Sven of Halmstad

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Sven of Halmstad by Chris Green

Church attendance had been dropping for years. In the age of science and discovery, it seemed no one was able to swallow the fantastic tales of strife and salvation in the middle east as the basis for their belief. Stories like this might be OK for a fantasy novel, but not as the central creed for a major religion. Miracles about rising from the dead and walking on water did not fit well into rational twenty-first-century thinking. As the result of several emergency meetings of the General Synod of the Anglican Church, it was agreed that the Bible itself needed a refresh. As it was a major doctrinal issue, there was resistance within the group, but the decision was eventually made to appoint someone to rewrite the Holy book.

Tom Golfer had little published work but decided to apply for the post anyway. He was astonished when he was selected for interview. He had expected the shortlist to be made up of serious doctrinal scholars. At the interview, in front of a panel of priests in colourful clerical clothing, he put forward some radical, even frivolous ideas. Much to his surprise radical thinking seemed to be what many of the Synod were looking for. Many of the stories in the great book were tired and redundant, they told him. It needed a new approach if people were to be drawn back into the flock. Tom pointed out that this in itself was a tired metaphor. Apart from a faction led by The Bishop of Bridgewater and The Bishop of Brighton and Hove, two notorious reactionaries, the Synod agreed that metaphors were one of the Bible’s major drawbacks. Interpretations of some of the big stories in the book had been a problem over the years. The story needed a more realist approach.

Tom was completely overwhelmed when he was appointed. Just think, his girlfriend Natalie said, when he told her the news in the massage parlour that night, The Holy Bible by Tom Golfer. Modest as he was, Tom tried to play this down.

It’s only the Church of England’s version,’ he said. ‘I can’t see the Catholics going for it. It was only recently they decided to drop the Latin version. And it will be a definite no-no to the Orthodox Church.’

But, it’s a start,’ said Natalie. ‘They might get you on one or two of the hymns as well.’

Perhaps I could drop in Stairway to Heaven,’ said Tom.

Or Heaven is a Place on Earth,’ said Natalie, continuing with her deep tissue massage.

One step at a time, I think,’ said Tom, turning over to give her access to some bits she had missed. ‘I’ve got to rewrite the Bible first. It’s quite a big book, you know.’

Then you should make it smaller,’ said Natalie.

You know what? I think I will,’ said Tom.

Tom set about the task with gusto. He jettisoned the Old Testament completely. All thirty-nine books were anachronistic. Darwin had all but seen off the Creation myth. It was now hanging by a thread, believed only by a handful of desperate die-hards. The books from Exodus onwards were at best an unreliable chronicle of a small part of the world. Even the more engaging stories of Moses, Jonah and Job had no relevance to people with no interest in Jewish history. The interminable scuffles in the Middle East in the present day were putting more people off the faith by the minute. No one wanted to read any more stories about the troubled region than the ones that they were fed daily on the news.

The idea behind the new Bible would be to show a good person living a good life and passing on wisdom of how people could get along with one another and share. There would be no place for war and suffering in the narrative, so Tom decided to move the action to Scandinavia, a relatively peaceful part of the world. He replaced Jesus of Nazareth with Sven of Halmstad. A majority of the Synod had agreed with him that the virgin birth was a big stumbling block to credence of the New Testament. So, Sven of Halmstad was, in the words of the hymn, begotten not created. Tom, however, allowed God no part in his begetting. Sven’s parents were Axel and Alva Jorgenson. Both of them were lumberjacks. Sven, like Jesus, was a carpenter. He made log cabins and stylish furniture for the poor at very reasonable prices. Sometimes, if a particular family was in extreme need, he would build them a home and furnish it for nothing. In his spare time, he helped out at a hospital, one of the very first hospitals in fact. He also ran a small rescue centre for animals.

Sven had an outgoing personality and got along well with everyone he met. He had a natural talent for communication and spent hours giving speeches in the town square in Halmstad. He rallied against the iniquities of the political system of the time. He spoke against the idea of fighting and about the benefits of helping others. He talked about respect for all living things and the importance of being in harmony with mother earth.

Where there is love there is life,’ he was fond of saying.

And ‘the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’

Anger and intolerance are the enemies of understanding.’

His maxims and aphorisms were easy for people to understand. They were not hidden behind metaphor. Word about the wisdom of the great man spread rapidly. His speeches drew hundreds of people, all anxious to follow in his footsteps. They came from as far away as Gothenburg and Malmö to listen. One time, a group of merchants came by boat from Copenhagen and inspired by Sven’s speeches vowed to reduce their prices and give all of their profits to worthy causes.

For each of our actions there are consequences,’ Sven would say to his audience. ‘You cannot plunder your natural resources. If you cut down a tree to build your house, then you should plant another in its place.’

And, ‘Children are a delight, but you should only have as many children as you are able to look after.’

His plain speaking won people over.

There was a difference of opinion about whether Sven should have a bloodline. Should he be a one-off messiah selflessly eschewing personal relationships for the greater good? Or, in this day and age, would painting him as a loner with no family make him come across as being a bit weird? Tom reasoned that even though he would not be the Son Of God as Jesus had been, the strength of his message alone would be enough to set him up as the saviour. He would be the perfect role model. He would bring about a caring peaceful society. After a few exchanges with the Synod, Tom took the bold step of allowing Sven to be married and have children. His wife Frida would stay in the background quietly doing good works in the community. His children, Björn and Benny would go on to form a musical ensemble writing inspirational madrigals.

To be credible, the new Bible story had to give the impression that it was written long ago. Recently rediscovered perhaps by an eminent Canterbury historian. Tom also needed to create a history of the book to put in the introduction and explain how it had been superseded by the King James Bible. He made it clear that although it did not happen overnight, Sven’s philosophy was established as the preferred viewpoint of the time. People became considerate and kind. They loved their neighbours and did unto others as they would be done by. Whenever there was a hint of trouble or dissent, Sven and his righteous followers managed to overcome it without bloodshed. Within Sven of Halmstad’s lifetime (he lived to be 104) a consensus was thus achieved all over Scandinavia. The word spread over centuries until ruthless reformists replaced it with dissident Christianity in the latter middle ages.

Despite having to accommodate Sven’s longevity, Tom stuck to the plan that the new Bible needed to be shorter than the old one. It had to take account of the reduced attention span of the Internet generation. More people would be likely to read a slim volume than a weighty tome.

If you drop it on your foot, it should not leave a bruise,’ he would joke to the Synod when he reported back to them.

Apart from the Bishop of Bridgewater and the Bishop of Brighton and Hove who were trenchant in their views on unwieldy Bibles, the voting members agreed with Tom’s line of reasoning. Some altar Bibles held the potential to be especially damaging to the metatarsals should there be an accident following an indiscretion with the communion wine, they told him. They wanted a handy pocket version that you could pull out when travelling on the tube and an eBible that you could read on your smartphone. Tom explained that his new Bible would also be the right length for a forty-seven-minute dramatisation for broadcast on commercial television. The old Bible, Tom had calculated would take twenty-six days, without the adverts. The Creation alone would take six days to broadcast, or seven days with adverts. The costs for the CGI for a production like this would be colossal. Tom didn’t need to convince the Synod on this. They were already sold on the idea. The old Bible was out the window.

We need to be able to stop people from channel hopping during the adverts,’ he told the Bishops.

The Bishop of Milton Keynes, one of the more commercially minded of the Anglican clergy felt they would be able to fill the other thirteen minutes with adverts about the new Sven musical on the London stage and a range of Sven merchandise. ‘Just keep the theme going,’ he said. ‘Who do think we should get to play Sven in the movie?’

Tom put the final touches to the new Bible and submitted the draft to the General Synod. It came in at around 30,000 words, slightly shorter longer than Charlie and The Chocolate Factory but shorter than The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe. The King James Bible is nearly 800,000 words, much more difficult to slip into the back pocket of your Levi’s. In a last minute display of caution, the Bishops told Tom that they would need a little time to proofread it before publication and think about cover illustrations and the like. Although they were extremely grateful for the tireless work he had done, they confided that he was unlikely to get a byline. The Holy Bible by Tom Golfer might be a step too far. After all, this was a divine work. Tom wondered if the tide of opinion might be turning. He had heard rumours that Bishop of Bridgewater and the Bishop of Brighton and Hove might be winning support for their conservative stance. All along, they had branded his text a work of fiction. He had responded by saying that there was nothing wrong with that, as the old one had been a work of fiction. He wondered whether this flippant comment, from a layman, might have come across as arrogant and sacrilegious. Perhaps he should not have added, ‘a mix of horror, science fiction and the paranormal.’ He could see the hallowed faces drop even as he said it. Were one of two of the moderates now having doubts about publishing a new Bible written by someone from outside of the Church?

Tom didn’t dwell on the thought too much. Thanks to a generous advance, he was able to take an extended break, and Natalie was able to give up work at the massage parlour. He is still awaiting word on the publication of the Tom Golfer Bible. Keep an eye out for news about this and other Sven of Halmstad merchandising and spinoffs, but if you do not hear anything, it could well be that the two Bishops have gained sufficient support in the Synod to scupper the idea. In which case, for your spiritual solace, you may have to listen to tales of the supernatural from ancient Judea at a church near you for some time to come.

Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

Cor Anglais

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Cor Anglais by Chris Green

I’m guessing many of you haven’t had someone following you in the fog playing The Diabelli Variations on the cor anglais. Beethoven piano pieces aren’t something you expect to hear on a double reed woodwind instrument in a concert hall, let alone while you are taking a morning walk along the coastal path. You will be able then to understand my puzzlement. Here I am on my way to Red Rock and so is the mystery cor anglais player in pursuit. Sea mists have been building in strength throughout the year in these parts and this is the worst one we’ve had. It’s a solid sheet of dense grey. Visibility is down a matter of feet. It is foolhardy to be walking along the narrow path at all. But the dogs next door were barking furiously. I could no longer concentrate on the chess video I was watching. The so-called game of the (last) century, Bobby Fischer versus Donald Byrne. We had reached Fischer’s famous Queen sacrifice on move seventeen. There were only four moves to go but I had to get out of the house.

When I stop to allow my pursuer to catch up so that I can catch a glimpse, he stops too. But he continues playing. I have only a rudimentary knowledge of music but my understanding is that the range of the English horn is a little under four octaves while the pianoforte spans seven octaves. As Beethoven was one to make full use of the keyboard, you would have to say this interpretation of the Diabelli Variations falls short.

My phone rings. ‘Bonjour Monsieur Gibson,’ the caller says.

He continues speaking in French but slowly, as if it is not his main language. Not that this helps. My knowledge of French is almost non-existent. I blame this on my old language teacher, Mr Coot. I don’t think his heart was in it. He spent whole lessons talking about cricket or telling us about the time he met Harold Macmillan. I wasn’t able to learn much French. But argent means money, doesn’t it? And I can make out the words, fils and tuer. Son. Kill. I don’t much like where the conversation is heading. I was wondering why Paul hadn’t phoned me but I had put it down to his being too busy with his Environmental Science assignment and not because he was being held hostage. It appears he’s been kidnapped. There’s not a lot else that kidnappé can mean, is there? I can’t understand much of the rest though. What’s the point in him issuing a threat in a language I don’t understand?

I try to get the caller to speak English but he clearly wants to call the shots. When he hangs up, I still have no idea who he is, how or why he might be holding Paul or exactly what his demands are. Why does he imagine that I have any money, anyway? Since I lost my job at the software company, I have been living on handouts. Could the phonecall even be a hoax? Someone pretending to be French? To confuse the issue, shift the emphasis? Might it even be something Paul has for some reason cooked up with his friends? Probably not. It does not seem like the kind of thing Paul would do. In any case, it would be irresponsible for me to let the matter go. For the time being, I have to assume my son is being held to ransom and it is not a hoax. I need to phone the police. Unfortunately, the Emergency 999 service has been suspended and I don’t have enough credit to phone the 118 Directory Enquiries services to get a number.

It is getting murkier by the minute. I need to take stock and get to a phone I can use. I remember my old chess buddy, Krzysztof lives close by, in a static home in the holiday park. He rents it cheaply during the winter months and I haven’t seen him for a while. Krzysztof is a resourceful man. He is one of those fortunate people that know how to get out of difficult situations. I’m certain he will be able to help. He will know what I should do.

I give him a call and explain my predicament.

Strange things are happening to us all, my friend,’ he says. ‘These days, day is night and black is white.’

I agree with him. Things are indeed upside down. Until recently, Paul’s future seemed guaranteed. The world was crying out for environmental scientists. But how quickly things change. Unlike climate, which is officially not now changing, even though everyone can see it is. I am not a great one for reading the papers but the outlook hasn’t looked good since the big squabble started. Then there was that other business. The one we voted on. It’s a shame the young did not get out to vote because it is going to be worse for them. Wherever you look now there is doom and gloom. Censored internet. Less choice. Poor prospects. Smaller horizons. You probably remember those days not so long ago when you could book a holiday in the sun. You could fly anywhere. Chess players from my club can no longer play any of the guys from overseas. Sundays have been replaced by Mondays, they are fracking in the park, packs of dogs are roaming the streets and a bottle of red wine costs an arm and a leg.

When I arrive at Krzysztof’s, I find to my horror that he has no face. I look at him but no-one is looking back at me. Between the collar of his shirt and his hat, there is a void. No eyes. No ears. No mouth. He did not warn me about this. Would it have been better if he had given me the heads-up? I don’t know. It would still have been a shock. Some of you may not have experienced it but until you get used to talking to a hat bobbing up and down and stranger still, the hat talking back, it can be disorientating. I try not to draw attention to it but Krzysztof detects I am uncomfortable and tries to put me at ease.

It’s not as unusual as you might imagine, Bill’ he says. ‘Many people from my country living here have no faces now. It’s one way we are able to stay put since that vote.’

On the other hand, they’ve made it easier to stay put,’ I say. ‘There’s not even a rail link to the continent anymore.’

© Chris Green 2018: All rights reserved

The Other Half Live

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The Other Half Live by Chris Green

I see Flagman has a new flag flying today,’ says Peter Booth, with the distracted air of a forty-something suburban professional, stuck for something to say.

Flagman?’ says Lauren Henderson, the flighty new neighbour. ‘I’m guessing that’s the fellow down the road with a flagpole in his garden.’

Indeed!’ says Peter. ‘But we’re not sure what the flag is. Levi may know. In the upper part, it has a yellow sun with a dozen sunbeams against a blue sky. The lower half is black with five yellow ovals.’

That’s the Donetsk Oblast flag,’ says Levi Gardner, with no hesitation. Levi is a senior lecturer at the university. Theme Park Engineering or something. He is the one with the old white linen jacket and the new black Land Cruiser.

Where’s that?’ says Emily Booth. Emily is the one who arranges these get-togethers for the residents of Sycamore Grove. The Booths’ is the last house before you come to open country, arguably the prime spot on the estate. They have Kettler Palmer garden furniture and the best stainless steel barbecue money can buy. Professional landscapers come in to keep the shrubs tidy and the borders in order. Emily just wishes Peter would replace her Audi. With a newer one. A bigger one. A Q7 preferably. A black one.

Donetsk, Ukraine,’ says Levi. ‘The People’s Republic. It’s was in the news a while back.’

That’s not so good, is it?’ says Emily. ‘Aren’t we supposed to like the other lot?’

Who knows what the real story is, Emily?’ says Levi. ‘Anyway, it’s probably better than the ISIS flag he had flying at Easter.’

Oh, my goodness!’ says Emily. ‘Did he really? I don’t remember that. That’s terrible.’

It was only up for a day. Flagman frequently changes his flag, Lauren,’ says Kirsty Gardner. ‘One day the Greenpeace flag, the next day the Chinese national flag. I think he likes to keep us guessing. We think he may be a retired vexillologist.’ Kirsty is also a lecturer. Consumer Sciences. Matter of fact. Hair cut short. Tortoiseshell spectacles on a chain.

Or just a nut,’ says Levi.

But he gives us something to talk about.’ says Peter. ‘Little happens around here, most of the time.’

………………………………………………………………………

A flag is a piece of coarse fabric usually rectangular, with a distinctive design. It is most commonly cut in the ratio of two to three or three to five. Historically used for signalling, flags are now also used for decoration. Designs include stripes, crosses, circles and divisions into bands or quarters, patterns, and principles derived from heraldry. Alternatively, the flag can display a symbol or logo, or an iconic image of perhaps Ché Guevara or Bob Marley. Sometimes there is a Moor’s head and sometimes there is Arabic script, for instance, on the Black Standard used by ISIS.

………………………………………………………………………

Let me guess. Flags,’ says Guy Salmon, arriving with his customary swagger. While others might disagree, Guy has not quite reached the stage of life where he considers himself middle-aged. He dresses accordingly. Smart casual, trousers too tight for a man of his build, loud shirts and Converse cut-offs. Guy is not slow to spot that Lauren has come without her husband, Warren. Warren is a pilot. Or is it plant geneticist? Something like that anyway. Perhaps Warren is at work. Or maybe he has taken the children to flying lessons or some extra-curricular sporting activity. Guy sits himself down next to Lauren and pulls his chair up close.

I liked the flag he had with the black face in profile with the white bandana around its forehead,’ he adds. ‘That was cool.’

Corsican flag,’ says Levi. ‘It’s a Moor’s head, and on the original flag, the bandana used to be a blindfold.’

Wasn’t Carlo Rossi, the fellow you bought your house from, Corsican, Lauren?’ says Peter.

I’m not sure. Warren and I didn’t actually meet Mr Rossi,’ says Lauren. ‘Briggs and Mortimer handled all the negotiations.’

Good old established firm, Briggs and Mortimer,’ says Emily. ‘Not like these fly by nights you hear about today.’

I’ve not seen this ….. Flagman, but it does sound as if he’s a bit mysterious,’ says Lauren, pretending not to notice that Guy has moved in closer. ‘He always seems to have his curtains drawn. And there’s that jungle round the side of the house and the old Citroen with the running boards on the drive. All this in the middle of a suburban estate. It just doesn’t fit. Who is he?’

We don’t know,’ says Peter.

You must have at least seen him.’

No, Emily and I have never seen him, Lauren.’ says Peter. ‘And we’ve lived here five years. What do you think, Dorsey? You’ve lived here the longest.’

I don’t know anyone that’s actually seen him,’ says Dorsey Otto, looking up from his tablet, where he is researching quantum theory for a story he is writing. ‘We don’t even know his name. If it weren’t for the flags changing so often, we’d think the house was empty.’

I’m told he only comes out in the middle of the night,’ says Guy.

Then whoever told you must have seen him,’ says Lauren.

I can’t remember who told me,’ says Guy.

Might it not have been Tom Golfer? He used to live next door to Flagman,’ says Peter. ‘Probably not the most reliable source. That’s a thought. Tom must be out of prison by now.’

Anyway, Lauren. You may not have noticed,’ says Guy. ‘But nobody much is out and about around here at three in the morning. This estate goes down at sunset.’

Someone told me he is the last surviving progeny of a ruthless clan of sailor monks,’ says Dorsey.

Lot of contradictions there,’ says Levi. ‘I heard a rumour that his voice can only be heard by cats.’

You don’t have any cats do you, Lauren?’ says Guy.

No, just my …… Labradoodle,’ says Lauren. Is Guy imagining it or has she undone the top button of her blouse? Perhaps she has just turned round in her chair a little.

Whoever he is, he’s as mad as a box of bats, Lauren,’ says Peter. ‘Look. Enough about Flagman. I’m going to get started on the barbecue. Anyone like another beer? We’ve got Sapporo, Coors or Tiger.’

………………………………………………………………………

Flags are put in place for people to see them. Whatever their function, they carry a message – even if the message is there is no message, I just want to fuck with your heads.

………………………………………………………………………

What do you think of the Sycamore estate, now that you’ve settled in?’ says Guy.

It’s perfect. We’re very comfortable here and adore the house,’ says Lauren. ‘Four big bedrooms and a lovely big garden. The conservatory is simply divine. Come and have a look. It faces west and gets the evening sun. And we’ve found a fabulous home help, an eastern European lady who comes in five days a week. I don’t even need to pick my clothes up off the floor, Guy, or empty the dishwasher. And I don’t even have to pay her the minimum wage.’

You must let me have her number,’ says Guy.

I am glad you were able to come round,’ says Lauren. ‘It can get a little lonely here in the evenings in this big house when Warren is …… away, especially now Tristan and Fabian have gone back to Charterhouse.’

I feel the same, Lauren.’

You live on your own, do you, Guy? I’m surprised. What with your red Ferrari and all.’

Guy is not sure if he detects irony in her voice or not. ‘Yes I do,’ he says. ‘Geraldine and I now only communicate through solicitors.’

Oh dear. I hope you have a good one.’

I do,’ says Guy. ‘But so does she and I suspect I’m paying for them both.’

So you are at a bit of a loose end.’

Everything on an estate is geared to life around the hearth with the family, isn’t it? There’s only so many times you can mow the lawn or polish the …. car. Since Geraldine and I split up I often find myself twiddling my thumbs.’

Is that a euphemism?’

Ha, ha. Anyway, I’m really pleased you invited me round. I had the impression you were giving me the brush off at Peter and Emily’s barbecue.’

A girl has to play a little hard to get. Red or white?’

Red please.’

Then later on, mmm …… perhaps much later on, as you’ve not got to get back, maybe we could go and stake out our Flagman. I’m intrigued. I’m sure there must be an interesting story there.’

Did I hear you say the other day that you were in publishing?’

I used to be a copywriter for a fashion magazine.’

Fashion magazine, eh? That explains the ….. cut of the dress you’re wearing.’

Not exactly, no. I wore this dress to give you a glimpse of my French lingerie. You men can be a little slow on the uptake sometimes.’

………………………………………………………………………

Tell me, Guy,’ says Lauren. ‘What exactly is it that you do?’

I’m in commodity trading.’

Commodity Trading eh? Nothing to do with this Tom Golfer is it?’

Imports and exports.’

Ah, I see! It’s just that the other day you changed the subject after Peter asked if Tom Golfer was out of prison.’

Did I?’

And when you were in the bathroom just now, I was looking at your phone.’

That’s not a very ladylike thing to do. I don’t think you should have done that.’

Perhaps, Guy. I’m not very ladylike. But you can relax. I just saw that you had Tom’s number on a missed call. I didn’t find anything incriminating. Apart from your colourful …….. browsing history. But you were in the bathroom quite a long time, Guy. Were you getting ready to give me another little …… surprise.’

You’re shameless.’

Afterwards, we can go round and see what Flagman is up to.’

………………………………………………………………………

A flagpole with a pulley mechanism is generally used to display a flag, The flag is fixed to the lower end of the cord, and is then raised by pulling on the other end. The cord is then tightened and tied to the pole at the bottom. If a flag is raised then someone must have been present to have done so. So where is our phantom flag raiser? …….. Ah, here he is. He is just about to put up a new flag. This is quite a pretty one.

………………………………………………………………………

Have any of you seen Warren and Lauren lately?’ asks Emily. ‘I thought they might be along, as it’s such a lovely evening.’

No. Not seen the Hendersons for a while,’ says Kirsty Gardner. ‘Lovely salad by the way. Where do you get your Parma ham?’

I can’t tell you that,’ says Emily. ‘But let’s say it’s not Waitrose.’

You haven’t been to that new German supermarket, have you, Emily?’ says Kirsty. ‘That’s not like you.’

I’ve never seen Warren Henderson,’ says Dorsey, looking up from his tablet, where he is researching Lord Lucan’s disappearance for a story he is writing. ‘The lovely Lauren always seems to come to these little soirées without him.’

Warren’s a busy man, I expect,’ says Emily. ‘Research scientist or something, isn’t he?’

MI5 agent, I heard?’ says Peter.

The Invisible Man, I think,’ says Dorsey.

And what on earth has happened to Guy?’ says Kirsty. ‘Has anyone heard from Guy? His Ferrari’s been parked in the same place on the drive all week.’

Hey, Pops,’ says a shrill voice. The Gardners have brought along their geeky fifteen-year-old, Gregory. He has been suspended from school for smoking dope and they are keeping an eye on him. He is trying to show his father something on his phone.

Not now, son.’

But Pops. You have to read this.’

Gregory, Can’t you see I’m in the middle of a conversation.’

Flagman’s got another new flag,’ I see,’ says Peter. What’s this one, Levi?’

Ah yes. So he has. I can just see it from here,’ says Levi. ‘That’s the Seychelles flag. One of my favourites.’

It looks remarkably like the design of that sweatshirt Guy was wearing when he called in with a …… package for me last week,’ says Dorsey. ‘Funnily enough, I think he said he was on his way round to the see Lauren and Warren.’

This is important, Pops. You remember what you were saying the other day about …….’

OK. What is it, Gregory?’

Gregory thrusts the phone into his father’s hand.

I can’t read that without my glasses. Can’t you make it bigger?’

You are annoying sometimes. Give it here!’

Levi hands back the phone and Gregory starts to give an overview of the report.

It is about what they describe as the alarming number of people who have disappeared without trace in the county over the last three months. They wonder if there might be a connection. Someone who lives on the Sycamore estate.’

It’s not one of those spoof sites, is it?’ says Kirsty.

No, Mother! It’s not from one of those spoof sites. This is the Examiner website. You know Examiner? A bit like The Huffington Post? …… Now, is it all right if I continue? I’ll make it simple for you. I’ll just give you a summary, shall I? The list of those who have vanished without trace it says includes Muslim journalist, Mohammed Mohammed, some dude with a Russian name with not enough vowels…….. semiconductor engineer, Hung Lo, ………. restaurateur, Carlo Rossi, …… peace campaigner, Dylan Soft, ………, and ….. shit!

Yes,’ says Levi. ‘Spit it out, boy.’

Sorry Pops. ……. The battery’s just died.’

You’re thinking what I’m thinking aren’t you, Levi?’ says Dorsey, logging back into his tablet.

I think we might be looking at …….. another flag change or two, very soon,’ says Levi. ‘Can you go into The Examiner site, please, Dorsey? See how bad this is be going to be.’

What? You think Warren, and Lauren, and Guy?’ says Peter.

And Tom Golfer too perhaps,’ says Levi.

All four, by the looks of it,’ says Dorsey, scrolling down the page.

My God! Right under our noses,’ says Emily. ‘So that’s what the flags are about.’

How is it we miss all these things going on around us?’ says Peter.

Yeah! I wonder why that is,’ says Gregory, under his breath. ‘And they’re telling me I live in a world of my own.’

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

Phone BIll

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Phone Bill by Chris Green

I read somewhere that over half of all the people in the world have never received a telephone call. Sometimes I wish I was one of these. The phone should be a comfort but it can also be a curse. Unwanted calls can outnumber the ones from family and friends. Every day, for instance, Bill phones me up from Swindon to try to sell me solar panels. It is, of course, a scam. While the numbers he comes out with are designed to look favourable, the solar panels would never be mine. His company, BiSolar just want to use my roof so that they can generate electricity to sell back to the grid and keep their directors in the lap of luxury. Bill is fully aware by now I have no intention of taking up BiSolar’s offer.

I also read that more than half the people in the world have never made a telephone call. In these days of fibre optics and satellite communication, this is a difficult statistic to believe. But whoever these people are, Bill compensates for them. Bill sits in a cubicle making calls all day. Although he must have targets to meet, I have reached the conclusion that he keeps ringing me because he is lonely. He needs someone he can talk to. He talks about the weather, his arthritic hip and Swindon Town’s problems in defence. Sometimes he gives me a tip for the 3:30 at Catterick or the 4:15 at Fontwell Park, but invariably his horse falls at the thirteenth or comes in second to last. I sense that there is a black cloud hanging over him while he is talking. I can see it poised inches above his head waiting to deposit rain. I haven’t the heart to tell him not to keep calling. For all I know, I might be his lifeline. Tracey always used to say that I had good listening skills. Had I thought of becoming a counsellor? This was, of course, before our great falling out.

Linzi is another caller from this surprising global minority. She too phones me almost daily about compensation for mis-sold PPI. She must know by now that I have never taken out PPI. I didn’t even know what PPI was until she started phoning me. Mostly though, Linzi wants to talk about which carpet she should buy for the lounge. Or what she should do about her son’s truanting from St Bartholomew’s. Linzi sometimes sounds off about her husband Derek’s drinking. I dare not tell her that Derek is probably an alcoholic. No-one should be getting through two cans of Special Brew during an episode of Emmerdale, even if it is an extended episode to build up the tension before the murder of another tractor driver.

Some days, Barry phones to tell me my life insurance has lapsed. It actually lapsed back in 1996, but Barry’s company, ZZT or some hopeless acronym at the tail end of the alphabet, is still hopeful that I might resume the payments. Barry is keen on golf and gives me detailed accounts of his bunker shots and his new putter. He updates me on his handicap, 44, I believe at last count. Although I know next to nothing about golf, I am sure this is not good. My friend, Geoffrey has a handicap of 19, and he has a wooden leg.

Wednesdays are the worst. I’m not sure why this should be so but no sooner have I got home from my shift at the packaging plant than the phone starts to ring. One call follows another throughout the afternoon. Sometimes it is Linzi first and sometimes it is Bill. For some reason, Barry’s call usually comes in the middle. Oh! I haven’t mentioned Martin yet have I? Each Wednesday, Martin phones to see whether I have changed my mind about the double glazing offer. UltraGlaze can do all my windows for a little over £3000, he says. Each time he points out that his competitors would charge up to a thousand more and they would not offer a twenty-year guarantee. Once this little charade is out of the way, Martin likes to talk about his tropical fish, which are prone to an encyclopaedia of diseases. After he has run through the latest casualties, we move on seamlessly to his amateur dramatics. The Empty House Players are doing a production The Likely Lads and he is playing Bob. He is from Streatham and is having trouble with the Newcastle accent. Each week he gives me a progress report on this and we have the same conversation about what the pub names were in the TV series. We take it in turns to name The Fat Ox, The Black Horse, The Drift Inn, and The Wheatsheaf. Martin is possibly the most tiring of all the callers. It’s a good thing he only phones once a week.

What have you been doing? Your phone’s been off all afternoon,’ Diane says, angrily. ‘She’s not there is she?’

No. I told you, Diane. Tracey moved out last month.’

But she’s still got her stuff there.’

Hardly anything, and as you have seen its all packed away in the spare room.’

H’mm. Then what has been going on? You can’t have been on the phone all afternoon.’

It is Wednesday, Diane. You know that everyone calls on a Wednesday.’

You don’t have to answer the phone, do you?’

If I didn’t answer it, then I wouldn’t be talking to you now.’

Why don’t you have caller display, like everyone else?’

Probably because CheapNet don’t do caller display. It was you that suggested CheapNet.’

It wouldn’t be so bad if you got another mobile. Or got the old one repaired.’

It’s beyond that I think. They don’t like being immersed in buckets of bleach.’

But why don’t you just put the phone down when these people ring?’

Well, you know how it is, once you get talking.’

These are salesmen, Clive. They keep you talking and before you know it you’ve bought a brussels sprout farm, or a time-share in Turkmenistan or, knowing you, Beyonce’s underwear or something.’

Diane and I have been seeing each other for several months now. We met at that supermarket pub. Oh, what’s its name? The one that is not Wetherspoons. I was minding my own business, quietly drowning my sorrows having just had a row with Tracey. Diane was on a girls night out. She became upset about something one of her friends said about what she was wearing and came over to join me. Do I look like a slut to you, she said. I said no, you don’t and somehow we ended up spending the night together. These things happen. You can’t plan everything in life. Life’s what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans. Someone famous said that. I can’t remember who. Not that I ever have. Make plans that is, but the following day Tracey having put two and two together, packed her bags and left. Her plan hasn’t changed. She has shared it with her solicitor, Mr Doonican and he keeps writing me letters regarding the sale of the house. I suppose I can count myself lucky that Tracey and I did not have children.

Diane is a few years older than me. She is divorced and lives on Canal Street. She has a fluctuating number of teenage children. They keep moving out and moving back in again, depending on their fitful relationships, their finances and their oscillating states of mind. I blame Kites. You can buy anything over the counter there and they even have a delivery service for their research chemicals and plant food. There’s one called Herbal Haze that the kids seem to like and another called Blue Cheese. And of course, the old favourite Go-Caine. Riley, the eldest is probably the worst. But Randall and Regan are nearly as bad and a couple of weeks ago we even found Rhiannon calling God down the great white trumpet after a binge on something. Rhiannon is only fifteen. It’s no wonder that Diane wants to come over and spend so much time at my house.

OK, I get your point,’ I say. ‘I’ll change my phone number. I will call CheapNet as soon as I’ve put the phone down.’

I’ll be over in twenty minutes’ says Diane. ‘It’s bedlam here with Ryan’s hip hop music. …… Do you want me to wear anything special?’

No. just come as you are,’ I say.

I’d better not do that,’ she laughs. ‘I think I ought to put some clothes on first. I’m in the bath, lover.’

I explain that I am receiving nuisance calls and CheapNet are quick to change my number. Everything is in place within twenty four hours, phone, internet, the whole caboodle. Other providers might take weeks and still charge a colossal admin fee, but CheapNet charge nothing for the service. They even have a Welsh call centre, and in answer to my query, Dewi explains that CheapNet would be offering the Caller Display facility within a matter of weeks.

There are no missed calls when I come home from working late on Friday and Diane and I are able to enjoy a pleasant weekend at the seaside, the only interruption being when on Sunday morning, Diane gets a call that Riley has been arrested in the early hours for Affray. She handles it very well. She does not rush back to bail him out or anything like that. It is not entirely unexpected, she says. Diane has a measured approach, she takes things in her stride.

I get home from an early shift on Monday and am looking forward to an afternoon nap. I put the tiredness down to the late nights we had over the weekend. But, no sooner have I got through the front door than the phone rings. It is quite a pleasant melody. Mozart I think. Or is it REM? Much better though than the old ringtone. I am thinking it must be Diane calling. She is the only one who has my new number. I wonder what she might want. I hope it’s not about Riley. We had enough about his troubles yesterday. Perhaps she has just left her keys in my car or something. I pick up the phone and am greeted by Bill’s familiar voice.

The Robins didn’t do so well at the weekend, did they?’ he says. He means Swindon Town. This is their nickname. Swindon lost four one at home to Crewe, after being one nil up with twenty minutes to go. This apparently ruins their chances of promotion.

I am too taken aback to respond or even to ask how he got hold of my new number.

He is quite happy to guide the conversation. He tells me his hip has been giving him gyp over the past few days. He thinks he may need a replacement.

I’m sorry to hear that,’ I say.

But being on a zero hours contract, I don’t know how I am going to be able to afford the time off work.’

That sucks,’ I say. I do not tell him that at the packaging plant, I do not have any kind of contract. Job security does not seem to be something that is on their agenda.

But I do have some hot tips for you,’ he says. ‘And you will get good prices if you get in quick.’

I have to say, Bill, your horses have not done so well lately,’ I tell him.

These two will,’ he says. ‘Have you got a pen handy?’

Oh, go on then. Fire away!’ I say. The question of how he got my new number is fading. I must be a soft touch.

In the 3:30 at Pontefract, Forgive and Forget,’ he says. ‘And in the 4:15 At Market Rasen, Cold Call.’

I’d better get the laptop out and get on to BetterBet,’ I say.

I almost say ‘Speak to you tomorrow, Bill. I’ll give you a ring,’ but manage to catch myself. Why would I want to phone Bill?

Forgive and Forget falls at the first. I reason that Cold Call will probably do the same. But, what makes me think of betting on Brave New World instead, I don’t know. It has no chance. It is thirteen years old and has yet to finish a race. It probably has only three legs or something. What makes me put £50 on the nose is something I cannot begin to comprehend ……… but Brave New World storms in at 100 to 1.

No sooner have I got the notification from BetterBet than the phone rings. It is PPI Linzi ringing to talk about her troubles.

Without giving me the opportunity to ask how she has got hold of my new number, Linzi begins to update me on her husband Derek’s drinking, a bottle of Bacardi during last Friday’s EastEnders special, six pints yesterday lunchtime. Half a bottle of ……. I gently put the receiver back in its cradle.

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

This Old Art of Mine

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This Old Art of Mine by Chris Green

It all began when my electric kettle exploded. One expects setbacks now and again. But, they seem to happen at the worst possible time. Because the government had for some undisclosed reason not paid my pension for two successive months, I had no money to replace the kettle.

Since I retired, I have slowly but surely become a creature of habit, pacing myself with regular cups of tea throughout the day. Eight o’clock, nine o’clock, ten, etc. With no kettle to boil the water, I began to use a small saucepan. Slower, certainly. Less convenient, for sure. But it did the job. As I listened to Toscanini’s recording of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg with my third cup of the day, I calculated that if my pension didn’t come through for another month, I would need to put the saucepan on the hob three hundred and twenty seven more times. While I could get most of my provisions from the food bank in the Methodist church, it seemed unlikely they would have an electric kettle to give away. This was not the kind of thing people donated. I needed to rethink how I spent my days.

The lightbulb moment came during the quiet passage at the end of Act 2 of the opera. I had no money, but I had plenty of Art. I had never been able to afford originals by famous artists but Art had always been my passion. I had collected posters and prints for nearly forty years. There were hundreds in the attic. I could fill the spot where the kettle was with a painting. Van Gogh’s sunflowers perhaps or Monet’s water lilies. Or, what about a Magritte or a Dalí? Might these not be more appropriate? After all, surreal ideas demanded surreal solutions.

The Magritte cloud painting looked perfect in the spot where the kettle had been. Much more calming than the noisy old kettle ever was. Inspired, I decided to replace the toaster with Picasso’s La Rêve. An abstract simplification of line and form by the master, this was altogether more pleasing. I had never liked the toaster. It was a cheap model, made in Taiwan. No matter how you set it, the toast always came out black.

Days passed but no pension payments came through. I was forced to continue to frequent the food bank. I discovered too that you could get a free meal at The Salvation Army in Christopher Street and, it seemed, unlimited cups of tea. If I planned it right, I could arrive for a late breakfast, have six or seven cups of Yorkshire’s finest throughout the morning and play one or two games of chess with Dmitri. Dmitri usually beat me but this didn’t matter. He was a good conversationalist, waxing lyrical about his shot-putting days back in Omsk Oblast. With a word in the right ear, I found I could also stay for lunch at the Sally Army and Mads was a pretty good chef. Before he lost his job through a drugs conviction, he had worked at one of the top hotels.

After lunch, I could return home for a lengthy nap on the Chesterfield. I could get through the rest of the day by opening a tin or two from the food bank, peaches in syrup perhaps or fruit salad and boiling one or two saucepans of water for my PG Tips. I could sit back and relax with an old Wagner favourite or perhaps even Verdi or Donizetti, without having to worry about shopping. Il Campanello always sounded good with my final brew of the day.

The microwave had to go. It was grey and drab and looked completely out of place alongside the new artwork, especially once I had painted a colourful Mondrian design on the kitchen door and up-cycled the kitchen cabinets into Hokusai diptychs. I tried replacing the unsightly Curry’s monstrosity with a vibrant Hockney landscape and then a Rothko multiform before settling on a brightly coloured, Kandinsky. The kitchen was taking shape.

Most of the food from the food bank came in cans so I found I no longer needed the fridge freezer. I decided to put it to rest in the shed. This left plenty of room in the kitchen for The Henry Moore sculpture I picked up for a song at an auction in Tavistock years ago. The kitchen table made good kindling. The Salvador Dalí settee fitted nicely in its place. Finally, I replaced the cooker with a large Jackson Pollock and turned the music up loud.

Outside the Bumblebee Conservation Trust charity shop on Lance Percival Street one day, I bumped into Freda Mann.

I heard about your kettle,’ Freda said. ‘I have a spare one. Would you like me to drop it round?’

That’s very kind of you, Freda,’ I said. ‘But I don’t think I have room for it.’

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

On The Origin Of On The Origin Of Species

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On The Origin Of On The Origin Of Species by Chris Green

The port of Falmouth in Cornwall boasts a rich maritime history. It has all the right features for seafaring. The River Fal has a wide estuary and Falmouth has the deepest natural harbour in Europe. It was turned from a sleepy little village where Cornish fishermen brought home their catch into the information hub of the British Empire when in 1688 the Royal Mail made Falmouth its appointed packet station. Falmouth is latterly notable for being frequent host to the Tall Ships Race and being the start or finish point of various round-the-world record-breaking voyages. The comings and goings of famous vessels have over the years put Falmouth well and truly on the maritime map. Perhaps the most celebrated visitor to Falmouth, however, was HMS Beagle on which Darwin sailed to conduct the research that would result in On The Origin Of Species.

Starting with Sir Garfield Thunder in the mid-nineteenth century, the Thunder family made their money by exploiting Falmouth’s Darwin connection. Although this particular commerce has less importance today, earlier generations of Thunders missed no opportunity to tell the world about Darwin, drawing the public’s attention to the great man’s relationship to Falmouth. Most of what you read about Charles Darwin today is the legacy of the Thunder family’s persistence. Had it not been for the myth started by Sir Garfield Thunder, Darwin might have been just another research botanist spending long hours bent over a microscope trying to put bread on the table for a growing family.

The mystery that is about to shake the very foundations of the scientific world begins one Saturday during a powercut in the middle of an unseasonal snow storm. Falmouth enjoys a temperate micro-climate and does not get a lot of this type of weather. The storm cuts through power lines. The lights in Amberleigh, the plush suburban villa where Kimberley Thunder lives and works as a psychologist, go out. Her live-in partner, debonair private detective, Ben Archer is out on a case. Kimberley, finding no candles in the obvious places, goes down to the cellar where she thinks she might find some. She has not been down here often. Attractive, well-groomed, well-to-do young ladies like Kimberley do not find themselves poking about in cellars.

In her search, she comes across a dusty old cardboard box full of her great great great great grandfather’s tattered journals. At first, she doesn’t realise what she has found, but Sir Garfield’s gilded monogram stares up at her from one of the covers. Her interest piqued, she takes them upstairs and dusts them off. There are half a dozen of them, each Morocco-bound with peeling gold leaf around the edges of the pages. Later that evening, with the electricity back on, she pulls one out and begins reading. The journal covers the year 1837. HMS Beagle has set off from Falmouth on what we think of today as The Third Voyage. Reports about the voyage jotted in Sir Garfield’s cursive handwriting begin with excitement and optimism, but as she turns the pages, the entries become graver and graver. By July, he acknowledges that the Beagle must have sunk. He does not specify the origin of his information but there are several mentions of Sidney Morse, the inventor of the telegraph.

It appears Sir Garfield is a close friend and confidant of Darwin. He is heavily invested in his friend’s mission. He reveals in the journal that Darwin has left most of the notebooks from his experiences during The Second Voyage in his possession. Pages and pages of the Sir Garfield’s journal are taken up explaining the discoveries. Sir Garfield has spoken to others in the field and feels that Darwin might be on the verge of a scientific breakthrough. It is worth noting that in 1837 Darwin has not himself formulated the theory of natural selection. At this stage, it is not on his radar that organisms which adapt to their environment tend to survive longer and produce more offspring and this, in turn, becomes the driver for evolution. He is just recording information. He admits that some of the data is unexpected and confusing but this is as far as he takes it. Although he himself does not completely understand what he is doing, Sir Garfield Thunder somehow manages to join up all the dots and comes up with the idea of natural selection that will turn our understanding of life the universe and everything upside down.

Kimberley is dumbfounded. She doesn’t know what to think. If the journal is to be believed, her family’s fortune and perhaps worse, its reputation are built on shameful lies. She shares her concern with Ben when he arrives home and asks him to do some digging, find out what he can from historical records. She feels his detection skills will be invaluable in this situation. What is actually on the public record for the time? What stories were in the newspapers in 1837 that might either substantiate or discredit Sir Garfield’s account?

The following day, with mixed feelings, Kimberley carries on reading. In the second volume, Sir Garfield ponders what to do about the discoveries. He has not yet shared them with anyone. It appears too that no-one else has found out about the Beagle. Days pass and there is no word. There is no explanation for this. It is one of those remarkable episodes in history that lack rhyme or reason. It leaves him in possession of a dangerous secret. He is afraid. With great knowledge comes great responsibility. As he sees it, he has two choices. He can come clean and reveal that the Beagle has gone under and that Darwin is dead. He could then publish what he has from Darwin’s notebooks. Or he can embellish the account and make a lot of money. After some soul-searching, he chooses the latter, writing it up as The Voyage of the Beagle. This is a teaser. It only hints at what is to come.

Ben comes up with accounts in The Times and The Manchester Guardian of the sailing of HMS Beagle in 1837 and there are occasional snippets about its progress but these are short on detail. There is not much news after the sailing. The newspaper strike of 1838, which goes on for months, means that there are no reports for this period in Britain, although the St Ives Examiner which somehow escapes the strike action carries one or two letters about Darwin and The Beagle, but none which has any concrete information. The closest Ben comes to a result is a report in Sydney Morning Herald which has the headline ‘WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE BEAGLE?’ In the report, there are suggestions that it has gone aground on the east coast of Australia, although these are not substantiated and for some reason not followed up. Needless to say, Ben can find no trace of Darwin’s notebooks from either before or after the sailing. These, where they existed, have gone missing.

Nothing to go on really is there,’ says Kimberley.

There is something that’s not quite right, though,’ says Ben. ‘I wonder if there really was a newspaper strike in 1838.’

Twelve months does seem a long period, especially before trade unions,’ says Kimberley.

Those letters in the St Ives Examiner are by someone called Eloy DeJesus. He is not a fan by all accounts. He is also mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald report. If the Beagle was in fact sunk, I wonder if Mr DeJesus had something to do with it.’

Who is this Eloy deJesus?’ asks Kimberley.

Creationist zealot. Fire and brimstone stuff,’ Ben says. ‘This fellow really does not like what he believes Charles Darwin and others of his ilk are trying to do.’

Two thousand years of routine supernatural belief to protect,’ says Kimberley. ‘He was probably not alone.’

In the third volume of the journal Sir Garfield moves the story on. He sees another opportunity. He begins to write reports of Darwin’s discoveries from the new trip. He expresses some reservations about his deceit but he justifies this as a measure for the greater good. Too long people have been fooled into believing that they were created by a divine being and put on this earth to carry out his will. Sir Garfield briefly toys with the idea that he could perhaps pass the new and completely fabricated, discoveries off as his own, but he has never been on a boat, far less sailed in all winds and weathers to the far reaches of the globe. He dismisses the idea. This leaves him with just as large a problem. How long can he fool the scientific community into thinking that HMS Beagle is still on its mission and Charles Darwin still alive? Somehow, through a series of letters to publications of the day, the ones presumably that Eloy does not have an interest in, he manages to keep the Darwin myth alive. Arguably this is a bigger achievement than the publication of The Voyage of the Beagle. It buys him time to write On The Origin of Species which is by his own admission in the journal a complete work of fiction. There were no barnacles, there were no finches and there were no pigeons. His rival, Alfred Russel Wallace, at least, has his beetles and tree frogs to evidence his own findings on natural selection.

Someone else would have come up with the idea, wouldn’t they,’ says Kimberley. ‘Sooner or later.’ She is perhaps trying to justify Sir Garfield’s actions. She wonders how much Sir Vivian Thunder, Sir George Thunder, Harold Thunder, Harold Thunder Junior or even her father Roger Thunder might have known about the great deception. She suspects that while the earlier generations of Thunders must have known, the latter-day Thunders might have had an inkling but turned a blind eye. The irony that both her parents died of a rare blood disease three years ago while on The Galapagos visiting The Darwin Institute is not lost on her. She was just twenty-six when they died.

From what I’ve been able to discover there were huge barriers in the way that stopped Darwin, I mean your great-great-great-great grandfather from publishing,’ says Ben. ‘One of these was Eloy DeJesus. It seems he was a very powerful man at the time.’

What’s puzzling me is that the world believes that Darwin lived to be an old man. I’ve seen photos of him with his long white beard,’ says Kimberley.

That’s puzzling me too,’ says Ben. ‘Perhaps Sir Garfield was a master of disguise.’

The fourth and fifth journals concern themselves with Sir Garfield’s prolonged battle with Eloy DeJesus to get On Origin of Species published. Eloy, it seems owns nearly all of the existing publishing houses and is a major shareholder in the newspaper chains of the day. Sir Garfield paints him as a formidable adversary. His jottings release bursts of invective unimaginable in a Victorian gentleman’s journal, as he rallies against this fervent creationist defender. God created everything and nothing that was created can be changed, is Eloy’s view. Every organism is in its fixed place as determined by God. Flexing his political muscle he seems to have held back the publication of On the Origin of Species for over ten years.

You would expect Eloy DeJesus to be remembered, perhaps not as a great Victorian, but for the vigour and determination of his creationist stance. His name, however, seems to have almost disappeared from the records. There are copious references to him in Sir Garfield’s journal, but apart from these Kimberley and Ben are able to find few references to the man elsewhere. The journals portray him as a man of influence second only to Sir Robert Peel or The Duke of Wellington. Why, they wonder, is Eloy DeJesus not a household name in the way that they are? How, has history so comprehensibly failed to recall such a powerful man. Could the impetus of Sir Garfield’s theory of natural selection have been so powerful that no one, not even the church cared to remember the ultimate failure Eloy’s campaign? Perhaps it became no longer sexy in the age of invention discovery to think of a wrathful bearded figure letting there be light.

Kimberley and Ben read the final volume of the journal together. It is in a more delicate state than the other volumes and some of the pages are falling apart. On the Origin of Species has just been published and the world is crying out for Darwin to appear to promote the work. Important people are heralding the sea change. Sir Garfield, at this stage, sees himself as a hero for shedding two thousand years of dogma for humankind. Once again he has two choices. He can come clean and say that he has made it all up, or he can, albeit in a limited way, pass himself off as Charles Darwin. The pages of the journal have become almost impossible to read now. They have been too badly damaged by water. It is only possible to make out the odd word.

Daguerre,’ reads Ben. ‘He mentions him a lot. Pioneer of photography. Must have been a friend of Sir Garfield’s. The word photography was first coined by Sir John Herschel in 1839, so that would be about right.’

I think that word is impersonate,’ says Kimberley.

I think you’re right,’ says Ben. Does that say beard? In all the photos we have seen of Darwin, he has this long grey beard.’

The photos are all very similar,’ says Kimberley. She has Google Images open on her tablet and is scrolling through them. ‘And – Now you come to mention it they do bear a startling resemblance to the portrait of Sir Garfield that used to be hung on the wall in the library. I haven’t actually seen a photo of him.’

Which is strange if he was a friend of Daguerre,’ remarks Ben.

Kimberley is on the Wikipedia entry for Charles Darwin now.

It’s a little difficult to explain Darwin’s nine surviving children, all born after Sir Garfield suggests that Charles disappeared,’ she says.

Quite,’ says Ben. ‘But perhaps you’ve hit the nail on the head. Emma must have been in on the collusion. These were hard times. Emma was probably struggling to keep a roof over her head and Sir Garfield may have supported her.’

But how far might he have supported her. Are you saying that these nine children would have been step-great-great-great-great aunts and uncles,’ says Kimberley. She extrapolates the information in her head. Sir Vivian Thunder, apart from his sisters Constance and Maud, would have had nine stepbrothers and sisters, and George Thunder would have had an unthinkable number of once removed relatives. She herself would probably have distant relatives in every town.

For the next few days, Ben tries to find records of Darwin’s public appearances. He visits the British Library, The National Archives, The Westminster Reference Library and the Bodleian Library, but finds he is wasting his time. Darwin apparently didn’t like speaking in public. Little is on the record of any engagements. He is famously reclusive. There seem to be just two photos of him in later life, one of him with his bald head and long grey mutton-chop sideburns and another with a long grey beard. These are used over and over again. Both of them are grainy. In the latter years, there are no reports of him at all. This is at the same time that On the Origin of Species is being translated into dozens of different languages.

Ben visits Kent, but even in Downe, Darwin’s hometown, it appears he doesn’t get out much. Everyone Ben speaks to in the village is very guarded. It feels as if there is a guilty secret that the whole village has agreed not to talk about. Darwin’s house has heavy security around it. It is closed to all comers. He reports back to Kimberley. Her Google research echoes his findings. The Darwin narrative is shrouded in mystery. No-one has ever discovered how or where HMS Beagle may have gone down. But she discovers this is not in itself unusual. Thousands of ships have disappeared without a trace, if many of them not so famous as the Beagle.

Kimberley Thunder is waiting in the BBC studio. She is about to be interviewed by historian, Geoffrey Frobisher. She is going to set the record straight. She is about to rock the foundations of accepted historical understanding. She is nervous about how her bombshell will be received. Victorian history, with Britain in her ascendency is a stronghold of certainty. Great men from every county are making their mark in all fields. In the results of Great Britons poll to be broadcast next month, Darwin has been voted Number Two, behind Churchill, but ahead of Brunel and Shakespeare. People may not be ready to accept his new status as a run of the mill botanist who gets lost at sea. To add to this, there is her family’s upstanding reputation to be considered. Why is she doing it, she wonders as she sits under the studio lights. She is taking a big risk. There is a lot at stake. The outcome depends on what spin the media put on the revelation. Just in case things go badly, she and Ben have booked a passage to Tuvalu. They have a year’s lease on a modest villa in Funafuti. Trelawney and Bilk have instructions for the sale of Amberleigh, should she decide to sell.

© Chris Green 2018: All rights reserved

Walter Funk

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Walter Funk by Chris Green

Walter Funk was a legend. Yet, if you ask most people today, they will not have heard of him. Walter Funk has no Wikipedia page and an internet search will take you instead to the Nazi economist, Walther Funk, but we need not concern ourselves with him. Walter, on the other hand, was a genius. He invented reversible clothes pegs and double sided fridge magnets, tipped cigars and weather vanes that shoot, so many things that we use every day. Yet, in these fickle days of throwaway fashions and disposable heroes, he has all but been forgotten. His name has disappeared from the history books.

Walter came from humble beginnings. He and his brother Marvin were born above a kaleidoscope repair shop in Shenton Bovis in the days between the wars. Money was tight. Their parents, Ken and Diedre Funk struggled against mounting debts to keep a roof over the brothers’ heads, Diedre perhaps more than Ken. Their debt levels were buoyed up by Ken’s gambling addiction which meant that Diedre often had to work double shifts at the cellophane factory to keep the bailiffs away. While Marvin did poorly at school, condemning him to a series of dead-end jobs, Walter displayed precocious talent, excelling at everything he turned his hand to.

Most of all, though, Walter showed an aptitude for invention. From the inflatable dartboard to the bouncing eggcup, he kept coming up with ideas for useful bits and pieces that people felt they just had to have. The one that really set the world alight was the wind-up tortoise. No longer was it necessary to find a warm place to house your pet for the long winter. The success of this was quickly followed by the clockwork hedgehog and the battery powered pigeon.

In 1944, at just twenty years old, Walter Funk was named Time magazine’s Man of the Year, the youngest by far to achieve the honour. The award was announced in the same edition of Time that exposed the real story about the war. As you now know, World War 2 actually finished in 1940, but both sides agreed to keep up the pretence of hostilities in order to keep people in work. There was of course, no actual fighting after the December truce of 1940.

Famous people in the modern world can be seen as products and as such they are subject to the stages of the product life cycle, namely introduction, growth, maturity and decline. Perhaps after decline we might add disappearance. Certainly, this seems to apply in the case of Walter Funk. People in the public eye have a shelf life and a sell by date. Walter’s rise was so swift that his decline appears to have been equally swift. By 1950, apparently ravaged by drink and drugs, Walter was on the scrap heap. There are no further references to him after this date. If you troll around the second-hand bookshops in your town, you might find an old encyclopaedia that still carries a reference to him, but all rewrites have taken out all records of his great achievements. If you now look up Time magazine’s records, you will discover that they now list someone called Eisenhower as 1944 Man of the Year, quite clearly a fictitious character. You may notice too that they have once again begun to introduce fanciful accounts of the fierce fighting in World War Two and stories about an atom bomb. Can you believe it? What will they think of next?

Copyright: © Chris Green, 2016

Buy and Buy

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Buy and Buy by Chris Green

When did personal computers cease to be a labour saving device? Without even looking at the Spam folder, it took nearly ten minutes daily to scroll down through the garbage in my inbox, searching for the one or two messages that might have some relevance on my life, or be from people I actually knew. Why would I be interested in insurance for a pet monkey? Who could possible need a battery powered salad spinner or a dog snood? What on earth was facial flex? And wasn’t AirportHostage9™ the same as AirportHostage8™ except that to play it you had to buy a GameBox6™ which would cost you £499? And how did the Deputy Prime Minister find time to write me so many letters? Were bitcoins legal currency? To make the task harder, deleting emails only seemed to ping some widget in Yahoo which told them I would like to receive even more dross.

Eventually it got to me. I became so weary of this daily trawl, I suggested to Kaylynn that we switch off all our devices. We could surely manage without them for a while. I expected her to resist the idea. She liked to skype and generally keep in touch, so perhaps she would regard it as a bigger sacrifice. To my surprise she agreed that it was a cracking idea and before I knew it had taken the battery out of her tablet and unplugged the router. She had been meaning to suggest to me for weeks that we do something about our absurd dependence on electronic media. The volume of unsolicited advertising and feeds on her facebook and twitter, she said, was no longer manageable. She had friended so many people, joined so many interest groups and recklessly clicked the ‘I want more stuff like this’ button so often that some days she couldn’t even keep pace with the feed. Bedeep, bedeep, bedeep went her tablet all day long, about one bedeep a second some days, as the messages landed. It was driving her nuts, she said. It was certainly driving me nuts. Even after I had changed the sound to a gentler plink, it had a grating effect on the nerves. Kaylynn said she could use the time she’d have to take up something creative, stencilling maybe or cross-stitch. It would be easier now that now that both Sonny and Cher had gone off to university. We agreed that we would look at the switchoff as an experiment and give it maybe a month to see how we got along.

Being off line took a little getting used to, as we began to realise that we had been using the internet for many things other than social media, emails and purchasing goods and services. Kaylynn and I were now unable to access our calendars, the local weather forecast, travel information, practical advice, research into a million and one topics into which we developed a sudden interest because we now had lots of time and those nagging little facts that day to day that were just out of reach because we were getting older. For the first few days it took enormous willpower to keep from plugging the wi-fi back in.

One time I caught Kaylynn looking longingly at a billboard advertising the new iphone but we got through the critical first 72 hours with our pledge intact, and once we became accustomed to the change, it was wonderful. Not having to spend all those hours sitting in front of a screen opened up a zoo of possibilities. We stopped worrying about where we were supposed to be and what we did not know. We found we had time to talk and we could stay in bed on a Sunday and make love. We could even venture out of doors and go for walks in the hills if we wanted to. I took up carpentry and in no time at all I had knocked up a kitchen table and four chairs from a pile of wood I had kicking around in the garage. I simply followed the instructions in Woodwork for Dummies, which had been an unopened Christmas gift from several years ago. We cleared out the attic and Kaylynn made a quilt form bits and pieces she found up there. We had a car boot sale, we gave the garden a birthday and began to talk about the vegetables we would grow next year. When the month was up we decided to try it for another month.

We discovered we were not alone in our thinking. Our friends, Mac and Minerva had in fact gone a step further. Minerva explained that when their PC had been crippled a few months back by a backdoor virus with a long name, they had made the decision not to replace it. Freed from the flow of information that the internet spewed out daily they found that their stress levels were greatly reduced. When their television license ran out they decided to get rid of the TV as well. The move, Minerva said, changed their perspective of what was really important. TV news focussed on matters that had little relevance to their everyday lives, its purpose to keep you anxious. The rough and tumble of party politics and the rattle and hum of celebrity indiscretions was so trivial. And, why didn’t someone decide once and for all who was the richest football team and leave it at that? The prime aim of television advertising was to make you feel inadequate. It served no useful purpose. In addition there was the growing sponsorship of programmes by CashCow and Wonga, even on the BBC. With the commercials taken away, Mac and Minerva remained blissfully unaware of new developments in consumer durables. If you really wanted something it was easy enough to find out where to get it.

While we weren’t so paranoid as to think television transmitted subliminal messages to persuade you to purchase particular products, you never knew for sure that this was not the case. What for instance was it that caused those inexplicable headaches if you watched The X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing? And why had we needed to go digital anyway if it was not to feed information back to someone somewhere. We agreed that although we would miss The Sky at Night and Gardener’s World, a switch-off was something we ought to consider.

……………………………………………

Desperation had begun to creep in at the Treasury. Retail was flagging in all areas. No one was buying on the High Street and online sales had dropped exponentially in the last six months. Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Flannery Ainsworth felt she was at the centre of this plight. With the general election only twelve months away, there were plenty of power-hungry chinless wonders on the back benches jostling to take her place. She needed to come up with some reactionary new measures to get the country spending. She had to make the people forget that they had been made poorer over the last four years and to borrow more, and very quickly. To add to her torment, her husband had left her for a younger woman. To make matters worse the other woman had been her Personal Assistant. Flannery’s input to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement reflected her bitterness. This consisted of a mélange of swingeing penalties for those refusing to borrow. Much of the detail of the new legislation was concealed in political doubletalk, positives emphasised as milestones, negatives buried by obfuscation.

We ignored the letters which arrived daily from our bank, in fact from a whole range of financial institutions, offering us larger and larger loans. It had come to their notice that our purchasing had dropped off recently. We were missing out we were told on this or that offer on a staggering variety of goods and services. All in Ones, Platinum Creditcards and Advanced Mastercards were suggested as payment options with a bewildering array of Cashback inducements. And we could take advantage of APR rates as low as 34.4%. We stood firm in our resolve. The bulky catalogues that hit the mat with a thud were responsibly recycled along with the fast food flyers.

There was a knock on our door. Two beefy roughnecks in navy blue fatigues stood there. They allowed me a fleeting glimpse of their identity cards and told me they were arresting me. I was handcuffed and taken without ceremony in the back of plain white van to the SummaryJustice Fiscal Centre, where I was bundled into a cell with two others. The one in the Jesus Rocks T shirt told me he had been brought in for Using a Mobile Phone that was more than Three Years Old, the one with the Peace tattoo for ‘Not Owning a Blu Ray Player’. I told them I was not sure what I had been brought in for, so many new offences seemed to have been created lately.

‘Lack of Designer Footwear. That’s a favourite,’ said Jesus Rocks.

‘It’s a shame all the charity shops were closed down,’ I said. ‘Quite often you could get a nice pair of boots in one.’

‘Not supportive of the deserving rich, I suppose,’ said Peace Tattoo. ‘The guy they just took in was arrested for Political Activism. He was selling the Big Issue outside House of Fraser.’

‘Perhaps car boots are illegal now,’ I said. ‘The sellers did all seem a bit jumpy when we had the sale recently.’

I soon discovered what my offence was. I was fined £500 for ‘Wilfully Ignoring Promotional Emails for a Period of Sixty Days’. In summing up, the Profit Enforcer informed me that I had now three times dropped below my Required Credit Limit. He stressed the gravity of the offence and reminded me in no uncertain terms that I needed to borrow more. ‘Did I not realise,’ he said, ‘that Growth depended on everyone pulling together and purchasing for Queen and Country.’ If I continued to treat good honest promotional material with disdain, it would result in a custodial sentence.

Intimidated by my surroundings, I thought it might be pushing my luck to point out to him that we the second most indebted country in the world and owed China and the emerging Tiger economies zillions and everything we bought was imported and added to this debt. Or that we were supporting billionaires paying slave wages to minority groups in the Third World to rape the planet of its precious resources. That 1300 individual billionaires have hoarded 94% of the planet’s resources, the other 7 billion were fighting over 6% of the Earth’s wealth. Instead, like the others going through the summary justice process that day, I kept quiet.

Flannery’s initiatives were popular with the party faithful and her plan to disenfranchise the unemployed was seen as a masterstroke. Perhaps the disabled could lose their votes too; they were a vociferous lot these days. Flannery’s name was even being spoken about for higher office, as the next Chancellor perhaps. It was unfortunate therefore that the press uncovered her use of Class A and Class B drugs and her abuse of prescription drugs. Suki, Benedict Ainsworth’s new love interest revealed to The Independent how Benedict’s life with Flannery had been unbearable because of her drug abuse. Her mood swings made Benedict’s life hell, she said. Several times at the Ainsworth house she herself had intercepted phonecalls from Razor, asking how much Charlie she wanted this week, or whether she wanted White Widow skunk or Northern Lights. Another time she had discovered Flannery collapsed over the toilet bowl with a needle hanging out of her arm, heroin paraphernalia all around. Once the story about her decadent life had broken, even the papers that had supported her jumped on the bandwagon. Day after day Keith Struggler in The Sun and Chelsea Grudge in The Star came up with more vicious and bizarre accounts of Flannery’s wanton debauchery. Condemnation was universal. Stories of wild s and m parties and international drug deals made her position at the Treasury untenable.

Flannery had for some time been viewed by some within the party as a moderate. With a matter of months to go to the election and the economy still flatlining, her departure paved the way for former hedge fund manager, Quentin Thief, who was immoderate in the extreme. His view was that it was immoral to have any savings at all when you could be borrowing. If the banks did not make interest on your debt, how were they to survive, for heaven’s sake. The proletariat had a duty to support the banks. Nothing could have prepared the country for Quentin Thief’s draconian package of measures to force people to spend. Everyone’s accounts were scrutinised by a colossal team of monetary police to ensure that loans were being taken out and purchases were made. The expression ‘short sharp shock’ was reclaimed with harsh new prisons built around the country to accommodate defaulters.

We remained unrepentant and did not switch our computers back on, and as we no longer watched TV, all we knew regarding the new legislation was hearsay. But a matter of days later the hired thugs were at the door to arrest Kaylynn. It was her turn for Summary Justice, they said, restraining her. She was charged with Cancelling Credit Cards in Times of Austerity. She was sentenced to 28 days in prison. As if this wasn’t bad enough, all the prisons were full beyond capacity and the construction schedule for the new prisons was being compromised by the number of construction workers being held in custody. Kaylynn was taken to a converted minesweeper moored off the North East coast of Scotland where they allowed no visitors.

By way of protest against Kaylynn’s sentence, I took a tram to the High Street and passed by forty two shops without setting foot in a single one. I dodged the uniformed monkeys trying to corral me into FastBucks and KwikKash, then I crossed over and passed the thirty nine shops on the other side, through the square past the jugglers, clowns and fire-eaters. Surely they would be arrested soon for some black-market transgression. And finally, without paying the toll, I stormed into the hallowed arcade, past its Jerusalem of flashing ATM machines and glitzy pilgrimage of supershoppers. Batteries of LED video walls spewed out a miscellany of competing promotions for a glittering catalogue of top end luxury items. Buy Now! Sale! Sale! Offers! Offers! Save £200. Save £300. Only £699. Only £499. Save! Buy! Lowest Ever Prices. Buy Now Pay Later. Credit Available.

I left without buying anything. Foolish I know, as this meant I would not be able to present the necessary Proof of Purchases to take the tram on its four mile journey back home. Also the banks of cameras on each of the outlets would have recorded my non-compliance and relayed the information to Quentin Thief’s vigilant team of fiscal spies. I realise it could not be considered much of a stand compared to the anti-globalisation protests that you heard so little about, but you have to start the fight back against the commandments of capitalism somewhere. Maybe next time I could bring a gun and start shooting, like they do across the pond.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

Thursday Night and Friday Morning

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Thursday Night and Friday Morning by Chris Green

A car outside my window sounds its horn three times and I stir from my sleep. I was on a golden beach listening to the gentle echo of summer voices. Dolphins were playing with gondolas in the surf. A woman with long dark hair and iridescent tantric tattoos who I met on a balloon trip was rubbing oil into my back and talking in soft Italian. A man in a harlequin suit with a limp was selling doughnuts, and dwarf camels, as small as cats, were frolicking around pyramids that children had made in the sand.

I drift back off, but the disturbance outside has been enough to change the landscape of my dream. I am now in a crowded marketplace and a hooded figure riding a jet black quad bike and waving a dead fish is chasing me past stalls selling large bongo drums and ritual masks. He is shouting at me in a language I do not recognise. I wonder if it is Welsh, but it may not be. I shout back in a language I do not recognise. It is dark and I trying to find my car. I cannot remember what make of car it is or where I have left it. I have the thought that it is not a Maserati or an Alfa Romeo, but this does not seem to help much. There is a large moon low in the sky and shapes of a craggy landscape are in silhouette. I am running. I have a battered leather suitcase in my hand. I have not packed it properly and Monica’s clothes are spilling out onto the cobbled stone street. I make an effort to look back but I know the scene is disappearing. There is a faint light ahead, but this too is becoming fainter and more distant.

The horn outside sounds a piercing continuous note. I feel disorientated. My flailing arms meet with a sharp cry of feline disapproval and my bedside lamp crashes to the floor. It takes me a while to take in that it is Thursday night, or to be more precise 1 a.m. on Friday morning, and that the car outside is a taxi to take me out drinking. I had completely forgotten.

I do not mean that I have missed a rendezvous with friends. Or that I need a drink. I am not an alcoholic or anything like that; in fact, I only recently started drinking alcohol. And I am not by any means a night owl. Early to bed, early to rise, me.

I will try to explain. The new law obliges me to drink. Firstly the government passed licensing laws permitting round the clock drinking. They argued at the time that twenty-four hour opening for pubs and clubs would reduce binge drinking and help to tackle the problem of violence and antisocial behaviour on the streets at 2 a.m. when the clubs closed. As many pointed out, it was an absurd argument. I can remember fragments of conversations with friends and colleagues at the time and no-one in my recollection had expressed enthusiasm for the idea, although Monica did start coming home in high spirits in the middle of the night once in a while. The general consensus was that if those so inclined were given the opportunity to drink more freely, surely they would become more drunk and less concerned with respectful behaviour on the street.

The real motive behind the legislation emerged, that twenty-four hour drinking was a measure to try to buoy up an ailing economy. The hope was that it would present entrepreneurial opportunities to the licensing trade and offer service jobs for the marginalised sections of society. Primarily it would be a great revenue raiser for a government committed to not raising income tax. It was one’s duty to drink for Britain.

Despite blanket advertising of all alcoholic drinks at every opportunity everywhere you could advertise alcoholic drinks, it didn’t work out that way. Drink sales rose only slightly. Regardless of a proliferation of new bars and clubs, opened by wide boys and fly-by-nights hoping to cash in, many people stayed in as they had always done, not drinking, or perhaps buying the odd bottle of wine or pack of premium lager with their shopping at the supermarket. A majority of the population were responsible citizens at heart, still interested in family life or concerned with the practicalities of getting up in the morning and going to work. Clubbing remained the preserve of those under twenty-five with few commitments. I am over twenty five and Monica’s occasional friskiness aside, twenty four hour licensing did not initially affect me that much.

But matters did not end there. Despite widespread protests from the medical profession, Muslims, pregnant women, diabetics and those living in areas where there were pubs and clubs The New Licensing Act, phased in over a six-month period last year, makes it compulsory to partake. Everyone under 65, regardless of gender, race, religion, occupation or financial circumstances is now required to go out clubbing at least once a week – or face a fixed penalty fine of £400. Prisoners and those in secure mental institutions are exempt. While exemptions are also in theory possible for others, for example, the blind or terminally ill, the application forms for an exemption certificate have apparently not yet become available.

Being under 65 and not blind or so far as I know terminally ill, the new licencing legislation began to affect me. Not least because Monica started coming home less frequently, and then not at all. But here is the real killer clause. If I have not consumed the necessary weekly units in one of the approved establishments by Thursday, I have to attend one of several new clubs on the High Street opened to cater for drink-dodgers, and drink my quota there, or pay the fine, deductible at source from my salary. The simultaneous introduction of identity cards simplified the administration. A central database now keeps track of each individual’s consumption throughout the week. Thursday night is now the busiest night of the week everywhere as like me, many others struggle to meet their target.

The DirectGov leaflet, DD17 spells out my options. I can drink a dozen designer bottles (DNA, KGB, WKD, Colaholic, etc.), thirteen pints of Guinness, ten pints of Strongbow, eight cans of Special Brew, three bottles of wine, ten double vodkas or ten doubles of another spirit. All equally unpleasant in my opinion. I generally opt for ten double absinthes in a half litre glass. This way I can get the business over with and be back on the street throwing up outside the bus station by about 2. 30, and be on the earliest clubbers bus, which leaves at 2.45. It also represents the cheapest option. Ten designer bottles in Scuffles would set me back at least £60, whereas ten double absinthes in a half litre glass costs a mere £30. I did email the Home Office website, suggesting I just send a cheque each week for the £30, but the reply I received ignored the request and threatened me with court proceedings.

The cab waiting outside for me is a DriveU2Drink taxi. DriveU2Drink is a cab company employed to help facilitate compulsory clubbing. I throw on a tracksuit, breeze through a brisk bathroom routine, turn off the ambient CD of ocean sounds I use to help me sleep, put the anxious cat out, and make it to the cab, all in about sixty seconds.

It is my usual driver, Bryn. Bryn is not a man who finds it easy to relax.

‘Ten minutes, I’ve been waiting out here boyo,’ he says, lighting a cigarette from the one he is just finishing. ‘It’s not like I haven’t got other calls to make.’

He looks me up and down disapprovingly.

And I do not think they will let you into Scuffles dressed like that.’

Everyone wears sports clothes in clubs,’ I protest.

Not tracksuits like that, they don’t. It looks like it came from HomeBargains. Where’s the logo? You’ll have to go and change, and remember that the meter is running.’

I don’t anticipate that Bryn will be keen to stop on the way for me to get a kebab from Tariqs’, so I grab a slice of carrot cake from the fridge to provide something to help absorb the alcohol.

I live on the Rolf Harris estate in the suburbs, for the time being at least until my divorce from Monica comes through (or the estate gets renamed following recent allegations), and the town centre is a four mile drive. Bryn uses the distance to rant about the price of petrol, Eastern Europeans, asylum seekers, chavs, hoodies, smackheads, crackheads, gays, Blacks, Asians, speed limits, traffic calming, the royal family, the police, and modern art.

Having just taken up a post as a community worker, I wonder if I should take him up on some of his prejudices. As we drive on, I feel that there would be little point. His enmity seems to be free-floating. He could just as easily be ranting about the NHS, schools, social workers, Yanks, Chinese, transsexuals, celebrities in space or whatever is on the front page of his tabloid today.

We drive past Corporation Square, the hub of the sprawling Tokers End council estate. Around Betterbet there is a lively throng of locals keen on getting a bet on the night football, or as Betterbet is next to Bruisers’ Bar, perhaps the Mauler-Stitch bare-knuckle fight from the Milton Keynes Colosseum. Betting Tax has recently been reintroduced, but is proving not to deter punters. And as compulsory lotto and compulsory scratch cards have been such a success, compulsory betting is now being considered as another means to boost government coffers. The residents of Tokers End are clearly ahead of the game. They need little encouragement.

They will bet on anything, see,’ says Bryn. ‘The Christmas number one, the Christmas number two, the discovery of life on Mars, the pope to break a leg skiing, The Finnish Wife Carrying Championship, where the next terrorist attack will be, how many will be killed in the next hurricane.’

‘I know someone that bets on virtual horse racing,’ I say.

‘Look you,’ says Bryn. ‘My next door neighbour trains virtual horses. He tells me that when you buy a virtual horse, the fitness level is only about fifty percent. This increases by between two to five percent each time you train it, see. He trains his virtual horses six times a day.’

I nod, trying not to get crumbs of carrot cake on the floor. Perhaps the recipe would benefit from an extra egg.

‘How are things between you and the missus?’ asks Bryn, breaking off from his tirade.

I confide that things are not good. That Monica is staying with friends, and that letters between Hoffman, Cohen and Partners and Gallagher, Dreamer and Shed are arriving daily.

‘Tough business, I can sympathise with you boyo.’ says Bryn. ‘I had the same thing with Tegwyn, see. Tegwyn liked the pop too. I had to sell the Beamer, you know. Heavy shit, the drink. You cannot imagine how much I hate this fucking job.’

Stacey is a single mum. Her daughter, Jade is three years old. Stacey is forced to take the DriveU2Drink cab one Thursday night to fulfil her obligation. She has no babysitter. She cannot afford one. All her disposable income goes on her weekly night out. While Stacey is at Moonies, Jade burns herself on the electric hob. The neighbours hear Jade’s screams, break the door down and phone for an ambulance. They phone Stacey on the number that they have been given, but Stacey cannot hear the phone over the thumping jungle music. In years gone by, Social Services would have become involved in a case like this. There is no talk of prosecution. Stacey’s case is summarily brushed under the carpet. There are many Staceys. There is probably one living next door to you, so, if you do not have to go out drinking on Thursday nights, be vigilant.

We drive on, the details of Bryn’s divorce passing in one ear and out the other. The overturned Passat outside The Cold Store suggests that little has improved in Tokers End over the past week, but at least the council have removed the burnt out police car from outside the housing office. The ten foot high supermarket trolley and paint can sculpture adds a spark of interest to the drab paved area, taking attention away from the mountain of polystyrene fast food containers in the overgrown planters. Bryn takes a right into Bob Marley Avenue to avoid the traffic calming on Malcolm X Street. The boarded up windows of the Lebanese café on the corner boasts a selection of new spray can art, some of it quite colourful and creative. Art of the state, I believe it is now called. The overall effect is unfortunately compromised by the puerile fascination of less talented taggers for obscenity. Budgens’ supermarket, which has over the years suffered more than most from graffiti and vandalism, now has a large red sign saying closed until further notice and the premises of Accessible Finance next door thanks to a recent ram raid has become accessible to all. A row of clamped cars outside the Baghdad House flats suggests the police were round earlier as part of their crackdown on expired tax discs. Even the Tokers End Community Centre minibus is clamped.

I remember, almost fondly now, the time that Monica and I were clamped several years ago when we were shopping in Soho. We still had the Cosworth then, so it must have been before the gallery went bust. Just after the Diane Arbus exhibition. It was after the loss of the gallery that Monica started drinking. ….. I wonder what she is doing now. We haven’t spoken since the solicitors became involved. She will not be happy with Giancarlo. She will always play second fiddle to his Maserati, or his Alfa Romeo, or whatever car he is playing around with in his workshop, and he is nearly twice her age.

‘Hard not to be bitter, you know what I mean,’ says Bryn.

I hadn’t realised we were still having the same conversation. I agree, bitter is part of what I feel, but I do miss her.

We stop at the temporary traffic lights on Karl Jenkins Way where they are building the new twenty four hour retail park to replace the recently demolished factories. A lengthy wait in a long line of other DriveU2Drink and BoozeCruise cabs gives Bryn the opportunity to acquaint me with just how many famous Welsh people there have been: David Lloyd George, Dylan Thomas, Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey and Charlotte Church to name but a few. The relative obscurity of his other nominees does not seem to help his case, leaving me with the thought that perhaps the Welsh are not cut out for fame.

The lights eventually change and we move on past the HSBC Hospital and the John Lewis Primary School towards the centre of town. Bryn points out the Lost Cause public house, hidden away behind a battalion of mobile phone masts.

‘The only pub in town that still allows smoking,’ he says, lighting up another cigarette. ‘They’ve turned the inside into the outside.’

Smoking is banned in the workplace of course and this includes restaurants and bars and, it occurs to me, taxis too. The government’s attitude to smoking is, some cynics feel, a missed opportunity. Compulsory smoking in public places would bring in heaps of revenue for the Chancellor, and help to pay the escalating bill of our foreign conflicts. By bringing in more revenue and systematically reducing the number of claimants, promotion of tobacco might also have also help to tackle the pensions crisis. Legislation of a few class B or C substances as well, with a little favourable promotion, might finance an invasion of some more middle eastern countries to help secure our supplies of oil and gas.

I don’t watch the news very much, in fact, I hardly watch television at all. Monica succumbed to the Sky advertising early on and I still have a choice of about four hundred channels, but if I have some spare time in the evening I prefer to work on one of my stories on the computer.

‘Why do you always write about ghosts?’ Monica used to say. ‘All of that went out with Harry Potter. And nobody wants to know about your dreams. There’s no money to be made in that supernatural stuff.’

‘There’s no money to be made in watching Celebrity Love Triangle night after night,’ I may have replied. ‘It’s not about the money.’ But of course, it was about the money. After the gallery closed, Monica showed no signs of wanting to go out and earn any.

‘Tegwyn used to have these visions, see,’ says Bryn returning the focus to his own marital breakdown. ‘I suppose you could say she lost touch with reality. I thought it was the drink, like. But then they put her on this new medication and she could see into the future. She would say something like, Idris is going to win eighteen million on the lottery – and it would happen. Exactly eighteen million, Idris won. One day not long before she left she said, ‘I can see increasing signs of unrest. When’s that going to happen, Tegwen? I remember saying.’ ‘twenty fifteen,’ she said. And here we are.’

Wayne was allergic to alcohol. Drinking brought him out in hives and affected his breathing. Although Wayne was diagnosed with anaphylaxis early on, he found over the years that he could manage the odd glass of wine at a function without major effects. However, when faced with the compulsory Thursday night binge at WhiteRiot his breathing became constricted and he collapsed by the bar. Collapsing by the bar was not so unusual here, so there was a delay before he was attended to by the stewards and taken to hospital. Held up further by the Thursday night mayhem in the streets and with the Thursday night bottleneck at A and E, he died waiting to see a consultant. You will know someone with alcohol intolerance. Keep an eye on them when they have to meet their weekly target.

As we approach the outskirts of town the streets shows increasing signs of unrest. Bryn’s radio operator spits staccato messages to let the drivers know which streets to avoid. Even so, each bar we pass had a noisy mob of hammered hooded hooligans outside taking advantage of all night happy hours. The smoking ban inside licensed premises has served to promote large unruly alfresco gatherings. We can hear loud urban music coming from every direction. Gangs of pale six-foot pro-wrestlers, with shaved heads, tattooed biceps, and rings hanging from their ears, eyes and noses parade chanting and singing. Black youths are taunting Asian youths and Asians are taunting blacks in front of a bank of CCTV cameras. The gold jewellery on display looks like it could be an advert for El Dorado. An air of uncontrolled mayhem reigns. Fights are breaking out here and there between groups decked out in rival brands of leisure wear. It is like a noisy playground where the children have just become older. The muted wailing of police and ambulance sirens is continuous and we have to pull over several times on Eminem Street to let emergency vehicles pass. Outside Blazes, a predatory gang of teenage girls with short skirts and large bare waists swigging out of pink bottles shaped like penises shout and swear at a gang of teenage girls with shorter skirts and larger bare waists, swigging out of red bottles shaped like penises. Bryn tries to negotiate a path through the two groups of marauding youngsters. Missiles fly through the air as the two gangs meet. We are caught in the crossfire and a pink penis narrowly misses the windscreen of the cab. The red penis, which follows it, is more accurate and a large crack appears in Bryn’s line of vision. Instinctively he winds his window down and hurls some abuse. Ill-advisedly, I feel. Next thing we know, a writhing mass of tattooed teenage flesh is all over the cab. The girls scream madly, baseball bats smashing against glass. The cab follows an uncertain path down Cameron Street towards the Thatcher Monument as it was rocked up and down. Several vehicles coming toward us collided, there was some kind of explosion, and that is as much as I can remember.

The HSBC Hospital is nowhere near the top of the Daily Telegraph Performance League Table, but there again it is not near the bottom. It is at 106 out of 187 hospitals in the Mortality Rating. It could be argued that the figures are a little skewed by the fact that the HSBC has borne the brunt of last year’s fish flu epidemic. It is still well ahead of The KFC Hospital and The Vodafone Hospital in its average waiting time at A&E, just four and a half hours. After midnight on Thursday this, of course, rises fourfold. The Telegraph’s ratings show that the HSBC’s record of successful operations is below the national average, and it is 123 out of 187 for cases MRSA, but perhaps all of this is beside the point. The hospital’s reputation is built primarily on being a leader in experimental research.

Anyway, whatever its merits, it is in the HSBC Hospital that I find myself. I don’t remember if I have signed any forms of consent but I have been placed on a programme to test an experimental new drug called Contradil.

While the manufacturers are hailing Contradil as something of a universal panacea, tests have revealed that it might not be without side effects. Among the documented side effects are sweating, dizziness, visual disturbances, sickness, nausea and mood swings. Among the undocumented side effects are paranoia, time disorientation, loss of reason, inability to stay awake, and vivid dreams.

Dr Black is injecting me with plasticine. The room has the warped geometry of a Maurits Escher painting. It is one of many in a large gothic house that is both familiar and unfamiliar. It is at once my school, my parental home, and my workplace. But still I do not know my way around and it is dark. I am anxious because I am late for something. I have missed an exam or an appointment and am searching for clarity. The corridor is charged with the bitter aroma of absinthe. On a large screen, gangs of pale six-foot pro-wrestlers, with shaved heads, tattooed biceps, and rings hanging from their ears, eyes and noses parade chanting and singing. There is a commentary. I recognise the voice. It is my own, but my speech is slurred. I climb up a flight of stairs that takes me downward. I become immersed suddenly in a pool of clear warm saliva. Hank Williams is singing a song about being chained and manacled. I begin humming along to the tune. Someone joins in on the harmonica. They wanted to harm Monica. I am in a different room now; this one is long and narrow like a gallery. Its walls are of weathered blocked stone as if they should be outer walls. I struggle on my hands and knees along a row of Diane Arbus photographs, which keep changing. I know the people in some of the photographs, but their faces are stretched into grotesque caricatures. Now I am in another room, an upstairs room with an exaggeratedly concave ceiling. I go through a small gnarled wooden door and find myself in a grey corridor. It is damp and water trickles down the walls. I switch on a torch and there are bugs the size of rats on the floor, and rats the size of cats. Petrified, I make it to the other end of the corridor, where I crawl through the eye of a Lebanese hunchback. I find myself in white open space with a transparent green and magenta yin yang motif window hanging from a tree. I peel a large succulent peach. Now I am on a golden beach listening to the gentle echo of summer voices. A woman with long dark hair and iridescent tantric tattoos who I met on a balloon trip is rubbing oil into my back and talking in soft Italian. A man in a harlequin suit with a limp is selling doughnuts, and dwarf camels, as small as cats, are frolicking around pyramids that children have made in the sand. A car outside my window sounds its horn three times.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

BROWN SAUCE

brownsauce

BROWN SAUCE by Chris Green

I offer no excuses. It was the third time in a month that I had crossed the border. There is no-one else I can blame for my arrest and subsequent detention. As I await my trial, I would like to be able to say I am remorseful or that she made me do it. But that I was bringing it for my friend, Margarita counts for nothing. I knew the risks. What a fool I was to think I could bring brown sauce into the country after President Ludo had decreed that only red sauce was allowed on savoury snacks. Brown sauce trafficking is after all now a capital crime in Ludova. Even with small amounts for personal use, you can face seven years in jail.

It all goes back to the time that Margarita came to visit me in Goland last year. During her stay, Margarita developed a taste for brown sauce on her cheesy comestibles. With President Go’s more liberal regime, both red and brown sauce are allowed in Goland, along with Worcestershire Sauce and Tabasco. If you know where to get it you can also buy pickle and chutney.

The border crossing itself was easy. I’d been told by others even should you be caught at a border post, as there is a lucrative black market in brown sauce, the guards are easy to bribe. They are poorly paid and all too willing to turn a blind eye. They merely confiscate the sauce and let you through. Each time though, I was able to drive straight through in my green Tata Nano. The border guards seem to mostly sit around smoking some kind of pungent herb.

Metropolitan Ludova is a different matter though. Here the sauce law is enforced vigorously. Specially trained squads of officers with sniffer dogs roam the streets looking for offenders. They hang out around butcher’s shops keeping an eye out for customers who buy bumper bags of bacon or sausages and follow the suspects home. They are known as Brownies and they work on commission, the more brown sauce they impound, the more they get in their pay packet at the end of the month. I should have hidden the sauce before I went to buy the bacon, but I wanted to surprise Margarita with the whole works. I was caught with twenty bottles, not a big haul, but without a good defence barrister, enough to put me away for a long time.

There is little chance of escape. The prison guards are heavily armed and chew dark green leaves all day to keep them alert. They amuse themselves by singing raucous patriotic songs about President Ludo and they taunt the prisoners by making jokes about brown sauce. All the food in here is swimming in red sauce. Even things you can’t imagine putting red sauce on like turnips and rhubarb are doused with the stuff.

As I sit here staring at the bare walls, feeling sorry for myself, I cannot help but think back to all the spicy scrambled eggs and toasted sandwiches that Margarita and I enjoyed during her stay in Go City last year. And the bacon baps dripping with brown sauce we shared on our days out at the yak races, these washed down by sweet black tea from our Thermos. Margarita hasn’t been in to visit me since I’ve been here. I’ve heard nothing. I’m concerned she might by now be enjoying burgers with lashings of rich and tangy HP or Daddies with someone else from across the border.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

Just The Way It Is

justthewayitis

Just The Way It Is by Chris Green

A second did not seem an important integer, but therein lay the problem. It was such a small unit of time. Yet, such was the degree of precision operating in the overcrowded skies that if Quincey Sargent had returned from his break seven seconds earlier or seven seconds later, the dreadful accident would not have happened. Sargent would not have given the instruction that resulted in the collision between the two leviathans that changed, albeit ever so slightly, Earth’s path around the sun.

Had the accident not happened, things would be as they had always been. Earth would spin on its axis once every twenty four hours and revolve around the sun in its normal orbit every three hundred and sixty five days. There would still be thirty one million, five hundred and thirty six thousand seconds in a calendar year. But as you know there are now more. Just how many more has still to be calculated accurately. We hear new estimates every day with eminent scientists forever trying to steal a march on one another. No one can even say for sure that Earth’s orbit is going to settle into a regular pattern. As you will be aware, the uncertainty has played havoc with digital technology and really messed up schedules and timetables. Try catching the eight o’clock Eurostar now.

Quincey Sargent has of course been dealt with, along with Stanton Kelso at ATC who failed to notice that the two giant craft were on a collision course. You probably saw Sargent and Kelso’s execution on television, if you have one that still works. But knowing that they were punished can never make up for the hundreds of thousands of lives that were lost. I expect from time to time some of you still take a look at the film of the explosion on topnet, if you can get topnet, to remind yourselves.

But it is not only the measurement of time that we have to consider. The accident has a far greater legacy, affecting every area of our lives. We’re only just beginning to find out the full extent of the disruption it has caused.

My friend, Ƣ, who works at the spy base calls me up out of the blue. He says that many of the strange phenomena that might be attributable to the catastrophe are being hushed up. Ƣ is not a WikiLeaks scaremonger. When Ƣ tells me something I believe him. I trust Ƣ implicitly. We go back a long way. We belonged to the same motorcycle club, The Diabolos when we were younger. He rode a Triumph Bonneville and I had a Norton Commando. You build up trust when you are riding fast bikes on long runs in large groups like this. Margins of error are small. Ƣ would not lie to me now.

‘I’m sure you’ve noticed that your satnav no longer works and there aren’t nearly as many websites as there once were,’ he says. ‘

‘Of course,’ I say. ‘As you know digital is my field.’

‘Quite! Time is well and truly screwed, isn’t it?’ he says. ‘Anything that depends on time or needs a timer to operate, forget it.

‘At least you no longer need to keep looking at your watch.’ I say. ‘Do you know? Even the oven timer is kaput and I’ve no idea when to put the cat out. In fact, the cat no longer wants to go out.’

‘Who can blame it with all that fog?’ he says. ‘But, there’s a whole bunch of other stuff that for whatever reason is not being reported. Why has an eight kilometre wide trench opened up across Central Asia?’ he says. ‘I don’t think that has been on the news. Why are they keeping the lid on that?’

‘Perhaps they have been too preoccupied with the floods in Nevada and Arizona to report on it,’ I say.

‘Why have the people in Australia started talking in a language that no one understands? Why do goats no longer have shadows.’ he says. ‘And what’s happened to all the fish in the sea?’

‘You think it’s all part of a big cover-up then,’ I say.

‘The communication satellites weren’t taken out by the explosion like they told us,’ he says. ‘They’ve been shut down since. And it’s not our people that are doing it. There’s definitely something sinister going on.’

I tell Ƣ about the after images that have begun to appear on all my photos. ‘They make it look like people are slowly leaving or arriving,’ I say. ‘It is as if I have set a long exposure or superimposed a series of images on one another.’

Ƣ tells me that others are having the same problem. A friend of his finds he has a Serbian First World War ambulance superimposed on all his pictures and someone else he knows has a spectral German shepherd in every shot. Every day he says he comes across more and more curious things that cannot be explained.

‘I’m wondering whether we are seeing more strange things lately, Ƣ, because we’re beginning to expect things to be odd,’ I say. ‘Aren’t we looking for weirdness?’

‘I suppose you might have a point, Bob,’ he says. ‘But I’m guessing that you don’t really believe that what you say explains everything. There are just so many things that have changed. Life bears no resemblance to how it used to be. Look! There is one important thing that has never been revealed and no-one seems to have picked up on it. What was on board those two craft that collided? We just don’t know. The Ministry hasn’t been able to find out. Our allies haven’t been able to find out. Nobody seems to know. Which is where you come in.’

‘I do? You’ll have to make that a little clearer,’ I say.

‘Well, Bob. For obvious reasons I can’t go public with any of the information I come across. I mean, look what happened to Eddie Snowden. I don’t want to have to live like that.’

‘What you are saying is that I can, is that it?’

‘Pretty much, Bob. I know that the internet is a bit skinnier than it once was, but you’ve got the skills to set up a proxy website and you know all there is to know about SEO, if that is the right expression and assuming that search engines still work. You could at least begin to post information for me. At the same time, you could discretely find out what other people might be noticing that we are not being told and report back.’

‘But …..’

‘You will get paid.’

‘It’s not that. It’s …..’

‘I know. I know. I work in the secrecy business. But there’s a limit. When something this serious is going down, I don’t think you should keep people in the dark. What do you say?’

I don’t have anything better to do. I no longer have a job. Nobody seems to need digital display designers anymore. I suppose I could get a job repairing cars or something. With all the electrics failing that’s where the demand is. But everyone’s going to be turning their hand to that. I agree to Ƣ’s proposal.

I try to think of a suitable name for the site. aintthatthetruth.com, wtfshappening.com, alliwantisthetruth.com, none of them very snappy. Surprised that the domain hasn’t been taken, I settle on whistleblower.com.

Ƣ comes up with staggering tales from the word go, extraordinary stories from around the world. He wants people to know that they have started practising voodoo in Switzerland. He wants it out there that everybody in Japan has become left handed. That there are giant badgers in Nepal. The reason that the fish are all dead it is now thought is that there is no salt left in the sea. They have moved the International Date Line three times in a week and changed the value of pi. The latest on the length of a day is now that it is believed to be twenty five hours and twenty four minutes in old time. Ƣ says that no-one is talking about the number of seconds in a year anymore. This he says is going to be impossible to calculate until Earth’s orbit has settled.

My site begins to attract whistleblowers from around the world. Rigatony posts that Venice is sinking fast and that everyone in Padova is having identical disturbing dreams at night. Plastic has become unstable and computer keyboards and TV remote controls are decomposing, posts MercyCaptain. According to Kommunique, all the babies born in Kyrgyzstan since the catastrophe have been female, not a popular option in a Muslim country. There are dust storms in Oklahoma says CrashSlayer. Aren’t there often dust storms in Oklahoma?

A lively online community quickly comes together through the forum. My admin duties keep me busy day and night. In no time at all the analogue hit counter is up to five figures. Although there’s nothing directly relating to the cargoes of the craft, a majority of the posts are constructive and informative. Being an open forum there are of course also time wasters and religious fanatics. Fire and brimstone and Sodom and Gomorrah are mentioned a lot. What we are witnessing, the evangelists claim, is God’s punishment for planned parenthood, spare parts surgery and gay marriage.

There have always been conspiracy theories, so it is unsurprising that some of these also find their way on to whistleblower.com pages. Everything going wrong it is claimed is part of a plan by ruthless aliens who want to force us into submission so they can take over Earth. It is an Illuminati or Zionist plot to take over the planet. It is part of a big budget surreality television show. Everything is an illusion anyway. Some things you have to take with a pinch of salt. Nothing resembling a conclusive explanation for the upheaval appears, although the illusion explanation, while clearly impossible to confirm, is tempting. Everything that is happening might well be part of someone’s dream. Or a hologram. Gravity in the universe comes from thin, vibrating strings. These strings are holograms of events that take place in a simpler, flatter cosmos. The holographic principle suggests that, like the security chip on your credit card, there is a two-dimensional surface that contains all the information needed to be able to describe a three-dimensional object, our universe. In essence, the information containing a description of a volume of space, be it a person or our Earth could be hidden in a region of this flattened real version of the universe.

It’s a bit of a head-banger. I put this to Ƣ as best I can.

He agrees that multiverses and strings are legitimate lines of enquiry and the Ministry has been putting resources into their research. But how does this help?

‘We have a whole heap of strangeness, that we didn’t have before,’ he says. ‘If parallel worlds could explain what is happening, we would have had the kind of anomalies we are getting now all along. There would have always been parallel worlds. That’s not what it is.’

It is difficult to disagree with him. Quantum mechanics even in its simpler form is something I have never been able to grasp, despite watching many programmes about it on television.

Ƣ goes on to tell me I am doing a good job and if I keep at it, all should be revealed. There is bound to be an explanation for the apparent rupture in the space-time continuum. So that’s what it is, a rupture in the space-time continuum.

One moment I am sat at my computer, keying in a report about the dense swarm of black moths that has appeared over London, the next I am in a darkened room. The space is unfamiliar. It is small. There are no windows. There is a dank smell. The door is locked. I can hear the hollow sound of a slow but steady drip of water. I have always suffered from claustrophobia. Being confined like this has always been my deepest secret fear. I am terrified. This feels like the grave. Is this what death is like? Is this how it happens? Could this be it? No blinding light. No life flashing before your eyes. No white tunnel. Is this it? The other side? Or, perhaps it’s the waiting chamber, the holding bay.

This is not it. Sometime later, it may be hours, minutes or even seconds, my captors reveal themselves. Not before I have been to hell and back. The door opens and they materialise slowly as if they are made up of dots, like a halftone in an old newspaper. There are three of them. As my eyes get used to the light I can see that they are three-dimensional figures and they are wearing military fatigues. They don’t look friendly. There are no welcoming gestures. They have guns.

The one on the right of the group opens his mouth to speak. The sound appears to come from the one on the left, the one with the scar down his cheek and the alligator grin. ‘You will close the website down,’ he barks.

‘Immediately,’ says the one on the right. The sound appears to come from the one on the left. This one has a gallery of Japanese Dragon tattoos on his arms.

‘We would have taken it down ourselves, but you did something ……. smart with it,’ says the one in the centre. He is built like a Sherman tank and aptly he is the one with the biggest gun. It is pointing directly at my head.

Beneath my fear, I can’t help thinking that this is a heavy-handed approach. Just one of them, any one of them could have knocked me up at home, pointed a gun at my head and expected to get results. You would not mistake these people for boy scouts. They really look like killers.

‘We are the time police,’ says Alligator Grin.’ This may not be what he says, but this is how I hear it. Perhaps they are the time police. Perhaps they are not. Perhaps they are hallucinations but I am not taking that chance. My survival mechanism tells me that they are armed and I am not.

‘We are here to set the record straight,’ says Dragon Tattoos.

‘To put an end to all that nonsense you’ve been publishing,’ says Tank.

‘Lies,’ says Alligator Grin. At least I think that’s what he says. His diction is not good.

‘There’s only one reality,’ says Dragon Tattoos.

‘And it’s not yours,’ says Tank.

‘You are going to start again on your server and tell people the facts,’ says Dragon Tattoos.

‘The real facts,’ says Tank. They have lost the rhythm. It’s not his turn to speak.

‘The day is twenty Ferraris,’ says Alligator Grin. I’m getting the hang of it now. He means twenty four hours.

‘And there are sixty minutes to the hour, and sixty seconds to the minute,’ says Dragon Tattoos.

‘The same as it has always been,’ says Tank. For a moment, I think he is about to pull the trigger, but if he does that then the website is still going to be there.

‘And the earth sorbet has always been the same,’ says Alligator Grin. Perhaps he means Earth’s orbit.

‘You will say all the rest was a misapprehension.’ I lose track of who is saying what. They are firing phrases at me like bullets. I feel dizzy. The room is spinning.

‘A result of an over-active imagination,’

‘Too much science fiction,’

‘Choo many movies,’

‘Too many video games,’

One moment I am face to face with three menacing mercenaries, the next moment I am back in front of my computer at home. The mercenaries must have been an hallucination caused by the stress of being in the darkened room. The darkened room might itself have been a delusion. It’s hard to tell what is really happening anymore. But, here I am at home. I breathe a sigh of relief. But I’m not out of the woods yet. Two men in dark suits are with me in the room. One looks like a Mormon missionary, the other looks like Napoleon Solo. They both have guns. They are both pointed at me.

‘You have not heard from Ƣ,’ says Mormon missionary. This is a statement.

‘You are not going to be seeing Ƣ,’ says Napoleon Solo. This too is a statement.

‘Ƣ died in a motorcycle accident in 1999.’ Mormon Missionary again.

‘So let’s get started on the new website,’ says Napoleon Solo. He is beginning to look less like Napoleon Solo. More Reservoir Dogs. Is it the way he angles his gun? Or is it the look of intent he has on his face? Mr Blue, perhaps.

‘People need to know what’s really going on,’ says Mormon Missionary. He begins to look a little less like a Mormon missionary. More Men in Black.

‘sameasiteverwas.com,’ says Mr Blue.

‘And put this little piece of …….. worm software on the back of it,’ says Man In Black. ‘It will take over all internet browsers and stop anyone getting access to any …….. rogue sites.’

‘People will be able to sleep easy in their beds, with the assurance that everything is OK,’ says Mr Blue.

‘And know that someone is looking out for them,’ says Man In Black. ‘Like a big brother.’

I begin to see how it is that history is always written by the ones with the guns, the ones with the biggest guns, whoever they might be. The ones who can manipulate the media, whatever the media might be. How science at any point in time is what the scientists of the day tell us, however erroneous, and why God persists, albeit in one or two different versions. The people who are in charge make the rules, all the rules. They are the ones that dictate what is true and what is lies and that their way is the way it has always been. They establish their set of beliefs as facts and employ militia to enforce their truth, their version of events. They quash dissent. They find out what people’s fears are and work on them until they are too frightened to disagree. There are no ways of seeing. There is just the one way, their way. Their version of events will always be the one that has always been. If necessary they will burn books and rewrite history. They will put worms onto your computer. They will destroy civilisations to make the oven timer work. You will know exactly when you have to put the cat out.

Earth will revolve around the sun in the same way at the same distance and there will always be thirty one million, five hundred and thirty six second in a year until such time as the people in charge say otherwise. Goats will always have shadows, Switzerland will never practice voodoo. Plastic will continue to be stable. Venice will not sink. There will always be fish in the sea. There will never be a multiverse. Pi will always be three point one four one six. The same as it ever was. There will only be one reality. All the rest will be make believe. That’s just the way it is.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

 

Right On Dad Talks About Guns – a children’s story

rightondadtalksaboutguns

RIGHT ON DAD TALKS ABOUT GUNS – a children’s story by Chris Green

‘Why do people have guns, Dad? I think guns are horrible,’ says Amelia. Amelia is five and a half. She has just started her second year at school.

‘People haven’t always had guns, you know, Amelia. For hundreds of years when they fell out, they just threw things at one another or hit each other with sticks to settle their arguments. Many of them went to the gym several times a week to develop their stone throwing muscles or tried to find ways of sharpening their sticks. This all changed in 1506, when Mr Gun, a blacksmith from Accrington, Lancashire discovered you could use the power of explosives to fire a projectile through a metal tube.’

‘So it is called a gun because that was Mr Gun’s name?’

‘That’s right. At the time there were no PR firms in Accrington to guide Mr Gun through the process of marketing his new invention, so he called it simply a gun. Without realising it, he had hit upon a winner. The gun was to become the most successful commodity of all time. People saw the gun as an easy way to get rid of someone they did not like. People who had never considered harming another were seduced by its potential. Countries which had been at peace for hundreds of years suddenly came up with reasons to hate their neighbours. The neighbouring countries grew bigger turnips, or sang the wrong songs. They were smelly, or they saw a different man in the sky.’

‘Mr Gun was a bad man, wasn’t he, Dad?’ says Amelia.

‘He was, Amelia. But nothing compared to Mr War. In 1900, Mr War of Dundee, Scotland realised that these scuffles were very popular so he began to organise competitions. Dundee also did not have any marketing firms, so he called these competitions, wars. So successful was the idea that, a few years later in 1914, he managed to involve every country in the world in a big five-year long competition. He advertised it as The Great War. Although people seemed to like it at the time, afterwards they started to go off the idea of wars. So many people were killed they thought that they didn’t want to fight another one. They called it the war to end all wars.’

‘But it didn’t end all wars, did it, Dad? When you and mummy watch the news they are always talking about wars.’

‘The thing is that lots of people make money out of making guns and if they stopped having wars they wouldn’t be able to sell their guns. Then lots of people would not have jobs and their families would starve.’

‘I still don’t think that people should have guns.’

‘Then what would happen to all the people who didn’t have jobs and the starving families, Amelia?’

‘They could give them jobs making Moshi Monsters instead.’

© Chris Green 2015: All right reserved

 

RIGHT ON DAD – a children’s story

rightondad

Right On Dad – a children’s story by Chris Green

‘What’s politics, Daddy?’ said Amelia. Amelia is four and a half and has just started school.

‘Aha! Yes what is politics? Well, Amelia. Every now and then we grown ups play a game to say which party we want to make the rules about what we can and can’t do.’

‘Party? You mean like a birthday party. I like birthday parties. You get cakes and fizzy drinks, and play pass the parcel,’ says Amelia.

‘No, not quite like birthday parties. The parties that we choose to make the rules are more like groups of busy looking people. They like to talk a lot, and shout, especially shout. There are two main parties. The Nice party and the Nasty party. The Nice party want to help people, let them have food and houses and make the world a better place and the Nasty party want to steal everyone’s money, cut down trees and hurt people. Sometimes they make bombs and kill people too.’

‘I think I like the Nice party, Daddy.’

‘So do I, Amelia.’

‘Do they sing songs about it, Daddy? I like songs. They taught me a new song at nursery today.’

‘Yes sometimes they sing songs. The Nice party’s song is ‘The Poor Need More’ The Nasty party’s song is ‘The Rich Are Best.’

‘I expect most people like the Nice Party, don’t they, Daddy.’

‘A lot of people like the Nice party, yes, Amelia. But the Nasty party usually win the game to make the rules.’

‘Why’s that Daddy?’

‘Well, the Nasty party are friends with the people who make the newspapers and the television programmes. They tell people they have to let them make the rules because they are better at making rules than the Nice party. They say that the Nice Party smell and will give you measles.’

‘I think the Nice party would make up much better rules. They’d let you have chocolate cake for dinner and go skipping.’

‘I didn’t say just now, but there is a third party called the Nice and Nasty party. They can’t decide whether they want to help people or want to hurt people.’

‘You mean sometimes they are like the Nice Party and sometimes they are like the Nasty party.’

‘Yes that’s right, Amelia. Last time they wanted to be more like the Nasty party and now they want to be more like the Nice party.’

‘Did the Nasty party win the last game, Daddy? Is that why there are all those pictures of dead people on the television?’

‘Yes, Amelia the Nasty party made up some new rules to help them win the game.

‘You mean the Nasty party are cheats.’

‘And, Amelia. They got their newspaper people to say that the Nice party’s man was from Mars and that he ate kittens for breakfast.’

‘Uh! I can see why they are called the Nasty party, Daddy. I wouldn’t want them to eat Chloe.’

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

The Vexillographer’s Daughter

thevexillographersdaughter

The Vexillographer’s Daughter by Chris Green

ONE: RAIN

It had rained every single day for the three summer months. Every morning at around five past seven with my bacon and egg sunny side up I would watch the weather forecast on JustNews. The weather presenter would come on and shrug sheepishly in front of a weather map of the UK covered in black clouds, and apologise for the synopsis he or she was about to offer. JustNews had attempted to break up the monotony a little by promising different intensities of rain from day to day, thunderstorms, heavy downpours, incessant rain, squally showers, patchy rain, or plain old ordinary persistent drizzle, these blamed on a variety of distinctive and often unexpected frontal systems pushing in from the Atlantic, coming in off the North Sea or crossing the channel. Risk of flash flooding was a phrase frequently used along with ‘you’ll need to take your umbrella’. JustNews had tried their best not to be completely downbeat or discouraging and only once or twice suggested we might be experiencing monsoons. Even then they had been careful to add that what we could expect was nothing compared to Bangla Desh or Pakistan where they were suffering the real thing, rivers forty miles wide, tens of millions of displaced people and all of that. They had never once gone so far as to argue that weather patterns for the UK had changed and rain and more rain was what we could anticipate for the foreseeable future. Occasionally there had been a cheery grinning face in front of a map showing lots of sun graphics and temperatures in the high 20s, but these never seemed to materialise.

They had even over the last few days, I couldn’t help but notice, introduced the idea of shapely babes showing acres of leg and cleavage to stand in front of the sodden UK, but this had made little difference. However you dressed it up, it was going to rain. If it was not raining by the time I got in the car, it would be raining by the time I got to work. Admittedly it was a long commute from Oxford to Norwich which increased the chances of running into a shower or two, but most days the wipers on the Isuzu were running non-stop. Quite often the journey which should have taken just three hours in the powerful SUV took four or five, as I struggled to avoid roads that might be flooded.

Imogen and I had often talked about relocating closer to the flag design studio where I plied my trade. Huntingdon and Cambridge had been mentioned. But there never seemed to be the time to look into the idea, what with Imogen’s beagle breeding business taking off and the time and energy taken up by Kurt’s seemingly endless run of court appearances. There hadn’t been any reported fires in the area for a while now so hopefully Kurt had at least grown out of his arson fascination, although it would be hard to describe his behaviour as exemplary. It would be fair to say that on the whole things at home were less fraught since Ann had gone off on her gap year. She seemed to view 42 Auden Avenue as a twenty four hour hotel. Now at least there was only one teenager in the house and one source of dissonant music. Ann and her friend, Drew, who was a few years her senior, had set off on a round the world trip, quite suddenly I felt, at the end of June. We had of course rowed about it, with me pretending to be completely against the idea, but I had to admit she would in all probability learn a lot more about life than she would have at Warwick or Winchester. I only wished that I had had the imagination to have done the same at her age. And as Imogen had pointed out Ann had always been a bit of a tomboy. Not being at home as much I did not notice these things, but she did play a lot of rugby. Drew, if Kurt was to be believed was a lesbian, or a ‘rug muncher’ as he so delicately put it. ‘She’s got a man’s name innit,’ he had offered by way of explanation. ‘And she’s got a kd lang haircut.’ This was lost on me as I had no idea who kd lang was. I did not give the idea much credence. Kurt was always coming up with wild stories. Ann’s hair seemed perfectly normal for someone of her age, long and short, up and down, straight or wavy and a different colour every week. She never tidied her room, left clothes scattered around the house, CDs out of their cases, and copies of Curve and Diva magazines lying around just as you would expect. I took Ann and Drew to Heathrow and there was no sign of any funny business. On the journey we talked about the national characteristics of different countries and of course flags and the many of the other things that come up in everyday conversation. I helped them with their suitcases and I slipped Ann an envelope with a couple of hundred pounds in it while we had a cappucino in the departure lounge. ‘Keep in touch,’ I said – and we had had a postcard or two from India, weather very hot, cows on the streets and lots of beggars, that sort of thing. The last we had heard from Ann, they were in Kyoto valeting love hotels to pay for their flight to Darwin.

Family life was pretty much on the back burner as I was very busy working on the commissions that had come my way over the last few weeks to design flags for three breakaway Russian republics and an up and coming African state. The extra work had kept me in Norwich sometimes late into the night and once or twice I had stopped over. Imogen, remarking that I never seemed to be around to help her rotovate the vegetable garden, or clear out the loft, or make sure Kurt kept his appointments with the Youth Offending team, had a few times in desperation suggested that I might be able to design flags somewhere nearer to home.

What exactly do you do?’ and ‘How difficult can it be to draw a few lines and colour them in?’ were typical remarks showing her lack of appreciation of the complexities of designing flags. Also she did not seem to understand that Norwich was the established flag design centre in the UK, perhaps even Europe. If you wanted to be in the vanguard of vexillography Norwich was the only place to be.

TWO: BIG COUNTRY

Is Australia ever big? I hadn’t realised just how staggeringly huge Australia is. When you see it in the bottom right hand corner of the map it looks like an afterthought. But, trust me, it is colossal. The Stuart Highway running from Darwin to the south of the continent, Drew and I noticed from The Rough Guide, runs for 2,834 kilometres. The road signs we passed in the Toyota coming out of Darwin displayed absurd distances such as Adelaide 3,034 kilometres and Sydney 4,084. I don’t think we really believed we were going to complete such a journey; we we’re just going to go with the flow and see what happened. No point in making plans; this was an adventure not a commitment. Perhaps we would get to Alice Springs, where we might be able to get the odd days work in a bar or restaurant. We’d seen some awesome blogs about Alice Springs. Or Brisbane. Brisbane sounded cool. Plenty of Brits in Brisbane, the Guide said. And Fortitude Valley, wherever that was, was wicked, we’d been told.

We were of course travelling on a budget and the beaten up old Toyota which we hired from Bazza’s Car Hire in Darwin had no air conditioning or sun roof, no radio, no speedometer and no headlights. And an oil indicator light that stayed on. Whether it was down to Drew driving with the handbrake on or me not being able to change up from third, the engine kept overheating. We were both crap drivers. Drew had failed her driving test five times back home. And I did not have a licence at all, but Bazza hadn’t worried too much about that. He just wanted to look at our legs and maybe get the scruffy old wreck off the lot. It didn’t seem to matter therefore when we had a bit of a random shunt and lost the front bumper as the Toyota was so janky to begin with. You get what you pay for, Dad always used to say to me whenever my cheap phone or mp3 player broke, and we had paid diddly squat.

It was blisteringly hot and uncomfortably humid. Drew and I stripped down to shorts and bikini tops and even so these stuck to us like a second skin. The six five litre bottles of water we had bought at Strewth Bruce in Darwin were soon gone as we used it to pour over ourselves to cool down. We had to keep stopping for more. We had found India pretty warm but even the heat in Kolkata was nothing compared to this. Every twenty clicks inland we travelled, the temperature rose by one degree Celsius. By the time we got to Pine Creek the temperature had risen to over forty degrees. This was where the Toyota’s engine finally blew up and we abandoned the smouldering heap by the side of the road. To lighten the load and lessen the panic of being stranded we started on the Darwin Stubbies we had in our bags. Warm beer but still very welcome.

‘No sign of the Amber Nectar round here,’ I said.

‘I guess they don’t drink it in Australia,’ said Drew.

‘Perhaps they wear cork hats either.’

‘Or play cricket.’

‘It’s not the same country as the one on the posters back home is it?’

THREE: FLAG

It was a Monday morning and I had been on the road for the best part of four hours driving through torrential rain. Honey, showing even more leg than Jasmine had the day before, had forecast ‘isolated showers’. I was making very slow progress due to surface water on all of the roads from Oxford to East Anglia. I was listening to a Radio 4 discussion about why the country’s largest supermarket chain had suddenly collapsed. This had replaced Hurricane Nigel as the number one news item. I was stuck in a long queue of traffic waiting on the approach to the Kings Lynn roundabout, when I got an unexpected call on the handsfree. The world of flag design certainly has its share of spills and thrills, but I had never expected to get a call from the Prime Minister. He wanted me to redesign the British flag. With the prolonged bad weather, the run on the pound, the the conflict in the Middle East, and what he termed a series of negative news items lately, he felt that confidence in the government and the country was at an all time low. Then of course there had been the embarrassing performance in the football World Cup (who could forget the sending off of the entire English team) and the humiliation in the Test Series (in the matches that had not been rained off). People, he said, needed to see the nation in a new light and one of the key steps to redefining Britain was to come up with a new flag. The Union Jack comprising of St George’s Cross, St Andrew’s Cross and St Patrick’s Cross as I well knew dated back to 1801, and a version without St Patrick’s Cross dated back to 1606. Apart from its militaristic and racial subtexts the flag was to put it in a word, hopelessly old fashioned both by design and as a symbol. The British people could no longer be fooled into thinking they ruled the waves. ‘So we’re going to ah, waive the rules.’ The PM laughed nervously at his play on words.

During our conversation, which saw me edge ever nearer to the Kings Lynn roundabout, he confided that his radical cultural shake up plans also included a new National Anthem which he had given over to Radiohead, and moving Parliament to somewhere more contemporary, and indeed, higher up. I took it that he was referring to the fact that the present location as it was on the Thames might become flooded should the Thames Barrier be breached. Why was I based in Norwich, he was curious to know, and not somewhere more urbane and higher up?

He said he would call me again in a week and hung up just as I was coming off the roundabout. The rain seemed to have eased a little now leaving a free run to Norwich. I put on a relaxing CD of Boccherini string quartets and tried out the steering wheel isometrics that I had learned to release some of the tension that had accumulated from the long drive. As the big Isuzu powered along the A47, I was able to give some thought to the new commission. Environmental issues were being talked about a lot, what with the Earth Summit coming up. How about a green flag? There weren’t many flags that were primarily green…. Well, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were mostly green. And Libya’s flag was entirely green. Perhaps these were not the right examples. What about a pink flag? I wondered. There were I could quite categorically say no pink state flags. Militaristic subtexts were not an issue with shocking pink, Pantone Process Magenta.

I should explain that flag design departs considerably from logo design: logos are predominantly still images to be read off a page, screen, or billboard. I occasionally dabbled in logo design. I had recently for instance designed the official Recession logo for the BBC, but on the whole I steered clear of this enterprise. In a word logos are flat. Flags on the other hand are alternately draped and fluttering images to be seen from a variety of distances and angles. The prevalence of simple bold colours and shapes in flag design is paramount. It is customary to use primary colours and white or black. One of my personal favourite state flags is the Seychelles flag which is a bold geometric design consisting of four triangular shapes of blue: Pantone 294 yellow: Pantone 122 red: Pantone 1795 green: Pantone 356, each starting from the bottom left of the flag and sweeping out towards the top right. Ann had sent us a postcard of the Seychelles flag earlier in the year when she was working in a Surf Shop on Mahe Island to save up the money for her passage to India. They were planning to go to on to Japan and Australia, she had written matter of factly as if all these places were nearby.

FOUR: BOOMERANG

We continued our trek south, hitching lifts with a succession of lecherous truck drivers with bad breath and crusty cattle farmers moving their stock. Our progress was slow. Although it was oppressively hot and we were minging, we made serious attempts to cover ourselves up. Some of these guys in the outback were really creepy. Mikey, a bauxite mining engineer from Wagga Wagga, who picked us up in his Mitsubushi ‘ute; near Emu Hole had a Bobby Peru grin and the seduction technique of a bull seal. He was revolting. He had a smile like an alligator. He talked on his CB radio to someone called Jeck about how he was bringing two dirty little beaches over and how they would be able to ‘fuck them like jeck rebbit bunnies’. ‘You bitter deegout year rittlesneke Jeck, we’ll be thayer in foive.’ Perhaps I’ve got the accent wrong but while he was still talking his strine bogan jive, he grabbed be by the neck and pulled me towards him. I screamed and Drew using her ample bulk dived in to help. In the frantic struggle that followed the Mitsubishi left the road, but Mikey had locked the doors so we couldn’t get out.

It was fortunate that Koorong, a hunky native didgeridoo maker from Timber Creek, came along at this moment in an old flatbed truck which was loaded with brightly painted instruments. Not so lucky though that he was headed west. Although we were grateful to have been rescued, this was one of a run of rides that took us hundreds of clicks off course. We would have preferred to carry on by the most direct route down the track, as the vast Stuart Highway was commonly known, but we were taken along a selection of single lane roads and rough tracks on a zigzag through the Northern Territory. Koorong seemed to be in no hurry. He chewed hallucinogenic plants and talked to us about Walkabout and Dreamtime. In the time before Time, he told us, there was only the barren land and the empty sky. The sun, moon and stars slept below the land along with the spirits. On the First Day, the Sun was born from the land. He rose into the sky and his light warmed the land. Slowly the other Ancestors awoke and emerged onto the land. This marked the beginning of the Dreamtime. As the Ancestors crossed the land they spoke names, calling into being all of creation, natural features as well as plants and animals and even abstract concepts such as death. They sang songs which incorporated the names they had created. They left a web of songlines on the land which indicated their progress. During their travels the Ancestors also deposited guruwari particles, the seeds of life which have existed through the generations and through these particles life today is linked with life in the Dreamtime.

‘This place belongs to my ancestors,’ he continued. ‘It is our spirit. We, the aboriginal people live in this country as one spirit. But today because of the white man’s consumption and greed, the ancestral way is threatened by climate change. We are always looking at the seasons. The dry season is now very hot. You will see if you stay here. And what water there is can be bad. The food cycles are shifting. We need to get back to the Dreaming to ensure the continuity of life and the land.’

Having been brought up with a different story, Drew and I were grateful for this fascinating explanation of creation and were saddened by what we in the the twenty first century were doing to Koorong’s heritage.

The slowness of these days in the outback gave me time to reflect. I had escaped the two crazy lunatics I had spent my life living with. Can you imagine, Dad made me collect stamps. Every week, until I was about sixteen, he would march me down to the philatelists (yes they do still exist) to buy a set from Paraguay, Vietnam or the Dutch East Indies or similar far off places, and supervise me at home while I stuck them in my album. He was completely obsessed. Quite anal about the whole exercise. Don’t you think you should put the Johore ones into the India pages? I remember him saying. Some of the stamps were quite rare. I had a set from Qatar with pictures of the first Soviet astronauts that was worth several thousand pounds. I did have some pretty ones with butterflies on from Tristan da Cunha that were valuable and a Silver Jubilee set from Basutoland. I hadn’t let on to Dad that I had sold these on the internet to buy my iphone. He was not very observant. When I had my hair cut short and died purple a year or so back, he did not notice. He did not ever comment on the fact that I never brought boys home or that Drew stayed over quite a lot. He also did not seem to be aware of what the rainbow bracelets and earrings I wore signified. He was in his own world. He had this annoying habit of whistling Elton John or Dave Brubeck tunes when he was in the house. I didn’t mind the Elton John so much, but can you imagine anyone trying to whistle Blue Rondo a La Turk? Admittedly it was a big house but it was hard to get way from Dad’s collections of Coronation memorabilia, pre-war cameras, licence plates, Macintosh computers and of course, flags. Perhaps everyone thinks of their parents embarrassing but if Dad was mad and a little remote, Mum was barking. She would dress up her dogs and take them to shows, no not dog shows, she would take them to Mamma Mia and Les Miserables. Totally kooky! I was only now able to appreciate that I was finally free from all that. Oz was by comparison sane.

Koorong introduced us to ostrich eggs which were I would have to say a bit tastier than some of the other fare on offer. He lived it seemed mainly on a diet of bandicoot, tubers and insects. He showed us how to make a fire by rubbing sticks together and to my surprise after a few attempts I found this remarkable easy. But pointless as I always carried a lighter. He showed us how to craft a didgeridoo from a eucalyptus branch and how throw a left handed boomerang (like we needed to know). Despite our Rough Guide we really had no idea at any moment where we were or where we were going. This was off the map. The alien flora and fauna and the strange indigenous wildlife that we saw around us made it seem like another planet. We saw red kangaroos, water buffalos and packs of fierce looking dingoes. We saw scary lizards of all shapes and sizes and colossal birds of prey swooping on the roadkill in the open areas. We were treated to spine-chilling stories of venomous snakes slithering in beside people in their beds. Tales of bloodsucking bugs and spiders the size of a volleyball. We saw nine foot tall Aboriginals, tree climbing crocodiles and two headed dragons. The hallucinatory landscape of the ‘Top End’ as the northern half of Australia was known both entranced and terrified us.

‘Just think,’ said Drew one night ‘you could be at uni in Reading reading Renaissance texts and the Romantic poets. Wouldn’t you rather be doing that ?’

‘And you could be coordinating conferences in Cowley,’ I said, sliding my hand between her legs.

I think we both knew where we wanted to be.

FIVE: FLOOD

When I arrived at the office there was a message from Imogen. I could hear the nerve jangling chords of Dying Fetus or Angel Corpse playing in the background, which meant that Kurt was at home, something unlikely to have improved Imogen’s disposition. I spent the rest of the day running through her list of grievances, chasing up the cowboy contractors who were supposed to be fitting the air conditioning for the new kennels and the plant hire company who claimed that the rotovator we had hired was overdue. We had returned it last month, along with the stump grinder. I wrangled with the internet service provider over the broadband contract and tried to negotiate with the vicar over the damage to the church that he alleged Kurt and his friends had been responsible for. Later in the day another band of torrential rain blew over from the west and set in and I found myself stranded in Norwich on account of the floods. Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, traditionally two of the driest areas of the country, were particularly badly hit. Most of the rivers in both counties had burst their banks. I asked Rachel to find a hotel. Rachel always seemed to know which hotel to book. Also where the best restaurants were.

The following day as I worked on some initial designs on my Mac with Radio 4 in the background, the news was pretty grim. Inflation had hit a twenty year high and the stock market was in turmoil. All of the major money markets had taken a tumble but the FTSE was in free-fall. One of the UK’s largest and most revered financial institutions had collapsed, the one we had our mortgage with as it happened, and the Youth Offending Service called to say that Kurt had missed his appointment. Late in the afternoon the PM rang to see how I was getting on with the flag. His voice echoed the pressure he was clearly under. He sounded desperate.

I need it by Friday,’ he said.

I told him I was working on some ideas and that Friday wouldn’t be a problem.

You won’t let me down, Paul, will you?’ he pleaded.

I called an emergency meeting of my team for a brainstorming session. Flag design isn’t labour intensive and my team wasn’t a large team. It consisted of just myself, Rachel and Magda, the work experience placement who came in to service the Linotype and maintain the roof garden.

The flag did need to be a departure. Rules as I saw it were there to be broken. Perhaps there were no rules, only perceived limitations.

‘Think radical,’ I told the others. ‘Think outside the box. leftfield’ I couldn’t believe I was coming out with these clichés, the banal staples of business meetings, conference calls and lengthy self indulgent speeches. Could anything be considered radical or leftfield in this postmodern digital age which emphasises the elusiveness of meaning and knowledge? There were after all no overarching truths anymore. Narratives were all tainted by the concept of the unreliable author. Now everyone could be famous for fifteen minutes.

Rachel took up the challenge. ‘Damien Hirst did a series of paintings of dozens of different coloured spots, a bit like a colour chart.’

I felt that the idea was a tad hackneyed. I had recently seen a similar design on Imogen’s mother’s ironing board cover. The perception of an art flag, a flag that made a statement as a work of art was an appealing one though especially if you delved a little deeper into the history of art. The 1960s geometry of Frank Stella or Gene Davis, to which it could be argued Damien Hirst’s paintings owed a debt, would suit a flag. I made a note.

‘What about a white flag,’ suggested Magda. ‘For peace.’

‘A white flag means surrender,’ I pointed out. ‘Universally.’ But I couldn’t argue that the idea was not ‘outside the box’.

A black flag’

A transparent flag’

A mirror flag’

An invisible flag’

A virtual flag’

The ideas kept coming. Magda was clearly on a roll. Perhaps I was not making the best use of her skills getting her to plant santolinas, bronze fennel and Iceland poppies up there on the roof.

My mobile rang. It was Imogen. She sounded distraught – and confrontational. Bella, one of her favourite beagles had been savaged by a Staffordshire bull terrier, an alarmingly ugly brute with fangs like a tyrannosaurus rex. She had rushed Bella to Village Vets where she was now in the Emergency Room with Dr Marciano fighting to save her life. I tried my best to console Imogen but it seemed the call had been primarily to apportion blame. We managed during the heated exchange that followed to establish that it was my fault for not getting round to repairing the fence. My excuse that it had been too wet lately did nothing to improve my standpoint and we ended the conversation without the usual pleasantries.

No sooner had I put the phone down than Kurt phoned asking if he could borrow a ton. Sensing my reluctance, he added, ‘I could always find it another way, you get me.’

What is it for?’ I asked, hoping he might surprise me with something like, ‘it’s to buy the new digital Encyclopaedia Brittanica’ or ‘to buy some new weatherproofs for the geography field trip.’ His thinly veiled threat, ‘Or I could tell mum what you’re really up to in Norwich’ suggested he was not going to tell me what it was for, so it was probably for drugs. Admittedly he was nearly fifteen but a hundred pounds did seem to be quite a large sum for a personal amount of cannabis. It seemed however that I was on a loser to nothing by pursuing the matter. I told him where I kept the float for emergency household situations.

I already know that innit?‘ he said with a laugh. ‘I was just being polite like. SYL.’ He was even talking in text now.

I momentarily contemplated the discrepancy between my global influence and my domestic authority. I had the trust of the Prime Minister and other heads of state but my own family saw me as a doormat. Perhaps everything in life had a tendency to balance out. Yin-yang according to Mi Fu, my traditional acupuncturist, is a dynamic equilibrium. Because the two opposites arise together they are always equal: if one disappears, the other must disappear as well, leaving emptiness. This I was told is rarely immediately apparent because yang elements are clear and obvious while yin elements are hidden and subtle. I had heard on a science programme on the radio the other day that a chunk of Canada the size of Scotland had broken off and was heading south. Sea levels were expected to rise significantly as the ice melted. The next item had been about how mathematicians had discovered a new prime number with 1,300 digits. So it goes. Tomorrow there might be a dozen more flood alerts but Natasha might read the weather in Agent Provocateur lingerie.

After a good deal of deliberation over a bottle or two of New World red, we settled on a vibrant flag design based on a contemporary Aboriginal art postcard that Ann had sent, a startling riot of colour that we felt would stand out anywhere. It was so vivid you might need special sun specs to view it. This was the breakthrough that we had been waiting for, the design that would put Paul Caruso Flags well and truly on the map. Once the new British standard was raised, leaders of nations would be queuing up with their commissions for new flags.

Our optimistic representations did nothing to temper the inclement weather. The wind turned round to the north gathering in strength, and heavy showers persisted through the afternoon. Rachel and I once again found ourselves stranded and were forced to stay another night in the Georgian House Hotel. The following morning the biggest bank in the country collapsed, the one I had my savings with as it happened, the FTSE hit a twenty year low, and Imogen phoned to say that Kurt had bought an air rifle and was firing at the fantail doves in the Henderson-Goughs’ garden. At least she thought it was an air rifle. It was certainly a gun of some sort. I was unable from the muffled report I heard in the background to confirm the type of weapon. I told her I would deal with it later, but for her not to call the police just yet. I was fairly sure that a hundred pounds would not have purchased an AK47 or anything like that. Imogen did not however seem happy with my uncooperative response and we picked up the stock conversation we employed for such disputes.

Around midday the storm surge generated by the low pressure all around the British Isles funnelled down the North Sea and at high tide the Thames barrier was breached. London began to flood. Within an hour the central districts along the river from Greenwich up to Chiswick were inundated. The underground network was closed and the rush to leave the city was causing gridlock on all roads. Rachel and I, still holed up in the hotel, watched the news as it happened on JustNews.

At 4pm the Prime Minister phoned from Muswell Hill where Parliament had convened to a temporary location by Alexandra Palace. This he explained was ‘ah, one of the highest places in London.’

I wondered where the highest place in East Anglia might be.

The flag, Paul!’ said the PM. ‘Can we start producing some? The public need a distraction.’

I told him a little about the design and the process.

I don’t care about any of that,’ he said. ‘Just get it to me.’

I was about to put the phone down when he said, ‘by the way, Paul. On a brighter note, you’ll be pleased to know can now download Radiohead’s new National Anthem off the Direct Gov website. I’m told by my musical advisor that it sounds, ah, cool. Have a listen and see what you think.’

SIX: ALICE

When we finally made it back on to the track, The Magnetic Ant Hills dominated the landscape; these so called we were told by a crusty Norwegian backpacker with an unpronounceable name because they are orientated in a north-south direction, on account of the way the termites react to the position of the sun during the day, or something like that. And there was sun in abundance. Every minute of each day the sun burned down with unrelenting ferocity. There were no speed limits here, but no-one appeared to be in a hurry. We seemed to get rides that only took us a few clicks and then it would be hours before someone else stopped and one day passed into another. The distances on the signposts never seemed to get any smaller. We stayed sometimes in cheap run down backpackers hostels. One night we stayed in the shack where the owner Wayne, a bogan redneck in flannelette shirt and stubbies, told us Frank Ifield wrote She Taught Me How To Yodel. Who? Another night we found ourselves under canvas at a Steve Irwin survival camp beneath the stars huddled together for warmth as the temperature dropped to around zero. How could this happen when it was so hot during the day? It is only then when you find yourself unable to sleep because of the unfamiliar nocturnal sounds that you realise that your tenure of this land is a fragile one. At any moment you feel you might be attacked by a giant porcupine, a forty foot ant or some other disgusting alien creature.

The further into the interior we went the drier it became. The drought blighted hinterland was like an oven. No wonder there were so many bush fires in the outback. One match and there would be devastation across whole states. One discarded cigarette end could start the whole thing off. We passed through a place where it hadn’t rained there for seven years. As we approached the Simpson Desert it was over fifty degrees. Only cacti grew here. It was four weeks since we had left Darwin and we were the colour of the natives, some of this may have been dirt and grime of course. There had been nowhere to take a decent shower since Darwin.

We finally made it back to something like civilisation. Places were closer together and we were able to get more frequent lifts. Little mining settlements gave way to bigger mining settlements and finally we reached Alice Springs at the end of November. I first became aware of the new British flag in Alice. Drew and I were in a bar sipping at a couple of cold tinnies. We had heard random stories from other trekkers in Alice and we were laughing about having avoided the floods back home, when lo and behold Dad appeared on the television that was playing in the corner of the bar. Struck dumb and rooted to the spot I was and the rest. It was a chat show on one of the hundreds of satellite channels that you can pick up even here in the outback. It was a British show; I recognised the presenter, although I could not think of his name. It was a noisy bar and the television was turned down so I did not catch much of the conversation but Dad was being talked up to as something of a celebrity. In between Dad holding forth, they kept focussing on a large Aboriginal painting. Drew and I had seen some like it in Darwin and one or two of the towns we had passed through. Hadn’t I sent a postcard of something similar from Darwin? They showed a picture of what appeared to be the same painting flying as a flag above Buckingham Palace and I put two and two together. This must be a new British flag. What a weird design for a flag I thought, but it was probably no odder than the tie dyed flag Dad had designed for the Federation of Balkan States. Thom Yorke of Radiohead was also a guest on the chat show and, although I did not grasp the connection there and then, the band performed what I later discovered was the new British National Anthem.

It was not until the following day when I saw the headline in The Alice Springs News that I realised that there was a controversy here in Australia over the new British flag, because the existing Australian flag had in its left hand top quarter the Union Jack. On the face of it you would not have thought that this was something the average Aussie would feel proud of or want to defend. You would have thought they would be glad to replace this symbol of colonial suppression with something a little closer to home. Not so. The Australian government it seemed were not at all keen to replace the Union Jack with an Aboriginal design. Giving Aboriginals voting rights was one thing, but acknowledging them on the national flag was altogether unacceptable. This was one step too far for a majority of white Australians. Further controversy arose from the fact that the Aboriginies themselves were outraged that an Aboriginal design had been plundered by the super colonial power. The country was in uproar.

We kept an eye on the news sites on the net. Gradually the blame for the flag shifted from the British Prime Minister to the designer of the flag, largely I gathered through dad’s unrelenting procession of chat show appearances. He probably even appeared on the one with the presenter that was always taking her kit off for The Sun, Tori something or other. He was shameless. I decided that I would not contact him.

Meanwhile the name Caruso became reviled in Australia, and Australians took their hating very seriously. Zoo Weekly, the Australian magazine held an annual poll Australia’s Most Hated. Near the top of the list the previous year in a mixed bag we found out were the Bali bomber, The Pope, and Toadie from Neighbours. The shows on television were inviting nominations for this year’s poll and among the candidates being suggested was Paul Caruso. The knives were out. Backpackers are constantly asked for identity in this over-bureaucratised country and Caruso was not a good name to have on your passport. We headed for Queensland, back into the bush. This joke might help to explain.

A Queensland farmer got in his truck and drove to a neighbouring farm and knocked at the farmhouse door. A young boy, about nine, opened the door.

‘Is your Dad home’? the farmer asked.

‘Sorry mate he isn’t,’ the boy replied. ‘He went into town.’

‘Well,’ said the farmer, ‘Is your Mum here’?

‘No, mate, she’s not here either. She went into town with Dad.’

‘How about your brother, Greg? Is he here’?

‘He went with Mum and Dad.’

The farmer stood there for a few minutes, shifting from one foot to the other and mumbling to himself.

‘Is there anything I can do for ya’? the boy asked politely. ‘I know where all the tools are if you want to borrow any, or maybe, I could take a message for Dad.’

‘Well,’ said the farmer uncomfortably, ‘I really wanted to talk to your Dad. It’s about your brother Greg getting my daughter pregnant.’

The boy considered for a moment.

‘You’d have to talk to Dad about that,’ he finally conceded. ‘If it helps you any, I know that Dad charges $200 for the bull and $150 for the pig, but I really don’t know how much he would be asking for Greg.’

Queensland you will gather is considered in Oz to be a tad rustic.

SEVEN: CHAT

‘You must be very pleased with the country’s response to your new flag, Paul,’ said Tori Kenyon, fiddling with her tortoiseshell glasses.

I was. It had been well received at the opening of the new Parliament on Shooters Hill and at the Sports Personality of the Year ceremony, won for the second year running by that cyclist whose name escapes me. People were coming in their thousands from all over the world to see the flag flying majestically over Buckingham Palace, which had remarkably escaped the worst of the flooding. It had, I told Tori, been my proudest moment to been invited to the palace.

Radiohead’s new National Anthem by contrast had had a mixed reception. Many had liked it but a number of people who were familiar with their oeuvre maintained that it was just an up tempo remake of ‘Fake Plastic Trees.’ The Telegraph music critic took it a step further and suggested that ‘civilisation as we know it is doomed and that brimstone is going to start raining from the sky any minute.’

‘But a little concerned I’d imagine about its not going down so well down under?’ continued Tori, fidgeting with the strap of the low cut top she was wearing. Tori was the new queen of chat show hosts on satellite TV, with a number of viewers’ awards to her name. She had also appeared in various stages of undress in FHM and GQ, and had even I was told featured as a cover girl in Nuts. Kurt had probably jerked off over her.

I admitted that I was more than a little concerned as Tori put it about the colonials’ reaction to the aboriginal design, not least because my daughter was out there.

‘Yes. One or two of the tabloids picked up on this in the week didn’t they?’ smiled Tori. ‘You haven’t heard anything then?’

I told Tori that Ann’s phone had been dead for a couple of weeks, and that her last communication was an email sent ten days before from an unknown location. I had tried all the usual channels to try to find out where she might be. Unfortunately as part of the backlash against the threat to the Commonwealth Blue Ensign, the British Embassies in Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth were all under siege. There had been a number of supposed Ann sightings reported in the press but none of these had led to anything.

‘She is probably on her way back home,’ I said, ‘but anyway if the tabloids can’t track down an attractive twenty year old backpacker in Australia then I probably can’t.’ I realised as I said it that this did not come across as the attitude of a responsible parent. Now that I was a celebrity this would no doubt be picked up by the more moralising tabloids.

‘And there was that little piece about your your son Kurt being involved in Nazi style initiation ceremonies at his school,’ continued Tori.

How had she found out about this? The article had only appeared in the Oxford local paper and they had not mentioned Kurt’s name because he was a minor.

Before I had chance to comment she moved on to the affair that I was allegedly having and the impending divorce. We seemed to have lost sight of the subject that I was on the show to talk about, the celebration of the flag. I considered removing the microphone and walking off.

Tori seemed to sense that she had perhaps overstepped the mark and in an attempt to get me back on board she uncrossed her legs offering me a glimpse of her white panties.

‘But of course on the positive side rumour has it that you have been invited to appear on Celebrity Russian Roulette on Happy TV,’ she beamed. ‘Not tempted by the generous cash prizes?’

‘I don’t think that I will be accepting the offer after what happened to Teddy Trimmer the darts player,’ I replied. Teddy had been the first celebrity on the show to select the live chamber.

‘You don’t think that Celebrity Russian Roulette is stage managed then?’ said Tori, looking up to see if her next guest was ready. The next guest I notice was the winner of Celebrity Kidney Swap. The concentration span of viewers of Tori’s show was clearly mercilessly short.

Not worth taking that chance, is it,’ I said, but Tori was already introducing the short balding magician.

The short balding magician shook my hand as he passed and said, ‘Good luck finding your daughter mate, I expect progress is slow because the Australian Police have their work cut out trying to find the people who are starting those terrible bush fires that we are hearing about on the news.’

It occurred to me slowly as I listened to Tori ask the short balding magician about the twilight of his career that Kurt may not after all have been the Headington Firestarter. There had been no reports of arson around Oxford since June. Perhaps Kurt was telling the truth for once. And Ann had always been the one who wanted to go to firework displays when she was younger.

EIGHT: OUTBACK

Oh my god! Dad thinks I may have started the forest fires that have been sweeping the south of the country. I spoke to Mum on the phone and I was horrified when she told me. What on earth is he on? What a shitbag! I’m never going to speak to him again. I can’t believe he could think I would do such a thing. Just because Kurt got into a bit of trouble a while back. I don’t even think it was Kurt that lit the fires in Headington. He was hanging round with those pikeys from the caravan site at the time. Elvis and Tyson and Danny. It is just that Kurt was stupid enough to take the blame.

All else aside, Drew and I haven’t been anywhere near Victoria or New South Wales where the fires are. They’re about two thousand kilometres away. Doesn’t Dad know anything about geography? How big Australia is? I sent him an email three weeks ago now saying that we were in Richmond in Queensland and had got jobs on the Dinosaur Trail, thinking he would be pleased we were doing well – despite his best efforts to fuck things up for us with his throwaway comments on all those cheap chat shows back in the UK and his ridiculous tweets. He’s really flipped. Mum’s divorcing him. I don’t blame her. How could she live with this obsessed crazy madman for so long? And all that crap he gave her about Norwich being the flag design capital when it was obvious he was having an affair there.

Anyway, the Dinosaur Trail is really cool. One hundred million years ago the Queensland outback lay under inland seas swarming with marine reptiles, and prehistoric creatures roamed the land. It has the most amazing fossils. It’s in the middle of nowhere really and it’s really laid back. No-one cares that we’re Brits or who we are. Cannabis grows well in these parts and most of them are too stoned to notice. We’re totally incognito out here. It’s brilliant. The Australian Parliament is still fighting over the flag, but again no one round here is bothered one way or another about politics. In the last election Richmond had the lowest turnout anywhere in the country. And the weather’s ace once you get used to the fact that for months on end it never rains.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

Toker’s End

tokersend2

Toker’s End by Chris Green

My DuckDuckGo search came back with the names of several estate agents in my area, but King and Castle seemed to be the premier firm, not least because their advertisement said so. So, later that day I called into their High Street office and asked if I could see Mr King or Mr Castle to talk about my requirements. Mr King it transpired was in prison and Mr Castle, according to Saskia the heavily made up blonde haired girl who greeted me, was fictitious. Thus I found myself talking to a disarmingly young man called Matt Black. He wore a shiny grey suit and a grey knitted skinny tie. He fiddled nervously with an empire of desk accessories.

I told Matt I was looking to buy a small town and asked him what King and Castle had on their books. He told me that there were not too many small towns on the market, because with other investments taking a tumble, small towns represented a popular option for the great and the good to invest their capital. The smart money was going into large plots of real estate, he said. In the last week, King and Castle had sold both Bridgewater and Bideford, Bridgewater fetching the full asking price.

I looked at him aghast. ‘Bridgewater, really?’ I said.

Twiddling his grey bullet pen, Matt explained that the cellophane factory that had been the cause of the notorious Bridgewater smell had recently closed. Bideford of course had been snapped up because it was in Devon. Devon was the cream of the crop when it came to mass freehold residential. Even Barnstable, the epitome of blandness, had sold within forty eight hours.

Setting his Newton’s cradle in motion, Matt confided that he had Cheadle at £4,000 million and Yate at £3,000 million and also Didcot and Hythe, but he felt that at £5,500 million neither was realistically priced, and if I were to consider either of them he would recommend I put in a lower offer.

I began scanning the details of Cheadle and Yate, but despite what Matt called ideal renovation opportunities, neither of them captured my imagination. Cheadle’s proximity to Manchester was not in its favour and Yate was just plain awful. I remembered the Crap Towns description of Yate, citing it as a hell hole, a mecca for chavs, goths, skaterboys and griegos. Didcot did look more attractive but there was the power station to consider. I understood Hythe being on the Kent coast, to be overrun with asylum seekers.

‘Or you might contemplate renting a small town,’ Matt continued, massaging the keys on his laptop. ‘Our letting agency has several to rent.’ He directed his delicate, manicured hand towards Saskia, who apparently was in charge of lettings.

It was not a reflection of Saskia’s attributes or abilities that I did not look up. What would be the point in taking out a rental agreement on a small town?

Matt could sense my apprehension. He tried a new tack.

‘I have here an interesting opportunity,’ he crooned. ‘And it has only just come on to the market. It is a fabulous little suburb. It has a quaint name, Toker’s End. Its on the fringes of a smart Regency town. And its a steal at £999 million. It has a bohemian feel, a cosmopolitan population, and a falling crime rate. And there are plans to renovate the derelict shopping centre.

‘You might even be able to get a 95% mortgage on it,’ he added encouragingly.

I told him I might need to borrow the 5% deposit as well.

‘No problem,’ he chirped. ‘A lot of buyers are doing the very same thing.’

I enquired what the repayments on £999 million might be.

Taking out a calculator that looked more like something Scotty might use to beam up Captain Kirk, he started to press some buttons. He finally arrived at a figure. ‘£5,570,000 a month based on 25 years,’ he said.

At first this appeared like a large commitment, especially as I owed £29 million on my Titanium card. I quickly regained my composure, at least I like to think that it was quickly, although when I came to, Matt was on the phone talking to another client. Saskia smiled across at me and carried on painting her nails.

By the time Matt was free I had reasoned that although I owed £29 million, this had not stopped financial institutions pleading with me to borrow more, almost on a daily basis and it was impossible to use the internet without pop ups for loans appearing all over the desktop. Debt encouraged lenders.

‘Let me show you some pictures,’ Matt purred.

Looking at the virtual model of the estate on his laptop, I began to discuss with Matt what I might like to do with Toker’s End.

‘I think it would be better if these two streets were knocked into one. What do you think I should do with the residents?’

Matt confided that there was a small refugee camp nearby, where they could go. ‘New government initiative,’ he revealed. ‘You know, to stem the influx of immigrants.’

‘And I’d get rid of this unsightly Catholic church.’

‘I think I might do the same,’ Matt chuckled.

‘I might want to extend this park and knock down these tower blocks here and build a lake.’

‘No problem,’ said Matt. ‘I think we would be able to arrange a favourable rate for a loan to do that.’

I began to wonder what had happened to the restraints on financial institutions that were brought in after the meltdown. You heard nothing now about sub-prime lending or due diligence. It was business as usual for the banks. Even if you were hugely in debt, there were few obstacles to buying a small town, well at least a suburb with an interesting name. Even my speculative plans for an airport it appeared could be easily accommodated. All I had to do was to say how much I wanted to borrow.

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved