An Unintended Consequence

I have been getting phone calls from a man called Peter Williams, an Anglo-Indian, as he calls himself, possibly of South African origin. His mission is to eradicate drug use in New Zealand and, to this end, he wishes me to write a book which will help accomplish this and, incidentally, make me a great deal of money. I told him that my already-published books do not make any secret of my own past and present drug use, but this seemed to make him, if possible, more enthusiastic—I could save myself while at the same time saving the country.

He has worked out an elaborate plan to organise the entire populace into hundreds which would then elect representatives to a larger council, which would then elect representatives ... and so on, a vast hierarchy based around threes, thirty-threes, ninety-nines. His last call, which I received as voice mail, really scared me. He said he had dobbed in a number of drug-users who are now sitting in gaol on remand and perhaps I could begin my research by interviewing these unfortunates. I did not reply, and have not heard from him since.

One interesting thing he said is that serious drug-importing into New Zealand was begun by a man called Frederick E Cumming-Bruce, an Englishman who was at Cambridge in the 1930s with Philby, Burgess, McLean and Blunt. Cumming-Bruce is said to have been posted to Wellington as a diplomat. When he was subsequently sent to India, he is alleged to have set up the networks for importing into New Zealand. Importing what? Williams does not say.

I googled the name and came up with a few hits: there was a Cumming-Bruce advising Harold Wilson on Britain’s Gibraltar policy at the time in the mid 1960s when Wilson and Ian Smith of Rhodesia were about to meet on board HMS Tiger at the Rock; the same, or another, is cited in a footnote regarding Botswana in an academic paper written by an Australia historian; another is quoted in a long judgment by the Refugee Status Appeals Authority granting refugee status to two Malaysians in Auckland in the mid 1990s.

But none of these is Frederick E. There is however—or was—a man called Bruce Frederick Cummings, an English naturalist who wrote under the pseudonym W. N. P. Barbellion. His The Journal of a Disappointed Man was published posthumously in London in 1919, with an introduction by H. G. Wells. Barbellion died on the last day of 1917, the victim of a creeping paralysis whose inexorable progress he documents through the years of the Great War. He was 28 years old.

It is a beautiful book. A sample, his entry for February 7th, 1917:

Chinese Lanterns

The other morning as I dressed, I could see the sun like a large yellow moon rising on a world, stiff, stark, its contours merely indicated beneath a winding-sheet of snow. Further round the horizon was another moon—the full moon itself—yellow likewise, but setting. It was the strangest picture I ever saw. I might well have been upon another planet; I could not have been more surprised even at a whole ring of yellow satellites arranged at regular intervals all round the horizon.

In the evening of the same day, I drove home from the Station in a little governess-cart, over a snow-clogged road. The cautious little pony picked out her way so carefully in little strides—pat-pat-pat—wherever it was slippery, and the Landlord of the Inn sat opposite me extolling all the clever little creature’s merits. It was dusk, and for some reason of the atmosphere the scraps of cloud appeared as blue sky and the blue sky as cloud, beneath which the full moon like a great Chinese lantern hung suspended so low down it seemed to touch the trees and hills. How have folk been able to ‘carry on’ in a world so utterly strange as this one during the past few days! I marvel that beneath such moons and suns the people of the world have not ceased for a while from the petty business of war during at least a few of our dancing revolutions around this furnace of a star. One of these days I should not be surprised if this fascinated earth did not fall into it like a moth into a candle. And where would our Great War be then?

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