Future Views Magazine
University Fees and Debt
Who is the main beneficiary of university education, the student, the employer or the nation?
Units of measurement and the end of space.
Six Point Pollution Solution
Part One: "Flowers In The City"
brighten our cities with many tiny garden?
Six Point Pollution Solution
Part Two: "The Transformation of Waste"
Instead of landfill, waste could be a valuable resource.
Hidden blueprints for the new cities of the sea.
Arabian Mights & Maybes
Plans for the future carefully copied by Brenda.
Arabian Might May Raise The Sea
Desalinated reverse rivers powered by nature
The Unpublished Manuscript
A hint as to what may lie in the future.
A curious twist to the laws of perception.
The Slop House
an alternative to the traditional public house
You Are A Winner
A willing victim is the best victim.
Maybe our prisons are not as wonderful as all that.
The Bright New Pants Manifesto
The hilarious solution to invevitable change
A raging argument is discovered
MEET THE CREW
My mate Euan, Sir Keith's nephew and my assistant, got me the job as sound recordist.
Others on set include Brenda, Lotte, Eta, Tosh and Arri (so called because it is short for Arthur and also reflects his love of the Arriflex cameras).
Sir Keith funds the entire operation, or so he would have us believe.
His friend and business partner, Saleh el Moharbi undoubtedly has a lot to do with it as well.
Then there's Acey, Ed and Igvarts Slobermann from Lithuania or some other country, I think he's from a place I've never heard of.
That's us, sometimes we get together outside work, often we pass each other in the course of our work and barely exchange more than a greeting.
Euan and I stumbled across evidence that pointed us towards a bizarre plot. Our two benefactors, Sir Keith and Saleh el Moharbi, are heavily implicated as being at the centre.
Saleh el Moharbi
Spies Inside The Statue Of Liberty
I was to meet Euan at 7:30 in the morning at the top of the Statue of Liberty, inside the flame. From here we could pick up a clear signal from all six transmitters that we had strategically placed in various locations.
It was freezing. I was hot from mounting the many steps but the air was chilly and I was beginning to cool down rather rapidly. Thanks to Euan's uncle, Sir Keith, we had privileged access to the small room right inside the torch itself. From here, we would be able to eaves-drop on conversations in the two hotels and three offices in New York where our 'foe' could be meeting that day.
We were convinced they would meet to discuss their next step since every one of them was converging on New York this morning. Ironically, it was the very same uncle we were hoping to trap, he and his super rich associates were well on their way to finalising their scheme to reduce the world's population by some eighty per cent. What began as a desire for empty roads and wide open beaches had escalated into something rather more sinister. Today we planned to capture on tape their discussions, their incriminating plans.
My breath formed little clouds and I shivered as I fitted the last of the receivers into its nook.
Euan's head popped up.
"Hi," he said and scrambled into the tiny space, dragging the case of equipment behind him. He panted slightly, we exchanged pleasantries.
Euan connected the control unit to the mini-mixer, wedged into the next space along from the amplifier.
"A funny thing happened on the train," Euan said as he handed me the Nagra tape recorder, "the chap opposite me walked off leaving his paper, underneath it I found a letter post marked seventeen years ago."
I began setting up the tape recorder, Euan took an envelope from his pocket and continued, "inside there was a wedding announcement, a baby announcement and several handwritten, torn-up pages. Look, it's a poem."
From the envelope Euan carefully drew folded newspaper pages, inside lay the torn up manuscript.
I fitted the receivers, via the mixer, to the Input phonos of the Nagra, set it to 'Pause' and checked the levels.
I looked round. "And just how on earth am I supposed to read that?" I exclaimed.
"I've numbered them," Euan said cheerily, handing them over. "Anyway, you always liked jig-saw puzzles, didn't you?"
I removed the headphones, checked the tiny receivers were secure in their mountings and wedged myself into one of the window bays and carefully opened the newspaper with its array of scraps.
Euan took over control of the recorder, all he had to do was check for a signal and run the tape.
"Eight o'clock kick off?" he asked.
"Still eight o'clock," I said, "nothing's changed that I know of."
"If they do all their deals in the cars while driving from the airport we won't get much," he said.
"True but that's unlikely, their arrival times don't match up. They have to meet in town someplace," I replied, and began laying the pieces of paper in order using one of the cases as a table.
Each page had been torn into four pieces which meant fitting them together was not as difficult as it had seemed at first. There were about twelve pages, making forty eight shreds altogether. Once I had them sorted out I began reading.
Euan watched me, I looked up, scowled, glanced at the equipment and he immediately applied himself to the task in hand. He put on his headphones and ran the Nagra, adjusting the mixer to listen to each receiver in turn. He checked his watch and paused the tape, we still had several minutes.
"He-llo," a deep, rather luxuriant feminine voice intoned. A moment later and Brenda's hair ascended into the narrow space followed by her sparkling eyes and radiant smile.
"Hi Brenda," we chimed.
Trailing behind her she pulled up two carrier bags bulging with provisions. Suddenly I realised I was hungry and thirsty.
Once she had finished handing out 'Breakfast' Brenda found herself a place where she could perch comfortably and sat back with her usual broad grin.
Brenda saw the papers, "oh," she exclaimed, "is that Eta's letter?"
We shook our heads.
"Eta called me last night, she's received this huge letter, over a hundred pages," Brenda put her hand to her mouth to stifle a laugh, "she's no idea who it's from, can't put a face to the name."
"You're just in time to hear some poetry," said Euan through a mouthful of croissant.
"It's terribly passionate," Brenda continued, "she's had a few of those, you know, passionate flings."
"This looks more like a suicide note," I joked, and promptly blushed. "I - I mean - " I began but was cut short.
"Get on with it," said Brenda, "read it out."
With both hands holding the scraps in place, I began.
"PART ONE - THE LAMENT
A man was sitting alone at a bar
Unaware of the woman who watched from afar;
His admirer was a stranger who knew he was no Star
But she herself was lonely, they were both on a par."
Brenda sniggered and put her hand over her face. "Ssh!" hissed Euan. I continued.
"The attractive young woman came across the pub
Sat down beside him and whispered, 'Beelzebub!'
He scowled at her sneering, 'What d'you want with me?
Calling me names won't get a seat on my knee.'
The woman laughed and pointed at his fag,
'You dream of a princess but deserve only - a Hag!'
He dismissed her rudely and was about to go away
When she caught hold of his jacket and begged him to stay.
He snapped at her sternly that he was going for a walk
But she ordered some drinks and suggested they talk.
Drawing herself closer the elegant lady asked if he was all right,
He assured her that life was wonderful but then bemoaned his plight:
'I drink, I smoke, I swear, I spit;
Shoot smack, sniff coke, take trips, and vomit;
I cheat, I lie, I burgle, I fight,
I eat like a pig, I snarl and I bite.'"
Euan covered his mouth with his hand, laughed silently and pointed at me. I scowled but carried on.
"'No woman can keep me though many have tried,
My love I lost, I cried and cried.
Why should I care, who gives a toss?
I've got the hide of a rhinoceros.
I may as well smoke another cigarette,
Before going next door to place a little bet.'
'But surely kind Sir to win back your love
The habit of smoking you'll easily shove?'
'If I give up my smoking will she return?
Or will she just jeer and my affections spurn?'
'Oh yes sir undoubtedly she'll appreciate the change,
'Tis worth it, you'll see, a meeting I'll arrange.'
'Worth it? Why bother, my drinking will stop her,
I'm scrawny and ugly and my nose is whopper.'
Brenda laughed, "like you," she said, pointing at me, adding hastily, "oops, sorry, didn't mean it." I was slightly annoyed, it was a sensitive issue but I pretended to be unruffled and continued.
"'But surely dear man for your heart's desire
To give up your drinking is not very dire?'
'If I give up my drinking will she come back?
Or will she just laugh and paint my name black?'
'Oh yes sir certainly she will notice the difference,
You make the effort and she'll lose her diffidence.'
'Worth it? (with a cough) my swearing will put her off.
When she hears how I speak she will leave with a scoff!'
'But surely young fellow to win back your happiness
You could give up swearing with the greatest of rapidness?'
'If I give up my swearing do you think she will stay
Or will she just mock me and again run away?'
'Oh yes sir undoubtedly she will like the improvement,
'Tis worth it, you wait, she'll pay you a compliment.'
'Worth it? Forget it, my spitting will deter her:
When she sees me gobbit she'll be gone in a blur-r.'
'But surely old chap to retrieve your darling
You'll gladly give up both spitting and snarling?'
'If I stop spitting will she be mine?
Or is this a joke, a cruel feminine design?'"
Brenda let out a hoot, we looked at her, she urged me to resume.
"'Oh yes sir undoubtedly she'll admire your behaviour,
She'll kneel at your feet and call you, "her saviour".'
'You jest! What's the point, fixing will disappoint,
Let's drop this discussion, I'll roll up a joint.'
'But surely dear master to fulfil all your dreams
Giving up fixing is worth a few screams?'
'If I give up my fixing will she love me forever?
Or will she ignore me and deride my endeavour?'
'Oh yes sir certainly she will reward your effort,
For the rest of your life she will be your escort.'
'Escort? I'm reminded: my stealing will wreck it,
When she knows what I'm up to she'll see I'm a misfit.'
'But why, silly fool, with such a valuable reward
Would you want to keep stealing and adding to your hoard?'
'If I give up my stealing will she remain faithful
And where will I find money to buy us a vehicle?'
'The way you complain you do yourself no favours,
A man of your talents will earn well from honest labours.'
'You're wasting your time, my fighting's too big a crime,
When she sees me let fly she'll know it's no pantomime.'
'But surely you blithering idiot if you love the woman truly
You'll gladly give up fighting and become much more ruly?'
'If I give up my fighting will she be my wife,
Or will she call me a wimp and make me fight for my life?'"
Euan laughed. Brenda made a curious snorting noise, a kind of suppressed explosion of mirth. I carried on,
"'Oh yes sir certainly she'll marry you with delight,
Cut your bad habits and your future will be bright.'"
By this time, I was struggling not to laugh too.
"'Sweet lady I am sure your intentions are sincere,
I have listened to your admonishments poured in my ear.
I take them all seriously, your advice I will heed,
To accomplish these things about a year I shall need.
Come back and see me perhaps I'll have changed
And all your promises: we'll see if they were feigned.'
With this his antagonist finally departed,
She bade him good wishes while he loudly farted.
Alone on his bar stool he contemplated quietly
What life would be like with so much sobriety.'"
I looked up at Euan, "how're the receivers doing?" I asked.
"Oh - er, hang on," he put the headphones on, looked from me to Brenda and back again, smiled and held up his thumb. "First rate," he said, removing the headphones, "we've got them, they're in the hotel, discussing their trip ... and shopping and stuff."
"Don't you think you should be listening in for important details?" Brenda asked.
I nodded vigorously.
"Okay," said Euan, "I've read the thing already anyway," he put the headphones back on and concentrated on the record level meters on the front of the Nagra.
I carried on reading.
"PART TWO - A YEAR LATER
The time passed slowly and he used it well;
He was back a year later with a story to tell.
'Dear sir how are you, what a long time has past,
Have you conquered your habits, won your love at long last?
I see you are sitting in exactly the same place,
Drinking and smoking, you look quite a disgrace!
Did you not hear me, have you forgotten our chat?
Where is your willpower or are you a prat?'
'My dear lady I heard you, I listened with care;
I carried out your instructions - here, take a chair.
My faults you enumerated one by one,
I have with me a book where they are all written down.'
'Writing and listing that's not how to do it!
You must strive and practice, live like a Jesuit.
But tell me anyway, how did you get on?
Did you make any effort or are you a con?'
'My faults as you know they are many in number,
I have worked at each one by day and aslumber;
I tried very hard and with expert assistance
Whittled away till there was no resistance.
You may now be wondering why I sit here and stare,
You see no results you think I don't care;
Nothing however could be further from the truth,
I now know exactly how to regain my lost youth:
I can give up smoking, drinking and swearing,
I can stop myself stealing, shouting and glaring;
I can be servile and do 'good deeds',
I can cut out drugs and start wearing tweeds.
I can slim my body, build up some muscle,
Become a straight guy who gets lost in the bustle.
I can be a brave hero like Superman or Bond,
Take up skating or fishing by the pond
But try and try and try as I might
There is one little detail bedevils my plight:
No matter how hard or how long I may fight
I know I can never, never ever be right.'
'How can you say such a thing to me now?
After all that we've been through, this I cannot allow!
You've heard me, you've listened, you know I mean well,
Stop snivelling, grow up, call her back or go to hell!'
'This one little thing that I never can alter,
Regardless of habits I know it will halt her.
The problem, as I knew before we began,
Curable neither by magic or talisman,
Is quite simply - '
He looked at her waiting to see if she knew,
Her eyes were wide open, apprehensive, and blue;
He smiled wanly and continued to finish the rhyme,
After all, they had been talking for quite a long time:
'The problem, as you know, is that I am - a man.'"
Brenda let out a little shriek, I continued reading.
"At this the woman grew purple with rage,
She stared and she glared for quite a long age.
'How dare you! How dare you!' She spluttered and fumed,
Finally with deep breathing her composure she reassumed.
'That's men all over, inside and out
You drink and you beat us you swear and you shout!'
'Carry on, old woman, curse me some more!
You're only happy when we're off at war!
You tease and lure then nag and scold,
'Tis not men you love but power and gold!'
'A man who loved women would never talk thus,
You think you're so clever while stuffing your pus.
Gorge your appetite on alcohol and drugs -
Remember me when you're fighting with thugs.
You accuse us of this and say we do that
There once was a time when a man raised his hat!'
'That's enough, horrid woman, it is you who is wrong...'
And in this vein the two of them went on, and on.
An hour and a half later the protagonists stood in a clearing,
The customers in the pub formed a circle around them cheering.
The men applauded him while the women backed her each time a point was scored;
The woman snapped and spat while the man pranced, bellowed and roared.
'Husband and wife!' a couple from the crowd clapped and yelled with glee,
'Hoi, did you hear that?' shouted another, 'they're just like you and me!'
But these two people were not married, their names they hardly knew;
By chance they'd met yet now they were lacerated painfully through and through.
Not a single physical blow was struck but their words cut deeper than knives
With each one finding the other's Weak Spot they lost a thousand lives.
The Gulf War, Vietnam, World Wars One and Two,
None of them were a patch on this, so intense was their hullabaloo."
"Ssh - ssh - listen to this," said Euan, and began repeating what he was hearing, "'strictly speaking we should wipe out the lot,'" he paused, holding up his hand while listening intently, "'no, no,'" he repeated, "'we'll leave a couple of hundred million.' They're deadly serious," Euan glanced at us.
We looked from one to the other, Brenda handed us each a cup of coffee from the flask.
"This will go down well," she said.
"The coffee?" I asked.
"No-o," she snorted, "the recording."
Euan adjusted the levels.
Brenda's eyes met mine, she looked back at the shreds of paper and flicked her eyebrows, prompting me to continue.
I cleared my throat.
"PART THREE: THE ARGUMENT
'Men are Evil Criminals' is thundered across the media - "
"Too right!" exploded Brenda with a laugh and promptly put her finger to her lips with a blush.
We both glanced at her, I paused only briefly before continuing.
"'And with every day that passes all you women are getting greedier!'
'How dare you make such vile accusations!
Us women fought hard for tiny concessions.
Filled with self-pity you men are all the same,
You lock us in the kitchen and you joke, 'it's just a game!'
'There you go: Nag! Nag! Exactly like I said,
What is wrong with a married woman keeping her husband fed?'
'It's slavery and drudgery, it's dreary and it's dull,
You drive off in big flash cars while our reward is null!'
'What complete and utter nonsense and a pack of filthy lies,
Us men must work for all you women as you'd know if you'd open your eyes.'"
"Lazarus," remarked Euan, "raised from the dead support his widowed mother." Brenda scowled, I continued.
"'Most of the jobs we have to do are unpleasant and monotonous
And you are stealing away from us the few that are adventurous!''"
Euan nodded with a fiendish grin.
Brenda hissed; if looks could kill. I felt conscious that we were in a confined space, high up, inside Lady Liberty. I blushed and bashed on.
"'That's it! That's it! Shove us down the hole.
Not so very long ago a woman 'had no soul'!
If you had everything your way we would all be on the dole.'
'Rubbish! That's poppycock, you know it's just not true,
Women have an important place, there's masses for you to do.
By stealing away our livelihoods, our professions and identities,
Not only are you robbing us but neglecting important duties!'
'Power, domination, fame and fortune is all you ever want,
You take us up the central aisle then leave us at the font!
You've no idea how hard it is for lonely women with kids,
You stand there glittering among the stars while we are on the skids.
We've been fighting for our rights since they built the pyramids!
Women must unite against you evil men to show you who is boss,
You must learn that without our help you'll suffer every kind of loss.'
'What you say is very unpleasant you blame us with such bile,
Can't you see that men love women but your hatred is quite vile?'
'Hate you? We would love you but you cause us so much pain!
All our efforts at keeping house have ended up in vain.
We slog from morning till late at night cleaning, cooking and mending,
Never a token of thanks do we get, you just go on offending!'
''A woman's work is never done' is what once was commonly said
But today your work is never done 'cos you're always lying in bed!'"
"Ha!" Euan exclaimed, "my sister in law!" He shook his head as he laughed.
Brenda fumed, I carried on.
"'How dare you!' she screamed at the top of her voice for she had been mortally wounded,
'Many a girl has married a man who with his lechery ruined it!'"
"That's it!" Brenda barked assertively, stabbing the air with her finger. I winced and pressed on.
"'How can a man love any woman with a mind as black as yours?
All boys dream of romantic love but today there are only wh***s!'
"Ha ha," Euan laughed, "paradise."
"Eu-an!" Brenda exclaimed with vehemence.
I bashed on.
"'At that the woman grew more enraged for he had gone too far,
He'd uttered the ultimate hypocrisy and she was eager to spar.
What, she demanded, did he imagine young girls dreamed at night?
Of foul-mouthed youths who leered and spat or a resplendent rescuing knight?
'With good little boys and good little girls everything would turn out "Right"
But where is the fun in playing by "The Rules" and always 'being polite'?
It's rough and tumble and life is a muddle with people all tangled up,
At the end of the day it's a roll in the hay and nobody wins any Cup.'
'That's all very well for you to say for you just want - ' there's a piece missing," I said.
"Get on with it," Brenda muttered; I did.
"'But the poor little girl who is charmed and enamoured ends up cursing her 'Luck'.
You court and tease her until she swoons then vanish into the haze
While the innocent lass who carries your heir must hide from society's gaze.'"
Brenda nodded, long, slow and emphatically.
"'That's just not so, you're full of spite, it's the romantic lad who suffers:
His heart is torn, his mind's a storm, it's the girls who shun us Duffers!'"
"Ha!" exclaimed Euan, having removed his headphones, "over seventy per cent of divorces are at the instigation of the woman - and usually it's because of money."
I glanced up, Brenda glared at Euan. I hurried on.
"'She begets his child who suffers her lip and whom he never sees,
Yet she hounds him to the ends of the earth in order his money to seize.
If you were as 'equal' as you always make out you'd pay the Dad a rent -
Instead you deprive him of the child he loves and forever your hardships lament."
Euan let out a short laugh, looked at Brenda with owl-like eyes and remarked, "you too can grow bald and be jailed by your own spouse."
Brenda looked startled and lost for words, I quickly drowned any impending row by raising my voice as I continued.
"'Why are you shouting so belligerently at me in this way?
I came here to help you win her back and for you to make her stay.
I have no argument with you as you know perfectly well,
You have not even tried to make her return, it's time you went to Hell.'
'What's the point? You think it's simple, there is something you should know:
For many a year I kept in touch and all she said was, 'no!'
I have lived alone and poor while she's had others with whom to play,
She boasts she's married another man and now I have nought to say.
What can I do? The story's at an end;
I've written many letters that I dare not send.'
The man paused, then turned and addressed the staff
Who continued their duties and tried not to laugh.
'Was it love or a lie?
Her heart or her thigh?
That captured my eye
And held me on high?'"
Euan sniggered, "definition of insanity, serenading a prostitute."
"Would you shut up?" Brenda exclaimed, red faced, muttering expletives under her breath.
I winced and carried on.
"'I saw her I wanted her we kissed and we danced,
For several weeks we shared a passionate romance.
I thought I'd forget her and go looking for more
But decided instead to keep in touch and explore -
What would happen if rather than disappearing
We remained good friends with letters endearing?
Sad to say the experiment failed,
Instead of happiness I became impaled.
Here I am, decades later,
Miserable and striving not to berate her.'
The customers had departed, the protagonists were exhausted and alone,
He was about to ask the 'chivalrous question' by offering her a lift home
When at that moment the pub-door opened and the pair of them turned to look:
The lady who stood there returned their stare and exclaimed, 'it's just like the book!'
The man's eyes were opening wider and wider and scarcely a word was he able to utter.
She walked smiling towards him as his antagonist watched him and he began to stutter.
His stomach was churning, his cheeks were burning and he was all of a-flutter.
The woman with whom he had been arguing vehemently recognised immediately
The stranger here was his long lost love and now they were hugging affectionately.
While they embraced the man turned and looked at the barmen with a grin
But the lady who watched them knew right then that The Battle had yet to begin."
I glanced at Brenda, she was still listening. Euan was adjusting one of the receivers. I resumed with scarcely a pause.
"PART FOUR - GOODNIGHT
A happy ending had at last been contrived
His missing beloved had finally arrived.
Sadly, this was not true at all,
No one had entered to conclude their brawl;
T'was but a fiction, a passing idea,
The man had just turned to order more beer.
The lady who'd found him stood back and thought,
'There is something here that I still have to sort.
This man is not fit for love nor friendship,
His loneliness is due to his lack of fellowship;
Wherever he goes he carries a bitter chip,
The people he meets abhor his cheeky lip.
'The world must change' is his eternal lament,
But the world replies with, 'Thou Shalt Repent.'
'Repent? Why me? I did no wrong,
All I was doing was trying to Belong.'"
Brenda snorted, "all she was doing was trying to belong," she muttered darkly.
Euan raised the headphones from his ears and glanced round.
"'Behave!' 'Conform!' 'Change!' and, 'Obey!'
'Children must suffer if they ever run astray;'
Punishment and threats control this man's life,
He has never seen anything but bitterness and strife.
Outlook and feelings became cruelly twisted
Long before his, "Lost Love" had even existed.'
The woman surveyed him as he stared into space,
She could see deep loneliness carved in his face.
If ever these truths were to be uncovered
He would realise that he had been hiding in a cupboard;
Surrounded in darkness and quivering with fear,
His intense confusion lets no one come near.
'Innocence,' 'Freedom,' 'Friendship' and 'Fun,'
'Do What You Like,' was once his rule-of-thumb.
Now he sat broken, splintered and deranged,
No woman would believe how sadly he'd changed.
That he was sincere was not in question
But what could be done to cure his obsession?
No matter how hard he tried he was wrong,
Either too weak or far too strong.
The 'Happy Ending' was all in his mind,
In silence she wondered what he might find.
As glasses rattled in sinks full of soap
The woman reflected upon her own Lost Hope,
The love she had had and attempted to overcome,
Her own burning desires and her own, 'Rule Of Thumb.'
The couple walked to the door and waved goodnight.
As she sat in his car her stomach grew tight,
Could this man save her from her own sad plight?
She stole another glance and saw no, 'White Knight.'
He accompanied her back to her expensive flat
Then made his way homeward without any more chat.
Under the yellow lamp of his Anglepoise
He tried yet again to write with equipoise.
If she returned, would he be kind?
"Happily Ever After" or an interminable bind?
''Tis not the world that changes but me,'
He cursed his solitude and wished he could see
Exactly what it was that he truly sought
And why it should be that his efforts came to nought.
He heaved a sigh as he pulled over the covers,
Tried to forget and to think of other lovers.
Suicide, misogyny, bitterness and pain -
'Am I raving mad? Or, actually, quite sane?
And far away in her distant town,
Is she wearing a smile? Or a grim, bitter frown?'
She thought of him often, of that he was sure,
Why was it that still he felt quite insecure?
Turmoil churned as he tried counting sheep,
The thoughts in his mind would not let him sleep:
'I wear the wrong clothes, I say the wrong things,
I make mistakes and blame the underlings;
I drive too fast, I'm ill tempered and rude,
I slurp my soup and bolt my food;
I cannot cook, my meals are canned,
I hate DIY and plants fear my hand.
What chance for me, happiness or love?
I'm a Boer and a pest, I push and I shove.
Money's on my mind nearly all of the time:
A pound, a Franc, a quick Mark or a dime.
I chase fast women and curse when they go,
They squeal if I grab but jeer if I'm slow.
I'm wild and I'm crooked, I'm guilty and I'm torn,
Many's the day I wish I'd never been born.
'Jack the Lad,' I pretend to be cool
But all the time I know I'm a Fool.
My life is a shipwreck, a car-crash and a Joke,
It's a murderous battle being an 'Ordinary Bloke.'
And as if these woes were not enough to put Her off,
Apart from my appearance, dull wit and smoker's cough,
When chatting in company I'm a crashing great bore -
And my crowning failure is that at night, I snore.'
With these sad thoughts tumbling about in his head
Our hero fell asleep, alone in his bed."
That was it, the last line. I looked up at Brenda, she tilted her head and nodded, "hmm," was all she could say.
Euan was shaking his head, engrossed in his recordings, all manner of expressions crossing his face.
"Wow, you've got to hear this," he said, removing his headphones, "every location you predicted, bar one, proved a direct hit, Rick. Well done. We've got detailed descriptions of Who, What, Where, When, How, enough quotes to incarcerate them for life."
"And 'Why' too?" Brenda asked, half joking.
"Er, yes, 'Why' is in there too."
"Have they gone?" I asked.
"Yes, they're heading off now," Euan replied.
Brenda's eyes lit up, "that's it then, mission accomplished, no more hiding up Statues of Liberty and other daft places?"
"Absolutely. End Game starts here."
Euan tossed his headphones over to me and reached for the 'Rewind' knob.
Brenda slipped down from her perch and began tidying away the litter and remaining food. I stood up, stretched, and opened up the equipment bag.
Euan hesitated, he was blushing.
"Well," said Brenda, "go on, rewind the tape."
"Er," said Euan, "it's - " he was acutely embarrassed.
I detected a sense of agony, something was rather seriously wrong.
"It already is rewound; it's - um -" he squirmed.
"The tape has not been running, it was paused," he blurted, banging his head onto his forearm.
"They're still talking though, aren't they?" I asked.
He shook his head, "no, they've left, they're in their cars where we can't pick them up."
We had nothing.
"I can remember it," Euan stammered, "I'm sure - if I try - I'll..." his voice trailed off.
Brenda and I looked at him and at each other. His word alone counted for nothing in a court of law. We still did not have enough to pin anything on the key members of the plot.
All this time and effort, all the work, placing the bugs, tracking their movements, smuggling the receivers up here, for nothing.
"Just got to catch them red-handed," Brenda said with a shrug and a sigh.
My stomach sank.
Brenda opened the trap-door, Euan opened a window to unhook a receiver, I was about to shuffle together the pieces of paper when a blast of air swept them up and whisked them out through the open window.
I tried to catch them. "Never mind about that," said Brenda holding up the hatch, "let's go."
I glanced outside, I could just about see the tiny bits of paper as they floated off in different directions.
Euan nodded, a look of apology, remorse, fear, guilt and finally relief on his face. He stuffed the Nagra into the case.
"Where are they going?" I asked, sliding down from my position.
Euan blushed again, "I don't know, I was trying to get your attention when they discussed that, I thought we had it on tape."
Euan frowned, looked at the recorder, looked at me, "hey!" he exclaimed, "I thought YOU had set this all running before I arrived!"
It was my turn to blush.
"Nobody was saying anything, they weren't there. I was waiting for you to turn up," I protested.
"Darned verse, completely distracted the lot of us," Euan shook his head.
I looked at the last remaining jigsaws of paper and pulled a face.
"Best not leave any litter," said Brenda, scooping them up and stuffing them into the bin bag.
Euan gathered up the receivers, the wires and the amplifier. "We'd better shift," he said darkly.
I fastened up my jacket.
Brenda was already descending the ladder.
Euan put on his coat, looked round to make sure nothing had been left behind and made for the exit.
Running down the stairs Brenda shouted, "Why?"
"Why - what?" asked Euan.
Brenda stopped and turned, I almost collided with her and Euan with me.
"You said you had the who, what, where and all that but never told us the 'why'," she said.
"Oh," Euan replied, "isn't it obvious? Because there are too many people in the world. We need - or they want, rather, more space."
"They intend to eliminate at least four thousand million people over a period of just a few years," I added.
Our voices echoed down the spiral stairway.
"That's ridiculous," Brenda retorted, "they're mad."
"They are serious," Euan and I answered together.
Looking past Brenda down the stairway vanishing out of sight I felt a magnified sense of their emptiness as if beyond this little enclosure the cities were already deserted and we were practically the only ones left.
Brenda looked from Euan to me, pointed at each of us and said, "and it's up to us to make sure they fail?"
Euan and I nodded with a forlorn look.
Brenda let out a weak, slightly silly little laugh, sighed, shrugged and added, "we'd better get on with it then."
The three of us raced down the stairs as quickly as we could only just keeping our toes out of each other's way.
The Classy Old Car
We emerged from the statue, ahead of us there sat a striking 1950's Cadillac with wide tail fins.
"Hi Acey!" Brenda shouted as we approached.
"Been here long?" Brenda asked.
"Nice car," I said, "not yours is it?"
"Sir Keith lent it to me," Acey replied as he opened the boot - or should that be 'trunk' as we were in the Great and Glorious US of A, Land of Freedom and Democracy.
We deposited our bags and slammed the lid, Acey handed the keys to Euan and with a resigned tone said, "your uncle stipulated that you decide who drives."
"Oh!" Brenda exclaimed, before checking her enthusiasm and looking from me to Acey.
Euan opened the driver's door and ushered her in, "I think that means, 'me please.' Enter, Brenda."
We all laughed.
Brenda found herself behind the wheel, Euan and I hopped into the back and Acey took the front.
"Are we insured?" I asked.
"Any driver," Euan replied. "Lead on, MacBren!" He laughed again.
"Wherever you go we are sure to follow!" Euan whooped.
"We're boors and pests" I joked.
"We can but acquiesce" Euan added.
"To yoor wish-ez!" I finished; we laughed at the dreadful half-rhymes.
"Are you sure you wouldn't rather drive?" Brenda asked, turning to Acey.
"No no, I love to be driven," Acey assured her, "all the top toffs around here have chauffeurs." He grinned.
"That's because they're drunks." Brenda retorted and turned the ignition.
"Hoi Acey," I said, "you drove here."
Brenda eased the car into the traffic.
Euan gave me a nudge, "guess who's buying the petrol," he chuckled.
With commensurate skill Brenda sped swiftly through the lanes, always picking the quickest route through the stream of cars - or could it be that they saw us coming and made way? I could not tell for sure but her driving was flawless.
Brenda told Acey about Euan's poem, prompting a lively discussion.
"Uh-oh," Brenda said, "petrol!"
"Up ahead," said Acey, "less than a mile, we'll be okay. And it's 'gas' in these parts."
"Yes but who's paying?" Brenda asked.
"You are, condition of driving. Driver checks the fuel, oil and tyres." Acey grinned, Brenda scowled. Euan and I chuckled.
"You'll only need a gallon," said Euan.
"We'll chip in for the rest," I volunteered.
Acey turned to us, "pass the hat!"
Between us we fed the old girl four gallons. The tyres were fine and a fellow at the garage gave the windows a once over.
Suitably stocked with snacks and scoosh - juice to you - we continued on our way.
About a mile and a half down the road we ground to a halt, cars trailed ahead of us as far as the eye could see.
Acey turned on the radio, "...mile tailback as police investigate a suspected suicide. Eyewitnesses reported seeing a man jump from a train as it crossed slowly over the bridge..." He snapped it off again and gestured at the cars, "that's us blocked, splattered himself on the tarmac no doubt."
"Acey!" Brenda admonished.
Euan and I looked at one another.
Acey swung his arm over the seat, "Georgie Porgie pudding and pie, kissed Samantha and made her sigh. Samantha waved her knickers in the air, the sniggering rascals trooped up her stair. Georgie Porgie pudding and pie, er, hang on, oh yes - climbed out the train and, er, wanted to die."
Brenda, glowering, turned to Acey, "okay Mister Smarty Pants, I may have my bum in the driving seat but you're the one with map. Navigate us out of this mess, we're going to be late."
"Good shot," Euan muttered as Acey fumbled with the glove compartment.
Acey examined the forty year old atlas he found, "according to this, that road back there leads through a steading and onto a country lane."
We had passed it as we began slowing down.
"And what good is that to us now?" Brenda exclaimed.
Acey looked back, "we could reverse along the hard shoulder," he said.
No sooner said than done, Brenda turned the wheel, drove forward onto the hard shoulder, straightened out, slipped into reverse gear, swung her elbow over the seat and began reversing.
"Left hand down a bit, back a bit, that's it," Acey shouted out directions as he fancied himself as the world's best reverse driver.
Brenda bit her lip and scowled but kept her attention on her driving.
Acey did not let up, "keep the verge aligned with the tail fin, that's it, brilliant, don't worry about weaving a little. Watch your speed," on and on. Brenda had to work hard not to let him distract or annoy her.
We reversed for at least half a mile, possibly more, or so it seemed. Cars streamed past on the highway, brake lights flashing on as they neared the congestion.
"Brake! That's it, bring the car gently to a halt, into neutral and handbrake on. Wonderful, very good Brenda." Acey unashamedly patronised our driver.
We had stopped just passed the track that wound across the fields.
I jumped out and opened the old gate with the utmost care, it looked ready to fall apart.
We drove along the pitted track and soon the motorway was obscured by hedges and embankments.
"Watch the verge," Acey said 'helpfully', "the road's pretty narrow here," as if no one else had noticed.
The more irate Brenda grew with Acey's motormouth commentary the more he enjoyed issuing instructions.
"Slow for the bend, drop a gear, that's right very good now just ease the wheel round, perfect. Slip the clutch and accelerate out of the bend, marvellous. See, I knew she was a good driver."
Euan and I sat in the back trying to control ourselves, Brenda was practically issuing steam. Every time she made a move Acey told her what to do, even though she was already doing it.
Finally, having crawled quietly through the steading, we were out on a straight, empty country road.
Just as Brenda began applying pressure to the accelerator with the obvious intention of taking her frustrations out on her driving, Acey once again got his commentary in first. "Foot down," he proclaimed, "nice straight road, ideal for burning off your frustrations."
Brenda stifled a scream and practically pushed the accelerator through the floor. "Gear change!" Acey yelled above the roar of the engine at precisely the moment Brenda touched the clutch.
Brenda flipped into a higher gear in record time and bulleted the car down that road. I grew tense and grabbed onto whatever I could but then told myself, what the blazes, she probably does not want to kill herself, the worst that could happen is we all end up maimed and, as telling her anything at all would clearly be counter productive, there was nothing for it but to relax.
The road must have been a good three or four miles long, gently undulating with the roll of the land. I could not see the speedometer but we went fast.
Up ahead there was a round-about, 'this could be interesting,' I thought, wondering what she would do.
Brenda showed no sign of slowing, Acey was about to shout but thought better of it.
At the last possible moment Brenda slammed on the brakes, at the same time switching rapidly down through the gears.
Still travelling at speed the round-about was upon us, I wondered if she intended driving over the top of it but that probably would not work.
Brenda spun the wheel and seized the hand brake, the car swung round and we skidded sideways in a perfect handbrake turn.
The moment we were close to the exit she booted the accelerator to the floor, flicked the gear stick, spun the wheel and hurled us back onto the open road. Rally drivers would have been proud of her.
"Bet Acey couldn't have done that," I said to Euan, he nodded and grinned.
Acey was curiously, almost eerily silent.
Half a mile down the road Brenda throttled back, the car gently eased down to a more sensible pace. Up ahead another vehicle approached. It became possible to hold a normal conversation again.
"Well, Acey," said Euan, "what was that all about?"
Acey leaned over the seat, he had a huge smile on his face, "simple," he said, "a, 'Demonstration.'"
"I think you'll have to explain that one," said Euan.
"The running commentary," Acey waved his hand as if his meaning was obvious,
"being told what to do, all day, every day, every turn of the way.
Newspapers, radio, television, city notices - even the way we talk."
"You're mad," Brenda hissed as she brought the car to gentle halt at a cross roads.
Acey shrugged, "everything we do is approved or condemned, praised or threatened, valued as Good or Bad." He again waved his hand, "just thought I'd show you, demonstrate, illustrate the point, that's all."
"Well thank goodness for that," Brenda hissed, "if you'd gone on just one second longer I would have killed the lot of us!"
Something about her tone suggested she was not joking.
Acey stifled a laugh before being serious once more.
Euan frowned, "nutcase," he muttered.
Acey swung his elbow over the back of his seat, "think about it," he said, "if I'd told Brenda to smash into on-coming cars, go over the roundabout, crash through the old gate and scrape the sides of parked vehicles it would have been a laugh instead of a torment."
Brenda approached a railway crossing with clanging warning bells and we slowed to a halt.
"Brenda was annoyed because I told her to do what she was already doing," Acey continued.
Euan grimaced, arms folded tightly, "so? What's your point?"
"Point is, constant patronising, telling us to do what we're already doing, while at the same time entertaining us with mischief and crime -"
"- turns ordinary people in bad-tempered, uncontrollable miscreants!" Brenda cut in.
"Like us!" I laughed. My voice was drowned out as a train hurtled by a short distance ahead.
Euan did not find any of this funny, it was not his day. "Rubbish," he muttered as he scowled at the landscape.
Brenda eased into gear, she drove impeccably.
"Women do grow bald," she said, "we're just too smart to let it show."
Euan and I grinned, Acey was confused. None of us explained.
HOT AIR BALLOONS
A few minutes later Brenda slowed the car to a crawl and turned the wheel as we approached the entrance to the field where the rest of the crew were gathered. Beyond the hospitality vehicles, equipment trucks, parked cars and people milling around, a hot air balloon wobbled into the air. A second balloon lay on the ground partially inflated.
Acey's eyebrows were knitted in concentration - or was it consternation?
I looked at him and turned to Euan who cocked an eyebrow.
Acey turned, his 'ideas light bulb' aglow, "there has never been any such thing as a, 'Male Dominated Society,' never ever, nowhere. It exists only in the eye of the beholder."
"So there," I retorted.
"Yah-boo," Euan added.
Brenda grimaced, her mind was on steering us to a parking place.
The classy old car slid gracefully between Sir Keith's new Aston Martin and Arri's lovingly restored Fuego.
Nearby a crowd congregated in front of an illuminated sign: "FREE FOOD."
Brenda pulled on the hand-break and turned off the ignition.
"Right," she seethed. Her vehemence was such that Euan and I could almost physically see the steam. She leaned against the door as she turned to Acey.
"What's you're answer then, Big Boy?"
I thought he would buckle under her onslaught but he remained calm. Acey held the pause as long as he dared, we sat in silence and watched.
Acey widened his eyes, Brenda increased the intensity of her glare, Acey opened his mouth, and paused.
I clicked my tongue with impatience.
"Vanquish," Acey said at last, "the fear" he glanced at me and back to Brenda, "of over-population".
Brenda's eyebrows shot up so fast I swear I saw them leave her forehead.
"Replace, 'Contraceptive' with, 'Fertility!' and 'Virility!'" Acey continued; "replace, 'Safe Sex Use A Condom' with," Acey wagged his index finger, "'Welcome Children'."
Brenda seized the wheel and stared straight ahead. "Pah." she exclaimed; "pah!" she shouted again. With a quick glance at Acey she got out the car and closed her door with an expressive thud. We followed.
With a smile Brenda tossed Euan the car keys and crooned, "undo my chastity belt."
Euan checked that the doors and trunk were locked, all the while keeping his eyes on Acey. I felt uncomfortable. Acey's self-satisfied glow faded.
Euan pocketed the keys, "where are you going to put them, all these people?" he demanded, "even if we greened every desert
we've still got a problem, a big one."
Acey took a breath and held out his hands.
"Soap-box," I called with my hand to my mouth.
We laughed, Acey was deflated.
"Later," he said with a dismissive wave.
We continued to the free catering truck, it transpired they had over-stocked and were anxious not to throw away good food.
"Head is fiction, heart is fact, stomachs like food and that's enough of that."
Acey, Brenda and I looked round, Euan grinned.
"Latin Eggs," he said as he held up the envelope that had contained the shredded poem, "it was stuck inside." He handed it to Brenda.
As Brenda read the verse, Acey held up his finger and intoned, "Love is for loonies, fidelity for fools, romance is wrong now that (who?) make(s) the rules."
"Yes, Sir, how can I help you?"
Acey blushed as he looked up at the counter lady in her striped apron and straw hat.
Minutes later we were at a trestle table with our heaped plates and paper cups. Beside us sat Sir Keith, who jovially described the day ahead, and Saleh el Moharbi, who had a glint in his eye that made me fear, for a brief but terrifying moment, that maybe he knew what we had been up to that morning.
Eta and Lotte sat at another table with Igvarts, Ed and Arri.
Thomas "Tosh" Potte stood near the balloons trying to catch the attention of Saleh el Moharbi and Sir Keith.
Saleh saw him and rose, Sir Keith followed.
Lying on the bench where Saleh had been sitting lay what I thought was his wallet. I picked it up and was about to shout after him when I realised it was a book. The cover was hand-made and heavily embossed.
The title read, "THE REPROBATORIUM" written by one 'Lord X of Glencoe'.
While the others concentrated on food and chat, I took a look inside.
"I'll give it back to him," Eta lifted the book from my hands. All I glimpsed inside was that it contained a lengthy metric text called "STRIKE THE STRONG".
I had little time to think about it as we had to finish our snack and head across to the balloons.
We didn't see Eta again for a month.