The Obald – Episode 12

Ronnie executes operation Fish in Desk. This definitely won’t cause any problems down the line. Toffo calls another staff meeting. On their train to London that evening, Mel confidentially reveals to Ronnie a side to her character that blindsides him.

When I worked in an office I never hated anyone so much that I wanted to exercise petty revenge against them. But it was close. I remember there was this one time that a higher grade officer thought I was after this girlfriend. The looks! Of course, I was entirely innocent. She was definitely flirting avec moi, but she wasn’t my type. Of course, she as an individual was free to flirt with whoever she wanted to, and the problem was the HG officer’s sense of possession and entitlement. Office romances are never a good idea. There were an awful lot of office romances though. I personally started at least three relationships in my time there, and I wasn’t even the worst offender. There was a guy in the office, let’s call him Mike (his name actually was Mike), who would routinely ask out every new girl who started in the office within a week of her first day. This is No Exaggeration.

It was a tragic situation. The idea of this ageing Lothario, slowly losing his hair, asking younger and younger girls out. Luckily he did get one of them to stick, and they entered a long-term relationship and he dodged the bullet.

This is the episode in which Ronnie realises that he and Mel both have some kind of involvement with Melody and her father’s movement, both meeting in the middle from different directions. 

Operation Able Archer/Autumn Forge is over, Mel seems to have dealt with the boyfriend problem, and things are looking up. On the train to London to see a film at the NFT, she reveals (among other things) what she knows about where Paul works. It was on such trips to London with my girlfriends that I conceived of the idea of a secret place behind blank walls and innocuous doors. Of course, if it had been 2013 and not 1983, I might have done some actual research, but I didn’t even know, then, about the disused Underground stations, many of which come straight out of T S Eliot: King William Street (closed 1900); City Road (1922); Down Street (1932); and the British Museum (1934), which was between Holborn and Tottenham Court Road. The most recent station to close was Aldwych (1994), though part of Charing Cross was also closed in 1999.

I couldn’t pass one of those mysterious doors, even now, without thinking of The Obald. But back then I thought of a space where an organisation existed, so secret that barely anybody knew of its existence. Walls from behind which the millions of faceless commuters were being watched, measured, judged. Well, you think yourself faceless, but now they have facial recognition.

Back then, we were naive enough that we still believed in the mythological TV detector vans. I’ll never forget the “…And they’re watching Columbo” public information film. You could quite believe they were watching you, just like in George Orwell, that they even knew your shoe size.

Nowadays I’d tend to think that, yes, they are watching, but they’ve got you mixed up with someone else, and they think they know your shoe size, but it’s actually your neighbour’s shirt collar size. Just as dangerous, but more because of stupidity; like the Met arresting people “by mistake”.


A revised ebook of The Obald is available:



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The paperback edition has also been updated and revised.

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