He is so accident prone that
no one can quite understand
how he became Prime Minister.

Possibly, it was a sympathy vote.

On the breakfast news bulletin
the presenter asks the expert:

“How is it even possible for
the whole country to be both
flooded and on fire at the same time?”

The expert shrugs, just like
he practiced in rehearsal.

Swimming Pools, Schools, Libraries and Buses

When I was at school, they taught us combined language skills and compassion by making us write accounts imagining what it would be like to be caught up in the tsunami, the earthquake, the war.  We laid it on thick – the drama, the trauma, the discomfort – not quite knowing or understanding what it would be like.  My accounts always ended with improbable magic, floating up and away from the trouble or descending down in to some distracting dream world.

I was thinking back to this as I tried to get to sleep, then when I woke I found a photographer standing over me, taking a picture of me curled up around my belongings.  A journalist crouched down next to me and asked if he could ask why I was trying to get into his country.  I asked for some time to prepare an answer.

A bunch of us sat by the motorway and shared a breakfast that some kind people had gone to the trouble of bringing out to us.  Just toast and tea but.  We ate and drank in near-silence, middle-distance stares.  I was thinking hard about what I would tell the journalist after breakfast.  I imagined I was entering a competition I had found on the back of a cereal box.  To win, you had to complete the sentence, ‘I want to live in your country because…’ in no more than 150 words.  Of course, I knew I was competing with thousands of other entrants and I needed to write something incisive, something that would stand out, maybe something witty to show my sense of humour in the face of adversity, or maybe just something devastatingly heartbreaking.

I thought about telling the story of how I had worked for the newspaper that opposed the regime, how I had been left with no choice but to get myself and my family out of the country while we still could, but then I decided everyone would have similar tales, so I changed tack and was thinking about writing it as if I was just introducing myself as a person – tall, good-looking, ha ha.  GSOH.  I can fish, I can draw, I can dance.

In the end I just started by writing, ‘swimming pools, schools, libraries and buses.’  I thought a little longer and then underneath what I had written, I drew a picture of a bus, then I drew myself driving the bus, and I drew the Prime Minister sitting on the bus looking really happy that I was there to drive him through the streets.  It wasn’t my best work, but I had just woken up and this was only a first draft, just setting down what I had in my head.

“Swimming pools,” I said out loud, into the morning air.  The man next to me nodded.  I continued, “swimming pools, schools, libraries, buses.”  He nodded again.  Then he repeated what I had said so I said it again – “swimming pools, schools, libraries and buses,” – but this time I said it louder and more people looked up from their middle-distance staring.  They repeated what I had said.  I stood up and declared loudly, “Swimming pools!  Schools!  Libraries!  Buses!”  They shouted the words back at me.

Soon everyone was joining in, standing by the roadside, chanting, “swimming pools, schools, libraries and buses.”  They were all smiling and I thought that now the journalist would have to write about me and his newspaper would campaign on my behalf and then they would let me in.

Suddenly, a lorry pulled up and out stepped the Prime Minister himself!  A film crew followed him, capturing his every move as he walked towards us with his arms outstretched, as if he wanted to pull us all into one warm hug.  We swarmed around him, desperate to touch his suit as if he was some kind of messiah.  From his pockets he began to pull handfuls of passports that must have been prepared in advance as there was one for each of us, all ready and set out with our names on and pictures of our faces.  Inside the back cover the emergency contact details were filled out with the name of someone who will promise to always look after us, and we will promise to always look after them.

Both One, And Not The Other, And Not Another And Then

It is our understanding that your operation has undergone some significant changes in the past few months.  Not least-

We now have the capability to intercept communications.  Your phone call from Sam Williams (Tues 12th, 17:56), your email to John Cook (Wed 13th, 08:45), your email to David-sodding-Jackson (Wed 13th, 11:52).  We have them all on tape, in a secure location.  We know the when and the why.

Maybe ‘Sam’ or ‘John’ or ‘David’ – it could matter which one, if those were their real names, if they were even real people – was the man we met when leaving the club at three a.m. that time.  The man had long hair and wore a tight t-shirt.  He looked like a villain in an action film, muscle with bad direction.  Whoever he was, you made no introductions.  The two of you spoke for fifteen minutes.  I wasn’t really listening.

How do these people know us?  How is their business any of our business?

At some point the ‘us‘ and ‘our‘ switched from being me and you.  Now my ‘us’ and ‘our’ is not yours.  And I am not part of your ‘us‘ and ‘our,’ which is now you, plus, I assume, ‘Sam’, ‘John’, ‘David’… whoever.

It absolutely had to change.  But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t better before.

Once we had intercepted your communications, decoded them, analysed the situation… we came for you.  We wanted to find out exactly what.  We – myself along with the professionals who currently form my (and not your) ‘us’ – were hiding in the garden when you went out.  We knew where you were going – I’m sorry my love, we knew exactly when you would be back.  We had it covered.  We examined your shed – which had turned out to be your centre of operations, the reason you were always sneaking off there to check on things, why you sometimes got up and went outside in the middle of the night.  We obtained the evidence we needed, waited for you to return.

Sure enough you came back.  I did not warn you that it was a trap – that was not part of our plan.  But I could have made that decision myself, I could have implemented a plan of my own – my plan, not ours.

You went into your shed and commenced with your work, but we – really ‘them’, the professionals, under my instruction – had rigged up your shed so that it would fall apart at the touch of a button.  It was somewhat comical, the way the roof was removed so quickly, like ripping off a plaster.  Then the four sides just collapsed, and the entire structure of the shed was just lying flat across the garden, like origami that had been unfolded.

It took about three seconds.  That was roughly how long you were given to understand that we were on to you.

You did well – you tried to behave normal, as if everything was just ok.

That was the first moment I considered that I might have been wrong.

I tried to remember how all this had started.  I was thinking, then.  Forgot and had to stop.  And think about what.  I had been thinking.  Retraced my steps.  Thought by thought.  Back to the start.  To what I had been thinking.  Damn.  I couldn’t believe I had done this to us.

They surrounded you, the professionals.  They had firearms, which I thought was a bit heavy-handed, and which I hadn’t known about before, though if I had thought about it I could probably have guessed.  I just watched from near the gooseberry bush.  It started to drizzle.

I dissolved my partnership with them, there and then – my ‘us’ and ‘our’ was just me and me alone.  And I didn’t see ‘Sam‘ or ‘John‘ or ‘David-sodding-Jackson‘ coming to your rescue, so I guess that your ‘us‘ and ‘our‘ was now just you.  We were both outnumbered, it had been a long time since either of us was completely alone.

I would have realigned with you in a heartbeat, we could have reformed the old ‘us’, taken a holiday and called it a comeback tour.  It was too late now, but we could have forgotten all about our tangled old alliances, gone away and started anew, reinvented ourselves, invented our own pronouns so nothing like this could happen again.