Night Watch
Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett

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Night Watch



time travel

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In checking these quotes, against a U.K. version, I discovered substantial differences from the U.S. edition (my original source).

These go well beyond the usual cross-Atlantic adjustments in typographical conventions, spelling, and word use. The quotes now reflect the U.K. version, IMO the superior one.

Night Watch

Copyright © 2002 by Terry and Lyn Pratchett

Truth! Justice! Freedom! Reasonably priced Love! And a Hard-Boiled Egg!

        — slogan of the People’s Republic of Treacle Mine Road
He hated being thought of as one of those people that wore stupid ornamental armour. It was gilt by association.
Privilege, which just means private law. Two types of people laugh at the law: those that break it and those that make it.
He had been a military man before being given this job as a kind of pension, and that was a bad thing in a senior copper. It meant he looked to Authority for orders and obeyed them, whereas Vimes found it better to look to Authority for orders and then filter those orders through a fine mesh of common sense, adding a generous scoop of creative misunderstanding and maybe even incipient deafness if circumstances demanded, because Authority rarely descended to street level.



He’d been a successful soldier, as these things went; he’d generally been on the winning side, and had killed more of the enemy by good if dull tactics than his own men by bad but exciting ones.
When you got right down to the bottom of the ladder the rungs were very close together and, oh my, weren’t the women careful about them. In their own way, they were as haughty as any duchess. You might not have much, but you could have Standards.
You got second-hand light once the richer folk in the taller buildings had finished with it. Some people kept pigeons or rabbits or pigs on their plots, or planted against all experience a few vegetables. But it’d take magic beans to reach the real sunlight in gardens like this.



[...] the thing about rooting out plots and spies everywhere is that, even if there are no real plots to begin with, there are plots and spies galore very soon.

Snapcase is the man to save us, he thought glumly. Yeah, I used to believe that. A lot of people did. Just because he rode around in an open carriage occasionally and called people over and talked to them, the level of the conversation being on the lines of: ‘So, you’re a carpenter, are you? Wonderful! What does that job entail?’ Just because he said publicly that taxes were a bit on the high side. Just because he waved.



He didn’t look around, and watch and learn, and then say, ‘This is how people are, how do we deal with it?’ No, he sat and thought: ‘This is how the people ought to be, how do we change them?’ And that was a good enough thought for a priest but not for a copper [...]

Confiscate all weapons, and crime would go down. It made sense. It would have worked, too, if only there had been enough coppers – say, three per citizen.

Amazingly, quite a few weapons were handed in. The flaw, though, was one that had somehow managed to escape Swing, and it was this: criminals don’t obey the law. It’s more or less a requirement for the job.


Logic (examples)

It wasn’t that the city was lawless. It had plenty of laws. It just didn’t offer many opportunities not to break them. Swing didn’t seem to have grasped the idea that the system was supposed to take criminals and, in some rough and ready fashion, force them into becoming honest men. Instead, he’d taken honest men and turned them into criminals. And the Watch, by and large, into just another gang.

‘Slidey Harris was unlucky at cards last night, that’s all. Played an ace.’

‘That’s an unlucky card?’

’It is if Big Tony knows he didn’t deal it to you.’

Nobby would nick anything and dodge anything but he wasn’t bad. You could trust him with your life, although you’d be daft to trust him with a dollar.
That was always the dream, wasn’t it? ‘I wish I’d known then what I know now’? But when you got older you found out that you now wasn’t you then. You then was a twerp. You then was what you had to be to start out on the rocky road of becoming you now, and one of the rocky patches on that road was being a twerp.


Time Travel

‘The riot was over the price of bread, I understand.’

No. The protest was over the price of bread, said Vime’s inner voice. The riot was what happens when you have panicking people trapped between idiots on horseback and other idiots shouting ‘yeah, right!’ and trying to push forward, and the whole thing in the charge of a fool advised by a maniac with a steel rule.

Ninety per cent of most magic merely consists of knowing one extra fact.




She was wearing a red off-the-shoulder evening dress, an impressively large wig and quite a lot of jewellery.

‘Yes, it costs a lot of money to look as cheap as this, sergeant,’ she said, catching his expression.

‘That’s how it goes. Meetings in rooms. A little diplomacy, a little give and take, a promise here, an understanding there. That’s how real revolutions happen. All that stuff in the streets is just froth . . .’
Why did I wait until I was married to become strangely attractive to powerful women? Why didn’t it happen to me when I was sixteen? I could have done with it then.



‘The world balances out, you see. A corrupt man in a good world, or a good man in a corrupt one . . . the equation comes out the same way. The world does not deal well with those who don’t pick a side.’

None of them had ever been taught anything. They’d learned, to a greater or usually a lesser extent, from one another. And Vimes knew where that road went. On that road coppers rolled drunks for their small change and assured one another that bribes were just perks, and it got worse.

‘I know that you are a man after my own heart.’

Vimes considered the anatomical choices.

‘That would be broadly correct, sir,’ he said, ‘although I would not aspire that high.’

‘Don’t put your trust in revolutions. They always come around again. That’s why they’re called revolutions. People die, and nothing changes.’
Sometimes it’s like watching a wasp land on a stinging nettle: someone’s going to get stung and you don’t care.

One of the hardest lessons of young Sam’s life had been finding out that the people in charge weren’t in charge. It had been finding out that governments were not, on the whole, staffed by people who had a grip, and that plans were what people made instead of thinking.

People on the side of The People always ended up disappointed, in any case. They found that The People tended not to be grateful or appreciative or forward-thinking or obedient. The People tended to be small-minded and conservative and not very clever and were even distrustful of cleverness. [...]

As soon as you saw people as things to be measured, they didn’t measure up.



They were not used to marching. Their normal method of progress was the stroll, which is not a recognized military manoeuvre, or the frantic withdrawal, which is.



The city was run by a madman and his shadowy chums so where was the law?

Coppers liked to say that people shouldn’t take the law into their own hands, and they thought they knew what they meant. They were thinking about the normal times [...] But at times like this, who did the law belong to? If it shouldn’t be in the hands of people, where the hell should it be? People who knew better? Then you got Winder and his pals, and how good was that?

‘You will not shoot me, you young idiot. That would be murder,’ said the captain calmly.

‘Not where I’m aiming, sir.’

‘In the circumstances, sergeant, I think we should set our sights a little higher—’

‘Well, yes, we could,’ said Vimes [...] ‘But . . . well, Reg, tomorrow the sun will come up again, and I’m pretty sure that whatever happens we won’t have found Freedom, and there won’t be a whole lot of Justice, and I’m damn sure we won’t have found Truth. But it’s just possible that I might get a hard-boiled egg.’

Admittedly they got fewer the higher you went, but by accident or design every army needs, in key if unglamorous posts, men who can reason and make lists and arrange for provisions and baggage wagons and, in general, have an attention span greater than a duck. It’s their job to actually run things, leaving the commanding officer free to concentrate on higher matters.
Cities were to be laid siege to, or defended. They weren’t for fighting in. You couldn’t see, you couldn’t group, you couldn’t manoeuvre and you were always going to be up against people who knew the place like their own kitchen. And you definitely didn’t want to fight an army that had no uniform.

It wasn’t a decision that he was making, he knew. It was happening far below the areas of the brain that made decisions. It was something built in. There was no universe, anywhere, where a Sam Vimes would give in on this, because if he did then he wouldn’t be Sam Vimes any more.

‘The best place for urban fighting is right out in the countryside, sir, where there’s nothing else in the way.’



‘It’s always worth thinking about who your enemy really is,’ said Vimes, tugging at the barricade.

‘How about the man who’s trying to stick a sword into you?’ said Sam.

‘That’s a good start,’ said Vimes. ‘But there are times when it pays to be a little less tightly focused.’

‘Ave! Duci novo, similis duci seneci [...]
‘There’s been fighting, and here you are with all your arms and legs and walking around in the gods’ good sunlight. That’s winning, that is. You’ve won, see. The rest is just gravy.’



He held the flag like a banner of defiance. ‘You can take our lives but you’ll never take our freedom!’ he screamed.

Carcer’s men looked at one another, puzzled by what sounded like the most badly thought-out war cry in the history of the universe.



When we break down, it all breaks down. That’s just how it works. You can bend it, and if you make it hot enough you can bend it in a circle, but you can’t break it. When you break it, it all breaks down until there’s nothing unbroken.

text checked (see note) Apr 2005; Jul 2020

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Graphics copyright © 2003 by Hal Keen