We are invited, so we attend. We are at the home of Frances, a tour guide for Big Hop. We admire her command of English until we learn by chatty asides that Frances is not Spanish but from Bengal and married to an Englishman. We think of Peter and Shirley and yes, Frances knows Shirley, they were drawn together by drawing away from those unseen caste obligations that lie deep in Indian society. Our Asif family with their subnormal daughter somehow fit into this long social tradition: but that is not what we are sheltering from, for we are here with people moving about at a calm and progressive level with biscuits and proper coffee.
But it gets a brief mention: "Does it have anything to do with numbers, darling man? Hard to think of India, a technically advanced nation, being gripped by a petty caste system."
"Nothing petty about it... That Indian woman known as the bandit queen has come out of jail after eleven years. Of low fisherman caste, she's been robbing and killing upper caste people."
At this meeting there are people we don't know, but it is interesting to hear that the Longhead or Newbie topic has gained much interest among "people who think" as Frances puts it. Claudia has spun this whirlpool of interest as a likely subject for discussion and, as Frances puts it, "English people have emerged from the woodwork." I had no idea that so many English people actually lived here, a caste far above the banalities of the English Club whose salient topic was the inability of the native Canarians to care properly for animals and who use native people to work as cleaners at the lowest possible wage. No, this is an intellectual bunch of people who are a bit daunting to a fringe dweller from Wanstead.
"Hang about," one man puts in, "I'm a member of the Club. I'm in it for poetry reading. But yes, there are some goons in it."
"And I'm your actual Dennis Pearl. Heard about you guys." He looms in, beard and all, up from Down Under. "And I'm not Australian, I'm from New Zealand, OK!"
"Nowhere near! They've got an Opera House and think they're world leaders in culture!"
In all the time he's been here I've never had a close look at him. He's a bit large for Peter's two stroke, his knees stick out like birds' wings. He's got a ginger beard, "a full set" as Maeve described him: a geologist from Auckland with no interest in birds.
"Sorry," Lizzie steps in. "But you do sound alike. It's just us ignorant English!"
"Peter left me one of his bird books. Our Harpagornis moorei, a huge bugger, big as a hang glider, biggest eagle ever. It would stoop and kill the poor old Moa that was even bigger than the Moorei. You wouldn't want one perched on your chimney pot, Missus. But don't worry, the Moorei is well and truly extinct."
"Lawn mower?" innocent query from somebody not listening.
"No love. Moa, a flightless bird like the ostrich"
Claudia's bell tinkles. "Shall we begin? We are discussing the possibility of a parallel universe. Do we go clockwise or the other way -?"
"Does it lengthen the odds timewise?"
"Not like running to catch a bus...Toss a coin. Heads clockwise."
"OK. It's anti-clockwise!"
She continues: - "There have always been mythical birds, the Roc for example, existing throughout most of recorded history, and mythical human civilisations going back thousands of years. All ground into dust. We will never find traces but we're pretty sure they existed and have sunk beyond belief into fairy tales."
"We have found traces of the Moorei. It only became extinct about seven hundred years ago."
"Thank you, Dennis. That is very reassuring. Who was it in history pecked to death by birds? Do you reckon these Newbie creatures consider us to be ancient?"
"According to Senor Gil Nevaz we were kind hosts to our newbecome visitors. They were here at the time of our civil strife and much killing."
"Just a min: are we talking about Josef's father? I thought his name was -" Bernardo breaks in, compelling silence: "For the same reasons that keep vengeance at bay, Josef's father does not want revelation to the evil world of internet. The interview was recorded but only on the promise of secrecy." There is enlightenment, nods of understanding.
"Shall we listen?" Claudia places the recorder on the table. "At this meeting there was Bernardo, Berenca, myself and Joan present. Can we agree discretion?"
Discretion assured the mumbling words are translated by Bernardo: "They will come as new. Those who were have gone further away - I think this means they will have travelled further back in time leaving space for newcomers."
"Look, while we are playing with fantasy consider this: we agree the first inhabitants were escaped slaves, deserting soldiers, criminals and people wanted for questioning, so you expect riff-raff, yet we get riff-raff with sophisticated rules of behaviour. Don't you see, trained as worthy people for accepting visitors! Like house servants! And having set up this place as a worthwhile base before going back even further in time leaving this place safe for the next lot. So the next lot arrived around the 16th century when the Spanish arrived and the third lot in the 20th century about Franco's time."
"Inspired guesswork! We just don't know about their times of arrival. They could have arrived in many other places - I mean, couldn't they?" They could have been delayed due to engineering works - like the bloody trains! And what about the Andes, the Himalayas and other high places?"
"It might mean a question of alignment, like an equation -"
"Janise, you mean eclipse!"
She tuts loudly: "Why do men set women up as stupid! What I can understand is why they wanted to leave their own place in the first place? I mean three hundred years from now they've got everything. No homeless, no squatters, probably beaten cancer, done away with old age, lots of free parking. It must have been El Teide... Don't you see! Teide is the highest mountain in Spain, it throws the longest uninterrupted shadow known to seafarers. Teide was their access point! I think they were longing for peace, freedom from the anomia that settles on some perfect communities, so perfect they want to escape from it - and Teide is their access point, right?"
She goes on: "I would suggest that the Canary Islands were not as risky as other high places. All the big continents had wars and conflicts going on. On Tenerife there was nothing but squirrels, birds and lizards. No big cats, no crocodiles, no snakes, perfect for rest and peace."
"I take Jan's point about parking; how many times have I waited for a woman - and it usually is a woman - she gets in her car ready to move out so I can move in and I'm holding up the traffic and she knows I'm wanting her space, so she just sits there doing her face and making me bloody furious. Look at these Newbie people, if they could travel through time all those years ago, by now, they can do all sorts of stuff like clone animals and - and control population! No more parking meters. There's all these stories of dogs a big as elephants, giants waving clubs, dragons even -"
"- and sea monsters!" Janise adds with a final flourish, "just to scare off nosy parkers: Right!"
"And parking meters that pay back! One of the tasks of Hercules was to seal off the entrance to the Mediterranean to prevent sea monsters from escaping into the Atlantic. He could have done that with London's parking meters!"
"Well, right. It's all a question of time and distance. Whoever worked out the technology it certainly wasn't men in sheds!"
"Time goes clockwise. Shall we stick with that?"
"Yes but time runs anti-clockwise for these Newbie characters. Right!"
It gets to Lizzie's turn: "Nights at the Coqueluche, all that jazz and swing, then out into the night with our drinks, just a faint glow of the sea running up the beach and above it the night sky. The first time I was speechless; millions and millions of stars. I needed to hold hands, I couldn't bear it on my own. Made me feel no bigger than a grain of sand. There must be somewhere among that massive supermass, intelligences far greater than our own listening to Count Basie. As our friend Manfred once said: 'Intelligences that have no need of metal containers and futile rockets.' I think we've just got to be calm about it and just be nice to them."
"Well, right, Lizzie. Science travels forward. I mean if we travel back in time we can find weapons of war noted by ancient Greek engineers in 400 BC using the cube root and third degree equations. I mean it's a hell of a long time back for third degree equations to appear! Archimedes worked on catapults, monsters akin to the Big Bertha of the First World War, that required cube root extractions for there are no natural roots in the proportions needed - "
Claudia's bell rings: "Here speaks the travel agent! Ron, let's keep it simple. And we are listening to the interview with Senor Erm - "
"Senor Nevas. Shall we continue? Shush, please!"
I nudge Petal: "I can't get all this stuff I mean, all this 400 BC, that's far beyond a poor blacksmith's lad. My range of history began with Julius Caesar's conquest of Britain. Now we've got space flight - and we couldn't encompass space flight fifty years ago, could we!"
Petal close by, leaps in: "Poor Pip! And three hundred years from now we've got so far ahead we now have science coming back at us! I do hope they've cured cancer. There's poor Jackie Kennedy dead from cancer at age 65."
Fateful Ron comes in: "I reckon these Newbie people are at the end of mankind as we know it. They're not producing enough healthy kids to keep the whole rotten business going, so Mankind is on its way out and they are giving themselves a bit more time parking themselves on us."
"I do bed and breakfast!" An unknown woman on Petal's right leans forward: "No, seriously, I'm Brenda, I run the Badminton Club. You said about all those millions of stars. We can't see the whole of reality - only the bit we fit into. ...Does that make sense?"
"We fit into this bit! My man and I do apartment letting. We're always open for business. We do reduced rates for long lets!"
"Thank you, people. Shush, now! Can we have the interview, Bernardo, please?"
"They are here for the old god has wished it. They have no goods or weapons and there are children who shout and play hiding games. They have no knowledge of wood for burning nor are there animals for food or skins nor do they see danger. Only when the call comes they will disappear - "
"It wasn't explained, but obviously they needed protection. None of them were captured by the Guardia Civil or the Nationalistos. In an instant they were gone."
"Maybe some hidey-hole in an extra dimension."
"We could do with some of their medical knowledge. I mean look what's happening in our world! The IRA have declared a cease fire after 3000 people have been killed. And we've got Rwanda, 100,000 people have been killed in two weeks of tribal slaughter. Isn't 1994 a great year for human rejoicing!"
"And we have just found the top quark after twenty years of searching, which can't be bad!"
"They returned with the fire gone out and with Julio's guitar. Music calls us together. It is espontaneamente - salutations with long friends. 'Ello Johnnie! But the fire has gone out. They bring it back for more -"
" ...Is that all?"
"Problem was he kept walking away in his sheepskin sandals. And that is just about the finish. Some of it I couldn't get, like he was talking to the wind. Something about 'The Fascisto executed many of us'. - He means Franco, I guess."
"They had them in Freeman Hardy and Willis a few years ago. I got two pairs as slippers for the girls."
"I always thought Freeman Hardy and Willis were a firm of solicitors!"
"Thank you Bern. Music seems to be a common feature. They took Julio's guitar with them and brought it back. And their fire had gone out. It's the unreal mixture of legend mixed with the real McCoy."
"Senor Nevas is a very old man, right? ...How can we tell if his story is factual? ...or is it make believe?... I mean these islands are soaked in traditional tales: giants and dogs big as horses and maybe sea monsters - as Jannie suggests - like guard dogs keeping trouble at bay. I believe in science and none of this Newbie stuff is convincing."
Claudia is keeping it light: "Ron, do you think the Newbies have travel agents?"
"I give special terms and conditions on Newbie credit cards!"
"Ha Ha! - Do they have viable credit?"
Now we have a break for coffee. Conversation moves away from the paranormal, back to The Boat Race. Cambridge won. Ha Ha! We also have faulty breast implants in the USA: "I bet the Newbies got it fixed." Nearby laughter: "I can't wait that long!"
A thought crosses Lizzie's mind: "You know our morning coffee. Same mugs, I have the small spots, you have the large spots. When you clink I know it's ready."
I know what she's getting at. The difference is one perfect musical interval - C and D. I tap it many times just to make sure I've got it right.. They sound better when the mugs are empty. Middle C and D. Miss Steeples would be proud of me! Maybe that is the only difference between us and our Newbie descendents - just one perfect major musical interval.
Interest has now gone. Not yet at quantum level, science may yet find proof of time travel, like it found proof of the sixth quark after many years' diligent searching. Now there's just half an hour to go before we break up. Are these creatures our descendants or are we just messing about? - What do you reckon, Mouse? ... The query is lost in transit: as we are now 'Back To Basics' and 'Traditional Family Values'."
"I've got a soft spot for John Major: face down on Hackney Marshes!"
"Homosexuals can legally do it at eighteen!"
"And what about Ted and Fred?"
"I heard they'd disappeared back to the UK."
"Perhaps there's a call for their unique talents!"
"Actually I rather like them. Ted is rather sweet."
Claudia's bell closes proceedings: "Attention, people. Next month we are discussing School Attendance. School should be a place of joy, OK!"
We exit with our travel agent banging on about parallel universes - like balloons floating about, sometimes they crash!
As Badminton Brenda says, "We can't see the whole of reality - only the bit we fit into."
Not really part of our discussion, but, only a few days after, we came upon Ron and his child in Santa Cruz. Broad grins all round.
"Well Hi, Ron. How's the expanding universe?"
"This is Georgie, he's at Birmingham Uni. Here on hols."
"Shall we sit?" Georgie motions a table. "No shade but it's away from the traffic."
This lad, obviously interested in science, is actually doing science. He nods loosely at paternal pride, bearing it patiently, inner workings hidden by sun-reddened skin; not one for the great outdoors, I think. He has views: we hear them - This Longhead thing is not as silly as it sounds - only a question of time before people are implanted with microchips and docking stations and communicate through the eyes. The Earth is losing water. Their earth may have already lost a lot more water than we have. The bonus is that radio signals improve in a dry atmosphere. He wants a Mexican-style sombrero, leaps up to accost a trader.
Nonplussed by the boy's fearless certainty, Ron shakes his head - "Kids these days!"