Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss are honorary presidents of the Birmingham Science Fiction Group. Here’s a short piece by HH written for the Birmingham Sf Group’s 10th Anniversary Souvenir Book, June 1981.
The Year 2000 in Birmingham
I missed the chance to come back the first time around; 1000 was a very bad year. Nasty winter. Frost everywhere. Not my thing really. Floods in Egypt. While I was still making my mind up, time marches to the sound of a different drum here, all of a sudden it was 1001 and that was that. For another thousand years. Or a millennium as they call it. But I made a new year’s resolution – really a new millennial resolution – not to miss the date the next time around.
I always keep my word, as they say. So here it was, the year 2000 and I took a deep breath and went to work. After all I had promised. But, as I have said, time does tend to slip by and before I knew it it was June 27th not January first. Close enough. And it was the right year, I was sure of that.
Down through the clouds without hesitation, shoulders wide, beard curled, keeping my promise. I’d show all those sneerers!
But as I slipped down through the clouds I realized I hadn’t decided on a drop area. Not that it was important, as long as I got the world right. I decided to let chance play its part. I closed my eyes, did two barrel rolls and an Immelman turn – then looked up to see an island rushing at me. All of the roads were as crooked as a Pharoah’s promise but I did see one, cutting straight across the green landscape. I followed it for a time until it passed through a rather complex bit, not unlike a bowl of spaghetti, where I lost my original road. I swooped lower, down through clouds of coal smoke that started me coughing. By the time I had recovered I was following a ring type road that went on forever, never seeming to end. In desperation I listened carefully and heard the roar of the faithful chanting hymns. This was more like it; I zeroed in on the sound.
The temple was named The Royal Angus. A good omen, perhaps some connection with Bonny Prince Charlie, always a favorite of mine. I touched down, smoothed my robe and approached the portal of the temple that was guarded by a burly native.
“Bit early for the masquerade, mate,” he said, eyeing me up and down in a not unfriendly manner. “Let’s have your ticket.”
“I have but to knock to be admitted.”
“Not here, old son, not without a ticket, not even if you were Jesus Christ.” I smiled benignly at him and spoke, but my words were drowned out in a roar of sound from within the temple. The guardian of the portal beamed and pointed at a greyhaired man in a wheelchair being propelled forward by an even greyer, and fatter, man.
“Didn’t think old Rog would make it,” the guardian declaimed. “But old Dave just dumped him into the atomic wheelchair and drove him here. Knew he would come to pour the ceremonial pints.”
A ceremonial libation, very good. “I have returned as well and will spake unto you…”
Once again my words were drowned out as the person referred to as Rog seized two gigantic drinking vessels from his followers and held them out before him in trembling hands. Two ancient individuals, trembling even more than he, rose from matched Bath chairs and tottered forward on crutches to clutch at the sacred potion. Their crutches rattled to the flooring as they raised and drained the vessels.
“A couple of good old lads,” the guardian observed benignly. “Both with cirrhosis yet they came here today to be at this twenty-ninth anniversary of the Brum Group.”
“We’ve been called worse. The tall one is Brian, the crunched over bald one is Harry.”
“Some think so. But not me. But they are good old buggers.”
“None of that dirty talk. Now – out with your ticket or piss off.”
“I have come here to save.”
“Bank is down the street. I’m missing the best part – they’re on their third round of pints, neck and neck!”
“Millions alive today will live forever…”
“Those two old bastards probably will too, downing bitter like that at their age.” Then his eyeballs bulged. “My God – look what they’re doing now!”
But, after addressing me in person, he slammed the door. It was all quite confusing. So confusing in fact that I turned away, bemused, thinking hard, and walked in a direction whence I knew not. Then, before I realized it, I was back here again, with the clouds billowing around me and the harps playing on all sides. It had been a long walk I realized when I checked the time. Already May of 2001. I had missed the millennium again.
But – what is a thousand years in eternity? The year 3000 would do just as well. It would also mean that I would not have to witness that mystifying ritual again.
Or would I? No, it was impossible that the priest Rog would be pouring pints for Saints Brian and Harry for eternity.
Then why was I marking my calendar for the year 3000 to look in at the Brum Tabernacle when the anniversary came around again?