Chad Bottle and his Super Saharan Dreamworld Wonderland
by Robert Garnham



His voice echoed around the cavernous interior of the hangar.

      'Over here a second, give us a hand, will ya?'
          'I said, give us a hand'.
          I was just coming out of the office. I walked all the way across the vast space. I must have taken over a hundred steps.
          'What do you want?'
          'It's OK, I found it'.
          'Yeah, sorry about that'.
          'What did you need a hand with, anyway, that I had to walk all the way over here from the office?'
          'I dropped a nut'.
          'Dropped a what?'
          'Nut. But I found it'.
          'Where was it?'
          'On the floor'.

The hangar looked huge without any aircraft in it. The company had assured us both that there would be aircraft coming. Possibly even three of them. And that they'd done the maths and that the aircraft would definitely fit in the hangar, what with the sandstorms and everything else that was prevalent in this part of the world. But for now it was just me and him.

          'Have you swept the runway?', he asked.
          'Have I swept the runway? What do you think I was doing out there, all morning? It's not a five minute job, you know. It's almost a mile long and I've only got a dustpan and brush'.
          'It's long-handled . . '.
          'Yes, I know very well that it's long-handled'.
          'Can't see what you're moaning about'.
          'Within five minutes it was sandy again'.
          'What are you doing, anyway?'
          Jack had a table set up. It was one of the folding picnic tables from the office. He had a collection of nuts and bolts on it.
          'Nut audit', he sighed.
          The metal frame of the hangar flexed and pinged in the fierce heat of the day. We had become used to the solitude. There wasn't much to do until the aircraft actually turned up, apart from sweeping the runway free of sand, and counting the nuts, the bolts, the screws.
          'Jack', I whispered.
          'Not this again . . .'.
          'It's just a thought. Nobody knows we're here. Has anyone actually . .  You know . .checked?'
          Jack was silent for a few seconds.
          'I’m sure there are failsafes. He must have told the authorities that we were here . .'.

We both stood there and looked around the eerie empty building. It really did feel as if we had been abandoned. The painted floor gleamed in the light which shone through the various cracks in the asbestos tiles on the roof, the thin beam between the two giant sliding doors throwing a perfectly straight bar of light like a massive exclamation mark. Our movements echoed.

          'It's best not to think about such things', he said, by way of conclusion.

          'We're the only people within a hundred miles', I say, in a kind of wistful voice, which tailed off.
          'They'll be here', he said. 'I have faith in this company. Chad knows what he's doing . . .'.

          'Are you sure?', I asked, as I recalled my interview with the infamous Chad Bottle, owner and chief executive of Blue Bottle Aviation, during which a wild boar had run in from the city street and crashed around his office knocking over piles of paper, Chad chasing it in circles around his desk, after which he had wiped a strand of hair away from his sweating forehead and said, yeah, yeah, the job's yours.

          'I have faith', Jack said, 'in Chad'.
          'Maybe you're right', I whispered.

A stray strand of hair, which had, minutes before, been covering his bald head in a vain attempt to make it look like he wasn’t totally devoid of barnet*. His bald head, which resembled in a funny sort of way, the endless landscape in the midst of which we were now both plonked.


When I went home that night and told my nephew about the interview he couldn’t stop laughing and he said, ‘There was only one wild bore in that room!’, and no matter how long it took me to convince him that the spelling was somewhat different and that in all honesty it might very well have been a disgruntled pig, he kept repeating the punchline, and then that night he posted it on Facebook.

One of the terms of my posting in the desert airfield was that I had to undergo a thorough medical examination. Chad Bottle was a stickler, it seemed, for risk management, and he made me an appointment that very next morning, eleven o’ clock on the dot. I caught the bus at half ten. It went two stops and then broke down. Time was ticking away, and I knew that if I didn’t make the medical examination, then I’d be classed as having failed it, and the adventure before me of working in the Sahara on a fleet of old aircraft would be nothing but an impossible dream. I ordered a taxi, and several other people on the bus said that this was a good idea, and they all wanted to come in the taxi too because they also had places that they needed to go. And one of them had a labrador dog, and another insisted that she sit in the front seat because she had bad knees. So we set off, and there I was squeezed up with three other people and a labrador dog, and then a row broke out about who should be dropped off first and how we would all pay for this, and I mentioned my eleven ‘o’ clock appointment and I managed to get there and sign in with seconds to spare. I’d just made my way to the waiting room when my name was called, and when the Doctor examined me he said that I had high blood pressure.

          ‘How many more times are you going to tell that story?’, Jack asked, that night, as we ate our dinner sat outside the open doors of the hangar. They threw an oblong of light on to the apron and the surrounding desert.

          ‘You know me. I’ve always got one or two anecdotes up my sleeve’.

          The desert was silent. I’d placed a candle in the middle of our picnic table, the flame of which hardly flickered at all in the still night air.

          ‘Did I ever tell you about my interview?’ I asked, ‘and the wild boar?’


          ‘And did I tell you what my nephew said, when I told him about it?’

          ‘Yes’, Jack sighed. ‘About there being only one boring person in that room’.

          ‘Wild bore. Yes. And you know, it got over a hundred likes on Facebook?’

          Jack didn’t say much. The candle illuminated his features. He stared out into the darkness like some kind of desert mystic.

          ‘If Chad has gone bankrupt’, I whispered, ‘Then nobody would ever think of coming out here and finding us’.

          Jack didn’t say anything at all.


As well as the hangar, the building also had an office, two bedrooms, a shower room and a kitchen. The walls were made from blocks of concrete which had been placed one on top of the other, not slightly askew, like one would have thought. At times I wondered if it was structurally sound what with the high desert winds which can come out of nowhere, but on the other hand, the building was over sixty years old and it was still standing, even as the shifting dunes kept approaching.

          ‘It would help’, Jack said, ‘If someone would let us know what kinds of aircraft might be coming. Then at least we could plan ahead . .’.

Jack had spent the morning researching the various dimensions of different types of aircraft and now he was trying to mark out on the floor using sticky tape just where these aircraft would fit in.

          ‘That left one looks a bit . .  Wonky’, I pointed out.

          I was standing on the top of a step ladder, looking down at his markings on the floor of the hangar.

          ‘They’re not meant to be exact representations’.

          ‘But do their wings bend like that?’

          ‘Bastard’, Jack whispered.

I remember how the fluorescent lights of his office had shone from his sweating bald head after the encounter with the wild boar. I still thought it odd that he hadn’t once questioned where the wild boar had come from, deep, as we were, in the middle of the city. Chad had just kind of accepted it as yet another setback in his increasingly bizarre life.

          ‘He looked like the sort of man who smokes a cigar’, I said.



          Jack said nothing.

          ‘Chad Bottle’.

          As if there were another Chad.

          ‘I don’t care, so long as he keeps paying our wages’.

          ‘Ah, but is he?’

          ‘He knows what he’s doing. He’s been incredibly productive since Nigel Bluington died’.

          Nigel had been his partner in the Blue Bottle Aviation business, apparently.

          ‘Still . . ‘.

I watched Jack as he went over and made some adjustments to the marking on the floor where the left hand aircraft was supposed to be.

          ‘How’s that?’

          ‘That looks even worse’, I pointed out.

          His shoulders slumped.

          He looked down at the markings on the floor, and then he gave them a kick.

          ‘That’s helping’.

          ‘Up yours. I’m off for a shower’.

He walked across the hanger. This was hard to do in a huff. The hundred or more steps from where we were to the door to the office were a long stretch in which to hold a grudge. I clambered down from the step ladder and followed him.

The office had a door leading off it which led to the living quarters. The corridor was somewhat spartan. I went to my room and lay on my bed for a bit, and I listened as he turned on the shower. I got up and looked through the dirty window at the sand and the dunes and the endless nothing, all the time listening to his shower. He started to sing as song which started with the words, In a low lit barn on the south down hills, she took my hand then stole my pills’. Which reminded me of the pills that I had to take for my supposedly high blood pressure. And that is why I am giddy with love.


The day I’d left my flat to come to the airport, for the flight that would bring me here, the local gas board had been digging up the pavements and where my front door steps joined the path, they’d put down a metal ramp which made a hell of a sound every time someone stepped on it. So I’d been lying there that morning, thinking about the Doctor’s check up and the interview with the bald-headed man and the wild boar and the row I’d had with the nephew about his social media post, and all I could hear was clang-clang, clang-clang, clang-clang. It was very disconcerting. My bags were all packed and I was looking at the clock, wondering what time I’d leave, when I’d heard the ice cream van pull up. I looked out the window to see it park right next to the workmen who were busy with their gas pipes and their pneumatic drills. The ice cream van had had such a pleasant, tinkly music which filled the air with a sudden sweetness masking the clang-clang clang-clang, only to be replaced by the workmen shouting, ‘Get that bloody van out the way! Can’t you see we’re busy here, you bulbous-eyed tosser?’

Jack was still in his shower. He wasn’t singing now, which probably meant that he was busy scrubbing a sensitive part of his anatomy. You can tell these things when you’ve lived with someone a long while.

I was hot. Every part of me felt uncomfortable. My clothes were damp and I felt incredibly sticky, I’d never known a heat like this. I went to the kitchen and started cooking a roast turkey. You know, it was one of those spur of the moment things, and there had just happened to be a roast turkey in the freezer which both of us conceded would've made a fine meal one day. Jack had said that we’d better not, perhaps Chad Bottle was saving it for a special occasion, like the moment his airline got off the ground. Perhaps he would feed it to the first passengers.

          ‘Roast fucking turkey?’, Jack replied, coming into the kitchen with a towel around his neck. Like they do in films.

          ‘I thought it would make a pleasant change’.

          ‘It’s about sixty degrees out there . . .’.

          ‘Think of it as our own little Christmas’.


          ‘Did I ever tell you about the ice cream van, the day I left my flat to come out here?’

          ‘Yes’, Jack sighed. ‘Bulbous-eyed tosser, and all that’.

          ‘I’ve got loads of anecdotes like that’.

          ‘Then maybe you ought to start bringing a few new ones into your repertoire’, he replied.

          ‘Perhaps I just need a new audience’.

          ‘Roast turkey’, Jack whispered. ‘I can’t bloody believe it’.

          ‘We could eat it in the hangar’, I said, ‘You know, if it rains’.

          Much to my amazement, Jack laughed, and then patted me on the shoulder.

          ‘You’re a funny little thing’.

          But I hadn’t meant it to be a joke.


By the time we ate it was dark again and all the stars were out. We ate, as normal, on the picnic table in front of the hangar doors. I carved the turkey and gave us both generous helpings, but it was hot, and he didn’t want anything other than breast meat, and he grudgingly pulled the wishbone with me. I made a wish when I won.

He sat back in his deckchair and sipped beer from a glass. Neither of us said anything. The stars were vibrant, vivid pinpricks whose light flickered and became more pronounced the longer we sat there. At last, he began to talk.

          ‘We lived in the countryside’, he said. ‘The stars would be just like this. Just as bright. From an early age I knew I wanted to travel and see as much of the world as I could. I’ve never been interested in people. You may have noticed that. Places have always held a fascination with me, but not people. Well, only one person.  She was a local girl. She worked on the next farm, just for the summer, and we fell in love. Ha ha, I can’t believe it now, but I fell in love. She was visiting from the city, and we would meet at nights at the small pond on her uncle’s farm, and we would chat about the world and how life was so very different in the city. And all the time we would be batting away the flies, the mosquitoes, because we were both pretending that it was romantic, I guess. And when she said she was leaving, when she said that she had to go back to the city . .  That’s when it all changed . . I didn’t want to see the world any more, I wanted to stay right there with her in the countryside’.

          ‘Maybe . . There was wild boar . .’.

          ‘I haven’t finished, yet. So it became serious. Ha ha, oh my, it became very serious. Somehow I persuaded her not to go back. She had studies to be cracking on with, a place at a university, but she gave it all up, just for me. I can still see her face right now. If I close my eyes, I can see her face in exact detail. She was going to buy tickets for the train, she said, and off she went to the station, which was two miles away, and when she came back she told me that she hadn’t bought any tickets, she was going to stay and spend the rest of her life with me. So you see, it was the most wonderful romance. Everything changed. Both of us had wanted to escape, but now, neither of us . .  Neither of us wanted to’.

          ‘Love’, I pointed out, somewhat superfluously.

          ‘But it didn’t last. It never does. We became engaged, but it was too soon. We were young. We lived in a flat over the garage on my parent’s farm. The two of us, living together. And one day she just said that she wanted to go back to university. Just like that. She said . . She said she didn’t want to throw her life away’.


          ‘I don’t have to tell you what it means. And that’s when I thought, Jack, I told myself, you’ve always been right all along. Don’t get fascinated with people, and get out there and see the world’.

          ‘And here you are?’

          ‘Nigel Bluington had a place in the next village. His second home. He told me about this venture, and here I am. He told me that people would want to see the Sahara, that it would be a tourist destination. People would get on an old aircraft, you know, for the thrill of it, the smell of diesel and oil and the old wings flexing, real, honest aviation, and they’d come out here just so that they could tell their friends where they’d been. Two days later he flew off in his antique Sopwith and he was never seen again’.

          ‘It helped you forget, I suppose’.

          ‘Forget what?’

          ‘About her’.

          ‘It never would have lasted. She was going to study zoology’.

          We sat there and stared at the stars. It was getting chilly.

          ‘I’ve got lots of anecdotes, too’, I reminded him.


Naturally I’d been rather nervous the day I’d caught the bus to the airport to fly out here. It didn’t help matters that there had been a lady sitting on the bus in front of me, upstairs, right at the front, and she had been conducting a video conference call on her mobile phone. Which made it very awkward because I was trying not to get in the picture. I didn’t want whoever else she was speaking with to see my annoyed expression. As if things weren’t nervy enough, I’d thought at the time, doesn’t she even realise that what she’s doing flouts society’s conventions? Especially on the bus that passes the airport. And what was she in a video conference call about? Topiary. She ran a topiary business. And she was chatting to others who worked in topiary. Apparently there had been a complaint because a topiary pheasant had looked more like a duck. A lawsuit had been mooted.

          ‘Did you shut the hangar doors last night?’ Jack asked, coming in my room.


          ‘Did you?’

          ‘I think so’.

          ‘In that case, someone else must have let the giraffe in’.

          ‘Wasn’t me’.

          I got off my bed and followed Jack through the office to the hangar where a giraffe was clomping around.

          ‘That’s a giraffe’, I said.


          ‘Must have squeezed in’.

          ‘Aren’t you even a little concerned?’

          ‘We’ll have to shoo it out’.

          ‘Where the hell did it come from? We’re in the middle of the desert. There aren’t even any trees for its long neck to reach’.

          ‘It’s a desert giraffe’.

          ‘For god’s sake!’

          ‘Just a heads up’.

          Jack took a couple of steps towards the giraffe. The giraffe made a couple of steps towards Jack. Jack turned and ran back.

          ‘That thing means business’.

          ‘Offer it some leaves’.

          ‘Where the hell am I going to get leaves from? The nearest tree is two hundred miles away’.

          ‘This has all the makings’, I tell him, ‘Of another anecdote’.

          We both stood there for a bit and watched the giraffe. It seemed amiable enough.

          ‘The lady on the bus was on a video conference call when I went to the airport to get here. There had been a problem with some topiary. Wildlife can be a bastard. It’s odd, standing here now, watching it, the way that no matter what the human mind can achieve, art can never truly catch up, don’t you agree? If I didn’t know any better, we’d be in a modern art gallery, right at this moment. Topiary, that was the topic of her video conference call. The shape of ducks, apparently, that’s what the pheasants were described as being. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of many species in the bird kingdom’.

Jack said nothing.

          ‘Of course, penguins are friendly, aren’t they’.

          ‘It’s dragged sand in after it. We’ll have to give this place a damn good sweep before the aircraft gets here’.

          ‘It looks unkempt’.

          ‘What do you suggest we do? Run the bloody thing a bath?’

          ‘Now you’re just being silly. We’ve only got a shower room’.

We watched it for a couple of minutes. It was a majestic beast, the way it sauntered around the hangar very much, I thought, like a ballet dancer on a wide stage. With the high ceiling, it had all the roof clearance it needed.

          ‘It must be thirsty . .  Or hungry’.

          ‘We’re not exactly stocked up with food, here’.

          ‘We could fill the paddling pool with water . . ‘.

It was a good idea. Jack and I went back to the office, and then to a large cupboard where the paddling pool, a humorous gift left by the last crew who had occupied the airport, was kept. We had to move a lot of items that had also been accumulated over the years, like inflatable life vests and an old parachute, the compass of a world war two bomber, and an old, rusted filing cabinet, before we came across the paddling pool. The next job was to find a pump with which to inflate it, the two of us taking turns in the office to pump up the paddling pool until it had the required structural integrity. By the time we returned to the hangar, the giraffe had gone.

          ‘That’s something of a shame’, Jack said.

The last time I had seen someone so disappointed was when I’d left Chad’s office and seen his sweating head held in his hands as he sat at his desk. This had been shortly after the encounter with the wild boar. The funny thing was, I thought he’d taken it all in his stride.


Another day passed. Jack spent the morning trying to fix the computer. Maybe he could find some email from Chad, keeping us up to date on the shipment of aircraft and when they would arrive, with their pilots and their navigators and perhaps even a few passengers who might pose for photographs next to the shifting dunes. But the computer was belligerent. He said that it was something to do with the operating system.

          ‘Maybe he’s been arrested for the murder of Nigel Bluington, and now we’re stuck here forever’, I said, laughingly.

This didn’t seem to help matters, nor my assertion that most aviation businesses go bankrupt before they’ve even purchased an aircraft. Jack told me to go away and stop bothering him, so I went to the hangar, where the paddling pool filled with water was left still right in the middle of the room. I stripped to my shorts and sat down in the cold water. It was the first time I hadn’t felt hot in ages.

          ‘Budge over’, Jack said.

He did the same, making a neat pile of his clothes on the hangar floor. He stepped in, and the two of us just lay there, the cool water lapping, taking the grit of the desert away.

          ‘It must have been quite a contrast’, he said, ‘The wild boar, that is, let loose in that office’.

          ‘As I say, it might have been a disgruntled pig’.

Jack laughed.

          ‘Tell the story again’, he said.

He leaned his head back against the inflated rubber sides of the pool and he closed his eyes.

          ‘Do we have enough food and supplies to last?’ I asked.

Jack kept on smiling.

          ‘So you got to the office . . .’.

          ‘And it was a normal enough looking office. Nothing out of the ordinary. His secretary showed me in. Mister Bottle, she said, this young man here has replied to the advert you put in the paper. And it was probably about three quarters of the way through the interview that I first started hearing a squealing sound from down the hallway, and people screaming. God knows what they were screaming about, although I suppose those tusks can do quite a bit of damage. Actually, it might have been a warthog’.



*Barnet is rhyming slang for hair (Barnet Fair)



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