A disillusioned honeybee from the safe, regulated confines of a garden crashlands in the wilderness territory of a brutal dictator - a wolf spider - and has to survive on the ground whilst trying to regain the power of flight.
Two neighbouring spheres of influence - the garden and the wilderness - are populated by invertebrates and flowers. Two themes are explored in this social allegory - conformity at an individual level, and the dynamics of global conflict - both of which impact heavily upon the lives of the protagonists. The story begins in spring with the trials and tribulations of the honeybee, encountering various exotic and ferocious creatures before resolving the affliction which prevents her from flying. In summer, the honeybee becomes involved in global politics as conflict between the garden and the wilderness looms.
Those readers familiar with the Bible will recognise the names Barak, Deborah, and Sisera; together with the diminutives Zeb and Naph; from the Book of Judges. It will not spoil the ending for heathen readers, hopefully the majority, to know in advance that the spider suffers a fate similar to that of his Biblical namesake.
Work on A Spider Ballet began in 1994, nearly three years before the rightwing socialist regime of the New Labour Party was installed, but the script was not completed until this vision of a dystopian ‘garden’ society, which becomes a victim of its own wealth and codified conformity, was confirmed in the mind of the author.
The received wisdom of the credit boom has turned out to be illusory in that much of the largesse will now have to be repaid through a period of austerity. An unfortunate and predictable consequence of Brownian economics, a flawed system inspired by Tammany Hall politics of the nineteenth century, and until recently ‘credited’ with eliminating dreaded downturns in the business cycle. The wealth generating technology of the digital age has empowered the executive; unfettered by appropriate judicial scrutiny and given succour by the tyranny of convenience; to harass and intimidate artists, writers and critics of government policy in ways which were not foreseen in the years of liberal democracy prior to 1997.
A Spider Ballet is both allegorical and vaguely autobiographical. Readers who can recall a journey towards emotional maturity may recognise some of the flower-creature-conflicts which the honeybee encounters. Un-fortunately, psychologists working for Britain’s internal security ministry (the Home Office) screen contemporary literature for evidence of deviance or subversion to justify campaigns of harassmentsuveillance in the UK, which take place without any form of judicial hearing.
The garden is not exactly Orwellian, since there are no surveillance cameras or jails holding political prisoners. There is nothing analogous to police squads beat-ing up protesters, neither are there public protests cal-ling for change. The bees only conduct violent policing actions against alien flyers entering the garden.
There is great social pressure on the honeybees to conform to a lifestyle which, fortunately for the populist majority, is precisely the one they have naturally evolved (or been bred) to follow; but those bees who want to leave and lose themselves in the wilderness are at liberty to do so. There is no British or Soviet-style exit-visa.
The wilderness, in contrast, is ruled by a ruthless tyrant who is accustomed to exercising arbitrary power in ways not seen in England since Tudor times. This distant historical separation from our past has a down side - bourgeois complacency - in a decade which has seen the removal of traditional civil liberties in the UK by debt-sponsored, statist ideologues. The most famous leader of an elected party in Europe to mortgage his country for ideological purposes in the manner of Gordon Brown was, of course, Adolf Hitler.
The menacing spider is a familiar enough stereotype to students of twentieth century history. References to the spider as a warlord are borrowed from William Shirer’s description of Adolf Hitler in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960), though the spider’s actuarial disregard for the lives of his subjects could also be considered Stalinist, and one of his predatory police agents, taking the form of a praying-mantis, is a facsimile of Lavrenti Beria.
These monsters from human history have been recycled many times, and in many ways, for fantasy fiction. Examples are Richard Adam’s dictator General Woundwort and his police chief Vervain in Watership Down (1972), admittedly just rabbits, but anthropomorphised and chillingly recognisable.
The sketch of a dark, brooding, raging spider was penned long before Gordon Brown’s prime ministerial coronation, and the curtain rising on his true political nature; though it would be fitting, given his contempt for civil liberties, if readers were to associate the despotic spider with Gordon Brown’s smirking façade.
There has been a marked change in the civic culture of the United Kingdom in the first decade of the twenty-first century. The executive has begun its inevitable encroach upon the prerogatives of the judiciary. Inevitable in the absence of a written constitution, and for so long as a cabal of ministers are the sovereign power, cracking the whip over the supine creatures in the House of Commons and herding them through the division lobbies. The tension between garden and wilderness is portrayed as geopolitical, but an alternative interpretation would be between two conflicting systems - absolute sovereignty versus a flawed division of powers with due process for some, but not all, denizens.
Since the Labour Party came to power in 1997, UK government ministers have arrogated to themselves, and the apparatchiks who run their executive agencies, discretionary powers to criminalise without trial, the authors of works such as A Spider Ballet.
Given the antiquated constitutional arrangement of the United Kingdom, there is no judicial protection for victims of the regime who cannot afford to buy a court hearing, and therefore the only defence is to be fore-warned of the jeopardy which the artistic community in Britain, once a beacon of liberalism shining out over continental Europe, now faces in the digital age.