Out and About in the Fourth Estate With Steven Gilfillan

Critical Alert

I have it on the best authority, Borak Yesenin’s in fact, that there was one presence ghosting through Felicity Brick’s news report that only he and a handful of others were able to recognise. Felicity as we know is multilingual – French and Italian added to her English – though that doesn’t necessarily indicate her intended destination, via Heathrow, when she found her holiday abruptly cancelled. More emphatic than that, she instead reported on that latest UK threat.

I’ve watched the footage myself, as doubtless had all my friends on the team. What they don’t know (and I do) is the truth behind that frail old babushka who totters in and out of shot behind Felicity, who with usual professional aplomb is telling us how ghostly has become the world’s busiest airport.

Borak, would-be Tory member for a constituency professional etiquette will not allow me to name, was following that fine example set by a previous leader. How so, and how do I know this? Well, I had the good luck to be home at a relatively early eleven p.m., or rather sitting on a padded stool in his recently opened wine bar, the place a society magnet for all things new and metropolitan. On just this wrong side of an English autumn, finer judges than Borak (and I too pressed the case) had urged him not to christen this latest of all his establishments In Luglio, the epithet he used all the same. I think I’ve already reported on that – all that champagne foam and the racket of party blowers everywhere.

So what was this fine example, I asked, a youthful prime minister past had set, and the stocky Borak Yesenin had followed? He insisted I finish my tomato juice and try a little harder with his wine and spirits list. ‘You journalists, eh! Noble association with la bottiglia….’

‘No, Borak. Just another tomato juice. And do I get my story?’ His eyes looked distinctly tired and his face was blanched, but he wasn’t offended. He told me how that morning he had cycled to the gym. The cab he’d hired to follow on behind was piled on its back seat with his training gear, a towel, soaps and sprays, the various gels he used for the shower, and a brightly coloured health drink, purportedly teeming with just those vitamins and minerals the body must replace after a vigorous workout.

‘So what went wrong?’ I asked. Frankly, plenty, and an indirect intervention of the Home Office – that government department described by some as ‘not fit for purpose’. The whole party machine is recklessly bent on the ruination of everyone’s winter vacation, if the frenetically busy Borak is to have his say. He would certainly like to, having taken a call on his cell phone just as he got to the gym, which also coincided with that moment of critical alert. His ma, that frail old babushka who bobbed in and out of shot as Felicity delivered the news, was travelling back to the old country on her annual pilgrimage, and needed her son to come to the rescue, with all flights suddenly cancelled.

‘Ah, Borak, I do get the picture. So what happened?’ Yesenin was too busy to effect the rescue himself, and so supplied the cabby with his cell phone and told him to drive out to Heathrow and bring his mother back to town. A plan that went well, until, on the cabby’s approach to Terminal 1, an over-zealous plodder peered in through the tinted windows and – with what he saw – immediately had the car impounded. I’m told the gym shoes weren’t even forensically examined, but were hived off to a remote and secret place, and subjected to a controlled explosion.

‘So no gym for you today,’ I quipped. Yesenin thought hard, determined to pour me a Scotch. Then, deadpan, that was one thing, he said, but he couldn’t think why that explosive fruit drink he’d taken the trouble to pack – a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals – could have been of such interest to those laboratory technicians the Home Office had also placed on critical alert.

Peter Cowlam has won the Quagga Prize for Literary Fiction twice, most recently in 2018 for his novel New King Palmers, which is at the intersection of old, crumbling empires and new, digital agglomerates. His last published book, A Forgotten Poet, is available at Amazon Kindle. He is published in a wide range of print and online journals. Steven Gilfillan is his fictional spokesperson experienced in journalism and other forms of literary art.

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