The Other Half Live

theotherhalflive2019

 

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

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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

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

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

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

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