Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas fiction: A Séance with Queen Elizabeth I

The Prime Minister cheered at the sight of snow. Beyond the glass it danced and spun on unseen eddies before descent on hats and coats and cosy shop canopies. “This is how Christmas should be,” he thought (as a proper sentence). “White”. He shook the Little Nell Snow Globe Storm Ball once more and the blizzard started afresh. Such a contrast to the mid-December dank, grey, snowless scene outside Number 10, forecast to remain up to and through the festivities. “I blame global warming,” he thought (again as words, not as a sensation). “Christmas simply doesn’t look right anymore.”

That same cold day, at 15.03 GMT, the Xyt launched their attack on Earth and by 15.29 had vanquished the globe. None of the planet's native species was any the wiser, though an audit of unexplained happenings might have noted a momentary teasing of three, maybe four, billion-odd pairs of human nostrils (more about that presently) and a brief, fluttery excitement in a billion-odd caged budgies, canaries, cockatoos – and not forgetting the festive fattening turkeys in their batteries. Feathers flew, pet (and turkey) owners scarcely wondered why, as the TV soaps reclaimed viewer apprehension. Earth was now a colony of the Xyt and none of the subjects had a clue. None, that is, but Mrs Jessica Hardcastle of Chiswick, London.

"Dear Prime Minister", began her letter, "It is my duty to inform you that it is my conviction that Earth has been invaded by an alien race. At about three o' clock last Tuesday, in the afternoon, my eyes were filled with strange bubbles, in fact everywhere became a vast ocean of bubbles - bubbles passing through people, walls, dumb animals - even now I see them though my sight has grown used to them. I began to sneeze a lot as did my neighbours (they later told me), the bubbles were going up our noses - did you sneeze a lot last Tuesday? Ask your colleagues - anyway, I had a presentiment that these bubbles were in fact some sort of alien ejaculation all over the world, not just in Chiswick …" and on the letter went in this vein.

"I sometimes wonder why I bother," said the PM to his press secretary who had on a whim selected the letter for the leader's amusement - inflation was on the up again, the Daily Mail ever more hostile. The occupant of Number 10 needed a cheering interlude. "Here I am with a ten billion trade deficit and a deranged foreign secretary and this woman is seeing ejaculated bubbles. Still, I did think I was coming down with a cold last week, I recollect …"

"You sneezed you mean?" asked the incredulous press secretary, his famous lip curl primed for scorn.

"I had quite a spasm. Put my neck out."

"Dust mites? Snow? It’s the time of year …"

"Cleaners just redistribute dust, don't they? Surely we should get the Department of Health to publish guidelines on healthy, static dusting …"

"Now might not be a good time. Perhaps Mrs Hardcastle's bubbles are nothing more than dust motes."

The PM threw a glance at his media guru for signs of satire and then returned to the revision of the Queen's Speech.

Mrs Hardcastle gave Number 10 three days to reply. A woman of clear-headed fortitude she had anticipated a degree of scepticism and was decided not to be put off by the self-editing certainties of "literal people". She had a Plan B in case of official silence. What she didn't know was that the PM, a man with a surprising faith in the serendipity of lateral approaches, had ordered one of his Oxbridge researchers to check her out.

Uncertain where to start, Tim, 24, keyed "Jessica Hardcastle" into the internet search box, magicking up a forbiddingly long list of Jessicas and Hardcastles here and abroad. He refined the search by adding "Chiswick, UK" and voila! He opted for a plausible Jessica Hardcastle of that town. It must be her, he thought nervously.

"She's a practising clairvoyant," wrote Tim to the PM in an email. "Just the sort of person who would believe in aliens."

The PM found himself intrigued and asked for more information.

Tim's next email, which he nosegayed with embarrassed quote marks, read: "Mrs Hardcastle offers 'sittings' in which she purports to communicate with discarnate people. These 'sittings' can take place in her home or your home provided you cover her petrol. She can also commune via email or phone, provided you have a credit card. She has a small website that promises you contact with 'loved ones' who've 'passed over' in a 'comfortable atmosphere'. Best bit though is that her 'spirit guide' is no less a personage than Queen Elizabeth I - says on the site that Her Maj has a message for Britain and Europe. Oddly no mention of alien bubbles. Should we check out Mrs Hardcastle's tax returns?"

"Certainly not," wrote the PM, irritated by the junior's assumption of a shared contempt, though he had been quite prepared to tolerate such impertinence until Gloriana made her entrance.

Later, at a pre-Christmas drinks do hosted by the PM's wife at Number 10, Tim's line manager was ordered to tell the young man to resume his digging up of more dirt on the foreign secretary's student days - and no slacking.

Meanwhile, Mrs Hardcastle launched Plan B: she posted a letter to her local newspaper, The Chiswick Argus, and attached a copy of her letter to the PM.

"A nutter here says we've been invaded by bubbles," said Ben, a twenty-three-year old reporter, to his news editor, Chris Absalom.

"What's been invaded by what?"

"Earth, by bubbles?"


"Says the bubbles are all around us, though only she can see them. Ejaculated from space or something. She's even written to the Prime Minister - got the letter here."

At this the forty-eight-year old news editor postponed a decision to cancel half his direct debits, lately grown onerous by unsolicited magazine subscriptions induced by free gifts.

"Has Downing Street replied?" he asked in his deep sing-song.

"No, she's moaning about his dereliction of duty …"

"Mmmm, bubbles …" Chris' voice trailed away in reverie. Scenes of froth were filling his imagination, a bubble mountain cascading over the hapless head of the embattled PM. A Vesuvian lather enveloping the Pompeiian premier. A fantasy born in hope. Gassy beer, fizzy champagne - he saw bubbles everywhere, and he marvelled at the prismatic colours in their skin and …

"Dewdrops," he said.

"Dewdrops, Chris?"

"Dewdrops are like bubbles aren't they?"

Ben was adamant: "No."

"I mean, you can sometimes see the colours of the rainbow in a dewdrop like the colours in a soap bubble - how come the ancients didn't notice rainbows in dewdrops, didn't they wonder at the link between dewdrops and rainbows? Someone must have thought …"

He noted Ben's countenance and paused, then reminded himself of a senior's licence to think aloud.

"I'm talking about information, child. There in front of the ancients was some sort of answer - in the dewdrops!"

"So what's that got to do with Mrs Hardcastle's bubbles?"

"Everything, sort of. I mean, if I'd said to you in 400 BC that sunlight in a dewdrop is made up of the colours of the rainbow you'd be looking at me as you are now, like the sodding know-all with his BA honours that you are. So when this fruitcake comes along with her story about invading bubbles - well, what are we to believe? Can you believe anything anyone ever says, eh? What are we to disbelieve? Dare we disbelieve?"

"Cup of strong coffee, Chris?"

"Get out of here and learn about bubbles, you cheeky sod. Go talk to the silly cow. Go and find something and surprise me, something's that not from the frickin county court."

"I'm gone!"

Chris fell back into his swivel chair with a sigh. Wonderment, that's what was missing in youth today, he concluded. He blamed university education and its empirical certainties. He remembered he hadn’t sent a Christmas card to his girlfriend’s mother.

Back at Number 10, chastened, Tim emailed Mrs Hardcastle's website link and her postal address (as published on the site) to one of the PM's aides (at the PM's secret and circuitous request). The site published a local rate telephone number for interested seekers.


"Oh, hello. Is this Mrs Jessica Hardcastle?"


"Mrs Hardcastle, my name is Gabrielle Whitefield-Smith, I'm calling from the office of the Prime Minister and I am following up on your recent communication to him. Is this a good time to talk?"

Mrs Hardcastle held her tongue for a second, then: "Communication?"

"Yes, you are Mrs Hardcastle?"

"Yes, but who are you? Is this some silly joke? Have you nothing better to do with your time?

"I am phoning from the Prime Minister's office."

Mrs Hardcastle hung up.

Gabrielle thought this behaviour very peculiar - after all, the woman had solicited the PM's interest. The thought flashed that she had contacted the wrong person, but Mrs Hardcastle had confirmed her identity. On the other hand, one had to remember whom one was dealing with here. "Yes, that must be it," she rationalised to herself. "An eccentric."

Mrs Hardcastle herself had grown used to ridicule. Ignorant scorn was the price she paid as the Virgin Queen's incarnate voice. Sometime in the past she had resolved to record every call to her client local rate number, but then thought better of it: she didn't want to think of herself as paranoid or neurotic. But this latest antic was the last straw. There were more loonies out there now, probably due to hyper-energising high-sugar diets and the dread, brain cell-killing aspartame found in sugar-free mouth candy. She attached the phone tap's rubber sucker to the back of her receiver and plugged the other end of the flex into her tape recorder.

So it was with a degree of surprise when, approximately three hours later, she took delivery at her front door of an envelope from a polite yet menacing courier in Darth Vader-style black helmet (with scarlet lightning streaks on the sides) and black, crumpled leather.

"Dear Mrs Hardcastle," the note began. She stopped to look up at the blue, embossed Number 10 letterhead - it could be forged, she considered. "Dear Mrs Hardcastle, I phoned you earlier today and I apologise for inconveniencing you. To come straight to the point, the Prime Minister was interested in your recent communication, and while he makes no comment on the nature of your experience(s), he would be most interested in your speaking to one of his representatives about them (solely in the interests of religious tolerance and ecumenism), and about your work generally. I should be grateful if in all our dealings total confidence was respected." It was signed Gabrielle Whitefield-Smith.

She put down the letter, mouthing "communication?" "experiences?" "ecumenism?" It's true she had sent the PM one of her astral-glittery Christmas cards, as she did every year, whatever the political weather in Downing Street; as she did every year to the principal members of the Royal Family - but not to the peripheral riff-raff, the "hangers-on". At least the Windsors sent an acknowledgement. She always had her address and phone number printed on her festive cards along with the logo and details of her Spiritualist organisation and website - that must be it, she concluded. At long last the PM had got round to reading her Christmas card and evidently been attracted to her subtle psychic advertisement. She grew excited at the prospect of a high profile conversion.

And Elizabeth Tudor, after 400 years of slumming it with commoner clairvoyants (Mrs Hardcastle had her predecessors), in her classless afterlife purgatory, might at long last now be afforded the opportunity to pick up where she'd left off in 1603 (aged sixty-nine) with this most enlightened of Prime Ministers.

Heart thumping with anticipation, she phoned the Number 10 contact number and was put through, having switched on her tape recorder.

"Miss Whitefield-Smith?"

"Yes, hello."

"This is Mrs Hardcastle …"

"Oh yes, I'm so glad you called."

"I'm so sorry I put the phone down on you - please accept my apologies."

"I quite understand. You can never be too careful. Now, when can we talk?"

A few hours later Ben, of The Chiswick Argus, pressed the bell push: he noted the white, sun-baked husks of woodlice in its plastic oblong case and wondered how they'd got in. The double-glazed door opened a little too promptly, as if the occupant of this tidy semi had lain in wait behind the bow window's silky veil.

"Mrs Hardcastle?"



Goodness, he's young, thought Mrs Hardcastle. Looks about eighteen.

Her Persian cat on the rose print sofa looked up, stared at Ben's flickering notebook, perhaps thinking it some sort of bird, then went back to sleep.

"So, these bubbles," said Ben, gilt-edged teacup steaming on the glass table, "they're all around us?"

"Well, I said bubbles, but now I know better. Since I wrote to you I have had a communication from the Xyt?"

"The Exit?"

"That's how it's pronounced, but they spelt it out - X-y-t - for me. They're the Xyts, a vast alien race from light years away."

"They spoke to you?"

"As clearly as you. And they explained that what I was seeing were not bubbles but microscopic cameras - they look like bubbles! - trillions and trillions, squillions - I don't think there's a number for them - all around us. How many air molecules are there in the world? Or grains of sand? Think about it. And these cameras, which are organic, see and hear everything, and can feel things too - yes cameras! Of a sort - and these cameras are all linked up, spying on us, not just looking at us like CCTV cameras but are inside us too, monitoring our health and emotions; and these cameras are all linked to powerful computers on the planet Xyt which are like film directors, able to cut our lives into stories - these computer film directors edit what the cameras have sent back and turn our every moment into movies for the Xyts! The Xyts can feel what we feel thanks to an empathy permutation function in the cameras, that's what they said. They know what undetected illnesses people have; a young man may propose to his beloved yet be suffering from terminal cancer and not know it - the dramatic irony for the Xyt! They know how long the lovers have got. The tragedy. On Xyt we're all film stars!"

Ben was pushing out his wet-peachy bottom lip and nodding gently as he recorded her testimony in shorthand.

"Earth was invaded at three minutes past three on December 14, and we were completely taken over by twenty-nine minutes past. GMT. That's what they said - that's when I had my sneezing fit, ask the neighbours. Imagine it! Our entire world conquered in just twenty-six minutes! Such is the scale of their superiority. Caesar had his armies, Jesus his disciples. The Xyt have their bubbles."

"Who talked to you?" asked Ben.

"I have no idea. I just heard this voice. These cameras, these miracles of micro-technology, can transmit both ways. I couldn't make this up. Ben, how can I make people believe me? And as for that worthless Prime Minister of ours …"

Back at the office Ben briefed his news editor Chris on the Xyt.

"Have we checked her out?" asked the older man of Mrs Hardcastle, after mention of the cameras. "I mean, does she have a history of mental illness? A criminal record? How did she strike you - would she look flaky on TV?"

"Nothing in the records, she seemed perfectly normal, except for what she said."

"And these alien cameras - they look like bubbles?"

"They resemble bubbles. She could see them in her sitting room. She sees them on Oprah on TV. She saw a load shoot into the Queen's ear on TV. And in nature documentaries. Wherever she looked she said she saw these bubble things."

"And did she say how these camera bubbles got into the air?"

"She was vague on that, said they were pumped in from space ships, but I couldn't tell if she imagined that or was told it."

"I love these details. In fact, I just love details. And did she say why only she can see these things, they being microscopic?"

"The Xyt told her, she says, that she's not the only one who can see the bubbles, but many are in denial. She was thinking of trying to get together a Xyt support group. She said there was a slight design flaw in the cameras that made them show up to people with over-active pineal glands."

"A support group! Pineal glands! Sexy details! And what did she expect Downing Street to do about it?"

Chris seemed unusually animated thought Ben. A bad sign. His heart sank a bit.

"She wanted the PM to investigate," he replied. "She's convinced that if scientists were alerted to the cameras, they'd detect them and prove her right about aliens. I asked her to ask her aliens to give us some vital secret information which could be verified - I said that would be regarded as evidence."

"Yes, well," drawled Chris with sarcasm, changing gear, "this is not an investigation, this is pure showbiz. Casualty division."

"I thought you were interested in her bubbles," the young man said with some indignation.

"Was I? You sure about that? What I said was go and talk to the loony and surprise me. Well, you have surprised me. You've made my day. You've done something you didn't want to do, you have broken out of your silly little know-all shell and done something imaginative. That approach could be useful when you're on the Sunday Times one day and in receipt of a MI6 leak. You'll thank me. What to believe? What not to believe? You could miss a great story if you start pre-judging matters. Keep that mind open. Now get me a coffee and find me a real story, Mr BA!"

The PM's press secretary kicked off his loafers and rested his red-socked feet (with the green ivy leaf detail) on his desk. A rare thick fog, such as Jack the Ripper had made the most of, curtained his view of London, lending to a fancy that time had stood still, that the day's business was suspended. Perhaps the afterlife is like this, he thought, a grey nothing-in-particular - an idea that coincided with his perusal of a printout of Mrs Hardcastle's website. His eye lingered on the porcelain white face of Elizabeth I and her bizarre ruffed and corseted get-up that made her resemble an anaemic, transvestite moth.

Word had reached him of the PM's errancy. He knew of the planned séance and was utterly appalled - so appalled that he had already written down his thoughts in his daily diary. That entry alone would raise the value of his memoirs in a newspaper serial rights bidding war. The chateau he coveted in Bergerac would then be affordable.

For years he had tried to keep the PM on the straight and narrow, to protect him from an unhealthy bent for the irrational view of life as expressed in superstition, intuition and the inexplicable. He'd documented it all. Oh yes.

In his hand he had a copy of Mrs Hardcastle's letter about the invasion of the bubbles. That, too, was in his diary.

Quite soon, as he reluctantly admired Mrs Hardcastle's fluent use of English ("such a waste"), it was his subconscious that first registered an inconsistency; what was it now? Something not right here, he mumbled. He looked at the address in the letter and the address on the website: they were different though both in Chiswick. What's going on here then?

"Tim!" he barked.

"Can you hear me, Prime Minister?"

"Yes Gabrielle."

The phone was in conference mode (and recording).

"The thing is - I can hear you breathing, Prime Minister, you must hold the receiver away from your mouth, or else Mrs Hardcastle, or whoever, will hear you. If you need to say anything to me please use the other phone."

The other phone sat on the far side of his desk with receiver off its cradle, resting but expectant, linked to Gabrielle's earphone.

"Oh yes," said the PM.

She dialled Mrs Hardcastle who switched on her tape before picking up the receiver.

"Mrs Hardcastle, it's Gabrielle Whitefield-Smith. Is it OK to do what we discussed?"

"Yes dear. Just give me a moment. Remember, no clever questions! And don't refer to the telephone. Her Majesty will get confused."

Gabrielle and PM lay quiet as their respective receivers were filled with whistly breathing and groans, sounds that might have been misinterpreted for that of a bordello were it not for the context. Mrs Hardcastle was going into a trance, she was ceding control of her vocal cords to a greater power. The PM thought of Tudor history, his heritage, his posterity, and the present absurdity, or what seemed to be. But he just couldn't resist this opportunity, this remote, peculiar chance to talk with …

"How I have been deceived!"

The PM froze. Was this the voice of Elizabeth I?

"Never in my life have I heard such audacity!"

A grand, low voice, peculiar in its intonation, not of the 21st century to be sure. Nothing like Cate Blanchett's.

"Your Majesty?" said Gabrielle, quivery, nonplussed.

"I care not for death," cried the voice. "I am your anointed Queen. I will never be by violence constrained to do anything."

"Do you think it's her? She sounds crazed. Tell her we are her subjects," whispered the nervous PM to Gabrielle on the other line.

"We are your subjects, Your Majesty."

"I give you my hearty thanks for the good zeal and loving care you seem to have."

"Good," said the PM to Gabrielle. "She's calming down. Ask her how she is."

"Your Majesty, how are you keeping?"

"Keeping? I never was any greedy, scraping grasper, not a fastholding prince, nor yet a waster. Nothing hath changed."

"Ask her what she thinks of England."

"Your Majesty …"

"Silence! I see many overbold with Parliament Almighty making too many subtle scanning's of your Prime Minister's will, as lawyers do with human testaments. The presumption is so great, as I may not suffer it. And I sayeth this - don't trust those varlets, the Spaniards!"

"Good heavens," whispered the PM, nervous of European sensibilities. "Better change the subject".

In a fluster, unable to think, Gabrielle asked: "How's your mother?"

"Oh God Gabrielle, no!"

A terrible silence. Followed by terrible words: "What the fucking hell is going on with these bloody Hardcastle women?"

The last voice was not the PM's, Gabrielle's or Elizabeth Tudor's. The PM's press secretary had just stormed into the PM's office.

"Who speaketh? I marvel at so great and such unprecedented impertinence!" shouted the voice purporting to be that of the Queen.

"Quiet!" whispered the PM to the press secretary, hand over receiver, she'll hear you.

"Who?" asked the media guru.

"Who is that?" asked Mrs Hardcastle, audible to all. "Is that the Prime Minister I heard then? Were you eavesdropping? You've broken the trance with Queen Elizabeth the First, this is disgraceful."

"Queen Elizabeth the First?" repeated the press secretary.

"Oh God," cried the PM.

"Don't you ever learn?" screamed the man who claimed to have guided the PM to power, amongst others.

Two days later the national newspapers led with what would become the story of the year. The Telegraph's splash was the more restrained but most accurate of the lot: '"PM Talked To Elizabeth I Through Me," claims Psychic. The lengthy report named a Jessica Hardcastle (of Chiswick) as the medium at the centre of this maelstrom and their source. Someone at Number 10 denied everything flatly.

One Jessica Hardcastle of Chiswick read her Telegraph and, as she did so, imagined her gut crashing through to her pelvic floor, such was her outrage. After a third reading she shouted in the direction of her Persian cat: "I'll sue!"

Meanwhile, newspaper sales shot up.

"So, Mrs Hardcastle had a séance with the national prints," said the press secretary, in an uncharacteristic failure of wit. "It was to be expected."

The PM sat disconsolate, speechless.

"You deserve the kicking of your life. That's what you're going to get."

The press stories told the underlying story: enraged by the PM's conduct, Mrs Hardcastle had contacted the Telegraph and reported her tale, playing her tapes and claiming that the PM was so desperate to find a New Way out of his predicaments that he had sought advice from the dead Queen. It was a scoop up there with the Nancy Reagan astrologer classic.

"To add insult, you consulted the wrong Mrs Hardcastle. Only you could have."

The PM was now familiar with what his press secretary was about to repeat to Gabrielle, forlorn by a window:

"Tim didn't do his homework, did he? No one thought there might be two Jessica Hardcastles in Chiswick. Tim failed to check old Bubble Hardcastle's address in her letter against Elizabeth Tudor Hardcastle's address on her website, didn't he? Tut-tut. He'll have to go. Amateurs! Tudor Hardcastle must have thought it was Christmas when she heard from Number 10 - hah! The odds against this happening must be incalculable. One for the statisticians. But this is what happens when you let school kids run the government."

Gabrielle said nothing (thinking she should have acted on her warning intuition when she first made contact with the other, uncomprehending Mrs H) but glanced at the PM for support. He looked away.

The press secretary leaned back triumphant. The Hardcastles had served some strange purpose, he rationalised in the silence. The PM might yet be his disciple again for fear of another debacle. Leaders must be led to be leaders. For too long the PM had sought to resist his brand of commonsense.

Life could be quite kinky, the press guru knew that, but never that kinky.

The press secretary's unsought victory was complete when a day later The Chiswick Argus published its own crazy PM story. Spurred on by nothing more than the PM's link to one Jessica Hardcastle of Chiswick, it told the story of the other Hardcastle of Chiswick, her Xyt, the invading bubbles and their tenuous link with Downing Street.

It was left to the nationals to conclude (wrongly) that the PM might well have tried to make contact with the Xyt had he not first got through to Elizabeth Tudor, but for a confusion of Hardcastles. The media read a troubled soul into the PM. And many psychologists were paid well to reflect on clairvoyance and its fascination to the jittery. Mature film directors emailed each other on who should play whom in the dramatisation - Dame Judi Dench as Mrs "Tudor" Hardcastle?

The Argus' news editor Chris took Ben out for a celebratory drink - "See what I said?"

Mrs "bubbles" Hardcastle decided not to sue. "It'll just make things worse," advised her daughter. Instead she said a prayer before bedtime one night: "Please, please, take away the bubbles. I don't want to see them anymore." And in the next few days the bubbles did decline in volume before her eyes, no longer stacked as tightly as caviar all about, just clustered. And soon they were gone. She had an intuition that the Xyt had tired of Earth after a faddish interest in this part of the Milky Way. Exposure to billions of human and non-human dramas all at once had given them a sufficient supply of stories for the duration of any ET species.

She later founded a Xyt support group for Those Who Had Known and wrote an international best-selling book called Soap From The Stars: My Encounters With The Bubbles People.

Mrs "Tudor" Hardcastle never heard from the Queen again so she grew rich after embarking on a series of lucrative, international lecture tours on the subject of the "real" QE1, sometimes aboard the QM2, and befriended the other Mrs Hardcastle.

From the back of his Daimler the PM gazed up at an early evening Mars twinkling in the southern sky. At least he assumed it was Mars; perhaps it was Venus. He didn't think his driver would know. He'd read his horoscope that morning in one of the tabloids. Apparently Mars was "strong" in his chart right now. It said that Mars makes people under its astrological influence short-tempered … it is the celestial body of energy, drive, aggression, leadership and of independent spirit. "The personified god of war." And it was true, he did feel a lot more with-it today, ready for a fight. After he'd read his horoscope. The media insults had left welts on his ego yet his approval ratings were up one percentage point. Columnists despaired. The PM sensed some lesson to be learned, perhaps to be divined.

He was not one to waste an experience.

He cringed at the thought of his séance. The shame! But when Buckingham Palace came into view as his car turned into The Mall from Trafalgar Square, his mood altered abruptly. He began to ponder whether his spectral Tudor encounter, or even the existence of the absurd Xyt, was anymore ludicrous than the supposed mystical union said to exist between Queen and Commonwealth. Did mystical mean unintelligible? Or did it denote some spiritual reality, even some divine communication? How could you prove it? Where was the science?

He gazed at the faded façade of the palace. Momentarily he saw it as a temple with its crowned high priestess within ready to receive him, as she always did, early Tuesday evenings, just before her customary hot bath. Trying to explain this mystical union to a Martian would be to court ridicule from the Red Planet denizen, he thought. But then again, the monarchy had survived for millennia on its divine connections: the irrational, the illogical - these were powerful, enduring forces. Look at astrology - seemingly nonsensical yet still big, big business.

These thoughts comforted the PM in a warm rush, they made him feel at one again with his people - a nation exhausted with what it knew. Unicorns, angels, aliens, gods, discarnate babblers, prophetic seers, messiahs, avatars, crystals, amulets and esoteric conspiracies galore - in these, and more, lay the limitless possibilities of a dream. Of a sudden he almost felt grateful to the Xyt and the ghost of Elizabeth I for their painful intrusion. They had reminded him of something.

He didn't know what precisely. He didn't want to know precisely. That, he concluded, was the point precisely.

As the Daimler swept passed the high black railings of the palace, the PM was suddenly elated - "Yes!" he cried.

He had made a decision. It had come in a flash. Mars was shouting it from the darkening sky.

His press secretary must be sacked – but after Christmas.

Copyright by Madame Arcati 2006


Anonymous said...


Reminds me of my own ghastly case of mistaken identity, Worcester Magistrates Court early 1970s when I was a cub reporter.

A fellow hack burst into the Evening News reporters’ room early one morning screaming blue murder about some bloke who had fetched up in our concrete bunker on the banks of the Severn, issuing dire threats to anyone who reported his assault case.

I moseyed on up to court, found the likely suspect on the list and swapped a few details with the prosecuting inspector.

The case was outlined and Mr Accused wanted a remand on bail. During the argy bargy the inspector said he wanted conditions attached, one of which was that he wasn’t to contact or threaten reporters at the Worcester Evening News.

Mr Accused replied: “I never did that.”

Presiding magistrate: “What’s this about Inspector?”

Inspector: “I have it on the best, most excellent authority, that Mr Accused has been to the Evening News office and has threatened reporters.”

Mr Accused: “I never did, I have never been anywhere near the Evening News office.”

The whole court looked at me. I looked at the floor as it dawned on me that I had cocked-up big time and would probably be sacked.

Then Mr Accused piped up: “Yes, well I must have done it when I was drunk because I don’t remember.”

Madame Arcati said...

Many thanks for the compliment and your own story - adds credence to mine!

Anonymous said...

Weirdly enough, I was a cub reporter on the Worcester Evening News too. I chiefly remember doing lots of Golden Wedding interviews with couples who had got their all their ornaments from the back of Sunday supplement magazines.

Happy days.

Anonymous said...

Wotcha Flagrante..... I was there when David Chapman was news editor and David Jones crown court reporter. I see Mike Pryce is still in harness.

Had some good colleagues but really didn't enjoy working for the firm and left in 1979. We spent a lot of time in the bowling alley of the Crown and Anchor plotting NUJ action. I'm still in the NUJ, still in newspapers.

Our mutual friend Madame A has my email address. Ask her for it if you want to get in touch.

Anonymous said...

PS...... Flagrante, if you do email leave it until Monday as my website is moving to a new server and emails are circling cyberspace at the moment.

Anonymous said...
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