∞ Pyromania

The Hut made the front page of the Argos. That in itself, George felt, was quite satisfying. He and Andy were already back in Bournemouth by the time they found out, online, that their test had become a local news item in Brighton & Hove.

It nearly didn’t. When they got to Brighton, exactly as planned and with no eyebrows raised from anyone, via Uncle Edward’s in London, they found to their dismay that Brighton beach huts in the main were bigger, fatter and squatter than those on Boscombe Beach and, more to the point, they mostly sat flat on the ground.

George’s approach had been – and to all intents and purposes still was – to plant a tiny charge of homemade explosive under each third hut and, considering the average distance at which they are spaced, hook three charges up to one kitchen timer. Preassembled and primed, it would then be possible for two people to, comparatively swiftly, place the devices in batches of three, in a relay sequence. Bearing in mind the overall distance to be covered, any obstacles and the need to remain inconspicuous, they had, he estimated, a window of opportunity lasting approximately three hours. If one person was able to plant one set every two minutes, then, allowing a margin of error of ten minutes per hour, the two of them would be able to plant fifty sets an hour, which would cover 450 huts. Times three made roughly 1350. That, George thought, was not quite enough. He had been hoping for about twice as many. But Andy was unperturbed:

‘You’re not thinking of the wind.’

That was true, George had not been thinking of the wind. Could he think of the wind?

‘We don’t know what the wind will be doing on Midsummer Night.’

‘It always does something, and it normally comes in from about there.’

Andy was standing on Brighton Beach, facing the water and pointing vaguely to his right. What was true of Brighton was also true of Bournemouth and of most of the English South Coast. The wind, mostly, came vaguely from the right.

That made a big difference. As George knew, although he had never expressed it and didn’t do so now, in the face of uncertainty, likelihood is your friend. And in all likelihood the wind on Summer Solstice Night would do on Bournemouth and Boscombe Beaches exactly what it normally does, come in more or less from the south west: vaguely from the right.

This could double capacity at a stroke. Maybe not quite double. For practical reasons, the individual devices within each set could not be spaced further than two huts apart, not least because George and Andy had by now started making them. But the sets themselves: they could be spaced out a bit. Perhaps as much as three huts apart. So George’s diagram in his mind now looked more like this:

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 06.01.55

Which meant one set of three could now cover a dozen huts. A hundred and fifty sets would now light up 1,800. That was a pleasing number, George thought, and Andy thought so too:

‘It’s pleasing,’ Andy said. And it sounded slightly odd, coming from a teenager barely the size of a twelve year old, but it was true. It was pleasing.

The project of getting hold of a hundred and fifty kitchen timers had started almost immediately, but the trip to Brighton, via London, proved instrumental, because there are only so many kitchen timers you can nick in and around Bournemouth before somebody starts thinking that’s weird. The field trip to Brighton via London though took in numerous household and hardware stores, DIY centres and ordinary larger scale supermarkets, in none of which digital kitchen timers were considered high enough value items to be individually tagged, with maybe one or two exceptions of the more ‘designer’ variety. George and Andy eschewed these and bagged the smallest and cheapest they could find, and before long their little suitcases were filling up with timers of every type, ilk and description.

Uncle Edward was oblivious to all this, as he was not the kind of grown-up to snoop into teenagers’ bags – or any of his house guests’, for that matter, of whom he had many. He wished them a good night out on the Saturday, when he was going to the theatre and dinner with a friend, and they headed down to Brighton. As previously agreed, they did not tell Uncle Edward they were taking a train down to Brighton, so as far as he was concerned, they were just heading out about town. They did not specifically tell him that’s what they were doing either, because it went against George’s grain to lie to his uncle, whom, after all, he liked, very much.

Following what looked like a potentially fatal setback of the ‘wrong’ beach hut design being prevalent on this part of the coast, the two boys – who here, among the curious mix of the youthful laid-back, the middle aged gay and the residual resident pensioners looked oddly at home – on their stroll happened upon a hut that seemed, and turned out, just about perfect: part of a group that looked a little older than the others, it sat on a low but accessible base, it was in good but not pristine shape and its location, towards the end of the beach, made it, if not exactly isolated, then still comparatively quiet.

With the temperature mild and just a faint breeze wafting in from, vaguely, the right, and the hour approaching midnight now, there were people milling about, but not too many and, as predicted and hoped, none of them paid any attention to the odd young couple among them. At this point, poised and calm, they didn’t look like juvenile arsonists, at least no more than juveniles do without meaning to anyway. They looked like any teenagers, one tall and languid, the other minuscule and mercurial, who probably should be heading home about now, and who might be doing just that, albeit slowly.

The deed itself was done in seconds and, within the specified minutes of deliberate delay, resulted in a resounding success.

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