‘Welcome, welcome. Look, look, you see it?’ The bearded man grins at the assembled group in the boat. ‘Yes, here we are at classic landmark, Big Ben. Of course, this is wrong. Can anyone tell me why?’
A small child in the group, no more than eight, raised her hand. The adults all chuckled at this display. ‘Umm…’
The bearded man shushed them. ‘Go on, little one. You must never be afraid to speak your mind.’
‘Well, because…’ She looked at the floor, swinging her blonde pigtails from side to side. ‘Because the bell has been renamed twice?’
The beard parts further, showing even more of the man’s brilliant smile. ‘Very good, very good! Now, do you know the names?’ He clicks his fingers, one by one. He was told by his supervisor to stop doing this, but he has ignored him.
The girl begins to speak, but her mother shushes her. ‘Carla, that is enough. You will stop this showing off.’ Carla stills her swinging pigtails as a frown crosses the bearded man’s brow.
‘Very well. The bell, as many forget, was renamed the Life Bell following the American invasion of 2046. Clearly they decided that our special relationship had gone sour, eh?’ He turns to gesticulate to the water surrounding them. ‘But, after the sea level rise in 2085, when the Americans withdrew, can anyone tell me what it became then? Any of the adults aboard?’
As is common amongst adults when confronted with direct questioning, the assembly shuffled from foot to foot and murmured. ‘I know, I’m just letting other people say it.’ ‘Yeah, yeah… Of course.’
‘Nobody answering?’ The bearded man shook his head. ‘I thought you were clever people? Very well. After the flood, it became known as the Sunken Bell. Mostly because the Elizabeth Tower collapsed from the onslaught of water. It must have been incredible to see, the tide truly coming in! Such glory!’
He expertly guided the small boat to a dock, tying up to the island of rafts that hovered around Nelson’s Column, a much less impressive sight at a mere 16 metres tall. ‘You see, Admiral truly watches over the sea now. Now, as you bought ticket for surface tour, you get discount for Grundy’s submersible tour of the tubes!’ He paused as he felt a hand tugging on his trouser leg. ‘Yes, little one?’
Carla paused for a minute, before she asked. ‘Were you there?’
Grundy paused, rubbing his massive hand through his equally massive beard. He crouched, looking directly into the little girls wide eyes. His voice lost all pretence and just went very quiet. Low and calm, he put it very simply. ‘Yes. Yes I was.’
‘What was it like, Mr Grundy?’ The rest of the group, including the little girl’s mother, had wandered away.
Grundy smiled, sadly. ‘You need to catch your mother, little one. If you want to hear my story… Come back tomorrow. No tours on Saturdays.’ The little girl skipped away, beaming. She loved stories.
Grundy wasn’t such a fan off this story.
The Idiot in Tin Foil