Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Bill Griffiths (Ghost Story 4): On Friday Morn

She was quite good, professionally speaking. She could take an average rumour, a bit of council flap-about, and make it sound quite convincing. After all, that was what was important wasn’t it? – not the pretend-cult of the pseudo and academic objective, the twisty-trail of flippant truth, but the ability to promote the issues, bestow the unspoken attention that assisted the flight of the political arrow. How else was she expected to access material at all? Dead-pan and objective, financial advantage, personal vendetta and tiny alert were handled with the same apparently harmless gloss. It meant a leasing of the soul, perhaps, but how else should one thrive?

It seemed an infallible recipe for a long career.

Ah yes, here she is, tipping and tapping away on a major project that will reveal a historic co-operation between Parish, Police and Property Developers: in which they will all – basically – swop premises, release land, make (who would even notice the assumption?) a better environment for everyone to live in. It takes talent.

“Aa nivvor was inclined te wryte p’rose ona Fryda morn, messel,” said a bass voice, over her shoulder.

A round-headed councillor had come through the gap in the counter to spy on her. Or so she supposed. Either they came to share information, or to extract it.

“I didn’t know you wrote.”

He was a link that could be (had been) useful, a sort of yesterday asset, or she would have ordered him straight back into the public quarter. Doubtless he had the same liberal view of her function, or he would not have approached.

“Oh aye, in the Yunyon en thet. Reports, letters, wor newsletters, press releases. But we wor telled nut te dee that wark ova Fryda morn. Unlucky, they allus sed.”

She smiled. Unlucky, to her, meant not getting a news story finished on time.

“Sounds more like slacking than superstition. Or did you work twice as hard of a Friday afternoon?”

Well, she wouldn’t be telled, that was obvious. Probably thought computers cancelled the laws of luck.

“Fryda post-noon? Na, we spent that in the betty-shop.”

Ha! He really was a dinosaur. What could she say? Euro-grants weren’t won in betting shops, that was for sure. She ignored him.

“That yor piece on the polliss HQ?”

She absently nodded. He could contribute or go and tew someone else.

“Any thing new to add?”

She was a hard women, he thought. No time for polite talk at all. Well, let her do without.

“Na,” he said, and shifted his weight onto the other buttock.

…looks set to succeed. The present accommodation is recognised as too far from… a more compact, central operation, said a spokesman… but historical… ideal… firmly intends… and if all goes according to plan, the Council are asking for… sometime this year… an imaginative solution… the police are looking to vacate… we look forward to… the community will be involved in… more in our next issue…
And lots of photos. That was the popular touch. Loans from the Developers of suitable images would certainly back their case. Looks good. The pen-sketch future. They’ll be voting in the streets to get the policy approved. She picked up the phone to check… There was a terrible whistling sound on the line. ‘Yaaarrgh!’ – she distanced the handset. A shadow flicked over the street window, leaving her looking grey and shabby for a moment. A snatch of song filtered in from the street. …and the ship not far from land!
She had heard that song before. Something to do with Friday, she guessed. Was it that dodo of a councillor come back? But no one entered the street-shop premises of this sub-
station journalesque. Just one of those passing impressions. “It was,” she reflected, “a good idea to know when to be silent.”

How many historic buildings had fall’n victim to the wreckers’ slam without even a mention? – without so much as a prayer over their dismantled carcasses! Some things must not stand in the way of progress. A plaque – she ruminated – on the side of the telephone box where the great gothic hospital once stood; a shrubbery to mark the spot where that sweet old dene had succumbed to housing encroachment. No, not in her brief. Her editor backed her on that one: leave the campaigns to the environmentalists, he advised. No need for us to get involved.

She was uncertain whether he was being consciously ironic or not in suggesting this. He might not know, to be fair, what everyone else knew, that the local environmental society was run by current and retired County Council employees, whose silence on aggravating topics was a miracle of tact. Ah, silence, that wonderful word (she reflected) – as another raucous line or two filtered in from the street…

…then three times round… then three times round went she…
Might almost be me twirling around in my chair, she thought, as she super-sped another remarkable article to the head office in Kidderluck through the internet. She stuck her head out of the door. Reassuringly, the new executive select houses stood shiny and brave on the brow over the dene, like Red Indians on the skyline, waiting to charge down on the cowering misery of the valley wagon-train. As it were. Always inspiration in Nature, she reflected.

…and sank to the bottom of the sea, the sea, the sea…
Who was that singing? She could see no one who could possibly be the minstrel. Not that old lady, wondering hopelessly round searching for some long-gone launderette. Not the egg-taggle of youths at the far corner, without a tash or bass voice between them. Cabin-boys, she mused grimly, as she imagined them sucked into a vortex of screaming water. Just then, the secretary at the Town Council came hurrying out of her door, making a bee-line for the newspaper office.

She pulled our threshold reporter inside, shut the door, and set away.

“It’s awful. You haven’t heard?”


“Oh my dear – Councillor Crosp. Dead!”


“Just an hour back. Heart attack.”

“He was in here. You know, lurking about.”

“And he came to us. Aggravated he seemed. Sommick about someone singing. Unlucky he called it. Went home. Then sudden attack. The heart, you know.”

“No chance?”

“Dead on arrival. So sudden.”

Yes, they reflected. His great booming voice…
“Wasn’t he due to…”

“Yes, this very evening. To sing at the charity do. Such a lovely voice. And seasongs. As a young man that was. Why, he used to charm us lasses…”

“I’m sure,” she said, feeling a little gaunt and tired.

And all man’s work’s the grave,’ she reflected.

Now many a decade has filed by. The devious plans of this or that policy group have hardly left a trace. The backhanders have been pocketed, the money spent, and the car or present it bought, long rusted through. The only positive result of time has proved the filling in of the docks, and the construction of a sea-platform to act as a heliport and small-plane drome. A few aeronautical shops, one storey max, are tucked away near the dene. Everyone else has gone. Bits of former houses have tumbled down the dene and blocked the stream at the bottom.

Page 495
There will be another uncanny excursion into local government necromancy in next month’s Pages from Dr Griffiths.