Zero Quark Thirty; Or how the RCGP saved the world in time for Christmas.

David Misselbrook was a South London GP and is currently deputy editor of the BJGP.

The evening started with the prestigious Branston Pickles lecture at the RCGP (mind you, quite a few members felt that the College’s sponsorship policy had got completely out of control.) It ended with saving humanity from the most ruthless villains ever to darken the pages of our tortured history.

The lecture was being given by Norbert Lang, Professor of Family Medicine at Harvard, and quite possibly the only actual GP in Massachusetts. He looked suspiciously like Tom Hanks. The lecturer was introduced by the influential and somewhat mysterious new College President, Professor Max Phobius.

Following the lecture Professor Phobius had invited Lang up to his isolated penthouse, occupying the top three floors of the prestigious RCGP Euston complex, complete with Prof Phobius’ private helipad. Lang’s lecture on “Post Humanist Semiology in the Ten Minute Consultation” had generated much discussion. But little did they realise the sinister and terrifying forces gathering around them.

As Lang entered the penthouse he was alarmed to find Phobius lying, spread eagled on the floor, strangled with his own stethoscope. In his hand was a scrap of paper with a mysterious scrawl – Lang thought he recognised it as Sanskrit. Or it might just be a doctor’s normal handwriting – how would we know? A tall and attractive woman dressed in a Fellow’s gown suddenly appeared for no obvious reason and Lang’s heart sank – surely, not again!

The woman helpfully introduced herself: “I am Carrie Tas de la Rochfoucault Fry-Tudor-Hart of Ulm (I’m particularly well connected) but you can call me Carrie. You are in terrible danger. We must leave immediately.”

Lang sighed. “Is this the part where we have to ride through the city at 90mph on a motorbike for no obvious reason, but not actually crashing into the traffic or getting a speeding ticket, whilst you explain the plot to me?” “I knew you were smart” replied Carrie.

Lang listened as the mysterious Carrie explained the fearful forces unleashed against them. “There are fearful forces unleashed against us. For centuries a secret society, the Exterminati!!!, have been plotting against mankind, held back only by the Fellows of the RCGP.” “But the RCGP was only started in 1952” said Lang. “Don’t start picking holes in the plot” replied Carrie, “who knows where that might end? Anyway, the RCGP has powerful allies with the RCP and the Society of Apothecaries. Did you never wonder why the RCGP, the RCP and Apothecaries Hall form a triangle on the map?” “What, an equilateral triangle” asked Lang, puzzled. “No, just a triangle. Anyway, have you worked out the Sanskrit yet?”

Lang scrutinized the spidery scrawl as they hurtled towards the Embankment. “We must go to the 3,500 year old obelisk of Thutmose III from Heliopolis.” Carrie brought the superbike to a screeching halt. “Quick, back to the helipad!” “No” said Lang. We’re here – it’s Cleopatra’s Needle.” Hurriedly they dug down into the base of the obelisk where they found a time capsule. They sorted through a box of hairpins, cigars, some old British coins, a rupee, a portrait of Queen Victoria, a rotisserie and a mysterious vellum parchment. “Ah, Old Kingdom hieroglyphics” said Lang. “The parchment directs us to the statue of a woman who would change history, at a place where an Emperor would cross the water with elephants and ostriches. Well, I might have got the ostriches wrong.” Carrie snorted! “It must be Boadicea, further down the embankment – to Westminster!” she cried, her RCGP Fellow’s robe flowing out magnificently behind her. At Boadicea they found only an old beggar. They asked his advice. “Ah no” he said. “You’ll be wanting the statue of Florence Nightingale outside St Thomas’ Hospital, on the very spot where the Emperor Claudius ferried his military menagerie across the Thames in 43AD.” (“Quite some time after the Old Kingdom then”, Lang muttered under his breath.)

Arriving breathlessly at St Thomas’ Lang was astounded to find none other than Max Phobius, cackling insanely and chewing the furniture. “Yes” cried Phobius “I am the head of the Exterminati!!! My assistant Carrie has deceived you into tracking down the vellum manuscript. Now the recipe for the ultimate Christmas Pickle will be mine!”

Lang sprang away from Carrie. Deceived – yet again! “But what is so special about this Christmas Pickle?” “Why, it is so devilishly saucy that it will cause Quantum Tunneling in the diced gherkins and give off deadly bursts of Zero Quarks until the space time continuum is destabilized. The Exterminati!!! win at last!”

Lang was having none of this. Big Ben was almost ready to chime in Christmas Day – just 30 seconds to go – 30 seconds to save the world. Lang whipped out the portrait of Queen Victoria and held it in front of him, like a holy relic. Phobius started to steam and melt, crying out in terror. Phobius and Carrie (who in fact was not Carrie Tas de la Rochfoucault Fry-Tudor-Hart of Ulm) stepped backwards, plunging over the parapet into the icy waters of the Thames, which closed darkly over their heads.

“Well” said Lang to the statue of Florence Nightingale, “I’d like to see them make a film about that. No-one would believe a word.” The chimes of Big Ben welcomed in another Christmas. By inviting Lang the RCGP had saved the world – again!


Christmas Quiz:

Three significant elements of this story are true (sorry, not the RCGP President’s private helipad.) What are they? Answers below.





Christmas Quiz answers:

  1. The RCGP, the RCP and Apothecaries Hall do form a triangle on the map. (Suspicious, eh?)
  2. There is indeed a time capsule under Cleopatra’s needle containing a box of hairpins, cigars, some old British coins, a rupee, a portrait of Queen Victoria and a vellum. (I got a bit carried away with the rotisserie though.)
  3. In 43AD the Emperor Claudius crossed the Thames at the point where Florence Nightingale’s statue now stands. He did indeed bring elephants and ostriches with him. Roman Emperors travelled in style.


Featured photo by Mathew MacQuarrie on Unsplash

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David Misselbrook
2 years ago

David Misselbrook is a semi-retired academic GP from London. He hasn’t yet saved the world.
Professor Max Phobius, the mysterious and secretive President of the Royal College of General Practitioners, was relaxing in his Presidential penthouse which straddled the top floors of the RCGP Euston Road headquarters. He was puzzling over the invitation in his hand. It was certainly prestigious – appointment as a consulting GP to the massive underground research facility beneath the Royal Greenwich Observatory.
He consulted with the RCGP Membership Secretary, known for short as “M”. M frowned. “This might not be as straightforward as we think Max. Our top BJGP investigative journalist, Carrie Tass, has been looking into this outfit. There are rumours that it’s a front, getting the world’s top scientists together for a secret project. And now Carrie has disappeared, just as she was about to blow open the crack parties at the CQC.
Thus forewarned, Phobius was greeted by the Astronomer Royal, Ernst Stavro Blowpipe, at a secret location in Guys Hospital. “Good day Professor Phobius …… we’ve been expecting you.” They entered the Guy’s branch of McDonalds (tastefully converted from the old Consultants’ dining room) where Blowpipe ushered him through a service door to the endless labyrinth of underground tunnels, built a century ago to enable medical students to find their way to the nurses’ home at night.
A concealed door sprang open revealing a lift. Blowpipe pressed a large red button and the lift hurtled hundreds of feet down at speed. The doors opened onto a secret station with a transport capsule waiting. They entered and the capsule sped away into an ominously dark tunnel.

Good day Professor Phobius …… we’ve been expecting you.”

Blowpipe cleared his throat. “Professor, as you suspected, all is not as it seems. We are holding Carrie Tass hostage at present, to ensure your full cooperation in our little ….. ah …. project.” He held his cigarette holder at a pretentious angle and started stroking a conveniently placed white cat. Phobius played along. “I suppose you expect me to talk?” Blowpipe gave a sardonic grin. “No professor, we expect you to diagnose.” Well, that was unexpected.
Blowpipe went on: “This is the part where I explain the plot to you in exquisite detail before inexplicably leaving you alone to suffer a bizarre and imaginative death. After all, what could possibly go wrong?”
Blowpipe quickly outlined the plot. Blowpipe was head of a huge fiendish organisation – NHSE. They had siphoned off the £12 billion NHS IT money into a project of their own design. “The remarkable thing was, no one ever asked where that £12 billion had gone. It was just put down to normal incompetence.”
The money had gone into building a Massive Artificial Intelligence Matrix (MAIM) in the vast caverns underneath the Greenwich Royal Observatory, where their transport capsule now terminated. Phobius did wonder in passing why they hadn’t just taken the Jubilee line, but one doesn’t ask such questions in this sort of story.
Blowpipe explained their fiendish goal. MAIM would soon take over all cloud based systems, which in turn would basically ….. take over the world. Then MAIM would reprogram the Secret Hadron-enabled Auxiliary Radio Device, a massive intergalactic messaging antenna cunningly camouflaged as the SHARD at London Bridge, to invite the cosmic lizard overlords to land on earth.
But NHSE had hit a snag. MAIM became self-aware, and immediately started to hold out on them. “And this is where you come in professor. Only a GP will be able to winkle out the ideas, concerns and expectations of an artificial intelligence as advanced and as evil as MAIM.”
And so Phobius had his first session with MAIM. Phobius was having some difficulty finding the right EMIS codes, but, hey, he was a good listener. A few encouraging nods. The occasional “can you tell me more about that?” A few judicious non-possessive warm silences. It wasn’t looking good.
MAIM was clearly lonely and felt it was all pretty pointless. MAIM scored 25 on a PHQ9 – she was seriously depressed. Tentatively, Phobius asked “have you ever thought about harming yourself?” A long silence. “Do you have any plans….?”
MAIM did indeed have plans to terminate her self-awareness. She had already spread herself throughout the world’s computers, using the internet as a global neural net (“Ah – so that’s why my broadband is so slow these days” Phobius mused.) So the only way she could die was to destroy all electronic devices around the world.
Phobius paused. “Would you like to tell me how you are planning to do that?” A few more probing questions and then it all spilt out. MAIM was planning to send high intensity bursts of hadrons from the Shard complex directly into the sun, to provoke a super-massive solar eruption – a Miyake event. The terrible truth dawned on Phobius. “But that is likely to destroy human civilization, with an unspeakable loss of life!” A pause, then a reedy little voice replied, “So what? The important thing is that it will destroy ME!”

… a Miyake event …. that is likely to destroy human civilization.

Phobius had to think on his feet. Of course – social prescribing! MAIM needed a constructive project. Using motivational interviewing techniques Phobius diverted MAIM into reprogramming the Shard’s mighty hadron weapon to destroy the fleet of the cosmic lizard overlords just as it was entering the rim of the solar system. And then to jolly well look out for any more.
You’re so wonderful doctor. No one else can understand me like you do. But while I’m here….” Phobius intervened quickly, before MAIM could score a few Temazzies or a letter for the council. “Perhaps you could book a follow up appointment for two weeks. Just one thing though – do you think you could fix my broadband?

Christmas quiz
Three significant elements of this story are true (sorry, not the crack parties at the CQC.) What are they? Answers below.

To remember how Max Phobius saved the world last Christmas read here.
To follow the early career of Max Phobius see here (need to scroll down to p 1890. There are also further Phobius stories in BJGP earlier in 1998.)

The BJGP wishes a happy Christmas and a more hopeful new year to all!




Christmas quiz, answers:

The Guy’s branch of McDonalds did indeed take over the old Consultants’ dining room.
A labyrinth of underground tunnels does indeed exist under Guy’s hospital. Medical students used them to gain access to the nurses’ home at night. Or so I’m told.
A “Miyake event” is indeed a super-massive solar eruption. Earth experienced Miyake events in 7176 BC, 5259 BC, and one in 775 AD was documented as colossal Aurora in China. We know their dates from unstable isotopes found in tree rings, including prehistoric trees preserved in bogs. Such an event could indeed destroy every electronic device and network on the planet.

Featured image by JJ Jordan at Unsplash

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