By the time it got to Westminster, the river had congealed, so that it was almost a swamp, and, being congealed, it did not happily skip and sparkle along as it used to do before it entered London, but oozed and glistened as it seeped slowly past the grand buildings of Parliament.
There was a busy road leading from Downing Street to the South Bank, but before it could come to the South Bank it had to cross this river. So, where it crossed there was a stone and iron bridge, with iron fences on each side of it. Blue could get his chin on to the fence if he wanted to, but it was more fun to lie down and poke his head through the holes in the fence, and watch the river oozing along beneath him. And this was the only way in which Clegglet could watch the river at all, because he was so small and nobody would help him look over the top of the fence.
One day, when Blue was walking towards this bridge, he was trying to make up a piece of poetry about poor people, because they were all around, lying untidily on each side of him, and he felt queasy. So he picked a poor person up, and looked at it, and said to himself, ‘This is a very ugly and smelly poor person, and something ought to be done with it.’ But he couldn’t think of anything. And then this came into his head suddenly:
It’s really very funny,
How some people get so scummy,
When they could just charge people money
To sit with them and eat some honey.
‘It really doesn’t make a single bit of sense,’ said Blue, ‘because there are a great number of people who want to eat honey with me and they give me lots and lots of money. Why don’t these poor people help themselves, just like I do, and like my friends do?’
He had almost crossed the busy road and almost reached the heavy iron fence, but as he was concentrating so hard on not being hit by the traffic, he tripped over the kerb and the poor person flew out of his paw, over the fence and into the river.
‘Bother’, said Blue, as it disappeared under the bridge, and he went back to get another poor person, of which there were many. But then he thought that he would just look at the river instead, because the sun was peeping through the clouds and making the water glisten in a most agreeable way. So he lay down and looked at the river, and it oozed slowly along beneath him . . . and suddenly, there was his poor person oozing along too.
‘That’s funny’, said Blue. ‘I dropped it on the other side, and it came out on this side! I wonder if it would do it again?’ And he went back for more poor people.
It did do it again. In fact, it did it almost every time he tried. Then he dropped two in at once, and leant over the bridge to see which of them would come out first; and one of them did; but as most poor people look basically the same, he didn’t know if it was the one which he wanted to win, or the other one. So the next time he dropped one who could only afford to eat from Greggs and one who couldn’t even afford to eat at all, and the fat one came out first, which is what his advisors had said it would do, and the little one came out last, which was what his advisors had said it would do, so he had won twice . . . and when he went home for tea, he had won fifty-three and lost forty-six, although when he thought about it, really, he had won every single game, because of all the people on that bridge that day, he was the only one that wasn’t now at the bottom of the river.
And that was the beginning of the game called Poorsticks, which Blue invented and which he and his friends used to play in Westminster. But they mostly played with disabled people instead of poor people, because they were easier to catch.
Now, one day, Blue and his good friend Clegglet were playing Poorsticks together. They had dropped their disabled people in and shouted ‘Go!’ and then they had rushed over to the other side of the bridge, and now they were all leaning over the edge, waiting to see whose disabled person would come out first. But it was a long time coming, because the river was very lazy, and disabled people could be even more lazy than the river, often too lazy even to float for that short distance.
‘I think I can see my disabled person!’ cried Clegglet. ‘No you can’t,’ said Blue. ‘I can’t see mine, so it stands to reason that you shouldn’t be able to see yours.’ Clegglet solemnly agreed.
‘I expect they’ve sunk again,’ he said.
‘Nonsense,’ said Blue. ‘They’re probably not even properly disabled. I’m sure we’ll see them sailing past any moment now.’
‘I can see yours, Blue,’ said Clegglet suddenly, leaning as far over the side as he could.
‘Mine’s a sort of greyish pink colour,’ said Blue.
‘Yes, I think this one’s quite pink. Come on disabled person!’
‘That doesn’t look like mine at all,’ said Blue. ‘I think I recognise it though. I think I had lunch with it last week.’
And out floated a banker.
‘Banker!’ cried Blue and Clegglet, terribly excited.
Calmly and happily, the banker floated along down the river, turning gently with the current and disappearing off into the distance. Then another banker floated past, and then another, and then another.
‘They float along very well,’ thought Blue, ‘so well in fact, that I think they should become part of our game.’ And so, for the rest of the day, Blue and Clegglet raced their disabled people and their poor people against the bankers. It was a fine game, but for one problem. No matter how many times they tried, the bankers always floated off down the river, whereas the disabled people and the poor people always sank to the very bottom. Even Blue, who was by all accounts a Prime Minister of Very Little Brain realised that he could quite easily win every time, by always choosing the banker and never choosing the poor person or the disabled person. Still though, they played on until the sun was low and it was time to go home and to bed.
The very next day, Blue had an Idea, of which he was very proud. He raced down to the bridge to meet Clegglet, who had already been up for an hour or more.
‘Clegglet’, said Blue, ‘I was sat in my best arm-chair this morning, thinking as hard as I could, when I had an Idea.’
‘An idea, Blue?’ exclaimed Clegglet?
‘An Idea,’ replied Blue. ‘I hope it’s a Good Idea, but I don’t suppose we can really know for sure until we try.’
‘Do tell’, squeaked Clegglet. ‘I’m sure it will be a fine idea.’
‘Now the problem we have, as far as I can understand it, is that the bankers float along quite happily, whereas most of the poor people and most of the disabled people sink to the bottom of the river, because of their heavy wheel-chairs or their heavy ear-rings. So, according to my Idea, if we can make the bankers heavier somehow, then this might make the game a good deal more interesting.’
‘That’s a very good idea,’ said Clegglet, ‘but how can we make them heavier?’
Blue paused for a moment, straightened his back and proudly proclaimed, ‘Why, by throwing heavy things at them of course! I have lots of heavy things at home. In fact, we can just use all the bags of money people have been giving me recently. I have lots and lots of them.’
‘But how can we be certain that we’ll hit the bankers and not the poor people or the disabled people?’
Blue considered this for a moment, then came up with his Second Idea of the Day.
‘Rather than throwing bags of money at the bankers,’ he said, ‘we can just deposit the money directly into their overseas bank accounts.’
Later that day, having ensured that the bankers were as laden with money as they could possibly be, Blue and Clegglet returned to the bridge. To their surprise though, not only were the bankers still happily floating down the river, but many of them were now chugging along in shiny new speedboats! Blue sighed and sank to the floor.
‘What on earth are we to do now?’ asked Blue, sadly. ‘Making the bankers heavier hasn’t slowed them down at all. If anything, it’s made them even faster.’
‘It certainly is a problem,’ agreed Clegglet, ‘but couldn’t we just give some money to the poor people and the disabled people?’
‘We’ve given every last bit of it away to the bankers,’ said Blue.
‘Then can’t we just use some other sort of Heavy Thing?’ asked Clegglet.
‘I suppose we could just use these rocks,’ said Blue, ‘but I’m not sure you can deposit rocks into an overseas bank account. I’m not even sure poor people have overseas bank accounts.’
‘Oh Blue,’ said Clegglet, ‘Everyone has an overseas bank account! I think you could be right about the rocks though. I suppose we’ll just have to throw the rocks at the poor people and do our very best not to hit the bankers.’
And so they did.
Of course, the rocks didn’t speed up the poor people and they didn’t speed up the disabled people, but they were such fun to throw and it was such a nice day that it really didn’t matter. And after a while, Blue and Clegglet forgot all about the original rules of the game and realised they had invented a brand new game, which they considered to be superior in many respects and which they could happily play every day, or at least until they ran out of rocks.