Alex Salmond, Alison McLean, Censorship, China, China-Bashing, Death, Edinburgh, Edinburgh Evening News, Edinburgh Zoo, Giant Panda, Horror, Humor, Marriage, Pandas, Police, Scottish National Party, Scottish Nationalism, Sex, SNP, Tian Tian, Yang Guang, Zoos
Scott had been blank with excitement for three days now. The most difficult or perhaps the most exquisite thing was the waiting. As every hour passed he would be squirming in anguished delight. It was now only a matter of hours until he finally saw them. And no wonder that Scott traipsed around in this stupefied state – what was happening to him was so enormous that there was no point in even attempting to think about it.
The chartered jet carrying the two giant pandas, Tian Tian and Yang Guang, was due to arrive in Edinburgh that afternoon. Along with every other child in his primary school, Scott had entered the Edinburgh Evening News‘ competition to meet the two pandas at the airport. He had never imagined that he would win. The children were supposed to submit a hundred words on why the pandas would be “great for Edinburgh.” Scott had written his entry from start to finish with scarcely a thought – the sort of cheerful empty blurb that adults always expect – and indeed, when asked, he could no longer remember what he had written.
He was now completely alone. His pals felt obliged to congratulate him, but they found that they did not know how to talk to him anymore. Maybe in several months, they could speak informally about the pandas, as equals again.
A frozen, senseless figure carried helplessly towards the pandas, as if they were waiting for him at the top of a moving staircase. Scott was in a trance when his parents finally marched him to the car and shut him inside. The city looked fantastically small and faraway as it rolled past. Scott concentrated furiously on every little sensation, breathing very carefully, taking everything in slowly.
Scott had been appointed as the ambassador of all Edinburgh children, or even of any Edinburgh adult with a bubble of childish buoyancy still left in their veins, and, on their general behalf, it was his duty to welcome the pandas to Edinburgh. At the airport, everybody smiled at him and he was excruciatingly polite to everybody. They were somehow conscious that it would be unfair to torture Scott with explanations and delays, and so doors seemed to fall open effortlessly on the way to where the pandas were already waiting…
The impromptu-looking ceremony would take place on the tarmac. Two fork-lift trucks were propelling along a pair of gigantic plastic huts, which bore an odd resemblance to those hampers which people use to carry their cats to the vet. The chief executive of Edinburgh zoo and a senior official from the Chinese consulate were at the head of the delegation which had gathered to welcome the pandas. Yet a little nest was made amidst them all, and everybody stepped back as Scott and his parents were led into this waiting space.
“Well,” the chief executive of the zoo remarked jauntily. “You’re a very lucky young man.”
The chief executive swam in front of Scott, as if they were both meeting at the bottom of the sea. Scott finally choked out a, “thank you sir.”
“I suppose that after having travelled thousands of miles, the first thing that they want to see when they open those doors is not a wrinkled old fool like myself. They want a good, nice chap to welcome them to Edinburgh.”
Scott smiled with distress, aware that the chief executive was trying to make him feel comfortable, even though he was now scorching with embarrassment.
Everybody instinctively edged forward as the bolts on the plastic containers were drawn up, but then they all stepped back again self consciously. Despite himself, Scott found that he was also retreating, and that he had gripped his father’s coat sleeve. His father grinned and urged him forward with a whisper.
What happened next, happened very quickly: a mangy, piss-coloured bear with gaping blotches for eyes loped out of the container at an incredible speed, swinging with impatience. The first thing that she encountered was Scott. The panda (Tian Tian) seemed to roll into herself like a slug, and then to unfurl with a quick, sudden jab. Clapping two paws around Scott’s skull, the panda wrenched it violently clockwise, until Scott’s head was facing completely the other way.
The second panda (Yang Guang) had also stolen up behind Scott and he suddenly plucked at the boy’s thighs. The first panda did not wish to relinquish Scott’s body – the second tried to rip the boy from her – and the result was that, with a loud wet pop, Scott broke completely in two.
This had all happened in less than three seconds. The delegation found themselves retreating from the steaming and incredibly shiny intestines which were now pouring out in a thick pool at their feet. Scott’s head had landed face-up on the tarmac, sweating profusely and with his mouth now drooping slightly at the corners.
And then, before anybody had time to think of what to do, a van from the zoo had screeched up and the pandas were withdrawing to the warmth and darkness of its interior. The zookeepers slammed the doors with a flourish and the van hurtled away again.
The chief executive of the zoo blinked.
His secretary already had a phone to hand. “Call Alex Salmond,” her chief commanded.
The Scottish Cabinet had sat down to discuss the agenda for the coming week and they were passing around the tub of Family Circle for the second time.
“Ooh, an Oat Crunch Cream for me,” Kenny MacAskill announced, his long fingers as quick as knives over the tray. The others eyed him with ill-concealed disapproval.
Nicola Sturgeon felt that everybody was watching her and so she chose a sensible biscuit – a plain Highland Shortbread – even though she had really wanted the single remaining Jammie Dodger.
Alex Salmond sat at the head of the table, impossibly handsome, even though his good looks resembled the petrified human features that a close-up photographer occasionally captures by accident on an insect. The eyes which looked as if they were made of glass, the jaws monstrously slimy. With shaking hands he pulled boldly at the last Jammie Dodger and the rest of the table virtually quaked.
For a while, they munched on their biscuits in silence.
Salmond’s phone rang and an undersecretary retrieved it from his jacket pocket. Staring pointedly at everybody with his dead eyes, Salmond accepted the phone. The Cabinet listened intently as Salmond grunted along to the flow of speech at the other end.
Salmond handed back the phone with a bland expression of surprise. “Those two pandas. Apparently they’ve killed a child. At the airport.”
For a while, the Cabinet were incredulous. Pandas were supposed to be lazy but good-natured beasts. Salmond tolerated the Cabinet for a while, before cutting them all short.
“There’s no freedom of speech in China. The media only report what they’re told. Pandas are bears – wild animals, you know – they’re probably quite vicious. The thing is…” Salmond confided with a sudden smirk, “I was asked to give my permission to have the pandas killed…”
They were now in the palm of his hand. Salmond took great satisfaction in this, and he chuckled cynically.
“But we’re not going to start a war with China. Not after pissing off the Americans with Al-Megrahi. I reminded our colleagues at the zoo that the pandas are an endangered species. As for the dead wee boy, I’m sure that we can rely on our friends in the press to keep this one to themselves.”
Everybody murmured. The depleted tub of Family Circle was passed around for the third time.
When the zoo van was discovered lying on its side half a mile short of Corstorphine Hill, there was an odd and deeply unholy intensity to the silence hanging over it. Sure enough, they found a dead body inside. Lumps of the zookeeper’s flesh had been ripped from his thighs and smeared aimlessly across the walls of the van. They eventually located another human torso lying under some bins across the road.
The pandas had escaped and they were now at large.
Around eight thirty that evening, the police were summoned to a villa on Corstorphine Hill. The neighbours had heard unusual screaming, which they had finally persuaded themselves was not the television. Inside, the police found five bodies, and one was still conscious.
The police sergeant grabbed the woman under the jaw and he forced her head back. “Don’t look down!” he pleaded. “Holy Mother of God, whatever you do, don’t look down!” Several feet of her intestines lay uncoiled across the carpet.
The chief of the police wanted the pandas to be destroyed. The chief executive of the zoo insisted that the pandas might be okay once they had settled down. The deciding vote arrived from the Chinese consulate, with some additional words to the effect that Scotland could forget about ever becoming an independent nation if the pandas came to any harm. Indeed, if the pandas returned home in boxes, so to speak, then Scotland would only ever be regarded as a province, and one which would be accorded less time than Cornwall when the Chinese Premier next toured Britain.
Salmond’s only remaining option was to order a full scale evacuation of Western Edinburgh, whilst lamely maintaining that the water supply was on the blink. Unfortunately, the evacuation could not proceed without the assistance of the police, who were growing unexpectedly bolshy. Even though they had been forbidden to harm the pandas, they still wanted to carry firearms. Just to make themselves feel safe.
“I’ll take another Romany Cream. I’m very partial to these.”
“Alex always gets the Custard Creams,” Fiona Hislop grumbled half to herself.
“To business!” Salmond broke in, sinking into himself with that air of weary statesmanship. “Could we not arm the police with tranquiliser darts? Or… pepper spray?”
As usual, there was a sort of collective nod.
The munching resumed.
The police had handed out firearms to their officers anyway and five young men had been already shot dead due to a misunderstanding at a petrol station. A police officer and a female police officer – the sort who always display the visible awkwardness of a sexually-frustrated married couple – had finally approached the pandas outside a tenement in Broomhouse.
When the pandas had first appeared on the scene, a gang of the local kids had quickly assembled to taunt them. They had filmed them on their phones, pelted them with eggs, slapped some red paint over them, and tried to beat them with a golf club. The general liveliness of this reception had appealed to the pandas, until Yang Guang had finally torn a baby from the hands of one screeching girl and lolloped off with it. Yang Guang eventually stopped, settled down with a comical expression on his face, and crammed the baby into his mouth with both paws. The baby’s crying ceased with a sickening crunch.
When the police couple turned up, they flourished their guns at the pandas but they were unable to quite pull the triggers. Pandas can sense weakness and smell fear. They made short work of the police. On Youtube there is still some footage of several kids dressed in the remains of high-visibility jackets giggling to themselves as they kick what looks mostly like a human jawbone around Sighthill Park.
I was making love to my wife when I became aware of the panda. It was late evening, we were at a rather lacklustre party on the Lanark Road (my wife’s friends, naturally) and we had found ourselves in sole possession of the back room overlooking the garden. I knew that it would outrage and exhilarate my wife to make love to her in these impromptu circumstances. In the middle of our passion, I was suddenly conscious that the panda had slipped through the French doors and that he was now watching me with a deep interest.
I was stupid enough to stop and this seemed to immediately break the spell. The panda rolled towards me with an attitude of great menace. Somehow, I grasped that I needed to begin again very quickly, and once my wife and I were back in business, the panda was gazing at us anew, enraptured.
“What’s happening?” my wife wondered in a hazy voice, as if she had awoken in the middle of a surgical operation.
“Don’t stop. Whatever you do, don’t stop! Can you reach your phone?”
I was now aware that there were two pandas watching us.
“No… what’s going on?”
“We’re going to have to edge towards it. Which way am I pushing you?”
“No, err… east.”
“Right, I’m going to roll on to my back and you have to do me cowgirl.”
Chugging away, we rolled over and swapped in a single deft movement, without missing a beat, like a juggler adding a new piece of fruit to his routine. Yet once my wife was upright, she screamed. I had to fuck her into concentrating again.
“Are they still hypnotised?” I demanded.
My wife whimpered in the affirmative.
“Police,” I snapped into the phone. “I am in a rather delicate situation…”
After a lot of feverish explaining, I was put through to a girl in a call centre, who told us to keep going and that the police were on their way.
“Can you talk dirty to me?” I panted.
“It might give me a bit of a lift. My wife is crying with fear – it isn’t much of a turn on.”
“What shall I say?”
“Have you ever had a lesbian experience? I mean at school?”
Somehow, down the other end of the phone I could tell that the girl was blushing.
“Tell me about it.”
A door opened and the lights came on. “Err, I’m sorry…” somebody mumbled. Then there was a very shrill animal noise and an abrupt crack.
“What’s happened?” I asked my wife.
“Toby. I think that his back is broken.”
“But are the pandas quiet now?”
“Yes, but one of them is still holding Toby’s body. Like it was a teddy bear.”
“We’re going to need an ambulance as well,” I told the girl in the call centre.
My wife and I spent over seven hours locked in congress, but I don’t think that either of us ever climaxed. The trickiest moment came when we had to manoeuvre ourselves into the zoo van whilst the pandas followed us, still completely engrossed in what we were doing. Once the pandas had been safely locked up in their new enclosures, their keeper, Alison McLean, explained to us that the creatures were naturally fascinated by sex. Pandas are sexually passive and most of them are celibate, but they remain massively voyeuristic.
McLean gave my wife and I each a woolly panda hat, to thank us for our help.
The pandas now live like a king and queen, with a court of veterinary scientists running at their every whim. The bamboo has to be the exact temperature, their toys have to retrieved immediately whenever they are thrown out of the pandas’ reach, and only the most beautiful nurse with the gentlest hands can shampoo their fur. Stories about their ugly temper amount to something of an urban myth, and with the fortunes of the emerging Scottish nation at stake, our friends in the press can be trusted to keep any little titbits about tantrums and nasty nips to themselves.