tagRomanceAncient Liberties

Ancient Liberties

byoggbashan©

******************************************

Copyright Oggbashan April 2004

The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

This is a work of fiction. The events described here are imaginary; the settings and characters are fictitious and are not intended to represent specific places or living persons.

Edited July 2006


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"Tim?"

"Yes, Joanna?"

"You're a Freeman of the City of London, aren't you?"

"Actually, no. I'm the son of a Freeman. I could be a Freeman if I wanted to be, but I haven't bothered. Seems little point now."

"That IS the point, Tim. How many people are Freemen or sons of Freemen?"

"I don't know. Thousands. Tens of thousands perhaps. Includes daughters now of course. Actually wives, widows and daughters have been eligible for hundreds of years. Women could be Freemen if they wanted to be. They had to be if they wanted to trade within the City. My great aunt was a Freeman and very active in her Guild."

"How could one find out who are Freemen?"

"Don't know. The City Livery Companies or The Guildhall, I suppose. The Lord Mayor must know. He can summon the Freeman to defend the City's Liberties with their pike and musket, so presumably he has a list of those he can summon. Fat lot of use pike and musket are nowadays. Even The Honourable Artillery Company have tanks and machine guns as well as their fancy breastplates."

"Don't you see what I'm getting at? The City's Liberties are threatened by the Government proposal to abolish the City and include it in the Greater London Authority. We're against that. It would damage our company's reputation and independence."

"I know. The Board members are running around like headless chickens. I'm more worried about the land grab that will happen on Earth Day."

"What land grab? I thought they were just taking over the City government and changing the financial rules. That's what worries me."

"It would, Joanna, because you are a currency trader. Me, I'm just a computer hack. What worries me is the City's land. Do you know they own a lot of common land? The government could put houses on that land, and with the other City property assets they would take billions, not millions. That would be useful in an election year. They don't care about the wildlife nor the recreation aspects. With Earth Day coming I'm scared. I love those commons. They are where I chill out and lose myself."

"So..."

"So what, Joanna? What is this about?"

"I want to defend the City's independence. So do you for your own reasons..."

"If you had seen those commons..."

"I haven't. Not yet. But listen. I think we can stop the government."

"Us. You and I? I know you are good at your job. I'm good at mine. But changing a government's mind? How could we two do that?"

I was being sarcastic. I thought we had as much chance as a snowball in hell. The government's proposal "to sweep away antiquated institutions and bring them into the 21st century" together with a few billions for the taxman seemed impossible to thwart.

"If we got the Freemen, and the sons of Freemen – like you - and the daughters of Freemen – like me - and asked them to help defend the liberties of the City, there must be enough of them to have some impact."

"Perhaps. Some of them are important people. I heard a rumour that more than half Mrs. Thatcher's cabinet were Freemen for all the good that did the City."

"If no one asked them to act as Freemen, then they wouldn't have acted. But if we don't act now there will be no more Freemen. Their existence is threatened along with the City."

"So what do you want ME to do? I know you want me to do something. You wouldn't be so insistent unless you had something definite in mind."

"I want YOU to find out the names and addresses of all the Freemen, and their families. That will give us a start."

"Us?"

"Yes, Tim, US. If we can get that list we can make a proposal to the Board and to the Lord Mayor. We might be able to stop the Government."

"What do I get out of it? It'll mean a lot of work."

"The thanks of the Board; the thanks of the Lord Mayor; you might be made a Freeman; we might keep our jobs and defend your favourite green spaces and..."

"And...?"

"A night with me... If you get that list by Friday."

"Sod the rest. Your offer is irresistible."

"I thought it might be. How will you do it?"

"You don't want to know. You might be an accessory to an illegal act. I'll see what I can do."

"Thank you, Tim."

Joanna kissed me. I enjoyed that kiss but I knew she had given me a hard task to do. I'd been after a night with Joanna for a long time. Her offer was attractive but I'd be losing hours of sleep to get the information she wanted.

All that afternoon my brain was whirring as I thought how to get the list of Freemen. I did my work normally. Unless our computer system is under attack, which happens two or three times a week, I can do my job with a couple of brain cells. By evening I'd worked out a program to search all the records I could find. By midnight I had the completed code. By 2 am I had done a test run from my flat. By 4 am I was almost sure I had a comprehensive list. By dawn I knew I had. I saved it in the depths of the mainframe protected by all the devices I could muster and then I drove out to West Wickham Common, one of the commons owned by the City.

I sat with my back against an ancient oak and imagined all this buried under housing estates. I walked through the woodland as if saying 'goodbye' for ever. This land might exist only as old photographs and a memory. I sat down again, close to tears as I listened to the birds and watched the squirrels in the trees.

My mobile phone vibrated. I don't like it ringing.

"Yes?"

"Tim? It's Joanna. Got anywhere with that list?"

"Yes."

"What do you mean, 'yes'?"

"I've done it. I have a comprehensive and reliable list of all the Freemen, and Freewomen and their immediate families. I've filed it away in a safe place."

"You haven't!"

"I have. We have a date?"

"Yes! Yes, Tim, yes. Can you get here by 2 o'clock?"

"I suppose so. I'm not due in until 6. I'm on the late shift today."

"The board want to see us at 2. Be there. And, Tim?"

"Yes, Joanna?"

"Look respectable, please. A suit would be good – if you've got one."

"Of course I've got a suit. I hope you are going to do the talking to the Board. I'm a techie, not a talker."

"I know. You are a great techie. See you then."

"OK, Joanna, I'll be there in a suit. See you."

'Blast' I thought to myself. I'd have to start back soon if I was going to look respectable for the board. I needed a haircut first.

I drove into West Wickham's High Street and had a haircut – 'short back and sides' I asked for. That's what I got. I looked more like a Marine than my usual long haired layabout style.

Back at my flat I polished my best shoes before shaving and showering. I opened my wardrobe. Joanna had never been to my flat or she wouldn't have made the comment about 'if I have a suit'. I have several. I prefer to work in casual clothes but my suits are from Savile Row. My tailors have been supplying my family for generations. By the time I'd finished I looked the English gentleman.

Joanna met me in her office. She didn't recognise me until I walked up to her.

"Tim! Where did you get that suit?"

"Out of my wardrobe. Like it?"

"It's magnificent. Did you borrow it?"

"Borrow it? It was tailored for me. It took weeks to get the fitting right."

"You mean...?"

"My tailor was my father's tailor, my grandfather's tailor and so on. The family account with them goes back nearly two hundred years. The only difference between my ancestors and I is that I pay my bills by return of post. Some of my ancestors let the account run for decades. So what? Think my appearance good enough for the Board?"

"Yes. Now I'm not so sure about me."

"Don't worry, Joanna. Just flash some leg and they won't notice what you are wearing."

"Tim!"

"It's true. They're all men of a certain age and susceptible. I ought to know. Most of them play golf with my father. Their stories in the nineteenth hole are nearly as bad as the ones at my rugby club."

"Men!"

"Exactly. And you, Joanna, are an attractive young woman. They won't look at me."

So it was. She made her presentation to them. They asked me a couple of questions and seemed satisfied with the answers. The Chairman asked his secretary to ring the Lord Mayor and he took us to the Mansion House in his antique Rolls-Royce.

Joanna went through her presentation again for the Lord Mayor and some of the Aldermen. They all seemed shocked by the idea at first but their enthusiasm grew. I began to hope for my favourite common.

The next Monday the plan started. All the Freemen (including women) had a personalised letter from the Lord Mayor. He set out what the government intended (he even mentioned the commons), how much money the City would lose, how much trading in the City would be affected, and then the punch line was that he asked them to help and gave examples of what could be done.

By the end of the week the Prime Minister, all the cabinet and most of the junior ministers were aware that their political funding was unavailable to them. Most had received requests to move their personal banking to a firm unconnected with the City of London 'because of a conflict of interest'. That meant every bank trading in the UK would not touch them. Their mortgages, overdrafts, and credit cards had to be settled but with what? No one would lend them any money.

But that wasn't all. They couldn't eat in their favourite restaurants. One minister's mistress refused to see him. She was the daughter of a Freeman. Many of the Prime Minister's party were Freemen. Now they had divided loyalties and a large proportion threatened a revolt. In fact nearly half of the House of Commons were Freemen or closely related to Freemen. In the House of Lords, Freemen and their relations were in the majority.

By the middle of the following week the proposal to scrap the City of London was withdrawn. Our ancient liberties were safe. So were my favourite commons, the birds and the squirrels. I took Joanna to West Wickham common to celebrate. We walked from there to Keston and I proposed to her next to the old oak beside which William Wilberforce had discussed the abolition of slavery with Prime Minister Pitt.

We had to make some confessions to each other. Joanna's uncle is the Lord Mayor. My father was Chairman of the Board of our company and heir to the title and estates when grandfather passes on. Not that grandfather intends to. He is settled in Monte Carlo with his mistress.

The night we spent together? That night was the night after our wedding in St Paul's Cathedral. We rode in the Lord Mayor's coach from St. Paul's to our reception at the Mansion House. We were both surprised after the normal speeches when the Lord Mayor presented us with our certificates as Freemen of the City.

We flew to Nice for our honeymoon on my father's yacht. We visited my grandfather and his mistress, a most attractive and intelligent lady, who welcomed us with open arms. His wedding present to us had been a house on the family's estate.

A couple of weeks after our honeymoon we went back to West Wickham common. We planted an acorn from it in our garden. Whatever happens we will keep the tree as a reminder of our determination that Earth Day would not be marked by destruction.

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by Anonymous

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by rightbank01/20/18

An interesting mix of ancient tradition and contemporary casualness

A computer hacker in a suit from Savile Row. Where does he keep his personal Pike?

Great story

Thanks

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