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© 2010 Qualtern Limited

Back from the dead... for good this time?

Clish Maclaver meets Buscram Urkly, the ultimate comeback kid.

rriving ten minutes early at the imposing Nifton Hotel in Prestix’s exclusive Sinners Keep district, I’m surprised to find Buscram Urkly already waiting for me.  I take the chance to study him while he’s still unaware of my presence.  A tall man, thickset, with large hands and a boxer’s battered features, he nevertheless appears graceful in the elegant surroundings.  He sips from a small ornate cup, relaxed, legs crossed.  The shoe on the foot pointing towards me is brown leather, expensive-looking, immaculate.  He’s smiling and talking to an attractive young woman who sits on the sofa beside him.
At least, I’d believed him to be unaware of my presence.  Without turning his head, he says, ‘Come in when you’re ready, Mrs Maclaver.  But do take as long as you need first.’
Then he turns to me with a smile that’s sly but not unfriendly, and the first thing that strikes me is his nose.
Ah, the famous nose...  Chewed off in a 1991 prison fight - reputedly over a slight to Uscram’s character - the prosthesis he’s worn ever since has become his trade mark - and an easy way for the media to stereotype him.  In pictures, it looks brutish, sinister, grotesque.  In life, startlingly, it’s beautiful, covered in an intricate filigree of silver and gold that catches the light in an ever-changing pattern.
I realise I’m staring.  Urkly’s smile widens.  ‘Surprising, isn’t it?’ he says.  ‘The detail is too
fine for cameras to pick up.  Like most things, it’s much better appreciated face to face.  Would you like me to share a secret with you?’
What gossipmonger would say no to a question like that?  Urkly reaches up to his face, and I hear the slightest snick of a catch being released, then the false nose hinges sideways.  Underneath - a new nose is growing!  It’s tiny, pink, almost translucent.  Like a baby’s nose.
I realise I must have said this out loud, because Urkly says, ‘A baby’s nose is exactly what it is.’
‘You mean...?’ I stutter.
‘No!’ he laughs.  ‘Not a nose taken from an actual baby.  What kind of a monster do you think I am?  I’m regrowing it myself, with the help of some very clever medical friends of mine.’
‘Doctor Spimlam?’
‘No.  Makemy Spimlam has his talents, but the practical application of his profession’s art isn’t amongst them.  Frankly, I wouldn’t let him anywhere near me with a knife.  So, what do you think?  Soon, I’ll be whole again.  Reborn.’
It’s at this point that I realise the interesting story about Buscram Urkly isn’t his past, but his plans for the future.

Suspicions and shadows
Though much has been written about Urkly’s life, you could read it all and still be left with
more questions than answers.  Why does he speak so highly of the mother who abandoned him on the orphanage doorstep at three days old?  Aged five, what happened on his first day at school that meant it was also his last?  Was the fortune he amassed by age 13 entirely due to his success in the scrap metal trade?  Was his marriage to his aunt legal, and whatever happened to her?  What precipitated his bankruptcy at the age of 21, and what course did his life follow over the subsequent decade that led to his arrest and conviction for multiple murder in 1991?
From there on, Urkly’s notoriety ensures that at least the facts are documented.  The fresh evidence that overturned his conviction.  The swift rise to political power as Governor of Malstract Province in 1998.  The subsequent fall on his second serial killer conviction.  The diagnosis of terminal brain-flutter.  And, most recently, his appointment as - unelected - Minister for Education.
But less clear are the forces directing this astonishing roller coaster of a life.  What is it that drives Urkly in such divergent directions?  Is he mad or sane?  Healthy or sick?  Suspicions linger that powerful figures support him from the shadows.  Is Urkly his own man, or an instrument of those who fear the light of publicity?
As I sit down to begin the interview, I decide to abandon my list of questions about Urkly’s past.  They’ve been asked before, a thousand times.  Whatever my skills as a
gossipmonger, he’s not going to divulge today secrets which he’s jealously guarded for decades.
Perhaps his plans for the future give a better clue to the true nature of the man now responsible for the education of over sixty million children.

“Give me a child...”
The pretty girl on the sofa at Urkly’s side is introduced as Shinomi Nighe, an aide.
‘She’s been attached to me by Scrantrow House,’ smirks Urkly.  ‘For her own education.’
The young woman meets my eye, intelligent, defiant.  She’s letting me know there’s more to her than Urkly’s leering introduction suggests.  I’m convinced, and wonder what she is to Urkly.
‘Miss Nighe’s work is of great interest to me,’ says Urkly, settling back into the cushions with the air of a man about to embark on a peroration.  ‘She takes the government’s message to our young people.  What could be more important than that?’
‘Educating them?’ I venture.
‘But what is education, Mrs Maclaver, but the instilling in young minds of the things society’s masters say children should be taught?  Reading, counting, spelling - yes, we all agree on those.  But history?  Economics?  Cooking?  Woodwork?  Biology?  Who says those are the subjects that will best equip our future generations to take forward our
civilization?  What about philosophy?  Faith?  Oratory?  Politics?  Seeking?  Like so many, Mrs Maclaver, you see the curriculum as an unqualified and objective good, not the means by which we ensure the next generation thinks just like us.
‘What do children learn in history lessons?  They learn their teachers’ view of history.  Where does that come from?  From the teachers and lecturers who taught those teachers!  And so on, back through the generations, until what’s taught has become so distanced from any original thought or research that it might as well be myth.
‘I believe that’s wrong.  I believe children should be taught to think for themselves.  They don’t need teachers stuffing them full of things they learn from the routesystem.  That’s why I intend to scrap the national curriculum in its entirety.  In its place will be a new programme of teaching designed to make children think.  They’ll be encouraged to challenge their teachers, and to disregard anything their teachers can’t explain to them why they believe it.  They’ll be taught skills which will be useful to them in the real world - specifically, the world of work.  How to relate to people, how to project-manage, how to get your own way.  We’re calling it FoRGE.  That’s capital F, lower case O, capital letters RGE.’
‘What does that stand for?’ I ask when he at last pauses for breath.
‘Stand for?  I don’t know.  Does it stand for anything, Shinomi?’
‘No, you just thought it looked and sounded good,’ replies his aide, in a neutral tone, again meeting my eye.  ‘And the communications agency said it had impact, that it would stand out in headlines.’
Urkly waves a hand in the air dismissively.  ‘There you are then.  That’s what those guys are paid for.  The point is that it’s going to work.  For the first time, we’ll have young people coming out of the education system ready to shake things up a bit.  Give me a child at five years old, and ten years later I’ll give you revolution!’
He beams at me, hands folded in his lap, and almost seems to be expecting a round of applause.  I hope it’s a chink in his shining armour, and make a lunge for it, pointing out many people’s surprise at his sudden interest in the education of children.
‘I can understand that, Clish,’ he replies, face falling serious with that smooth change of gear that only politicians can execute convincingly.  ‘But as a man gets older, his thoughts turn to his legacy.  I’ve done bad things, I don’t try to deny that.  But, when Chancellor Berdryn offered me this job, I saw it as a way to atone.  A way to leave something good behind.  I have no children of my own, so here’s my chance pass on my intellectual genes, so to speak.’
Hmm.  Buscram Urkly, Minister for Education, 51 years old.  Brain-flutter or no, I can’t help thinking that FoRGE has more to do with his future plans than his legacy.
23 November 2010