Sat, 28 Apr 2018
I was woken early one morning by a hammering on my back door. I quickly dressed and rushed downstairs, to find Alun in an agitated state.
"It's the mainland council, Jed," he said. "They've imposed a bladderwrack allowance."
"I don't even know what that means," I said.
"It means that they're restricting the amount of bladderwrack each individual can consume."
"Bladderwrack, that's seaweed isn't it? Do you ever consume seaweed?"
"That's not the issue, Jed. This is about the mainland council telling us what to do again. There's no need for any restrictions on Happy Island, we've got loads of seaweed."
"You can have my allowance, if that helps. I don't think I've ever had bladderwrack, unless you count getting caught up in it when I go swimming. Besides, the council can hardly enforce the new rules, we're the only people on the island."
"That's not the point Jed, this is about the rights of the individual and the power of an over-zealous council. Happy Island is a community that's proud of its approach to seaweed maintenance, we haven't allowed ourselves to get into the sort of seaweed-shy mess they've got on the mainland. I'm going to phone the council as soon as they open and make my case for Happy Island to be exempted from the bladderwrack restrictions."
It was 6.30 in the morning. How Alun finds out about new mainland council policies at that early hour I don't know, but it meant that we had to wait three hours for the mainland council offices to open.
Alun promised to update me on his campaign against the bladderwrack allowance and at 12.13 pm, there was a hammering on my back door. It was Alun.
"I've started a petition Jed, will you sign it?"
I quickly read the 14-page petition, which was basically asking for the mainland council to exempt seaweed-rich off-mainland communities from the new restrictions. There was one signature, which I recognised as Alun's scrawl.
"Wouldn't the boatman sign it?" I asked.
"No, he said he doesn't get involved with politics, it's just you and me."
"I don't think there's any point sending in a petition signed by just two people," I said. "The mainland council are hardly going to be influenced by minority views."
"Nonsense Jed," Alun said, "No government can be so out of touch with reality that it can afford to ignore the views of an entire community."
"I think they could," I said, thinking of the recent Remove Support for Disabled People Act and the Cut Everyone's Wages Act.
"Don't be so negative, Jed," Alun said, "I'm sure politicians only pass idiotic rules because they're not aware of the consequences, once it becomes clear that an important isolated rural community rich in an abundance of bladderwrack is needlessly forced to follow irrelevant mainland restrictions they'll take action to resolve their error."
"What did they say when you phoned them?"
"They told me to go away. Which is why I'm upping the campaign with this petition. No government can ignore the will of the people."
The following morning I was woken early by the sound of shouting and stomping outside my back door. I quickly dressed and rushed downstairs, to find Alun marching up and down carrying a placard which said 'We need our seaweed'. Alun was bellowing slogans as he marched: "What do we want, an end to bladderwrack restrictions, when do we want it, as soon as practically achievable,"- Alun hates campaigns that demand things 'now' like a petulant child, when any policy change would clearly take legislation, involving careful drafting and consultation with all parties likely to be affected, followed by an implementation period to allow local authorities and isolated island communities time to prepare for the change in policy.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"I'm protesting against the bladderwrack allowance, Jed," Alun said. "The mainland council said that they only read petitions signed by seven or more people. Ridiculous! So I'm upping the campaign."
"Upping the campaign?"
"I'm going on strike."
"I'm going on strike."
"Yes Jed, withdrawing our labour is that measure of last resort, the ultimate power the working classes have over the political elite."
"But wouldn't you have to work in order go on strike?"
"Work Jed! I'm the island's GP."
"Yes, but you refuse to treat yourself and I've never needed a doctor, so you're not exactly at the coal face at 5.00 a.m.. every morning."
"Yes I am Jed."
"Sorry, I forgot." Alun's main hobby is exploring the long-abandoned Happy Island Coalmine in his desire to find a new seam of coal, thus enabling the mine to reopen. "What I meant to say is that you're not exactly at the coal face at 5.00 a.m. every morning in a paid capacity."
"This is true Jed, one man's work is another man's pleasure." Alun's other main hobbies are hod carrying, repairing washing machines and writing policy documents on areas relating to the international whelk trade.
"But if you're on strike what will happen if I need urgent medical care?"
"The same emergency support that exists for every other off-mainlander Jed, the boatman can take you to the mainland."
Alun continued his campaign. The Off-Mainlander magazine ran a feature about the strike, and every day Alun would march up and down the island carrying a bladderwrack-liberation placard, even though there wasn't anyone to see him.
My foot started itching. I asked Alun to take a look at it, but he said that he couldn't, as he was on strike. I got some cream off the boatman, but frankly it seemed unfair that the only person affected by Alun's strike action was me and my itchy foot.
A year passed, and Alun begun a nude protest on Bladderwrack Beach. I made my excuses not to join him.
However, in spite of all of Alun's attempts the mainland council persevered with their bladderwrack policy. On the twentieth anniversary the Off-Mainlander ran a special feature about the campaign, apparently the longest ever strike by an off-mainlander, and the article led to a series of features by the mainland press.
The following morning I was woken at 6.30 a.m. by a hammering on my back door.
"It's the mainland council, Jed," Alun said. "They've finally given in to our campaign, we've got our bladderwrack back. Here, read this," he handed me the latest issue of the Off-Mainlander magazine, the front page of which proclaimed 'Island wins bladderwrack battle'. I quickly skim-read the article, which reported that the mainland council had finally given in to a twenty year long campaign to end a bladderwrack ban on Happy Island.
"You see Jed," Alun said, "My campaign paid off. We won our freedom back. We can consume as much bladderwrack as we want."
"It says here that the ban was removed everywhere else years ago, they kept it here so as not to give in to strike action."
"It's still a victory Jed. You should be happy."
"Does that mean you'll finally take a look at my foot now?"