I was in a plane crash. You might remember the incident. A guy three rows in front of me, whilst tucking into his second helping of crackers and Dairylie, found his way into the cockpit’s website on his laptop and uploaded a distracting e-mail to the pilot. The Captain made a short announcement in which he asked us to remain in our seats – it made identifying the bodies so much easier – and thanked us for flying with Air Burgundy. As we plummeted helplessly to our deaths my mind darted back to the ubiquitous safety instructions and cross referenced them with the scenic map provided in every complimentary copy of “The safest way to travel!” in-flight magazine. Our situation was hopeless. We needed water to land in and the nearest to our position was a small pond in the tiny village of Drieselkopf, home of laderhosen and the German burp. So I reasoned thus: by staying in the plane I could be killed by the buckling fuselage, exploding fuel and any number of other factors – even the obese market researcher in the window seat beside me was a potential threat; but by leaving the plane and taking my chances outside, only the ground could get me. So I took my leave of my fellow passengers and threw myself into the whistling air.
A mountain broke my fall. Its uniquely parabolic incline slowed my terminal velocity to a gentle roll, and I came to rest in a daisy-covered field before a quietly grazing cow. Buttercup – for that was her name – took a liking to me instantly and set about licking off the grass stains from my Bopplefield waistcoat that were the only outward signs of my hasty descent. And so, presentable again, I made my way into a small village to seek its elders and my way back home to our glorious realm.
Dwietzgein Finklepompen, mayor for the third year running of this alpine abode, greeted me in his luxurious chambers of oak, leather and expertly crafted formica. He was a round-faced man with a belly as wobbly as jelly and a nose as red as a tulip. With a glass of home made Fochenbeiner and a thick slice of Buttercup pie (it had been her last day in the meadow) he welcomed me to his village and congratulated me on my survival. “My friend,” he said, “your presence here is not without its complications. My people have lived here in this valley for centuries, undisturbed by the outside world’s influence. In fact, you are the first person from yonder ever to stumble across our very existence since B F Skinner in 1959. Many, many years ago our ancestors discovered that if no roads lead to a place then no-one ever visits it. Keen to establish a harmonious paradise where they could make their sausages in peace, they founded our brave new community up here, where no road would reach us. We lead a simple life: our women keep our homes clean and hunt for us in the forest; our children play happily in the fields to keep the livestock entertained; our men, of course, work daily on the problems of quantum physics – we have our own website accessible only through the keywords chicken, Jehovah and Street Hawk. You are in Eden and you must stay; we cannot let you leave our home alive.”
Wholeheartedly, I assured the mayor I had no intention of leaving, and I swore my allegiance to the sacred chipolata there and then. But in the back of my mind I knew I was a rich man: just imagine, I thought, what the papers would pay to get a hold of this one. So I decided to lie low and bide my time.
I adapted to my new life quickly. A beautiful chalet was built for me in the village, and within weeks a wife had been allocated to me to keep it clean and its refrigerator amply stocked with chunks of wild boar. And I soon learned the true feelings of these people. Regularly, at one o’clock after midnight, a tapping at the kitchen door would announce the clandestine arrival of the village youth, keen to hear my adventurous tales of life in western lands. “Is it true what we hear,” they would plead, “about democracy, capitalism and Baywatch? Can such things really be?”
“My children,” I replied one night, “All these wondrous things and more exist in the world beyond the mountains. I can bring them to you. But first you must help me escape.”
“Escape!” they cried in unison (Unison was rather taken aback by this), “Surely you know that’s impossible?! The entire valley’s surrounded by a quantum field that forces matter particles through an interphase arc of 50 per cent! Hadn’t you noticed the purple tint?”
“Purple?” I replied, “I found it more a rose.” But my clever social irony went unnoted. “You have much to learn about our ways,” I added hastily. “Systems analysts might well say that ‘for all problems there are technological solutions,’ but, as all good saboteurs say, ‘for all technological solutions there is an off-switch’. On the morrow I will ascend the eastern mountain, and when I give the signal you must disable the village power plant long enough for me to pass through the field unharmed. You will know the signal when it happens. Be brave, children. Listen not to the nagging doubts and parental enquiries that are a natural part of any revolution. When I return you will see that all I have promised is good and true: tomorrow you will eat hamburgers.”
My inspiring speech worked wonders. Readily they agreed to my plan and set about the details of their involvement. The power plant was an enormous rhododendron sited just meters away from the mayor’s parlor between the turnip patch and the rhubarb penitentiary. Don’t ask me how this worked, but all it took was a few bags of lime to render the whole village powerless. The next morning I climbed the eastern mountain and gave my signal (I lit a cigar); sure enough, the purple glow before me vanished and I walked across just as easily as I had walked away from Edith MacGreuger ten years previously upon the shock revelation of her secret passion for Pixel the gunslinger on the Sinclair ZX81.
I returned in a week, the journalists of the world united behind me. Imagine my surprise, dear reader, when we crossed the unprotected boundary to find an empty valley, entirely devoid of any signs of its previous inhabitation. Only Terrance the turkey remained (he had always been stubbornly territorial), still gobbling the hour at seventeen minutes past and greeting humans with his peculiar – yet strangely aesthetic – arrangement of droppings.
And that was where my story had ended until two days ago in a West End McDonald’s: who should serve me up my special edition Bambi burger but a red-capped Dwietzgein Finklepompen himself. On the discovery of my escape, he explained, after pointing out this week’s competitive shake prices, the village council had called an emergency meeting to vote on immediate action. In the end they had decided on plan D and moved to London to seek employment in the fast food industry. All they had ever wanted, he emphasized, was obscurity, and no-one ever noticed you in that profession.