The Bustard

The environment, business, society, and politics. Lightheartedly, if that is possible. From the Hungarian puszta.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

The Bustard is moving

I have moved the blog over to a wordpress site - apparently it is better for promoting the site.

The new site is at www.thebustard.com

The site is stil under development but all the posts are there.  And there are some fun new bustard cartoons by Hungarian cartoonist Daniel Csordas.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The revenge of Greg Gloom, Part 6: The target

Mai Wei woke fresh from a deep and satisfying sleep.  He spent ten minutes doing exercises and showered in luke-warm water.  He took the stairs down to the restaurant for breakfast.  All part of his new regime.  He drank up an expresso in one and suddenly had an idle thought.  “Telford!  It’s just thirty miles away!”  Why not visit the old stomping grounds?  Why not a sip of nostalgia?  Surely the richest man in the world has the right to indulge in a morning – just a morning! – wandering about aimlessly in his teenage haunts.  Then he had an even better thought, and called Pie.

“Kevin,” he said.  “I wonder if you could permit me a little luxury…”

What could Pie say?  He resented forking out another two hundred quid for fifty more miles of vouchers, but Mai Wei was his prize so he dialled Krebs and barked at him to hurry off to the regional party offices and bring the Rolls back to the hotel.  Mai Wei was waiting excitedly outside the hotel, years rolling back and his spirit breaking out into poetry.  And into mischief.  For no sooner had Krebs emerged from the car – with its engine still purring – and was all “Sir this and that, Sir” and sweeping around with his bowler hat, that Mai Wei slipped in behind the wheel, slammed the door shut, and lurched out into the road, with Krebs left behind, frozen with anger and indignation, grabbing on to a Victorian lamp-post for balance.

Mai Wei’s golden Rolls Royce sped through Birmingham – the crowds on the streets turned from their daily routines and stared – and out onto the M6 he rode, northwards and westwards, until he veered off onto the M54 to Telford.  Hardly another car shared the roads with him.  Those days petrol fuel was such a luxury that only the very wealthiest or purposeful had access to fuel vouchers.  He passed a couple of government vehicles and a lorry carrying logs.  Once he noticed a Porsche Mephisto on the other carriage way – he’d read about the Kohlenkommando - and shuddered.  The road was rutted, foxgloves and nettles had encroached from the central reservation on to the fast lane.  Mai Wei smiled to himself behind the wheel.  Somewhere nature was winning…

For an hour he drove slowly around Telford’s closes and drives of brick and pebbledash.  He thought he recognised Casablanca Drive but it would turn out to be Lawns Wood or Dinthill or Brookside Avenue.  Then he found Market Street which was bustling with a farmer’s market so he pulled up on to the pavement and wandered on foot pushing through the crowds past stalls selling root vegetables and jams and breads.  He returned to the Duke of York where once he had hurled Shropshire ales down his hungry throat; then he peeped inside the Black Horse with its paintings of horses and jockeys, the cocky sportsmen, the ruddy huntsmen … then the Pheasant Arms where he beat Arthur at backgammon, and as he emerged, a blue door opposite caught his eye.  Above it a sign which read: “GLOOM AND SON – ACCOUNTANTS AND ASTROLOGERS – READ YOUR FORTUNE”.

“No, I shouldn’t,” thought Mai Wei, “Chop Chop will be livid.”  But the three ales had worked their magic and it was a special day after all.  So Mai Wei knocked at the door.  And he knocked again for good measure.

***

Dame Daphne had left early that morning to speak at Essex Mums-at-Home in Basildon.  As Minister of Education she was pioneering pre-school on the grounds that 6-18 was a waste of time if 0-5 was mucked up.  Based on her best-selling text book “Low-carbon parenting for home mums”, her speech was received in village halls and hotel ballrooms up and down the country (from St Agnes to Nigg Bay, for example) with rapturous screams of emancipation.  Since Nat Eb’s fiscal reforms eliminated practically all tax on labour, mums were liberated from economic and social pressure to work away from home.  Long-term savings on healthcare, welfare and urban policing had been securitised to fund home parenting, a shining example of how the lost age of financial wizardry crossed over into the new age of austerity and wholesome tradition.

Thus Sir Godfrey sat alone in his study the morning after Mai Wei’s dinner with Lord Pie.  The rain had stopped and a low wintry sun cast its feeble rays through the bay windows, caressed an aspidistra on the way and gilded his bald pate.  Steam rose from a mug of chocolate – treat of treats! – and danced in the light.  Sir Godfrey looked out into the garden from his desk.  A robin hopped damply on the lawn.  The apple tree lost its last leaf.  A cat sneaked behind a rhododendron.  Suburbia unchanged for a century or more.  A peak of human society at peace with itself.

Yet Sir Godfrey felt utter hopelessness. He felt the helplessness of someone, weary from a bitter and futile campaign, watching a condemned building crumble even as its exquisite façade gleamed in the rain.  Sir Godfrey had a decision to make.  In fact he had made it.  He had set up the elite force, Team Nevis, three years ago.  It was a small team of crack troops and infiltrators, working outside the law, targeting climate change deniers and other trouble-makers.

Sir Godfrey was a fair man, scrupulously fair, but he realised that the technology of justice – with its wigs and ponderousness and standards of proof – was not up to serving the cause of mankind.  Justice was for putting bankers behind bars or giving a petty thief a short, sharp shock.  But the crimes of deniers and fuelists were unquantifiable and indefinable, cause and effect too complex, immeasurable and intractable for any system of justice to address them.  Those sirens that lured mankind to the rocks…

“No!” said Sir Godfrey, out loud.  How he hated metaphor!  Yet Sir Godfrey knew!  He just knew!  It had been a long battle of reason over emotion, yet finally, after years of reflection and with a heavy heart, he had signed the order to form Team Nevis.

And now, another three years on, he had come to a reluctant and horrible decision.  He picked up the phone and dialled a number on Line 47.

“Nevis 7” came the voice down the line.

Sir Godfrey spoke: “The pond is green…  Frogspawn.”

Nevis 7 put down the phone.  “Frogspawn to die,” she thought.  And then a thrill of adrenalin shot through her body like an electric shock.  She had been chosen.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Good news for the sky

Amidst a lot of bad news (extinction in Vietnam of the Javan Rhino, slaughter of 800 skylarks in Hungary by Italian hunters, shoot-to-kill search for a hungry shark in Australia), some good news came up about cutting emissions from air travel.

The broad-minded and intelligent congressmen of the United States of America have voted for a bill which bans US airlines from participating in the EU Emission Trading Scheme from 2012 and even bars US airlines from submitting CO2 data to the European Commission.

With any luck this should escalate and lead to tit-for-tat bans on occupying airspace, using landing slots, purchasing jet fuel and talking to air traffic controllers.  Shortly the sky will be quiet once again like those few days last year when the Icelandic volcano spewed its ash cloud.

As travel to and from the USA seizes up, the rest of the world might be less polluted by the idiocy, short-sightedness and selfishness which is characteristic of half of their elite.

The revenge of Greg Gloom, Part 5: Planning a party.

An enormous, ultra-efficient Dove 7000 gleamed on the runway of Mai Wei Airport outside Beijing.  With seats for two thousand people - the travelling elite - it was the best and latest of Chinese technology.  A dozen of these aerospats wove their white web around the globe, linking its largest cities on monthly flights.  The passengers were hand-selected for purpose and integrity.  Perhaps the second most powerful man in the country, Ping Ping, the cousin of Mai Wei’s astrologer, Chop Chop, was chair of the PSC – the Passenger Selection Committee.  It was he who decided who could travel on which flight.  Mai Wei had no trouble obtaining a slot on the MW6, the monthly hop from Beijing to Telford International.  After all, he owned the airline and, even in egalitarian China, that implied certain rights.

He reclined into seat 8, row 8 in the 8th zone.  There was no luckier place on the plane.  A smile of deep contentment worked its way across his plump face.  All was well.  He thought of his wife, Mai Tao, visiting her parents in the countryside - a French chateau with an estate of several thousand hectares and a dozen villages bustling with peasant smallholdings –all newly built in the Gobi desert.  He thought of his friend and confidant, Chop Chop, who would be spending the week studying the flocks of migrating geese, looking for tiny anomalies in the flight patterns which could signal favourable timing to swoop in and close a deal.

He let his mind wander to England.  Almost thirty years since a scrawny teenager had taken a taxi to Casablanca Close in Telford New Town.  He lodged with Arthur and Gladys and they treated him like a second son.  Gladys fed him up with full Englishes – feasts for breakfasts and Arthur took him to the dogs.  “He’s here to learn England.”  Mai Wei remembered the flag of St George behind the telly in the lounge and next to it a street oil of the Houses of Parliament.  The mugs of stewed tea when they got back from the races and beans on toast.  They called him Frank and took him everywhere.

A card would come at Christmas and he followed the ups and downs of Kevin.  He’d even sponsored a car which ended its career in a mess upside down, like the horse Kevin swore by and was shot dead on the edge of Leamington race course.  You don’t choose your relatives, and as a language student in a distant and strange land you don’t choose the son of your guardians.  Then the card stopped.

And now waiting for him at Telford International was Kevin.  Kevin, Lord Pie.  Kevin gave Wei a slippery hug – he’d even managed to wangle a car from the Petrol Party protocol office.  Not a Porsche Mephisto; he’d asked for something much classier, for a very, very special person.  And so Krebs, the general factotum of the Petrol Party and head of protocol had rustled up an ancient Rolls, metallic gold, with allowances for 50 miles of petrol.  “We’ll get him into town and dine at his hotel,” said Pie.  “We won’t need all the 50 miles.  I’ll take a note of the mileage and I want credit if I’m under,” he warned Krebs.  Krebs had a reputation of a snaffler; a snaffler of balancing figures, of small differences; the alert beneficiary of poor negotiation on lazily specified jobs, and a friend of certain suppliers.  It was said he owned vineyards in Devon and Somerset.  Or perhaps near Dundee. 

Now Krebs was dressed as a chauffeur, bowler hatted and a tight black suit and swung open the gaping doors of the Rolls, and shuffled Mai Wei in with a flourish.  He removed his hat, placing it on his coat folded on the passenger seat next to him.  He discreetly selected one-way intercom and eased back for the short journey into Birmingham.  But Mai Wei observed things and noticed Krebs’ guilty glance, and spent the journey discussing Lord Pie’s parents (Arthur had been taken away by pneumonia and Gladys lived in a home in Totnes – rather too far for Lord Pie to visit regularly) and the English Amateur Football League which was still watched by the world over, with most of the payments for TV rights being donated to charity.

By dinner small talk had been exhausted and they sat in a private dining room in the Birmingham Dorchester hotel.  Krebs, waiter in tails, filled Pie’s wine glass to the rim.  Mai Wei covered his glass with his hand; Krebs was late and a drop splashed on Mai Wei’s hand.  A trillionaire does not let trifles like this worry him; he chuckled and Krebs flapped around like an injured blackbird having difficulty taking off.

“A vision, Mai Wei, a vision.  I think you would call it that,” purred Pie, the cat (the blackbird had retreated to a shadowy corner and was reading a romance by candle light).

“Indeed,” replied Mai Wei.

“Access to land is the key.  As you would know…” a toady wheezy laugh.

“Of course,” said Mai Wei.

“You see, I’ve got the connections.  I can pull it off.  I’ve rather gone up in the world since we met last,” sniggered Pie.

“Congratulations,” said Wei.

Pie said: “Thank you, Mai Wei.  Thank you very much indeed.  I do appreciate that, coming from you.  Now,” he continued as he dabbed his bread roll into his lentil and smoked haddock soup.  But a piece of haddock fell onto his lap and he brushed it away; it needed two goes and his trousers were soiled.  Krebs scuttled out of the dark and crawled under the table to retrieve the haddock, a black beetle scavenging.

“There are eight thousand plots, each just over a hectare.  I think we can house two thousand people in each.  I shouldn’t worry about planning.  I’ve got connections, you see.”

Mai Wei said nothing.  He just listened and smiled.

“No, really, I do.  Old shopping centres.  All closed.  Right across the country.  You see, four blocks on each site.  With some garden.  We'll give them trees.  We can put five hundred in each block.  I’ve worked it all out.  So two thousand on a block, and eight thousand blocks.  That’s sixteen million people.”

“What will they eat, Kevin?” asked Mai Wei, finally.

“That shouldn’t be a problem.  There’s lots of Chinese cuisine in the DRB.  It’s quite a tradition, you see.”  Pie was happy to be on firmer ground.  But he pushed on.  He wanted to get to the big one.  He couldn’t wait to reveal his master plan to the modest trillionaire.  He lowered his voice as if to draw Mai Wei further into his conspiracy.  One of the candles suddenly dribbled away into nothing.  Krebs was there in a tick and replaced it.  The new one had to be screwed firmly into the candle holder and stood askew.

“When we have sixteen million Chinese colonists living on the edge of Britain’s towns, you’ll be a political force,” continued Pie.  He looked up into Mai Wei’s face, watching for signs.  “A force to be reckoned with.  We’ll set up a political party.  We’ll rework the constituency boundaries.  With your cash behind us we will hold power.”  Pie began to speak a little quicker, his voice rose.  “We’ll be able to crush the Purpose Party and their ridiculous morris dancing.  I can broker a deal for you.  We’ll tie up with the Petrol Party.  Chinese can have an exclusive on supplying cars.  We’ve still got plenty of coal.  We’ll build liquefaction plants.  It’s all here.”  Pie tapped his head.  “There’s no way they will be able to fight back after that, Mai Wei.  I can make this happen for you, Mai Wei.  For us, Mai Wei.  We’ll make billions.”

He stopped and wiped his brow then emptied his wine glass in one.

Mai Wei smiled and sipped his water.

Lord Pie waited tensely.  He tried to read Mai Wei’s smile, his eyes, the angle of his cheeks.  Nothing.
Then Mai Wei spoke.  “Your mother, Gladys.  She made special breakfast.  When you visit her, Kevin, please give her my love.  When you visit her.”

Monday, 24 October 2011

Killing sharks

In Australia they are after a great white shark which has had three people for dinner in the last few months.  These people were engaging in leisure activity.  That is, something rather trivial.  It doesn't seem right to kill a shark to protect people engaging in a trivial activity.  Leisure seekers have an alternative.  They can use a public swimming pool.  Or watch Jacques Cousteau films on Youtube.  Or both, with a waterproof laptop. 

Friday, 21 October 2011

The revenge of Greg Gloom, Part 4: Planning a fête.

Greg Gloom sat in his darkened, attic flat in Telford.  His face was lit by the computer.  As he pedalled furiously, his eyes flickered and he licked his lips in great concentration, searching for the provider of a marquee tent.  For a caterer.  For someone to supply hundreds of coloured balloons.  And someone to blow them up.  For a brewer to bring half a dozen barrels.  For trestle tables.  For cutlery.  No, a dozen barrels, let’s make this a party.  For musicians able to play brass instruments and Christmas carols.  For a butcher to bring a hog with crackling.  For crackers.  For coloured hats.  For song books.  Vegetables.  Cake.  And then more sinisterly: for a clown and for fancy dresses.  But not everything he wanted could be purchased on the internet.  Some things would need a face to face meeting.

That week he worked well into the small hours several times planning the Christmas Fête of the Telford Astrological Society.  With only five weeks to go he had left it late, stewing too long over the humiliation from Lord Pie and that cunt, Lunt.  But there was nothing he couldn’t sort out with some perseverance and persuasion.  It was a big event, reflecting the great reputation of Telford as a centre for astrological studies; and it was a tradition, a tradition to be nurtured.

And then on the Friday afternoon he had crossed everything off his list except for one item: the guest list.  He wrung his hands with delight.  The guest list.  Every year he left that to the last.  It was the cherry on his cake.  The event was traditionally attended by dignitaries from across the DRB – from as far as Aberdeen (The Chief Vedic of Nigg Bay) in North Scotland and the Sage of St Agnes in Autonomous Cornwall.  It was the prerogative of the Chairman to make the first draft of the guest list.  But then it would have to go through committee.  Something this important – it would need the approval of Martha and Mave and Colonel Gordon Gordon (retired).  Particularly Gordon Gordon; getting fussy in his old age, very fussy and particular.  But he held on to power, recently voted in again as Secretary to the Association.  And so Gordon Gordon would also have to see the guest list.

And Friday afternoon and the evening and all the weekend stretched ahead of Gloom like a glorious, sun dappled field, with swaying wheat ready for harvest and horse drawn harvesters to music.  He would gambol in the wheat – naked, even (metaphorically) – harvesting the best names in his address book, and then orchards would appear, with the heavy scents of autumn fruit, plucking the ripeness of Debrett’s, collecting and cosseting windfalls from Forbes before bruises of reputation and association browned them.  And at night, he would lie happily on the hillock, looking up towards his beloved stars, seeking inspiration.

To think about an act is sometimes better than doing the act.  But in this case Gloom did well.  He opened two bottles and placed them carefully on his desk: to his left, whisky and to his right, ink.  Rare to see whisky these days; a gift from a prominent politician whose election success Gloom had predicted.  He sipped the whisky and dipped his pen.  “Let’s start at the top, shall we?” he purred to himself.  “Onan Hash, prime minister.  Nathaniel Eb, minister for economic decline and deputy prime minister.  Dame Daphne Bulge, minister for education.  The top three people in the country…” 

A frisson ran through Gloom’s body at this very proximity to power.  And thus he continued through the night and through most of Saturday, resting only to watch the stars and check rival horoscopes online.  And finally as the sun rose on Sunday morning, he wrote the last two names of his list: Lord Kevin Pie of Telford New Town and Shifnall.  Herr Waldemar Lunt.  These he wrote in red.  What would Gordon Gordon say to that?

***

The prime minister was holding drinks for the new Chinese ambassador at Downing Street.  Not for him the extravagance of Gregory Gloom.  Low carbon austerity only worked with strong leadership.  The representatives of two great nations drank heavily diluted apple juice made from apples from Hash’s family garden.  They discussed tough new regulations on housing.  The DRB had been censured at the UN on two occasions recently for jailing landlords who had not upgraded their properties to zero energy.  Not any old landlord; not a gypsy trader with four terraced houses in Burnley; no, this time the government showed it meant business; they locked up Brian Carp and Sir John Jameen, well-known directors of listed companies!

But what really attracted international outcry was the rough treatment of five families in Windsor who had refused to upgrade their 18th century town houses.  Sir Godfrey Wolfram-Harbinger needed an example.  In a bilious fit, he ordered the houses to be demolished and the families re-housed in council-owned passive housing in Reading.  Two of the fathers were jailed for climate change denial.  The Chinese ambassador found himself in a difficult position.  He sympathised with the DRB government – but could not be seen to.  This he was explaining with immense delicacy to the prime minister and Sir Godfrey …

“Pruning apple tree, fine fruit grows.  Oak finding shape no scissors.  Dove sings from one, from the other.”  He smiled serenely.  He added: “Please forgive and forget translation.”  Then he turned back to the recent publication of real estate magnate Mai Wei’s collection of poems.

It wasn’t until late that evening that Sir Godfrey found the prime minister alone.  “PM, we must talk.  You’ve been avoiding me all day, but this is imperative.”

“Now I know that we have certain, hem, traditions…” began Sir Godfrey when he was ensconced in Hash’s study.  Briggs was under strict orders to let no-one disturb them.  “But … we’ve been struggling with certain people ... certain people of influence who …”

The PM stood up and walked towards the bookshelf.  He was searching for a volume…

“ … malign influence … very malign …”

The PM paused.

“… and there is a point where that influence …” continued the interior minister.

The PM reached up and took down a book, studied its cover.  Then he looked for another.

“ … in the interests of our nation …”

The PM found the other book.  He walked slowly back to his armchair.

“ … of the planet …”

The PM put the two books on to the coffee table between him and Sir Godfrey.  He laid the one book over the other and a piece of paper on top of them.  The prime minister shifted the paper slightly.  The first line of the title of the one below could be seen.  Sir Godfrey read: “The Art of …”  The prime minister shifted the paper a little more, revealing the first line of the title of the top book.  Sir Godfrey read: “The Accident.”  Sir Godfrey nodded imperceptibly.  His face was grave.  He looked up, but the PM had already left the room.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Great white hope

Bang goes the first CCS project.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-15371258

Pity Mr Huhne didn't read chapter 37 of Climate Change for Football Fans.  He would have saved himself some bother.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Addressing famine, malaria and drought in the Czech Republic

Point Carbon reported this morning that the World Bank has bought 2.6 million Kyoto emission rights from the Czech Republic.

So I checked the World Bank website in case something had changed.  But no, their mission is still:

“… to fight poverty with passion and professionalism for lasting results and to help people help themselves and their environment by providing resources, sharing knowledge, building capacity and forging partnerships in the public and private sectors.”

And:

“The World Bank is a vital source of financial and technical assistance to developing countries around the world.”

And:

“The Bank delivers technical, financial and other assistance to those most in need and where it can have the greatest impact and promote growth: to the poorest countries, fragile states and the Arab world; to middle-income countries; to solving global public goods issues; and to delivering knowledge and learning services.”

See where this is going?

The Czech Republic isn’t a poor country.  It’s not fragile.  It’s not in the Arab world.  It’s not a middle income country (it is classified by the World Bank as a high income country).  Ah, yes!  Climate change is a “global public goods issue”.  So it’s ok to for the World Bank to spend something like twenty million Euro on an EU member state!  And if it’s someone else’s money, since when was it the World Bank’s job to trade credits among EU states?  Can't the Spanish (or whoever is behind it) pick up the phone themselves and call the Czechs rather than distract the World Bank from more serious stuff?

Perhaps the World Bank solved the hunger thing already.

The revenge of Greg Gloom, Part 3: Tescoland


What did happen at the Lost Password?  Many weeks have passed since we visited.  To remind you: three men sat in a quiet corner of that Telford pub.  Seth Ghast, number two at De-Urbs, a rebel movement whose mission is to sabotage urban life in order to promote the peasant economy; Waldemar Lunt, the head of Kohlenkommando, a pro-fossil fuel paramilitary group driving Porsche Mephistos; and the smooth, snake-tongued Lord Pie (trust him not).

Once they’d rid themselves of the annoying astrologer, Greg Gloom, they ordered more pints of Shropshire Gold (the pub was out of Oracle, appropriately enough given the ejection of Gloom) and got down to business.

“Right, Pie.  Let’s hear you,” said Lunt.

“Gentlemen.”  Pie scratched himself.  “Gentlemen-“

“There’s no need to ‘Gentlemen’ us.  There’s two of us, me and Lunt,” said Ghast.  “Just get on with it.”  Everyone was tetchy.  The Gloom episode had unnerved them.  Even Kaz sensed the mood, and she veered away from their table, not catching Pie’s eye.

But Pie could not play any game but his own.  “Seth Ghast, Waldemar Lunt.  Two arch-rivals.  One the scourge of city dwellers, a dreamer who believes that mankind will only ever achieve harmony with nature if it regresses to a simple peasant lifestyle.  And the other: a petrol-head, a man who will stop at nothing in his fight to make everyone a Porsche owner.  You may ask, why would I call you to one and the same meeting…”

“We did ask,” snapped Lunt, sipping at his beer threateningly.

Pie leant forward.  He said in a whisper: “It’s about Tescoland.”  Lunt’s glass froze at his lips.  Ghast went pale and croaked, a white frog.  “Tescoland?” he gulped hoarsely.

Tescoland was a portfolio of land held by the government since the collapse of out-of-town shopping.  Thirty years ago the sale of food was dominated by three or four companies each with hundreds of huge shops around the country.  These sprawling markets, oddly enough, were not in towns but outside of towns – it was a bit like wearing your underpants over your trousers.  Each week millions of people sat in their cars and drove to the supermarkets and filled up shopping trolleys with the food they’d need for the week and then they drove home again and put all the food into their freezers and fridges.

But when electricity and fuel got expensive, storing food in freezers became laughable, and urban markets sprung up.  Small, local urban street markets where chirpy traders sold fresh, wholesome food in paper bags.  People loved it!  Shares in Sunstove (“Solar-assisted Cooking Solutions”) and Brownbag (“Purveyors of farmers’ market packaging systems”) skyrocketed.  But shares in the once dominant food retailers tumbled, and, as with the banks and then the coal-fired power stations, the government had to step in to protect investors and executives who, the government argued, had no right to lose money from merely misreading the market.  Those were the days when crony capitalism still thrived.

So the government ended up with a 90% stake in Tescoland, a portfolio of more than 10,000 hectares of prime land – 8,000 sites on the edge of the towns and cities of the Devolved Regions of Britain.  And in government ownership the land became desolate, windswept spaces, with litter rattling in the bushes, and with vast, empty, hot, echoing shacks where the homeless drowsed hungrily and trees absurdly took root in lofty gutters.

The country was divided as to what to do with Tescoland.  Some felt that it symbolised all that was bad of the days of economic growth; best let it return to nature’s leafy embrace.  Others believed it was haunted and the homeless should be exorcised.  Rationalists considered it a portfolio with strategic potential – practically every town in the land had a piece of Tescoland.  There were questions in parliament about Tescoland, and consortia of Arabic businessmen came with proposals to build ski-centres and funeral parlours.  Anxiety and fear were the dark backdrop to Tescoland – gaunt temples where pagans had worshipped and their spells still whispered in the air.

“I think we can buy Tescoland for a pittance and, with your help, we can make a mint.  It’s very simple.”

Seth Ghast eyed him, suspicious.  Lunt looked away.  “Go on,” he snapped.

“Look,” said Pie.  “elections are coming.  The government needs a story for the people.  There’s a lot of anxious people these days.  People are scared about the One B movement.  It’s really happening in China and India and it’s moving west.  They need something to take their minds off it, some cake.  So the government will come up with something.  Entertainment, more touring theatre, more Punch and Judy subsidies, bigger prizes for the regional folk dance festivals, four or even five points for a win in football … You see … But I’ve got something altogether more powerful.  Something the people have been crying for.  Something which will win us back the people.”  Pie paused for effect.  He removed a hair from his beer.  He flicked something from his sleeve.  He checked the shadows behind him.  Then he whispered: “Out of town television.  Out.  Of.  Town.  Television.”

Lunt and Ghast stared whiled it sank in.

“Yes, I know,” continued Pie.  “It’s big.”  Now just reel them in, he thought to himself.  “We can bring down the government on this one.  For Christ’s sake, it’s a no-brainer.  We can bring the bastards down.”  Pie’s hiss became a dry crackle.  

The One B movement: some crazy Indian guru on a pile of thistles said that humans could only survive if there were no more than one billion of us.  It spread across India like vindaloo through a digestive system, gusted over the dry mountains into China where millions rioted and party officials were stoned.

“And I’ve got an investor who will back us,” said Pie.

“Out- out of town television?” stammered Lunt, beginning to see the implications.

“Come on, you guys,” said Pie.  He felt the urge to spell it out.  He’d been waiting for this.  “People haven’t seen decent television for ages.  Big, bright screens.  Dazzling colours and lights.  Action, noise, guns, violence, blood, sex, romance, blasphemy, gluttony – all on the big screen!  The lot.  The government got rid of all that, didn’t they?  Austerity, the Living Simply Mechanism [1], low carbon entertainment.  Well, we’ll bring it back… That’s what the people want.  We’ll give it to them!”  Pie was beside himself with excitement at his idea.

“What’s in it for us?” asked Lunt.

“What do you think, smart ass?  Cars,” said Pie.  “Cars, cars and cars.  Lots of cars.  How else will people get to the out of town television centres?  We’ll bring back the automobile!”

“And me?” asked Ghast.  “I can’t see any reason why De-Urbs would support it.”

“Oh no?” said Pie.  “Underground television centres, like I said.  All dark and exciting.  And then what do we have at ground level?  Bingo.  8,000 allotment training centres across the country.  So every man, woman and child in the DRB can have weekly lessons in gardening.  Isn’t that something the De-Urbs would support?  Seth?”

Ghast shrugged.  “Might be.”  Then: “And what do you need us to do?”

“This is the deal.  You fight a joint election with the Petrol Party.  To throw out Onan Hash and his cronies.  De-Urbs and Petrol Party can win a majority together.  I’ll get you the cash.  As I said, I’ve got the investor.  In return, my investment group buys Tescoland and builds the Out of Town TV Network with Allotments.  Give it a slicker name, and we’re in business.”

They had no option.  If Pie had the cash, Pie got the deal.  A piece of paper was hurriedly signed and pint glasses emptied with some forced joviality, while the three men thought dark, mistrusting thoughts about each other.

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  1. For the Living Simply Mechanism see “The Reverse Missionary” (http://thebustard.blogspot.com/2007/10/reverse-missionary.html)

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