I first saw the serpentine line of grey metal while it was still some way off, emerging from Tiananmen Square onto the Avenue as sunbeams skimmed off the long barrels its turreted hide. I put down my bags of rice and vegetables, fresh fish from the fish market and packets of tea. Put them down gently on the hot tarmac and stared.
The woman in the pale blue trouser suit walked over to the picture window and stared out at the familiar LA skyline. She always stayed here when they had work to do, and although he’d promised her the day off before their flight, somehow they’d still found themselves back in that long low room with its soundproofed walls.
“OK boss, shut her down…”
Unc’s voice just about carried to me over the roar of the Vickers Beryl engine. He stood on the quay in front giving me a patting gesture with both hands. I’d already had a thumbs’ up from him ten minutes ago, but this was one final blast to burn off the old stuff used on the practise run. Tomorrow she would be completely re-fuelled and ready for the off.
As I shambled along head down, I saw another shadow moving next to mine on the harbour towpath. I stopped. So did the shadow. I was heading for the bar or to get another sandwich, I hadn’t made up my mind yet. I turned and looked up.
Uhh…where…? Oh yeah…
What time is it? Christ, is that all?
Doesn’t it ever get cold in this bloody country, even in the middle of the night? I’m sweating like a pig, a big fat one on the bar-bee for a good old roasting. That’ll be when I get home, when they finally get to see this trash. Who am I kidding? No one cares anymore. I told those with the good grace to listen that this was a springboard back to where I was supposed to be, something to wave under the nose of the BBC.
I am so cold. No, I’ve gone beyond cold. Cold was before her.
And before we saw the tent.
Can a tent break your heart? Yes, if it is someone else’s. Our hearts were shattered as one even before we saw it, when we approached the last of a thousand ridges and heard its stiff fabric flapping in the wind, mocking us. Shattered like the ice walls that tumbled into the sea around our boat as we arrived at Cape Evans base for the start of our long misbegotten journey into hell.