One person’s meadow is another person’s building site. I look at nature; he looks at property values. He sees a hole in the guttering; I see a sparrow’s nest.
There came a day when my neighbour popped by to bring me bad news. The local authority wanted to demolish my home and relocate a public toilet on the spot; meanwhile, the existing public toilet would also be demolished, and a house built in its place. He’d seen the plans; he’d been to a council meeting the night before.
“Didn’t you know?” he said.
“No,” I said. “Nobody’s said a word.”
“Sorry,” he said.
“No – thanks for telling me,” I said.
“I’m very sorry,” he said, and left me, speechless, to ponder the gravity of the situation.
A week before, I was sweeping up after six months of disruption: my windows had all been removed and replaced with double glazing. And now this, from a neighbour.
Somebody was taking the piss.
But this was public; this was serious – so where was the logic?
My home had been refurbished, kitted out to modern standards. There was nothing wrong with the place – so why demolish it? To relocate the public toilet, that’s why. But what about the existing toilet: what’s wrong with that? It needs refurbishing, that’s what. So why not go ahead and refurbish it? Because they want to build a house there, instead.
I pondered the gravity of the situation.
Could I seek – from a judge, for example – an order that the local authority be sectioned under the Mental Health Act? No – the Act applied to the mental health of an individual, not to that of an institution.
Then I had a brainwave – I knew just the thing that might help me.
I rushed upstairs and dug out the government’s guide on what to do in an emergency.
I flipped the pages – much was irrelevant to my predicament.
But I was lucky; I was very lucky. In the section titled “coping with specific emergencies” (last two words highlighted), there is a useful piece of advice concerning bombs. If you are trapped in debris, you are advised to stay close to a wall and tap on pipes so that rescuers can hear you.
I pondered the gravity of the situation.
It could happen, with no warning. I may not hear the warning. Or I may hear the warning and choose to ignore it, thinking that Jehovah’s Witnesses are at the door.
I could be trapped in debris.
But if I was trapped, how could I move?
I would have to crawl.
And if I was trapped in debris, how would I recognise a wall? Would there be a wall?
There may not be a wall, but there would be pipes. I would have to crawl to a pipe.
Most of the pipes are on the north side of the house, next to the garden, where the birds feed, sing and play. My friends. But they would be no help in an emergency. They would have flown away. In fear.
My best bet, I thought, is the pipe in the kitchen, on the south side of the house – next to the road, the pavement, and passers-by.
I would need a compass to help me find south.
And what about tapping on the pipe? Fingers would be useless: too soft.
I could use a brick, from the debris.
But what would it sound like? A dull sound, the sound of someone hammering somewhere, builders or gardeners or DIY enthusiasts. An everyday sound. Who would take note? Nobody. There would have been no bomb, and no rescuers. I would have to draw people’s attention to the fact that I was trapped.
A metal object would be better, such as a spoon. Metal on metal: more treble, less bass, more resonant, more striking. I could play tunes. People would notice. I could play Bach. People would stop and listen. Music from below. Air on a G-String. Somebody must be trapped. Down there in the debris.
So – I had decided.
The two most useful items, given the nature of my predicament, were these: a compass and a tea-spoon.
I wear the compass around my neck; it’s attached to a cord. I wear it at all times. The tea-spoon I carry in my breast pocket. The bowl bit sticks out of the top, as if the spoon was pretending to be a gent’s handkerchief: with the convex side facing outwards, it looks quite decorative. This, too, I wear at all times. Day and night I have these items to hand, in case of an emergency.
I rarely leave the house now. I worry that I may return to find a pile of rubble. And a weekend away is out of the question. They work so fast; a friend told me. I may return to find the house gone and a public toilet in its place, with all my worldly possessions squeezed into a cubicle, a note on the door, saying: “To be collected.”
And I worry whether I am doing the right thing. Even with the aid of a compass, I may not be able to find a pipe. I could carry a spare piece of pipe, just in case.
But I can’t find any spare pipe.
And then, I could dispense with both compass and spoon if I carried a harmonica in my pocket – one item – or a whistle.
But a whistle presents problems. There are half a dozen dunnocks out there, in the garden. They come and go as they please; some live in the hedge. And they whistle. That’s what they do, as a warning. When a cat’s about, for instance. As do the coal tits. A squeaky kind of whistle.
So a whistle would be useless.
A harmonica would be better.
I may invest in a harmonica.
If I carried a harmonica in my pocket, tucked away, people would be less inclined to think that I’m mad.
That’s what they believe, I’m sure. People think I’m mad.
I know better.
I am… prepared.
Anthony Bloor currently works as a freelance editor, copywriter, and a jack of all trades in the Internet world. He is the author of three novels and a scholarly study of fiction writing, published in 2003.