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A Man of Few Words - by Swan Morrison


Harold Higgins found it rather inconvenient to watch television in the potting shed at the end of his garden. He thought this to be outweighed, however, by the saving from not buying a TV licence.

It had long been taken for granted that all land in England was owned by someone, be it an individual or an organisation or the Crown. The linking of the computer systems at the Land Registry to those of the Ordnance Survey had, however, ended that assumption. The inaccuracy of maps on which land ownership had been defined since the Norman Conquest meant that some areas were not owned by anyone.

At first, the government assumed these could simply be taken by the Crown, but it soon become apparent that this would be, technically, an invasion, and NATO would have been obliged to defend what became known as ‘Territories’. They therefore remained outside the jurisdiction of Great Britain. The loan of GPS equipment had allowed Harold to identify a spot in his potting shed, about a metre square, which fell into this category and was just large enough to accommodate his television, video player, his collection of hardcore pornography and a couple of marijuana plants.

Many Territories that lay on open ground had been fenced and were now guarded by the army. More problematic were those inside existing structures. The frozen food isle at a supermarket in Watford was a case in point. It had been very bad for custom to have non-stop 24 hour raves taking place between the fish and poultry sections, and some innocent customers had been injured as a result of a gangland shoot-out adjacent to the desserts.

Many spouses also became uneasy about visiting a furniture warehouse in Crewe. Admittedly the Territory in the divan section was only two meters square, but it had been large enough for Mrs Brown to shoot her husband and for Mrs Robertson to do likewise in a separate incident almost as soon as the first body had been removed.

All the Territories posed a serious threat to law and order but none more so than Essex. It became apparent that in the past thousand years of British history, no one had ever taken Essex seriously and consequently the entire county was a Territory. The discovery of gold at Chipping Ongar had vastly compounded the problem as prospectors arrived from all over the UK to stake their claims. New dirt roadways were formed by the relentless passage of horses and wagons and hastily built wooden frontier towns sprang up.

Dead Man’s Gultch, near Chelmsford, became notorious for drinking, prostitution and general lawlessness. Black and Sons, Funeral Directors since 1885, gained much new business as itinerant gunfighters came and went. Piano players simply stopped applying for the job in the saloon.

Generally the view of the population has been positive. Apart for the problems in Essex, wherever that is, law-free locations in homes have increased property prices as private stills and abattoirs abound. I’m amazed how well opium poppies grow in pots...