Recently, I received a mysterious communique through the post. My name and address were handwritten on the envelope - rather than the usual printed labels fronting oily incitements from Foxtons and invitations to vintage fairs I have never been and am unlikely to ever go to. This was thrilling enough in itself. Then I noticed the spidery quality of the biro-work, and wondered if my nan was trying to communicate from beyond the grave. I would show you the envelope but then you would all know my address. This would be fine, obviously – it's not like I don't trust you – but what if you all dropped by at the same time? I only have four chairs, and where would the other three of you sit? Actually, I can show you this bit:
Before I opened it, I wondered if it was a personal, handwritten invitation to compete in the baking contest at this year's Lambeth Country Show. (At the same event a couple of years ago, someone in a position of power in the horticulture/baking/vegetable modelling tent was unnecessarily rude to me as I was attempting to view the winners just when they were about to clear everything away. I swore then that I would go away and learn from the world's baking virtuosos, from Vienna to Kyoto, then come back with a cake that would BLOW THEIR TINY MINDS, win the competition, and TAKE THAT MEAN OLD BIRD DOWN. This is part of a pitch I'm working on for a quirky British film comedy called The Flour And The Glory. It's just a working title). ANYWAY. It was not that. It was several sheets of A4 covered in tutting, typewritten capital letters of outrage. It was from someone in their late 70s who is very disappointed with our glorious government. They begin thus:
'I know of pre war years, fear free streets, open front doors and when life was simply happy for all.'
I don't know if this means they fear free streets or know of a time when streets were free of fear. At the very least, their organisation could do with a specialist in adjectival hyphenation.
In essence, they tell me that England is on the verge of destruction, and if you were to ask any of their pensionable comrades what they thought of our political system, 'THEY WOULD REPLY CXXP, SXXT OR RXXXXXH.' This either represents a particularly coy approach to swearing, or RXXXXXH is such an abominable cuss that even I, with my great enthusiasm for the raw broadness of the English language, am unable to imagine the depths of repellant profanity shrouded by those Xs.
The letter, from a group calling themselves 'The Grey Ones', essentially urges me to contact the Queen and request that she abolishes all political parties, and embrace something they're calling the priorities poll. It also includes the phrases 'THE DAYS OF PARLIAMENTARY JANGLE WILL BE OVER', 'PICK UP YOUR PEN AND TRY FOR YOUR FUTURE' and 'GOD HELP ENGLAND AND HER TOMMORROWS'.
It runs to five pages, and I felt utterly spent just reading it. I can't imagine the titanic effort involved in its composition. I can only assume the author was briefly rendered super-human by the triumphant completion of a particularly vexing crossword, or slaying their nemesis at bridge. Look, here is one of the pages. The bad cropping is a result of my sub-standard scanning, not of their hurried, furtive library photocopying, sheets of propaganda concealed in the pages of The Gardener's Yearbook.
Maybe these were the ramblings of elderly fanatics, but they were elderly fanatics with my name and address, and I was pondering exactly how worried I should be about this a couple of weeks later, as I was enjoying an al fresco lunch by one of Wapping's most attractively dried up bits of the Thames. Probably, I reasoned, I wasn't a specific, isolated target. Probably I wasn't that special. Probably my neighbours had received a similar communication. I could find out, but that would involve me actually talking to my neighbours.
So I had resolved to forget about it, but as I started to walk back to the office, I took a look behind me, in my gently OCD way, to make sure I hadn't left anything behind. There, under the bench where I'd been sitting, was a screwed up piece of paper. I am 100% positive it was not there when I sat down. I thought it was the receipt from the purchase of my Waitrose lunch, so I went back to pick it up because a) show me a litterbug, and I'll show you a loser and b) I didn't want some grubby old lunch pervert knowing what sandwich filling fills me up (incidentally, considering their positioning in the market, the selection of sandwiches in Waitrose is Poor Indeed). But it was no till receipt. It was, of course, a coded message.
First, I thought, 'What would The Usborne Detective Handbook [which I owned in 1981] tell me to do?' Secondly, I decided that the handwriting looked a bit French (I had a penfriend for six weeks in 1984) and with the sleuthiness of a more stylish Columbo I had deciphered that the letters were the initials of the days of the week in French (lundi, mardi, mercredi etc). Oui monsieur, I have an A-level and didn't my would-be conscriptors know it. Somewhere in a sixth-form centre in West Norfolk, my academic records are missing from a filing cabinet, and a school secretary sits tied up with her own support tights. However her assailants have left Radio 4 on. They wouldn't want to miss The Archers, so nor, they reasoned, would she.
What of the numbers? Here they have made an error. The Grey Ones are clearly trusting that my B grade in A-level Maths was not the fluke I will happily admit to. I am no mathlete, and so their message to me remains a mystery.
So how did they find me? Simple surveyance. Staking out Sainsbury's, spying on shoppers, communicating between the aisles with walkie-talkies - or, more likely, two tin cans with a length of string between them, constructed in HQ laboratories, or as they're more prosaically known, Someone's Shed. They saw me in my cardigan and comfortable sandals and knew I was their girl. "Wood Pigeon, this is Murray Mint. Do you receive? Confirming re-up of Battenburg in civilian's basket. Positive target identified." Perhaps they had even seen the small packet of wet wipes I like to carry in my bag fall to the floor as I was getting out my purse at the self-checkout.
But still. Two messages, and I was yet to reciprocate their contact. Then, on Sunday, when I was returning from the Shennan Birthday Celebrations, I saw this pasted on a empty shop window near where I live:
Unless you are, like, Superman (and he totally reads this blog), you will be unable to see what this says, but it is one of the pages that I received through the post. Clearly, the Grey Ones are getting twitchy. I mean, twitchier than normal. They are taking some risks - and I'm not talking about eating crusty French bread with their dentures in. They are taking a chance on a public showing.
It made me uneasy. And who does one turn to when one is scared? When one feels one is being pursued by pension-drawing agitators? One's family. of course. But when I showed Mrs Jones (65 on Sunday) the first letter, in the hope of some reassuring words, she said ominously: 'There will be a revolution. I know it.'
Et tu, Maman?