The Churchill Memorandum

Sean Gabb


The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,

Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,

Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

(The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam)













The quotation on smoking in Chapter Twenty is from Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, 1957. The two other quotations in that Chapter are also by her.

The front cover image was produced by Mario Huet.


Following a return to the gold standard, the price level in this alternative 1959 has fallen somewhat below that of 1914. Whether we take the current price of gold, or the various cost of living indices, this gives a rough conversion of £1 to £200 of our own as of 2011. This makes 1s. worth about £10, and 1d. about 80p. A halfpenny, therefore, is worth about 40p, and a farthing and half farthing 20p and 10p respectively. There is no smaller coinage.


“Of course,” he said, dropping his voice so it could be heard only half way down the queue, “the Americans have never changed over. They still call today March 6 1959. Their custom is to put the month before the day. It makes good sense, as the month is more significant than the day.” As if looking for support, the old bore pointed up at the calendar that hung just beside the concrete statue of the President. It was a wasted gesture. The departures hall of Anslinger International may have its excellences. If so, these didn’t extend to its calendar. Through dust-covered glass, it was still showing a date from January.

“Next!” the check-in clerk snapped. The New York accent is never friendly. New York bureaucrats, I’d long since found, go out of their way not to sound friendly. Somebody muttered, from a few places behind me, about the interminable wait. We shuffled forward another eighteen inches. One of my coloured porters strained with his box. Since the others didn’t think it worth the effort of moving theirs, he scraped it an inch or so across the uneven floor, then went back to sitting on it. I took a new standing position as I came to my own halt. It didn’t do to scratch in public. Even so, my left buttock was itching again like mad. Had I been bitten by something? I wondered. I’d been told you might pick up some nasty things in America.

“Mind you,” the bore struck up again beside me, “the computer chappies go one step further. They put the year in front of it all. They write today as ‘59-03-06’. That lets them put dates into a numbered list where they follow each other in fully logical sequence—most significant number first. Just before I retired in ‘56, we had a new computer fitted in Calcutta. The Marconi people had shipped it out in pieces for fitting together in situ. Big thing, it was—needed its own building, you know.” He took out his pocket handkerchief and, holding it in his left hand, blew his nose hard enough to start an echo round the cavernous dump where we’d all been shivering half the afternoon. I was one place from the check-in desk, and I saw the clerk look up disapprovingly from her inspection of yet another exit visa. Unimpressed—or perhaps unaware—the bore sniffed loudly and rearranged the very large and very white moustaches that covered his very large and very red face.

“I did ask the boy in charge,” he went on, “what would happen when the century number changed—what would he do when ’00 came after ’99? Gave me a fishy look, the little blighter, and muttered something that boiled down to ‘sufficient unto the day’.” He chuckled. Would he drift into recollections of his Indian days?

I could have kicked myself. Buttonholed—and even before check in—by the voyage bore is bad enough. Buttonholed by a bore who’d served in India was surely as bad as things could get. Unless I was to spend the next three days locked in my cabin, all my thoughts of a pleasant flight home were looking decidedly iffy. I looked again at his tie to see if it gave any indication of what he’d been doing before he retired. But the nearest fluorescent lighting was on the blink, and I couldn’t see the details of its pattern.

There was a loud crash behind us. Fifty bored, impatient faces turned to see who’d got the double doors unlocked that led back out into one of the less ghastly areas of New York. It was whole squad of Republican Guards. In their regulation fedoras and trench coats, they paused at the entrance and looked round. Most carried hand guns. A couple had sawn-off shot guns. One of them pointed in my direction and held up a folded sheet of paper. Coming at a brisk march, they set out across the fifty yards that separated us.

I fought to keep a blank face. Even so, I could feel my guts turn to vinegar. Forget voyage bores. Things had just gone horribly to the worse. And this wouldn’t be the end of it. For what it might be worth, I put a hand up to reach for my passport.

“Hands out of pockets, dear boy,” the bore breathed into my neck. His voice had a soft urgency wholly different from his calendar monologue. He was right. I’d been here long enough to know the drill. Trying to control their trembling, I stretched out my fingers and pressed my hands against the fabric of my trousers. Looking neither to right nor left, on the men came through the now silent hall. I thought of the permit I’d bribed out of the Repository Office in Chicago. Would it mean anything against these people? I prepared to clear my throat, and tried for an easy smile.

But it wasn’t me they were after. They stopped beside me. But it was the man right at the front of the queue they were surrounding.

“Alan Greenspan?” their officer snarled. He unfolded his sheet of paper. It was covered in typewriting, and there was a photograph in its top right hand corner. “You are Alan Greenspan—enemy of the people!” The little Jew in front of me cowered backwards and got out a few words in the sort of English accent you hear in Hollywood films from the old days. The officer laughed unpleasantly and took up the British passport the clerk had been in the process of stamping. Holding it in his left hand, he rubbed one of the pages between the thumb and forefinger of his right. He sniffed at his fingers and held them out to show how blue they’d turned. “Take him down,” he said to one of his men. The man’s face took on a gloating look as he put a hand on the Jew’s collar.

“I’m a British subject,” Greenspan squealed in an accent that now said he clearly wasn’t. He looked at me as if for confirmation. I forced myself not to step backwards, and looked steadily down at the floor. “You can’t touch me,” he cried again, desperation in his voice. “I’m a British subject.” A hard poke in the stomach sent him to his knees. The officer turned to face the flight representative who was hurrying over to protest.

“He’s none of your concern,” he said in the cold voice of authority. “He’s not a British national.” He put a hand on the obvious shape that bulged through his trench coat. The young representative opened his mouth to speak, but thought better of saying anything at all. It was now that Greenspan found his own proper voice.

“Free Ayn Rand!” he shrilled quickly. “She’s been in solitary for a year now. They’re killing her with neglect.” He was taking in breath for another slogan. But a knee in his face sent him straight down on the floor. The officer snapped an order to his men. They pulled Greenspan to his feet and three of them began dragging him back towards the doors. “Restore the Constitution!” he managed to shout. “Anslinger’s a tyrant!” But that was it. With a last despairing wail of “A is A!” from Greenspan, the doors closed behind him and his keepers, leaving the rest of us in total silence.

“I can smell a Jew at five yards,” the officer said, now looking directly at me. He smiled and flexed backwards, showing still more prominently the bulge of the metal in his pocket. “And I can smell subversion. You were beside him. You were with him?”

I wanted to tell the man very smartly I’d never seen Greenspan before in my life. It was the truth. He’d pushed in front of me not half an hour before, and had been giving me funny, sideways looks ever since. I thought of claiming friends in high places. Instead of all this, though, I opened my mouth and found that I couldn’t even breathe out. The officer was looking triumphant. Already, I could fear, he was turning to give orders to more ...

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