The Third Secret Diary of Dennis Brent
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My previous attempt to keep a diary was rudely interrupted by the blackmailer, Alan, who pinched it and used the contents to fuel a web of mayhem and intrigue across Bendaton. An unfortunate business. I have, however, decided that the time is right to start a new journal (this time hidden inside Katy Manning’s wax head) as I always enjoyed going back and roaring with laughter at some of the unfortunate things that happened to Francois Devine. For example, over our recent Christmas lunch he and I shared our cracker but the explosion was too fierce and the paper hat he’d been looking forward to caught fire. He sprinkled the ashes on his head but it wasn’t the same. I would’ve made more fun of him but I spent most of the rest of Christmas Day with my face in a bucket of ice after the same explosion set light to my moustache.
I’ve decided that this year will be an excellent one for Dennis Brent and Dennis Brent Limited. My new book is with my publisher and I have good feeling about it. This will be the one to break through into the mainstream. This will be the one to break through the glass ceiling which has kept me down all these years. This will be the one to break into double figures. I don’t want to tempt fate but this will be the one. Anyone who says otherwise is beneath contempt.
My publisher telephoned and has made an appointment for tomorrow morning. Francois Devine muttered something about eggs and baskets and hatching but claimed later that he was merely choking on some crumbs. He doesn’t have faith in me because he has no ambitions himself. He hasn’t published a book in over two years. He claims he is doing some specialist research but I think his newfound wealth and utter lack of ability has made him soft. I even caught him jotting some notes for – if you can credit this – an article in a telehistorical journal. In this life we can either go forwards or backwards and I liked to believe our days of writing for journals and fan produced magazines are over.
In other news, I discovered something shocking this morning. I had just stepped out of the shower and was sanding my rectal calluses when Francois Devine informed me that Bignell was downstairs in the drawing room. I have very little time for Bignell as you know but he owed me five pounds and I was keen to keep relations at a cordial enough level to ensure his returning my generous loan.
"What can I do for you, Bignell?" I asked.
"I need you to sign my application to join the Royal Telehistorical Society" he said. I was taken aback for obvious reasons.
"Why would you want to join that piffling assortment of ungrateful, illiterate and pompous buffoons?" I asked wittily.
"It’s a very prestigious club" he said wrongly, "I just thought it would be good for my career to join up. The thing is, I need my application signing my two fellows of the society before they’ll even consider me."
I took his form and glanced over it before disabusing him of his misapprehension.
"Neither Francois Devine nor myself are members of this trivial society. We did once consider associating DWAT with the RTS but we couldn’t agree terms. Since then there has been a coldness on both sides which I for one am in no hurry to thaw. Isn’t that right, Francois Devine?"
"Was this before or after they turned us both down for membership and ritualistically burned our application forms, monographs, papers and clothes?"
"Shortly after" I conceded. I was ready to give Bignell both his application form and a flea in his ear when I noticed something odd. His name. Specifically the part where he hadn’t written Bignell.
"Oh that" he said nonchalantly. "I thought you knew."
"Of course I did" I lied. "But for the benefit of Francois Devine…"
"My name is Melba but at school the chaps called me Big Nelly and my brother Little Nelly – after the singer. When I started writing fascinating technical articles I thought it safer to use an assumed name. You wouldn’t believe the amount of hostility sent my way online. Everyone seems to hate me. Either that or there is someone else using the same name but that would be a massive coincidence."
"Massive" I agreed.
"Indeed" added Francois Devine.
"So I was right to lay the plans I did. The world knows me as Bignell and only my friends call me Melba."
"Then I shall call you Bignell" I replied.
"Oh – I hoped we were friends" he said forlornly.
"I shall call you Melba" said Francois Devine with pomposity. Naturally I couldn’t allow him any privilege to which I did not have access so I agreed – under protest – to treat Melba as if he and I were friends. Whatever that means. At least we talked him out of joining the Royal Telehistorical Society. The last thing we need is them gaining a foothold in Bendaton.
The meeting with my publishers - ex-publishers I suppose I should say <gap where I would normally write a G to indicate humour but I find nothing humorous in today's humiliation> - did not go according to plan. I was shown into the offices of Messrs Hymen and Halfpenny and invited to sit down. I improvised a seating manoeuvre which wouldn't betray the crusting which had occurred overnight and which had become only too apparent during the walk over from Brent Towers. After ten minutes skimming an edition of something called "Heat" I was shown into Mr Halfpenny’s office. I had a knot in my stomach but that might easily have been the contents of the recently digested periodical. Do people really do some of those things? I made a mental note to do some research (purely in the name of research you understand).
I sat down (badly) and Mr Halfpenny asked if I would like coffee.
"It's free" he added wisely. I asked for a cup of tea, no sugar or milk, in a cup which wouldn't leak scalding hot fluid into my lap.
"Now, Mr Halfpenny, about my book..." I began. I was hoping he'd already have a proof copy for me to read. Not that I ever make mistakes - I honestly don't know why they don't just produce the finished article and save me a trip into town each time.
"Yes. Your book. 'The Annotated Memos of Donald Baverstock, October 1961 to April 1962'."
"The Authoritatively Annotated Memos of Don..." I corrected but he paid me no heed.
"I've got something here for you" he said encouragingly. But, instead of the neatly bound preview copy I had expected he brought out a bucket filled with a porridge like substance.
"Is this humour?" I asked.
"Mr Brent - this is pulp. It's what happens to books when no one buys them. We had a meeting last night and decided it would save a great deal of messing about if we just pulped your new book now."
"You've pulped 'The Annotated Memos of Donald Baverstock, October 1961 to April 1962'?" I gasped.
"'The Authoritatively Annotated Memos of Donald Baverstock, October 1961 to April 1962'" he corrected sensibly.
"You've pulped my latest masterpiece?" I said with increasing horror. "But I'm paying you sixty pounds per copy to publish my book - and letting you keep all the profits as a purely philanthropic venture which in no way has its roots in vanity despite the small print you insist on adding to my invoices - and I expect you to publish it. Is it my fault that you can't publicise a book properly? Is it my fault that you've obviously offended every major book stockist in England? The public are crying out for my books and you are denying them the pleasure."
"Mr Brent - I've been through the records. You've written more books than you've sold. Far more books than you've sold. Allowing for inflation, you're the least popular author there has ever been. I tell people about you at conferences. But the time has come for us to suggest that you might be happier not giving us the privilege of first refusal on all your projects."
"Are you dismissing me?" I said incredulously.
"I prefer to think of it as a combined contractual release and restraining order. It's been a pleasure doing business with you - which it hasn't - but if you come here again you will be arrested. You can keep the pulp but not the bucket. Good morning."
I walked weakly out of the offices of Messrs Hymen and Halfpenny, my satchel bursting with pulp and squelching a you would expect and my heart as low as it had been since my preferred pair of sensible tweed trousers had dissolved during a particularly vigorous sale at Bargainsave. What am I to do? Without an outlet for my writings I am nothing. I am less than nothing. Probably even less than that.
The second day of recording appeared to go extremely well. Francois Devine and I were on scintillating form with fascinating technical anecdotes flying around like droplets of disease carrying spittle from the mouth of a man who has just sneezed (though I doubt any of my anecdotes would cause someone to become ill <G>… though I’m not so sure about some of Francois Devine’s <GGG>). It had been an exhausting day and I was sure we had more than covered enough ground as I called a halt to proceedings at twenty past five.
"How much have we recorded?" I asked.
"Nine hours and seventeen minutes" replied Melba.
"And how many episodes have we covered?" asked Francois Devine.
"The first three and a half minutes of ‘An Unearthly Child’" answered Mebla.
"I fear you must’ve made a mistake" said Francois Devine.
"A significant mistake" I added for emphasis.
"You kept telling me to pause the DVD while you finished your points" protested Melba at this charge of gross incompetence.
"I concede we may have done so once or twice…" I began.
"…only where absolutely essential to prevent a MOCKERY of the facts…" continued Francois Devine.
"…but by and large we were two free-wheeling…"
"…and fascinating speakers" I concluded.
"You did two and a bit hours on the policeman" said Melba.
"I’m sure we didn’t" mumbled Francois Devine, screwing up a sheaf of notes headed ‘The Policeman’ and tossing them behind a filing cabinet. I retrieved the sheaf later and added it to my miscellaneous archive for items of little or no interest which should be preserved indefinitely.
"But what a nine and a quarter hours it was" I exclaimed, showing levels of passion I hadn’t engaged since I had too much sherry at "Smasher" Levine’s fund raising do back when we were going to sue the BBC. I got Jeremy Bentham to part with five pounds and there aren’t too many of us who can say that.
"My colleague is right – surely the duration is immaterial. The viewers will simply have to follow a set of clearly laid out instructions while viewing this particular digital versatile disc. Perchance I could record a separate audio track telling them to "Pause now" and "Resume viewing". I cannot envisage a single viewer for whom this would not be an acceptable, dare I say it exciting, prospect."
"Well said, Francois Devine" I added.
"But if they pause the DVD when you say to, they won’t be able to hear (a) your lectures and (b) your instructions to resume playback" quibbled Melba.
"Details, Melba, details. We are not here to go over the tiniest details at this juncture. Let’s get the entire "Doctor Who" broadcast run in "the can" and then worry about the nitty gritty and the inherent flaws in the digital versatile disc format."
"OH such numerous flaws" exclaimed Francois Devine.
We are going to have another go tomorrow. I’ve put today’s tapes in my audio archive until such time as we come to edit them together. Yes – edit. I will confess there are ten or fifteen minutes of waffle which could safely be cut. Mostly Francois Devine’s waffle but I contributed one or two "ums", "ahs" and "erms" of which I’m not proud.
I don’t know what Melba keeps complaining about. I have it on the best authority that, while on location filming, three minutes of footage per day was considered perfectly respectable. It is in the spirit that Francois Devine and I continued our commentary project (Francois Devine called it an odyssey at one point and I agree with him. If anything, our project is more arduous than that undertaken in a work of fiction).
"Stop the disc!" called Francois Devine.
"We agreed that the disc would only be stopped in emergencies" replied Melba.
"We did no such thing" roared Francois Devine.
"Actually we did" I said, stepping in with wisdom on my side. "You will recall that trips to the lavatory, snacks, meals, puddings, meal replacement beverages, any other sweet or savoury ingestions, rectal rinsing, dousing fires and fighting off wolves were all classified as emergencies."
"Ah yes. Though I forget why we needed the wolves clause" said Francois Devine.
"Yes – why did we need the wolves clause, Melba?" I asked. He wound back the tape (he is recording our private, off the record chats – I must have words with him) and I recognised my voice playing back through the speakers.
"…and we might be attacked by wolves" I said.
"That’s true" replied Francois Devine.
"I’ll write it down."
The tape stopped. I did now dimly recall saying the above. I let the matter drop by deflecting attention onto Francois Devine.
"Why have you asked that the digital versatile disc be stopped?"
"I don’t need to tell you – or even a junior telehistorian such as yourself, Melba – that there exists photographic evidence of the thirty two rejected ink patterns produced by the character of Susan Foreman and I would consider this commentary to be insignificant – even futile – without accurate descriptions of them all."
"Good point" I said. "We may well have had to go back and started the odyssey again if we’d neglected that point."
"I have saved us time and money" beamed Francois Devine.
"I chose you well to accompany me on this journey" I replied wittily. Alas, it quickly broke down into an argument (Francois Devine) and a reasonable discussion (me) about who had chosen whom to accompany him or them on this or the journey. The recording session ended abruptly amidst a snow storm of tossed foolscap. It looks as if I may be doing tomorrow’s session solo. It should hurry things along – I am aiming to finish the pilot by the end of next week.
I was right – not having Francois Devine around to
clutter up the commentary was a master stroke. I reeled off pages and
pages of fascinating technical information and, although we only got
through 45 seconds of actual video tape, it was a marvellous day. I’m even
considering hiring (yes – hiring <G>) someone to transcribe my monologue
as it was well worth publishing. I can think of literally people who would
be delighted to read my expositions on these crucial 45 seconds of
Yesterday’s entry can also be ignored – I was forgetting in my excitement that I no longer have a publisher and therefore cannot publish my fascinating and extensive notes. Melba suggested I submit them to a journal but I think we can all agree that suggestion is beneath contempt. Francois Devine is still not talking to me – he was silent over breakfast (apart from the usual breakfast noises) and was still silent when I popped down at lunchtime to give him a taste of his own medicine.
Disaster. There is no other way of putting it. The
odyssey is at an end. I was back in my studio and had covered eight more
seconds over the course of the morning when I heard someone lumbering up
the staircase. I knew it couldn’t be Francois Devine as he’d sent me to
Coventry and one of his few redeeming features was that when Francois
Devine holds a grudge, he really holds a grudge. None of this weak and
liberal minded “getting over it” nonsense – if he sends a man to Coventry,
that man might as well literally move to Coventry because he’ll be in
Coventry for a long time. Why am I talking about Coventry? Oh yes – the
lumbering up stairs. You could’ve knocked me over with a chair leg if it
wasn’t Francois Devine in person.
I am determined, even though he has behaved
disgracefully, not to let my dispute with Francois Devine become childish
in any way. Many is the firm colleague to colleague relationship which has
spiralled into pettiness. Further to the above, I don’t consider it in the
least bit childish to have taken possession of Francois Devine’s post for
the foreseeable future. Mr Cunthleigh, the postman, has orders not to
deliver anything to Francois Devine’s private box and instead to push
everything he’s got through my slot. There is literally no way this can’t
result in Francois Devine breaking the silence and talking to me,
therefore guaranteeing me victory. This morning he got nothing but
circulars and bills. I thought for a moment that he’d received a special
interest catalogue that might easily be misunderstood but that was
addressed to me and went straight onto my urgent pile.
Francois Devine has made me less determined not to
become childish in our feud. I went down to breakfast this morning and
poured myself a nourishing bowl of Bargainsave Bran Flecks only to
discover that there was just a single Bran Fleck left in the box. There
were definitely more in there yesterday and I know Francois Devine doesn’t
eat Bran Flecks out of choice because he once described them as "meagre"
during a fascinating discussion about the pros and cons of fibre. My
stomach has been rumbling all morning as a result and I was dangerously
close to being thrown out of the library.
Although I am not going to resort to childishness, I
felt I had earned the right to get one back at Francois Devine for his
unreasonable stunt with the Bran Flecks. I rather wittily broke into his
study after he’d gone out to spend the morning poking about in the second
hand book shops in Cymm and rearranged some of his digital versatile
discs. I cleared his object d’art shelf and replaced the trinkets with, in
order, Dragonfire, Arc of Infinity, Mawdryn Undead, Nightmare of Eden, a
small but deliberate gap, the Invasion of Time, Time Flight, another small
but deliberate gap, Doctor Who and the Silurians, Evil of the Daleks,
Vengeance on Varos, the Invasion, New Earth and Evolution of the Daleks.
He can’t fail to spot that they spell DAMN IT DEVINE. I think he’ll
concede by this evening and we can pick up where we left off before
unpleasantness set in.
I am fuming. I haven’t been this angry since nine different mobile blood donation vans turned up on the same day and claimed I’d registered to donate. No amount of proof from various medical text books would make them accept that it wasn’t physically possible for me to comply. Eventually they left after their attempts at emotional blackmail – "People will die if you don’t give blood" – were countered by me asking if they would fax me the names and addresses of those who died so I could check my lists to see whether they deserved it.
I was in Bargainsave doing my weekly shopping and had reached the till. A spotty girl whose lips seemed pursed in such a way that I was convinced someone had whipped the pipe out of her mouth at the start of her shift and she hadn’t yet noticed it had gone scanned my groceries and dropped them into a carrier bag. She told me the grim reckoning – I’m talking four figures – and I got my purse out to pay. I gave her three five pound notes and my Bargainsave loyalty card and waited for my change.
"Is this your card?" she asked.
"Of course – I am not, nor will I ever be, in the habit of using another man’s Bargainsave loyalty card" I said wittily.
"Only there’s no signature on the back so I can’t take it" she replied.
"What do you mean there is no signature? I signed it myself" I told her. I snatched the card and pointed to where my signature had so recently been. But instead of my premium penmanship there was only a scratched and smudged grey box which gave the impression of having been scoured.
"How many points would I have earned this shop?" I asked weakly.
"Twelve" she said. I winced. I took my groceries and
trudged out of the store.
I’m still keeping Francois Devine’s post and an
interesting item arrived today. I had no idea he subscribed to "Creative
Void" – the telehistorical journal of some repute. I’ve made my opinions
of journals quite clear over the years but CV has always stood out as
being a periodical of some merit. For one thing, as the title suggests,
they have a firm ban on any creative thoughts what so ever. A stance which
goes some way to overcoming the inherently flimsy contents – an average
issue will contain two 20,000 word articles, perhaps six 5,000 word
replies to previous articles, ten or so 4,000 word book reviews and a
fiercely contested letters page. It’s basically a children’s comic but I
can see why it might appeal to Francois Devine. I haven’t read it –
obviously – but it looked to be reasonably well typed. They have embraced
the word processor, sadly, but otherwise they have retained some sense of
dignity. I noticed Francois Devine had scribbled a note on a pad and left
it on the kitchen table. It was a reminder to himself to visit the post
office and give the postmaster a piece of his mind about his lack of
recent deliveries. I licked the tip of my index finger and drew a number 1
in mid air to show I had scored an important point. I regretted it almost
immediately as I’d just been using that finger to apply Dr Flapjack’s
latest unguent and I was still wearing my rubber gloves.
If you were to ask me to show you a wedge I would do so and I would point out the thinnest end of that wedge because the thin end of the wedge is something of a speciality of mine today. I got to my study at nine o’clock this morning and picked up a pencil with which to write some fascinating notes. The pencil was not merely blunt – it had been sanded down until it was completely flat. I withdrew a second pencil from my pencil caddy and that too was completely flat. In fact every pencil in my study had been sanded down until flat. I hunted high and low for a pencil sharpener or pen knife but they had all strangely gone missing. I could’ve used a pen but one doesn’t write notes with pens – that would be beneath contempt. Pencils are for notes, pens are for drafts and type writers are for copy. Those are the rules and some of us still have standards. In any case I was far too cross to write any notes when I realised what Francois Devine had done. If anyone wants me I’ll be in Francois Devine’s study. I’m taking with me Four to Doomsday, Utopia, Castrovalva, Kinda, Year of the Pig and Underworld. I’m having to use a video of Open All Hours but I’ve forgiven myself as it is an emergency.