Pitch: “TONY ‘BONO’ BLAIR believes he is the Tony Blair. The real one is trapped in Downing Street for a third term. He’s lost the leadership of the Labour party, his marriage is over, and he believes he has superhuman powers. He also talks to a teddy-bear. He thinks his new job, CEO of a top company, will give him time to relaunch his political career. But he’s hopelessly out of touch, sounding as though he’s watched too many episodes of Friends. He’s determined to fight back, and to find a MacDonald’s so he can “reach the kids”, who he’s obsessed with. After all, you know, it’s just a game of politics. But Tony’s new job isn’t all it seems.”
It’s ten years since I self—published my first novel Tony Blair the Wilderness Years with Booksurge, which then became Createspace under Amazon. Now, the novel looks like a story of real people trying to fight their way out of a ghastly parody. In many ways, it still reflects Britain in 2015; real people trying to escape austerity being imposed on them from above when there are imaginative alternatives.
Here’s a reminder of the opening.
1. the real tony blair
I might as well have committed some sort of hideous, unjustified crime. I might as well have launched my suitcase at somebody. I might as well have stood on my head, because every single dude was staring at me, Tony ‘Bono’ Blair and I didn’t know what I could possibly have done differently.
I pressed the stop button on my brand new Dictaphone (Walkabout edition). I squashed my face against the train window, pushing my trendy new baseball cap back. People, wet and shiny against the platform, slid into view. I was in a place called Carstairs, in an awful little country called Scotland, where I’d once struggled to escape humble beginnings, where it rained slowly all the time, and I wasn’t allowed to speak my mind into my brand new Dictaphone within earshot of other people who were offended by the freedom train I was riding.
I saw a drinks machine on the platform. I was gasping for a drink, but bloody hell, not even a tomato juice passed my lips when I was Prime Minister, and now that I had the opportunity there was nothing doing. The soup kitchen they called the buffet had closed hours ago—something about lack of staff, whatever that meant, and now I was wondering whether I could reach the drinks machine and make it back on the train before it left Carstairs. But hey! My years in office hadn’t changed me one iota. Reaching a drinks machine would be no problem for an ex-PM superhero, although I’d already witnessed saddos left behind in places like Carstairs: Prestonpans, Auchterleechie, Michtamuchtie, and that made me really mad—left behind by a train that was already late. What kind of a train service was that? It was incomprehensible. The train company seemed to want the train to reach its destination empty, and late. But even so, the platform drinks machine was a temptation, a tantalising step too far for an ex-Prime Minister trapped on a train in standard class without a drink.
I readjusted my baseball cap and switched on my Dictaphone Walkabout again.
“Train companies. Make them a top priority. One for the future… Well, it’s day one on my train of hope… I’ve been stuck here for hours now. You know, everyone I talk to remembers where they were when they heard that I’d been deposed, stabbed in the back by my friends after leading Labour to another great victory, which is encouraging because I’m not finished yet, not by a long chalk. Welcome to my journey of self-discovery. You know, this is the story of a forced exile, and a triumphant return. No more Mr. Nice Pie. My message is clear kids: I’m a straight kinda guy.”
2. my new order
It may not have been, Ich bin ein Berliner, but then Berlin, divided and surrounded by Soviet tanks, was not Sedgefield. I’d been in Scotland five hours and I’d only travelled forty miles. Relatively speaking, I was going backwards. This was not something to be tolerated in my new order. Going backwards was not an option, although it was better than going nowhere, like those other wasters. At least I was doing what I was told to do. I smoothed down the side of my suitcase.
“Stay cool, buddy. We’re nearly there.”
A woman opposite, dressed head-to-toe in colourless hessian, was staring at me.
“I beg your pardon.”
I cleared my throat.
“I er…have a little friend in there.”
“Well never mind your little friend. Would you mind awfully? I’d like you to do something for me? I wonder if you could reach that drinks machine over there and bring me back a Pepsi, please.”
I’d already dismissed the drinks idea. She leaned forward and held something out. There was always the fear I’d be left behind. When I was told to go to the Hotel Machiavellian in Invershneckie, they meant Invershneckie not Carstairs. Carstairs was nowhere. Carstairs was beyond hope. Definitely not cool for cats.
“I’m sorry, lady, but there’s no way. No thank you, ma’am. I have a political career to think about, and Carstairs is not the place to launch a popular revolution.”
“I’d be very grateful.”
“I know, and the country needs me, but the train’s about to leave, lady.”
“And begger my poor old legs. They just won’t carry me there and back like they used to, but I do think you have a little time left if you hurry. They’re still alighting. You won’t miss the train.”
“Look I’m sorry. It’s just not possible for me to address the needs of everybody.”
She smiled and dropped the money in my hand.
“Please, sir. For an old lady.”
Train doors slammed, and hey! I had a self-image crisis to think about.
3. i am nike
I hurdled a luggage trolley, the winged god of running or something, and rammed the coins in the slot, but bloody hell, the price of a Pepsi didn’t register. She hadn’t given me enough money. Pressing the refund button fired the coins out of the slot, across the platform and under the train. Cash was made to roll away. I knew cash rolled faster than a pizza delivery scooter. If it didn’t roll away, millions would stay in the hands of ordinary people like me, no work would be done, stocks would plummet, and that would be it, game up for everyone, including moi. In my new order, money would be square.
I could have struck the drinks machine with a mighty freedom blow, but the guard whistled and I abandoned the drinks idea altogether—being stranded in a place called Carstairs was a fate worse than death. It might even come to that in rain-drenched Carstairs. My teeth rattled in my head and I shivered. Diving for the door didn’t work—some kind of uniformed guy was in the way being pretty darned old school.
“Oy! What’s your game, sunshine? Who do you think you are, the Prime Minister?”
But the train was moving, and I was in no mood to explain policy U-turn. I had to reach Mr Nixon and my Dictaphone Walkabout with a thousand great tunes for revitalising a discordant Britain left dispirited and downtrodden by the way I’d been treated by my friends in the media.
“Well in actual fact—”
I dropped a shoulder, and with a move the rugger coach would have been proud of, I passed the guard like he was the leader of the opposition.
“Hasta la vista some time, baby.”
I had the train door open and jumped on, but the train was picking up speed and the door was swinging open. That was the problem with train doors in Scotland—shut when I wanted them open—open when I wanted them shut. Closing the door took the kind of superhuman strength that came from having spent the last eight years peering out of a window in Westminster, and freedom felt real good.
The guard was on his feet running, his arms gyrating like a wind farm. The train was sucked into the kind of tunnel that never seemed to end, and I was warm and safe, and I was never going to see that stupid man ever again. Narrow escapes weren’t good for ex-PMs. The movement of the train sent me back to my seat. I leaned back, took a deep breath and pressed “record”.
“Station guards. Train doors. See to them.”
I was a tad angry. The woman looked up.
“That’ll be twenty pence you owe me.”
4. i am the chosen one
You see, I just couldn’t bloody pay up, not having a brass farthing to my name. I looked at a magazine lying on the table—a dire-looking glossy: Construction News for Scotland. According to the magazine, construction was hot in Scotland, and my ex-wife had led me to believe it was all cabers and kilts. There were pages and pages of ugly old-fashioned mechanical diggers, heavy trucks, pneumatic drills, vast concrete mixers that made Big-Boy Truck News look like a toy fair. My backbone dissolved at the sight of it. Construction was more hideous than a Labour party convention in Blackpool. It was so, you know, northern and grubby and Old Labour. I put the magazine down, looked out of the window, and vowed not to have anything to do with construction, except, of course, on a superannuated basis.
Oil appeared to be pouring out of the Scottish sky. The surfaces shone brilliantly. I shivered and turned to the woman. I needed to engage with my people you see. It was a habit.
“Listen. I…er…must apologise about the money rolling away. Even superheroes make mistakes.”
“Oh that. Never mind the twenty pence. At least you did your best for me, and I’m very grateful. It was a valiant effort. A veritable superhuman effort.”
“Well I am cut out for life on the edge evidently, and that’s how I like to lead it, from the front. Blair’s the name, Tony Blair, misunderstood ex-leader of the country.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Blair.”
“Call me Bono. Look, I can’t stress this too sincerely, but don’t mistake me for the other Blair, the one still in Number 10. That Blair is a shell, a husk. You know, get over it. The real Blair, er that’s me, stepped out of himself, and, well, okay, I was fired, but don’t let that fool you.”
She understood. At least I hadn’t missed the train. That was the main thing. She wanted to know whether I’d be leaving the train at Edinburgh.
“Invershneckie, where I’m assured of a very satisfactory desk position with a reputable Scottish company.”
“Is this your first time in Scotland? They send people all the way to Scotland alone. It can be a very alienating experience.”
“The Civil Aviation Agency has arranged everything, and there won’t be any mishaps. I’m keen to join a reputable company. I’m going to arrive in Invershneckie, and someone up there is going to meet me and take me to my new top position. So I’m told.”
“That’s good. Do you think Scotland is ready for you?”
I looked out of the window and saw Scotland all around me, vast and deep and green. The train was moving at top speed and the fields merged into a blur. I was close to the heart of Scotland, and Scotland was coming to me, to hear my story, to fall at my feet.
“It’s just waiting to rise up.”
The woman leaned back.
“I feel you are one of the fortunate ones. I feel you have been called upon. You tried to help me in the same way a saint would help a sinner, and I’m very grateful. You have been chosen to lead, Tony, and you will be in my prayers from now on. May God be with you, Tony.”
I smiled and looked out of the window because I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to say, other than, “I know God is with me. He gave his only son to the world, and like me, Jesus struggled. But, hey, I was born to like, lead the country ya’. I was put on this earth to lead. I feel God is strengthening my very bones for even greater leadership, and he’s testing me—”
“Is that why ye’re sitting on your tape recorder, laddie?” said a rather disagreeable man behind me. “Cos ye’re speaking through your backside. This is your final warning, Blair. Button it, or you’ll be the chosen one all right, chosen tae go outta that winder wi’ that Dictaphone up your River Clyde.”