Friday, 29 October 2010

Off the map 4

“It’s not on here!” Big Mike Molloy stamped a stubby forefinger on the map stretched over the bonnet of the Landcruiser. “Way I see it, if it’s not on the map, it doesn’t exist.”

The desert sun bore down relentlessly on the group of hard-hats clustered around Big Mike. Around them, all progress arrested, was a spectacular array of excavators, pile-drivers and dump trucks and all their support vehicles. The trans-national highway (to date ) stretched away into the horizon behind them.

In front of them, in the middle of a wadi they wanted to turn into a six-lane highway, was a small baked-mud hut. It appeared to be a shrine. Primitive and implacable. Earlier than any Sufi, earlier indeed than any Hermetic tradition. Beads and rags were attached to disintegrating wooden staves. Hieroglyphs were scrawled around the tiny doorway, and characters of a pre –Aramaic language. From the interior came the unmistakable odour of goat, mixed with ancient ashes. If you squinted at the few remaining mosaic pieces on its wall you could just make out the remains of a face.

Big Mike looked at it, “Who the fuck’s that?”

“Ozymandias?” quipped a surveyor who liked to think he’d had a classical education.

“More like Ozzy fucking Osborne,” snarled Big Mike, “Flatten it.”

“Someone might be living in it,” protested the surveyor.

“Give a him a couple of goats and a kick up the ass,” ordered Big Mike, “He’ll think it’s fucking Christmas.”

There was a general shuffling. Big Mike looked at them scornfully

He stomped over to the hut, bent down to bellow through the tiny door, “Hey, Holy Joe! Piss off! I’ve got a road to build.”

And suddenly he wasn’t there.

They searched the little shrine inside and out. And then they build around it.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Off the map 3

It was dusk as Everett coaxed his car down the narrow, winding lane. The rutted surface scraped ominously beneath his feet. He gripped the wheel, fearful of stony outcrops and the jagged Hawthorne branches jutting into the lane.

Suddenly the lane lurched into a small gravel patch fronting a dilapidated, rambling old house. Everett realised with a shudder that he’d arrived.

An amateur botanist, he’d answered a free-sheet classified ad promising ‘Seclusion and a rural idyll for the discerning Nature Lover’. At the Hawthorne Hotel, Coppice Lane, Wiltshire. The address had sounded somewhat more substantial than the reality.

Still, he pulled out his case and went in the front door. The musty foyer was dimly lit but a rubicund little man beamed at him from behind the reception desk.

“You’re a little off the map,” Everett said breezily, to mask his apprehension.

“”That we are,” agreed the landlord, “Pride ourselves on it.”

He handed Everett a key with what seemed to be an otter’s tail keyring. “Number 4, Mr Everett. Lovely view over the pond.” He paused apologetically, “You’ve missed dinner, sir.”

“That’s fine,” replied Everett, “I ate on the way down.”

“Can I have something sent up to your room, sir?” twinkled the little man.

“Well, that would be nice,” Everett conceded.

“There’s pork or lamb, sir,” he replied, with an incongruously roguish wink, “Or chicken. Birds are small, though. You might need two.”

“A little lamb would be nice,” Everett said hastily heading up the stairs.

“Indeed it would, sir,” The warm voice followed him. “Coming right up.”

Everett was already in bed when the door opened and a tiny lamb ran into the room, a pink ribbon around its neck. The landlord’s head appeared around the jamb.

“Enjoy,” he leered salaciously, and turned out the light.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Off the map 2

Champion Room Fragrance’s marketing brainstorm stared glumly at each other around the table in the Byron Suite of a country house hotel. Mature willows drooped outside in the water meadow. Their heads ached. Their mouths were dry with bad coffee. Layout paper was strewn about the floor, daubed by platitudes, false starts, plagiarisms, and other commercial gibberish all in bright blue marker pen.

Sally, the moderator, took a deep breath and started again. The Champion group was a major source of business for her research consultancy; she could ill afford any client dissatisfaction. The situation wasn’t help by Terry Champion, the heir apparent, sitting at one end of the table in his striped shirt and red braces (everyone else had been told “smart casual”). Terry Champion spoke as he found.

“Come on, everyone,” she said earnestly, widening her eyes to maximum sincerity. “There are no wrong answers here. We need to think out of the box, forget there’s a box at all. We want to be off the map.

“Right off the map!” Terry rapped the table in front of him.

“Let your imagination flow! Even if it doesn’t make sense to you, it could still trigger something. Nothing is sacred. Nothing is silly. Everything is useful.”

“Keith,” barked Terry. “You’re team leader, fucking lead.”

Keith stood up, terrified and portly, dyed hair scraped across his dome. He attempted a wacky grin. “Right!” he said, frantically. “Right! We all strip off, completely naked, thread daisies through our pubes, run into the store and jump up and down and shout ‘Champion’s Room Fragrances! As fresh as The Rites of Spring!’”

His eyes swept the room, desperately seeking approbation.

“Interesting,” Sally tried to sound like she as giving this serious thought.

“That’s not off the map!” yelled Terry. “That’s off your fucking head!”

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Off the map 1

Jillian and Ross Dempsey took their trekking holidays seriously. They would exchange office clothes (smart casual for Jill, pinstripe for Ross) for state-of-the- art climate controlled, thermal body suits; Swiss mountaineering fleeces; NASA ultra-thin, stormproof shells with reversible approach pants and high altitude trek boots. They would pack ultra-light rucksacks, with micro-fibre sleeping bags and mountain bivouac, hydration sachets and self-heating meals-in-bags, GPS system and back-up, water filters and medical kit. Their titanium foraging knives could also be used for field surgery. Their mini-torches bounced halogen brightness off the heavens.

They would leave their Blackberries at home. When they went on holiday they planned to go off the map and stay there. Their only contact with work colleagues, loved ones and the rest of the world would be the emergency beacon built into their GPS system, which they were at great pains to tell everyone they would make damn sure they never needed to call upon.

Jillian and Ross would tell you they were only really at home in the high peaks, from Nepal to the Andes. Only those challenging tracks and breathtaking views could counterbalance the toxic complexities of their demanding careers.

“We feel kinda clean up there,” Ross would give his boyish grin, while Jillian would nod in complete if shy agreement. And then they’d be gone for three weeks.

To a cheap motel room, the seedier the better, somewhere like Vegas, Penang or Nairobi, where they’d stack the kit, slip into something comfortable (boxers for Ross, diaphanous thong for Jill), break open the first case of tequila, the packs of Amyl Nitrate and the intimate appliances. After two weeks, whoever’s cognitive faculties were still functioning would get up and switch on the sun lamp.

It was important to have that high mountain colour when they got back.