Imagine, if you will, the scene. It’s late at night in a deserted, dimly lit school biology lab, circa 19__ . A ponderous teacher of GCSE science leans over a petri dish, a small pearl of saliva forming at the side of his mouth. Perhaps he has yellowing teeth and the breath of someone who has eaten too many white bread and fish paste sandwiches throughout his dull career. He is an unpopular, overweight man whose stomach hangs over the belt on his trousers as if it were, like him, exhausted by the sheer effort of life.
He moves the dish reverentially, and, with liver spotted hands, lifts the lid and peers into the smeary lines of mould and bacteria. He sniffs, inhales. Uncountable microbes land on an olfactory receptor, suggesting the most foul of all possible bodily emissions. He squints at the crusting, grey-green fur, takes the dish to a microscope and leans in for a closer look.
Satisfaction spreads through him. The malodorous fuzz in the dish is without brain, nervous system or skeletal structure. Yet it has divided, cell after microscopic cell, imperceptibly, by forces unseen and unknown, until now. Now, weeks later, it is visible and – dare he risk it? – tangible. He raises the dish to the ceiling, closes his eyes and offers thanks to – well, he has never made up his mind about that.
At last, the experiment is complete. Perhaps a thunder cloud blows over the roof of the science building, perhaps a flash of lightning illuminates the teacher’s gleaming eyes, his thin, dry tongue flicking keenly over cracked lips. He knows what he must do. He lumbers across the laboratory to the north-facing window and opens it wide. The night air is cool, a chilly breeze pushing through the Poplar trees which encircle the school grounds. The thunder clouds grumble in the distance.
He takes the petri dish and gazes once more upon the foetid, deaden, mono cellular scum-fungus he has created. A flash of paternal pride swims through the fatty bag of his heart. With a deep breath he thrusts the dish through the open window and lets the wind take the stinking contents.
‘Fly free, my children,’ he whispers, and a single salty tear slips over his cheek. ‘Fly free.’ He sighs and closes the window. His work is done.
The following morning, a new clutch of customer services assistants has mysteriously appeared at the Self- Assessment offices of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in Cardiff. It’s almost as if they have been blown in overnight through a long forgotten window. They sit on swivel chairs in front of computer screens and connect ear pieces. They await the telephone calls.