Friday, 8 January 2010
Why We Had To Kill Gyles Brandreth
The short story reproduced below was inspired by British TV celebrity Gyles Brandreth publicly declaring that the English language and its literature should be simplified, suggesting that we take our cues from txt spk. Mr Brandreth also studied at Oxford, so it seemed a fitting place for him to meet his literary nemesis.
Why We Had To Kill Gyles Brandreth
Dear Mother & Step-Rather
I trust this missive finds you both well. And Patches too. Is his tail still outrunning him?
Silly hound. How I miss his stupid face and lopsided run. I wish we were allowed pets. On the plus side you will be glad to hear I am progressing well on the Masters front. Might even finish with time to spare and do something else next term. A little C&G in something useful for the real world perhaps. English Lit only begets English Lit teachers and the odd impoverished writer as we all know. Of course this place has its temptations, but they don't tempt me. Curry night in Hall on Fridays is about the high spot of my week. No honestly. You don't want to believe everything you hear. You must stop worrying about me, both of you. I'm a big boy now and you must know I am not into being a party animal. Nor do I watch copious quantities of SkySport – decidedly lacking in chess. But it’s a rum enough place as long as you keep your nose clean. I joined the Book Club last week, though naturally I am the most sophisticated one there by a mile. I can’t believe anyone still thinks Dan Brown is good. I would say they must need lobotomising, if they hadn’t already been! ; - ) But I might be able to do something with them I suppose. Thanks a mill for the extra thermals by the way. It does get somewhat parky in these old buildings at nights, despite the radiators on at full blast. I know. Why don’t I ask for the latest iPod just like any other son? As if your other sons aren’t expensive enough. Mind you I suppose it’s true to say I’ve cost you a fair bit in other ways.
I wish for your sakes I could say that I didn’t mean to kill Gyles Brandreth. But for what it’s worth my agent says the after dinner speaking engagements are stacking up for when I get out. I’ve even got a six-figure book deal would you believe? Apparently a murderer who can string more than a marketable sentence together, never mind wield a best-selling pen without a ghost writer in sight is a real rarity. They are hoping to explore the inner recesses of my murderer’s mind like few others.
Perhaps I will tell them I did it for Rag Week - that will shut them up!
Actually we did it, myself and three keenest co-conspirators from my Facebook Group 'Banish Gyles Brandreth' for Queen and country. Or rather the Queen's English and the good of the country. A country which is now rewarding me it seems, cursory obligatory sentence notwithstanding. Even less if I can convince the shrink I don't pose a danger to other celebrities, though it's hard to promise anything on the Alan Titchmarsh front (sorry Mother). And Matt is quite keen to see the back of Graham Norton when he gets out according to his sister. Chloe's always been sweet on me and confided the other day in the visiting room that she thought the BBC might be saved if only it weren't for Jonathan Ross. I told her no. It's almost as if Gyles Brandreth has given them a taste for blood and now they want more.
It was all meant to be so innocent - an invitation to a Teddy Bear's picnic on the Parson's Pleasure preceded by a short punt from the Cherwell boathouse, conversation and Pimms flowing. Once there, we knew he would make a beeline for the 1937 Steiff bear and sniff its head which would be saturated with chloroform (snuck from Matt's laboratory). Then it would be a simple matter of putting him over the side of the bank and letting nature take its course. Quite romantic. Pre-Raphaelite you might say, but for his want of flowing locks.
Then we realised that Teddy bears alone probably wouldn't be enough to lure him up to Oxford and put his name forward to the Oxford Union to head the motion 'Why Spelling Doesn't Matter Anymore' against Professor Maurice Holbrook's English Laboratory lot with dinner in his old college New College, beforehand. I don't mind admitting my fingernails were quickly bitten down to the cuticles. Worse still, Mr Brandreth was utterly charming at dinner, to the point I almost lose my nerve. It was only all the celebrity namedropping that galvanised my resolve.
As I suspected he used his habit to good effect, convincing the chamber that the likes of the late Willy Rushton, John Wells and Ted Hughes agreed with him that there were far too many words with confusing spelling, pronunciation and nuance, many of them superfluous to requirements, therefore the entire English language should be overhauled and streamlined, and mobile phone texting was leading the way in this regard.
'Esperanto!' heckled a wag from the floor.
'Thanks, but I've got an Expresso' retorted Gyles smartly.
When the general snorting had subsided, Professor Holbrook countered that it was outrageous to suggest that England should simplify its language when other countries such as France, Italy and Spain to name a few, seemed perfectly content to confuse us with theirs without compromise and where was our national pride?
'I suggest you ask Margaret Thatcher about that.' replied Gyles, ‘since for better or worse she instigated the rise of the 'me first' individual and thus, the self-expression of the 'me first' individual. I am proposing we regain some national pride by leading the way in language matters.'
'Or look complete nincompoops when no one follows our lead and we are left with chav text speak in lieu of our once rich linguistic and literary heritage.' retorted Professor Holbrook.
'Hear hear!' I scarcely restrained myself from shouting.
It was such an evenly-matched debate I was on the edge of my seat throughout, not least as we were unlucky enough to have a fairly tipsy and easily-swayed (in more ways than one) crowd in that evening.
Suffice to say that the English Language won by a margin rather than the landslide I had hoped for as the Nays passed through to be counted. Little did Mr Brandreth know that the hanging jury had already ruled. Afterwards we insincerely offered Mr Brandreth our profuse commiserations.
He then enjoyed a private drink in the President's room, regaling him no doubt with accounts of the good old days when he himself served as President and showing him the panelling wherein he had etched his name and the window out of which he had pissed into the rose bushes beneath, unwittingly soaking two homosexuals as they illegally canoodled in the mid 60s, one of them Nick's father (long story).
Nick, Matt, Richard and I ostensibly returned to my base, St John's College, but in reality around the block. Once we had ambled past enough CCTV cameras to convince we really had gone home, we put up our hoods for the final leg and chose our doorway to lie in wait. How splendid we all agreed it would have been to have a Brandreth burning in the Broad in the style of Bishops Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer, tied to a stake and surrounded by all the books he'd ever written. Regrettably Oxford's streets were not as quiet as they once were and Oxford's shops no longer the mass producers of surfeit cardboard box kindling of old.
Two hours we waited. The skies began to drizzle. Was the man going to gas on all night? Highly likely since he had once tied with Nicholas Parsons on a 12½ hour continuous public speaking World Record breaker.
No risk of lock outs these days anyway. With 24 hour porterage, Mr Brandreth could get back into New College and his Fellow's Guest Room any time he wanted. Not that he would have need of such a facility after we had finished with him. Finally at 2.30am with the Union now in virtual darkness, Mr Brandreth emerged, escorted to the front gate by the President who pressed a complimentary Union umbrella into his hand. We donned our Scriptum Viennese ball masks and as soon as the President was out of earshot we pounced, throwing Richard's extra cloak over Mr Brandreth's head.
'Aaaaargh!' was his muffled response before he bit the nearest thing to hand, Richard's forearm through the fabric as Richard held the cloak around his neck.
'Aaaaaaargh!' was Richard's rather less muffled response.
'Ssssshhhh Richard!' hissed Nick. Just get on with it. Remind me why we didn't use chloroform again?'
'Well you can't kill someone without telling them why they have to die. It's the least they deserve.'
'Yes, it's the least I deserve.' nodded the cloak as vigorously as it could under the circumstances.
Despite our Literary pretensions (and in some cases degrees), we were all addicts to re-runs of the Saint and any Bond film going (a separate Facebook group) and could only nod in silent acquiescence, despite the dangers inherent in a conscious Gyles Brandreth.
'Righty ho. I'll tell him', I said, anxious to get the business over. 'Mr Brandreth, despite losing tonight's debate on your motion effectively proposing the deliberately engineered dismantling of the English language and ultimately, its literature, we feel that such heresy deserves underlining in red ink to truly make the point. We further believe that this can only be achieved by your deliberately engineered demise for the benefit of those who don't listen to debates, but enjoy reading about murders in the Daily Mail. As well as being a strike for our language and heritage, it will also serve as a strike against celebrity culture and pedestrian murder, for we intend to be creative about it.'
'What a brilliant concept' opined the cloak. 'How will you kill me?'
After a stunned silence, I replied 'Well we considered a number of ways Mr Brandreth but we finally settled on the kidnap, the stabbing through the heart with a 19th century dipping pen nib in parody of the pen being mightier than the sword and the replacement of your blood with Quink's finest in lieu of embalming fluid. We were then going to leave you on the steps of Oxford University Press as a horrible warning.'
'Immortality gentlemen. How can I ever thank you?'
'What?' at least two of us spluttered.
'Well you profess to hate me, yet here you are offering me the career move of my life. All my out-of-print books would be back on the shelves within a month and my obituaries at least five column inches wide. In fact my demise could run and run.'
We were so shocked we lost sufficient grip on the cloak for Mr Brandreth to wriggle free.
He stood before us dishevelled in penguin suit with his bow tie undone, but defiant, despite a nosebleed. 'Yes I suppose I am vainglorious and insufferably smug. All that and I read minds too.' he said as if he could divine our crestfallen faces beneath the masks. 'I also laugh at death, along with the obituaries of my friends.'
'We had one ready for you in reduced English Literature for the Oxford Student newspaper' I offered.
'Oh yes…?' He asked, smiling now.
'It said 'Gyles Brandreth Woz Here 1948 - 2009'
He laughed, open merriment in his eyes. 'Suppose I told you all this dumbing down was Nicholas Parsons' idea and I nicked it. You've got the wrong man you know!'
'We wouldn't believe you' I said, feeling humiliated.
He grew more serious 'Well your faces might be obscured but I can see you are all young men on the rise, anxious to make your mark. Me too. From the opposite end of the spectrum. I was a young man who made my mark (admittedly with the luck of the devil, notwithstanding hard work with a following wind) and now I am anxious that my mark should survive me. Deal gentlemen?'
'Www what do you mean?' asked the first of us to be able to speak, Matt.
'What say you carry on with your plan to kidnap me but instead drive me to an isolated holiday home where I can camp out incommunicado for six months, safe in the knowledge that no one will visit until at least April. If one of you gives me his credit card I can have all my groceries delivered online. Not only will faking my death give me the publicity boost I need to take me to the end of my life and beyond but enough peace and quiet for six months to finally knock out that saga that's been taking up headroom for so long.'
'How did you know my family had a pad?' asked Nick
'A calculated guess old fellow. One of you was bound to have a scarcely-used second home in the family.'
'And what about us. What do we get out of it?'
'The realisation that you don't have to kill your least favourite celebrity to become famous. And an easier conscience.'
'I for one must admit I didn't really want to kill him.' whispered Richard into my ear.
'Naturally you could still get into hot water' warned Mr Brandreth. 'Sent down twice as it were, once from Oxford and thence to prison.'
'I suppose it won't get any harder to find a job afterwards than it is after here in the current climate' mused Nick. 'And we could finish our degrees for free.'
'We have a deal then I take it?' proffered Mr Brandreth.
No one took his hand so I made an executive decision and took it, shaking it firmly.
'Now let me put that cloak back on, lend me a mask and we will masquerade as party goers wending their drunken way homewards. Presumably one of you has wheels…?' Matt being the eldest lived in a small terrace off Botley Road complete with that holy grail, a resident's parking permit for his Alfa 156. The coast being housemate-clear, we had a quick pee and tea break at the house before setting off for Sidmouth. Mr Brandreth was in high spirits for someone contemplating his own end and regaled us with stories of four decades of social climbing derring do, opining that 'the cheek shall inherit the earth my boys, that other adjective was just a Pythonesque mishearing on the Mount' to the extent that entertained as I was, I was ready to stop in Axminster to find a piece of carpet to wrap him in. And however much I began to warm to him, my large dipping pen nib remained immovably poised against his back and ready to pierce his heart should he try anything. I began to regret the dutch courage I had earlier imbibed on an empty stomach in the form of Balkan vodka shots, which made me feel nauseous and paranoid by turns.
As it transpired, it was a heroin addict in a speeding car who did for Mr Brandreth. The punk came out of nowhere flying over the inky hills in his beamer at well over the 40mph limit, smack bang into the back of us lurking in the dip of a hill. We four escaped with whiplash and cuts, but poor Mr Brandreth was inadvertently slain by the dipping pen nib, as I was thrown against him. 'Identical to Byron's best pen. I chose it especially.' I whispered comfortingly as he gasped his last and I peed myself.
'Tell it to the judge' said Richard as we foolishly fled the scene, inspired by the heroin addict who had already gone, having divested his spare tyre of its stash of gear. Needless to say I did. Frankly I got the distinct impression I was not believed. So here I am dear parents, hoisted by my own petard, as Shakespeare would have it.
But you are wrong in saying I have let you down. You will dine out on this for the rest of your lives. As indeed will I.
Do visit soon.
Your etc son
©LS King 2009