Saturday 17 February 2007

Chapter 1

'That bloody, bloody wind really does get on my nerves, Dick,' sighed Lizzie. She punched the aluminium cap viciously into the milk bottle with her thumb and dribbled about a tablespoon into my tea. A brisk gale boomed around the house and rattled the kitchen windows.

I turned the pages over from the "Storms Lash South" headlines to the travel section. A tree must have blown over in editor's garden, I thought, to get that sort of coverage for just a storm nowadays. 'Well, you know what they say, my love, "March comes in like a lion",' I murmured.

'Richard,' she snapped, 'Don't be such an ass! It's the middle of June now and it's still blowing like hell.' She banged the cup down in front of me. A mahogany wave of steaming tea slopped over the rim and on to the counter. Lizzie ripped off three paper towels from the roll and threw them down in front of me.

'Oh, yes, so it is,' I replied with my best "startled academic" face. It's tough having a wife smarter than you are. I carefully mopped up the spilled tea with the fluffy thick paper towels, polished the top and tossed the towels casually into the bin. 'Well, you know what they say nowadays, love, "March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lion some time after August". I beamed brightly at her. I took a loud slurp of the scalding tea.

'Bloody idiot,' Lizzie hissed. She slammed the refrigerator door and switched on the dishwasher. It howled like a demented thing, joining the clothes washer and dryer.

* * *

Now, look, I know I promised you a story, but the temptation to comment just keeps bubbling up to the surface. I know I haven't even really started the story, Lizzie, but I just can't help butting in. It must be all those years of teaching. They say it's terribly corrupting. Oh, all right, so I didn't teach very long. So I'm a natural-born interrupter. I'm only trying to help our gentle reader to understand, dear. All right, dear, all right. I'll make it short. I promise. Honest.

Refrigerators and chlorofluorocarbons and ozone. Paper towels, milk bottles and dishwashers. Can you believe it now? Those dishwashers used more power in a quarter hour than we can generate on the worst day now. Crisp, soft paper. And think of all that lovely water sloshed down the sewers. You just turned the tap and all that gorgeous, wonderful water came spilling out, clean and cold and utterly, utterly delicious. Gallons and gallons of lovely, sparkling water. You could drink it. You could wash in it. You could just sit there and admire it. Oh God, that water was so beautiful. We must have been totally screwball to have wasted it like that, to have pumped it full of nitrates, phosphates, garbage and shit. What on earth could we have been thinking about? OK, sermon over. Get back to the story.

* * *

'Look, Lizzie lovey, you can't live near to the sea and not expect a fresh breeze every now and again,' I said reasonably. 'Certainly not in Wales, my love.'

'I don't call a howling gale a breeze and you're the one who dragged us out here to the backside of beyond, Dick Turner,' snapped Lizzie. 'I was perfectly happy where we were in Richmond, thank you very much. Wales, my arse!'

'Well, you certainly might have said that before it was too late,' I replied as calmly as I could. 'You sounded happy enough about moving at the time; delighted, I thought. You always said you wanted a big house in the country, by the sea. Look about you, my lady.' I swept my hand grandly at the window. 'One stately pile in the Welsh hills. Real live sheep all over the place. Sea, sand, fresh air for the kids and all that sort of stuff. At least your snot doesn't turn black out here. You know, they say that if you cut a Londoner open, he's full of soot and lead. It's got to be a lot healthier here than living in London.'

'Oh, I suppose so,' Lizzie admitted unhappily. 'I just didn't think it would be, well, quite so desperately rural, Dick.' She stared moodily out the window at the sheep. 'Sheep, sheep, sheep, bloody sheep!' she snapped. They nosed through the flattened dry grass with their round grey rumps turned into the wind. The wind parted their heavy fleece in furry little wavelets. 'You're working all the time. I'm alone all the time and I'm bored.'

'Well, you seem to be busy enough, lovey,' I commented vaguely. 'What with the school and all that.' I gave "all that" a dead fall.

'Half a day of art class, twice a week, isn't much to do, Richard,' she said defensively. 'It's just dabbling, really. I'm mainly busy taxiing the kids around all day long. It isn't boredom, anyway. It really is that constant, bloody wind.'

* * *

Lizzie interrupted. 'I was not defensive!'

'Yes, you were! Definitely defensive.'

'I had nothing to be defensive about!'

'Maybe not and maybe not then. Anyway, it's not important now. We're together and you can't say a lot more than that these days. It really doesn't matter any more.'

* * *

'Oh, come on, Lizzie, that's an exaggeration,' I replied. 'The wind doesn't blow all the time.'

'No, I suppose not,' she admitted, 'It just seems like it does sometimes. Like it'll never, ever stop blowing.' She shivered and stared out the window again. Black ragged clouds streaked overhead. The red setting sun peeked out for a minute and reflected off the sea, way down in the valley.

'Red sky at night, shepherds delight,' I said. I pointed to the paper. 'And just look at all the storms they've been having down South,' I reminded. 'You'd have the wind down in Richmond, too.'

She turned to me. Her eyes looked suspiciously watery. 'I didn't think you'd be away so much of the time in this job, either, Ratty,' she said sadly. 'It's awful kind of creepy out here at night sometimes, you know.' She twined her arms around my waist and pressed her head against my shoulder. 'You're working too hard, Dicky. You're never home.'

'Well, dear, you know that everything interesting happens in London or anywhere else but up here,' I said, hugging her. 'The environmental committee work I'm doing with the Government is really pretty important. And it puts a bit of extra sugar in that old sugar bowl.'

'Oh, I know, Ratty. I suppose it's all really very good for us,' she sighed. 'But it just all gets on my nerves sometimes. It really does.'

'Look, love, why don't you take a day off and come on down to town with me on Monday?' I asked brightly. 'It's just for the day, you know. You could do some shopping while I'm over at Whitehall. After that we could have dinner together, maybe a show? We could even check into a hotel for a dirty hour or two afterward.' I waggled my eyebrows at her and flashed my soapiest smile. 'Just like old times, eh, my girl?'

'Oh, you know perfectly well that I can't go to London with you, Dick,' she said crossly. 'What would I do about the kids?' She pushed herself away from me.

'I hope they're too young for that sort of thing,' I joked. I suspected they weren't. At least the older one, anyway, bless her black little teenaged heart.

'You know exactly what I mean, Dick.'

'Oh, they're old enough to look after themselves,' I replied casually. 'They can sling some sausages and chips into the microwave, then douse it with ketchup. That's all they seem to want to eat, anyway. We'd be back well before midnight to turn off the TV and tuck the little darlings in.'

'Oh, don't be so damned stupid, Dick,' snapped Lizzie. 'I'm not about to leave the kids out here in the middle of nowhere, alone by themselves at night. Anyway, I've got other things to do. Sex isn't the answer to everything.' She twisted on the tap and started scrubbing and peeling potatoes viciously in the delicious sparkling, foaming water.

'Just asking, my dear,' I mumbled defensively. There wasn't a lot you could do when Lizzie went into one of her Red Queen moods. 'Things to do' gave me a nasty little twinge in the stomach. Sometimes I wondered about those things. Best not to think, really. Who would cast the first stone?

'You said you'd take Robert out and help him fly his new kite,' she growled.

A soft cheek turneth away wrath. 'I think it's a bit windy for kites, poppet,' I replied meekly. I turned over to the business section. Stock market gloomy this week: threat of world peace. Stock market gloomy last week: world peace threatened.

'You promised Bobby this morning,' insisted Lizzie. 'You promised him yesterday, too, but you didn't take him out. You had time to go to work, Richard; plenty of time for that, but not for him. So why did you promise in the first place if you had no intention to do it?'

Dick market very gloomy right now: home peace threatened. 'Oh, all right, dear,' I sighed. I finished my tea and folded the paper over. I set my cup down on the counter. I sidled up alongside Lizzie and gently bumped her lean flank with mine. 'Come on, lovey,' I coaxed, 'Give us a little kiss.' She pursed her lips sulkily and tilted her head towards me. I pressed my forehead against her lips. She kissed it lightly. I patted her backside and stepped out into the hall. 'Bobby!' I shouted.

'Yeah, Dad?' came the faint reply from upstairs.

'Bobby!' I shouted again.

His door opened. 'Aw, what do you want, Dad?' he moaned. 'I'm playing a game.'

'You still want to go out and fly your kite?' I asked.

'Oh, I guess so, maybe,' he replied.

'Hey, look, you don't need to do me any big favours,' I said. 'It's your kite. I'd just as soon lie back on the couch and watch TV. Or I've got work to do.'

'Aw, Dad, you promised,' he whined. 'You've been promising me for weeks.'

'OK,' I said airily, 'Here's your big chance then, kid. Let's go before I change my mind or something even worse.'

Bobby bounced down the stairs, two steps at a time. He threw himself on top of me. I flipped him over my hip and pinned him to the floor. I placed my bare foot over his neck. 'Give up, dog?' I growled.

'No!' he shouted, wiggling violently. He almost managed to escape.

I pressed him back down to the floor with my foot. 'Give up, kid stuff, or you're dead meat,' I threatened dramatically in my very cruelest cruel-voice.

'Mercy, master, mercy,' sobbed Bobby pathetically.

'All right, serf, just this once. But don't you forget it,' I snarled condescendingly. I let Bobby get up. He immediately seized my leg and nearly pulled me over on to the floor. He was really getting strong. He was like a frisky little bullock. 'Come on,' I growled, 'I thought you wanted to go fly a kite. If you don't hurry up, the wind may die down.'

'Fat chance, Dad,' laughed Bobby. 'It never stops blowing in this place.' He butted his head into my belly and nearly knocked me over again.

'Look, kid, it's blowing all over the country like this,' I said, getting a bit annoyed with the tussle, 'Come on. Let's get out and get that kite up and over with. There's something on the TV I want to see this afternoon.'

'Aw, not another one of those boring old global warming things, Dad. The Greenhouse Effect,' groaned Bobby in a hollow dramatic voice, lifting his arms zombie-like. 'Wooooh!'

'People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones,' I intoned portentously.

'Doom, gloom, doom, gloom,' he moaned. 'I wanted to watch the match, Dad. Honest, I did.'

'We'll see then. Come on, let's go,' I repeated. 'Get your kite.' Bobby ran out to the utility room and brought back the kite. It was a bit special, a shiny little blue Kevlar and composites job with two hundred metres of braided nylon string. 'It's going to need a lot longer tail than that,' I warned.

'What for, Dad' asked Bobby. He scrutinised the kite.

'It's to stabilise it in this sort of wind,' I replied. 'I'll see if your Mum's got an old piece of material or something like that.' I stuck my head into the kitchen. 'Lizzie, have you got any old rags we can use?'

'Now what have you spilled?' she demanded sharply. She didn't turn around from the sink.

'Nothing, Mum,' I piped. 'We just need to make a heavier tail for the kite, please.'

'Rags on the utility shelf, where they always are. And don't make a mess of them,' Lizzie warned. 'They're organised.'

'No, your majesty,' I replied. 'See you in a few minutes, your honour. We peons will just be out in the back field, sir, picking the cotton.'

'And don't get yourselves all mucky,' she added.

'Not much chance of that, possums,' I replied. 'It hasn't rained for months.'

'You two never needed mud to get everything mucky before now,' she replied heavily. 'Don't fall in the dust, then. I have to vacuum this house every day. And I've washed clothes twice today already.'

* * *

Lizzie says she wasn't really all that cross that day. I was acting like a moron, as usual, and that bloody wind was really getting on her nerves. At least she can't hear it much down here although she still has to listen to me all the time. She also says that I'm making it sound as if women single-handedly caused the environmental holocaust with their cleanliness and household appliances. "This is the way the world ends," she sings, "Not with a bang, but a dish wash." What can I say?

* * *

The little blue kite bounced all over the darkening sky. It dove straight for the ground and crashed with a burst of red dust. 'Bobby,' I bellowed, 'If you smash that bloody kite into the ground one more time, I'm going to come over and smash you into the ground!' I always used to get wound too much up by things like that then. You should have seen me with computer games. I was absolutely diabolical and usually very sorry for it afterward.

'Aw, come on, Dad,' Bobby shouted back cheerfully, 'It wasn't my fault. It was the wind that did it!'

'I've told you a thousand times, give that blasted thing more string!' I hissed through clenched teeth. I jogged over to the kite. It thrashed frantically against the ground like a wounded bird. I held it down with my shoe.

'Put the kite up again, Dad, let it go again!' cried Bobby excitedly.

'All right, but let the string out as fast as you can this time!' I lifted the kite and held it up into the wind. It was all I could do to keep a grip on it. 'Ready! Steady! Go!' I shouted. I launched the kite into the blast. 'Fast! Fast!' I yelled. 'Faster!' The kite shot up like a rocket. The string pulled taut with a quivering ping. Bobby yelped, the string went slack and the little kite disappeared over the top of the hill in what seemed like a second, trailing two hundred metres of string.

I raced over to Bobby and glared at him. 'God damn it, Bobby!' I roared. 'What the hell did you let the kite go for? It's totally bloody lost now!'

Bobby stood with his left hand clamped over his right palm, shoulders slumped. Big tears streaked down his quivering white face. 'I didn't mean to, Dad,' he sobbed. 'The string cut me. I tried to hold it, Dad, but the wind was too strong for me. I'm sorry.'

I looked down at his hand. Bright red blood welled between his sturdy little fingers. My stomach twisted. I dropped to my knees. 'Oh, my God, Bobby, let me see,' I croaked. I gently prised his fingers loose. The string had sliced deep into his palm. I caught a glimpse of bright white fat, just before his cupped palm filled with spurts of arterial blood. I clamped my hand tightly over his and ran back to the house, clutching him desperately close. I was crying, too.

Chapter 2

Disaster slipped up on us almost unnoticed. It all happened so gradually, no drama at all. Well, at the beginning anyway. Yes, sometimes the weather definitely would seem to be changing. Then it would seem to go pretty much back to the way it had been before. But I guess it never really ever went right back to normal, whatever normal might have been. Don't you remember the first storms, the hurricanes? Do you remember those first hot, dry summers? All those strange, warm winters? The droughts? People thought it was an improvement when it really warmed up and there weren't any more dreary, rainy winters like we used to have. So we all adjusted to the new weather. We moaned and bitched about it a lot, as usual, but did nothing, as usual. But all the time, we were like lobsters being boiled to death in cold water over a slow fire.

Of course it was simply impossible to believe what was happening at first. The doom-criers crept out every once in a while, nagging us, bleating about their theories of disaster and begging for more money. A new ice age one week, a global Sahara the next, a giant meteorite rushing at us the other. The newspapers got hold of half-baked stories from ambitious academics with axes to grind. That improved circulation for a few weeks and everyone sane was worried sick; kids went sobbing to their beds with terror. Then we all forgot about the weather for a while when the media frenzy moved on to the next bonk'n'politics scandal.

A few people might possibly have suspected what really was happening. Governments didn't know much and they didn't particularly seem to want to know what they really did know; even if they’d known, they couldn’t have managed a piss in a public toilet. Maybe we geologists should have known better, though. Maybe we should have looked at those Old Red Sandstone deposits just a bit more carefully. Maybe millions of years of thick, wind-drifted desert sands might have been trying to whisper something to us that we didn't particularly want to hear.

Even now, nobody really seems to know what's happened or why. We get less and less news. It may not even have been we humans who caused it. You can be sure that there aren't that many hair sprays or cars being used today and the climate change continues to proceed full tilt. OK, maybe we did pull some sensitive little trigger for world climate change, fluttered the wrong butterfly wing. But maybe then it's all just a part of some gigantic natural cycle. We could just be flattering ourselves about our importance in the scheme of things. Maybe we're like the old joke about the flea and the elephant. You know that one? Flea climbs on elephant and starts humping it. Head elephant starts to run, for reasons totally and absolutely unconnected with fleas or bitten elephant. Flea's elephant follows the elephant leader. Flea hangs on for dear life, crying with delight, "Suffer, baby, suffer!". Well, maybe I'm not remembering the joke right. I'm sure you get the idea, though.

Lizzie, my wife, says that's not how the joke goes at all and that I'm crazy to even bother writing all this stuff down. She says that nobody will be around to read it after we're gone, so why bother with it? Even if there is somebody, she says, they won't know how to read it or give a damn what happened to the people who caused all this, except in the worst possible way. Well, maybe she's right. Civilisation proved to be very flimsy stuff, after all, when the chips fell. But I don't know, though. We're a hardy race. Look at how those poor Ethiopians used to hang right on in there through thick and thin; quite possibly they're still down there hanging on, though it must be jolly thin pickings for them if Britain's anything to go by. Still, I'd bet we humans will muddle on through this, somehow. As long as things don't get too much worse, I mean. Even then, we might evolve, if anyone’s up to breeding at the moment.

Well, anyway, I've got this thick, tatty old diary, or part of it anyway, to fill up and plenty of spare time to fill it up in. Really miss my computer. We have to stay down here underground so much. Time hangs awfully heavy on our hands when the winds blow. Writing's a better amusement than staring at blank walls. And maybe things will change back to the way they were. Who knows? Then my journal will be history, hooray!

* * *

Perhaps you didn't happen to see my name on the inside of the front cover. It's Richard Allen Turner, in case you missed it. Yeah, that's right, initials R.A.T.; my Dad was a bit of a card, hah, hah, hah - Canadian, actually, totally funny. If you got as far as reading down to here, then you must have figured out that my wife's name is Elizabeth. We're Dick and Lizzie to our friends. I'm Ratty to Lizzie when she's in a nice mood and Fucking Old Rat when she's not. And since you've gotten this far into the ledger, then you've got to be a friend or completely taken over The Bunker, anyway.

'Hi there, friend!' says Dick, trying out a bit of dialogue. Christ that looks bloody stupid! Still, I'm bound to get this dialogue business sorted out one of these days, so please bear with me. Years of academic writing killed my creativity, shrivelled it all up like an old man’s dick. I can never remember, even, whether the punctuation mark goes inside or outside the quotes. But at least this isn't like writing a thesis or some frigging scholarly article, thank God. Not by a long shot. For one thing, this is a lot of fun. You can smile a bit and maybe even let a quiet little chuckle slip out, every now and then. You could even, if you were inclined that way, exaggerate a little, twist things slightly, plump up the truth, make yourself sound a bit better than you were - maybe a whole lot better. Not that I have, of course. This is the plain, unvarnished truth, as they say - right between the eyes. Oh, love those metaphors and to mix 'em all up!

You may have picked up the idea that I'm a geologist. You know, a guy who looks at rocks and fossils, that sort of thing. Was a geologist, might be a better way to put it. But it should be really very interesting to be a geologist in geologically interesting times, I suppose. Homo sap might just leave a nice, interesting little marker horizon for some other geologists a few hundred million years from now; a black smear, a sort of knicker-stain in the rocks. Oh, I can hear those future geologists arguing bitterly among themselves; oh, I can just picture them: "We are absolutely positive, Dr Xlxlchch. This greasy streak must be the Human Horizon. Just take that sample in your anterior claw and hold it to your ventral sensor. You can smell the cadmium and lead concentrations quite clearly. We say that this is the place where we must drill for plastic!" All our hopes, passion, work and folly, scrunched up into a dark little smear of rock an three millimetres thick with two large bugs earnestly discussing how to harvest our garbage. Oh, my.

Well, I really was a lousy geologist, no matter what anyone else might have thought. I was too dumb in school to do something really interesting. Such a pity, too, I'd really have liked to have led a life of economic crime, I mean, I'd have liked to have been either a merchant banker or a stock broker. Anyway, all that striding around purposefully with those pointy little hammers sounded really cool when I was at an impressionable age with deeply underdeveloped social skills. So I picked geology as my subject for university: the rest was pure railroad: good student becomes research student and so on. The walking around was OK, when the weather was nice, but the subject never really fired me up all that much. The hammer was only useful for hanging up pictures or until civilisation fell. Now, of course, that hammer's useful all the time, one way or another.

Fortunately for my sanity at the time, I managed to dabble in a lot of other things I liked much better than geology. Stupid idea, really, expecting teenagers to decide how they think they're going to have to spend the rest of their lives. It may have been a mistake, but I managed to be a dedicated amateur in whatever I did and I did whatever I did pretty well, if not earnestly - better than most of your so-called professionals, anyway. The only difference between me and the professionals was that they did it for the money and would've done absolutely anything to have kept their jobs. I never cared that much. You might definitely call me a professional survivor, though. I think I've found my real vocation at last you know: staying alive. All my messing around in this, that and the other was great preparation for the great mess we all ended up in.

Like it or not, I guess I've got geology to thank for being alive today. Some people wouldn't call what we've got today much of a life, but it's the only one we've got, love it or leave it, and all evidence points to their only being one per person. So we might as well stick around and see how things poke along. If worst comes to worst, we can always die. That was a joke, by the bye. This is a stiff upper lip establishment, sort of, and we wouldn't have it any other way. Besides, the End-of-the-World-As-We-Knew-It hasn't been nearly as bad as expected, at least for those who survived. Sometimes, I think, I haven't ever had it all that much better, in a very, very crazy sort of way. Less stress, striving and worry, I guess is what I mean.

As I was saying when I interrupted myself, geology saved our lives. A few years back, I was doing very nicely, thank you, in fast moving consumer goods down in London; much too well, in fact. I was getting jolly bored. How I moved into academia via FMCG's from an oil exploration bubble in the Antarctic is a very long and faintly implausible story. Anyway, this sharp academic cove I met at some function or another must have smelled the boredom off me. I should have known better: he had this really slicked-back, thick silver hair. The next thing I knew, I was wined, dined and offered the chair of geology at the University of Cymru at Conwy. Stunned by the execrable food, excellent drink and their brazen impunity, I took their shilling. When I came to, I found myself chained to an oar in the Welsh countryside, instead of gently fleecing bleating A/B's in the Home Counties at three times the salary, plus bonus and choice of executive cars. On taking up the appointment, Lizzie didn't speak anything but Welsh to me for a month. And the only Welsh either of us knows, even now, is "Dim Parcio".

So we sold our London dez rez, standard suburban bliss, at the peak of some house feeding frenzy for millions, even after paying off the mortgage. We bought this enormous rambling pile of a place, high up here in the hills, for about as much as the garage would have sold for in town. Got about fifteen acres of prime scrub with it, plus small herd of sheep. The sheep were sort of a hobby for me and kept the grass down pretty well. The stately Victorian folly, architecturally vandalised in the 1970s, wasn't too far from the sinecure, but not too near, either. We got a faithful old Land Rover to keep the redundancy Mercedes company. You didn't think I was foolish enough to resign from FMCG, did you? They threw the car in with the golden boot up the backside fifteen minutes after I told my boss I'd been approached by one of our competitors and thought only it fair to warn him that I was giving the offer serious consideration. What they didn't know was that I would have left for nothing, just so long as I had an excuse to miss the Christmas Party.

I started with the notion of filling the old house with light and laughter, making it an oasis of hospitality for staff and students. Well, I spent the next three years trying to get to know my university staff and colleagues. Without a great deal of success, I must say. I finally trapped one of the more doe-like Senior Lecturers in the Senior Commons Room loo. He went to earth in one of the stalls but I just went and introduced myself from under the door. After the ice was broken, I had no real trouble with them at all. University people aren't really standoffish; they're just very, very timid. They even admitted they would have come around and introduced themselves, given a year or two longer to get used to seeing me around the place. Having them visit us at home was simply out of the question, of course.

Nevertheless, university life was such a hoot. You could wear, say or think anything you liked, nobody seemed to notice. The head of department used to show up to lectures in his slippers and spout absolute twaddle. The students were appealing in the way that kittens and puppies are when they're just beginning to walk; perhaps not nearly as cute, but house-trained in all but the most unfortunate cases. The work was so easy that I thought I must have been missing something. But, no, that was all there was to it: give a few lectures, red-line some scurvy essays, publish some tosh in learned journals, participate in opaque Euro-trough projects and cash your relatively generous pay check. So, I filled up my spare time tormenting research students, writing dull academic papers and consulting very lucratively for fat-cat oilcos. Eventually, I was invited to sit on learned committees and oozed around Whitehall quite a bit. That's really where my story starts, too.

* * *

Lizzie says this writing of mine is exactly the way I talk: rambling and circuitous. She says that if I don't get cutting along smartly with this extremely shaggy dog story, the next Ice Age may have started and the sabre-toothed cats will have to finish it off for me. That isn't too funny, Lizzie. We've got troubles enough as it is. You palaeontologists have no souls, of course. Everyone knows that. You're just sort of scientific undertakers.

* * *

Well, anyway, it was sort of a shame that it all had to end when it did, seeing as I was enjoying myself quite well. I got a good idea of what was happening a lot sooner than most people, as you'll see. Still, even if all you did was read New Scientist every now and then, you had to be an imbecile not to realise that something was about to come unstuck somewhere and PDQ. The public, however, quite naturally preferred to goggle at Page Three. You know, that's one of the few things that I really, deeply miss. Not tits, with the kind of nutrition we're getting you’ve got to be kidding, tits-wise, but newspapers. Newspapers, milk and bread. I can't really say why. The papers, Lizzie; it's certainly not hard to see why we'd want to sink our teeth into a fresh, warm loaf and wash it down with a glass of fresh, cold milk. Of course there's not a lot of trees around these days. I'd bet you'd be hard pressed to make up a one page Sunday newspaper with all the trees left in Britain. I suppose there's not a lot of what you could consider news any more, either. Unless you're really into wind, sand and slow death.

We've got some trees down here with us; sort of tropical ones, too. Yeah, I thought you'd sort of be surprised. They might just be the last of their kind. We've got apple trees, a cocoa plant, a rubber plant and half a dozen little grapefruit trees. The cocoa plant's almost dead, I'm afraid. I got it from one of the botanists at the University. He was doing some experiments for a big chocolate company and needed some business advice. The other trees are going great guns, though. I've got this sort of big, dug-in greenhouse. It doesn't get a lot of light in the winter, but it doesn't blow away, either. And those trees are worth every drop of precious water they use, too, even if some of them don't produce any food. I keep on hoping that the grapefruits might fruit one day. God, can you imagine that, a grapefruit for breakfast - you know, cut across and sprinkled generously with sugar? At least the dwarf apple trees do well enough. We took nearly a hundred pounds of apples from them last year. Nearly an apple a day. Otherwise, we don't try to grow much of our own food, takes too much water.

So how can we live if we don't grow our food? That's easy to answer. I could see what was happening from the government committees I was sitting on and I had a sort of hobby in paranoia. Disaster was staring everyone right smack in the face - we just closed our eyes to it, that's all. After our house blew in for the first time, I started to suspect that our world’s cosy little number might be coming up. Work it out for yourself. In those days, a few thousand quid would buy you a whole lot of food, lovely grub, even if a hundred thousand knickers might not have bought you a big closet in the centre of London. Today, ten tonnes of gold won't buy you a rotten apple core today, but anyone who can live underwater is welcome to all of London for nothing. So I went on this survival craze before it was too late. I stockpiled up enough food and water to last us for maybe fifty years, with good luck and prudent appetites. With our big house, out here in the country, we had plenty of room around to hide our food. We lost some of our supplies when the first really big winds came, but we were lucky. Then we got ourselves and our supplies down into the cellars pretty damn quick.

That food is a deadly secret, of course. We use it only as a last resort. Nothing on earth would be able to keep what few people there are left away from here if they knew there were tons and tons of yummy food stashed up here. So, if you're reading this, you've really got to be a friend. For the rest of the time, like most people, I do a lot of scavenging in the dead towns. Mainly, though, I'm a sort of up-market fix-it man for our local farmers and fishermen. I set up their wind generators and keep them running. I fix their radios. I fixed their TV's until the last satellite station went off the air last year. The Internet packed in almost right away. The telephone still works now and again, amazingly enough. Just for fun, I call numbers at random all over the world. I don't get any replies except from this old geezer in Iceland who can't speak a word of English. Mind you, my Icelandic's not so hot either, so I just say, "Wrong number mate, sorry", and hang up. Still, it is nice to call him now and then; it's nice to know he's still there.

We're not the last people on earth or anything so wildly dramatic like that. I've got a good short-wave radio. One of those dinky little jobs with full coverage of all the bands up to ultra high frequency. Sounds like a lot of the Scandinavians are still going pretty strong. I speak a bit of German, so I can make out a few words, now and then. They don't bother to broadcast in English, of course. They play a lot of music and it all sounds pretty normal there. Something funny's happened to radio reception, though. My theory, I mean guess, is that the ionosphere's totally buggered up. That could have had something to do with the weather change, too.

Lizzie asks, "If you're such a hot-shot, up-market Mr Fix-it, when are we getting our third generator?" The answer, Lizzie, is as soon as the wind drops below fifty. You wouldn't want me to go out there right now, would you? The last anemometer I put out pegged the scale at about 150 miles per hour just as a storm was warming up. It stopped working a few minutes later. I couldn't even find the stump of the post I put it on, let alone any of the pieces. You can figure, though, that if rocks the size of tennis balls, well, little tennis balls, get airborne in the exposed places, then that wind has got to be really moving along at a fairly good clip. I've got this sort of Mickey Mouse pitot tube thing up there on the surface now. It's marked 100 miles per hour as a very rough estimate. All that really means is that I won't be knocked flat by the wind if I have to go out. I still have to worry about getting hit by flying objects, but fortunately there's not too many loose things blowing around any more.

So how fast does the wind blow? I don't know: 250, 300, 350? Your guess is as good as mine, chum. I'll tell you what, though, even down in Antarctica with the Survey, I never saw anything like we've got up there now. And the winds in Antarctica used to hit 200 miles per hour, on occasion, too. In fact, that's just about how I'd describe what it's getting here now: a hot Antarctica with stronger winds. God knows how any plants or animals on the surface survive, but a few things seem to manage. Nothing's very tall, of course, but life keeps on hanging in there, where it gets half a chance.

Yes, well, about Mr Fix-it and generators. Since everyone spends so much of the time underground, we all need light. The wind's a pretty reliable source of power when we need the light most. We don't even need batteries because, once the wind starts, it just blows all the time. I'm pretty good with my hands and at improvising, especially improvising, so I make these wind generators and wire up people's houses. I don't really know if you can really call what we live in houses, any more. There's two schools of thought, as usual: bunkerers and undergrounders. I'm a sort of undergrounder, myself. It's darker underground, but you don't get so much noise. Maybe there's not a hell of a lot in it between the two. I suppose that I just feel a lot safer, six feet under than I do up there on the surface. Even after that nasty Underground business in London. Don't worry, I'll tell you all about that, sooner or later.

So where do we get the raw materials for these generators? Well, there are still millions and millions of cars knocking around out there, of course. We just go down to the car drifts during the calm season and pick out our favourite old models; I’m partial to German, myself. We pull out the electrics we need: lights, wires, alternators and hardware. Plus anything else that looks as if it might be useful some day. I try to keep a couple of dozen full wind generator installations and lots of spares in stock. Making the generator housings and propellers is the real trick. I copied a plan from some books about airplanes I took from the library before that drowned.

The generators work pretty well, but they don't last forever. Remember that I told you I once worked in FMCG? Honestly, there are a lot of technical problems up above. If the generators are too low to the ground, the sand scours them away. If they're up too high, the wind blows them away. A couple of feet can be too high. Car alternators were never intended to work at those sort of speeds, either. To make it worse, the other materials we've got are pretty substandard. We keep on plugging away, though, and we get our light most of the time.

Now most people have two generators, since one's almost certain to pack up during the winds. A third generator's just sort of a sign of upward social mobility. Seriously, though, we can use number three to give the plants some more light and it'll make a backup for our backup. Nobody wants to end up like the Joneses, you know. Their generator packed up during the middle of the winter. It was one Old Man Jones had made himself, fortunately for my reputation. They spent two whole months sitting down there in the dark. La Jones has never been entirely compos mentis after that. Between you and me, some people say she wasn't much upstairs-wise to start with. Nevertheless, that incident has been quite a good stimulus for my little business. After all, I’ve got qualifications, boy-o!

So the locals trade their surplus food, such as that might be, for my estimable services and that's how we live. Plus our food stash. I could well be the last technician left in Wales or maybe even Britain. That's how hard things are. Almost all back to primary producers now. Wouldn't the Hippies and hair-shirts just have loved it? What are we going to do when the cars run out or erode away? Well, I don't really think I really want to think about that right just now, if it's all the same to you.

* * *

Lizzie says this was pretty interesting at first but that all this prattling is getting a bit boring. Must be that nasty academic streak of mine, raising its ugly mixed metaphor. I think I'd better try switching to story-telling style, if I can hack it. I'd hate to lose you now, dear reader, dear friend. There are so few of us left now.

Chapter 3

The dark-suited, bouffanted sales-gent faced the committee. 'Ladies and gentlemen, make no mistake about it,' he warned dramatically. 'This is one of the major environmental and health problems facing the world today.' He had a warm, sincere huckster's voice. 'Just look at the facts, ladies and gentlemen,' he continued. His face looked as if he was straining on the toilet. 'Just here in Inner London alone, we estimate output at over 104.7 tonnes per day, 365 days a year. That works out to 11.4 pounds per year for every person in London.' A slide flashed on the screen, showing brightly coloured exponential graphs. 'By the end of this century, we expect this figure to have quadrupled.' The salesman gazed dolefully at his audience. 'Just how long can we survive this onslaught of ghastly pollution, ladies and gentlemen, how long?' Legislation and licensing alone will not be sufficient to overcome this terrible problem. Direct, concerted action must be taken now.' The members of the committee shifted their buttocks wearily in their chairs.

'Fortunately, ladies and gentlemen, a technological solution is at hand,' boomed the salesman triumphantly. 'The Piloti AK-9 is a specially adapted all-terrain, all-weather, 155-horsepower vehicle with a two-arm capability.' A slide showed a machine which looked like a miniature armoured personnel carrier with feelers. 'Each high-precision telescopic arm is equipped with an ultra-hygienic, computer controlled removal and cleaning facility.' A slide showed a detail of a gleaming robotic arm. A closeup of a neat coil of fresh, bright yellow turds replaced it on the screen.

'A liquid nitrogen spray cools the canine waste to -196.3 degrees Centigrade within 90 milliseconds,' cooed the salesman. The dog shit disappeared in a swirling white cloud of frost. 'An ergonometrically designed manipulator removes the solid frozen waste from the pavement and packages it in bar-code labeled, individual plastic containers for hygienically assured, totally quality controlled disposal,' husked the salesman proudly. 'GPS unambiguously identifies the scene of pollution and real time data are stored in a proprietary object oriented database, giving full management information. Under ideal conditions, each AK-9 can process up to 1.173 tonnes of canine waste per day.' The final slide showed thousands of small plastic packets of dog crap spewing into a land fill. The slide projector snapped off, leaving red suns dancing in my eyes.

Sir Anthony Bonod, Head Government Scientist, jolted himself from a light doze. 'Ah, er, thank you very much, Mr, ah, er,' he chirped brightly. His jowls wobbled under a lofty dome of forehead, half covered by long, slicked-over, salt-and-pepper hair. 'I say, most interesting, indeed. A very serious problem. Jolly good solution.'

'Thank you, Sir Anthony and members of the Cabinet Office Committee on the Environment,' replied the salesman with a slight bow. 'It is a great privilege for Piloti Waste Limited to have been invited to make a presentation to this august body. I have taken the liberty of bringing our brochure and price list. With your permission, Sir Anthony, I will leave these with you.'

'Oh, wonderful, Mr Piloti, absolutely splendid,' said Sir Anthony. 'Thank you so much for your effort,' he smirked. Sir Anthony had an overly subtle mind, doubtless finely adapted for solving crosswords by generations of commuting ancestors. He was the kind of person who, if you said "Good morning" might well take the rest of the day trying to figure out what you had really meant by "Good morning"; absurdly subtle. Sir Anthony turned to the committee's heavily acne-pitted little Permanent Under Secretary, appropriately abbreviated as PUS, who kept the minutes. 'Ah, Arthur, would you please be so kind as to add these items to the evidence.' He slid the papers along the table.

'Yes, of course, Mr Chairman,' replied Arthur seriously in a soft Welsh accent. He took the papers, numbered them carefully and placed them in a box file.

'Any questions from the members to the speaker?' asked Sir Anthony. The extraordinarily long and pointed lobes of his ears jiggled as he spoke. I could hardly keep my eyes off them. They were like upside-down elf ears. A treat to watch.

Mike Cole's arm shot up. 'Oh, yes, indeed I do, Mr Chairman,' he growled. 'As the representative of the local government services association on this committee,' he explained pompously, 'I would like to ask Mr Morrow exactly how much these AK-9 machines are supposed to cost.'

'The standard AK-9 is £39,950, plus VAT,' replied the salesman, 'The deluxe AK-9/B, with enhanced removal capability, is £54,950.

Cole fixed him with a fiery stare. 'Forty thousand quid each, for the cheap ones?' he cried incredulously.

'Well, yes, that is approximately correct,' answered the salesman apologetically.

'And maintenance?' demanded Cole hotly. 'What about that, eh?'

'Uh, well, sir, that's another 15%,' admitted the man.

'Per annum?' asked Cole.

'Per anum, more like it,' slipped in Sir Anthony. Several of the members, no doubt public school alumni, joined his hearty 'Ho, ho, ho's!'

Cole looked blankly at me. As the token academic on the committee, I was supposed to know everything. 'It's Latin,' I whispered, 'It means "through the anus". Cole looked blankly at me again; thick as a plank, poor fellow. 'Through the arse?' I tried. He got it that time.

'Yes,' replied the salesman, 'Maintenance is 15% each year. Of course, that includes all parts and materials under normal usage. We offer extended warranty programmes, as well.'

Cole started warming up. 'And just who do you think will be paying for these whiz-bang poop-scoopers, hey?' he snapped. 'Hey?'

'Well, I couldn't say, really,' answered the salesman hesitantly. 'Ah, the local authorities, I suppose.'

'Oh yes, the local authorities you suppose,' mocked Cole bitterly. He turned to face the committee. His face was set and pinched. 'This is just another straw on the local camel's back. Well, let me tell you, members of the committee. Let me tell you.' He shook his finger. 'This is a national problem, not a local one. Not one single penny will be spent on these machines by our long-suffering local authorities, unless full grants are forthcoming from Government. I warn you, not a single penny.'

'But surely, Michael,' drawled Sir Anthony, 'The dogs are owned locally are they not?' He pulled off his gold-rimmed, rectangular glasses and aimed the bows at Cole. 'These local dogs do their, ahem, business locally, do they not? Surely this is a local problem.'

'That's entirely beside the point, Mr Chairman,' said Cole. 'Local government simply cannot afford, I repeat, cannot afford to handle this problem on top of all the others it is now expected to take care of under this Government. The environment is a national problem, it is not a local one. This problem needs national funding.'

Jenny Shaw of the World Wildlife Protectorate flipped her hand up and shrilled stridently, 'Fat, over-fed lap-dogs shitting on local pavements is not the problem we should be worrying about here, anyway, Mr Chairman.' At the word "shit", committee members smiled or recoiled, according to their inclinations. 'What this committee should be considering is the wholesale extinction, the genocide of world wildlife. Does this committee know that twenty unique and precious species on this planet become extinct every week? Does this committee care that over one thousand acres of irreplaceable tropical forest are obliterated every fifteen minutes? What exactly is this Government going to do about this problem? That's what I'd like to know, Mr Chairman.'

Basil Irons, chairman of the Council of British Business stood and glared ferociously around the table. 'Now that is just the sort of thing we businessmen have come to expect from our non-profit-making colleagues,' he barked. 'Dog waste is a serious local and national problem, not some bleeding heart Ecofreak pie-in-the-sky green-out. Dog waste is a problem that British business can solve right here and now, today. British business is not looking for government handouts, but it needs active support today to compete in tomorrow's global dog waste markets. The French are overtaking us; the Germans are overtaking us; the Americans are overtaking us; and the Japanese are overtaking us.' He glared scornfully at Shaw and sneered, 'I suppose our esteemed lady colleague will suggest that we simply let everyone else snap up the entire world market in dog dirt disposal? I suppose she will suggest that we lie back and let yet another brilliant British invention languish while the rest of the world reaps massive profits from it? Well, I think not, members of the committee. I think not.' The salesman gazed at Irons with, what else, dog-like devotion.

Sir Anthony yawned covertly behind his puffy hand and peered ostentatiously at his watch. 'Well, this is all jolly riveting, I must say. But we simply must press on with our agenda. On behalf of the committee, thank you very much, Mr Waste. May I wish you all the best of British luck with your very splendid enterprise.' He rolled his pouchy, red eyes toward Arthur.

Arthur gazed sternly at the salesman over his thick half-moon glasses. 'I would like to take the opportunity to remind Mr Morrow,' he said, 'that all proceedings of this committee are covered under provisions of the current Official Secrets and Prevention of Terrorism Acts. You may not reveal any details of this morning's presentation or discussion unless duly authorised by a representative of Her Majesty's Government.'

The salesman looked suitably awed and bobbed his head in agreement. 'Well yes,' he said, 'Of course not, sir, certainly not.' He turned to Sir Anthony and smiled nervously. 'Thank you again, Mr Chairman.' He collected his slides hastily and backed out of the walnut-paneled committee room. The door closed with a gentle click.

I couldn't hold back any more. I won't say that valour took over, but my mouth certainly did; my discretion collapsed completely. 'Surely, ladies and gentlemen,' I snapped, 'Footpath fouling, global or local, and wildlife extinction could prove to be relatively trivial matters, in a global context.' Frowning heads turned towards me.

'You think that the wholesale destruction of the world's wildlife is a trivial matter? Trivial?' gasped Shaw. She looked around the room in apparent shock. 'Well, I never ...'

'What I mean,' I said quickly, 'Is that we could be facing total ecological disaster, not just soiled Guiccis or a permanent shortage of lizard skin out of which to make them.'

'Mr Chairman!' bellowed Shaw, 'I must protest ... '

I continued speaking over her roars and yelps. 'These are relatively minor problems, from a truly global viewpoint. Quite simply, these things are unlikely to precipitate a total environmental disaster.' Unfortunately, I said this with rather more warmth than was wise when sitting on committees of this sort.

Sir Anthony turned to me, smiling maliciously. 'Oh, I must say, Dick,' he fluted, 'You really do demonstrate a dramatic turn of phrase on the oddest of occasions.'

'I have said nothing dramatic, Sir Anthony,' I protested calmly.

'Well, I really must say that I have heard no evidence in this committee to suggest anything like,' he looked over at Arthur's notes, 'Ahem, "total environmental disaster". Whatever can you mean, Dick?'

I steeled myself to tell the truth. 'I am growing rather concerned, Mr Chairman, about what COCE haven't heard here,' I said. I pronounced COCE as "cocky".

'My dear chap,' said Sir Anthony with apparent surprise, 'Whatever can you mean by that?'

'I mean that I think we're not addressing the real problems,' I snapped.

Sir Anthony gazed with mock bewilderment at the committee and spread his hands. 'The very best brains in the country and the very best evidence available have been assembled before COCE.' He pronounced COCE as "cokey". 'Why only this morning, Dick,' he said, 'We have heard the most encouraging testimony from British Chemicals and Oils plc that they are deeply committed to reducing their pollution levels significantly by the turn of this century.' Sir Anthony nodded amiably toward John Hall, one of the more active members of the committee. He also happened to be Director of Research and Development for British Chemicals. Talk about foxes put in charge of hen houses.

Hall nodded back to him and burbled, 'Oh, that's absolutely correct, Sir Anthony. We have already achieved a 5.2% reduction in pollution over last year's seasonally adjusted levels. That's well ahead of target, too. All visible particles were eliminated early last year and tree planting is up 17.3%. That's 18.1 months ahead of schedule, Mr Chairman.'

'Oh, indeed, those are just utterly fantastic cosmetics, Mr Chairman,' I replied ironically. 'But what about British Chemicals' 300 mile long thermal plumes into the North Sea? What about the thousands of tonnes of invisible carbon and nitrogen oxides that they're still spewing into the atmosphere? Have you ever seen the countryside around one of their plants?' I asked.

'I can't say I really get around that part of the country terribly often,' replied Sir Anthony serenely.

Hall flushed deeply and interrupted. 'Just what exactly are you trying to imply, Professor?' he demanded.

My tongue was really in control now. 'I'm saying, without implication, that your company is a major polluter,' I snapped.

Hall had wisely let me stick my neck out further. 'Our emissions are well below both government and European Community levels. We're inspected yearly, as you very well know.' Hall spread his hands in supplication. 'Yes, I'll agree that our plants aren't necessarily scenic. But the people living around them seem happy enough with the money they make working for us in those plants. Nobody forces them to work there, you know. Our shareholders are happy with our efforts and our returns. The country benefits economically.'

I sighed unhappily. I liked John Hall. He was an amusing man over a pint or two. We had a lot of common interests. I backed down - too late. 'Look, John, I'm not singling out British Chemicals,' I waffled hastily. 'Everyone else is at it, too, I know. Your plumes are nothing compared with the ones that cross the Pacific from China. I just can't believe that we, meaning the world, can keep on pumping out all this waste heat and gas without something coming unstuck on a global scale, sooner or later.'

'Well, perhaps we will have to recommend cutting the Universities back a good deal more to prevent gaseous emissions, in that case,' chipped in Sir Anthony. There was a general joining in with his inevitable meaty, "Ho, ho, ho's"!' I could see that I'd made a lot of good friends on the committee.

Hall still was not placated. 'There's simply no evidence, Professor, that there is any global effect from our type of emissions or from any other industrial emissions,' he snapped. 'The earth's a very big place and it's been going perfectly well for a long, long time. I'm sure it's got mechanisms for cleaning itself.'

'Yes,' I said gloomily, 'That's precisely what worries me, John. Maybe the earth will correct us.'

Hall looked unhappily back at me. 'All right,' he admitted, 'There's been a few mistakes made in the past, but we've corrected most of those. We're doing everything we can.'

'It's not happening quickly enough, John,' I insisted.

'Look, Dick, Rome wasn't built in a day,' said Hall doggedly.

'No, but it probably burnt down in one or two,' I said wearily. The room was totally silent for about fifteen seconds.

Sir Anthony made a cryptic signal to Arthur. Arthur coughed, 'Uh, gentlemen,' he said, 'I'm afraid we really must interrupt your discussion at this point. Lunch is ready.' Several of the committee members rose immediately.

'No, no,' objected Hall, 'Our learned colleague has brought up an issue which I think must be answered.'

'Oh, pack it in, John!' cried Cole, 'That software committee's going to get their feet in the trough before us if we don't hurry up. They'll take all the prawn cocktails again.'

'Look, Mike, this is a good deal more important than a few prawn cocktails,' snapped Hall. 'Come on, Dick,' he insisted. 'Let's hear about your worries. Sir Anthony made another gesture. The members groaned and sagged down into their chairs reluctantly.

'All right,' I said, 'I'll make it as quick as I can. I looked around the room. Bored faces looked back at me. I ploughed on, regardless. 'I'm seriously concerned about what we don't know. What about all these storms we've been having? What do they mean, if anything? The Head Meteorologist may really have felt quite comfortable with the notion that all these storms have been within the theoretical range of statistical variation, but I'm not.' I slapped my hand on the table. 'The simple fact is that there haven't been winds in the South of England like there have been in the last few years. Or at least for two hundred years or so. Now, what does that mean, if anything? The mildest set of winters in recorded history. What do those mean? Why has there been near drought in Britain for decades now? Is it going to get worse? Is it true that the Gulf Stream might be changing its course? Are sea levels really rising abnormally or not? If they are, what will be the effect? Questions, questions, questions; all unanswered. We just don't seem to know the answers to any of these.'

'And you're saying this is all the fault of British Chemicals?' jibed Hall.

'Of course that's not what I'm saying, John, don't be silly,' I sighed. 'What I'm trying to say is that I'm getting pretty worried about some of the things I've heard in this committee. I'm worried because the best heads in the country don't seem to have a clue what's going on or even if anything is going on at all.'

'So what's the answer, Dick?' demanded Hall.

'I haven't got an answer, John,' I replied quietly. 'That's exactly the problem. No one does. We've had at least two dozen very eminent scientists suggest 57 plausible and mutually contradictory theories. Global climate change, if it's really happening as it seems, is a problem that needs the mobilised resources of the entire human race. What can possibly be more important? Instead, we've got more people in this country researching extruded meat products than the weather.

'So what does that matter,' snapped Hall belligerently.

I gazed at Hall sadly. 'So I'm bloody worried by it all, John, that's what. You have kids - they matter, don't they? Tell me that I'm stupid to worry about my kids' futures. Tell me you don't lie awake at night, listening to the wind prowling around your house. Tell me your wife isn't nearly on the verge of tears whenever the wind blows for days and days without stopping.' Hall bit his lip and didn't answer.

'Oh blast it, Dick!' cried Sir Anthony cheerfully, snapping his fingers. 'You always go moody on us just before lunch. Must be something to do with low blood sugar.' He was supposed to have been a pretty competent biochemist before he sold his soul, if he ever had one, to the Civil Service. 'Come on, committee,' he cried, 'Off to lunch now! Get some anti-freeze coursing through those lusty veins.' He made little shooing motions with his hands as though the members were chickens. The members stood and filed gloomily from the room.

Sir Anthony motioned me towards him. He adjusted his dark blue, college tie and scraped a crusty yellow scab of egg from it with a dirty gnarled thumbnail. He glanced at Arthur and then at me. He raised one bushy eyebrow. 'You sounded a bit extreme this morning, Dick. You're not going green around the gills, are you?' he laughed. He looked at either side of my head. 'Hope you're not thinking of putting anything lurid into the report of the committee.'

'The report will be submitted to you well before publication, Sir Anthony,' I replied stiffly. 'You'll be able to change anything you don't like in it.'

'Ah, well, we're under very considerable pressure from the Secretary to get this report out just as fast as possible, Dick,' said Arthur. 'The Secretary's under great pressure from the Minister and the Minister's being squeezed by the PM. The PM really does want to read our report a.s.a.p, you know.'

'A perfect ecology of arse-licking and back-stabbing, eh, Arthur?' I sneered. 'Got a bone for your nose yet?'

'Say what you like, Dick, but the government needs this report and it wants it at this point in time,' said Arthur levelly, ignoring the gibe. 'We can't afford to have a last minute rewrite or anything like that.'

'I'll just put down the evidence I've heard, Arthur,' I said. 'It'll be a lot easier than cooking up a pack of lies.'

'Nobody is suggesting that you present anything but the evidence you've heard here, Dick,' said Arthur.

'I've heard plenty of evidence in this room. Rather too much of it for my comfort,' I replied. 'In fact, I've been shocked. People who probably wouldn't ever dream of telling the truth anywhere else, even in church, seem willing to drop their trousers in front of us. Just because we're a Cabinet Office committee.'

'Everyone is telling the truth as they see it, certainly. So what's your problem, old chap,' asked Sir Anthony breezily.

'I told you earlier, Sir Anthony,' I said. 'We don't really know enough to know whether we're in serious trouble or not. There hasn't been enough of the right kind of evidence. Too much noise and not enough signal.'

'Too much evidence will just confuse the public about the real issues involved anyway, Dick. The report must be authoritative, concise and decisive,' said Sir Anthony. 'It must be totally convincing.'

'Convincing of what, Sir Anthony? Convincing of re-election?' I jibed.

'Look, Dick,' said Arthur evenly, 'You can put anything you want in the report, providing it's reasonable. We just don't want anything in it that's going to cause the public a lot of worry, cost the Government a great deal of money, curb economic growth or cause unemployment.'

'The Government would prefer an ecological disaster to an economic one?'

'Dick,' stated Sir Anthony firmly, 'We have been instructed that unnecessary public concern about the environment is not considered at all desirable.'

'You mean big dish of warm, bland pap is what's desirable,' I asked brightly.

Sir Anthony smirked and unleashed his sharpest blue gaze from within the dark bloody pools. 'Now Dick, you were specially picked to be our committee's Boswell,' he said. 'We knew that your heart's in the right place for this job. We also know that you can turn a very nice phrase, a very smooth phrase, out on to a piece of paper,' he murmured. They must have been thinking of my Antarctica oil exploration venture brochure. Only the absolutely greediest bastards in The City had been bitten by that one. Anyway, it was perfectly legal, only just a tiny bit sharp, that's all.

Sir Anthony smiled greasily at me. 'The government will be very, very grateful for a useful report, Dick,' he purred. 'Your name will be on the cover, right next to the Chairman's. The next Honours List is not far off, Dick.' He raised his eyebrows significantly. I said nothing but I still remember that my saliva ran to that bell.

'We know we can rely on you, Dick,' rumbled Sir Anthony, launching himself upright, 'Now lads, why don't we go get stuck into some lunch?' he asked affably. 'You know, Arthur, I really do think you must have one of the best cold buffets in the country here. Nothing fancy, mind you, but everything very, very sound. The lemon mayonnaise is simply brilliant. The white wines are not bad at all, either.'

'Maybe it should be privatised,' I sneered.

Sir Anthony smirked and glanced at me slyly. 'And do you know what, Dick?' he asked.

'No, what?' I replied.

'I made damn' sure those software committee chappies were fed somewhere else this time,' he crowed triumphantly. 'They're just a bloody sub-committee, after all! Ho, ho, ho!'

* * *

Well, I've managed to keep my present tense mouth shut for almost two whole entries. It's just about killed me, too. OK, reader, so you must be thinking, 'What a bunch of jerks, what wankers! How could they possibly not know they were killing the world with all their pollution?' Well, it's so very easy to sit back, ex post facto, and say that, with hindsight being as good as it is.

Sure, some scientists had been saying the same thing for years. But remember, just as many scientists, and very reputable ones, had been saying the opposite. The rest were like me: we just didn't know. We couldn't stop the world, anyway, just because we didn't know the answers. How could all those billions of people have been able to live in an ecologically sound way? In fact, could even a billion human beings ever have been ecologically sound, no matter how carefully they lived?

You see, even today in mid-disaster, I'm still not really convinced we caused whatever it is that has happened to us. There's no question that something dreadful has happened. It's just that there's no solid, scientific evidence that we humans caused it. Yes, I'm sure it seems probable that there were just too many people, living too well. But it might have happened just the same if there had been only a million people in the world, living in sylvan harmony. Without some hard scientific proof, it's impossible to know what to believe. Even if we'd been able to shut Britain down, I don't think it would have mattered all that much in the long run. We weren't the worst offenders, not by a long shot. We were pretty small beer. Isn't the west wind the one that always blows the hardest?

Chapter 4

'Aw, lay off it, Dad. It's your bloody generation that ruined the environment and caused all those wars,' snarled Cathy. Her mouth drooped into a disdainful, bored pout. It was amazing the way her lower lip swelled visibly on these occasions - an erection of petulance. How quickly the sweet earnest baby-innocence faded; I could still sometimes remember that little face shining up at me with love, respect and admiration. The lovely milky baby smell, now replaced by a faint whiff of tobacco and period.

I carved into the lamb and grimaced slightly at the dull brown inside. It was seriously overdone for my taste. I was sure that Lizzie, well-meaning food fascist, had done it that way on purpose: prion disease, no doubt, perhaps salmonella, possibly bubonic. The roast potatoes looked good, though. 'I fail to understand, my dear young miss, how the discussion has moved from your studying for your GCSEs to my generation's wholesale plundering of Peace, raping plucky little Belgium and generally trashing the Universe and All Creation,' I said archly.

'They're called pre-baccalaureates now, Dad,' sniffed Cathy.

'Even if they're called that now, I still don't see how we strayed so far from the subject,' I said equitably. 'But while we are off it, I want you to know that, in actual fact, my generation was one that stood for love, peace and the environment, very early followers, anyway. We practically invented those things.' I put the deadest, most desiccated piece of lamb I could find on Lizzie's plate and passed it to her with an insincere smile. 'And vegetarianism, as well,' I added.

'Well, as far as I can see,' scoffed Cathy, 'All your generation ever managed to stand for was being dope soaked, sex crazed middle class hippies.' She stuck a quivering pair of fingers up and chanted goofily, 'Hey, like love and peace, man. Wow. Far out. Uhhhh.'

Bobby laughed hysterically until I silenced him with a savage glance. I suddenly had an inkling why all religions tried to instill some sense of obligation in children towards their parents. If someone or something didn't pry open those thick young skulls and ram some decency into what passed as a brain, you could bet it wouldn't be there naturally. 'You are welcome to think anything you may like about my generation, my dear, as long as you get good marks on those GCSEs. Your future depends on them,' I replied. I was totally incorrect, of course, as it turned out. Annoyed, I hacked a fatty, shrivelled hunk of meat from the shank and forked it on to her plate.

'What's a hippy, Dad?' asked Bobby. He held his fork clumsily in his white bandaged hand.

I winced inwardly when I saw the bandage. The stitches had only come out two days earlier. 'Hippies were innocent children who once believed that the world could be a better place if only people were nicer to each other,' I replied, giving Cathy a rough stare. I lifted a tender, pink slice of lamb onto Bobby's plate. ‘Then they became the people they were warning themselves about.”

'Yeah,' sneered Cathy, 'They discovered six-multiple mortgages, high value consumer durables and brazen greed.'

'They became caring, sacrificing parents and had exceedingly ungrateful children,' I retorted.

'I'm not ungrateful, Dad, am I?' piped Bobby.

'Creeper,' hissed Cathy.

'I am not!' shouted Bobby.

'Yes you are!' snarled Cathy.

I banged the table with the end of my knife. 'All right you two, just stop it!' I growled.

Cathy ran out of insults for the moment. 'Huh!' she snorted. She shoved her plate into the middle of the table. 'I'm not eating meat any more, Dad. I'll get some corn flakes later. Can I go?'

'No,' I said firmly. 'You'll stay right here at the table, miss, until we're all finished.' I took her plate. I never could stand waste. I'll eat just about anything, rather than waste food – even then. I gave her a plate without any lamb on it. 'Vegetables,' I said. I glanced over at Lizzie. She looked glum and shoved her food aimlessly around her plate. 'What's the matter, dear,' I inquired snidely. 'Meat not done well enough for you?'

Lizzie jerked her head towards the picture window. 'It's starting up again,' she sighed mournfully.

'What's that?' I asked, knowing perfectly well what it was.

'The wind,' she replied.

I looked out and nodded. 'Looks like it, doesn't it?' I agreed.

Lizzie gave me a pleading look. 'Do you really have to go to London tomorrow, Dick? You've been there almost every week for months.

'I'm afraid so, love, it's the COCE press launch tomorrow,' I sighed. 'The Minister himself will be there in all his pomp and glory. The report will be presented formally to the PM later in the day. It's our big moment. The Government will be grateful, I'm told.'

'And do you really think this report of yours will do any good?' she asked wearily.

I shrugged. 'I don't know,' I replied. 'I certainly hope so. Could be a gong in it, my lady,' I hinted.

'Well, I hope you're taking the train, Dick,' said Lizzie. 'It's hardly seems safe to drive any more.'

'You're not forgetting about the train that was blown over in Devon last month, are you?' I replied. I patted her hand. 'Anyway, it so happens, my love, that I am planning to take the train this trip. Driving into London's always such a horror. Then once you're there, there's just no place at all to park.'

'Good,' she said, 'That's a relief.'

'Dad?' piped Bobby.

'Yes, dear?' I replied, cutting my meat.

'Is there going to be a flood, Dad?' he asked.

I paused, forked lamb in mid-air. 'Why on earth do you ask that, Bobby?'

'Terry says that the greenhouse defect will put England all under the sea,' explained Bobby.

'And just who might Terry be?' I questioned archly.

'Oh, he's just one of the boys at school, Dick,' explained Lizzie. 'All the kids are absolutely terrified about pollution, deforestation and the ozone layer.'

'Yeah,' babbled Bobby with morbid enthusiasm, 'There's this great big huge kind of hole thingybob over the South Pole and we'll all get cancer from it and we won't be able to breathe the air because it's all being sucked out into outer space!' He clapped his hand around his throat and shouted, 'Arrgh!' He almost overturned his plate. Cathy sighed heavily and rolled her eyes in disgust.

'All right, young man,' snapped Lizzie, catching his plate at the edge of the table, 'That really is about enough for now.'

A terrific burst of wind almost doubled our apple saplings over. The blast slammed into the house and bowed the plate glass window inward. Lizzie flinched visibly. A twisting dust-devil swirled up the drive and engulfed the trees.

'Dad,' asked Bobby.

'Yes?' I replied.

'Where do the birds go when it's really windy like this?' he asked.

'Uh, that's a really good question, Bobby,' I replied. 'Maybe your Mum knows. She's a sort of zoologist.' I looked at Lizzie.

'Where do they go, Mum?' asked Bobby.

'Well, the big birds like seagulls just seem to ride on the winds forever,' said Lizzie vaguely. 'I don't know what the little birds do. They probably hide in trees and hang on with their little claws for dear life.'

'But don't the little birds get blown away when they have to sleep?' asked Bobby with a worried look outside.

'I don't think most animals sleep very much, dear,' replied Lizzie.

'Do you think the birds are all right, Mom?' asked Bobby.

'Oh, I'm sure they're just fine, love,' said Lizzie. 'You see, they've evolved over millions and millions of years to survive perfectly well in this climate. They'll get along just fine. Now why don't you eat up your nice dinner?' she asked. She smiled fondly at him.

Cathy simpered at Bobby. 'Eatums up your nicey dinner winner baby lamb and don't worry about the little birdy wordies,' she cooed facetiously. The wind howled and banged overhead.

Bobby scowled darkly at her. 'Why don't you ... '.

'Ah, chaps, look,' I interrupted brightly, pointing out the window. 'You can see right now what little birds do in the wind.' We all turned and looked out. A bright-eyed blackbird scuttled through the short dry grass of the garden. When the wind blasted, the bird faced into the wind and hunkered down. The wind seemed to have little effect on it, except for eddies ruffling up its dark feathers.

Another ferocious gust of wind slammed into the house. 'There, Bobby, you see,' said Lizzie, ‘The bird is streamlined so that the wind doesn't blow him off the ground, even though he probably only weighs a few ounces.'

The bird gave a little hop into the air. 'Don't try to fly, little bird!' cried Bobby. The bird hopped again. Bobby stood by the window and waved his arms. 'It's too windy, birdy!' he shouted. 'Don't do it!'

Startled by Bobby's sudden movement, the bird sprang up and fluttered a few feet. The wind caught it and slammed it with a reverberating thump against the picture window. Bobby jumped back with a shout. Cathy gave a little shriek. The blackbird smashed flat against the window, its bright yellow beak twisted awkwardly under its outspread wings. Its flattened, tortured pose instantly made me think of the well-known fossil of Archaeopteryx, the earliest bird. The bird's body, pinned to the glass by the wind, slid slowly towards the bottom of the window. There was a perfect grease-print where it had impacted and a thin bright smear of blood, bile and shit: a red, yellow and white banner. The bird was dead, of course.

Bobby buried his head in Lizzie's arms and sobbed. 'Oh, for God's sake, Dick!' she shrieked. 'Go out and scrape that bloody thing off the window! Do it now, Dick! Right now!' She folded her arms around Bobby and hurried him out of the dining room. I threw my napkin onto the centre of the table and stood.

'Ugh, Dad,' commented Cathy dryly. 'That was pretty gross.'

'For Christ's sake, Cathy, you make it sound as if it was my fault,' I snapped. 'Would you mind clearing the table, please, while I'm outside.'

* * *

As Cathy had implied, it had seemed like a pretty rough century from the start. Disaster always seemed to be lurking somewhere in our thoughts. I'd always thought that if the end came, it would be some sort of nuclear thing. You know, some loony President of one of the former USSR republics hitting the Red Button or a computer fuck-up. Kaboom! It was a bit ironic, really, that when we finally seemed to be really getting our act together, peace-wise, the earth rolled over and swatted us. It hardly mattered that the triumph of the West over the East was more of a victory for the forces of greed and materialism than for the forces of freedom and democracy. OK, there was terrorism, religious fundamentalism and lots of nasty little genocidal wars. It was still a real peace, more or less - even if it didn't do us any good in the long run or even in the short run. I guess there's not much point in trying to outguess the Cosmic Dicer, is there?
Chapter 5

My train was very, very late. Then, it stopped for another train outside Hemel Hempstead. Leaves blown on to the tracks kept it from getting enough traction to start moving again; seemed a far-fetched excuse with all the wind; how could the leaves possibly stay on the track? Anyway, another engine finally came out from somewhere and jerked us up to starting speed. We arrived at Euston almost an hour late. I trotted up from Westminster tube station into a stiff gale and turned down Parliament Street. I hurried past the Cenotaph. The wreaths were wired down against the wind. I glanced through the gates of Downing Street, briefly wondering if She was really in today. At Number 17, Whitehall, I pushed open the massive oak doors to the Cabinet Offices. A porter had to help me push the doors open against the wind. 'Professor Turner,' I announced breathlessly to the civilian guard seated at the desk and handed him my pass.

The guard trailed his finger carefully down the list. 'Ah, right, sir, here you are,' he said. 'If you'll just sign here, sir.' He slid the book towards me and handed me a pen. I noticed names from all the big papers. Just the right sort of audience. The guard gave me a typed name tag. 'Room 100, sir,' he said. 'Right at the top of the stairs, sir.'

'Thank you,' I said. I skipped up the dark walnut staircase, two steps at a time, straightening my tie. A pert trim, white-bloused girl in a uniform of black shoes, stockings, skirt and tie was posted outside Room 100. I could hear soft droning noises from inside. They'd started without me, drat it. I supposed it couldn't have been helped. The girl peered at my tag. 'Oh, yes, Professor Turner,' she whispered. She ran her finger down a list and ticked it. She passed a bulky, sealed HMSO envelope to me. 'Would you please sit right in the back, sir?' she whispered.

'The back?' I asked quietly. I'd have thought the lead author would have been up in the front row, if not actually sitting up front, beside the Minister. 'Are you sure?'

'Yes, sir, the back,' she replied politely. 'That's what the note says on my list, sir,' she added apologetically.

I guessed they'd bring me forward for the questions, more dramatic that way. I nodded at her and slipped into the long, high-ceiling room. About fifty people were in the audience. A few curious faces turned towards me. An idle photographer sparked his camera at me. Arthur turned around in his front row seat and fixed me with a bleak stare. I smiled weakly at him. I thought he should have realised that anyone could be late these days, things as they were.

I looked up to the head of the room. A long table had been placed across the room and Sir Anthony addressed the audience from behind a low podium on the table. To his right sat the Minister, looking totally smug, as usual. To my utter surprise, however, on Sir Anthony's left sat John Hall. He glanced guiltily at me, or so I interpreted it later. I glided to the back of the room and sat on an empty chair.

I slid my thumbnail under the flap of the light brown official envelope and broke the seal. A thin, bright green HMSO paperback slid out into my hand. The glossy cover showed a bright yellow cartoon sun in an eggshell blue sky shining on a twee little cartoon robin. That wouldn't have been my choice of cover, I thought, but fair game. I opened the book hastily and folded back the cover. The spine cracked. The title page read:

Cabinet Office
Advisory Committee on the Environment

The Environment and Global Warming:

No Cause for Alarm

Professor Sir Anthony Bonod FRS
(Chairman, ACOE)
Head Government Scientist

Dr J Hall
Director of Research and Development
British Chemicals and Oils plc

Her Majesty's Stationary Office

I blinked my eyes in disbelief and frowned. The title was The Environment and Global Warming: No Cause for Alarm. That hadn't been my title. My title had been Cause for Alarm. Had there been a misprint? Something like that would be no bloody joke at all. Heads would be rolling down there at Her Majesty's Stationary Office, I thought.

I leafed hastily through the book. Where the hell was my name, anyway? About three quarters of my original text was still intact. In this copy, though, anything even slightly alarming had been replaced or dropped. I had carefully documented all the issues with separate pro and con sub-headings. Only the pro topics had been left in but without the header. There was just no message in the book at all now. It was a complete load of twaddle. A bloody capon. No wonder they didn't think there was any cause for alarm. I was totally, absolutely stunned. Even in The City, I'd never seen anything quite as incredibly impudent as this. And these sneaking bastards hadn't said a word to me. Not a fucking peep. I looked up to the head of the room and listened for the first time.

'And so,' throbbed Sir Anthony in an impressive low pitched voice I'd never heard him use before, 'British industry can be seen to have taken an enviable and farsighted lead in reducing industrial pollution levels during the past decade, solely through market driven forces. British research and innovation has demonstrated a track record of world stature. British local and national government have become seen as world leaders in environmental enhancement. British consumers have been market leaders in demanding high value, environmentally responsible products while at the same time observing practical conservation within the home. British volunteer groups have sparked the world's conscience on wildlife conservation matters. We have much in the environmental field of which to be justifiably proud.' He whipped off his glasses and made a jaunty wave with them. 'And so, ladies and gentlemen, the committee can only applaud the outstanding record of all sectors of the British economy in its environmental endeavours. Britain can truly be said to have been seen to have "beaten its derelict waste grounds into pleasant leisure areas".' Even that treacherous old shit could not suppress a sarcastic twitch at that unbelievably fatuous phrase.

Sir Anthony lifted his meaty head and slipped his glasses back on. He smiled benignly at the audience. 'Clamorous alarms have been raised about the supposed deterioration of our climate. There is, however, a distinct lack of clear consensus within the scientific community about unambiguous evidence heralding climactic change,' he rumbled. 'This can only lead our committee to accept and support the widely held and responsible scientific view that the conjunction of weather incidents over the past decade can be explained simply as a series of freak occurrences. Taken by themselves, each of these exceptional incidents, admittedly sensational when taken out of context, remain individually within the established range of normal weather pattern variations and cycles of the past several hundred years. It is quite clear, nevertheless, that it would be only prudent to continue to encourage careful and accurate scientific observation of these phenomena. The committee recommends that private industry should act to further encourage and support the reputable meteorological sciences within UK universities and research establishments.' Oh, great, I thought, private industry should fund it; what else?

Sir Anthony gestured dismissively. 'A great deal has been said over the years about the greenhouse theory. There is simply no evidence of historical correlation between levels of the so-called greenhouse gases and global warming trends. In the extremely unlikely event that there should ever prove to be even the slightest substance to this theory,' he read smoothly, 'Learned scientific opinion appears to be clearly on the side of there being a general climactic improvement as a consequence. The chief beneficiaries of a warmer climate would be British agriculture, the UK holiday industry and the British public in general. As the old saying goes, "It is an ill wind turns none to good". Indeed, our committee can envision significant business opportunities for British firms and research organisations during this period of temperature enhancement and global concern over the environment. We have both outlined these opportunities and have recommended enabling policies for the government to adopt in order to encourage British business to pursue these worldwide opportunities advantageously.'

Sir Anthony frowned seriously. 'We feel, however, that there has been an enormous amount of quite unnecessary public anxiety and upset generated over irresponsible presentation of environmental issues. Quite natural public concern and interest has been artificially stimulated by alarmist and sensationalist reporting within some sectors of the media,' Sir Anthony regarded the reporters coolly over the top of his glasses. 'There is clear evidence, furthermore, that the public is being cold-bloodedly manipulated by propaganda emanating from small groups of self-interested, radical political and environmental hyper-activists. There are even suggestions that some these groups are the witting or unwitting pawns of global terrorism.' Sir Anthony took a sip of water and looked steadily at the Minister. 'It is our recommendation that the Government, in the public interest, take immediate, active and effective steps to control the dissemination of irresponsible, inaccurate or misguided environmental information.' The audience buzzed angrily and my jaw went slack. They were just about going to make it illegal to talk about the weather!

Sir Anthony fixed the audience with a sincere gaze. 'And so, in conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, the massive body of carefully collected and documented evidence has led the scientific experts of the Advisory Committee on the Environment to conclude that there simply is no sound scientific evidence to connect rare and random weather incidents with alarmist theories about global warming trends and general climatic deterioration. There simply is no cause for public alarm. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.' Sir Anthony beamed and sat down. I could have sworn that the old bastard smirked at me as he finished.

The Secretary stood and glanced at his watch. 'We have allowed ten minutes for questions before drinks and buffet lunch,' he piped. 'Are there any ... '

I gave no one else the slightest possible chance to ask a question. I bolted up out of my chair. 'This report is a travesty!' I bellowed furiously. I waved the book dramatically over my head. The reporters rotated eagerly in their seats. Strobe flashes blinded me for a second.

The Minister gasped like a landed carp. The Secretary angrily signalled the PUS, who hurried from the room. Sir Anthony smiled and stood. 'Ladies and gentlemen of the press,' he boomed dryly, 'May I introduce Professor Richard Allen Turner of the University of Cymru.' He emphasised the word "University" and smirked broadly.

I shouted over Sir Anthony's voice. 'Cosmetic conservation measures are not enough! The earth simply cannot continue to take shock after shock after shock without some effect. We are killing our planet.' Reporters scribbled wildly. A sound crew moved forward and a video camera homed in.

'Some of you may well remember Dirty Dick Turner from The City!' cried Sir Anthony. 'The "Oil Stripper Scandal", I believe it was called at the time!' The cameras zoomed away from me and back to Sir Anthony. He sneered, 'Professor Turner obviously thinks this is one of his famous shareholders' meetings. Ho, ho, ho!'

I glared at the old swine and shouted. 'We have plundered our planet, we have slaughtered its species and virtually buried our world in our own waste! If our policies do not change immediately, the earth, as we know it, cannot survive another fifty years! If the earth dies, man will die! Catastrophe is imminent!' I paused for a quick breath and spoke more quietly. 'The weather already is beginning deteriorate, as anyone can see. Sea levels are rising far more rapidly than anyone expected. Action can only be effective on a global scale.'

'Professor Turner may be angry because his evidence to the committee was refuted!' roared Sir Anthony. 'He was torn to shreds by the committee members! They made a fool of him!'

'What the hell are you talking about, you bloody old imbecile?' I shouted furiously. 'Evidence - I wrote most of that stupid report with your name on it. All you did was cut its balls off!' The reporters all grinned and scribbled.

Sir Anthony mimed shock. 'Whatever can you be talking about, Professor?' he asked quietly. 'You were invited to only one meeting. You complained because there was no vegetarian lunch. Don't you remember, Professor? Obviously, you presumed that our invitation meant a great deal more than it did.'

'That won't work, you bloody old toad!' I shouted angrily. 'I've got notes, drafts, letters, everything!' I dramatically ripped the book in two, as best as I could, and flung it on the floor. I faced the press. 'It's all a pack of lies, dammit! It's a stinking whitewash! I can tell you that we're all in very serious trouble. The climate's changing and we don't know what to do about it, not a clue!'

Sir Anthony looked totally unworried. 'All right, Professor, please do calm down,' he said amiably. 'Go ahead, Professor. Come on up here. You are most cordially welcome to present your evidence to the press.' He beckoned me forward with his hands. 'Come on.'

'I haven't got it with me now!' I shouted. 'It's at home, dammit!'

'Oh dear, left it at home, dog ate it, perhaps?' clucked Sir Anthony sympathetically. 'Well, I suppose that you wouldn't have it with you, would you?' Two burly, white shirted guards appeared at the door, followed by the PUS. 'Perhaps you would like to go on home and collect your evidence for us. These men will help you out, Professor.' He gave his most reptilian smile. You could almost hear the scales slithering.

The heavy men stood beside me and grasped my arms firmly. The camera strobing became almost continuous. The men lifted me until my toes just barely contacted the floor and swiftly glided me out of the room. The PUS collected my raincoat and bag.

'We're murdering our earth!' I bawled, a bit wildly now, hysterical really. No wonder, my diaphragm was all jammed up by those two blasted gorillas, making me giddy. 'We're killing ourselves! The government's covering it up!' The camera crew moved right up close. Sir Anthony shot me a thinly veiled look of triumph. The men hustled me through the doorway. The trim girl looked pityingly at me as she closed the doors firmly. The men carried me down the corridor and into a small office. They let me go and stepped out of the office. They closed the door with a firm click.

Panting from anger and excitement, I wiggled the wrinkles out of my jacket and smoothed down my tie. The door opened and a pale hand slid my bag and coat into the room. The door closed firmly again. I sat on the edge of an old bleached blond pine government desktop and straightened my tie. Now I could think of a thousand witty and crushing things to say, if I hadn't lost my rag utterly. I had to admit that the old boy was far from being as toothless old boffin that he looked. His had been a great improvisation. Sir Anthony could have graced any pack of liars.

There was a brisk tap on the door and a nondescript middle aged man in a grey pinstriped suit slipped into the room. He smiled thinly at me and offered his hand solemnly. 'My name is Peters, Professor Turner,' he murmured. 'I'm with the, umm, Home Office.' He was totally grey: grey cotton wool hair, broad grey striped shirt, grey ill-fitting suit and those ghastly grey loafers with the pleats on the tops of the toes. Even his shit was probably grey. In spite of the greyness, he had a really, really intimidating presence. I reluctantly shook his hand. It was like gripping a freshly killed frog across the body. 'Please do be seated, Professor,' he said, indicating a chair. I sat. He pulled up a chair and sat across from me. 'Would you care for a cup of tea?' he asked.

'No, thank you,' I replied sharply. Looking carefully at Peters, I couldn't see how I'd thought he'd been nondescript. He was simply ghastly looking, not a bit nondescript. He was barrel shaped and strangely round-backed. He had a broad sloping forehead and a fleshy nose. Worst of all, the skin on his hands was curiously loose. It swelled and lapped over his watch strap. The overall effect of Peters was that of an alien wearing a human's skin, fitted by an inferior tailor.

'Umm, well, I understand that there was some, ah, difficulty between you and the environmental committee, Professor,' said Peters in a soft rumbling voice.

'There certainly was,' I replied angrily, 'I wrote that book. They took it those ... those bloody swine and perverted it, totally.'

Peters put up his hands. 'Ah well, I'm not really all that interested in the committee's political wrangles, Professor,' he said. 'My area of interest, my speciality, is, umm, internal security.' He scrutinised me over his glasses.

'Oh,' I said. My stomach did a little twitch and double somersault.

'Ah, I'm told that you might be in, umm, possession of some of our Cabinet Office documents, sir,' said Peters in a near whisper.

'Those documents were given to me,' I protested. 'I was a member of the committee. I've got a letter from the Secretary inviting me to the committee. I was asked to write the report by the chairman.'

'Ah, well, sir,' said Peters with a friendly little smile, 'I don't think anyone has alleged that the documents were obtained unlawfully by you, sir.' He shot me a significant glance. 'Yet,' he added with a little pucker of his lips.

'So you want the documents back?' I asked. I knew from the way he'd said "sir" that he'd been, if he wasn't still, a policeman. I smiled at him.

'Umm, yes, sir, that would do nicely,' Peters replied without so much as a glimmer of humour. Perhaps he had passed that one by accident, somehow. 'I suspect that returning the document might very well help avoid a great deal of, umm, trouble for you, in the long run, Professor.'

'And what if I refuse?' I demanded, rather stroppily.

Peters looked surprised that I might ask such a silly question. 'Oh, umm,' Peters grunted softly, 'Well, I don't really think that would be very sensible at all, Professor. Not at all sensible, sir.' He took off his glasses and polished them briskly with the end of his tie.

'Why the hell not?' I demanded.

'Ah well, first of all, sir, Cabinet Office committees are covered by the, umm, Official Secrets Act, as you know,' he breathed. 'More recently, the Prevention of Terrorism Act. There could be a great deal of bother, sir. Ah, possibly even criminal prosecution, actually.' He rolled his big brown cow eyes toward me. 'Umm, a very dim view is taken about information leaks these days, sir, you must be aware. A very dim view indeed.'

I sat there glumly for a minute. 'I didn't sign anything,' I said, 'No Secrets Act, no contract, nothing.'

Peters cocked an eyebrow at me. 'Umm, are you absolutely sure that all your expense claims are square, Professor? Totally squeaky clean, sir? Got all your receipts for the last seven years, sir? No funny business with your income tax, sir? Your dog never fouls the footpath, sir?' he asked heavily.

'Of course, dammit!' I shouted, unclear myself for a second whether I meant "Of course not" or "it's a fair cop". I cleared my throat. 'My affairs are completely in order,' I stated, as firmly as possible.

Peters ghosted a sly smile. 'You would be entirely likely to say that, sir.' He slipped his glasses back on and thumbed open a manila portfolio. 'Now, it just so happens, Professor,' he said, 'That I have a, umm, warrant here to search your home and business premises, if I should need it.' He held up an official looking piece of paper. 'That sort of thing, umm, uniformed police crashing all over your place and all that, sir, might be awfully unpleasant for your family and colleagues. It would be terribly embarrassing all the way around, don't you think, sir?'

'Yes,' I said quietly, 'I suppose that it would.' My shoulders sagged.

'Anyway, those documents won't really do you any good at all, Professor,' Peters said brightly.

'Why's that?' I asked.

'The media wouldn't touch them with a bargepole, sir. Couldn't; we've been D-Noticing all this unpleasantness about the weather for a good long while,' Peters said brightly. 'No real point in the public getting all worked up and upset for nothing, is there now, sir? It's in everyone's interest.'

I knew they had me in a corner, the bastards. Trapped rats don't always bite. 'All right, dammit,' I snapped glumly. 'I'll send you the bloody papers when I get back home.'

'Well, actually, Professor,' said Peters, 'I've got a car ready to take us to Wales. I'd really like to, umm, collect those documents myself, right away. Save you having to post them and all that sort of bother.'

'You mean you want to snoop through all my stuff,' I snapped.

'Oh, I really think it's probably very much in your own, umm, best interests, Professor, that I make sure that everything's been returned to us as soon as possible,' Peters agreed smoothly. He stood. 'Now, if you'd like to collect your things, sir, we can set off right away. I'd guess it's going to take us quite a while to get there in this wind. And do you think I could trouble you for your pass, sir?' he asked politely.