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Little acorns

Where does inspiration come from? That’s one I don’t expect to ever work out. Often, I don’t think I even notice it as it happens. If I do, then the moment is long forgotten by the time I’ve kicked the idea around a bit, married it to something out of the maybe file, failed to fit it to a submission call, decoupled it, written some draft-with-notes, forgotten it for six months, picked it up and done most of that all over again …

A couple of months ago I seem to have been in an unusually introspective mood, and not only observed the germ of an idea but made some notes about it, too. Here’s what they said:

Ben was telling me a couple of days ago about a US naval cook who suggested that vacuum packed meals might well be ideal for submarines (I don’t know – I suspect Radio 4 may have been involved), and how, in the end, the only outcome was that the million dollars that each US Navy vessel still carries in its safe now comes vacuum packed, to save space. I suppose I filed it away, though I’m entirely at a loss to suggest why I was thinking about it this morning. It was the food angle I was thinking about, wondering why they’d rejected the scheme, when I remembered about that block of vacuum-packed greenbacks, and this time my immediate thought was ‘I wonder if Katie could steal it?’

The answer was just as immediate, and came, naturally enough, from professionally cautious Peter Leighton, noted for his adherence to the letter of the rules: ‘don’t be silly, Katie.’

And I could hear it, and feel the soft, scented, sub-tropical evening closing round me (fitting enough, I suppose, for a fine May morning with the distant, barely noted scent of irises and lilacs), and see Kate’s speculative smile as she looked at the warship anchored in the bay. I could even sense the presence of a third person in the shadows of the balcony – I’m not sure why; perhaps only because Peter and Katie tend not to feel like a natural pairing to me, perhaps because in my current, stuttering work-in-progress they are joined by Pavel.

It was Pavel who coalesced into the scene as Peter observed, patiently, that they hadn’t got the time and they hadn’t got the equipment, and it is Pavel, I think, who’s going to accompany Peter when he goes, formally, to persuade a US Naval Commander (Captain? Research beckons) that whatever trouble my three are in it qualifies as a contingency for which the million dollars can be breached. For Peter to go alone would lack gravitas, I think, but he can hardly take Kate – she adapts so well to so many situations, but the military mindset is one that confuses and unsettles her. One problem to solve, though … I’m damned if I know where they’re going to get a uniform for Pavel, and he’s going to be no help at all if he goes in his own.

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