The story so far:
Following the untimely death of his friend, green millionaire Tom Huntingdon, in the blades of his own wind turbine, George Moonbat has returned to work on the Guardian Environment desk, still shaken by his momentary loss of faith following his encounter with the gorgeous Miranda and the enigmatic Delingpole:
George made the last corrections to his recipe for tofu vol-au-vents and surveyed the result on the screen of his laptop. He had only to mail it to Polly, editor of the Guardian’s Men’s Page, and he could pack up for the day. Damian had already arrived, and Leo would be in soon. It was awkward, three people timesharing one desk, even though they tried to stagger their working hours.
These were hard times at the Guardian, and the Environment Desk was feeling the chill wind of indifference which had been blowing on all things ecological since the tragic death of the Green movement’s prime mover and benefactor, millionaire ethical investor Tom Huntingdon. As environmental journalists had been predicting for so long, it was lack of the green stuff which was killing the planet.
It had been George’s unfortunate honour to have been the last person to see Huntingdon alive, before the wizard of offshore hedge funds had been tragically clipped in two by the blade of his own wind turbine. It could have been the scoop of the century, if the Guardian had not wisely decided to suppress the story, for the sake of the planet, and of the feelings of those most closely involved, namely the trustees in whose hands lay the future well-being of the Guardian, and therefore of the whole world.
A looming, gangling figure in owlish spectacles wandered into the cubicle which was Guardian Environment, a pork pie in one hand and an iphone in the other. It was the editor-in-chief Rusbridger, one of those distant, otherworldly characters who seemed to have dispensed with the need for a first name.
“Hi, how’s it going?” he asked in a tone which implied that no answer was required. “Seen Vidal?”
He’s in Bangladesh” replied Damian Carrington, without looking up from his computer screen.
“What, really? Again?” exclaimed Rusbridger.
“Not really,” replied Damian, wearily realising for the umpteenth time that irony was wasted on his boss. “He’s in the bog with a copy of National Geographic and a tide gauge.”
“Good, good,” said Rusbridger, mentally subtracting the return airfare from the debit side of the paper’s current account, a mental ledger which occupied 80% of his vast brain, the other 20% being given over to worrying about the imminent destruction of the Planet Earth.
“How’s the Green Jobs campaign coming along?” he enquired.
“Fine,” replied Damian. “There’s dozens of offers for deep sea construction workers in the Irish Sea and scavengers on landfill sites, plus a vacancy for Speaker of the Scottish Parliament.”
“What’s green about that?” asked Rusbridger, genuinely interested. He was always intrigued by the possibility of a story linking ecology and devolution.
“He’s got an exercise bike under his desk, to keep the lights on at Holyrood when the wind’s not blowing.”
“Fine, fine, excellent,” said Rusbridger brightly, not sure that he’d entirely grasped the gist of the story, but vaguely sensing that it carried a positive message. “Keep up the good work, chaps. And remember the paper’s motto”, he added, indicating the framed work of petit point on the wall, said to have been embroidered by the great C.P. Scott himself, “Comment is Free, but Facts are Scarey.”
Damian squinted up at the faded canvaswork. “I thought it was “Facts are Scarce,” he said, more from a desire to contradict the irritating, owlish Rusbridger than from any journalistic urge for accuracy.
“Well, yes, that as well,” Rusbridger assented. “And expensive too. Always remember that.” And he wandered off, staring vacantly at the screen of his i-phone, which was displaying the opening prices on Wall Street in tedious detail.
George pressed SEND, shut down his laptop, and began tidying his corner of the desk, replacing pens in the pocket of his sports jacket. He wondered how long he could keep up the pretence. It was bad enough working three to a desk with two such right royal pains in the arse as Leo and Damian, but their behaviour since that memorable confrontation in his Welsh cottage defied all explanation. Neither of them, nor his boss John Vidal, had uttered a word about their astounding confession. It was as if the whole episode had been a bad dream. Leo continued to churn out his endless articles about ethical bicycle maintenance, Vidal continued to copy interviews with Bolivian peasants from old Oxfam handouts, and Damian continued to extol the virtues of the green economy with all the enthusiasm of a thirties Pravda correspondent reporting on output from the Soviet tractor factories. Why? It wasn’t as if Rusbridger was threatening to send them to Siberia – was he?
Talk of the devil. Rusbridger’s head appeared again round the plasterboard partition. “Oh, and when you see Vidal, tell him there was this interesting article in the NYT about reindeer on the Yamal peninsula dying of heatstroke. Could you ask him to pop on a plane and investigate? And take his mobile. We could do with some new pictures of melting snow.”
* * *
George stared at the brass plate beside the Georgian doorway. “Dr. S. Weintrobe, Psychoanalyst”. He gulped, rang, and entered.
Dr Weintrobe was a frail looking Australian lady of a certain age. George wondered what trick of fate had destined him to cross paths with so many Antipodiennes. At least her appearance was less forbidding than that of Doctor Juno Watt, the expert on bovine flatulence.
He lay back on the couch and launched into a long and detailed account of his travails at the Guardian; the shock of his loss of ecological faith following his encounter with Miranda and Delingpole; and then his return to the fold, a believer who had dared to doubt, but whose faith had been shaken, perhaps irremediably.
Then, realising that his forty minutes were nearly up, and feeling it his duty to give his silent auditress something Freudian to work on, he launched into an account of the dream he’d had the previous night.
He’d been on the deck of the Titanic. His one thought was to hide from the other passengers, most of whom seemed to work in the media, like himself. It was with an immense sense of relief that he had seen the iceberg approaching. He had tried to warn the other passengers, but no sound issued from his lips. Then, on the looming mountain of frozen ice, he spied a solitary polar bear, and he had felt an overwhelming desire to leap from the deck of the doomed vessel to the safety of the iceberg and perform unnatural intercourse with the savage beast …
Dr. Weintrobe interrupted him.
“How much did you say the Guardian is losing every week?”
George gave the latest figure going the rounds on the Scott Trust rumour mill. There was a long silence, and George realised that the session was at an end.
He got up from the couch, replaced his cycle clips, and took out his cheque book.
“Forty pounds, please.” Said Dr. Weintrobe. “Same time tomorrow? And, given the fragile financial state of your employer, would it be convenient if you paid in advance?”
* * *
Dr. Weintrobe’s office was only a short cycle ride from Apocalypse Close, and George felt an overwhelming urge (possibly linked to the curiously unsatisfying dream?) to return to the scene of his first fateful meeting with the mysterious Miranda. His mind clouded by the disturbing thoughts engendered by his first session on the psychoanalyst’s couch, he cycled slowly along Belsize Crescent, avoiding a couple of skateboarding polar bears in front of the paper shop and the President of the Maldives who was sweeping the pavement outside the Beer ‘n Curry … He screwed up his eyes, collided with the kerb, and told himself he really must get a grip. It really was worse than he’d thought.
He’d read in the papers (the newspapers that is, not the Guardian, which had studiously ignored the story) that Number Four Apocalypse Close was up for sale, following the tragic death of its owner and the disappearance of his wife with Professor Lobachevsky. (Yet another Australian, thought George, suppressing with difficulty the unworthy racist sentiments engendered by the memory of the nasty prod with the toasting fork that the reptilian Antipodean shrink had administered to his left buttock).
In his precipitate departure from Apocalypse Close several weeks previously, he had left his rucksack with several precious belongings in the guestroom, including the ipad with the first draft of “Fear and Warming” – his latest warning to an unheeding world. Not that he would ever finish it now, but he wouldn’t like it to fall into the wrong hands – those of Mark Lyingas for example, the RS-licking winner of the Royal Society medal for most promising young science fiction writer.
Of the many things that rankled about the forthcoming end of life on the planet, one of the most difficult to bear was the idea of having to share the honour of predicting it with Lyingas. It was difficult enough being known as a prophet of doom – a public school version of the man who used to parade up and down Oxford Street with a sandwich board reading “The End of the World is Nigh”. But if there was one thing more ridiculous than spending your life wandering up and down Oxford Street (figuratively speaking) with a notice preaching doom round your neck, it was meeting someone bearing an identical notice coming the other way.
George took the back path along the side of Hampstead Heath. During his sojourn with Miranda in the Welsh mountains he’d learnt many things, including techniques of breaking and entering. He propped his bike against the crumbling brick wall, and standing on the saddle, leapt over the wall into the back garden.
He was removing his foot carefully from the smashed cucumber frame and shaking shards of glass from his trouserleg (thank Gaia for cycle clips!), when the door of the greenhouse opened, and Old Briffa emerged, bearing a bucket of night soil.
“Ah, it be young Master Gearge!” he exclaimed, in an uncharacteristic explosion of human warmth. “Delingpole said you might be poppin’ by.”
And he opened wide the door of the greenhouse, gesturing to George to enter.
Inside, Professor Phil was sitting at a table studying a chart covered in small squares. It reminded George of school holidays in the family mansion, sitting in the kitchen with the servants, watching them filling in their the football pool coupons to be sent off together with a postal order for one and sixpence.
In each square was a number, and Professor Phil was running a grimy forefinger up and down and from left to right , painfully totting up figures under his breath.
George looked over his shoulder. “Ah,” he said brightly, “It”s a map of the Pacific Ocean. I can see Vanatu.”
“It’s a noo game just invented from Japan,” explained Briffa. “It’s called Sod-U-Kev”. Our Perfessor Phil ‘ere is tryin’ to find the missin’ ‘eat.”
On the table before him stood a half empty bottle of fifteen-year-old single malt. George turned to Briffa and asked him pointblank, “Keith, er, Professor Briffa, you don’t happen to have a key to the back door of the house, do you?”
Old Briffa looked from Moonbat to the bottle, and back at Moonbat. His former affability was replaced by a look of distrust, and his forehead creased in a frown, causing his eyebrows to droop, momentarily hiding his rhumey eyes, like an old maid letting drop the lace curtains through which she had been observing something faintly improper.
“Course I do,” he said slowly, with the air of someone who has been unjustly accused. “ ’Ow else am I goin’ to get ‘old of these ‘ere stasi-sticks, if I don’t ‘ave access to the Master’s compooter?
The garden was just as George remembered it, except that the patio was unswept, and the climbing plants a little more luxuriant. Only the occupants of the sustainable rattan armchairs and ethical hammocks had changed. Instead of the sea of public-school-educated Tuscan-sun-tanned faces from academia, the media, and NGO-land which had greeted him six weeks ago, the occupants were unfamiliar and decidedly heteroclite. All except for one.
“Hello George. So glad you dropped by.”
There – adorable, perfidious, desirable and devious as ever, staring up at him over a piña colada – her sinuous form slowly oscillating in a low-slung hand-woven hammock – was Miranda.