Today our journey began, to discover the source of that great river that runs through Homeward – The Oooze.
However, our journey would not begin from Homeward. For, The Oooze runs into the moat around my vast domain (that is how the water is continually freshened) and thence out to the sea near Homesea.
There are still quite a few hardy inhabitants of the Oooze Estuary who live on the marshlands around Homesea, but the majority now live in my greatest architectural accomplishments - the Seascrapers of Estuaria.
As you know, Homeward consists of hundreds of skyscrapers – for I firmly believe that it is the best way of living. So, when it came to sorting out the housing problems of the estuary folk, I thought, why not skyscrapers that went down – beneath the waves?
We took my traction engine to the mouth of the estuary and I soon spotted my brother Rupert, the intrepid explorer, supervising the loading of the boats.
“I hope that you have made sure that we have all the necessary requirements for an expedition of this magnitude?” I declared.
“Oh yes,” replied Rupert “We have banana cake, pumpkin soup, casks of lemonade, Jubba fruit, Whooshmeat with apple and sage stuffing wrapped in maple cured bacon, butter cabbage, Seaweed Slasher Porridge and a 1787 Chateau Lafitte !”
“Excellent! – we shall at least have the basic foodstuffs, then” I declared.
“However, I have been forced to leave the lifebelts out to make room for the provisions.” added Rupert.
I could see that the Old Monkey seemed somewhat aghast at this news; he is such a worrier, so I swiftly reassured him.
“No matter, I doubt we will need them with the expert hand of Captain Walrus at the tiller!”
Before we set the boats on course up the river I decided that we should pay a visit to the Estuaria School for Boys and Girls. A charitable foundation, set up by myself, it caters for the education of the youngsters of this fair creek. Elocution lessons are an important part of the curriculum. The peoples of the marshlands speak a strange dialect, which is very difficult to understand, called Estuary English.
As our boats passed the many towers of Estuaria I could not help feeling that they were looking very rundown and neglected. “They all look like they could do with a lick of paint – if they are not more careful with their maintenance they could spring a leak!” I remarked to the Old Monkey.
When we arrived at the School Tower, I was very disappointed to see how badly looked after the grounds seemed to be. Every tower in Estuaria has a large green surrounded by trees at the top. Here, the grass had been allowed to grow in wild abandon and scattered around were half a dozen decrepit Nissan Huts.
I stormed into the School reception demanding to see the Headteacher – Mr Snodgrass. An unsmiling and flinty receptionist made us feel that it was all too much effort to even speak. No pleasantries passed her lips.
“Impossible – he is in a meeting with the other CEO’s – leave your name and he might get back to you – if he feels it is important enough” she smirked.
“Do you know who I am?” I thundered.
“A rather large elephant, by the looks of you” she countered.
“I am the benefactor of this school and up with this I will not put,” I bellowed. “Come, Old Monkey – I hear voices emanating from the library, I have a lot of questions for Mr Snodgrass!”
The receptionist attempted to bar our passage, but was swiftly dealt with by Cloutman and Gubbins.
I could not believe my eyes as we entered the library. Denuded of books it now contained a large snooker table around which half a dozen fellows lounged around drinking beer.
“What is the meaning of this Mister Snodgrass! What have you done to the library I donated to this school?” I demanded.
“Oh Uncle, great benefactor, you should have warned us you were coming – so the children could have performed for you. Ah, now the library, you see – it became surplus to requirements so to speak. Modern technology and all that, you see, the kids don’t really need books anymore – they have their e-books. Or, at least, they will – once we have disposed of some more assets. This is now the Executive Lounge and I and my fellow CEO’s were just discussing that very issue” blustered Snodgrass.
“CEO’s?” I queried.
“Well, yes, Headmasters as was” murmured Snodgrass.
“A school does not need six headmasters!” I countered.
“Well there you are, sir, this is no longer one school – in fact, in a manner of speaking, the tower itself is no longer a school.” he burbled. “You see we felt it was no longer a sensible use of your funds to carry on using such a prestigious location merely as a school. It is worth far more on the open market as an office building. So we decided to rent it out and use the funds to build six new schools! This way we can give the people of Estuaria parental choice!”
“Parental Choice? – you mean those decrepit Nissan Huts on the roof are my school?” I shouted.
“Well, Sir, let me assure you that we have the parents and children’s interest very much to heart. By having six schools we are able to offer them choice. We have Eton Mess – that’s the rather nice Nissan Hut with the pretty pink paint – that’s where we train pupils to run the country. Then we have the hut, I mean school, that trains them to get a job that they grumble about – but on the whole is not too bad. Then another school where they train them for a job they hate but the money is good and our celebrity school, which also trains them in waitering, just in case you understand, and so on…it all works splendidly.” Snodgrass explained.
“This is what you are doing with my endowment?” I countered. I could hardly believe my ears.
“Well, Sir, I am afraid your endowment has proved insufficient. It only really covers staff costs. Specialist education like this comes at a price. To achieve these standards we are competing at an international level and you can only attract the right caliber of teachers if you are willing to pay the market rate. Also to get the best CEO’s to run the schools one has to be prepared to pay. “ He boasted. “I am afraid that we do have to charge the pupils a small fee.”
“The pupils pay for this? I don’t see how the parents can afford it, despite the fact that Homeward is the one place that seems to have weathered the financial storms besetting the world, Estuaria seems to have fallen on hard times!” I queried.
“Ah, well, I think that we may have accidentally contributed to that situation.” said Snodgrass sheepishly.
“In what way, exactly?” I asked, suspiciously.
“Well, you see we are always looking for ways to increase the school funds. So we came up with this very clever idea of selling derivatives based on the children’s futures. A Hedge fund, if you will, ‘hedging’ a bet on how well your child might do. The parents loved the idea, you see, because they all thought little Johnny would do so well. But then just in case Johnny might not do as well as Justin, we offered them ‘parcels’ of futures. They were given AAA ratings ! Well, they were at first, but then when the pupils left school and some of their careers did not pan out so well, it all started to go a bit pear shaped.
In a nutshell, the parents were left a bit borassic. Oh sorry, Sir, slipped into a bit of Estuary English there!” stuttered Snodgrass.
“We did lose quite a bit of money, Sir, but don’t worry we are building our reserves again. We have upped the fees to parents and our results are so good that we are still able to pay our CEO’s a bonus!” he smarmed.
“Well, at least your results are still good – I employed Doctor Lyre to set the exams – I take it he is happy with the standards maintained?” I replied.
“I am afraid we had to let Doctor Lyre go, we felt that the additional cost was unnecessary. We now set the exams and mark them ourselves. Here is a copy of our latest one.” he said.
“What does 3x3 equal ?!!” I read.
“Yes, and they all got it right! Absolutely splendid, a definite improvement on last year when they only knew what 2x2 equalled!” declared Snodgrass.
“Whose idea was it to destroy my school!” I shouted angrily.
“Why, the President of our Corporation, he gets the biggest bonus! – Mister Hateman!” replied Snodgrass.
“I should have guessed! Right, you lot are all fired. Old Monkey get all these people evicted from my tower, and get Doctor Lyre down here at once – he will have to take charge until we can get this mess sorted” I stated forcefully.
“Will we still get our bonuses, Sir” piped up Snodgrass.
“Yes, you can each have a Nissan Hut!” I answered.
Honestly, the whole purpose of this trip was to get away from all this nonsense.