The son came to see us the other day with his girlfriend. They are both philosophers and it is very hard for them to find work in these terrible times. I blame the bankers and those who encouraged them for many things, not least my own drastically-curtailed income, but nothing quite as much as for the way they have poleaxed the lives of people like the son and his girlfriend who do imaginative or intellectual work that has no available bottom line to which it can cling.

He tells me however of a new scheme that they will be taking advantage of. The government are sponsoring privateers.

“Piracy!” I exclaim, incredulously – although nothing should surprise one.

He sighs. Privateers are quite different from pirates, he tells me. In the past, particularly during wartime, the captain and crew of ships of the Royal Navy when they took enemy or pirate vessels were entitled to share personally in their value when they were sold. This was called ‘prizes’, and they could amount to a fortune. The captain and crew of private ships, if they were authorised by a ‘letter of marque’, had the same privileges. They were called privateers. Pirate ships on the other hand were those that acknowledged no allegiance to anyone and were therefore fair game to everyone.

Naval personnel had had to give up their rights to prize money many years ago, but privateers had not; it was just that no letters of marque had been issued for a very long time.

Mr. Cameron’s government liked the idea of privateers. It resonated with their idea of the role of private enterprise. They reasoned that the official forces were crippled by red tape and political correctness gone mad, so they were issuing new letters of marque for the first time for centuries, and to those who applied for them they were giving soft loans to cover the purchase of vessels, firearms, grappling irons and so on. Employment laws would be relaxed to allow people to be clapped in irons and made to walk the plank, where appropriate. Broadsides would be permitted notwithstanding local amenities. The son had put together a crew drawn from his friends on Facebook. They were philosophers, in the main, and desperate men.

I reflect that his vessel might suitably be called Philosophers in the Main. No, he says; its name is to be The Jolly Thought.

I could foresee all sorts of problems.

“You can’t drive,” I said. “You can’t be a captain without your hand on the wheel.”

“That will be outsourced.”

“And who are your enemies? Whom will you capture?”

“Illegals,” he explained. “Foreigners. Drug dealers. Scroungers. Those who don’t go the extra mile, particularly if they have a means of conveyance worth a few quid at auction. In fact of course those who don’t go the extra mile will get caught…

“Bankers,” he added slyly.

“And how,” I asked finally, “will you overcome your bankers when you have prised them out of their Corvettes, being careful not to damage the paintwork? I know that you philosophers are desperate men, but they will have low skills that you can only guess at.”

He smiled mysteriously and indicated the spine of a Jacky Chan DVD in his pocket.

“We have been training.”

I can only wish him luck. News will be forthcoming, he says, if you know in which quarters to ask. But send us a post card, I say, as he strides away, an unaccustomedly nautical roll in his step.

He turns at the door.

“I always wanted to be a pirate,” he said.

“I remember. But a privateer is quite different.”


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