by Clark Nidaserialised here by permission of the author.

With his tape-recorder Alan soon had an extensive collection of 12-inch reels, each the equivalent (to his ear) of a valuable and fragile long-playing record. Nobody collected royalties for such intellectual property, for few people were in a position to do what he did – though the Green Man did pay its dues to the Performing Rights Society for the Rediffusion outlet in the bar. 

It was a valuable social asset. He was now able to invite friends for an evening of music – even to take orders for a particular piece announced in the Radio Times. And not only his established friends. Alan was aware that he had brought “come up and see my etchings” into the 20th century. 

All that remained was to put this magnificent potential into effect. 

But another thing Alan had coveted was now within his grasp – the mobile tape-recorder that the BBC itself used for outside recordings. He was now the proud owner of a Fi-Cord – a box the size of a substantial family bible in a rich black leather case with carrying straps. Whereas others roved the landscape with their cameras, he now did so with his Fi-Cord, recording interesting sounds which he later spliced into little productions with a razor, balsa block and sticky tape. It was actually state-of-the-art – but on a budget: a fattish one, let it be said. The state of any art never comes cheap.

The patchwork system of duty-hours intended to provide flexible coverage with a minimum of staff dealt death to a social life. He could not join clubs which expected him to turn up on a given day of the week, because he never had a regular day of the week off, nor was he in a position to ask for one. An emergency admission to the Three-Day Order was likely to shatter everybody’s duty schedule. So his hobbies were perforce lonely ones and his social contact informal and sporadic – taking it where he could find it. To a diet of brisk fierce walks along the front in the bracing breeze, he now added creeping around the woods at the top of the park with his Fi-Cord and expensive mike, recording birdsong and bubbling brooks and a wealth of other natural sounds of which most people were oblivious. 

Next to the old reservoirs, now in use as duck ponds and fishing lakes, there was an imposingly housed Victorian pumping station which now and again started up in the summertime. This was something he simply had to record, its reverberations and tapocatas being the equal in his mind of the most advanced musical score…

Blink – pok – burrrrr – tak – z-zing!
Blink – pok – burrrrr – tak – z-zing!…

Having recorded the huge pumping engine to his satisfaction, his legs went into high gear and he paced the paths at his usual rate of knots. But two miles into the woods, who should come puffing along behind but Mr Pye. 

He was red and flustered. “I thought I knew all about route-marching – but you hare along at a fair-old lick! I’ve been trying to catch you up for the last two miles!” 

Alan’s normal impulse was to apologise, whether it was his fault or not, as a well-brought-up Englishman of the old school should. But this time he held his peace. He had not asked Mr Pye to catch him up. Nor had he any desire for company. 

Pye said “Do you often come out here for walks?”

Is it any of your business? – Alan thought to himself, but he did not wish to appear overtly churlish in front of a colleague. 

“Now and again,” he replied, “but what brought me out today was the pumping station.”

“Tell me – what about it?” Pye clearly meant to display an interest in whatever proclivities Alan might manifest. 

“It makes an interesting sound.”

Mr Pye stopped walking and grinned. In explanation Alan pointed to the serious black pack he was carrying strapped around his shoulder. “It’s a tape-recorder.”

“What… in there?”

“Yes – outside-broadcast stuff. Some people take pictures. I make recordings.”

“I’d like to come and listen to your recordings…”

“I’m sure that can be arranged, Mr Pye,” said Alan formally. “I’ll bring a tape or two into work…”

“Call me Gerald. And I wasn’t thinking of work – I don’t have a tape recorder.”

“Well – this thing replays too. Though I only have one pair of earphones.” He neglected to mention the tape-recorder with its big home-made speakers at home.

They came to a fork in the path. With alacrity Alan asked “Which way are you going?” Either way would have served, as it happened, but Alan spotted the opportunity to part company. 

“Well… this way…”

“Oh I am sorry, my way lies that way. I’ve got to get to Broadhill before the shops close.” He gave a cheery wave over his shoulder as he pranced off. “See you on the Ward…!”

If he had been able to outpace Pye before, then perhaps he would manage it this time too. But when, after ten minutes’ stiff walking, Alan glanced back over his shoulder, he clearly hadn’t been followed. 

Alan had tried to detach himself without seeming rude, but Mr Pye had offered him little scope. Why had he been battened-onto like that? Chatted-up, in fact. It was the sort of thing that he, Alan, might do to a girl he fancied. And it would probably have earned him a similar brush-off. 

He supposed Pye, for his part, imagined he was simply being chummy. Alan decided that the fellow must be queer. A “poofter”, as his father would say. What business had someone like that looking after children? At work he’d have to keep a careful eye on Pye. If anything needed reporting, he would not shirk doing his duty.

When it came to enforcing the public orthodoxy, the Staatssicherheit of the German Democratic Republic – the Stasi – had nothing on the Great Britain of 1960.

…to be continued.


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