Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Barington Encounter: Part One

In honour of the fact that my friend James Mullin has managed to trick me into reading at this afternoon's open house at Vancouver's Tanglewood Books, and in honour of the fact that the blog is caught up to date for the first time in a long time, I've decided to launch a new feature here at the Pop Culture Institute, namely that of serialized fiction. Beginning today and running each Sunday from now on until either I finish the damn thing or the damn thing finishes me, it's the completely un-awaited, utterly unsought-after novel-in-progress The Barington Encounter, which is dedicated to Douglas Adams...



Barington was a very normal town in Sussex. I say was, because… Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves before we've even begun, shall we?

Barington, as I’ve said, was a very normal town in Sussex. As a place it consisted of a medieval centre, little changed since the 14th Century, except for the number of shops offering Tandoori chicken, which had lately increased exponentially, although only since 1982. It had a minor cathedral, two even lesser stately homes (which could more rightly be called stately cottages - were there such a patently ludicrous designation), and a stand of trees where Henry III once got a hangnail, an event commemorated there now by a somewhat tatty brass plaque placed in the vicinity by the local chapter of the Society of Sticklers for Historical Minutiae in 1991. Wreathing this ancient if entirely ordinary red-brick jumble was a ghastly grey sprawl of tract houses punctuated here and there by even ghastlier blocks of council flats, most of which dated from 1964.

In other words, Barington was a very normal town in Sussex.

The residents of Barington were a God-fearing lot, naturally. They attended the cinema and garden shows, and occasionally even church; they drank any number of pints in any number of pubs, took picnics on the village green and even bought tickets in the National Lottery - but only if they were deliberately cultivating a reputation for thrill-seeking. Likewise, they shopped for goose liver pate and veal chop and unfairly traded, inorganic, cruelty-enriched biscuits from the Fourth World at Selfridge’s - the Third World having recently been deemed by The Daily Mail to have become far too uppity for demanding a tenth of the lifestyle enjoyed by its consumers, and therefore unworthy of any further custom.

Baringtonians could be counted on to always vote for the government candidate in by-elections, provided he was a Tory, and might even profess a poignant longing for the good old days (whenever they were) whether drunk or merely awake. Poll after poll showed time after time that while the average Baringtonite went up to London eight times a year, it wasn’t always for the reasons one might think, whilst every single time any of them went to Brighton it was for one thing and one thing only. Otherwise, why bother, eh?

On any given day, say May 12th, they would be as comfortable in their suburban smugness as they inevitably were in their carpet slippers... So then it came as quite a shock to the residents of Barington, not to mention the Nation, when on that selfsame day Andromedans turned up at a rented house in Juniper Mews with a hired lorry full of furniture.

Actual Andromedans mind you, from the planet Andromeda. Not a Greek family from, say, Clapham. And not some Doomsday cult in matching trainers and trackies, either, though that is what they resembled.

Andromedans. Five of them.

They were quite a sight, they were. They dressed alike, and even from behind fluttering curtains up and down the mews they looked alike, though to each other there was no resemblance whatsoever; aside from the superficial of course, which distinctions their race had long since ceased to recognize, since they were both highly advanced and well smug about it besides. They were all tall and thin, these five, though their tallnesses and thinnesses did vary somewhat, if only slightly. They all had sky blue skin of identical tint and shiny silver pompadours of similar sheen - like Michael Rennie in The Day The Earth Stood Still. Not that they would have known that, though, since ironically none of them were very keen on sci-fi, which anyway wasn't terribly popular on Andromeda owing to the fact that it was frequently quite entertaining.

Yet even in this the longer one looked at them the more it seemed that their bluenesses varied even as different corners of the same summer sky differed, and as they each had different hairdressers (who naturally sold each of them different hair care products) even their shiny silver pompadours varied in shininess and silveriness despite the uniformity of their pompadourability. Their expressions could either be called ‘serene’ or ‘blank’ (depending on which newspaper one read) and their demeanour on this day consisted chiefly of movements somehow jerky and fluid at once; like their skin and hair colours entirely the result of withdrawal from suspended animation and not merely a splendid affectation of their race. More’s the pity.

Their manner of dress resembled boiler suits, only better fitting and with more pockets, in a quilted silver material that was not unlike oven mitts, which could be considered quite sexy to them as was into that sort of thing. These were, in fact, pyjamas, which had been cleverly designed for space travel, with each pocket designed to hold its own specific organ. Beneath these they wore their more normal costume, a one-piece unitard which, if the silver jumpsuit didn't get you, the unitard certainly would, clinging lovingly as it did to each agreeably situated bulge. Again - provided you were into that sort of thing. Their outfits were each completed by a pendant - an eyeball with a pewter coloured iris in a triangle of platinum hung by its two upper corners on a heavy silver chain - which like them unblinkingly looked this way and that and unlike them recorded all it saw and transmitted said images back to Andromeda.

Yet for all their clever coveralls and classy blue skin and despite the altitude of their shiny silver hair - even in consideration of their lithe swimmers' builds with their gymnastic proportions packed into clingy undergarments - these were five very ordinary Andromedans indeed. In fact, Andromedan Idol had over 300 million applicants that week when the finalists were chosen, and these five had won out, simply by being the most ordinary of them all.

That they'd been so chosen for their mission specifically because of their stupendous ordinariness isn't such an odd thing if considered logically; after all, what good does it do a truly advanced alien race like the Andromedans to send off its really extraordinary people to a place where they might be captured, tortured, and/or autopsied during prime time on national television? Not that Andromeda had any truly special people (for reasons that will be gotten into later) but just as a for instance...

And so, knowing considerably more about Earth than most Earthlings knew about Andromeda (or in fact Earth) and taking into account the savagery of the race therein ensconced - gleaned by scientists who'd been forced to watch literally every episode of Crimewatch, many of whom had to be put on life support to get them through the entertaining bits - the Andromedan government was taking no chances at losing one of its Glorgap Prize appointees to the scalpel of something that was, in Andromedan terms at least, still within spitting distance of the ooze out of which it had evolved.

See? Here we're getting ahead of ourselves again...


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