This piece first appeared on Thursday 19 March 2009.
Dixon went to Dock Green. It was a small patch of grass, hardly a lawn, at the edge of the dock. The dock itself was one where huge steamers came into port from faraway lands, carrying all sorts of exotic cargo. The cargo was mostly packed into wooden crates, which were winched from ship to dock by dockhands. When it was lunchtime, the dockhands sprawled on the green, the small patch of grass, and prised the lids off their Tupperwares and unscrewed the lids from their flasks. They ate their bloater paste sandwiches and drank their tea and while they chewed and swilled they talked to each other about the cargo they had winched ashore that morning. The wooden crates usually had lettering stencilled on their sides and tops describing what the crates contained. One might read FRUIT GUMS, another GIRAFFE BRAINS.
Leaning on a fence, smoking his pipe, Dixon listened carefully to the chitchat of the dockhands. He used to be a policeman. Now he was a spy. His mission was to find out what cargo had been winched ashore that morning and report back to his spymasters. His spymasters were shadowy figures who sat behind a big desk in an unlit room in a skyscraper in town. The room was unlit so that Dixon was unable to see them with any clarity and thus recognise them and thus be able to identify them at a later date if ever questioned.
Dixon could have just blundered around the dock and read the stencilled lettering on all the crates but he preferred to listen to the chitchat of the dockhands because he could not read. He used to be able to, when he was a policeman, but he had lost the ability. One day, one September day to be precise, he had been chasing a miscreant and lost his footing in a gutter and banged his head, and after banging his head he forgot everything he had ever known, even his own name, and where he lived, and how old he was, and what he did for a living, and how to read. In short, he was an amnesiac.
One of the spymasters came to the clinic where Dixon had been put. To disguise his identity, the spymaster wore a mask and modified his voice with an electronic device. He offered Dixon a job at Dock Green. This day I am telling you about was Dixon’s first day. While he was leaning against the fence smoking his pipe and listening to the dockhands, he forgot all about the unlit room in the skyscraper and the shadowy spymasters who had sent him on his mission. He became very interested in the fruit gums and giraffe brains and the winching mechanism and he walked on to the ship to take a closer look.
Dixon was still on the ship when it steamed out of port on its way to a far distant land to collect more cargo. One day, out in the middle of one of those big oceans that make up so much of the planet’s surface, he received a bash on the head from a violent sailor. Then Dixon remembered everything. He remembered he was a policeman, so he tried to arrest the violent sailor for bashing him on the head. But the law of the land holds no sway at sea, and the ship’s captain locked him up in a cabin until they made landfall.
The first land they came to was a tiny rock. The captain and the violent sailor took Dixon by the arms and legs and shoved him off the ship on to the rock. It was almost barren, encrusted with barnacles and other shelly denizens of the sea and rocks, but there was a small patch of grass. Dixon dubbed it Dock Green and fashioned a flag from his cravat and found a stick for a flagpole and planted his flag in the grass. And he devised a fishing rod and a bow and arrows and a desalination unit, for he was a resourceful policeman, and he ruled over his little kingdom, where there was never a whiff of crime, for many, many years.
NOTE : Younger readers, and those unfamiliar with British television of decades past, may like to know that an inaccurate adaptation of this story was the basis for a long running television series.