by Michael E. Lloyd
Table of Contents|
Book I: Windmills Everywhere
Chapter 1: Over the Edge
part 2 of 2
It’s been a good day!
Spent the whole morning with my Fletcher. Studied the entire Italy chapter again. Always get some new insights. And I never tire of reading his quaint language and admiring all those wonderful illustrations.
Then I made a really healthy cheese salad, and settled down with La Nausée for the umpteenth time. Read the whole thing again in one session! Heavy, J-P!
Realised while I was cooking dinner that I must have been working far too hard over the last couple of weeks, and probably feeling a bit of that good old ennui too ...
Liz just rang. Said I’d sounded slurred on that voicemail. Said she was concerned I might have been doing even more drink or drugs. Huh! First that book, and now this. She’s gone too far. I told her to let me be.
As I was saying, I put the last couple of weeks down to overload. And Mother. After all, every time I saw those strange swap-overs, I know I really was completely clean and sober.
Right, seven o’clock and all’s well, peeps. Still feeling in a reading mood. So, L’Etranger again tonight. I think I can get past the first page this time. But I’ll have a little smokie and a couple of shorts first, just to make sure ...
* * *
Bloody dawn chorus!
What are all those birds so happy about?
Wait a minute ... didn’t I read somewhere that they’re not actually singing for joy? ... that they’re telling all the other birds to keep off their damned territory, or else?
Yeah, that makes a lot more sense.
But what do I care? Albert got it right. Good old Meursault. Why give a damn?
Been walking for hours and hours. I’m really hungry now, and I’ve got plenty of money in my purse. But I can’t be bothered to sort anything out. I suppose if I just sat down in a café and someone brought a meal to the table, I’d eat it. No reason not to. But it’s easier just to be walking ...
It’s even easier just sitting on top of this bus.
Four cows in the corner of that field, just sitting there too. Staring into space. Not moving a muscle. Not even chewing anything. Just like me. They understand perfectly that there’s just no point. And they don’t try to pretend there is by looking interested in me or this bus or the life insurance advertisement on its side ...
The cows were still there on the way back. Maybe they’re statues. Artificial cows. There actually are some of those up near Milton Keynes. I bet they really enliven Milton Keynes. Don’t need them around here though. Too many people rushing in every direction. Where are they all going? Just back where they came from this morning, that’s where. If any of them were setting off on a real adventure, I’d throw my hat in the air and salute them with the utmost joy and respect.
But I’m not wearing a hat. Good job there are no adventurers out there today.
I never wear a hat.
Nearly home. Not sure why I’m going there. As good as anywhere, I suppose ...
That’s strange ... the old Town Hall looks a bit different, even from this distance! Have they finally made a start on cleaning it after all these years?
Oh my god. No, no, no! They’ve given it a whole new façade! But that’s absurd. I must have got off at the wrong stop. Better go back ... ‘Ow! That was my nose!’
‘And it was your silly fault for stopping dead and turning round like that! Hey, I’m talking to you, missy ...’
No, I am in the right place. Must have just imagined it. Probably need something to eat now. Better get straight home ...
But it’s still wrong! They’ve changed all the brickwork. And they’ve taken the gable end away. ‘No! I really liked the old look! You just can’t do this! You’ve got to put ...’
‘Watch yourself, luv!’
‘Let go of me! What are you doing?’
‘It’s what you’re doing that matters, dear! Stopping in your tracks again like that, and shouting out loud to yourself, and darting around all over the pavement and then out into the road! You nearly walked in front of that cab ...’
‘I said let go of me! Have you seen the Town Hall?’
‘What? Of course, luvvie, it’s straight ahead of you, where it’s always been!’
‘Why have they changed it?’
‘Eh? Hang on. No, it looks the same as usual to me. You sure you’re feeling OK, dear?’
‘Of course I am. Let go of my arm!’
‘All right, all right. Keep your hair on. It’s your funeral, you ungrateful so-and-so ...’
Gotta get closer. Then I can be sure ...
No, no, no!
‘Excuse me. Do you know what they’ve done with the old Town Hall ...?’
Another very rude man. Just gave me a dirty look and walked away without so much as a word of help!
‘And who do you lot think you’re laughing at? Bloody teenagers!’
Gotta get away from here. They’re all asleep. I’m the one-eyed man in the land of the blind. Gotta find a policeman ...
‘Are you a policeman?’
‘I’m a Community Support Officer, madam. Can I help you?’
‘Madam? Madam?? How old are you, sunshine?’
‘Old enough to do this job.’
‘You can’t be more than seventeen!’
‘If that’s your attitude, madam, I suggest you move right along ...’
‘No, I’m not going to ... Oh, look, I’m sorry, I need your help. Somebody’s stolen the front of the Town Hall and put something awful in its place. We’ve got to catch them ...’
‘Ah. I see. Well, madam, I can assure you I walked past it only fifteen minutes ago and it looked extremely normal to me. Have you perhaps had a rather long liquid lunch? I do know how easy it is to lose contact with reality ...’
‘You useless little baby! I haven’t had a drink since ... yesterday evening! We need your help now! This is an emergency!’
‘All right, you’ve used up all your chances, darling. I’m not going to take your name and address, but I’m giving you an informal warning, and I won’t forget your face. I suggest you go straight home before you get yourself into real trouble, and sleep off whatever it is you’ve been on.’
‘You cheeky little ...’
Damn. Cut and run now, Donna. All policemen are male chauvinist pigs anyway. Even the females.
Where am I now? Ah, Park Avenue. Need to turn left, I think ...
‘Have you seen what they’ve done to the Town Hall?’
Nothing. Just turned away. Nobody cares. Heads in the sand, all of them.
‘What about you? Don’t you care?’
‘Go away, please. You’re frightening my children.’
Right, home at last. I need to make a big sandwich. Then I’ll find myself some speed ...
* * *
Thursday night (actually Friday morning!)
Well, the uppers certainly upped. I’ve spent seven hours with my Fletcher. Found out exactly what they’ve done to the Town Hall. I won’t let them get away with it.
Getting tired now. But I’ve decided I’m going into the city first thing tomorrow morning, to make sure they haven’t got at any other buildings. Someone has to do it, right?
I really hope I won’t find any more changes, of course. But if I did, that would prove that I’ve not been imagining things, wouldn’t it? Smart thinking, Donna. Cunning plan.
ASTB. Or maybe I’ll just crash right here, right now ...
* * *
Didn’t get out quite as early as I’d planned. Suppose I should have set my alarm clock.
Never mind. Moorgate Station at last, and it’s twelve-thirty. Right, I’ll hit Guildhall first, then the Bank of England, Mansion House, St Paul’s, the Old Bailey, Temple, and Somerset House. Then I’ll get some lunch on the Strand ...
* * *
All present and correct. Wonderful to see them in such bright sunshine, too. But that really does show how some of them could do with a thorough clean or refurbishing.
And I wish they wouldn’t keep draping huge coloured exhibition banners all over such beautiful buildings. It’s as if they think making money is more important than aesthetics! I always go up to the people manning the entrances and complain. Wonder if anyone else ever bothers to do that?
OK. Time for a large orange juice and a nice baguette.
That’s better! And I haven’t had a real drink for almost forty-eight hours. Feeling very good. Right, let’s check out the West End next. Start with St Martin-in-the-Fields. It’s just round the corner ...
‘Aaaarrgh!! No, no! Not again!’
‘Whatever’s the matter with her, Bill?’
‘Oh, it’s just not fair! Oh, Mother, it’s not fair. What am I going to ...’
‘Hello! Can you hear me, dear? Are you all right?’
‘Of course I’m all right, woman! It’s St Martin’s that’s not all right ...’
‘But what’s wrong with it? And why are you crying like that? Bill, give me your hankie. Here, you can borrow this ...’
‘I don’t need a hankie! I just want you to tell me you agree they’ve changed St Martin’s. Look at it, for heaven’s sake! They’ve given it the façade of the Royal Opera House! Oh, it’s not right! It’s just not right!’
‘Calm yourself down, dear. Nobody’s changed anything. Why don’t you go and sit on those steps for a few minutes? This bright sun’s probably got a bit too much for you ...’
‘Oh no, no, no-oo-oo ...’
‘You must try to stop shrieking like that, dear. Look, let me wipe your eyes for you ... Stand still for a moment, will you? ... Try to stop shaking your head like that ... Oh, you’re pouring with sweat, you poor thing. Are you feeling cold as well? Bill, do you think we should call an ambulance?’
‘Oh, leave me alone, woman. You’re no help! You just don’t understand!’
Gotta find someone who does. Ah, tourists! They won’t be blinkered like these Londoners! ‘Hey, you guys, you can see something’s wrong here, can’t you?’
Nothing. Japanese, I suppose. They’re no help either.
‘What about you, sir? Please ... can’t you see something’s wrong?’
German. Oh boy.
Right, take another good look, Donna. Just in case.
No, it’s still the Opera House. ‘Oh, Mother!’
Damned teenagers again. ‘Why don’t you learn some respect?’
Gotta get away ...
I’m not going near the police this time. It’s obviously a conspiracy. And I’m the only one who can see what’s going on. In fact I’m probably the only one who’s not part of the conspiracy.
So who are the people behind it? And why are they doing it? Are they watching me right now? Are they listening to me?
‘Are you listening to me? Eh?’
I bet they are. Need to keep quiet. Find somewhere safe.
* * *
What’s the time? Can’t focus on my watch. Concentrate, Donna. Ah, ten past seven. Ten past seven? I can’t have been in here for over four hours!
It’s a lot busier than I remember. Friday evening happy hour well under way now. Glass is empty. Must have finished the last one. Time for another, then ...
Right, I need to think this through properly from the top.
First Graham’s photo gets into the wrong newspaper. Weird! Then Mrs Yarrow gets the Town Hall repainted. Yuk. Then all the books in the Library are out of order. That’s just not fair! Then the bus driver hits that stray cow, and it doesn’t flinch. Stupid cow.
And finally they replace St Martin’s with Mansion House! Now that’s what really matters. Who do they think they are? Someone needs to do something about it. Where’s my phone? ... Damn, I must have left it at home. Gotta get to another one ...
Perhaps a couple more for the road first, though. Dutch courage. And I’d better make a few notes to refer to, so I don’t get any of the details wrong. If I can find a pencil ...
* * *
11 a.m. Sat 2 May 2009 A.D. (for the record!)
Oh, my head hurts. Must have bumped it on something. Don’t know how long I’ve slept. Don’t remember how I got home, actually. Must have caught a cab.
Anyway, I wanted to write this down. It’s important. There is a conspiracy. Someone has replaced the façade of St Martin’s with the one from the Royal Opera House. And people need to be told. I’m going to think about the best way of doing that while I make some lunch.
I wonder why I needed to get a cab home at three in the afternoon? I suppose I was feeling rather shocked and frightened about what I’d just discovered on Trafalgar Square. Maybe that nice friendly couple insisted on it. Yes, that’s probably what happened.
* * *
Load of trivia on the local radio news as usual. Waste of my brain-space. Still, we’ll get some good music again in a minute ...
‘And finally ... the BBC, the Metropolitan Police and three national newspapers have all reported receiving fascinating calls yesterday evening from various phone boxes in Soho and Chinatown. In each case the caller was insistent that the frontages of various famous buildings in the heart of the capital had been completely replaced by others!’
‘Well, Jill ...
‘What? Did I hear that right? Oh, that is such good news!!’
... were obviously looking at the wrong month on their calendar!’
‘I think that must be it, Alan! Or maybe there’s a big game of Monopoly going on out there!’
‘Maybe, Jill! Quite a story, anyway! So, that’s all from the London News team until ...’
This is just wonderful! So there are other people out there who’ve seen what’s been happening. I knew there must be! Now all I have to do is make contact. Oh, what a relief!
‘Is that the News Desk?’ ... ‘Ah, good. Look, I need to know the names and addresses of all the people who phoned you last night about those London buildings.’ ... ‘Yes, you know, the ones whose façades have been swapped over.’ ... ‘What do you mean, “joking”?’ ... ‘No, I’m not wasting your time!’ ... ‘What do you mean, “again”?’ ... ‘Huh! And to you too!’
They must be part of the conspiracy as well.
I’ll check the Internet.
Nothing on the Internet. They’re closing ranks.
Who can I talk to? Where can I find people who always try to represent the honest truth? Where would I go to get information I could completely trust? Think, Donna, think.
The British Museum! Of course! They’re bound to care about what’s going on out there.
No time to spare now ...
* * *
Never can decide if it’s best to get off at Russell Square or Holborn. Six of one and half a dozen of the other, right, Meursault?
But I do give a damn about what’s happening to my city.
Russell Square. OK, I’ll get off here. Saves a couple more minutes underground like Dostoevsky’s man.
I always feel strangely tranquil in this big square, despite all the traffic going round and round. Nice sense of space. They did some good city shaping in those days.
And Bloomsbury Square’s looking nice in the spring sunshine, too. We have a lot to protect here.
OK, here we are at last. Always love walking into this big, wonderful forecourt and seeing ...
‘Oh, no! Please, please, no! You can’t keep doing this to us! No! No!’
Why is everyone else ignoring it?
‘What’s the matter with you all? Can’t you see what they’ve done? Why don’t you care? How can you just carry on as if nothing has happened?’
They’re all just backing away. Someone’s put the frighteners on them. That’s wicked! Right, I’m not putting up with this any longer. I’m going in ...
‘Excuse me, madam. Excuse me, sir. I need to go ahead of you. I have to speak to the Information Desk at once ...’
‘You rude woman!’
‘What’s the problem, madam? You’ve just made a lot of people very angry ...’
‘Well I’m even angrier! Can you please explain to me why you’ve let them take away your central façade and replace it with the National Gallery’s?’
‘Why have you let them do it?’
‘It’s OK, David, I’ve heard about this one. There was something about her on the lunchtime news. I’ll handle it ...’
‘And who are you?’
‘I’m the Visitors Supervisor. I can’t let you stay here if you’re going to continue to behave like this. Please calm down and allow everyone to get back to enjoying themselves. If you don’t, I’ll have to ask Security to escort you out of the building at once.’
They’re obviously in on the conspiracy too. And nobody else cares. Look at them all. Just laughing at me, or frowning, or turning the other cheek ... or pretending to read the brochures or study their floor plans. Anything but get involved. Anything but give me some support.
Nobody wants to help me, Mother! Oh god, I’m scared!
But I’m not going to let them throw me out. That won’t help. I’m going to live to fight another day ...
‘All right, I’m leaving! But don’t say I didn’t warn you!’
Huh! All giving me a very wide berth and funny looks. Well, good riddance ...
‘I’m very sorry about that, ladies and gentlemen. Now, who was next, please?’
Dare I look back at the façade? Maybe I was mistaken. Need to be sure. But I must keep quiet this time, or I will be in trouble ...
‘Aaaarrgh! It’s still all wrong! No, no, no ...’
Damn, here comes a security guard. Shut up, Donna. Cut and run. Run!
‘Which way?’ ... ‘Back the way you came.’ ... ‘Yes, of course!’ ... ‘Great Russell Street ... now into Bedford Place ... phew, gotta slow down ... now round the square ... up Southampton Row and cross into Guilford Street ... phew ... then I’ll turn left, the station’s at the end of that street.’ ... ‘But I can’t face going back underground right now!’ ... ‘Into Herbrand Street. Oh, thank god, there’s a pub halfway down!’
‘No, just a single, please. With orange.’
Gotta keep my wits about me. And get my breath back. Need to think. There’s a nice quiet table over in the corner.
‘Excuse me. Do you mind if I sit here?’
Huh! There are plenty of other empty tables. Why can’t he ...?
Wait a minute. He was one of those people in the Museum! He was over to the left, by the desk, reading that brochure. What a coincidence!
He is rather good-looking, too.
‘Oh ... I’m not ... Well, yes, all right, if you like ...’
To be continued ...
Copyright © 2010 by Michael E. Lloyd