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Modern Elements For Style

Seàn Collins (his byline, obviously not his real name) has contributed as a writer and author to the press and international magazines for over three decades. A child of the forties, he grew up in a small fishing port in North Yorkshire.His mother insisted he should be taught to read and write to a reasonably high standard prior to starting school. On his first day, the class was given small squares of the letters of the alphabet and taught to spell cat, dog and mat. As the author was halfway through Treasure Island, he considered this a complete waste of time, left the classroom and went home.

He was escorted back to school by his formidable grandmother, who demanded to know how a five-year-old could walk out of school and not be missed. The incident was never spoken of again.

In terms of early tradecraft, a sign of things to come, he lays the blame squarely on his childhood and adolescence. His first legend (cover) was that of a fisherman’s son.

As cran baskets of herring were unloaded on the quayside, he would gather up the fallen fish, set up an unturned crab box at the roadside, and sell them to the tourists at 1d each. His cover was blown by the North Yorkshire Constabulary who pointed out he was committing a criminal offence as he did not have a Street Trader’s Licence.

They decided not to prosecute as he was only six years old.

His next legend was that of the son of a German tuna boat captain – this was also short-lived. Leaving the boat with a bag of cherry brandy, Schnapps, tobacco and cigarettes, he met the boarding HM Customs and Excise halfway. His ‘goods’ were confiscated and he was, being only ten, let off with a caution.

Next, as a starving artist, whose family desperately needed the money to send him to college, he sat in the Fisherman’s Tavern with a huge board of pre-prepared paintings as he enjoyed a (illegal) pint. By afternoon closing time, they had all been sold to the tourists. As his weekly income was more than his father’s, this raised a few awkward questions.

The author then resurfaced as an Irish folksinger born in Dublin (with accent to match), playing club venues and concert tours under the legend ‘Seàn Collins – songs of Ireland and the IRA’ – including the claim that he was a blood relative of Michael Collins – founder of the IRA.

This was when certain government departments began to take an interest in his career…

The author has retired ‘under the radar’ to a small North Yorkshire village, where 98% of the village’s inhabitants are unaware of his existence. He does not appear on Facebook or Twitter nor does he own a mobile phone; all his ex-directory landline calls are recorded and, even so, he changes his number frequently; and his emails are monitored. He has no NHS medical records between 1948 and 2002, he does not appear in the public assess UK Census and his desktop would be best described as a mega-firewall which happens to have a PC attached.

When asked why, Seàn simply smiled, and replied: “Old habits die hard…”

Does this not border on personal security paranoia?

“No. It borders on a strong sense of self-preservation. It will, of course, be possible to access details under the Freedom of Information Act – but not until 2040.”

“The existence of classified and case-sensitive information being the subject of a D Notice usually ensures that, by the time it is accessible, the relevant ‘players’ have shuffled off this mortal coil.”

The author is, in intelligence terms, a ‘non-person’.

© 2019 Sean Collins Artist & Novelist