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More fables for our time

Moral tales with added anthropomorphic anarchy

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Stob Fewer people than I would expect seem to be aware of the American humorist James Thurber's fine self-illustrated reworking of Aesop's fables entitled Fables for Our Time.

Thurber's stories, being written in 1939, lack coverage of the digital age. I therefore humbly offer three new fables as tribute to the master, and as a species of technical supplement. Dave did my pictures.

The mouse who had broadband

Once there was a mouse who lived with his conventional nuclear family in one of those metal cabinets that the broadband ISPs set up near suburban pavements.

Inside, the box contained several fibre optic cables. These were covered in a delicious-to-mice material that acted as a dietary supplement when times were hard, and also when the mice didn't feel like going out of an evening. When a baby mouse accidentally nibbled through to the glass fibres, it didn't matter. It provided a handy surface on which to sharpen their teeth.

Thurber-esque cartoon of fat mouse looking inquisitively at a fibre optic cable

A delicious-to-mice material

Then one day, while foraging in a litterbin, the father mouse's eye fell upon a newspaper article he was eating. It was all about how the internet was the last ruin of the nuclear family.

The offspring of parents that had broadband, said the article, were invariably corrupted by photographic filth, coarsened by violent online games, and ensnared by sinister grooming. When they grew up, they went on to form teenage gangs that attacked and humiliated their elders and betters, posting the results onto YouTube.

The article was illustrated with a reproduction of a company logo that the mouse recognised: it was on the label inside the lid of "his" cabinet.

The horrified mouse rushed home at once, where he found two of his daughters grooming each other (this is actually quite normal behaviour in baby mice – it forms the bedrock of what the species over-confidently calls its hygiene routine – but in his moral panic the father mouse forgot this).

He screamed to his wife to come quick, and explained his discovery to her, and in less time than it takes you to sing Em Eye See Kay Ee Why, Em Oh Yew Ess Ee the whole family had evacuated their fibre optic cupboard and were out on the bare tarmac, searching for a better place to live.

The move did not go well. Their new home was a rather similar cabinet, except that instead of fibre optics it contained many old-fashioned telephone wires. However, within the week, five of the young ones had discovered by the empirical method that, unlike the naïve ISP, the wily old telephone company doped the insulation of its wires with cyanide, and the mother mouse herself unluckily bit into a 240V copper core and got zapped. The remaining 23 babies were all killed soon afterwards in a lightening strike that burnt out the whole thing. Although the father mouse escaped and subsequently remarried, he was never quite the same.

Moral: Though it's hairy and scary and surely won't last, rush into the future not into the past.

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