Monday, 4 February 2008

1981: Amos And The Cube - An Original Back To Beckindale Short Story - Part 1

“They say it’s going to be the next big thing, Mr Wilks,” said Amos.

Henry looked doubtfully at the small plastic cube, composed of even smaller plastic cubes, six different colours, sitting on the bar top. “They do? Who’s they?”

“Those in the know,” said Amos, puffing himself up. “The trend watchers at the Courier. We’re in for a fascinating new era, Mr Wilks, a fascinating new era of computers and microbe technology. The Year 2000’s just round the corner.”

Henry let the “microbe” and the fact that the Year 2000 was in fact nineteen years away pass without comment, and picked up the cube. “So, what do you do with it?”

“You twist it,” said Amos.

Henry gingerly tried to twist the cube. Crrrk, it went.

“Hmm, very impressive,” said Henry. “You could amuse yourself for hours. Pretty colours!”

Amos sniffed. “Mr Wilks, I’d thank you not to poke fun at what you don’t understand. That cube is a mathematical masterpiece. It’s got…. Oh, BILLIONS of combinations and you’ve got to get each side ’t same colour.”

“Oh, I see!” Henry was grateful for the chink of light. “Well, why didn’t you say so? Bit like one o’ them Chinese puzzles, isn’t it? Piece of cake, Amos. I’ll have it done in no time…”

“Where’s Henry?” asked Joe Sugden some hours later, lifting a foaming pint pot of Monk’s finest to his parched lips.

“He’s in’t back,” said Amos. “Trying to do the Rubik Cube.”

“Oh, you’ve got one of them things!” Joe grinned. “There’s a couple going around amongst the Estate workers. They reckon it’s going to be the next big thing.”

“I reckon they’re right. Mind you, us journalistic types have to keep our finger on the pulse of events, so to speak,” said Amos, puffing himself up a little. “It’s come from’t behind’t Iron Curtain, Joe. Imagine that!”

Henry appeared from the back room.

“Henry, I hear you’ve been doing one of them cube thingies,” called Joe cheerfully. “Have you managed it?”

“No I have not!” said Henry, uncharacteristically sharp. “Three hours and not even one side done. And yet it looks so easy… like a tiny tot’s toy!”

“I told you, Mr Wilks!” said Amos, “I said, didn’t I, as ’ow it were mathematical? Work o’ genius, I’ve heard. It takes a special kind of mind to work out all the perlitations.”

Henry let “perlitations” pass. “And I suppose you have that kind of mind?” he queried.

“Eh?!” Amos hadn’t anticipated this.

“The cube - you can do it,” Henry elaborated obligingly.

“Aye, well… I haven’t done yet,” Amos admitted. “But I only got it yesterday. I’ve not had time to get to grips with it, as it were. But I’ve a very logical mind, you know that, Mr Wilks… Now then, Walter, another pint is it?” He escaped, gratefully.

Henry and Joe chuckled together.

Over the next couple of months, the Rubik’s Cube did indeed become the “next big thing”, just as Amos’ source at the Hotten Courier had predicted. The craze gripped local school kids the most - and it was reckoned that Andy Longthorn could “do” the cube in 53 seconds. There was some interest amongst the elders of Beckindale.

“People have got far too much time on their hands, that’s the trouble!” said Sam Pearson, “Getting all het up over kiddies’ toys - whatever next!”

Amos, who had been toying with a Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles cube behind the Woolpack counter bridled. “It’s got some of the world’s finest brains baffled!” he said.

“Well, Sharon Henshaw from below Demdyke can do it and, good girl though she is, I’d hardly call her a genius,” said Sam. “She’s only nine-years-old!”

“Amos has a book on the subject - and we still can’t do it,” said Henry. “I can manage one side, but that’s it.”

Amos glowered at him for this piece of treachery - fancy telling Sam Pearson that! It was at this point that Seth Armstrong came in. “Can I have a word, Amos?”

“I’m busy!” Amos snapped. “Mr Wilks will serve you!”

“I’ve a message for you from’t Malt Shovel,” said Seth, gravely.

“And what have you been doin’ at the Malt Shovel?” Amos demanded

“Oh, I ’aven’t been in,” said Seth quickly. “I saw Ernie Shuttleworth in’t post office just now.”

“Well, what’s this message?” Amos sniffed.

“I’d tell you, Amos, but I’m a bit parched,” said Seth. “I got all the way up to Primrose Dingle this mornin’ and found me flask ’ad sprung a leak. I’ve ’ad nowt to drink since breakfast…”

He made strange rasping noises deep in his throat to labour the point.

Amos was not about to submit to this outrageous piece of blackmail, but Henry stepped in. “Have a pint with me, Seth.”

“That’s right kind of yer, 'Enry,” said Seth, beaming. “You’ve a good ’eart, so you ’ave. Our Meg were only sayin’ this mornin’…”

“Never mind all that,” said Amos, icily. “You said you ’ad a message from Ernie Shuttleworth.”

“Oh, aye, that’s right. Now what were it now…” Seth was thoroughly enjoying Amos’ agony of curiosity. “Oh, that’s it - he wants to hold a contest wi’t’ Woolpack - Rubik Cube, he sez. Reckons he’s the got the champion Cubist of Beckindale as a regular at t’ Malt Shovel.”

“A contest?!” Amos made it sound obscene.

“Aye, that’s right - his best Cube man against Woolpack’s best Cube man,” said Seth and took a long swig of his pint.

“But we ’aven’t got…” started Henry.

Amos broke in: “Ahem, Mr Wilks! Tell Ernie Shuttleworth if he wants to ring me here we’ll confirm the details, Seth Armstrong. I‘m sure these licenced premises can hold their own in any contest wi’t Malt Shovel!”

Henry was agape: “But Amos!”

“I got the potatoes like you asked, Mr Wilks,” Amos was being very cool. “So if you want to make a start on the shepherd’s pie…”

“Annie’s recipe is that?” asked Sam.

“That’s right,” said Amos. “Mr Wilks?”

Henry sighed. “Oh, all right!” But as he went through to the back room to begin his task, he was sure of one thing: the Woolpack had no “champion Cubist” amongst its regulars. Henry was the best at the Cube in that establishment, and he could only complete one side of the blasted thing. What on earth was Amos playing at?

And, truth to tell, as Amos held his head high and discussed the virtues of Annie’s shepherd’s pie recipe with Sam, he didn’t really know either.

But if the likes of Ernie Shuttleworth thought they were going to get the better of him in any way, shape or form, they had another think coming!

Meanwhile, one of the Cubes sat happily beside old Walter’s pint pot, a multi-coloured jumble. It kept catching Amos’ eye, and finally he tucked it away under the bar. If he hadn’t known better, he would have sworn it was mocking him. It looked so simple, as Mr Wilks had said, just like a tiny tot’s toy. “Come on, solve me - surely you can?” it seemed to be saying.

And yet nobody at the Woolpack could.

And now Amos had committed the pub to a contest with the Malt Shovel, and Ernie Shuttleworth was bragging of having a “champion cubist” supping there.

Amos groaned inwardly: “Oh ’eck!”

PART TWO COMING SOON! Read the history of the Rubik's Cube here.

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