“CHAPTER 1 (abridged)
In the centre of the town, clamped to an upright empty shop, stood the full-length portrait of the façade a new emporium of extraordinary commercial beauty, and in front of it, some little distance away, was the artist himself, Basil Jason Onward, whose sudden appearance on TV some weeks ago caused, at the time, such public excitement and gave rise to so many strange conjectures about his political future.
“G. Hayte? Is that the name of the owner?” asked the PM .
“Yes, that is his name. I didn’t intend to put it up.”
“But why not?”
“Oh, I can’t explain.. I suppose you think me awfully foolish about it?”
“Not at all,” answered the PM,”It is your best work, Basil.Reminds me of Potempkin and Theresendstadt. Has overtones of the Image is Reality Movement. You must certainly send it to next year’s Meeting. Fermanagh is too large and too vulgar. I expect when I go there, there will be so many security personnel or so many protestors that I will not be able to see the facades.”
“I don’t think I shall send it anywhere,” he answered,
“Not send it anywhere? My dear fellow, why? It is silly of you, for there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about. A facade like this would set you far above all the young men in NI, and make the old men quite jealous, if old men are ever capable of any emotion”.
After a pause, the PM pulled out his watch “I am afraid I must be going, Basil, and before I go, I insist on your answering a question I put to you.”
“What is that?” said the painter, keeping his eyes fixed on the ground.
“Well, I want you to explain to me why you won’t use the façade next year. I want the real reason.”
Basil Jason Onward looked him straight in the face,
“The reason I will not re-use this façade is that I am afraid that I have shown in the name the secret of my own soul.” The PM laughed.
“And what is that?” he asked.
“I will tell you,” said Onward.
“I am all expectation, Basil,” continued his companion, glancing at him.
“Oh, there is really very little to tell,” answered the painter; an expression of perplexity came over his face “and I am afraid you will hardly understand it. Perhaps you will hardly believe it.”
The PM smiled, and leaning down, plucked a pink-petalled daisy from the grass and examined it.
“I am quite sure I shall understand it,” he replied, gazing intently at the little golden, white-feathered disk, “and as for believing things, like all Loyalists, I can believe anything, provided that it is quite incredible.”
The PM felt as if he could hear Basil Onward’s heart beating, and wondered what was coming.
“The story is simply this,” said the painter after some time.
“Two months ago I went to a protest about Lady Thatcher. You know we poor artists have to show ourselves from time to time, just to remind the public that we are not against them. Of course I am not like the plebs and intellectuals who protest. You know that perfectly well. Indeed, I should be sorry to look like them. However, it is better not to be too different from one’s fellows…”
“With an anorak and a pair of jeans, as you told me once, anybody, even an artist, can gain a reputation for being a protestor. Well, after I had been in the street about ten minutes, talking to the underdressed plebs, skinny anarchists and tedious Trotskyists, I suddenly became conscious that some one was looking at me. I turned half-way round and saw a Socialist Republican for the first time. When our eyes met, I felt that I was growing pale.”
“A curious sensation of terror came over me. I knew that I had come face to face with some one whose mere political philosophy was so fascinating that, if I allowed it to do so, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole soul, my very art itself. I did not want any Republicanism in my life. You know yourself, how dependent I am by nature. I have always been Unionism’s servant; had at least always been so, till I met the Republican.”
“Then–but I don’t know how to explain it to you. Something seemed to tell me that I was on the verge of a terrible crisis in my life”.
“I don’t believe that, Basil and I don’t believe you do either”.
“Whatever was my motive–and it may have been pride, for I used to be very proud– I grew afraid and turned to quit the demonstration. It was not conscience that made me do so: it was a sort of cowardice. I take no credit to myself for trying to escape”.
“Conscience and cowardice are really the same things, Basil. Conscience is the trade-name of Unionism”.
“You don’t understand me,” answered the artist.
” I do. You seem to forget that I am PM, and the one charm of premiership is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties. I never know where my Deputy is, and my Deputy never knows what I am doing. When we meet–we do meet occasionally, when we travel together, or go down to China or South America–we tell each other the most absurd stories with the most serious faces. My Deputy is very good at it–much better, in fact, than I am. He never gets confused over his dates, and what organisation he belonged to and I always do. But when he does find me out, he makes no row at all. I sometimes wish he would; but he merely laughs at me.”
“I hate the way you talk about your premiership,” said Basil Onward, strolling towards the carpark. “I believe that you are really a very bad PM, and that you should be thoroughly ashamed of your own past. You are an ordinary fellow. You never say a moral thing, and you never do a right thing. Your Unionism is simply a pose.”