The citizens of Edinburgh had made the snake on the Meadows. I suppose that most of the people who had contributed must have been children. One child could have made nothing by themselves but a dot, but the idea was that each child would attach their own segment, with its own individual shape and painted out very carefully in its own individual colours. Each segment of the snake looked glossy and exquisitely pretty, like a dayglo fingernail.
The snake was located on the southernmost flank of the Meadows, a little way away from where the Muriel Spark Walk sets off from Bruntsfield Terrace. As the days turned to weeks, the snake grew and grew. At first, it looked like something that a few children had ineptly bundled together. Yet those who stopped every day to admire the snake soon found that it was becoming an astonishingly long walk from its tongue to the tip of its tail. The last time that I was on the Meadows, I counted well over six hundred rocks, stones, and pebbles queued up within the snake.
Edinburgh’s most middle-class citizens are naturally its most virtuous ones. This is because they have had the opportunity to cultivate by far the most sensitive appreciation of social problems. A group of Edinburgh’s fattest and most socially-sensitive citizens decided that they should publicly rejoice and declare their fervour for the snake. They devised a suitable ritual by which to achieve this. At eight o’clock on Thursday evenings they would appear in the doors and windows of their homes, banging saucepans together and hooting “all hail the snake!” And this is what they duly proceeded to do.
Let us skip over this part of the story because it is altogether somewhat unsightly. You can surely picture for yourselves the feverish, lamplit faces – the haggard old women appearing bare-breasted in their upper windows – the screeching and whistling – and the maddening clanging of the saucepans. It would have raised the dead and then promptly killed them again from fright. This insane worship of the sacred phallus constituted tribalism at its rawest and most basic.
On the last of these occasions, those who happened to be standing in the Meadows, in the vicinity of the snake, might have become aware that a subtle change had fallen over it. It no longer lay like a trail of lifeless rocks along the pathway. Its tongue flickered. Its eyes flashed liquid gold and then the same fire burned in its belly. In short, it was now sentient. The deranged cries of “all hail the snake!” had reached it at the bottom of its dreamless sleep and awakened it.
Silently, the snake poured itself out of the Meadows. It rolled through the streets of Morningside until it arrived at an unsuspecting home for the elderly. The snake wrapped itself around this building several times. It then dangled its head through the nearest window and began to eat the poor residents in their beds.
Next, the snake had appeared in the streets of Bruntsfield. Here, it attacked pubs and shops and restaurants. It slurped the money out of the tills and chased away the poor waiters and waitresses who were just trying to make an honest living.
As the weeks turned to months, the snake’s interventions into the economy of Edinburgh became ever more vicious and destructive. Those who had roused the snake certainly agreed that its continued presence on Edinburgh’s streets posed quite a thorny intellectual problem. But from within their palatial houses and apartments, and their sunny gardens, this was a tiresome problem that one had to force oneself to think about solemnly. For them, this problem was not a terror, about tomorrow’s rent and the next day’s bills, which raced through their body and made it shake as though their flesh had become one crazy scream.
News eventually reached Bruntsfield that the snake had broken into the Scottish parliament building. Rather than feasting on Nicola Sturgeon, it had accessed a room where a lot of the nation’s tax revenues had been stored. In these dank vaults, the snake munched on gold bars and stacks of banknotes. Before the snake had taken this action, Edinburgh’s citizens had assumed that the economy was simply a metaphor or something incomprehensibly abstract, like a painting by Jackson Pollock. Only too late did they realise that it was in fact the thing that paid all of the wages of the city’s doctors and nurses and teachers and rubbish collectors.
Meanwhile, the depredations of the snake were piling wreckage onto wreckage. The city’s leaders had cancelled the Edinburgh Fringe, fearing that the snake would eat countless international visitors. With this decision, the city had foregone over three hundred million pounds. Incoming students from around the world were now ricocheting off the University of Edinburgh, the city’s largest landowner and its third largest employer. Many of Edinburgh’s citizens stopped going to work whilst the snake was despoiling the city, with the result that Edinburgh City Council lost millions of pounds from unpurchased bus tickets and unpaid parking charges.
Worst of all, however, was the fact that Edinburgh did not have any independent private sector to speak of that could finance its economic recovery and check its uncontrollably escalating unemployment. It had a banking industry and a splendid tech sector, but neither of these was going to become a mass employer any time soon. In this respect, the only worthwhile things in the city’s portfolio were the bars and restaurants and theatres that the snake had taken such a delight in menacing.
So children, you might think that it is perfectly harmless to add your own little mite of nonsense – your smidgeon of silliness – to a sloppy snake that is unfurling on the Meadows. But when that snake rockets out of all control, it is not really good enough to have no plan for what to do next. Being a citizen, children, entails developing an awareness of what is actually going on around you. It means that you should take responsibility for the future of your country, even if this merely involves asking a difficult question every now and then. The citizens of Edinburgh did not have the first clue about how to transform the snake back into a pile of dead rocks and this explains the absence of any ending to our story.
You can still sometimes observe the Corona Rock Snake on the Meadows. When it wishes to doze it slinks back there and spreads itself out in its old spot. Don’t add any more rocks though!