the royal dragoons

RENNIE AND I went back to England on a fact-finding mission connected with his studies. We took the Ryanair flight into Stansted Airport and then a series of trains, buses, and a rental car until we arrived at the sands of the North Sea coast. We were standing there in a reedy inlet when I first noticed the outline of a large, furry animal in the sands. It was a household cat, but it had been reduced to two dimensions, almost like a carpet. Someone had pressed this cat, as with an iron, or maybe it had been run over by a tank? Up and down the beach, we found other two-dimensional pressed animals and there were some washing up in the waves. I was intrigued by this, but Rennie barely paid any attention to the animals. He wanted to talk about history and nostalgia. In Rennie’s view, nostalgia was eating away the true, tedious work of studying history, the same way that the North Sea was slowly eating away at Winterton Beach. “You’ll notice when you produce any academic work these days,” he said, “that people are no longer interested in the facts, in events, numbers, measurements, or anything concrete that can be defined, no, they want the fluff, the drama, the fucking romance of the era. They only are interested in nostalgia these days, not real history.” We walked along the beach and came to the Royal Museum. Inside there were different kinds of exhibits. One was a life-sized British graveyard that included graves from different eras, ranging from Anglo-Saxon burial mounds right up to the crypts of the Victorian era. Further on, we came to an old industrial mill that was still churning the waters. We went inside, passing through an iron gate. Rennie continued to fume about history. He picked up a large boulder and threw it under the wheel, bringing the whole mechanism to a stuttering halt. “You see this?” he cried. “This is the still-beating heart of British nostalgia!” The pressure on the wheel began to build up and the walls of the mill started to crack. It was like an earthquake. “Come on,” Rennie said. “We’ve got to get out of here before they get the Royal Dragoons after us.” We went back out through the museum, past the cemetery exhibit, and came down a hall filled with tall portraits of the Duke of Wellington and so on. There was a separate back staircase that led down into the staff area of the museum, and we walked through their cafeteria. The Royal Dragoons had already arrived and were filing in, and we passed them as we walked out the door into the sunshine of an English winter day and over towards the car we had rented by the station in Norwich. One of the Royal Dragoons, a beautiful young lady with long red hair, wearing their special red jacket and sash, followed us out and began to pepper us with all sorts of questions. She was a bit shy but seemed genuinely interested in Rennie’s research, but I said we had to go. The Dragoon seemed disappointed, and said she only wanted to know more. “It’s almost as if you’re trying to run away from me,” she said, “as if you don’t like me.” “No, no,” said Rennie. “We just don’t want to miss our flight.” Later, after they found out who had destroyed the nostalgia mill, Rennie and I were both blacklisted from Britain for some time. It was only after the discussions around the Northern Ireland Protocol failed for a 15th time that a magistrate granted the two of us clemency.

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