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'Dost them remember the Tamagotchi?' Big Bob Charker looked up from his breakfasting bowl. The bowl was moulded in durable pink plastic and rested upon a metric yard of pink gingham tablecloth woven from a man-made fibre. This joyful item was spread across a dining table topped with a Teflon veneer. The Teflon veneer was of pink. The curtains were rather pink too.

'The Tamagotchi toy, do you mean?' Big Bob's wife was named Minky, after the popular wash and wipe.

'The same,' said Big Bob. 'Well it sayeth here'

'There in your bowl?' asked his wife. 'Your bowl of pink breakfasting?'

Big Bob sighed his first sigh of the day. 'Not in my bowl, woman,' he declared. 'My empty bowl, which thou hast neglected to fill upon this joyous bank holiday Monday. It sayeth here, in my morning newspaper, which I have concealed upon my knee, lest its whiteness clash with the pinky shades of our dining area-'

'Pink is the colour of joy,' said his wife, smoothing down her polynylonsynthafabric housecoat with the plastivinylsuedosilkette gay and quilted lapels. 'Pink is where the heart is.'

'Home is where the heart is,' Big Bob corrected his erring spouse.

'Our home is pink,' his errless spouse replied.

'Yes, well, quite so, but it sayeth here, in my newspaper, which is not pink-'

'The Financial Times is pink.'

Big Bob sighed his second sigh. Three were his maximum for any given twenty-four-hour cycle, even a joy-filled bank holiday one. 'Please be silent, woman,' said he. 'Lest I fell thee with the pink-hued reproduction warming pan that your sister J (named after the other wash and wipe) gave you for your birthday and which hangs above our pink-hued faux-marble fireplace.'

Big Bob's wife lapsed into a sullen silence.

'There, that's better already.' Big Bob shook cornflakes into his bowl. The cornflakes were pink; his wife had connections at the factory. Big Bob topped up the bowl with strawberry milkshake.

'It sayeth here in my newspaper, that a fellow in Orton Goldhay has one still on the go.'

Big Bob's wife viewed Big Bob through her pink contact lenses, but said nothing. Big Bob almost sighed once more. 'Do you remember the Tamagotchi?' he asked. Politely.

Minky smiled, exposing teeth the colour you get from mixing red with white. 'I do remember the Tamagotchi,' she said. 'From when I was a girl in the 1990s. It was called "The Pocket Pet", there was a tiny screen and tiny buttons and you had to look after it by feeding it and cleaning up its poo, which you did by pressing the appropriate buttons at the appropriate times, which were mostly times inappropriate to be pressing. And it grew up and changed shape on the tiny screen. But eventually, after about thirty-three days, this figure possibly symbolizing the years in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, it died and would be reborn again. It was very popular for about six months, then it went the way of the Rubik's cube and the hula hoop and the Pog. Not to mention the Scooby Doo.'

'The Scooby Doo?' her husband asked.

'I told you not to mention that.'

Big Bob withheld his final sigh. 'Well it sayeth here, in my newspaper which is not pink, that a fellow in Orton Goldhay has managed to keep his Tamagotchi alive for twenty-five years and that it has evolved into a sentient life form, possessing rudimentary intelligence, capable of performing simple tricks and communicating with its owner through the medium of mime.'

'Does it sing?' asked his wife.

'It says nothing here about singing. Why speakest thou of singing?'

'Well.' His wife teased at her tinted ringlets. They were tinted to a colour harmonious to their present setting. 'If it sang, that would be truly folderiddledee.

Folderiddledee? What twaddle talk is this?

Runese,' said Minky. 'I am taking a night-school course on the World Wide Web.'

'What?' went her husband. 'What? What? What?

'Folderiddledee means "the ecstatic realization that even little things can be as wonderful as big things and that everything is wonderful really, so why don't we all just smile and have a nice time instead of hitting each other with blunt instruments, or even worse with pointy ones?"'

Big Bob spoke through gritted teeth. 'Woman,' he said. 'Speak unto me. Tell me where do we live?'

'We live at number twenty-two Moby Dick Terrace, Brentford, where all is folderiddledee,' his wife answered, correctly.

'Brentford,' said Big Bob. 'Brentford being the operative word. When the out-boroughs [3] stood shoulder to shoulder, heel to toe, nose to tail, three sheets to the wind and a law unto themselves and withheld their votes at the last general election, what did we do?'

'We withheld ours,' said Minky, straightening nonexistent creases in her plastivinylsuedosilkette gay and quilted lapels.

'We did indeed. But not for the same reasons. Brentonians have always withheld their vote. Because the borough of Brentford holds a self-governing charter dating back to the fourteenth century, when Hector the Hairless, Baron of Brentford, performed certain deeds for the Monarch and was granted such from then till kingdom come.'

'I knew that,' said Minky. 'Everyone knows that.'

'And as such,' her husband continued, 'we of Brentford have no truck with the whims and fancies of the world beyond. Dost thou see me sporting foolish footwear? Do I jabber in this Universal Tongue? Don't answer! I do not!'

'You've spilt your cornflakes down your tie,' his wife observed. 'They'll soak right in.'

'Woman,' said Big Bob. 'I will have no damned Runese spoken within the pinkly papered walls of this fair house of ours. If thou must persist in such folly, kindly restrict thy usage of this linguistic tomfoolery to places more befitting. To wit-'

'To woo,' his wife interjected. 'You should attend to your tie. The strawberry milkshake will stain the fabric.'

'And there you have it also,' said her husband in a voice of raised tone. 'My tie, thou will observe, can be stained. It is made of cotton. A natural fabric. Dost thou remember cotton?'

'I remember the Alamo,' said his wife. 'But I was not there.'

'My point is' said her husband. But by now he had quite forgotten just what his point might have been. It had been something to do with the sentient Tamagotchi of Orton Goldhay. It had also been to do with the speaking of Runese. But it had also been to do with natural fabrics and their present scarcity. And being in Brentford. And possibly much more besides. But conversation with his wife oft-times confused Big Bob and oft-times left him in some doubt regarding what the point he hoped to make might be.

'You'll be late,' said Minky Charker, wife of Bob to whom the appellation 'Big' was generally applied.

Big Bob studied his wristwatch. It had hands upon its face, which moved by the power of a clockwork motor. 'I will be,' said he. 'And so I must gird up my loins and sally forth. Stain upon my tie or not. And the Devil take the hindmost.'

He arose from his rose-tinted breakfasting chair, dabbed at his mouth with a colour-matched serviette, ignored his pale paper, which had fallen from his knees, puffed out his chest, which was big as even big chests go, and prepared to take his leave.

'Have I sandwiches?' he enquired, by way of conversation.

His wife smiled sweetly. 'I give up,' said she. 'Have you?'

'That would be a no then, would it not?'

His wife produced a round of sandwiches sealed in a styroclingnlm sheath from the pocket of her polynylonsynthafabric housecoat with the plastivinylsuedosilkette gay and quilted lapels. The sandwiches were of white bread. Their content however was spam.

'Have a nice day,' she said. 'In fact have a folderiddledee day.'

The day was jolly and joyful and the newly risen sun pampered Big Bob's baldy head as he sallied forth on his way.

His way led him down to the bottom of Moby Dick Terrace, where the flowers (many pink) in their well-tended beds prettified the memorial park and the sparrows, their chorusings over and their minds made up regarding their plans for the day, were putting those plans into practice.

One nearly did a doo-doo on Big Bob's baldy head, but on such a day as very good as this one was, it didn't.

Big Bob took to a bit of whistling. Nothing fancy. Just basic stuff. Basic old stuff. None of this newfangled Runey-Toons nonsense. Big Bob favoured the classics. A hint of Sonic Energy Authority here. A touch of the Lost T-shirts of Atlantis there. And a smidgen of the Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of Death when no-one was likely to hear him. Today he whistled 'Why is there never a policeman around when you need one, but always three buses turning up at the same time when you've given up waiting and just got into a taxi'. A tune Mr Melchizedec the milkman had taught him. And in fact had whistled earlier this day, after placing two pints of the finest gold-top onto the well-worn step of the Flying Swan.

Whilst acting in the capacity of milkman in residence to the borough of Brentford, Mr Melchizedec always wore his official cap. Big Bob also wore a cap, but this was not a milkman's jobbie. Big Bob's cap was the cap of a tour guide. An official tour guide. The official tour guide. The official tour guide of the Brentford guided-tour guide.

Big Bob did not wear his cap whilst not in his official capacity and as his official capacity did not begin until he clocked in at the depot, he was not wearing it now.

Hence the naked baldy head that didn't get the sparrow's doo-doo on it.

Still whistling, and still bare and baldy-headed, Big Bob perambulated his ample frame, with its generous chest and broad, yet hitherto unmentioned shoulders, onwards towards the depot.

The flowers continued with their prettifying and the sparrows with their actionable plans.

The depot was more of a shed than a depot. In fact it was a shed. A large enough shed to house a bus, but a shed more so than more less. It was an aged shed and had been an engine shed, in the days when trains still ran at all, which were days that were now far gone.

Trains had been a very good idea at the time. A time that lasted for more than one hundred years. But at some period back in the late twentieth century, some unqualified Prime Minister or other had thought it would be a very good idea to privatize the system. He'd sold off the railways to various business concerns, run, curiously enough, by fellows who, although very good at business, were totally unqualified to run a railway system.

So now there weren't any trains any more and those who had run them and run them down, ran other things instead and those who missed them, missed them, and missed them very much.

Big Bob didn't miss them at all. He'd never actually travelled on a train, having had nowhere he ever needed to go upon one. Buses were Big Bob's thing. Big buses with open-topped upstairs regions. Old-fashioned buses, painted in cream, with chromium-plated radiator grilles and a special place for the conductor to stand. Buses that went in a circular route and ended up where they began. But there weren't many of those around any more either. Big Bob knew of only the one. The one in the depot in Brentford. The one that he took on guided tours. Tours with a circular route.

Big Bob crossed over the bridge that had once crossed over the railway and made his way down the narrow flight of stairs that led to the yard and the depot.

The yard, ex-railways and now the property of Brentford Magical History Tours Ltd, looked just the way such a yard should look. Decoratively decked out in rusted ironwork of the corrugated persuasion, flanked around by tall fences topped with razor wire. A sign on the gate which read beware the savage dogs that roam these premises by night, and a great many of those corroding oil drums that always look as if.they must contain something very very dangerous indeed.

Big Bob ceased his whistling and smiled the yard a once-over. He really loved it here. This was his kind of place. Old and mellow and one foot in the past. And one foot was all you ever really needed, as long as you knew how to balance upon it and weren't going anywhere else.

Big Bob pushed open the gate with the sign that warned of the nocturnal growlers and entered the depot's yard. The double doors of the shed stood open, the double-decker stood within.

Beneath the double-decker on a long tray affair that moved upon castors, somebody tinkered with tools at the brakes of the aged bus. No saboteur, this somebody, but Periwig Tombs, the mechanic and driver.

'Morning Bob the Big,' called he, espying the large approaching footwear of the large approaching tour guide.

'Morning Peri my lad,' called Big Bob. 'Applying those touches that finish?'

From beneath the bus came that head-clunking sound that mechanics' heads always make as they clunk upon the undersides of vehicles, when the owner of the head raises it without thinking, to answer some question or other. Why mechanics do this few men know, and those who do don't care.

'Ouch,' said Periwig. 'Why do I always do that?'

'I don't know,' said Big Bob. 'But I do believe that I care.'

Periwig Tombs slid out from beneath the bus, upon the long tray affair with the castors. He was rubbing his head as he slid. It was a head of generous proportion. A lofty dome of a head. Sparsely sown with sandy hair and flanked with large protruding ears. Given the scale of such a head, one might have expected a goodly helping of facial featurings. But no, the nose was a stubby button, the eyes were small and squinty and the little kissy mouth seemed always in a pout. The neck that supported this head was of that order which is designated 'scrawny' and the body beneath was slim and lank and undersized and weedy. At school, fellow students who knew of the Eagle comic had christened him the Mekon.

Periwig Tombs eased himself into the vertical plane. Wiped his slender hands upon an oily rag, which increased their oiliness by precisely tenfold, and grinned kissily at Big Bob the tour guide.

'You have strawberry-milkshake stains on your tie,' he observed.

'And I wear them with pride,' said the big one. 'Wouldst thou care for a fresh spam sandwich?'

'No, but I'd care for an aspirin.'

The depot had a roster board with Big Bob's name upon it. Big Bob clocked in and consulted this board and then he tut-tut-tutted.

'Why do you triply tut?' asked Periwig Tombs, as he sought the tin of Swarfega.

'I tut for this roster,' said Big Bob, taking down his official cap from its official peg and placing it upon his head, which now made it official. 'I tut for the fact that upon this joy-filled bank holiday there is to be but one official tour of the borough and that this one tour has but six tourists booked in for it. Woe unto the house of Charker, for verily it will come to pass that small tour numbers mean small tips and small tips mean small beer.'

'Well, it's a dead'n, ain't it?' said Periwig Tombs, who having located the Swarfega tin was now at a loss as to how it would be opened. His puny hands being oh so oily and all.

'A dead'n?' quoth Big Bob. 'What meanest thou by this?'

'People don't want bus tours any more.' Periwig worried at the tin's lid with his teeth. 'Bus tours are old-fashioned. People can now sit in the comfort of their own homes, at their Mute Corp PCs, and take virtual trips around the globe on the World Wide Web. Ouch, there goes a filling.'

'I have read of this virtual tripping,' said Big Bob. 'But surely it can never replace the real thing.'

'Never replace the real thing?' Periwig gave Big Bob a long old-fashioned look of a type that was long out of fashion. 'You might choose to ignore progress, Big Bob, what with your Old-Testament-prophet-speak and everything, but the world has shifted on a bit since the start of the twenty-first century. People don't do anything much at all any more. It's all done for them. Press a button, call it up. Instant gratification.'

Big Bob shrugged his broad and now aforementioned shoulders. 'Firstly,' said he. 'I do not engage in Old-Testament-prophet-speak. I choose to speak in this manner, because I consider it to be the mark of my individuality. You and others too, including my wife, might consider this a studied eccentricity, the hallmark of the poseur. I respect your right to do this, regretting only that this right is abused when used in my presence. If you follow my meaning. Secondly, I do understand all about this virtual tripping business. We went to school together, didn't we? I studied at my Mute Corp teaching terminal, just the same as you. I am well aware that change occurs all around me, but I am not obliged to either approve or condone it. I would like things to stay as they are. Canst thou follow me on this?'

'I can,' said Periwig. 'And I mean no offence. You are a good man, Big Bob. But good men are many times ground under in this changing world around us. And if we don't do something to bring in some more tourists to the borough, we will both soon be out of a job. Yeah, verily, thus and so and things of that nature, generally.'

Big Bob took the oily tin from the hands of Periwig and popped off its lid. 'I am all too well aware of that too, my friend,' he said, 'and have been giving the matter some thoughts of my own. Would you care that I tell you about them?'

Periwig dug his fingers into the gorgeous green Swarfega. 'You now have some oil on your tie,' said he. 'But yes, I would be glad to hear of your thoughts.'

And so Big Bob let him hear them.

'My thoughts run this-a-ways,' said Big Bob, when the two of them had seated themselves upon ancient bus-seat deckchairs in the sunlight in the entrance of the shed. 'Magical History Tours are all well and good. They're all well and very good too, in my opinion. But, as the falling numbers indicate, they may well have had their day. People crave novelty. They crave excitement

'I could drive the bus somewhat faster,' said Periwig. Til bet I could get it up on two wheels at the corner by the Half Acre.'

Big Bob shook his baldy head, upon which rested his official cap. 'That would change the running time of the tour. I am not proposing change. Anything, in fact, other than change. I am suggesting a theme park.'

'A theme park?' Periwig stiffened in his deckchair. 'Here in Brentford? Have you taken leave of your senses? How much more change could you possibly have, than turning part of Brentford into a theme park?'

'Not part,' said Big Bob. 'All.'

'All? You are clearly bereft. Sit still while I phone for an ambulance.'

'I am proposing no changes at all,' said Big Bob, whose sober countenance suggested that he spoke the words of truth. 'When was the last time something new was built in Brentford? Don't answer, I will tell you, for I looked it up. Seventy-five years ago, the Electric Alhambra Cinema on the High Street.'

'I didn't know that Brentford had a cinema.'

'It doesn't, it never caught on.'

'Hang about,' said Periwig. 'What about the flat blocks?'

'Ah,' said Big Bob.

'And the Arts Centre?'

'Ah,' said Big Bob once again.

'I find these "ahs" of yours perturbing,' said Periwig Tombs. 'You have not done quite as much research as you should have on these matters.'

Big Bob said, 'Hm,' he was down a bit there, but far from out. 'All right,' said he, 'I agree. I grew up with the flat blocks and the Arts Centre. But nothing new has been built here in the last thirty years. Listen Periwig, I love this town and you love this town. We've lived here all our lives so far. Do you remember the times we had together at school? Joy, joy happy joyful times. Apart from the occasional sad time.' Big Bob sighed his final sigh of the day.

Whenever he thought of his schooldays and the joy joy happy joy times that he'd had, he thought of Ann Green. She used to be in his class at the junior school. She hadn't been the first love of his life, or anything. She had just been another little girl. But, at the age of ten she had died, in an accident in the playground of the memorial park. Big Bob, little Bob then, had seen it happen. She had been pushing a friend on one of those long metal swingboats, of the type that happily you don't see in playgrounds any more. Someone had called out to her and she had turned her head. The swingboat swung back and hit her in the throat. And suddenly, the little girl, so full of life a moment before, was dead.

'I don't wish to hurry you along,' said Periwig. 'But we must take the bus out in ten minutes for its one and only tour of the day. If you do have anything to say, then I suggest you say it now.'

'Only this.' Big Bob gathered his thoughts and shrugged away their sadness. 'The world beyond the boundaries of Brentford changes daily. Here the changes are imperceptible. Yea then, here fore to and here to fore, we are an historical anomaly. We are, without changing a single thing, a working historical theme park.'

'Suburbia World,' cried Periwig. 'That should pull them in by the thousands.'

'Dost thou really think so?'

'No, I dost not. As ideas go, Big Bob, it's no idea at all. I can see that it might have a certain charm. At least for you, anyway. That nothing would have to be changed or added to the borough. That it would just be a theme park. And if it was cleverly advertised along those lines in the right way, to the right people, that the potential should be there. But it wouldn't work, people really do need thrills and spills nowadays. Even if they only get them through their Mute Corp terminals in their own front rooms. It was a brave attempt, but it would never work.'

'You really think not?'

'Sorry,' said Periwig.

Big Bob set free a fourth sigh of the day. 'Well if you say that it wouldn't, then I suppose it wouldn't,' he said, lifting his mighty frame from the bus-seat deckchair and stretching limbs in the sunlight. 'We've been friends since we were children. I trust you, Periwig. Thou art a good man too. But it seems a pity though, I really thought it was a good idea.'

Periwig shrugged and struggled to his feet. Looking up at Big Bob, he said, 'No harm done in mentioning it. But I wouldn't go mentioning it to anyone else. You wouldn't want them laughing at you behind your back, now would you?'

'No, I wouldn't. Thankest thou, my friend.'

'No worries,' said Periwig Tombs. 'No worries at all.'

Big Bob donned his official tour-guide jacket.

Periwig donned his official driver's jacket.

Big Bob climbed onto the lower deck of the bus and stood in the special place for the conductor to stand.

Periwig climbed into the cab and sat in the driving seat.

Big Bob made a wistful face and thought away his theme-park plans.

Periwig smiled a broad smile with his little kissy mouth. His brain raced forward, scooping up potential here and potential there. And he could see it all, Suburbia World Plc with Periwig Tombs (OBE of course) sitting in the chairman's seat of power. This was an idea just waiting to be sold. An idea with untold potential. An idea so simple, yet so grandiose, that he wondered how he hadn't ever thought of it himself. But it was now an idea firmly planted in his head and he, Periwig Tombs, would see it to fruition. There were millions to be made if this was played out rightly. And he, Periwig Tombs, would have a large share of those millions. After all, it was his idea. He had thought it up.

Big Bob Charker turned his back, and Periwig Tombs laughed silently behind it.