IN THE market town of Applebridge, nestled deep in middle England, Barbara is listening to Radio 4’s Today programme. It is interrupted by the shrill ring of the (landline) telephone.
Dorothy: Is that Barbara?
Barbara: Yes, Dorothy, this is Barbara talking on Barbara’s telephone.
Dorothy: It’s Dorothy, Barbara.
Barbara: Yes, Dorothy, I know it’s you. Are you all right?
Dorothy: Yes, yes. I’m fine. I just need to ask a favour, well, not really a favour, more of a point of view.
Barbara: Hmm, intriguing! Go on, ask away.
Dorothy: Well, I’ve been given a lifelong achievement award and . . .
Barbara: Really! What for? (chuckles) Achieving octogenarian status?
Dorothy: No, for my time on the town council. It’s been over thirty-five years, you know.
Barbara: Ah yes, and I bet you’ll clock up at least another ten.
Dorothy: No, no, I’ve left. I’m not on it any more.
Barbara: Really!? I thought you said you wouldn’t stand down until they carried you out of there.
Dorothy: (sheepishly) They did. Carry me out of there.
Barbara: Dorothy, I’m confused. Explain.
Dorothy: Well, I think it was all a bit of an over-reaction because I still don’t know what I said to cause Mr Spendpenny to burst into tears and collapse on the floor.
Barbara: Ah you mean Ms Spendpenny: the she, her, they, Ms Spendpenny! Didn’t you read the proclamation on the Spar noticeboard last week?
Dorothy: Oh yes, but I do keep forgetting; it’s so confusing. Anyway, I remember there was a lot of shrieking and then I was escorted from the building, gripped firmly at each elbow by the mayor and the town clerk. Next morning the mayor rang to say they would present me with this award on the condition I didn’t set foot in the town hall again, ever, for any reason.
Barbara: And you agreed?
Dorothy: Well, yes. Should I not have?
Barbara: Absolutely not.
Dorothy: But why?
Barbara: Because, Dorothy, you’ve been cancelled, that’s why!
Dorothy: Cancelled? Whatever do you mean?
Barbara: You are a victim of cancel culture. You’ve been cast out, ostracised for misspeak. If I were you . . .
Dorothy: No, it’s fine, Barbara. I think I just want to put the whole shrieking escapade behind me. Played havoc with my tinnitus.
Barbara: OK, so how can I help?
Dorothy: Well, after the presentation this afternoon, I’d like to give a short acceptance speech. So I thought I’d to read it to you first, you know, see what you think.
Barbara: All right then, read away.
Dorothy: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for . . .
Barbara: No, no no! You can’t say that!
Dorothy: Say what?
Barbara: Ladies and gentlemen! You’re making assumptions about people’s preferred gender identity. No, no, you need to say: ‘Townsfolk of Applebridge, thank you for coming,’ etc etc.
Dorothy: Oh, OK . . . Townsfolk of Applebridge, thank you for coming to the Black Boy on this . . .
Barbara: The black what?
Dorothy: The Black Boy, you know, the pub on Church Street. Remember, I’m not allowed to set foot in the . . .
Barbara: Dorothy, it’s not called that any more.
Dorothy: Isn’t it?
Barbara: No! Don’t you remember the anti-racism street protest last year by the Blair twins, Tabitha and Tarquin, home from Oxford on their Easter break? What a mess! That nice man at the newly opened barber’s shop had to replace all his windows.
Dorothy: Racism? But I thought it was a nickname for . . .
Barbara: Well, yes, but he . . . oh, it doesn’t matter. Just call it the pub.
Dorothy: The pub?
Barbara: (sigh) Oh do keep up, Dorothy!
Dorothy: OK, I’ll start again. Townsfolk of Applebridge, thank you for coming to the pub on this wonderful, snowy afternoon.
Barbara: Umm, perhaps best not to mention anything to do with the climate.
Barbara: I’ve heard the Blair twins are home for Christmas and have been seen in the Co-op buying superglue.