Dr Manfratton – an origin story

By Jon Crout.

It is 1992. It is Fudger’s birthday, and we are sat in his shed, hiding from his mum. She’s got the hump because he re-enacted Anderton’s goal at Highbury in her lounge and broke her clock. We’ve got two cans of Fosters, and plan to lay low for an hour until she goes to Bingo, so that we can sneak off and meet a couple of girls at the Poly. By meet, I mean he’s heard that they’ll be there, and he fancies his chances. We end up staying in the shed all night because that stupid latch is broken, and if it gets closed too hard, it jams more solid than Chris Burns’ forehead. Only Mr Packer knows how to jiggle it just right from the outside to get it open again. Summer is almost here, but it still gets bloody cold at night. Fudger is the first one to crack, and he asks if he can cuddle in. His dad finds us the next morning in an awkward embrace on the floor, his eldest child spooning his best friend with an unhealthily stained tarpaulin draped over both. I am clutching Mr Packer’s secret reading matter in one hand, and his son’s right hand in the other. The thing we are told off for the most is relieving ourselves in the corner, too close to the fledgling tomato plants. I decline all offers of salad when round there for dinner that year. It will be eight more years until the accident.

I see the past ahead of me and the future behind me, catching glimpses of all that was, and might be, mirrored in every surface. I walk sideways through time, sometimes spinning round and moving my head from side to side. Occasionally I jump up and down. The idea that time is linear is one I had never even thought of, in that past before all was changed, yet in an instant I can synthesise a PowerPoint presentation that makes clear what a ludicrous notion this is.

At a match in 2008 we are celebrating a belated centenary, actually marking 110 years, another chronal absurdity. I am on the cover of the programme. I pick this programme up from the dust of the old stadium ruins many years later. I look at the dirt stained picture of this unlikeliest of mascots and let it fall from my fingers. At half time of that same match, a steward explains that they want a word in private. There have been complaints. Some people are unhappy at their view being partially obscured by a big blue man. There are unsubstantiated reports that my aura is somehow affecting the taste of the pies. I should be able to influence the molecular composition of these with just a thought. There does not seem any point. I can sense a shift in how this world is put together. In the future, I let the old programme fall from my fingers, and I look enigmatically up at the sky, even though there is no one around to see me pose. Before it hits the dust once more, I am very far away. In Farlington.

Fudger got very excited about the millennium. He bought loads of tacky merchandise from the internet, and he became almost obsessed with how society would survive following the near apocalyptic effects of the bug. It is the week before New Year’s Eve, 1999. We are in the local, and he is very drunk. It is making his explanations to the young ladies at the bar as to how he came by his nickname unnecessarily complicated. Plus I don’t really think they care. He gets very angry with me for pointing out that the millennium proper doesn’t actually happen until next year, partly because he thinks I am being pedantic just to annoy him, and also because he is worried that I will seem more interesting, and therefore more desirable, to the objects of his own affection. He is wrong on all counts. We go back to his mum and dad’s on our own that night. I try to explain to him that I am pedantic because that’s just the way I am, but when I look up, I realise that he has fallen asleep in the armchair. He will wake up with chilli sauce on his chin and chicken between his teeth. I turn off Alien and start to watch the recording of that night’s Match of the Day.

About a year before they devoted an entire issue to me, The New Scientist ran a small article about the discovery of a new type of radiation. Rather than behave as a wave or a particle, these packets of energy come into existence, seemingly from nowhere, as quantum star-bursts that explode and implode simultaneously, framed in four dimensions by arcing spherical slivers of the same ethereal force, that exists everywhere and nowhere before disappearing in a way that is impossible to model with a computer, and sticks more than two fingers up at the conservation of energy. The article made clear that more research was clearly necessary. The author speculated about implausible sounding limited time dilation effects, and closed with a simple observation that whenever this radiation was detected, there was also a faint yeasty smell.

On the playing fields at Farlington I stand naked and alone. I cannot feel the cold as the briny winds assail my crevices, yet I notice how they probe and tickle my form. I am almost amused by the idea that as a normal man, if I wasn’t blue already, then stood here, I soon would be. If history had followed a slightly different path, then there would already be a stadium here. As it is, these muddy pitches are stubbornly devoid of the architecture of the limited minds that imagined the unrealised future. A brent goose flies past. It looks at me strangely, and I am sure it winks before flying away. It does not land.

I razed their Tricorn, and I built them their harbour bridge. I have ensured it never rains on match days and with a gesture I reconstituted all the old public conveniences. I think I am entitled to indulge myself. From the ground it rises, my own work, but drawing on all the designs for new stadia for inspiration – the sweeping lines of the harbour-side plans, the cascading water effect of the Tipner project, and the retail element of the Pompey Centre. Devoid of other people, and with a redundant rail link, this is my Acropolis of the anti-social. I take my seat, blocking the view of no one, and enjoy a match with non-existent players kicking a ball that exists only in my imagination. I quickly tire of this and turn the ball into reality, then run across the pitch and score a sublime goal of supreme quality. The celebration is high art, the human form in motion rendered as an exquisite, deified ballet. Well, you would wouldn’t you?

On New Year’s Eve, 2000, Fudger’s parents have a house party. After the disappointment of last year’s event passing without us having to negotiate plummeting aeroplanes and the collapse of society, Fudger has surprised me by saying he would rather stay in than trawl the raucous night spots in search of romance. He has been practising his home brew techniques in recent months, and he assures me that the batch he has ready for tonight will likely see us get very messy indeed. Despite his difficult period of adjustment after life just carried on as normal last year, he has still mustered a little enthusiasm for this event, and he has even invested more cash than is sensible in a little device to help mark the occasion. In his dad’s shed, he shows me his atomic clock. He doesn’t know what makes it ‘atomic’, but he was very impressed by the advert and he seems to think I should absorb and reflect his enthusiasm in a perfectly efficient way. He gets up to go and fetch glasses from the kitchen so that we can start sampling the beer. I can see what is going to happen but cannot affect it in any way. He allows the shed door to slam, and I end up trapped in there on my own. When he stops laughing I tell him that his pressurised barrel is making a funny noise. He tells me not to worry, and he’ll try and ring his dad for advice.

Mr Packer works in a residential project and has opted for triple time rather than attend his own party. For whatever reason, no one at the project answers the phone. A couple of hours later no one is laughing any more, and I am trying to make Fudger understand that the noises from the volatile container that I find myself in close proximity to are making me very nervous. Opening a drawer in the old desk that serves as a work bench, I find a stack of old programmes to look at. I am still stuck in the shed as midnight approaches. All the party goers are indoors, except Fudger who is peering in the window and trying to make me feel better. I stare at his atomic clock and see the last few seconds of the millennium tick away. The yeasty smell becomes unbearable in the back of my head, and as the zeroes all align in the display, my mind is awash with an indescribable sense of starlight and thumbnail moons of every size whizzing in all directions. Barely a few metres away, a broken carriage clock is stopped at twelve o’clock. In an immeasurable nothingth of a second I cease to be. The explosion registers no sound in my ears. I am not there, yet I can see Fudger blown onto his backside. There are lawnmower parts and charred pages of football programmes all about him, a stupid look on his face, and a mess in his trousers.

A couple of weeks later, in the garden of their house near the station, I put myself slowly back together. I am not as I once was. Some changes have been wrought upon me, I have no hair or clothes. Turning blue was my idea. In no time, I am invited across the railway line and into the mainstream consciousness of the fans, and the city beyond. They want me to wear a sailor suit, but I decline, condescending only to wear their symbol on my forehead. The club’s fortunes will continue to go in cycles. It will not last forever, yet there will be very interesting times in the years to come.

When they interview me for The New Scientist, I reveal my continuing research into the confounding energy particles that have become known as ‘frattons’. They hint at unbelievably exciting possibilities and futures. Even I do not yet fully understand their properties, nor whether their associated time effects mean that they caused the explosion, or were derived from it. I am able to fashion insights into all timelines save my own, yet I feel I can confidently claim that this accident, or pre-destined metamorphosis, has presented me with the ability to view things differently, things of the now, the yesterday and the yet to come. I hope to be worthy of the gift.

Illustration by Kirstie Larsen-Crout.