Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon by Chris Green
I’ll start at the end. Jonny Bisco is dead. He met his maker in October 2009 when his Moto Guzzi motorcycle skidded off the road in a freak thunderstorm near the small town of Bovey Tracey on the edge of Dartmoor. He was sixty four years old. You may not have heard of Jonny Bisco yet, but the chances are, you will. Even now. Even though he has been dead for seven years, his star is rising. Posthumous fame is more frequent than you imagine. Think Van Gogh, Kafka, Jesus.
Who was Jonny Bisco, you must be wondering? It is difficult to pigeonhole him but were it not for him you would be without many of the things that you take for granted. You would not have a tiger in your tank. You would not be changing rooms or baking off. You would not have a selfie stick or be enjoying free selfie tuition at your local college on a Thursday evening. Jonny Bisco was undoubtedly an enigma. So let’s establish what we do know about him.
Jonny Bisco was born to Ron and Anne Bisco, the seventh of seven sons. Growing up in Barnstaple in the post-war years, Jonny was a gauche and gangly child. Giving his elder brothers a wide berth and avoiding the gangs and cliques at the Devon schools he attended, he developed a solitary persona, seeking out the places that he knew his contemporaries would not. If he had a best friend, it was probably an imaginary one. He was habitually drawn towards the unusual and fascinated by the unexplainable. At a very young age, he was known to retire to his room for days on end to read the works of Nikola Tesla or the teachings of Krishnamurti. He devoured the early science fiction novels of Kurt Vonnegut and Theodore Sturgeon with equal relish. On rainy days, he often took to going on long walks on the moors to contemplate the nature of the universe and perhaps to seek congress with aliens.
Remarkably, there is no record of Jonny Bisco from 1963 onwards. Until recently, there was little interest in what he might have been up to. But as we begin to realise his monumental importance as an innovator, speculation regarding his whereabouts during the lost years abounds. Was he in hiding or could he have been using another name? Or many names? Was he studying the occult on a barge in Burma or had he perhaps been kidnapped by extraterrestrials? No-one knows.
I first became aware of Jonny Bisco a week or two ago when I was researching for a short story about an eccentric inventor. I found that the patents for virtually everything I had mentioned in the draft of the story were actually owned by him. Somehow, over the years he had accumulated a prodigious portfolio. The patents for the plug and play pet rock, the edible pen and the silent trumpet that in the story I had attributed to my character were items already patented by Jonny. Each time I tried to substitute another unlikely invention, I found that this too had already been thought of by Bisco. Imagine someone else thinking of a USB frog, an invisible kettle or a luminous badger. It was uncanny. When I tried to bring a little more realism into the tale by having my protagonist come up with a self-cleaning, solar-powered smartdog and a universal healing balm, it turned out that Jonny had also thought of these and patented the ideas.
I wondered if other people were aware of Jonny Bisco’s clandestine enterprises but no-one at the office where I worked seemed interested. They were an incurious lot at Ideas R Us. When I brought the subject up with my partner, Carrie after dinner one evening, she said, you’re not going to go off on one of your flights of fancy, are you, dear? She reminded me of the time I became preoccupied with the idea that lines in the sky left by planes might contain chemicals that were being used as a form of mind control, before I found out they were after all just lines in the sky. She told me that I was so obsessed with my writing I no longer spent any time with the children. I argued that at eighteen and nineteen, they no longer needed to be mollycoddled. Besides, I said Simon spent most of his time at his girlfriend’s and Garfunkel was out of his head the whole time. I managed to parry the inevitable ‘and whose fault is that’ with a compliment on Carrie’s casserole.
I decided to phone my friend, Grant. Grant would surely know something about Jonny Bisco. He read the Financial Times and watched Newsnight.
‘Good to hear from you Chet,’ he said. ‘Is it about the pigeons?’
‘Not the pigeons, this time, Grant,’ I said. ‘The pigeons are fine. I’m calling about Jonny Bisco. Have you heard of him?’
‘You mean Jonny Bisco, the snakes and ladders magnate?’ he said. ‘Didn’t he die in a ballooning accident a while back?’
‘Is there …… maybe not another Jonny Bisco?’ I said.
‘Just kidding you, Chet,’ said Grant. ‘You are clearly referring to Jonny Bisco, the wish fulfilment engineer who grew the magic poppies.’
‘That sounds like him,’ I said.
‘Dreamer of the Year 2001,’ he continued. ‘Runs the Dreams Come True corporation.’
‘That’s definitely the fellow,’ I said.
‘Sorry Chet,’ he said, laughing. ‘I made that one up too. …… But look here! You just don’t hear about some of these innovators. They don’t make the front pages. They keep a low profile. Have you heard for instance of David Sun?’
‘No,’ I said.
Sun? What kind of name is Sun? I wondered if Grant was still winding me up.
‘Sun founded Kingston Technology,’ said Grant. ‘Flash drives and flash cards. He is worth billions. What about Harvey Ross Ball, the inventor of smiley faces? Or Gary Dahl who invented the pet rock? Jonny Bisco is probably just another in a long line of diffident maverick inventors.’
Once you become aware of a word, a name, an object or a situation that is new to you and your brain has registered it, you begin to notice it all the time. Somehow it was there all along without you realising it. The newly-discovered word or name or object or situation comes up in conversation, in the paper, on the news, on the posters at tube stations and in the book you are reading. Suddenly, it is everywhere. You wonder how it was that you did not notice it before, especially because you now realise that whatever it is has been around for a long time. I’m sure that you must have experienced something like this. If you google it, you will find that this is called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, sometimes referred to less colourfully as frequency illusion.
Following my conversation with Grant, Jonny Bisco’s profile seemed to grow exponentially. Most days, I would see his name in the local paper in connection with something or other. As I made my way through the Saturday shoppers, I’d hear his name. People would be talking about him in the queue for cinema tickets and at supermarket checkouts. His picture began appearing on adverts on the side of buses for a range of products. He featured in the tabloids I found left on train seats, then the broadsheets. His name began to appear in the credits at the end of TV shows, new ones and repeats of old favourites. He had a Wikipedia page. This kept updating. I may have imagined it but thought I saw him on the cover of Time magazine. He was becoming a popular culture icon. He was even on the cover of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I’d owned the album for years and I’d never noticed his face there before.
I felt certain none of these instances had been there until recently. At least, I thought I was certain but truth be told, I just didn’t know anymore. Several times I asked Carrie what her view is but she now seemed to have stopped speaking to me altogether. Simon and Garfunkel too were conspicuously silent at meal times. In fact, they were not there at meal times. Or any other time. Apparently, they had both left home. Grant was no longer answering my calls. Ideas R Us had suspended me. My world was falling apart. I did not know which way to turn. Was that the Bisco browser that has appeared on the desktop with an advert for the Bisco Bank? Without warning Jonny Bisco appeared as a Facebook friend. He began trolling me on twitter. Everything appeared to be closing in.
Perhaps I did not start at the end. I don’t think it was the end. I just wanted it to be the end. Perhaps it was just the beginning. How could all this be happening if Jonny Bisco were dead? Perhaps he survived the motorcycle accident. Perhaps there was no motorcycle accident. Perhaps there was no motorcycle. I have just checked his Wikipedia entry. There are now a dozen Jonny Biscos, all offering different information. Does Jonny Bisco operate outside the normal parameters of existence? Is he a time traveller? A time traveller, hungry for recognition and hell bent on acquisition, who keeps coming back for more.
In which case, prepare yourself. Jonny Bisco will appear in your life soon.
© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved