The Rhondda Rendezvous by Rhys Hughes

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It was half past midnight when Jerry Cornelius returned to Tenby as a last desperate resort. There are many desperate resorts along the South Wales coast. Tenby’s turn had finally come.

    Jerry drove a Gilbern and smoked a cheroot as he changed gear. It wasn’t easy swapping jacket and trousers while driving. When the process was complete, he changed gear. He felt unfashionable.

    But disguise was important here.

    The antiquated car radio played an early song by the Manic Street Preachers, so distorted it was impossible to make out the words. It was like music from another county.

    Jerry fiddled with the tuner and found a news bulletin.

    “New border clashes include spitting and swearing!” announced the announcer. It was getting nasty.

    As he entered the town and drove towards the beach, he reflected on how much he trusted his own motives. Not at all, he decided cheerfully. He wound down the window and the smack of salt air came to him like the kiss of a wet dog. He sniffed.

    A late reveller turned out of a pub and flagged him down.

    “You from round here?”

    “Not as such,” admitted Jerry.

    “Where you from then?”

    Jerry decided to take a risk. “Next town over.”

    “Where’s that then?”

    “Sort of in a sideways direction. I’m no good at geography. A bit further than the edge of this place.”

    “Don’t like the sound of that, do I?”

    Jerry nodded. “Stick with what you know.”

    The man winked. “That’s right, good advice, can’t be too careful. See this knitted tie? My gran made that for me, said it would never let me down, and it hasn’t, not once, ever.”

    “That’s stability for you,” agreed Jerry. He accelerated away and turned down Battery Road onto the Esplanade. The Gilbern was sluggish and he was grateful to abandon it near the museum, where it rightfully belonged. He walked rapidly past the castle to the quay. The yacht was waiting for him, a badly carved wooden dragon fixed to the prow like a figurehead, leering awkwardly.

    Jerry sighed deeply. Of all places. Wales.

    He was truly stuck this time.

Caldey Island monastery was still in good condition. The hole in the roof of the refectory let in the rain but not much light. Jerry followed the silent servant to the round table and took his place. His neighbours squinted at his clothes and nodded.

    Jerry wore a dragon flag t-shirt and a woollen jacket and faded red braces held up his thick cord trousers. On his head he sported a crushed bowler hat. His feet were clamped in hobnailed boots.

    He fitted in perfectly.

    There were six figures already seated on the low chairs. He was the seventh. There was one empty space. The table bore a striking pattern, eight arrows pointing eight different ways, but one of these arrows was straighter, thicker and longer than the others, as if urging them to swing round and point in its direction.

    “Robert will soon be here,” said the man opposite Jerry.

    “He prefers a dramatic entrance?”

    “I don’t think so. He’s just very busy. Why don’t I introduce the company to you? I am Dafydd ap Bedwyr and I represent the Druids. This is Owein ap Cadwr for the Shepherds.”

    The introductions continued.

    “Iorwerth ap Sawyl of the Miners… Garanwyn ap Mercher of the Chapels… Peredur ap Rhuvawn of the Rugby Players… Teirwaedd ap Ysgithyrwyn of the Caravan Parks. And you are?”

    “Jerry Cornelius. Drugs and Grooves.”

    “Do you mock us? You must have an ‘ap’. Who are you the son of?”

    Jerry pondered. “Call me Jerry ap Man.”

    “Apeman?” They enjoyed the joke.

    Jerry had won them over and was safe. He mouthed the word quietly to himself and was misunderstood.

“Oh yes,” said Dafydd, “we’re quite safe here. Robert managed to purchase eight radiological Alazan rockets from the breakaway Russian republic of Transdniester. He fired one straight at Caldey Island. The contamination is not particularly harmful but it keeps snoopers at bay. Too much broken crockery, though.”

    “Does he intend to do that before every meeting?” asked Jerry.

    “Such precautions are necessary, I fear.”

    Jerry nodded. “And fun.”

    They laughed again but inside Jerry felt a growing sickness that had nothing to do with gamma rays.

After the meeting, Jerry lay on his bed. Part of the problem was that ‘nationalism’ was not a dirty word in Wales. In fact it was considered highly desirable to have nationalistic tendencies. This gave Robert the perfect cover for his scheme.

    For the first time in decades the most historically inaccurate but powerful factions of Welsh culture had agreed to work as a team. Wales was such a fragmented place. What had ever kept it together? Something as simple and strong as boredom?

    Jerry rose and strolled through the monastery.

    The rain outside had stopped but the wind still howled. Glancing at his wristwatch, Jerry noted that the spinning dials were speeding up and slowing down, but without any discernible pulse. Like everything else in Wales, time here was undecided.

    The interior of the monastery was illuminated by dim electric lamps hung from the ceiling at random intervals. Jerry kept tripping over his own flares. His burberry pyjamas were far too long, but any deviation in any detail would be his undoing.

    From somewhere ahead, a radio played a Super Furry Animals song, so dated already, a desperate echo of the brief Welsh Revival of the 1990s, when provincial bands seemed more sagacious and sharp than anything from the metropolis, and may well have been.

    Jerry passed through a shattered doorway into a courtyard. Slogans were still potent in this land. When people heard the call to KEEP WALES TIDY they thought only of excluding the English. They didn’t think about who would really be excluded. The far right had found a different agenda using the same terminology. Now they could exploit it for their own ends without modifying their language.

    Jerry blinked. Here was the proof.

    Robert Wyvern was goosestepping on the gravel, raising his arm in a curiously limp Nazi salute. Behind him real geese followed in his tracks, pecking at the imprint of his heels, the studs having left marks like irregular crumbs of bread.

Angharad sat in a pink twinset in her jumpjet. She yawned as she waited for Jerry to climb into the cockpit behind her. The aircraft wheezed and gasped. The fuselage was by Tupolev, the wings by Boeing, the engines by Schweppes. It was not a vital VTOL.

    “Funds are low, Mr C,” she said apologetically.

    “I’ve tightened my belt.” He tried to relax into his seat, found himself feeling itchy and blue.

    “It’s the sticks, you see,” she added.

    “Provincial entropy is the hardest to do anything with,” he sighed. He stared at the back of her head as she steered the shuddering bucket into the sky. He felt even more sick.

    “It was customised by a farmer,” she continued.

    

    Something cracked somewhere. Time and space became a quick downward spiral. Angharad apologised again as they dropped into the crater dug by their own jets. The impact jarred his bones.

    “Those bleeding buggers!”

    “Now, now Mr C, don’t say you didn’t anticipate it.”

    “Fobbing us off with junk.”

    “Not the first time, so I’ve heard, eh?”

    “Anything broken?”

    She was bewildered. “Most things, surely. You don’t mean to say you expect anything to be whole again?”

    “I suppose not,” he conceded.

    “Devolution, Mr C, it just keeps going.”

Jerry woke with a throbbing headache and a body covered with bruises. He wondered if he had enjoyed himself the previous night or not. Then as he slowly stood, the bruises began to sting.

    Yes, clearly a good time.

    Angharad had left her suspender belt behind.

    There was a knock on the door. A delivery man wheeled in a gigantic box. This was his replacement transport. Alvarez at the Time Centre must have sent it before the crash.

    “He knew all along,” Jerry muttered ruefully.

    Then he laughed and began carefully unpacking the kit. Whatever it was, it had to be better than the cobbled jumpjet. He turned his head to glance through the grimy window of the hotel. The wreck still rested on the beach, a new tourist attraction.

    How long before the local council printed leaflets proclaiming it a sight worth an afternoon’s detour? At least a few years. By that time it would have been stripped bare.

    Devolution and diversification are not the same thing at all, Jerry mused as he studied the assembly instructions. An amphibious craft, very experimental, partly inflatable. The canister of nitrogen was included. He scratched his reeling head.

    The roar of an Alazan rocket made the window rattle. Jerry turned and followed the wavering vapour trail. Robert was preparing the next meeting place. Somewhere near Swansea.

    Jerry hastily slotted together the components and used the canister to inflate the machine. It was almost as big as the room. There was no way he would get it through the door. Fortunately the beak of the craft concealed a 76.2mm Kurchevsky recoilless cannon. Jerry jumped into the driving seat and fired a short burst at the wall.

    Pallid residents stumbled and coughed in panic as the machine nosed through collapsing masonry and over little hills of rubble. Then with a triumphant squeal, Jerry accelerated towards the industry scarred lands of the east, a message in his heart and a Hungarian 7.65 Fegyvergyar pistol holstered at his hip. Just like the old days.

    But in Wales it was always the old days.

In the ruins of the giant statue of Catherine Zeta-Jones, the delegates gathered. The icy waves broke with a chiding slap on the plaster ankles. Once this had been the site of the Mumbles lighthouse but the local council had known better. The 300 metre tall figure, circa Darling Buds of May, had glared down at Swansea on the other side of the bay. Now only the lower half remained. A cheap erection, typical of anything to do with Catherine.

    Posters flapped on her calves announcing forthcoming gigs in local venues. Jerry was excited to spy a torn flier with Stereo printed on it, but when he rejoined the fluttering half he saw the rest of the word was phonics instead of lab. Other bands on the same bill included Catatonia, The Caves and The Frictionless Man. For better and for worse, Jerry knew them all personally. He went inside.

    Sweeping geiger counters from side to side, silent servants found the least harmful spot for setting up the round table. As Jerry glanced around, he recognised a familiar face.

    “Miss Brunner,” he groaned.

    “I guessed you might turn up,” she sniffed. She was dressed in the full cliched costume, stovepipe hat coated in plaster dust and a wilted daffodil pinned to her collar. She met his gaze and licked her lips. “So you’re the devil in Miss Jones?”

    “What happened to Dafydd ap Bedwyr?”

    “Crushed by a collapsing menhir. Bloody thing must have been on the verge of toppling for centuries. Unless it was a Victorian folly. I saw my chance and took his place.”

    “You don’t look very convincing,” Jerry observed.

    “It’s a question of attitude.”

    “Women aren’t allowed to be Druids, are they?” he insisted.

    She applied her lipstick and snapped shut her vanity case. “You’ll have to define allow for me. Movement always relies on allowances being made. Robert is English, you know.”

    Jerry nodded. “Revolutions are never straightforward. Owain Glyndwr made alliances with the English too. Whatever works, I suppose. All the same, that costume is a trifle…”

    She arched an eyebrow. “A trifle what?”

    Jerry rubbed his chin. “Just that. A trifle. Did you expect more? I mean it’s a sickly concoction.”

    Miss Brunner laughed. “In 1797 the French invaded Wales at Pen Caer but surrendered when they encountered a group of local women dressed in traditional hats and red flannel dresses. I’ve done my research. It was the last attempted invasion of Britain, although I’m sure Robert would disagree with that statement.”

    “Quite,” said a voice behind her. It was Robert himself. His mood was ebullient as he rubbed his sweaty palms together. “What the hell is that vehicle parked outside the doorway?”

    Jerry lit a cheroot. “A Duck Billed Platitude.

    Robert patted Jerry on the arm. “Good to see you have a sense of humour. Or is it irony? Or allegory? It doesn’t matter. Our movement has always needed men with a light touch. All those drinking songs and starched armbands can get a bit boring, what?”

    “No it really is a Duck Billed Platitude. Come and have a look at the engines. They were made by Canada Dry.”

    “Later, Mr Cornelius, later.”

The British National Party has unveiled its new tactic to win the race hate vote in Wales — party political broadcasts in Welsh.

    The far right party’s leader Nick Griffin, who lives in Powys, will star in the English version of the video, but his 17 year old daughter will front the Welsh language rant on deporting and repatriating non-whites from the UK.

    It’s the party’s latest role for Jennifer Griffin, a pupil at Ysgol Gyfun Llanfair Caereinion near Welshpool, who has admitted she would like to become BNP leader. She already chairs the BNP Supporters’ Club — a group for 14 to 18 year olds.

    The broadcasts are part of their biggest ever assault on Wales as the party attempts to get a foothold in councils and puts up two candidates for the European elections.

    They will be screened on terrestrial television in the lead-up to polling day on June 10.

    Politicians last night dismissed the ads as a stab at gaining a “cloak of respectability”.

    But Mr Griffin insists there is support in Wales, particularly on “English migration” to Wales, which he claimed is “pushed by the multi-cultural society of England.

WALES ON SUNDAY, May 9, 2004

“The trouble is,” said Stuart as he lowered the heat on the stove, “that when I began losing my friction I envisioned all sorts of opportunities slipping through my fingers.”

    
Jerry was cleaning his 9mm Luger. “I bet.”

    “In fact it just meant they fell into my lap instead.” Turning away from the bubbling lasagne Stuart looked up. His girlfriend had just come home from university. Monica threw her battered copies of Kant onto the table and nodded at Jerry.

    “Hello Mr C. What can we do for you?”

    “It’s a question of drag,” Jerry admitted.

    “I can wear some of Monica’s clothes,” Stuart offered.

    Jerry shook his head. “Business first. The drag I’m referring to is the component of the aerodynamic force on an aircraft that lies along the longitudinal axis. What do you know about ground effect vehicles?”

    “I flew an A-90 Orlyonok Ekranoplan once.”

    “Efficiency is the key,” said Jerry. “This isn’t a rich country and the cheaper anything can be done the better. Mass movement is my latest hobby. With practise I might get good at it.”

    “Shall we play before or after dinner?” Stuart asked.

    “Might as well get the work done first.”

    Stuart nodded. “Do you mind jamming without a drummer?”

    “No, that’s fine. My Gibson’s packed up. May I borrow yours? If you don’t have one, a Stratocaster will do.”

    “I have a Rickenbacker.”

    Stuart went to look for the instrument and Jerry turned to Monica. “Curious that you live in Delhi Street.”

    “All the streets around here are named after battles. I think Delhi was a battle, wasn’t it?”

    “Well it might be.” Jerry blinked.

    Stuart returned with the guitar. “I’ll turn the stove off. Don’t want the lasagne burning, do we?”

    They tuned up and plugged in. They quickly went through the entire Frictionless Man set. Soon the dust in every room was airborne, every speck floating through the half grey, half milky light that pushed into the house from the Welsh sky.

    “That will do.” Jerry nodded and unplugged.

    “Righto, Mr C,” replied Stuart as he went back into the kitchen to heat up the lasagne again. There was no entropy here. It was an oasis of mood, meals and mutability.

    Jerry started up the Goblin 320 series cylinder vacuum cleaner and moved through the house sucking up the dust. When the bag was full he switched it off and settled down on a chair.

    Stuart dished up briskly. “What do you want my skin flakes for, Mr C, if you don’t mind me asking?”

    “Coating. Better than Teflon,” Jerry answered.

On the roof of the Brendan Guest House, Aberystwyth. They had erected a tarpaulin to protect themselves from the worst of the rain, but it blew sideways and diluted their cocktails. So much for a romantic evening in starlight. So much for settling for less.

    “Bloody Wales. What am I doing here?”

    Angharad said, “How do you think I feel? I was pulled out of India for this assignment. I’d only been travelling around for three months and was getting into the vibe.”

    “I’ve forgotten what the sun looks like.”

    “It’s night, Mr C.”

    “Every time he holds a meeting, Robert convinces another of the major stereotypes. He doesn’t need to be too clever or too charming. He’s done the minimum necessary. I bet he feels there’s something lacking. His kind like to compare themselves to dynamos. Eight different locations, eight different purposes, but really just one direction. Funny how law can hide in chaos, and chaos in law. Robert promises dynamism but will deliver stagnation.”

    “Constant readjustments aren’t for everyone.”

    “It seems a thankless task sometimes.”

    “But you wouldn’t feel comfortable doing anything else. What choice do you have, realistically? Law and Chaos are both self-destructive. Law denies everything, even time, because time is movement, so when it gets what it wants it vanishes, because it no longer exists in time. Chaos in contrast admits everything, even order, and so will eventually get stuck in a groove which includes permanent stability as one of its qualities. Striking a balance is the only option.”

    “I’ve made my bed,” Jerry agreed. “I’m just tired of lying in it.”

    “It’s our bed now,” corrected Angharad.

    Jerry wept. With gratitude.

Bishop Beesley eased his enormous bulk out of the wicker chair and waddled to the bar for another glass of milk stout. It was quiet in The Jolly Englishman tonight. Captain Maxwell, Sir Kingsley and Lady Sunday lounged in their own chairs around the table, tearing beer mats into neat strips and muttering.

    “I wonder how Miss Brunner is getting on?”

    “As best as she can, no doubt.” The Bishop returned with his drink and sat back down with a contented sigh. He licked his sticky fingers and unwrapped another chocolate bar.

    “Do you think she can handle Cornelius?”

    “Well it’s always worth a try.” The Bishop seemed oblivious of the sombre mood. He munched happily.

    “But if Wales wins its independence what’s to stop the fringe counties of England following suit? We might end up with Yorkshire and Cornwall seceding from the union.”

    “And even Surrey and Sussex,” beamed the Bishop. He gestured with his half eaten Mars. “I know what worries you. It worries me too. Where does devolution stop? Independent cities and towns, independent streets, independent individuals. But I have faith.”

    “In what exactly?”

    Something inside the Bishop seemed to deflate but he remained as gross on the outside as ever. “It’s my job, dear boy.” Then he leaned forward and slurped his beer from the glass without lifting it. “I suppose we might reconsider our options.”

    “Heaven help us,” chorused the others.

Back at the Time Centre, Alvarez demonstrated his latest device to Jerry with an insouciant air. The response was good with almost no unintended hiss. Jerry nodded his approval and Alvarez smirked. High above them the subway trains rumbled and sparked.

    “Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. In the entirety of Wales there’s no music more evocative of the ‘70s.”

    “Which ‘70s exactly?”

    Alvarez shrugged. “Any one.”

    “As long as I can take my pick,” said Jerry. He was feeling better physically but was emotionally depressed.

    “Shame it didn’t work out with Angharad.”

    “But it did,” Jerry responded. “She’s returned to India. Who am I to hold her back? She’s young.”

    “Our turn will come,” said Alvarez hopefully.

    
“Shall we begin?” asked Jerry.

    Alvarez nodded. “Do you know anything about the Main?”

    “Part of New England surely?”

    “Not this time. I’m talking about the Spanish Main. The islands of the Caribbean. The Antilles, Jamaica.”

    “Are we going to buy our way out of this one?”

    Alvarez nodded bleakly. “Feels almost like cheating, doesn’t it? A paradox. But you can’t transmogrify a Wyvern. There’s no other method, at least none we can afford.”

    “You are a wag,” said Jerry unconvincingly.

    Alvarez handed him the flintlock pistol. Jerry pressed the barrel against his right temple and pulled the trigger. The opening chords of ‘Merched ya Neud Gwallt eu Gilydd’ flooded the Time Centre. With a pop of imploding air Jerry vanished and Alvarez returned to his monitors.

The pirates sat around the table and laughed. The ship swayed at anchor and the lanterns squealed as they moved, the wicks spluttering. Burning whale oil made the vessel smell like a Bridgend high street on Saturday evening. It truly was 1671. Jerry fitted in perfectly. Tufts of his hair were knotted with black ribbons and he had a broad white stripe painted across his face. His false leg was false and his hook hand was also fake but the creak of his boots was real.

    “Give us that shanty again! ‘Tis rare!” one shouted.

    “Aye, a rum tune!” cried another.

    Jerry rolled his eyes in exasperation but obliged. He gritted his teeth and sang, “Is this the way to Amarillo, every night I’ve been hugging my pillow, dreaming dreams of Amarillo…”

    “Har! har! har!” roared the pirates.

    “He sings it like a woman!” approved one.

    “Let’s go and sack that Armadillo!” suggested another.

    “Burn it to the ground!” seconded a third.

    “And kill all the Spaniards we find inside! Call the captain. Where is Armadillo? Fetch the charts!”

    “Amarillo,” corrected Jerry. It was going to be a long evening.

    He was rescued by the captain himself. Henry Morgan came down the companionway and stood on the warped boards with his hands on his hips and a pipe clenched between his thick lips. His expression was a mixture of admiration and regret. He nodded at Jerry and waved to his men. Jerry stood unsteadily and followed him to the deck. The mist slicked his face like cold chip oil. He sneezed.

    “It’s not too late to change your mind,” said Morgan.

    Jerry smiled thinly. “I made a vow.”

    “This is awfully good of you. I never expected anyone to volunteer. I assumed I would have to use force.”

    Jerry squinted into the mist. “Where are we?”

    “Off the coast of South Wales.”

    “Really? I imagined you might choose Cuba or the Bahamas.”

    “Are you disappointed? It seems to me that nobody will ever think of looking here. I’m quite a sentimental old sod too, if truth be told. I know I shouldn’t be, but I am.”

    “Like a character in an early John Steinbeck novel,” Jerry said. He noticed the frown on Morgan’s face and added, “Let’s get it over with. I am cold, tired and a little sick.”

    “After you, dear boy.”

    Jerry climbed over the rail and used the rope ladder to lower himself into the longboat. Morgan followed. Then they cast off and Jerry rowed through the mist. He followed Morgan’s complicated directions, veering first one way, then another, to confuse any observers on the ship. But in fact the mist was too thick for even the most powerful spyglass to penetrate.

    Shingle crunched beneath them. Jerry leaped out and dragged the boat onto the beach. Morgan strutted forward and pointed at the mouth of a narrow cave. “This is the one.”

    Jerry heaved the heavy chest out of the boat and staggered after Morgan into the cave. The chest was full of the choicest treasure from the looting of Panama. Morgan lit a lantern and cast a spade at Jerry’s feet. “Dig here. It’s the perfect spot.”

    When Jerry had finished, Morgan smiled affectionately at him and said, “You know I have to kill you now, to protect my secret. Your ghost will stand guard over my treasure for a thousand years. Well, I don’t really believe that, but it may put your mind at ease. Once again, I’m awfully grateful to you.”

    “No problem,” said Jerry. As Morgan fumbled for the pistol at his belt, Jerry handed him his own flintlock. “Here, use this. It’s a very nice model with an ivory handle.”

    Morgan took it and pointed it at Jerry. A relay inside clicked and the music began playing in reverse.

    Jerry vanished.

Miss Brunner held a scarf to her face as they waddled down the muddy lanes of the Vale of Glamorgan. The Duck Billed Platitude stank almost as bad as the landscape. Poison leaked from the spur on its back leg. It would soon conk out completely.

    Jerry was in his element, an orange Nepalese shirt on his back, a pair of Turkish trousers on his legs, Italian shoes on his feet. He was armed only with a khukri but he radiated confidence and danger. As Miss Brunner sniffed unhappily he patted her saucily on the leg with a hand glittering with silver rings.

    “What made your side decide to throw in with my lot?”

    She gritted her teeth. “We despise your whimsicality slightly less than his version of stability. While we approve of his aims, we can’t condone the way he intends to achieve them. We don’t want an independent Wales, not even a clean one.”

    “Nothing like a bit of internecine,” said Jerry.

    “Hurry up, can’t you?”

    Jerry said, “This is the beach.” He turned the vehicle down a steep path and cut the engine on the sand. He helped Miss Brunner climb down and led her to the cave mouth. The moment they were inside he handed her the shovel. “I buried it. You can dig it up.”

    “Curious idea of fair play you have,” she whined.

    “Symmetry isn’t always fair.”

    “I suppose not.” With a snort she began work. “Will this really be enough to pay for what you intend?”

    “I think so.” He smoked a green Fortuna.

Half an hour later the spade struck the chest. He unsheathed the khukri and approached her almost timidly. “You don’t mind, do you? I can’t afford to share. I need every last doubloon of it.”

    “Really, Mr C,” she muttered as he cut her throat.

A BBC journalist is urging helpful linguists to come forward to help solve a mystery — why the Hindi accent has so much in common with Welsh.

    Sonia Mathur, a native Hindi speaker, had her interest sparked when she moved from India to work for the BBC in Wales — and found that two accents from countries 5000 miles apart seemed to have something in common.

    It has long been known that the two languages stem from Indo-European, the “mother of all languages” — but the peculiar similarities between the two accents when spoken in English are striking.

    Ms Mathur explained that when she moved to Wales, everyone instantly assumed she was Welsh from her accent.

    “I would just answer the phone, and they would say ‘oh hello, which part of Wales are you from?,” she said.

    “I would explain that I’m not from Wales at all — I’m from India. It was just hilarious each time this conversation happened.”

    But not only do the two languages’ accents share notable common features — their vocabularies do too.

    Ms Mathur’s own research on basic words, such as the numbers one to 10 found that many words were similar — “seven”, for example, is “saith” in Welsh, “saat” in Hindi.

    She later spoke to Professor Colin Williams of Cardiff University’s School of Welsh, who specialises in comparative languages.

    He suggested that the similarities are because they come from the same mother language — the proto-European language.

    “It was basically the mother language to Celtic, Latin and Sanskrit,” Ms Mathur added. “So basically that’s where this link originates from.”

BBC news, 14th March 2005

Robert Wyvern parked his Range Rover and stepped cautiously out into the light drizzle. He avoided the worst of the puddles and the fatalism in his eyes was wholly affected. As he approached Jerry he nodded curtly and lowered his cricket bag.

    “I have to say I’m dreadfully disappointed with you.”

    “You must have known I was a traitor to your cause. Miss Brunner blew my cover, didn’t she?”

    Robert lowered his head. “Of course. But I appreciated your drive. And I thought at least you’d let me kick out the Bengalis. Now you’ll be stuck with them on your turf.”

    “Wales desperately needs colour,” quipped Jerry.

    “Damn it man, what’s wrong with having just one tiny corner of this sceptered isle reserved for whites?”

    Jerry misheard. “Septic? Yes I suppose it is.”

    “The final meeting would have been in Maerdy in the Rhondda, the cradle of socialism in Wales. Ironic, don’t you think?”

    “I don’t much involve myself with irony these days.” Jerry shrugged his apology. “Shall we toss for it?”

    “I don’t have to agree to this you know.”

    “Come now, how can you resist the challenge of a cricket match?” Jerry threw the coin. It was double headed. “Seems that I get to bowl. It’s all in the wrist.”

    “Are those the wickets?” Robert asked glumly.

    He squinted at the vast stones of the Pentre Ifan cromlech, moody in the greyish light. Jerry nodded and Robert made his way to the crease in front of the ancient monument.

    As he took up position, an enormous shadow crossed the landscape. They gazed at the Ekranoplan in awe. The Fairchild fuselage shuddered, the Sukhoi wings glittered, the Corona Dandelion & Burdock engines fizzed merrily. Robert was dismayed.

    “Almost frictionless!” he gasped.

    “There’ll be another over soon,” said Jerry. “Several hundred in fact. We’re transporting the entire population of Wales to India. Just for three months or so. Let them travel around a bit, learn to haggle, try a bhang lassi, maybe a holiday romance…”

    “That must have cost a fortune.” Robert blinked.

    “An arm and a leg,” sighed Jerry.

    “It won’t make them love other cultures,” sniffed Robert. “They may return with even more loathing.”

    “Not the point,” said Jerry. “At least they’ll get an opportunity to see what they’re missing. I can’t do everything, you know. I wouldn’t want to even if I could. They have to make their own decisions at some point. Now are you ready, old boy?”

    “I am.” Robert adjusted his grip on his bat.

    “I’m going to demonstrate a bowling technique suggested to me by a fellah named Morgan. It’s quite radical.”

    “Go ahead,” muttered Robert.

    Jerry walked to a covered object directly facing the cromlech. Then he pulled the crimson frayed blanket off to reveal a fully loaded 17th Century Spanish cannon. Robert gulped. But he gripped his bat even more tightly and tried to look incorrigible.

    “Out for a duck,” whispered Jerry as he flicked open his Zippo lighter and touched the flame to the fuse.

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