Magnus is not a man of this age. The modern age; the 21st century; the age of great technological advancement, of supercomputers the size of wristwatches, of photographs of events in the universe that happened at the cusp of the Big Bang; the first age when the under tens can have a better grasp of technology and science than their grandparents. Not that the medical wizards of the modern age have come up with a cure for his arthritis.
He is a carpenter by trade, a master of his craft, a specialist cabinet-maker. His craft is old technology, ancient, mentioned in the Bible as a trade worthy of the son of God. I.T. technicians and rocket scientists, he happily tells his grandchildren, are not mentioned in scripture. They reply, cheekily, that a wooden space-ship would burn to a cinder on the launch-pad. His grandchildren are besotted with space-travel and computer games, his hand-crafted, beautiful furniture are as noticeable to them as wallpaper.
Although he can handle modern lathes and routers, it is the pole-lathe, the mortise and tenon joint locked through with a dowel where he excels. Pedestal tables he can design and construct in his sleep. The waterfall joint in plywood construction he virtually pioneered. In deed the more complex the joint the happier he is. Wood holds no fears.
The technological gadgets of everyday life, though, leave him flummoxed and very often emotional. When Gary, his son, calls round to fix whatever ‘glitch’ has prevented him from doing what he needs to be doing on the computer, explanation and instruction falls from his lips, at least to Magnus’ ears, with the mystery of ancient text. Megan, his wife, though, works with computers and can play the part of interpreter and when Gary has left she will walk her husband through what he did wrong to create the ‘glitch’ in the first place. Their love is long-held and, to the relief and comfort of Magnus, it is not reliant on licence renewal for them to continue sharing a bed, a home, a life.
Gary bought the laptop, or personal computer as it now must be known, so that his father could at least design furniture even if his arthritis prevented construction. It was a kind and thoughtful gesture. Yet for months it went untouched, with Magnus continuing to sketch his designs on the back of cereal packets as he had throughout his life. The computer only stopped being a close relation of the devil when one Sunday Gary used his father’s laptop to show his son film of a U.F.O. caught flying over the sea near where they lived.
And once the lid of Pandora’s Box was opened ….
He promised Megan he would tidy the house. The list of chores was somewhat endless, both inside and outside the house. Megan’s friend Joan is coming to supper and bringing her new man. It’s a big deal and according to Megan if they are presented with a tidy, dust-free house for the evening it might hasten the going down on one knee and an engagement ring at long-last on Joan’s finger.
Megan is a leading light in the local am-dram group. Occasionally it shows. Unfortunately Magnus has become concerned with the threat microwaves can have on the health of humans and it beginning to get on her nerves. Indeed he has already written an e-mail to his Member of Parliament about the forest of cell-phone and Tetra masts in the area. There is a cell-phone tower in the church spire, apparently, not two-hundred yards from their back garden. And worse, a Tetra mast within five-hundred yards. His house has become a veritable microwave hotspot. It might even be the cause of him forgetting his promise to tidy the house.
Time, a component of life U.F.O. abductees claim to often lose, passes very quickly when on the Internet and Magnus is only aware of his matrimonial faux pas when he hears the lock turn in the front door. If it is a house burglar he has a chance of redemption. House burglars can be handled with a phone call to the police, though not from his cell phone as that has not only gone on the banned list but also in the bin. Either way, Megan, protective of her own mobile phone, will not be as easy to placate as a drug-crazed burglar.
It is Megan. He never doubted it would be anyone else and her silence is an indication that all is not well. It is only as he is closing down his computer does he begin to think of an excuse and a plan of action that will perhaps stall the flow of invective that is his immediate destiny.
He descends the stairs carefully, one riser at a time, in mimicry of a man who has lost his walking stick, prayerful of sympathy for his condition. Sympathy, though, is far from Megan’s mind. She feels cheated, a victim of downright laziness. Going to the cupboard under the stairs for the vacuum is not going to help him. Nor will hiding in the cupboard.
The lovingly created furniture is not aiding his cause. It is all highly varnished walnut, even the bookshelves, and it shows the dust as clearly as California Poppies growing on a sand-dune. On the glass-topped table there is a coaster with a cup-ring that couldn’t be more intrusive if it had an alarm attached to it. And the butt-end of the cigarette of the Argos delivery man who came yesterday with the new kettle and toaster, and who Magnus insisted should have ‘a quick look’ at a U.F.O. photograph on the internet, remains in the bin by the fireplace. And Megan is yet to do a full inspection of the house.
“You idle, ….”
Megan swears when she is angry. It is a trait marriage to Magnus has failed to persuade her from. Ordinarily swearing is an embarrassment to her and she often complains if she should hear bad language on the television. But when angry, especially when angry with Magnus, she can let rip with the authority and the enthusiasm of a modern-day alternative stand-up comedian. “You ….. lazy sod. You couldn’t …… raise yourself from the …… computer to make the house ….. presentable. Well, you’ll have to ….. cough up for Indian takeaways for us all. Those steaks will go to …. waste but what the ….” And she takes the vacuum from him with a look that suggests she wishes it were a shotgun and without even taking off her coat starts on her challenge to make the house presentable.
Standing in the kitchen, where no doubt he will soon be in the way, Magnus checks his wallet. “Couldn’t we have a Chinese? It’s closer.”
Megan turns off the vacuum. She is a slight woman, with silvery-grey hair, and though she may be a grandmother now, in her youth she played hockey with the abandonment of a militant and once was sent off the field of play for ‘aggressive behaviour’. As she removes her coat there is a possibility she might be intending to relive those hockey stick waving days. “Take the ruddy car. Joan likes Indian. Her bloke also likes Indian. Now get out of my ….. way.”
“But I’ve got no cash.”
“Cash machines. Or is that something else you are having ….. trouble with? Failing that they take credit cards.”
Magnus doesn’t care for takeaways, Indian or Chinese, as Megan is fully aware.
“Did you realise, Josh, that the dishes microwave food comes in often contain bisphenol, an oestrogen-like compound?” Magnus thought it was time he contributed to the dining-table conversation. Josh looked bored, his beer-glass only half-emptied. Megan and Joan have dominated the evening for too long with their knitting talk and am-dram gossip. Microwaves and the threat they impose is really the only topic occupying his mind these days. Even when they were planning the upcoming ‘yarn-bombing raid’ he could not help wondering how much, if any, microwave radiation spilled from Megan’s knitting machine.
“Really. Is that going to turn us men into women?”
It is a good question and Magnus wishes he knew more about the subject to give a definitive answer. Not that Megan is going to allow him to divert the conversation on to the weird science that now dominates his every waking moment.
“Why not take Josh to your workshop?”
“There’s nothing out there but my tools. All my pieces are in the house.”
“You made all this wonderful furniture? Amazing.” Josh gets up from the dining table to run a hand along the now dust-free sideboard, opening the doors to admire the locking mechanism and the expertise of the jointing. “I bow to your craftsmanship.”
Magnus has no need for testimonials. He knows how good he was as a cabinet-maker. He has awards and certificates as proof. What he wants to talk about is microwaves and microwaves is what he is going to talk about. And Josh is going to listen.
The workshop is clean, tidy and with every tool having its own designated place on the wall, even the broom. Even now, when arthritis makes it difficult for him to handle a chisel or plane, he will sweep the floor every weekend and with the aid of a feather-duster remove the cob-webs that besmirch his temple of woodworking. He has told Megan that on his death he would like the workshop to become his tomb. He has even given her written instruction on how to seal the building from outside forces involving thousands of tons of earth. Unfortunately the council has told him in no uncertain terms that they would not allow planning permission. For herself Megan has said she would allow the construction it if it was not for the depreciation on the value of the house.
“Now, Josh. This is important. I have discovered a threat to all our health that the government don’t want us to know about. Microwaves.”
Josh is admiring an old wooden plane that gives the appearance of being old enough to have come from a pharaoh’s tomb. He was expecting a tale about woodworking not a government plot to undermine the health of its citizens. “But I cook everything in the microwave, Magnus. Are you saying I’m frying my testicles if I stand too close?” He laughs, allowing his smile to remain longer than necessary, waiting for Magnus to recognise the humour.
“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Research it. 4-milliguass of exposure to microwaves can lead to leukaemia. Microwave ovens give off 400-milliguass.” He stands back, a magician who has pulled a scientific rabbit out of a layman’s hat. But he is not finished. His head is a mixing bowl of dire consequence. “They can lead to cataracts as well.”
Josh can see a weird delight in Magnus’s blue eyes. All evening he has wanted to ask if he was Swedish or Norwegian as his eyes and hair colour keep bringing to mind an ex-girlfriend he met in Stockholm and who stole his David Bowie C.D.’s. But the obsession with the threat a kitchen appliance might have on the health of the population has made the question moot. “And a mini .. What was it? Gauze?”
“A gauss is a unit of magnetic flux density.” Magnus has no idea how he is remembering all these facts. Routinely he forgets the simplest of things. He has had to write down his phone number on a slip of paper he keeps in his wallet. He has also written down his address just in case he forgets that, too. Only yesterday he forgot to put on his underpants and the day before he spent ten minutes hunting down his mug of tea only to discover the tea-leaves still in the pot waiting for the boiled water. “Your cell phone, too, emits 400-milligauss of radiation. As do old fridges. And your Wifi router. Different frequencies of microwaves can lead to all sorts of illness. Heart and brain function, depression, suicidal tendencies, impotence, cancers. And do you know cell phone masts are protected by the Secrets Act? All of them.” He’s on a roll now, nothing short of knocking him unconscious will stop him revealing his topmost fact and Josh cannot either thump him or runaway in case it embarrasses Joan and he will not get the sex he was promised for agreeing to meet Megan and Magnus.
“Tetra masts. A seventeen-year experiment to see how much harm they cause to people just so that the police can have a designated communication set-up that the American secret service can listen into.” There are aspects of the subject he is hazy about, vital facts he has left out. But that he now knows, along with his impotence, his need to pee every other hour and no doubt his worsening arthritis, is due to Tetra masts, cell-phone masts, microwave ovens, computers, Wifi routers, cell phones and the microwave radiation they emit into the home and environment.
To Magnus’s surprise Josh does not ridicule his concerns. “When I get home, I promise you, I’ll be removing the router from the bedroom and I’ll keep my cell-phone downstairs and not on my bedside cabinet. Before I met Joan, and don’t tell anyone this, I attempted suicide. Causal link, perhaps. I will look into it.”
Magnus, his mission to inform the world of the threat of microwaves begun, feels charged with energy. Which means Megan will not stop swearing any day soon.