The pantomime season began early this year when a brand new stage production, called the “7/7 INQUEST”, opened at the Royal Courts of Justice. On the afternoon of the 14th of October, a rather plaintive cry of “what do we turn to next, Detective Inspector? “, was heard all around the auditorium, as the normally dependable and confident character-actor, Crown Barrister Hugo Keith, was left bereft of what to do, or say.
Both Hugo, and Detective Inspector Kindness, of Scotland Yard’s Counter-Terrorism Branch, had just spent a great deal of time tracing the progress of the innocent Hasib on CCTV footage through the streets outside King’s Cross Station. Finally, D.I. Kindness announced that they had now reached the last image of Hasib ever recorded. But the trouble was, the young man was no nearer to Tavistock Square – his alleged final destination – at the end of this sequence of digital images, than he was at the beginning. In fact, by walking along the Grays Inn Road he was moving further away than ever!
What could possibly save the opening scene of the pantomime, and put back the swagger into Hugo’s theatrical performance ? After all, he was supposed to be top-billing in this show. Well, the answer was – the good-old London Bus! With great aplomb, and the flourish of a policeman’s cape, the Detective Inspector conjured-up out of thin air the notion that Hasib had climbed aboard a bus, which had then whisked him away in the direction of Euston. The officer did not feel the need to produce a scrap of evidence for this. There was no CCTV image showing Hasib boarding the bus, or of him travelling inside the vehicle. There was a vague reference to witnesses, but he couldn’t name him/her/or them, and they didn’t make a statement to the police at the rehearsals, or attend the pantomime itself and give sworn testimony.
So, instead of being able to follow any more CCTV footage of Hasib himself, the audience were taken on a mystery bus-spotting tour. First, there was route 91 – which Hasib was supposed to have been aboard. There there was mention of a 205 bus, and a 253. Route 168 then took a bow, as did the 73 and the 59. Eventually, a number 30 came into view, and this particular bus suddenly exploded as it entered Tavistock Square.
The theatre audience gasped in horror. It was clear from the extensive damage done to the vehicle that some kind of high-powered explosive device had been planted on the top deck of the bus. But before anyone could collect their thoughts, a pantomime policeman entered from stage right and announced that the 18 year-old Hasib had been a ‘suicide bomber’, and had carried out this attack by means of a home-made concoction that had been brewed in a bath-tub in Leeds!
No CCTV image was ever shown of Hasib on the number 30 bus, and no credible eye-witness came forward to claim they saw him boarding at Euston. Admittedly, there was a brief cameo appearance by an implausible character with a squeaky Scottish accent who said he saw a young man fiddling with a rucksack on board the bus, but everytime he opened his mouth he gave a different account of what he had seen. The audience soon grew tired of his irritating voice, as well as his crackpot performance, and shouted “Get Him Off” – which the pantomime director duly did ( but only for this same character to appear much later, playing the part of a stooge in a very dubious BBC production ).
By now the theatre audience were becoming quite restless and angry. The poorly constructed plot had too many inconsistencies, and the narrative didn’t seem to make much sense.
One member of the audience shouted “why would an 18 year-old lad from Yorkshire want to kill himself with a bomb on a London bus anyway? Surely if he was unhappy with the public transport services in West Yorkshire, he would have blown himself up on a bus in Leeds or Bradford!”
Someone else added, “Why did he not detonate the device on the 91 bus – which was the first vehicle he travelled on.”
A third objector claimed that he “could see no link at all between Hasib at Kings Cross, and the bus bombing in Tavistock Square.”
Realising that all was not well, the Production Manager rushed out on to the stage and tried to reassure the audience that the narrative was both realistic and robust.
But they were having none of it. “If Hasib is on a suicide mission, then why is he aimlessly wandering around King’s Cross, and not purposefully heading straight towards his destination?” yelled one man sitting in the upper circle. “Could it be that Hasib is under the control of evil masters who have told him to wait outside the station because his role in their dastardly plan will not commence for another hour?”
Someone else chimed in – “and if this is the case, then obviously Hasib is just filling time, and does not really know what to do with himself over this period. So he just wanders around the King’s Cross area, phoning his friends on his mobile phone, visiting MacDonald’s for a burger, and then going into W.H. Smiths for a purchase. His behaviour is quite innocent, and not at all suspicious.”
“Ah!” exclaimed the Production Manager, “but in W.H Smiths he buys a 9-volt battery; is that not very sinister? He is clearly buying this battery for a detonator that lies hidden, along with the bomb, inside the rucksack that he is carrying.”
One lady in the front row piped-up, “But my 18 year-old son looked up on the internet, and there it told him that 9-volt batteries are very useful power units for transistor radios, digital cameras, electrical toys, model cars and trucks, guitar effects and digital clocks. So he buys them regularly for all his electronic devices. I have no doubt that the young Hasib, who was a similar age, was doing the same thing – buying a new battery for some electrical gadget that he was going to use when he got back home to Leeds later that day.”
“Be silent, madam”, commanded the now-exasperated Production Manager, “everyone in the civilised world of spies, intelligence agents, secret police, informers, government narks, hit-squads and assassins knows full well what a 9-volt battery is used for.”
But another female voice rang out to say ” If Hasib had really been a suicide bomber, then it stands to reason that he would have thoroughly checked the battery before setting out from Leeds that morning. It beggars belief to suggest that only when he arrived at Kings Cross did he realise that the battery was faulty, and that he would have to pop in to W.H. Smiths to buy a replacement!”
There was a further interjection, this time by a 10 year-old boy, who wondered aloud whether all the ice in the rucksack – which was alleged to have been used to cool the bomb – would not have completely melted by the time Hasib reached Kings Cross. His Dad, sitting next to him agreed, adding, “Let’s face the facts here; it was July – the height of summer, and I read somewhere in the Pantomime’s programme that Hasib and his friends had set out on their journey just before four o’clock that morning. Well, the bomb detonated some time after 9.45 – that’s nearly six hours after the ice had been removed from a freezer. In that time the rucksack and its contents had travelled in a small Nissan Micra car all the way down the motorway to Luton. It had then been carried by Hasib on a crowded rush-hour train to Kings Cross, and from there down into the Underground Station and back out again. The rucksack had then spent nearly an hour being lugged around the streets and on to two buses. Surely the ice would have completely melted long before Tavistock Square, with the rucksack swimming in water. Any explosive mixture would by then have turned to sludge.”
“Why can’t you people just accept the story-line that you’ve been given?” growled the angry Production Manager.
But his response only antagonised the audience further. Several people started shouting out: “What about the bereaved families, and those who were badly injured, or who had lost limbs in the explosion? And there are many others who have suffered psychological trauma and are even now trying to rebuild their shattered lives. Are they going to get true justice? It seems they have to remain silent in the wings, while a bunch of ham-actors and perjurers are allowed to parade themselves across the stage.”
The Production Manager was now incandescent with rage. “This pantomime has been staged purposely for the benefit of the bereaved and injured”, he spluttered. “They’ve had their paltry compensation, and they’ve even had a phoney memorial built for them in Hyde Park. Now we are putting on this brilliant production to show the world that we care” – ( although, to be honest, it’s also a handy method of getting the authorities off the hook, and drawing a line under the whole ghastly business ).
He could stand it no longer, “You are all conspiracy theorists”, barked the Production Manager.
“Oh No We’re Not !” responded the audience.
“Oh Yes You Are !” he yelled back.
A stagehand then rushed forward from behind the scenes to whisper in his ear. “Sir, we are on the verge of a crisis here, shouldn’t we return to the Pantomime?” “Yes, precisely”, muttered the defeated Production Manager. And upon uttering this magic word, the trapdoor in the floor of the stage suddenly flew open, and a terrifying figure arose enveloped in billowing green smoke. This was the arrival of the pantomime villain – Peter ‘Power of Darkness’.
“This morning I was holding an exercise for an organisation with a thousand employees” he began. “Obviously the vast majority had proper work to do, but I did persuade about eight of them to join me in a little office near the basement. After a while the Supervisor came along, clapped his hands, and said, get a move on you lot, chop-chop, this exercise is going on far too long. So we immediately switched from slow time thinking, to quick time doing, and got our bureau numbers – a logical thing to do. After-all there are more Jewish businesses in Cricklewood, than there are American banks in the City of London, so it stands to reason….
The audience were incensed by this flow of gibberish and started booing and hissing. Almost at once Peter ‘Power of Darkness’ started to descend through the trapdoor, shouting “I’ve still got the hairs on the back of my neck standing upright”. And with that he disappeared for ever – except for occasional appearances on the BBC.
That night a deeply-troubled Hugo left the brightly lit Royal Courts of Justice, and trudged wearily homeward through the dark, snow-covered streets of London to his dank, lonely garret. It was getting near to Christmas and he fretted that the pantomime would not last the whole season. The problem was, he thought to himself, the story-line was so poorly scripted. No adult – and certainly no child -would accept such an unbelievable narrative. Fair enough, all those actors who had behaved honourably, or bravely, on July 7th had been warmly applauded by the audience, but the rest of the cast – including himself – had been blown a large raspberry. Hugo searched for adequate words to describe the pantomime. “What was it the former prime-minister, Tony Blair, had said – a Ludicrous Diversion?” Yes, that was it – a ludicrous diversion.
When he finally reached his luxury penthouse in fashionable Mayfair, Hugo switched on the TV and picked up some of the morning newspapers. And to his astonishment, all the media were heaping praise on the pantomime, and giving it high marks for its quality, credibility, and – yes – durabilty. The BBC, of course, was gushing like an over-excited schoolgirl, while even an editorial in the Guardian ‘waxed lyrical’ about the performance of the fairy-godmother – Lady Justice Hallet.
Hugo’s face started beaming with joy, as he realised that the pantomime would run and run all the way through to the end of March. And then – in April maybe – a large cheque would drop through the gold-plated letterbox of his Georgian, French mahogany, front-door. He now sighed with relief, as he pulled on his Santa hat, poured himself a sherry, grabbed a couple of minced-pies, and began to sing the words of his favourite Christmas Carol -”God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Let Nothing You Dismay ……
Contributed by Graeme - and thank you, Sir!