A MODEST PROPOSAL
For preventing Amazon customers from being a burden on the local economy and small business by skinning, boiling and eating them.
The Sheriff of Nottingham slips into the book fair through the fire exit to avoid parting with the two euro entrance fee. The fact that he had to claw up a two storey redbrick vertical wall hasn’t damaged his state of perfectly eccentric pompous dress – tweed jacket with leather arm patches, a tightly sealed gothic waistcoat complete with obviously fake pocket watch, a comically long purple scarf, shiny black riding boots, a pair of vintage spectacles defying gravity at the end of his engorged nose, and a Booksellers Association badge, stolen from a dead dealer.
“There’s a smell of failure in here,” he cries out to no one in particular.
The Book Buddha shakes his head in disgust and Ho Chi O’ Leary is briefly distracted from counting his money under a table, but no one dignifies him with an answer.
“I tell you what’s wrong with this world,” he shouts, coming to a sudden halt in front of my stall. “Amazon.”
“Why does it bother you? You’re retired aren’t you?”
“Retired,” he screams, clutching his heart. “Booksellers don’t retire. We’re like humpback whales or quasars. We don’t retire. We die gracefully.”
The Sheriff has been dying gracefully for twenty years. He is a remnant of a world that no longer exists, that can never exist again. He sold books in the glorious seventies and eighties, before the Internet, when booksellers were the only conduit to find lost books, when it was considered a fine skill, when the only limitations to selling books were recession and illiteracy .
Now he is the bitter vampire of a lost world, too contrary to die, though many are all too willing to provide the stake.
“I have my own modest proposal. Just like Swift. You probably haven’t heard of him, have you? God knows, a righteous education is no longer a necessity in bookselling.”
“I know who Jonathan Swift was,” I interrupt, but he ignores me, blowing his nose melodramatically into a multi-coloured handkerchief.
“Swift suggested we eat the children of the poor to stop potential famines.”
“A classic satire.”
“Satire,” The Sheriff snorts. “You obviously didn’t understand the story at all. He was a Protestant you know. They don’t have a sense of humour.”
“That’s... well that’s racist Sheriff.”
“Shut up and listen to my modest proposal! Do you know how many people in this country shopped with Amazon last year? 1.6 million. We all know one of them. They’re everywhere, walking among us, destroying our local economy, regressing our genepool. So my proposal is simple: We skin them, boil them and eat them.”
An old man browsing my militaria shelf halts abruptly, a look of sheer terror on his face. The Sheriff of Nottingham shoots him a filthy frown as he scampers away.
“I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in Dublin 4, that a regular Amazon user, well nursed on Doritos, diet coke and Just Eat takeaways, is a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasie, or a ragoust.”
“What acquaintance in D4?” I ask.
He laughs. “The likes of you don’t know the good people in Dublin 4 so what’s the point in dropping names. The important thing to remember is the systematic Amazon user will make four dishes at an entertainment for friends; and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter. You could even spice things up and make a kebab or a curry out of the leftovers.”
“I can’t tell if you’re being satirical or not Sheriff? Surely you’re not suggesting that we resort to cannibalism? I mean, I despise Amazon and everything it stands for as much as the next bookseller, and I accept the apocalyptic damage that its continued success has caused to small retail everywhere, but I’m not sure if eating the consumers is the solution.”
“Not just Amazon customers,” The Sheriff screams suddenly, his hands gesturing wildly. “Ebay, Aliexpress, Adverts. The whole lot of them. And why stop there? What about the social media hordes? The facebookers, the instagrammers, the tweeters? Those god awful tiktok dancers. The vloggers and podcasters. The influencers. God almighty, my mouth is watering at the thoughts of a succulent steak off an airbrushed bouncing internet fashionista.”
“Keep your voice down Sheriff,” I hiss, even though there are now no longer any potential customers left in the room to scare away.
“A big chunk out of a Kardashian backside with cabbage and brown sauce. Minced Elon Musk in your cottage pie. Amazon prime members grinded up into nutritious smoothies. Now we’re talking...”
“A modest proposal was satire Sherriff, designed to highlight the outrageous wealth gap between the landed gentry and everyone else. If people decide to buy from Amazon rather than us, it’s because it obviously suits them better. Either we are not providing the value or the experience which they desire. Or maybe we simply can’t advertise ourselves and people have forgotten we even exist.”
The Sheriff stamps up and down, howling in an unbridled rage. “You haven’t listened to one word I said. Forty percent of the national population are regular Amazon users. And I’m not on about those backward lost brits in the North. I’m talking about actual people! Forty percent. Take out the wasteful eaters like children and old folks and the poor, and what’s left for me and you? Nothing. They’re click and buy habits are killing us, and they the same people who talk about sustainability. Sustainability! Eat the bastards I say.”
The other dealers are silently watching us. Even Ho Chi O’ Leary has put away his wad of fifties and waits, like the others, for one of us to have a major heart attack and drop dead on the floor. The Sheriff is close. His enraged face is pulsating a deep, dark red, two temples ready to burst.
“Are you planning on spending any money today Sheriff?” I ask, as casually as possible under the circumstances.
“How dare you! And I a poor pensioner bookseller sodomised by Amazon and the multinationals. You’re horrible. Nothing on your mind only bloody money. No wonder the bottom has fallen out of this industry.”
Amazon sells fifteen thousand dollars every second. That’s over nine hundred thousand dollars per minute or over fifty-four million dollars every hour. 115 million people used Amazon in the past year. 19 million of those used Amazon.co.uk, including 1.6 million Irish people. Percentages wise, the Republic of Ireland ranks ahead of the UK, and very closely behind the USA, in unique individual Amazon purchases.
That’s a whole lot of people to eat.
Maybe it’s better if we try to fix our retail models, provide a better shopping experience and reach out to the readers of the world.
Because I suspect over consumption of human flesh would give me heartburn.