Airport Chaplain

Episode 849 of Hooting Yard’s ‘detergent opera bouffe’, loosely based on the groundbreaking STV series of 1980.

Whooper swans whooped on the airport pond. Beyond it, by the grain silo, the airport squirrel skittered and twitched, as if terrified. But it was on home ground, and scared of nothing. As with all squirrels, its twitching was merely the outward sign of its high metabolic rate. A path led from the grain silo to Runway Number Nineteen, where on this fogbound morning a supersonic überjet from a bygone era sat rusting on the gravel. Nineteen had been the experimental runway, where madcap airport boffin Dr Loopy Streisand used to conduct his madcap boffinry, before his transfer to another airport in another country on another continent far away across the sea. He had not welcomed the move, flailing his weirdly dainty little fists at the airport security guards who dragged him forcibly from his boffin hut and shoved him on to a chopper. That was years ago now, neither the whooper swans nor the squirrel had been born, but everyone knew that Dr Streisand was forever plotting his return… and his revenge.

It was the ever-present nature of the madcap boffin’s threat that explains why this episode of Airport Chaplain opens, as they all do, with the pre-breakfast Counter Streisand meeting. For very clever strategic reasons, the meeting is held in a different part of the airport each day, although due to budgetary constraints the team invariably gathers in the canteen. And what a great canteen it is! Here, they will be able to have their breakfasts as soon as the meeting concludes, except of course for the airport hunger artist, who will scamper back to his pod suspended from the branches of a sturdy oak tree in the airport spinney. And it is at the edge of the spinney where we find the massive stone slab which serves as the airport chaplain’s altar, upon which the daily sacrifice of a goat is made. More on that later.

Here is an example of the stuff that was said at the meeting:

“According to the consoles, what is your apprehension of the proximity or distance of the mad boffin bent on revenge?”

“Readings confirm that we remain steadfast on code lavender.”

“Fie! ‘Tis but a poltroon’s capstick!”

Also before breakfast an indication is given of a new plot development. For example, the airport floozy may let slip a creeping disdain for the new moustache grown upon the upper lip of the airport tinker. Both her disdain and his moustache will prove significant in the weeks leading up to the Beltane bonfire.

Meanwhile, in his cubicle dug into the bunker below the airport socks-and-neckties franchise, Eric Maxwell Davies, the night watchman, settles down for his well-earned kip. His back story is important. He has often behaved skittishly, and equally often been such a sobersides that gloomy music accompanied his appearance. Desolate bells clanged as his signature tune in many episodes. Explicit hints are dropped that he may be the fictional brother of Peter Maxwell Davies, the Master of the Queen’s Music, and tension is sometimes created by having Eric’s scenes filmed with the whooper swans visible in the background, suggesting to viewers that, as his brother once did, Eric might eat them. So feeble is the power of the generator in this corner of the airport, however, that none of the swans has yet been electrocuted, a necessary precursor to it ending up on Eric’s dinner plate.

Unkempt and hairy, the recipient of an alarming number of blood transfusions, the airport chaplain lumbered into view from behind a pasteboard partition. Around his neck he wore a loop of string from which hung bones and teeth and fragments of the true cross. As he never tired of roaring at the congregations who packed into his chapel, his was an interfaith chaplaincy, where all known Gods held sway, except one or two of the Ancient Egyptian ones, whose wrath the chaplain had incurred in a long ago episode fondly remembered by a happy few. Before heading out to the spinney, the airport chaplain had to hear a confession from the apprentice goat boy, a seething, fractious, unhinged, dyspeptic, rancorous, unhygienic, cloth-eared, bitter child. For the past four years there had been a conceit that goat boy was forever busy in his workshop building the sacrificial goats out of plasticine and straw, always off-screen, and plonking him into the confessional box was seen as a clever variation.

Father Umberto : What do you have to confess, goat boy?

Goat Boy [off screen] : I am the love child of mad airport boffin Loopy Streisand and am constantly scheming to effect his return, whereupon he shall wreak his revenge upon the personnel of the airport, including the floozy and the tinker and Eric Maxwell Davies the night watchman, and you, airport chaplain!

Father Umberto : What the….?

After a pause of uncomfortable duration, we hear tinkly music composed by a paranormalist with access to Tony Hatch’s brainpans, and the credits roll.

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