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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

by Thomas Baines

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Dear 'BBC Listeners Letters',

I'm not one of those people who usually gets incensed. On the contrary, I'm the type who turns the other cheek. This is not the result of any inbuilt stoicism, but is due to the fact that I'm sensitive - and a bloody coward to boot!

I listen to your 'listeners letters' on the car radio every weekday evening on the way home from work. It isn't that I'm keen on hearing other people's gripes and prejudices being inflicted on me. No! It's either that or Radio 3. Not that I dislike Radio 3, far from it - but with the bloody-awful wavelengths allocated to it you can't tell if it's some 'magnificent Bruckner' they're playing or some of that crap by Harrison Birtwistle and his crowd.

"Why not turn it off?" you may ask. That sounds a typical, though admittedly logical, reaction. I would, but the trouble is that two of my colleagues from the office often travel with me - and anything is better than listening to them going on about what the 'Express' and the 'Telegraph' have put into their minds. I must however admit that all is not bad on your 'letters programme' - now and again you allow some gripes about Mrs. Thatcher and her mob. It is on these welcome occasions that I turn up the volume - that'll teach them to vote Tory!

I digress too much, so to the matter in hand:

On most evenings I go and lie on the bed for a short while, there to listen to Radio 3 - Harrison Birtwistle, distortions and all! It isn't that I'm ill or anything like that. It's just that I feel the need to unwind from the traumas of the office and the journey home.

It was the other night, and it so happened that I was laying there wondering whether to be brave enough to risk doing the dishwashing, when a play was announced. Usually, when this happens I dash over to change the station in order to hear what alternative Radio 4 is offering, safe in the knowledge that it can't be 'Music of our Time' - Radio 3 has that tortuous monopoly. For some unknown reason I hesitated on that occasion, and was later thankful I did. For as it turned out, here was a play that I thoroughly enjoyed, so much so that all thoughts of domestic duties completely disappeared. It was called 'A Sad Pavan for these Distracted Times' - that one about an old cavalry captain in the mess, telling some subalterns about one of his adventures.

He had been ordered by his colonel to reconnoitre behind the enemy lines - not on his trusty steed, but on a push-bike! I found it excellent in every department. The story was very good and amusing, the production was inspired and Robin Bailey was ideal as the captain.

By chance a few days later I heard the critics on Radio 4 discussing this programme. To my horror they didn't like it one little bit: "The story wasn't very good," "The production left a lot to be desired," and "Robin Bailey didn't handle his part very well." The announcer had told us that the author is British but lives in Norway. If that poor man was unfortunate enough to have tuned into Radio 4 on that particular evening and heard what they said, then I have no doubt that he would have dashed out and thrown himself into the nearest fjord. Mind you, Jonathan Miller's latest play was badly mauled by them, and that film that is currently breaking all box office records didn't escape unscathed. The only thing they really liked was some poetry. Poems leave me cold, that is except for that one by John Betjeman where he implores somebody to bomb Slough. All this was bad enough, but what really upset me was the fact that Joan Bakewell was the chairperson - not only that, where she led, the others followed.

"What the hell has Joan Bakewell got to do with it?" You may ask yourself. Well, let me explain:

Many years ago there was a television late night news and current affairs programme on BBC 2. It was on every weekday night. I used to watch it on most nights, with the result that I was quite often late for work on the next morning. It wasn't that I was particularly interested in that kind of thing. No! It was the fact that Joan was one of the presenters. I thought she was fantastic - not just her presentation, but everything about her - I was captivated! The late nights and the tellings-off at the office the next morning meant nothing to me, for she would be there waiting for me after I had had my late night glass of milk and a kit kat.

My feelings about her reached their zenith one day when one of the Sunday papers, I think it was the Sunday Times, described her as "The thinking man's bit of crackling." I really can't describe the full extent of the great thrill this gave me. You see, I always had the feeling that I was somewhat different to everyone else I knew, but why was beyond my comprehension. That is, until that Sunday. Then I knew why - I was a "thinking man!" It is difficult to describe the feelings of great satisfaction and gross superiority it gave me - made all the more poignant by the fact that I kept it a secret from all. From then on I used to watch and listen to her, not only as an ardent admirer, but one with the comforting knowledge that I was an intellectual equal. I now knew that if our paths ever crossed she would immediately recognise me as being one of a very select band - "a thinking man."

Sad to relate I never did meet her, and even worse, I began to lose my infatuation for her, until eventually I didn't fancy her at all. This meant that whereas I used to agree with everything she said, it gradually changed until it has reached the point where our views are poles apart.

Please! Please! Don't think that Miss Bakewell is to blame in any way - far from it! Admittedly, she is now many years older - but looks like hers don't go, they mature. She is still quite an attractive-looking woman. No, it's me! I'm the one who has changed, and it worries me greatly. You see, I'm convinced that the passing years have been very unkind to me. Not just the looks, but far more seriously, my greatest asset - I fear that I am no longer a 'thinking man'. Hence my disillusionment with Joan. My tragic loss has of course affected me greatly, especially now I haven't a thing to feel superior about. But somehow I have the feeling that there is still a glimmer of hope, for something inside me seems to be saying: "You never lose the gift. All that is needed to reverse the process is the understanding and co-operation of someone who was once very important to your lost status, then given time and with the right encouragement your rehabilitation could be complete."

Therefore I ask that you read this letter of mine over the airwaves in the hope that Miss Bakewell may hear it, and if she does, I ask if she could help a little towards my rehabilitation. I don't ask for a full commitment, but just a little change in her adverse views - starting with not being so bloody-minded about the captain and his push-bike!

For obvious reasons I ask that you don't mention my name.

In addition, I would appreciate it if you will let me know when you will be broadcasting this appeal, for I will leave the car radio off and instead hear how the world appears to the 'Express' and the 'Telegraph' on that particular day.

Yours faithfully,

Fred Weightwatch.

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