(the story so far)
George Moonbat, investigative journalist, is attending a weekend seminar aimed at saving the planet at the Hampstead homestead of green millionaire Tom Huntingdon. While waiting for the debate to begin, he falls into conversation with two fellow Guardian Environment contributors, Verbena Worthington (Baroness Waste) and Franny Armstrong of green pressure group 10:10 (now renamed .01:.01).
The girls’ conversation turned to Green Gossip:- who was in, who was out; who had landed a job with the WWF, (practically everyone they knew, it seemed); who was in Mexico getting a scuba diving certificate in order to spend their gap year studying species loss on the Great Barrier Reef; whether the dishy Kenyan economist met in Rio would be attending the conference in Doofa, (he would); and of course, how to save the planet from imminent destruction, whilst ensuring that the spoilt pensioners of the West, basking in wasteful carbon-rich luxury, did their bit for the exploited poor of the Third World who (if the Kenyan economist was anything to go by), had more sustainability in their little fingers than Nigel Lawson in his entire body.
George sensing that his presence was no longer needed, wandered off in search of less frivolous company.
He spied one of the morning’s key speakers, Little Jack Horner, the Welsh cognitive psychologist, known on campus as Jack the Cog. He was surrounded by a flock of his student guineapigs. Blonde, brunette or rousse, freckled, bespectacled, and overflowing with adolescent motivation, they were ever ready to run a maze or tick a box for their favourite junior lecturer. George felt an irrational pang of jealousy. His own groupies were now in their late twenties, and – worn out by the Climate Wars – already semi-retired, or in the House of Lords.
George tapped Horner on the shoulder. “Looking forward to your talk,” he said, in the tone of an ex-visiting professor at a Seat of Higher Learning addressing the president of a school debating society, “I wonder if you could let me have your notes for the article I’m writing for next week’s Guardian?”
Megan, Bronwen and the others gazed suspiciously at the intruder. They were too young to remember his attempted citizen’s arrest of a war criminal, or the historic split he had provoked in the Respect Party which had brought leftist politics in Britain to a virtual standstill. Besides, they were Green Party members to a girl, so most unlikely to be readers of Guardian Environment.
Horner, irritated by this interruption of his efforts to galvanise his Green groupies, replied brusquely. “Sorry George, I’m a bit busy right now. Talk to Myfanwy.”
Shocked by such rudeness coming from a very junior member of the Guardian team, George made a mental note to get his own back. “That particular contributor won’t be seen any more on Guardian Environment if I have anything to do with it,” he muttered to himself. “It’s the back pages of Business Green for him from now on.”
George was rescued from further embarassment by the arrival of a familiar figure. “How are you getting on with my Watermelons ,George?”
Fascinating, fascinating, er .. Miranda” he replied, trying to avert his gaze from the vision of explosive femininity before him. But I’m afraid I haven’t had time … Do you mind if I hold on to them, er, it, a bit longer?”
“Of course not, George. I’ll be needing it tonight, though – urgently,” said Miranda. “And do call me Randy. All my friends do.”
George – unusually – found himself at a loss for words.
“Come with me into the back garden,” she went on. “I want to have a chat with Briffa about potting out my mesembryanthemum”.
“Your…?” was all that George could manage.
“My mesembryanthemum.” repeated Miranda, adding, in a low voice, “It’s a kind of prostrate succulent. Didn’t you know that?”
They wandered up the garden path, Miranda leading the way, and George following, his bifocals trying hard not to bifocalise.
Miranda knocked on the hardboard door of the greenhouse.
“Who’s ‘at?” came a rasping voice from the interior.
How are you today Keith?” she enquired, with genuine concern in her voice.
Not too good, Randy m’dear,” replied Briffa,coughing phlegmatically and spitting expertly into the freezer chest. “It’s the liver or prostrate or one o’ them darned organs. Doctor says I got to have an autopsy.”
“Biopsy, surely?” interjected George.
Briffa looked puzzled. “No, ‘e only mentioned the one,” he said, eyeing George with suspicion.
“How are the bonsais?” asked George, in order to break the silence, and peering into the freezer chest where Briffa’s collection of miniature Siberian larches twisted vainly towards the sunlight.
“Whitherin’, replied Briffa, whitheringly. “Whitherin’ nicely, thank ‘ee.”
“Mind you,” he added after a pregnant pause, “There’s one o’ them I sampled t’other day, got a ring on it like a donkey’s bum’ole. Think I might write up to that Nature magazine about it. With a photograph.”
“What fertilizer do you use?” asked George, eager to change the subject. Briffa’s colourful imagery was blending disturbingly with his recent vision of Miranda leading him up the garden path.
“Yuman Yurine”, replied Briffa, “They likes an acid soil.”
“You mean, you – pee on them?” asked George.
“Not directly, of course,” replied Briffa, seemingly offended that he could be suspected of such crude behaviour. “I empties the bucket there behind the door from toime to toime.”
“Mind you,” he added, “I ‘ad that Guardian journalist chap Ben Goldacre in ‘ere once. He tried the direct approach, peed right on them. Lid of the chest came down. Bang! Caught his delingpole a terrific whack!” He broke into a chuckle, which died away in a fit of wheezes and coughs.
George laughed nervously. “I bet that’s the last time anyone tried that trick!” he ventured.
“Funny you should say that,” said Briffa, “Only the other week I ‘ad that writer chap, Ian McEwan in ‘ere…”
“What’s the temperature in there Keith?” asked Miranda, hoping to get back on a horticultural track.
“Dunno. It varies,” said Briffa vaguely, “Up and down.”
He turned to the corner behind the door. “’Ere! Perfessor Phil!” he called, “Come ‘ere with that there thrimometer! Lady wants to know the temperature o’ them there larches.”
From behind a pile of flowerpots and sacks of horse manure, a frail figure emerged, narrowly missed kicking the slop bucket, and advanced nervously, glowering mistrustfully at George.
Phil Jones pulled a thermometer from his trouser pocket and dipped it into the freezer chest. After what seemed like an eternity, but which was in reality a matter of seconds, he withdrew it and stared, blew on the frosty glass stem, rubbed it, and announced in a quavering whisper, “Six point six.”
“Is that above or below, Perfessor?” asked Briffa.
Jones the Graph stared at the instrument, turned it round so that the bulb was at the bottom, and announced, “Above.”
“That’ll be noine point noine below, then,” said Briffa, satisfied. “They likes it chilly up there in the Yamal,” he said. “Up there in Siberia, the brass monkeys all sings treble!” and he chuckled and spluttered at his joke.
Professor Phil scraped the frost off his instrument and tucked it back into his trousers. He turned to George and hissed menacingly, “It’s all your fault! Stirring things up! Getting on your high horse about what was science and what wasn’t! After all we’d done for you! Me, Mick Hulme, the Harrabin chap from the BBC. We made you! and what did you do? Traitor! Whited Sepulchre!”
“I said I was sorry…” George’s voice trailed off.
“Sorry! Sorry?” The Professor’s voice rose to a bat’s pitch before his words were stifled by a surge of sobbing. George made his excuses and hurried out.
Half way up the garden path, George looked round. Professor Phil had retired to his corner behind the slop bucket, and Miranda and Briffa were deep in confabulation over her mesembryanthemums.
There was still a quarter of an hour before the morning seminar began.
George, feeling the need to compose himself, dropped into a deckchair beneath the pergola and pulled the Delingpole paperback out of his jacket pocket. He must at least leaf through it before returning it to Miranda this evening.
As he opened it, a bookmark fell to the ground. He picked it up – a worn, blue cardboard rectangle, much creased and rounded at the edges . It appeared to be an identity card or security pass of some kind…
In the name of Miranda Doyle-Rigg, Inspector, Norfolk Constabulary.