I Would Heal Babylon - Synopsis

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by David Tarbuck email

Arthur Collins, a retired railway man, and his wife Sylvia plan to spend their remaining years in a brand new retirement bungalow on an estate of sixty, all more or less the same. How could they know, any more than any of the other residents, that the estate has been built over a disused toxic landfill site? Until they all start falling ill, that is. At first they blame the water and the change of air, but as the symptoms increase, grow worse and people start to die, they begin to probe a little deeper.

Arthur’s own symptoms have been somewhat different from those of the others. The poisonous fumes emanating from way down below intrude upon his sleep. He dreams a lot; nasty disturbing dreams; some of them very real and lifelike.

How is it he dreams about riding horseback when he has never before ridden in his life?

The answer comes when he visits an investigator of dreams. Under hypnosis he speaks in a strange voice. His dreams are not really dreams at all, but memories. He remembers a past life as one Edward Sexby, trooper and agitator in Cromwell’s New Model Army.

Visiting their daughter in London, Arthur meets the teacher of his grandchild. He is convinced she is his wife from his former life. He is obsessed by her, pursues her, and though at first she is embarrassed by his advances, later on she discovers his dreams and is fascinated by them and the romance of his former life. They become lovers.

One by one the bungalows are abandoned until eventually Arthur is left living alone on the estate.

His search for compensation and/or reparation leads him first to seek out the company that had built the bungalows only to discover they had gone into liquidation, and thence to Spain to find the original owner of the landfill site. A visit to the House of Commons to hear a debate on the issue of proper regulation of landfill sites proves too much for him. In strangely archaic language he interrupts the speaker with a passionate outburst of his own and is sectioned to appear before the magistrates with a full psychiatric report. Newspaper coverage of the story goes beyond the event and discloses details of his affair.

His resolve to find justice is undaunted. Aided by ’Lizabeth, the now ex-schoolteacher and a band of young militant environmentalists calling themselves the ‘Green Dales,’ (Dales = Direct Action for Life on Earth), Arthur tracks down the man he thinks responsible for all his troubles: Cllr. Alan James, previously Major James of Army Intelligence and also ex-employee of the makers of Cythaldrine, a highly toxic pesticide now banned throughout the world. Arthur is convinced this is the stuff that lies under the ground beneath the bungalows. How can he prove it?

Why, by sinking a shaft into the ground from his back garden in an attempt to resurrect a drum of the stuff. Of course this proves to be beyond the means even of the Green Dales with their seemingly endless supply of skills and resources, but, on the other hand, if they could produce enough home-made explosive to pack into the shaft they might just succeed in blowing some of it to the surface.

Is this what Arthur really has in mind? Well, influenced by the contentious nature of Sexby, all the time trying to surface within him, on the evening they plan to detonate the explosive he leaves a message on Cllr. James’ answering machine inviting him to come to the bungalow to talk about Cythaldrine and possible compensation. He instructs James to come alone. James brings with him an old friend: ex-Chief Supt. Paddy Gillespie. The ring on the doorbell is all that is required for the detonation of the underground bomb. The frugal remains of two bodies are discovered and presumed to be those of Arthur and his lady-friend.

Meanwhile as Ned and Liz Sexby they have taken over the leadership of the Green Dales and prepare for more activities that will dramatically draw public attention to the plight of a contaminated world.

Written in the first person and in the present tense the story is narrated through Arthur’s own internalised conversations as the events unfold.

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