Friday, 23 March 2007

Short Story

We've had a competition (a very civilised one) at work on my nightshift to write a short story, maximum 1,000 words (minus title). 12 people out of around 50 submitted something by midnight last Sunday, including yours' truly. All of them are pretty good, as a thousand words max (which I did, according to the spell-check)does not allow a writer much space to create new characters and a universe (however small). I tried to write a second one (someone apparently submitted two, so that makes it 11 contestants) but although I thought of a number of opening scenarios, they did not develop very far. There was too much dialogue, not enough plot.

All entrants had to submit a quid to enter and the winner gets the cash everyone put in, plus a fancy pen/pencil. (I can't remember which!) To be honest, even if everyone on the shift put forward two stories, with a £100 prize, it would still be more about kudos than cash. I think the voting is next week.

Anyway, here's my short story...

The View From Tower Bridge

It was 5.30 on another hot sunny July Saturday morning. Archie Hook looked east from Tower Bridge, before walking over the bridge to look west. This was the London he knew and loved.

In half an hour the first workers would be arriving. They all had their swipe cards and photo ID to get into London. No tourists before nine. He hoped the Beef Eaters would be there on time today. Yesterday had been such an embarrassment, not being able to open the Tower before 11am.

However, these minor hiccups in running London were nothing compared to those in the days when Archie first came up with his idea of how London should be run. His eureka moment happened after one pig of a day. It began being stuck on the tube for two hours (“Signal problems at Canada Water”: it was always signal problems at Canada Water). Shattered, he arrived in the nick of time for a conference in Westminster called London: Great or What? Archie kept his head down during most of it, nursing a hangover, until that idiot off the telly with the stupid transatlantic drawl came out with “London, a great place to work and live.”

“No it’s not, it’s bloody awful!”

“Mr. Hook, you are the sort of person who makes me ashamed to be a Londoner.”

“You’re no Londoner, you just sleep with one, and it ain’t your wife!”

Dismissed immediately from his post as Quality Administrative Executive with Making London Better (Working For You, So You Don’t Have To was the motto he had made up for them), Archie got a job in advertising, due to his way with words. He enjoyed his days with Sadista and Norquist, and it was there he got to work with the World Preservation Alliance. He came to know, in all senses of the term, Nicole, their London chief, who was always amazed how little Londoners cared about their heritage and how they put up with the prices, the dirt, the violence and the fact so little worked properly.

“London needs saving from itself,” were Nicole’s last words to Archie before she returned home, “and I’m not marrying you, Big Guy, until you do it”.

After Nicole left, Archie was offered her job by the Alliance, who within weeks of him arriving began their campaign to make London a World Heritage Site. Although they were coy about the details, it would mean effectively no-one living in London ever again. Archie knew it was a forlorn campaign, but if he was to make Nicole Burnaby the next Mrs. Hook, he had no choice. His ex-colleagues from Making London Better used to leave extremely abusive messages for him on the Alliance’s website, but Archie knew, somehow, that if he sat by the River Thames long enough, the bodies of his enemies would come floating by. Love would conquer all; not least those muppets.

It all started going right for him at the time of the Olympics. Archie was one of the few Londoners to enjoy the event, because it was such a fiasco. “NO MEDALS, NO TRAINS, NO HOPE” was one headline he remembered, as the whole world looked on London with disgust. Not long afterwards some idiot at Nazgul Asset Management plugged his MP7 player into the wrong plug; the City of London was closed for two months. It was a grim time for most Londoners as the Square Mile ceased trading; only the riot control effects of virtually continual rain prevented London’s total collapse into anarchy that Autumn.

Archie was now very much homme du jour. He was on television nearly all the time now, saying London needed saving from itself. Very few people were prepared to argue with him any more. Many more slept with him. Those who did take him on in television studios, like Mr. Stupid Transatlantic Drawl, usually arrived late, due to London’s collapsing transport system. “Makes my point, doesn’t it? London’s great to visit, if you’ve got the time, but who seriously wants to live or work here?”

Just before Christmas Archie picked up the phone to the Prime Minister. “Sorry to disturb you, but we surrender. You can have London, the whole lot”.

“We only really want Zone 1”, spluttered Archie.

“No, have the whole lot. Bucks House agrees. The City announced an hour ago that it is upping to the Azores, and everyone in Westminster and Whitehall much prefers doing business in, well, anywhere but here. With the Scots and Welsh voting to leave the UK after the Olympics screw-ups, it doesn’t really matter where we go. Of course, it will take time to get everyone out of suburbia and relocated, but nobody really wants to stay in this dirty, crowded dump, do they? Tourists will still love London, which is what matters. By the way, Hook, we want you to head Making London Better as we think it’s the ideal organisation to oversee the transition to Tourist City Central.”

Within four months London was deserted. Many left for abroad. Most of those remaining in England were now employed as “professional Londoners” (20,000 Pearly Kings and Queens and 15,000 Cockney Chimney Sweeps, for instance) to entertain the tourists, living just outside the city’s parameters. Apart from walking, the Tube and buses were the only way for visitors to get around, but they worked perfectly. There was no crime (after thirty pick pockets were hung at Tyburn- half a million saw it live), the streets were clean and you could get served in pubs, which all shut at midnight every night, before all visitors had to leave.

Archie saw it was 6am. Time to start another day. He walked north up towards the Tower. In two weeks he would make an honest woman of Nicole in St Paul’s Cathedral (“Get married like Royalty for just $50” said the London World Heritage City website) and he was the happiest man alive.

“London has been saved from itself", Archie mused. “Now for Paris…”


Mari Carmen said...

Amazing story :) I liked it. Congratulations!

Greetings from Madrid,

Anglonoel said...

Mari: Muchas gracias!

Mari Carmen said...

Hi! :) ¿Entiendes español? ¿Por qué no continúas con el blog? Me gusta mucho, me parece muy interesante.

I hope you can continue with your blog. I think it's very interesting. I have made a link to this blog from mine.

Hugs and kisses :)

Anglonoel said...

Lo siento! I learnt Spanish at school 20 years ago, so it is a bit rusty.

My blog is not dead, far from it, just one thing and another has meant I've neglected it in recent weeks. Will add some stuff in next few days. Also put your blog on my links!

Mari Carmen said...

Hi, Noel! :) Don't worry about your Spanish. I have been studying English all my life -I think- and I don't know English well :(
At least, I can read quite well, I can write a bit and... I know something for sure: I love your language, your writers, your landscapes... and so on.
I'll wait for your new posts in your blog. Thanks!
Reading your texts will be (and it's) a good way for me to practice my English.

Bye :)

Mari Carmen said...

Your 'muse' in Madrid? Jajaja, I like it. Thanks.

Hugs and kisses.