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Fargate: Can A Corner Really Move?

The woman was middle-aged and smartly dressed, with well-kempt grey hair and an efficient air. It was a bitterly cold day in the run-up to Christmas, and she was using an HSBC cash machine at Cole's Corner. From my vantage point at a bus-stop, where I waited in vain for transportation, I saw another woman, altogether more shambolic, bustle up to her and explain busily that the other cash machine wasn't letting her at her money, so could she use this one instead. "Well, yes, as soon as I've done with it." "But it's very urgent, as I've someone waiting for me and blah-blah-blah..." "If you'll just give me a few minutes I'll be done." "Oh come on! What happened to common decency and looking out for each other?" Smart Woman huffed, pressed cancel, ripped her card out of the machine and lost her rag. "Anything for a quiet life!" she shouted, just as a man in his mid-thirties interrupted them. "Excuse me, you may think that I am strangely dressed, but...." he began. "That's the least of my worries now," Shambolic Woman retorted. "That woman..." "Do you have a quarrel with this lady?" "I just think people should be more helpful to each other, that's all." "Well, in that case, ladies, you can both help me in my quest. My name is Maltravers. I am on a pilgrimage to the Great Grey Temple, where I may find the key to salvation. I have travelled far, and bravely, on my journey. Nothing is as I expected. I travelled where the Five Weirs Walk, though there were many more than that. I looked for the Street of Wicker, but it had been layered over with tarmacadam. I crossed the Lady's Bridge, but saw no lady. I ascended Castle Gate, but found no castle. Now I have reached what my Intrepid Modern Pilgrim's Guide says is Cole's Corner, but that man over there, in the red box smaller than himself, told me it had moved. Can a corner really move? Anyway, I feel I am within reach of my destination, but my greatest challenge is yet to come." "What are you on about?" demanded Shambolic Woman. "I think he's asking for directions," said Smart Woman flatly. "Indeed!" replied Maltravers. "In the Great Grey Temple, one must pass through a wall of hot air and into a vast chamber, wherein everyone is calm and happy and the secrets of future success can be found. But first of all, tell me this; why are there two branches of the same bank on opposite sides of this street?" "Something to do with economies of scale, efficiency savings, that sort of thing," said Shambolic Woman. "It's to save people having to cross the tram tracks," said Smart Woman, "like having two Marks & Spencer's either side of the motorway." Their sarcasm was lost on Maltravers, but their anger at each other was subsiding. "How odd," mused Maltravers. "It is surely a ploy to disorientate me in these final hours of my quest. But I am not fooled by Spanish moneylenders." "Right, well we're all busy people, and I've never heard of this Great Grey Temple, so spit it out. Where are you trying to get to?" Shambolic Woman's patience, if she ever had any, was running out. "Allow me to read from my guidebook...'On reaching Cole's Corner you must pass along a street of many dangerous and cunning obstacles and false temptations. It is an ancient street with many layers of history and lore, and it has magical powers. Many pilgrims have fallen here, almost in sight of the Temple. There are post boxes that spring from nowhere, cafes masquerading as banks, banks masquerading as cafes, and pancake stalls that smell of instant gratification. You must pass unscathed through the Magnetic Fields of a Thousand Phone Shops, while always being alert in case the Lone Purveyor of Eternal Damnation strikes you with his placard. Then, you must negotiate the Slalom of Charity Fundraisers, who hunt in packs and charm you to a standstill with cheerful conversation and rehearsed sincerity before plunging you head first into a quagmire of guilt. Beyond them used to stand the Big Hamster Wheel, but this was recently conquered and the Big Hamster was rendered down to make sausages for the Continental Market. But beware! There are rumours that where the Hamster Wheel stood there is now a huge green cone, emblazoned with the words 'Satan's Grotto'. We have no reports of what lies inside. Finally, you must cross what looks at first like a normal street, but is in fact a testing track for the high-speed cornering abilities of modern buses." "Well, that's easy enough," said Smart Woman. "Straight up Fargate here. Keep your eyes down, walk as quickly as you can and don't sign anything. Cross the road at the top. You're looking for a building with the words 'John Lewis' on the front." )

Next article in issue 35

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