Belfast Telegraph

A fairytale with a rather grim ending

 

By Frances Burscough

If you’re a regular reader of this column you’ll know I don’t broach politics on this page. There are other columnists far more suited for political commentary than me who do it really well, so I steer well clear and try to keep my subjects light-hearted each week, from reminiscences of the past to anecdotes from the present.

So in that same spirit, I wanted to share with you something I’ve been working on which has been inspired by the fairy stories I used to love as a child. Like many traditional stories, it’s both light-hearted and threatening at the same time, but also strangely far-fetched. And of course, there’s a moral at the end of it too.

So, if you’re sitting comfortably, I’ll begin...

The Tale of the Magic Money Tree

Once upon a time there was a nurse who was so poor she had to work night and day and day and night just to afford to put food on the table to feed her family.

She was exhausted, sick and close to despair.

One day, just as she was at her wits’ end, the nurse chanced upon a silver-haired duchess who was so powerful she was in charge of all the money in the kingdom.

“Please help me,” pleaded the nurse, “for I am so poor I have to work night and day just to put food on the table to feed my family. I am exhausted, sick and close to despair. I am truly at my wits’ end!”

But the silver-haired duchess felt no mercy for the poor nurse and scolded her. “Fie, fie you lazy slattern! Do you think there is a magic money tree which I simply have to shake to grant you the riches you so selfishly demand? Begone from here and don’t bother me again.”

So off the nurse went, crying all the way, back to her starving family.

Meanwhile, across the river in a neighbouring land, there was an influential dowager who lived in a big castle on a high hill, and was in charge of all the ministers. The silver-haired duchess needed these ministers’ support and co-operation to keep her in power so the very next day she crossed the river to visit them.

“Please help me,” she pleaded, “for I am about to lose my job, my power and my wealth and I am truly at my wits’ end! If you agree to help me I will give you anything your hearts’ desire in return.”

Now, it so happened that the dowager and her ministers had heard tell of a mythical magical money tree that grew in the duchess’ garden. No one had ever seen it, but the legend had spread far and wide.

Now I can let you in on a secret. The magic money tree did indeed exist; but it grew, survived and flourished on the sweat and tears of the poor. The moment that they stopped nourishing it with the fruits of their labour, the tree would wither and die.

After 18 days deep in discussion, the dowager and her ministers returned with their demands.  

“We can indeed help you,” they said, “but only on one condition: that you shake the magic money tree and harvest a billion pieces of gold for us in return. If you grant us this wish, we will support you and keep you in power for the next two years.”

Now the silver-haired duchess was so desperate to remain in power that she agreed to this immediately. Of course the dowager and her ministers were so overjoyed and they dressed in all their finery and made a public proclamation, telling the kinsfolk from far and wide of the incredible deal they had struck with the duchess. Before long, the news spread by word of mouth across the kingdom until it reached the poor, dark and dingy hovel where the nurse and her family were still living.

Now, what do you think happened next, children? Were the poor nurse and her colleagues delighted at the fortune acquired by her neighbours, or did they finally decide that enough was enough? And what would become of the magic money tree if all the workers took to the streets of the kingdom?

That, my dear children, is for us to find out  the next time.

Belfast Telegraph

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