The King Problem
I was woken early one morning by a hammering on my back door. I quickly dressed and rushed downstairs, where I found Alun in an agitated state.
"It's the king, Jed," Alun said, "He's come to Happy Island to seek asylum."
"Are you sure?" I said, it seemed unlikely.
"Yes Jed, the Roundheads have routed the king's armies and we're the only safe haven he has."
"Where are we going to hide him?" I asked.
"The geep shed, Jed, it's the last place anyone would think of looking for a king, and the geep are mostly royalist so they won't mind," (though, of course, even among geep there is always a vocal republican minority).
We quickly set up a bed fit for a king in the geep shed, but the king, when he arrived, was most dismissive of the accommodation.
"I'm used to palaces," he said. "Not grotty sheds. You can hardly expect me to sleep here with a herd of geep."
"Feel free to go to one of your mainland palaces," Alun said.
"But if I do that the Roundheads will cut my head off."
"Well then," Alun said.
"Try the geep shed your highness, just for one night," I said, as diplomatically as I could. "If it doesn't work out we can find somewhere else."
The next morning I was woken early by a king in a furious temper.
"I can't sleep another night in the geep shed, it smells of geep."
"Of course it does," I said, "It's a geep shed."
"A king can expect a better class of accommodation. After all, I AM king."
"Yes, a king on the run from the Roundheads. If you'd invested our taxes in your armies instead of sumptuous banquets, luxurious trinkets, lavish weddings and costly divorces you wouldn't have needed to flee the mainland at all."
"Oh, let's move him Jed," Alun said. "He clearly won't be happy until he gets his way."
"Absolutely right," the king said. "You can't expect me to stop complaining until I get my way on everything. That's the way I was raised. It's called breeding."
"I'm glad that's all sorted. Breakfast is served," I said cheerily.
"Fantastic, I'm ravenous. I had to leave my feast after just two hours yesterday when the damnable Roundheads invaded my castle. What's for breakfast?"
"Porridge," I said. "Same as we have every morning."
"Porridge! I can'tt live off porridge, I'm the king."
"I could do you some toast."
"Toast! That's even worst. I'm used to roast pheasant, or quails. Or perhaps a roasted pigs head."
"To be fair Jed, you can have literally anything for breakfast," Alun said. "The Japanese have raw fish, the Germans have cold meats and students have yesterday's pizza."
"But I don't have any quails, pheasant or pig's heads. I don't even have raw fish, pizza or cold meats."
"Well what do you have?" the king demanded.
"Pop tarts," I suggested. "They do a quail flavour now."
"Oh very well," the king said, "I'll have the quail flavoured pop tarts."
After breakfast the king fetched his things from the geepshed and prepared to move to his new abode. "Where are we going, do you have a palace I can move in to?"
"Not a palace, no," Alun said. "I was thinking of the bottom of the deep, dark well."
"The bottom of a well? I can't live in a well."
"We've taken the water out," Alun reassured him.
In actual fact Alun had kitted out the well as emergency accommodation and it included every luxury you could ask for, comfy beds, fully fitted kitchen, there was even a snooker table and dart board. The king protested for a long time, but eventually agreed to give it a try for one night.
"However, the next morning he was back, complaining about the lack of light, the hard bed, the shortage of fresh air, the cold, the silence and the general well-like ambience.
"I've been scouting the island," the king said, "And there's a house on the south side, completely empty. I could move in there, it's much nicer than a geep shed or a well. I don't know why you didn't suggest it."
"You mean the empty house?" I said.
"But you can't live there." Alun said. Alun and I use the empty house as our main source of entertainment, it has an illicit bar, a ballroom, function room, dart board, snooker room and the finest library. The last thing we need in our place of sanctuary is an annoying king strutting around as if he owned the place.
"Why not, it's not inhabited, there are dozens of empty rooms."
"It's the first place anyone will think of looking," I said. "If the Roundheads find you've come here they'll go straight to the empty house, they'll never think of looking at the bottom of a deep, dark well."
"Nevertheless I think I'll take that chance," said the king. "Another night in a well or cow shed and I'll go start raving mad."
This was Thursday morning, and of course Thursday night is always snooker night on Happy Island, so Alun and I went to the empty house for a game. However, the king, seeing us enter the building, proceeded to badger us with requests. "This bedding isn't very comfortable, do you have any velvet sheets. And the pillows, I'm used to ducks down feathers."
"Feel free to help yourself."
"Help myself. Where from?"
"The duck pond's just over to the east of the island. I'm sure the ducks will be willing to sacrifice their feathers to keep their king happy."
"Hmm, I might give it a miss. That's a fine looking snooker table, do you mind if I play?"
Yes we bloody well did mind, this was our snooker night, but neither of us said anything. He was king after all.
The king broke off, or tried to, but the cue ball missed the pack entirely.
"This cue's not straight," the king said. "It's all wonky."
"Try mine," Alun said.
The king tried another shot, missed by a mile and complained again."There's something wrong with all the cues." As the night progressed the king proclaimed that the cues were bent, the balls weren't round, the cloth was lumpy, the cushions uneven and the pockets both not big enough (when he was playing) and too big (whenever Alun or I was taking a shot). Not to mention the fact that the lights were too bright, the wallpaper distracting, the floor was in the wrong place and the birds outside the window were trying to put him off (to be fair it was true that the Happy Island birds had taken a dislike to him, probably because he insisted on shooting at them for no apparent reason).
"I've never heard anyone complain so much," Alun complained on the way home.
"You'd think we were imprisoning him here, not saving his life," I agreed. "I'm beginning to understand why the Roundheads were so upset with him. No-one's ever criticised the cloth on our snooker table before."
At night, when he wasn't complaining to our faces, the king would write long, green-inked letters of complaint, detailing every dimension of his every grudge in the most tedious prose conceivable, trying to intervene in every aspect of Happy Island life.
He would leave the letters on my doorstep for Alun and myself to read in the morning, while he had a long, undeserved, lie-in.
"What's he complaining about now?" I'd ask Alun.
Alun would skim-read the letter, not pausing to correct grammar or spelling mistakes, which were always plentiful. "He says that the East wind is blowing from the wrong direction, Jed."
"What direction does he expect the East wind to blow from?"
"Probably the East, Jed. He does have a point there."
"What are we going to do with him. He's never happy. He doesn't like the geep shed, he won't sleep in the well, he complains about the empty house. Where are we going to put him."
"I've an idea Jed, it'll solve all our problems."
So saying, he picked up the phone and dialed a number on the mainland.
"Hello, is that that Roundheads?" he said. "This is Happy Island. We've captured the king."
"They say do we want a reward Jed."
"Reward? No, we're not doing this for money. We just want a bit of peace and quiet."
"Nothing else? Gold, trinkets, fine clothes, luxurious food?"
"Well, we are completely out of quail flavoured pop tarts."