"Don't you think you may be a little overqualified for this post?" said the middlemost Consultant.

"Too young?" said the leftmost Consultant.

"Too old?" said the middlemost Consultant.

"Too middling?" said the rightmost and most female Consultant.

There was another pregnant-yet-sympathetic pause. Joe was lost.

"No, I don't think so," he said.

They flipped their notepads and marked something down.

"I see you have done a lot of travelling," said the leftmost Consultant.

"A bit, here and there," said Joe.

"Aha! Do you really think you are ready to settle down now?" said the rightmost and most female Consultant with a doubtful-but-questioning set of the nose.

"That's good; it shows initiative," said the middlemost Consultant, using his most favorite word.

"Where do you see yourself in ten years' time?" asked the rightmost and most female consultant.

"I don't," said Joe firmly. There ensued another nailbitingly firm-but-approachable pause.

"I see," said the middlemost Consultant. "We have five other candidates to see today. Why should we choose you?"

"Five thousand actually," said the leftmost Consultant.

"Five million actually," said the rightmost and most female Consultant.

"All of whom have years and years of exactly the experience we want, at least two degrees, are under nineteen years old, willing to work for peanuts and all the hours that God gives. They have no family, mortgage or social life and are driven only by the terror of poverty. What can you offer?"

"I've got most of those, except the experience and the two degrees," said Joe.

"We don't really need the two degrees, actually," admitted the middlemost Consultant, "but it appears a slightly less random method of choosing than pinning on a donkey's tail."

"What we really need is someone who has spent twenty years filing in gray steel cabinets and making five cups of coffee, two white only, two with sugar only and one with both every half an hour at 17 minutes past and 13 minutes to the hour except during lunch and who is under nineteen, and preferably pliant," said the leftmost Consultant.

"But that's not possible," said Joe.

"Ah, but you see, there are five million people out there to choose from. There's bound to be someone." said the rightmost and most female Consultant.

"Then they're lying," said Joe.

"I think we can tell a liar when we see one, young man," said the leftmost Consultant in some dudgeon.

"I think you misunderstand our purpose. You think we're here to employ people don't you?" said the middlemost Consultant.

"Well, aren't you?" said Joe. The Consultants laughed in the friendly-yet-pedagogical manner they had refined through their years of overvalued employment.

"Oh, no," said the rightmost and most female Consultant. "We are concerned with not employing people and when they are employed, with not sacking them. Out of the many options we have to pick the best. For instance, we have to glance through several hundred CVs for each post; the ones with spelling mistakes are immediately discarded. We don't have enough time to check any deeper."

"If you don't have time, how come you can check for spelling mistakes?" said Joe.

"We have time enough for that," snapped the middlemost Consultant.

"So you are being entirely negative in your search then?" said Joe.

"Oh, no, no" they chorused. "No, oh no." Negative was a deeply unfashionable word in personnel circles, like luck and mistake.

"We choose on the basis of instinct," said the leftmost Consultant. "You can't buck human nature. Our decision is made within the first three minutes of meeting the applicant."

"What, depending on whether they're pretty or not?" said Joe.

"I wouldn't put it exactly like that," said the rightmost and most female Consultant. The other Consultants waited politely for her to say how exactly she would put it, but she didn't.

"So what's the point in the pseudo-science of personnel if it comes down to basic instincts anyway?"

The Consultants shuffled uncomfortably. "We have to choose some way. I think we have more refined instincts than most and understand people better," said the middlemost Consultant.

"I beg to differ there," said Joe. "It's incontrovertible that some incompetents do get hired and some talented, hard-working people don't."

"But it's inevitable that some mistakes occur. We don't claim to be superhuman," said the leftmost Consultant.

"By that logic," said Joe, "air traffic controllers should be forgiven causing a few aircraft to collide. The difference is that air traffic control is an applied science with objective standards, and personnel is a load of baloney. To make matters worse, it's not merely a matter of a few incompetents in jobs and a few of the unfortunate talented out of work, it's thousands, if not millions."

Joe was now warming to his subject. "And those incompetents make the employment situation worse precisely because they're incompetent at running an efficient business. It often seems that the only qualification required to get a high-powered job is that you should be a self-seeking grasping liar with connections in the right places who is willing to acquiesce to any of the notions of your direct boss, however daft or fraudulent."

The Consultants licked their lips nervously. "I thought we were conducting the interview. You're not keeping to the commonly accepted standards of interview techniques," said the rightmost and most female consultant.

"Are you saying, then, that personnel selection procedures are no better than random?" asked the leftmost Consultant.

"Worse," said Joe. "Because the specifications on which someone is hired is uniformly arbitrary and not random. For instance you won't hire young women because they might get pregnant."

"Well, it's possible," said the rightmost and most female Consultant a bit wistfully.

"You won't hire people over 50, presumably because only extreme youth is fashionable and, by definition, you will only hire people who can be totally at ease when under scrutiny--which indicates that the candidate is good at either job interviews or lying, and those who do not qualify are permanently unemployable."

"We have to use some method," said the middlemost Consultant.

"But does it have to be uniformly the same one?"

"We must keep up to date in the incredibly competitive world of today," said the leftmost Consultant. "In any case, if our procedures didn't work, nobody would employ us. Businesses aren't stupid, you know."

"But who checks? How can anyone check? You can't admit to a mistake because you want to keep your job too and no businessman is going to admit that all his staff were hired incompetently. Businesses can thrive without personnel departments, you know."

"But only small ones," said the middlemost Consultant.

"Is there any evidence at all that your recruitment methods are any better than random methods?"

There was another uncomfortable pause during which all three coughed nervously.

"Thank you for taking the time to come," said the middlemost Consultant.

"I'm afraid the post has already been filled," said the rightmost and most female consultant.

"I'm afraid we will have to postpone recruitment until next year. Do try again," said the leftmost Consultant.

The Consultants started marking things down on their checksheets and flipping notes backward and forward.

"That's it," said Blackberry. "Pretty useless, eh?"

Joe got up from the extremely uncomfortable squeaky swivel chair he had been sitting on.

"That's not so surprising, is it?" said Joe. "After all, it was people like this who recruited other people like this to run big companies."

As he left the office, a secretary passed him a note. "From the Personnel Consultants," she said, chewing her chewing gum noisily.

It read:

"To find a job you must:

Look for a job tailored to your experience.

Sell yourself.

(Your expectations are too high.

You have no self-confidence.)"

"But I haven't got any experience to tailor anything to!" said Joe. "And why should I sell myself? Isn't that just smooth lying? I've never claimed to be a salesman and never wanted a sales job. My expectation is just to get a job; is that too high? If I have no self-confidence, isn't that because I can't even fulfill the basic expectation of getting a job?"

"Don't have conniptions," said Blackberry. "That's what they want. They want you to feel it's all your fault because then they won't have to do anything about it. Let's try the three politicians."

"Politicians?" said Joe. "Oh dear."

5. In which Joe meets the Famous Three Politicians.

The Famous Three Politicians lived in a beautiful neo-gothic palace on the banks of a big river. Joe was directed down dark, wallpapered corridors, past wooden trifolium ornamentation and over-luxurious woolen carpets toward a broad double door behind which could be heard the sound of a convention of axe-murderers.

"Très William Morris," said Blackberry admiringly from Joe's pocket as she eyed up the dark green organic design on the walls.

"Ordah ordah!" shouted someone. The noise continued. "Oh, fer chrissake shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Please!"

Joe opened the door.

"Did so!" shouted a man in a suit.

"Did not!" shouted another.

"Didididididididididididid!" shouted the first.

"Didndidndidndidndidn't!" shouted the other.

"I'll agree with anyone who'll agree with me," said a third.

"Oh, shut up," said the other two.

"I will not have such language..." started a woman with a blue rinse from the back of the playpen.

"Go stick it in your ear," said the first.

"Whaddayou want?" asked the second, facing Joe.

"A job, actually," said Joe.

"Well stop whining and go and look for one!" said the first, cursing as he dropped his briefcase and thousands of stock certificates slid out.

"See! See!" said the second. "You see what happens when you vote his lot in!"

"I didn't," said Joe. "I was too young to vote the last time. I wanted to know why I can't get a job."

"You bloody well get on your bike and look for one," said the first politician."

"I don't have a bike," said Joe.

"Then buy one."

"I don't have any money, and in any case employers don't just employ people who turn up on their doorsteps anymore," said Joe.

"Oh piss off, you whining git," said the first politician. "Get a job and get out of my face."

"I can't," said Joe.

"There's no such thing as can't. You just don't want to. You'd rather tramp to and fro across the country in an endless and futile search for a fictional excuse for not getting a job. I bet my honorable colleague opposite would oblige you with one of those," he sneered at the second politician. "You people make me sick. Don't you see?" He waved his hands around in an encompassing gesture. "We have created a meritocratic paradise. If you can't make it here, you can't make it anywhere."

"Piffle!" said the second politician. "Codswallop! As there is profit in employment, there has to be profit in unemployment. If you voted for me, the whole world would join hands and sing in peaceful harmony..."

"Tripe!" said the first politician. "Nobody believes or trusts you. The economy would collapse within days of you assuming power!"

"Only because you and your friends would sabotage it!"

"Doesn't matter why, it just would. Who'd trust you with a penny? You get in and I'm on a plane to Bermuda along with all my money. And as for you, young man," he looked at Joe, "there is no such thing as unemployment. There is merely an unwillingness to match one's self to the requirements of the marketplace. What do you want me to do? Cry? Piss off. I'm not interested."

"If we had been in power," said the second, "you wouldn't be in this state. Blame yourself."

"But..." said Joe.

You're not worth the breath it takes to ignore you," said the first politician. "Let's face it, you're an irrelevant whining scrounger with no money, no job, no vote, no prospects, no connections and no point. Goodbye. And as for you, you corrupt incompetent..."

"Who exactly are you calling a corrupt incompetent, you self-satisfied upper class oaf?"

"How dare you..."

Joe turned away from the playpen and made his own way out.

"They say that the incidence of suicide is on the increase," Joe said to Blackberry.

Blackberry shrugged. "You should have been born a squirrel," she said.

6. In which the gentle reader decides what happens to Joe.

So what did happen to Joe? Well, there are a number of possibilities. Armed with your knowledge and experience choose from the following:

a) As Joe plodded dejectedly toward the center of town, a long black car pulled up. A businessman wound down the window from the back seat.

"Exactly what I've been looking for!" he said.

"Pardon?" said Joe.

"Do you want a job?" said the businessman.

"Well, er, yes," said Joe.

The businessman handed Joe his card. Montague Twistleton-Smythe, Chartered Odd-Job man to the Astonishingly Rich. "Be at that address tomorrow morning at nine. Twenty thousand a year. Company Car. Stock Options. All we need is your brains," he said.

"Wow," said Joe. "It's like a fairy tale."

"Either that, or you've finally lost it," said Blackberry. "Otherwise I wouldn't still be here."

b) Joe plodded dejectedly back into town to find the dole office.

"Help," he said to the official there.

The official sighed. "Are you now or have you ever been unemployed?" he said.

"Yup," said Joe, "and I'm broke."

"Well, find someplace to stay, and we'll pay you."

So Joe found the friends that everyone is supposed to have in the big city and persuaded them to let him sleep on the floor so he could get the dole. Then the landlady found out and he was kicked out, along with the rest of his friends, one of whom had a job and so could rent another place. Gosh, that was lucky.

Being an unemployed young male, no landlord would offer him a room, so in the end Joe had to give up and go home, where he lived for years and years until he had no spirit left and certainly had nothing to sell to the marketplace.

c) Joe plodded dejectedly back into town to find the dole office.

"Help," he said to the official there.

The official sighed. "Are you now or have you ever been unemployed?" he said.

"Yup," said Joe, "and I'm broke."

"Well, find a place to stay and we'll pay you."

"I see a fatal flaw in that plan," said Joe.

"Not my problem," said the official.

So Joe slept underneath a bridge until the police hosed his box into the river. He lived off handouts and whisky, indulging in the odd bit of theft and buggery until his brain had been pickled and he smelled so bad and looked so ugly that nobody gave a tinker's damn about what happened to him. Even the well-meaning liberals didn't bother wringing their hands in sympathy.

Mind you, all that whisky and dodgy crack had meant he could now converse with Blackberry the talking Squirrel. In fact, he saw her everywhere.

So next time you come across a man looking haggard and unshaven holding a whisky bottle in one hand tottering underneath a bridge and slurring "Ay! 'Vyer seen Blackbree, 'vyer, ay?" then do say hello from me, won't you?

Adam Harrington ( is a computer programmer who has spent a fair proportion of his 28 years wandering more or less aimlessly across the British Isles and plans to spend his remaining time in the sun doing much the same. He has been a biologist, journalist, unemployed bum, bookie's clerk and unemployed bum again--in that order--and doesn't plan on retiring until his cold dead fingers are pried from the office doorknob.

InterText stories written by Adam Harrington: "How Joe Found a Living" (v8n1), "Heading Out" (v8n5).

InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 8, Number 1 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1998 Adam Harrington.