Dreamers of the Day

Some time ago I was asked to contribute something to a very special book, in which several writers approached the subject of Doctor Who encountering Lawrence of Arabia. I chose to concentrate on Lawrence’s attendance at the Paris Peace Conference, and because I could only spare two days to do it, wrote it as a 300-line poem.  The book was made as a very personal wedding gift for a Dr Who fan from his frankly loopy wife, so I think there are only about five copies in existence. And I’ve got one! I usually write for money, so it’s probably the only fan fiction I am ever likely to produce, but I was quite pleased to have crammed all 12 Doctors into a single work. There are many Easter Eggs in here for those who know the worlds of Who… or indeed Lawrence, or I suppose, the Paris Peace Conference.

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Ohana hungered for the gaze

Of others, basking in the praise of their attentions at Grand Balls

At gin-soaked parties, vaulted halls. She waited eagerly for cards

Of invitation – vellum shards for Hotel Somethings, Palais Thats

Where through a sea of diplomats she’d glide in elegant brocades,

Black hair a sculpture in pomades, her skin a doll-like ivory

A beauty there for all to see. Some of the men had brought their wives

Who stared at her with eyes like knives and whispered that this child of Asia

Was merely a transplanted geisha, which was the truth. And to be sure,

She was a youthful twenty-four, a little girl from far away,

Her task to make an evening gay with laughter, jokes or samisen

A haiku line or five or ten. A revered art in Tokyo

But here in Europe, who could know her fine poetic masteries

When only parsed in Japanese? Unable to correct this flaw,

They thought her just Saionji’s whore. Her aging Prince, with leathered face

Could wow the crowd with mots francais. He spoke it well to much delight

And so at every Paris night, when talk soon turned to books and songs,

The Conference and righting wrongs, Saionji got along just fine.

Ohana sunk her woes in wine. She sneaked out to the balconies

For cigarettes in twos and threes. She walked among the breathless throng

A sight that lasted for too long. A striking red-clad Japanese

Amazed Versailles societies, but with the summer turning cold

She felt her novelty grow old. A newer belle called Oei Hui-Lan

Fluttered beneath a feathered fan. She chased the Chinese delegate

And caused the press to speculate that marriage might be on the way,

Which made the news reporters’ day but left Ohana in the dust.

Though stay she did, as stay she must. The jealous women bad enough,

Ohana found it even tougher dealing with the leering men

Who gathered at the bar, and then would proffer drinks or light a match

And always try their best to snatch a foreign woman to their bed.

She hated them. Except for Ned. Her eyes lit up when he arrived,

She loved the evenings by his side. Like her, his costume marked him out

There never could be any doubt when Faisal’s delegation came

No party ever was the same, as swirling cloaks and desert hoods

Asserted oriental moods. Perhaps too much, as Ned confided

Such exotic sights elided Western thoughts of desert rule

With base desires to play the fool, to show the Arabs scant regard

As if their clothes tried much too hard to push their suit for liberty.

Ned wished for things that could not be. “Days seem to dawn” he said. “Suns shine.

Each evening to the bed that’s mine, I fall into a fitful sleep.

I muse on futures, thinking deep. I wonder what it is I’ve done?

Have I brought peace to anyone? I’m puzzled by the Western sneaks

Who kiss my Arab prince’s cheeks but turn to wink at secret deals.

Sometimes this hapless ‘hero’ feels as leaves dropped from an autumn tree.”

Ohana smiled in sympathy. And Ned spoke on about a friend

Whose labours were without an end, a man who shunned a global fame

(Indeed, she never caught his name). He said celebrity sans fail

Was like a can tied to the tail of some revolting yappy dog.

And tired of being but a cog in politics’ great world machine.

And yet in Ned were embers seen, of noble cause, of vital strife.

She asked him if he had a wife. He shook his head and said no more.

They stared for moments at the floor. She changed the subject quickly, then

And asked him of the rule of men, of winning battles in the sands

And how to gather many hands to greater purpose ’gainst the Turk.

He laughed and answered with a smirk that any fool might win a war.

“Nine tenths of tactics can be sure, and taught in books. But it’s the tenth

That calls upon an inner strength. Kingfishers flashing ’cross a pool

Present those instants not in school. These vital hinges in our time

Can test a general, make him shine.” She asked him whence such wisdom came.

He answered with a nameless name: “The Doctor, as he’s always known.

My friend who many times has shown me that I am most qualified

And bigger on the inner side. Although a hero’s task I shun

He tells me that near anyone can find a moment in themself

To take their courage from the shelf and make their stand for all that’s good.”

“I like that thought,” she said. “You should,” he smiled, and then begged leave to go.

She winced, but knew that this fine beau had other obligations close:

An Arab prince who played the host. And so she waved him her farewell,

And climbed the staircase of Hotel Bristol, where her suite was found,

To hide alone, to go to ground. She went to sleep, a fitful doze,

And as on days before she rose when sunlight streamed through curtain gauze.

And then she wondered where she was. She stood. She looked. She turned about.

Without a reason, without doubt, she’d strayed from normal day routines.

“I wonder,” said she, “what this means? I’m sure I did not drink too much.

Nor took I opium or such.” And yet she stood, in dressing gown,

In gardens outside Paris town. Some hours of life had disappeared.

She spoke not of it, as she feared Saionji’s wrath for honours missed.

Instead she wandered through the mist, fixing ahead the Tour Eiffel

A looming landmark, marked it well. She sneaked back in the kitchen door

And took the back stairs to her floor. Saionji was (as ever) gone,

And so she told it to no-one, until that night when, Ned returned

And while the autumn fire-logs burned within the Hotel Bristol’s hearth,

She told him of her curious path. Their time was brief, their chatter short

For all around them tyros fought a battle of great words and small

As if this Conference would all the problems of the world dispel.

But Ned paid heed, and listened well. And told her not to fret too much.

Instead she sat among the Dutch, the Germans, Czechs, the Poles and French

Enduring still the acrid stench of old tobacco, till the time

When once again the stairs she climbed, alone once more into her suite.

She shut the door, put up her feet, took off her wig and wiped her face.

She doffed kimono, still with grace, and slipped between the satin folds.

And soon she snored, midst bronze and golds. She dreamed of things unknown, and then,

The nightmare soon returned again. It was as if a tall, thin man,

Sat looming on her plush divan, a skull-like face drew ever near

And whispered poisons in her ear. And while she dreamt, a voice reminded

Her that senses seemed as blinded. Why did this seem everyday?

Did this the rules of sense obey? For if it had, she would recall

But had no memories at all, of any former visitings

By lurking, snarling, howling things. And when it left, she rose again

And set out with a new-found yen to walk the corridors at noon.

Already it was day and soon the diplomats were all outside

With meetings held both far and wide, across the city leaving her

Alone, unwatched, a saboteur (perhaps, for not even she

Recalled the dread, severe decree that planted in her mind had been

By forces cunning and unseen). And so she slept but also walked,

The hotel staff pointed and talked but did not dare distract her march

Through corridors, and halls and archways, on an odd, unknowing quest.

She wandered to the south annex, and near a small, cheap meeting salle

Hosting a Conférence Medicale. She passed on by, so did not see

The table set with filigree, and round it in Edwardian clothes

A dozen figures in the throes of long discussions politiques

Of pasts and futures quite unique, of presents yet to fully rise

Of plots and plans and by-the-bys. They bickered, chatted, sometimes laughed

Together as if choreographed. The eldest of their number mused

Alone as if quite far confused – a white-haired man with shining eyes

He seemed to quietly agonise on matters of great gravity.

And yet, he almost seemed to be the youngest in the room by far.

The others bore the subtle scars of long lives lived, of terrors fought,

Of distant travels. Victories bought with hard-won struggles never seen

Glowed on their faces, each a mien that spoke of monsters, plagues and wars,

Of flights down endless corridors, of loved ones lost, of time and space,

Of ceaseless wand’rings, ne’er a place to call their own.

And so they sat without a home: a fop; a dandy in a suit;

A man who fiddled with a flute; a brooding menace in a scarf;

A motley fool with braying laugh; a collar bearing celery;

A navvy frowning predat’ry; and one who wore his hat indoors.

The tott’ring elder paced the floors, and mused that matters “could be worse”

Past custom All-Star white Converse, a futuristic pair of shoes

Whose owner kept them full in view, and resting on the table top.

The “eldest’s” pacing came to stop before a young man in a bow

(Such ties are cool, if you don’t know). And of the twelfth, ’twas hard to see.

He might have even been a she. The sixth stood up and called for quiet

Enough to quell the bustling, riotous voices of the dozen throng:

“We have dithered far too long. My friends, good Doctors one to twelve,

It’s time for us to carefully delve into the schemes of unknown powers.

For here among the autumn flowers of Paris in her russet hues

You must beware of errant clues. The nations of the world have come

In search of peace, for justice done, and yet I fear this gathering

Has drawn a gaze unwelcoming, of alien menace, off-world threat.

And so I call in all your debts. I… you… we love this century,

This troubled twentieth of Sol 3. It is the world that we have made,

And some have lived here for decades: our First, our Third our Eighth and Seventh

Have drawn from it a greater strength. For fifteen years deliv’ring post,

Ten may have loved and lost the most. But by some chance

The twentieth century shall dance in all our memories best of all.

We love its verve, its vim; its pall of dread disaster might be sad

But we know life was twice as bad before and since. So let us try

To cling with all our might, to vie for mastery of this, our time,

To make a stand, to hold the line, ’gainst worse alternatives such as

The Nazi use of mustard gas, and let us strive that we not let

Great Britain become Soviet. Apocalypse atomic looms

If in those dark and smoky rooms of Kennedy’s great Camelot,

Someone does not untie the knot of international diplomats

Who fight and scratch like angry cats. But all these unseen futures seem

To stem from here, 1919. This Conference of babbling Powers

Seeks to spend its countless hours in hashing out an order new

Where Earthbound nations can be true to lofty aims of peace and love.

Eight scoffs! Three snorts! Heavens above, I know this enterprise will fail!

These treaties form a paper trail that leads to Hitler, Stalin, Mao,

But we must do it anyhow, however bad the global loss

It’s better this than King Davros – a future not too far away

Unless we clear our foes this day, and leave this Conference to be

To make mistakes so easily. In peace not every nation wins

I fear for the new-minted Finns; Korean rebels go unheard,

From Russia there’s been not a word, while Indo-Chinese rebels flock

To standards raised by Nguyen Ai Quoc, a patriotic pastry chef

To whom all Europe’s powers are deaf. And what, indeed, of Araby,

Which fought in sands that it be free? Of promises to Jews and Greeks?

Of new-formed lands like circus freaks? But let us leave the humans frail

To argue out their great travail. It is our duty now and here,

From Paris all our foes to clear. Collaborate within this day

To shoo the aliens far away, to rid the streets of Paris, France

Of Daleks, Macra, Sontarans, that when the off-world foes have run

It shall be humankind alone that plots its course for years to come.

And so, so that our foes be gone: we are aware, in early days,

A terror group called Loups Mauvaises did try to bump off Clemenceau.

In readiness, our Eight did go into the streets to trail his coach

And act as if above reproach, in order to be there on time

To thwart this pointless, deathly crime. Meanwhile, some Mannequins Néstenes

Are lurking on the Rue Vincennes. We’ll leave that job to Three and Five

To see the shoppers kept alive. A mirrored hall on Treaty Day

Keeps Weeping Angels far at bay. To reach this aim, our Ten has toiled,

Although lest futures be despoiled, we cannot know quite what this means.

Enough that we know evil schemes are dealt with through such plans again.

Which brings me to the Cybermen….” But as the motley-coloured man

Went on with plots and tricks and plans, the youngest looking scamp of all,

The bow-tied one, slipped from the hall. And with an upraised hand he asked

His friends to leave him to his task. He sensed a wrongness, clammy, slimy,

For reasons wobbly/timey-wimey. For something seemed to be amiss.

A sight of utmost silliness. “Ned?” the Doctor spoke, unsure.

“What are you doing on the floor?” For T.E. Lawrence lay there prone,

Behind a pot-plant all his own. “I’m trailing suspect number one,”

Ned said. “Guessed you right. The bet is done. La Japonaise who drew all eyes

Now seems to have been hypnotised by foes unknown.” “Well, fancy that,”

Observed the Doctor, his cravat adjusting in a looking glass.

“It’s time to end this evil farce. I’ll wake the geisha, see her home,

And leave you to stand watch alone. I see no evidence of wrongs.

No ectoplasm, alien pongs, no prints, no tracks, nor yet a trace,

Which makes me wonder, do we face, some creature that a way can find

To wipe away the human mind and clear it of all sights and sound?

I know a race whose skills abound in mesmery, of humans fooled

The Silence are they often called. An enemy I often rue,

So this is what I say we’ll do…” And whispered he at volume low

Such that this poem cannot know exactly what was plotted there.

But that night on the hotel stair, kimono’d hand opened a door

As it had done on times before, it tiptoed in the room and then

A painted lady flopped again onto her bed with ling’ring sigh.

And then soon, as like a devious spy, a skull-faced figure crept within

With dapper suit and raddled skin. It lurked in menace by the bed

And thus was much surprised, instead of harmless geisha mind to troll

It found a man in silk blindfold. Lay Lawrence on the bed disguised

As geisha maid to fool the eyes, not well enough to deceive man

But in the dark a sure-fire plan to snag a Silence in a trap.

It saw its danger in a snap. The creature made away to twist

But Lawrence struck out with his fist. His fingers closed around its neck

And dragged it to the outdoor deck. They fought in darkness, for the light

Had been extinguished. While the fight drew on, the Silence tried the same

Old tactic on the brain of humans that had always worked. A sight

So full of mortal fright that it was sure to clear the mind

But Lawrence was, as planned, quite blind. And ready to put up a fight.

His throttling fingers drew in tight. The Silence fought, it wailed, it shook

While T.E. Lawrence took no joy in crushing out its life.

As surely as an Arab knife. His foe defeated, up he stood.

Lifting the obscuring hood, so that he might look upon the foe.

Except, as regular viewers know, as soon as eyes laid on the dead.

And looked away, it left his head. And he forgot all he had seen.

All that he knew was some sense keen that he had struck, and fought, and won.

Now was the war on Silence done. He staggered out into the hall

To tell the Doctor of a cruel and deadly danger, just now brooked.

But when the Doctor too had looked upon their secret mission’s sight

His mind’s grip on the facts grew light. He, too, forgot what he had seen

As if the threat had never been. Instead, to his amused distress,

He stood with Lawrence in a dress. “We’re done,” said he, “but cannot brag.

Let’s get you out of Asian drag, while to the other Doctors we

Shall tell of this strange irony: that know we of a plan destroyed,

Although our minds are unemployed in memories of the deed we did.

On this we’ll keep a quiet lid. I’ll to the geisha go and tell

That thing which troubled her’s in hell.” “But Doctor, tell, in some strange way

Did we save dreamers of the day, from some foul strategy so vile?”

“Let’s hope so,” said he with a smile. “I, too, cannot remember if

Our actions made the slightest difference, but let’s imagine so.

And someday maybe we will know, what monsters lurked in Paris halls,

What evil forces walked so tall. Humanity’s imperilled, true,

But saving it is what I do. Great danger ever-present lies

Beneath the earth, above the skies. True, furtive menace strikes again,

But we, Ned, we are dangerous men.

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