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ALTERNATE MAJORS

By Kim Newman

Alternate Majors 1: Slow News Day

John couldn't work out how the black leather straps attached to his Horst Wessel belt. Michael, the Minister for War, slapped away his fumbling fingers and examined the problem, like John's mother tying his school tie for him when he was eleven and couldn't penetrate the mysteries of the knot.

   'You've got the holster on the wrong side' the Minister sighed. 'It must be arse-backwards.'

   John felt his face burn with blush as he got untangled and sorted out.

   'I hope that Webley isn't loaded,' the Minister said. 'You might shoot yourself in the foot again.'

   'I've never shot myself in the foot.'

   'That's not what the foreign press say.'

   The Minister was comfortable in full combat gear and field marshal's helmet. He gave a heel-clicking salute and a sly I-want-your-job chuckle. Most days, John would be happy to give away his job, but with the foaming example of the Iron Duchess before him, he knew that in United Britain the lot of ex-Prime Minister was even worse than being a serving PM.

   Clocking himself in a monitor, John thought he looked silly in uniform, a prat dressed as a tin stormtrooper. It had been worse when he was a lad doing his mandated year in the Mosley Youth, knock-kneed in lederhosen. Some of the Cabinet loved climbing into tight black britches and hanging decorations on their bulging black chests, but John had wanted the D-Day celebrations informal. He had hoped he would be allowed to get away with his nice grey suit. Maybe a colourful anorak if history repeated and the 5th was unseasonably rainy.

   The Duke of Edinburgh went up the line of uniformed ministers, grinning ferociously like an inspection sergeant, noting each mismatched button or smudged jackboot. The Royal Family were really into the spirit of the 50th Anniversary of the D-Day landings. The Duke's brothers strutted around London in their old SS uniforms, mainly let out around the waistlines. The Duke plainly hoped to embrace the Reichskanzler on the beaches, reenacting the famous photograph of Edward hugging Hitler.

   The only people out of uniform in the marquee were Security Service men, who favoured long black coats which billowed over their holstered machine pistols, and the press contingent. Drops of rain fell like pennies on the canvas canopy, which made SS people jumpy. John had ordered there be no repetition of the unfortunate incidents of the Royal Funeral, when fire was opened on a dignified row of dissenting parsons.

   The President came in, smiling and laughing, surrounded by pretty girls in Otter Guide uniform who held umbrellas over his head like an honour guard. Until last week, the President had not been coming but the troubled administration, needing to cement new European trade deals, opted to remove the human rights issue from the negotiations. John had not met the President before. Americans always wanted to talk straight to the head honcho. Whenever they needed to sort something, the yanks got into a huddle with the Reichskanzler. It had been different under the Duchess. Then United Britain's voice was at least as shrill as Greater Germany's.

   John was in two minds about remembering the past, recent or remote. He was half-afraid the Duchess would turn up in her flamboyant uniform, a blue-haired Boadicea (Boudicca they were now supposed to call her), and make speeches to journalists, dropping acid hints about her successors. The Minister of Internal Security was only partly joking when he suggested it would be fit if the Duchess were taken up on her oft-repeated desire to return to the Iron Values of the Occupation and be allowed to vanish into Night and Fog.

   'John,' the President said, sticking out a crushing hillbilly bear paw, 'good to see ya. Have you been ill?'

   'Just a touch of hay fever.'

   'Better take it easy. That's a killer.'

   Cameras clicked as John and the President smiled. Britain had come close to severing relations with the States when the leader of Old England did the rounds of American talk shows, promoting his memoirs. Under broadcasting restrictions, OE representatives were dubbed by actors in British news bulletins. John was mightily ticked off that OE people were invited to the White House but the Reichskanzler had vetoed any formal reprisals. It had taken long enough to get the Americans to the table, and Greater Europe couldn't afford whinging little Britain scuppering the deal. There was a big Old English lobby in the States, though there was a crack-down on the smuggling of funds and weapons to terrorists in Europe.

   The President's smile broadened as he passed on from John to the Duke of Edinburgh. They went into a huddle, almost like schoolgirls. John had no idea the two knew each other. He wondered if they were talking about him. If they were, SS microphones would pick it up. He doubted a report would get further than Michael, the Minister of Internal Security. He usually suppressed information that might upset his PM. John supposed he should be grateful someone thought of his feelings.

   The President and the Duke went, arm-in-arm, over to that corner of the marquee where the veterans clustered, proud in uniforms they had worn and medals they had earned. They were all very old. Specialist nurses stood behind their wheelchairs. Those who had served in the Occupation were exempt from the Elderly Persons Act, and entitled to places in State Heroes Homes. UB War Pensioners were the envy of Europe. German veterans were lucky to get their cyanide pills sugared.

   'Blind old gits,' said Michael, the Home Secretary. 'If they were weaselly enough to join the Fifth in '43, they were all out for the main chance. Some of the sneaks probably faked records. Everybody was doing that when I were a lad. If you had the SS grill a couple of codgers, you'd find half of 'em were on the beaches resisting the Invasion of Liberation, not joining in the liberating.'

   The Home Secretary was a notorious cynic. As a schoolboy, he had begun his political career by informing on his father, an OE Group Leader.

   '"They don't like it up 'em",' the Home Secretary quoted.

   If anyone thought of the Heroic Fifth Column these days, it was as they were in Dad's Nazis, the popular BBC comedy program which made figures of fun of the dedicated but buffoonish patriots who assisted the Germans during the Occupation, wiping out the last traces of the Traitor Regime.

   The Home Secretary hummed the Dad's Nazis theme tune, 'Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Churchill?' He'd been drinking steadily in the hospitality suite.

   'Watch out, the mikes will pick you up.'

   'Don't panic, don't panic,' the Home Secretary continued.

   A rustle of excitement whispered through the marquee. The Reichskanzler's helicopter was sighted over the channel. Time to go outside.

It was still not really raining but high wind turned droplets of stray water into liquid bullets that splattered against uniforms. There was a complex protocol as to who was allowed to troop out when. Doddery veterans, under their own steam or aided by nurses, were given precedence.

   Crowds thronged outside, on the downs that bordered the cliffs of Dover, and below, on the pebble beach. UB and swastika pennants were held high. A tide of fish 'n' chip papers swarmed around everybody's knees.

   Nearby, the almost-completed Channel Tunnel terminal was swathed under thick sheets. The original idea was that the Reichskanzler would arrive for the Anniversary on the first bullet train through the Tunnel. But there had been delays.

   There was a huge cheer as the wheelchair brigade appeared, followed by a warm welcome for Royalty and the President, and some modest clapping for the PM and cabinet. John thought a TV personality with a frosted hairdo got a slightly bigger hand than he did. That was possible: Susan, who did a news show for housewives, was very popular, especially since her well-publicised announcement that she would bear an extra son for Britain.

   Cloud was so heavy the Reichskanzler's helicopter could not be seen. It had been sighted only on radar. Everyone looked out over the flat, grey channel, waiting.

   It was time to think of those fifty years ago who had also looked out, waiting. In fear of their lives, the Fifth Column had readied for the Invasion of Liberation, clearing the way for the German army to bring Britain into Europe, to exterminate the traitor elements that had usurped the government of the day.

   John was expected to make a speech, praising these heroes. His PPS had written something down, but for the life of him, he couldn't remember where. He had checked his pockets but found only the speech he had made last week, attacking indigents who were begging in the streets and clogging up the British autobahns with their caravans. It was notably the first time in forty years the word 'gypsy' was used in public. John had not expected that to cause the kerfuffle it did.

   If he were to be skipped over among all the speeches, no one would notice. The ceremony was bound to run over time. Kenneth, the Minister of Propaganda, had passed on a message from Rupert, the DG of the BBC, that it was vital the ceremony be concluded in time for the telly to switch back to coverage of the snooker finals.

   The helicopter surged out of the cloud, a giant insect bristling with impressive weapons. The Reichskanzler insisted on flying a Messerschmitt Assault Ship, as deployed with such devastating effect in the recent Oil War.

   The crowd gasped enormously as the chopper swooped overhead. One touch of a button and they would all be dead. If the Luftwaffe of 1943 had had such marvelous machines, the landing which had lasted a bloody thirteen hours would have been executed in seconds, the Invasion of Liberation would have been over within a week.

   The helicopter made a landing precisely on the swastika staked out on the grass of the downs. The Reichskanzler bounded out, arms spread, tummy wobbling, fists waving. The crowds cheered. Despite his problems at home, the Reichskanzler was always popular in the UB. The British loved a jolly fat man.

   John was conscious of his own meagreness. His sunken chest was not served well by his snug black shirt. In uniform, the Reichskanzler looked like a victorious sumo wrestler.

   The Royals swept forward to greet the German leader. This was the image of the anniversary that would be transmitted around the world. The embrace of Edward VIII and Hitler had not been in 1943 but two bloody years later. Edward had returned from exile, not stood on the beaches to greet the liberator who restored him to the throne.

   The President and the Reichskanzler bowed formally, and shook hands. The American was officially 'someone we can do business with', despite his sabre-rattling about conditions on the Eastern European Homelands.

   After the speeches, the Reichskanzler officially said hello to John. It was the least he could do.

   'A shame about the Tunnel, hein?'

   John shrugged.

   'There will be an Inquiry into the delays?'

   John mumbled. There was, by now, an Inquiry into the Inquiry about the delays.

   'Maybe the Tunnel will be open by Atom Day, in 1995.'

   That would commemorate the bombing of Leningrad, which ended the War in Europe.

   'Or maybe we should wait for the centenary.'

   The Reichskanzler laughed, agitating his entire enormous frame. Liking his joke more and more, he slapped his thighs, and repeated it in German to his entourage, then in English again to the President and to the media. The Reichskanzler's laughter spread as he restated the remark, infecting the crowing crowd. John tried to look amused.

   The Duchess would have faced the Reichskanzler down, and reminded him it was German insistence on adherence to rigid schedules that had jerry-built the first third of the Tunnel and caused the delays, as leaks were shored up, in the first place.

Three snake-shapes appeared out on the sea, surfacing U-boats. Bubble rafts popped up like corks, bearing stormtroopers. A handful of crack troops were to reenact the initial landing.

   The crowds on the beaches would have cheered but rain suddenly poured down, prompting a swift retreat towards canopies. Most of the VIPS had their own shelter, but John and the Michael-heavy Cabinet were squeezed out.

   'We forgot Fatty takes up as much room as our entire government,' the Home Secretary said, nodding at the dry Reichskanzler. 'Then again, he combines all our offices and jobs. That's one thing about proper non-parliamentary fascism.'

   Wetsuited stormtroops in lightweight scuttle helmets paddled up to the pebbles, a little bewildered. They had expected a better reception than cringing holidaymakers.

   The Home Secretary had a fit of giggles.

   A platoon of goose-pimpled Page 3 girls darted out to pose with the Germans, polythene sheets held over their hair. They were led by Mr Spotty, an inflatable children's TV character. Hardy paparazzi followed to record the moment. Quite a few people were laughing in the rain.

   'Mustn't grumble,' one of the nurses said to her wheezing charge. 'Lovely weather for ducks.'

   The veteran, Iron Cross and Order of St George on his woolly jumper, was trying to say something.

   Smudge pots went off on the beach and simulated battlesmoke wafted past soldiers and Page 3 girls. Mr Spotty mimed panic.

   'If we'd had those in '43,' the Home Secretary said, nodding at the topless lovelies, 'Fritz would never have got past the beaches.'

   'If Mr Spotty had been PM instead of Churchill, Hitler would have crumbled,' said John.

   'If Mr Spotty were PM now, we'd be a more popular government,' rumbled the Home Secretary.

   There was a controversy in Germany. Some surviving veterans of the Invasion of Liberation were unable to attent the commemoration because all the accommodation was taken by politicians and generals and newspeople. The tabloids, who had more than their share of pre-booked hotel rooms, ran stories about little old ladies in the Home Counties cheated of a reunion with the now-shaky Aryan superman they had welcomed with open cami-knickers in 1944.

   John privately wondered if things might not have been better if the Traitor Regime had put up a better resistance and beaten off the Invasion of Liberation. Maybe he wouldn't have all these problems to deal with. He briefly considered resigning and appointing Mr Spotty his successor.

   'You're popular now you're just a fathead in a blow-up suit,' he thought, 'let's see how you do in the polls when you're closing down British mines and importing coal from the Ruhr.'

   Mr Spotty comically ran away from the stormtroopers, who waved guns at him.

   It was time for John's speech. His PPS had kept it safe and gave it to him when he needed it.

   'We must remember we are celebrating not a British defeat but a British victory,' he began, 'a victory over that part of ourselves which was inefficient, was heartless, was impure, was ignoble ...'

   Even he didn't listen to the rest of what he said. Mr Spotty was distracting everyone.

   The ceremony swept past. As John spoke, news cameras turned away, following the Reichskanzler and the veterans back towards the cliffs, where the stormtroopers were to demonstrate the proper use of scaling ladders.

   He finished his speech. There was some helpful applause.

   The rest of the Cabinet left him near the water's edge and went to join in the fun. John felt empty and wet. Sodden socks squelched in his jackboots. His glasses were smeared with rain.

   The day was so overcast he couldn't see marker bouys two hundred yards out, let alone the land beyond the Channel. The U-boats submerged, leaving cigar-shaped fast-vanishing whirlpoools.

   He snapped the button off his holster, pulled out the Webley and looked out to sea. He hadn't fired a shot since his Patriotic Service. The pistol was heavy and oily.

   John pointed his empty gun towards the rest of the world and said 'bang bang'.

Alternate Majors 2: The Germans Won

At the Enfield depot, off-shift crews let out a beery cheer. John clocked off just as an extra time penalty put England into the World Cup Final in Los Angeles. The whistle blew and the cheer rose to an exultation.

   The staff were watching the match on a colour telly bought especially. Four years ago, on the depot's Rediffusion, the Mondial had seemed played in thick snow between teams fielding subtle variations of black, white and grey strip.

   On screen now, Bobby Robson was chair-lifted across the pitch by jubilant supporters. The BBC commentator talked about how much better the game was now than when he was playing.

   'Oor Bobby sits at God's right hand,' claimed Tommy, the Geordie driver on the 43 route. Tommy took football seriously, risking reprimand by wearing a Newcastle United scarf with his LT uniform. He patriotically switched to England for the duration of the World Cup.

   'We used to think that way about Alf Ramsey,' muttered Stan, conductor on the 73. 'Til 196-Bloody-6.'

   In the Final, England would face West Germany. Again.

John had been on the 134 route, the long haul from Brixton all the way to the Frozen North. He took off his ticket machine and cashed out with his supervisor, Jeffrey.

   Every day, he thanked God for the GLC's Fares Fair policy, which had, since the early 1980s, made the sums so much easier. He had almost failed, all those years ago, the mental arithmetic test. He dreaded to think what would have become of him, and Norma, if he hadn't been able to go on the buses and get a job for life.

   'Excellent, John,' purred Jeffrey, who liked to think himself a financial mastermind, as he weighed up the neat rolls of coins. 'Not a penny more, not a penny less.'

   John was proud of his ability to keep track of change. Other conductors mistakenly accepted Irish 50p pieces or New York subway tokens, but he was scrupulous.

   He took the roll of pound notes from his satchel and handed them over. A healthy wad. Regardless of policy, he could always make change for a $20 note on a 30p single from Tottenham Court Road to Muswell Hill.

   Margi told him the urn was fresh-brewed and he took a mug of thick, sweet tea and a pasty. Norma would have gone to bed long ago, after the Wednesday Play; he might as well unwind with the other crews before going home to his council house in Gordon Hill. Snug, sound and rent-controlled, he thought of it as his council castle.

As the post-match discussion recapped England's four goals against Holland's two, most of the staff opened cans of Double Diamond. Stan, who had scooped the pool on the result, was generous with the bottle of Bell's he had won.

   John resisted temptation: he didn't want to go home with whisky breath. He immediately regretted turning down Stan's kind offer. He felt a bit out of it with the other staff. They were matey, of course, but sometimes he felt he shared little with them. Once in a while, he thought the others were making fun of him and he was missing the joke.

   In his satchel, he found the book he was re-reading, Phineas Redux. Jeffrey clocked the Trollope immediately and sidled over, smirking. He knew the supervisor was about to tell him - for the fourth or fifth time - that he had once written a book.

   He wondered if the crews thought we was in too tight with Jeffrey, brown-nosing. Actually, he wasn't sure if he really liked the supervisor. Jeffrey seemed to feel himself superior not only to staff under him but the job as a whole.

   'I wrote a book once, John,' Jeffrey said, as always. 'I made bad investments, found myself enormously in debt. I thought: I know, I can get out by writing a best-seller. You know, a real page-turner. Everyone I submitted the manuscript to sent it back with a form rejection. I expect they thought it was unpublishable crap. It probably was. Still, I wrote a book once. Not so different from your Trollope, John. Not so different at all.'

   Jeffrey was still in debt, working at a job he looked down on, moving his money around in a variety of dodgy get-rich-quick schemes that always fell apart. He had invested in VHS video recorders and been wiped out by the success of Betamax. John couldn't understand Jeffrey's obvious desire to get out of London Transport. There was nothing better than helping the public, meeting people, traveling. Everyone had a smile for a bus conductor. Every route was an adventure.

   He relished his pasty, home-baked at Marks & Spencer's this morning, warmed in Margi's trusty gas oven. Though the others might swig Bell's, he was content with a mug of Lipton's.

   'How's the tea, love?' Margi asked.

   'Warm and wet, that's what counts.'

On telly, Robson - face fringed with purple and green thanks to slightly amateurish tuning - was cagey about prospects for the trophy. He conceded the West Germans, having thrashed Brazil in their semi-final, were favourites but slyly hinted that there might be a surprise or two coming. The interview was ended prematurely by enthusiastic fans clamouring for the beloved manager.

   Stan, pleasantly glowing, reckoned England's chances were pretty good. He was hopelessly optimistic, a trait John envied. To groans, Stan produced statistics, goal averages.

   'Also, the German lads will be worried about what's going on back home, with rioting along the Berlin Wall and Russian tanks massing at the border. They'll be thinking of their families.'

   'It'd be a shame to win like that,' said John, who had read John Pilger's sensitive analysis of the German crisis in this morning's Sun. 'I'd be surprised if Robson accepted the cup under those circumstances. Honour is more important than winning.'

   The cheeriness lasted a while. Then Jeffrey said, 'of course, it'll be a different story in the final. Like in '66. The krauts might lose wars, but they win World Cups.'

John remembered the 1966 World Cup. He had been 23, new to the buses. No grey in his hair. Bobby Moore's boys were unconquerable, overwhelming all opposition. People in the streets wore England scarfs and armbands as if they were the insignias of a nascent totalitarian state.

   During the host team's cup run, John noticed something around him that he didn't like: an arrogance, a xenophobia, a cruelty. It was sneering in the tub-thumping of commentators, politicians, union leaders, businessmen. Everything was adversarial, setting worker against boss, North against South, England against the World. There was even talk of troubles in Ulster.

   Trollope would have been able to express it better than he could, but the initial success of Alf's Commandos pricked something buried since the War. At the beginning of the Final, which he watched with his parents at the postman's house, English supporters chanted 'two world wars and one world cup', jeering as the Germans jogged onto the pitch at Wembley.

   That wasn't the attitude. That wasn't the game.

   He remembered thinking that if this was what England felt, then England deserved to lose. No matter how staunch Moore, the Charltons and the rest of the glory-covered team were, if the fans saw football as an excuse for expressing prejudice, then it wasn't worth winning.

   Three-three by the whistle. Four-three to the Germans in extra time.

   He felt like a traitor, but John thought the result was fair. And after that, something changed.

'You'll see,' Jeffrey announced, 'it'll all go pear-shaped in the Final. That's the trouble with bloody Britain. Never finishes the job. We're just not ruthless enough, too concerned with seeing the other fellow's point of view. Our players will feel so sorry for poor old Fritz, with his divided country falling under commie tank-treads and 450 per- cent inflation wiping out their wages. We'll let 'em have a couple of goals just so they eel better. And before you know it, some kraut will be holding up the World Cup and blowing raspberries at us all.'

   There was a lot of grumbling, but the supervisor was capable of finding an excuse to fire anyone who argued with him.

   'We'll lose. You know why? Because we like bloody losing. It makes us feel warm and fair-minded and decent. Remember in '69, when we tried power-sharing in Ulster rather than send in the troops. Or '82, when we had the Belgrano under our guns and let it sail back to port. It's as if nothing matters enough to us to fight for.'

   'Oor Bobby won't let the lads lie back on the pitch,' said Tommy. 'England'll play to win, fair and square.'

   'That's right, Geordie. Fair and Square. If it's worth winning, then it's worth cheating for. Remember the last final. In Italy.'

   England had been in that too. Against Argentina. The final result found England losing two-one.

   'The Argies put three of our blokes in hospital. And Maradonna scored the winning goal with his hands while their midfield distracted the ref. Was that fair and square?'

   'We don't play like that,' John said. 'If other people do, that's their problem. In the end, you'll see, it's better to be on the up and up, Jeffrey. Maradonna may have won that match, but I very much doubt he's happy these days. I understand Argentine jails aren't very comfortable.' 'But we should have shelled the fuck out of the Belgrano.'

It wasn't just about football. In '66, with Wilson throwing his weight about and thinking of committing British soldiers to Vietnam, it had been about everything. The country was riding high, and looking around for someone to trample. The Germans had tripped that up. Better it should happen at Wembley than on some battlefield.

   That arrogance, the bossy brutality of the '60s, faded a bit afterwards, with the arrival of the gentler 1970s. Wilson gave way in bad-temper to Heath and the bridge-building policies which took the United Kingdom happily into Europe. Heath stayed in office long enough to open the Channel Tunnel and conduct John Lydon's Youth Orchestra in an all-Elgar promenade concert to celebrate the Queen's Silver Jubilee.

   Subsequent Prime Ministers, Tory and Labour, were peace-makers not jingoists: Jim Callaghan, Denis Healey, Peter Walker, Chris Patton. Good blokes all. John, a born floater, had voted for the lot of them. Next year, for a change, he would give a woman a chance, and put Harriet Harman in Number Ten Downing Street. She had such a sympathetic face, and made a point of traveling everywhere on public transport.

   It was true that England had never won the World Cup, but had played in four finals since 1966 and never been knocked out before the semi-finals. The record was nothing to be ashamed of. West Germany, winners in '66, had collapsed in Mexico in '70 and not even qualified for '74 or '82.

   In other countries - Holland or Spain - football was the focus of riots, violence, even mass murder. Families could enjoy British football every Saturday, either at thronging arenas up and down the country or on BBC1's Match of the Day after the news. Everyone said British football was the safest, most exciting in the world. And there was no chance of being under a petrol bomb if the away side lost. What with Berlusconi's satellite channel robbing Italian terrestrial viewers of their own league games, British football was even being screened to huge ratings in Italy.

'You're wrong, Jeffrey,' John piped up, courage swelling. 'There's nothing wrong with losing in a final. Being Second Best in the World means something. There's nothing wrong with being top of League Division Two. There's nothing wrong with being honestly Second Rate.'

   'Second place is no place, John.'

   'We always come second in the Eurovision Song Contest,' Stan muttered, spieling to break up the argument. 'It's because we always try to find a good group and get them to do a good song. We never put in some crass glitter bird like the Luxembourgers. All those la-la bing-bang songs that sound the same in any language always win. We should never have let Lennon and McCartney write all our entries in the 1970s ...'

   'Show me a good loser, John, and I'll show you a loser.'

   Jeffrey made soft little fists. John knew he had to argue, job or no job. This struck to the core of his being. Every man can be pushed so far into a corner, but there he will find the thing he truly believes.

   'Results don't matter, Jeffrey,' said John. 'Playing the game does. Life isn't results. When you die, they don't calculate your goal average and judge whether you should be promoted or relegated. Life is the game, the process of the game, moment to moment. If you do your best, no one can blame you. If you play fair, no one can argue with you. Better to be a successful dustbinman than a wash-out field marshal.'

   A deadly, viperish calm fell on Jeffrey's face. Measuring his words with venom, he said 'maybe that's why you've been a bus conductor all your life, John.'

   The staff fell silent. Only the telly - Whistle Test, with John Peel - made a sound. Everyone looked at Jeffrey, feeling the contempt of his words, trying to wipe out the sleight of what he had said from their minds.

   John felt the others fall in behind him. Margi, who always had a soft spot for him, held her rolling-pin like a club. Tommy clapped a matey hand on his shoulder. Stan quietly turned off the telly and crossed his arms.

   Tomorrow, Jeffrey would resign or request a transfer. He would not be able to keep working with these men and women. He could never be part of the crews.

   'Jeffrey,' John said, pride in his backbone, 'there's nothing wrong with being a bus conductor.'

Note by Kim Newman

Removed from the immediate context of their first appearances, this pair of alternate visions may seem a bit bewildering, not least because as time passes it becomes necessary to remind people who John Major actually was. Remember that blank bit of history between Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair? Yes, him. I recall a piece in Interzone that suggested life after John Major's unexpected election victory in 1992 was like an alternate world, with everything somehow wrong. I certainly felt that way, since I'd just published a story called 'SQPR' (which can be found in my first collection, The Original Dr Shade and Other Stories) which was a vision of a future Britain under a Labour government and predicated on him losing that election. Years on, my reputation as a prophet is restored -- all the policies I suggest in 'SQPR' have been adopted by New Labour. 'Slow News Day' was prompted by the fiftieth anniversary of the D-Day landings. Harry Turtledove, on an alternate history panel at a convention, suggested that it was the most despairing of all Nazis-won-the-War variants -- and I would concur with that. Part of the comfort of the sub-genre is that you are forced to conclude things could have been worse than they are. 'The Germans Won' is not another Nazis-won-the-War tale, but takes off in a left-handed manner from the sub-genre. It was written for a Nicholas Royle anthology, the football-themed A Game of Two Halves (which was, itself, partly inspired by 'SQPR') and perhaps stands as the utopian mirror image of the dystopian 'Slow News Day'. NB: one of the facts everybody knew about John Major -- the only boy who ran away from the circus to become an accountant -- was that he once failed to get a job as a bus conductor because he couldn't manage the mental arithmetic. If you've forgotten the trivial personalities who inspired the characters of Mr Spotty and Jeffrey, you're better off and I won't sully your mind by reminding you.

ENDS © Kim Newman, 2006

All original content © Kim Newman & Eugene Byrne.

Site last updated: August 2006. We figured we'd leave it on the web, but make it look a bit less messy.