Welcome to Lezardia: our flag is a beaver rampant, and the tourists will pay me a tithe

I promise to be a ruler of terrifying and brutal despotism, none of this “hard but fair” rubbish, I’ll just be hard.

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In a week’s time I will be homeless; but let me go out with style. And so I am: right now, as I write, I am in sole charge of a castle. Yes, the castle I have been living in or adjacent to for the last 11 months, so I know its ins and outs. But the Laird and Lady have gone on their hols (they’ll be back by the time you read this, so don’t go getting any ideas).

Anyway, before they return, there are going to be a few changes round here. The first, and most obvious thing to do, will be to declare independence and set up as a sovereign city-state. Frankly, I am getting a little impatient with the Scots, love them though I do, for regularly voting for a political party whose sole raison d’être is to separate Scotland from the other countries of the UK, while not actually voting for independence themselves. (Actually, there is something rather beautiful about this, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.)

I will show them how it’s done. The country will be called Lezardia, and its flag will be a beaver rampant on a background gules. The reasons being that there are beavers here, I like the idea of their being rampant, and “gules” is a great word, and also means (looks up on Google) “red”. There will be a national holiday on my birthday, and weekends will be extended to include Fridays and Mondays. The pickup truck will be modified to include rocket launchers and a guitarist whose guitar can shoot flames, à la Mad Max: Fury Road. A permanent diplomatic mission will be set up in the Dundee branch of Majestic Wine Warehouses, and a significant trade deal – the easiest in history – will be negotiated with them.

As the current main source of income that I know about comes from people staying in the Yurts, Brewhouse and Hideaway (the latter an off-grid hut by the river, for the express purpose of beaver-watching – feel free to make the jokes, we all have), it might be wise to add some surprising clauses to the terms and conditions of the holiday lets.

I am a little hazy on the specifics, but buried in the details will be provisions that entitle the Laird (me) to half of each holidaymaker’s taxable income; they will, along with their children, also be indentured to me for the period of their stay as my personal slaves and chattels. I promise to be a ruler of terrifying and brutal despotism, none of this “hard but fair” rubbish, I’ll just be hard, and will walk around in a monocle and riding boots, like Captain Haddock at the beginning of The Seven Crystal Balls, and call everyone “my good man” whether they are good, a man, or not.

My feudal employees will perform exactly the same duties as before because they know where everything is. Although in future it might be necessary to recruit them as my own private militia, with natty uniforms. Visitors from south of the border will be quizzed on their knowledge of Scottish dialect, e.g. Patrell: defence for the neck of a war-horse, Pawchlie: one who is old and frail, and Peengie: not able to endure the cold. (I got these from Jamieson’s Scottish Dictionary, William P Nimmo, Edinburgh, 1867. I feel particularly sorry for people who are peengie up here.)

Ah well, maybe not. Such fantasies of puissance serve only to bring my abject condition into sharper relief. I am going to miss this place like hell, and it is scant consolation to know that while my hosts will probably be popping champagne corks when I finally leave, there will be some around here who will genuinely regret my passing. The Dundee branch of Majestic will be the hardest-hit, of course; their takings will go down so quickly, and so much, that there will almost certainly be redundancies.

I have already broken the news to Ewarts the butchers, and it didn’t go down very well. There seemed to be genuine dismay. “It has sometimes been the occasion of mild amusement when you have come to the shop,” said one, and he gave me a pound of their smoked streaky on the house, which made me cry a little.

Meanwhile, I must get ready to gird my loins. A guest at the place yesterday asked me where I was going after this.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Oh, many people would give their eye-teeth to be in your position.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Being free, letting fortune take you where it will.”

I felt like saying, “It’s called homelessness, and most people don’t want it even one tiny bit.” But I held my tongue.

Earlier on, she’d asked me what I did, and I explained the nature of this column.

“Will I be in it?” she asked.

“Only if you say or do something really scandalous,” I said. “Or,” I could have added, “stupid.”

When the Undemocratic Republic of Lezardia is up and running, I think I shall have to make an Example of her. l

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 03 May 2019 issue of the New Statesman, A very British scandal

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