Ingerland My Ingerland
I was sitting in the surgery of my local health centre waiting for my monthly booster injection when the result of the royal lottery was announced. The health centre TV, set permanently to the rolling news on IBC (Ingerlish Broadcasting Channel), showed King William and Queen Catherine handing the keys of Buckingham Palace to a couple from Maidstone, Kent. The man, a stout balding scaffolder, and his pale anxious wife - snapping at their two young children - said it was an unbelievable honour to be crowned the new royal couple for the next twelve months and they would do all they could to serve the country with honour.
‘It’s a fuckin’ fix, mate’ said the young man sitting next to me. He had a red blotchy face and a Scouse accent. ‘Mere fuckers from the south east. Last time was the same. I wouldn’t enter if you paid me, would youse mate ? No wonder folk up north have had enough.’
I thought back five years to the inaugural royal raffle, formed a picture of the winners: a middle-aged man and woman - professional accountants from Berkshire - no children. The couple had divorced soon after their twelve-month period as England’s king and queen citing the pressure of hosting numerous royal banquets.
‘Well, I certainly didn’t enter’ I said in answer to the young man’s question. ‘Twenty quid a ticket is a bit of a royal rip off if you ask me. Twenty quid would pay for two of my monthly jabs.’
The young man laughed as the receptionist called my name. ‘Youse don’t have to pay for yer fuckin’ jabs, grandad’ he shouted. ‘It’s us young scallies that has to pay.’
I made my way through the swing doors into the clinic. The nurse greeted me and asked me to fill out a patient form. I sat for a moment staring blankly at the paper.
‘Is there something the matter ?’ she said as I struggled to remember the date and my age. ‘No, nothing at all’ I said. Luckily, like a door lock that had suddenly sprung, my brain recalled the relevant details: Today was June 13th; the year was 2043. And two weeks ago I’d celebrated my 85th birthday.
After my jab I went to the receptionist and collected my reward points. As she swiped my vaccination card the till made a jingle-jangle sound indicating that I’d won a prize. ‘Well, who’s a lucky boy’ she said. ‘You’ve gained enough points for a trip to London’s inner protected zone.’ I nodded. ‘I’m looking forward to it’ I said. ‘I’ve been saving up my points for the past couple of years.’ She smiled. ‘All you have to do is swipe your card when you arrive at London’s passport control. The prize is for a three-night stay, valid for six months. Please make sure you read the terms and conditions.’ She passed my card through the plexiglass. ‘Are you going to watch the coronation of the raffle winners ?’ I nodded again. ‘Oh, how lovely’ she said. ‘What I’d give to be able to attend. My mom went to London once, years and years ago, before there were any restrictions on entry. So many wonderful opportunities compared to here. You’ll have to tell me all about it when you get back.’
I walked to the bus stop. A few people were chatting about the couple from Maidstone in Kent, trying to second guess what kind of king and queen they’d be. ‘An embarrassment, probably’ said one bloke. ‘Give ‘em a chance - they look ok’ said another. One woman said she pined for the ‘good old days’, before the Irish, Scots and Welsh drifted off by themselves.
As I rode the bus home I considered Ingerland’s many problems. A royal raffle was as good a solution as any, I thought, to make up the monarchy’s shortfall in funding. A five-yearly event, the ticket money raised millions for the cash-strapped Windsors and, by standing down for twelve months, William and Catherine had the chance to repair their damaged wellbeing. Things hadn’t been easy for the couple following the untimely passing of Charles. And, with the break-up of the United Kingdom, there’d been a period when the very existence of the monarchy had been called into question. The Conservative government, struggling with sky high debt re-payments, had been forced to slash the money that made up the civil list. What’s more, Queen Catherine’s depression had become more and more pronounced, especially after her headstrong daughter accepted an internship in the office of US Secretary of State Markle. And now, with parts of the north rumoured to be joining a Scottish federation, it looked as though only a ‘Little Ingerland’ would be left, an area stretching from the Midlands to the protected outer zones of the capital.
I gazed out of the bus window. Government billboards urged all patriotic citizens to keep getting their monthly jab. One billboard said ‘Freedom!’ and ‘Your government: once again improving the lives of Ingerland’s population’ - a reference to the summer curfew which had recently been adjusted from 9pm-7am to 10pm-6am. As the bus came to a halt at traffic lights I saw rows of St George’s flags hanging from the town hall and heard the strains of Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ through a bank of loudspeakers. Either side of the town hall entrance stood two giant inflatables – one of Lady Carrie and one of Prime Minister Johnson. A banner read: ‘God bless the Mother and Father of the Nation.’
I got off the bus at my local shopping centre and went into a café. I ordered two mugs of tea and an iced bun then sat myself by the window. I spotted Will making his way across the shopping precinct. He entered the café and came over. ‘Did you get your reward ?’ he asked. I nodded. ‘Three days, valid for six months. Here.’ I pushed my vaccination card across the table along with an envelope containing cash. Will quickly put them in his inside pocket. I said: ‘What are you going to say if they pull you over ?’
Will took a slurp of tea. ‘Don’t worry. I’ve got it all worked out. I’ll just act dumb – say I picked up your vaccination card by mistake.’
I frowned. Trying to gain unauthorised entry into London’s prosperous inner zones was a criminal offence. But for a young lad like Will, if he succeeded, the rewards could be great.
‘You won’t say anything to mom ? Promise you won’t.’
I said it would be difficult. ‘Anyway, she’ll understand. There’s no way you’re going to save up £20k to get a London residency permit. It’s a risk but once you get through passport control and find a job there’ll be no looking back.’
We finished our tea and left the café. ‘You’ll let me know how things work out?’ I said as we embraced. ‘Of course’ he said. ‘And once I’m settled maybe you can come and visit.’
‘I doubt that’ I said. ‘Just make sure you come back to see us once in a while.’
I was gripped by a sudden wave of tiredness. Will took hold of me and said: ‘Are you alright ?’
I regained myself. ‘Yes’ I said. ‘It’s just the jab…it’s beginning to kick in. I’d best get home and take a nap.’
‘Thanks for everything grandad’ said Will.
I laughed. ‘That’s the second time today I’ve been called grandad.’
‘How come ?’
I shook my head. ‘It doesn’t matter.’
I watched as he walked across the precinct, turning briefly to wave, before losing sight of him as he passed the crowd waiting outside the food bank.
When eventually I got home I fell asleep in my chair. And I had the strangest dream. I dreamt that I was young again, walking through a beautiful meadow. In the far distance stood the old Queen, looking out across the landscape. I did my best to hurry towards her but she disappeared. Then I too stood and admired Ingerland’s sun dappled uplands, forever rising ahead, forever out of reach.