“Today I brew,
tomorrow I bake,
financial stimulant is a national mistake.”
National Pledge of Small Isle.
Once upon a time a chief ruled a remote island called Small Isle. He supported his country’s rum industry in thought, word and deed but those who wanted his throne thought his support was a great sin. They said it was a disgrace to see a leader hit a local grog, so his ‘pitching up’ became part of the daily gossip. He didn’t care what they say. He was strong-willed and felt he was well liked.
One day he heard that a rum shop, Seaside Rum Hole, was in distress. He was told that the shop’s imminent downfall was linked to having too many owing customers on its frequent visitors’ list.
With hands in his pockets, he paced up and down the patio outside his office, analysing the critical factors. It was a peaceful evening but his mind was in turmoil as he weighed the options; rescue this shop and face ridicule from his detractors who would say preservation of rum was his motivation or let the shop go.
He exhaled for a moment, savouring the beauty that emerged as the departing sun generously painted a golden glow on the aquamarine waters glistening in the bay that partially framed the outer perimeter of his office. Nature was hinting a brighter tomorrow, it spoke of hope. In that fleeting moment he made his decision. The shop must be saved. I’ll ignore the nay-sayers, he told himself. But he had to convinced Small Islanders of its worth. He would describe the shop as an icon, part of the island’s culture heritage, he thought.
Seaside Rum Hole was a meeting place where politics, religion, love affairs and other people’s business were discussed with vigour and often colour by spirited multi-subject experts of all classes, colours, creeds and gender. Tourist ticked it as a ‘must-visit’ so the chief stressed its importance to the island’s number one foreign exchange earner. According to folklore, this action influenced his opposers to nickname him Rumpelstiltskin.
“It is an appellation befitted a man of his stature and goes well with his penchant to throw an expletive-filled tantrum,” one of their head honchos said. Surprisingly, Rumpelstiltskin became fond of the name; even the shortened version, Rumpel, after all it was a stark reminder of one of his great loves.Despite his detractors’ efforts, Rumpel was happy, believing firmly that his status was growing positively in Small Isle as well as in neighbouring lands where he was officially regarded as first among chiefs.Many said his mind was as sharp as his tongue and they praised him for rescuing Small Isle. He’d come to the isle’s aid after those entrusted with its welfare were unable to deliver on their promises to its people and a powerful group of faraway citizens had stepped in with a to-do-list and ‘or-else’ consequences that spelt destruction.Small Islanders had shivered. They knew that it was serious business. Decades ago, a neighbouring island, richer and with more potential than theirs was helped by the same foreigners. Instead of getting better, economic and social conditions in that country worsened and the island still owed the foreigners and desperately needed their help.
So Small Islanders had banded together and walked up and down the streets fretting about their situation and their future. “We would like someone from among us to help get our country back on track,” they’d said.
Rumpelstiltskin had come forward saying, “I can do it” and he was given three tries. To this day, he swears that he produced the goal on each occasion, perhaps he did because Small Islanders rewarded him three of the times he sought their approval.
When the fourth time dawned, his eyes were on the ultimate prize. It had eluded others before him.
“I am insuperable, I am invincible,” he boasted, “I have the formula; I saved this economy, which the world called a straw economy. I spun that straw into gold; the world now ranks it top among others in its weight class. It is even stronger than some bigger. This baby is mine. The prize is mine.”
He and his followers bragged excessively and arrogantly. What should have been kept private came out in the open. Their detractors revealed all the information they had gathered to Small Islanders, who were deciding on the right person to sit on throne.
Rumpelstiltskin was punished for his mouth. He lost the ultimate prize and Small Islanders forced him to change seats with his opponents. Even in his household, another head was emerging. The islanders laughed and they wuk-kup to a new calypso by Snatch-a-rat with the chorus:
” He throw way de baby, bath water too.
Nipple and spoon left fuh he to use.”
Everytime he heard it, Rumpel raged, “these changes are not right for my family or Small Isle. I still have the formula.” He fumed and stomped so much that those around him felt the boiling point of his fury. Everyone rushed out of his way but as usual Sally’s dominant personality superseded her common sense. She stood in his path and a burst of his furious flames hit her at full force.
As family doctors were summons to treat her third degree burns, Small Islanders said: “Rumpel’s house is burning to the ground, he will self-destruct.” His applauding opponents fanned the flames crying, “He has gone further than his namesake. He will not only tear himself in two, he will tear his house down.”
Their predictions would have become reality, were it not for the elders. They counselled among themselves and developed an adhesive fix that was skillfully applied to cement Rumpel’s house until the cracks were invisible and the household was no longer considered a motley crew.
From that day everyone in Rumpel’s household, even Sally who was permanently scarred, wore red the colour of love when they went out in public and each time they spoke they begun by saying: “we are a united family, we share one common goal.”
Suspicious Small Islanders were wary of the quick fix and questioned if the house was properly repaired or botched by hurricane-season carpenters. They are still waiting for an answer.
Meanwhile, with a new chief at the helm, Small Islanders were strongly entrenched in their view that local rum wasn’t good enough for their palates. How could it be, when they lived in country with a large and growing educated middle class? To match their ‘high’ status, many Small Islanders accentuated their champagne taste financing it with dwindling mauby pockets.
Everything looked prosperous on the surface; school children ate freely in the summer and rode buses even more freely all year round; adults danced and celebrated wantonly; the good, those gone bad and the always ugly were ambassadors for that land whose national pledge was changed to “today I brew, tomorrow I bake, financial stimulant is a national mistake.” The pledge was a parody directed at Rumpelstiltskin whose new mantra was ‘stimulate, stimulate.’
Sitting in their new seats, the rein-holders were happily rising; their fat, shiny cheeks and growing stomachs bore the evidence. Nobody in Small Isle wanted to be involved with rum. They rid themselves of the sugar lands, planting plenty houses instead and beating their chests as they forgot the connection between sugar, molasses, rum and earning greenbacks.
Soon they began to feel the strain of living above their means. In private, they called their country’s problem a fiscal deficit and a balance of payments worry but they ridiculed any doctor who gave a gloomy prognosis.
“Fret not thyself because of doomsday economists … for their theories shall soon be cut down like the grass and wither. Trust in us, whom you have chosen to reign in this fair land and you shall be fed,” said the leader.
Flare Maddox, a puffy reinsman, who sat next to the leader rose in support. In his usual gossipy tone, Maddox began: “I have a document here, if I reveal its contents a lot of talkers on the other side will become sleepers but this is not the time or place.”
His stomach pushed against the microphone on the desk muffling his voice, so he stepped a few feet back and continued in gladiatorial style: “What I can tell you, though, is that our economic malady resulted from a virus we caught from communicating with foreign lands. I don’t have the antidote, the self-acclaimed guru over there don’t have it either; the change in economic health must come from overseas.”
But as the months rolled by, the financial troubles weighed heavier on Small Isle’s businesses and people; employment was becoming scare; the people were becoming restless and the rulers were becoming perplexed.
The helms men and women convened an urgent special meeting to flesh out the critical issues. As they sat wriggling uncomfortably in their seats, Maddox spied their once well matured rum industry sliding into the distance. Call all wise men in the country, he begged.
Everyone with foresight was summoned to the big house and asked to present findings about rum’s likely desertion. “Rum is being wooed away by a large united land,” the head expert said tapping into his laptop.
“See here! A large land is ‘bigging up rum’ in THOUGHT (conceiving tax policies to improve rum’s growth and good name), WORD (making those policies law), and DEED (giving rum producers subsidies, building rum factories, advertising their rum as the greatest and, yes, drinking it),” he said skipping from one internet tab to another.
As is their culture, Small Islanders – governors and subjects – then recognised their product’s worth. “We are on the rum side, it was ours first and we will fight for it,” the leading Small Islander declared. He stood tall and waxing classically in a tongue unused by the common man, he delivered a half an hour address before turning over the proceedings to his interpreter, Eager. In his trademark clipped manner, Eager then told Small Islanders that the leader had given rum the service medal of approval and he’d encouraged all to take a drink.
Boysie was sitting in Rusty Roy’s shop watching the speech on television. He was there alone. The other regulars were now unemployed and hiding from the big debts they had racked up at Rusty Roy. Roy wasn’t watching TV either; like many other Small Islanders, he was permanently turned off by Channel 642’s diet of political speeches and governing party talk shows disguised as education and entertainment.
Boysie was happy to be alone, especially at moment when rum was approved. He got up and peeped around the corner making sure no one was coming. Then he called out to Roy, ” hand me a bottle of black over-proof rum.”
He poured out a glass full, leaned back his head and threw the rum into his mouth, swallowing all in one big noisy gulp. “Aaahhh, down de hatch”, he said smacking his lips afterwards. “The man ready to ring the bell, so he let loose de rum to go wid de corn beef and biscuits.”
(P.S. This is Chapter One from my bestseller, Ready to Rum. My Hollywood contract does not allow for the rest of the book to be published here. Watch for the full movie opening soon at an outdoor mobile cinema near you. I’m running …)