Letter From An Inept Spy


Frank deciphers a message from inside the “Westminster bubble”…

Dear “Control”

I am writing to give you an update on my mission. I read, and then destroyed, your instruction to find out what was going on in British politics. Not long afterwards, I jumped from the spy plane you kindly provided and landed in a field at dead of night. The only witness was a cow. I buried my parachute, and headed off along a country lane and – do you know what? – by lunchtime the next day I had infiltrated the “Westminster bubble” you told me about. No one suspects a thing, thanks to my tiptop disguise kit.

I kept my ear to the ground and soon learned that the “buzz”, as they call it, is currently about two things – clowns and fruitcakes. Perfidious Albion, eh? While the rest of the world focuses on the economy and civil wars and terrorism, the wily Brits must be up to something!

You will be pleased to hear I have devised a two-pronged approach. I have booked tickets for a number of performances at Mr Zippy’s Big Top. This is a travelling circus, where I am sure to encounter some clowns. I am confident that I will be able to “turn” one of them, and thus get valuable information on such crucial matters as buckets of water, noisy hooters, and strange bedraggled colourful wigs.

At the same time, I am visiting as many bakeries as I possibly can and buying selected fruitcakes. I admit I am not entirely sure what to do with all this cake – possibly you could advise? Make sure you send a message in code, however, as if it falls into the wrong hands I may be exposed, and that would be a calamity!

Yours in subterfuge


PS – You also asked me to find out what a “miliband” is. No luck with that so far, but I am poring over the display cases in the entomology museum.

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About Author Profile: Frank Key

Frank Key is a London-based writer, blogger and broadcaster best known for his Hooting Yard blog, short-story collections and his long-running radio series Hooting Yard on the Air, which has been broadcast weekly on Resonance FM since April 2004. By Aerostat to Hooting Yard - A Frank Key Reader, an ideal introduction to his fiction, is published for Kindle by Dabbler Editions. Mr Key's Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives was published in October 2015 by Constable and is available to buy online and in all good bookshops.

8 thoughts on “Letter From An Inept Spy

  1. velorg@gmail.com'
    May 10, 2013 at 13:03

    I’m sorry to have to be saying this, but—never mind the secret quests ‘n all—an article that uses a picture of some OBVIOUSLY TASTY fruitcake as a visual honeypot to attract casual readers’ attention, published without so much as a hint of the cake’s acquisition origin, not to mention A RECIPE (metric weights and measures preferred), is, in my learned though never humble opinion, a HIGH ACT OF IRRESPONSIBILITY towards your readers, fellow cake-eaters. That besides being prima facie evidence for the ongoing degenerative tendencies of the slippery slope that nowadays passes for the commentariat’s free expression.

    Not only should either or both of the above complaints been addressed already at the text-editing stage, but the very presence of a pictorial depiction of a pre-cut, moisty cake pretty much should have been expanded to a sidebar listing potential secondary uses of it that’d have played well in the context: like well-risen cakes natural ability to temporarily shelter e.g. metal files for delivery to incarcerated former spy-colleagues (don’t worry about the moisture causing rust in metal–it won’t be there long enough to cause much damage; also trace additions of the chemical Fe are good for human digestion); or, at the very least, an option to encode entire battle plans of the Westminster clicques in a form masquerading as this sample cake’s recipe.

    Well, assuming the word »editor« isn’t yet an entirely foreign term in The Dabbler’s Editing Room of Its Own, both these opportunities were irretrievably lost like drops of cleaning fluid in a vat of Printink™, and you should indeed draw important conclusions for the future from this Objection Overruled.

    • Brit
      May 10, 2013 at 13:14

      The editors note your criticisms and will bring forward a five-point plan to discuss issues around cake depiction policy at our next quarterly meeting.

      • Frank Key
        May 10, 2013 at 13:31

        Brit, you omitted the now-obligatory phrase “going forward” from your admirably conscientious comment.

        • Brit
          May 10, 2013 at 14:01

          Apologies, due to a technical error a shortened version of my full statement was submitted. The full version read:

          The editors note your criticisms and will bring forward a five-point plan to discuss issues around cake depiction policy at our next quarterly meeting. Going forward, the editors wish to affirm The Dabbler’s commitment to encouraging diversity across both vertical and horizontal divisions. If any reader or team member identifies an issue or inappropriate action which is not commensurate with The Dabbler’s core values, as outlined in our mission statement and 180-page staff handbook, please report it to your upline.

          • Worm
            May 10, 2013 at 15:18

            Kudos for reaching out to the client base, Brit, definitely blogging best-practice, should get massive buy-in on this one.

          • Gaw
            May 10, 2013 at 23:25

            All very well, but that cake – looks just lovely. Mmmm.

  2. velorg@gmail.com'
    May 19, 2013 at 09:37

    I figured out that’s what you’d say all along, attempt to mollycoddle me with empty promises of future bureaucratic undertakings—and I mean that in its derivative-noun sense, profession of…. I.e. bury the issue quietly along the rest your once perhaps ambitious, but now mostly inertial simulacra of editorship.

    Fine. Except not this time. THIS CAKE DISCUSSION WILL NOT BE CARAMELIZED. You seem to be stuck forever in some make-believe land where Humanity’s Primary Dessert, Cakes, DO NOT MATTER. Yet nothing could be further from the truth – which I’ll now expertly demonstrate by piling literary logick upon more literary logick—until you can’t take this anymo.

    For our mutual readers’ sake I’ll skip Gibbon this time, and concentrate instead on where it’ll really hurt in the solar-plexus/ digestive-tract department.

    Exhibit A: the male-bonding Cake Ritual of A.M. Rosenthal and Arthur Gelb originally disclosed in the 1969 colloquial history of The New York Times »The Kingdom and the Power« by Gay Talese, where the first two were editors, and the third a reporter, of. A Ritual involving a run-of-the-baking-oven pound cake that found its way into the lining of a coat and, decades later, into the obituary of the first of the gents (that’s some epigraph to behold!)

    Exhibit B: the subsequently great Nora Ephron used to be sent off on assignments to interview D-grade celebrities, assorted neighborhood con-men and other hoi polloi temporarily in “the news”. So what made her stand out among the cub reporters, escape that racket and wind up with a career? Why, that’s right, repeat after me: THE CAKE RECIPES. In order to distinguish herself from the crowd, Nephron always asked her subjects for their favorite dishes–which then concluded the interviews; mainly recipes of cakes (and those she first validated by baking prior to publishing!).

    But perhaps these examples are too American for your refined sense of Great Britainishness of Pomp and what was the other thing. In that case, what about

    Exhibit C: Sylvia Plath’s Tomato Soup Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting, complete with—AS IT SHOULD BE—a recipe and pictorial instance of, ‘Nuff said. Or maybe not[*]

    (and I BEG YOU HERE to hold the smirks, the woman was obviously in love with her baking oven).

    Summing up, as self-mandated editors of this blog, apparently given to displacement activities like quarterly meetings, as soon as item:cakes are about to appear in your columns, you need to re-read this GOLDEN RULE previously tattooed on the insides of your eyelids:

    I can have me cake and eat it some of the time
    and I can have me cake and not eat it some
    other time—but I can NOT HAVE ME CAKE

    [^*] in the interest of completeness, I hereby submit a very-much-topical comment which I attempted to post once in The Awl, but which was rejected by that poison-dwarf Choire Sicha they deploy as an editor there—no doubt on account of much too-to-the-pointedness!

    Anyone who has seen the movie “Sylvia” with Plath expertly and hauntingly played by Gwyneth Paltrow will know that in 1963 the mankind has lost a great, if not the Greatest, Most Productively Innovative soft-cake baker. The mind boggles what could have happened had Plath recognized her true inner-bake-calling-self instead of these her rhyme- and babymaking. Indirectly, yes, I am talking about you, Sara Lee Corp., little do you know how close you came to be losing the branding game before you even began!

    Originally posted on July 28, 2011 at 5:53 pm but never published—until here and now. There is some justice in the Cakeverse!

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