Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Allusionist

This novel has a front and a back cover, just like a real book, except that in a real book the front is on the right, not the left like this.
Front Spine Back

The Allusionist
Second draft

A novel by Ken Johnson
January 2016

Table of Contents: Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Acknowledgements


Thursday's Homework
A poem by Tumbril Mitchell

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet,
Consectetur adipiscing elit.
Pellentesque sit amet mauris
Sed urna tincidunt eleifend sit amet id odio.
Cum sociis natoque
Penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes,
Nascetur ridiculus mus.
Aliquam eleifend orci vitae tortor
Euismod vulputate.
Vivamus lobortis sem in hendrerit elementum.
Maecenas semper lorem vitae vestibulum
Euismod. Vestibulum in libero
Ut diam bibendum accumsan.
Vivamus non convallis felis.

Aliquam erat volutpat.
Pellentesque condimentum,
Leo quis pulvinar aliquam,
Eros nisi interdum nibh,
Quis ullamcorper odio odio non nunc.
Vestibulum ullamcorper accumsan vestibulum.
Ut in nisi urna.
Nullam at commodo nisi.
Morbi in arcu tristique ante consequat
Congue eget ut augue.
Phasellus tempor urna quis
Imperdiet sollicitudin.
Nullam lacinia,
Neque ut blandit tristique,
Purus nunc congue dolor,
Ac consectetur sem eros blandit dolor.
Phasellus sollicitudin maximus
Libero sit amet congue.

Chapter One

It's just before eight o'clock on a Tuesday morning at Number 159, Hiccup Hole Lane. As well as everywhere else.

Hiccup Hole Lane is in Ponders End, which is one of those suburbs of north London where nobody ever goes except to riot, gather firewood or practise survival techniques in anticipation of an atomic bomb attack. After all, ever since 1945, Ponders End had been the butt of the joke newspaper headline, "Atom Bomb Dropped on Ponders End, £2 Worth of Damage." But that was in 1945, and the value of London suburbs has gone up a lot since then. Nowadays, what with the housing shortage and all the inflation, the damage would be worth at least £17·43, maybe more.

Inside Number 159 Hiccup Hole Lane, Dad is sitting at the table and his daughter Tumbril is clattering down the stairs in the platform shoes that almost prevent her from standing upright and will shortly change walking to school from a five minute traipse into an agonising ordeal lasting half an hour.

"This is the BBC news," Tumbril hears. "Nick Clegg has described David Cameron's plans to remove certain powers from the European Union and restore them to the government of the United Kingdom as 'a false promise.' During a major speech in Chatham House…"

"Dad?" Tumbril interrupts him. "Where's the milk?"
"Don't interrupt me," said Dad, "when I'm reading the milk. The news is in the fridge."
Tumbril giggles. "Come again?"
"The milk is in the fridge. Where it usually is. It's white and it's in a sort of glass bottle thingy. You can't miss it."
"No, it isn't," says Tumbril, "because if it was, I wouldn't have to ask where it is."
"Well, it's in the cupboard, then. During a major speech in Chatham House, Mr Clegg accused the Conservatives of… "
"Shall I make the tea?"
"Don't interrupt the news. It's most important. When I was at the BBC, I was never allowed to interrupt the news, whatever happened. He accused the Conservatives of stamping their feet with impatience…"
"Dad, you were a window cleaner at the BBC. A first rate window cleaner, I know, but still a window cleaner. Why would you have wanted to interrupt the news?"
"To clean the windows, of course. You can't clean the windows unless you're in the room and standing close to them. Don't imagine that you can stand a hundred miles away from a window and still manage to clean it with a mop on a long pole, because you can't. That's just a daft rumour put about by the knockers and management consultants and the moaning minnies who have a prejudice against honest British window cleaners. There's many a time I stood out in the corridor carrying a bucket of warm water and a chamois, waiting for John Humphrys to finish reading the news so that I could get into the studio and clean the windows."

Tumbril looks in the cupboard, finds the milk, pours it over a plastic bowl of Golden Mildreds and puts the kettle on.

"You can't read the news in a studio with dirty windows."
"Why not? Is it too dark?"
"Because you wouldn't be able to see what was going on in the world. Suppose there was a massive demonstration and a socialist revolution broke out in the BBC car park. The newsreader wouldn't be able to see it."
"I see. Suppose the windows were dirty and revolution broke out in Hyde Park, or Earls Court?"
"When you can't see what is going on for yourself, you rely on the teleprinter. If the windows were dirty, it would be too dark to read the teleprinter."

"Suppose somebody wrote 'Clean Me' in the dirt with his finger," asks Tumbril, "would that alert the studio manager to the need to bring in a window cleaner to deal with the situation?"

"Of course," says Dad, "writing on the dirty glass might let in enough light for the anchor to read the news. I guess that sooner or later someone would do something about it."

Tumbril looks at her school timetable and Dad asks, "What are you going to do at school today, Tumbril?"
"Poetry," Tumbril spits, "Tuesday's poetry. I hate poetry."
"Yes, you don't have to tell me how horrible poetry is. Are they going to read it at you?"
"How much worse?" Dad asks.
"As much worse as having your head chopped off with a blunt yoghourt pot is worse than finding someone's left The Beano in your desk and the next lesson is double history and you can sit and read it behind the desk if you're careful." Tumbril pauses for dramatic effect. "That's how much worse it is. They're going to make me write some."
"God!" Dad is genuinely shocked. "They're going to make you write poetry, even though you don't want to? Have you told a lawyer and Amnesty International? Christ — nobody should be put through that sort of inhuman ordeal unless they've been sentenced to it by a competent court of law. How awful."
"They only make us do it because they know we don't like doing it."
"That's what schools are for. Nobody should have to endure such torment."
"So don't ask me if I had a nice day when I get home from school this evening, because I shall have had a thoroughly detestable one."
"All right. But that's only one lesson out of seven, isn't it? Are you going to do anything interesting at school today?"
Tumbril looks at her timetable again and she shakes her head. "No."
"Don't you have cookery today?"
"It's home economics, dad. Not cookery. More syllables equals more cachet, you know?"
"What else do you do in home economics apart from cookery?"
"Ping rubber bands at the other girls mostly. What good is cookery? They never tell us how to make our own chewing gum and that's the only food I want to make."
"You can't get all your nourishment from chewing gum."
"Yes, I can. And honestly, last week it was porridge. Who wants to make porridge?"
"You eat porridge," Dad points out.
"I didn't ask who wants to eat it. I asked who wants to make it. You make it for me, so what's the point of me going to school and learning how you do it?"
"You have a point there. I'd never thought of it like that. What with the housing shortage, you'll probably live in the same house as me all my life, so I'll make it for you and you'll never need to know how to make it."
"They didn't even say anything about putting golden syrup on it."
"That's on the advanced course, I expect. Anyway, it isn't hard. Open tin of golden syrup, fill spoon with golden syrup, pour golden syrup onto porridge, wash spoon, put lid back on golden syrup tin and put spoon away."
"Why didn't you use any definite articles in the recipe?"
"I ran out of them. Put 'definite articles' on shopping list so I remember to get some in while I'm at supermarket."

Tumbril returns to the kitchen and makes tea for herself in her own I Hate School mug. She makes more tea in her dad's mug, which reads, I'm More Important Than You Are.

"Dad, why do you drink from a mug with such an arrogant, offensive, smug and completely untrue slogan on it?"
"This mug has sentimental value," says Dad, "it is most precious to me because you gave it to me for Christmas, Tumbril."
"Oh, yes, so I did. There's the shell of a left over egg in the fridge, by the way. Which recycling bin do I put it into?"
"The red one."
"It's a duck egg. Does that make any difference?"
"Oh, yes," said Dad, "those go in the grey bin with two yellow stripes and a blue circle."
"When do they collect that one?"
"3.15 am every third Wednesday except in Lent or Advent or whenever it's raining."
"No wonder it stinks."

There is a pause of a couple of minutes while Tumbril tucks into the Golden Mildreds and Dad finds something interesting in the Daily Wail and reads it quietly to himself.

"Who's teaching you poetry?" Dad asks.
"Does he know anything about poetry?"
"No. That's why he teaches it. If he knew anything about poetry, then he would know how awful it is, and he wouldn't make us listen to it or write it or write about it or learn it."
"Well, try to be original," Dad advises, "and write the Tracy Emin's Bedroom of modern English poetry."

There is a short pause.

"I've found a boyfriend."

It is, of course, Tumbril who makes that announcement. Her father never really wanted one.

"Is he nice?"
"Yes. So far, at least, he is nice."
"Good. That's all that matters."
"Aren't you going to put me through a protracted interrogation about his physical and racial characteristics, appearance, occupational history, religious beliefs, educational background, moral fortitude and criminal record?"
"No. As long as he's nice, in your opinion, that really is the only thing that matters."

Dad looks perplexed. Tumbril feels vaguely cheated. All the other girls tell her that they have to put up with nightly hour long arguments in which both their parents, often cack-handedly assisted by other relatives, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, teachers, household pets and anyone else who happens to be passing, bombard them with questions and constantly repeat how little faith they have in their daughter's judgement.

"I trust your judgement," says Dad, "after all, you are fifteen years old."
"Aren't you going to ask anything about him at all?"
"Why?" asks Dad.
"Because you're supposed to."
"Well, all right," says Dad, "if it makes you happy. Do you really love your new boyfriend passionately and completely and with all your heart and soul?"
"That's none of your business." Tumbril shouts and bursts momentarily into tears, while Dad sits indifferently reading the newspaper. "You don't understand. You couldn't understand what I feel for Leonard even if I explained it to you for… for fifty million years. You never loved anyone, you soulless pig. Just keep your snout out of my love life, all right?"
"All right." Knowing that Tumbril has now said her piece, Dad is perfectly peaceable and does not so much as look up.
"Can I bring my boyfriend home with me and shag him in the living room?"
"Don't you… don't you dare try and stop me."
"I didn't," says Dad. "Shall I vacuum the carpet and take the stinking bin of food waste down to the council compost heap? Just so as the place looks nice for him and doesn't smell too bad."
"'Cos if you do, I'll run away from home and jump in front of an oncoming express train."
"You can shag him at any time and wherever you want, at your own risk. And inadvisable though it may be to jump in front of an express train, especially when it's moving towards you at high speed, the prospect does not fill me with alarm because there aren't any express trains here any more. Every day Branson's Breakdowns operates a railbus that goes to Standstill Airport at five miles an hour stopping at every bush along the way. Then it turns round and comes back again, and that's it for the day."
"Is it really that slow?"
"Yes, health and safety," says Dad, "because otherwise jilted and lovelorn teenage girls might queue up to jump in front of it. Health and safety always took the highest priority. After money, of course."
"Are there really so many lovelorn teenage girls that they have to queue up?"
"Oh, yes," says Dad, "definitely. There's a whole school full of them just up the road. You must have noticed."
"Oh!" Tumbril blows bubbles into her tea accidentally. "That reminds me, I have to go to school today."
"That's a nuisance. You can stay at home if you like. I've got a chair and a television. Can't think why you waste so much of your young life being taught to read, write and do sums. But why do you go there, if you're not expecting to do anything of value after you've got there?"
"Because otherwise they send the van round to fetch me."
"The bastards. You had better get going, then."

Tumbril finishes her tea and stands up. Dad settles down and continues to read the BBC News.

"So I'm off," she says.
"Bye, darling. Be good."

Tumbril grabs her coat and sets off for school, slightly unsteadily in the high platform shoes. Outside it is cold and sunny.

Alderman Gruesome Comprehensive School is two streets away. The walk ought to take five minutes. Tumbril, however, walks around the block on a route that takes her past her mum's house on Frog Pie Avenue. She knocks on Mum's door and says, "Hello Mum. Don't worry, I'm all right."
"Morning, Tumbril. Thanks for dropping by, love. Need anything?" Mum is clutching a small pink towel. Whenever Tumbril knocks on Mum's front door, Mum always seems to be carrying something. When she is staying with Mum, Tumbril has noticed that when Mum hears a knock at the door, she always picks something up and carries it to the door with her, so as to have something to clutch.
"A brain would be useful," Tumbril smiles, "that's all I need for now. Terabytes of memory and an IQ the size of a continent. With a creative spark plug so I can get a creative spark for English."
"Is that all?"
"And a smoke detector, for cookery."
"I'll have one ready for you this evening."
"Thanks, Mum, I knew you'd come up with something."
"You'd best get to school now, sweet."
"See you tonight," says Tumbril. On the platform shoes she teeters uncertainly towards the school, smiling and waving to Mum over her shoulder.

Leonard Cotton is Tumbril's greatest admirer and Marilyn is Tumbril's best friend. As usual, Tumbril arrives third and Marilyn and Leonard are waiting for her in the playground.

Leonard is a blond haired boy of pale countenance and slim build. He says, "Hello, Tumbril! Did you write a poem for English?"
"Leonard, you are now officially my boyfriend so as I haven't done any homework at all, you will help me."
"By 'officially,'", Leonard asks out of curiosity, "do you mean that you've put my photograph and an affectionate caption on your home page in Fluffbook?"
"Yes," Tumbril nods. A public notice of betrothal on Fluffbook was pretty much a declaration of seriousness in a relationship, much as was carving T, a heart and L on a tree would have been a hundred years before. Now that there weren't many trees, computers had stepped in to provide an alternative medium.
"I feel most honoured," says Leonard.
"That's because you are honoured. I don't fall head over heels in mad passionate love with every boy who asks me."
"I didn't ask you. It isn't my fault. You told me. But I was very happy when you said it. I must look at your Fluffbook page on my mobile I-Chat during double history. Incidentally, by 'help me,'" Leonard asks, "do you perchance mean 'do it for you?'"
"Yes," says Tumbril nodding. "I want you to write the Tracy Emin's Scaffy Bed of English poetry, and then I intend to pass it off as my own work."
"All right, precious girlfriend," says Leonard, really meaning it, "Give me your English book. I'll do it on condition you wear even taller and shinier shoes tomorrow. What's your handwriting like?"
"Do you know anything about knitting?" Tumbril replies, mysteriously.
"Well, my handwriting looks a bit like chain stitch," Tumbril explains, "thousands of loops and it goes up and down a lot."
"What colour wool?"
"Dark blue."
"How many spelling mistakes?"
"Anything with more than six letters."
Leonard nods confidently. "Leave it with me."
"Are you being Ted Glenn?"
"The handyman on Postman Pat. They bring him broken gramophones and washing machines and radios and canoes and teddy bears with the stuffing falling out and other stuff that needs fixing, and he always says 'Leave it with me,' and then he fixes it."
"Oh, him. Leave it with your official boyfriend as identified in Fluffbook, for he is now on the case."

Tumbril gives Leonard the red school notebook and he takes a ballpoint from his blazer pocket and wanders off in search of a dry, flat surface.
"Who is Tracy Emin and why is her bed scaffy?" asks Marilyn, not too shy to speak now she and Tumbril are alone together.
"She's the woman who invented putting golden syrup in porridge and her bed is scaffy because she lets the dog sleep in it," says Tumbril, calmly fabricating Tracy Emin's identity without hesitation, despite never having heard of Tracy Emin even once in her entire life before today. "She has a huge dog and it walks into the kitchen any time it likes and it helps itself to the golden syrup. So she decided to hide all the golden syrup in a bowl of porridge."
"What's the dog's name?"
"Did you make all that up, about Tracy Emin and porridge?" Marilyn asks.
"Yes," says Tumbril.
"Gosh, you do have a creative streak. From this moment on, Tracy Emin's going to be my rôle model," says Marilyn.
"You go through too many female rôle models, Marilyn," Tumbril observes.
Marilyn considers this. "I don't see how I can. Did you know a government committee reported that there weren't enough female rôle models? So if I can find a few by myself instead of modelling my rô on Kate Moss and Judi Dench like the women's magazines tell me to, I will be doing a great service to young women all over the world."
Tumbril counts on her fingers. "Yes, but you do go through an awful lot of them. Wouldn't it be easier to settle on one and model your rôle on her for the rest of your life? Or at least until, say, Friday. Yesterday your rôle model was the Queen, the day before that it was Marie Curie, the day before that it was Yvonne Fletcher, and the day before that… I can't remember, who was she?"
"It was Gladys Aylward, early twentieth century secret agent and Christian missionary. She spied for China on the Japanese and taught the Chinese to worship God."
"Was she any good at it?" Tumbril asks.
"I don't think so," says Marilyn, "because the Chinese aren't Christian. You don't hear of the Chinese taking sacks of noodles and black bean sauce to the local church for Harvest Festival, do you? They're more likely to be sitting round the telly with their one child on a Sunday afternoon, eating Doritos out of a plastic bag and watching a B movie with Jackie Chan and Fu Manchu in the cast singing I kick the shit out of you…." Marilyn sang the line to the tune of I get a kick out of you..
"So if she wasn't much good at being a missionary," says Tumbril, "did this Gladys Aylward invent anything?"
"Well, as she was a missionary, she must have invented the missionary position, I suppose," says Marilyn, and both girls splutter into giggles.
"Talking of the missionary position," says Tumbril, "here's Leonard again. He's my official boyfriend now. Isn't he gorgeous? I swear to you he has just saved my life."

Leonard comes over carrying Tumbril's English notebook. "I've done it," he begins, "but listen, what you have to do is…"

The school bell rings.

"Piss!" exclaimed Leonard, who hadn't had time to explain.
"Thank you, darling," trills Tumbril, snatching the notebook and rushing off to class, "you saved my life. You shall see more of me later."
"A lot more?" asks Leonard, who immediately grasps the double entendre.
"Ooh, definitely."

English. Poetry. Nobby sits at the teacher's desk. Nobby is a small man who always wears a maroon jacket and a grey shirt with grey trousers, so that with the addition of a maroon tie he always looks like a bus driver. Through his heavy black rimmed spctacles he casts an eye around the classroom and chooses a victim.

"Marilyn," he orders, "read your poem to the class."
"Sir, I haven't written one, sir."
"Why not?"
"Because," she struggled despeately to find a meaningless enough string of bullshit, "writing poetry requires both felicitous literary flair and a construction orientated gift for the creative formation ab initio of expressive linguistic infrastructures."
"What does that mean?"
"It means… I simply don't have enough talent to do it." She bursts convencingly into tears. "I am sorry, sir. I'm the wrong girl to ask. Maybe someone else has been able to achieve something of adequate literary merit."
"Well," says Nobby kindly, "don't upset yourself. Give it another go. Tomorrow perhaps. Just see what you can do."
"Yes, sir."
Nobby asks her, still kindly, "Who do you think has the required talent and skill, Marilyn?"
"William Shakespeare. Sir John Betjeman. Paul McCartney. Or Richard Littlejohn," she replies brightly, all trace of tears gone.
"I mean, who in this class do you think might be able to succeed at writing poetry?"
"Tumbril. She's brilliant, sir. She's got a fantastic literary gift."
"Very good choice," says Nobby, aiming his spectacles at Tumbril. "Tumbril, have you written a poem for us?"
"Yes, sir," says Tumbril, clumsily opening her notebook at the right page.

Tumbril looks down at Leonard's handwriting and realises that she can't read it. "You have to look at it, sir," she says, hurriedly improvising. "You can't really just listen to it. You have to see it, sir."
"I'm happy to oblige, Tumbril. Bring your work out here, then, so I can see it."
Nobby began to read the poem out loud.

"Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet,
Consectetur adipiscing elit.
Pellentesque sit amet mauris
Sed urna tempor incidunt eleifend sit amet id odio.
Cum sociis natoque…"

"I recognise this!" Nobby realises, aloud. "It's printer's pie. A test piece for fonts and printing presses and reading glasses. What's it doing here, instead of your English homework? It isn't even in English."
"Well, yes, of course," Tumbril smiled, "everyone in the whole world from the Inuit seal hunter at the north pole to the tourist guide in the national park of Kenya knows that it's printer's pie, but you're missing the point."
"No, I'm not. You've filled a page with printer's pie because you couldn't think of anything to write."
"Yes. I mean no! You're still missing the point, sir."
"And," Nobby went on, "(a) you have no idea what it means and (b) it's in someone else's handwriting anyway."
"It's upside down," said Tumbril triumphantly, with the air of one pulling a rabbit out of a hat at the end of an elaborate conjuring routine. "And the handwriting is different from my usual handwriting because I was holding the paper upside down."
"I see." Nobby purses his lips.
"Can't you understand why I used printer's pie?" Tumbril enthuses over the brilliance of the idea which had just occurred to her and which might, just, save her from having to do the assignment again. "It's content free. It is not intended to convey any facts or emotions or… or context of any kind. It's captive art. It says nothing to its reader except its name, rank and number. It is a wholly generic piece of text with no semiotic associations. It can be whatever you like. It can be the story of Humpty Dumpty, or a romantic description of the setting sun. It's so poetic that you can de-contextualise it and it remains exactly as meaningful as it was before so you can assign your own semiotics to it."
"So," Nobby puts in with the intention of being sarcastic, "it could just as easily be a recipe for tomato soup."
"Yes! Now you've got the point. Yes, it could so easily have been a recipe for a tomato soup," Tumbril agrees. "except for it not being one. You know how Picasso assembled a bicycle saddle and a handlebar and called it 'Bull's Head?' Well, this could be a recipe for tomato soup and the story of Humpty Dumpty and a romantic description of the sun setting on a tropical horizon all at the same time."
"Good Lord," Nobby exclaims, "I'd never even thought of that. How did you come to think of it?"
"I had a dream," Tumbril stares out of the window hoping for inspiration but the only thing in the playground is a Scotty dog and half of somebody's grubby maths text book, which doesn't help. Then she finds Martin Luther King ready at hand, "I dreamed that I went into the public library. The librarian was a benign old man in a suit who didn't look like a bus driv— I mean, I asked him for a book of the finest poetry. There was nobody else in the room, and the room was dimly lit, thickly carpeted and lined with yard after yard of leather bound volumes. And he led me to a particular shelf and from it, he picked out one of the leather bound books and he gave it to me. When I opened it, it was empty. I mean, it had pages, maybe a couple of hundred pages, but the pages were all blank from start to finish."

The entire class is spellbound as Tumbril tells of her dream in the tones of one recounting a numinous experience.

"And I said to the librarian, 'The pages are all blank pages.' He smiled and me and he said, in a kind and soft voice, like Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption, 'Tumbril, you have to use your imagination. Hold the book upside down.' His voice sort of echoed around the room, much like Gene Wilder playing Willie Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I knew immediately that he was right."

Tumbril pauses, not so much for effect as to imagine what the next bit of dream had been. "So I turned the book upside down and lots of words fell out and floated down onto the floor, like leaves in autumn. Or snowflakes in winter. Or empty supermarket carrier bags in a gale. Or feathers from a fight between two pigeons on the roof. Or pants in a washing machine when the motor stops."
"I think I've got the idea," said Nobby.
"But they weren't ordinary words. The first one I picked up was Lorem, the next one was ipsum, then I caught dolor just before it landed on the carpet."
"And so on, right to the end of the passage?" Nobby guessed.
"Yes, sir."
Nobby settles his spectacles on his nose. "That's how you came to think of this poem, then?" he asks.
"Yes, sir," says Tumbril. "You see, once you realise that it's upside down, it all makes complete sense."

Nobby shakes his head without actually saying, "Never heard such rubbish," quietly but out loud.

"Think about it, sir." Leonard, sitting three desks away from Tumbril, speaks up. "If you can only understand the poem when you hold the book upside down, you can defy thousands of years of convention and self righteousness and arrogance about the form and semantics of poetry. You can open your mind to the ebb and flow of truly de-contextualised and de-referenced polemic and opinion. Because all the writers, and all those readers, since the dawn of civilisation, for thousands of years, made the unwarranted assumption that you have to hold the book the right way up."
"What can I say?" Nobby speaks in a matter of fact way and looks around the room for a few seconds in the hope that someone will tell him. "It's, ah, er, excellent and unusual work. Perhaps Tumbril will allow me to show your work to the Head of the English Department?"
"Oh, yes," Tumbril gushes, quelling the urge to begin her reply with the word 'Leonard,' "I'd be most happy if you showed it to him."
"Well, thank you for such an interesting and surprising piece of work. Whose work do you think we should all listen to next, Tumbril?"
"How about Leonard?" she suggests, looking across to him. "He's my boyfriend."
"Really?" Nobby raises one eyebrow, adding, "Lucky boy," but not really meaning it.
"Yes, sir," Leonard confirms, "We're mutually romantically joined together on Fluffbook."
"It's serious, then," Nobby comments. "Leonard? Your turn."

In the afternoon, Tumbril is standing beside a shared hob in the cookery room trying to avoid the eye of Dandruff, the cookery mistress. Tumbril is wearing an apron and a chef's hat and stirring the content of a small saucepan with a wooden spoon. She knows that this evening Mum will ask her what she did in Cookery and Tumbril will reply, "I don't know but it was brown and sticky and it had lumps in and Dandruff made me stir it a lot."

Tumbril turns to Marilyn and whispers, "What is it that we're making?"
"I don't know," Marilyn whispers back, "I can't remember. I wasn't paying attention. It looks like dog food but it's hot and sticky and I don't think dog food has raisins in."
"No, dogs don't like raisins. They think fruit is sissy and they won't so much as look at it. They like human legs and they only eat biscuits grudgingly in the knowledge that they're never going to get anything that fights back and loses. What sort of job is this supposed to qualify me for?" Tumbril asks, stirring the saucepan again.
"I don't know," Marilyn's gestures make clear that she's taking a wild guess, "but if they ever bring back the British Restaurants, we can find work in the kitchens."
"How about the Naafi?" asked Tumbril.
"No chance. And no chance of Best Western, either."
Tumbril looked again at the stuff in her saucepan. "Do you think I could work out what it is if I held it upside down?"
"No," Marilyn replies, "I think that only works with poetry. I think if you held the saucepan upside down, you would just pour a lump of hot sticky mess onto the floor."

"Excuse me, Mrs Standage. May we speak to Tumbril for a couple of minutes?" Nobby and Wacko, the Head of English, have walked into the cookery room and Nobby is asking Dandruff, the cookery mistress, for permission to have a quiet word with Tumbril. Nobby is holding Tumbril's English notebook in his hand. Wacko, a tall, thin and pallid man with the air of a corporation tax inspector, looks red-faced and his grin tells the world that he is most pleased with himself.

"I was very impressed by your English homework," Wacko tells Tumbril in a voice half an octave too high pitched for a male body, "Mr Clark showed it to me, It is a most ingenious, novel and original piece of work."
"No, it isn— I mean, thank you," says Tumbril, trying to stir the lumps into a smooth, even, gelatinous slime.
"Your achievement comes at a very opportune moment," Wacko continues, "because the local radio station, Radio Ponders End, is running a competition to find young poets, and the closing date has not yet passed."

Tumbril tries hard to convey by facial expression and body language alone that she would much rather Radio Ponders End were left to broadcast its own resources. Why would anybody want to find a young poet? What were they going to do to the young poets, if they found any?

"So may we enter your work in the competition?" Nobby asks.
"So that some mad woman with a Stamford Hill accent can read it out in between an advertisement for cheap rusty second hand cars and the Weather Forecast? Of course," Tumbril agrees to participate in the competition without thinking the idea through properly, "I would be truly flattered."
"Good. Good. I was so frightened that you might refuse, you know, the paparazzi… With work of this quality, you might easily end up Ponders End Poet of the Year. I will send your work to the organiser at Radio Ponders End, Number 1 Marconi View, post haste."

Wacko and Nobby leave the cookery room, taking Tumbril's English notebook with them, and Dandruff walks over to inspect the content of Tumbril's saucepan.

"Good grief, child, what have you been doing to your chocolate cake? It should be in the oven by now."
"Oven? Cake?" Tumbril's jaw drops. "I thought you said soup and saucepan."
"Oh, never mind," says Dandruff, in the manner of a busy woman trying to dismiss a fool from her air conditioned top floor office overlooking Blackfriars Bridge so that she can get on with making money, "pour it into a jar and you can take it home at four o'clock and give it to the dog."
"We haven't got a dog," says Tumbril, "so it'll probably end up in the green bin with orange stripes that gets put out on the second Tuesday of the fiscal quarter."
"No, not that one," says Dandruff, "that one's for tin cans made of aluminium with the ring pulls removed. Waste cake material goes in the brown and yellow one with a duck on top that goes out on alternate Fridays except for Tuesdays when there's an 'R' in the month."
"Yes, miss."
Dandruff is not impressed by the contents of the saucepan. She shakes her head. "You've got more lumps there than a Salvation Army mattress. Please concentrate a bit next lesson. One day you may have to feed yourself."
"Yes, miss," says Tumbril disconsolately.
"Oh, don't worry about it," Dandruff tries to reassure Tumbril, "it doesn't matter. Everyone messes up occasionally. I made a chocolate cake earlier, to try the recipe out. You can take that home to Mum if you want."
"Yes, please, miss." Tumbril realised long ago that success in Home Economics, much as in life itself, depends more on who is following the recipe than on what the recipe actually says.
"Oh, and let me check your notes to make sure you've written it down right. What was Mr Clark talking to you about, by the way?"
"He likes the poetry I wrote, that's all."
"I didn't know you liked poetry."
"I don't. I didn't say I liked it, I said I wrote it. I hate poetry, just like everyone else does. Just I had to write some so I did the easiest thing I could and wrote some gibberish and Mr Clark actually liked it. He liked it so much he showed it to Mr Watson."
Mrs Standage is flooded with sympathy and foreboding. "Is anything going to happen to this piece of work you just gave him?"
"I hope not. Mr Watson wants to send it to the radio station so they have something cheaper than CD tracks to fill in the time between commercials."

At about four o'clock, Tumbril leaves school carrying Dandruff's spare chocolate cake and goes to Mum's house first. Mum comes to the door clutching her iron this time.

"Why are you ironing, Mum? I thought we did all that yesterday."
"Oh, I'm not ironing at all. It's just something to clutch. Nice and heavy and just the right shape to make a fist around. Come indoors, love. I've got the kettle on."
"Here, I was doing cookery today and I've got a chocolate cake."
"Did you cook that?" Mum admires the little cake.
"Yes. Aren't I clever? Well, no, I didn't actually. I tried but I made a horrible sticky mess like I always do. Mrs Standage gave me hers, to cheer me up."
"That was nice of her."
"Yes. I must have been looking really miserable. It's a sweet thing to do, but she knows perfectly well I'll never be able to cook. My husband will leave me, my children will choke on the lumps, the dog will turn his nose up at it and I won't be able to afford restaurant meals or take away Chinese and I shall have to eat all my food raw, even eggs and fish and meat and cabbage, and it'll taste horrible and then I shall starve to death before I'm even old enough to vote."
"Well, firstly they'll extend the vote to fifteen year olds if they think it will keep them in government. Secondly you haven't got a husband yet and thirdly, wherever you live, there's always a chippy."
"I suppose so. Cod an' chips." She replies to herself in a fishmonger's voice, "Your usual. D'you know, I think you've been in this chippy orderin' cod an' chips every evening this year. You must like it a lot. It's my cookin' as does it. And it's the thirty first of December today."
Mum laughed.
"How was the deep fried Christmas pudding?" continues the fishmonger.
"Yummy," Tumbril replies, "but not as good as the deep fried Arctic Explorer Chocolate Covered Fish Bar."

Over the cups of tea, Mum asks what Tumbril did at school today.

"I wrote a poem."
"A poem?" Mum is horrified. "I didn't know you wrote poems."
"I don't. They made me write one. So I got my boyfriend to do it."
"I didn't know you had a boyfriend, either."
"Oh, Mum," Tumbril looks dopey for a moment, "his name is Leonard and he's lovely. He sits near me in class."
"Why didn't you go home with him?"
"Because he doesn't do cookery so I forgot and came home without him."
"He's not still waiting for you outside the school, is he?"
"No, I don't think so." Tumbril realises that she missed an opportunity to be with him. "He'll be waiting for me tomorrow. He always is."
"That will be good."

Dad won't be back until seven o'clock or maybe seven thirty tonight, so Tumbril has her tea at Mum's house. Tumbril unwraps Dandruff's chocolate cake and cuts slices from it.

"This is nice," Mum says, trying the chocolate cake, "Did you make this?"
"Yes. Well, no. I had a good try but this is the one that Dandruff gave me. Mine ended up as a sort of sticky mess."
"Mrs Standage." Tumbril bites a piece off and it is very good and sweet.
"Well, it seems you have an expert for a teacher. You will have to learn to cook a bit, if you have a boyfriend."
"Yes, mum. Do you really think that's the most important thing he sees in me? Someone to cook for him?"
"Tell me about this poem."
"Well, Nobby and Wacko think I wrote it. It's a piece of Latin text that printers use to text their machinery, and it's upside down. So it's a sort of article of experimental avant garde work, except someone wrote it a thousand years ago and it's been used for God knows how long as a test piece for printing presses and lettering."
"So you will be the Pablo Picasso of English poetry."
"Maybe." Tumbril chewed cake for a moment. "Wacko entered it in a competition, where nobody will notice it."
"Oh, Tumbril, never say die. You never know. Someone might find it. You know. Someone has to win, don't they? Fruit?"
"Ooh, yes, please."

After tea, Tumbril settles at the dining table with her school bag while Mum does the washing up. Tumbril's homework tonight is a set of sentences to translate into French. Tumbril finds French translation a peculiarly frustrating exercise.

"Honestly, Mum, what use is French?"
"None at all, darling."
"Nobody I know speaks French."
"No, darling. If you wanted to meet people who speak French, you would have to go to France, wouldn't you? And France is such an awful place." Mum sees for the umpteenth time the painful way in which Tumbril holds her pen. "Don't hold your ballpoint in your clenched fist, darling. Try to hold your pen between your thumb and your first two fingers, look…"
"Oh, mum, who cares?"
"I do. If you're going to write poetry, you have to be able to make beautiful writing. See? The words you write matter a lot less than the beauty of your writing. It's like painting a picture or carving a sculpture."
"No, it isn't. You can type a poem, or print it, or daub it on walls, or write it in the sky from a light aircraft for all I care. However you typeset it, it still makes me vomit. And I hate the stuff."
"Oh, sweetheart, respect your own work. It's something you did with your own hands."
"No, it isn't, it's something Leonard did with his own bare hands," Tumbril corrects Mum, "and then he gave it to me and I gave it to Nobby and Nobby gave it to Wacko and Wacko took it and showed it to Radio Ponders End at Number 1 Marconi View, the graveyard of interns pretending to be journalists and the La Brea Tar Pits of creative talents." She continued in a Radio Ponders End voice, "You're listenin' to the wireless, broadcastin' from Number 1 Marconi View. It is now forty-two minutes before ten o'clock. Comin' up, an advertisement for margarine, but before that here is some music. It's not ordin'ry music, it's effnic, innit. It's a recordin' of a man shoutin' obscenities in Hutu that don't rhyme while his best mate bangs two saucepans togevver." She mimics the resulting noise while banging rhythmically, and extremely loudly, on the worktop with a wooden spoon.
"Oh, darling, look on the bright side. Maybe they'll read your poem on the air. Dozens of people will hear it."
"In between Ballcock's Half Hour and the annual accounts of council bike sheds sub-committee? Great. Think of all the royalties I will earn. I'll stash all the money in a Swiss Bank Account and then I'll be able to retire at fifteen and three quarters. Fat chance anyway."
"You have to start at the bottom, Tumbril. One day you might be a great poet. Remember, the only job where you start at the top is digging holes."
"Yes, unless you're the Chairman's girlfriend, and the only job where I will ever get to the top is operating a lift. Mum, me becoming the local Poet Laureate is even less likely than me being a great cook, isn't it. Or a great translator of French literature."
"Oh, well. How many translations have you got to do?"
"Six." Tumbril holds the book up as though it were a rotten fish. "Six! All these. Look at 'em. Hundreds of 'em, one after the other, all the way down the page as far as the middle."
"What's the first one?" Mum asks.
"'My dog's got no nose.' Honestly. It really is. Look."
"I'd help you but I can't remember the French for 'my.' Or 'dog,' or anything else. Have you ever used Google Translate?" asks Mum, exhausting her knowledge of internet technology in the process.

Once she has Google Translate running, Tumbril has no trouble rendering 'My dog's got no nose' as 'Mon chien a pas de nez.'
Mum looks at it. "I think there ought to be a n' in there somewhere. Like n'a pas.
"Wouldn't that be a bubble negative?"
"Oooh." Mum thinks. It was all so long ago. "I believe it would."
"Gosh, Mum," Tumbril says, "that was easy. Do you think it will do the next one as well? How does he smell?"
Comment fait-il sentir, says Google Translate.

At that moment, the doorbell rings, and Mum jumps up, looking around wildly for something to clutch while answering the door.

"Take that beer mat," Tumbril suggests.
"All right. Goodness me," says Mum, clutching the beer mat as she sees who it is through the window, "it's your father. I haven't seen him since…, since… last week. What on earth does he want?"

Mum opens the front door and Dad is standing outside in the street, breathless.

"Here," he says, holding his mobile phone out to Mum, "I thought Tumbril might be here. I've got Radio Ponders End on the phone. They rang me so instead of giving them your phone number I asked them to hold on and ran all the way here. Data protection, you know. Why are you clutching a beer mat?"
"Just in case I need to put a beer down in a wet glass," says Mum.
"Oh, shit," says Tumbril distinctly, from the living room.
"Can you speak French?" Mum asks Dad.
"That wasn't French," he replies.

Chapter Two

Beeper the celebrity goat

The front third of the auditorium is stage and the other two thirds is chairs, mostly empty. It is cold in the room and there are far more chairs than audience. Wacko is sitting in the front row next to Tumbril, then come Dad and then Mum. On the other chairs are another five people whom Tumbril doesn't recognise. The auditorium is dimly lit except at the front, where there is an English flag and, in front of that, Tumbril's poem on an easel. There is a pile of facsimile copies of the poem in a heap near the entrance door and Tumbril is grateful to the audience for having taken so few of them.

A young man in a black jacket, jeans and a red shirt open at the collar comes and stands beside the easel. Despite being barely older than Tumbril, he is bald and he wears heavy red spactacles. He looks at his watch, looks around to see whether anyone present was going to introduce him to the audience, and decided that he had better introduce himself.

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen," he begins in an accent that might have come from Eton or Harrow and is certainly too posh for Alderman Gruesome, "I expect you all recognised me immediately, but in case you've been living in a hole for the last five years and taken no interest at all in the media, arts or culture, I'm Sebastian Tantrum, the gifted and much admired art critic currently giving the benefit of my wit and wisdom to Radio Ponders End. Now," he looks around for a chair but there wasn't one, "when I began my search for the finest writer of poetry — or perhaps I should say the writer of the finest poetry — in the radio reception area, I certainly didn't expect to find the enormous priceless nugget of golden writing skill that I have in fact personally discovered. Least of all did I expect that it would come in the form of a pupil at a state school, namely the dilapidated, crumbling and generally dismal Alderman Gruesome Comprehensive. The winning work — one cannot really just call it a poem because no term drawn from such a compartmentalised lexicography can do full justice to such genius — is entitled Thursday's Homework and its author, I am very gratified to announce, is in the audience this evening and doubtless admiring me, adopting me as her rôle model and generally hanging on every word I say."

"Tumbril Mitchell, born in the year 2000 in London, England, creates literature and conceptual poetry. By investigating language on a meta-level," Sebastian lapses into arts bullshit, "Mitchell makes work that deals with the documentation of events and the question of how they can be presented. The work tries to express this with the help of physics and technology, but not by telling a story or creating a metaphor."

"Her performances focus on the inability of communication," he drones, "which is used to visualise reality, the attempt of dialogue, the dissonance between form and content and the dysfunctions of language. In short, the lack of clear references are key elements in the work. With Plato’s allegory of the cave in mind, she tries to grasp language. Transformed into art, language becomes an ornament. At that moment, lots of ambiguities and indistinctnesses, which are inherent to the phenomenon, come to the surface."

By now the audience is looking at its collective wristwatch. "Her works are an investigation into representations of seemingly concrete ages and situations," Sebastian rabbits, "as well as depictions and ideas that can only be realized in performance. By putting the viewer on the wrong track, she tries to create works in which the actual event still has to take place or just has ended: moments evocative of atmosphere and suspense that are not part of a narrative thread. The drama unfolds elsewhere while the build-up of tension is frozen to become the memory of an event that will never take place."

"Her works are given improper functions: significations are inversed and form and content merge. Shapes are dissociated from their original meaning, by which the system in which they normally function is exposed. Initially unambiguous meanings are shattered and disseminate endlessly."

"Tumbril Mitchell currently lives and works in Ponders End."

Sebastian Tantrum paused for effect and took off his glasses. He looked along the rows of chairs for Tumbril, but he failed to spot her because he didn't know what she looked like.

"Step forward please, Tumbril Mitchell."

Bored already, Tumbril has fallen asleep in her seat. The audience claps limply, all ten of them. Tumbril wakes up and sighs. It's only poetry, so why do people get so het up about it? It's not as though it was anything interesting. Anyone can write it, and often do.

Tumbril is not expecting to be called forward. She thought she could just sit and doze among the audience until they let her go home. Realising this, Wacko grabs her left arm and Dad grabs her right arm and between them they lift her to her feet and propel her towards the stage. Tumbril stumbles as she gets to her feet, then shakes herself awake as she walks forward to the stage.

"Tumbril," says Sebastiam Tantrum portentously, "this is a truly transcendent work. Here, firstly, is our prize in recognition of the quality of your poem."
"Thank you, Mr Tantrum." Tumbril takes a small rectangular piece of paper from the art critic, not knowing what it is, and shakes hands with him.
"Here also," said Sebastian, handing over another piece of paper, "are tickets for one adult and one child to visit my exhibition of non representational greyscales at the former gasworks on Nightingale Road. I know that a girl of your ability will find my art fascinating. Of course if both your parents want to come with you, one of them will have to cough up the admission fee."
"Thank you, Mr Tantrum, I really appreciate it," Tumbril lies.
"Tell us all about this work," he asks her, "I'd love to appreciate the hidden depths of its meaning."
"Well," Tumbril tries to organise her thoughts but hasn't really got any, "the important thing is, it's upside down. And you can read it if you want, but it's only printer's pie. It has no meaning really, it isn't about anything. It could be anything. So," she launches into poetry appreciation bullshit, "not only does it defy conventions of presentation, it is a multi-faceted generic piece of pluralist deconstructed acontextual literature that may yet turn out to be the defining artistic creation of the twenty-first century. Sort of a turning point. Although it probably won't."
"You should write my exhibition catalogues," says Sebastian, sotto voce.
"I will, for a large fee," Tumbril offers.

A camera flashes somewhere in the darkened auditorium.

"Your most recent work, 'Thursday's Homework,'" Sebastian simpers, "is truly staggering. I will spend years trying to appreciate, and probably copy, this mind boggling intellectual accomplishment."
"Thank you," Tumbril says in a voice too quiet to be heard by anyone except Sebastian, "I am sure you will in due course come to terms with all its subtle non-specific allusiveness."
"I mean, if you look at it for long enough, you might start to like it."
"But I might not. And my own work is excellent so my thresholds are very high."

When she was back in her seat between Dad and Wacko, Dad whispers to her, "What did he give you?"
"This." She gives him the piece of paper. "And these." She gives him the other piece of paper. "They're both going straight into the indigo box with the four white stripes."

Dad examines the larger piece of paper in the half darkness and says, "It's a cheque, drawn on the Radio Ponders End account, for a hundred pounds."
"Great," says Tumbril without enthusiasm, "I'll buy a nice house with it, with two windows and a door and a fireplace with an armchair and a huge reddish-brown dog. You can come and visit me if you want."
"What will the dog's name be?" asks Dad.
"Hugo," says Tumbril, "and I'll teach him to fetch sticks."

From the stage, Sebastian Tantrum thanks his audience for coming to the presentation, urges them to come and see the excellent hyper-bucolic calligraphy tableaux on show at the local gasworks, and says goodnight and goodbye.

As Tumbril, Wacko, Mum and Dad make their way out of the auditorium, Sebastian Tantrum saunters up to Tumbril, ignoring the three adults around her, and pushes his business card into her hand. "If you want a job when you leave school, phone me on this number," he says.
"I shall," said Tumbril, to whom the prospect of getting a job with Sebastian Tantrum as boss after leaving school was a bit like the prospect of being shipwrecked on a pedalo for six months without food, water or a change of underwear and then landing on Blackpool Pleasure Bearch.
"Have you got a vacancy for a newsreader?" Dad asked.
"No," said Sebastian, "there's no news in Ponders End."
"How about a window cleaner?"
"Maybe. Give me a ring."
"You hear that?" Dad turns to Mum, "I'm in with a chance."
"No, you aren't," says Mum.
"My foot is in the door," says Dad.
"Oh, for God's sake," says Mum, noticing that Wacko has walked off to his car without offering her or her family a ride home, "let's go home. Where's the bus stop?"
"Where do you want to spend the rest of the evening, Tumbril?" asks Dad.
"With Leonard, because he's my boyfriend now," says Tumbril.
"Really?" asks Dad.
"Yes. But I'll go to Dad's house."

In the morning, Tumbril sits on a low wall on the way to Alderman Gruesome Comprehensive and pulls her mobile phone from her school bag. She forms the number on Sebastian Tantrum's business card and waits.

"Tantrum." She is pleased that her call is not foisted onto an answering machine. Sebastian answers his phone in person.
"Hello, Sebastian, I'm…
"Tumbril Mitchell," says Sebastian without hesitation, "I'd know your voice anywhere, even after it's been mangled by a cheap mike and a crummy low bandwidth third generation mobile phone made in China by eight year old children nailed to a bench in a filthy, stinking, dangerous and highly profitable factory. Tumbril, I am so glad you phoned me. Firstly because you are a beautiful woman who dotes on me almost as much as I dote on myself but secondly I need a favour for a few days. Does your house have a loft?"
"Loft?" Tumbril is, understandably, perplexed.
"Yes, or an attic, or at a pinch a bedroom that you're not using for anyone in particular."
"Yes," says Tumbril, "we have a sort of roof space which I suppose Dad might let you store something in."
"Great," says Sebastian, "that's perfect. The job's yours even if you don't want it. What's your address?"
"Sebastian," Tumbril says hesitantly, "are you thinking of coming to live with me?"
"Because if you are, I think really I ought to ask my dad and my boyfriend before you get on the phone to Pickfords."
"No, no, I don't want to move in with you just yet, I just need a house with some space. Where do you live?"
Unprepared for being asked her address, Tumbril tells him. "159 Hiccup Hole Lane."
"God! Hiccup Hole Lane, what a dump," said Sebastian without irony, "you must be really envious of wealthy and successful people like me. And what time do you get home at night after school?"
"Depends on what time Dad gets home," she explains, "try six o'clock."
"Sure, doll. Be there at six o'clock and I'll explain a bit more."

The highlight of the next school day is English, which tells you a lot about what sort of a day it is. Nobby arrives carrying the local paper and holds it open at page five. There is a picture of a woman who looks nothing like Tumbril receiving a certificate from someone who looks like the Duke of Edinburgh. The certificate is much grander than the one that Tumbril received the previous day, and the caption reads "Tumbril Calder receives the poetry prize from Sebastian Tantrum of Radio Ponders End. (Agency Picture)"

"Well done, Tumbril," he says, "you did superbly. Great achievement."

About a quarter of page five is given over to the picture that is supposed to be of Tumbril on stage with Sebastian Tantrum, beaming at the camera and discussing with himself the meaning and significance of Tumbril's masterpiece.

After holding the picture aloft for all to see for a few seconds, Nobby gives Tumbril the paper so that she can cut the picture out and frame it, or stick it in her scrapbook, or maybe throw it in the cylindrical red bin with a white lid that gets collected at 4 am on Thursdays. Then he tries to assume a more businesslike manner and starts talking about adverbial clauses. Tumbril is relieved to cease being the class celebrity and resume taking notes about an abstruse grammatical topic that she still doesn't understand very well and would have no use for if she did.

"I will be jolly glad when this lesson's over," says an unidentified boy's voice from the back of the room.
"Who was that?" asked Nobby, and when nobody owned up he continued, "That's an excellent example of an adverbial clause. Will be is the main verb, and is is the finite verb in an adverbial clause of time, introduced by when."
"Can I write it down?" asks Marilyn.
"I don't know," says Nobby in an effort to get a cheap laugh, "can you?"
"Can I write it on the wall?" asks Roger, who contributed the original remark.
"No. All of you, do the first four exercises on page twenty five."

French does not go especially well. All Tumbril's translated sentences are wrong, despite being written for her by the computer. Tumbril feels let down and hopeless for, as Tumbril well understands, if Google can't translate simple sentences into French with all the millions of computers and databases and words and meanings and dictionaries and bubble negatives and adblurblial clauses at its disposal in Mountain View, how is she supposed to do the translation on her own? Nul points, she says to herself. The only girl who scored none out of six, she has to do them all again.

Tumbril has been to see Mum on the way home. Mum gives her some stew and a banana and commiserates with her about having to do the French homework again. Then Tumbril guesses that Dad might have arrived home, so she walks off to his house for the evening.

"Dad?" says Tumbril as she walks in through the front door, "I'm back."
"Ah. Darling." The voice belongs, unmistakably, to Sebastian Tantrum. Sebastian is sitting beside Dad on the sofe in the living room.
"Oh, bum," says Tumbril quietly.
"Hello, sweetie. Mr Tantrum has come to visit you," says Dad, "you've quite turned his head, I think."
"Oh, dear… he did say he would drop by and see me this evening. I forgot to tell you."
"No harm done," says Dad, "no harm done. Have you eaten, sweetie?"
"Yes," says Tumbril, "but I would quite like half a tin of apricots if that's OK."
"Sure, help yourself," says Dad, waving an arm in the general direction of the kitchen.
"I ate apricots straight off the apricot bush when I was visiting Armenia to paint Sergei Shazam, just after the election," says Sebastian, "do you know who he is?"
"You probably mean Serzh Sargsyan, the president," says Dad, "most people think it's a very hard name to remember, although personally I never had any trouble with it."
"He had the most delicious apricots, absolutely ripe," says Sebastian, "on a little grove of apricot bushes in the kitchen garden behind the palace."
"The election was in February, so the trees would still have been in flower, wouldn't they?" asks Dad. "I remember because Sargsyan and his Throw All The Americans Out And Put All The Toffs In Prison Party won ninety-nine per cent of the vote."
"Perhaps they were raisin bushes," says Sebastian with a grin that was asinine even by his own high standards, "I've never been much good at telling one of these silly plants from another."
"Where do I throw the empty tin?" calls Tumbril.
"In the purple plastic box with a black square on the lid," says Dad, and the clank of an empty apricot tin landing on a pile of other empty apricot tins rings out around the kitchen.
"I think it might have been in Tunisia," said Sebastian, "I can never tell all these small half derelict countries apart either."
"No, it was definitely the purple plastic box with the black square on the lid," says Tumbril, carrying a bowl of apricots and a spoon, "I threw it in there myself." She settles down on the armchair in the living room.
"Anyway, now Tumbril's got something to eat, shall I make some tea?"
"Do you have coffee? What I really want is a skinny latte macchiato Turkish style made with filtered water at ninety celsius and a couple of tablespoons of homogenised Cheviot sheep's milk."
"No, we don't drink coffee, only tea," says Dad, "made with permeable bags of the tea leaves first made famous by the great London merchant Mr Thomas Twining in 1706, infused into water from the Metropolitan Water Board at their purification works in Hackney and boiled in a Hotpoint kettle with electricity from non nuclear sources supplied by the Broxbourne and Brimsdown Electricity Corporation. And milk brought by Express Dairies Ltd. from a cow on a farm in East Anglia somewhere. I think her name is Ermintrude but it might be Daisy. I know it isn't Hermione because she's been a bit poorly these last couple of weeks."
"Non nuclear?" Sebastian has never thought about the source of his electricity before.
"I insist upon it," says Dad chippily, "you can't trust the Chinese."
"Indeed one can't, although their children produce excellent plastic coat hangers."
"Electricity from fossil fuel makes better tea. They should never have closed down the coal mines."
"Milk, no sugar, then," says Sebastian, who realises that he has been out-snobbed.
"You'll like it," says Tumbril, "Dad's really good at making tea. He taught me to make it. Dad says, if you can make yourself a really good cup of tea, you will never be truly miserable."

They all drink the tea.

"In the van there's some electronic gear that Radio Ponders End used to use," says Sebastian as he stands on the pavement with Tumbril, looking at the white van he has parked on the street out of sight of Tumbril's living room window, "I want to put a priceless work of art in the space where these electronic boxes used to bo, and I just want somewhere I can store it for a while."
"How big is it?"
"Have a look," says Sebastian, and he opened the back door of the white van.

Inside the van are a couple of metal boxes about two feet by two, and lots of wires.

"What is it?" says Tumbril, after a suitable interval.
"Transmission kit. You could call it a radio station in a box, although there's more than one box," Sebastian explains. "It takes voice, compact disk and digital recordings and it turns them into a radio signal. The radio programme comes out here." Sebastian points to a jack socket marked Microphone, and continues. "We used to keep it as back-up in case the studio gear broke down and we had to apologise for the breakdown and play some music, but it's a bit obsolete now and we couldn't just dump it because we couldn't work out which bin we would have had to put it in."
"Why play music?"
"Because otherwise," said Sebastian, "listeners will think their radio has broken down. So we play them some music while Vince and Bill run around with screwdrivers and voltmeters until either they fix the problem or the problem goes away all by itself."
"What sort of music?" Tumbril asked.
"Sort of easy listening. Bert Weedon, perhaps. Cliff Richards. The Beverley Sisters."
"Do you still have recordings of Bert Weedon and Cliff Richards? Gosh, you are really going to need those, if 1949 ever comes back. Anyway, why me? Why are you giving this to me instead of to your servants to look after?"
"Well, there's nowhere in the office to put it, and the really important thing is, if you store it in the loft or somewhere, it'll give you an excuse to see me again. Which I know you really want to have in reserve. Any time you phone me up and say you can't find the transmission kit in the loft, I'll come and help you look for it."

Tumbril can't really see herself hiding the boxes and wires in the garden shed just so that she could phone Sebastian Tantrum and tell him that she didn't know where they had gone.

"Oh, well, in that case it's a real must-have," says Tumbril with irony that was completely lost on Sebastian.
Sebastian gives Tumbril the wires and picks up one of the boxes. "Lead on," he said, "where are you going to put it all?"
"In the loft, I suppose," says Tumbril.
It takes ten minutes and three trips up and down the staircases of the house to empty the white van into the loft.

"And now," said Sebastian, "I have to write down my critical review of Death after Dinner, the new exhibition of avant garde sculptor Vaseline Cann of enamelled fish hooks, dinner forks and tin cans at the National Gallery."
"Oh, yes. There's even a tap and a tin opener in it somewhere. That's how avant garde it is. Stunning combination of visual impact, pipework and creativity with a haunting vibrant undertow of melancholy hubris. Do you want to come and see it?"
"No, thanks," says Tumbril.
"You're missing a treat. Sotheby's and their heirs and successors will still be auctioning some of those tin cans for millions of dollars in a thousand years' time, they are just so exquisite."
"I have geography homework."
"Well, that shouldn't cause us much delay. In geography as I remember it, the answer's either the 250 foot contour or an oxbow lake. Change your mind?"
"No, thanks," says Tumbril.
"May I kiss you goodnight, then?"
"No, thanks."
"I'm really good at it."

Resolutely, Tumbril pulls at the front near side door of the white van and holds it open. Without another word, Sebastian clambers into the cab, slams the door shut and turns on the ignition. The white van drives off along the street, turns the corner and goes out of sight.

"Thank God that's over," says Tumbril. "What I really need," she says aloud by mistake, "is a gymnasium where I can learn to give people I don't like a punch up the bracket."

"Hi, Tumbril!" Leonard called from across the street.
"Did you hear any of that?" Tumbril asks. She notices that Leonard has changed out of his school uniform and in jeans, a lumberjack shirt, a pullover and a red anorak he actually looks quite sweet.
"Well, I only live two doors down. So I was sitting at the open window, watching and listening. Is he your new boyfriend?"
"You're joking," said Tumbril. "What a self important prat. 'I'm orf to an exhibition of tin cans, may I kiss you?'"
"So, if he's gone off to the exhibition of tin cans," Leonard is visibly relieved, "he won't be reporting the Electrician of the Year Show."
"What's that?"
"At the town hall. Sort of beauty pageant with electric cookers, light bulbs, refrigerators and circuit breakers. My aunt had two tickets she didn't want and she gave them to me, and I just thought it might be more fun to go and watch the show than endure the alternative. I have the choice of either going to see the show or staying at home watching telly. Over a hundred channels and none of them saying anything interesting."
"How come your aunt had two tickets to the Electrician of the Year Show and didn't want either of them?"
"Oh, she couldn't find her reading glasses that day and she thought it said 'Equestrian.'".
"Equestrian, as in horse?" Tumbril repeats the animal.
"Equestrian of the Year Show. She squinted at the advertisement and she thought it said Equestrian of the Year Show so she filled in the coupon and sent it off with a cheque. Daft bugger. She was ever so disappointed when she found her reading glasses again and the tickets arrived, so she posted them to me with a letter. 'My dearest nephew, I trust this letter finds you well and happy. I have no use for these tickets to a boring, overpriced, predictable and unimportant event. It sounds like the sort of thing that you would probably enjoy. Don't write back asking for money because I haven't got any. Have a pleasant evening and try not to fall asleep during the show. With love, Aunt Yeast.' I don't know why she posted them to me."
"Well, she thought she was being generous, I suppose."
"She was, if your definition of generosity includes giving other people things you don't want. But she only lives across the street. That's what puzzles me."
"Obviously she didn't want to put you to the inconvenience of having to meet her on the doorstep, invite her into the house and make her a cup of tea while listening to her prattle about how expensive everything is these days and everything she watched on telly last week."
"Yes, I suppose when you put it like that, she spared me a great deal of misery," says Leonard.
"How come there's an Electrician of the Year show?"
"Part of a drive in the 1920s to encourage people to take up electricity in the heyday of gas lighting. People were scared of electricity."
"Is there a Gasman of the Year Show as well?"
"Yes, but that was last week. You've missed it now."
Tumbril thinks for a moment and asks, "Who on earth enters that sort of competition?"
"That's an easy question. Me," said Leonard. "I found an entry form in the Broxbourne and Brimsdown Electricity Corporation when Mum sent me to pay the bill, so I filled it in and posted it. I said my name was Ben Twyre and said I'd wired up Southend Illuminations in two days with no help from anybody except for my pet goat called Beeper."
"Have you won?" asked Tumbril, really believing that he might have done.
"I think if I had," Leonard shakes his head, "somebody would have told me and perhaps sent me some sort of invitation. No, sorry, Tumbril, we just have to sit and applaud somebody else who is better known to the judges than we are."
"Do we really have to applaud them?" asks Tumbril.
"Yes," says Leonard, "otherwise there's no point in them coming."
"That's always the way, isn't it, just like being at school. But I'll come with you anyway, if you let me. Wait a second and I'll put my coat on." Tumbril disappears into her room for a second to add this latest development in her love life to her Fluffbook page.

Going to the Electrician of the Year Show with my cute and sweet boyfriend Leonard, and life doesn't get any more romantic than that.

Tumbril and Leonard sit together in the auditorium at the Town Hall. The house lights go off and in a scene eerily reminiscent of the Ponders End Poet of the Year Show, the spotlight shines upon Sebastian Tantrum. At least, they both think, he won't be able to see us because we aren't sitting in the front row and it's dark back here and anyway, he didn't know that we were coming.

Sebastian Tantrum reels off his lifetime's achievements and told a story about the last time he had called an elctrician, which was intended to be funny but wasn't, and then he drew a sheet of paper from his pocket.

"I shall announce the prizes in reverse order," says Sebastian, portentously.
"Cliché," Leonard whispers to Tumbril.

"Third prize goes to Mr Stanley Busker, of Busker and Son on Pleb Road, for repairing the electric salmon smoker in Mrs Miriam Fairweather's Ford Escort while driving it along the motorway at over one hundred and ten miles an hour. An extraordinary achievement." Sebastian leads the applause.

Everyone in the audience joins in the cheering and clapping as Mr Stanley Busker, decked out in the company uniform of blue denim overalls and flat cap, steps up onto the stage. There are a few cries of "Good on you, Stan!" and even, "Well done, Stan" as Sebastian gives Stanley a certificate and a cardboard carton which looks as though it contains some sort of domestic electrical appliance. Either that or a bottle of something powerfully alcoholic.

"And the second prize goes to Mr Antonio Ballpoint, who connected the electricity supply to the Angel Road Junction signal box no less than fifty four years — incredible, isn't it? — fifty four years after the last train had gone down the branch line. How extraordinary. Mr Ballpoint, please."

Again the audience begins to cheer, clap and yell encouragement to Mr Ballpoint, who has turned up in a suit but carries pliers, a crimper and a wire cutter in the breast pocket just in case anyone wants him to fix anything. "If they made a badge that said 'I am an electrician,'" thinks Tumbril, "he wouldn't need to put the tools of his trade on display in his pocket like that." Sebastian gives Mr Ballpoint a certificate and another anonymous cardboard carton, and Mr Ballpoint nods to the audience before walking off stage.

Silence falls.

"And now we come to the first prize and the title of Electrician of the Year," Sebastian reads from the paper. At the back of the auditorium, Tumbril looks at Leonard and grinned. Leonard grins back. Tumbril points at Leonard and mouths, "It's you." Leonard shakes his head. Sebastian continued, "The title 'Electrician of the Year' is awarded for the tenth year running to," he reaches a crescendo, "Pamela Downpour, chief electrical engineer of the Broxbourne and Brimsdown Electricity Corporation."

A recorded fanfare of trumpets plays over the tannoy as Mrs Downpour appears on stage and receives the cup, the certificate, the badge and the cardboard carton which together form her award. She pins the badge onto her dress and faces the audience to give a couple of sentences of self promotion and thanks before making her getaway. You know the sort of thing. "I would never have received this award without the hard work and dedication of everyone who works for the company that I lead, and which pays me an enormous salary, but of course I'm going to keep the entire award to myself and put it on my CV as well." While addressing the audience, Mrs Downpour is playing with her mobile phone, but whether she is reading her speech from it or texting a colleague about the price of power station fuel is anyone's guess.
As she finishes her mercifully short acceptance speech, Sebastian forgets that he is within range of a microphone and whispers to her, "By the way, I think there's a mistake in my electricity bill, it's been absolutely vast for the last five years, and I think a mistake in the electricity bill of somebody as important as me really ought to be dealt with at the top," and Mrs Downpour whispers back nonchalantly, "Of course your electricity bill is enormous. Everyone else's is just as huge, so get used to it. Where do you think my vast salary came from, Sebastian?"
"And finally, unlike previous years," Sebastian goes on just as Pamela Downpour draws her remarks to a close and the audience starts standing up and going home, "we also have an honourable mention of a remarkable character, Beeper the Goat."

Tumbril looked at Leonard and Leonard said, "Oh, no," shakes his head and covered his eyes with his hands in deep embarrassment.

"Beeper the Goat came to our attention when he helped the electrician Ben Twyre to put up the illuminations in Southend on Sea." Sebastian looks around just in case someone has brought Beeper with him and is trying to drag him up the steps and onto the stage. After a suitable interval, Sebastian continues, "Although Beeper isn't here to receive, and probably digest, his certificate, let's give him a round of applause in his absence. It's always nice to end on an animal story, isn't it."

There are some half hearted claps as the audience continues to stand up, pick their coats up from the backs of the chairs and head for the exit. A male North London voice said audibly, "What could a bleedin' goat do to help put the illuminations up?" Another one replied just as clearly, "Anyway, Southend's miles an' miles away. Wot's it goat to do with us?" Others added, "It's the nanny state," and even "This really gets my goat," while others laughed.

"Should I tell him?" Leonard whispers to Tumbril, obviously troubled by conscience as the two of them put their coats on in the queue for the exit.
"No," says Tumbril. "You'd spoil the fun."
"Fun?" echoes Leonard. "Oh, dear."
"Let them go on looking until they make out that they've found it."
"I wish I'd just thrown the application form into the orange cylindrical bin with white spiral stripes. You mean to tell me, this event is not the end of the matter and I have set in motion some mortifying train of events which it isn't going to terminate here?"
"Terminate here? No, this train of events is not even going to slow down as it passes by here. It is destined to set out on the main line and accelerate to speeds only attainable by an intercontinental express."
"Before taking a curve at excessive speed and crashing," Leonard predicts, "because, as I have just realised, when I filled in the application form, I put my real phone number on it."
Tumbril laughed at that. "Oh, dear, that was a silly thing to do. So probably you haven't heard the last of Beeper the goat. Still, at least we've had more fun this evening than being at home and watching television. And now we've set the local journalists a challenge because they'll all be trying to find Beeper the goat. Make up stories about him for when they start phoning you. About him being a brave and strong and saintly goat who first took an interest in domestic applications of electricity when he was still a kid."
Leonard smiles. Tumbril thinks for a moment and adds, "Thank you for filling the form in."
"Well, we might get a laugh out of it, if we're not too unlucky."
"Do you know anyone who has a goat? We could borrow it, perhaps, and it could mooch up and down the road, get into the gardens and eat grass and other peoples' washing off the lines. Just until the hoo-hah dies down."
"No," says Leonard, "I don't know anyone who would lend me a goat for the duration."
"And we spent the evening together," Tumbril observes thoughtfully.
"Yes," says Leonard, "we did. Without arguing, too."

Chapter Three

Pecky, the chicken mascot of Radio Hiccup, might have appeared on thousands of posters and newspaper advertisements, but he never did

"Are you sure this is how to wire it up?" Tumbril watched as Leonard pushed plugs into sockets on the spare transmitter.
"It's the only way the wires fit. All the sockets are different. You can't put any of these wires into any other socket. The microphone has a quarter inch jack so that can only go in here." Leonard pointed to a socket on one of the boxes. "The antenna has a co-ax connector and there's only one co-ax socket anywhere on the box. And this thing here…"
"I get the idea. Is there a plug somewhere?"
"Two mains plugs with kettle connectors, one on each box. I looked at the fuse cartridges and they look all right to me. We'll find out when we plug it in."

Tumbril and Leonard were in the loft, crouching to avoid banging their heads on the low, sloping ceiling. They had spent about an hour examining the metal boxes that Sebastian Tantrum had brought from Radio Ponders End, and trying to join them together with the bits of wire that were lying with the boxes in a crate. There was a microphone which seemed to plug into the smaller box. The smaller box also featured a CD player. Then there was a bigger box with a couple of knobs, meters and lights.

"It looks like a sort of portable studio," said Leonard, "old enough to be thrown away, so, in other words, for as long as Radio Ponders End doesn't ask for their stuff back, we have a little radio station all ready to go."
"Do we want to transmit something?"
"Why not?" said Leonard, who found himself keen on the idea, "We could broadcast your amazing poem that I wrote, for instance. The only thing we have to choose for ourselves is the frequency, and I think I remember that there's a test frequency we can use without causing a nuisance on the public air waves. Maintenance men and engineers use it when they're trying out equipment. Over here, see," he pointed at one of the meters, "that frequency's marked with a sort of yellow scratch."
"Ooh, let's do that, then. I'll go and get my English book."
"Hang on a moment. First, we'll do what engineers call a test. Let's try switching it on and make sure no smoke comes out. If smoke comes out, it failed the test."
"Sure. I'll go and find the poem," said Tumbril. Then she corrected herself, "Your poem, darling."

Tumbril dashed downstairs to find her English book. Leonard gingerly pushed a plug into a socket, stood as far away from the metal boxes as he could, and then turned the mains on. A couple of red lights lit up. The boxes showed no other sign of life, except that the needle moved across the meter to the yellow mark and stopped there.

"Cripes! We're on air," Leonard whispered, "It was that easy."
"Well, we've come this far," said Tumbril as she came back into the loft carrying her English book, "let's finish the job. How powerful is this thing? I mean, how many people can hear us?"
"The signal from this… probably gets as far as the end of the street," Leonard hazarded a guess.
"Oh, well." Tumbril was a bit disappointed. "When becoming a famous neo-postmodern poet, I suppose you have to start on a small scale."

"We haven't even got a name for the radio station," said Leonard. "No marketing department in the world will take us seriously."
"We'll think of something."
"Maybe we'll think of two different names for the radio," Leonard mused, "and toss a coin every time we do a station ident to decide which one to use."

Tumbril sat before the microphone and read clearly and with expression, "Thursday's Homework." Then she paused for effect and began, "Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet…"

As she finished, Leonard clapped her. Tumbril smiled, relieved to have got to the end of the piece without fluffing her lines.

At the South Pole, two seasoned, bearded explorers in ultra cold weather clothing stared at the radio in their tent as it crackled and popped and snapped suddenly into life. Lorem Ipsum, the sonorous oration of Cicero, poured forth from its loudspeaker into the frozen air of the tent.

"Good Lord, Jimmy," exclaimed one of the two explorers, "I didn't know that radio still worked."
"Neither did I. Matter of fact, I thought it had conked out years and years ago. Is that the Home Service, Toppers? Haven't heard that for months. Do they still perform The Archers?"
"Don't know, Jimmy. Tell you what, when I have a minute in between drinking cups of tea with floating lumps of frozen milk, I'll nip out onto the ice and ask a penguin. They always know what's going on."
"Don't be daft. What would a penguin know about The Archers, Toppers? They aren't interested in cows and farms and stuff. They're only interested in, er, snow and, ah, ice and fish and tap dancing and getting onto the David Attenborough show. And quacking that ghastly jingle about P-p-p-pick up an Antarctic explorer. I wish I'd never given the damn television to them."
"Well, Jimmy, I'm not much interested in The Archers either, now I come to think of it.
Toppers has an idea. "I say, isn't it about time we asked the Royal Society to rescue us? We've been here God knows how long. I'm sure it only said three weeks in the contract and we've heard nothing since, what, nineteen fifty nine if it's a day. I'll write a postcard and get one of the penguins to post it."
"Do we have any postcards?" asks Jimmy.
"I brought three and I don't think I've used any of them. No stamps, though. Poor fellow at the other end will have to pay for it."
"Good idea. You never know, someone might want to rescue us. Put the kettle on," Jimmy says, "There's a good chap."
"Certainly, Jimmy. Milk? One lump or two?"

In the loft of 159 Hiccup Hole Lane, Leonard throws the switches on the two boxes. The lights on the boxes go out and the needle returns to zero. "We did it," he says with an air of triumph, "we did a programme. Shall be do another programme tomorrow?"
"Definitely. And it's your turn to think of something."
"What? Again?"
"Yes. You're better at thinking of things than I am," Tumbril concedes.

Dad comes up the stairs and says hello to Leonard and Tumbril.

"Oh, dad," says Tumbril, "you missed the fun. We turned the transmitter on and I read my poem on the air."
"Good stuff. Sorry I missed it. Here," says Dad, holding out two foil wrapped chocolate bars, "have these. I just saw them in the newsagent's."
"Antarctic Explorer," Tumbril reads the wrapper, "Chocolate Covered Fish Bar. Hey, I've seen a team of tap-dancing penguins advertise these sweets on television."
"So they must be good," says Dad.
Leonard rips the foil off the chocolate bar and bites a piece off. "Eugh!" he cries, spitting it out, "it's revolting."
"Oh, dear," says Dad, "what a mess."
"Sorry," says Leonard, "I barfed."
"You poor soul. I'll clean it up," says Tumbril, sniffing gingerly at her own Arctic Explorer Chocolate Covered Fish Bar. "Gosh, it really honks, doesn't it."

"What were you doing in the loft, anyway?" asks Dad later in the evening, after Leonard has left.
"Broadcasting. Sebastian Tantrum let Radio Ponders End leave a transmitter in the loft so we, I mean, Leonard managed to turn it on and make it work and then I read my famous poem on air."
"Did anyone hear it?"
"I don't think so," says Tumbril, "it's not all that powerful. We were just broadcasting for the love of broadcasting, of putting on a show. If we wanted to entertain the crowds, we'd be in the wrong place."
Dad thought about that, and he said, "Do you think I could read the news?"
"Sure. Of course. That's a marvellous idea," said Tumbril, really meaning it, "May I write the news?"
"Yes. Yes, definitely. What's the name of the radio station?"
"Radio Hiccup," says Tumbril, choosing a name quite at random.
"That's a jolly good name," says Dad, really meaning it.

At about eight o'clock, Tumbril gives Dad the handwritten rip an' read and then she turns on the microphone. Dad makes the elementary mistake of not casting an eye over it before going on air.

"The time is, ah," he guessed ten minutes slow, "seven forty five. This is Radio Hiccup. Here is the news," reads Dad, "The headline: the government has decided to cure the country's economic problems once and for all, by abolishing money." Dad turns the paper over, expecting to find some more news, but there isn't any more. "That is the end of the news," he concludes.
"Sorry, dad," Tumbril turns the mike off again, "I couldn't think of anything else."
"Don't worry, sweety. Quality, not quantity, Tumbril, that's the thing. That was jolly good news, that was. Quite takes me back."
"Dad," Tumbril asks, "how many news stories are there supposed to be?"
"Three's enough. Politics, a disaster of some kind, and then sport."
"All right, I'll think of three stories tomorrow, if school doesn't exhaust my brain outright."

On Threadneedle Street there is a grey door bearing a brass plate that says 'Special Place.' The three members of the Rich Bankers Club, which occupies the rooms to which the grey door leads, have found this brass plate effective in deterring tourists and private investigators and policemen and itinerant staff of the Inland Revenue from knocking on the door and interrupting the silence, comfort and drink for which the Rich Bankers Club is, rightly, renowned.

Although most radios are tuned to a commercial frequency rather than to the test frequencies such as that on which Radio Hiccup broadcasts, occasionally it happens that an engineer had tuned an old radio set to a test frequency during repairs and nobody has ever tuned it to anything else ever since. Thus it was that the two occupants of the Port Room of the Rich Bankers Club, on Threadneedle Street where nobody ever notices it unless they already know it is there, heard on their forties vintage bakelite radio the brief but important news bulletin that came from the improvised studio of Radio Hiccup.

"I say, Wizzo," says Pin Stripe, "Did the wireless just say something?"

Members of the Rich Bankers Club take great pride in referring to one another exclusively by their nicknames. Only the staff have names.

Pin Stripe is a pin-stripe suit and a club tie attached to a bald head. He moves slightly in his leather armchair as he speaks.
Wizzo, an older man in an identical suit and tie, reaches for a bottle of Madeira that stands on the french polished table beside his chair. He pours two shots and holds one out to Pin-Stripe. "The radio reckons the Government's going to abolish money."
"I suppose we'd better…" Pin Stripe pauses for a few seconds and continues, "Do you know, I can't think of anything we ought to do."
"Sell your shares in De La Rue, for one thing," said Wizzo, "the banknote printers. Can't see them making a commercial success of this abolition thing. They'll all be begging on the streets if this goes on."
"Begging for what?"
"What do you mean, for what? They'll be after our spare change like always. Spare some change, guv'nor? I'm sick of them."
"Not if the government abolishes money, they won't say that, because there won't be any change, spare or otherwise. They'll be begging for, I don't know what. Cigarettes, food, blankets."

Cracker Barrel, the remaining long standing member with a taste for Warre Vintage, walked in, plonked himself in the remaining armchair and sent the waiter, Martin, off to fetch his usual tipple. "Evening, Pin-stripe, Wizzo. You'll never guess what happened on my way here from the counting house."
"Tell us," said Pin-stripe.
"Long line of beggars asking for second hand cars and used clothes. I asked them why they wanted second hand vehicles instead of money. And guess what?"
"They said, 'Money's bein' abolished, guv'nor.' That's what they said. So if they're right, I suppose we can all retire."
Martin returns with a pricey bottle and removes the cork with a bottle opener that had probably seen service in the eighteenth century. "Warre Vintage, Mr Cracker Barrel?"
"Why not, Martin, why not. And give one to each of my friends here. We have something to celebrate, after all. Our reign is over. We can retire. Take a one way ticket to our castles and our chateaux and our mansions, our job finally done. Money is at an end. The time has come, the king is dead," he rabbits, "King Money is dead, and long live the king, whatever it may turn out to be. Old clothes or something. Bottoms up, eh?"
"Indeed," chorused Pin-stripe and Wizzo, "it is jolly good stuff."

"Gentlemen," Martin asked subserviently as the sunset poured through the big window onto the stuffed and mounted elk's head opposite, "as money has been abolished and I am never going to be paid ever again for the rest of my days, would it be acceptable if I were to go home now?"

There was a flurry of looking at expensive wrist watches and Wizzo piped up, "Yes. Provided of course you leave behind the key to the drinks cupboard."
"Here." Martin gave the key to Wizzo, muttering "That'll save you the trouble of taking the hinges off the door like you did last time" under his breath. "I've put some Arctic Explorer Chocolate Covered Fish Bars on the bottom shelf in case you feel peckish."
"Those awful things?" Wizzo was startled. "They really honk."

In his little cubby hole beside the tradesman's entrance of the Rich Bankers Club, Martin changed out of his waiter's overalls and into a perfectly normal anorak with jeans and trainers to match. He walked half an hour through the streets, always noisy and full of cars at this time in the evening, until he reached the gate of the Russian Embassy where he showed his identity card to the policeman on duty. The policeman waved Martin through and, well knowing Martin to be a frequent visitor, didn't look at the identity card. Martin walked up the path and rang the doorbell.

In Ponders End, Hiccup Hole Lane was in darkness apart from a light from one window of Number 159. While the neighbours slept, or sat in comfy chairs with the lights out in front of East Enders, or both, Tumbril sweated over tomorrow's news. "Well," she said out loud although there was nobody else in the room, sucking her pencil, "I've done the economy. So what's left? And I said I'd write three of them." Desperation, she realised, is not a form of creativity. What would the lead story be? Reporting factual news wasn't difficult, Tumbril decided, because all you had to do was be there, watch what was going on and then write it down. But inventing the news was difficult, because you had to make it up, and that meant your brain had to do some work and produce…

Suddenly inspired, Tumbril dashes off a headline, and rapidly adds the following couple of paragraphs. One down, she says out loud, two to go. This is going to be a long evening.

School came and went.

"Disappeared?" asks Dad, when he sees the rip an' read at five to eight in the evening.
"Yes. Well, why not?" Tumbril asked. "Lots of things disappear. Money, for instance. You know, someone gives it to you, it makes no difference whether it's in your pocket or in a bank or in a sock, and you don't spend any of it, but when you want to go out and buy fish and chips or a pair of red socks, it's disappeared. And all those old shopping lists and ball point pens and cheap wrist watches and spare batteries that you buy and put carefully in the drawer against the day when you need them again, they all disappear."
"Well, all right. Cue me in."

Tumbril turns the mike on. They are going live. Tumbril wonders whether going live will always make her as tense as it is making her now. Nobody is listening, she tells herself, so don't get all anxious.

"It's eight o'clock in the evening. This is Radio Hiccup. The headlines: Sunderland has disappeared. Not just the football club, but the entire city. Sunderland, famous for its ice cream factory and international cactus farm, vanished from the face of the earth some time between midnight and two this morning, leaving behind just two night shift workers who were out walking their dogs at the time. One of them told this programme, 'I'd just left the house with Fido in tow when there was a mysterious eerie whistling noise and suddenly the entire landscape was different. I'd say it's a big improvement, although I will miss my Aunt Gertrude because she was staying in the spare room on Pelaw Crescent at the time.' Mr Geordie Plenker, a spokesman for the Tyne and Wear district, said that Sunderland would be sadly missed, particularly by anyone who had never been there, but it was time to move on and cover the newly exposed bare landscape with executive housing and motorways on which the residents of the executive houses could keep everyone awake by driving round and round at high speed in their Darras Hall tractors."

"They'll never fall for that," whispers Dad, putting his hand over the microphone to silence himself.
"I don't really care," says Tumbril even more quietly, "because it's a good story."
"It's certainly that. Ah, well, onwards and upwards."

Dad stops whispering and went back to his John Humphrys emulation. "Two hundred years after it was last used to write anything, the British Museum has found the luxurious left handed aluminium ball point pen with which Napoleon Bonaparte signed the Treaty of Versailles and a letter to his grand daughter Gertrude who was staying in temporary accommodation on Pelaw Crescent in Sunderland at the time. The pen, a survivor of the battles of Waterloo and Trafalgar, was found in an Art Deco litter bin on the second floor and it was still in perfect working order. The clicky thing on the top still went up and down causing the nib to retract, and the pen left a line of ink when you moved it across a piece of paper. The pen will be on display again amid other stationery related artefacts this afternoon. And since it belonged to Napoleon, a spokesman for the British Museum added, it is hardly surprising that the ballpen only has one ball."

Dad whispers, "Wasn't that Hitler?"
"Napoleon as well. There was a lot of it about. Someone even set it to music." Tumbril sang Napoleon has only got one ball to the tune of the first two bars of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony with two extra notes at the end, quite forgetting that she was a foot away from an open mike.
"And was he left handed?"
"Oh, yes. He had a special hat made for himself."

Back to the news. "The strange thing, said the museum's Head of Aluminium Ballpoints, is that it was only found at all because the litter bin was grey with narrow blue stripes, and should therefore have contained only banana peel, broken light bulbs and sweet wrappers. A ballpoint pen, she said, stood out like a sore thumb. At least, it stood out like a sore thumb once you knew it was in there."

Dad goes on to the final story of the day. "A woman in Texas has patented a machine that makes marmalade from tomatoes. Mrs Eleanor Hubbard beamed at the television camera and announced in a hideous Texan accent, 'Since I was four years old, my mommy told me I'd never amount to anything, especially if I did not try to make tomatoes into marmalade.' Mrs Hubbard pronouced tomatoes as though it rhymed with potatoes. 'I have been working on this astonishing machine that re-writes the laws of nature. From tomorrow on, the shelves of every superstore in Texas will be stacked with box upon box of Mrs Hubbard's Marmalade Made from Tomatoes.' Mrs Hubbard's teenage son Eldridge added, 'Mrs Hubbard is totally bonkers and there's nothing to worry about, unless you used to live in Sunderland of course. Ha, ha!'"

"The headlines again: Sunderland has disappeared. Napoleon's ballpoint pen has been found. And a woman in Texas is completely bonkers."

Tumbril turned off the mike. "Good stuff, Dad. I enjoyed every minute of it."
"Yes," said Dad, "that was jolly good news, that was."

Leonard arrives at the front door carrying a tiny Japanese transistor radio dating from nineteen sixty. "Hey, Tumbril, I was listening," he says to Tumbril as she opens the door. "That was brilliant. Really professional."
"Where did you get that radio?" asks Dad, who owned a similar radio fifty years ago.
"I found it for sale second hand in a charity shop. Seventy pence. Someone had been trying to repair it so, bingo, it was tuned to a test frequency, which just happened to be the one we're using."
"Fourteen shillings."
"What?" asked Leonard, who has never heard of the currency before.
"Fourteen shillings," Dad nods, "I had a radio rather like that one and it cost me fourteen shillings. I never got the hang of these damnable pence. If it were up to me…"
"What would you do if it were up to you?"
"I'd throw the lot of them into the big red bin with a chequer pattern of small blue squares, and I'd bring back proper money. Shillings and pence, like the Romans used and the Greeks before them, with a proud history going back to the halcyon days of the dinosaurs and the trilobites."
"Trilobites?" Leonard thought it hard to believe that the trilobites had used any form of currency.
"Yes. Trilobites," said Dad, "a trilobite earned seven and sixpence a week."
"There was something else in the charity shop too," says Leonard, offering two of them to Dad and Tumbril, "they started selling Arctic Explorer Chocolate Covered Fish Bars."
"Oh, Leonard," Tumbril gazes into his eyes, "you shouldn't have."
"Why not?"
"'Cause they're horrible," says Tumbril, taking both bars and tossing them with superb accuracy into the yellow bin with grey and green polka dots.
"I know," Leonard replies immediately, "I just wanted to see you stand at the front door and throw them both into the bin in the kitchen. You're really good at that."
"I always said you could be a professional netball player," said Dad.
"School PT lessons would suddenly become a pleasure to participate in," said Tumbril, "because the PE mistress has no time for girls who aren't already highly skilled athletes and sports players, but I have no ambitions in that direction."
"Still," said Leonard with genuine admiration, "it is a remarkable ability."
"Want to see it again?" Tumbril offered.
"Go and fetch the Arctic Explorer bars from the bin and I'll stand here and throw them back in again."

Leonard fetched the sweets. Tumbril is about to throw them back into the bin again with a particularly deft under arm double flip when she heard one voice say to another in the street outside, "I wish I had one of those Arctic Explorer chocolate covered fish bars." Recognising her cue, Tumbril threw the two fish bars out of the window to the owner of the voice, who caught them in one hand despite their being completely unexpected. "Gosh," says the voice, "Look at what I found."
"Where did they come from?" asks a second voice.
"They were just flying through the air. All I did was catch them."
"Plucked from thin air? You're hallucinating, Martin."
"Problem of old age drawing on, Boris." There was a pause during which Tumbril and Leonard could hear wrapping paper being removed and then, predictably, "Yuck! Eugh, my God, this is revolting. Even Hershey bars taste better than this."
"No, it doesn't."
"You're right. It doesn't. How about Cadbury's?"
"I'd definitely rather have Cadbury's."

The two men amble down the street and out of sight into the darkness where the street lamps used to be. Tumbril stares after them for a few seconds and then closes the front door. "Strangers," she said, "the stuff of nightmares."

Dad picks up Leonard's second hand transistor radio and looks at it idly, remembering the days of listening to the cricket during maths and to Alan Freeman during geography. Suddenly his vague sense of nostalgic familiarity gives way to recognition. There are two letters scratched on the plastic of the radio, near the tuning dial. "D. M.," he says, out loud by accident. "I scratched that."
"Why did you scratch it?" asks Leonard.
"Because it's my initials. Douglas Martin," Dad explains. "I bought this radio and took it to school, to listen to the Test Matches. And in those days you scratched your name on everything within scratching distance. I never understood until now why you scratched your name on everything. Now, all these years later, here it is again."
"That's quite a co-incidence," says Leonard.
"I doubt it is a co-incidence at all," says Tumbril, arriving back in the living room. "I think someone wanted you to have this radio back. Maybe there's something about this radio that only you know about."
"No," says Dad, "it's just an ordinary radio. I listened to the Test Match with it every day until, after a few days, the radio disappeared, as everything does."
"Maybe it's enjoyed an extraordinary and exciting adventure," says Leonard, "and it decided to retrace its steps and spend its old age in the comforting company of its first love, Douglas Martin of Hazelbury School. And it finds you older, wiser, and listening to a radio that costs a hundred times as much as it did and receives digital radio broadcasts of a kind that had not been dreamed of when this radio was assembled in a Japanese factory."
"No," says Dad, "you were right first time. It's a coincidence. Feel free to keep it, Leonard. It served me well. Do the children still listen to test matches at school?"
"Test matches?" Leonard is nonplussed. "I've never heard of the band."

The postman had delivered all his letters for the day, except for one postcard. He stood on London's Threadneedle Street looking from the front door of a building to the postcard he was carrying, and looking back from the postcard to the building. The card was addressed to,

The Society Promoting Exploration Concentrated In Arctic Lands,
Threadneedle Street,

There were peculiar marks on the card, which looked for all the world as though the postcard had been carried for some distance in the beak of a penguin. Puzzled, the postman walked along Threadneedle Street, looking to the left and to the right, trying to find a door through which he could deliver the postcard. He noticed, for the first time, a grey wooden door bearing a brass plate which said 'Special Place.' Special, he thought, must mean the Society Promoting Exploration Concentrated In Arctic Lands. He knocked on the door and a young man opened it.

"Good morning," said Martin.
"Morning," said the postman, "I have a card for you."
"Thank you," said Martin, skimming the address, "but I'm afraid that the Society Promoting Exploration Concentrated In Arctic Lands ceased trading here in nineteen fifty nine, just after it sent a two man expedition off to the Arctic."
"Were the explorers Atol protected?" asked the postman.
"I'm afraid not. The story is that they never returned."
"But this did use to be their office, when they were up and running?"
"Yes, indeed, but there's nothing left of them now."
"Still, this appears to be the right address, and I'm sorry to say this card has no stamp. You have to give me £1·42 for it."
Martin reaches into his pocket and hands over some coins, saying, "No problem."

Happy at having delivered his last letter for the day, the postman goes home to see his black and white cat, leaving the card with Martin.

Martin takes the card into the servants' quarters of The Rich Bankers Club and there he studies it. It is a picture postcard. On one side is a picture of some penguins romping in the snow. On the other are the message and the address. The message runs, 'Dear Special, Are you fellows ever going to get around to bringing us home? There aren't any buses here. In that regard it's even worse than America. Yours up to our necks in snow, Jimmy and Toppers.' It is postmarked, 'South Pole GPO.'

Martin puts the postcard in his back pocket, intending to get help for the explorers later in the day.

"Got any more of those Arctic Explorer Chocolate Covered Fish Bars?" Pin Stripe called in the general direction of Martin's room.
"About a dozen, sir."
"Throw 'em away, will you," said Pin Stripe, "they're revolting."
"Certainly, sir. It will be a pleasure."

Martin finds the Chocolate Covered Fish Bars in the larder, checks that their sell by dates are all in the future, and carries them all out to the waste bin. Waste confectionery, unopened, in date, goes in the grey bin with black squares and is collected at 14.31 hours on a Friday.

Cracker Barrel, Pin Stripe and Wizzo are all relaxing around the drinks cabinet in the club room. Pin Stripe calls Martin over. "Did I hear the postman's knock?" he asks.
"Yes, sir. He delivered a picture postcard."
"Anything interesting?"
"Yes, sir," Martin told him. "The card came from two explorers who have been marooned at the South Pole since the Society Promoting Exploration Concentrated In Arctic Lands went bankrupt and left them there."
"That's dreadful," said Pin Stripe. "Let down by Special, eh. Stuck in a snowdrift, surrounded by penguins and eating ship's biscuits since how long ago?"
"Fifty-six years, sir."
"That's quite a long time, that is. So, who you gonna call?"
"Whom would you suggest, sir?"
"Well, not Ghostbusters, for a start." Pin Stripe paused and thought, then, "How about the Royal Air Force?"
Wizzo turned and joined in. "P and O Cruises might have a ship out there. I'm sure these explorers, whoever they are, would rather come back home on a ship than a crowded and noisy aeroplane. No leg room and nothing to eat apart from a chocolate biscuit."
"I was thinking of the Fire Brigade," Martin put in, hoping and failing to add a note of sanity to the conversation. "They're pretty good at rescuing people."
"International Rescue," Cracker Barrel suggested.
"Do you mean the creation of Mr Albert Einstein and is it not now one of Mr David Milliband's many disguises?" Martin asked him.
"Good lord, no." Cracker Barrel shook his head. "David Milliband's a complete… I didn't mean him! I meant Thunderbirds!" He paused for effect, hearing in his head the familiar Thunderbirds March. "Duh duh-duh daaa... See if you can get Lady Penelope on the phone. She will know what to do."
"Sir," said Martin to Cracker Barrel with the air of one trying to sound as though he is gingerly breaking bad news rather than stating the totally obvious, "I fear Thunderbirds may have been a somewhat fanciful work of fiction, sir. Although in such a world as is presented to us on television Brains could undoubtedly have organised the rescue of these two unfortunates with the assistance of the Thunderbirds Fleet, and Lady Penelope could have added a touch of much needed glamour to the operation, I do not believe they are actually an operational squadron."
"Dammit, Martin, I was quite looking forward to meeting them." Cracker Barrel sighed.
"I am truly sorry that the facts are so disappointing," said Martin, "but International Rescue are no more able to help these two beached travellers than Punch and Judy or Sooty and Sweep."
"Don't worry. Disappointment happens every day in banking," Cracker Barrel nodded.
There was a moment's pause while Wizzo stared at his empty shot glass. "Drinks all round," said Wizzo, "while we think of something, let's at least get blattered."

Chapter Four

That afternoon, after school finishes, Leonard knocks at the door of Number 159 Hiccup Hole Lane. Tumbril answers the knock.

"Leonard! Thanks for coming." She is delighted to see him there, and she calls into the house, "Dad, it's my boyfriend!"
"Lucky you," comes Dad's reply. He does not look at the visitor. However, he does mean what he says: he thinks Tumbril is lucky to have Leonard as a boyfriend. He also thinks, understandably, that Leonard is lucky to be the boyfriend of Tumbril.
"What's that?" asks Tumbril, looking at an odd, grey, unmarked cardboard box in Leonard's hand.
"It's Beeper the goat."
"Who?" asks Tumbril.
"Beeper the goat. Remember? Beeper the goat was chosen for a commendation in the Electrician of the Year award."
"That isn't a goat," says Tumbril, looking at the cardboard box, "it's a cardboard box."
"But on radio, it's something else. Listen!" Leonard squeezes the cardboard box and it makes a noise that might, in a noisy background, be mistaken for the bleat of a goat. "It's a squeaker. A child's toy put to a good use."
"Which child did the toy belong to?" asked Tumbril.
"I don't know which child used to own it," Leonard admitted, "but it doesn't matter because there's probably lots of DNA in the slobber that was all over it, so if anyone needed to know which child it was, all they would have to do would be to take a sample of slobber from every child in the world, extract the DNA from it and then find out which one matched the DNA in the dried slobber on the squeaker."
"So how come you don't know which child you took it from?"
"I didn't take it at all," said Leonard, "I found it on the bus. I suppose a child was annoying all the other passengers by squeaking it over and over again as loudly as possible, and one of the other passengers couldn't take any more goat noises so he picked the child up and threw it out of the window, leaving the squeaker behind on the floor. Which is where I found it. Then I took it home and dried the slobber off with a hair dryer and then I decided it was time to go and see my stunning girlfriend."
"That sounds astoundingly probable." Tumbril also appreciated being described as stunning. "Since you found this wonderful gadget, we have a programme ready to be made."
"Sure. An interview on the news, with the genius who wired up the illuminations at Southend on Sea single handed with only his goat Beeper to assist him."

Tumbril sits in the loft as Leonard rearranges the microphones and twiddles the knobs on the metal boxes that make up the transmitter. She has to make some news up in time for the start of the broadcast, or she could let the broadcast wait until she has written out the headlines. In real life, she knows, today's news is the continuation of yesterday's news, and tomorrow's news will be the continuation of today's. So, she thinks, as I already know what the news will be about, there isn't much that can go wrong.

"Does your Dad want to read the news?" asks Leonard.
Dad is making three cups of tea. "Yes," comes his voice from downstairs.
"Then I'll have to write some," says Tumbril, finding a pencil and a notepad on the table. "The trouble is, I might write something down believing it to be highly unlikely or completely impossible and suddenly it happens. For instance, who would have thought the Labour Party would elect a Socialist as leader?"

A few minutes later Tumbril is sitting with Dad at the microphone. Leonard turns the transmitter on and the meter climbs from zero to the scratch mark.

"This is Radio Hiccup," Dad begins, "here is the news."

"A goldfish in Waltham Cross called Herbert,"
Dad reads from Tumbril's scribbled rip 'n read in the traditional plummy BBC accent, "has found its way back to its old home three years after being accidentally flushed down the toilet. Mrs Pamela Downpour of Riddle Road took a cocktail of hallucinogenic drugs and then threw the fish down the pan in the mistaken belief that it was possessed by the Devil. Only after the drugs wore off did she realise that she had disposed of the goldfish that was her only friend. She feared she would never see Herbert again. Then, this morning at sunrise, she noticed that Herbert was back in his goldfish bowl and swimming happily. In an interview that we made up, she told Radio Hiccup that she had no idea how the fish had found its way back to her house, taken the goldfish bowl out of the airing cupboard and stood it on the coffee table, filled it with water and then climbed in. Since the goldfish only remembers the events of the last five seconds, Herbert too has now entirely forgotten how he achieved the extraordinary feat and is unable to recount how he did it."

Dad looks up at Leonard, who gives him the thumbs up to carry on reading. With skill born of long watching other people do it, Dad lifts the top sheet of the rip 'n read and moves on to the second story without any audible rustling of papers.

"The government has given more details of its plan to abolish all money. Money will be abolished first in Ponders End, because there isn't much money there anyway, and also because past experience has shown that it is a good idea to try out stupid ideas on poor people before starting to do them to erveryone else. Coins will be abolished first, followed by banknotes and finally bank accounts, credit and debit cards. The transition to a cashless society is expected to take about three weeks."

"The renowned chief engineer of the People's Omnibus Company in China, Bong Kaz, has invented a high speed passenger carrying bus capable of travelling at very high speeds". The bus burns rocket fuel and is believed to be capable of reaching speeds in excess of three hundred miles per hour on a straight and level road. Passengers on the bus will be advised to sit in their assigned seats and remain motionless because as soon as they move, the bus will lose its balance and crash, killing everyone aboard as well as everyone in any nearby housing estates."

"That is the end of the news."

Tumbril hands Dad another piece of paper and he reads, And now File on Hiccup brings you an interview with Ben Twyre, the craftsman who gained an honourable mention from pompous buffoon Sebastian Tantrum at the Electrician of the Year Show last week."

Dad stood up silently and walked off downstairs to continue making tea and washing clothes and listening to the wireless, as Tumbril came closer to the microphone and began playing the rôle of interviewer. Leonard finds the cardboard squeaker and stands beside her holding it.

Tumbril starts off by getting to the point. "You installed the illuminations in Southend this year, didn't you, Leonard? I mean, Ben?"
"Guilty," says Leonard, in the character of Ben Twyre with a Joe Grundy accent. "I did the whole job myself, single handed apart from my goat Beeper." He squeezes the cardboard squeaker and, voilà, it makes a noise like a goat. "Baa!"
"Gosh, what a beautiful goat! Give me an idea of how much work that is," says Tumbril.
"The illuminations use four million light bulbs and fifty eight miles of five-amp cable, connected to fourteen thousand electric sockets fed from two coal fired power stations with fourteen thousand plugs. I wore out a pair of pliers and two pairs of cheap canvas trainers. So the amount of work that Beeper and I did is about the same as carving a life size statue of Mount Everest from a monolithic lump of granite with a blunt toothpick."
"Tell me more about your goat, Beeper," asked Tumbril, "What part did he play in this massive job?"
"Beeper pulled a small cart full of light bulbs and disposed of all the waste paper and cardboard by eating it. He even let me ride in the cart from my house to the site of the work and back home again at the end of the day."
"Did you ever just tire of installing the illuminations and go and lie on the beach instead?" Tumbril asked.
"Oh, yes," said Leonard, "but I made Beeper wire up some light bulbs while I was just lying on the beach in the sunshine."
"Didn't Beeper think that it was a bit unfair for him to do all that wiring up while you were taking it easy on the beach?"
"Yes. But he's got his certificate of electrical safety so there was never any risk to anyone," Leonard reassured his audience.

In Walthamstow, Murdo McTavish is rounding up trolleys in the car park of the Asbury Supermarket when the tannoy bursts into life quite unexpectedly. Murdo is used to hearing the Colleague Announcements and the Special Offers, but this announcement is quite different. For a few seconds, the tannoy appears to be broadcasting a news bulletin from a radio station. Murdo listens to the rest of the bulletin and recognises the BBC accent, though not this particular announcer. So Murdo does not know who exactly is reading this news bulletin, but he imagines the source to be trustworthy, even when it introduces a high speed express bus that burns rocket fuel.

Murdo pricks up his ears when the bulletin mentions the express bus. Murdo was once a skilled fitter and he used to work at AEC, just down the road from Asbury, and there he played his part in the manufacture of what were, undoubtedly, the finest buses in the world. Since AEC closed, the only job Murdo has done is to roam the supermarket car park and collect all the trolleys that customers have failed to return to the shelters. This he does in exchange for a shaving more than the minimum wage. Trolleys and going into hiding and smoking a cigarette are now his life. Hearing the news of the Chinese accomplishment, he asks himself whether, being an undoubted expert in the construction, repair and maintenance of buses at the finest bus works in the world, he could design and build a high speed bus which would beat that offered by Bong Kaz and his Chinese workforce into a cocked hat? Could he do the maths and the blueprints and then hand the lot to a team of British workers, for manufacture?

Murdo has not used his brain much since leaving AEC, and he is slightly surprised to realise that his brain is in excellent condition. It takes Murdo a little time to work out what approach he might take to this opportunity. He hides behind the dustbins and, slowly, after several minutes, a lot of scribbling on the back of an envelope and two cigarettes, an idea forms in his brain. He can see that this opportunity is too great for one worker, but a team of workers might tackle it successfully. This calls, he realises, for a Public Meeting of Former AEC Employees. He resolves that AEC Bus Works is going to rise from its own ashes, like a phoenix.

Ben Twyre is speaking to an audience which is very small even by the standards of BBC radio, but not, as he wrongly imagined, to nobody at all. Unknown to him, there are radio sets and listeners out there, switched on and tuned in to Radio Hiccup. Not many, but not none either. One of those few radio sets was an FM tuner connected to the tannoy in the car park at Asbury's Supermarket, as we have just heard. Another stands in the lounge of a gentlemen's club behind an ordinary looking wooden door in the side of a building on Threadneedle Street.

Decked out in his dapper morning suit and with an outsize carnation in his lapel, Martin has spent the morning with Cracker Barrel, Pin Stripe and Wizzo in the club lounge of the Rich Bankers Club, cleaning the port and madeira decanters and polishing the wine glasses over and over again in an effort to remain within listening distance of the bakelite radio. After wearing out three cleaning cloths and using up an entire bottle of disinfectant cleaning fluid he finally hears the news on Radio Hiccup, which only yesterday announced the abolition of all money, though it was rather scant on detail. Now Martin feels better informed about the abolition of all money, which will give him something to talk about to his friend Boris that evening. Martin has noticed that nobody else seems to be talking about the abolition of money, even though you would think that the abolition of money would be of tremendous interest to more or less everybody. He cannot understand how such massive indifference could come about, but as massive indifference goes, it's not much more massive than the indifference which met the visit of Emperor Hirohito to Buckingham Palace, or the wave of indifference which greeted the government's frequent declarations of war against countries which most electors couldn't find on a map, unless they had a grave there.

As the news finishes and the interview with Beeper's goatherd begins, Martin leaves the club room, changes into outdoor clothes and leaves the building.

The picture postcard from the South Pole stands on top of the drinks cupboard in the loungs. Picking it up, holding it first one way and then the other, and finally putting it back in the place from which it came, Pin Stripe speaks for the entire membership when he says, "Sorry to break the silence…"
"You go ahead and break it," says Cracker Barrel, "it's not worth anything."
"Quite right, quite right," Wizzo puts in, "There's plenty more silence where that one came from. We can easily get another one exactly the same."
"…but I wonder whether we ought to, well, do anything about this postcard." Pin Stripe looks at the message again and continues, "After all is said and done, these two fellows Topper and Jimmy, whoever they are, do seem to be rather badly in need of a cheap one way flight to Gatwick."
"Are there any flights from the South Pole to Gatwick?" asked Wizzo.
"Oh, there must be." Cracker Barrel could see no reason why the international network of cheap flights for tourists should not, by now, extend to the South Pole. "Stands to reason. But maybe the Society Promoting Exploration Concentrated In Arctic Lands, when it was still in business, intended to buy them tickets at the end of their contracts, so they could come home."
"You mean," said Pin Stripe, "that they haven't got any money to buy tickets with?"
"Exactly," says Wizzo, "if they wait a few weeks, after money has been abolished, they'll be in the same boat as anybody else. I don't know which boat that will be, but I don't think it will be an ocean going passenger liner from the South Pole to Portsmouth. I don't even think that Greasy Jet will trade two one way tickets to London for a heap of frozen penguins, which is all that Jimmy and Toppers will have to pay them with."
"Which suggests to me," says Pin Stripe, "that we should act with urgency."
"Urgency," says Wizzo, settling into the armchair, "Yes, indeed. Whatever that is."
Cracker Barrel thinks for a moment. "Pin Stripe, you've done lots of organisation in your time."
"Organised lots of things," Pin Stripe confirms, "drinking competitions, political campaigns, excursions to Margate. Lots of things."
"Could you organise the rescue of two lost explorers from a tent at the South Pole?" Cracker Barrel put to him.
"Well, let me think," said Pin Stripe, and after a very long pause during which he thought about the problems he added, "I would need a detachment of soldiers trained to survive in very cold weather, a helicopter with pilot and fuel, an ocean going liner with crew, fuel and food, and permission to moor in Antarctic waters. The rescue is possible."
"And can you organise it?" Cracker Barrel asked.
"Ah, er, let me think." Pin Stripe thought about whether he could organise the rescue. It took him several minutes. "No. I can't. I am not competent to organise a rescue on such a grand scale. I am a banker, not a military general with a fleet of ships and a squadron of helicopters at his disposal and, unlike a general, I can't actually do anything at all. I'm a banker, not a handyman.
"So," said Wizzo, "if you'll excuse my putting my twopennyworth in sideways, how can we rescue these fellows? They have, after all, turned to us for help."
"I don't know," said Pin Stripe, "I can't think of anything, but do not despair. It is not easy to bamboozle the Rich Bankers Club. We have a Can Do approach."
"What's that?" asked Cracker Barrel.
"We will think of something," Pin Stripe assured him.
"When?" Cracker Barrel seemed curious, but not impatient.
"Sooner or later we will, Crackers, sooner or later."

There was a long silence before Pin Stripe resumed the deliberation. "Crackers, you said a while ago that we should get Thunderbirds on the case."
"I did, Pin Stripe, but Thunderbirds turns out to be a fictitious emergency service. You can't dial 999 and ask for Thunderbirds. Well, you can, but you won't get to speak to them."
"It isn't Thunderbirds we need," Pin Stripe said with the air of one pointing out the solution to an enormously complicated multilemma, "it's… X Men."
"Aren't they fictitious too?" Cracker Barrel objected.
"No. Well, yes, they are entirely fictitious, but we don't need all the X Men and we don't need all their super powers either. Just powers. Life skills. Experience. All those things you learn in a lifetime of counting and rearranging huge piles of money in a bank while dodging the Inland Revenue. We need three men with powers. Not even super powers, just powers." He counted on his fingers, as bankers do. "One who can sail a ship, one who can arrange provisions for the journey and one who can get hold of a lot of money to pay for the whole shebang."

There is silence. You could hear a pin drop.

"Are you sure about this?" Cracker Barrel asked.
"Of course I'm sure! Certain, definite and positive. Isn't it obvious? The three X Men are us, in this room, here, now. Look — Crackers, you used to be in logistics."
"Manufacturing, selling and transporting processed cheese." says Cracker Barrel, "Not what you'd call provisions for an expedition. You'd need meat, water, frozen meals."
"It will be frozen soon enough when it gets to the Antarctic. Adopt, adapt, improve. And Wizzo, you used to finance the shipyards along the Clyde, Belfast, Docklands, didn't you."
"I built ships. At least, I paid someone else to build ships. I never sailed them." Wizzo injected a note of pessimism. "And as for the shipyards, look what happened to them since. Reduced to fields of mud."
"Classic folly," Pin Stripe observes, "First generation builds the business, the second generation runs it, and the third generation destroys it. Clogs to clogs, ashes to ashes, as the saying goes. You were the second generation, though, weren't you? You still know how to run a shipyard, Wizzo."
Wizzo looks less than convinced, but Pin Stripe continues, "And I used to stash vast fortunes in tax havens and shell companies the world over. Huge amounts. I still have all the passwords and everything. We could help ourselves. I can easily half-inch a few million. Nobody would ever notice."
"You're not serious," says Cracker Barrel.
"I certainly am," Pin Stripe replies.
"Pin Stripe, although I recognise your overwhelming and thoroughly laudable desire to be of assistance to these two unfortunate lost souls," says Cracker Barrel, "I feel a moment of calm reflection would be in order before proceeding any further with your admirable scheme. I don't think we really have the right combination of skills for this massive operation."
"Oh, Cracker Barrel, have you never heard of nil desperandum? You're talking like a bloody personnel officer. 'This candidate has worked in a shipyard but can't read. That candidate has managed thousands of multi million dollar accounts but he's never ridden a bus on his own. The other candidate is a gifted engineer who made his first million by inventing the electric wheelbarrow but he can't tell left from right…"
"Keep politics out of it," says Wizzo, "it was just getting interesting."
"I'm only saying, take what God sends. If Thunderbirds had had a personnel officer, it would never have rescued anything more significant than a handful of newts in the Thames Estuary. If you're waiting for an expeditionary force with nothing better to do and limitless spare food and fuel to turn up and ask you how you think they ought to be spending their time, you'll be here until doomsday, and by that time those two beached explorers will be nothing but dried-out frozen skeletons in the snow."

Pin Stripe paused and drew breath, and then he continued. "There are three of us and between us we have all the necessary skills and we can get away with stealing all the money we need." He is becoming extremely enthusiastic. "We can be the three X Men, or Batman, Robin and Alfred, or the three caballeros! We can rescue the victims and save the day! Who's with me? Hands up!"

The building to which Martin walks stands on Gurgle Street, five minutes away from the Rich Bankers Club. The building bears a brass plaque which tells the world it is the office of The Union of British Mathematicians, but in reality it is the headquarters of The Evil Federation. The name on the plaque was carefully chosen to discourage visitors. Martin has in his wallet a plastic card which looks like a credit card but which, in conjunction with his thumb print, opens the specially strengthened steel inner front door. Once through the fortifications, Martin walks along a vast oak panelled corridor with sumptuous offices on the left and the right. The offices resemble those of a town hall in the early years of the twentieth century.

A uniformed guard shows Martin into Boris's office, and stands a couple of feet behind Martin as though Martin posed some sort of threat to Boris. Boris raises his eyebrows and looks up from his crossword puzzle and the adjacent tumbler of neat vodka.
"Afternoon, Martin," says Boris. "Vodka?"
"Yes, please, Boris, with blackcurrant."
"Vodka and blackcurrant juice for our guest, Stanislav."

The security guard, Stanislav, pours a large vodka, adds blackcurrant juice to it and hands it to Martin, who nods in acknowledgement. "May I have one too?" Stanislav asks, and when Boris says "Of course," he pours a slightly bigger vodka for himself and adds slightly less blackcurrant to it.

"Take it out into the corridor with you," says Boris to Stanislav, and pointedly sits in silence without inviting Martin to speak until the guard has left the room and closed the door. Then he asks Martin quietly, "What brings you here?"
"I heard some more details of the foolhardy capitalist plan to abolish all money."
"Tell me more. I am all ears," Boris replies, encouraging Martin to continue.
"The foolish capitalists are planning to phase in the abolition of money," said Martin, "so for a period of time some people will have money and some won't have any."
"No change there, then," said Boris.
"They are planning to start with Ponders End. They are going to abolish coins first, then bank notes, and finally plastic money like bank cards and credit cards."
"That information is most valuable," Boris replies, nodding.
"How, exactly?" Martin asks, "I can see it's important, but how does this insane plan serve the purposes of The Evil Federation?"
"Simple, Martin. The capitalists doubtless imagine that they can solve all their economic problems like the balance of trade deficit and the fluctuations in the exchange rate and the enormous cost of providing walking sticks for disabled patients in a single stroke, by abolishing all money. We must take advantage of their naiveté. If they thought the coming crisis of international capitalism began and ended when a queue formed outside the Northern Rock Building Society in 2008," he assumes a Southern US drawl, "dey ain't seen nuttin' yet."

Both men laugh. Boris stands up, walks to the door of the office and invites the guard inside. "Come in, come in, Stanislav," beams Boris, "come and drink a toast with us. Fill our glasses," he tells Stanislav, "and your own," and when each of them has a full glass Boris lifts his vodka and declares, "We drink to the self inflicted end of British capitalism."
"The self inflicted end of British capitalism," they chorus, and they laugh as they drink.
"The responsibility for which," adds Boris, "is shared between them and us."

"Boris," said Martin after draining his glass, "how exactly is this information about a British government plan, which is scarcely more half baked than any other in the last ten years, going to help us destroy British capitalism?"
"You haven't thought about it," said Boris.
"Yes, I have," said Martin, "and I don't see how it makes our objective easier to achieve. It will be like abolishing, I don't know, hats. If you've never worn a hat, it won't make any difference to you. If you've never had any money, the abolition of money won't change your life in any way."
"What if you haven't got a hat, and you haven't got enough money to buy a hat?" asks Stanislav, puzzled.
"Then," Boris answers him, "you would have to not have enough money to buy something else."
"I see," says Stanislav, but he doesn't really.

"This scheme of the British capitalists will doubtless allow them to cease publishing certain statistics which have in the past shown how abysmal their economic failure has been," says Boris, "but I believe they have forgotten that people react to being deprived of familiar possessions with anger, possibly leading to violence. It is up to us to ensure that the anger which the impecunious residents of Ponders End will feel is put to a good use."
"I believe," says Martin, "that you may well be right. The workers' revolt may well be on its way as we speak."
"Indeed," Boris replies, "and it has all been done for us. We really need only to sit and watch it happen."
"Could we not perhaps encourage the revolt?" asks Martin, "Maybe we could pour some fuel on the fire. A spontaneous revolt is one thing, but a revolt with a few days of preparation behind it might last longer and be further reaching in its effects."
"That is my own thinking entirely," says Boris. "Stanislav, is there any more vodka left in the building? I think we need to do some contingency planning, and you can't do contingency planning with an empty glass."
"I am not sure," says Stanislav, "but I shall start my search for another bottle of vodka in the large room down the corridor that says, 'Vodka Supplies' on the door."

If you start from Ponders End and travel north, the next London suburb is Waltham Cross. Waltham Cross is slightly more well to do than Ponders End, but it is hardly Millionaire's Row. In a semi detached house a mile or two north of Hiccup Hole Lane, and completely unknown to the station crew at Radio Hiccup, forty year old Mrs Pamela Downpour is dusting the room that she keeps for her grandmother. In her spare time, Mrs Downpour chairs the Broxbourne and Brimdown Electricity Corporation, but she spends most of her time lavishing care and attention on a room which her grandmother has seen only two or three times. The room is decked out with all the little possessions that Mrs Downpour believes to be her grandmother's favourite things. In reality, of course, those things which Grandmother actually uses, loves, likes, wants and generally cares about are in Grandmother's house with Grandmother, and what Mrs Downpour is really dusting and preening is a collection of old worthless bric-a-brac that neither Grandmother nor anyone else ever wants to see again.

Grandmother lives nearby and is at the moment perfectly capable of feeding, dressing and looking after herself. Mrs Downpour cleans and tidies the room in her own house because she believes that one day, sooner or later, Grandmother will become unable to care for herself and when that happens Grandmother will have to move into the room which she, Pamela, has kept ready for her. This is a prospect which both women dread more than most of us dread, say, being torn apart and eaten alive by crocodiles.

One of Grandmother's possessions, dating from the 1940s, is a heavy radio in a wooden case. It has three brown, knurled bakelite knobs in a row along the bottom, and one of those glass dials that have disappeared from modern radio receivers and which appear to list every city in the world in random order. Pamela is dusting the radio, a weekly chore, and while dusting it she accidentally turns the leftmost knob slightly clockwise. She does not hear the faint click which means that she has successfully turned the radio on. The radio does not start speaking to her immediately because the technology of the 1940s takes time, a minute or so, to warm up before it begins to work. This feature was dropped from radios generally when transistors replaced thermionic valves in the nineteen sixties, but was recently restored when, in the early twenty-first century, digital broadcasting in turn replaced the frequency modulated variety.

Thus it is that Mrs Pamela Downpour has finished dusting the radio and the kettle and the vase of plastic flowers and is half way through the colour picture of the Duke of Edinburgh when the radio starts to speak. Quietly at first, but gaining in loudness as it continues to warm up, the radio tells her of a goldfish at a house in Riddle Road that was lost but is now, three years after its disappearance, found again, in exactly the place from whence it vanished.

Hearing of this miraculous return from whatever underworld the toilet sends anything thrown down it to, Mrs Downpour suddenly realises that it is several hours since she last checked that Herbert, the much loved goldfish belonging to Grandmother, is still circling in his goldfish bowl and has not come to any harm. Sure enough, despite the radio frightening her with tales of the misery of others, Herbert is still there, alive, healthy, and swimming around and around the brown plastic anchor and the small bunch of plastic seaweed that fill the middle of the goldfish bowl.

Since the story that Herbert had disappeared and reappeared was entirely the invention of Tumbril and Leonard, it should hardly surprise us that Herbert is still happily circling his goldfish bowl. It is true to say that Herbert would still be swimming adorably round and round the goldfish bowl today, had it not been for two annoyingly handsome and tidy young American men in suits who are at the moment walking along the road outside and heading in the direction of Mrs Downpour's front door.

Mrs Downpour's love for Herbert the goldfish is so all enveloping that she picks the small goldfish bowl up with her and carries it around in one hand, talking to its bewildered occupant, while dusting the table top on which the goldfish bowl normally stands.

"Herbert, I was so worried about you," she rabbits, "I was listening to the wireless and they told me I had lost my dear goldfish in an accident, if you call getting off your face on dope and then flushing the fish down the lavatory an accident. I was so worried. I am so pleased to see you and to know that you are all right."
"Blug! Blubble!" says Herbert.
"What's that, Herbert?" Mrs Downpour makes a feint of listening to Herbert's answer. "Oh, don't worry, sweetheart. Of course you're absolutely safe."

Herbert appears quite satisfied with that reassurance from Mrs Downpour. Unfortunately, the complete falsity of it is about to become apparent.

When the two American men in suits arrive at Mrs Downpour's front door, one of them knocks on it while the other composes himself and prepares to recite their standard spiel. The spiel starts, "Have you thought about what will happen to you in the Afterlife?" and after that the men listen peaceably as the householder tells them exactly where to go and where to stick the Afterlife.

Mrs Downpour, hearing the knock, walks to the front door and opens it. She is still carrying Herbert the goldfish in his goldfish bowl. She looks the two young men up and down and Herbert experiences his first inkling that all may not be well. The two young men look distractedly at the goldfish in its bowl and quell the urge to trill, "Who's a cute fishie?" in a falsetto tone.

"Have you thought about what will happen to you in the Afterlife?" says one of them in an American accent like a cheese grater and in which "thought" is homonymous with "thud" and "after" rhymes with "Bafta."
Mrs Downpour cannot abide cold callers who try to peddle religious beliefs that only a credulous and scientifically illiterate halfwit could take seriously. Momentarily losing control of herself, Mrs Downpour screams so loudly that every resident on the street looks out of the window to try to establish what horror is going on outside, and after a cry of, "Aaaaaaaaaargh! Bugger off!" she hurls the goldfish bowl at the young American males with all her strength. The American religious loons, now soaked in cold water as they rightly deserve, turn and flee the premises. The goldfish bowl falls to the ground and shatters. Mrs Downpour shakes her fist at the rapidly departing God botherers, and only after a few seconds, as her composure returns, does she realise that Herbert the goldfish is missing. She looks around the little front garden, the front door and the sidewalk outside the house. She finds the brown plastic anchor and the plastic seaweed, but she does not find Herbert. Mrs Downpour examines her own clothing in the unlikely hope that somehow Herbert fell against her cardigan and is presently clinging to it, choking and spluttering and waiting desperately to be rescued and dropped into a life saving bucket of water. She sees that Herbert is not holding on to her cardigan. She looks in flowerpots, behind trowels, underneath piles of dead leaves, down drains and up drainpipes, but Herbert is nowhere to be seen.

Distraught, aware only of having paid the ultimate price — or, to put it more precisely, having exacted the ultimate price from Herbert the goldfish — for the briefest and most readily understandable loss of temper, Mrs Downpour settles in her favourite armchair, bursts into inconsolable floods of tears, and begins stuffing herself with custard creams from the nearest convenient biscuit barrel.

Mrs Downpour cannot bring herself to tell the whole truth to Grandmother. She reasons that, if she did confess to Grandmother that Herbert had lost his life while she (Mrs Downpour) was using the water in which he swam as an anti-personnel weapon against two particularly irritating pious American nut-cases, Grandmother would probably cut her (Mrs Downpour) out of her (Grandmother's) will and might well be so angered as to let herself (Grandmother) into her (Mrs Downpour's) house at dead of night and slice her (Mrs Downpour's) head off with the bread knife. For a moment she (Mrs Downpour) even regretted giving her (Grandmother) the keys to both front and back doors. She thinks about changing the locks, or taking the train to Penzance, leaping onto the ferry to the Scilly Islands and only when in relative safety living under a false name and sheltering in an archipelago of barren rocks fifteen miles offshore, informing Grandmother of the tragic loss of precious Herbert by telegram. But even that would not have saved her from Grandmother's wrath, since the inland telegram service, used to inform close family members of every death or serious injury since the middle of the nineteenth century, had been abolished in 1982. Maybe they still do messenger pigeons, she thinks.

Mrs Downpour, her face bright red from weeping, pulls her coat on and walks the short distance to Grandmother's house. She rings the doorbell. Grandmother wobbles to the door in a nightdress and slippers, supporting herself with a walking stick.

"Goodness," says Grandmother, seeing the distressed form of her granddaughter Pamela before her, "Are you all right?"
"Oh, Grandmother," Mrs Downpour draws breath and bursts into floods of tears again, "Herbert's dead."
Grandmother appears puzzled. For a moment she rakes her memory for any boyfriends, children, fiancés, husbands, manservants or tradesmen called Herbert with whom she, or her daughter, might have had some affinity. She draws a blank and asks, "Who's Herbert? I mean, who was Herbert?"
"Herbert. Your goldfish. I was looking after him. He, er, died suddenly. I sent for an ambulance but it came too late to save him."
"No, you didn't." Grandmother shook her head. "You threw his goldfish bowl with him in it at one of those bloody Wehovah's Jitnesses."
"How did you know that?" asked Mrs Downpour, surprised at being caught out in her carefully practised untruth.
"You were making a noise loud enough to wake the dead. Not dead goldfish, just dead people, I'm afraid. I stood and watched you through the back window. Bloody sky pilots. Well done, good aim. They deserved everything they got."
"But I killed Herbert."
"That's your own problem, Pamela dear. Go to Confession if it makes you feel better. Make a burnt offering at the fish cemetery if you want. Myself, I'd forgotten the bloody fish existed. Why do you think I sent him to live with you? I haven't seen hide or hair of him for five years, if fish have hides and hairs. I've got more important things in my life than a damn goldfish."

The two American preachers are victims of the 1990s vogue for saddling upper middle class American children with risible names like Moon Unit, Tinker, Zebulon and even Cheese. Their names are Turpin and Urticaria.

Soaking wet and standing in the street a hundred yards or so from Mrs Downpour's closed front door, Turpin realises there is something in his mouth. He spits it into the gutter. The thing in his mouth, as you have doubtless guessed, is Herbert, the goldfish. Herbert, without looking back, swims the few feet along the gutter to the rainwater drain, falls into it, lands in a pool of tolerably clean water with a gentle southbound flow, and lies floating in the water, in the hope that the current will, sooner or later, carry him to somewhere more interesting than the spherical glass cell in which he had been imprisoned with the brown plastic anchor and the plastic seaweed since the day Grandmother picked him out at the Ponders End Cat, Dog and Fish Home.

Of course, five seconds later, Herbert has forgotten all about the spat in the street, being swallowed, being spat out, swimming along a gutter and landing in a drain. He looks about himself, realises he is in a tunnel half full of rainwater and has no idea at all how he came to be there. He has already forgotten about Grandmother and Pamela Downpour. He is quite comfortable and also, quite definitely, not dead.

Chapter Five

Sebastian Tantrum enthuses over a recent work of Uzbek dadaist poetry in the studio of Radio Ponders End

It is morning break time at Alderman Gruesome School. Tumbril and Leonard are together in a quiet corner of the playground talking about the maths lesson that Tumbril just came from and the geography lesson that Leonard just came from and the cartoons in this week's Beano. Then Tumbril's mobile phone rings and she answers it. Carelessly, she answers her phone without looking at the caller identity, which might have forewarned and forearmed her.

"Hello?" she says brightly.
"Is that you, Tumbril?"
"Yes," says Tumbril, already overcome by an ominous sense that she knows who it is, and she replies, "but who are you?"
"The famous intellectual literary critic Sebastian Tantrum," says the voice without any apparent irony, "you must have wondered whether you were ever going to hear from me again."
"Well, yes, I was," says Tumbril, forgetting to add that she had hoped not to and she welcomed his call about as much as she would have welcomed the Black Death.
"Don't worry, I'll stay in touch, whatever happens," says Sebastian.
"Bugger," Tumbril mouths quietly, "I shall have to get a new phone number."
"What's that?" asks Sebastian.
"I said I wasn't expecting you to phone." Tumbril instinctively strokes Leonard's head with her free hand and kisses the air.
"Oh, yes, I've been following you carefully since you launched Radio Hubcap."
"That's great, Sebastian. Leonard and I are both very pleased, honoured and flattered to know that you found time to listen to us. What do you like most about our programmes?"
"The music," Sebastian guesses, "Pan-African neo-Indy dance with energy vocals. Nobody else has ever done that. And those Latin chant chorus boys, where did you find talent like theirs? What are your listening figures? They must be astronomic."
"Well," Tumbril thinks, "since you've obviously been listening constantly, that makes, I'd say, approximately, one."
"Just one?"
"Yes," says Tumbril, "or just possibly a small positive integer, but the one is a very important one, as you are well aware." She points at Leonard but Sebastian, unable to see her pointing, assumes that she is referring to him.

"We've never played any music on Radio Hiccup," says Leonard, "and it isn't called Radio Hubcap," but Tumbril shushes him and Sebastian appears not to have heard him. Instead, Sebastian says,
"The reason I'm phoning is Radio Ponders End have asked me to head up a poetry reading late at night next week and you're the most talented writer I know, and I know you will be so pleased to be working under my aegis that you won't ask for a fee or any expenses."

Tumbril, who has to budget her pocket money carefully in order to afford so much as a bus ticket to Hackney and back, is not quite sure how to handle the situation. "Let me think about it," she replies.

"Don't spend too long thinking about an opportunity." gushes Sebastian. "Opportunity only knocks once. If you don't open the door to opportunity when it knocks, you may never see it again."

"What do you mean, see it again?" Given her age and limited experience of Sebastian Tantrum and his ways, the analysis of the situation which she is about to give shows remarkable perspicacity and is, in fact, completely correct in every detail. "I haven't seen any opportunity at all yet, except an opportunity to do some work that you want to get paid for but don't actually want to do, while I do the work and don't get paid for it, and if it's a success you take all the credit and all the proceeds."

"You judge me most harshly," says Sebastian, incorrectly. "I never asked you to do anything that I didn't know you would really leap at the chance of doing and then enjoy when you did it and feel proud of afterwards."

"Why would I want to spend an evening, unpaid, reciting impressive introductions written by somebody else to loads of bollocks that don't rhyme and don't mean anything anyway? All I wanted to do, every evening next week," Tumbril sighed, "was to curl up on the sofa with my boyfriend Leonard, and the later at night, the more we enjoy it. I only did the poetry because it was homework and I might have failed English if I hadn't done it. The fact that you and half the English speaking world with you imagines that it's a great piece of literature just shows what a pretentious côterie you all are. It isn't literature at all. It's a test piece that printers use to test and check their machinery."

Sebastian is speechless.

The school bell rings. It's the end of morning break. Leonard waves affectionately and makes off towards the school doors.

"Is that a fire alarm?" asks Sebastian, incredulous. "Are you in danger of being incinerated?"
"Only if I don't go to chemistry. Nice try, Sebastian, au revoir."
"Talk to you later," he says.
"If you must," says Tumbril.

Tumbril turns the phone off and makes for the chemistry laboratory, which is one of her favourite places, below a recliner at an open air wine bar on the white sand of a tropical beach but slightly above a table at the fish and chip restaurant on Fore Street.

At lunch break, Tumbril's heart sinks as she steps out of the school doors into the sunlight carrying her plastic box of sandwiches and sees Sebastian Tantrum's bright yellow sports car, with the number plate SEB 1, parked in the teacher's car park, in the space clearly marked for the use of the headmaster. Tumbril notices that through the paintwork of the personalised number plate the words 'Golden' and 'Mildreds' can be clearly seen: the number plate is home made and held in place with string. Sebastian is obviously keen to impress and also very eager to get this piece of work, whatever it is, off his hands and onto hers.

Sebastian winds the window down and calls to Tumbril. "Tumbril! Hop in!"
"No, thanks. I might drop breadcrumbs on the axminster." Tumbril declines the offer and leans on the chain link fence, facing Sebastian but at what she believes to be a safe distance. "Do you want a tuna fish sandwich?" She pulls the lid off the box.
"Yes, please." Not realising that Tumbril's invitation was meant to prompt him to take her out for lunch somewhere sumptuous, Sebastian takes one of the sandwiches as Tumbril holds the box out to him.
"Did you borrow this car and fake the number plates specially for me?" she asks.
"How much did it cost you?"
"Nothing," says Sebastian, "it belongs to Pamela Downpour from the electricity company."
"All apart from the fake personalised number plates," Tumbril pointed out.
"I made them myself out of old breakfast cereal packets. Do you want a lift anywhere?"
"No," says Tumbril, shaking her head, "I have to be back here at the end of lunch."
"I could drive you around the block. We could take in the gas works and the car scrap heap on Corrugated Iron Boulevard."
"No, thanks." Tumbril takes the remaining sandwich and eats it, thoughtfully. Dad really can make an excellent tuna fish sandwich if you let him take his time over it. When he rushes, he always forgets something, like the butter, the tuna fish, the mayonnaise, the bread or, occasionally, the plastic box or its lid.
"I got on the phone to the Ponders End Literary and Manuscript Museum," Sebastian says, "and they offered to pay you thirty pounds to appear at their event."
"Does that comply with the minimum wage regulations?"
"Thirty pounds for two and a half hours? Twelve quid an hour. That's well over the limit."
"I'm a home based worker and working on site, so I have to be paid for my travel. Does the two and a half hours include travel time?"
"No. So how about thirty pounds for three hours?"
"Fifteen minutes in each direction? In that thing, staffed by a formula one chauffeur on an overdose of amphetamines, maybe. I'm going by bus."
"That's less exciting," says Sebastian, who had wanted to impress Tumbril by driving very fast and making lots of dangerous manoeuvres, "than riding beside the most skilled on-road driver who ever outran a high speed police car in hot pursuit."
"It's meant to be. I don't want excitement, where excitement equates to waking up in hospital in agony with blood all over my sheets," said Tumbril, who had guessed what manner of driving she could expect if she accepted a lift from Sebastian in a sort of rocket propelled armoury, "with both arms and both legs and my head all lying around in a blood-stained heap at an accident black spot on the verge of some motorway somewhere miles from anywhere. Thanks all the same."
"Let's allow you four and a half hours, then, that's six pounds sixty-seven an hour."
"That's less than the minimum wage, so the job is hardly worth my while, is it, and you haven't allowed any rehearsal time. You'd end up with the Department for Work and Pensions on your case."
"They'd never know," Sebastian reassured himself.
"They would," Tumbril contradicted him, "because I'd tell them."
"All right, I give up. But only for the moment. I have all next week to pester you about it. I shall talk you into doing this gig if it kills me."
"Save your time and Mrs Downpour's high octane petrol, Sebastian. Thanks for offering but I have other plans."
"Which are?"
"Very hush hush," says Tumbril, putting one finger to her lips as a sign of secrecy, "and known only to Leonard and me. That means, I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you."
"How would you do that?"
"Poisoned tuna fish sandwich. Bye!"

Tumbril has now finished the tuna fish sandwiches. She walks to the further end of the playground where there is a patch of grass, and she lies on it and stares up at the clouds. She hears the grinding engine and the skidding tyres din of an incompetently driven high performance car stuttering around the car park, and without looking towards it she hears Sebastian drive off, oblivious to the headmaster glowering at him through his office window. During Sebastian's short stay in the headmaster's car parking space, the headmaster has returned from an important meeting of the Education Committee at the town hall and both he and his passenger, the Chief Inspector of School Buildings, have had to walk to the school from the nearest unused car parking space, which is half a mile away. To you and me, walking half a mile appears to be no great hardship, but to people who are used to sitting in a car and being pushed around by its engine, half a mile seems a tremendous distance to have to walk.

Tumbril sits in class learning things that she can't really see much point in until home time, and then she carefully waits out of sight of the car park until her boyfriend Leonard appears out of another classroom. She smiles at Leonard and, when he's close enough to talk to, she asks him to walk home with her, holding hands. "Just in case the megalomaniac Sebastian Tantrum comes looking for me in his dangerously overpowered jalopy, I'd like him to think I'm in a relationship already," she explains to Leonard, who might otherwise have been under the impression that Tumbril wanted him to hold hands with her because she liked to hold hands with him. Alternatively, Leonard might imagine that Tumbril wanted him to hold hands with her because she was still wearing high platform shoes and constantly on the verge of falling over.

"You are in a relationship," says Leonard, "with me, but I'd like to hold hands and walk with you."

Tumbril and Leonard walk together, hand in hand, for five minutes to 159 Hiccup Hole Lane. Tumbril opens the front door with her key and she and Leonard walk inside. Tumbril's feet are a little sore from having worn her high platform shoes all day, and she takes the shoes off before sitting at one end of the sofa. There Tumbril tells Leonard, "Dad won't be home until seven so the house is empty, apart from us of course."
"So we're alone together," says Leonard.
There was an awkward pause. Tumbril thought about asking Leonard whether he wanted a mug of tea, but realised that asking anything else but the direct question would just postpone the awkward moment, and that the awkward moment would become awkwarder every time she postponed it. So she turned and looked Leonard straight in the face and asked, "Are you really my boyfriend?"
"Yes," said Leonard, feeling a bit nervous.
"Do you want to kiss me?"

Leonard had no idea what he was supposed to do. "Yes," he said uncertainly, "but the trouble is, I only learned about sex from internet pornography. On the Internet, they sort of start two thirds of the way along, when the woman is getting the man's pants off. I don't have any idea what they do before they get to that stage."
"Didn't you do sex education?"
"Yes, but the only things I learned from it," Leonard recounted, "are (1) to be nice to transgender people, (2) having sex is not a good idea if your only reason for doing it is to have a baby and get a free council house and (3) how to put a rubber onto a cucumber but they forgot to tell me when I have to do that."
"How are you supposed to get a house, then, if not by being a single mother?" asked Tumbril. "I expect to be childless and still living with my parents when I draw my old age pension."
"Inherit a huge pile of money, I suppose," said Leonard, "that's what I'm hoping for. Or winning the lottery."
"Why would you expect to inherit a huge pile of money?"
"I don't expect to. I just said I hope to. My mum's unemployed and my dad delivers for Chequers Pizza. I didn't say I expect to inherit a fortune. I just live in hope because otherwise I shall have to look forward to living in a tent in the park."
"Is that what we'll be doing when we're married, living in a tent?"
"Yes, probably, unless we squat the Town Hall or something."

Tumbril realised she was being sidetracked. Whatever the cinema may tell us, Heaven can't wait. Following advice published week in and week out in the popular magazine for young women, 'Much More,' Tumbril put her right hand behind Leonard's head, pulled him towards her as she leaned towards him, and she pressed her lips against his. Leonard wrapped both arms around Tumbril's waist and pulled her towards him until they were touching.

"That was nice, sweetheart, but try it again with your mouth open," she asked.

The second kiss was magical, shocking in its pure sweetness and lasting many seconds. With her left hand Tumbril rubbed Leonard's back in circles and held him very close. When finally they separated to draw breath, their mouths were an inch apart, and both of them were slightly red in the face and breathing a little fast. "Wow," said Tumbril, genuinely overwhelmed, "that was something special. Want to do it again?"

Wizzo was sitting in a small, rather dingy cubicle sized office with the club's Members Only telephone, a soft pencil and his own spiral bound notebook. There were some large sums of money written on the current page as well as three or four telephone numbers.

"Spindles, is that you?"
"Gord blimey," replied the voice of a man around sixty who had attended the sort of school where the boys were beaten if a master saw them not wearing a top hat, "it's you, Wizzo. I recognise your voice straight away. Where have you been this last, what, forty years or so?"
"Are you still building ships, Spindles?" asked Wizzo.
"I'm afraid Spindles PLC no longer makes the things. Can't keep up with the Chinese, damn the bloody lot of them. Their ships fall to bits and sink but people won't stop buying them to save money. You'd think they had more sense. But we do commissioning and retail. Military customers mainly. Can't wait to retire and get well away from the them."
"I need a ship," said Wizzo, "to rescue two unfortunates who fetched up at the South Pole and can't get away. Well, I say I need it, but in reality it's our mutual old friend Pin Stripe who stands in serious need of a favour."
"Old Pin Stripe!" Spindles chortled, "I remember him. Always up to something, the bloody fool. What's he doing at the South Pole?"
"Pin Strips isn't at the South Pole, Spindles. Two explorers asked him to rescue them from the South Pole. Well, not exactly him, more the company that used to occupy the same postal address until they moved out and he moved in."
"South Pole, eh? Where's that…" he remembered having noticed it on a globe once, "Oh, yes, all the way down there. Well, anything for you, Wizzo. As it happens I am about to take a heavy duty ferry boat on a test run, so I'll take it to the South Pole and back, and rescuing Pin Stripe's lost friends will give me something useful to do even if it turns out to be a wild goose chase. And don't worry about the cost. The rule is, the customer pays. There's too much worrying about money these days and not enough draught tonnage, that's why the peasants are queueing up to eat out of food banks."
"That's a profound insight," said Wizzo, really meaning it.
"You'll need to get a move on," said Spindles, "because the customer needs this ship A. S. A. P. so he can get on with invading Poland or defeating the Armada or whatever it is he wants to do with it. Probably a state secret so I thought it better not to ask."
"It's not been built for old Adolf, has it? Because if it has, I'm sorry to tell you the moustachioed megalomaniac of the Third Reich died in a bunker explosion…"
"No, not for him at all, it's for…" he reached for his notes, "President Bongo of Bongo Land."
"I didn't think Bongo Land really existed, let alone started a war on the high seas. And why is President Bongo of Bongo Land planning to invade Poland, anyway?"
"Quite probably it doesn't, it hasn't and he isn't. I never could understand all these petty squabbles among the lesser breeds without the law. Always throwing spears at one another and complaining that it isn't fair. They should just bring back the Empire and have done with it. As long as they pay the invoice in pounds sterling cash thirty days after presentation, that's all I care. Now then, can you join ship at the week-end?"
"I'll get back to you about that."
"Southampton Dock and sailing with the tide. Don't be late. South Pole, eh? Old Grubshaw is going to love this one."
"The bo'sun. Good, experienced man, nothing he doesn't know about ships so you'll be in good safe hands whatever Pin Stripe gets up to."
"Is he, ah, one of us?"
"Absolutely. When he was at school, you and I used to call him Pop-eye."
"Ah!" Suddenly Wizzo can see Grubshaw as clearly as if he were standing beside him. "Of course. Pop-eye Grubshaw! I remember him. He always was a swot. I used to bribe him do my geography homework by giving him a toasted cheese scone with blackcurrant jam. He could have found his way from anywhere to anywhere blindfold armed with nothing but a bottle of water and a messenger pigeon. What fond memories that brings back to me — lovely fellow. Those were the days, eh."

Wizzo makes a note in his notebook to be at Southampton Docks early in the morning on Saturday. He realises that he has forgotten to ask the name of the ship, but never mind, he thought: as the vessel was under test, he would only have to look for whichever ship had a red number plate, probably tied on with string.

After finishing his phone call, Wizzo makes his way back to the club lounge, where Pin Stripe and Cracker Barrel sit waiting for news. "I got a ship," he boasts, "we sail from Portsmouth on Saturday. Now it's your shot, Cracker Barrel. We need provisions for a few months at least."

"I'll give it a go," says Cracker Barrel, "but no promises, mind."

Cracker Barrel settles in the small office with the members' phone and, with difficulty, remembers the phone number of a supplier of groceries whom he once knew.

"Hello?" A male voice answered the phone. Cracker Barrel did not recognise it immediately.
"Weed, is that you?"
"No," said the voice, "He died a couple of years ago."
"Oh," said Cracker Barrel, "I'm so sorry. Goodbye. My condolences." Cracker Barrel casts around for some other source of provisions.

"I suppose the easiest thing to do," Cracker Barrel says to himself, "is to order all our provisions on line." I wonder, he thought, if there's a supermarket that will deliver to Southampton Dock? What should he order, how much of it did the expedition need, and what would it cost? Having not the least idea what order to place, let alone what to do with the food when the expedition was out on the high seas, miles from land, and dreadfully hungry, he realises he could more or less fulfil his obligation to The Rich Bankers Club by telephoning an advertisement to the Situations Vacant columns of The Times:

Wanted. Cook for small expedition to South Pole and back. No experience necessary.

The room over the Crooked Billet in Walthamstow had, over the years, been the location of many meetings and had seen much argument, passion, despair, hope, debate, drunkenness and cigarette smoke. In the small meeting room on the first floor, skilled workers and trades unionists were gathering for a meeting concerning the Span Er Project. Since the announcement of the new high tech road vehicle had been broadcast on Radio Hiccup, numerous AEC workers who had survived redundancy, unemployment, rounding up trolleys in a supermarket car park and direst poverty, most of them in that order, gathered for the meeting which they hoped might transform their miserable existences back into lives.

"Good evening." One of those present, a man in his late fifties with a thick beard and an even thicker Glaswegian accent, rose to address the assembly. "I'm Murdo McTavish, once the senior shop steward at the AEC Bus Works. Those of us who feel strongly that AEC should never have stopped making buses are standing right before the door at which an unprecedented opportunity is knocking. The Span Er high tech road vehicle was described on Radio Hiccup a couple of days ago. I believe that it has a number of unusual features which will need to be tested, and because it goes like greased lightning it needs a straight and level test road away from anything that might suffer damage in a collision or after a skid, or in the event of the vehicle, which is of Chinese manufacture, falling to bits. There is no long, straight, level road to that standard anywhere in the world, so I called this meeting to discuss the formation of a company which will construct and test a British high speed bus. I propose building it and testing it on a route one thousand six hundred miles in length…"

His audience gasped, and then they started asking, "Where?"

"From Palmer to the South Pole," he said. "Palmer is a small port in the South Atlantic, so Britain has a foothold nearby already, in the Falkland Islands. The new bus route will bring an unprecedented boost to the economy of the Falklands Islands and greatly improve access to the cities, homes and factories of the South Pole."
"There aren't any cities, homes or factories at the South Pole," said a man with a pipe.
"There will be," said Manfred McTavish, "if there's a bus to take people to work. Build it and they will come."
"Penguins, maybe," said the pipe man, "but I don't think there will be many people."
"Overspill from London," said Murdo.
"Do you really think those people who can't afford a house in south east England are going to buy a house at the South Pole?" asked Pipe.
"Yes. And commute to the City if the bus goes fast enough and often enough. Remember how in nineteen fifty—"

The door to the room opened and a man of Chinese appearance, wearing a pale brown duffel coat and carrying a briefcase, staggered in. "Sorry," he said, as Murdo shook his hand, "I am Span Er, the chief engineer of the Chinese Happy Indigenous People's Factory In Serene Harmony, or CHIPFISH for short. Sorry I'm late, it's because I came on the bus. Have I missed anything? Those new French bus shelters really are useless, aren't they? The rain just pours in from all sides. They're less use than a cardboard saucepan. One could be excused for thinking that the French don't want people to get to work."

"You missed the introductions," said Murdo. "We are former workers from AEC, seeking to operate a trial long distance bus service with a new British vehicle, which we have given the working title of the Bus Adapted for Rocket Fuel — BARF."

"Excellent," said Span Er, "I have twenty or so highly skilled and experienced eight year old production engineers chained to their work benches, cutting and bending the metal, riveting it together and assembling the prototypes in a dangerous and filthy factory in the foully polluted industrial city of Stin Kin, even as we speak."
"Is that factory run to European standards?" asked Pipe, always the skeptic, "We wouldn't want our reputation to be tarnished by buying buses from an unsafe factory."
"It's such a ghastly place that like most of those who sell outsourcing to foreign companies, I have never been there," Span Er reassured the group. "Nevertheless its rich American owners, who have never been there either, assure me that Stin Kin factory is run and maintained to the highest standards." Span Er nodded and continued, "Statistics show that most workers only commit suicide once."
"It is an excellent record," nodded Murdo, trying to get the discussion back to what he saw as the point, "and the route will run from Palmer to the South Pole. The route of the BARF is one thousand six hundred miles long, one way."
"If the bus lane is straight and level then BARF can do it in," Span Er did a quick division sum on the back of an envelope, "six hours. But who do you expect to use it?"
"Penguins, mostly," said an amiable fellow who had sat at the back of the room quietly reading a book about animal biology in cold climates, "they like to leave their eggs on the beach and forage for food inland. BARF would be ideal for them. And the occasional Polar Explorer, I suppose."
"You see?" said Murdo, "a high speed bus to the South Pole is not merely the dream of a mad man."
"If it isn't," said Pipe under his breath, "I don't know whose it could be."
Murdo took from the pile of papers in front of him a framed colour picture of the bus that the committe had designed. "Gentlemen, here it is," he said, for the ladies had more interesting things to do and were entirely absent from the meeting, "I give you BARF One."

"This strip of water," said Martin, pointing to the Lea Navigation, "runs all the way to Standstill Airport."

Martin and Boris are standing at Picketts Lock, where the Lea Navigation Canal passes through Ponders End. At the northern end, the canal runs a few miles from Standstill Airport, and here it runs through the London suburb where, according to the news from Radio Hiccup, the British government plans to begin the abolition of all money.

"I agree with you," says Boris, "if everyone who lives near here has to give up all their money, that could well trigger an uprising. Which is the sort of thing that The Evil Federation wants to encourage."
"If we put supplies onto a barge, then the barge could be hauled to this lock, or to somewhere nearby," says Martin. "The barge would be able to move silently, and the Police probably won't think of staking out the canal. They will put checkpoints on the roads, maybe one on the railway station, and that will be the extent of their precautions."
"I quite agree, provided you and I find a barge that will not attract suspicion. Or attention, come to that."
Martin pointed along the towpath, to the north. "We are not far from the boat yard of the local Preservation Society," he suggested. "I think you and I can order a barge to carry a small group of tourists from Standstill to London. I don't think the bargees will check what's in the tourists' suitcases."
"What day do we need it?" asked Boris.
"I don't know. The one thing I haven't heard is the starting date." Martin looks at his feet for a second. "I would really rather know in advance than wait until it happens. We need to have a rapid response up and running, otherwise any revolt will peter out before we've had a chance to exploit it."

There is a pause. Martin and Boris have walked up-river and are now standing on the tow path, opposite the boat yard where a couple of early twentieth century freight barges are moored. One of the barges appears to be horse drawn, although there is no horse to be seen nearby. The second barge looks as though it has an engine on board and could be driven and not hauled. Both barges are painted and restored and new looking. Of course, thinks Martin, passenger barges have never operated on these waters. The canal and the barges transported freight, to the sawmills and factories of east London. Which is convenient because the purpose of hiring a barge was to transport freight. The barge with the engine would be noisy, and the horse drawn barge would be, to all intents and purposes, silent and, in the dead of night, undetectable.

"We need a horse," said Martin.
"We need," said Boris, "to know where Hiccup gets its information from."

Martin looked at his watch. "Hiccup usually starts broadcasting around now," he said, leaving out the title 'Radio' in the manner of one addressing a familiar. From the breast pocket of his shirt he took what looked like a small box of safety matches, of the kind that disappeared around 1990.

"Spy radio," he said, "with which, and with an earpiece, I used to listen to the Test Match in school." He pushed one end of the match tray and the matchbox clicked. "It still works. They even still make the batteries for it."
"I hope you've changed the batteries since 1990," Boris smiled.
"Shh," said Martin, "it was free with Golden Mildreds one Christmas."

"This is Radio Hiccup," said the plummy voice, which even the vast stack of voice-prints in the data bases of The Evil Federation had not yet identified. "Here is the news."

At 159 Hiccup Hole Lane, Dad is settled on the couch and reading Tumbril's pencilled handwriting from the rip 'n read into the microphone. Leonard is keeping an eye on the meters on the metal boxes. After all those years watching other staff reading the news in the studio at Broadcasting House, Dad thinks, and knowing that he could have read it just as well as they did, it was his turn. The important thing, he thought, was that he had stopped fretting about never getting a turn at the job he had spent his working life so desperately wanting to do. Here he was, at home, at leisure, in the spotlight except that radio has no use for spotlights, happily reading the news on what he thought of as his little daughter's radio station. Maybe he even had an audience. Once you stop trying, he thinks, you succeed. Sometimes. Occasionally. Things have a way of organising themselves, and if you try to arrange them yourself, you just make a worse job of it than leaving things alone.

Into Dad's mind returns a thought which was first put into it many years ago: All things work together for the good of them that love God.

"A thirty seven year old greengrocer from Chalfont Saint Peter has recorded the highest ever known score on an intelligence test," Dad began. "Ryan Blazer, who left school at fourteen and ran away to join an itinerant band of mathematicians who lived rough in the frozen wastes of Buckinghamshire, scored two hundred and eighty seven points on an intelligence test administered by the Milton Keynes Rock And Roll Dance Guitars at a psychiatric clinic in Amersham…"

Chapter Six

Something has brought Ponders End out onto the streets. Is it the abolition of money, or a shortage of free trainers? And can The Evil Federation make things worse?

In the offices of The Evil Federation, late that same evening, Martin finds the name, phone number and address of Ryan Blazer in the Chalfont Saint Peter telephone directory.

You probably thought that Ryan Blazer was a wholly fictitious character invented by Leonard Cotton for the purpose of adding a story to the news on Radio Hiccup. In fact, Martin was able to find Ryan Blazer's entry in the telephone directory because Ryan Blazer was not entirely a fictitious character. On the contrary, struck by a sort of creative writer's block, Leonard had chosen the name at random from the set of telephone directories which were held in the school library. The man described, fictitiously, as the cleverest man in the world, or at least as the individual with the highest known measured intelligence quotient, is thus about to receive a telephone call from what, for want of a simpler potted description of The Evil Federation, I shall call a bunch of crooks.

Ryan Blazer does not have an unusually high intelligence quotient. That was an invention of Leonard Cotton. However, Ryan Blazer has for years wanted a better job, or failing that, a job which is different from, and pays more than, his present job. Since there are currently no vacancies for members of Parliament, unusually gifted footballers or hedge fund managers, his chances of finding a job that pays substantially more than the job he is doing now are not much above zero, since all known employers have pretty much agreed that employees should all be paid the lowest wage that the courts will let them get away with. However, at least as far as his wages are concerned, Ryan's life may be about to change for the better. His future infamy and financial happiness depend on whether or not he hangs up the phone when he receives the phone call which, from his point of view, appears at first to be a nuisance call from a double glazing company.

The Asbury Suburban grocery shop in Chalfont Saint Giles is a small shop in the main shopping precinct, standing between a jeweller who specialises in Rolex watches on the left and a financial adviser who specialises in lending people the money to buy Rolex watches on the right. Like the jeweller and the financial adviser, the Asbury Suburban shop sells goods for rich people. For example, it sells Special K, the K of which is widely believed to stand for Kardboard, fresh scallops, live yoghourt, wholemeal bread, frozen ready made poire Belle Hélène au chocolat, and that sort of thing. Soon, if present trends continued, Ryan believes that, in a few short months, fresh fruit would move into the category of food that only rich people eat, like meat, cheese and fish, and when that happens he expects to sell mangoes, passion fruit, rambutans and sharon fruit, while peasants queue for tasteless yuck in cardboard boxes in a completely different shop.

Asbury's Suburban grocery shop is empty of people except for Ryan. Beside the electronic cash register there is a telephone, and at this moment it rings.
"Is Ryan Blazer there?" Martin asks.
"Yes. This is him, speaking."
"My name is Martin and I'm calling you from The Evil Federation."

Ryan has never really been sure how to deal with telephone calls from organisations which he has never heard of. He uses the approach which he usually uses on days when he is not in an especially grumpy mood, because it usually works. Ryan is also aware that unsolicited telephone calls often come from bunches of crooks.

"Not today, thank you. I don't want any double glazing and in any case, you're a bunch of crooks," Ryan says, correctly, and he has all but put the phone back on the rest when he hears Martin, on the other end, say, "Yes, we are. But is it true that you are the cleverest man in the world?"

Ryan, who is easily overcome by flattery, resumes the phone call.

"Yes," says Ryan, despite knowing full well that he is nothing of the sort. As a child he never scored more than half marks in any test, and now he is an ordinary shop-keeper despite having the title Executive Branch Director. Ryan attained the age of eleven long after the abolition of the Eleven Plus examination, so nobody has ever tested his intelligence quotient, but if they did, they would discover it to be 100, exactly average. Martin has no idea how to measure intelligence and, therefore, he makes no attempt to find out whether Radio Hiccup's assertions about Ryan Blazer are actually true. Ryan is, of course, lying. He has no idea what his intelligence quotient is, either. But all Martin has to go on is the word of Radio Hiccup.
"I am looking for an internationally renowned expert on economics, the social psychology of crowd behaviour under stress, and the dynamics of barter," says Martin.
"That's me all over," says Ryan, treating Martin's questions as a job interview and lying once again, "that's right up my street."
"I know of an opportunity for which you could apply," said Martin. "We need a consultant in economics. You are at the top of our shortlist."
"What's the salary?" Ryan asks, who knows exactly where his priority lies. His pay at Asbury Suburban is £10·45 per hour, with no extra payments for unsocial hours, nights or week-ends, which is barely enough to buy food from Fidl, the shop down the road, and certainly not food from Asbury Suburban.
"A one off payment," says Martin, "of one million Chinese yuan— I mean one hundred thousand pounds sterling."
"Cash in used notes?" asks Ryan, thinking about the Inland Revenue.
"Yes," says Martin, who proposes to give the used notes to Ryan in plastic carrier bags and, illegally, to waive the usual 5p duty on them. Martin omits to mention that he expects the payment to be worthless because it is made of money, which he believes the capitalists are about to abolish. "We pay cash because it annoys David Cameron."
"What do you want me to do?" asks Ryan, who will do anything of which he is physically capable if it earns him £100,000 cash in used notes, but imagines that his new employer expects him to ask what he is to do.
"Foment unrest and revolution," says Martin, "by whatever means comes to hand."
"When do I start?" asks Ryan.
"Wait for a phone call. Some time in the next few days. When The Evil Federation contacts you, come to Picketts Lock in Ponders End. Come to the canal lock. We'll see you there."
"Picketts Lock? Ponders End? If you want to recruit a vicious band of mercenary cut-throats, bandits and footpads, Ponders End sounds just the place to start."
"You will succeed, then," said Martin, "that's always a good thing to know."
"Money for old rope. But please tell me one thing," Ryan adds, "are you a bunch of crooks?"
"Yes," says Martin, "we are, so when you're working for us, the most important thing is to stay alive." With that the phone call ends, fairly abruptly in Ryan's opinion.

Boris has been standing quietly, listening to Martin's side of the conversation. Martin turns to Boris and asks him, "Can you get me £100K in used notes?"
"No problem. I already ordered it from the counterfeiters. It will all be in the office in a day. Two days at most. But we're still unprepared. We still haven't found out exactly when the capitalists are going to abolish money. We need at least a date and preferably a time." Boris is clearly bothered by the incompleteness of his information. "Something describing their modus operandi wouldn't come amiss, either. How are we going to make people riot if we don't have the capitalists' timetable?"

Boris, as you will have noticed, knows little of Ponders End.

Darkness falls and the two men walk westwards from Picketts Lock towards the Victorian terraces and the huge, ugly system built blocks of flats which together make up most of Ponders End. They hear the crash of breaking glass, see the bright flickering orange light of flames, and smell the choking smoke of burning car tyres. The riot has started already! The capitalists must have had a hand in this, they reason: why else storm the streets like this? The abolition of money must have started here, already. From the point of view of The Evil Federation, if from nobody else's, the fires have, literally, been lit, and the unrest is spreading rapidly from house to house and street to street.

"I think we may need Ryan Blazer's advice earlier than we expected," says Boris.
"Shh," says Martin, "they're chanting."
"That's helpful of them," says Boris, "to tell us what their grievance is."

Sure enough, Martin and Boris can hear chanting coming from somewhere to the west, maybe Bombsite Road or Power Cut Crescent. It is three words, repeated regularly in common time, like the rhythm of Three Blind Mice. The first two words are "We" and "want," but the third is indistinct. It is a word of two syllables so it might be "money." That would be the most logical thing to chant, if you were rioting because somebody had just taken all your money and left you penniless. We want money, we want money. But the word is not "money."

"I think it's 'tenners,' said Martin, struggling to hear clearly. "Ten pound notes. The capitalists must have abolished the ten pound note. Maybe other things with it, like coins or notes."

There was a brilliant blue flash which might have come from an electricity substation, and the street lights went off. Not only the street lights but also the lights in the houses and the shop lights too. Darkness fell, and a near silence overtook Martin and Boris. The chanting voices could be heard more clearly now. The word was "trainers." The chant was "We want trainers! We want trainers!" over and over again. Bottles were still breaking on the tarmac and the concrete, and flames were growing taller than the people. This, thought Boris, is what revolution looks like. He imagined Marie Antoinette talking to an aide about the furious crowd on the sidewalk outside the palace, "No trainers? Let them wear slippers." Marie Antoinette's dictum was the classic refrain of capitalists unable to face up to their responsibilities and rectify their failures.

Martin and Boris heard a police car arriving at the site of the conflict, sirens blaring and blue lamps flashing. Immediately the chant doubled in volume and more glass was broken. In the darkness, Martin made out the shape of an elderly lady in a cardigan walking along the path through her small front garden to her front gate. She leaned on the front gate and watched the conflict in the distance. She was, perhaps, six feet away from Martin, but staring at the crowd and the fire she did not notice him.

"Madam," said Martin, trying not to startle her, "can you tell me—"
"Argh, you startled me, guvnor." The lady turns to Martin suddenly, and notices Boris with him. She speaks in the old North London accent, which died out across most of London in the last hundred years. "'Oo are you? What do you want to know?"
"We are foreign spies," said Martin, doing a passable rendition of Lord Haw Haw, "and we wish to know the cause of this confrontation. For what reason are these residents so dissatisfied with the place in which they live that they take to the streets and hurl bottles and bricks at the police, and anyone else they don't like?"
"Spies, eh?" The lady smiled in a kindly way. "I'm Doris, how do you do. 'Ere, are you Lord Haw Haw?"
"Yes," smiles Martin, "Martin Haw Haw, at your service."
"Are you on a top secret visit, then?" Doris asks him.
"Yes, Doris. I am Martin Haw Haw and this is my comrade Boris Mussolini. Please do not tell anyone that we were here," says Martin, "and tell me, what is this riot which is spreading at great speed across the entire borough of Ponders End like a bonfire through brushwood?"
"Oh, don't worry about it," Doris tried to reassure the spies, "it won't spread any farther than what it already 'as. It never does. They're riotin' because the shop what they all used to steal trainers out of is closed down. Out of business 'cause of all the shopliftin'. Riotin' is understandable really, because the only fing they have to show off to the less well off kids about is the extremely expensive trainers what they wear, despite not havin' paid an 'alfpenny for them. So, the reason they are riotin' is, they want someone to invest in Ponders End and build a new shop sellin' trainers under conditions of lax security, so they can steal more fantastically expensive trainers and then wear 'em as a badge of social dominance."
"Do these people not have money? I mean cash, coins, bank notes."
"No," says Doris, "of course they don't, otherwise they wouldn't have to steal trainers, would they? They would just walk into a shop and buy 'em. Wouldn't they? And they wouldn't come to Ponders End to buy 'em, neither."
"Why don't they just start their own trainer shop? With a bank loan or a grant from somewhere."
"You're jokin'," says Doris without a smile. "If you was a bank," she asks a rhetorical question, "would you lend good money to an illiterate sixteen year old what can't read, write, count beyond four or get 'imself off drugs?"
"Well, no," says Martin, "I wouldn't, that's obvious. Tell me, if this happens a lot, why did it take such a long time for the police to arrive?"
Doris looked at her watch and said, "It's the start of the night shift. The day shift all went back to the police station an hour ago and started fillin' up mugs o' tea an' fillin' in the day's paperwork. That's a good time to riot because the police are confined to barracks and the cameras don't work because they've all been set on fire. Now the night shift has started, so they come down 'ere and watch the riots. Crack heads sometimes, arrest the occasional trouble maker. Tonight, this is a very wussy riot. You won't learn much by spyin' on these weaklings. Go down the nuclear bomb factory and spy on that, then come back 'ere tomorrow. It might be a bit more excitin'."

In the background the chant of "We want trainers, we want trainers" continues, as does the noises of breaking bottles, smashing windows, crashing bricks and the crackle of those bright orange flames. Boris cannot tell whether the rioters have money or not. He thinks that it makes little difference whether the rioters have money or not. They were still taking part in a perfectly good riot, certainly good enough for the purposes of The Evil Federation. He, Martin and Doris stare at the flames and wonder what the future may turn out to be.

At eight o'clock the following morning, a black taxi draws up outside the Asbury Suburban grocery shop in Chalfont St Giles. The taxi driver takes three carrier bags from the space where the nearside front passenger seat ought to be and carries them into the shop. Seeing the shopkeeper standing behind the cash register, the driver asks him, "Ryan Blazer?"
Ryan Blazer nods, acknowledging his identity.
"Three bags of fake banknotes from The Evil Federation, Mr Blazer," says the driver, putting the bags on the counter, "and you're to stop what you're doing and come with me as soon as possible."
"How much time have I got to get ready?" asks Ryan. He does not seem perturbed that the notes are fakes.
"None," says the driver.
"I'd better come with you straight away, then," says Ryan, putting the carrier bags into a cupboard let into the wall behind him and striding out of Asbury Suburban pausing only to put his "Back in Five Minutes" sign in the window and lock the front door.

The taxi drops Ryan off at Picketts Lock and leaves as quickly as possible. There is a grey haze in the air and a faint smell of ash and burnt houses. Martin and Boris walk towards Ryan through the mist, coughing occasionally.

"Ryan? We're from The Evil Federation," Martin says to Ryan, once he and Boris are close enough to converse without shouting. "Welcome to your new office."
"Office?" Ryan can't see anything resembling an office.
"You started work for us today," says Martin. "You'll be working here for a few days and after that you'll never see either of us, or Ponders End again."
"And my office is underneath the dining table in a burned-out flat with the windows all smashed in, have I got that right?"
"You just escaped the nine to five, Mr Blazer," says Boris.
"I'm going to enjoy this," says Ryan, "I always wanted to work in consultancy. What is it that you want to consult me about?"
"The end of civilisation," says Boris.

Ryan looks from Boris to Martin, and Martin nods, meaning yes, we want you to advise us on how to bring about the end of civilisation. "You might think," said Martin, waving a hand at the broken glass and smouldering council flats, "this is what the end of civilisation will look like."
"Your job," says Boris, "is to expedite it."
"Expedite?" Ryan had never heard the word before.
"Spread discontent, despair and disorder, which is our strategy for bringing the government down."
"The government are doing a good job of spreading discontent, despair and disorder by themselves, aren't they?" Ryan points out the obvious. "Why do you need me? Why not just let them get on with it?"
"Look at it this way. When the whole of the United Kingdom is unemployed, penniless, starving, shivering and sleeping on park benches," says Martin, "you will be able to look at the dereliction which surrounds you on every hand and tell yourself, 'I did that.'"
"The thrill of accomplishment," says Boris, "is yours for the taking."
"The urge to destroy," quotes Martin, "is also a creative urge."
"Gosh. Well, if I am to become a project consultant, we'd better make a site visit."
"Come with us," says Martin.

It is mid morning, and the three men are strolling disconsolately around the site of what the radio calls "last night's disturbances." Some houses and some flats are burned out, with damage to the roofs and windows. The former occupants of these buildings are no longer to be seen. They are probably still alive, and they have probably moved in with neighbours or family, but nobody has checked what happened to them. There is detritus on the road. Broken bottles, burned pieces of wood, tin cans and the like are strewn along the road. There are still small flames flickering on a couple of bonfires and there is still wood smoke in the air.

"What ideas do you have for expanding the riot?" Boris asks. "We have unlimited funding to implement whatever recommendations you make."
"Decide first where you want the riot to go," suggests Ryan, "is anyone paying attention to disorder and pitched battles by the meanest peasants in England around the ugliest and least structurally sound council houses in London?" It is a rhetorical question, but he pauses and waits for an answer anyway. No answer comes. Then he goes on, "Even the police don't really care. They watch the fight in the same way you watch a game of football on television. Before capitalism collapses in front of an advancing insurgence of freedom fighters throwing bricks, you have to take the fight to them. Move the riots to Enfield Chase or Forty Hill, because the toffs who live in Enfield Chase and shop at Asbury Suburban and buy trainers instead of stealing them certainly aren't going to come all the way to Ponders End just for a barney."
"You speak the truth," said Boris. "Take the fight to the enemy."
"Apart from the toffs of Enfield Chase not being your enemy," says Martin, "Think about it. They aren't our enemies. They've never heard of Ponders End, let alone The Evil Federation, and they wouldn't go there if their lives depended on it, so why would they treat us as enemies? They might just as well say, 'Oh, look, it's those lovely people from the sink estate on Ponders End' and invite us all in for tea and biscuits."
"Toffs don't eat biscuits," Boris put in, "they eat canapés and petits fours and things."
"I'm sure I've seen a toff eating all butter shortbreads," said Martin.
"I think the point is," says Ryan, "they've never been here, and they have no idea how the inhabitants of Ponders End have to live without any money among the smoke and ruins."
"But they were living on a reasonably satisfactory council estate until they reduced it to piles of broken glass and smouldering rubble," says Martin, "so they can't reasonably complain about being forced to live among the rubble to which they themselves reduced it, and they can't object to being penniless if they spent every penny they had on drugs and tins of Iceberg Cider."
"So we shouldn't take the fight quite as far as Enfield Chase," Ryan deduces, "we should keep it local, among people who actually know Ponders End and the conditions on the council estate."
"Yes," says Martin, "take the fight to the enemy, but don't go too far from home. The enemy just around the corner will do just as well."
"Better, if anything," says Boris.

At that instant, three men and a woman walk out of a side street and onto the pitch where last nights pitched battle was fought. They look to be in their sixties and well dressed, and as soon as one of the group speaks, it is evident from the way he speaks that he is a well educated man.

"Looking over the remains of yesterday, are you?" he says to Martin.
"Yes," says Martin, "terrible."
"Helena, Gerald, Henry and Ian," says Ian, "we're councillors from Enfield Chase."
"We are from The, er, Police Federation," says Martin, thinking quickly, "just looking things over. Boris, Ryan, and I'm Martin."
"Hello, hello, hello," says Ryan, trying to add realism, "what's all this?"

One of the strangest findings of modern psychology is that a brother and sister separated at birth, who meet as adults, often fall passionately in love at first sight. Ryan is about to meet the sister from whom he was separated as an infant. His sister and he are about to become a devoted couple, completely wrapped up in each other.

"Ryan Blazer?" says Helena in a charming and sweet voice, "You're the cleverest man in the world, aren't you. How lucky the police force is to have you."
"Er," says Ryan, who can't think of any other reply.
"I'm Helena Blazer. Your surname is the same as mine. You might be my long lost brother."
"Are you telling me that I have a sister in Enfield Chase, whom I have never met?" Ryan is incredulous.
"But I was born in Chalfont Saint Giles," Helena continued, "and I became separated from my family and I was adopted after a dreadful hockey accident. It wasn't my fault…" Helena burst into tears but managed to stagger on, "I really couldn't have done anything to save them."
"My God, I have found my other self. My lover, my angel, my beautiful sister," says Ryan, very quietly, very slowly, very astonished, open mouthed and staring through wide open eyes at his beautiful sister. "The frogs said you were beautiful."
"Which Frogs?" asks Helena, understandably, "How would they know? Whereabouts in France were you all my adult life?"
"Not Frogs — frogs. I've never been to France. I woke up after the accident and found myself lying in a muddy puddle and covered with bruises and scratches and leaves in the forest. I would have died of exposure and starvation but mercifully I was brought up by the frogs. They taught me everything I knew, apart from what I learned in school of course, and by reading books from the library, and by reading newspapers. Oh, and by watching the television and listening to the wireless. When my education was concluded to the satisfaction of my ranine benefactors, they found me a job as a grocer in Asbury Suburban."

Ryan slides his arms around Helena and holds her close. He smells a trace of her perfume and, spurred on by it, presses his lips against hers. She kisses him back for a while, then pulls away for long enough to say, "We're brother and sister. You shouldn't be doing this."
"Do you want me to stop?" asked Ryan.
"No," says Helena, "you're good at it. You can carry on for now." She resumes kissing him so hard that it hurts her lips a little. She and Ryan walk with the others towards Main Street, looking into each other's eyes, kissing and holding hands, while the others chat around them. Helena knew she could never bear to turn away from his kisses.

"We in The Evil Fed— I mean, the Police Federation," says Boris, "consider that riots in this part of Ponders End are particularly dangerous. Someone could be killed by a flying bottle or a brick. We want to move the riot to somewhere safer. To the north, probably."
"Surely the only effect that would have," says Gerald, "will be to create another riot, because the people here will carry on rioting, while if you put out supplies of bottles and bricks and explosives in other parts of the city you will just touch off rioting in those places as well."
"I agree with Gerald," says Henry, "you'll have two riots where you only have one now."

Boris is very pleased to hear his own prediction confirmed. Simply putting out munitions is enough to increase the extent of the riots.

Henry asks Boris, "Why would anyone want to aggravate riots? Isn't one riot enough?"
Boris replies, "Because of national security."
"Well," Henry asks, really wanting to know, "why is aggravating riots in Ponders End in the interest of national security? What is national security intended to achieve?"
"That's classified information," says Martin, "if I were to tell you, I'd have to kill you."
"Kill me?" says Henry, alarmed.
"Yes. I'd have to kill you. Either that or change the requirements of national security," says Martin.
Henry ponders this nonsense for a moment, and speaks to Martin slowly, as to an idiot who is also hard of hearing and foreign. "Do you actually know what the security strategy is?"
"No," says Martin, "I make it up as I go along."
"All we really want from a riot," says Ryan, who has worked the strategy out, "is that it be seen on TV a lot."
"Why?" asks Henry, bewildered, "why for God's sake does the riot have to be moved to a place where it is a bit easier for a broadcasting company to film it and put it on television?"
"Obvious," says Ryan, "if it isn't on television, the capitalists will ignore it, because it will only affect the course of events, the front pages of newspapers, the chapter headings in tomorrow's history books, if there are flames and flares and broken bottles and people getting stretchered off and pulverised by rubber bullets on the late evening news."
"So where are you taking us?" Helena asks.
"North," says Ryan, "towards the less poverty stricken streets around the college and the park. Not very far north but the streets around the college might be good places to start. Maybe they'll riot if they get some support."

As an aside, Ryan notices that Helena does not wear a wedding ring, and Helena notices that Ryan does not wear one either.

"You don't wear a wedding ring," Ryan says to Helena.
"I'm a spinster," Helena giggles, "on the shelf after all these years."
"So am I," says Ryan.
"You and I aren't really supposed to marry. I've only just met you, for one thing. And for another…"
Helena looks Ryan in the eyes and thinks for a second before she says, "We have a lot to talk about. Come to one of my houses and we'll talk."
"One of your houses?" Ryan is, momentarily, overwhelmed. He has never met anyone who owns more than one house. "How many houses have you got?"
"Thirty-eight," says Helena, "one more than Tony and Cherie Blair."
"I'd love to see one of them. Which of your houses is most romantic?"
"Probably Albu Castle," says Helena, "Huge place but very warm and intimate. I'll drive."

As they begin to plan their future lives together, Boris pulls a mobile phone out from a pocket somewhere and pushes a couple of buttons.
"Stanislav," he says, "we're going to look at the college. Can you drive the van to the college and meet us there?"

Stanislav has spent the night on a barge, bringing the van silently from Standstill Airport to Picketts Lock, hauled by a Clydesdale which he borrowed from a horse preservation society in Bishops Stortford. From the boat yard, Stanislav drives the van towards the college, hoping that he is nicely inconspicuous and forgetting that the van is white, weighs twelve tons and has the words 'Riot Supplies' blazoned on both sides in enormous red letters. Arriving at the college he sees Martin and Boris, Ryan, the cleverest man in the world, a woman who appears to be Ryan's girlfriend, and three men in what might be Burberry overcoats. Boris notices the van and waves to it.

Stanislav parks the van at the corner of the road where the students, and any rioters, will see it. By the time he has locked the van and agreed with the others that they will be back at that spot around six in the evening, Fluffbook is already buzzing. There is a van marked "Riot Supplies" parked near the college in Ponders End.

"Why is the Police Federation bringing a van load of what I take to be ammunition to the site of a potential riot?" asks Gerald, mystified.
"It's a decoy," says Boris, "so we can kettle the rioters in one place and get them all banged up. Don't worry about a thing."

By six o'clock it is quite dark. Electric power has been restored, or maybe it hadn't been restored but the power cut had affected only a small area. Boris, Gerald, Henry and Martin are cowering behind a car on the opposite side of the road from the van. Stanislav climbs out of the cab and joins them. Ryan and Helena are noticeably absent and have decided to spend time alone together working out how they will spend the rest of their lives together.

A policeman walking down the main road notices the van parked near the college and then notices the five figures trying to hide among the cars opposite.

"Does that van belong to any of you?" he asks.
"It belongs to me, officer," says Boris, anxious to keep any discussion of its contents a secret for as long as possible.
"It's causing an obstruction," says the policeman, "so I have to ask you to move it."
"Certainly, officer," says Boris, "where to?"
"Just away from the main road and onto a side street," says the policeman, "anywhere that it won't block the traffic."
"Certainly, officer," says Boris again. "Stanislav, take the van down a side street."
Stanislav is climbing back into the cab when the officer asks Stanislav the question which he, Boris and Martin knew was inevitable but have been dreading anyway. "By the way," he asks, "what's in it?"
"Fish," says Stanislav, and fortunately the officer believes him.
"Got any haddock?" he asks.
Stanislav replies, "No, sorry, none. There's a chip shop just along the way. They'll have some."

Stanislav turns the key in the ignition and drives the van about two hundred yards, followed by the others on foot. After two hundred yards, Stanislav turns into Marconi View and brings the van to a halt in the staff car park of Radio Ponders End. No sooner has he left the van and walked out of sight with his colleagues than half a dozen gangly teenagers in jeans and trainers appear, whooping and roaring, and smash the doors open even though the doors are not locked. Inside the van there are bottles, fuel, wicks, matches, grenades, fireworks, and even pre packed lunches of cold pizza and fizzy cola drinks in little plastic boxes: exactly what you need to keep you going when you intend to spend the night smashing up the neighbourhood. Ryan has thought of everything.

Chapter Seven

The pioneering Bus Adapted for Rocket Fuel and a map showing its high speed route

It is eight in the morning and Wizzo is driving his passengers Cracker Barrel and Pin Stripe around Southampton Dock looking for Spindles and his heavy duty ferry boat. Having driven all along the front and all the way back, Wizzo is resigned to the fact that all ferry boats look the same, and also that he cannot see any ferry boats in the harbour. Even he is surprised that he never noticed their strong mutual resemblance before.

"Wizzo," says Pin Stripe, "I don't think you know what you're looking for."
"A heavy duty ferry boat," replies Wizzo, "but unfortunately I don't know what a heavy duty ferry boat looks like."
"I can only think of one way to find Spindles if we don't know whether his boat is in the dock or which one it is. Think. Is there a bar near here?" asks Cracker Barrel.
"What's that? Are you thirsty already?" Wizzo asks.
"No, not at all. I can wait a couple more hours for a drink, if I really have to. But I bet you Spindles is thirsty."

Wizzo looks to the left, Pin Stripe to the right and Cracker Barrel out of the back window. There is, indeed, a bar on the sea front. It is open, and propped up by the counter is Spindles. Spindles is sitting on a bar stool cradling what looks like a large whisky. As Cracker Barrel walks in, Spindles turns around and Cracker Barrel greets him warmly.

"Spindles!" cries Cracker Barrel, "After all these years. You haven't changed a bit."
"Not changed? Listen. I drink a bit less," says Spindles, "than I did at school. Or maybe it's a bit more, I didn't keep count then and I don't keep count now. Damn these unit of alcohol things. If God had wanted us to drink less, he would never have given us pint glasses. What did you come here for, anyway?"
"We're coming with you on your test drive to the South Pole," says Cracker Barrel.
"Yes, you are, I remember, you phoned me. It's going to be a wonderful trip and I wouldn't have had you miss it for the world. You'll have some strange company, though, so it would be best if I got you aboard and introduced you."
Wizzo walks up to the counter and asks Sandy, the barkeeper, "Is there a long term car park?"
"Over there, straight on as far as the sign and turn right."
"Thank you," says Wizzo. He turns to rejoin his friends and he leaves the bar for the moment in order to move the car.
"'Ere," says the affronted barkeeper, "ain't you going to buy nuffink?"
"No, thanks," says Cracker Barrel, "I'm sure Spindles has bought easily enough for all of us."
"Yeah," observes Sandy, "you can say that again."

Cracker Barrel waits until Spindles's glass is empty, which does not take very long, and then he grabs Spindles by the shoulder and leads him out onto the roadway before he has time to buy another one.

"Which boat is it?" asks Wizzo, still trying to work out where to go first.
"That one," says Spindles, "over there, MV So Far So Good. The one that's under test. Can't you tell it's under test, Wizzo? It's got red number plates tied on with string."

Wizzo leaves the others behind for a moment and drives the car to the long stay car park, turning up at the harbour's edge and the MV So Far So Good again a few minutes later.

Spindles leads the way up the gangway and onto deck. Although small in size for the voyage it intends to complete, the vessel appears sound in wind and limb, replete with the right number of lamps and containers of fuel and lifeboats and generally both ship shape and Bristol fashion.

"This tub is going to carry us to the South Pole?" says Wizzo, sounding a mite sceptical.
"Oh, yes," says Spindles, "it was designed to convey passengers expeditiously from Granton to Burntisland, yet it is not in the least scared of icebergs, penguins or big waves, come to that. Now, before we set off, have you got all your suitcases?"

Pin Stripe waves a hand at a pile of suitcases which, between them, the passengers have brought on board. Spindles checks his watch and assures everyone that there is plenty of time before high tide and therefore, he says, "Before I show you to your quarters, I am going to take you down into the cargo hold."

Access to the cargo hold is gained by clambering down several ridiculously steep staircases one after the other while hanging on to the adjacent grab rails like grim death. In the hold are two dark blue things which look very much like a single decker bus and a double decker bus.

"These are your strange travelling companions. These are BARF One and its double deck twin BARF Two," says Spindles, "and they are here because their inventor and chief engineer, Murdo McTavish, intends to try them out under the arduous conditions of a route across Antarctica, from Palmer to the South Pole." Partly because of the appropriateless of the lyric and partly because even at this time in the morning Spindles is completely off his face, he bursts into song giving a very creditable impression of Ole Blue Eyes, "If you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere, it's up to you, South Pole, South Pole." Spindles pauses, scratches his head and thinks for a few seconds. "Something else I was going to tell you… Oh, yes! I remember. Your bedrooms are there, there and there." He points at the nearest three passemger cabins. "Everything you need for a happy journey is in there somewhere, and if it isn't, I haven't got any and it's too late to get one in." Spindles pauses again. "There's something else. I'm sure there is." But he can't remember what it is.

When Spindles was about seven years old, his Aunt Harriet gave him the book which turned him from a random, underperforming, semi-literate dunce into a keen and scholarly boy, thirsty for knowledge and desperate for the opportunity to join the merchant fleet and steer his own luxurious vessel on a highly profitable passenger service from one part of the world to another. It was The Small Atlas of the World. The atlas was, of course, made up of maps, some of which showed the whole world on a single side of paper. On those pages, the continents of Europe and the United States were drawn considerably closer together than Mr Mercator actually projected them. The reduced extent of the Atlantic Ocean was labelled, "A great extent of ocean omitted here."

A great extent of ocean is, similarly, being omitted from this chapter of The Allusionist. Spindles was a competent navigator and captain, while Cracker Barrel, Pin Stripe and Wizzo spent their days eating, drinking, talking, drinking, doing crossword puzzles, reading books that bored them senseless but not reading anything was even more boring, drinking and sleeping. The temperature changed markedly, being higher at the equator than at Southampton and higher at Southampton than at Palmer. The view out of the port holes did not change much at all. Sea, sky, the occasional distant coast and the occasional fish. The food was a remarkable testament to the variety and quality of what Asbury Marine can deliver in tins at the last minute.

Three weeks later the heavy duty ferry finally moors at the only jetty that served the cluster of snow covered houses that is Palmers. The weather was freezing, and a crowd of inquisitive penguins watched the performance with great merriment and joy.

There is a winch on the jetty. A rope hangs from it. Spindles works out that the winch is strong enough and correctly positioned to raise the BARFs out of the hold of the ferry and onto the jetty, so that from the jetty a skilled driver can manoeuvre it onto dry land and, from there, around the country. Spindles swings the winch on its pylons so that a rope hangs vertically above BARF One. He lowers the rope so that it is on the cargo deck, near the bus. Wizzo at the front and Pin Stripe at the back slip loops of rope around the front and rear of the bus, and Spindles checks that everything is ready to move.

"Have you got that rope on the front, Wizzo?"
"Aye, aye, Captain Grubshaw," says Wizzo, who has watched several films about the exploits of the Royal Navy and imagines that this sort of nautical double-talk impresses Spindles and the crowd of penguins.
"Pin Stripe, have you got that rope on the back?"
"Yes," says Pin Stripe, "all ready to move."
"Very well, then. Stand clear."

Pin Stripe and Wizzo stand well out of the way.

Spindles puts one finger dramatically on the 'On' switch that controls the winch, and calls "Three, two, one…" and then closes the switch. The winch spins wildly for a second as it takes up the slack rope. The front end of the bus rises off the deck and into the air, but the back end stays where it is. Pin Stripe has put the rope around the rear of the wrong bus, by mistake. The front of BARF One continues to rise until the bus is standing on end, and at that point it tumbles backwards, rocking the ferry hard to port and sliding out of the hold and into the icy waters of the Antarctic Ocean. The penguins hoot with laughter as a violent and enormous splash covers the ship and its men with freezing cold seawater. The ship, which by pure good luck has not been sunk as a result of this misfortune, rocks violently from side to side but, eventually, regains its composure. BARF One, sad to report, is deep inside Davy Jones's locker, well and truly done for.

Spindles finds a sarcastic and insulting remark about Pin Stripe handy but, to his credit, does not make it. He untangles the rope and positions the winch again. "That's an insurance job," he calls to his sodden helpmates, "as long as the damage happens after the freight has gone over the ship's rail, it's not our responsibility. Let's try to unload the other one and see what happens. You ready, Wizzo?"

Wizzo and Pin Stripe secure the ropes to what remains of the cargo. Spindles looks very carefully at the rope, at the ship, at the winch, at BARF Two and finally at Wizzo and Pin Stripe. Unable to guess what is going to happen this time, he crosses his fingers and counts down. "Three, two, one… zero!"

The winch hums loudly as it begins to wind up the rope and take the load of several tons of heavy steel machinery. BARF Two begins to rise from the deck, remaining horizontal and swaying remarkably little. The winch rotates, moving the bus from the space above the ship to the space above the jetty, and then finally, with the scream of brakes holding the winch under a terrific load, the bus is gradually lowered to ground level, the wheels touch the road and the rope goes slack.

"One out of two's not bad," says Spindles, "and I couldn't have done it without you, Pin Stripe. Now, I just remembered what it was I forgot to tell you when you were boarding the ferry three months ago. In the glove compartment of the cab you will find the instruction manual."

The four of them board BARF Two. Wizzo, who imagines himself to have been appointed by God to drive the bus, walks to the front and opens the door to the cab. In the glove compartment there is no instruction manual, nor anything else.

"There's no instruction manual here," he calls to the others.
"Ah!" says Spindles, "it was in the glove compartment of BARF One. So it is currently waterlogged, unusable, and located on the seabed of the most inhospitable ocean on this, or any other, planet."
"Bit of a bummer, that," says Wizzo, "we shall have to work out how to operate the thing as best we can."
"Quite so," says Spindles, "and since there's no time like the present, you might like to do it now. Cracker Barrel, you're not doing very much. Check the drinks cabinet, there's a good chap."
The drinks cabinet is a large and well stocked refrigerator on the lower deck. "All present and correct, Captain."
"Good, at least one thing works." Spindles regains his composure and asks Wizzo, "Made any progress?"
"I found the central heating," says Wizzo. "You should be able to feel the bus warming up sooner or later."
"How about getting under way?" asks Spindles.
"I'm going to wing it," says Wizzo. "It doesn't look difficult. At the front here, it says, 'Automatic Bus.' Then there's a green button marked 'Go' and a red button marked 'Stop.'"
"So we can make it start and we can make it stop," says Spindles. "How about telling it where to go?"
"There's a satnav. We can try that. The start of the trip is Palmer and the end is going to be…" he typed numbers into the little satnav console, "The South Pole. Longitude 0°, Latitude 90°S."
"Brilliant. You could've been Brains in Thunderbirds."

Spindles looks around him. The suitcases are all present and correct on the lower deck. There are numerous containers of diesel fuel behind the suitcases. There are stocks of tins in the kitchen. It seems as good a time as any to see how well BARF Two will perform. Then, if it works, they could begin the long trek in a day or two.

"I don't suppose you can see any other instruments or anything that we need to switch on or off before we start?" Spindles asks Wizzo. "Windscreen wipers? Indicators? Headlights?"
"None at all. It looks to me as though everything is automatic. Why don't you all go upstairs? Grab a window seat, clean the frost off the glass and take a good look at all the penguins, and I'll start the motors and sit and watch it all working and when I'm sick to death of it I'll come up and sit with you."
"Pour me a drink," Wizzo calls after them as they traipse upstairs to the top deck, "a large one. They can't breathalyse you at the South Pole, can they?"
"No," Cracker Barrel calls down.
"Here we go, then. Hold very tight, please!"

Wizzo takes his seat in the cab, puts on the seat belt and confidently presses the green 'Go' button. A recorded voice says, "Enjoy your ride on BARF Two!" in a Walthamstow accent, and a bell pings twice.

Immediately the engine roars with the noise of a jet fighter screaming downwards to attack an enemy aircraft carrier. The bus shoots off like a rocket. Wizzo presses the red 'Stop' button but nothing happens except that the button snaps and comes away in his hand. The speedometer is already pointing to 100 MPH as the bus reaches the landward end of the jetty and skids violently to the right, leaving Palmer at an ever increasing speed. Under its automatic control, the bus lurches left and right and bounces up and down as it dodges icebergs and hillocks and rocks and penguins, giving its passengers a sickeningly bumpy ride over the snow and ice. The Distance figure on the satnav console gradually moves towards zero. At three hundred miles an hour, the bus takes just under four hours to reach the South Pole. Then when the counter finally reaches zero, the bus stops suddenly, jolting the passengers out of their seats, slithering a hundred yards, swaying wildly from side to side and coming to rest at an angle, listing so far to the left that it's a wonder it didn't fall flat on its side.

After the enormous engine noise has stopped, an unfamiliar silence settles on the white landscape.

"By Jove, that was fun," says Spindles. "There I was expecting a trek of ten or twelve miles a day in conditions of the utmost discomfort, and BARF Two takes us all the way to the Pole in," he looks at his watch, "three hours and fifty minutes, and it's more fun than the big rollercoaster at Alton Towers."
"It's a triumph of British engineering," says Pin Stripe.

The diesel engine is so overheated that it is giving off steam. The fuel gauge reads 'Empty.' As Wizzo makes a mental list of the maintenance that needs to be carried out before the bus can convey them all back to Palmer, he notices a tent pitched on the ice a short way away.

As Wizzo watches, two men in full polar explorer clothing emerge from the tent and walk slowly through the snow towards BARF Two. They are quite old men and obviously slowed by the conditions. Spindles and the others stare into the white flurries of snow, watching the explorers walk towards the bus.

"I say," says one of the explorers to Spindles, whose naval uniform obviously resembles that of a bus conductor, "does this bus go to England?"
"Return," says Spindles, "or one way?"
"Two one way tickets to England, please," says the intending passenger, "definitely."
"Four pounds twenty," demands Spindles.
"I don't have any money but I can trade you two Arctic Explorer Chocolate Covered Fish Bars."
"Done," says Spindles, who is having a little joke and would happily allow the explorers to board without their paying anything at all, "welcome on board!"
"Thank you. I'm Jimmy," says Jimmy, "and this is my fellow polar explorer, Toppers."
"Pleased to meet you," says Toppers, simultaneously putting out a hand for Spindles to shake and making a record breaking understatement.
"Is anyone else camping at the South Pole and in need of a ride home?" asks Spindles.
"No," says Jimmy.

Wizzo has finished refuelling and generally making sure that BARF Two will last long enough to get them all back to Palmers, and he has managed to set the satnav to the jetty there. "When you're all ready," he announces, "we'll set off." He buckles his seat belt rather more tightly than last time and presses the "Go" button. The bus shoots towards Palmer at enormous speed.

At Palmer Jetty the bus stops and allows its passengers to leave. It takes them an hour or thereabouts to embark on the MV So Far So Good, slip its mooring, raise the anchor and head off back to Blighty.

The passengers stare over the stern of the ship at the Palmer jetty as it disappears into the distance. They are not surprised to see BARF Two drive itself forward a few yards and then fall from the jetty into the water, where like its sister vehicle it is now an irrecoverable and worthless pile of rusting scrap metal.
"Bother," says Spindles as he observes the destruction of the bus from his post on the bridge, "I knew I'd forgotten something."

As the MV So Far So Good crosses the tropic of Capricorn in comfortably warm conditions, an exceptionally high wave collides with the side of the ship. Pin Stripe, who is sunning himself on the main deck, notices a tiny goldfish, an inch and a half in length, lying on the deck after the wave has drained away. "That's Herbert," cries Pin Stripe, "I'd know him anywhere. I saw his photograph in the paper. Here, someone bring a jam jar full of drinking water."

Wizzo is sitting in the mess room eating Dundee cake out of a tin. Hearing the call for aid coming from Pin Stripe on top, he fills a pint glass from the tap and carries it up the steps. Herbert is gasping for breath by now, and appears very happy to be dropped into the pint glass. Within five seconds he has forgotten all about his adventures at sea and is gaily swimming round and round the glass, chasing his tail and looking most pleased with himself.

Herbert becomes the official ship's domestic animal and his pint glass is moved to a prominent position in the canteen. Herbert was able to cope with the boredom of the long trip home much more easily than anyone else on board. As on the outbound voyage, a great extent of ocean is omitted here.

When MV So Far So Good ties up in Southampton and completes its journey out to the South Pole and back, two small delegations are crowding around its mooring and competing for attention. One group is the surviving relatives of Jimmy and Toppers, who are very happy to see the two explorers returning safely to England after such an unexpectedly long stay away from home. The other is a delegation of former workers at the AEC bus factory, led by Murdo McTavish, keen to ask everyone who travelled on them how well the BARF fleet performed in service. There are also a handful of journalists with cameras and notebooks. Between them, these groups give the impression of being a sizeable crowd.

Jimmy and Toppers disembark the ship first and walk straight into the arms of their mothers, fathers, wives and children. The two have been rescued from a mixture of loneliness, cold weather, bad food and cold penguins.

After that sweet re-union the members of the Rich Bankers Club leave the ship and walk to the little group of former bus workers led by Murdo McTavish. Pin Stripe speaks for the entire Club when he says that BARF One and Two were great successes, but when the bus workers ask him where they are now, he has to tell them that both vehicles are now out of commission and have reached their final resting places on the sea bed. Murdo McTavish looks around the group and realises that one of the Rich Bankers has disappeared. While Murdo was looking the other way, Wizzo has slipped away, carrying Herbert the goldfish in his pint glass, to find the long term car park. Finding his car, Wizzo balances Herbert on top of the dashboard, moves the car to the harbour front, watches McTavish's meeting exchange telephone numbers and break up, and finally he drives slowly up to Cracker Barrel and Pin Stripe to offer them a ride back to their beloved London.

Spindles begins the tedious business of filling in the reports on his trip. By changing a detail here and a detail there in his account of his travels, he is able to make his account look as though the heavy duty ferry has been put through a battery of tests and has passed every one with flying colours. Since that is the outcome which the owners of the ship wish to hear, Spindles believes it unlikely that they will challenge the result or demand further details of its scores in any particular test. And anyway, is there no bar in this harbour? As Wizzo navigates the streets of Southampton trying to find the way to the City of London, Spindles settles down on his usual bar stool and asks Sandy, the barkeeper, for his usual.

Sandy asks Spindles, "With or without ice, Captain Grubshaw?"
"Without," says Spindles, who is exhausted after the voyage, "Are there any messages for me?"
"Yeah," says the barkeeper, "a message from Glasgow and Paisley Ferry Boat Builders. I can't think how you missed it."
"Where is it?" Spindles asks, and Sandy points to the message board, to which the message has been pinned with a large brass drawing pin. He sits and regards the white cartridge envelope for many minutes and decides it is a cheque in payment for his services as Captain of the MV So Far So Good.
"Aren't you going to open it?" says Sandy.
"I can't be bothered," says Spindles, "it's only money."
"I think there's a letter in it too." Sandy is always careful to examine letters for his customers for any important letter or enclosure. "They want you to do another job for them when you've got a week-end to spare."
"Oh, no," says Spindles, adopting a well known phrase and making it his own, "not another one."
"You'll love it when you're out there. You always do. It's far better for you to keep working than to stay at home doing the gardening and cooking three frozen ready meals a day."
"Thank you, mother," says Spindles.
"And there's a post card from the penguins," says Sandy. "They say they miss you and your friends, especially Jimmy and Toppers, and they hope you will come back soon and see them all again."
"You know, Sandy," says Spindles, "I think you're making it up. For one thing, there are no postcards from anywhere on the message board. For another," he pauses to drain his glass and for Sandy to fill it up again, "for another, everybody knows that penguins can't write."
"Really?" Sandy asks, sounding as though he really wants to know. "So in that case, who writes Penguin Books?"
"Damned if I know," says Spindles.

A police car drives along Riddle Road in the lawless depths of Waltham Cross. The driver gets out of the car and pulls his uniform straight. He is carrying a pint glass. He knocks on the front door of one of the tidy semi detached houses, identifies himself as Police Constable Berkeley and asks for Mrs Patricia Downpour. On being given confirmation that the middle aged lady who answers the door is Mrs Downpour, the policeman hands her the pint glass and says, "This is Herbert. He was found at sea."
"Oh! Thank you so much!" Mrs Downpour dissolves into tears of joy. She is pretty much speechless. For her, speechlessness is an unusual condition from which she recovers after a few seconds.
"Is that definitely the right goldfish?" asks Constable Berkeley.
"Oh, definitely. Even after all these months he recognises me instantly. And I recognise him as well. Thank you again… I need to put him back into his little house. Grandmother will be so delighted." She pauses before she ticks Herbert off sternly. "Say thank you to nice Constable Berkeley, Herbert. You owe him your life."
"You are welcome," says Constable Berkeley, "nothing makes us coppers more content at the end of a day's work than the knowledge that we have made a goldfish happy."
"I'm sure it does," says Mrs Downpour, who really believes this nonsense.

Inside her house, Mrs Downpour has kept Herbert's tank filled, clean and fresh in readiness for the day when, she always knew, he would return from whatever hell he fell into after she threw him at a salesman she didn't like. Unable to distinguish one religion from another, Mrs Downpour thinks of all purveyors of religion as salesmen. She pours the contents of the pint glass lovingly into the fish tank which she always refers to as Herbert's little house, and spends the next hour and a half staring gormlessly at Herbert while coaxing him unsuccessfully to tell her all about his exploits and adventures using many endearments — darling, sweetheart, lover, honey etc. — to reassure him that her love for him has not grown cold, while five seconds into the one sided conversation, Herbert has already forgotten all about his adventures. It is for him as though he had never left his little house.

When she has spent enough time watching Herbert to become convinced that he has no intention of deserting her as soon as she looks away from him, Mrs Downpour phones Grandmother to let her know the joyous tidings.

"Grandmother," she exclaims, "Herbert is back!"
"That fish!" says Grandmother, "I take it you have spent hours checking him over and ensuring that his every need is met before you phoned me about him?"
"Of course I did," says Mrs Downpour, "and I listened as he told me all his exciting adventures in his sweet little fishy voice…"
"You're barmy," says Grandmother, shaking her head even though, as she is on the phone, her grand-daughter cannot see her shaking it. She parrots the cry of all parents whose child or grandchild appears to be (or, as in this case, actually is) wasting its time, "haven't you got anything better to do?"
"As a matter of fact, no, I haven't. That goldfish is my entire emotional life. He is all my hopes, my dreams and my plans for the future. While he was missing I felt completely empty, as though I were in suspended animation and unable to go on with my life until Herbert was safely back and swimming merrily around his little house. I have nothing else and nobody else to whom I mean anything. Without Herbert I would just be hanging around the house all day, looking out for the postman and dusting one thing after another."
"Darling Patricia," says Grandmother, really meaning it, "that is exactly how you spend your day whether Herbert is with you or not. You really must get out more. Haven't you listened to the news recently or taken an interest in Fluffbook? There are exciting things going on in the neighbourhood for the first time since, I don't know, the end of the War probably. Can't you go and join in the rioting and, well, live a little?"
Mrs Downpour considers this suggestion and gives it much thought. "Yes," she tells Grandmother, "I'll do that, I'll be out there hurling bricks and smashing windows and pretending to be unemployed, starving and in rags for the television cameras. That sounds," she takes a deep breath before deploying the only two words of street vocabulary that she knows, "seriously cool."
"It will give you something useful to do and keep you out of trouble, and you can start on Marconi View," says Grandmother, "because according to Fluffbook, that's a good place to meet violent crowds of thousands and smash things up. I'll see you there around six."
"Look out for me. I won't be able to stay late, though," she adds as an afterthought, "because Herbert will miss me."
"No, he won't," says Grandmother, "the only things he is interested in are fish food and avoiding that ghastly plastic anchor that you stuck in the middle of his tank."
"Little house," says Mrs Downpour, quite upset at being told the obvious truth.
"Tell me," says Grandmother, "why on earth did you choose to name your goldfish Herbert?"
"I named him after Herbert Kretzmer OBE, the art critic." When Grandmother did not reply to that remark, Mrs Downpour added some clarification. "He loves looking at pictures if I put them near his little house, where he can see them."
"What does he like pictures of?"
"How extraordinary," says Grandmother, and after a short pause, "Six o'clock this evening, then. Don't be late."

Chapter Eight

Remarkable bowling on show in the Radio Ponders End staff car park

An individual called Carawayseed posts an illiterate invitation to participate in civil unrest on the theme #YourRiotsTonight in Fluffbook. This clarion call to arms, the digital equivalent of raising an army by standing in the Grassmarket banging a drum, summons all and sundry to Marconi View for an entertaining evening of uncontrollable violence. Here it is, in full.

2nite marconey vuw get at their & fro stuf @ plece
The invitation is written in the argot read and understood by millions of readers and writers of what are known collectively as "social media." Although any resemblance of this gibberish to the language formerly known as English is little more than a co-incidence, so many people speak it and understand it that Carawayseed's post is widely read and serves as a declaration of war as much as, say, Hitler's speech to the Reichstag on 30 January 1939.

Soon after the first post, a follow up suggests what target the revolutionaries could first engage.

r u gonna steel traners
Young at heart and free from such emotional encumbrances as goldfish, Grandmother reads the Fluffbook strand and feels all the rage against the capitalists and all the seething, incandescent hankering for revenge and justice that Wat Tyler and Guy Fawkes felt burning in their veins in their time. So she reaches for her keyboard and posts her response, which incidentally comprises exactly one hundred and forty characters.
Granny Downpour:
Yes, I'll be there. I'll liberate some expensive trainers but preferably made of canvas. Metal ones sound a bit heavy. I hope you will help.
Granny is no case hardened rioter, and nor does she fully understand the argot in which she is trying to communicate, steel in this context being a means of acquisition rather than a metal, but clearly she is already halfway prepared to join the mutineers and the shoplifters who tonight throng the streets looking for policemen, unbroken windows and shops that sell expensive sports footwear. One other fact about her which will immediately strike any regular reader of Fluffbook is that Granny Downpour can spell.

Darkness falls on Marconi View in Ponders End. A crowd of young men in hooded anoraks and grubby jeans is mooching around the block while a detachment of six or so is robbing the parked van labelled, "Riot Supplies" and passing out bottles, rocks, grenades, crowbars, axes and firelighters to the main body of participants. Those few who can read the sides of the van read it aloud and point to it for their friends.

As the distribution of weaponry proceeds apace, a black police van arrives in the car park. It parks next to "Riot Supplies." The crowd of combatants cheers, claps and roars approval. Six police officers dressed in black kevlar, rather like starship troopers, pile out, form a line and stare at the intending rioters in an intimidating manner, having all studied videos of CIA agents staring at goats. They are met by a fusillade of bricks and bottles. Nobody is struck by any of them, and nobody is hurt. You and I might think this was a satisfactory outcome and with a zero attrition rate on both sides, the battle could continue indefinitely without actually doing anybody any harm until both sides run out of weapons. The policemen, however, regard the casualty rate as unacceptably low and, in an attempt to increase it, they switch on the loudspeakers which the police van carries as standard and press a switch which plays a standard recorded warning of the "Return to your homes! Desist from hurling missiles at your heavily armed local bobbies! Do not start a fight because we are more heavily armed than you are!" variety.

A moment spent attending to the announcement that comes out of the speakers, though, will tell you that the loudspeakers are indeed playing some sort of monologue, but not the one that the officers intended it to play. In a plummy BBC Home Service kind of accent, the loudspeakers say,

It is six o'clock. You're listening to Radio Hiccup. Here is the news.

True to her word, Grandmother Downpour arrives quietly and takes her stand with the rowdies, who are listening fairly quietly to the radio as it blares over the tannoys.

After a hundred and eighty years, The Three Bears have negotiated a settlement with the little girl Goldilocks over the provisions they make for unexpected visitors at their cosy little house in a hollow tree in the middle of the forest. The incident formed the basis of a story which was originally written by Robert Southey and first published back in 1837. Since then it has become the best known close three way encounter ever between trees, bears and people.

Asked for his comments on the case, Daddy Bear, who has now attained the advanced age of two hundred and thirty people years, or four hundred and sixty bear years, said grumpily, "I'm completely fed up with this who's been sleeping in my bed nonsense. Somebody
was sleeping in my bed but the thing they don't tell you is, I wasn't even in the house at the time." Dad did a most convincing impression of an elderly, grumpy bear who could talk. "This business has cost me a fortune, my marriage is on the rocks, I can't get insurance and all I ever hear is, 'Who's been sleeping in your bed?' I wish the three of us had bearhandled Goldilocks into a porridge bowl, covered her with honey and eaten her all up while we still had the chance." In the intervening years, despite regular contact between lawyers acting for both sides, Goldilocks has never visited the Three Bears' house since she first entered it by chance nearly two centuries ago.

The crowd of stone throwers listen with amazement. Who would have thought that news could be so fascinating? Did you know that bears can talk like that? News was, quintessentially, the bit of the radio programme when you went to the toilet. News was something unwelcome that happened once an hour and interrupted the abominable banging noise to which the listeners inexplicably referred as "music," to be ignored and skipped over as quickly as possible.

A fantastically rare Stradivarius concertina, formerly the property of the Antonine Museum in Slough, has been sold at auction this morning for £50,000. The Cremonese concertina is dated 1710 and bears the signature of William Stradivarius, a little known brother of Antonio Stradivarius, who disliked violin music, preferred Irish jigs and Scottish country dance music, and was completely deaf. Many musicians believe that Napoleon himself played La Marseillaise on the concertina and forced the entire French army to dance to it. The auction house believes that the £50,000 price tag is the greatest sum ever paid for a concertina. Sammy Breve, its advisor on musical instruments, describes the sound of the instrument as "a ghastly racket a bit like a pig with indigestion" and advises listeners to treat the purchase as "not so much a one off opportunity to invest in a fine antique instrument, but more a complete waste of good money." The proceeds of the sale will go to paying the cost of repairing a hole in the roof of the Antonine Museum. Last year the museum had four visitors.

"I suppose we had best keep on looking for treasure in the attic," said one of the kevlar coated phalanx of police officers.

The abolition of money is believed to have been completed ahead of schedule in one small area. The National Money Office reported this afternoon that there is no money of any kind in Ponders End and therefore the only way to get any food, water or trainers from any shop in the borough is to break in and steal it. Our economics correspondent Hal Facrown…

The rest of the story is lost in the tremendous noise of cheering, clapping, whooping and general jubilation from the crowd of rioters. The cheering diminished a little and they heard the announcer signing off with the standard conclusion.

That is the end of the news.

Now armed with a generous pile of stones, bricks, bottles, sticks and other weapons of miniscule destruction, the crowd resumes pelting the police line. Neither side captures any ground, takes any prisoners, siezes any enemy property, causes any injury of any kind or moves very much.

"Psychological warfare, that's what it is," says another of the officers.
"Yes," says the man next to him, "just keep staring at 'em in as intimidatin' a manner as you can."
"Up stares, Down stares," says an unidentifiable voice from somewhere.
"Wow," cries another officer, "that was close!" as a small stone hits the ground six feet away from him.

At the back of the car park, and hard to see in the darkness, is an expensive looking yellow open top sports car. Two youngsters have crept around the building without attracting attention. The police do not notice the kids tampering with this posh car because they are all staring intently at the stone throwers in an unsuccessful effort to sap their life force. The taller boy opens the driver's door effortlessly with a bent coat hanger, which he just happens to have about him. He climbs into the driver's seat while the other, slightly smaller, boy settles into the passenger seat. There is a delay of one or two seconds and the engine of the sports car roars into life. The car then jolts backwards, spins around and roars out of the car park and out onto the main road.

A face appears at an upstairs window of the Radio Ponders End building. It is that of Sebastian Tantrum, staring after his disappearing sports car which belongs to Patricia Downpour of the Broxbourne and Brimsdown Electricity Company. At the same instant, one of the police officers pulls off the encumbrances which are supposed to protect his head and chest, lets them fall to the ground, and leaps into the police car. He zooms off in pursuit of the sports car.

It would, of course, have been possible for the officer simply to wait until the police station receives an irritated telephone call from an irritated member of the public who has found the wreck of a yellow sports car in his front garden and expects the police to do something about it. The telephone call would certainly have been made before ten o'clock in the morning. However, by zooming off in pursuit of the sports car, the officer has turned a minor incident of taking and driving away into an exciting game of Hare and Hounds.

Hare and Hounds is a big boys' game which produces a lot of noise, attracts a lot of attention, causes thousands of pounds' worth of collateral damage and often results in severe injuries to all the players. It is not unknown for an entire Hare and Hounds match to grind to a halt because all of the participants have died of their injuries, which record not even Rugby Football can equal. Yet both the officer and the boys in the sports car thoroughly enjoy taking part in a game of Hare and Hounds and do so as often as the opportunity prevents itself.

Now the game is on.

The officer chooses the role of Hound. He flips a switch on the dashboard which lights a high intensity blue flashing lamp on the roof of the police car and also sounds a two tone siren, both of which tell any nearby pedestrians that if they are anywhere near the roads on which the game is being played, then they must get out of the way because they will be lucky if they are still alive after his quarry and he have shot past them. The light and the siren also tell the hares that the game has started. According to the rules of Hare and Hounds, the Hares should now drive at the maximum speed of which the sports car will admit regardless of weather, unevennesses in the road surface, traffic conditions, or their own hopeless lack of judgement, training and experience. The Hares have about a one hundred yard start on the Hound. They try to get away by making a sharp turn to the left. The officer turns left and follows close behind them. The hares turn to the right and the officer turns right after them. Watching his speedometer swivel up to the hundred mile an hour mark while bowling along at a speed well above the legal limit, the officer shakes his head in amazement that anyone could be so foolhardy as to drive at such an enormous speed on a pitted, bumpy, narrow residential street as the one he himself is driving along at enormous speed.

We have now reached that part of the game known as "injury time." Both Hare and Hound are moving at high speed along narrow streets that were built when delivering goods to homes normally involved horses and carts. Any manoeuvre of any kind is highly likely to result in injury, death or damage to property. Nerves are taut and the drivers are concentrating furiously on keeping going and staying alive, except for the Hares, who are drunk and doped to the point of insensibility.

The Hares skid to the left and very nearly hit head on a car travelling towards them at low speed. Fortunately the driver of the obstacle car is alert, realises what is going on and steers onto the sidewalk. The police car accelerates in the hope of narrowing the headway that separates it from the Hares. In order to avoid the obstacle car, the Hound steers onto the right hand side of the road. A fatal mistake has been inevitable since the Hares first started off, and this is the turn that proves to be the fatal mistake. The Hound car skids so hard that it spins end for end and crashes through a low wall into the front garden of a neat red brick semi detached house.

The Hares notice that the blue lamp and the siren have ceased. They cheer noisily, stop the sports car and, as is customary after winning a round, set fire to the it and run away into the distance.

The neat red brick semi detached house belongs to Mrs Patricia Downpour, who appears at the front door and looks to and fro, trying to accustom her eyes to the darkness and assess the devastation which occupies the space where her front garden used to be. For an instant she suspects the Luftwaffe. Given the extent of the damage, this is not a particularly bad guess, merely an anachronism.

"Gosh, what a mess," she says out loud to nobody in particular. Then Mrs Downpour realises that most of the mess is a police car and most of the rest is what used to be her front garden and its retaining wall. In the driving seat of the car, shaken and badly hurt, she recognises Constable Berkeley.

The obstacle car has been stationary for a few seconds. Its driver turns off its lights and gets out. He is carrying the distinctive black bag of a general practitioner attending a house call out of hours. He looks up and down the street and takes the view that the game is now over and he can safely cross the road and speak to the occupants of the tangled wreckage in the front garden opposite.

"Constable Berkeley," Mrs Downpour cries in delight, "how lovely to see you again. May I make you a nice cup of tea?"
Constable Berkeley is alive and able to groan and turn his head to the side, but cannot speak.
"I'm a doctor," says the doctor to nobody in particular, "what seems to be the trouble?"
"I think there is some work for you to do here," says Mrs Downpour, "this is my friend and knight in shining armour Constable Berkeley. I hope this is all on the National Health Service." She turns to Constable Berkeley and carries on in her barmy sing song voice, "Herbert the goldfish hasn't forgotten what you did for him," she says. She is factually wrong about this, since Herbert has a very short memory and has already forgotten what the front garden used to look like before Constable Berkeley mistakenly drove his car into it at a hundred miles an hour.

"I'm Doctor Priestley," says the doctor to Constable Berkeley, "I'll get you into an ambulance and they'll take you to hospital."
"Goodness," says Mrs Downpour. Doctor Priestley expects her to say "Thank God you were passing, doctor," but instead of course she prattles, "Herbert will be excited. He's never been in an ambulance before."
"Herbert?" asks Doctor Priestley.
"Her goldfish," says Constable Berkeley with painful effort.
"You're conscious. That's a good sign," Doctor Priestley says to Constable Berkeley, "It's a good job you were covered in kevlar, otherwise you'd probably be dead."
"Herbert is my wonderful friend and helpmate," says Mrs Downpour, "and he lives in a little house. I shall introduce you both to him. He'll be so impressed."

Doctor Priestley takes a mobile phone from his jacket and calls for an ambulance, then returns to the wrecked police car to see whether he can somehow alleviate Constable Berkeley's suffering before the paramedics arrive. He is unable to open the door of the police car: the impact has jammed it shut, and the paramedics will need to remove it with cutting gear. He has a syringe full of some pain reliever in his bag and he manages to inject it into Berkeley's neck. Berkeley immediately closes his eyes and passes out.
"He'll be fine," Doctor Priestley reassures Mrs Downpour, "I hope.".
"Oh, he isn't hurt at all," says Mrs Downpour breezily, "just a bit shaken up by the noise."
"I meant the patient," says Doctor Priestley, pointing to Berkeley, "the injured man in the crashed car, not the fish," and with great self control not saying "you complete idiot" in case it caused offence.

The distant noise of an approaching ambulance puts an end to this nonsense. "You may as well go back indoors and make sure Herbert isn't too traumatised," Doctor Priestley tells Mrs Downpour, as he prepares to brief the paramedic crew on the outcome of tonight's first Hare and Hounds match.

After the ambulance has stretchered Constable Berkeley off the pitch, Doctor Priestley turns to cross the road and realises that his car is missing. In his rush to get to the patient, Doctor Priestley omitted to take the ignition key out of the lock. Doctor Priestly accepts the loss of his car with equanimity: taking and driving away happens a lot around here, and he has already been through it once before. The car is probably already being driven round and round the streets at high speed by a sniggering young child playing Round Two of tonight's Hare and Hounds tournament against the officers of the local police force. Dr Priestley steels himself for an urgent phone call to his insurance company.

After the noise and dust of Hare and Hounds dies away, Grandmother Downpour parks her car outside the rubble of her granddaughter's front garden and leans on the horn for a few seconds. Inside the house, Patricia asks Herbert to forgive her for going out of the house for a while. "I'll be back around midnight," she says to him. She wraps herself up in a warm coat and sits in the passenger seat of Grandmother's car.

"Off we go to the show, dear," says Grandmother. "Have you brought anything to throw?"
"Throw?" Patricia is momentarily nonplussed. "Why would I want to throw anything?"
"We're going to Marconi View, remember? Where the riots are, and there we are going to amuse ourselves."
"Oh. Yes." Pamela is torn between going along and joining in, and just staying at home under a blanket. "I wish," she eventually says quietly to Grandmother, "that I had stayed at home and not agreed to come."
"Let's give it five minutes and go home if nothing happens," says Grandmother, turning her car into a side street five minutes' walk from Marconi View.

On Marconi View, on one side of the street, a crowd of men is shivering, standing in the light of two burning cars in an effort to keep warm, and throwing anything that comes to hand at the four policemen who remain on the opposite side of the road, watching the crowd without advancing, retreating or doing anything else. The Radio Ponders End building is behind the police lines. The building is mostly in darkness, although lights can be seen through a couple of ground floor windows. Parked outside are the burned out remains of a van that was once painted white and marked "Riot Supplies."

Pamela notices a small steel object the size of a man's fist lying on the street behind the crowd. At first sight it looks rather like a cola tin. She picks it up, weighs it in her hand, looks at it and guesses what it is. "It's a grenade," she says under her breath, in the tone of voice that means she thinks it may well prove useful.
A man standing beside her says, "Someone took it out of the Riot Supplies van, but I didn't know what it was."
"Of course," she says out loud, and manages to stop talking out loud before she gets to "because you can't read."

The instructions on the side of the steel object read as follows:
Grenade. Handle with care. Read instructions before using.
Well, you would, wouldn't you, Patricia thinks. It's just this daft Health and Safety tosh.
1. Pull pin out.
2. Throw at enemy.
3. Duck.
4. Dispose of empty can thoughtfully, in the red recycling bin with white spots.

"When I was at school," says Pamela, "I wasn't the fastest bowler in the girl's cricket team for nothing."

Despite not having bowled a cricket ball for twenty five years or so, Patricia turns out to still be remarkably good at bowling. She pulls the pin out of the grenade. She runs towards the radio station at speed, bowls the grenade towards one of the ground floor windows and knocks its bails flying. The grenade crashes through the window with a satisfying jangle of broken glass, and it explodes with a flash of light and a bang like a large firework. The entire building immediately becomes dark, and one of the policemen says audibly, "Gor' blimey." Smoke pours out of the broken window and flames can be seen. Radio Ponders End will be off the air for a while.

The crowd approves of Pamela's contribution to the action, whistling, clapping and cheering. Martin, Boris and Stanislav are still standing among the crowd. "Owzat!" yells Martin. Having acquitted herself so ably, and believing that it's always best to quit while you're ahead, Pamela sets off on the short walk back to the pavilion which is her home. Grandmother, doubtless expecting some cataclysmic event to occur and change the course of history, remains in the crowd. No cataclysmic event occurs, but there's never a cataclysmic event around when you want one. The Evil Federation finds this outcome disappointing, especially after all the trouble they have gone to in their effort to create one.

"Good lord, did you see that?" Martin asks his two associates, "Who is she?"
"She should be playing at Lord's, at the very least," says Stanislav, who conceals his foreign origins by feigning an all consuming interest in cricket.
"I have no idea who she is," says Boris, "but it seems, as often happens, that the occasion brings forth the woman."
"Is there a cricket championship in the Olympics?" asks a random voice.
"The question is," says Boris, "have we started anything that looks and feels like a revolution?"
"No, we haven't," says Martin. "We will, but so far it's all been a damp squib at best."

Radio Ponders End has been operating for ten years. In that time nothing has ever gone wrong with it except for an occasional presenter putting the wrong record on, or mispronouncing a foreign word in a news story. This reliability, and the rioting which is still going on in the Radio Ponders End staff car park, are the reasons why the two technicians, Vince Ippid and Bill Ding, who make up the station's emergency repair team, are not at their posts. They are half a mile away in the Cart, which is the nearest public house. They are wearing tool vests and jeans and supping their way through their fourth pint of bitter. Strictly speaking, their job is to sit in the Radio Ponders End building and watch the equipment and fix anything that breaks, but since nothing has ever broken that a technician would have been able to repair, they feel perfectly safe sitting in the Cart and listening to the station on a quiet radio set which stands on the table between them in a shallow puddle of beer.

When the station stops broadcasting in the middle of The Everly Brothers singing their 1958 hit Bye Bye Love, the technicians' first reaction is to assume that their radio has broken. They wipe the beer off it and check that they can still receive BBC Radio Four and find that they can hear it clearly. The problem is, definitely, a transmission failure at "RPE," as they call it in an effort to underpin the trendy brand image of a radio station that thinks The Everly Brothers singing Bye Bye Love is what you want to hear when you are in your late teens, partying in the middle of the night, half naked and heavily under the influence of alcohol and psychoactive medication.

"Can't get RPE," says Vince, the older and taller of the two technicians, "although this radio's working OK. I suppose we'd best go and check up on everything."
"Yes, after we've finished these pints," says Bill, his mate, "it won't be a big issue."
"They'll sack us," says Vince, "if we don't put it right."
"No they won't," Bill shakes his head, "because they aren't listening to it."
"No," says Vince, "nothing ever goes wrong. It probably only needs another card in the electricity meter. I've got one in my desk somewhere. There's plenty of time to drink up. Nobody listens to it anyway." He has about half a pint left in his glass and he takes his time over it.

Disappointed that the revolution is not going to begin tonight, the police and the rioters have left the scene, leaving broken street lamps, stones, bricks, broken bottles and the remains of Radio Ponders End behind them. They might be back tomorrow night, either here or somewhere else within a mile or so. Once Bill and Vince arrive at the Radio Ponders End building, it is apparent to them that the issue is indeed big. The transmitter has stopped working due to structural damage and it won't be back on air for as long as it takes to get a team of electricians to fix the electronics, followed by a squad of brickies to rebuild the wall, and a glazier as well.

"Good Lord," says Bill, looking at the mess by the light of the moon and the broken street lamps, "how are we going to fix this mess?"
"Do you think Ben Twyre might be available?" Vince asks. "I've always thought he must be a high achiever, ever since I heard about his accomplishments on Radio Hiccup."
"Good idea. He should be our first port of call, I guess. He'll know what to do."
"Meanwhile, don't we have an emergency transmitter somewhere?" Vince remembers vaguely. "Can we find it and get it working?"
"Gosh," says Bill, "that thing! Yes, last time I tried it, it still worked."

Cracker Barrel, Pin Stripe and Wizzo are sitting very comfortably in their favourite arm chairs in the lounge of The Rich Bankers Club.

"What do you think?" asks Pin Stripe, "Are they going to come for us?"
"Are who going to come for us?" asks Cracker Barrel.
"These rioters in, where is it, Ponders End. Do you think they will turn on us and rend us limb from limb?"
"I don't see why they shouldn't," says Cracker Barrel, "especially if a revolution breaks out. They've got stones and boxes of matches and pointed sticks. They're a formidable fighting force."
"Revolution?" Pin Stripe has never thought that he might be engulfed in one. "Why on earth would they want a revolution? Haven't we arranged everything in the way we want it?"
"Didn't the wireless tell us that the government was about to abolish money?" Wizzo remembers the news stories on Radio Hiccup. "With no money, the only way those Ponders End fellows can get hold of anything is to take it, by force if necessary."
"Anything? Like trainers and plasma screen televisions?" asks Cracker Barrel, in cynical mood.
"So where do we fit in?" Pin Stripe is less cynical and more skeptical. "Rescuing lost Antarctic explorers is all within our capability but we can't really salvage an entire district. Can we?"
"Depends," says Wizzo, "on what needs we see before us, and what resources we have. Didn't they teach you any history at Eton, Pin Stripe?"
"They taught us a lot of history," says Pin Stripe, nodding, "but I didn't actually learn any, you see. And you can't tell where you're going if you don't know where you've been. So now I need some history and I'm completely at a loss without it."
Wizzo considers this. "The way I see it is this. They tried taking everybody's money away, and it made things worse. I've still got a lot of money left over from the Antarctic expedition. I could replace some of the money that was abolished. Give it to relieve poverty in Ponders End, couldn't I? Make a change from sponsoring troupes of voodoo trapeze dancers from Tanzania like Children in Need."
"I bet the owners of the money haven't realised yet that it's gone missing. Why don't you just put the lot of it into one of your numbered bank accounts? Just in case anyone asks what happened to it." asks Pin Stripe.
"I'm serious," says Wizzo, "and if you don't think my idea will work, you can stay here and get drunk while I go out in the cold and redistribute some wealth."
"Good idea, Wizzo," Cracker Barrel and Pin Stripe chorus. "We'll stay here in the warm and get drunk and we'll definitely fill your glass up before you get back."
"Don't wait up," says Wizzo. He leaves the room and a moment later Cracker Barrel and Pin Stripe hear him shout, "Taxi!"

An hour later, late at night when most people are fast asleep and the nightly rioting is dying down, Wizzo is struggling against the cold wind, pushing handfuls of used notes through the letterboxes of Ponders End. He can remember where the riots were, who was in the crowd, and where Picketts Lock is, but apart from those landmarks he does not know where he is. He is choosing letterboxes quite at random. He turns to the left, past Alderman Gruesome School, and pushes a handful of notes through the front door of Number 159 Hiccup Hole Lane. Who knows, maybe they are in desperate need.

Chapter Nine

Helena's Trainers brings cheap running shoes to the impecunious rioters of Ponders End

At a quarter to eight the following morning, Dad notices that someone has pushed a small pile of used banknotes through his letter box. He scoops them up and carries them to the table, where Tumbril is sitting and eating Golden Mildreds with milk.

"Dad," Tumbril asks, "why am I eating Golden Mildreds again?"
"Look," says Dad, setting the used banknotes on the table between them, "someone has pushed a pile of banknotes through our letterbox and onto the doormat. I wonder who might have done that, and for what reason?"
"Don't change the subject," Tumbril injuncts him. "Why am I eating Golden Mildreds again?"
"Because they're your favourite cereal," says Dad.
"My favourite serial," says Tumbril, "is The Adventures of Mukhtar the Police Dog. He's amazing. He lives in Moscow and he barks at people and solves crimes that not even Sherlock Holmes could crack in a hundred years, and what's more he's a cute dog. So it is nothing to do with my favourite serial."
"As the name of the programme implies," says Dad. "I sense that you are the victim of a certain understandable confusion between the homonyms cereal, a food made from grains, from the Latin Ceres, a cornflake, and serial, a succession of episodes of a television programme, from the Latin serere, extreme tedium."
"Don't split hairs," says Tumbril. "Last week Mukhtar sniffed out a corrupt and kleptomaniacal eighty year old Russian oligarch called Sergei Nockstuffov who pretended to be a secondhand beetroot peeler and nearly married an eighteen year old pharmacology student from Novosibirsk. You can't call that boring. Can you?"
"That is indeed remarkable for a dog," says Dad, "few dogs can have much intuition about whether a marriage between two such divergent personalities would be likely to succeed or turn out to be a fate worse than death for both of them, but coming back for a moment to this pile of money, there's no address or attribution or anything on it, so I don't know where it came from."
"So what are we going to do with this pile of money?"
"We could give it to charity," says Dad.
"What?" Tumbril is distinctly taken aback at the idea. "Use it to pay out of our own pockets for something the government ought to be doing?"
"Well, since it isn't really ours, it isn't really our own pockets that it came out of. We could put it into the square white rubbish bin and leave it there until they collect it between 17.00 and 23.00 on Tuesday," Dad suggests.
"If it's unsolicited goods, it belongs to us," says Tumbril, "so we don't have to give it back or dispose of it. Can you think of any other possibilities?"
"No. Can you?" asks Dad.
"Yes. Give it to me," says Tumbril.
"All right, you can have it." Dad pushes the heap of notes across the table to Tumbril, who begins to sort it out into a neat pile, fivers on the left, tenners in the middle, twenties on the right, ready to push it into her school bag.
"Do you really not want any of it?" Tumbril appears surprised.
"No, don't leave home without it. " says Dad, "I earn enough. Enough is as good as a feast." Dad almost finds himself saying "What do I need that the forest cannot provide," but he thinks better of it and continues, "You are unwaged. Therefore, you need the money so you can take all of it and I will be no worse off. Buy yourself some top of the range new trainers. I know how important they are to you and the superficial, shallow minded, footwear obsessives with whom you pass the time at school."
"Sure thing, Dad," says Tumbril, cheerfully. "I can buy new trainers to impress the divots."
"After school, of course," says Dad.

Tumbril pauses and sits for a minute quietly chewing on a mouthful of Golden Mildreds. Then she asks, "Dad, do you think, when they finish recording the series, they put Mukhtar the Police Dog into the cat and dog home on the Nags Head Road?"
"Of course," says Dad, "I'm sure that if you go there and look around, you will find him solving crimes committed by cats, staff, veterinary surgeons and visiting would-be dog owners. He's probably selling tickets to the Police Dogs' Ball as well."
"If I went to the Police Dogs' Ball, would I get to dance with him?"
"Of course," says Dad, reassuringly, "and I'm sure he would really love to dance with you, too."
"He's so cute! He's got a wet nose and he wags his tail a lot. Bye until tonight!" says Tumbril, and she skips off to school.

In Albu Castle, Helena and Ryan Blazer have sat up overnight talking about everything in general until finally the sun rises and pours pale daylight through the eastern window. Albu Castle is small as castles go, but has several huge habitable rooms all decorated with Liberty, Laura Ashley and Jane Clayton wallpaper, just like you see when you visit a country house courtesy of the National Trust.

Helena, a talented business woman, well knows how much the ordinary hardworking families of Ponders End want high quality, top end trainers at low prices. To be exact, they want them free, and are happy to steal trainers if that results in their paying less money than they would if they bought the trainers in the ordinary way, which it invariably does. Helena has, therefore, an inspiration for a new business. She will open a trainers shop and sell designer canvas shoes. There is, as she knows, always someone in Marketing who insists on spending weeks or months choosing a name for the business, but in this case it seems impossible to improve on Helena's Trainers because the name of the proprietor is Helena, she sells trainers, and if you adopt the right accent, Helena rhymes with Trainer, which is generally a sign that God favours the enterprise. There will be a dramatic difference between Helena's Trainers and the conventional retail business model. Thieves will be allowed to take trainers without paying for them. This is a kind of trading, she opines, to which the working people of Ponders End will be able to relate. It will save money on security. It will increase footfall. And come to that, the unemployed people of Ponders End, which for all Helena knows might be in the majority, will be able to relate to it as well.

In the light of morning, Ryan and Helena doze off. They sleep close together, side by side on the couch, but not actually doing any more to one another than holding each other close, each wondering whether the other will make the first advance. After all, what if the News of the World were to find out? Ryan and Helena wake at noon and agree to get a trial shop open in Ponders End in time for the evening rush, which they reckon is probably around four in the afternoon. If they can get to Makro and buy enough stock, they will, just about, be able to open their shop on time, and see how much business they are able to do.

Success in retail is all about location, and to choose the right location for a new business requires market research, statistics, surveys and a rich seam of luck. Relying more upon the last of these than on the first, second or third, Ryan holds a pin above the plan of Ponders End in the A to Z while Helena holds her hand over his eyes and says "One, two, three, now!" Ryan brings the pin down onto the paper and stabs Alderman Gruesome School in the quadrangle.

By four in the afternoon Helena and Ryan are standing on the street a few yards away from the school, with trainers in boxes arranged on a trestle table and a painted sign which says, "Helena's Trainer Stall," fixed to the fence.

By co-incidence, Wizzo is walking towards Alderman Gruesome School, pondering business opportunities that might relieve the poverty of the area. So far, he has not seen much that would give him encouragement. The area is pretty much empty of economic activity, which he reasons is as you would expect from an area in which money does not circulate. He arrives at Helena's Trainer Stall just as Tumbril is leaving school and walking up to it. Helena is standing behind the trestle table. Ryan is standing at one end of the table rearranging the cardboard boxes.

"Hello," Tumbril says to Helena, "I'm a size five. What do you have for me?"
"Not too much," says Helena, "just these, and those, and those ones over there. Try them on."

Tumbril tries the trainers on and chooses a rather lovely pink pair of trainers with sparkly laces. She has a wad of money in her schoolbag to pay for them, which surprises Helena.

"Have you got some money? Are you going to pay for them?" says Helena in an astonished tone.
"Yes, of course." Tumbril wonders what is on Helena's mind so she adds, "Why wouldn't I?"
"Because nobody here has any money," Helena replies. "They all steal things."
"It's always been like that, here," Tumbril explains, "because nobody has any money."
"But, look," says Helena, "I wanted to run a business. All businesses suffer occasional thefts, but this one has sold one pair of trainers since it opened at four o'clock, and had just about all the rest nicked."

Wizzo has been eavesdropping on the conversation from a distance and decides to join in. As a former banker he is, of course, very well informed about running a business, and he is probably the one person you would most want to meet if you had been running a business and you were about to close it down. He probably has a better idea of how to continue in business than you do.

Wizzo can see that Helena is the shopkeeper and business woman, Tumbril is a satisfied customer and Ryan is very fond of Helena and a dogsbody. So, when Helena finally asks Tumbril, "Where can we get some more money to keep our business going," Wizzo is exactly in his element. He sticks an oar in.
"Sell your story to the papers," he says.
"What? Sell a story about I Fought Shrinkage And Lost to The Economist, or Fortune, or the Readers Digeest?" Helena is incredulous.
"Try it," says Wizzo, "it might work."
"I'll put your tragic and engaging account of your enterprise on Radio Hiccup," says Tumbril.
"How much?" asks Helena.
"Free," says Tumbril, "we don't make any money. We just broadcast for fun."
"I meant, how much will you pay me to tell my story on the radio?" Helena clarified.
"Nothing. Is that all right?" asks Tumbril.
"What do I get out of it?" asks Helena in return.
"Exposure," says Tumbril, "lots of exposure, although I'm not sure how much."
"Exposure is invaluable," says Wizzo, "your enterprise needs exposure if it is to be successful. Successful British companies pay lots of good money for exposure. Companies like…"
"Like who?" Helena asks after a short interval.
"I can't think of any," Wizzo shakes his head. "But it was jolly good for them. No company ever went bankrupt because of too much publicity."
"Volkswagen?" asks Tumbril.
"Not yet. No company has yet gone bankrupt because of over exposure," Wizzo corrects his mistake.
"And how much bread and sausage can I buy with exposure?" Helena asks.
"None," says Tumbril. "We just do it for fun. Nobody pays us. We don't pay anybody."
Helena thinks for a moment and then says, "All right, I'll do it provided my long lost brother comes with me."
"Of course, sweetheart," says Ryan, inadvertently revealing his fondness for Helena.

Radio Hiccup goes on air that evening as usual, with Tumbril, Leonard, Helena, Ryan and Wizzo all sitting or kneeling around the microphone so the attic feels rather crowded. The room feels rather like the studio of The Today Programme on a morning when there has been an earthquake in Peru, a major convertible currency has lost all its value overnight, scientists have found a cure for the common cold, a hitherto unknown woman who can't sing has just shrieked her tuneless way through a plagiarised song on Who?-Tube, war has broken out in Lincolnshire and England has won a cricket match.

Leonard and Tumbril write the news stories of the day at the Editorial Meeting, and when he comes home from work, Tumbril's dad climbs the loft ladder, Leonard cues him in and Dad reads the stories.

Good evening. This is Radio Hiccup. Here is the news.

A woman is stranded on the planet Mars after accidentally getting on the wrong train. Mrs Magnolia Snivel, aged 45, mistakenly boarded an empty train at Liverpool Street. The train was supposed to return to its depôt but it disappeared unexpectedly from Bethnal Green Junction and fell through a worm-hole in space-time. It arrived on the surface of Mars a few minutes later. Through the Hubble Space Telescope, Mrs Snivel can be seen staring out of the window of a second class compartment at the Earth and waving frantically to attract attention.

Bethnal Green Junction has been known for years as the Bermuda Triangle of the British railway network.

The number of trees in Epping Forest has almost doubled since an arboreal fertilizer factory opened in Blake Hall three years ago. The Forestry Commission reports that mahogany, mulberry and coco de mer trees have been springing up like grass in a meadow, astonishing many walkers, joggers and tree watchers. The report, which comes from Professor Archibald Archer of the University of Borsetshire, suggests that if current trends continue then by the end of next week there will be twice as many trees in Epping Forest as in the whole of South America.

A cat has learned to miaow Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Eldridge, a four year old ginger moggy belonging to Ethel Presley of Pretoria Road, Walthamstow, woke his owner in the middle of Wednesday night and miaowed the famous symphony in its entirety from start to finish. Mrs Presley listened to the performance and rewarded Eldridge with a saucer of custard, which she avers is his favourite food. Eldridge is now rehearsing the Saint Matthew Passion, and he intends to have the recording on sale in record shops in time for it to become the Christmas Number One.

That is the end of the news.

After the news, Dad introduces a new programme.

Now, Desert Island Biscuits. In this program we ask someone you've never heard of, 'If you were to be cast away on a desert island, which eight biscuits would you choose to take with you, assuming of course that you also had a biscuit barrel.' This week our cast-away is business magnate Helena Blazer, the woman who founded Helena's Trainers.

Leonard has written some questions on a sketch pad. The onlookers sing the first few bars of Blue Lagoon and as the music fades away Leonard begins ad libbing in the style made famous by Roy Plomley.

"My cast-away's story begins," says Leonard, live on air, "at about two o'clock this morning when Helena Blazer was out in Ponders End throwing bricks at the police. She encountered for the first time her brother Ryan, with whom she had parted company at the age of three or four months. After a night staring at the Laura Ashley wallpaper in one of her many luxurious houses, Ryan and Helena decided to start a business together selling canvas shoes. Today Helena's Trainers is a profitable corporation…"
"Is it?" mouthed Helena.
"Yes. A profitable corporation with its headquarters on the street outside Alderman Gruesome School in Ponders End."

Leonard cues Helena.

"Good evening," Helena begins.
"Tell our listeners first," says Leonard, looking at his sketch pad, "what exactly is a trainer?"
"It is a cheap crummy article of canvas footwear," Helena explains, "made in China by eight year old children nailed to a bench in a filthy stinking and highly profitable factory, and sold at a retail price which not so long ago would have paid for a reasonably sized car."
"Thank you, Helena, for explaining that." Leonard felt that in broadcasting the first question and the first answer of its first celebrity, the programme had passed a landmark. "Now, what's your first biscuit?"
"Chocolate digestives." Helena chose decisively and with confidence from among the thousands of crisp, crumbly baked goods on offer. "They're so ubiquitous that you almost don't notice them, but my mother always had a couple of packets of chocolate digestives in the cupboard, just in case she wanted to veg out on the sofa watching rubbish on the telly and eating biscuits."

Jimmy and Toppers wake up in two of the well appointed bedrooms at The Rich Bankers Club, where they were staying by invitation. Martin puts breakfast out for them in the lounge and once they have worked out how to send their belongings to their home, Jimmy and Toppers take the train to the north London suburb where they used to live.

They leave Enfield Chase station and walk across town together, wondering what if anything is left of the house which they bought together in the late 'fifties. The walk takes about ten minutes. They pass the local landmark Albu Castle and arrive at their house. The first thing they notice is that it is still standing. They peer over at the gate staring at the house, surprising that it has not changed more than it has. The garden seems a little tangled and overgrown, but not as badly as they might have expected. The roof is sagging slightly and the windows are streaked with grey, but the house seems to have all its bricks, slates, doors, windows and drainpipes. Even the spare front door key, which Jimmy hid under a large half barrel filled with flowers, just to the left of the front gate where nobody would ever think of looking for it, is still where the explorers left it. With effort, and a little cleaning, the key works.

Jimmy and Toppers walk into the house they last saw sixty years or so ago. The electric light does not work, probably because the bill hasn't been paid, but maybe because electricity has been privatised and simply isn't as good as it used to be.

"I don't think we should try to use any of the food in the pantry," says Jimmy, "I think we should write a shopping list just now, then get some shut-eye and order in some supplies."
"First thing on your shopping list, when you get around to it," Toppers thinks out loud, "tea, milk and sugar. Then next on the list I want a brass plate screwed to the front gate with our names on and the words 'Polar Explorers.' And above the brass plate, in big letters, let's name the house. Any suggestions?"
"How about 'Holly Tree House,'" Jimmy suggests wistfully.
"Somewhere special that I used to know."
"Nostalgia isn't what it used to be, Jimmy, you know. How about 'Dunfreezin?' instead?" Toppers wants to press the old cliché back into service.
"That's as good as anywhere," says Jimmy, "there's nothing like a hundred year old tried and tested joke, is there? And do you think we ought to rummage through this huge pile of bills," he pointed to the heap underneath the letterbox, on the doormat, "demands, forms, ration books, fire watching rosters, blackout regulations, take-away pizza menus and plastic bags that we're supposed to fill with old clothes for the benefit of starving orphans in Skrudriveristan?"
"No," says Toppers, "See if there are any hand written ones but as for the rest of them, I'm sure I've got a dustbin somewhere. Just a plain grey galvanised iron one, but if we get hold of some motorcycle enamel and paint it sky blue with orange polka dots, I'm pretty sure the council will mistake it for a waste bills bin and pick it up at 3 am on the next odd-numbered Tuesday."
"You won't forget to put the brass plate on the shopping list, will you, Jimmy? And get four of those masonry rivet thingies that clip it onto the garden wall. We don't want it falling off."

Someone knocks gingerly at the front door of the house. There is no door knocker, or if there is it has rusted and fallen off and rolled away.

"There's someone at the door, Jimmy," says Toppers, "it looks as though we got home just in time."
"Hello," says the woman at the door as Jimmy opens it, "I'm your neighbour. I've been living next door to this house in Albu Castle for years and I've never seen anyone in it. I'm just being nosey and it's none of my business, of course, but are you planning to live here?"

"Well, hello, good morning, I'm Jimmy and this is Toppers and we're just back from the South Pole."
The woman is so surprised at this explanation of her neighbours' long absence that she does not say anything for several seconds. When she does say something, it is, "Pleased to meet you. I'm Helena Blazer."
"Good Lord," says Toppers, "I remember your mum, Cecilia Blazer. Something dreadful happened to her. Frightful hockey accident. I don't suppose you ever quite got over it."
"It's not the sort of thing that one gets over."
"But I did meet my brother Ryan again. Only yesterday. I hope he will come to live with me soon."

As Helena spoke, Jimmy was listening to what she said, while Toppers was listening more to how she said it. Her honeyed, chiming voice drew him in, making him feel warm and safe after however many years he had spent living among the penguins in the snow and ice.

"What happened to you both?" Helena asked, looking from one to the other. "How can anyone be away from home so long by accident?"
"We were stranded when our sponsors went bankrupt and nobody knew we were there," said Jimmy.
"By a lucky chance, a radio station and an experimental high speed bus came to our rescue," Topper recalled. "I can't tell you how pleased we were to see it."
"Matter of fact, the bus was made around here somewhere. Walthamstow, that's it. Maybe we'll see it whizzing past us on the main road. I'm not used to being back here yet. There seem to be a lot more roads than there used to be."
"I can't get the hang of this bloody decimal currency, either," said Topper, shaking his head. "I despair of having to add and take away big numbers like fifty and seventy-five any time I buy anything. There should be shillings and pence, like God ordained."
"Oh, you poor fellows," says Helena, "I feel for you, honestly, but I don't think they'll change the money just because everybody hates it."
"That's always the way, isn't it," said Jimmy, "nothing changes."
"Would you like a cup of tea?" Helena asks brightly. "I doubt the electricity works in this house…"
"Spot on," says Jimmy, "it doesn't."
"It's probably just because the bill hasn't been paid for half a century, but the electricity might well have stopped working even if you had paid it down to the last halfpenny every month. Nothing works since they privatised everything and outsourced it all to China," says Helena, "I think it's because of their damned computers, but it might just be incompetence and stupidity. Those are two natural resources that we shall never run out of. Did you know the French own the power stations and the Chinese run them? I mean, you wouldn't even expect the electricity to work properly, would you, with that lot in the cockpit? You can come to my castle, and have tea in the kitchen. If the electricity's off, I have a primus stove somewhere. Can't be too prudential."
"Does anyone still have gas lamps?" asks Johnny, wondering just how radical the change has been.
"Not yet," says Helena. "Wait a few years."

In Helena's spacious kitchen, she is sharing tea with Jimmy and Toppers. It is the first time for years that the explorers have seen milk that isn't frozen. Jimmy asks her what she does for a living, and Helena replies that she's just gone into business making and selling trainers. "Well, not actually making them," she laughs, "because they're made by eight year old boys nailed to a bench in a filthy, dangerous factory in China—"
"Forgive my asking," Toppers interrupts, "is it legal to import the products of child labour?"
"Oh, yes," Helena beams, "amazing, isn't it? We just say they're 'handmade' and avoid talking about what size hands made them, exactly."
"I would too, if I were you."

There was an awkward silence.

"The only thing I have to do is sell them at enormous prices. But what I was going to ask you," Helena continues, "is, you're Polar explorers, yes?"
"Yes," says Toppers, drinking more tea, "all our working lives."
"So would you give my trainers a celebrity endorsement?" Helena asked.
"Well, I suppose so." Toppers looks at Jimmy unenthusiastically, "but I'm not really a celebrity. I just went to the South Pole and back and it took me a long time to do it. It's not as if I were Jeremy Clarkson or Kim Kardashian or someone. Jimmy," he pointed, "give him his due but he isn't Kim Kardashian either."
"But you did give us some jolly decent tea, after all," Toppers added, "so I'll go along with it and give you the endorsement. I'm a size ten shoe and he's a size twelve."
"You'll be fabulous," says Helena, dropping unintentionally into marketing-speak, "I don't want femininity or macho branding, I want toughness, wealth, strength, endurance."
"Are those characteristic of polar explorers, then?" asked Jimmy, who thought that the most useful attributes of a polar explorer might be resistance to cold, the ability to navigate using map and compass and a liking for penguins.
"Goodness me, no." Helena shook her head. "They're the character traits of rioters, apart from wealth. Helena's Trainers are the first shoes specially designed to be stolen from footwear stores during urban riots."
"That's certainly a unique niche market, but do you think you can make money with it?" asked Toppers.
"The business plan isn't finished but I tossed a coin and it came down heads."
"Are you going to make ten foot flat screen television sets as well?" asked Jimmy.
"Horizontal diversification. Make, no. Buy cheap, pile high and sell dear, maybe. Wait and see," said Helena, to whom the idea of manufacturing other ludicrously overpriced booty for the riots inexplicably seemed to be a good idea.

"Can you come to the mobile retail unit tomorrow morning, nine o'clock-ish?" Helena asks her celebrities.
"I'm sure we can. What does the mobile retail unit look like?"
"It's a trestle table with me, Ryan and a cash register, stood outside Alderman Gruesome School in Ponders End," Helena explains, "and there's a sign that says Helena's Trainers."
"Gosh," says Jimmy, "that rhymes. That's always a propitious sign."
"See you there," says Jimmy.
"Bye for now," says Toppers, and the two of them wander back into their old house, where they try to remember where they put everything or, failing that, to find a lamp that works.

A bit before eight o'clock the next morning, Helena and Ryan are erecting a trestle table and covering it with canvas shoes of various sizes and colours. They have attached a large sign, 'Helena's Trainers,' to the chain link fence that surrounds the school playground. There are a handful of children looking at trainers, trying them on, walking in them, putting them on, taking them off and generally taking an interest in the stock that lies in an untidy heap on the trestle table. Some kids are obviously capable of running a mile in four minutes, while others are struggling to put a left hand shoe onto a right hand foot, and becoming frustrated and miserable.

Wizzo arrives at the scene of all this happy trading. "Helena, Ryan," he waves, "I just wanted to see how the business was doing. This is your second day of trading, isn't it?"
"Third," says Helena.
"Three days. That's not bad survival in the present economic climate. Now before I give you enough money to keep you going until your business is running under its own steam, I need to know some numbers."
"I brought our business plan," says Helena, and hands Wizzo a sheet torn from a spiral bound notepad with some writing on one side. "See, we sell a handful of trainers, most of them are stolen, but the factory gate price of the trainers is so low that a few sales is enough to pay for the thefts and pay wages and make a profit as well."
"How about national insurance, pension contributions?"
"That as well. It's all in here." Helena points.
"So is this enough to keep a roof over your head?"
"There isn't a roof over our head," says Helena, "we're out in the open air."
"Great," says Wizzo, fired with more enthusiasm than might be justified because the money he is about to pour down the drain does not belong to him, "how much do you need?"
"This number here." Helena points to a large number at the bottom of the page.
"Did you check the adding up?"
"Did it all twice," Helena nods.

Wizzo takes a plastic carrier bag out of his pocket and hands it to Helena, who holds it open as Wizzo counts out a large number of new banknotes into it.
"Thank you!" says Helena, appearing genuinely gratified by the subvention.
"That will be five pence for the carrier bag," says Wizzo, and Helena pays it.

Jimmy and Toppers saunter up to the trestle table and say hello to Helena, who is busy trying to push the carrier bag under the driver's seat in the van.
"We're the celebrities," says Jimmy.
"Get us out of here," adds Toppers.
"All in good time," says Helena.

Ryan, who is sitting in the back of the van clutching an expensive looking camera which he doesn't want to risk leaving unattended, clambers out onto the street and tries to act like David Bailey.
"Jimmy? Toppers?" Ryan calls to his models, "Have you put your trainers on yet?"
"Yes," they say, in chorus.
"OK. Just walk up and down the street for a couple of minutes." The explorers try not to laugh, despite how silly they feel, and they begin to walk up and down the street, changing their pace and pose in accordance with instructions from Ryan, who is taking hundreds of photographs. "Stand still," "Walk," "Run," "Tie your laces," "Tie each other's laces," and so on.

All eyes are on the explorers. Questions can be heard in the air, such as "Who are they?" and "Not the Jehovah's Witnesses again!" and "Look, it's Batman and Robin!" and even "Didn't they record 'I'm Not In Love?'"

So much attention is being distracted onto Ryan's models that nobody except Helena notices Tumbril quietly arriving at school and walking past the mobile retail unit. She is wearing the pink trainers with sparkly laces that she bought yesterday. Helena is genuinely delighted to see Tumbril wearing the trainers and she greets her with, "Oh, you're wearing our trainers!"
"Close, but no cigar," Tumbril smirks, "they were yours until I bought them yesterday. They're very nice although tomorrow I shall probably go back to making a fashion statement in shiny black six inch platforms."
"The girl standing on platforms one and two," says Ryan, taking a couple of photographs and hoping Tumbril won't notice, "is bound for—"
"Great things," says Tumbril, "you wait and see."

Chapter Ten

A delicious Arctic Explorer Chocolate Covered Fish Bar. Available at all good Confectioners.

My dear Readers,

In the description of a meeting at the engineering company AEC, I make it clear that two senior positions, one manager and one motor vehicle engineer, are held by female characters. The purpose of including two female rôle models is twofold.

One: It prevents any young and impressionable female reader who really wants to be a manager or an engineer when she grows up from getting the impression that all managers and engineers are men, or, worse, that women cannot reasonably intend to earn a living as managers or engineers when they leave school and choose a career. Nothing could be further from the truth. Becoming an engineer requires talent, study and proficiency in abstruse mathematics and computer applications, but anyone who has the interest, the brains and the creativity, puts in the effort and has tens of thousands of pounds to spend on university fees will surely succeed regardless of gender, colour, religion or sexual orientation, though not age.

The same is true to a lesser extent of managers, but you really don't want to turn into a manager. Find something useful to do, instead.

Two: No novel without any female characters is ever going to win the Mann Booker.

Tumbril will not qualify as an engineer or as a manager in this novel, but she is bound for great things, as you shall shortly see. First, though, it is helpful to review events which are taking place at various locations in and around Ponders End at about half past eight in the morning. A knowledge of these things will help you to make sense of the dénoument of this tale.

I now return you to the narrative.

In Walthamstow, in the derelict Associated Equipment Company factory which is perhaps five miles from Ponders End, a meeting of the motor vehicle engineers, production managers, metal workers, apprentices, fitters and Trades Union shop stewards is taking place in the offices, which have been cleaned up but really need complete refurbishment, underneath the three foot square portrait of the great chief engineer Frank Searle. They fit into five chairs, what with Murdo McTavish wearing the hats both of the metal worker and of the shop steward. It is the Progress Review Meeting of the BARF Mark Two project.

The meeting started half an hour ago and the production manager, Annette Pyse, has been meting out death by Powerpoint to the team. After forty or so illegible pages of tiny text and no diagrams, photographs, graphs or cartoons, she has just finished speaking.

"Are you telling us that the remodelled prototype is ready for a road test?" Murdo asks Annette, as he wakes from a deep Powerpoint induced slumber.
"Yes, that is what I have just spent," she looks at her watch, "half an hour and sixty two illegible slides telling you."
"Well, next time, if there is one, keep it two two minutes," says Murdo, "and I might be awake when you finish."
"How do I compress all that information into two minutes?" asks Annette, sarcastically.
"You need two slides," Murdo explains, "one that says 'Bus' and another one that says 'Ready.' Really, nothing else matters much."
"Thank you for sharing that with me, colleague," says Annette. "Basically, all we have to do is fill the tank and open the gates. Then we can take BARF 2·1 for a test drive."
"Is it water tight?" asks Murdo, "just in case? After what happened last time?"
"Yes," the apprentice, Doug Witherspoon, reassures her, "it floats upright. I put two coats of sealant on. In water BARF 2·1 can do about thirty knots and float at the same time, and the passengers stay completely dry."
"Does it have comfortable seats?" asks the motor vehicle engineer Jacqueline Dover.
"Adapted Parker Knoll armchairs with seat belts," says Annette, "second to none."
"Does it have the Cheat Device?" asks Doug.
"Ssh!" Annette says in a stage whisper, "Of course it does. If the bus works out that it's in an Environment Agency test centre, then the fossil fuel engine cuts out and a battery electric motor takes over, so the emissions go right down and it does as many miles to the gallon as you want."
"Can't the test centre tell that we're cheating?"
"No," says Annette, "'cause there's a Harley Davidson sound effect, and anyway, everybody else does it, so it doesn't matter that we're lying."
"Are you saying that everyone else cheats?" says Doug.
"Yes," says Annette.
"Oh," says Doug, "that's all right, then."

There is a pause. There are no more questions.

"Are we ready to go?" asks Murdo, looking at each worker in turn and getting a keen "Yes" from each one.
"Then let us waste no time," Murdo points at Annette, and issues orders, "remember, the Chinese are going hell for leather right on our tail on the road to the global market place. Annette, you have a PCV licence so you're driving, now's your time to shine, and Hugh, fetch a gallon jerry-can of rocket fuel from the stores. Put your fag out." He thinks for a moment, appearing distracted, and then he looks at the apprentice, Doug. "Do want to be a bus conductor for a day? Put a uniform on and get a ticket machine from somewhere. If anyone asks for a ticket, tell them we're full and there's another one behind. Meet in the yard in ten minutes."

The meeting breaks up and the participants assemble in the yard. It is an area of tarmac surrounded by a dull blue wooden fence with wet rot and missing planks. A double gate opens from the yard onto Black Horse Road, and standing on the tarmac are a couple of skips, a couple of oil drums which have been there since the invasion of the Romans, and BARF 2·1, a magnificent yellow single decker with spoilers, fins, go faster stripes and wide alloy wheels with huge tyres, very obviously built to scare nearby road traffic out of the way and overtake them at enormous speed.

The workers gather around BARF 2·1. The fitter, Hugh Morris, pulls open the gate onto the main road and Doug pours rocket fuel from a Paddy Hopkirk jerry can into the fuel tank. "That's enough to take us around the block a few times," Doug observes.

"All this bus lacks," Annette sighs, shaking his head cynically, "is bikini girls."
"They'll be there at the launch," says Murdo, "and again at the shows, so don't you worry about that."

Annette adjusts her peaked cap, which she had forgotten that she owns, and programs the computer to steer the bus to Ponders End and back. Then she sets the cruise control to 100 MPH. Doug calls out "Hold tight, please!" and rings the bell twice. Annette drives serenely out of the bus works just like Cliff Richards doesn't in Summer Holiday (1963). Leaving the yard, the bus accelerates to its cruising speed.

On its way along Black Horse Road, BARF 2·1 cruises noisily and at exactly one hundred miles per hour past Constable Berkeley, who is driving a police car in the opposite direction. Constable Berkeley is on his way to rescue Eldridge, a cat who is pretending to be stranded at the top of a tall plane tree in Stoneydown Park. The police car turns end for end and begins to pursue the bus, complete with flashing blue lights and wailing sirens. Eldridge, clinging to the uppermost branch of the tree, watches as his rescuers shoot off into the distance in pursuit of a speeding bus. Having had his fun, he giggles, leaps to the ground and lands perfectly safely.

Vince Ippid and Bill Ding are looking out of the windows of Radio Ponders End. The crowd has, thank God, withdrawn for the moment at least. Vince and Bill have plywood and nails on hand, so they are able to patch up the broken windows, and they resume their search for the emergency transmitter. They are sure that the emergency transmitter was in the white steel cupboard on the ground floor, but when they open the cupboard they find that it contains Sebastian Tantrum's stock of Gruzian Kagor wine, a pack of paper cups, three mouldy lobster tails, a quinoa and caviar sandwich with extra rocket and a small cylindrical box of pills of various colours.

Exploring the building and rummaging around for the emergency transmitter, they walk into Studio Two, and in Studio Two, slumped on the floor in a cheap sleeping bag, is Sebastian Tantrum.

"Mr Tantrum?" Vince tries to wake Sebastian, but the first wake up call does not work. "Mr Tantrum?" he tries again, louder, and Sebastian stirs, opens his eyes briefly and is half way to waking up.
"Whass up?" he asks, keeping his eyes closed, "Who are you? Where am I?"
"We're the night shift. You're in Radio Ponders End, Seb. You didn't go home last night. Seb, we've had a transmitter failure and the emergency spare transmitter isn't in its cupboard. There's just some stuff of yours there. Did you move the spare transmitter? So we can get it going before the breakfast show."
"Oh, Christ," Sebastian yawns, "that girl's taken it. You remember, the poet. I told her not to. Tumbril Mitchell. I've got her address in my extremely expensive Chinese made I-Chat phone."
"Is she on Fluffbook?" asks Bill.
"Yes," says Sebastian, "Tumbril Mitchell."
"We'll have to go and talk to her," says Vince, "so you'll have to put some street clothes on if you want to string along."

Sebastian remembers Tumbril's appearance exactly and is very keen to string along. "Don't leave here without me," he says.
"We can't," says Bill, "because you're the only person here with a car."
Sebastian stands up and with bleary eyes he looks at the car park. "Oh, my God, my car is missing," he says after a few seconds, "one of those damn rioters must have realised how much better my car was than all the other cars."
"Or maybe they know it burns brighter," says Vince sotto voce.
"There weren't any other cars," says Bill, "and it was certainly a magnificent and expensive vehicle, but it was your car, so why did it have Brimsdown and Broxbourne Water Company painted on each side?"
"Well, you see… they sort of… a few days ago… somebody must've… I have no idea," says Sebastian, and he staggers to the nearest wash and shower room in the hope of getting to Ponders End and spending a few minutes with Tumbril.
"I think we should call a taxi and get out on site," says Vince. "Do you have a taxi number on your I-Chat, Seb?"
"No," says Sebastian, "just girls."
"It's obviously my turn to call a taxi, then," Vince reaches for the nearest phone and calls a taxi, knowing perfectly well that Sebastian could just as well have done the minuscule amount of work involved. The number of the taxi firm is written on the office wall in red Magic Marker and anyway, the phone has a button labelled Taxi.

Standing at the trestle table beneath the Helena's Trainers sign, Tumbril is feeling inside her school bag for enough money to pay the unseemly vast price of her pink trainers with sparkly laces when two men in suits arrive. The men in suits immediately notice Ryan taking photographs of Jimmy and Toppers and they walk up to the two rescued explorers.
"Cracker Barrel!" cries Toppers, smiling broadly.
"Jimmy!" cries Cracker Barrel.
"Pin Stripe!" cries Jimmy.
"Toppers!" cries Pin Stripe, "we knew Wizzo was around somewhere and we wanted to come and see what he was up to. Where is he?"
"Behind you," says Wizzo, "and, lo, I have awarded funding for one new business start-up already."
"Well done, very well done," says Cracker Barrel in a tone of voice that suggests he didn't think Wizzo was going to find any economic activity at all in Ponders End, "that's an excellent start."
"I doubt it will be the last," says Wizzo.
"But you never know," says Pin Stripe.
"Could you two, Jimmy and Toppers, lie on your backs with your legs in the air for a moment? I want a couple of shots that say, 'Glamour' and 'Thrill' and probably also 'Attention Seeker.'"
"That," says Jimmy, "and Inexperienced Photographer."

A taxi can be seen at the far end of the street. It drives slowly, looking out for the door numbers and the names on buildings, and comes to rest close to the mobile retail outlet. From inside the taxi Sebastian can be heard shouting to its driver through the open window. "That's her! That's Tumbril Mitchell!"
"Gosh," thinks Tumbril, "I'm famous." She waves to Sebastian.

Sebastian makes great play of getting out of the taxi first. Vince and Bill follow him. Bill realises that nobody else is going to pay the driver so he hands over some notes, while Sebastian begins to explain to Tumbril, with hesitations, what has happened.

"Tumbril," says Sebastian, "you remember the spare radio transmitter that I asked you to store for me?"
"Yes. We transmit Radio Hiccup with it. We play at running a radio station."
"Oh," says Vince, "it's you, is it?"
"I'm afraid so," says Tumbril.
"You have talent," says Vince, "I always listen to the news. It's much better than the stories we get from Reuters and Associated Press."
"I don't let the facts get in the way of my creativity," says Tumbril, "and my boyfriend Leonard does nearly all of it, anyway."
"I'm truly sorry but Radio Ponders End needs it back." Sebastian obviously regrets having to give this news. "The main TX was damaged in the riots and it's going to take weeks to repair it."
"Here," Bill says to Sebastian, "I thought you said she took it. Took it, as in, you tried to hold onto it and she wrenched it from you. Why did you give it to her?"
"Because," says Sebastian, "I needed the space. An artist, an accomplished professional thespian such as myself, needs space. Lebensraum. Space is life. Space is creation, and creation is space. I must have an unoccupied three dimensional volume into which to put precious, inspiring things, like for instance a coffee pot, a cheap china mug, a packet of highland shortbread and a small container of recreational substances."
"I see," says Bill, who keeps his mug, tea and powdered milk in a nine inch by twelve inch metal locker in the entrance lobby like everyone else, and doesn't take drugs.
"Well," says Tumbril, bowing to the inevitable, "it's in our loft. I suppose you had better take it back."

Wizzo has heard the last few sentences and he decides to intervene in the way that only he is able.

"I say," he says, "your name is Tumbril, isn't it?"
"Tumbril Mitchell," says Tumbril.
"You were running a radio station?" Wizzo is genuinely surprised.
"Radio Hiccup," Tumbril repeats.
"That radio station! I often listen to the news on Radio Hiccup. You're the genius behind it!" At her age Wizzo had been incapable of any venture more significant than, say, scrumping apples or playing football in the playground. "That's remarkable, absolutely remarkable. My name is… well, everybody calls me Wizzo so let's stick with that."
"Well, Wizzo," explains Tumbril, "thanks for saying something so kind about me but I'm afraid Radio Hiccup's days are over. Radio Ponders End wants their transmitter back."
"So you and your boyfriend were Radio Hiccup!" Wizzo pauses to let this sink in. "You gave my colleagues and me a lot of fun and excitement, I must say. But I heard what he" Wizzo points to Vince "said about you. He obviously thinks you can run it well. Good Lord, isn't that Seb Tantrum? … Sebastian?"
Sebastian turns to face Wizzo and says, "Yes, can I help?"
"Sebastian, I think we have another viable business proposition here. How much does it cost to run a small suburban radio station for a year?"
"How would I know?"
"Because, Mr Tantrum, you have been in the industry for more years than I have eaten hot dinners, and I expect you to have learned about it on the way up and to pass that knowledge on to one who needs it in order to be of assistance to your protégée."
"Mr Wizzo," Sebastian gives a patronizing grimace, "I learn culture. I learn literature, the arts, music, ancient languages and modern heartaches. I fathom the media. I have no time for money and I set no store by it."
"Ask your I-Chat, then." Wizzo has no time for ignorance, which in the case of Sebastian Tantrum is probably a worthwhile economy. You need to know the price of everything, he believes, as well as the value of it.

Sebastian pulls the I-Chat out of a pocket and holds it in front of him.
The I-Chat screen lights up sky blue.
"Yes, O great broadcaster?" replies the I-Chat in a voice recognisable as that of Marge Simpson (Julie Kavner.)
"What does it cost to run a small suburban radio station for a year?"
"Including property costs?" asks the I-Chat.
"Yes," says Wizzo, and the I-Chat appears to hear and understand him. "and look here, no offence meant of course, but could you do an impression of Stephen Fry when you're talking to me? I would find it a lot less irritating."
"Certainly, Mr Wizzo." says the I-Chat in Stephen Fry's lilting tones, "behold, I recognise your voice and you recognise mine. That's what voice recognition software does."
"No, it isn't," says Wizzo, and the I-Chat continues to gather details for Sebastian's costing.
"Shall I deduct advertising revenue?"
"No," says Wizzo, because in Ponders End there's unlikely to be much advertising revenue forthcoming.
"Pounds or dollars, Mr Wizzo?"
"Hm." The I-Chat chatters to itself quietly in Stephen Fry's voice as it works out the answer. "Fifteen per cent contingencies, six nines are fifty four, carry one, take away the number you first thought of and wouldn't you know it, in British pounds, I make that…" it paused for effect, "four hundred and twenty thousand."
"Send my secretary an email with your investment plan and cash flow forecast."
"I shall do so most expeditiously, Mr Wizzo," says the I-Chat, "and I have greatly enjoyed meeting you."

"How much did that thing cost you?" asks Wizzo, as Sebastian returns the I-Chat to his pocket.
"£3,400 plus VAT," says Sebastian, who is apparently unaware that in a Chinese factory it costs about the same to manufacture an I-Chat as a plastic coat hanger.
"You wuz robbed," says Wizzo, "they're ten quid down the Tottenham Court Road. Go to Fiona's Fones and tell her I sent you."
"It wasn't my money," says Sebastian, "I put it on expenses."

Wizzo turns to face Tumbril and puts his hands on her shoulders so he and she are facing each other. He speaks to her as though he is about to entrust a precious load to her, and in a way, he is. "I will back you with the resources of The Rich Bankers Club," he says, "Just hold this carrier bag." He counts the money into it. "That's enough to get your radio station replaced and to keep it running for a year. Until you get on your feet with it. There is just one thing to worry about."
"Yes?" Tumbril is most curious.
"Five pence for the carrier bag."
"Oh. Yes. Thanks." She finds five pence in her pocket and gives it to him, "but I thought you were going to say 'school'."
"School? Of course. Don't worry about school. It will pass," Wizzo reassures her, "and so will you."
"Wizzo," says Tumbril, with depth and sincerity, "I am really grateful for your faith in Radio Hiccup. We'll have it back on air in no time flat. Listen out for us."

Tumbril is now happily skipping towards the school gate in her pink trainers with sparkly laces and her future career in a carrier bag.

Quietly at first, but rapidly becoming louder, the noise of a brilliant yellow bus pursued by a police car blares out on the main road. Realising how fast the convoy is travelling, Tumbril and everyone else jump out of the way and cower on the sidewalks. The bus steers to avoid the "Helena's Trainers" van and crashes through the trestle table, scattering trainers over a hundred yard radius. It careers through the playground fence and hits the school building, demolishing most of it. By a miracle, nobody is hurt. The bus comes to rest in the school's outdoor swimming pool and gradually sinks, as the project committee on board the bus smash windows and throw open skylights in their attempt to get out of it. A moment after all the passengers and crew have swum, jumped or walked onto the solid ground surrounding the pool, the bus sinks into the pool and comes to rest on the bottom.

"Leonard!" wails Tumbril.
"Over here," Leonard replies.

Tumbril pushes her way through the excited crowd until she can take Leonard's hand.

Constable Berkeley stops his police car, leans out of the window and calls out, "Is anybody hurt?"
"No," the children chorus.
"I suppose," Berkeley recognises the bus driver, who is sopping wet and sitting beside the pool. "Annette Pyse, were you driving?"
Annette nods.
"Bloody women drivers," Constable Berkeley says to himself.

On the edge of the pool, Annette turns towards Doug and says in an accusatory tone, "You told me this bus could float."
"Sorry, Mrs Pyse," says Doug, "turns out, it can't."
"You're the apprentice," says Annette. "Do you ever watch The Apprentice on television?"
"Yes," says Doug, innocently.
"You're fired," spits Annette gruffly.

1 comment:

euclid said...

Howdy, Ken. This is to let you know that yes, there are people who read what you write. But please don't quiz me on this latest novel since I've not finished it yet.