Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Princess and the Pea

It was a dark, stormy night and the castle corridors were an inky black. The storminess could not have been helped, but the darkness was a side effect of the energy efficient light bulbs that had recently been installed. Well, as the Prime Minister said, the royals had to be seen to be doing their bit to combat climate change. When the king had heard about the new light bulbs he had been incandescent with rage. An unfortunate state, really, as his indignant luminescence masked the fact that the fuse board hadn’t been reset and the castle was, in fact, off the grid. The royals were oblivious to this fact, assuming that their television was showing endless repeats of a documentary about a group of mutes working down a coal mine. The King had not stayed angry for long and, as he remembered that these particular energy efficient light bulbs were installed throughout their sixty-four bedroom residence, registered as their second home, the light level had dropped. (Officially, his royal highness occupied a semi-detached in Basingstoke).

The doorbell rang.

The king headed for the door and walked head-first into a wall. The corridors were indeed an inky black, and there were a large number of walls in his sixty-four bedroom residence. He usually had a man who would open the door for him, but the butlers had stopped responding to his intercom since the light bulbs had changed. The King was beginning to miss his fleet of butlers, with their tight satin uniforms, shiny patent hats, and inane platitudes. One can develop a taste for sycophancy.

There at the door was a young woman.

She was tall, svelte, and blonde, sporting a grey leotard and a sizeable overbite. She reminded the King of a lamp-post. “Excuse me, sir” she said. But before she could finish her sentence, assuming it was incomplete and she hadn’t come seeking monarchical absolution, the King began to speak. “I’m sorry, miss, but one is not interested in any feather dusters or j-cloths. One has a man who buys them for him.” This was a lie; the King did not, in fact, employ a butler for the purpose of the procurement of household items. But he didn’t want to give her any money; he thought she’d just spend it on drugs. Smack. Crack. Bacharach. Whatever it was the kids took these days.

“Excuse me sir, but I am a princess”

This changed things, somewhat. For the King had a son and heir, the prince, who, thanks to a poor choice in fancy dress costumes, had experienced limited success in the relationship department. If she were a genuine blue-blood, it would be churlish not to let her in. He’d heard of mail-order brides, but never door-to-door calls. But how to tell if she were royal? Under normal circumstances, there would be a man who whispered into his ear the names of house guests. But since the light bulb changeover, he hadn’t shown up for work. Or if he had, in the darkness he hadn’t managed to locate his liege. For all the King knew, he might have been there, a hundred metres down the corridor, informing a decorative table lamp that the Minister for Work and Pensions was here to see him. The King might have gone to the royal computer and typed her name into Wikipedia, although, strangely, the computer didn’t seem to be working since the light bulbs had been switched. The King had rung the court electrician about this, but he didn’t offer any suggestions. He was, in fact, silent. The King had assumed that he was going through some personal difficulties.

Could she be royal? She did have an overbite...

The King called for the Queen, and explained the dilemma. “I know how to tell if she’s royal,” the Queen declared. “We shall invite her in for the night, and place a single pea under her mattress. If she can feel it, she’s royal.” At this, the Queen began to giggle to herself and stroke an imaginary cat. The King sighed to himself. Ask her if she were clinically insane. That’s the way to detect a royal for sure.

He invited her in, and enacted the Queen’s plan.

In the morning, over breakfast, the King asked his guest how she had slept. “Terribly,” the girl replied, “there was this lump beneath the mattress, and I woke up with bruises all along my back. My spine looks like a Rorschach test.” The Queen clapped her hands with glee, and considerable effort, since she was wearing a straight jacket. “I knew it!” she shouted “You really are a princess!” The King, pleased with the turn of events, summoned his son to the dining hall. “Princess,” he said, addressing the girl, “I would like to offer you the hand of my son in marriage.”

“You’ll offer me a damn site more” she snapped.

The King was metaphorically, but not literally, speechless. “What?” he exclaimed, proving the extent of his not literally being speechless. “Well,” the princess said. “As far as I can see, last night a princess came to your castle, and this morning you have offered her your son’s hand in marriage.” The King nodded hesitantly. “To me, and I’m sure to a court of the law, that may be construed as a state visit. The business of a princess.” Again, the King tipped his head in assent. “And this morning, thanks to your bed, I have woken up covered in bruises.

I’m going to claim compensation for an injury in the workplace."

The princess called Injury Lawyers 4U, and using their national network of genuine lawyers who specialise in personal injury cases, she got honest and professional advice. She took the King to court on a no-win no-fee basis, and won £100, 000. The princess lived happily ever after because, although money can’t buy you happiness, it can fashion a crude facsimile.

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