[Three days after putting this chapter up, I find that Steve McIntyre has posted the latest in a series of articles about Briffa’s Yamal palaeoclimate reconstructions. When facts change, what can a satirist do but change the comportment of his fictional characters? What would Swift have done if the Fellows of the Royal Society had succeeded in extracting sunshine from cucumbers? Exactly.
So I’ve changed a sentence or two, which makes no difference to the plot or the sense of this chapter, but which may have some effect in the future. A butterfly flaps its wings, and the whole sodding house of cards may come down. Or not, which may prove just as embarrassing to the builder.]
the story so far: George Moonbat, investigative journalist and/or climate activist, having lost his environmentalist faith, seeks solace on the couch of climate psychoanalyst Sally Weintrobe, before returning to the scene of his apotheosis in the home of defunct green millionaire Tom Huntingdon, where he is met by Miranda, the Mata Hari of the Norfolk constabulary, and his erstwhile maître penseur, the fiendish James Delingpole..
..There was Miranda, adorable, perfidious and desirable as ever, dressed in a sober pinstriped costume recalling ill-printed prewar images of dominatrices, which George remembered poring over with guilty delectation (was it in the lower fifth at Stowe? Or was it looking over Leo Hickman’s shoulder yesterday at the Graun? – It must be the psychoanalysis which was causing his memory to play tricks with time). And there was Delingpole himself, in ill-fitting desert battledress, looking like a rather underfed understudy for the role of the victor of el Alamein – a not-quite-full Monty, as it were.
… And a number of faces George couldn’t place: the genial Jamaican MI5 operative Barry Woods, who silently handed George his I’s-phone which he had found down the side of the seat on the 24 bus; police constable Dung, who had retrieved the deeds to a large chunk of Amazonian jungle from the Hampstead Heath gents’ toilets and photocopied them, before forwarding them to the unsuspecting Huntingdon. Other figures glided in and out of view. George wanted to ask who they were, all these shadowy figures, suddenly inhabiting the Hampstead mansion of dear departed Tom Huntingdon, the Great-Green-Gracious climate activist, all hedged about with funds of funds, so lately laid to rest after having been so cruelly sliced in two by the blades of his own wind turbine. But that would have to wait.
Delingpole opened the discussion, addressing George directly. “This meeting is on a strictly need-to-know basis,” he said, “So I’ll deal with you first George, since your need-to-know is the least pressing. You’re booked on a flight to Guyana next week. Here’s your passport. You and Miranda will be travelling as man and wife, I’m afraid. It was the only way we could arrange things.”
George tried to give the impression that he would put up with this minor inconvenience. He opened the passport.
“But this photo doesn’t look a bit like me!” he exclaimed.
“Hair dye, contact lenses, facial tic training – don’t worry George, we’ve thought of everything,” explained Delingpole patiently. “The photo on the passport looks like the person named on the passport. That’s the essential thing.”
George looked back again at the passport. He was to be travelling under the assumed name of Mr Anthony Blair.
George genuinely hated stating the obvious, but some things had to be said.
“But, I don’t look a bit like Tony Blair. I mean, even with dyed hair and no glasses, people are going to notice, aren’t they?”
“Not in Guyana, no. Nobody expects famous people to look like themselves. Telling your friends that he’s not a bit like he is in his photos is part of the fun of meeting the famous.”
“..But nothing can disguise the fact that Miranda doesn’t look a bit like Cheri.”
Delingpole and Miranda both looked at him pityingly, as if to say: “And you’re complaining?”
“But what about the real Tony Blair?” George objected, “Someone’s going to spot him in two different countries at once, and smell a rat.”
“We keep an eye on Mr Blair’s future plans at MI6,” explained Delingpole patiently, as if to a rather backward six-year-old. “He’s planning on spending the next six months at a secret retreat with the new Pope. They’re probably hatching a plot together to bring peace and goodwill to all men, the silly sods. And Cheri will be too busy in Rome shopping to read the papers. Not that there’ll be a lot in the papers about Blair’s carry-on up the Amazon. He’s no longer the star he was, you know, in the days when he appeared on the same stage as Elton John. And don’t worry about being mobbed or assassinated or anything. Barry Woods and Dung here will be keeping a close eye on you.”
“But I thought I was going to be an undercover agent, working discreetly in the shadows. How can I possibly do that if I’m impersonating one of the most famous people on the planet?”
“Easy,” replied Delingpole, with a touch of irritation at the barrage of objections. “You’ve just got to act like a pompous self-important prat.”
“But…” George began, then thought better of it, and blushed.
Dellers felt his discomfort, and relented. “A very rich, air-brained, pompous prat, he added, “So you’ll have to learn to speak in meaningless, uncontroversial banalities, which a man of your intellect may find difficult.”
Seemingly satisfied by this thick layer of butterlike spread, George gave up on the objections. The idea of masquerading as his arch enemy had a certain appeal, after all, especially if it meant having to pretend to be married to Miranda. Their two sodden weeks in Wales under canvas had been a remarkable enough experience. Imagining the same thing, but under a tropical moon, listening to the sound of cicadas and South American guitars, while being obliged to address her as Cheri – suddenly the old wanderlust took hold of him. The Guardian could go bust without him. He’d tell Polly Toynbee where she could put her purslane pie.
Dellers broke the silence. “OK George, report tomorrow morning at ten for grooming, hair dye and fitting of contact lenses.” Then we’ll fill you in on the details”.
George had read his John Le Carré, and he knew that briefing a spy took more than five minutes and a dose of hair colouring. He’d been expecting sixty pages of intense psychological jousting, with strong homoerotic undercurrents to which each participant brought his own particular, painful, guiltstricken brand of public school experience, while he, George, the centre of attention, alternatively brooded and exploded, nursing all the while a tumbler of single malt which he filled from time to time from a decanter perched handily on the Louis Quinze escritoire. George looked round at the participants – Dung, who was busying himself emptying ashtrays, and Barry Woods, who was heading to the kitchen to check on the chicken, peas and rice which he had been preparing at slack moments in the briefing – not much to hope for there in the way of tortured public school psychology or hidden homoeroticism. Miranda: (well, one never knew. She certainly had hidden depths of something or other, which George was sure he had not fully plumbed. Disguised as Cheri Blair, there was no knowing what might emerge…).
“But I’ve got an appointment tomorrow at ten,” George blurted out, “With my psychoanalyst, Doctor Weintrobe”.
Doctor WHO ?” cried Miranda. There was a moment of mayhem, as Barry Woods let fall a plate of peas and rice he was bringing in, and Dung sent a bronze Renaissance ashtray featuring an interesting grouping of satyr, goat and siren (school of Andrea Riccio, Padua, c1500) spinning across the terrace.
“No,” replied the Moonbat, (wondering, not for the first time, why everyone seemed so obsessed with a decidedly passé children’s TV series), “Doctor Weintrobe”.
“Dr. Sally Weintrobe?” asked Dellers, failing to keep a slight tremor out of his voice. “Chair of the Scientific Committee of the Institute of Psychoanalysis, Member of Senior Teaching Staff at the Tavistock Clinic and Honorary Senior Lecturer at University College London in the Department for Psychoanalytic Studies?”
“By the lactating paps of sweet Mother Gaia”, Delingpole muttered, “What have you done, George? What have you done?” Then, his voice rising to a shriek: “WHAT DID YOU TELL HER?”
“Er, just that I wasn’t very happy at the Guardian..” George’s voice tailed off.
“That’s alright then,” said Delingpole, recovering his composure, “She must hear that five times a day”. Then, his voice retrieving a certain urgency: “Come on now George, we need to know EVERYTHING!”
“Well, OK, sure,” said Moonbat, frightened by the intensity of the reaction. (What did it matter what he had said to the silly old New Zealand biddy?) “But have you got something to drink? A little whisky? Poor old Tom Huntingdon always had a good stock of 25-year-old GlenBolloughs in, I seem to remember”.
Delingpole ambled over to the drinks cabinet and opened it with his own personal key. It was empty. The defunct millionaire’s stock of priceless single malt had long since been pissed away on the climate scientists’ freezer chest full of Siberian larches.
“Bugger that Briffa!” muttered Dellers, “Not only is he downoloading all that dodgy stuff from Russian paysites, but at the same time he’s been pilching the best booze from the Master’s reserves. No wonder he and Professor Phil are off sick so often!”
And he marched over to the wall socket and angrily pulled out a plug. “They can play their silly bugger games by candlelight from now on!”
He turned to Dung, who was vainly trying to solve the anatomical puzzle of satyr goat and siren. “Constable, could you pop down to Sainsbury’s and fetch a bottle of Johnny Walker, there’s a good chap?”
Moonbat sighed. It was going to be a long night, he imagined, not without a certain satisfaction, thinking of his favourite chapters from John le Carré. He could pass on the suppressed homoeroticism and the profound psychological insight; but at least there’d be some details filled in – and some booze.
Poor George. He didn’t know what he’d done wrong in consulting the elderly female Kiwi Trickcyclist, but whatever it was, it seemed to be serious. And that meant that Dellers was taking him seriously, which gave George a certain warm feeling he found difficult to define.
But he had to admit it, James really was rather fetching in khaki…