Nurse Mariah opened the door, saw Ezekiel standing on her step and invited him in: "are you alright, Ezekiel Sidebottom? it's not your mother, is it?" but he assured her that his mother was well – hoping that this was true – and told her about Soft Mick: "oh, he shouldn't have gone up that ladder when the Lamplighter wasn't there to hold it steady, he got a bad bee-sting, you know, I managed to pull it out, it was a deep one, and I sterilised the wound and sent him home with a poultice to keep on overnight, it draws any of the poison out, you know, he should be well tomorrow," and Ezekiel asked her: "where was he stung?" and she said: "down by the Smithy, he thought it was a horse-fly, but it was a bee," and Ezekiel managed to stop himself from laughing, for what he had meant was: where on himself had the Lamplighter been stung? but when Nurse Mariah told him to take a seat while she got her emergency bag together, he sat by the fire and wondered for the first time since arriving in the village, what he was hoping for? answer: a way out – it wasn't rocket science, he thought, looking at the garniture on the mantle above the fire-place, a collection of small ornaments and little pictures, including one of a boy trying to lasso the moon; that was what he had to do, MacGyver himself some way of reaching the moon, perhaps the Lamplighter's ladder would get him close enough and if he could make a long pole with a noose at the top and enough room to cast it upwards, a bit like a fishing fly; he was certain that the moon was in the right position – the only problem might be the shower of meteorites, if the Sexton was right about them falling en masse and one having bonked poor Mick on the conk, he would have to be on the lookout for those falling stars, which was when Mariah came back in, bustled them both out of the cottage and hurried along beside his great, loping strides, the chill air turning their breath into clouds of steam!
And that was when the Curate and the Churchwarden came strolling along, heads close, as though they were discussing something ecclesiastical, but when they saw the Sexton and Ezekiel, they became rather furtive, looking around as if they were lost and unsure which direction they should be taking: "it's Soft Mick," said the Sexton, indicating where the body lay, "reckon he's been smitten be a meteorite, or sumpn," and the Curate blanched, while the Churchwarden asked: "alive or deceased?" and the Sexton said: "dunno, reckon sumdy'll have to determine that," at which the Curate vomited, and the Churchwarden handed him a duster to clean his trousers, then turned to Ezekiel: "can you, Ezekiel? determine the matter?" but Ezekiel shook his head and the Sexton, as if trying to be helpful, said: "more a matter fer the Doctor, I mean it might be a meteorwrong, what smote him, but if he's alive, maybe the Nurse'd be more help than Ezekiel, don'tcha think?" and the Churchwarden pondered, and sighed: "would you mind, Ezekiel? it would be helpful, if he's still alive he'll need nursing, at the very least, but if he isn't, we'd not need the Doctor, then," so Ezekiel, putting his cap back on, bade farewell to the Sexton and walked back down the street towards the Nurse's house, pondering the chances of a meteorite, or wrong, travelling millions of light-years only to hit poor Mick on the head, then dismissed the idea as a fatuous, epichoric fancy, just the sort of illogical notion believed in by the sort of people who lived in this sort of village, miles and miles away from civilisation as he knew it; so, reaching the Nurse's cottage, he knocked loudly on the green door.
When Ezekiel left the Inn, arm-in-arm with the Sexton, he saw Soft Mick, climbing his ladder, like an astronaut about to enter the rocket which would take him on the moon-shot, for wasn't that pale glowing orb above the ladder the very Moon itself? while the Sexton spoke of the Squire's ambition to begin developing a sericultural industry which would be the making of the village, that was when they both heard a plaintive cry as the ladder began to slip, and Mick to fall, and a small dog, something like a maltipoo, it's trailing lead tangled with the foot of the ladder, broke free and scampered off, as Mick's trajectory seemed to aim his large, pale head towards the pavement and the two men, too far away to be able to intervene, could only watch, horrified, as the Moon plummeted to Earth!
And although there was a small part of his consciousness that wanted to resist – strictly on a satyagraha basis, of course, for he knew deep within himself that violence, or indeed anything which even hinted at it, would not be well-regarded in this small village, which some process of balkanization seemed to have separated it from and quite isolated it from even it's nearest neighbours – Ezekiel adopted the dry, sere, formulaic, and very manly tone of speech he heard around him in the packed bar, while he thought himself foolish to object, for after all, what exactly could it be that he objected to? not, surely, the friendly regard in which his companions held him? not the fact which quickly revealed itself to him, that this convivial gathering was a regular, in all probability nightly, event, in which very much the same things were spoken of, by the same people, sometimes even giving a reply to a question asked the night before, the answer to which was known even before the enquiry was made, it was all so convivial, that Ezekiel was not even certain why he should want to resist, if that were even possible, which he honestly doubted; there seemed to be no preppers here, in this noisy, smoky, close-pressed gathering, just an unspoken acceptance that what was, was – and still is; and then the baker came closer to him and asked if he had heard about Soft Mick's accident? and Ezekiel nodded: "fell off a ladder, as I hear, was no-one meant to be holding it steady?" and the baker nodded: "according to the Rector, it were sposed to have been Lamplighter, but he'd been stung by a bee and had to go to Nurse Mariah, and Mick hadn't noticed, so he went up it and it weren't close enough to the corner and when he leaned, it slid away an he landed on his head! dead!"
It was only a short walk along the higgledy-piggledy footpath, taking care to dodge some of the lower branches – after first cracking his nut on one that seemed to materialise too quickly for him to avoid it – that he found himself entering the village street, somewhat about the middle, although it's curve made it difficult to be certain, and when he looked back to judge where he had come from, there seemed to be no opening wide enough to have been his access-point; he was standing beside what he took to be the village pub, or inn, and it was already growing dark, so the glow from the small leaded windows, and the sound of a drinking-song, carried on male voices, made him acutely aware of how alone he felt, so pushing the door open – although the crush inside made it necessary for him to sidle in – and squeezed himself past bodies of all ages till he reached the bar, where he found himself face-to-face with the landlord, who was already pulling him a pint of beer in a pewter tankard and deep in conversation with him: "so I asked him what his occupation was, an what d'yer reckon he said?" and the newcomer guessed: "a student of ethology?" at which the face opposite him broke into a beaming grin: "spot on, Ezekiel, you have a wonderful memory," and the foaming tankard was set before him as the landlord moved along to serve another: "it might," said a voice at his right shoulder, "be a shade akratic to drink that one, after what you've had already, Ezekiel, but on the other hand, it won't have much effect on the aggregate, d'ye suppose?" and he turned to find the sexton raising a tankard of his own to lips around which traces of foam still lingered: "have I been here that long already?" he asked and the sexton laughed: "maybe, maybe not, or could be it just seems that way, but you may be a better judge of character than me, bein as how it's only after they're dead that I have much to do with them!" and they clinked their tankards together as it seemed likely they had done countless times before.
And as the haywain came again to the sharp bend, the one with the two calabash trees on the inner corner, he ransacked his memory, but found it wanting – knowing that if he failed to leave the cart now, he never would, but deciding that to wait for any other more conclusive pareidolia would be as futile as trying to divine omens from the pattern of sunlight through the leaves – he swung himself over the side and towards where the verge seemed lusher, softer, on the outside of the turn, rolling as he landed, only stealing a glance at the driver, who he was shocked to see was a skeleton in white ducks and a black tricorn hat holding the reins and controlling the two bay mares, each of which had a white callid on it's forehead, and they were gone; but across the lane was a narrow wicket, between the two trees and a winding path which he knew would lead towards the village and the church steeple he had seen pointing like an accusing finger towards the sky.
"You can call me pedantic if you like – and I've been called much worse, believe you me – and I won't scratch your eyes out if you do, because I'm not like my cousin Jackie O'Shaughnessy – of whom least said as the Actress said to the Bishop – but in my book, or I should say, My Book, flying a kite in the silly season is asking for trouble, witness the story of young Petunia McGillivray – do you not know her? oh, I thought everyone knew her, works in the Co-op, dyes her hair a different colour every week, but what happened to Petunia, it was the talk of the town for a couple of weeks last summer, right slap bang in the middle of August, the place packed with holiday-makers, day-trippers, bus-parties, every hotel, guest house, B&B, and even that Air B&B place next to the Rectory, you must know the one I mean, that strange couple, the chap with the beard who's supposed to be an inventor and his friend who writes verses for greetings cards and calls himself a poet, and every last one of them with No Vacancies cards in their windows, queues to get into the Abbey, groups of 30 going on the Trimontium Walk, three or four times a day, and as for ice cream, queues out onto the pavement at every shop with a freezer, and it was on one of those days that the inventor chap decided to fly his kite, up on the Middle Hill, with a remote controlled camera attached, beaming his pictures down – is that right, beaming? or transmitting, then – to his phone or laptop, and then him sending them out like a virus, and he doesn't even check what's in them, so I think he should really have accepted part of the responsibility, if you ask me, but did he heck! oh, look, here's my bus – I'm going for a Physio Appointment at the GBH, they're like gold dust, take them when you get the chance, so I'll finish the story next time, cheerie-bye."
After that, it only remained for the Ponty Pilot to ask the Hello Girl at the City Switchboard* to connect him to The Jerusalem Clarion so that he could dictate his Court Report to the Copy Boy – I really do hate to be pedantic, but the Hello Girl in question was an 18-year-old gossipy skinder – just like his dad – Bruce Beynon, from Llareggub, and the Copy Boy was 14-year-old Dilys Roberts from Ponty; these sexist job titles were common in Jerusalem in 30AD, although the editor of The Clarion, Gus Tavish, a canny Scot who had been a passenger on the Ponty Pilot's plane, was an enthusiastic supporter of the Holy Land Suffragettes, one of whose most recent campaigns had been for the Abolition of Discriminatory Nomenclature in the Workplace, which, sadly, was unlikely to gain widespread support, mainly because the majority of purchasers of the tabloid newspaper bought it for the Football results, the Hatches, Matches and Despatches column, and the Page 3 girls – a series of engravings of busty Greek statues of Goddesses, most of which were, in the words of Sailor Sam, the seller on the corner of Jericho and Jordan Streets: "a bit of 'armless fun!"
(*the rudimentary telephone system was a network of strings with a tin can on each end and once Bruce, or one of the other operators, had connected the call, the strings between the two ends had to be pulled tight – Ed)
The Ponty Pilot rang a bell and his clerk came into the chamber and served two bowls of stew for the Governor and the lawyer; when the clerk had left and closed the door behind him, the Governor got to the point: "tell me. Mr Lewis, Aladdin, is your parents' choice of name for you of special significance?"and the flush across the younger man's face should have rung warning bells in the Ponty Pilot's head, as spontaneous a case of aposematism as you can get, but he was undeterred: "many magic lanterns in the house, boyyo?" and Lewis scowled: "while I find personal questions about my name and family circumstances distasteful, Governor, I bow to your position – it's an example of teknonymy; in a long established family firm like Lewis, Lewis, Lewis, Lewis, Lewis Lloyd-George & Lewis, it's easier to identify which of the senior partners you want to refer to, by saying Aladdin's Dad, or Nebuchadnezzar’s Dad, or even Gwilym's Dad, because we, the Juniors, do most of the bloody work although the client's think our dads' are the ones concerned about their cases – they're usually out playing golf while we knock our pans in, interviewing witnesses, checking statements, importuning insurance companies, or accident assessors and trying to get all the papyruswork in order so that Judges, like yourself, sir, have all the necessary information on which to base your judgements," and the Governor offered the youngster a cigar and a more generous than usual glass of his own, dwindling, supply of Laphraoigh: "drink that, boyyo, and taste that cigar, genuine Havana – I never flew the old bus without an emergency crate each of the malt and the smokes – you can't get anything like them here, call it The Holy Land? it's so backward it's almost prehistoric, worse than Cardiff on a wet Sunday in February," and smiled benevolently at the young lawyer, who, after a few moments thought, said: "yes, the cigars and the whisky are kif all right, sir, but don't you think the way they operators have recreated the character and ambiance of Biblical times is superb, such attention to detail – no television, no mobile phones, no cars, no smoking, no advertising hoardings, no credit cards, just gold, silver and bronze Roman coins and pockets full of shekels, I only wish I had a camera, the sights and scenery are ten times better than back in Ponty, and, if I can speak in confidence, sir, none of us at Lewis and co, want to go back, and nor do most of our clients, they prefer life here," and, gratified at the younger man's touching, if misguided, faith in him, the Ponty Pilot leant closer and sotto voce explained to Aladdin Lewis that this was not a Holiday Resort, and that due to a freak storm during the flight, the plane, it's passengers and crew, had all been thrown almost two thousand years into the past: "this is the real deal, sonny, and even if I manage to get Spirit of Ponty airborne again, fuck knows what we'd find back in Wales in 30AD, probably wolves, polar bears and glaciers, people running around blue with cold, but this conversation is strictly on the QT, no record, no quotes, no pack-drill, nothing attributed, we'll call it quits, no winners, no losers, a gentleman's agreement, just between you and me, okay?" and Aladdin took the proffered hand, not quite sure what he had agreed to, but had the distinctly uneasy feeling that, somehow, he had just lost the case!
And that was how it so happened, that come Monday Morning, pretty damn near all the Ponty and Llareggub folk living in the warmer climes of Jerusalem and it's leafy environs, arriving as a phalanx to do battle and came to be crowded into the Courthouse for the Civil Compensation Case against Mr Clive Morgan, AKA the Ponty Pilot, for stranding them all in the Middle East as a result of his failure to adequately maintain his aircraft according to the safety standards contained in the Magic Carpets (and other forms of flight) Regulations Act in which "it is clearly stated," said their lawyer, Aladdin Lewis, a filiated partner in the firm of Lewis, Lewis, Lewis, Lewis, Lewis Lloyd-George & Lewis, Solicitors and Estate Agents, originally of Town Hall Street, Pontypridd and now of Lewis Chambers, Courthouse Lane, Jerusalem, "that failure to mend any holes, frayings or other faults caused by age, moths or any other reason, likely to render it unable to complete the return journey for such social, business or any other purposes, paid in advance by it's passengers, must," and he stretched that word out to five, or possibly six, syllables, if you count the sharp intake of breath between the last two, and then let it float on the smoky air of Court 6, sweltering under the watchful eye of the Praetorian Prefect, Clive Morgan OBOE (he played the Lead Oboe part in the Pontypridd and Lower Jerusalem Brass Band) "accept responsibility for their return journey, failing which. . . . ." and here Mr Morgan, excused himself from the Bench, quickly moved to the Dock where, representing himself, as Defendant, shouted: "objection!" and then returning to the Bench, in his measured tones – as befits the Roman Governor of the Province – said: "sustained; Mr Lewis, you must restrain yourself from Judgements, those are my responsibility," and Mr Lewis paused, to rephrase his remarks: "ought perhaps to consider himself responsible for fulfilling his part of the contract by providing transport to return his passengers to their eventual destination, that is, to the place where their journey began," and sat down to cheers from the public benches, at which the Governor banged his gavel on the table and cried: "order, order in Court – I will not permit any such excesses in this Courtroom and if there are any further egregious displays of emotion will have no alternative but to declare you all In Contempt and order the Bailiff to clear the Court," and in the silence which followed, the Governor – who could have heard a pin drop -smiled and said: "Mr Lewis, I will hear submissions in my Chamber," the Bailiff, Taffy Thomas, formerly of Gas Works Lane, Pontypridd, bawled: "all rise," and after the Governor and Mr Lewis had disappeared into the Governor's Chamber, where a savoury tajine if Lamb and Cous-cous awaited, the Bailiff and his Assistant cleared the Court and resumed their game of draughts; outside, the passengers, quite mazed by the morning's proceedings, gathered into huddled groups, discussed the chances of their case and the rumours which had been circulating all weekend, that the Ponty Pilot was having his plane repaired and there might be a chance of going home; but not all were happy about this – gey few in fact – as they had been in Jerusalem for some years now, and most had rather happily settled into their new lives: "it's all that Lewis chap's fault, cajoling us into this, with his legal mumbo-jumbo," said Winston Smith, former Town Clerk of Pontypridd, "me and Doris are happy here, we don't want to go back, the kids are settled into school and all," and Bob the Bike, who had set up a new business, similar to the ailing one he had left behind, and was now the foremost supplier of bicycles in the whole of Greater Jerusalem, agreed: "we've all got a better life here, it's too wet in Ponty, I don't want to go back, neither," which was the prevailing sentiment among the Claimants, who had only agreed to join the Claim in the hope of getting some financial compensation, not a return flight.
Which was when young Tom Jones, known throughout Pontypridd (and now the Holy Land) simply as Sam's Son, received a summons from the Ponty Pilot, requesting his help in an attempt to get his plane repaired so that he could take all his stranded passengers home and hopefully put paid to the Compen claim they had raised against him; "why me?" asked Sam's Son, "because you're one of the brightest in Ponty," said Delilah, who was smocking a shirt behind the bar in the Taverna, "look you," she put her hands on her hips, "didn't you get the Governors' Prize in Sixth Form, when you invented an individual hovercraft, I saw you with my own eyes, hovering six feet off the ground and you went right round the whole school building – it was amazing is what it was," and Sam's Son hung his head to hide his embarrassment, for he knew how the trick had been done, but hadn't had the gall to own up to it when the Prize was announced, and the cash that went with it had helped ensure Taffy and Morgan kept their gobs shut too: "but I don't know anything about aeroplanes, Del, still, I suppose it can't hurt to go and see him," and that was how, later that afternoon, in the Roman Governor's Palace, the one-legged, one-armed, one-eyed Ponty Pilot introduced him to a couple of guys he said were whizzes when it came to flying machines; they were both from Llareggub, a father and son, Derek Luscombe and Ivor Carlos Luscombe; "everyone calls me Dedilus, and Ivor, here, Icarlus," said the father: "you know what a hypocoristic place Wales is," and Sam's Son grinned, "oh, don't I just, but how are we going to fix the plane?" so Dedilus showed him some photos of the aircraft, with both it's wings drooping, and explained: "what we're going to do is cut two sheets of plywood to the size of the wings, and fix them under the wings, with a guy rope from each wing-tip going over the fuselage and pulled tight till we've got the wings at the correct angle, and we are hoping that you would be the Test Pilot, with your experience – we've heard about your Hovercraft – with Icarlus navigating – he's good at map-reading, did some orienteering for his Duke of Edinburgh Award – but the most important attribute for a pilot is what's known in the profession as sitzfleisch – the ability to sit tight for long periods of time, no getting up every little while and going for a walk, stretch your legs, no, no, can't be done, you get an empty milk bottle for emergencies, but that's your lot, same goes for the lad with the map and compass, and my lad's a natural, he can sit for Wales and no mistake," and Icarlus smiled shyly – he obviously didn’t like being in the limelight; "and what about fuel, Mr Pilot? sorry, Mr Jenkins?" asked Sam's Son, and the Ponty Pilot laughed:"nobody ever calls me by my family name, son, gets me quite addlepated when they do, stick to Pilot and I'll know you're talking to me! but as to your question, d'you mind Ronnie Boyle? had the Ponty Refinery and three petrol stations in the town, and supplied all the local chippies with their cooking oil, well, Oil as he's better known, was one of my passengers, him and his wife Nancy always travel with the Ponty Pilot and when he heard I'd bought the plane back from the scrappy and about Deddy's plan to fix it, he did a bit of exploration in the desert and he struck oil in the Meged! he's set up a refinery and now he's supplying oil all over the Middle East, and there's enough fuel stockpiled for me so as soon as you and the boys get the plane working, I'll be able to start holiday flights from here to Wales; most of them's been here so long they've got used to the good weather and wouldn't want to emigrate back but would like the occasional week or two to visit their friends and relations, unless they’ve had a fall-out, in which case I'm hoping to take Safari parties to Africa, there's lots of Big Games at the Pan-African Bingo Hall in Chapel Street, top prize is a cruise on the Nile – a Murder Mystery Weekend, fancy that yourself, son, take Delilah Pew with you?"
"The new PM said I could keep my job as Secretary of State," said Timothy Michaelmas-Daisy, as he and Mr Scratch drank their coffee and watched the dawn come up like thunder, "do you think I should agree?" and the old man stared at the burning cigar he held up, then grunted: "do you believe in faeries, Tim?" and Tim laughed: "not a single one, not even the Tooth Fairy, but why is he making them?" and Scratch regarded him as a horse-trader in Ultima Thule might size up a mare, before offering a risible amount, just to get the bidding started: "you might suppose that he is setting you all up, so that if the projects you're working on collapse in ashes, he can blame you and hold up his hands, clean and innocent and evince to the electorate that he and they are all in the same boat, betrayed by his Ministers pissing in instead of out; but to tell you the truth, Tim, I'd say he's planning an early election and these are his campaign promises, hoping to get enough voters so desperate that they'll forget that he has actually never fulfilled any of his promises, but his optimism sounds a whole lot better than the more accurate but boring pledges of the other parties, and they'll vote for him, just like turkeys voting for Christmas – he wears a Teflon suit, nothing sticks to him, and mark my words, like Nero, he'll skronk on his fiddle while Britain sinks beneath the waves, but he'll be lifted from the Tower of Big Ben by one of Trumpet-Trousers' Presidential helicopters and spend his early retirement playing golf at one or other of the President's luxury courses, and even be occasionally granted the honour of caddying for the Great Man himself," and Tim felt obliged to ask: "so what should I do, I feel I'm stuck in a swamp and don't know how to get out, I'm not a brawler, I'm not even a diplomat!" so Mr Scratch clapped him on the shoulder: "make an honest woman of Fenella, that will give you some security, eh?" but Tim blushed to his roots: "the thing is," he began, then stopped, unwilling to have to Out himself: "the thing is. . . . ." and Scratch cut in: "you're a shirt-lifter, a queer, homo, man's man, you're gay, is that right? it's not easy to remember the current socially acceptable term for what used to be called sodomites!" and Tim nodded, silently, so Scratch continued: "well, Fenella's a lesbian, so you could have a marriage of convenience – each do your own thing, while presenting a prurient public with an image of a happy young couple doing whatever they think happy young couples do, and the fact that you each might be doing it with others is neither here nor there – you have as much right to privacy as your butcher, baker or bookmaker!"
When Fenella took her coffee with her to the bathroom for a shower, Mr Scratch whispered in Tim's ear: "black, no sugar – I've got to watch my weight and Hippocrates keeps warning me about cholesterol," and sat at the kitchen table, reading some of Tim's mail; he casually asked: "is that car still waiting for you?" which caused Tim to swear and raise the blind, but if there had indeed been a car, it was long gone: "never mind," said the old man: "you'd only have been selling your soul for a mess of pottage, you really should value yourself more highly, I'm sure that better terms could be arranged," and moved behind Tim as Fenella returned, dressed and ready to face life in The Bunker: "do you think you'll still have a job?" asked Tim, uncertain about Fenella's status, but she just laughed: "I'm Civil Service, Tim, Executive Officer, not just an office temp, whether I'll stay in The Bunker will depend on how long I can restrain myself from kicking our new Master in the proverbials, but I'm an old stager, so I've probably got more self-control than you, and if it comes to arm-wrestling, his wanking days will be over – I'll send you a text, don't worry," and pulled him into a clinch, kissed him hard before heading for the door, saying: "don't let Arthur Daley lead you astray," which made Tim turn round to find Mr Scratch comfortably reclining on the sofa with his coffee and pipe: "perceptive lass, young Fenella, she'll go far," he blew a smoke ring and watched it neatly surround the smoke detector as if he were playing Hoop-la; as Tim sat down opposite Mr Scratch, he felt himself compelled to ask: "what were you doing at Ultima Thule?" – and his visitor smiled benevolently, then said: "actually, I was only a passenger on a carrier wave, sort of a stowaway, you might say, if you were so inclined – are you a Moonwalker, Tim?" and Tim's eyes bulged, rather like Eddie Cantor's, at the man's impertinence, as he sat, quietly observing Tim, just as a lab technician might a hamster running ever upward on a revolving wheel, never reaching the end, never progressing, always blindly running – is that how he sees me? Tim wondered, "no, no," said Scratch, although Tim was certain he hadn't spoken his thoughts aloud, "it's not like that at all, you have come on enormously since we first met, why, then you were but a callow youth, seeking to please your Head Mistress – I trust I'm not being ungallant in referring to Mrs Maybe-Maybenot so, is it sexist? surely not racist? forgive me, but while the Bildungsroman of your own maturity may feel to you to be spread over a fair number of pages, I have been at this job for quite a while, and as I get older, time seems to flash by at a giddying pace, so you may be at page 32, but I am – at a guess – somewhere in volume 15 and trying to forget the conventions of, oh, say, Georgian England, or Pre-Columbus America, which were extant just a couple of pages earlier, so if you feel like a hamster, does that make me a Whirling Dervish? oh, I must tell you funny story about that, remind me after you've had your bath, and please forgive the ramblings of a very old man, Tim, it's not me I'm here about, it's you!"
"I've been to Ultima Thule and back, in case you were wondering," said Mr Scratch, looking quite effulgent in his varicoloured motley, although Tim wasn't sure if he would be allowed to dine at the Café Royal in such mismatched colours and fabrics and his tie! why it was positively recherché, but the old man interrupted his thoughts: "got you a peace offering, actually a piece of moon rock," and he handed Tim something that looked almost as if it could actually have come from the Moon: "don't turn your nose up at it, young man, it's the bit Buzz Aldrin dropped, climbing back into the Lander, should probably be in a museum, but you're welcome to it, I've been carting it around long enough – see, it's worn a hole in the lining of my pocket!" and he pulled out the torn lining as evidence, but Tim forgot to ask how his visitor could know that Aldrin had dropped a piece of the Moon and how he could have got it; instead he turned toward the kitchen and: "coffee?" he asked over his shoulder, and Fenella replied: "yes, please, two and a coo!"
The call seemed to come in the instant Tim had fallen asleep, his head resting on Fenella's ample bosom, but he found his phone tucked under her buttock; he eased it out and answered without checking the caller ID – a familiar voice reached his ear, but his semi-conscious mind was having difficulty in placing the plummy tone: "yo, Jude, I don't think we've ever met but are you up for some Facetime?" and gradually Tim realised that it was Winnie-the-Pooh, the baby-faced blonde who was now Prime Minister: "yes, surely, of course, at your service. . .errr. . .PM," he felt unable to be any more obsequious to a man he had never met, but instinctively loathed with more force than he had ever experienced before; the voice continued: "kool, baby, who loves ya?" and Tim dithered between replying: "you do," or perhaps: "actually, I think Fenella does," but instead waited, believing that it had been rhetorical, so the new PM continued: "super job you're doing, bro super, keep you there, not tainted by your working for The Dame, ma homey, hey, you're working for The Jude now, Real Kool!. pop into The Bunker, baby, shake your Mojo with me, sign on some lines, we found some nice bubbly in Sir Wilf's filing cabinet, having a gig, swinging, there's a car outside your pad, bro, jump in and roll over, we'll have a blast, lemme know what you think of the new Acronym – Jude Unites Nation Keeps Inspiring Real Kool Security Peace In Region In Time = DUNKIRK SPIRIT - don't it grab ya by the balls, hey, see ya in five, bring ya sugar, this is Party Central, ciao sweet lips!" – and the connection broke as Tim remembered what Fenella had been saying about Winnie's attempt at Street Talk, he calls himself Dude, but he can only say Jude, and not for the first time, Tim wondered if he might be a more honourable public servant if he simply jumped ship now and joined Anna Soubrey's Change UK party – ChUK! why am thinking in Acronyms? he wondered, but maybe it would be a better alternative to exile in Siberia (or, God forbid, Coventry!), then again, if he was going to be true to his egalitarian beliefs, to embrace aspheterism – but where would that take him? what sort of undergrid would that involve? he would be a Pariah in the eyes of his Party, but should their excoriation really deter him? he could always adopt some of the new PM's brujo? and become a Conjurer, a Magician, "it might serve you better to learn to play a banjo, and take up a busking stance on the River Steps," said a familiar voice; Tim pulled the curtains open and was amazed to find Mr Scratch sitting there, smoking a long pipe!
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