See, now here I am getting ahead of myself again, and more’s the pity, since the story’s been a ripping one so far, and’s bound to rip some more before it’s all told...
It seems that earlier yesterday, May 12th, as the residents of Barington were luxuriating in the comfort of their suburban smugness - or whatever was left of it these days, what with the credit crunch and its concomitant smugness smackdown and that - the Andromedans’ shiny new ship was streaking high above the Sussex Downs, through an area known only to those in the know as the Sussex Ups. While streaking thereabove it was detected upon radar by the good people at RAF Farnborough whose job it is to detect things upon radar, at which point fighter jets were scrambled to intercept it, but alas, were unable to; following which eggs were scrambled, as it was well past teatime by the time the pilots’d got back, and in their dutiful zeal they’d missed out on the last of the chicken pot pie.
According to Top Secret protocols known only to the Prime Minister, the Queen, (and, for some Super Top Secret reason known only to him, Rupert Murdoch) a representative from the Foreign Office was to be dispatched forthwith - the Foreign Office having been ruled the most suitable department for dealing with interstellar visitors, who were, after all, the ultimate foreigners. That, and the Foreign Secretary drew the shortest straw at the Cabinet meeting where the decision was made, which suited the Prime Minister just fine as he was her most serious rival, rather than the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which was the more normal custom.
Well, as was the case with all UFO sightings - or at least all the ones phoned in by reliable sources - the call eventually made its way through the labyrinthine telephone switchboard of Whitehall to the Foreign Office, and thence was passed from desk to desk like the proverbial hot potato, until it could go only one iota lower. Which is when the janitor placed the sealed folder - bearing a giant red sticker upon it which said ‘In the Event of an Alien Invasion’ - on the desk of one Frederick Toady. Having only just finished his lunch, the sight of the folder (or more likely the sight of the sticker upon the folder, the folder itself being a rather bland manila in colour and not in the least provocative) caused him to quite utterly unfinish his lunch, much to the same janitor’s chagrin.
The folder was duly slit open with an official Foreign Office secret file slitter, read through tears despite hands trembling like blancmanges on cobblestones, and once the reader was finally revived it was ‘on yer bike’ for Frederick Toady who, it scarcely needs to be said, didn’t even own a bike.
Now, Frederick Toady was so low on the roster he might have been team mascot; since this was only government and not something important like football, though, he was therefore given a great deal more responsibility than dancing up and down the pitch trying to dodge the projectiles of drunken yobs - not that he wouldn’t have to do that anyway at the Christmas party. Basically, it was his job, if anything were to go wrong at the Foreign Office, to be the someone they’d sack to demonstrate to the Press (and, as an added bonus, occasionally even the Public) how really very seriously they were taking that month’s, week’s, day’s, or - the way things’d been going lately - hour’s scandal.
And when it came to sacking, Frederick Toady was your man...
Already he’d been sacked by every department in Whitehall (and a couple of them twice) except for the Foreign Office, for which he’d never worked until six months before in the course of his 20 year career. It was a career, truth be told, which had saved many others more promising and illustrious than his own, at least on the surface (which was how all careers in Whitehall were judged, since there was precious little depth to be found anywhere in Central London apart from the Jubilee Line) and in careering from department to department in the way he’d done had made quite a career for himself indeed. For this reason alone, Frederick Toady was the single most important official in Her Majesty’s Government, though since that information was classified, it was therefore unavailable to him, his own security clearance being - as has been implied - below even that of the janitor.
All of which seemed to race through his mind in a way that would have better suited the Virgin train on which he found himself seated in that disconsolately fidgety way he had about him as it (and he within it) making an alternately sluggish and immobile way across what still passed for the English countryside between London and Brighton, where Frederick Toady was already dreading a missed connection to Barington with perfectly good reason, seeing as it had left early for no particular reason and had therefore made him late before he’d even left London.
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