Kevin Lewis column

Kevin Lewis imagines a world where, heaven forbid, a new contract wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.


The Emperor’s new contract


Once upon a time in a land far, far away, there lived some gentle folk called the Teggie Tubbies who spent their lives looking into the mouths of human people. Sometimes the Teggie Tubbies would put things into the human people’s mouths. Sometimes the Teggie Tubbies would take things out of the human people’s mouths. And sometimes they would just look. The human people were not always sure what their mouths should look like, or feel like, or how they should work. So sometimes the Teggie Tubbies would tell them what they thought. Sometimes this helped the human people, and sometimes it didn’t.

The Emperor was a kind man who wanted to be loved by the Teggie Tubbies. But most of all he wanted to be loved by the human people, because he enjoyed being the Emperor. But over the years he had become a bit confused about how to reward the Teggie Tubbies for the time they spent looking after the human people’s mouths. He had tried counting how many things the Teggie Tubbies were putting into – or taking out – of the human people’s mouths. He had tried differentiating between big and small human people. One day the Emperor asked the Emperor’s advisers to think of a new way.

But each time the Emperor’s advisers dreamed up a new way of rewarding the Teggie Tubbies, the Teggie Tubbies became less and less happy and even though the land was far, far away, it still wasn’t far, far away enough for many of them.

Lots and lots of new ways were tried out, each of them lasting a shorter time than the one before, and all the time the Teggie Tubbies were getting more unhappy and the human people could see this, because some of the Teggie Tubbies didn’t seem to want to spend so much of their time with human people anymore.

One day the Emperor announced that the Emperor’s advisers would be ordered to come up with a wonderful new way of rewarding Teggie Tubbies. This would be called ‘The new contract’, although one of the Emperor’s advisers did point out that this name had already been used once before, for another new contract that was not a new contract any longer.

The Emperor’s advisers enthusiastically toured the land far, far away, and they described the bright colours, the rich fabrics and beautiful designs that would adorn the new contract. It would, they said, be greatly admired by human people as well as by the Teggie Tubbies.

A proclamation was made that the new contract would be ready in time for the Emperor’s Spring Ball. But as the time grew closer, the Emperor had second thoughts and the Ball took place without the Emperor’s new contract. So that the seamstresses had more time to refine all its beautiful stitching and fine detail, everyone would have to wait a little longer – until the Grand Autumn Parade – before everyone could see the Emperor’s new contract at long last.

The Emperor then made another proclamation that his new contract was being made even better, with even richer fabrics, brighter colours, and magnificent embroidery. But the Emperor’s Grand Autumn Parade was also cancelled and everyone had to wait a little longer to see the Emperor’s magnificent new contract.

One lovely spring day, the new contract was finally ready and the Emperor was standing in the hall of the Emperor’s Palace ready to walk onto the balcony overlooking the place where all the Teggie Tubbies and human people were waiting to admire the new contract.

But some of the Teggie Tubbies had got tired of all this waiting, and they had gone home. The bright April sunshine shone down on the Emperor as he strode confidently onto the balcony. But as he did so, a hush came over the crowd. The Emperor announced proudly: ‘Here is my wonderful new contract. Behold the bright colours, the rich fabrics and the precious pearls and jewels which represent all the key principles of Options for Change. Look at them gleaming and sparkling.’

But many people in the crowd were puzzled, because the pearls and jewels were nowhere to be seen. Gone also were many of the bright colours and rich fabrics and, if the truth were told, the Teggie Tubbies were very disappointed with the Emperor’s new contract.

But the Emperor continued to be disproportionately pleased with it. He was extremely proud of his new contract and he couldn’t understand the sceptical reception he was encountering from the Teggie Tubbies. He turned to his trusted advisers and sought reassurance: ‘Look at my magnificent new contract. Is it not bright, colourful, and encrusted with pearls and jewels?’

‘Oh yes, Emperor,’ they replied. ‘It is difficult to imagine colours so bright or fabric so rich. It was certainly worth waiting for. Fortunately, it is easy enough to imagine the pearls and jewels that were described so clearly in Options for Change. So we shall continue to describe the new contract as if they were still there.’

And the Emperor’s Royal Bean Counters were equally enthusiastic: ‘Nice work, oh Emperor. At last we know for sure a year in advance what the measurements of your new contract will be. Who needs pearls and jewels when you can be sure of coming in on budget? That should be enough to delight anyone.’

Then one of the Emperor’s trusted advisers said: ‘At least it’s a new contract, Emperor. And who needs pearls and jewels anyway, when one or two can always be sewn on later? At least the colours are fairly bright. Well, some of them are anyway, and it’s not the worst fabric I’ve ever seen. The last one wasn’t that special.’

But the Teggie Tubbies and the human people still felt let down and disappointed. As they turned for home, some of them couldn’t decide whether the Emperor had looked better with his clothes on, or with his clothes off. Even the Emperor’s enemies were forced to admit that the new contract did cover a multitude of sins – and they were probably right.

One of the royal seamstresses then asked the Teggie Tubbies whether they would like the Emperor’s new contract unpicking, stitch-by-stitch, button-by-button, seam-by-seam, bead-by-bead, and starting all over again. She thought she would be able to rustle up a new one in three or four years if everyone could wait until then.

The Teggie Tubbies weren’t too taken with that idea either. So by the time of the Emperor’s Grand Ball next spring, everyone expects that the Emperor will still be wearing his much-maligned new contract, but probably with a few precious jewels and bright colours added so that the human people and Teggie Tubbies can start to admire it a little more.

Anyone who has witnessed the Emperor’s Balls will confirm that they are a sight for sore eyes. Book your tickets early to avoid disappointment.

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