“I don’t want to go bloody skiing. I want to sit in my chair, with my cocoa, with my blanket, with my slippers, with my newspaper untouched on my lap, and snooze. I want to spend the day gently dozing, dreaming of times past, of frolicking in the fields as a boy, of that first sweet day of summer when the long lazy sunshine weeks were spread before me. I want to sit here and sleep, and dribble a bit, and maybe later have a biscuit. Now BUGGER OFF.”
A decidedly grumpy and wizened old man sat in a bath chair, determinedly gripping a tartan travel blanket to his frail chest. A harried looking man gripped the other end, tugging futilely as his glasses slipped of his nose.
“He does get in these moods. There’s just no talking to him.” He said.
Doctor Crawford Why stood up from the grand leather chair in which he was reclining. He flicked ash from the end of a cigarette in a sleek black holder.
“Alright, Quentin, I’ll talk to him,” He stroked his narrow moustache, “Wassat, you fool, get up. Do I have to remind you that while you are indeed very old, you are of course immortal? As such you do not age in any normal way. And no matter how much you want it, you will not develop senility. As a result, we will categorically NOT be putting you in a rest home. Now do what everyone else has done and get up. We are leaving.”
“You know what, Crawford, you really are a bore. Can I at least bring my zimmer?”
“If you must,” He glared at a fat ruddy faced man across the room, “Henry, please don’t drink all the port. It has to last us until we get there.”
“Roger that, old chap. Drinking arm firmly back in the hangar, old boy. Action stations, ready to scramble at any moment. Pip pip.”
“Do shut up. Come along people, the coach is waiting.”
Crawford clapped his hands and strode out through the ornate double doors.
Thelopius clapped his hands and strode in through the ornate double doors.
“Well done. Well done indeed. I am so glad I have a man of your intelligence to keep us out of danger. ‘Stop whining, the van will be fixed in the morning’. ‘Trust me’. You damn near killed us both.”
“How was I supposed to know?” Demanded Steve.
“You’re the bloody expert. I’m just some pleb from Swindon. You’re the mystical entity that invaded my home and my life and my head and dragged me off to the furthest reaches of space. You are meant to know what to do.”
“We got out all right didn’t we? No harm done.”
“No harm done? No harm done? I spilt my boiling chicken soup right over my lap. I may never sire children. And it’s ruined my trousers – where the soup hit them and round the back!”
Steve looked out of the open door to the camper van, still smoking as it sat carefully parked in the middle of an ornamental pond. He looked across the well manicured lawn, marred only by the two thick tire tracks swerving across them at a variety of angles. He looked further, to the torn and shredded shrubbery, to the large pile of rubble that had been a wall and further still to the head gardener, who still hadn’t stopped running. Listening carefully, he thought he heard a faint ‘waaaaaaaaaah’ from that direction. He glanced at the pile of kindling with a toilet in the middle. A newspaper lay on the floor where the gardener had dropped it. He briefly wondered how a man could run so fast with his trousers around his ankles.
“I didn’t know she’d cut our brakes as well. Look on the bright side.”
“What bright side?”
“At least you’re not the gardener.”
“Shut up.” Said Thelopius, wandering off towards a pile of pamphlets.
Steve strode towards the front desk, rapping on it smartly. The disinterested girl behind it glanced up from her nails.
“Welcome to Clouds Recreation And Pleasure Resort. My name is Charlene, how may I help.”
“Ah, Charlene, were you on the telephone the evening before last?
“Yes, that would have been me. I’ve just got my promotion to Senior Greetings Administrator, you know. It’s a more responsible position.”
“A receptionist, then.”
“No, no, my position is far more varied. It involves sitting here, greeting the guests as they arrive, giving out room keys and solving queries. I don’t just recept.”
“Hmm, whatever. Anyway, we spoke on the telephone before. I’m here to see the Doctors.”
“To see them what, sir?”
“To see them.”
“To see them what?”
“Just to bloody see them, visit them, make conversation with them, interact with them. Not to see them DO anything – I know for a fact they mostly do bugger all.”
“Ah, I see. Let me just check if they are still here.”
While she stepped out into the back office, Steve took great delight stuffing his pockets with several of the chocolates Charlene had on the desk. He scoffed a couple, and threw the wrappers into her tea.
“Bloody here to help indeed. Probably gone on another break.”
Charlene returned from the back office, perma-smile firmly in place.
“If you’d like to take a seat sir, we’ll be with you in a moment. My colleague is just coming to check the book, sir.”
“What, that one there.” Said Steve, pointing at the big book on the desk.
“Yes, that one.”
“Why don’t you bloody check it?”
“Oh no, sir, not my realm you see. No sir, Bobby has to do it. He’s the Senior Out Checking Administrator.”
“Let me guess. He checks people out.”
“Yes he does. And he waves as they go. He’s very professional.”
Steve shook his head despairingly.
“Look,” He said “You’ve broken a nail.”
As Charlene peered intently at her hands, Steve stood up, turned the book around and ran a finger down the right hand column.
“Bugger.” He said.
Charlene's head popped up from her nail count.
“Sir, you can’t do that! What will Bobby do when he gets here?”
“Where did they go, Charlene? This is very important.”
“I don’t know. We respect our guests privacy at Clouds sir. I think you ought to leave sir, or I shall be forced to call our Pleasant Atmosphere Enforcement Administrator. He makes nasty people be pleasant.”
Thelopius wandered over.
“Steady on, he can’t help it. He naturally buggers people about. I think it’s his job. Hey Steve, look what I found. Can we go here?”
He thrust out a blue pamphlet at Steve, waving it around. On the front was a picture of a tanned, fit family of four wearing what appeared to be brightly coloured baby’s romper suits. They smiled impossible toothy smiles, incisors gleaming whiter than the snow on which they stood. They all wore crap wrap around sunglasses. In the background were snow covered mountains, ski lifts and blue sky.
“The Ice Planet Huff,” Said Thelopius, “ ‘Year round snow, year round fun. A good value good time to be had by all. Call Huff Bookings for your holiday of a lifetime’. It sounds great – can we go?”
“Of course. “Said Steve, slapping his head.
“Really – great. I finally get to have some fun.”
“No, you great spanner. The Doctors – they always go on a skiing holiday this time of year. Bit of mountain air, keeps them feeling young. Brilliant, we’ll leave immediately.”
“Immediately being once we’ve fixed the brakes then.”
“You keep saying that.”
“Fear not, I have a plan.”
“Bugger.” Said Thelopius
“That’s my line.”
“You keep saying that.”
“What’s the plan?” Asked Thelopius doubtfully.
“Come with me.”
“That is a crap plan. Really really crap.”
“Drive the bloody van without the brakes. That’s your plan. Go careering around the cosmos without so much as a ships anchor to slow us down. Belt off through the stars in this tin can and just keep your foot down and hope we don’t get splattered when we hit something. That’s not a plan, it’s bloody suicide.”
“No, you don’t get it. The Bloody Stupid Generator. With a few tweaks I can use it on the brakes –driving without them is bloody stupid, so by using the generator it becomes perfectly safe. Simple.”
Thelopius got out of the van and stalked off toward the Hotel.
“Do what you like,” He shouted over his shoulder, “I’m getting a room, and a mechanic.”
“I can’t get a bloody thing on this radio, Crawford, not a bally sausage.” Said Doctor Henry What.
“You got something then, didn’t you, you great turnip?” Asked Doctor Albert When.
“No, old man, that was just some random beeping malarkey, no kind of tune to it. Probably static.”
“Eh up, lad, you must be soft in the head,” Albert adjusted his cap, “That’s your standard dance music that is. Loads of BPM, drum n bass, helping the youngsters to get jiggy with it. It’s what all the kids listen to at the dance halls these days. You must be picking it up off that little round blue green place down there. Mind you, when I where a lad we never had none of that beep beep techno house garage rave shed music. All I had were an elastic band on an old tissue box. Hours of fun we had with that – here I’ll sing you one of me songs….ahem… We had a cat and his name was pat, pat the cat he wore his hat, the hat was red and it was on his head, then came a car and our cat was dead……”
“Very soulful, Albert,” Interjected Crawford Why acidly, “But really quite tuneless. That ‘little round blue green place down there’ is Earth, by the way. You may remember it – created by Bob, we advised on its construction, oh, and of course we are it’s guardians, we are responsible for its upkeep, and yet you nincompoops can’t even remember what it looks like or where it is. It’s just another sight on your way to the ski slopes for you lot. You’re out of touch you lot are. Way out of touch.”
The Doctors went quiet, which was a novelty. Albert When was heard to mutter something about not doing it full justice without the rubber band guitar. Crawford shot him a withering look.
“Just remember our responsibilities, that’s all. Bob may have retired, but we haven’t.”
“Wassat? Eh? What do you say?”
“Go back to sleep, Wassat.”
Crawford Why gazed out of the window at the innocent little blue green sphere floating in space, drumming his fingers to a beat only he could hear.
“Driver, take a quick trip down there would you. I have some business to attend to.”
The coach swung round in a wide arc, a couple of suitcases flying off their precarious rooftop perches and spinning off into space.
“Bad show, old boy, that was my bally cricket flannels.” Cried an indignant Doctor What.
“It’s okay What,” Said When “You’re no bloody good at the game anyhow. When I were a lad I were best in my school, I were. I could belt that little red bugger away out the playground and down to Mrs Mathers Pie Shop. I’d go fetch it, and on way back nibble on one of her world famous dumplings.”
“I never liked cricket,” Piped up Doctor Tarquin Which, “I was really quite frightened of the ball – ever so hard. I could never decide whether to try and catch it or duck. I was far better at chess.”
“Chess,” Boomed When, “No game for a man, chess. Moving some lumps of wood around a little board – that’s for girls, man. No, its manly cricket for me every day.”
“Manly cricket? You stand around for a few hours getting bored and trying not to fall asleep until it’s your turn to bat? That’s worse than golf!”
Crawford Why phased out the constant blather going on around him and focused hard, his eyes glassy, a vein raised in his forehead. He gripped the armrest of his seat hard, digging his nails into the soft padding, the knuckles of his long, slender fingers whitening. Just as his eyes began to water, he visibly relaxed, his whole body slumping slightly. He pulled a neat white handkerchief from his top pocket and dabbed his forehead with it.
“Head for Basingstoke.” He told the driver.
“Right you are.”
A short while later the coach pulled up outside a housing estate near Basingstoke. The Doctors alighted, dividing quickly into two groups. One group headed for the nearby pub at a canter, not one of them slowing until the got close to the bar and had to jostle to get as far away from round buying territory as possible. The other, smaller group was Crawford Why. He slowly stretched the travelling ache from his body, before climbing atop the bus and rooting around in the luggage strapped to its roof for some time. After a while he emerged from a pile of duffel bags and suitcases with a briefcase in his hand. Jumping down from the luggage space, he sniffed the air professionally, adjusted his three piece suit, and set off with a purposeful stride, his cane tap tapping as he walked. He whistled a variety of tunes as he strode, from upbeat, cheerful trills to funereal dirges. After a while he found one that he liked and stayed with it, a jaunty little number that stuck in the head but didn’t irritate. He wheeled round a corner, and marched up to a pleasant little house in a quiet cul-de-sac. He stood outside for a time, whistling his ditty upwards at an open window. From inside the window came the plink plink of a novice guitarist trying to play hard rock on an acoustic guitar. Occasionally Crawford winced. He then strode up to the door and knocked loudly three times. A teenage boy answered it, looking decidedly annoyed about the whole situation.
“Are you Darren Boneparter?” Asked Crawford.
“You Sky’s boss?” He mumbled.
“My sister. You her boss?”
“No, dear boy, no. I’ve got something for you, my lad.”
“Are you a pervert?”
“Er… no.” This was not going how Crawford expected.
“Are you sure. If you want to offer me sweets to get into your car, then you can piss off.”
“I haven’t got a car. Or any sweets. I’ve got a present for you.”
“I’ll kick you in the bollocks.”
“Um, there’s really no need. It’s a good present.”
“What is it then? Remember, you’re still in bollock kicking range.”
Crawford opened his case, and brought out a small book, holding it up so the boy cold see. It had a yellow cover, with nothing on it except large red letters saying “Teach Yourself To Play and Sing – By Bob”. Darren took it and stared at it.
“What’s this, then? Are you some door to door salesman? If my dad catches you, he’ll kick you in the bollocks.”
“No, I’m not a salesman. Does a lot of bollock kicking go on here?”
“In a minute it will.”
“It’s a gift, Darren. Believe me, it will help you.”
“Looks a bit crap to me.”
Crawford sighed heavily.
“It might look a bit crap, laddy, but it worked for Buddy Holly.”
“Just try it, will you.”
“Normally, no. But you seem a bit weird, and I can respect that. I’ll give it a bash.”
“Thank you.” Said Crawford to a closed door. He looked up at the sky, then remembered and turned his head towards Gloucestershire.
“Why oh bloody why did you have to make them so stubborn. We warned you about the bloody hormones. Puberty indeed.”
He turned on his heel and headed back to the coach, and back to his skiing holiday.