“Let me get this straight, these people here represent the twenty six villages in the Hundred of Knightlow who owe tax to the Duke of Glasgow?” Noah Campbell, CEO of Banana asked his employee Dave Peterson, who thought Noah would want nothing more for his birthday than to stand in a field in November at 5AM to watch some people pay tax to a Scottish Duke who owns a part of England for no discernible reason.
“Yes,” Dave replied.
“And that guy over there is the Duke of Knightlow, but he doesn’t actually own the Hundred of Knightlow so he also pays tax?” Noah asked.
“Yes. His family did own the Hundred of Knightlow, but then lost the Battle of Knightlow to the then Duke of Glasgow in 1287, no one really knows what the point of the battle was.” Dave said.
“Right, so ever since then the twenty six villages on the Duke’s land plus the Duke of Knightlow pay tax every year?” Noah said.
“Yes, it’s fairly straightforward,” Dave said.
“Ok. So where does the vicar saying ‘blessed are the peacemakers’ come into it?” Noah asked.
“Oh, that’s just Simon having a bit of fun before the ceremony begins.” Dave said. “He initially did it when he started representing Lower Strangling because it was the first time in his life he’d had a mound and a large crowd at his disposal, now the Sermon on the Mound has become an annual tradition in itself.
“Right, ok.” Noah said. “I’ll admit this isn’t how I would usually choose to celebrate my birthday, but oh well.”
“Just thought you’d be interested in seeing the local area.” Dave said. “I’m sure there are things just as weird happening in Cornwall.”
“There are, definitely,” Noah said, “but I choose not to partake in them.”
“Hmm,” Dave responded.
After a while, the Rev. Simon Abernathy had finished evangelising to the crowd and the ceremony was about to begin.
“Is that the Duke of Glasgow?” Noah asked Dave, pointing to the young man in his early forties who was now standing on the mound.
“No, that’s his land agent Alasdair, he represents Angus.” Dave said.
“Right, ok.” Noah said.
“Angus rarely shows up himself,” Dave said, “he’s probably in Glasgow shouting at Greta Thunberg or something.”
“Sure, sure.” Noah said.
One by one the villages were called out with the amount they were due to pay (Harbury; 11 1/2p, Ashow; 1p, Lower Strangling; 1p etc.) Noah looked at the whole thing vaguely bemused.
“Are they trying to crack down on tax evasion by making it vaguely amusing?” Noah said.
“I don’t think so.” Dave said. “This is just how it’s always been done for over 1000 years.”
“I personally don’t see what’s wrong with getting an email from HMRC.” Noah said. “Well, apart from the actual paying tax part.”
“Hmm,” Dave said.
After all the villages had been called up, and former Thatcherite Tory MP Edward Wilson had been booed as he came to pay his dues on behalf of Marton; there was only one person left to pay; Sir Hugo Townsend, the Duke of Knightlow.
“Duke of Knightlow; £1,250.” Alasdair said, encouraging audible gasps from the crowd.
“Why does he have to pay so much more than the rest of them?” Noah said.
“That’s just the Duke of Glasgow having some fun at the Duke of Knightlow’s expense.” Dave said.
“Hmm,” Noah said.
Sir Hugo slowly lumbered up the mound in his midnight blue suit, and passively aggressively wrote out a cheque for £1,250. After throwing it into the stone in a huff, he walked back down.
The ceremony had ended, and Noah Campbell still had no idea what the hell was going on.
“This all seems rather excessive for a collection of tax,” Noah said later on in the local pub whilst observing his clay pipe, waiting for the fried breakfast that was also a part of the ceremony.
“Well, you’ve got to make it worth people’s while somehow.” Dave said.
“I guess so,” Noah said.
As he had his fried breakfast, Noah almost felt glad he came, but he still didn’t understand it.
“This is all very well,” Noah said, “but if I were the Duke, I’d simply send these people an email telling them that they owe £0.01p and that failure to do so will result in a fine of a large sum.”
“That’s not really as much fun, is it?” Dave said.
“Perhaps not, but it’s efficient.” Noah said.
“Colt,” someone on his table called him.
“What did you just call me?” Noah said, somewhat offended.
“He called you a colt, someone who has never been to this before.” Dave said.
“Oh, right, ok.” Noah said.
After a while, everyone was given a glass of milk and rum.
“I’m not sure whether rum and milk is a good combination or not,” Noah said. “When is this over?”
“When the speeches have been read out.” Dave said.
“Speeches?” Noah said.
“Yes.” Dave said.
“Fine,” Noah said.
After everyone who had speeches had made them, including an update from Alasdair on the Duke’s Scottish estate that virtually none of the attendees will visit, it was finally time to leave.
“I don’t think I will come again.” Noah said.
“That’s ok. But I assume you had fun.“ Dave said.
“Perhaps a little,” Noah said. “Anyway, I’ll see you in Lower Strangling.”
With that, Noah got into his Rolls Royce and drove to Lower Strangling, making a mental note not to accept invitations from his employees in the future.
“Did Noah enjoy himself, Dave?” Simon said to Dave.
“I think he might be too much of a city dweller.” Dave said. “Country life is very alien to him.”
“Oh, right. Well, see you in the village.” Simon said, before getting into his car and driving off.
Dave sighed, then drove home himself.
Well, Dave thought to himself, at least he made a nice gesture.