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Ivory Tower: Exclusive access to a visit to Aria by the science minister

Headquarters of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency

Ilan Gur: Welcome to Aria, minister, the home of blue-skies, high-risk innovation.

Andrew Griffith: I’m so excited. I’ve been looking forward to this since I was first appointed. There is a wall of international cash just waiting to invest in UK Plc, and rather than let them buy the National Theatre or Liverpool, I think it’s better if they invest in R&D.

Gur: Some people want to buy Liverpool Football Club?

Griffith: No, the city of Liverpool. Something to do with waterfront property once global warming really kicks in.

Gur: Well, we’ve lined up some of our best projects for you to see this morning.

Griffith: On with the tour.

[They go into a science lab]

Gur: This is our Vision Science lab. Here we combine the disciplines of optometry, ophthalmology, molecular genetics, neuroscience and physiological optics.

Griffith: Very interesting, but why is that man standing there with a sheet over his head?

Gur: That’s Dr Blackstone. How are you, Colin?

Blackstone: Very well, Mr Gur. Is this the man from the ministry you were telling me about?

Gur: This is the science minister Colin. [To Griffiths, sotto voce] He’s a top boffin but not very worldly.

Griffith: But why the bedsheet?

Gur: That’s not a bedsheet, it’s a cloak of invisibility.

Griffith: But I can see him.

Gur: It’s just a prototype. Honestly, minister, we don’t need penpushers from Whitehall coming down here and questioning our scientific methods.

Griffith: Is that really a good use of taxpayers’ money?

Gur: I was told when I took this job there would be no limits to our investigations.

Griffith: Within reason.

Gur: I can walk out the door and you can find yourself another chief executive.

Griffith: No, please don’t, it took long enough to appoint you. Tell me, what are the practical applications of Colin’s, err… Dr Blackstone’s research?

Gur: Col?

Blackstone: Well, you can don your cloak of invisibility and wander around Hogwarts, or any boarding school really, at night, without being seen by teachers or death eaters.

Griffith: Err, OK…

Blackstone: Obviously, you can use it to spy on other people’s conversations without them knowing you are there. Like I did yesterday with my wife and the man next door, who seemed to be planning some gardening in my absence, something to do with being in beds all afternoon when I was at work.

Gur: Yes, very interesting Colin, good luck with that. Keep up the research, although you might want to go home early today, just to check on the garden.

Griffith: How does the cloak make him invisible, exactly?

Gur: I don’t know. Think of me as the marketing guy. Shall we move on? See you later Colin.

[Colin stumbles into a bench full of equipment, sending test tubes flying. Griffiths and Gur carry on the tour. They enter a second laboratory]

Gur: And this is what we call the Quantum Realm, or, as Brian likes to call it, Hyperspace.

Griffith: Hello Brian, and what do you do?

Brian: This is our advanced tempo-spatial-locomotive engineering lab.

Griffith: Fantastic, and what are you working on?

Brian: Am I allowed to tell him, Mr Gur? It is top secret.

Gur: You can tell the minister anything, Brian.

Brian: Ta-da! It’s this…

Griffith: An old blue police telephone box?

Brian: Honestly, minister, it’s a TARDIS.

Gur: It stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space, as I understand it, Brian.

Brian: Yes, with this, not only can you travel anywhere in space, but also anywhere in time [he makes a “mind blown” gesture].

Griffith: Yes, and why is it made from cardboard, painted with blue poster paint?

Brian: It’s a prototype. I thought you said you were the science minister.

Griffith: Next you’ll be telling me it’s bigger on the inside than the outside.

Gur: No, we haven’t got that far yet. But Brian is working on the controls console.

Brian: Ta-da!

Griffith: That seems to be an upturned egg box and a 2-litre bottle of lemonade cut in half, coloured in with felt tip pens.

Brian: Well, obviously we are not going to waste Adamantium metal on a prototype.

Griffith: Adamantium?

Gur: Wolverine? X-Men? No? Honestly, minister, we’ve got a lot to get through if we are to bring you up to speed on current innovation.

Griffith: You’ll be telling me next there’s a chocolate river here.

Gur: No, we had to abandon that experiment early on. After that intern got sucked up the pipe.

Griffith: Brian, have you really visited the future?

Brian: In a sense.

Griffith: Tell me, do I keep my seat at the election?

Brian: Really, is that the time? Got to crack on with painting these egg boxes.

Griffith: Remind me, whose idea was Aria, exactly?

Gur: Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings. Like Brexit and those satellites which didn’t do what we wanted them to.

Griffith: Yes, well maybe we’ll have to review funding in light of changed circumstances.

Gur: I’ll change your mind. Let me take you to one of our most important experiments, which has huge implications for national security.

[They enter a third laboratory]

Gur: This is Cerebro.

Griffith: Dr Cerebro, Professor Cerebro?

Gur: No, this is Margaret. The machine is called Cerebro. Plug yourself into this device and you can be in telepathic contact with anyone in the world.

Griffith: Telepathy?

Gur: Sigmund Freud knew telepathy was real, now Aria has made it a commercially exploitable reality. Care for a demonstration?

Griffith: I can’t believe it works. Yes, please.

Margaret: I put on the helmet like so, which is connected to the neural-geographic interface. I pull this big shiny lever. Now, I think of the person I want to communicate with.

Gur: It’s a great way of locating people who have gone off-grid.

Margaret: Most people who’ve come in this week have wanted to find Kate Middleton, so let’s just do her.

Griffith: I’m not sure this is ethical.

Gur: Ethical schmethical, with great power comes great responsibility, minister.

Griffith: Yes, certainly, this is a very powerful machine.

Gur: No, I mean, the amount of money the royals are paid from the civil list. The public has a right to know where she is.

Margaret: I’ve got her. Hold on, let me just geo-locate the position. Yes, there she is. In the centre aisle of Lidl, Stockport, buying an angle grinder.

Griffith: Are you sure that’s the right Kate Middleton?

Margaret: Come to think of it, you are correct. There is probably more than one. Let me try again. I’ll think about the Princess of Wales.

Gur: Have you got something?

Margaret: I think that’s a pub in Wrexham. One more go, Princess Kate, are you there?

Griffith: Got her?

Margaret: I’m going to put her on loudspeaker. You’ll be able to hear her thoughts.

Kate: I’m so glad to have escaped Kensington Palace, now I can live the life of an ordinary person. It was such a wheeze to swap clothes with that mum who looked a bit like me at the leisure centre. Now she’s in the palace with Wills and the nanny, and I’m queuing to put credit on a prepaid card for electricity to feed three kids on a housing estate in Acton. It’s just like the Princess Diaries with Anne Hathaway…

Griffith: I think we’ve seen enough.

Gur: Amazing, thanks Margaret.

Griffith: This is completely outrageous.

Gur: You disapprove of Cerebro? Think of the commercial possibilities, it could be Aria’s first unicorn.

Griffith: No, I mean Kate Middleton thinking she can evade her duties in Acton.

Gur: You think she should appear in public with William?

Griffith: No, but she should probably still be making repayments to the Student Loan Company for her degree at St Andrews.

Gur: Always the Treasury guy, Andrew. Shall we conclude the tour with a drink?

Griffith: It’s a bit early for that.

Gur: These are fizzy-lifting drinks. They fill you full of gas and lift you right off the ground like a balloon. They are just over there next to the giant glass elevator.

Griffith: On with the tour.

Terms of use: this is a free email for fun on a Friday. It should be shared with colleagues like royal medical records in a private hospital. Want to book a ticket for the Aria Laboratories magical mystery tour? [Participants must be over 18, terms and conditions apply. Tour and Aria funding may be cancelled at short notice.] Want to say hello? Email ivorytower@researchresearch.com