The Revolution of Time

By Chris Pritchard

II

The next morning, BBC, ITN, Sky News and Channel Four reporters and camera crews poured through the front door of the Huygens house. The Revolution of Time had begun and the media were hot on the lead — but what lead? Who spilled the beans? Thomas had kept quiet, held his tongue, so to speak. Had somebody seen? Who knocked over the can? Let me tell you this: no can was knocked over, and the only beans spilled were those at the bottom of the garden, those tall green beans growing on the outskirts of the cucumber metropolis, bent and squished and exiled; spilling through the grates of a wooden trellis.

The rapacious reporters and covetous camera crews trampled like explorers towards the bottom of the garden, unaware they were stepping on the incredibly unstable birth-grounds of the Revolution. They were marched along a cobbled path by clunky Mr Huygens, who was usually half a mile high in a London skyscraper at this time of the morning. Thomas’ mother had insisted on staying inside with her dressing gown and slippers, out of the camera’s range, peeping from behind the curtains of the back bedroom — so, for the first time in history (iiiincredibly) Thomas’ father decided to take the morning off work in order to show the news teams the ‘miracle’ that had sprouted overnight in the huge allotment at the bottom of the garden.

Waitoneminute - a miracle and a revolution in the same garden? That’s one bloody special piece of turf! Except it wasn’t a miracle, sorry to disappoint. Miracles are things that can’t be explained, miracles are biblical, miracles only happen to people with short-sighted vision. This event was neither unexplainable nor biblical, but it did happen to somebody with incredibly impaired eyesight - and I’m not referring to the eyeballs in fleshy sockets on your face, but the eye within the mind — and that somebody was Mr Huygens. If only Specsavers had invented MindGlasses® back then, back in the early blind days of 1996 (?). Or were they already invented then? No, I’m positively certain they weren’t.

Mr Huygens was a clunky man, from the top of his head to the tip of his toes. His body was large and awkward, his jaw was perfectly squared and his nose abruptly jutted out as if it were an attachable/detachable gadget on one of Thomas’ Action Man toys. The one thing that surpassed Mr Huygens’ extreme clunkiness was his voice. It’s hard to explain, but whenever this imposing man opened his mouth to speak, the gauche clunks of his body seemed to gradually dissipate, like water soaking through stiff cardboard. Mr Huygens was a clown full of clichés in a London skyscraper, prepared to climb to the top — higher than King Kong — for a pat on the back with a cheque book. Thomas’ daddio worked as a spokesperson for the British Ministry of Defence and his work (life) was very much regimented by an imposing circular face of numbers and hands. You get it? It goes tick-tock, sometimes it goes bleeeep.

However, for one morning only, the prospect of appearing on national television had lured Mr Huygens down from his sky-scraping lair. The BBC were first to arrive. Amelia Orwell graciously entered the house in a stunning poppy-red dress and charcoal beret, and was followed by Steve the camera man (bereft of hair) and a trio of BBC production lads carrying black boxes, tripod lights, fishpole microphones and miles upon miles of wires. ‘He looks like Frank’nstein,’ nattered baldy Steve in the pale kitchen, ‘that’s what the flippin’ miracle is, a real life monster. Jus’ watch the way the geezer walks, as if those legs have been sewn on, init?’ The production lads dumped their equipment on the floor and nodded. Amelia sighed, ‘Steve, you’ve spent so much time pointing your camera at humans, you think all of them are monsters.’

‘Nah love, most o’ the time the camera is pointed at you, and you’re defs not a monster, though I bet under the bed covers that’s a ‘ole different ball game —’

Amelia hastily interrupted, ‘Maybe that’s true; but I assure you it’s one ball game you won’t ever get to play. You know Steven, sometimes I get the teeny-tiniest of impressions that you’d rather be shooting porn flicks than television reports.’

‘That’s an aw-flee smart observation,’ said Steve as he cleaned the camera lens with a month old tissue. ‘Porno’s are the most accurate artistic representation of ‘umanity, in the way that they admit we all just wanna shag each other every minute of every day. Off with the clothes, up with the colonel and let the monsta’s roam free, away from shitty thin’s like meetin’s and ‘andshakes and timetables.’

The Huygens house was typical of any English middle class cul-de-sac house. It was a well-bred white-bricked detached house that was maintained and kept clean to the highest standards of sparkle by Mrs Huygens and their incredibly overweight cleaner, Miss Puffin, whom the boys called Miss Muffin. It boasted two reception rooms, five bedrooms, a conservatory and was sandwiched by luscious lawns, back and front. The house, not Miss Puffin. Yes, it was typical of any house situated in a location named in both French and Latin. The cul-de-sac of Cucumis Corner! Most middle and upper class cul-de-sacs in England at this time were like elite golf clubs — the residents were highly competitive, hated sharing their clubs and were terrible at putting, but Cucumis Corner had somehow destroyed the inter-class warfare and formed a community around a green seventy per-cent water vegetable. Instead of tulips and roses and chrysanthemums, the front gardens of the arching cul-de-sac were lined with prickly vines, flappy-eared leaves and striking yellow-pink blossoms of cucumber plants. Obviously the competitive element was not completely eradicated as each year The Annual Cucumis Corner Cucumber Honours were hosted in Mr Panique’s marquee, and the highly impressive Cucumis Corner Crown was awarded to the family who had managed to grow the largest cucumber. Mr Huygens had waited half his life for that prestigious crown to be placed upon his clunky head. He never did win it, not even with the ‘miracle’. And yes, what about this ‘miracle’, what is it exactly? All in good time.

Despite appearing like a typical middle class cul-de-sac house, there was something rather odd about the Huygens residence. Amelia Orwell, halo-head Steve and the production lads also noticed a certain oddness as they rested in the pale kitchen. ‘There’s summin’ odd about this place,’ said Steve. ‘Yes,’ replied Ameila, ‘Odd indeed. It’s that noise, can you hear it?’ The house was plagued by an infestation. Can you hear it? An infestation of woodlice? Of Ants? Rats? Mice? No no no. An infestation of clocks. Can you hear it now? It was the sound of a hundred soldiers marching in a courtyard. The sound of a hundred steel capped boots thumping concrete in absolutely-incredibly-precise synchronisation - except the feet were hands, and the hands looked like long needles. Okay, to simplify, this was the sound: tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock, and so on.

Clocks, clocks, everywhere! In the kitchen alone there were thirteen of the little buggers hanging from limp washy walls and another five stationed on top of the microwave, beside the toaster, two on the windowsill and even one baby clock strapped to the inside of the fridge - poor baby clock, it must get awful cold in there, and it wasn’t even provided with gloves to warm its tickingtocking little hands, but at least the cheese and milk would be fully prepared for their use-by-dates unlike other perishable products in other fridges who simply get whisked away into the black bin-bag without prior warning. Clocks, clocks, everywhere! And not just your typical black-rimmed, glum-faced friends ticking typically like typical ticking machines — no, there were timepieces of all shapes and sizes, of all genders, races and colour. The clocks in the Huygens house were a multicultural bunch. Some notable mentions in this conglomeration were the French rococo bracket clock with brilliant ornate curves and flicks carved out of satinwood, the tall glass-panelled throat and pendulum box of an authentic American banjo clock from 1800’s (?) Massachusetts and a small plastic clock once used by the Dalai Lama on his travels to the United Kingdom in 1993 (?) which was purchased by Mr Huygens on eBay — no, wait! — that doesn’t exist yet does it — at a London auctioneers for a sum of twenty-two thousand pounds. It was, I promise. I should know. I’ve seen everything.

However, the crowning jewel of Mr Huygens’ clocks was a quarter-sized working replica of the medieval Islamic Elephant Clock designed by al-Jazari at some point in the 1200’s (?). This is a weird type of clock that expels neither a tick nor a tock, and it its inner mechanisms are not strictly mechanical at all, copper wires are absent and there is no battery dock. This clock is rather a cohesion of many animal elements; there is an elephant (as you’d expect) with a wooden structure strapped to its back like the one Prince Aladdin sits in when riding fat elephant Abu to impress Princess Jasmine in one of Thomas’ favourite childhood films. But, instead of a prince sitting on the tall wooden howdah, there is a serpent, a phoenix, and a turbaned man with a gong. The functionality of this water-powered teller of time was incredible and definitely ahead of its time (ba-dum-tish), as flow regulation of water buckets hidden within the stomach of the elephant measured periods of half an hour, and when the bucket was empty, strings were pulled, the man banged his gong and the phoenix chirped. The concept of the clock was bloody brilliant, the most fantastic of fantasies blending together serpent from that place with a great wall, flame feathered phoenix from that place with the pyramids, water technology from the neighbourhood of Aristotle, elephant himself indicative of monsoons and non-monsoons and finally turban from that troubled region where religion is the great destroyer. The Elephant Clock was a multicultural leader for a multicultural bunch. Mr Huygens valued the Elephant Clock as the creme de la creme of his collection because it had cost the largest amount of money to purchase and it was incredibly rare. Mr Huygens didn’t really understand the meaning of the word multicultural, you see.

Everywhere you looked there was a clock, as if your field of vision had been altered to include an interminable timepiece in the top/bottom left/right corner like on a video game — which of course was an idea so abhorrent to Thomas in the 2010 (?) research stages of the MindGlasses® that he shot the scientist who suggested it. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

In the Huygens house, Thomas discovered that one way of escaping the clock’s gaze was to stare either at the floor or the ceiling, but even then the incessant ticking and tocking continued knocking at every fibre in his body, like a time-bomb wired down his veins and arteries and lodged inside his skull. But more than that, the constant murmur of metronome music, the steps of passing seconds, yes, seconds like this: one elephant, two elephant, three elephant, four walking around and around — not just around and around in a closed circle, for we must imagine each circle as an inclination of a spiral and with every sixty elephants the spiral gets a little higher, and with height comes instability, and eventually there will be a fall. Every house has an end time. Most are monitored by the odd handful of clocks, but the Huygens’ house end time was anticipated by hundreds and as the spiral swirls higher, elephant after elephant, we are approaching, approaching, ever approaching the inevitable collapse of the leaning tower of Time. Holdyourhorses, just Huygens house time, or our time, you know, the stuff we live our lives by, time-time? Ah, you will have to wait and see, but let me promise you this: the Revolution is already gaining speed and things will soon become very explosive. Also, it should be given mention that at a time in between the two very different iterations of Big Brother, the multitude of clocks dotted around the Huygens household seemed like an army of surveillance cameras, always watching, always waiting, always judging. Clocks are good at waiting. And so am I.

And, who am I?

Another method of escaping Mr Huygens’ clock orgy was to enter the zig-zagged, zag-zigged miniature railway domain of young Thomas. Yes, Thomas’ bedroom was the only haven from the hideous faces with twelve eyes and twitchy rotating eyebrows (one small, one large). At the mischievous age of three the young boy had ripped the four-maybe-five clocks from his room - using a replica light-sabre to dislodge the highest clock from its location above the doorway - and then threw each of them out of the window like frisbees. Two-maybe-three became wedged in the huge sprawling hawthorn tree behind the cucumber patch at the bottom of the garden, one spiralled over and beyond a number of wooden fences, transcending cul-de-sac boundaries of privacy, before skidding across the surface of Mr Panique’s murky fish pond and panicking the already quite panicked fish within. And the final clock launched by Thomas whizzed through the air and clobbered Chronos the Cat ‘round the noggin, splittin’ his brain in two’ as older brother James would later report (snitch). Poor Chronos; probably the first feline to die at the minute and hour hands of a clock — but certainly not the last. And what was the reason for the three-year-old’s rage against the ticking of the clocks? The reason was simple. In his own words (taken from his 2011 (?) autobiography): ‘I learnt how to tell the time. And I told it to fuck off.’

Rude.

Mr Huygens burst into the pale kitchen, knocking both his clunky elbow and bulky kneecap on the door frame. ‘Right then,’ he said. ‘There’s no use spinning your wheels in here, come along, let’s start filming now. I’ve already written out a list of questions for you to ask so we’ll use that. A stitch in time saves nine.’ Usually, Steve the camera man would have responded with something along the lines of ‘I’ll spin your wheels if y’not careful’ or ‘I’ll write out a list of answers mate, and they’ll all say nah frackin’ way’ or ‘you’ll be needin’ plenty o’stitches once I’m through with ya.’ Yet Steve didn’t say anything, not a word, not a hint of objection, not even a shrug of the old eyebrow. Amelia kept silent too, and the production lads nodded (they were good at nodding) and transferred the filming equipment into the garden. Where did this bizarre submission come from all of a sudden? How did Mr Huygens get away with such inappropriate bossiness? Maybe the hypnotic ticking and tocking within the house had unnerved the BBC news team, or maybe the sheer absurdity of that many clocks had made them a tiny bit numb, or maybe, just maybe, it was Mr Huygens and his voice. There’s a strong possibility it was a combination of all three, for it takes a lot to silence Steve the bald’n’angry camera man.

At the bottom of the Huygens’ garden Steve set his camera on a tripod in front of the cucumber patch whilst one of the production lads erected a tall spot-light, for it was half past six in the morning and the sun had only just begun its journey across the sky. Another production lad assembled and hoisted the fishpole muffler-microphone, and the third furiously scribbled notes on a clipboard. Amelia Orwell prepared for the filming by adjusting her beret and dusting non-existent dust from her dazzling poppy-red dress. Mr Huygens stood behind the camera with his arms crossed like a film director, every now and then shouting orders. Soon enough, Steve called 3, 2, 1 Action! and Amelia began, ‘We’re all feeling a little deflated after Southgate’s saved penalty yesterday, but this morning in a Surrey garden, a miracle has occurred which will surely balloon our nation’s spirits. No. No, I’m not happy with that. Was it too cheesy, too subtle? Shall I do another take?’

‘Yes,’ came a reply.

‘Okay, well this intro is rather blunt so -’

‘Get on with it,’ said Mr Huygens, ‘we need to get started, the day is short and our work is long, get going.’

Amelia shook her hair. ‘If only the day was longer and the work shorter. Okay I’m ready,’ she pursed her thin lips [Action!], ‘Cucumbers are usually small enough to fit inside your fridge, in fact, if you felt like it, you could probably fit about two hundred of the vegetables inside a standard fridge — however, as you can see from the sheer size of the beast behind me, it wouldn’t be a hard push to fit a fridge quite snugly inside its watery belly. And what’s more, all of this happened overnight.’

And so we arrive at last to Mr Huygens’ ‘miracle’. The ‘miracle’ was an atom bomb. Well, it looked like an atom bomb. It was in fact a huge cucumber the same size and shape as a small streamlined shark (minus the sharp fin and tail). A bloody massive cucumber! The Jughead of the vegetable world, and what’s more: it hadn’t stopped growing yet — it had swollen at least half a foot in diameter since Mr Huygens first discovered it on that humid morning, and it would continue to grow and grow and grow, its dark emerald skin fading to a lighter green as it stretches larger and larger until the explosive day when Thomas abandons his childhood home forever. But that’s a long way off yet and the clocks of the Huygens house have a lot of ticks and tocks left in them before the dawning of that day. For now, on day one of its watery existence the huge cucumber is a mere child of the giant it will become.

Thomas’ older brother, James, had joined his father and the camera crew at the bottom of the garden. James was dressed in a brown suit and even though his hair was neatly combed, it still had the shiny-shimmer of hair that had just been plunged under a shower and scrubbed by a mother. ‘I want my eldest son to be in this segment, it will surely broaden your demographics. I don’t want to hog all the limelight, so we’ll bring in my boy here, he’s as good as gold, he really is — he wants to be a singer when he’s older and I fully support that, I’m not the type of father to shout no son! you must be a lawyer, doctor, scientist no no no, I like to think outside the box and let my son do what he wants to do! And you should hear the boy’s voice, every time he sings it’s like witnessing the birth of a rainbow.’

Amelia smiled and the production lads nodded. ‘In fact,’ continued Mr Huygens, ‘we should end the report with James singing a song next to the cucumber. A song about miracles! Oh wouldn’t that be a brilliant end? I’m not winding you up, this will boost your ratings.’

The BBC crewwere silent, and then Steve piped up, ‘Now I know ma music better than anybody else ‘ere, so if it’s a song about miracles you want, then I’m thinkin’ the 1975 classic ‘You Sexy Thang’ by Hot Chocolate, how’s that sound?’

‘That sounds fantastic, let’s shoot it after these questions!’ replied Mr Huygens. And so, ten-year-old James Huygens became the first human being in recorded history to serenade a cucumber with the most bizarre acoustic performance of ‘You Sexy Thing’. The finished shoot was incredible, with James strutting suavely alongside the garden fence singing, ‘I believe in miracles, [do-do] where you frommmm, you sexy thing?’ and then approaching the monolith cucumber, ‘I believe in miracles, [do-doo] since you came alooong, you sexy thing [yousexythingyou]’ and then stroking and hugging the cucumber’s green flesh whilst singing, ‘How did ya' know I needed you so badly, how did ya' know I gave my heart gladly, yesterday I was one of a lonely people, now you're lying next to me...’ The video was a big success, it was a YouTube sensation (no, sorry, YouTube doesn’t exist yet, I must stop doing that, I’m sorry), it was James Huygens’ first step on the rickety ladder of fame.

Where you frommm, you sexy thing? is a very good question. Where was this stupidly huge cucumber from? How did it possibly grow so large, so quickly. ‘It’s clearly a miracle,’ said Mr Huygens during the interview, ‘God works in mysterious ways. This is a sign that our planet earth is ready to yield incredible fruits. After so many wars, finally, with my cucumber, God is saying: let there be no more pain, only growth.’

‘Under what kind of conditions did the cucumber grow?’ queried Amelia Orwell.

‘Normal ones. We didn’t use steroids if that’s what you’re trying to say! We used peat soil, as most people do round here, and we watered it twice a day. It was last watered yesterday afternoon, and when I looked out the window very early this morning I saw the work of God.’

Amelia then asked, ‘And what’s the more scientific explanation for what’s happened? Have you had the cucumber or the soil analysed yet?’

‘I may let the white-coats get their grubby hands on it at a later date, but for now, whilst it’s still growing I want to give it some breathing space. If you take a look at the soil around the cucumber there is one area of slightly darker soil where the cucumber’s huge vine is growing. We think the soil is darker because it has been struck with lightning, either last night, or some time beforehand. A lightning bolt from Heaven, a gift from the man upstairs. A miracle.’

Well, that was Mr Huygens’ opinion. Here’s the truth: the small area of darkened soil wasn’t struck by any bolt of lightning at any point in time. But, if it wasn’t lightning that had turned the soil black, as if it had been scalded by one thousand degree heat, then what was it? A meteorite? A natural fire? Gunpowder? Spontaneous combustion? A stray firework? Nope, none of the above. It was Thomas, well, more specifically, it was Thomas’ vomit — the product of dead (vacuumed, extracted, stolen) butterflies and magpies and bumblebees that had in fact ‘fertilised’ the small area of soil in the Huygens’ cucumber patch and made the cucumber swell to the incredible size of an atom bomb.