What did happen at the Lost Password? Many weeks have passed since we visited. To remind you: three men sat in a quiet corner of that Telford pub. Seth Ghast, number two at De-Urbs, a rebel movement whose mission is to sabotage urban life in order to promote the peasant economy; Waldemar Lunt, the head of Kohlenkommando, a pro-fossil fuel paramilitary group driving Porsche Mephistos; and the smooth, snake-tongued Lord Pie (trust him not).
Once they’d rid themselves of the annoying astrologer, Greg Gloom, they ordered more pints of Shropshire Gold (the pub was out of Oracle, appropriately enough given the ejection of Gloom) and got down to business.
“Right, Pie. Let’s hear you,” said Lunt.
“Gentlemen.” Pie scratched himself. “Gentlemen-“
“There’s no need to ‘Gentlemen’ us. There’s two of us, me and Lunt,” said Ghast. “Just get on with it.” Everyone was tetchy. The Gloom episode had unnerved them. Even Kaz sensed the mood, and she veered away from their table, not catching Pie’s eye.
But Pie could not play any game but his own. “Seth Ghast, Waldemar Lunt. Two arch-rivals. One the scourge of city dwellers, a dreamer who believes that mankind will only ever achieve harmony with nature if it regresses to a simple peasant lifestyle. And the other: a petrol-head, a man who will stop at nothing in his fight to make everyone a Porsche owner. You may ask, why would I call you to one and the same meeting…”
“We did ask,” snapped Lunt, sipping at his beer threateningly.
Pie leant forward. He said in a whisper: “It’s about Tescoland.” Lunt’s glass froze at his lips. Ghast went pale and croaked, a white frog. “Tescoland?” he gulped hoarsely.
Tescoland was a portfolio of land held by the government since the collapse of out-of-town shopping. Thirty years ago the sale of food was dominated by three or four companies each with hundreds of huge shops around the country. These sprawling markets, oddly enough, were not in towns but outside of towns – it was a bit like wearing your underpants over your trousers. Each week millions of people sat in their cars and drove to the supermarkets and filled up shopping trolleys with the food they’d need for the week and then they drove home again and put all the food into their freezers and fridges.
But when electricity and fuel got expensive, storing food in freezers became laughable, and urban markets sprung up. Small, local urban street markets where chirpy traders sold fresh, wholesome food in paper bags. People loved it! Shares in Sunstove (“Solar-assisted Cooking Solutions”) and Brownbag (“Purveyors of farmers’ market packaging systems”) skyrocketed. But shares in the once dominant food retailers tumbled, and, as with the banks and then the coal-fired power stations, the government had to step in to protect investors and executives who, the government argued, had no right to lose money from merely misreading the market. Those were the days when crony capitalism still thrived.
So the government ended up with a 90% stake in Tescoland, a portfolio of more than 10,000 hectares of prime land – 8,000 sites on the edge of the towns and cities of the Devolved Regions of Britain. And in government ownership the land became desolate, windswept spaces, with litter rattling in the bushes, and with vast, empty, hot, echoing shacks where the homeless drowsed hungrily and trees absurdly took root in lofty gutters.
The country was divided as to what to do with Tescoland. Some felt that it symbolised all that was bad of the days of economic growth; best let it return to nature’s leafy embrace. Others believed it was haunted and the homeless should be exorcised. Rationalists considered it a portfolio with strategic potential – practically every town in the land had a piece of Tescoland. There were questions in parliament about Tescoland, and consortia of Arabic businessmen came with proposals to build ski-centres and funeral parlours. Anxiety and fear were the dark backdrop to Tescoland – gaunt temples where pagans had worshipped and their spells still whispered in the air.
“I think we can buy Tescoland for a pittance and, with your help, we can make a mint. It’s very simple.”
Seth Ghast eyed him, suspicious. Lunt looked away. “Go on,” he snapped.
“Look,” said Pie. “elections are coming. The government needs a story for the people. There’s a lot of anxious people these days. People are scared about the One B movement. It’s really happening in China and India and it’s moving west. They need something to take their minds off it, some cake. So the government will come up with something. Entertainment, more touring theatre, more Punch and Judy subsidies, bigger prizes for the regional folk dance festivals, four or even five points for a win in football … You see … But I’ve got something altogether more powerful. Something the people have been crying for. Something which will win us back the people.” Pie paused for effect. He removed a hair from his beer. He flicked something from his sleeve. He checked the shadows behind him. Then he whispered: “Out of town television. Out. Of. Town. Television.”
Lunt and Ghast stared whiled it sank in.
“Yes, I know,” continued Pie. “It’s big.” Now just reel them in, he thought to himself. “We can bring down the government on this one. For Christ’s sake, it’s a no-brainer. We can bring the bastards down.” Pie’s hiss became a dry crackle.
The One B movement: some crazy Indian guru on a pile of thistles said that humans could only survive if there were no more than one billion of us. It spread across India like vindaloo through a digestive system, gusted over the dry mountains into China where millions rioted and party officials were stoned.
“And I’ve got an investor who will back us,” said Pie.
“Out- out of town television?” stammered Lunt, beginning to see the implications.
“Come on, you guys,” said Pie. He felt the urge to spell it out. He’d been waiting for this. “People haven’t seen decent television for ages. Big, bright screens. Dazzling colours and lights. Action, noise, guns, violence, blood, sex, romance, blasphemy, gluttony – all on the big screen! The lot. The government got rid of all that, didn’t they? Austerity, the Living Simply Mechanism , low carbon entertainment. Well, we’ll bring it back… That’s what the people want. We’ll give it to them!” Pie was beside himself with excitement at his idea.
“What’s in it for us?” asked Lunt.
“What do you think, smart ass? Cars,” said Pie. “Cars, cars and cars. Lots of cars. How else will people get to the out of town television centres? We’ll bring back the automobile!”
“And me?” asked Ghast. “I can’t see any reason why De-Urbs would support it.”
“Oh no?” said Pie. “Underground television centres, like I said. All dark and exciting. And then what do we have at ground level? Bingo. 8,000 allotment training centres across the country. So every man, woman and child in the DRB can have weekly lessons in gardening. Isn’t that something the De-Urbs would support? Seth?”
Ghast shrugged. “Might be.” Then: “And what do you need us to do?”
“This is the deal. You fight a joint election with the Petrol Party. To throw out Onan Hash and his cronies. De-Urbs and Petrol Party can win a majority together. I’ll get you the cash. As I said, I’ve got the investor. In return, my investment group buys Tescoland and builds the Out of Town TV Network with Allotments. Give it a slicker name, and we’re in business.”
They had no option. If Pie had the cash, Pie got the deal. A piece of paper was hurriedly signed and pint glasses emptied with some forced joviality, while the three men thought dark, mistrusting thoughts about each other.
- For the Living Simply Mechanism see “The Reverse Missionary” (http://thebustard.blogspot.com/2007/10/reverse-missionary.html)