Mirror, mirror on the wall: A modern fairy tale


Once upon a time in a small village, called Bethnal Green, a group of people set up a cooperative tea room. The village tea room had been badly run, it was losing money, the owner was not supplying the needs of either the villagers or the many tourists who flocked to the pretty village. Attractive tea rooms were a speciality of the area and everyone felt it would be sad if the pretty village of Bethnal Green lost its tea room. People came together, money was raised and the cooperative tea room was launched. It very soon became profitable and was a source of pride for everyone living in the village.

One person who was particularly proud of the tea room was the local headmaster, a very kind and popular man who wanted to see the villagers recognised for all the hard work they had done. There was an organisation that supported such rural ventures, called the Bucolic Order (BO for short). Unfortunately, it did not confine its activities to these awards. It supported outdoor activities like hiking and cycling. It attempted to encourage bird watching and conservation projects. It was wary about traditional rural pursuits and expressed deep concern about modern farming methods. But the head master didn’t realise this. His only interest was seeing the villagers recognised for their efforts so he decided to recommend the tea room for one of the organisation’s awards.

On the tea room committee were representatives of the farming, hunting, shooting and fishing community who were horrified at the prospect of receiving an award from such an obviously left wing organisation. They felt the tea room should be ‘non-political’ at all costs so they demanded that the head master’s recommendation be turned down. It didn’t matter that most of the villagers, customers and suppliers weren’t aware of the ‘political’ nature of the awards. That most villagers would have been happy to see their efforts rewarded, irrespective of the source. Or that, turning down such an award would be obviously hostile to the hiking, cycling, conservationist and bird watching community. Or that the award would have positive effects like publicising the tea room and encouraging visitors. They also did not appear to be worried that many customers and suppliers were hikers, cyclists and conservationists. What mattered to the hunters, shooters and anglers was that they signalled their virtues to all those who might support them, irrespective of how others might feel. Despite the best efforts of all those who desired the good publicity and recognition that such an award might bring the cooperative tea room committee asked the head master to withdraw his nomination so that, in their judgement at least, the tea room could remain ‘non-political’.

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