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September 28, 2023

The Adventures of Edward Herring – Part two

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The Adventures of Edward Herring.


Shimon Salahm, manager of the Mullcogan Times, whereof our hero has mysteriously become the editor, has already set up an interview for him with Sean Pebble, head of the region’s flood relief agency. After a detailed briefing Edward obediently heads off to Shelley Cove to meet this personage.

The agency has been set up in a shopfront on the main street, which has the letters ‘HTGT’ painted on the window. That’s a little puzzling, but the address is right, so Edward enters the shop, announces himself to the receptionist and is conducted into the rear of the premises.

When Edward enters the office, Sean Pebble is seated at an enormous desk, smoking a cigar. The head of disaster relief in Shelley Shire is expensively dressed, and his office is a plush space with walls of hardwood panelling, a floor of pile carpet and a tall window framed by thick drapes.

Pebble reaches over the desk to shake hands, bids Edward seat himself, asks if he requires a coffee, orders a pot through the intercom, shuffles the papers on his desk, puffs on the cigar and regards Edward expectantly.

‘Your newspaper said you would like to ask me some questions, is that right?’

Edward agrees distractedly, his attention having been drawn to the heavily draped window behind Pebble. The lower pane is clear and looks out over a dingy alley, but the upper section consists of stained glass depicting a mourning woman holding a child, who is sleeping, unconscious or possibly dead. The letters ‘HTGT’ are woven into the design.

‘It’s a trivial thing, Mr Pebble, but nobody seems to know what your agency is actually called. It has changed its name several times and now it’s only referred to by an acronym. What does “HTGT” stand for?’

Pebble smiles. ‘After the government set up this disaster relief agency for the people, those poor unfortunate people, who have been devastated by the floods, we tried out several titles, but our semiotics department pointed out that the name should express empathy for the afflicted. Fellow-feeling, we’re all in this together, that sort of thing. The fate of all of us, high or low. So the letters mean “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow”.’

‘So that’s a universal sentiment, applicable to all human existence?’

Pebble nods and smiles again, reminding Edward of a card-sharp who has succeeded in dealing himself four aces.

‘And it wouldn’t specifically refer to the agency itself, its temporary nature for instance?’

‘Dear me, no. Would we have set up this office so substantially if it were to be anything short-term?’

Edward looks around at the expensive furniture and concedes the point. Mr Pebble is certainly in charge of a massive budget.

‘So why has there been such a delay in administering grants? I believe the floods were over a year ago, and the government promised generous relief packages. The total was a billion and a half dollars, was it not?’

The smile on the face of the HTGT chief disappears. His features rearrange themselves into sorrow.

‘That figure was actually the principal we invested in the stock market; it’s the interest it earns that will actually be used for flood relief. Somehow the public and, I have to say, the press have got the wrong end of the stick here, encouraged I suspect by rogue political elements.’

‘But there are press releases with your name on them specifying a billion and half dollars – ’

‘A misunderstanding by the consultants employed to do the public relations. An innocent error, but we had to terminate them when we found they had applied for flood relief themselves.’

‘Were they the same consultants you employed to map the flood contours?’

‘Yes, at least they did a good job there.’

‘I’m told that local people do not agree. In particular they don’t understand why the flood history, which is the basis for grants, does not include the disaster of last year.’

‘Well, if you include a one-in-a-hundred-year event you distort the average picture. It will never happen again, our hydrologists say, so we should stick with realistic figures.’

Edward consults the notes Shimon gave him. ‘Realistic? What about all the neglected drains? What about the atmospheric warming that increases rainfall? What about rising sea levels? What about developers being given the green light to build on flood plains?’

Pebble finishes his coffee. ‘I think you’ll find that is precisely why we are funding the raising of houses,’ he says coldly.

‘That’s what you said after the flood, but no houses have actually been raised, have they?’

‘We are carefully working through all the applications. Residents will be informed in due course. I must say, Mr Herring, I did not expect to be hectored by the Mullcogan Times. It has a reputation for balance and responsibility, or it did have.’

‘Our readers just want the truth, Mr Pebble.’

‘The truth? That’s a different government department. Let me get you directions.’


But Edward doesn’t want the Department of Truth, if there is such a thing; instead he decides to investigate the Shelley Shire Assembly, which is the seat of local government, and so he heads back to Mullcogan.

Since the flood, which carried away the old Assembly buildings, together with a large swathe of Mullcogan’s housing, the seat of government has more accurately become the seats of government. The Assembly staff have been accommodated in a number of small emergency ‘pods’ that dot the landscape amid the ruins of the original marble edifice with its fallen Greek columns and scattered, noseless busts of local dignitaries not yet retrieved from the mud.

The pods are temporary structures, a bit like Mongolian yurts, with helpful signs painted on them to indicate which Assembly department each one contains. Edward walks past ‘Animal Enforcement,’ ‘Parking Enforcement,’ and ‘Community Enforcement’ before arriving at his destination: ‘Disaster Enforcement.’

However, he is forestalled by a long line of local residents. The queue, two or three deep, stretches out of the pod and coils around several other branches of government until it peters out beside Sewage Enforcement.

Rather than joining the end of the line, Edward gets out his notebook and performs vox populi interviews with various people, craftily working his way towards the front and the entrance to Disaster Enforcement. He learns that flood victims have been waiting for a year and a half for action, only to finally receive phone calls denying them aid. The calls are from bureaucratic underlings who read from a script that contradicts both science and experience. Some people have received two or three such calls.

He arrives at the head of the queue to find the doors have been closed, with a notice on them explaining that a meeting of the Assembly requires the attendance of the staff who enforce disaster.


Back at the Mullcogan Times office, Shimon Salahm congratulates Edward on his progress.

‘But I’ve hit a wall. Nobody seems to know where the Assembly will meet.’

‘Ah yes, Assembly meetings have been held in temporary venues recently,’ says Shimon.

‘I gathered that. Presumably because the flood destroyed the Assembly Chamber?’

‘Not just that; it’s also because the Assembly hates public scrutiny. Pop-up meetings in different places at short notice are almost as good as secret sessions. Come to think of it, most of most of the meetings are held in secret sessions anyway.’

‘I never thought the Shelley and Byron shires would have so much in common.’

‘But we’ve found out where the Assembly meeting is to be held. Get ready to cover it, Edward.’

To be continued…

The Adventures of Edward Herring – Part one

The Adventures of Edward Herring – Part three

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