"What name old man?" asked #2 and #1 whispered back: "Mistuh Sclatch," so #2 shoehorned this into his message which, by way of Huawei's G5 was sent and received instantly – but as the recipient was to be found in a suite at The Ritz on Park Lane, wasn't so fantastic; he knew that #1 and #2 were Truefasts and could be counted on absolutely, but taking out the Brexit Secretary early would be crossing a Rubicon, a move not to be made lightly; but did he have to be so circumspect about this old Sclatch character? it might be best just to get him out of the way, whoever he was – it was Sir Parlane MacFarlane's usual game-plan: take unnecessary pieces off the board, it always made for a quicker and more decisive check-mate!
"I'll tell you something for nothing, Tim," said Mr Scratch, coyly, with that twinkle in his eye that made Tim go all goosebumps, thinking that something really important was about to be divulged to him: "well, what is it?" he asked, never having been blessed with much patience, a trait which his mother described as being rather 'oxish' like his late father, who could never wait for anything and refused to stand in a queue, "like sheep, Tim," he would say, oxishly, as he marched past, dragging his son by the hand, "what we Michaelmas-Daisies are meant for is the food of the Gods, Ambrosia and Nectar!" which may be why Tim is so fond of Ambrosia Creamed Rice and shopping at Sainsburys, so that he can shoehorn more points on to his Nectar Card; and Mr Scratch said, in a voice which had reduced in volume to the point where Tim had to lean close as the old man whispered: "fill your pockets with money and your briefcase with padkos, food for the journey, and be careful, you are being followed and I wouldn't put anything past that pair, they may not have harmed you yet, but expect the unexpected, Tim, and for God's sake hurry!"
And meanwhile, as the Party Grandees dithered over which candidates for the Leadership should be shoehorned onto the Ballot, with only two names to go forward for the Members to vote on, Timothy Michaelmas-Daisy found himself doing the Ali shuffle – floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee – around the watering holes of Whitehall, always avoiding whichever that shot-clog Andrea Woesome had camped out in, pouring drinks into journalists mouths and the recitation of her utterly unique claim to be the Woman We Want as PM into their ears as it was on a loop; most eventually managed to say: "this is where I came in," and staggered out as if they had been imbibing ether rather than Scotch, and wherever Timothy went, his two shadows went with him, apparently utterly invisible!
When Mr Ba Nana of Edinburgh University left the cottage in Darnick, Tavish and Ludmilla sat together on the sofa and studied his translation of the document discovered in the old police cells in Hawick's former Town Hall basement; according to the expert, it dated from around the 13th Century and was a charter from the then Emperor of Japan to three High Nobles granting them the right to form an organisation which would exist in secret to track down and remove anyone, anywhere, who posed a threat to the Empire, in perpetuity: "it is like a combination of the KGB, the CIA, and FBI, the Gestapo and MI5 and MI6," said Mr Ba, "operating entirely independent from all other instruments of the State, their disbursement coming from whatever they can make through their duties – loot from their victims pretty much sums that up – and with no requirement to report back, thus absolving the Emperor from any culpability and giving him complete deniability – once set in motion, they are vamping, improvising, identifying whoever they choose to see as meeting their requirements, their Secret Society growing and getting richer through the centuries, and nothing can stop it, not even a future Emperor; good luck, Mr Dalwhinnie, Miss Lermontova, I do not envy your responsibility," and nor did they; learning that this organisation – or as much as could be gleaned from the fragments which they had been able to reassemble – was in London, and that their key Targets, Sir Parlane MacFarlane, Dominic Doubleday and the Red Etin, were the masterminds behind it, was worry enough; Sam Smiles and Tabby Shanter (Tavish's wife and also a member of the Scottish Secret Service) believed that they were closing in on the latest chronological emanation of the threesome, who had cheated death so many times; this might be the only chance to put an abrupt end to their criminal careers, but more urgent was the question of Who was the present Object of their Assassination Bureau? as Ludmilla opened the window to let Jeremy in, having temporarily evicted the Service moggie, when Mr Ba had admitted to suffering from from ailurophobia, Tavish was already on the phone: "hello, Sam, it's worse than we thought!"
It was Ludmilla Lermontova who found it, in an old shoe box in one of the old police cells in the basement of the former Hawick Town Hall – which in the previous century had housed miscreants overnight, preparatory to appearing before the bench in the morning; it was a very old manuscript, wrapped in an old bread loaf grease-proof paper which still displayed the imprint: Mother's Pride11⁄2 d
and as she said to Tavish Dalwhinnie when she got it back to Darnick: "your God only knows how it came to be there or how long ago, it is so brittle it has become subacted and we will need to piece it together like a jigsaws puzzle; and we need a Japanese translator familiar with mediaeval script – I am only so-and-so, but I was lucky and saw the piece of parchment with the words Sih-Pah-Lin Ma-Fa-Lin and Dom-Doh and Reh Detin; and you know they were seen in London just a few days ago!"
But, unbeknown to Tim, two of the Japanese tea-drinkers were now following him, flitting silently from shadow to shadow like moths; they were members of a Secret Society, so secret that even it's members were completely unaware of the identity of those above them in the hierarchy, and each cell, like this one in London, had no contact with any others; they had, as yet, no orders to kill Tim, but from this moment on he would be watched, listened to, and followed closely, wherever he went until, not if, the order came! now, as it happens, Tim was not heading back to The Bunker, but instead, his feet carried him to Westminster Bridge and he descended the river steps until he was only a few levels above the swift-moving Thames, and there he sat down and opened the box he had been given by Mrs Gladstone; despite the lack of illumination, he was delighted to discover a well-filled pizza, complete with pepperoni, garlic, mushrooms and olives; he tore off a slice and started eating, surprised at how hungry he was, and the flavours exploding on his taste buds like pyroballogy and then the familiar voice came from just a couple of steps above him: "now that smells good, Tim, would it be presumptuous of me to hope there might be enough for two?" and Tim laughed: "well now, whether you're a ghost or an apparition, I'm always pleased to meet you and, of course, you are very welcome to share my supper," and he held out the box for the old man to help himself: "what do you make of the election results, Tim?" and the Secretary of State for Brexit shook his head: "it's obviously quite a disaster for the Party, being ridden rough-shod over, but I think too much is being focussed on Farrago's new incarnation, his Bugger-off Party! for months the Brexiteers have been insisting that the vast majority of the country wants to leave and we must respect the result of the Referendum, but although they have taken a few more seats than the old UTWAT crowd, if the vote they've received represents the sum-total of people determined to leave, it's way, way down on the number who voted Leave in 2016 and, like the recent local elections, the Remain Parties – if we combine their votes and the number of seats they won – show a majority wanting to stay in; and if the BOP vote is the most they can poll, it's obvious why our Party Members don't want another Referendum – they know they'd lose! to be honest, Mr Scratch, you don't mind if I call you that?" and his friend laughed: "you've been watching The Devil and Daniel Webster, eh?" and Tim nodded: "it's one of my favourite films, but I'm honestly not suggesting that you are the Devil, it's just that I have to call you something and Norman, or Cecil, seem too mundane; I take it you aren't going to tell me your real name?" and the old man shook his head: "too many, never been a Norman or Cecil, not even a Nigel or Freddie, so call me Mr Scratch if you like," so Tim continued: "there is so much hypocrisy around; the same colleagues in the House who denounce suggestions of another Referendum, whether it's called Confirmatory or Second, as to deny the Democratic Will of the People, were perfectly happy for The Dame to bring her Deal to the House three times, and get a drubbing each time – I really think I should be honest and resign from my Office! it's a job I never wanted and was only given because of the lacuna, no-one else would accept it, and Mrs M couldn't not have someone doing it – even in name only – and I've got the gall to call others hypocrites – what am I?" but the old man laid a hand on the younger one's shoulder: "don't do anything rash, Tim – most people, at some time or another, find themselves required to do something they don't agree with, or simply don't want to be the one to have to do it, and would be quite happy to see someone else doing it; life is full of Tests – some are so trivial you probably aren't aware of them, while others require a degree of soul-searching and an element of personal bravery; no-one's asking you to pull the plug on someone who's been in a coma for three years, or play a game of cammag without a stick, or to shoot another person just because of their race or religion, are they?" and in the shadows above them, Tim's two followers were listening very carefully to the conversation and wondering why anyone would baulk at shooting a person they had been ordered to shoot – it was quite beyond their ken, for they had no such scruples.
It was pretty late, what with the disastrous Euro Election results coming in from all over the country, quite at random, in no proper sequence, and even Quentin getting fractious because there was no definitive total from any one Region, so no actual MEPs elected yet but Nigel Farrago's Bugger-off Party well in the lead, having picked up most of the old UTWAT vote, as well as most of their existing MEPs, so their likely Top of the Polls already gaining traction as a facticity, when Tim had a sudden yen for a pizza, but no-one else in The Bunker was interested eating, so feeling a bit like a gainpain, or knight errant, vesturing out into the Dangerous Lands, he made his way along the tunnel, but instead of the Horse Guards' entrance, he turned off towards Whitehall, where the door, anonymous, municipal grey on the outside, sans keyhole or letterbox, was usually guarded on the inside by a lugubrious police officer – a bit of a stickybeak, but Tim knew how to give little for much in return – with a bank of monitors showing the street outside from six different cameras: "evenin' Mister Timothy," said he, "it's a bit parky out, ah see that Farrago feller's still up ter 'is sabotage; some places they'd gouge out 'is eyes an' line 'im up agin a wall an' . . . . ." but Tim cut him off: "good evening Shadbolt, I was wondering where the nearest Pizza place would be, do you have any suggestions?" and the constable had a thought, then brightened: "well, seein' as it's yourself, Mister Tim, don't bother about Roux, in Great George Street, pop across the road an' take the little alley that goes roun' the back o The Red Lion – I betcha you've sunk a few pints in there, sir, eh?" and was delighted when Tim nodded for him to go on: "well, at this time o night the back door's usually open, cos it's swelterin' 'ot in the kitchen; knock 'ard and shout fer Mrs Gladstone – she's the wife's sister, just teller I sentcha and she'll give yer a doggy bag, on the 'ouse, no name, no pack drill, like," and he was rewarded by a firm shake of Tim's hand and the enclosed tenner; outside, Tim followed the directions and soon passed the plaque commemorating the lodgings of Guido Fawkes in the weeks prior to his arrest in the cellars of the Palace of Westminster with barrels of gunpowder, and then another turn and he was surprised to see four Japanese men in overalls, sitting at a little table and drinking green tea, for he had no idea that this chanoyu group met here every night after work; he asked Mrs Gladstone about them, in a hushed voice, although they were out os sight and probably earshot of the back door of the pub: "oh, yes." she confirmed, "they 'ave a little primus an' brew their own tea, been a-doin' of it fer years an' years, the table's one we was throwin' out, an' they asked us if they could 'ave it, they 'as they're own little foldin' seats, an' don't cause us no 'arm," and he felt compelled to ask: "but why do they meet there? there's no shelter, is there?" and Mrs Gladstone told him: "they all works in different Gov'ment Buildin's, cleaners an' such-like, and they likes ter meet up fer a cuppa an' a natter, a-fore they goes 'ome; they're related like, but lives in different parts o' the City, so it's just a chat over a cuppa green tea an' then they goes their own ways; yer know, sir, when yer thinks about 'em, they're not really so different from us, now, are they?" and Tim nodded, smiling at her as he took the box with his pizza and headed, in a different direction, for he didn't want the tea party to think they were being spied on, along the twisting lane and down towards the Thames.
Tim, Sir Wilfred and Quentin sat in a huddle in the Bunker and watched the rolling reports on the News Channel, as name after name threw their hats into the ring, each desperate to succeed The Dame as Party Leader and ergo, Prime Minister; of course, Ivan Skavinsky-Skvar was quickly identified as the Front Runner in this human version of Death Wish! at Eton his nickname had been Bully Beef, and a competitor had called him Pinocchio, his nose and hair growing longer with every lie he told: "at least his lies are overt," said Sir Wilfred, "you don't have to work them out like those of normal people," and each fresh candidate sought to disparage the others: "he's an idiot," said one, and "she's a loony," said another, and "he's a gainpain, a pacemaker for Ivan the Terrible," said Sir Wilfred, of one who would be burned in the early rounds of voting, "but not until after he's screwed the chances of Pomeroy or Busby," and he pointed out a Dame-Loyalist who sincerely felt it his bounden duty to decry anyone who said he (and only he) could unite the fractured rump of a Party renowned for it's ability to forgive anything but failure; and the cameras followed the titubation of a no-hoper who was clearly unable to walk a straight line for more than three steps before staggering into a patient policeman trying to direct the traffic in Whitehall: "they'll cut away before his liquid lunch is projected over Ivan," and Sir Wilfred handed round bottles of London Pride: "you ought to stand yourself," he said to Tim, who blanched at the thought, "make it through the Knock-out Rounds in the Parliamentary Party and then it's toe-to-toe between the final two, and the 120,000 Members in the country have their say; remember, you're still Secretary of State and a Cabinet Member, the last position Ivan had was as Foreign Secretary, but he got sacked for causing even more offence than President Trumpet-Trousers, who spends most of his time Tweeting more racist, misogynistic, homophobic and xenophobic insults than anyone else on Twatter – Ivan's fingers are like Bamburgh Bangers and he can only use his phone because he's got three numbers on Speed-Dial – the Editors of the Telegraph, the Mail and the Sun! they provide his constituency, but he's a one-trick pony and the public are getting tired of the same old jokes with the same old punchlines – you are young, fresh and articulate, and the Blue-Rinse Brigade love you," and Tim could feel the burning as he blushed to the tips of his ears!
Timothy Michaelmas-Daisy peeped through the curtains at the view of The Dame making her announcement to the wall of TV cameras and press photographers and reporters massed on the other side of Downing Street, while the PM's words were relayed through the TV in the Cabinet Office; Sir Wilfred Heath-Robinson and his assistant, Quentin Quibb, stood on either side of him: "why the fuck is she ending the Postcode Lottery?" asked Quentin, furiously: "we've got a Standing Order, everyone in the building takes part, she can't do that!" but Sir Wilfred pat a restraining hand on his junior's arm: "don;'t be such an aginer," he soothed, "she means something else," and Tim said: "all that about consilience, we know that when she asks for compromise, it only applies to others, she wants everyone to compromise with her!" and Sir Wilfred laughed: "did you notice lads," he said, pouring them each a generous measure of Laphroaig, "there's a very apposite wording to her resignation, a touch of gainpain in it – she's resigning as Leader of the Party, but not Prime Minister, yet! quick Quentin, play it back on the TV and we'll check; and anyway, she's promised lots of things on definite dates over the past couple of years, and they come and go and a new date is promised, so don't take down the bunting quite yet! so, you're still Secretary of State, Tim, better pop next door and offer her a hankie for those tears at the end!"
As he entered the Bunker, by the tunnel from Horse guards Parade, Timothy Michaelmas-Daisy couldn't avoid the atmosphere of siege-mentality: there were more armed guards at the doors, more sandbags piled up, more crates of groceries being delivered by ASDA – it all bespoke of The End of Days; and in the Cabinet Secretary's Office he found notes scattered around: Sir Wilfred was in The House, standing in for Andrea Woesome who'd defected last night, with a bag of laundry and one of the Cook's pink plastic macs for disguise, and no matter how dire the situation, Sir Wilfred was a true scaldabanco who could outshout anyone else on either side; young Quentin, a bit of a street-wise Dublin gurrier, was on the Campaign Battle-Bus, lambasting the Opposition and likely to let down the tires of any Brexit Bulldozer carrying Nigel Farrago and his tissue of lies and defamations; Tim felt like a scavenger as he gathered up all the notes and sorted them into piles: shopping lists could go straight into the recycling bin along with receipts and bills from The Floozies Bar; Quentin's Blackmail List, highlighting every Government Member's peccadilloes – financial, sexual, political and tweets – he put in a cardboard shoe=box and popped into Sir Wilfred's wall-safe; which was when he heard it, tentative at first and then growing stronger until he could identify where it was coming from and what it actually was: opening the broom cupboard where Little Pip usually hid when playing hide-and-seek with his Special Branch officers, it was loud and clear – this cupboard backed onto The Dame's private loo (officially, according to the plate on the outside of it's door, it was The Lady's Loo, named in honour of it's creator, Margaret Haystack, first female PM, who had declared herself sick of going into a toilet after certain Cabinet Ministers and finding, not only a gross pong, but also Pornographic Magazines; and now he could hear every word, every sobbing note and tragic diminuendo, and Tim palled as The Dame sang:
"The party's over,
It's time to call it a day;
They've burst our pretty balloon
And taken the moon away;
It's time to wind up
our Brexit masquerade!
Just make your mind up
the piper must be paid;
The party's over
The candles flicker and die
You danced and dreamed through the night
It seemed to be right
just being here, you and I;
Now you must wake up,
all dreams must end
Take off your make-up,
the party's over
It's all over,
which was when Tim heard a slight scuffling and a thump against the wall as if The Dame had fallen over, followed by a squeak which he recognised as being the voice of her hubby, Little Pip! hurriedly closing the broom cupboard door, Tim hurried through to his own office, for he was, after all, still Secretary of State for Brexit and wouldn't like any of the Security Giards who might do one of their random sweeps of the offices take him for a weirdo!
* with apologies to Betty Comden and Adolph Green for the original words, and Jule Styne for the music - The Party's Over was introduced by Judy Holliday in her last film Bells are Ringing (1956), also starring Dean Martin and Jean Stapleton - charted by Doris Day at # 63 in 1957 (Editor's Note)
Now, as it happens, my Auntie Cristo is prissy about our sundial, which features a coin of the realm – from the reign of King Alexander – a gold Mark, struck in the year 1111, which she claims to have especial significance to the extent that when she found it, scouring the Eildons with her metal detector, some years ago, she was so overcome with emulsion that she fell backwards, making a richt guid sitzmark in the mud, before falling onto her back and creating a Mud Angel which, in the ensuing heatwave, was visible right through May, June, July, August and September; she had the coin set into the gnomon and it gleams bricht as a mornin star when the first rays of the sun reach it.
Now, it's not that I'm at all prissy, but, even so, I have begun to realise, as the heavy-duty meds are being reduced, that I probably present a schlubby version of myself: I'm not allowed a bath, until after the stitches come out next week and, although a shower would be permitted, I haven't had one yet because my sore (ha! that word doesn't even begin to describe the agonies) foot makes balancing tricky and I'm fearful of falling and although my Aunties keep telling me how happy I was for them to bathe me as a child, there is no way! oh, they can be tenacious, once they get hold of an idea, so I just make sure I wear clean, fresh clothes every day after a rudimentary wash, but at least I'm eating again and Auntie May's hashmagandy tonight was absolutely bang on the money for me, so that's one naggable topic scored off the list which just leaves poor personal hygiene . . . . . but after I've been down to the bench at the bottom of the garden for a ciggie and read of the papers, one odour probably disguises the other!
I know that Auntie May can be rather prissy about her cooking – with rules and regulations on quantities, proportions, when to chiffonade her vegetables and so on – but she didn't come up the fjord on a banana boat, and while her recipe books, her own handwritten ones, have become palimpsest with overwriting, usually when she has decided that Eve's Pudding has become passé, or Duck with Orange is really too twee, so they were rubbed out and replaced with something Vegan until that bored her, but she knew how to feed an army, which was just as well when my cousin Pru Montelimart (nee Goldfish) and her eleven daughters: Lola, Pola, Cola, Nola, Rola (aged 16) Dara, Hara, Kara, Mara, Bara (aged 14) and Joan (aged 12) turned up at the house a few days after my operation; they brought bunches of grapes, bottles of Lucozade and twelve different magazines for me to while away my convalescence, which was thoughtful – if not imaginative; but I dare say that Pru doesn't really have enough time for imagination, having had to provide shelter, food and clothing for her brood single-handedly since Gustave did a bunk before Joan was born – he probably assumed it would be another multiple birth and felt he couldn't cope with another five girls – which, as he was not much use with the first ten was rather perceptive of him, but don't get me started . . . . .
The staid, rather bored-looking legionnaire, with only another year's service freezing his balls off here in Caledonia before returning to his home in Tuscany, stood at the dark end of the scutchell, leaning into a shadow of the wall, waiting, patient, for he knew that this was the route the two boys would take back home, confident, because the action would be ephemeral and he would be out of the ginnel almost before their bodies hit the ground, pleased that his pay for such an inconsequential act would be the same value as a year's service, yet also curious why the job was worth so much to his employer; but long service in the Legion had taught him one thing above all else: never question an order, simply do it!
"Shall we play the Betteridge's Law version?" asked Aunt Maude, but Aunt Daphne shook her head: "no! in Mornington Crescent it's called Betteridge's Contract, isn't that right, Father?" at which Father Mungo looked askance: "no, no," he said, shaking his head gravely, "that can't be roit sure tae guidness, isn't it Betteridge's Authorised Version?" and he looked to me for support, but all I could think of was the Arnold Palmer Putt, by which one could move, without challenge from Parson's Green to Green Park, thanks to a chip from Palmer's Green, which as everyone knows, is one of the few British Rail-only stations that can be played, and even win an extra turn, which was why I said: "no, father, that's the King James Bible; you're thinking of the Arnold Palmer Putt, isn't he, Aunt Maude?" but she gave me a look of such asperity, that I thought she must have a secret stash of Acid Drops in her bag: "no!" she spat, quite taking me aback, "how long have you been playing this game, young woman, five minutes?" and I cast my eyes down: "no, Aunt Maude, I started when I was five, so thirty years, I do believe I've mastered the rules by now, isn't that right, Aunt Daphne?" who laughed out loud: "oh, no, ho, ho, ho, your win in the last round was obviously beginner's luck! the Romans could build straight enough roads and compact the surface, so that their army could move quickly, but it certainly wasn't macadamized, it took a Scot to think of adding tar, and you've still got a lot to learn about Mornington Crescent, Theresa, hasn't she, Father?" but Macaneny put down his glass of Laphraoigh and looked Aunt Daphne straight in the eyes, and said: "no, bejasus! that last turn was a master-stroke, like the one Jack Nicklaus used in the Open, furst time he won it, Muirfield in '66, sure wasn't I his caddy that year and we both ended up flat on our backs outside the Clubhouse, efter everybuddy else had gone, starin up at the stars lightin the way tae Heaven, ah, dose wis de days, me frenz, d'ye remember 'em Daffy?" and she grabbed his glass, downed the contents in one and with a stony set to her face said: "NO! not the way you do, Macaneny! through decades of alcohol fumes! you don't fool me - when you mix yourself an Arnold Palmer, using whisky instead of flat lemonade in the tea! and never, NEVER, call me that again!"
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