A friend of mine from Shetland was kind enough to text to say she liked Click, Double-Click, and when was Dr A C-S coming back? I texted back, “Dunno. He’s in NZ just now. I’m hoping to hear from him.”
For the last couple of weeks I’ve been wandering around in a trance, making up stories in my head, as you do. Thursday found me on the beach at Helensburgh. I watched a Trident sub snake out of Faslane and head out into the Clyde Estuary before submerging and going who knows where. It – I know ships are supposed to be referred to as “she”, but there is no way this vessel was in touch with its feminine side – was the most evil looking thing. Its presence did not heighten my sense of security. I wondered what Dr Cameron-Strange would have made of it. I suspect in terms of disarmament he would be a unilateralist. His elders and betters would tell him that his opinion was naïve, stupid, and dangerous. Last year he would have left it at that, but now he is a little older and wiser. He knows that politics is the art of the possible. He would find a way, through a little piece of creativity, and of lateral thinking, to move the debate on a wee way from its current state of impasse. He would think of some way of making the world a marginally safer place.
Then on Friday I was driving west along the A811 and came upon a convoy, heading east, about half a mile long. There were police motorcycle outriders, police cars and police vans, unmarked military trucks in their anonymous dark green livery and, right at the centre of the convoy, some kind of long black, shrouded container. There was even an ambulance. And I thought, bet the satnavs are set for Aldermaston. And I thought of ACS again. I can see him down at the Waitemata Harbour (where in 1985 they sank the Greenpeace flagship The Rainbow Warrior). It’s a nuclear free zone. I have a notion he is being headhunted for a job back in the UK. But he’s turning it down and he’s being as rude as possible. “Bunch of stuck-up, smug, snobby, bloated, poncy…” Well. Leave him to it.
Further along the A811 I came up behind another convoy, this time one of Mercedes, BMWs, and Audis all reduced to a crawl behind a farm vehicle. A guy in an Audi – probably an Edinburgh commuter – was getting particularly hot and bothered. I sent him a message by telepathy. “Take it easy, mate. Remember the guy in the tractor is putting bread on your table.”
Then on Saturday I forsook the car and went for a walk. Just locally. My route was a triangle, two of whose sides were pleasant country lanes. Not much traffic, other than a cycling peloton recurrently swooping by with a cheery “Hello again!” However the third side of the triangle was the A84.
Big mistake. Nobody in their right mind walks along the verge of a trunk road, even for a short distance. I could see all the motorists looking askance at me. Clearly I was somebody with a mental health issue. Had I broken out of an asylum? Ah – there’s old Jimmy, doing a runner from the care home. God bless ‘im. I was clearly some sort of demented war veteran making my own way to the site of some long-forgotten campaign for my own private commemoration. I’d probably get bulldozed by a passing combine harvester. There’d be a column inch in the Stirling Observer. “In a tragic and bizarre accident…”
If you really want to stand out like a sore thumb, go for a walk in the States. Not only will they think you’re a loony, they’ll think you’re an international terrorist. The last time I was over, I stayed in the Sheraton in Charlotte North Carolina. It was impossible to go for a stroll because the hotel was surrounded by super highways and the only thing to do was to take a few turns round the car park. Like the exercise yard in a state penitentiary. I once stopped over in LA for 24 hours en route to New Zealand and hired a car to drive west down Sunset Boulevard towards Pacific Palisades and the ocean. Half way down the road the oil light came on the dash. I pulled over and opened the bonnet – sorry, the “hood” – and checked the dipstick. No oil. Nada. Dry as a bone. Well, I didn’t want the engine to seize and I’d seen what looked like a garage a couple of miles back along the road so I parked in a side street and walked east back along Sunset Boulevard.
Nobody in their right mind walks along Sunset Boulevard.
All the mansions were heavily barricaded and the big wrought iron gates each bore the legend – “No trespassing. Rapid armed response.” I only passed one other pedestrian – a Hispanic lady pushing a pram. I reached the garage and went in and explained my predicament. The man said, “This is not a public garage. We only service limousines.”
But to return to Charlotte, North Carolina, I hired a car with oil in it and drove downtown and went for a stroll. I was looking for a bookshop and peering through a window into a shopping mall when a passing police officer hailed me.
“What’s up buddy?”
He could tell I was an alien.
“Just looking for a bookshop actually.”
“Yeah, there’s one in there. Second floor.” (He meant the first floor.)
By the time I got to the shop, they knew I was coming. He had radioed ahead. “There’s a really weird guy coming up the escalator.”
I bought the Schlesinger – Jackie Kennedy interviews, 1964. Fascinating.
But to return to the A84, I got off it unscathed, and back on to a country lane, and, in beautiful sunshine, drifted back into a storytelling reverie. A car pulled up and a charming lady offered me a lift and I knew all was well with the world after all. I politely declined. After all, ideas were beginning to coalesce. I must text my Shetland friend and tell her that I think we are going to see Dr Cameron-Strange again, in one hemisphere or another.