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On Friday evening I was released from 10 days in Turkish Police custody, following my arrest for ‘insulting the dignity of the higher powers in Turkey’ by publicly displaying a collage of the Turkish Prime Minister as a dollar-eating dog held on a stars and striped dogleash, his tail a nuclear missile. After 3 nights in prison I was moved to the detention center for illegal aliens on the other side of the Bosphorus. Addressing me as their ‘guest’, my movements were thereafter confined for the next seven days and nights to a small windowless office where my bed was a row of 3 chairs, the light never off, music and football matches played at full volume all night by very loud-voiced Turkish policemen. Sleep was less than minimal.
Apart from the office, I was allowed to sit in the corridor/hall in front of the grey iron wall behind which are detained the male foreigners (women separated upstairs) caught without the proper official documents necessary to be allowed in the country. The floor in there is spread with bodies lying on blankets, almost shoulder to shoulder. While I was there the population rose to over 500 detainees, with police bringing in new detainees all the time. Many of those inside already have been confined for many months, some for over a year, in highly degrading conditions, and the treatment they receive from the guardians there far from courteous or helpful. Far from it. In fact, mindless cruelty rules.
During my time in confinement, apart from little to eat, I had nothing to read, so I wrote instead in a couple of exercise books I had been allowed to possess to keep sane. In one I kept a diary and account of the cruelty I witnessed, and the other I used for doodlings and wring stuff I’d memorised.
I also used the time to write this version of ‘The King’s New Clothes’. A guard would sometimes come up and ask what I was writing while I was still recording the act of violence he had just performed against a defenseless detainee. “A Children’s Play”, I’d say, slipping this identical exercise book over the other, beginning to revise the drama again, and he’d walk off satisfied. The following is the result. Hope you might like it. MD
THE KING’S NEW CLOTHES
by MICHAEL DICKINSON.
(Written in Turkish Police Custody — Istanbul 2006)
We all have different tastes; especially in clothes;
One may love a certain style, which yet another loathes.
This story concerns a king, obsessed with being in fashion.
Clothing for him was more than a love — it bordered on a passion.
He was always searching for some new look, and loved to parade about —
Showing off in the city square, where his people all turned out.
(Townsfolk come out singing and dancing. Suggested music: Vogue’ by Maddonna/’Dedicated Follower of Fashion’ by the Kinks. )
Here comes the king in his latest clothes! Doesn’t he look a treat!
The epitome of style and taste! Why, he’s good enough to eat!
Everything he wears is always a sensation!
What luck to have a supermodel as ruler of our nation!
Thank you, plebs! I’m glad you admire my latest attire!
You’ll find nothing comparable for sale or for hire.
I hereby announce, for your monarch’s new raiment —
Of the Public Tax — an increase in payment!
Not a lot — and I hope you don’t mind —
But isn’t it worth it, to buy me clothes of this kind?
Of course it is! The people are willing to pay the price!
To keep you in fashion, and looking so nice!
I’m sure they understand that a king must look his best,
To display his importance and rank above the rest!
Of course they do! This outfit is a winner!
I think the plebs have seen enough. Let’s go in for dinner.
(Exit King and Chancellor.)
In my opinion, for what it’s worth, the King’s new clothes are a mess!
And we shouldn’t pay more taxes — but a darned sight less!
Listen to the idiot! Who cares what you have to say?
We respect our monarch, and we’re prepared to pay!
The boy’s a fool, and has been from his birth!
He doesn’t value royalty, or realize what it’s worth!
(Exit Citizens. Two Strangers enter.)
Greetings, boy! We’re strangers here; and we’d just like to know
Where we might find employment — I mean we need some dough.
We’ve just been on a ship, working as sailors;
But we can do most any job — such as butchers, cops, or tailors.
Tailors, did you say? I might have just the thing!
If your clothes are camp and tasteless, you could always try the King!
The King? Now, there’s a thought! We might just have a try!
But tell us, what’s he like? I mean, what kind of guy?
To put it in a nutshell, without telling any lies;
Apart from nuts on fashion, he thinks he’s ultra-wise.
Interesting information. Thanks for the advice.
You’re welcome. Farewell. I have to buy my mum some rice.
Why did you say we could work as tailors? We’ve never done such a thing!
Don’t worry about that. I have an idea. Let’s go see this clever king!
(Exit Sly and Fly.)
In his palace, the King and his man were inspecting the latest styles,
To find one to suit his taste, they searched through many files.
No, no, no! This shirt’s too fussy; and this jacket’s not right!
These trousers are awful! They’re baggy and saggy when they ought to be tight!
Don’t worry your Highness! We’ll find something you adore!
But what’s this disturbance? Someone’s knocking at the door!
(He goes and opens it. Sly and Fly enter.)
Salutations, Majesty! World-famous for your knowledge!
Wise above all others, without even going to college!
When wisdom is mentioned, all think of your name!
Clever, smart, intelligent — universal your fame!
Thank you, my friends! All your words are true!
It goes without saying! But say — just who are you?
We are inventors of the most fabulous cloth,
Which neither tears nor stains, and is invincible to moth!
But far more important — you won’t believe your eyes!
Our cloth is only visible to those who are truly wise!
It sounds fantastic! For such cloth I’d pay you any fee!
Please bring it here at once, that I may look and see!
But your Majesty, we have the cloth right here!
I hope that you can see it! Or are we to fear?
That I’m not wise? I can see it, of course! No need to ask twice!
Its err wonderful. I mean, very nice.
Nice, your Majesty? It’s the most gorgeous sight ever to be seen.
The King of France ordered several suits and a gown for his queen.
(taking the air from Sly)
It is truly lovely! Such colors! Blue, green, pink!
Tell me, my Chancellor — what do you think?
Incredible! Like a rainbow spread out in the skies!
And how amazing to think — only seen by the wise!
That’s right! We are all wise enough to see it sparkling like jewels.
But the best of it is — it’s invisible to fools!
Oh, it’s heavenly! I must have a suit made!
And then I shall wear it at my next parade!
(measuring the king with invisible tape)
From the people who see you will come gasps and sighs;
And it will be easy to discern the fools from the wise!
Oh, what a laugh! That would be very funny!
When can you start? But we haven’t talked money?
Naturally, a cloth such as this doesn’t come cheap.
You’ll have to dig in your pocket, and shall I add, deep?
I don’t care! I want it! More than I can say!
Chancellor, increase the taxes! The people will pay!
As your Majesty wishes! Follow me, gentlemen, and I’ll show you a room
Where you can start work at once with your shuttle and loom.
(Sly and Fly follow the Chancellor. The King claps his hands and giggles and skips off in the other direction.)
A week went by, and the men still had not come out,
Though food and drink went in, and the King began to doubt.
I’m dying of impatience! Chancellor, go and see how much they’ve done.
I can’t wait to wear my clothes, and then we’ll have some fun!
The Chancellor went to the chamber and found the men at rest.
But they showed him what they’d done, which they boasted as their best.
(Sly and Fly pretend to be sewing and cutting with invisible needle and scissors.)
This waistcoat is nearly complete, and then the outfit’s made.
We’ll be finished by morning, and expect in cash to be paid.
Look at this jacket! Do you like the design?
This fancy stitchwork is a specialty of mine.
Marvelous! And the buttons so bright and pink!
If you look a little closer, you’ll find they’re blue, I think.
Oh yes! Of course they’re blue! It’s a little dark in here.
And what about the collar? Can you see the color clear?
Ah yes! A lovely shade of turquoise? No — red!? Or black? Am I seeing right?
I’m sorry, sir, you’re wrong. As a matter of fact, it’s white.
Oh dear! I’m discovered! Don’t inform the King!
Please don’t say I’m stupid! I’ll give you anything!
All the cash that’s in your wallet just might be enough.
We’ll try to keep it quiet, although it could be tough.
(The Chancellor hands over his cash and hurries off. Sly and Fly shake hands and exit chuckling.)
Next day the clothes were finished and presented to the King.
He was so delighted, he almost began to sing.
Splendid! Delightful! I’m overjoyed! Impressed!
What do you think, Chancellor? Why stand there so depressed?
Glorious. The patterns. The colours. All shine with a special glow.
Quite indescribable — in a way only the wise can know.
We’re proud you approve of the fruit of our task.
And before we go — one last thing we ask.
And that’s the money — our agreed upon fee,
For which we beg on bended knee.
(handing them a bag of money)
Here it is! And this little extra I add!
You’ve made me King of Fashion’, and I am more than glad!
A man of his word! We couldn’t have hoped for less!
And now with your permission, we’ll help the wise king dress!
Go Chancellor! Tell the people what is to be expected!
If there are fools amongst them — they’re bound to be detected!
(The Chancellor hurries out as the King begins to strip, ready to be dressed in the invisible clothes which Sly and Fly hold ready.)
The Chancellor went to the town square to announce the news to the folk,
Still thinking himself a fool — not realizing the joke.
Today the King will appear in amazing new clothes of a perfect fit and size —
Which can only be seen by those who are wise.
Here comes the King now! His clothes are a truly beautiful sight!
Look at the colours! They would light up the night!
I’ve never seen him dressed so smart!
Look at his Majesty! A living work of art!
(The King enters and proudly parades around the square in his underwear. The crowd applauds and sighs in admiration.)
Are you all crazy? Do you have brains the size of ants?
The King’s walking around in nothing but his pants!
(Everybody gasps in shock.)
The lad is right! How very rude!
The king is almost in the nude!
(The King stops, embarrassed.)
Is this some new fashion, current in the West —
To walk around in public, more than half undressed?
(The crowd begins to boo and jeer at the King.)
Oh my goodness! How embarrassing! What a disgrace!
Exposed before my subjects! I’m crimson in the face!
(grabbing a newspaper)
Quickly! Use this paper to cover up your shyness!
I’m afraid the boy is right! You’re nearly naked, Highness!
(covering himself with newspaper)
How could you let this happen? Why didn’t you let me know?
Where are the tailors who made the clothes? We mustn’t let them go!
They’ve gone already, Majesty. Both have run away.
As for the clothes — I could see there were none — but was too afraid to say!
You’re fired! I’m so ashamed! How can I hold up my head?
This boy is my only wise subject! He shall have your job instead!
Thanks for the offer, Majesty, but I’d really rather not.
I wouldn’t want to work for you — you vain, conceited clot!
(The people gasp.)
How dare you speak to me like that! Guards! Arrest this lout!
Guards?! Do you hear? Must I scream and shout?
You can shout all you like — but they’ve seen you as you are.
You’re neither wise nor worthy — I believe you’ve lost your power.
The boy is right! Our king’s a fake!
He does nothing for us, but take, take, take!
And we let him do it, to our shame and disgrace!
No more of this stupid, idle king! Let the boy take his place!
I refuse. All power corrupts. But if you really think I’m wise,
You might just do as I advise.
After this King — why bother with a sequel?
Enough of being subjects! Instead, let’s all be equal!
(The people cheer.)
And the people accepted the boy’s wise, simple plan —
No more kings and rulers — but a brotherhood of Man!
And to celebrate the dawning of the happy new age,
They danced and sang together — each one a budding sage!
(The people dance and sing a happy freedom song.)
MICHAEL DICKINSON is an English teacher who lives and works in Istanbul. He can be reached through his webpage at the Saatchi gallery.