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A fantasy of the familiarly absurd, “Love & Light & Marzipan” is a story that takes on all the big stuff: Identity, how all things connect and not being able to find the marmalade.

Following a freak accident, Henry Salmon, a young vicar, possessed by the consciousness of Trone Scorges, an alien explorer, goes into a coma. In order to save Henry’s life, Trone and his companions are forced to intervene, but when the accident is revealed to be just one of many events that should not have occurred, they are required to correct the anomalies in time, that they themselves are responsible for.

Unused to the vagaries of causality, they encounter baffling features of human existence such as freewill, coincidence  and cotton buds , whilst simultaneously and unintentionally becoming more humanised in the process.

It eventually seems apparent that in order to fulfil their obligations to their human hosts, sacrifices must be made, as the worlds of the predictably ordinary and amazingly weird, fight it out over who gets the last biscuit…

Annotations and Extracts: Love & Light & Marzipan


‘Humour is so important in keeping perspective. When folks don’t have a sense of humour, I find it really difficult to communicate with them and when I lose my own, I think that’s probably when I’m at my most intolerable – and that’s saying something!’

Had he been killed that day instead of being rendered comatose, it is interesting to think that Henry’s last words would have been most unusual – especially for someone extinguished in a sudden, unpredictable and completely unforeseen manner – for they would have been these: ‘Are you alright with a haddock?’

‘There had to be a reason why the Scorgians persisted in visiting Earth, right? What did we have that they didn’t – something that fascinated them. So yeah: “Love” - love and its relationship with change, love and its relationship with hope. And yes, I wanted to write something that was positive, something that could move people in a good way. I might never write another novel – I’ve not got the time for being cool or aloof for the sake of appearances - that’s not me. I’m not without my serious side of course but really, underneath, I’m a bit of a twit really.’

Nevertheless, what humans regard as “big” questions – such as ‘Was the Big Bang just the latest in a series of variously-sized other bangs?’ or ‘Was that offside?’ – would make Scorgians yawn extravagantly, if they had anything to yawn with. To them, the limitations of linear time are just irksome inconveniences, obstructing their otherwise infinite parabola of existence. And yet they persist in visiting us, inhabiting us, existing both as and with us. It is in their nature to loop about, free to go wherever and whenever they choose, to be or not to be – so why – that is the question – bother?

‘I really liked the idea of Trone arriving on Earth before humans had appeared and trying to find love in the heart of a dinosaur. And I enjoyed researching dinosaurs - about whom I knew absolutely nothing – and spent a lot more time reading about them than I did writing about them in the end…’

It was an easy mistake to make so we shouldn’t be surprised that Trone made it. Newly arrived on Earth, he scouted about to find a consciousness from the most evolved species to inhabit. Sometimes arriving early can be worse than arriving late. You know that really hot day that you can remember for no good reason, like the one Linda remembered in Skiathos, when she bought those earrings? Well, it was way, way, hotter than that – on most days anyway. There weren’t any polar ice caps then, and the part of the planet that would later become the Thames Valley was so warm, that even a sleeveless pullie would not be required. Running spikes might be useful though, because this was the environment in which dinosaurs had advanced, and become the ascendant beings on the planet. All of which is an unnecessarily round-about way of explaining why the first Earth creature Trone joined his consciousness to was not a human, but a Megalosaurus, one of about a hundred dinosaur prototypes that were in production at the time. It would be hundreds of millions of years until human beings appeared and become what they thought was the dominant species. This is what I was talking about when I said it was an easy mistake to make. In that part of the world, at that time, a Megalosaurus was top dog, and about the only thing it had to worry about was being killed and eaten by another Megalosaurus. Unfortunately for Trone, that is exactly what happened to Trone’s Megalosaurus and, well, it was sort of his fault. He was wandering about what would be later be known as Stonesfield, near Witney in Oxfordshire, looking for something to kill and eat when he encountered another Megalosaurus, also wandering about looking for something to kill and eat. And it would have been a fair fight too if Trone hadn’t taken over his unfortunate host’s mind, just as they were about to begin scrapping, and attempted to communicate with his rival, telepathically. As it happened, a Megalosaurus was, by dinosaur specifications, quite a smart cookie. I’m afraid though, it was not intelligent or considerate enough to receive or understand Trone’s impassioned extrasensory message of peace, which went something along the lines of:

‘Hey there big guy – you look just like me! Great teeth by the way! How about we hang out together and see if we can learn to love each other?’

I imagine you can guess the rest.

‘There’s a lot of stuff in there about personality, coincidence and duality; how opposites rely on each other for their existence – joy & pain, light & dark, hope & despair – much more than I realised until I started editing it.’

Henry knelt at the foot of his Linda-less bed praying, amongst other things, that soon it would be Linda-less no more. He was adept at praying for others, but surprisingly inexpert at doing it for himself.

A smiling and improbably blond Jesus looked benevolently down at Henry from his dressing table, whilst at the same time an anguished, crucified Christ, hung high above his bowed head from the opposite wall. All these years, talking about love, preaching about love, sermonising about love; he knew well enough what love was and where to find it, but that was not the nature of the question he offered up to heaven.

‘Why?’ he said out loud: ‘Why now? Why her? Why me? Just, why?’

At precisely the same time but on the other side of town, Linda lay soaking herself in her bath.

‘Why?’ she said out loud: ‘Why now? Why him? Why me? Just, why?’

She gazed into the light of the scented candle she had placed on the window sill. Just the other side of the glass was the impenetrable dark of the night. Turnip sauntered in through the open door and sat at the side of the tub, washing her paws. ‘It’s only a trip to the seaside Turnip’ announced Linda to the preoccupied cat. ‘One step at a time, you know? It’s all very innocent.’ As soon as she had said it, she knew that it wasn’t innocent at all, and so did Turnip.

‘Another example of dualism is in the relationship between comedy and tragedy, I guess. There’s a scene where Maltibald tries to take over the recently deceased body of a soldier in order to talk to Trone, who is occupying the mind and body of the guy’s doctor. I remember thinking as I was writing – it was such a stupid, tragic, ridiculous situation – how could I possibly find humour in there? – but in the event, it was one of the easier sections to write. All you have to do is give in to the absurdity of it all.’

Trone had just sawn a man’s legs off and was now waiting patiently for a reaction. Just to be clear: He had done this in an attempt to save the unfortunate chap’s life. Seventeen minutes after his operation, at 04.37 hours on 16th September, 1917, in a far corner of a forgotten field, Archie Postgate died.

‘He’s gone!’ said his still warm corpse. This surprised even Trone.

‘Beg your pardon old chap?’ he enquired, as Archie’s recently-closed eyes flipped open again.

‘I said, “He’s gone!” Now listen to me. I haven’t got much time’, said Archie’s voice, through Archie’s mouth, by way of Archie’s larynx. Archie’s arms meanwhile were thrashing about at his sides. ‘Why can’t I get up?’ he asked.

‘Ah, it’s you’, said Trone, ‘Because you’ve got no legs’.

‘And why not?’ demanded Maltibald.

‘Because,’ replied Trone nonchalantly, ‘I just sawed them off’. Experience told Maltibald not to pursue that line of conversation as it would probably vex him severely.

‘I like to keep any exposition in the mouth of the narrator, not the characters. Like in a movie, an elucidating bit of voiceover can avoid the need for a ton of clunky dialogue’.

All the evidence – and there was plenty of it – was that “love” was something that appeared in abundance on our watery blue Earth. It had a plethora of manifestations, but it was open to misuse, misbehaviour and mistaken identity. Like real diamonds, real genius and real baked beans, real love was something you had to fully experience to fully appreciate, and when you were in its irresistible clutches, you sure knew it.

‘I’m always a bit wary when people ask ‘Who are your influences?’ because most of the time what they are really asking ‘Who are you similar to?’ which is really up to other folks to say I think, or ‘Who do you like?’, as if there was bound to be a link. In truth, I think I’m more influenced by movies than writing, am more similar to actors than writers, and like music more than I like books. Nevertheless, If pushed – and I can understand the urge to push - I can come up with a couple of names of writers who have I think influenced me, I am similar to, and I like as well: Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut. But I must stress, this makes me kind of uncomfortable because those guys are geniuses. If people do see an influence – in whatever sense they mean it – perhaps it is because I like to digress and inject the personal into the narrative: In fact, I can’t help it. For example, my Grandmother knew Eric Fenby - who was Delius’s amanuensis – and Delius is by far my favourite composer. Now, how could I not drop that into the book somehow?’

Having first occupied the still swirling, whirling consciousness of the young Eric in Edwardian Scarborough, Trone had not expected him to be now sitting in a rowing boat, on a French lake, with a brilliant, blind, bad tempered old man. There had certainly been no hint of that sort of thing in those early days; toddling around Falsgrave Park, playing the organ at Holy Trinity and helping out at the Rotunda Museum. Whilst working at the Futurist Theatre he became friendly with an usherette called Gladys Johnson, whom he would watch sing, and dance, and play the mandolin in a most – shall we say – “individual” fashion. What neither Eric, nor even Gladys herself knew, was that she was not an orphaned only child, but actually the product of an adulterous affair, and had eight half-siblings, living just a few miles away. Gladys lived to be 96 years old and never found out this truth. Trone knew, and he wished he could have let her know somehow. She had actually met one of her half-brothers once, but as it was, neither of them knew that this was the case, and it remained just one of those coincidences that are happening all the time, that people don’t realise are happening. It was 1930 and Gladys had taken her little boy Gordon to have his feet measured at Fawcett’s in York. These days that sounds like a real extravagance, but in those days, it was just the way it was done; when you bought new shoes for your children you had their feet measured as part of the whole deal. That’s if you were from the sort of family that could afford new shoes for their children, because there were plenty who couldn’t. That was just the way of things too. Shamefully and unaccountably, it still is. The man who unknowingly measured his nephew’s feet, fetched a selection of boxes down from the shelves and eventually made the sale, had the same biological mother as the woman he was serving. The last thing Gladys had said to her half-brother, Edward, whom she never met again, was this:

‘I’ll send someone to collect them on Wednesday’.

The last thing Edward had said to the half-sister he never knew he had was this:

‘Very good madam. Cheerio!’

Just imagine that.

Four hundred miles away, at exactly the same time as this happened, an aged, sightless gentleman, who was dying of syphilis, was sitting in a rowing boat.

‘Tell me Fenby. Tell me, tell me. Tell me, what can you see?’ asked the old man urgently. Eric looked around and tried his modest best to describe the indescribable: The rolling timpani of sun-splashed hills, olive and umber. The rumbling, gently vacillating bass cello notes of the emerald water, lapping. The bold, blue brass of a confident azure sky. The streaks of white cloud violin strokes, over and under which, quicksilver clarinet gulls plunged in and out of existence. ‘Yes, yes…’ said Delius, soaking in the description, as would a sponge soak in the sea, and filtering it for inspiration.

‘Probably because they are aliens, zooming about through time, messing things up, putting things right, the Scorgians are the most obvious protagonists. Only when I read back my first draft though did I realise that Linda is at the emotional centre of the book.’

Trone was not stupid but he did assume he was more intelligent than Linda, which was stupid of him. Neither had he yet understood that although she was giving the appearance of believing and accepting what he was telling her, she in fact was doing neither – not about him being an alien inhabiting Henry’s mind, not about his umpteen incarnations, and especially not about being some kind of a time traveller. All of the while she was nodding and smiling and asking questions – the answers to which she had no genuine interest in – what Linda was actually doing was wondering whether Henry was pretending to be mad or genuinely was mad. Either way was deeply upsetting to her, but having now recovered from her initial shock, she had made a conscious decision not to show it, because that would be better for Henry. She did this because she was just a great and lovely person, as some people just really are.

I make no attempt to explain the Scorgian’s ability to travel through linear time. What would be the point? I don’t even understand how my TV works, so I’m clearly not the man for the job. And there’s nothing wrong with being baffled. Listen: We live in a world where Dion Dublin presents a programme about buying and renovating houses.

Time travelling was to a Scorgian as commonplace as having sticky nasal passages was to a human being. Trone hadn’t really thought much about ‘how’ it was achieved – it was a function of his nature and he just did it. So, ‘how do I time travel?’ was to him as prosaic a reflexion as ‘how do my nasal passages secrete mucus?’ would have been to Linda, and equally unnecessary to know in achieving the successful performance of the act. Surely, to ‘where?’ did he time travel, and ‘why?’ did he time travel, were far more interesting contemplations. Continuing to give less than her whole attention to what Henry was saying, Linda decided to ignore all the stuff about nasal passages and mucus; she’d got the gist: He didn’t know.

‘The toughest parts to write – emotionally speaking – were definitely the World War II sections. Both my Mum and Dad were damaged by it, like all its participants were to some degree I’m sure. Consequently, the children of that generation will have suffered as a result, also to varying amounts. So, yeah – putting myself into that generation’s shoes was not pleasant; often upsetting, but also unavoidable.’

Not that she had been obsessed with the idea of it up to that point or anything, but until that very first bomb dropped on Sheffield, Edith Doody had always thought her life might be worth continuing with. She hadn’t known when she’d left the house that she would be killed that night, which was just as well or she wouldn’t have enjoyed the film at all, and that would have been a waste of a “bob”. She’d never been one to complain and knew that others, worthier than she, were foregoing the attachment to their own existences every day. Like Ronnie. She tried not to think about him but she couldn’t help it – just “imagining”. And then she had been very upset by what Ronnie’s brother had said and what Ronnie’s brother had done to her, but she hadn’t made a fuss. Same when her Mam had died: She’d had a good cry and just got on with it. This though was different. This time she knew there was no hope. She didn’t know how she knew, she just did. And the people who found her body – her back curved, head bowed, knees bent and drawn up to the torso – would say: ‘Poor love, looks like she’d just given up’.

‘Having decided that the Scorgians were searching for “love” I had to think hard about what that actually meant because there are so many different types, manifesting in so many different ways. Trone – who is caretaking Henry’s body - makes it clear that he is willing to sacrifice his existence to keep Henry alive but is unaware that Hertibix – who is occupying Linda’s body - will suffer if he does. What he learns is that love carries a responsibility – not just our responsibility to those we love, but the responsibility we have to those that love us.’

The light that had left its home 93 million miles away and taken 499 seconds to reach them, bathed the café dwellers in its warm glow. ‘Look around you’, Trone continued, gesturing to the swirl of peaceful, contented huddles of human beings that surrounded them, buried deep in their shallow conversation. ‘If all these folks can live in the shadow of their sure and certain expiration and still have a good time, then so can I. I can’t say I’m looking forward to the actual dying bit, but being dead? Nah! I reckon I can handle it’. Trone turned Henry’s face back to Hertibix, expecting a tirade of inarguable, logical objections from Linda’s mouth, but instead there was nothing. Hertibix was unable to respond; overwhelmed by something she had never experienced before. Her lower lip was trembling and Trone observed a single tear, as gravity took it down Linda’s pale white cheek, to meet its appointment with the tablecloth below. Trone’s thoughts accelerated from surprise, through to confusion and unease, then decelerated down to partial comprehension, and finally, came to a dead stop as he reached total understanding as to why Hertibix was crying.

‘Oh! Right – I see’, he said quietly’.

‘I’ve written a lot about grief as a process and that a process requires time; no shortcuts available. And sometimes, those who are trying to guide you through it – although they are trying to help – well, they just make it worse. Having experienced it, I know this to be true.’

Okay, so, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step” apparently’, said Henry. Mahoney viewed his young friend with a look of disbelief.

‘Never!’ he said, ‘She said that?’ Henry nodded, and necked another mouthful of his friend’s whiskey. ‘And what did you say in the face of such profound wisdom?’

‘I told her that each and every journey, whether of a thousand miles, a million miles or the short stagger to the off licence, all started with but a single step, and that I wished she would take the first step on a journey of a thousand miles, or preferably considerably more, in the direction of away’.

‘And she said…?’ Mahoney asked.

‘And she said…that she was sure I didn’t really mean that’.

‘I see, I see’, said Mahoney. ‘And it was at that point, I take it, that you…’

‘Yes. It was at that point that I told her to…to do the physically impossible thing, yes’, Henry affirmed.

‘I see, I see’, said Mahoney again. ‘But of course, the thing is Henry, if she could do that thing, she wouldn’t be a bereavement counsellor – she’d be in a circus’

I have tremendous admiration for teachers – they can exhibit all sorts of off-putting behaviours and protective manners to defend themselves – every one of them is an actor - but underneath, virtually all are optimists trying to influence the young for the good of a future they will never see. That is why I made Linda one.’

Being human, Linda was ingloriously acquainted with the concept of “futility”. She was accustomed to its nagging presence, and familiar with the startling array of its ugly heads, any of which could be raised at any time. To her, contemplating whether the glass was best perceived as totally full, completely empty or by any fraction of either in between, was an exercise in futility itself, and that the real differences between an optimist and a pessimist, were simply to be found in their varying abilities, to ignore this fact. Only a few hours earlier, that very day, she had tried to get her Year 3 class to sing the words of “Jingle Bells” and “Good King Wenceslas” without certain members of her throng changing the words, and therefore, the meaning, of the songs. In such a crowd of voices it was hard to isolate the culprits, but she was fairly confident that it was Ryan Malpass who had been singing ‘Brightly shone his bum that night!’ shortly after the hapless King had inexplicably fallen out of his bedroom window – and as for what fate had befallen poor old Uncle Billy ‘on the M1 Motorway – hey!’ – well, it didn’t bear thinking about.

‘If the World War II sections were the toughest to write, the flirtatious, playful encounters between Henry and Linda were the most fun.’

As he had felt obliged to do, on frequent occasions previously, Henry began to apologise for the general state of his dwelling. There was really no need to; as any reasonable person (a category that Linda most assuredly fell into) would agree, although it was quite small, it was perfectly fine. What he should have been apologising for was the specific state of his kitchen, which, as his Nana Edith would have said, “looked like a bomb had hit it”, and she should know. This was exactly the thought that was to the forefront of Linda’s mind as Henry rattled noisily about in his cupboards, searching vainly for one, let alone two, clean mugs.

‘It’s not actually “The Vicarage” at all you see, it’s just my house. The diocese had to sell-off the real vicarage. It’s a B&B now…’ he jabbered on. ‘South facing garden if you are, you know, er, facing South’, he continued, gesturing extravagantly to the patio doors. Had it been daytime and had Henry cleaned his windows that year – which he hadn’t – Linda would have been unimpressed by the vista whatever way she, or it, were facing. The “garden” was essentially a repository for black bin liners stuffed full with unspeakable things in various stages of decomposition, a never used and now rusting exercise bike, and a burst – yet still manically grinning – Space Hopper. They had all been resident at the time Henry had moved in two years earlier and had not moved an inch since.

‘Um. Shall I wash-up a bit?’ offered Linda, hoping Henry would say ‘no’. It was becoming apparent that discovering any clean crockery of any sort was akin to finding an infinite number of invisible needles, in an infinite number of invisible haystacks. Henry looked at her aghast.

‘Good God no!’ he said ‘Are you insane?’

The embarrassment of the situation diffused, they laughed a slightly forced but not unwelcome laugh. Sensibly, they opted to say baubles to the coffee, and have some wine instead. Priorities and habits ensured that Henry always had a serviceable supply of wine and reasonably clean, easily locatable glasses from which to guzzle it. Already aware to some degree that they loved each other, Henry and Linda spent the rest of that late Christmas Eve and early Christmas Day, trying to decide whether they liked each other too.

‘Often, when I’m writing, I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m not thinking; I’m seeing it and hearing it. It’s like I’m watching a film or a play and trying to describe the scene and jot down the dialogue as it happens in front of me. Consequently, some parts are more ‘cinematic’ or ‘stagey’ than others.’

Through her tears, Linda explained that although Henry had returned to her after his stay in the retreat, he had had not been the same Henry that he had been that Christmas Eve, after the carol concert. At first, there had been enough of an identifiable, essential Henry for her to recognise him. Since his ridiculous accident in Whitby and emerging from his coma however, he had not been an identifiable, essentially recognisable Henry at all; in fact, he was somebody else entirely. Dr Krystoff leaned forward.

‘How so?’ he asked, gently. As tough as it had been thus far, Linda knew that this was going to be, by some margin, the most challenging part.

‘He thinks…’ she said, uncertainly, ‘he thinks…’ she dared not look at their faces, ‘he thinks that he is an alien’. Surprisingly it was Dr Krystoff, despite all his many years treating delusional patients, who registered more astonishment at the revelation than did Father Mahoney.

‘What exactly has he said my dear?’ asked the priest. Linda bit her lip slightly, to stop it from trembling. It was now or never.

‘Just that’ she said. ‘He says he is an alien; an alien called “Trone” who has been occupying Henry’s mind since birth, sharing his thoughts and that Henry is really still in a coma and…’ Linda faltered slightly but from somewhere, rallied the strength to finish her sentence, ‘and that Henry may not ever come back’.

‘Of course, science fiction writers in particular have seen the satirical opportunities afforded by using aliens to represent “the other” and “unknown” in order to comment on the nonsensical absurdities and irrationality of racism. So, there was probably no need for me to join in, but in the end - once or twice -I just couldn’t resist it. Not that there’s a lot of actual satire – mostly I’m just – what would it be? – “poking fun”’

If humans actually knew about Scorgians, they would probably argue that they are fundamentally dissimilar to each other, and it is hard not to see why. For a start, most (but not all) Scorgians are composed of sub-atomic particles, can occupy a variety of physical forms, and due to the nature of their non-linear relationship with time, can be in several places at once, before or after they actually are. On one level, this may be impossibly difficult to understand, but acknowledging it is as being true, is something humans would probably be okay with, because the harder something is to comprehend, the easier people seem to find it to accept. Whereas, most, but not all human beings, say they like marzipan, and will occasionally bite the inside of their own mouths whilst eating it. It truly is a complex and confusing universe.

‘I wanted to have a character fall in love with another character for no apparent reason, with no visible cause or purpose to the attraction – you know – ‘just because’. I give Megan a pretty hard time in the book and I knew for it to ring true she would have to be very durable, stoical but determined – that’s why I made her a nurse – they are the toughest folks around.’

Having never met before she was introduced to his unconscious, bleeding, mangled body – after his motor cycle accident on Christmas Eve – she had nothing to build her affection upon, other than their time together since. During all of that time, Andreas had remained dormant. Megan had never heard him speak, or laugh, nor seen him smile. She did not even know the colour of his eyes. Yet, she loved him.

‘I dropped Ada and Eve into the story not just because it ran with the duality theme but because I wanted to dangle a few threads – something for me to grab onto and expand upon if and when I write another Scorgian story.’

Identical twins are never completely identical – cell-by-cell or bit-by-bit perfect copies – but what Ada and Eve knew – and only they knew – was something quite amazing: Their bodies, their shapes, their faces were in fact genuine – yet reversed – facsimiles of each other. Thus, it was, that when a wistful Ada sat in front of the looking glass, it was a thoughtful Eve who appeared to her, and when Eve grinned into her mirror, she observed a happy Ada beaming back. They were, more truly than is usually meant by the phrase, “mirror images” of each other. And that was their secret. For now.

‘How to make Henry and Linda accept that the Scorgians were real, and not figments of their own super-stressed imaginations, was a tough one. Although Henry is a man of faith, he is also the sort of guy who would need some evidence. I thought about what I would need to see to be convinced, and went the idea of Trone showing Henry a highlights reel of his previous lives because I knew I could get some comic mileage out of it.

It had not been easy. Henry’s consciousness had sunk to the very depths; hiding in the darkest, deepest recesses. It had been like looking for a functional corkscrew in Henry’s kitchen drawer or – almost as tricky – a gluon wearing a false nose and moustache, hiding in Linda’s handbag, at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

‘Just calm down Henry old chap’, said Trone

‘Get out of my head!’ yelled Henry, rocking backwards and forwards and clutching at his temples.

‘Take it easy fella and listen, just listen.’ Henry’s rocking had now dropped to a gentle sway. ‘Get out of my head…’ murmured Henry.

‘Everything is going to be fine Henry; weird, but fine’, Trone told him.

‘Get out of my head…’ Henry said again.

‘Absolutely and definitely will be doing that Henry – just as soon as possible, okay? And I am so sorry for the jump start, but really, we were worried that you were wandering off so very far away, you were never going to make it home again, as it were…’

Henry found this amusing for some reason, and chuckled as he repeated the phrase ‘As it were!’ over and over again, very loudly – so loudly that a nurse had rushed in from an adjoining room. Bewildered by Henry’s hysteria and apparent lack of seriousness, for the first time, Trone was starting to get a bit tetchy.

‘Now look Henry, I have saved your life!’ he said, but by some logic obscured to Trone, Henry found this even more amusing and he was now laughing uproariously and singing

‘I’m alive! So are you!’

‘Yes, we are!’ And that’s something isn’t it?’ continued Trone, still nonplussed as to why Henry could not accept him as genuine. Henry was, after all, a man who was willing to accept, as “gospel”, that two thousand years ago, a young girl, who had never had sex, gave birth to the son of the creator of everything, who was eventually tortured to death for trying to help people, but came back to life again before disappearing into the sky. Trone thought hard about what to do next. How could he convince Henry of his authenticity? Henry was humming a little hum. ‘Hum hum hum’ it went. And he was swaying and smiling. ‘Right then Henry – there’s only one thing for it: I’m going to show you my home movies.’ Henry’s tune halted, as he abruptly stopped humming and rocking and smiling.

‘You’re going to show me your what?!’ he said, and then, Henry stopped doing anything at all.

‘Having thought of a way that Henry could actually believe in Trone’s existence, I was then faced with a similar problem with Linda - she would be more difficult to win over.  When Hertibix reveals her presence – just a voice in her head - Linda would just assume that she had gone mad, like most of us would I guess.’

Linda could have fainted but she didn’t. Or possibly she couldn’t have. Anyway, her initial reaction had been:

‘Oh well, thank you so very much! Absolutely marvellous! Just what I need!! I’m hearing voices now am I? How totally, totally brilliant!’ She even said it out loud. Or at least, she thought that she did. ‘Was that me talking, then? Using my mouth? Or was it someone else. It’s so hard to tell these days, what with uninvited guests gate-crashing your brain!’ she announced to the other passengers of the X1 Bus to Harrogate. Nobody said anything much, because nobody minded much. This was Yorkshire and they were used to that sort of thing. A few turned in their seats and checked to see if she looked distressed, but she didn’t.

‘She dun’t look mithered’, reported Mrs Nobes to her husband.

‘She dun’t look barmy neither though’, said Mr Nobes.

‘Poor love’, said Mrs Nippard.

‘Oh Aye’, agreed Mrs Skrine.

 At the back of the bus, an unusually handsome and not pointlessly tall man of late middle-age, jotted the incident down in his note book, vowing one day to include it in a novel.

Hertibix, having very little information on which to base a prediction as to what Linda’s reaction would be, was actually rather encouraged and relieved. She waited until Linda was back home and desperately trying to find her cheap, highly efficient corkscrew (which was in the bathroom), and tried once more.

‘Hi Linda – me again. Look, I shouldn’t really be doing this…’ Linda threw back her head and slapped her hands down on the counter.

‘Oh fine! You’re back!’ she said, now giggling hysterically.

 ‘…but desperate time-dependent anomalies call for desperate causality readjustments…’

‘I’m a little teapot…’ said Linda, with great authority.

‘…so if you could just listen…’

‘Bop-she-pop-she-moke, baby!’ sang Linda

 ‘…just for a minute…’

‘Hooby-shooby, flip city!’ exclaimed Linda

‘…try to accept that what Henry told you is true…’ continued Hertibix

‘Cannot compute!’ said Linda, doing a “robot” dance.

‘You could compute if you just listened to me Linda, please!’ begged Hertibix. Linda took a deep, cleansing breath, and leaned, her head bowed, over her worktop.

‘Okay. Why not?’ she said, ‘Hit me. I’m all ears’.

Hertibix wasn’t sure what that last bit meant but at least Linda had stopped laughing.

‘Right’, said Hertibix, ‘to sum up: Trone is real, I am real and neither you nor Henry are mad’.

 ‘Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm’, said Linda.

‘Can you consider for a moment and just accept that everything I have said is true?’ pleaded Hertibix. Linda did consider it for a moment then answered.

‘No’ said Linda. Hertibix sighed an exasperated and weary sigh.

 ‘Did you just sigh an exasperated and weary sigh?’ asked Linda.

‘Yes’, admitted Hertibix. ‘Yes, I’m afraid I did’.

‘Well excuse me!’ said Linda indignantly. ‘Pardon me ever-so for finding it difficult to believe that I’ve got an alien living in my head and Henry has got an alien living in his head but I’m afraid…’ Linda persisted ‘…that I’m having just the merest smidgenette of trouble going with that right now! Alright?!’

And there was silence. Hertibix was thinking. The next move would be crucial.

‘I find the phenomena of Temporal Global Amnesia fascinating. It’s happened to me a couple of times when I’ve been exceptionally tired or stressed, but only for a few minutes here and there. I do genuinely have a friend though who “lost” the best part of an entire day. Zach’s experience is based upon that.’

Zach was lying on the ground. That was the first thing that occurred to him. The second thing that occurred to him was that he had no idea why. He was cold and the sky had suddenly darkened; instantly, abruptly and at once. How could that be? It couldn’t be, but it was. Zach was not going to panic, just because the last thing he could remember he was standing in his shed, on his allotment, eating a cheese sandwich and considering how long it was going to take to turn over his vegetable patch – he wasn’t the freaking out type. Also, Zach did not freak out because the thought had not yet arrived that he may be very seriously ill. Instead he was quite enjoying the novelty of something so very odd happening to him, and actually chuckling to himself as he clambered to his feet.

 ‘Ee, I don’t know!’ he said, and he didn’t.

Though Zach was not exactly a young man, he should not have had any impediments of infirmity or pain from being horizontal, but he was nevertheless relieved he could achieve the feat of becoming vertical again with ease. Now he stood in amazement, surveying the small area of land in front of him. Every inch of it had been dug over, though some areas with markedly more skill than others. On entering his shed he found both his sandwich box and thermos flask empty. Zach never did, and never would, hold any truck with Battenberg cake, but even the piece that Lizzie occasionally included in his daily vittles for humorous purposes (knowing full well he wouldn’t eat it) shockingly, appeared to have had a bite taken from it, whereas normally it would have been left entirely unmolested. It was only now that Zach began to worry, just a little: Not only had he lost all recollection of the last eight hours of his life, but it appeared he had actually chomped through some marzipan as well.

‘When I was writing the scene with Arthur confronting Ivan Box in 1940 I remember getting quite upset. I could see it all happening in front of me, like a lucid dream. I remember thinking too about my Dad and about the particular bravery of his generation.’

They were not far from East Park now. ‘Nearly there’ said the milkman. Arthur nodded and pulled his blanket tighter round his knees. ‘Ay up. What’s all this?’ Arthur followed his driver’s gaze to the field alongside them.

‘Stop the…stop the…whatever you call this vehicle of yours’, said Arthur.

‘“Bread and butter” is what I call it you cheeky beggar’, said the Milkman, but Arthur was already out of his seat. Having clambered wearily over the dry stone wall, as he got nearer, he was able to make out the standing figures of two men, stooping over the collapsed heap of a third, lying on what appeared to be a dirty, wet, unfolded parachute. The younger lad was kicking the prone one’s body as the older one stood by, a shotgun in his arms.

‘Now then’, said Arthur.

‘Now then’, said Sam, delivering another kick.

‘It’s alright lad – it’s a Jerry’, said Ivan.

‘Is he dead?’ said Arthur.

 ‘Not yet. But he soon will be’, said Ivan, grinning and raising his shotgun.

‘No. I don’t think so’, said Arthur calmly.

‘He’s a Nazi spy!’ said Ivan.

‘Stop kicking him’, ordered Arthur, as he knelt down next to the still unconscious body.

‘May I remind you who has got the gun?’ said Ivan.

‘And may I remind you who is wearing the uniform?’ snapped Arthur.

‘Aye, well, that’s as maybe…’ said Ivan defensively.

‘And more to the point, so is he. If he’s in uniform he can’t be called a spy – them’s the rules’.

‘He’s still a bastard Jerry and I’m going to bag him!’ bellowed Ivan, his finger on the trigger.

‘Nay’, said Arthur, standing up again, trembling slightly and placing himself between the shotgun and the body behind him. ‘That’s a human being is that and I’ll not let you do it’.

Each man stared into the prism of the other’s defiance; their compassion and their hatred reflecting back at each other.

‘Father Mahoney’s monologue is an example of a piece of writing that my sub-conscious seemed to be dictating to me – I was quite detached from it – just trying to copy it down as I heard it.’

‘Shall I tell you something I find fascinating Martin? – Something I remember from school: “Without light there can be no colour”. Now then, what do you think of that? Nothing has a colour of its own you see, and it’s all about how the light hits a thing, and what sort of light it is, and how it gets reflected back at you. Did you know that? So, your uniform and their uniform, and this collar of mine and those boots of yours, and my heart and your heart – they all look the same when there is no light. How about that? Still, what about all those other people? The poor old folks, eh? And all those dead children too. And the ones that would never now get born; all the armbands, all the branded ones – all those stars of David, burning away. Yes, you’re the one to blame sure enough. So go on – why don’t you just do it then? Oh yes, I can see it – that rope of yours, shoved under your bed over there. What do you say? Shall you do it today then? As soon as I’ve gone maybe?’

‘I don’t write many descriptive passages, so when I do “wax lyrical” it always surprises me. As usual though, I just don’t seem to be available to avoid including some attempts at humour – I just can’t stop myself and it really annoys me actuall!y’.

It was a spectacular dawn. Somewhere, up there and not too far away, the sky stretched out its misty fingers, clawing at the Pennine’s peaks, leaving cloudy white striations where the shivery-cold blue melted into turquoise. A cheerfully confident Sun finally framed itself, and rose, yawning apologetically from behind the horizon of hills and fells and feeling-all-a-Saturday. In the city too, in the streets and conurbations, over the flats and houses, window boxes and gardens, down came the light. Dew sparkled like diamonds, or at the very least, Cubic Zirconia, on Mr and Mrs Devlin’s suburban, weed-free lawn. The Geraniums, the Lupins and the lone Hydrangea shook their heads free of night in the breeze, and yelled out for more colour. The Pear tree seemed almost bashful of its thickening, fashionable perm of blossom, and hop-filled Sparrows called out in dissonant salutation to another new day. It was a joyous carnival, a show of shows, and a celebration of life itself. It was such a shame then, that Donna was still asleep, had missed the lot, and by the time she woke up, it was drizzling.

‘I can well understand that the non-linear, mixed chronology of the story’s structure might vex a few people, although it’s hardly original. Why it should be that we are happier with flashbacks and the like in movies than in books I don’t know, but the hopping about from pre-history to the Edwardian era to the 1970s and the present day – the blurring of past, present and future - is important because that’s how the Scorgians experience things. It does make demands on the reader’s concentration – as well as patience! – but I think it makes it easier in the end to make the connections so the narrative makes sense and is true to its own world.’

The postman stood outside the Devlin’s front door. He looked for the door knocker that was not there and the bell that wasn’t there either. He hated these big catalogue things. Time was when people were glad to see the postman, but not in the “then” that was “now”, when most people’s mail was dominated by increasingly sophisticated attempts at making them part with money they didn’t actually have. Poor postie: He was becoming viewed more as a harbinger of doom than a bringer of joy. It was 1970, and the masses were yet to experience having the useless, the offensive and the speculatively dull, foisted upon them electronically. Partly because he didn’t want to disturb the family within – it was the weekend after all – but mainly because he was justly ashamed of the unwanted garbage he was delivering to them, the postman decided just to have a go at physically manipulating it through the letter box instead. So it was, after some highly dextrous twisting and mutilating, he was eventually able to dispatch the now torn and banana shaped catalogue, through the door, and into the Devlin’s hallway. Satisfied with a job well half-done, the postman retreated down the path whistling “The Liberty Bell” by John Philip Sousa. Mrs Devlin and Donna considered the creased and mangled extraneous mound of paper on the floor. ‘He’s a nutter is that postie’, observed Donna wistfully.

‘The conversations between Henry, Linda and Maltibald (who is occupying the body of Father Mahoney) are really conversations between aspects of myself. Maltibald represents a scientific, fact based view, up against Henry’s faith and belief, with Linda sitting somewhere in between, not knowing wondering to think, and doubting if there is any point in the debate. I have to say, as I get older, I identify more with Linda than anyone!’

‘So what you are saying’, said Henry, slowly, ‘is that nothing – absolutely nothing – has to happen the way it happens?’ Maltibald nodded Father Mahoney’s head gently.

‘Probably not’, he said, in Father Mahoney’s pleasingly mellifluous accent.

‘Alright’, said Henry, ‘I need to think about that’, not that he had any intention of thinking about it at all. Maltibald had just spent several minutes trying to explain to Henry and Linda that he was now as sure as sure, that his previously expressed view that life in their universe was driven by unalterable causes and effects, that would inevitably lead to more unalterable causes and effects ad infinitum, was in fact, erroneous – probably. Why he now thought that this was the case was something he would rather not have to reveal, but if necessary, he would.

‘So it’s not all set in stone, so to speak?’ asked Linda.

‘Probably not’, said Maltibald.

‘And there’s no reason for things to be exactly the way they are?’ Linda continued. ‘Probably not’, said Maltibald.

‘Hmmmm…’ said Linda after a brief reflective pause, whilst she sipped her hot chocolate, ‘…I think I could just about get behind that’.

‘Well I couldn’t!’ said Henry, indignantly. ‘What about History? Surely History is proof that things happened because of the decisions we made in the past, and we can’t change them now’.

‘Possibly’, said Maltibald, dismissively.

‘What do you mean “possibly”?’ said Linda. She was trying to stick up for Henry as best she could but in truth, had no idea whose side she was on. ‘I mean, for example…’, she stumbled on, trying to pull a suitable argument from the ether, ‘…you can’t deny that had the Allies not been so vindictive towards Germany at the end of the Great War, the Second World War might not have happened?’

‘It did happen though. In this universe’, said Maltibald.

‘Meaning what?’ said Henry, embracing the probable futility of the argument, ‘That there is some alternative universe where the Treaty of Doodah was actually fair to the Germans, little Adolf grew up to be a noted water colourist and people truly know what cotton buds are for?’ Henry and Linda grinned stupidly at each other in a way that reminded Maltibald horribly of Trone and Hertibix at their most adolescently irritating, and it made him cringe, it really did. He was aware that what he was going to say next was going to annoy both Henry and Linda but he said it anyway.

‘Possibly’, said Maltibald.

‘Ah, but in the real world…’ Linda began, but Maltibald was losing patience,

 ‘The “real world”?’ he interrupted, ‘Is that what you think that this is? – The one and only “real world”? Just because it happens to be the one you are living in? Really, the arrogance of it! Let me tell you something: In this “real world” it may have been impossible that you two had even met, for the simple reason that neither of you was ever born. But in this “real world” of yours that isn’t what happened, because it’s fixed – not “fixed” as in “unchangeable”, but “fixed” as in “mended”. And do you know who “mended” it?’

‘No idea’, said Linda.

‘God?’ said Henry.

‘Me!’ said Maltibald, slapping Father Mahoney’s fist down on the table with such ferocity that it dislodged several of his marshmallows from their creamy bed, ‘I did!’

Linda and Henry looked at each other but were too surprised to say anything. Maltibald reached for the last macaroon – if anyone deserved it, it was he. ‘Me’, he said again, but more quietly, ‘probably’.

‘Trying to see humanity through the eyes of an alien (even one without eyes) is bound to expose absurdity – it’s inevitable.’

The position of political leader of Great Britain (whose interview process is essentially one where they must merely convince a third of the population that they are slightly less dangerous than their competitors) can be occupied by virtually any British person. No PhD, degree, GCSE or Bicycle Proficiency Test Certificate is required. Trone had noticed too, that monarchs had traditionally not been required to take any courses, attend seminars or receive diplomas in “Advanced Skills Kinging”, “Quality Assured Queening”, or even be able to swim two lengths of a swimming pool wearing pyjamas, before being handed the job on a bejewelled golden platter. Having therefore, worked out that the less demonstrably able you were, the more high status you must be, Trone had assumed that the training and qualifications required to be a vicar – which, being a human representative of a supreme super-being – would be not be that rigorous or extensive. In the event though, Henry had spent about eight years in total becoming a vicar, honing his vicary skills and gaining vicary experience, so that he could be the brightest and best vicar he could be. Doctors, lawyers, nurses, tattooists, fork lift truck drivers, hairdressers, airline pilots, croupiers, traffic wardens, even estate agents, also all have to “qualify” in one way or another before they are regarded as being “professional” and, by implication, trustworthy and capable enough to fulfil their roles. Trone just could not work this out at all. I mean, where was the consistency? If he was wrong, it opened up the possibility that a good teacher or vicar or nurse or police officer – none of whom were awarded palaces at birth – were every bit as vital to human society as the very greatest Minister of State for Farming, Fisheries and Food, and that simply couldn’t be correct, could it? It certainly seemed that way to Henry however, whose opinion of Linda was as incalculably high, as his opinion of politicians was inestimably low.

‘I was asked if the gnomes that Mrs Skrine - one of Dr Krystoff’s patients) - had living in her garden shed were “real” and I really didn’t know how to answer at first! Eventually I had to concede that they were as “real” as anything else in the book.’

There is a line that divides the delusion of one person from the reality of another, which, if crossed, can rend the fabric of truth for both. The referral had come via Mrs Bottle of Social Services, who had themselves been contacted by a somewhat bewildered Mr Turkington from the council’s Environmental Health department, Pest Control section. He thought he had seen it all during his twenty eight years in the job. He was a “rats man” really, but he had also dealt with mice, woodworm, spiders, bedbugs, cockroaches, fleas, flies, and moths – but never gnomes. He’d told all of this to an equally bemused Mrs Bottle. ‘You see Mrs Bottle’, he’d said, ‘I’m a “rats man” really’. All of which lead to…

‘Yes, well, that’s the thing you see’, said Dr Krystoff, ‘It seems the most logical thing to do doesn’t it?’ He was explaining to the young police constable that even if it did seem to be the most instinctively obvious course of action, it was still a mistake to assume that confronting the delusion of a patient with sensible, cogent and irrefutable argument, was going to be easy. Sometimes though, proving that any sincerely held belief, however ridiculous it may be, was delusionary, wasn’t even necessary. Take this very case for example; that of Mrs Skrine and the troublesome community of gnomes who dwelt in her garden shed. ‘They stand just there’, said Mrs Skrine, gesturing contemptuously to the patio beyond the lawn, ‘All lined up – pointing and laughing at me – waving their grubby little fists. I’d like to box their big floppy ears I would, the little swines!’ The first time Andy had visited, he had done the obvious thing and gone into the shed with her. There were no gnomes to be seen by either he or Mrs Skrine, but this, she explained, was because they were hiding, and could make themselves invisible. They had known that he was coming because the magnets the gnomes had sewn into her clothes, meant that they could read her thoughts. Andy suggested that she check her clothes for magnets and none were found but that, Mrs Skrine assured him, was because they had been telepathically forewarned of that action also, and skilfully removed any trace of the magnets from ever being there. Andy offered that they must have done it pretty quickly. ‘Oh yes,’ Mrs Skrine expounded, ‘that’s because they can slow down time you see’. ‘Oh, like Santa Claus?’ Andy had replied and Mrs Skrine looked at him as if he were deluded, not being a believer in the big guy in the red coat herself. Dr Krystoff had tried a different tack altogether and had formulated a strategy of diplomacy and negotiation with the gnomes, essentially appealing to their better nature by using bribery. He had done this with the full cooperation and involvement of Mrs Skrine, feeling somehow, that any tactic entirely of his own invention was highly unlikely to succeed. Alas, in the event, no amount of plying with gifts of sweets and chocolates and cakes did the trick, and the infestation continued unabated. Hedging his denominations, Dr Krystoff had called in both Father Mahoney and Rev. Salmon to have a go at reasoning with them, but Mrs Skrine reported that this had only riled the gnomes to the point that they were now in the habit of appearing without their trousers, not only pointing and laughing, but also waggling their gnomish, bared arse-ends in her direction, from dusk till dawn. Although never one to rush toward prescribing anti psychotropic or mood stabilising drugs, particularly in the elderly, there seemed to Dr Krystoff, no alternative. Just a few days later however, at her next appointment, a bright and breezy Mrs Skrine reported that her uninvited guests had finally been routed, the incursion was over, and that her shed was now a gloriously gnome-free zone. The solution had been so simple. All that had been required was for Mr Skrine to stand at the foot of her bed, gazing fiercely down at them as he played his clarinet, and the gnomes had fled in terror. Every night now he stood guard, strains of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw filling her room as Mrs Skrine slept peacefully, knowing her tormentors would never return. On this occasion then, Dr Krystoff was happy to stay on his side of the line, and leave Mrs Skrine – and her long dead husband – on theirs.

‘They are not twins but I have 2 daughters and there is something of them in Ada and Eve. Far from being little innocent no-nothings, I think kids are masterminds – uncluttered by the false perspectives of adult concerns. I mean, how can seeing ‘through a glass darkly’ be a good thing?’

Helen didn’t care about them marking her table – a few more dents and scratches would give it a bit of character. The bottom line was this: She needed to know where they were and what they were up to. Helen looked up from her computer screen. ‘Just a few more minutes and I’ll be ready’, she called across the room.

‘Okay mum’, they chimed out together, but keeping their attention securely fixed on the game; anything could happen.

‘Your go silly!’ said Ada.

‘My go silly!’ said Eve.

The instructions on the side of the box said that it was a game of strategy and cunning, and by careful removal of the sticks from the transparent cylinder, the object of the game was to let as few of the marbles as possible fall into your area before your opponents next attempt – the winner being the player in possession of the fewest marbles when all had dropped. In reality it was all just luck.

‘Disaster!’ laughed Ada as six or two threes worth of the brightly coloured spheres clattered down their receptacle.

 ‘Your go now silly!’ said Eve.

‘My go now silly!’ said Ada, and slid the apparatus in closer proximity to her. With work now finished, Helen appeared at the table.

‘Ah! I know this game!’ she said as sat down next to her daughters, ‘Can I have a go?’

‘Next time!’ they replied in unison, as Ada yanked out a pink straw and another collection of marbles cascaded noisily down the container. With that round soon over, they were once again pushing the supportive plastic rods back through the canister, before refilling it.

‘Can I have some straws now?’ said Helen. ‘They’re not straws mummy’, said Eve. ‘They’re lines of time’, said Ada.

‘I see’, said Helen.

‘And the tube thing is the universe’, said Eve. Helen absorbed this for a moment. She was used to her twins saying extraordinary things but this was a little leftfield, even for them.

‘So what are the marbles then?’ she asked.

‘Us, silly!’ they replied, with perfect synchronisation. Perhaps fortunately for her, there was a knock at the door, and Helen heaved herself up to answer it, before she could cogitate upon the philosophical implications of their assertion.

‘The way that the Scorgians can’t help interfering – time travelling to change one thing and unwittingly changing ‘everything’ – sort of reflects the way I wrote the book. It was a cascade of events – like tumbling dominoes. And it is strange how one gets attached to one’s own characters – I liked Andy and I felt genuinely sad that he would have to die but I couldn’t see any way round it – and then I had another idea and before I knew it – another whole line of dominoes appeared’

Andy’s eyes opened suddenly. He had not a clue where he was, who he was or when he was, just for a moment. He had no idea. And then: Oh yes! Christmas Eve. Still in uniform. Still at his desk. Blimey. Of course. Must have dropped off. Crazy. He hit “save” and filed the report. It would have to do. He was too tired to think about it anymore. Passing by those who were just clocking-in, he said goodnight to Bill on the desk. It was the day itself, near enough. Oh well. It was a short ride home and at least he could have a lie-in, then dinner at his parents, walk Wilko, a few drinks, and the footy on Boxing Day. Andy stepped into the cold night air and kicked his motorbike into life as the chimes of midnight began. And so soon he was gone, into the night, into the trees, summoned by bells.

‘In ‘Star Trek’ to get round Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle they have a device that allows the transporter system to work called a ‘Heisenberg Compensator’ – there is no attempt to explain how they work and I just love that – they just ‘do’ okay? That’s much cleverer than developing some complex faux scientific theory, and if you can’t just go with that, well, you probably don’t have much of a sense of humour.’

‘So,’ asked Henry, ‘what are you going to do now then? Erase our memories?’ Maltibald stared at him through Father Mahoney’s eyes, feeling the muscles of Father Mahoney’s face being pulled into an involuntary and increasingly frequent expression of puzzlement. He then glanced across at Linda who was looking with expectation and a degree of nervousness back. It was clear they had not understood at all.

‘Why’, enquired Maltibald patiently, ‘would I do that?’  It was Henry’s turn to look baffled.

‘You just said that we wouldn’t remember you, or the others, or any of this’, he said.

‘Correct’, confirmed Maltibald, reaching for the second to last macaroon, having decided that coconut was just the greatest thing.

‘So have you got a zapper?’ said Linda.

 ‘What’s a zapper?’ said Maltibald, with crumbs falling from Father Mahoney’s mouth.

‘You know, a brain zapper’, said Linda, ‘Some sort of… you know…oojah wotsit that you can…um…zap brains with’.

‘Ah!’ said Maltibald. ‘You are referring to a device, the employment of which would facilitate the rearrangement of your hippocampus, and other related structures in the temporal lobe, in order to eradicate the electro chemical areas responsible for retaining information about your encounters with us?’

‘Well, yes’ said Henry. Maltibald gently shook the old priest’s head.

 ‘No’, he said.

‘Oh’, said Henry.

‘For two reasons’, continued Maltibald, ‘One: There is no such thing as a device, the employment of which would facilitate the rearrangement of your hippocampus, and other related structures in the temporal lobe, in order to eradicate the electro chemical areas responsible for retaining information about your encounters with us – or if there is, I haven’t got one’.

Henry couldn’t hide his disappointment; there were a few additional memories of things he was going to request the obliteration of, including the embarrassment of his first driving test, the disappointment of the 1993 League Cup Final and absolutely anything relating to a certain Deborah Plackett.

‘And what’s the second thing?’ Henry asked.

 ‘Ah yes’, said Maltibald, momentarily distracted by Linda rather impolitely seizing the final macaroon,

‘Two: There is no need to’.

‘Because…?’ queried Linda, semi coherently, due to having a mouthful of biscuit.

‘Because’, said Maltibald, ‘we have never met, are not meeting, and never will’

‘I get asked a lot about the alien names – most of which my brother thought up - but everybody in the book is named what they are for a reason. Sometimes the reason is obscure or deliberately shrouded – It’s a bit like a game – when and if the reader ‘tumbles’, it kind of opens up another level for them - but Megan is called Megan simply because I’ve never met ‘a Megan’ that I didn’t like – same with Linda and Helen come to think of it.’

Megan had a life before, during and after work, of course she did. She was just so very tired these days. Probably just stress. Well, that and her back. All that lifting and turning the patients probably. She should get it checked out just in case it was something nasty, and she would, just as soon as she had the time. Still: She certainly wasn’t mad; of that she was sure, and that was something, wasn’t it? What’s more, she was not really deluded because she realised she was deluding herself, so that proved it, because no one who was really, genuinely, quantifiably and provably mad or deluded realised that they were, so everything was fine. Well, wasn’t it? Megan lay on her bed and reviewed the internal monologue she had just had, but was unable to keep it internal any longer. ‘Oh no!’ she said out loud, ‘I’ve gone nuts!

‘Some common experiences still demand extraordinary responses. I don’t think this is better exemplified than by how so many supposedly ordinary people deal with tragedy and grief with immense courage and fortitude’.

Mr and Mrs Rice were watching a television programme where members of the public embarrassed themselves in an attempt to obtain large amounts of money and small amounts of fame. There wasn’t much to take in, but they hadn’t been taking any of it in, which was just as well. Their phone rang. They looked at each other worriedly as had been their custom of late. ‘I’ll get it’ said Mr Rice and just before he stood up, he placed his hand on his wife’s knee in a gesture that was both truly pathetic and heroic at one and the same time. He approached the phone as if it were an unexploded bomb. He raised the receiver to his ear and he tried to stop his voice from trembling as he spoke. ‘Hello’ he said and looked at his wife, all the colour draining from his face, as he recognised Megan’s voice.

‘Just as the study of the sub-atomically small may reveal the nature of the cosmologically vast, so the appreciation of the apparently trivial can expose the fundamentally important.’

Linda was feeling pretty pleased with herself. She had been sitting in the staff room, her teaching done for the day, drawing really super smiley faces with her really super green pen and writing really super comments about all the really super work her class had been doing on Egypt, when Margaret had rushed into the staff room and said: ‘Could someone take my lot for the last one? Terry’s locked himself in the downstairs toilet again!’ Nothing – not Ofsted, not yet another PowerPoint presentation on behaviour management, not a parents’ evening – nothing but nothing, frightens teachers more than having to cover somebody else’s lesson, if only for the short time it would take Margaret to release her inept husband from his ablutionary prison. And yet Linda had done it. And she had done it despite the fact that she knew Margaret was lying and Terry had done no such thing.

‘We experience time the way we do because we are material creatures existing in a physical universe but I don’t sense that time isn’t moving quickly or slowly – time isn’t moving at all: I am. It’s a similar thing with consciousness. As it would be a mistake to assume a radio is the source of the noise that comes out of it, not merely a physical means of presenting it, so it is a mistake to assume that our brains are the source of consciousness: We are both receivers and transmitters. I realise that our understanding of time and consciousness are limited by our physicality - preventing us from fully appreciating them. And that is okay – I accept that – I’m happy with the little insights I get because I know that’s all I can manage.’

It is in the very nature of the unexpected, that people don’t see it coming.




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