The Golden Circle

by Nial Thorne

Chapter 11: This is my hope

Reading further constitutes an unambiguous gesture of assent to the statement: I am not a minor person, nor in the company of a minor person. The story is copyright © 2004 Nial Thorne. You may copy it for your own private use; all other rights reserved. See chapter 1 for more notes. Comments very welcome at

I slept badly. It was nice having Neal next to me, but it meant that I couldn’t move much for fear of waking him up. I just lay there in despair, going over everything that had happened, asking myself why. Finally I got to sleep, only to be flung into a nightmare of loss and loneliness, of the fires in the gardens and people dying and leaving me.

It must have been about six o’clock when I finally got up and went to the kitchen, wearing my trunks and my cloak. I made a cup of tea and sat at the table, nursing it, trying to make sense of things. A bit later my uncle appeared.

“Hello, Jack. You’re up early.”

“Hello, Uncle. Yeah, I couldn’t sleep.”

“No, I suppose not. Have you made any progress with your columns of things?”

“Not much time yet,” I said. “What do you expect me to find?”

“I’m not sure. Even if I’m right, I’m not sure that it’ll make things better. But you may have a better idea of where you are.”

“What do you mean?”

“I won’t explain now. Let’s wait till you’ve done some of the work. I’ll write you a sick line for today—I don’t think going into school would be useful. Stay here and work on what I said. In the meantime, my job is to make sure people don’t mess with you any more. They’ll be turning up to do the interview at four o’clock, and I’ll be here.”


“The other thing you need to do is to work out what kind of a mentor you do want. That may help as well.”

I looked at him for a long moment, and began to cry.

“I want Ewan. It’s simple, I want him...”

He held me and stroked my hair.

“Yes, I suppose you do. He made bloody sure of that, didn’t he?”

I didn’t answer, because it was true. He’d done everything he possibly could to make me love him, everything he could to make what had happened as painful for me as possible.

In the end Neal got up as well, and we had some breakfast. Then Neal and my uncle left me. I realised that it had actually been a long time since I had been completely alone. It was a strange and in some ways rather pleasant feeling, flat and empty and unexpectedly peaceful. The bright autumn sun fell across the kitchen table as I spread out my pieces of paper and started again, thinking about my ideal mentor.

It was odd. To start with, the ideal mentor sounded exactly like Ewan. Later that changed, and instead he became a kind of anti-Ewan; at this stage he looked like this.

My ideal mentor:
  • Must always explain what’s happening and not spring surprises or have complicated plans which he doesn’t tell me about
  • Must discuss things and not make me accept them by using crafty tricks
  • Must be predictable and reliable
  • Must not try to control me all the time
  • Must not be frightening and strange
  • Must not have wild political opinions
  • Must not do my head in
  • Must not have the whole Central Council as friends
  • Must not be a Minister of Public Education
  • Must have a home apart from two hotel rooms
  • Must not have spent months living in a whorehouse in Iskenderun
  • Must be visible for more than two days at a time

I looked at this and thought: face it. That’s just totally and completely boring. After Ewan, that person would send me to sleep for the next six years.

So I took another piece of paper, emptied my head, and started again, trying to keep in mind what my father and uncle had taught me about thinking precisely and writing clearly. This time, somehow, the words came to me. And after an hour or so I stopped again, because something was happening, something unexpected. It felt as if everything inside me was pouring out through my hand, through the words, onto the paper and out into the world. It’s hard to describe; but I’ve had this experience several times in my life, and this was the first.

I walked back and forth, and my thoughts seemed to be racing faster than I could follow them. And then I started again on another blank sheet, writing sentences, phrases, trying things out, moving things around, fitting them together. It was more than what I had intended now, far more. It was coming from every part of me, from everything I had seen and heard and read, from things I had discussed time and again with my parents and my uncle and Neal, and thought about and wept about through the months of our grief and the horrible nights of The Problems. I was working in a kind of cold frenzy of concentration now; and gradually, what I was doing formed up into paragraphs. It had a shape; it made sense. And I knew it now: it was me. It was everything I had to offer.

Then I worked it through again, working on each sentence until it was just what I wanted, and fitted as well as I could make it. The frenzy was gone now: it was careful work, watchmaker work, inch by inch, word by word. Finally, I reached the end. I read it through and made a few final changes, and then it was finished. There were bits of Ewan in it, I thought, but altogether it wasn’t him. It was something different and unexpected, and I looked at it doubtfully. But it was the best I could do, so I made a fair copy and laid it aside. I would write it into my form at school the next day.

By now it was way past lunchtime, and I had been working without a break for more than five hours. There were some cold potatoes in the fridge, and greatly daring, I used a little of our precious milk to mash them, and ate them. Then I turned once again to my columns, and tried to make sense of them.

And gradually, very gradually, I thought that maybe I could. And as Uncle Alan had predicted, it didn’t make things any better at all.

Uncle Alan returned with Neal just as the TV lorry pulled up outside. I gathered up my papers into a pile and opened the front door. Five or six people were jumping out of the lorry, and to my astonishment, I saw that Max Margrave was one of them.

“Mr Margrave?” my uncle called out. “I don’t recall inviting you to my house.”

“I take it you’re Alan Marchmont,” said Max. “If you insist, I’ll stand out on the pavement, though I’d rather not. No, you didn’t invite me, but I want to find out what the fuck’s happening. On the plus side—I’ve brought some doughnuts.”

It’s always hard to stay angry with Max.

“Oh, very well,” said my uncle. “Come inside, then. Gentlemen, please set up your gear in the front room. Come this way, Mr Margrave. You too, boys...”

We sat round the table I knew so well, where so many problems had been thrashed out: my uncle, Max, Neal and me.

“Well, Mr Margrave,” said my uncle. “What can I do for you?”

“First you pull Jack out of his interviews and ban his posters. Then you call Marietta and tell her to stuff her job. Then you get Neal to tell Lakshmi Anderson, if you please, to get lost. And I want to know why.”

“No one got me to do anything. I did it myself,” said Neal.

“Okay, but why?”

“We’re supporting Jack,” said my uncle. “I’m sorry, Mr Margrave, but we work together, it’s how we’ve survived. If you kick one of us, you can expect all of us to kick back. You have been in touch with Ewan Hart, I suppose?”

“No. He’s taken some leave, and disappeared. I’m completely in the dark.”

“I didn’t ask my uncle and Neal to do these things,” I said. “But I did tell them what happened, which is that—Ewan dumped me, more or less.”

“What? I don’t believe you.”

“The mentor selection,” I said. “You can nominate a person, yes? Ewan told me not to nominate him. There will be about a thousand mentors in Chedley, so that means it’s almost certain that I won’t get him.”

“Good God! Why did he say that?”

“He said that if we nominated each other, everyone would say the process was fixed. But that can’t be true, because the nomination forms are secret. No one sees them except the selectors, and they’re burnt afterwards.”

“In other words,” said my uncle, “Jack has been betrayed, abused and manipulated. Yet again: this is the fourth time. Well, Mr Margrave, I didn’t put a stop to it before, because Jack was in love, and I now regret that very much. It’s clearly my job to put a stop to it now. As for myself, I don’t think I’d feel comfortable working for a government which acts like this.”

“And if someone attacks Jack, they attack me,” said Neal. “Jack’s always, always looked after me. He’s a kind and gentle person, and it’s completely unfair, what’s happened to him. I’m nothing like as nice as Jack, and I bite back.”

“I simply don’t understand what this is all about,” said Max, shaking his head. “I’ve known Ewan for years and years, and it really is true that we have very few secrets from each other. He’s spoken to me about Jack many times, and I’m as certain as I can be that he was very, very sincere when he told Jack that he loved him.”

“I think I know what’s going on,” I said. “Partly. I’ve thought about it a lot, and I think I know—”

“Max? We’re ready now,” someone called along the corridor.

“Please, can we continue with this after?” said Max. “Please, Dr Marchmont.”

“Ask him,” said my uncle.

I sighed.

“I suppose so,” I said. “But I don’t think it’ll do much good.”

So we filed back to the other room. Frantically I was trying to get my mind organised; I really expected this interview to be a disaster.

“Max, have you read this?”

A man, clearly the producer, was waiting for us, and in his hand, to my horror, was my paper about the ideal mentor.

“No!” I shouted. “No! Why are you reading that? Give it to me!”

In an instant, my uncle was onto the man and had snatched the paper from his hand.

“How dare you!” he said. “I invite you into my house and you help yourself to my nephew’s belongings—”

“It’s completely incredible, Max,” said the producer, ignoring my uncle. “What he wants from his mentor. It’s pure gold!”

“It’s my submission to the selectors,” I said. “It’s meant to be totally private. You have no right...”

“What is this, Margrave?” said my uncle. “Can’t you ever—”

“Dr Marchmont, please,” said Max. “There’s absolutely no question of doing anything with it without Jack’s permission, and yours, as I’m sure you know. As for you, Don, you should know better. That’s way, way out of order.”

“Your funeral,” Don intoned. “Okay, let’s get started. Please sit here, Jack. Where’s Paul?”

A pleasant-looking man took a seat in front of me, under the lights. He leant forwards to shake my hand.

“Hi, I’m Paul Oxley. Nice to meet you. Don’t worry about this—I’m not Jim Harcourt.”

I smiled at him.

“Glad to hear it. Don? Could I have half a minute to collect my thoughts, please? It’s been a bit frantic.”

“Sure, Jack. We aren’t quite ready anyhow.”

I put my face in my hands and drew a few slow, deep breaths, the way my uncle had taught me.

“Okay,” I said. “Ready when you are.”

“Okay! All quiet, now... Cue Paul.”

“There’s been a lot of discussion about the Government’s key programme for the control of children, the Golden Circle, which was announced on the Government TV slot yesterday. So far, only one child has been fitted with the Golden Circle; that’s Jack Marchmont, and he’s here with me now. Hello, Jack.”

“Hello, Paul, nice to meet you.”

“You’re wearing the Golden Circle now? I don’t see it.”

I started to undo my lifesuit buckle.

“Well, yes,” I said, “I’m wearing it—hang on a bit, it’s just under here... Yes, here we are.” I peeled back the collar and the top couple of inches of the lifesuit and raised my chin. “Yes, can the viewers see it?”

“Yes, Jack, they can see it, but I’ve got another one here. You can’t hand me yours?”

“No. As a controlled child, I can’t take the Golden Circle off,” I said, doing up my buckle again.

“What about emergencies?” he said.

“Hospitals and other emergency places will be able to take them off. Schools as well—they’ll have to be upgraded as the child grows older. And it comes off for good when you’re twenty.”

“Does it hurt? Is it uncomfortable?”

“No, not at all,” I said. “Most of the time I don’t even notice it. It looks quite good, though, don’t you think? Controlled children aren’t allowed to wear any other jewelry or ornaments, as you know, so it makes a change.”

“So, Jack, what do you think of it?”

“Um. I guess there are several answers to that. I expect you know that the Circle contains several controls, as they’re called. Each is a way in which the state controls us, and some of these I find it pretty hard to quarrel with.”

“Such as?”

“The assault control, for example,” I said. “With that, the police or whoever can tell whether a child is being subjected to consistent physical abuse, or if they’re under direct, severe attack. We’ve had enough of kids being treated that way during The Problems, and we need to clamp down hard on that sort of crime. The assault control could be a lifesaver. So could the trace control, which they can use to find kids in an emergency.”

“Yes, I can see that.”

“Then there’s the blood control. These days, lots of kids aren’t getting good food, or enough of it. There are epidemics and a lot of infections, and medical services are pretty overstretched. The blood control checks what’s in our blood, and if there’s a serious problem, it raises an alarm.”

“So you’re okay with that one,” he said.

“Not entirely. It also checks for alcohol in your blood, and nicotine, and other drugs. Police cars screeching round behind the bike sheds when some kid goes for a ciggy? Do we want to go there? It’s awfully—wholesale. That applies to some of the others too—like the diet control.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, it keeps check of what you eat, roughly, by looking at the way your blood sugar goes up and down. And if it thinks you’ve had way too much to eat today, well, you’ll find you can’t swallow.”

“It can really do that?” he said.

“Well, it hasn’t happened to me. You might say that overeating is not currently a problem in Chedley.”

“But it could be.”

“Yes—that’s the argument: to stop childhood obesity. And yes, it’ll do that. But once again, it’s very wholesale. Do we really want to stop children from swallowing because they’ve eaten one too many chocolate bars? It’s out of proportion. It’s the same argument as we had with the clothes, and of course the clothes control is on the Circle now.”

“But you can’t object—” he said.

“No, of course the ideas aren’t bad in themselves. Who could be against stopping kids from getting obese? Or from starving? Or kids being abducted? And surely, having kids wearing all the same clothes, that has benefits. I’m not denying these things. It’s just the means. I’m not a free person the way you are, Paul.”

“Kids aren’t free to do whatever they want anywhere. Specially little kids.”

“That’s true,” I said. “You have to keep things in perspective, and of course in the end kids will wear the Circle from five years up, and who could object to checking up on such little kids? But to someone my age it feels different, because the Golden Circle is checking me out in half a dozen ways all the time. It checks my blood five times a minute. The trace control sends my location to the satellite four times a minute. The clothes control is activated once every five seconds. The exercise control checks my pulse and breathing continuously. And so on, it keeps on all day, every day. Do you know, in the dead of night you can feel it ticking? I think it’s the trace control, because it ticks every fifteen seconds, really quietly, and you know it’s alive, you know? Controlling you all the time. I’m a controlled child. It’s going to take some time to learn to accept all that, to give in to being totally controlled. Because there’s nothing I can do about it.”

“You do get used to it?”

“In a way. There’s a part of me which finds it reassuring and safe, and that’s nice, because we’ve all had some scary times recently, haven’t we? And another thing: there’s an odd kind of sexiness there, I think—like the lifesuits, you know? That tightness is sexy, isn’t it, I think lots of people find tight clothes sexy, and the way we’re forced to wear these clothes, that’s sexy too, don’t you think? And in the same way, there’s a kind of attraction in being controlled, I think you can recognise that. But there’s another part of me which is screaming about the invasion of my privacy and the loss of freedom. You just have to learn to step round those negative feelings, because it isn’t going to stop.”

I giggled.

“There’s sometimes a bit of me that feels kind of proud of it, you know,” I went on. “The Standard Clothing feels good and looks good, and I sometimes get a buzz from the thought that my life is so tightly held in line. Unlike all you grownups, overeating and smoking and slobbing around in front of the telly getting fat, with all sorts of poisons in your blood and your rubbishy diet. Sometimes I really feel I’m standing tall compared. My generation of kids are going to be beautiful, Paul. We are the future!”

“Jack, would you mind if I asked you one or two more personal questions?”

I began to laugh.

“More personal than how sexy a lifesuit feels round my bollocks, you mean?”

The whole crew burst out laughing.

“Sorry about that,” I said. “Okay, here we go again... No, I don’t mind. Go ahead, Paul.”

“There are rumours around that you’re gay, Jack.”

“Now, hold it right there!” shouted my uncle. “You can drop that line of questioning right now!”

“Okay, drop the gay line,” said Don. “Quiet please. Cue Paul.”

“You have a rather ambiguous relationship with the Government, Jack, don’t you?” said Paul. “I mean, you’ve been quite critical this evening of the Golden Circle programme, and yet this whole interview was set up through the Government, wasn’t it?”

“Well, yes, they arrange interviews for me, but they don’t tell me what to say. I think the Government’s genuinely interested in getting dialogue going, but you can’t do that if everyone just repeats Government policies. So even when I criticise them, I’m fitting into their programme, which is a bit frustrating.”

“But you get on well with certain Government figures, don’t you? Like Max Margrave, he’s actually in the room as we speak. Marietta Borley and Lakshmi Anderson came to your birthday party on Monday, didn’t they?”

“That’s quite right,” I said. “I know some members of the Government, and I like them personally. I think the thing is that I do actually support the Government, even though I’m critical. In my experience, provided you give them overall support, this Government’s quite prepared to listen to criticism. They may not take any notice, of course, but they listen.”

“There’s a rumour that you have a very close connection with Ewan Hart, who’s associated with Government policy.”

For some reason Uncle Alan let that pass. Maybe he also wanted to hear what I would say.

“I know Captain Hart—I met him on the day of the coup. He works for the Territorial Administration here in Chedley. He does have some links with the central Government too, and he helped to set up some of the interviews and posters and stuff that I’ve done.”

“The rumour says that you’re much closer than that,” he said.

“Then the rumour’s mistaken. There’s no close connection between Captain Hart and me.”

“You were seen entering a hotel together.”

“Yes, that’s quite possible, Paul. Nonetheless, there’s no close connection.”

“All the same...”

“You have your fucking answer, Paul. That’s it.”

“Hey, just doing my job,” he said.

“Don’t worry, I’m a big boy now. Next?”

“Thanks for speaking to us, Jack.”

“My pleasure, Paul.”

“You’re good at that, son,” said Paul, slapping my arm. “Nice job.”


“My goodness,” said my uncle. “You don’t really need me around at all, do you? You know your job, Jack, at every level.”

“Yes. But it’s over now. Let’s go and talk to Max.”

“Wait. I read the paper that Don found. And he’s right, Jack. It’s outstanding. It may sound peculiar, but I would be in favour of publishing it.”

What!? Why?”

“I’ll explain. Come on. I want to discuss this with Margrave.”

“Come through if you like, Max,” I called out.

“Boys?” he said to the crew. “Go and get a drink and come back in an hour, okay?”

We sat around the table again, and for a moment we said nothing.

“I can’t let that go by without saying how really excellent it was,” said Max. “Oh well.” He sighed. “You were just about to say what you thought was going on with Ewan and you.”

“This is difficult,” I said. “I’ll be saying very personal things. I’ve never spoken to anyone about this stuff, except Ewan. Please—please try to understand.”

Uncle Alan patted my hand, but said nothing.

“Well, several people have warned me. And he’s said it himself, several times. He likes to control. He’s said it: if we were together, he would control me. And several times he’s given me chances, warnings and then the chance to choose, to choose to be controlled by him. And each time I’ve chosen him. We’ve discussed it in connection with the Standard Clothes and the implant and the Golden Circle; they’re instruments of control, and that’s why my reaction to them is so complex. I spoke about it this evening, which was possibly a bad idea, but I couldn’t resist it. It attracts me, and it frightens me. It fascinates me, just as it fascinates him.”

“Yes,” said Max. “That has always been an element in his makeup, and he’s had difficulties with several relationships because the other person has not be able to accept his control in that way. But his longest relationship so far has been with a man, a deeply submissive man, so submissive that in the end Ewan couldn’t handle it. So there are limits to his dominance.”

“Anyhow, this mentor business is a dividing line,” I said. “If he became my mentor, he would control me, and it would be official. His dominance would be backed by the State, and by the Golden Circle, which has special controls for mentors—I don’t know what they are, but I expect they’re pretty strong.”

“You’re right,” said Max.

“He has given me a test,” I said. “It’s this: follow my order and do not nominate me. Do it because I order you to do it. Even though it will probably result in us not being together, do it because I tell you to. And do it without resentment. He said: ‘I expect you to obey me, and to do it with good grace.’”

“If you do, maybe he will arrange somehow that you’re together,” said Neal.

“Maybe,” I said. “I don’t know. I’m not supposed to know. I have to do what he says without knowing that, simply because he ordered me to. I have to accept that I may be in misery for the next six years, because I obey his order. The obedience is what he wants. Maybe it’s everything that he wants, and he doesn’t want me at all.”

“There are relationships characterised by dominance and submission,” said my uncle. “They aren’t at all unusual. And between a mentor and a pupil, there’s bound to be an element of that, depending on the people in question, of course. And you hear of tests of obedience, but this seems so—extreme.”

“I know I won’t nominate him,” I said. “I can’t do it if he doesn’t want me to. I’m can’t force myself on him. If I end up with someone else it will be the end of all my dreams, but people live without dreams, don’t they? Over the last year many people have had to give up a lot more than dreams. I can exist. As for doing it with a good grace, I don’t know what he means. And I’m not sure I care any more. I just feel so—tired and sad and empty about everything.”

“Well, I have a suggestion,” said my uncle. “Give your piece about what you want from your mentor to Mr Margrave, and let him publish it.”

He spread out on the table the fair copy I had made.

“That’s a slight change in tune, Dr Marchmont,” said Max.

“Read it out, son,” said my uncle.

And so I did.


This is my hope. Before everything my mentor will love me, and to him, nothing in the world will be more important than I am. He will tend me and care for me and help me grow and unfold. He will claim the lead. Kindly and firmly he will guide and control me, and take me forwards step by step. He will stand beside me against everything that threatens me, and in return I will help him with all my strength; for I will be his comrade as well as his pupil, and our partnership will astonish the world.

My mentor will set me hard tasks and insist that I work on them with all my skill and all my heart. He will praise my successes, and comfort me when I fail. If need be he will be strict, but even then he will continue to show me his love. Although each year I will be older, he will remember that still I am a child, and not as strong as he is.

My mentor will be a humane man, a man with strong beliefs. His love for the world and its people will be the meaning of his life; on the world he will build his understanding and from its people he will draw his hope. He will justly respect all living creatures and everything that exists, and he will set his heart to treat them as he would wish others to do.

My mentor will choose calmly when he must between good and good, and between bad and bad. He will break a lesser rule when a greater good compels him. He will be gentle with the weak and the oppressed, and fierce with the cruel and violent.

My mentor will be sane but not conventional. He will take chances. He will be courageous and will never give up hope. He will examine things with care and understand them radically. He will delight in beautiful things and places and will be a lover of music and words and images, of history and science. He will work to understand different kinds of people and different ways of life. Even though his heart is serious, he will celebrate each day with laughter.

My mentor will show his love for me in physical ways. He will remember both his own needs and mine, and as I grow he will not be afraid to guide me through our love.

My mentor will understand people. He will mark the feelings of everyone he meets. He will judge people not by what they are, nor by what they say, but by what they do. He will be gentle enough to forgive, but wise enough to remember. He will allow anyone to earn his trust. He will be loyal and straightforward to his friends and those with whom he works. He will ask of people more than they have given, but no more than they have to give.

My mentor will not deceive me, nor betray me, nor shut me in, nor force me with guilt, nor blackmail me, nor insult me, nor offend my heart, nor treat me cruelly. He will respect me. He will be polite. He will speak the truth. He will keep his promises.

All these things he will share with me. And yet he will not try to make me a copy of himself. Instead he will teach me to sing my own song in harmony with his for the rest of my life.

“My God,” whispered Max. “But it’s beautiful!”

“Yes,” said my uncle. “That’s just what I thought.”

“It’s everything, everything we need,” said Max. “It defines what a mentor should be. It sets an ambition for every mentor in the land, and tells pupils what they should hope for. And it’s more than that, because it says how we think the Government should act for children as a group. It even says a lot about how the Government should treat the country, and how people should treat each other. And it comes not from us, but from a child. It’s just perfect.”

“But there’s something else,” said my uncle. “It’s Jack’s manifesto. It says: well, if I am to be alone, this is what I want. And it says to Ewan: this is what you’re missing: the chance to measure up to this.”

“Actually, I suppose Jack knows this,” said Max, “but some of it is Ewan, or reflects him, at any rate. But there are differences, and those bits will really hurt. No matter. It serves him right, in my view. He is my oldest and dearest friend, Jack, but the way he’s treated you is incomprehensible to me.”

He put his hand on mine, and I saw that he was on the point of tears.

“What a treasure you are! What a sweet child... There’s just one thing I should warn you about. And that is, it clearly identifies you as gay, and shows you proposing to have a sexual relationship with an adult. Now, to be clear: under our law, that is entirely legal, within the mentor-pupil relationship. But if we’re going to publish it, you may want to pause and think about taking out that paragraph.”

“No,” I said. “If the Government is prepared to publish it whole and face the row, so am I. For the sake of the people who died in the gardens.”

“Bravely said. I’ll consult about the paragraph, but I think the Government will go for it. If you change your mind before tomorrow evening, let me know. Well, Dr Marchmont. What I would like to do. First, get those guys to set up again, and make a recording of Jack reading it. Send that out tomorrow evening, after he’s submitted it to the selectors. Make a number of short spots to use between programmes and so on. Make posters. Publish it on paper. Give a copy to every new mentor. How much of that can you agree to?”

“If Jack agrees, all of it.”

“Okay,” I said. “Just one thing. I don’t want to do any interviews or anything about that piece. Is that okay? I want it just to stand by itself. Maybe in a few years I will, but not now.”

“I agree,” said Max. “Let other people do the commentaries. And they will. By the way, I’d like to suggest a different title.”


Request to My Selectors. It’ll look better when you’re chairman of the Council.”

“Ha bloody ha. Okay, change it. But—it’s surely not going to last that long. I just wrote it out in a rush, when I was getting nowhere...”

“Who taught you to write, son?”

“My dad, and my uncle.”

“You’ve missed your vocation, Dr Marchmont. Right! Let’s do it!”

“You were right, Don,” said Max. “That piece by Jack is gold, and we’re going to record him reading it now.”

“And we’ve just broken everything down.”

“The Ministry for Children of the Provisional Adminstration hereby contracts with you, etc, etc, blah, blah, and there will be overtime, and the sodding disks belong to us. Okay?”

“Okay, okay,” said Don.

“You do not want to miss working on this, Don, I tell you. You’ll be watching this recording every month till you die, mark my words.”

“The thing about working with bloody Rationalists is that they’re so down-to-earth, I don’t think.”

So they put everything back together, and sat me in front of the camera. And Aunt Judy was home by now, and she insisted on doing my hair, and then they had to rearrange the lighting to do a closeup, and then change the curtains because the lighting had changed. After that they had to adjust all the angles so that I could read it without looking like an idiot; and finally we were ready to go.

I’ve never done a recording when I felt more sad and down. Every second of it was torment. Don wanted to do the whole thing in a single take to start with, and then go back and sort out any fluffs, and that nearly worked the first time. So they did a single take a second time, and this time I got all the way through. The last two paragraphs I really felt on the verge of completely breaking down. I thought it was dreadful; but I was the only one who did.

Then Aunt Judy took me on one side and wiped my face and gave me tea and one of the doughnuts that Max had brought, and Neal came and sat with me and ate another, while the others ran through the takes. Then Max wanted to do some short takes of small passages, and I went through all these, feeling like death. And finally we were done.

“Okay, folks,” said Max. “We have to scamper back to the Centre right now, to send out Jack’s earlier interview. Look at me, Jack.”

I did, and something happened: suddenly it wasn’t the screwball hippy social worker I saw, but the mighty and successful revolutionary leader, who had overthrown a government and changed the lives of millions: someone of real historical note.

“Yes,” he said. “You feel it, and so do I. We’ve done important work here today, Jack Marchmont. Thank you. Get some sleep, take the Request into school tomorrow, and give it to its intended audience. And rest assured that some of them at least will understand what has happened. As for the rest of it—I don’t think things will be as bad as you think. Dr Marchmont?”

“Oh, call me Alan, damn it.”

“Okay. Thanks for your help. I don’t know if you’ll think again about Jack working with us. I hope you will. In the light of the Request I expect that the Pub-Ed people will want to reconsider what to do anyhow. I’m not sure if fluffy chats with ditzy teen mags will do it now. That’s up to you, of course. But please, Alan, think about Marietta’s job offer again.

“And as for you, young man...”

He fell on Neal, who was slumped in the sofa, and tickled him unmercifully.

“I expect you to ring up Lakshmi,” he said, as Neal lay there gasping, “and make it up with her, because she is the kindest and the toughest person in the world, and foxy to an unbelievable degree, and you and she would be absolutely perfect. Okay? Are we friends, Neal, or should I attack you again?”

“We—we’re friends!”

“Good. And when are they doing selections for your year at Chedley?”

“Not till after Christmas.”

“Fine. Just right. Okay, we’re off, but our paths will cross, Marchmonts...”