Can’t Write, Won’t Write by Chris Green
The Conference Room is the largest space in the Resource Centre. Seated, it holds about forty, depending on how the tables are arranged. Around twenty attend our monthly Neighbourhood Coordination meetings. Susie Kew is the Community Liaison Officer for Camelot Housing, the largest housing association operating in Barbridge. Susie wears a short skirt and sits opposite me. Throughout the meeting, she lets her skirt run slowly up her endless legs, seemingly for my benefit. None of the other delegates, male or female, appear to even notice her, but perhaps they are not so well positioned.
I put Susie’s behaviour down to harmless flirting. These meetings are, after all, pretty boring. The flirting appears to be Susie’s way to amuse herself while the delegates witter on about neighbourhood policing, inclusion initiatives, and community safety, punctuated only by Reverend Gandy’s update on the strange goings-on at St Decuman’s Church. Susie’s display is sufficient to distract me, and this is probably how I come to miss Sergeant Fricker’s report on the UFO sightings over the Toker’s End estate. There have apparently been a dozen independent sightings of mysterious craft over the Queen Elizabeth Recreation Ground in the past month, occurring around dawn and dusk.
Barbridge is a sleepy suburban town in the West of England with a population of ten thousand, and there have been no alien sightings in the area prior to this for a number of years. Not since the overspill sightings from Warminster, sixty miles away, back in the nineteen-seventies. Well before my time. But it is understandable there is some concern in the community about the fresh outbreak.
Instead of leaving the meeting in a state of anxiety about the perceived threat to our survival, I leave in a state of arousal. This is added to when, out of the blue, Susie invites me to join her for a lunchtime drink at BrewHouse. As it’s Friday, I reason why not? Nothing much goes on at the centre at the tail end of the week, unless someone has booked an event here on a weekend, and this week they haven’t, so I tell Susie I will just grab my things and I will be with her.
I would have gone along, blissfully unaware of any impending alien invasion, were it not for Councillor Jim Straight engaging me in conversation about volunteers for the floodlit three-a-side wheelchair rugby or some such minority sporting endeavour that Barbridge Council is invested in. Are we still prepared to offer volunteer support for the rest of the season in light of the new revelations about extraterrestrials, he wants to know. Rather than show that I haven’t been paying attention at the meeting, I wait for Jim to explain what he means, which he does in his familiar laboured fashion. Without simply telling him to sling his hook, a short conversation with Jim is unlikely.
As Susie and I finally leave the building, she notices my change of humour.
‘I saw you talking to Councillor Straight,’ she says. ‘He’s got you worrying about the UFOs, hasn’t he? I’m sure there’s nothing in it, Sean. And even if there is, the men in black have probably been mingling quietly amongst us, undetected for months, years even. Darius Go could be an alien, don’t you think? All that Gong Bath and Ear Candling nonsense. You have to admit, Darius is a little odd.’
‘You’re probably right,’ I say. ‘On both counts. Perhaps the UFO sightings have something to do with the season of sci-fi films they’ve been showing at the Arts Centre. They’ve had Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Independence Day and War of the Worlds.’
‘Or they’ve been showing the films at the Arts Centre to cash in on all the local sightings.’
‘I’m sure it’s something of nothing, anyway,’ I say. ‘I was a bit lazy at school and put into the Can’t Write, Won’t Write group for wayward students. We were given off-the-wall assignments designed to inspire us. Mine was related to the psychology of inclusion. I discovered that following an individual UFO sighting, to get in on the act, their friends, neighbours, assorted aunts and uncles, and even their aunts and uncles’ gardeners and their gardeners’ hairdressers would add themselves to the ones who had witnessed the mysterious shapes in the sky. So that would account for the large numbers.’
‘Best we forget about it, don’t you think?’
‘This might help, then,’ Susie says, offering me a ready-rolled spliff from a fancy green packet. ‘A friend of mine ships these over from California.’
‘The spliff seems to do the job. As we make our way to BrewHouse, my thoughts become noticeably lighter. Although I pass it every day, I have never been inside. With its microbrewery and constantly changing interiors, I have always considered it might be too trendy for community workers on their lunch breaks. The bar area is dimly lit and the low ceiling makes it seem smaller than it appears from the outside. It is designed perhaps to make the space seem more intimate. To accompany your craft beer, cosmopolitan or mojito, you can order from a lunchtime menu of Italian bites, bruschetta, calamari, pizza and risotto. If you can find a table to eat them at. It is a popular bar. Fortunately, there is a terrace area at the back and Susie and I plump for this.
It may be down to the lingering effects of Susie’s doobie, but I do not notice them at first, which is alarming, because once you spot them, the men in dark suits and Oakley sunglasses lurking in the alcove at the rear of the terrace are hard to miss. These shady figures seem out of context in a lunchtime leisure situation. There is something other-worldly about them as if they are there but not there. As if, they might at any moment vanish in a waft of escaping vapour, much like that overused CGI special effect in surrealist mysteries. While on the face of it, it is still unlikely that the reports are dependable, I find it difficult not to connect them with the UFO sightings. While Susie hasn’t said as much, I am sure she feels the same but is trying to hide it.
The men in black don’t evaporate before our eyes, and although there is still an air of menace about them, Susie and I become used to their presence. As we order our food and chat about Nordic Noir, The Rites of Spring, and Schrödinger’s Cat, they disperse. We wait for our pizzas to arrive and chat about Joan Miró, Syd Barrett and Stanley Kubrick, one or other of them flickers in and out of sight amongst the lunchtime crowd.
Eventually, they leave and the atmosphere inside BrewHouse becomes more congenial, and the temperature appears to rise a degree or two. The service at the bar speeds up, and the tension leaves the faces of the lunchtime revellers. Our food arrives and we order a bottle of Bardolino to help it along. I don’t think Susie and I are planning to do much work this afternoon.
I retrieve my Kangoo van from the Resource Centre car park and follow Susie in her Mini to her flat in Sutton Bassett, three miles away. We encounter nothing untoward along the way. But why would we? It’s all too easy to get taken in by the crazy stories you hear day to day that have no veracity. Susie and I use the afternoon instead to get to know one another better. Thoughts that we might not be alone in the universe are returned to the pages of Phillip C. Dark where they belong.
We discover we are both fans of The Simon Somerset Sextet, admirers of Juan Loco’s art, and both enjoy Leif Velásquez’s films. It is good to be away from the office and take time out for some pleasurable r and r. Susie is stimulating company in every sense. I would be happy to stay longer, but I have to get home to feed Elvis. I can’t even remember if I gave him his gourmet pouch this morning.
It is dark, and the street lights are out along Avalon Way. The roadblock is still unexpected. It is a resilient-looking defensive barrier manned by military personnel. Up ahead. I see the flashing blue lights of a battalion of emergency service vehicles. Sergeant Crowley introduces himself. He has a grave, soldierly look about him. He tells me I must turn back. He seems reluctant to tell me what the emergency is. But I stay on the case, and he eventually confides that there is an unidentifiable craft in the field that Berkeley Homes is surveying for the new luxury housing development. He cannot tell me more, he says, but I really do have to turn back, or he will have to take me in. I don’t much fancy army detention, so it is I end up back at Susie’s.
‘I imagine it’s classified,’ I say to Susie. ‘But it might be worth looking online to see if anything has leaked out. You are better at research, I imagine.’
‘That’s a cop-out, Sean,’ Susie says. ‘But you are probably right. My research credentials aren’t too shabby. Why don’t you make us a cup of tea?’
When I return with the tea and biscuits, Susie looks flustered.
‘There’s nothing definite here about this particular incident,’ she says. ‘But there are literally thousands of pages of posts on UFO sightings and men in black, and that’s just in the UK. A majority of these are within sixty miles of here. It would take me all night to sift through them and then a bit.’
‘I wondered if that might be the case.’
‘Among the random facts I uncovered was that there were over 137,000 sightings of UFOs in the UK in the first six months of the year and many of these claim to have known someone who has been abducted. And in County Mayo on the West Coast of Ireland, 87% of people have seen something unexplainable in the sky or know someone who has. You get big numbers when you ask questions in a certain way, I suppose. It definitely supports your Can’t Write, Won’t Write exercise conclusion. ….. Look! We don’t want to be doing this. I have a much better idea. Let’s call it a day and relax a bit. We’d be much more comfortable upstairs.’
‘I was hoping you might say that,’ I say. ‘I’ll just phone my brother to get him to look in on Elvis, and I’ll be right with you.’
When I drive home the following morning, the road is clear. There is no trace of the roadblock, and the housing development field is empty. No hint that there has been any violation. What is going on? My head is spinning. Just as I am getting back into the van, I get a call from the security company. All the alarms at the Resource Centre have been triggered. It’s a Saturday and the centre is closed. I am down as a keyholder. Am I able to attend, the call centre operative wants to know.
‘All of the alarms?’ I ask. ‘You realise there are sixty-four cameras in the centre? That means the intruders forced entry and have been into every corner of every room and gone up onto the roof with the alarms sounding.’
‘It looks that way, yes,’ the operative says. ‘Or it could be what we refer to as an Apocalyptic Event. An Act of God like an earthquake or a tsunami or something.’
‘Or an alien spacecraft landing, even,’ he adds, laughing. ‘But it’s probably not going to be any of those, so I would say intruders have been picked up by every camera in the centre. You’re on your way, are you?’
There are bound to be ups and downs in the course of a working week. You have to take the rough with the smooth. Community work may not be well paid, but at least my role is varied. On Monday, assuming that there hasn’t been a localised earthquake or tsunami, and assuming that aliens haven’t taken over the Resource Centre or spirited me away over the weekend, we have an Eco Fun Day planning meeting, a Gangsta Rap workshop, the Church of Jesus Christ Annual General Meeting, and a heat for the Barbridge and District All-Comers Over 70s Indoor Bowls Championship. I wonder what surprises these functions might have in store. As a Resource Centre Coordinator, you never know what to expect. And on Tuesday, I think we have a Health and Safety Executive audit. That is sure to be a hoot. Our H and S Officer, Neville disappeared without a trace last November.
Copyright © Chris Green, 2022: All rights reserved