For my daughter Amelia
Every morning Princess Amelia loved to go riding with the court in the forest beyond the city. Every morning the people would wave to the princess as she rode through the streets of the city around the white castle. Every morning the Princess's long glossy hair fluttered like a large yellow flag in the wind as she rode and jumped fences in the forest.
Today the Princess's smile was very big, she was happy. Today was a very special day. Today was the Feast of Stephen. The feast marked the first day of a week of parties to celebrate her birthday. This year was very important, it was the Princess's eighteenth birthday and she would be of age. This year her birthday was to be marked by the most wonderful of street parties.
All the ladies in waiting laughed and chatted as they rode back to the castle. The castle people called it the calico castle for its white walls. Clack, clack, clack, the horses' hooves clattered as they rode through the cobbled streets. Tack, tack, tack, went the horses' hooves over the drawbridge to the tower of London. Clop, clop, clop, went the horses' hooves over the drawbridge and through the gates.
Behind the gates, the King was standing coolly. He was waiting for the Princess. He stood on the steps leading up to the Tower of London where they lived. The King left the tight group of officials and advisors like an explorer parting a flock of penguins. The advisors tall top hats and long black morning coats waggled as they walked down the steps after the King.
'You should have been here an hour ago, daughter! The Feast of Stephen is tonight and you're later than a train that has lost its wheels, all its coal, as well as having a mole for a relief driver before being mistakenly diverted to Crewe.'
Only the King could be so rude to the Princess.
'Oh Daddy, don't use that voice: I know you don't mean it', the Princess reassured him with a smile. The Princess was not the tallest of girls, but with her smile you would have been forgiven for not noticing.
'I don't mean it, but I should', said the King, suppressing a smile himself. 'Hurry up; the Queen is very very worried. You are the guest of honor tonight and I have spent all week arranging a special show for you.'
As the King spoke the Princess thought his short white beard looking more and more like a pointy hairy white trowel every day.
'Well, I hope that whoever you have got is more interesting than that Duke von Kempelen and his Mechanical Chess-playing Machine', the princess added.
' The Duke and his mechanical Turk was a wonderful example of the modern technology one day the palace will be clean by clockwork mechanicals. Your mother loved it.'
'Mother would love it' the Princess said.
'How an two intelligent people like you and your mother can't get along is beyond me. Anyway this year I managed to get the wizard of speed and time for you and a reading by Dr Caligari for your mother.
'Cal-lA-Gar-Re' the Princess said very slowly rolling his name in her mouth.
'Don't make fun of people your a royal Princess' the King said.
'I don't know who's worse, Caligari who's boring or the Wizard of Speed and time is too weird'.
'You could have said, I thought you liked him. Look!' said the King.
A carriage followed the rest of the riding party into the castle. Out of it stepped a tall, scruffily dressed young man with long hair.
'Why It's Dr Caligari', the King added, walking up to the court writer and poet.
'Ah, my pretty, prepossessing Princess: it is another pinnacle of pleasure for this pitiful penman to once again park his pins in the presence the pious progeny of our preeminent potentate' said Caligari bowing deeply to the Princess.
'Thank you. Perhaps, for my birthday, you could think of something very clever for me to say back,' said the Princess.
She was on her best manners and didn't really understand what he just said.
'At the party, the good doctor is reading a brand new poem. He wrote it just for your birthday. He even stopped writing his new book to do it' added the King proudly. The Princess smiled, but inside she melted like old chocolate left in a hot oven. Caligari always wants to read out his famous poem about Greenland or Iceland or somewhere having no telegraph towers.
'It will be a titillating triumph to trot out the text before the tremendous throng of the tribe, tonight' said Caligari; with a smile. He had a smile just like one a cat has just before jumping on a rat.
'Amelia!!' came a shout from the window.
'Yes mother' said the Princess. She spoke like she had been caught throwing a cat into the moat again.
'You should have been getting into your bath half an hour ago!'
'I don't know why I bother getting you a party for your birthday you don't deserve it!' shouted the Queen.
'Sorry Mummy' said the Princess.
'Now rush up, have a quick bath and get dressed' the King ordered the Princess.
'Yes, Daddy', the Princess said glad of the excuse to leave. She curtsied to Caligari and ran up to her room at the top of the tallest tower.
'On the occasion of her birthday. I Dr Calgary, court poet, writer and critic present my new work. Composed particularly for her brilliant beaming birthday. I call it, simply, Cabbage.' Dr Caligari announced, taking a deep breath.
It was the grand Feast of Stephen. It was bigger and more wonderful than any other feast before. There had been the most splendid fireworks display. Huge flowers made from red sparks with green stalks had bloomed high above the castle. The crowd cheered as a sprinkles of white fireworks sounded like an audience clapping. Now back inside all court was sitting: Sergeant Mumble, the Master of the Palace Guards, the Beefeaters, was striking in his red, King's Men dress uniform. Captain Dobbin, the leader of the King's Horses, stood nearby hiding behind his huge black mustache. Captain Dobbin carefully ignored Mr Paparazzi next to him. Paparazzi, the court writer for the Book of Faces, sat wrapped around his pocket-book scribbling notes.
'The Princess wore the pinkest, pink dress ever seen: pinker than the pinkest, pink flower picked in the middle of a pink sunset. It is the pink by which all other pinks will always be judged' wrote Mr Paparrizi, with great satisfaction. 'How do you spell breathtaking?' he asked the royal Chamberlin who sat next to him. The Chamberlin scratched his long, white beard and then asked his wife who then asked Doctor Hibbert the Court Doctor. The huge hall was full of Dukes, Duchesses, Knights, Dames, the mothers and fathers of the Ladies in Waiting, various Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen as well as the Queen's favorite scientists, artists and writers.
Near the Princess sat the Ladies in Waiting. They all wore beautiful ball gowns in different colours: red, orange, yellow and green, looking, from a distance, like an excited, pale rainbow made entirely of taffeta. Everyone was finishing their dessert, eating huge amounts of ice cream after a sumptuous meal made from of all the Princess' favorite foods.
On a small stage, in front of the King and Queen's table, stood the tall and imposing figure of Dr Caligari. He started after a long and drawn-out pause.
'The cabbage wrought a popular empire.
Sidelight the outcome,
Confront the hill.
A barbed formation; oh juicy escapism...'
The Princess lent over to her mother,
'This is rubbish', she whispered.
'Silence, my dear, Dr Caligari is a poet from the neo-constructionist school of poetry and his work is very complicated. Listen carefully.'
'Humph', the Princess said, but smiled when the King turned briefly and winked.
'...Clap the citizen in an orifice' Caligari continued, energetically,
'Edible god likens the ponytail to a camera,
Protract the diffuse bigot,
Under linen, reads hydraulic propaganda...'
Finally, Caligari finished. There was a pause and the Queen began to clap. Then the rest of the audience, their relief barely hidden, joined in politely. The King was less impressed.
Very good', he announced briskly. 'Send for the Wizard of Speed and Time'.
'I am already here, Your Majesty', said a booming voice from the stage. Everyone glanced up. Then everyone wondered how they had not to notice him before. Indeed, there was a very great deal to notice: the wizard was quite tall with a long hooked nose and a chin that looked curiously like a skin-coloured banana.
The Wizard wore a long pair of blue trousers, a blue waistcoat and a blue jacket. But, what you noticed the most, was a long-tailed coat made entirely out of pocket-watches. Instead of glasses, the wizard wore what appeared to be two large pocket-watches balancing on top of his nose and his tall hat contained what looked like a cuckoo clock. He rested on a sturdy blue cane that he held in his left hand.
'I am the Wizard of Speed and Time' he began, 'It is precisely nine o'clock and I present you with the past, the present and the future!' With a flourish, the wizard pulled out a small magic lantern from within the folds of his clock coat.
'I do so hope he makes a prediction tonight' said the King to the Queen 'His predictions are always so strangely right'
The Wizard pointed the magic lantern at the far wall. The King signals and the lights went down. On the wall a picture made entirely from light appeared. It was a picture of the city of London. The picture was taken from very high up, as taken from a runaway balloon far above the city. Suddenly the picture began to move. You could see people walking down the streets. Horse-drawn carriages arriving at the Calico Castle. The wizard waved his hand and the people appeared to move more quickly. Airships moved like bees around the city. Everyone in the audience laughed. The Princess noticed that the hands of the clock tower of Big Ben, were spinning faster and faster. Day became night: in the morning, people would rush into the city. In the evening, they would all leave it again. The Wizard ran time so quickly that it looked like the city was breathing people in and out. The audience clapped wildly and, in return, the Wizard made time run faster. At this speed the city, running on fast-time, looked like a huge growing brown creature. Houses were built in a flash, people and carriages, wire-rails and trains flashed down streets. They looked like black blood running in the the body of a huge flat city dragon.
Suddenly, the King sneezed. The city instantly disappeared and the Wizard showed a still image of the King caught sneezing. This time, time moved very, very slowly. The sneeze beautifully emerged from the King like a rare bird taking flight. The King's face scrunched up, like a new born puppy's. Both the Wizard and the King received a round of applause as the sneezed slowly formed a rainbow when it moved in front of a crystal light. The show went on for what seemed like hours. Finally the Wizard produced a pocket-watch on a long chain.
'I will now ask for a member of the audience to please hypnotize me. While I am in the trance I will tell of the past, the present and the future. Perhaps you would care to assist, Princess?' he asked.
The wizard left the stage and with a florid bow, presented a watch to the Princess.
'As the lady of the hour, perhaps you should do the deed. Don't delay, it has been five hundred million seconds since your birth and, if you do not answer in the next ten, then you will find out how many seconds it will be before your death! One, two, three...'
The Princess had a smile like someone had just poured green porridge in her lap. She up stood to applause, and joined the Wizard on the stage. The Princess was a little afraid of the Wizard. Despite his smiles, no one knew where he lived or what he did between visits to the Calico Castle. The wizard sat down in a large chair. The Princess took his watch and held it in front of the him. She let it swing from left to right, in front of his eyes. He appeared to fall asleep, sitting stiffly upright.
'What do you see?' asked the Princess, waving the pocket-watch in front of him. The Wizard followed the watch with tiny movements of his head.
'Tick tock, tick tock, the rat ran up the clock. It's twenty-six minutes and thirty-three seconds after four o'clock. I see a Princess hiding in her mother's library and changing into a blue, party dress'
'That's right', the Queen whispered to the King, 'I remember on her sixth birthday'.
'Hickory dickory dock,
The rat runs up the clock,
The clock strikes one, the rat runs down
And the Princess is dancing in her wedding gown.
Hickory dickory dock there is a blue moon in the clock,
The Prince that speaks,
The King shall he be,
Loved by one, by all and sundry'
The Queen seemed pleased to hear the news.
'Tick tock, tick tock, It's five minutes and twelve seconds past three,
Princess Princess sat on the wall,
Princess Princess had a great fall,
Not the King's Horses
Nor the King's Men
No one but the Princess can put Princess together again.'
The Princess became rather worried by the nonsense the Wizard was saying. She pulled the watch away but the Wizard kept moving his head backwards and forwards in time with the swing.
'Tick tock, tick tock...' he continued.
'Please wake up' the Princess asked.
'I remember a city surrounded by and an army of dolls.'
'Wake up' said the Princess through gritted teeth.
Just then a cuckoo sprung out from the top of the wizard's hat and cuckooed three times. This woke the wizard up with a jolt and he jumped out of the chair like a mischievous jack-in-the-box caught playing with a catapult while sitting on an exploding cannon.
'Ta–darrrrrr' he said, arms outstretched.
The court looked at him, and at each other, in puzzled silence. The Wizard kept his pose and looked around.
'Did I miss something? Oh look at the time, it's five minutes past nine. I must dash. I'll be late! ' He said looking at his watch and rushing off the stage. As he did he shouted back.
'I'm sorry, your Majesties, I have to catch a canal boat to Manchester. It's the only way to get in!' .
'That's odd' said the Queen 'as everyone knows their's a wire-train going from London to Manchester, every hour'.
The King was already talking quickly to his advisors.
'He was even stranger than normal! When is the next blue moon?' asked the King.
'It is in about three weeks time' the Queen said, 'Don't you remember that we are travelling to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich to watch it'
'Ah' said the King, who only really knew what was happening on that day because the Royal Chamberlin told him in the morning.
'In that case, send out an invitation by telegraph to all the Kings, Queens, Tsars, Kaisers, et cetera and so forth, of Europe. Tell them to send their most eligible Princes here, as quickly as possible. Chamberlin! Wake up the Archbishop inform him that there will be a wedding in St Paul's Cathedral in three weeks time. Queen!'
'Cancel the trip to Greenwich, we will see the next blue moon.'
'That won't be for a very long time, my dear.'
'Daddy?' said the Princess.
'What is it, dear? Can't you see I'm very busy planning a wedding right now?' muttered the King.
'What is it? We are very busy dear. Do you want a new dress for the wedding? You will have the finest one available, I promise!' said the Queen.
'No, it's just, I'm not sure I want you to organize my wedding before I know who it is I'm getting married to.'
'Don't be silly, Princesses always marry Princes. Everyone knows that. What else is there to know?' said the Queen.
This dismissal made the Princess's cheeks flush hotly pink and she stormed angrily off to her tower.