Just over a decade ago I started writing a novel, set in the entirely fictional town of Helminthdale. As it happens I ran into the ground about halfway through as the conflicts between wanting to tell an intertwining set of daft stories plus what had become a sort of love story hit the brick wall of the central plot McGuffin. So I put it to one side and told some different daft stories set in a not-wholly dissimilar town of the same name. And every so often my thoughts would return to that question: just where was that story going?
And then recently I realised what the ending had to be. What it must be. It fit and it was inevitable. And I couldn't use it: the coincidence with what passes for real life was just too, too awful.
Well, here it is in its first rough form. I may come to use it some time in the future...
They stood there in the light drizzle, the full complement of Helminthdale Council dutifully waiting for the moment. The Mayor stood by the entrance of the new town hall, idly fiddling with the ceremonial scissors. At last, fashionably-late as usual, Punch came to the party. The great hulking frame of Godolphin Penkage lurched out of the corporation Daimler and waddled uncertainly towards the ribbon, municipal smugness writ large about his face.
At this point there was an uncertain creaking sound.
The thronging herd, well-trained over the years not to notice the great man's size, pretended to hear nothing.
Bricks and a piece of decking plopped noisily into the river by the west wing.
Clifford and McKendrick exchanged glances. Nancy shivered. Then a strange thing happened. Almost as one, without a word and with neither panic nor haste the whole crowd took three steps back. The Mayor and Godolphin Penkage, both of whom struggled to admit a world beyond their egos, noticed nothing and prepared themselves for the ceremony.
A couple of concrete pilings detached themselves from the base of the north wall of the town hall.
"Oops," muttered one of the Borough Engineer's team under his breath. "Told them so," muttered his oppo. Glancing round, McKendrick realised that everyone in the Works Department was standing well to the back of the crowd. Members' Services had drifted over to the bus station entrance.
The riverside walkway lurched drunkenly to one side.
The crowd noiselessly took nine steps backwards.
By this time even dignitaries too full of themselves for ordinary life realised that something was going on. They stood ready like rather alert beach balls. The crowd scarcely cared. The walkway slid into the water, followed quickly by the pier supports to the west wing.
The crowd held its breath. The dignitaries left the stage. Nancy bit her lip and unconsciously moved closer to McKendrick. Clifford whistled softly. McKendrick stood ramrod-straight trying - and failing - to conceal his sense of marvellous wonder.
And then it happened.
A series of very large cracks and creaks heralded the end. The last supports for the two riverside wings of the building collapsed. The platform supporting the town hall shifted and tilted. A lurch, a groan and then a wonder. The whole building slipped and slid backwards into the river.
"That'll upset a few tea breaks," muttered Clifford.
McKendrick smiled. Then he turned and hugged Nancy.
Twenty yards behind, the Accounts Department was humming "Nearer My God To Thee." And then it started to rain properly.