A modern, grey office cubicle situated on an industrial estate in Uxbridge. Three middle-aged men sit at banks of computer screens. A young man, in an ill-fitting suit, stands, writing on a white board.
Reg: Gather round, gentlemen. Young Kevin here is going to present his first WTF report.
George: What the fu…
Reg: George! Watch your language in front of the apprentice. W.T.F, Kevin. The…Flipperty Do Dah report.
Bert: What’s with the board, Kevin? It looks like something out of CSI Miami.
Kevin: Oh yeah. Good isn’t it. It’s for my incident report.
George: What’s that you’ve drawn along the bottom, a little shi…
George: Poo emojis?
Kevin: No, they’re meant to be gnomes.
Reg: All will become clear shortly, gentlemen. Go ahead, Kevin. Start your report.
Kevin: Okay, thanks, Reg.
Clears throat and shifts uncomfortably from one foot to another.
Kevin (cont) On Monday 15th March I attended a call-out at the property of one Mrs Hilda Winston, aged 91, of 27 Hillcrest Avenue along with Reg, oops, I mean Mr Compton. We ascertained that the householder, Mr Winston was suffering from an I.N.D?
Kevin: Oh yeah, of course! IGD, Intermittent Gnome Disturbance.
Reg: Write that down in your notebook, lad.
Kevin: Yer, got it. Thanks, Reg. Er, we inspected the location and found that the aforementioned gnomes resided on the front aspect of the property, adjacent to the public highway, and overlooked on three sides by neighbouring properties. The front garden is not secure
Bert: Hmm. What’s the category of customer?
Reg: Double W rated sole occupant of a VVP, a classic BOL. NNNOK.
George: Keep up, dipshit. Wealthy widow, lives in a Very Pricey Property. Batty Old Lady. No Noticeable Next Of Kin. Basically, she’s all alone with a heathy bank balance, and no grandkids to waste it on.
Kevin: Actually, there is a son. It was him who made the appointment. Apparently, his mother’s been on the phone to him every morning for weeks, worrying about those gnomes. She’s really upsetting his new wife. He called us in to give his mum some reassurance and security.
Reg: Well, not quite true, lad. He lives in North Wales with the third Mrs Winston junior, and no-one visits the old girl. Classic case of parental displacement.
George: He’s passing the buck to us. Getting the old bat off his back.
Bert: How many gnomes have been stolen and over what period?
Kevin: Well, that’s the thing, none have actually been stolen. It’s just that every morning they’ve been moved about.
George: What the fu…
Reg: Thief or a joker, their intention is irrelevant. She’ so frightened that m’laddo here managed to sell her six EK57 62gig wireless security cameras with motion sensors, integral security lights, direct digital download, and the full twenty-four-hour technical support package.
& Bert Well done, lad. Good sale. Congratulations.
Reg: Settle down, settle down. Hear him out because this is where it gets really interesting.
Kevin: (beaming wildly) Yeah, at 09.00 hours on the Wednesday 17th March, I attended the property and installed the package. I offered to set up the visual monitoring software on her mobile device, but she didn’t have like a phone or an i-pad or anything. So I sent the login details to the son so he could monitor the digital download if he wanted.
On Thursday 18th Mr Winston, the son, rang the 24 hour helpline. He advised the technician that aforementioned gnomes had been tampered with again during the night.
Reg: I can tell you, he was not best pleased. Gave me a right ear bashing.
Kevin: Yeah, he notified us that the camera at the front of the property was faulty, like failing to transmit a video feed. I confirmed his diagnosis using my remote login. Whilst that other cameras were fully operational, camera 1, overlooking the front garden was, well, blank.
Reg: I sent the boy out to take a look .
Kevin: And what I found was that a lea had blown over the camera lens, so I cleaned it, checked the feed and reported back to Mr Winston.
All was fine for the rest of the day. I kept logging on to check the feed. I swear it was all okay when I left.
Runs a damp finger around his stiff shirt collar, reddening as he spoke.
Next morning, another message from Mr Winston – he’s proper fuming now. The old lady, er, Mrs Winston, again reported gnomes had been moved about. No damage, none missing, just re-arranged. Some, he said were left in compromising positions.
Again, a blank feed on camera 1.
I returned to the property to find a piece of chewing gum stuck on the lens.
I logged into the video feed just before the point the camera went blank and, well, you’d expect to see someone walking towards the lens, but there was nothing. I couldn’t explain it.
George: So, what do you think it was?’
Kevin: Well, this went on for a few days, with bottle-tops and plastic bags being put over the lens. I ruled out the neighbours or kids because there was no evidence of movement prior to the lens being covered. I tested all the access points and I couldn’t get near that camera without being seen on the video. It was a complete mystery.
Reg: Every morning I got a call from the son, wanting to know what was going on. I always responded in a non-affirmatory manner, but on the 28th he completely lost his shit with me. Threatened to go to the press if a gnome so much as moved an inch in the old bat’s garden. To yop it all he threatened to stick that camera where the sun don’t shin
George: Dished you a right T.U.R.D.
Bert: Totally Un-Realistic Directive.
Reg: Hang on to your hats, lads. This is where the boy got clever.
George: Ooohh, earning your £3.50 and hour are you now, YTS?
Reg: George! Settle down. Credit where credit’s due. Now, Kevin. Carry on why don’t you.
Kevin: Yeah, so I went back to the property, it was like really bugging me. I don’t know if I like broke any rules or anything.
Bert: We sat contravened regulations.
Kevin: Oh, okay. I’ll pop that in my note book. Well, if I conta-beaned and reclessnations. But I really wanted to catch the person who was doing this, so I got these like infra-red camera me and dad put in bird boxes to watch baby birds hatch, just blue tits and the like, ya know?
George: What’s that got to go with gnomes?
Kevin: Well, they’re rally tiny infra-red cameras and battery operated. Whilse I was up ladder inspecting the security camera, I clipped one onto the guttering. I don’t think anyone saw me do it, so I figured if anyone was watching us and tampering with the equipment, I’d catch them on this.
Bert: Wow, well done. Who was it? Spill the beans, lad.
Kevin: Okay, hang on. So yesterday, Tuesday 31st March, I downloaded the footage from both cameras and watched them side by side. Once it got dark the security camera went blank and, as usual there was no obvious culprit. So, I watched the infra-red camera back, literally frame by frame. At first, I didn’t notice it. You couldn’t see it on the security camera at all because it was dark and he was too small to trigger the security light. But here, watch this. It’s a bit grainy because it’s infra-red, but you’ll see.
Reg: You didn’t tell me about this bit.
Kevin: No. I’ve just been working on it this morning.
After a few minutes of everyone peering at a computer monitor
Reg: Nope. Am I missing something?
Kevin: Here. That’ why I drew him on the white board with the timeline. Watch that little fella in the red hat. He moves so slowly you barely see it.
George: The gnome? Are you pulling my plonker, boy?
Kevin: No, honestly, just watch here. See, he moves so slightly over the period of an hour that you don’t notice it. But, speeded up. You can see how he shifts right across the lawn, then, wham! The main camera goes blank. But look at the infra-red. See, there he is in the hanging basket!
George: Oh, good job, lad. You really caught us out good. Were you in on this too, Boss?
Reg: In on what?
George: What’s today’s date?
Blank looks all round.
George: April fool’s day!
Everyone apart from Kevin laughing.
Bert: Oh boy, good one.
Reg: Oh, well done, lad. I didn’t see that one coming. Blimey, you had us fooled.
Kevin: No, no really, it’s not a joke. It’s real.
George: All right, sonny. You caught us out proper with that one. Moving gnomes! Whatever next?
Kevin: No really, guys, I’m serious. I’ve got the footage, see.
Reg: All right, settle down everyone. That was a corker, lad. Best one in years. We won’t forget that prank in a hurry.
Later that day, in the garden of number 27 Hillcrest Avenue, Fred, the red-hatted gnome
shifts slowly out of the shade.
Fred Red Hat: Cor, I wish she’d stop sticking me by the pond. I don’t get the sun ’till lunchtime.
Johnny Green Boots: Stop whinging. She keeps sticking me out here on the boundary. Number 14’s Airedale mistakes me for a gatepost every morning.
Fred Red Hat: Here, Helga love. Fancy a bunk up?
Helga: Not likely while that camera’s still up. Think I want to star in a sex tape at my age?
Mr Atherton: (Opens office and calls into the waiting room) Mzz Jones? Do come in. Can I get you a drink?
Ms. Jones: Oh, yes, ple…
Mr Atherton: Tea is £2.53, Coffee £3.67, Milk is fifty pence for…
Ms. Jones: Oh. No thank you then. I thought you meant…
Mr Atherton: Very well, very well. Now, please sit…Oh…you have.
(Sits behind the desk, shuffles a large pile of paper, peering down at Ms. Jones over his glasses)
Very well, now your application, Mzz Jones. Is that Miss or Mrs?
Ms. Jones: Neither. I don’t wish to be identified by my marital…
Mr Atherton: Ah. So, you’re a lesbian.
Ms. Jones: No, I’m…
Mr Atherton: Your hair is extremely short. Are you sure you’re not a lesbian?
Ms. Jones: N…
Mr Atherton: Are you married?
Ms. Jones: Sorry?
Mr Atherton: Are you M-A-R-R-I-E-D? Do you have a husband? Do you have hearing problems?
Ms. Jones: No! No, I’m not…
Mr Atherton: Shame…I mean out being a married, but then, what do you expect with hair like that? At the Moneytree Bank we generally prefer our lady lenders to be securely married, although we do also accept lesbians. It looks good on our equality statistics. Now, how long did you say you’ve had an account with us?
Ms. Jones: Urr thirt…
Mr Atherton: Just thirty-five years. One of our newer customers then.
Ms. Jones: I’m only thirty-six!
Mr Atherton: Yes, exactly. Not very long at all. And you say you’re a home owner? You actually own your own home?
Ms. Jones: Yes, for the past three years or so.
Mr Atherton: You’ve bought your own house? How did you come about the money to purchase a house at your age and without a husband?
Ms. Jones: I approach a bank for a mort…
Mr Atherton: So, you don’t actually own your own house. The bank actually owns your house.
Ms. Jones: Well, technically I suppose. I hadn’t thought about tha…
Mr Atherton: No, Mzz Jones. It appears you hadn’t thought about that. Thirty-six. That’s quite old not to be married. Were you disappointed in love, let down, jilted at the aisle?
Ms. Jones: No! No, I wasn’t. I suppose I’ve been concentrating on my career, building my business…
Mt Atherton: Shame…I mean about the marriage. As I said, we do like our lady lendersto have the extra protection from the world.
Ms. Jones: Are you kidding me?
Mr Atherton: No, Mzz Jones, I kid you not. It’s in our policy document. (tapping a full lever-arch file on the desk)
Ms. Jones: Sorry, no. I’ve been concentrating on my career. I was a nurse.
Mr Atherton: A Nurse! Well well. Why didn’t you mention that before. Excellent profession, nursing.
Ms. Jones: I gave it up.
Mr Atherton: Oh!
Ms. Jones: I opened a bakery. It’s my own business…
Mr Atherton: A Bakery hmm. I suppose that’s a good, honest career Early mornings?
Ms. Jones: Yes, very early. I work very hard at it. That’s why I wanted the…
Mr Atherton: So, you have time for another job, once the bread is baked?
Ms. Jones No. Once the bread is baked, I sell it in the shop.
Mr Atherton: In a shop. You didn’t tell me you were a shop girl.
Ms. Jones: I’m not. I’m a baker.
Mr Atherton: But you told me you work in a shop. That’s not in your application. (flicking through the application form). A shop girl.
Ms. Jones: It’s a bread shop. I make the bread and then sell it. I’m a baker. Actually, that’s why I wanted the loan, to expand into a tea shop to sell cakes.
Mr Atherton: Cakes? You didn’t mention cakes? You said you were a baker.
Ms. Jones: I am. I bake cakes as well as bread.
Mr Atherton: Wouldn’t that make you a patisser-rer? Cakes are a different prospect from bread. Bread is a solid, honest product, the stuff of life. Body of Christ etcetera, etcetera. Cakes are very different. Very flighty and very…perishable, yes, very perishable. Rare you sure we can’t find you a husband?
Ms. Jones: No! No, please. I’m here about a loan for my business.
Mr Atherton: But you are, Mzz Jones.
Ms. Jones: Sorry?
Mr Atherton: You say it’s for your business, but how do I know that’s what you intend to use the money for?
Ms. Jones: What?
Mr Atherton: (arms crossed, leans forward and speaks in a conspiratorial manner) A customer comes in, Mzz Jones, and tells me they want a loan, hypothetically speaking, for example, say, to build an extension. And I believe what they’ve told me, and I approve said loan. Then, three months go by and there’s no sign of a bulider, not a scaffolding pole of spade to be seen. What there is, hypothetically speaking, in the back window of a very flashy BMW, is a sticker. You know the sort, a sticker telling me ‘I’ve been to Center Parcs.’ Mocking me, Mzz Jones. Abusing my trust. So tell me, Mzz Jones,How do I know you’re not planning a hypothetical fortnight at a tropical themed water park in Suffolk at the bank’s expense?
Ms. Jones: I’ve never been to Center Parcs!
Mr Atherton: Exactly! If you’ve never been, you might be planning to go in the future.
Ms. Jones: I just want to do what’s best for my business.
Mr Atherton: Me too, Mzz Jones. Me too! This is all very confusing. Just let me review you data module specifications against the policy criteria matrix.
(flicks through lever arch file and application form for an extraordinary long time)
Ah well, Mzz Jones. I’m pleased to advise…
Ms. Jones: Oh, thank you so…
Mr Atherton: That you don’t meet the bank’s extensive fiduciary loaning criteria.
Ms. Jones: Sorry?
Mr Atherton: (sighs with relief) I’m not authorizing your loan.
Ms. Jones: But why? I don’t understand. This is ridiculous. This whole meeting has been ridiculous.
Mr Atherton: I’m sorry, Mzz Jones. It’s the fiduciary policy of the Moneytree Bank. You simply don’t meet our criteria. Thank you for your time today. The door is this way.
(Stands and opens the office door)
Ms. Jones: What? This is madness. Do you ever give anybody a loan, Mr Atherton?
Mr Atherton: Only once, Mzz Jones. Only the once!