Apocalypse Close: Chapter Four

 The story so far:

George Moonbat, investigative journalist, has been invited to a seminar on climate change at Apocalypse Close, the Hampstead home of Green Millionaire Tom Huntingdon.

*      *      *

George returned with relief to the patio, and helped himself to a coffee. He spotted the unmistakeable form of Miranda, lying in a handwoven hammock. She wore a skin-tight semi-transparent damask garment whose material shimmered in violent lime and violet moiré patterns wherever it described a curve around her undulating form. George tried to skirt round the extraterrestrial temptress, but, as he was passing, heading for a group of familiar Guardian faces, he heard:

“George, could you be a dear and hand me up my watermelons?”

George stared at her, thunderstruck, his strabismus dazzled by a vision of stroboscopic stereoscopy.

“Certainly, certainly,” he murmured, not at all sure what was being demanded of him.

“Down there”, she pointed under the hammock.

George retrieved the book which she had let fall. “Here you are, here you are,” he said.  (Why did he find himself repeating each phrase twice?) He tried to stare directly into her eyes, but the lenses of his glasses seemed to have minds of their own.

“Delingpole’s very good,” she continued, “Though he’s rather rude about you – and Tom. Here, you can read it if you like,” she said, tossing him the well-thumbed paperback and swinging suddenly from the hammock, the sunshine glancing off undulating ogives in unexpected refractory patterns. “I simply must get some work done this morning. Give it back to me this evening. I’m dying to get to the end.”

Conversation stopped among the little group in the garden as her rainbow-coloured form described its sinusoidal course back to the house. She turned on the step and called loudly, “See you tonight George. And don’t forget my Watermelons.”

“I won’t, I won’t,” he called back loudly, then – realising that all eyes on the patio were on him – wished he hadn’t.

*      *      *

He spotted his old colleague and rival Mark Lyingas, deep in conversation with a perfectly spherical lady whose suntanned skin indicated her colonial origins.

“Hi George,” said Mark with the enthusiasm of one who desired urgently to share the pleasure of his present company  with another. “Do you know Professor Juno Watt? Juno is the world’s leading expert on bovine flatulence. She’s been telling me all about the ravages it causes to our climate, haven’t you, Juno?”

“Hellaeiou, George, said Juno. “Saeiou pleades to meet yaeiou.” (The English gave the triphthong to the world. It took the Australians to invent the pentaphthong).

Mark continued: “Juno is personally responsible for 23% of all gas emissions by the IPCC.”

“Not quite, Mark,” Juno corrected. “I’m personally responsible for the analysis of 23% of all emissions studied by the IPCC. Not quaeioute the same thing”. And she laughed modestly.

“Twenty three percent! That’s a lot of gas,” said George, genuinely impressed.

“Why, thenk you, George” she simpered, and shifted her weight to let out a monster fart in his direction. It was her party piece, and had established her presence as among the imperishable memories of many an international scientific gathering.

“Oh look, there’s, there’s ..” exclaimed George suddenly, and he bounded off to greet a fellow Guardian contributor he recognised in the throng.

*      *      *

George headed for a young woman he recognised, who greeted him with an affectionate Islington peck on the cheek, and a “George! Lovely to see you!”

The honourable Verbena Worthington, now Baroness Waste, was a pleasant looking twenty-something whose meteoric rise to the summits of political power was a wonderful advert for David Cameron’s programme of Green Job Creation.

Except that Verbena’s particular Green Job owed nothing to the Tory government, having been created expressly for her by Cameron’s arch-rival Ed Miliband, Leader of the Opposition. Furthermore, unlike your average green-job waste disposal operative or ethanol pump attendant, Verbena was guaranteed a comfortable £100,000 a year for life.

It had happened like this:

Verbena, as part of a project for her A-level in Environmental Studies, had founded an NGO called Paperbag, devoted to replacing the plastic packaging which was blighting the landscape and suffocating hedgehogs with a biodegradable alternative, called paper.

The Minister of the Environment, an ambitious young man in search of a photogenic concept to launch his career, had taken her under his wing. Soon he was being photographed outside supermarkets and fast food outlets holding small comestible items in paper bags. Next year his party lost the election, and he was promoted from a mere Minister of the Crown in charge of a multi-billion pound budget to a position of total impotence as Leader of the Opposition. He naturally used his newly acquired powers to promote Verbena to the House of Lords, from where, undisturbed by any risk of democratic control, she could be expected to carry on inventing useless headline-grabbing policies for another seventy years or so.

Verbena, being now in her gap year, and having nothing better to do, had naturally accepted.

Her utility in the House of Lords was somewhat limited by her parents’ insistence that she should be home every evening by 10.30pm sharp, but she nonetheless managed to make herself useful to government and opposition alike by writing the Climate Change Bill, which law commits the government of the day to spending trillions of pounds on whatever project the Climate Change Committee sees fit to propose.

(Verbena, of course, knew no more about climate change than my Aunt Fanny, but, unlike my Aunt Fanny, she no longer has to worry about her fuel bills.)

“Hello Verbena,” said George, affecting the fake insouciance which comes naturally to a radical journalist when meeting someone whose non-elected authority dates back to before the Norman Conquest.

“Hi George,” said Verbena, blushing like a sixthformer being addressed by her first name by a favourite teacher.

“What’s the programme for this morning then?” asked George, as casually as possible. (Was his intimate tone meant to intimate that he regarded the young Verbena as his equal? Or was he subtly suggesting that his own status was equal to that of a legislator in the Mother of Parliaments?)

“There’s a series of debates on the psychology of climate change,” said Verbena, whose natural mode of discourse was the executive summary. “It’s called ‘The Manufacture of Public Opinion: People’s Minds and How to Make Them Up”. There’s Professor Lobachevsky from the University of West Kookaborough, and Little Jack Horner from Cardiff…”. She was running through the list of speakers, which she clearly knew by heart, when she caught sight of a newcomer:

“Oh look, there’s Franny Strongarm. Fran, do you know George?”

Fran did. They’d both been regular writers on the Guardian’s environment pages (who hasn’t?). There were hugs all round, and George, his wounded buttock and Miranda’s “Watermelons” forgotten, basked in the admiration of these two charming schoolgirls.

Fran’s rise through the ranks of the global warming world had been as meteoric as her old schoolfriend Verbena’s, before suffering an unfortunate setback.

While Verb had been jotting down the Climate Act that was to put billions of pounds on people’s energy bills, Fran had been working on a massive campaign to take them off again, by getting people to cut down on things that wasted energy. She’d already saved the country millions by getting a lot of famous people like Prince Charles and Tottenham Hotspur to promise to economise by not brushing their teeth so often, and was awarded a few million pounds to make a film to encourage the rest of the country to do the same.

Then things had suddenly gone awfully wrong. An email message: “Do it like Al Gore” got mangled and misinterpreted as “Do it  – like – all gore”.

The result had been a bloodbath. An explosive adolescent  period pain killer fantasy for sufferers from severe dysmenorrhea, a terrible warning to cystitic cyclists and tree squatters to stock up on tampons. The net result was that sales of non-recyclable sanitary products had shot up, the film was withdrawn, and Prince Charles had reverted to his former pattern of personal hygiene.

One result had been that the attention of the country’s leaders had shifted from the work of adolescent N-GOers, film makers and media folk to that of older and wiser heads – like the cognitive psychologists who were to speak today.

“Nice place they’ve got” said Fran, looking round the patio, with its profusion of semi-tropical vegetation creeping up the art nouveau pergola. “They must be rolling in it”.

“Well, they may be” said George, in his best junior lecturer tone, “But they know how to spend it. They’ve just given a million to the Save the Cameroon Rhino Fund.” Fran didn’t dare to ask about the Prime Minister’s new found interest in threatened pachyderms. He was known to be fairly careless with his own children, without worrying about species loss in Africa…

But after all, it mattered little how Tom had acquired his millions. The important thing was how he spent it. The reason why he’d laid on this week-long seminar, the reason why they were all here, was to put the shits up the plebs who were trashing their planet.

That was the essential thing.

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One Response to Apocalypse Close: Chapter Four

  1. potentilla says:

    “The Manufacture of Public Opinion: People’s Minds and How to Make Them Up”

    Brilliant stiff. Thanks Geoff.

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