The first chapter of a book I am working on.
BIGMAC RIDES AGAIN
The minister for fun was angry. His cheeks had gone bright red he was so angry. Someone had stolen the games book. Now all the fun would have to be cancelled. No more four-legged races, no more snail marathons, no more trampoline highs, no more egg-and-spoon skating handicaps – in fact no more nothing. Without the book it was out of the question. He did the one thing he didn’t want to do. He sent for BIGMAC.
‘Size fifty four, sir, is…unusual.’ The little man in the Large Bodies department of Harrison and Tweed looked up worriedly. ‘You are very big’
‘Of course I am’ snapped BIGMAC. ‘It is my job to be big. It would look very silly if I was called BIGMAC and was only your size now, wouldn’t it’
‘Then get on with it man. I won’t bite you’
Although it looked as if he might. He pulled out a large turnip-shaped watch and shook it. ‘I sincerely hope this won’t take long. I have an appointment with the Minister for fun at precisely’… he shook the watch vigorously…’very soon’
‘I shall be finished in four shakes of a cat’s tail’
‘Lamb’s tail. The expression is five shakes of a lamb’s tail’ He continued to shake the watch.
‘Perhaps sir should invest in a new time-piece. I understand that the new ones give you not only the time, but also the weather forecast and the football scores’
‘Yes. I’ve seen them. Scattered rain and scoury showers. Arsenal 4, Leicester 1. I can’t be doing with all that nonsense’ He held up the watch.
‘Anyway, this isn’t really a watch. Oh, it tells the time – sometimes – and it is correct at least twice a day, but it’s not what you call a watch, as such’.
‘What would sir call it?’
‘It’s a…’ He looked at the little man suspiciously. ‘You mean you have never seen one of these…objects before?’.
The little man shook his head, and continued his walk around BIGMAC, watching the reading on his digital tape measure. Satisfied, he punched the reading into the tailoring machine.
‘Not even at your school? What school was it by the way?’
‘Old Stone-age Parker? You were taught by Stone-age?
‘That explains it. Do you know what we used to call your lot?’
BIGMAC laughed heartily. ‘Yes. The Flintstones’
There was no trace of humour in the little man’s voice when he spoke. ‘Your suit will be ready in the morning sir. Will there be anything else’
At that moment the watch began to glow, and BIGMAC seemed to have problems holding it in his hands. He passed it quickly from one to the other, before extracting a piece of cloth from his coat and wrapping it in it. He then shoved it in his pocket. As he hurried from the shop, the little man pressed a number on his lapel phone and spoke quietly spoke into it.
‘Message from the Tailor to the Colonial Boys: “Tomorrow, you will be all ears”’.
‘I am very sorry about your elephant, Arthur’ The Minister rose briefly from his chair as BIGMAC waddled towards him. He didn’t look the least bit sorrowful.
‘Not half as sorry as I am’ BIGMAC wheezed as he flopped into one of the sturdier bucket-seats. ‘And could you please call me MAC? Arthur sounds so…so…’
‘Wishy-washy?’ He laughed. ‘Arthur MacFadden…what a mouthful. No wonder you shortened it! Do you remember when we were boys at Etonic? You were my fag; completely useless…and such a weedy chap to boot…’
‘I was never your fag…’
‘Oh yes you were. But don’t worry, your secret is safe with me’. He looked around him. ‘Would you like some tea?’
‘Never touch the filthy stuff. You never know where it’s been. Besides, all the leaves get between my teeth. Yuk!’
‘I think I shall have some all the same’. He signalled to a waiter hovering nearby. ‘One tea please’.
‘What about my elephant?’
‘Ah yes’. The minister put on his serious face. ‘Your elephant. It is unregistered, of course. And it has no M.O.T. certificate’.
‘It doesn’t need one, as you well know. I only use it for my own personal transport’.
‘And what about last week? Ten minors on its back…and on a public highway!’
‘That was for charity. Twenty million people watched the programme. We raised a lot of money’.
‘Exactly!’ The minister wagged a finger. ‘A lot of people watched the programme. And what sort of signal did it send out? That it is okay for every Tom, Dick and Harry to ride his unlicensed elephant or horse up and down a public highway. Before you can say jack-rabbit we will have them taking their cars and tractors on to the roads; where will we be then?’
The waiter returned, and placed a bowl of tea-leafs and a glass of water on the table. ‘ Your tea sir’.
Thanking him, the minister proceeded to stir the tea-leafs thoroughly, before spooning some into his mouth. He chewed for a moment, then took a sip from the glass and swallowed.
BIGMAC smiled faintly as he watched the telltale black marks appear between the minister’s teeth. Disgusting habit!
‘So my elephant is confiscated, is that what you are saying?
‘There may be a way round it’
‘I thought there might be’
The minister chewed some more.
‘If it could be shown that you were working for me, then the licensing department might be persuaded to overlook the matter’.
BIGMAC snorted. ‘I am sure they could. What do you want?’
The minister pushed his bowl away, now almost empty, and took a parcel from his pocket. He placed it on the table and unwrapped it.
‘Do you recognise this?’
BIGMAC picked it up lovingly. ‘I say! A hurdy-gurdy. I haven’t seen one of those since I was…since…’
‘Since you were my fag’.
‘Fag is such a misleading word. It implies that I was some sort of servant’.
‘You fetched and carried for us elders. You, and all those in the lower forms. If you performed your tasks well, we rewarded you. A most eminent arrangement, if I may say so’.
‘And if we didn’t, you punished us’. He caressed the hurdy-gurdy and seemed to forget his troubled schooldays. ‘Does it still tell stories?’
‘Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. It all depends on how it is feeling’.
‘A hurdy-gurdy can’t have feelings. It’s just a piece of equipment, after all’.
‘You didn’t think that when you were my fag’ He laughed as he watched BIGMAC’S antics. ‘Maybe you still don’t’. BIGMAC quickly pushed the hurdy-gurdy away from himself. ‘They were such a comfort when we were lonely and far away from home, weren’t they? Do you remember all those bedtime stories?’
BIGMAC looked at him dreamily. ‘Once upon a time, and a very good time it was…Do you think we could hear one now?’
‘Certainly not! This is no time for fairy stories. There are far more serious matters to be considered’. He paused for a moment to put on his most serious face, a thing he practised every morning in his bathroom to help him through his daily round of public engagements. ‘You know all about the Highway Games Code, of course?’
‘Most certainly I do. I helped you write it. In fact, I think I wrote most of it. While you were…’
‘Yes, yes. We won’t go into that now. The point is – the whole programme is missing now. Gone, stolen…’
‘I know. But it’s happened. And all Horace, here…’ he indicates the hurdy-gurdy…’speaks is gibberish when I try to download any part of it…’
‘It’s a pet name’ he said hurriedly, seeing the huge grin spreading all over the other’s face. He shrugged, then said, a little shamefacedly, ‘It kept referring to me as Minister so I felt obliged to call it something. I mean, it would have been most impolite to do otherwise’.
‘Yes. Even if it is only a gadget. And Horace is such a …friendly name. But there, I mustn’t get too sentimental, must I?’ He clapped his hands together. ‘What kind of gibberish’.
‘This kind’. He pressed a key on the hurdy-gurdy, ‘Horace’.
‘Yes Minister’ The voice had a hoarse, almost fruity edge to it.
‘Can you read me the emergency evacuation procedures from the Highway Games Manual?’
There was silence for a moment, then a sound very like the clearing of one’s throat.
Oh, there hasn’t been much change
At the Grange,
Of course the blackberries growing closer
Make getting in a bit of a poser,
But there hasn’t been much change
At the Grange…
The Minister switched the hurdy-gurdy off. ‘See what I mean? Utter gibberish’
BIGMAC smiled. ‘It’s poem. We all knew it off by heart, remember?
Old Sir Prior died
On the point of leaving for the seaside,
Oh, there hasn’t been much change
At the Grange’.
‘Humph!’ The Minister grunted. ‘It still isn’t the Highway Code. There isn’t a trace of it left in the memory bank. I’ve checked. There’s nothing but…’ He spluttered…’but…’
‘It’s the games in two weeks time. The whole country will be expecting a jamboree. Instead it will be a…a…’
The Minister thumped the table. ‘Not if we can help it’ He looked at BIGMAC pleadingly, using another of his carefully-constructed faces. ‘You know more about the Games Book than any man alive. Go back in history, check the old records, snoop around, shake a few heads, rattle a few bones, but find out who has taken it. The future of the country depends on you’.
‘And your future too’ BIGMAC cracked several of his knuckles loudly. ‘And my elephant?’
‘Parked in your drive before you get home tonight. You have my word.’
‘Why the blackmail? You could have asked me nicely instead’
‘Would you have helped?’
BIGMAC laughed. ‘Not a chance’
The Minister departed leaving Horace in his care, insisting that he be briefed every day. He warned him not to overtax Horace with questions, as for some reason this made him glow and become quite hot. He sat for some moments pondering, then concluded he would have to go right back to the beginning on this one. All the research, all the experimental work had been done at Etonic. That was where he would have to begin. He also realised he would need an assistant. He decided to pay a call on his niece, Isobella.
‘Be your fag?!’ Isabella shrieked. ‘What’s in it for me?’.
‘Why must there always be something in it, Bella, my dear? Couldn’t you do it out of the goodness of your heart, just to help out your poor old Uncle Arthur?’
‘Fat chance Buster! No paying no gain, that’s my motto’. She threw another bundle of disks on the already-sizzling fire. The disks caught alight and spat out suddenly.
BIGMAC stepped back then looked around him. The garden was a mess; boxes of disks, old roller-bikes, and a broken-down gyro-racer. ‘What are you burning?’
Isabella looked at him pityingly. ‘Books of course. What else?’
He looked at the boxes of disks. It was a lot of books for one small girl. A title caught his eye. He picked it up and blew the dust off it; HARVEY POOTER AND THE PSYCHIATRISTS STONE. He held it up to the light and looked at the surface. It seemed in good condition. And a first edition to boot. That was the trouble with people nowadays; no idea of the value of anything.
‘This is good’, he said, waving it. ’I used to love it at school’.
‘Have it then. I thought it was squidgy’.
He waved his hand vaguely. ‘Are all these yours?’
She laughed. ‘Of course not, silly. Mostly from friends and acquaintances from school’. She picked up a sign that was lying face down on the grass and help it up for him to see. END-OF-TERM BOOK-BURNING. $E2 PER BUNDLE. CASH ONLY.
‘I see. And you have got a licence, have you?’
‘Get real, Uncle Arthur. A licence costs a fortune’.
‘So you’re breaking the law’.
‘If I don’t someone else will. And anyway, everybody knows that if we don’t do it this way, then it doesn’t get done at all. Nobody is going to pay that much for a licence. The whole place will be cluttered up with boxes of rubbish. And that won’t be good news for the Tidy-Towns competition, will it? What would the Mayor say? Some people might say I was using my initiative’.
‘And some might think you were getting out of control, young lady’.
‘Huh! This little matter you want me to help you with, hacking into your old school computer among other things, isn’t that slightly illegal?’
‘Entirely different. No Highway Games? It would be a national emergency. The one event of the year that sees the whole country pull together cannot be cancelled. We should have to call out the army to restore order…’
He looked at his niece and shook his head. Twelve years old and almost a criminal. What would she be like in a few years time? He looked at the house; the paint was peeling and the windows would need replacing soon. His sister was not only neglecting her daughter, she was letting the house fall down around them too.
‘Where’s your mother?’
‘Gone to Londinium. She won’t be back till late’.
‘Londinium!’ He almost shouted. ‘What business has she up there?’
‘Dunno. And I don’t care. I hope she never comes back!’
‘Isabella! Don’t speak about your mother like that!’
Isabella kicked another box into the fire. ‘Well, it’s true. All I get from her is ear-ache all the time. And now I’m getting it from you. Well, you can all bog off’. She threw the sign onto the fire then vaporised.
BIGMAC tidied up the edges of the fire and pulled some of the nearer boxes away from it. It was true that disposing of rubbish had become a problem since the government had increased the licence price. More and more fires were illegal ones, but the authorities tended to turn a blind eye. Either that or have the streets full of garbage. What Bella was doing was only what thousands of others were doing. He went looking for her; she wouldn’t have gone far.
She was seated on the settee, firing a laser-gun at a line of images moving across the living-room wall. They were mostly of exotic animals and birds, and every time she scored a hit a bell rang and the score appeared lower down on the wall. The bell kept ringing and ringing, and she kept shooting faster and faster…
‘Don’t you young people walk anywhere anymore? Using energy up like that, especially at your age, can be very harmful. If you want to deconstruct, save it for important occasions’.
‘Like helping you find your grungy old games book? No thanks! I got better things to do’.
‘All right Bella, you win. How much?’
The images vanished, and Bella tried to repress a grin before putting the gun down. ‘I move in with you for the rest of the summer holidays – away from this dump. Free entry to anything I choose at the games. Rides on your elephant. And you put my friend HP up when he arrives on holiday’.
‘That’s a lot of payment’.
‘You’re getting a lot in return’
‘I know. But your mother might not agree to you moving…’
‘She’ll agree to anything you suggest. If she doesn’t, then you’d better start thinking again…’
‘Alright, alright, you move in with me. But you had better behave. I don’t want a repeat of last summer….’
’Cross my heart’.
‘So long as you don’t swear on the Bible. Now to your friend HP; what or who is HP?…Not a dog I hope!’
‘Certainly not! His name is Henry. Henry Ponsonby. He prefers to be known as HP’.
‘Boyfriend, eh? Where did you meet him?’
‘He’s not my boyfriend. He’s just a…friend.’
‘And where did you meet him?’
‘At the Hippodrome’.
‘He likes watching hippos racing? I thought only girls went in for that sort of thing’.
Bella laughed. ‘Things have changed since your days…Unc. HP thinks it’s really great. He says that where he comes from they don’t have anything like that.
‘And where would that be?’
‘Oh, somewhere far away. I think it’s out foreign. It’s called Earth.