(The River Bank, or rather, beneath it in Mole’s house. He is redecorating. Some of his little ceiling is eau-de nil gloss, some of it is cream emulsion, some is white distemper, and some is regency-striped pink wallpaper. The walls themselves are part tiled. Part panelled, part painted, and part earth.)
Mole: Blow! Bother! (He throws down his brush in fury.)
A Worm: What is it?
Mole: All I need, dratted worms coming through the wall! Should’ve been a nice polka-dotted Vymura where you are. Wormproof? Should’ve complemented the subtle matt beige of the ceiling.
A Worm: It Looks like a dog’s dinner.
Mole: Of course it does! What else do you expect with a paintmakers’ strike on, and the wallpaper delivery drivers out in sympathy, and the ceramic gluers demanding parity, whatever that is, and the size operatives working to rule? Drat! Bother! Blow! (He stomps out.)
(The River Bank, topside, Water Rat is staring at his boat. Stoats march past it, carrying banners and shouting. Mole burrows up.)
Rat: Hullo, Mole!
Mole: Hullo Rat! What’s up?
Rat: National Union of Stouts, Weasels And Allied Traders demo. Can’t get the boat out, can I?
Mole: I didn’t know you employed stoats and weasels.
Rat: I don’t. They are merely expressing solidarity with the move to nationalise river frontage. Also demonstrating their joint disapproval of private medicine, public schools, and the Race Relations Board. (Leaps up in sudden rage.) STOP MESSING ABOUT WITH BOATS!
Stoats, Weasels etc.: Eff off!
Rat: (Sits down again, morosely) I blame Toad! I see Toad’s hand in this.
Mole: Toad? Do you mean Lord Toadsgate, Ratty?
Rat: Ha! Shows how long you’ve been underground, doesn’t it? That’s your middle-class householder all over, isn’t it? Keep your head down and your mouth shut, and before you know it… he hasn’t been Lord Toadsgate of Toad Hall for years. Chucked in his title years ago. It was his new craze, wasn’t it? “Ho, Hi can’t be botherin’ with hall that. Hi ham a man hof the people now. Hi ham a trendy socialist. Hi ham, heverybody who his anybody his doin’ it, don’t you know?” That was your Lord Toadsgate, Mole. Or, rather, Anthony Wedgwood Toad, as he decided to style himself.
Mole: What makes you think he’s involved?
Rat: Oh, he’s dead chummy with the stoats, these days. Or was. you can never tell with Toad and his crazes. Last time I saw him, Jet planes were all he would talk about. Spent everything on bigger and faster jets.
Mole: I say!
(Rat and Mole exeunt. Stoats and weasels blow raspberries, throw sludge.)
(Toad Hall. A giant yellow Concorde stands on the gravel drive. One of its tyres is flat. Two windows have fallen out.)
Rat: Hi! Anyone at home? Are you there. Toad?
(Enter Anthony Wedgwood Toad. He is sleek exuberant, bright-eyed.)
Rat: Toad, may I present my friend, Mole? Mole. This is Anthony Wedgewood-Toad.
A.W.T: No, it isn’t! Just plain Tony Toad these days, Ratty. Helps me get about among the chaps more easily, don’t you know? We workin' class fellahs can’t be doin’ with hyphens, eh?
Mole: I say, Mr Toad, is that your jet plane?
Toad: Oh, that! Oh I can’t be bothered with that, any more! Nobody’s interested in that! No, as a matter of jolly old fact, I’m lookin’ around for a new interest. Thought I might nationalise hovercraft. Super things, hovercraft, flit here, flit there, jolly good fun havin’ fifty-one per cent of those!
Rat: What's nationalising, Toad?
Toad: What’s nationalising? WHAT’S NATIONALISING? Don’t you know anythin’, Ratty? Everybody who’s anybody’s nationalising, these days! What sport! What capital fun! It means that instead of a few chaps havin’ all the pleasure out of makin’ somethin’ and rushin’ about in it, we can all have a go! Yes, I think hovercraft will be my next thing. That’s why I’ve nationalised the River Bank.
Rat: Told you he was at the bottom of it, Mole!
(As they stand chatting, something appears stage left in a great cloud of dust, roars past engulfing them, and roars off stage right.)
Something (distantly): Poop, poop!
Rat: Road hog!
Mole: Communist! Layabout! Student!
Toad: (dreamily)( Poop! Poop!
Rat: Oh God!
Toad: What-was-that -Ratty?
Mole: That was a motor-car, Mr Toad. Nasty, horrid, dirty-
Toad: Oh, I want those, Mole! I must have those, Ratty. I must nationalise motor-cars, you fellows! Such capital fun! Such whizzing about! Such times! Such japes! Poop, poop! Oh my!
(The River Bank. The towpath has fallen in, the banks are broken, rotting boats lie half-sunk in the shallows. There is a lot of silt about, and clouds of militant gnats. Rat sits staring at a midstream oil-drum. Mole enters, dragging a shoe-box.)
Rat: What’s that?
Mole: Chez Mole, that’s what it is! My mobile home.
Rat: What about your beautiful burrow?
Mole: Full of stoats! (sobs) Full of weasels! Nationalised, Ratty.
Rat: Oh, I wouldn’t have thought they would have found you. I wouldn’t have thought they nationalised underground land.
Mole: I’ve tried complaining to Toad, but he doesn’t reply.
Rat: He wouldn’t. Toad’s in clink. Solidarity with the rent strike. Calls himself the Toad Hall One, (Laughs) Ironic, really, seeing as how Toad Hall’s got four hundred stoats and weasels living in it. Eating his scoff, smashing his furniture, squatting in his staterooms, playing bingo in his library, fishing in his ornamental pond, peeing on his rockery.
(Enter, running, a washerwoman)
Washerwoman: I say! Ho! To arms! Death to Stoats! Bring back hanging for weasels!
(Exit, pursued by Rat and Mole.)
Washerwoman: Lemme go! Take your plebeian paws of me!
Rat: So it is you, Toad!
Toad: Lord Toadsgate, if you don’t mind! Yes, it is I, Lord Toadsgate, the escapologist! Lord Toadsgate, scourge of Maoist stoats, hammer of Trot weasels! Get me a shot gun, bring me a cudgel, let us smite the Lefties hip and thigh, if that’s what stoats have!
Mole: You heard about Toad Hall, then?
Toad: Heard? Heard! The cries of my ancestors rang through my prison walls! With one bound I cleared the gate! Toad Hall full of oiks and rubbish! Toad Hall smelling of cabbage and fish fingers! I say, do you think they could have found the safe?
(Enter Badger, somewhat decrepit, yet resplendent in his general’s uniform.)
Toad: Ha! General Badger of the 17th/21st Middle Class Private Hussars! Are the men ready?
Badger: Ready, your Lordship!
(Enter mob of animals, heavily armed, in a variety of old uniforms)
Animals: Up the bourgeoisie! Onward the ratepayers!
Rat: I say, Toad, what about nationalisation, what about socialism, what…?
Toad: Oh, that! Oh, I can’t be bothered with that any more! Nobody’s interested in that. (Draws his sword and brandishes it.) Hurrah! SAVE TOAD HALL! DEATH TO ALL LEFTY WRECKERS!
(Exeunt private army, charging across the moat. Rat and Mole stare after them. )
Rat: He is indeed an altered Toad!
Punch Dec 18/25 1974