JS Adams vividly imagines Portsmouth in the throes of eco-apocalypse in the third part of his serialised story.
There are estimated to be around 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears left living in the wild. That’s about the capacity of the 02 Arena during a One Direction pop concert. That’s Fratton Park with a good turnout. That’s the average student population of Portsmouth University. Put that in perspective and if all the polar bears went to see One Direction at the O2 and it subsequently burned to the ground (due to say, faulty wiring) then there would be no more polar bears, although there would probably always be a One Direction cover band.
Come to that, if all the polar bears in the world went to Fratton Stadium to watch Portsmouth vs Millwall it would not only be a disastrous game for the local supporters but would almost certainly finish off all polar bears for good (if they happen to end up in the Millwall end).
Or to think of it another way, there are more people in Southsea than there are polar bears in the whole world. In fact, not counting creepy crawlies, bugs and various aquatic life, there are more human beings on the planet right now than most large species of mammal on any given island. Why? Because the corporate domination of mankind has affected the natural cycles of our home as a living, breathing planet. With massive multinationals fast stripping nation states of their autonomy, it often feels that the world is nothing more than a collection of commodities: coal, precious metals and One Direction pop memorabilia.
Not that any of this mattered too much to Portsmouth on the cold morning in question, particularly for Walter T Biggott, UKIP MP for Portsmouth South. He had other things on his mind, namely Pitch and Putt and the attention of press and paparazzi.
‘Sir, if you win the next election,’ posed one reporter, ‘then what can the city ‘ope to gain from you? ’
The reporter pointed his Dictaphone at the bemused MP as a flurry of photographers snapped in the background.
Walter T Biggott, ‘Piggy’ to his closest friends, ignored the question for a moment and steadied his hands on his golf club. At the age of 55, he knew how to make a good job of a publicity stunt and why not? With all the commotion surrounding nothing but a few icebergs just down the road on the sea front, it was a perfect day to rally the causes. A little Pitch and Putt on the golf greens at Southsea’s prime golfing venue, the Tenth Hole tea rooms, seemed like the perfect way to boost party membership.
Ignoring the world around him, Walter raised his golf club slightly off the ground, staring intently at the ball beneath it. He began to speak in a measured, authoritative tone.
‘My local constituents,’ he began, glancing from golf club to ball and pausing for dramatic effect, ‘have made it very.’ Another pause. ‘Very clear.’
A reporter cleared her throat in the surrounding crowd.
‘About what they want,’ Walter glared at the reporter for a moment before returning his stare to the ball.
‘From our party manifesto.’
He swung the golf club high in the air and brought it down upon the ball with the precision of a professional player. The ball went twenty yards forward upon the flat and dribbled to a stop just inches from the hole. The cameras unleashed another flurry of snaps.
‘Do you still defend your views on gay marriage?’ posed a journalist from the centre of the gathered crowd.
‘Didn’t you say gay marriage was the cause of the recent heavy storms?’ added another.
The reporters around him laughed. Walter held up his hands and unfurled a huge smile.
‘Clearly,’ Walter said, ‘ if anyone is to marry into a same sex marriage then they are abandoning all faith-‘
Impossibly, his grin broadened as he glanced around and continued, ‘- all common decency and are acting contrary to the gospel, which, unsurprisingly, leads to an effect on our weather patterns as a whole. These are unnatural consequences.’
He l0oked around, satisfied.
‘That’s all I’m saying.’
The reporters nodded, furiously writing notes. A young reporter looked up from his notepad.
‘Sir, just what plans have you actually made to improve the south coast sea defences as a result of these so-called unnatural consequences?’
‘No comment.’ Walter replied, with a sniff.
A young and attractive woman stepped forward from the UKIP group and stood beside Walter.
‘Mr Biggott can only answer questions relating directly to UKIP policy,’ she said.
The woman speaking was Walter Biggott’s personal assistant, Margaret Tibbles. She stared down the reporter, who looked slightly taken aback. After a moment he pressed for an answer.
‘Well I rather thought improvement of the coastal sea defences was high priority for Portsmouth,’ he said, ‘ whether it’s a UKIP policy or not.’
‘Mr Biggott’s personal views on this matter are not on show here,’ she began.
‘Ok, Maggs’ Biggott interjected, ‘can I just answer the young fellow’s question? Thank you. Now.’
Biggott pauses again.
‘Ok,’ he said, producing a piece of crumpled paper. Her began to read.
‘Ahem. Now according to recent reports, sea level projections for the south coast are likely to rise no more than 70cm in the next 70 years. Therefore, the contractors in question, ESCP, are working in conjunction with Havant County Council. Both are directly involved in the planning and implementation of coastal protection and from their findings, I am completely satisfied that the work being done to improve our city’s defences are of a measured and adequate standard.’
‘Yes, yes,’ said the reporter, ‘but, but, isn’t it true’ he pressed, ‘that the recently leaked documents from the MoD have advised all armed forces should pull out of the Portsmouth area altogether due to sea levels swamping the Naval Dock yard by 2020?’
Walter Biggott’s grin froze for a long moment, the paper scrunched in his hands, before he clumsily put it back in his breast pocket.
‘No comment,’ he said and turned his attention back to golf.
Another reporter took up the challenge. ‘Then,what does Mr Biggott actually think of climate change? ’
Mr Biggott unleashed another impossibly wide smile, turning smugly towards the press cameras.
‘So long as we all have umbrellas,’ he mused ‘it’s just fine with me.’
A frenzy of flashes and clicks followed as the skies above began to cloud over. A sea mist began to descend softly on the beach behind the gathered crowd. In a few minutes, the mist began to roll over the golfing green. It hung heavy in the air and swiftly the world beyond the putting green began to fade into the grey.
‘I say this wasn’t forecast was it?’ said Biggott, hand over his brow as he looked to the greying heavens.
‘Global warming,’ chuckled a voice in the crowd.
‘Oh yah! Right of course!’ scoffed Biggot with a snort.
Cutting over Walter’s laughter and through the mist, there came a roar. It was a loud roar.
‘Mmm, thunder, Piggy, maybe we should get indoors?’ suggested Margaret.
‘Don’t be silly Maggs, just a few more rounds with the photographers, what? Then a bite to eat?’
Margaret nodded with a small, tight smile and looked around her nervously.
The customers seated outside The Tenth Hole paused in unison, cream cakes raised, at the sound of the mysterious roar.
Among the seated tea-drinkers, Mrs Bunting, a retired housewife with a reputation for gossip, didn’t miss a beat. She prattled on to her husband about the ills of the world as he heaved a long suffering sigh and stared into his tea. Mrs Bunting was a large woman with a high, grating voice and a flurry of back-combed red hair trapped beneath a huge, floppy hat.
‘Oh that Mr Biggott,’ she sighed to her husband, ‘he gets my vote, that’s for sure – all them bloody foreigners! Pah! They come over ‘ere taking all our jobs, they should at least learn how to speak the bloody language, they keep comin and comin and -’
Mrs Bunting’s hat flopped energetically as she warmed to her theme, but Harold Bunting, her thin and tired looking husband, only closed his eyes for a moment, running his hands quickly over his Harris tweed.
‘ I mean,’ continued Mrs Bunting, ‘where is our England? I ask you, Harold. Harold? HAROLD!’
‘Mmm? Oh sorry dear, I thought I heard something for a second,’ said Harold adjusting his hearing aid.
‘Pay attention dear!’ she continued unabated.
‘Take my sister, now you know she’s quite happy living in Notting Hill but now she has them lot living right next to her. I mean, not being racist or nothing but really – all dressed in black? You can’t even see the women’s faces. What’s that all about? And London’s full of ‘em! No wonder we can’t catch the terrorists! If you ask me they’re taking over the place, so they are! Did you see how many of them were in Gunwharf this morning?’
Mrs Bunting paused, sucking in a long gasp and reloading her mouth with cream cake and more tea.
Harold spotted a window of opportunity and mustered all his vigour to reply before his wife had the chance to return to her theme. His voice was weak, barely a whisper as a result of spending forty two years of marriage in virtual silence.
‘Now, it-it-it wasn’t that bad, my dear,’ he said, trying not to drop his porcelain tea cup.
Mrs Bunting gave her husband dagger eyes and crashed her cup upon her saucer as she abruptly stood up.
‘Not that bad?’ she said almost choking on the remainder of her cream cake. She fumbled with her handbag, coughing.
‘Enough. Come on, Harold! We’re off!’ she demanded.
‘The pedalos,’ Mrs Bunting declared.
‘The pedalos? What? Now?’
‘Yes! Now! You promised we’d go to Canoe Lake today and go on the pedalos.’
‘Well, yes, I did, but,’ Harold groped for an objection.
‘The marriage counsellor said we need to get out and enjoy life and that’s what we’re doing. Now – pedalos!’ she said, arms folded.
‘It’s starting to look a bit grey to me,’ said Harold sheepishly.
‘Oh, have a backbone, Harold, a bit of rain and you run for the bloody hills.’
As they left the café, the roar came again. Everyone turned. The sound was coming from the other side of the green. Mr Bunting stopped to see what it might be, but his wife had other ideas.
‘Oh come on, Harold! Stop dawdling!’
‘But, but,’ Harold protested, as Mrs Bunting grabbed his arm, dragging him out of the café, along the pavement, and towards the lake. Her high pitched voice babbled like water into the distance as husband and wife dissolved into the mist.
The fog grew thicker and thicker.
Walter Biggott held his golf club over his shoulder and narrowed his eyes, squinting into the murky distance. The UKIP supporters and press were peering in all directions.
‘Bloody fog. Now I can’t see the next flag,’ he moaned.
‘What was that noise?’ said Margaret.
‘What noise? Just some thunder,that’s all.’
‘Sounds like a commotion coming from that coffee house place on the beach,’ came a voice in the crowd.
Through the mist, Walter began to make out the outlines of people, running across the seafront road from the beach, heading in all directions. Some were crying. Some were shouting something unintelligible.
‘What’s going on over there?’ repeated Margaret.
‘Maybe they’ve had a salmonella scare!’ someone scoffed. The others chuckled.
Then the roar came again, swiftly followed by the yapping of a small dog.
‘What the devil is that?’
All eyes squinted into the mist, towards the far end of the park and the chain link fence surrounding the golf course. It sounded as if someone – or something – was tugging at the fence. It clanked and clunked, sounding across the misted silence of the green and the growing nervousness of the crowd.
For a brief moment, the mist cleared and in that instant, an entire section of the fence became visible and began to fold inwards, as if something very large was pushing it down.
‘Is that a chihuahua?’
A small dog, dressed in a tartan rain coat, its ears flattened, came running towards them, whining. The press and the MPs watched as it flew past. heading towards the misty outline of the Tenth Hole before disappearing into the fog. The crowd’s attention returned to the chain link fence behind them.
Press photographers and reporters began as one to edge away from the MP and his PA, who stood dumbfounded as a polar bear entered the golf green through the fence, lumbering through the mist like a surreal dream.
The bear seemed agitated, looking around as it raised itself up on hind legs and waddled forward, blunted snout sniffing the misty air. At least an impressive ten feet in height, the bear towered above the terrified crowd, mist rolling slowly around it.
A sweaty, cold hand grabbed Walter’s. He looked at Margaret.
‘I think we need to go, Walter’ she urged.
‘Don’t worry my dear,’ he said ‘safety in numbers!’
He turned to the crowd of press and UKIP supporters, but they had already fled towards the café, leaving Walter and Margaret alone on the green.
‘We need to get out of here!’ begged Margaret, her voice fraying.
‘I don’t think that would be a very good idea, Maggs’
‘Then what do you suggest?’
There was a long pause. Perhaps the longest pause of Walter T Biggot’s entire career. He was thinking, weighing up the pros and cons in his mind.
‘I think,’ he said, with his trademark pause, ‘our best chance is -’
He jumped. ‘Sorry. I think we need to split up and confuse it’ he said shakily.
‘Fuck off! What chance have we got at out running that thing? I’m not even wearing proper shoes!’
Ripples of white fur glistened in the mist as the polar bear turned towards the couple and roared. It fell on all fours and broke out into a full gallop towards them.
‘Walter, let’s go. Let’s go!’ shrieked Margaret, tugging at his arm. Walter began to move, but the Polar bear was almost upon them.
‘Walter!’ cried Margaret as they ran in separate directions.
Margaret’s hopelessly high heels sunk into the grass. One heel embedded itself in the green and slipped from her foot. She lost her balance and fell to the ground.
Coming to halt, the polar bear stood up on its hind legs and moved towards her.
‘WALTER! WALTER!’ Margaret screamed.
The bear towered over her. It placed one huge paw on the heel of Margaret’s stiletto shoe and with a loud yelp, fell on all fours and turned to lick its foot.
There was a loud bang. The bear roared in pain.
Another bang and then another. The bear turned and ran, lumbering past Margaret with an outraged growl.
Through the mist, Margaret made out the shapes of several figures coming closer. She caught one last glimpse of the retreating polar bear before the mighty beast was swallowed by the rolling mists.
‘MAGGS? MAGGS!’ came Walter’s voice, ‘My god I-I th- thought it had eaten you!’ He was red-faced, sweating and suddenly by her side.
‘WHERE THE FUCK DID YOU GO WALTER?’ Margaret said angrily, grabbing him by his shirt, her mascara running down her face in black tears. She looked down at a wet stain spreading across Walter’s grey trousers.
‘Oh, for fuck’s sake, Walter.’
Another loud bang interrupted them and they turned simultaneously to see several figures appearing from the mist. The leader of the group was middle-aged and unshaven. Tall with angular features, he was dressed like a pheasant hunter, and as Walter and Margaret stared dumbly, he let off a few more rounds from the shot gun in his hands.
‘Where’s it gone?’ he demanded, standing over the crouched couple and peering into the thickening mist.
‘Um th-that way – it went that way!’ said Walter, pointing into the mist.
‘I can’t see a bloody thing in this!’ said the hunter. He grimaced and took off his cap to wipe his brow before marching onwards.
Walter T Biggott, UKIP MP for Portsmouth South, stared into the slowly turning swathes of mists and saw nothing.
But somewhere out there, he knew, there was still a polar bear in Southsea.