The Book of Bachelors.
I’m sorry. The bachelors are the bachelors.
(Herbert Molderings, The Definitively Unfinished Marcel Duchamp)
PC (“Slim”) Soloman was sitting in a half-full parking
lot in his plain black Mason. His radio, on FM 88.5, was off, and by his
foot lay a pack of corn biscuits and a lamb tikka sandwich, in
clingfilm. His window was partly down, as if for a dog. Out back, a
grinding sound, as of a trash truck.
PC Soloman took out a strip of pink card which his boss had put in
his box two days ago: WATCH BLOCK LOG COMINGS AND GOINGS. It was a
straightforward task, as such things go, possibly too straightforward.
PC Soloman wasn’t going to complain. Nobody did if on scan duty, it
was a day out, away from HQ. Compliant to a worn-out tradition, PC
Soloman put this strip into his mouth, and quickly ground it to a pulp
with his molars. Having fully wound down his window, PC Soloman now spat
it out, onto a patch of asphalt.
This curious building–known as “S” Block, or simply
“Ship”–was an award-winning construction on 6 floors, product
of a multinational collaboration, involving top brains from Scotland,
Norway, Finland, Paraguay and Italy. It was originally put up for a
group of naval staff who had rapidly quit it on finding its innovations
lacking in comfort. Built with a nod to naval tradition, from various
positions its form brought to mind similarly various things of naval
origin: a mast, a sail, a buoy, an anchor, a plank, a ship. Its plimsoll
mark was at floor 3, hallway up, a thick horizontal band of black paint.
A milkman doing his round put 10 pints down by “S”
Block’s big glass front door, took a pad from his coat and did his
sums. PC Soloman now saw him post a small bill, and an instant on jump
back in his milk cart, continuing his round. PC Soloman took out his
biro and log: 08.00 HRS MILKMAN NOTHING SUSPICIOUS.
Rumour at HQ had it that this block was host to a child porn seam.
CID, it was said, had on a standard inquiry found that it was a known
origin of illicit 0898s. CID had also found that ads in shop windows for
ADULT PHOTOGRAPHY GIRLS (NO MINORS) took cops again to this block. A 2nd
rumour had it that a man who had links with a vicious mugging gang had a
pad on its top floor. A fotofit of this man was on display at HQ.
A light was put on in a window of a 3rd floor flat, illuminating
its surrounding plimsoll mark. Through a gap in its curtains, PC Soloman
saw a woman with dark hair in a pink kimono, standing, hands on hips,
waiting for a bit of toast to pop up. Now a light was put on in a 5th
floor flat, in which a tall skinny man in black stood smoking,
nonchalantly. Again a light was put on at a 3rd floor window, and now 2
on ground floor right. Curtains swung apart, razors cut off facial hair,
soaps slid into bath tubs, doors sprang ajar, all around commotion stood
in for calm.
A two-way radio burst into action, giving out a harsh crackling
sound. Against this background a string of staccato cop jargon struck
–Brown Fox to Pink Soloman outcall looking for link-up now. Turn.
–Pink Soloman to Brown Fox link-up harmony. Turn.
–Mushrooming task 47, any action 517 Turn.
–Cool start 51 black frost but long chalk in offing. Turn.
–59 hot bun continuing black frost radio. Turn.
–Will do. Turn.
–Tango. Turn and off.
Again this harsh crackling sound of PC Soloman’s two-way radio
as background until it sinks to a buzzing.
Hungry, PC Soloman took up a pack of corn biscuits lying by his
foot. Invitingly, for 6 days, this virgin pack had sat at WPC
(“Tiny”) Brown’s workspot. Now, WPC Brown was sunning a
slim brown body on Majorca’s sands, following matrimony with PC
(“Baldy”) Gray. PC Soloman found it disappointing that such
promising biscuits had so quickly got soft. Still, PC Soloman was too
hungry to worry about it, much.
A musician in black with a tuba in his arm quit “S” Block
by its big glass door, taking a path to his right. This door swung shut
only to swing back again straight away, disgorging a young woman with
fair hair in brown tights and a small child in a Batman suit, who ran
haphazardly around a patch of grass in front of “Ship.” His
mum had a small mouth sear, as if from a fight. Knowing in a flash that
this sear was familiar, but not managing to pin this familiarity down,
not managing to find its origin, PC Soloman was caught short. This woman
was both known and unknown, familiar and unfamiliar. PC Soloman took out
his biro and log: 11.30 HRS MUSICIAN OUT WOMAN AND CHILD OUT NOTHING
A dog ran across a road, barking at this small child in his Batman
suit. His mum told it to piss off if it didn’t want a good hiding,
making to hit it with a black plastic handbag. It ran away, past
“S” Block, into a park. Woman and child took a path off right.
Still hungry following his corn biscuits PC Soloman took up his
lamb tikka sandwich which similarly lay by his foot. Taking off its
clingfilm PC Soloman saw that a nail on his right hand was partly off,
as was his sandwich. Biting into it PC Soloman was hit by its sour odour
and, turning towards his fully wound down window, spat a mouthful of
lamb tikka out of it. Following this his sandwich was thrown out also,
landing on a patch of asphalt.
A passing youth, stopping unsuspiciously, took hold of a pint of
milk and put it in his bag. From a ground floor window a woman took
stock of his action. A curtain was rapidly drawn and, an instant on,
this woman, on coming out, took in 4 pints of milk. As this passing
youth was now out of sight, our woman did not shout at him. PC Soloman
took out his log: 12.30 HRS WOMAN OUT AND IN NOTHING SUSPICIOUS.
PC Soloman took out a pair of scissors which sat on his dashboard,
to clip his nail. That vicious mugging gang, thought PC Soloman, had
brought scissors into action in an attack. An angry daily, writing this
story up, had said: SCISSOR SCANDAL MUST STOP. That was his job, thought
PC Soloman. But how was a man to stop such a gang without additional
aid? PC Soloman’s nail slid out of sight, by his boot.
A woman with pink hair, in a black mini-skirt with pink tights, got
out of a cab and, having paid, ran towards “S” Block’s
big glass door. Looking quickly in a bag, this woman now put a firm
thumb on a button and slid through “Ship”‘s door. PC
(“Slim”) Soloman took out his biro and log: 12.45 HRS WOMAN IN
His two-way radio burst into action again, giving out its usual
crackling sound. Against this crackling background staccato cop jargon
–Brown Fox to Pink Soloman outcall looking for link-up. Turn.
–Pink Soloman to Brown Fox link-up harmony. Turn.
–Continuing hot bun 59, additionals wanting, anything to show 517
–Block in motion, frost mayhow thaw, ask continuing scan. Turn.
–Grant continuing scan on conditional. Turn.
–Tango. Turn and off.
Again, a crackling sound of his radio until it sinks to a buzzing.
PC Soloman took from within his dashboard stow-away a copy of
Spurt, which his boss had put in his box two days ago, along with his
strip of pink card. According to rumour at HQ Spurt had links with
“S” Block’s porn scare. On its front was a monthly gift,
a small C30 boasting pornographic chit-chat. Tammy and Cathy await your
lust, it said. PC Soloman, scrutinising its glossy colour shots, found
that Spurt, not unsurprisingly, was full of thighs, tits, backs,
bottoms, arms, armpits, hands and smiling happy mouths of girls in shiny
birthday suits. PC Soloman found his hand moving onto his groin. No, not
on duty, thought PC Soloman.
A tall musician in black, carrying a piccolo, quit “S”
Block by its big glass door. His piccolo was unusual in that it was gold
in colour. It was also unusual in that it was not in its box, but in his
hand. This tall musician had a limp. PC Soloman took out his log and
biro: 14.00 HRS MUSICIAN OUT NOTHING SUSPICIOUS.
PC Soloman took out a bill-fold to look at his cash flow situation.
Counting 4 x o5.00 and 2 x o10.00 bills, his curiosity was caught by a
tatty photograph of a smart young woman with fair hair, WPC
(“Tiny”) Brown. PC Soloman had got this photograph from WPC
Brown’s CV 26 months ago, on WPC Brown’s first day at work.
Won by a fairy charm, PC Soloman had instantly got a crush on WPC
(“Tiny”) Brown, along with all 170 odd PCs at HQ, who had for
too long had no glamour to lift long and dull days at work. Both ways
Cupid’s bolt shoots at random: on this occasion, PC
(“Baldy”) Gray was in luck.
On “S” Block’s 5th floor our woman with pink hair
was looking out of a window, touching its glass with a hand. For an
instant PC Soloman thought that this woman was motioning to him, in
supplication. A curtain was rapidly drawn, by a man. Onto this drawn
curtain, owing to bright lights within, its occupants’ forms cast
long sinuous shadows.
PC Soloman took a flask containing hot Bovril from a slot in his
door and, pouring a cupful, drank it down. This hot liquid ran gurgling
towards his far from full stomach. Tasty, thought PC Soloman, pouring an
additional cupful and smacking his lips. For as far as PC Soloman could
think back Bovril had had no difficulty in topping his list of hot
drinks. Hot soup was good too, now and again, but Bovril was his usual,
particularly on days out. Finishing his draught, PC Soloman put his
flask back in its slot.
PC Soloman put his radio on from which sounds of a brass band
playing “Danny Boy” burst forth, drowning out PC
Soloman’s rumbling stomach. Twiddling a knob through cross station
buzzing to FM 92, playing an aria from Faust, and on to FM 96.5, playing
traditional jazz by Bo Mungo, PC Soloman sought randomly for a station
to his liking. Stopping for an instant at FM 99 PC Soloman was told in
RP of a man’s brutal collaring by cops in Dubai for filming of a
woman’s thighs in sight of an angry husband. This husband was
asking for “total support of law.” On FM 104 PC Soloman was
told all about a Mcdonald’s Youth Draw, and on FM 105 Cliff Richard
sang a song about not marrying. FM 106 to 108 supplying nothing, PC
Soloman put his radio off.
Our young woman with fair hair and a scar ran towards “S”
Block’s glass door from its right in pursuit of that naughty child
in his Batman suit, who was waving his arms about in a windmill fashion.
For an instant, PC Soloman thought Batboy was an unhappy victim of a
muscular spasm. A man in a brown shirt and a cap now quit “S”
Block, looking anxiously at this show. Batboy’s mum caught him by
his arm, thrusting him in through “S” Block’s door, away
from this nosy man. That woman was both known and unknown, thought PC
Soloman, familiar and unfamiliar. PC Soloman took out his log and biro:
16.30 HRS WOMAN AND CHILD IN MAN OUT NOTHING SUSPICIOUS.
All in a flash 4 lights got put on on “S” Block’s
3rd floor, and an instant on a 5th light, on its 2nd floor. At a lit
window of a flat a man was putting on his coat, whistling with a
passion, as if a good night out lay in front of him. PC Soloman had not
caught “S” Block’s lights going off, during his vigilant
day, but saw now it was almost dark. Nights drawing in, thought PC
Soloman, turning up his coat collar.
Taking off his cap and quitting his Mason’s warmth, PC Soloman
got a portion of cod and chips and took it back to his car. This fish
and chip shop had a growing standing, mostly on account of its locally
caught fish and its bright look. It was run by an Asian, an Asian
unafraid of tackling this British national dish. It also did Indian
cooking, including many tandoori viands and a host of Pakistani puddings
with or without custard. PC Soloman was fond of its onion rings, also.
Back in his car PC Soloman took a C30 from Spurt and put it on.
This C30 had a warning at its start saying that it was only fit for
adults with a broad mind. PC Soloman’s IQ was 103, which was fairly
broad. An instant on and a bubbly sounding woman was talking volubly
about how to obtain an orgasm using various kinds of fruit including
figs, bananas, passion fruit, kiwi, blackcurrants and corn, which was
not a fruit at all. Following this was a kind of hiatus of soft focus
music and an additional warning. An instant on and an Irish woman was
inviting PC Soloman to unbutton his pants and asking him if sucking
action was to his liking, smacking lips, cooing oohs and aahs and
isn’t it bigs. PC Soloman took hold of a big soggy chip and put it
to his lips.
Four musicians in black carrying variously a violin, a cor anglais,
a Spanish guitar and a komungo quit “S” Block by its big glass
door, taking a path to its right. For an instant a sound of hip-hop
music burst out from a passing car, diminishing as it shot by. PC
Soloman took out his biro and log: 17.10 HRS MUSICIANS OUT NOTHING
A light was put on on “S” Block’s 4th floor and
right away our young woman with brown tights and scar was standing at a
window, closing it. For an instant, this woman stood with curtains
framing a slim body in such a way that it was as if on display. Now it
was that his first confrontation with this woman at last burst into PC
Soloman’s mind. On a distant day, that of PC (“Baldy”)
Gray’s stag party, PC Soloman had wound up at a local strip club at
which this woman was its 3rd act. Looking up PC Soloman saw his woman
drawing thick curtains.
“S” Block’s big glass door swung outwards and an
official-looking man in a dark coat put out a job lot of full bin bags,
just at that spot at which milk was put that morning. This job lot of
bin bags struck ground with a clanging sound, as if full of iron. PC
Soloman took up his biro and log: 17.30 HRS JANITOR OUT AND IN NOTHING
PC Soloman’s two-way radio burst into action again, giving out
its usual harsh crackling sound. Against this background a string of
staccato cop jargon struck up.
–Brown Fox to Pink Soloman outcall looking for link-up now. Turn.
–Pink Soloman to Brown Fox link-up harmony. Turn.
–Full hot bun 59, all outposts on stand-by. Any action 517 Turn.
–Still frosty 51, no action afoot. Turn.
–Command swift withdrawal, join 59 additional. Turn.
–Tango. Turn and off.
Again, this crackling sound of PC Soloman’s radio until it
sinks to a buzzing.
A pink sports car swung into PC Soloman’s lot, pulling up by
his black Mason. Sitting in it was a young man in a suit with a young
woman who had black lipstick on, and a matching scarf round a mass of
black hair, which was in a bun. Stopping his motor and placing his hand
on this young woman’s lap, this flirty young man put his radio on.
On it a man was talking about a dollar fluctuation and its impact on
Britain. Straight away now, this young man and woman got snogging, hands
and arms participating fully. PC Soloman, starting his Mason and
shifting it into 1st, put his foot down. Off, thought PC Soloman, and
After the takeover by the Aphrodite conglomerate all articles had
to be on sex. In the old days we’d done articles on pottery,
fishing, tennis, cars, more or less everything in a word. Now we only
did sex. We were still able to cover topics like cars, certainly, yet we
had to do it from a sexy angle. Vintage cars were no go, leggy blondes
on bonnets were in.
If in search of a partner, don’t despair. Remember: there are
plenty of available women at large, and tracking them down won’t be
hard. It can be enjoyable too. The aisles at Tesco’s are as good a
place as any to begin talent-spotting: normally there’s always
something very tasty on display. A man in search of a lover can look
nowhere better. Rich rewards are certain. As bees fill parks and playing
fields, hovering over the clover; bobbing from dandelion to dandelion,
so girls swarm to Tesco’s in crowds.
As redactor of the poetry section I was a bit miffed at first. How
was I to do poetry from a sexy angle? N’importe! Then I had one of
my brainwaves, fairly predictable, perhaps, yet it felt like a brainwave
at the time: I’d do a weekly selection of love poetry. What
simpler! I sat down excitedly at my PC and concocted a list of likely
candidates, from Sappho to Tony Harrison, shook the lot into
alphabetical order (no problem for the Whipp-IT) and voila! There it
was: my next six months’ work completed in seconds. I was feeling
rather pleased with myself, zesty, so I resolved to nip over to the Card
Selavy for a light snack. I gave Di a bell to see if she’d come
along–she wasn’t interested for some reason or other. Afterwards,
a little heady, I called in to speak with the new editor, Gross.
People say that dress is very important here, and in a way
they’re right. Yet try not to be one of those who spend a lot of
time in front of the mirror or who stick pots of gel in their hair. A
nice pair of jeans and a good shirt is all that’s needed. Nothing
too fancy. There’s no harm in getting one’s hair done at a
good salon, yet don’t waste time with hair-spray or wax. Leave that
to the ladies. Above all a man needs to keep himself clean. Wash the
back and face properly to avoid spots–and don’t forget the
When I left the editor’s office I was cross. Very cross. I was
fache. In brief, his lordship wasn’t interested in my project–he
had plans of his own he said. Poetry was to be axed–it had no mass
market appeal–and he wanted me to deliver a new weekly slot, anything I
liked so long as it was sexy. Like some latter-day Gradgrind he wanted
facts, not fiction, and he wanted them fast: dismissing me he gave me
till the end of the week to present my draft. I was indignant, for
I’d taken a certain pride in the poetry section, had even, I felt,
commanded an appreciable readership. What was happening to the world, I
wondered? I’d hand in my notice and decamp.
Too mannered a style is likely to repel the girls, so take care.
Write in an everyday manner, with familiar yet well-chosen words. If she
rejects the message, sends it back at once, press on–she may look at it
later. Time breaks intractable oxen, teaches schoolboys to do homework.
There is nothing as soft as water, nothing as hard as stone: yet the
constant dripping of water hollows the hardest granite. Keep sending
messages–in the end, with perseverance, she’ll be won over. To
begin with she might send back angry notes, protesting “Lay off,
for God’s sake!” Yet what she wants, what she really really
wants, is for the messages to keep coming. Press hard, at the end of the
day that’s the only way to win.
On reflection I decided not to give in so easily. I didn’t
want Gross to have too facile a victory. I’d take him on. I’d
write his sordid slot if it was the last thing I did. I sat myself in
front of the Whipp-IT, took hold of my pipe and waited for inspiration
to come. After a short while my pipe lay dormant and I’d made no
progress. My mind was a blank, as was the screen of the Whipp-IT.
Anything I liked so long as it was sexy. I didn’t see myself as an
Agony Alec, nor did I wish to mastermind an interminable series of
confessional-style interviews with men on their bedroom habits. Ben
Bishop, 35. Head of Foreign Exchange at P. K. Marks. Has slept with more
than 95 women. I’d have been interested in a piece on changing
libidinal mores in the West, starting with the Greeks. Yet this might
take a lot of work and Gross still find it lacking. Then I had a better
In love as in all else, skill is indispensable. The skill-less man
won’t get anywhere. Whether one is in search of a steady
relationship or simply a good night on the town, skill will be needed.
As the saying goes, skill and confidence are a winning team. Skill can
control love itself. Many people, when they’re in the mood, simply
dive in and don’t think twice. And, certainly, there’s a lot
to be said for spontaneity. Yet if a man has skill on his side,
there’ll be a proportionately greater chance of reaping the
greatest rewards from the occasion when it arises.
I’d been wrestling with Ovid’s Ars Amatoria in the
evenings. On and off I’d been working on a translation, yet it
wasn’t really coming together as I’d have wished. What if I
were to redirect this project and present it–in prose–as my slot?
I’d have to take a few liberties with the original, certainly, even
stray into the realms of free-translation if I were to get away with it,
yet despite my reservations on these matters the project had an
irresistible appeal. Firstly, it kept me in work–it gave me a theme.
Secondly, it acted as my secret revenge on Gross. He’d never spot
the trick, so the joke was going to be on him. In this way the project
kept a roof over my head and threatened the stability of the roof over
his. What better?
Go to the dogs: the broad arena offers loads of openings. Here
there’s no need of secret finger-talk, private signals, nods and
winks: stand right next to the woman who’s most attractive, breathe
down her neck, give her a winning smile. Then invent some reason to
start a conversation–anything will do. Ask who owns those dogs trotting
by: discover her preferred canine, then back it later on. If some lager
spills on her dress, wipe it off. If her coat’s trailing, grab it,
make a great to-do of saving it from the dirt. Instant reward for
gallantry: a licensed peep at perfectly formed ankles, and more.
On my way home from the office I dove into a little second-hand
bookshop I knew to grab any versions of the Ovid they might have–they
were very obliging, had three. Took me for a scholar–at my age! I set
to work that evening, preferring not to commence the project in the
office in case my constant looting of Ovid’s Ars seemed odd. To
start with I re-read the poem from start to finish, to refresh my sense
of its overall design. I decided rapidly that I’d have to
concentrate on books I and 2 which gave advice to men on where and how
to catch a mate. Book 3, with its advice to women, was inappropriate for
a men’s magazine. Having in this way narrowed down my target, I
looked more closely at the first two books, jotting down any ideas in
the margin as I went. So as to avoid anachronism I allowed myself to
change the locale when necessary: there was no point sending my readers
to the woodland shrine of Diana near Aricia. Similarly, I saw few
prospects for javelins and chariots. And I let myself play with the
order of the poem whenever necessary.
It’s a mistake to imagine that only ferry companies and
farmers need pay attention to the season. Grain cannot always be
committed to the disloyal soil, nor bow doors to the ball-shrinking sea.
Similarly it’s not always wise to chase girls; the occasion will
often condition the victory. Times to avoid are:
BIRTHDAYS BREAKDOWNS DIETS DRIVING TESTS EXAMS LOTTERY WINS PERIODS PERMS
There are certainly others too–it will pay to keep a list, adding
to it when occasion arises. Never make a move at these times. Best sit
tight: those who set sail at the wrong moment hobble home with a
Pretty soon I’d arranged my data by heading, and I set to work
translating this information into blocks of prose. The voice which
emerged was neither Ovid’s–even if it shared his cynicism at
times–nor my own, yet rather that of a different persona altogether: a
species of lecher-come-man-of-the-world for the most part, yet not
entirely. The whole enterprise was very T-in-C, yet I tried to work at
the tone till this wasn’t too transparent. Finally, when I felt
I’d hit the mark, I showed these early drafts to Gross.
Timing might be seen as part of skill, yet I give it a separate
entry since it has a bearing on more aspects of love than performance
alone. Timing is as important when dating as in the sack. Even in those
first moments of a nascent relationship, when a man doesn’t know
whether it’s game on or game off, timing is of the essence. In
order to break into a conversation with the object of desire, it
doesn’t really matter what’s said, it’s more important to
say it at the right time, so as to get heard. Keep an eye on her, while
ogling the competition, wait till her friend’s gone to the toilets.
That’s the moment to make a move: sitting on her own she’ll
have her defences down. Taking the seat next to her pay attention to
bearing–she’ll be more interested in looks than anything else at
this stage. And where opening lines are concerned remember the
importance of first impressions. Don’t say anything too corny.
This time, it seemed, I’d got it right. Not only did Gross
approve the project, he positively gave it his benison. He even praised
its modernity! La vache! We agreed SEX-TIPS as an apposite title, and he
allowed me to present the pieces beneath the aegis of a pen-name.
VOID’S SEX-TIPS was destined to start the following week. It was
all stations go.
The importance of exercise can’t be stressed too strongly.
Exercise of the whole body. Try going jogging twice a week. And go
swimming too if at all possible. The swimming pool is an ideal place for
talent-spotting as well, a chance to get a good look at what’s on
offer in the area. If swimming doesn’t appeal, there are plenty of
alternatives which will do: archery, tennis, allball, golf, anything at
all. In the case of golf, don’t neglect the nineteenth hole. Like
the swimming pool, it’s a good place for talent-spotting,
especially if older women appeal. Avoid snooker, however, darts too, and
above all avoid going to the gym. It won’t help to be smelling of
smoke and beer, nor is there any point spending time somewhere that
doesn’t allow mingling. Many gyms now hold women only sessions, so
be warned. Whatever one’s personal preference, however, it’s
exercise which is the key.
Take-off went well and my slot seemed to go from strength to
strength over the first few weeks. Gross was very pleased with the
general response. Men all over were pleased, he said, it was the sort of
thing they’d been wanting to hear for a long time. It was so fresh.
We even had some letters asking VOID’S advice on specific
sex-related problems. How important was length? What was to be done with
smelly feet? There was, indeed, little on the down side, only one
acescent and incognito fax: F*** VOID.
Let every lover be pale: this is the proper complexion for love.
Only an anaemic look will do the trick. Try TOTAL BLOCK–don’t be
tempted by parasols.
After the keenness of the initial response, to stop things from
flagging, Gross had some T-shirts printed, which were given away to
selected readers. FOLLOW THE VOID. VOID IS LOVE. My slot became widely
talked over in many circles, even if the T-shirts didn’t make the
front page of Paris Match, yet I kept wondering when someone was going
to blow my cover. This, after all, had been my initial plan–so as to
embarrass Gross–yet as week followed week, and soon weeks slipped into
months, nobody seemed to notice the deceit. Void became the talk of the
town, while Ovid rolled over in his grave.
A word of warning is called for on the matter of drink. Keep the
mind clear and the feet steady. Above all avoid drinkers’ brawls,
never get into a fight when it can be avoided. Drink of an evening was
intended to promote high spirits and games. Yet while excess can be
damaging, to act pissed can help. Stammer words and roll eyeballs, then
however sex-laden the speech, it’ll be blamed on the booze. This
way she can get to know what the man within really thinks of her. And if
it backfires–booze is to blame.
One day I met Di for a bite at the Cafe Selavy. I remember the
occasion distinctly, for the place was teeming with workmen. Almost
immediately she mentioned VOID. I was certain she was going to mention
Ovid too, and blow my cover. After all, she had a degree in Classical
Civilization, albeit from a Polyversity. Yet I was mistaken. With
acharnement, she went into an endless diatribe on sexism and
sexploitation, charging my magazine with being reactionary, spoke of
complicity with the backlash against feminism. I said nothing. It was
clear that Di, and many other women in her office, if she were to be
believed, reckoned VOID’S SEX-TIPS extremely OFFENSIVE. She
finished off by asking me if I’d do something to stop it. Told me
it was my obligation, as a NEW MAN. I was deeply embarrassed, yet said
I’d do anything in my power.
No girl I have ever met has been attracted by smelly feet. Yet this
is no reason for a man to be ashamed if he’s the sweaty type–he
can see this as part of his maleness. As long as it never gets beyond
control. There are plenty of good deodorants on the market which can
solve the general problem. Personally, I stick to “Thor,” it
has a strong male image and not too potent a smell; however, there are
plenty of other brands to choose from which are as good. Where looks are
concerned, don’t neglect footwear. Many women maintain that one can
tell a man by his shoes. Yet don’t be misled by this: it
doesn’t pay to be too showy. It’s best to avoid extremes, like
cowboy boots and sandals. Slip-ons are a safe bet.
The following day at work I revised the forthcoming SEX-TIPS on the
Whipp-IT, toning them down if anything, with deference to Di. For
example, I remember deleting a passage on the flabby stomachs and
backsides of older women. Later, I took the machine on at chess,
beginners’ level. People had the impression I was working, while in
reality I was playing chess; or being beaten at chess, it came to the
same thing between myself and the Whipp-IT.
Don’t be too lavish with presents–anyone can win over a lover
that way, yet they’ll soon have their pockets emptied. A gift held
back breeds expectations, and if one can contrive to catch her
present-free, she’ll keep on giving in case she loses what
she’s already given. Every girl knows how to fleece a desperate
man. When she’s in a mood for spending she’ll take him to the
shops, ask him to inspect the merchandise, give his expert opinion.
She’ll give him a snog, then insist he pay for it, swear it’ll
really satisfy her, insist she have it right now, that she really really
needs it. No, tricks like this are to be avoided. A sensible man has to
tell her at the beginning he’s skint, that he’s between jobs,
that money can’t win love. That way, even if she lets him down, at
least he won’t be the worse off.
There was an easing off at work for a few days after this, leaving
plenty of time for me to get beaten at chess by the Whipp-IT, time and
again. In the end, lighting my pipe, I resorted to watching the Whipp-IT
play itself, beat itself, which gave me a certain sadistic thrill. One
day, I was alarmed to find two letters among my correspondence which
took VOID to task. One was a complaint from a chap who’d tried to
accost a woman in Tesco’s and finished with getting ejected by the
store detectives–they had the whole thing on CCTV and were going to
press charges. The other was from a woman, and complained that EMAIL was
Waterfalls, whether or not accompanied by the added boon of a
nearby mill, are romantic places, and their isolation can be handy. Here
a man may chance on a maiden on her own. If she’s to his fancy,
it’s okay to bring force to bear–force like that always goes down
a treat with the women. Indeed, what they’d love to give freely,
they’d really prefer to have stolen. Coarse love-making drives them
wild, the boldness of near-rape excites them–and the woman who was
almost forced into sex, yet managed to get away, while she may feign
relief, in reality feels disappointed. If things get problematic
afterwards, don’t worry. Let’s face it, only the base gives
delight; men seek only their own enjoyment, and find added joy when this
comes from another’s pain.
It was company policy at this time to ignore complaints, so we did.
As Gross said, what was the point in being a writer if nobody ever got
offended? We gave both letters the scissors treatment. Regrettably,
while we had no way of foreseeing this, these first written complaints
were only the thin end of the wedge. As the days went by, to great
alarm, the complaints grew and grew and ignoring them became
correspondingly harder and harder. Typical complaints relied heavily on
the word “sexist;” others complained of “macho
ethics,” the denigration of “woman-as-object;” some
bemoaned VOID’S “phallocentrism.”
If she’s no spring chicken and already applying anti-wrinkle
creams and tinting her hair don’t ask her date of birth–leave this
sort of thing to the Passport Office. Women of this age-bracket and
above are well worth it. Moreover, they have experience and know-how on
their side, and compensate for their age with art, concealing their
years with expensive powders and ointments. Best of all, they have a
million positions for the sack, many more than The Joy of Sex contains.
For novices, new bottled wine; for me, a vintage that has ripened over
the years. Does anybody disbelieve me? Take me at my word, I promise
Complaints peaked after the appearance of VOID on WATERFALLS. The
piece was seen–with a certain logic, granted–as an incitement to rape.
Recent statistics had shown that rape was on the rise again, and VOID,
along with several readily available video nasties, was targeted as an
IMPORTANT FACTOR. We received an avalanche of mail, containing several
letters from prominent feminists, and another acescent and incognito
fax: F*** VOID.
Always remember, every girl can be trapped. Any man can catch a
bird if he sets his nets right. Swallows will more readily cease their
singing in spring, than a keen lover’s entreaties fail with a
single girl. Why do men not acknowledge that they can win any woman in
sight? Few indeed are those who respond with a no, and whether or not
they’re game, an amatory proposition is something they all cherish.
And if she doesn’t take the bait, rejection carries no shame. Yet
how can rejection follow when joys delight? What we don’t possess
has ever more charm than what we do. The grass is always greener in
another man’s garden, the herd over the road has fatter teats.
Before we knew it we were swarmed by libbers. It was like Greenham
Common all over again. When we kicked them from the foyer, they took
root on the stairs. When we kicked them off the stairs, they camped by
the front door, not for an instant ceasing to rail at their attackers:
“Fascist bastards!” “Alien aggressors!”
“Men!” We were forced to call the police in, to keep the
peace, and soon the parking lot was swarming with Panda cars and black
Masons. The women carried banners.
Avoid things like “Does madam come here often?” or
“Haven’t we met somewhere before?” If it’s
appropriate, ask her if she’d like a drink, or, if she’s a
smoker, whether she’d like a cigarette. This way, before committing
himself, a man can get her talking and form some impression as to her
character. A lot can be decided in those first few moments, so it’s
best to take one’s time. And even after the romance is off the
mark, when he’s been going steady with her for two or three weeks,
what a man says is still very important. Is it the moment to give her a
French, kiss? The time to reach for her breasts? This kind of decision,
certainly, is finally in the hands of the party concerned, and is
dependent on a lot of criteria. Yet whatever decision is reached, be
certain to make the move with the help of an appropriate opening gambit.
Soon the libbers had pitched their tents in the fields opposite. It
was going to be a friendly protest, they said. They lit bonfires and
toasted tea-cakes, forever playing their cheap banjos, chanting their
VOID spells RAPE to every girl, so say Sally, Jane and Shirl!
It was not my idea of a fete champetre. It became impossible to
concentrate at the office, and there was a bad atmosphere.
There are plenty of aphrodisiacs on the market these days, from
Spanish Fly to Danish Egg, all sold on their bedding-power. My advice is
steer clear. Giving aphrodisiacs to women can be a real danger: they can
interfere with the brain and promote schizophrenia. Nasty tricks of this
kind are to be avoided. To get a lover a man needs to prove himself
loveable, and this cannot be achieved by good looks alone. If he wants
to try aphrodisiacs himself, he might go for those which ,spring from
mother earth herself. Eat white onions and colewort, enrich the diet
with avocados, honey, and the tasty kernels of the pine tree.
While everybody else at the office was negotiating with the police
and the libbers, trying to end the protest, I was becoming increasingly
concerned that my cover might be blown, that someone might bring Ovid
into the debate. In a way my worries were hypocritical, yet at the same
time that I wanted my trick to be discovered–in the end–I was enjoying
my work in a way I hadn’t for years; so I didn’t relish the
prospect of being laid off, which was inevitable if a revelation came.
As it happened, I need not have worried as I did. For while the crisis
was receiving ever-increasing media attention, and people started
associating themselves with one side or other of the debate, the exiled
Roman poet was never mentioned. As Ovid himself said, anticipating one
of the moderns by over 1900 years: “Poetry, I fear, is held in
Never forget the importance of season. As there are bad times to
strike, so there are good. These often fall immediately after positive
or negative events, so be alert. Be on the watch for some of these..
BEREAVEMENTS BIRTHDAYS DIETS EXAMS FESTIVALS HOLIDAYS LOTTERY WINS PERIODS SEPARATIONS SHOPPING SPREES
These are only a few ideas to be going along with–it’d be
easy to add to the list. These really are the best moments at which to
strike. If a man sets sail now, he’ll come home to port with
The libbers carried on toasting their tea-cakes and playing their
cheap banjos, waving their banners and chanting their slogans. Things at
work became tense: nobody was able to concentrate on what they were
doing and it became impossible to meet important deadlines. Gross was
always in a shitty mood, and while he was adamant that we had to stick
to principles, that we weren’t going to give an inch to these
lesbian vagrants, his temper flew in my direction more often than not.
To make matters worse, the media debate was swinging more and more
against the magazine, against VOID, and sales, which had soared in the
first weeks of the protest, had now dropped to an all time low. Gross
was not happy, and, increasingly, I felt like a pariah.
Nobody cares for poetry. Girls aren’t interested–they prefer
expensive presents. Any ignorant blockhead can catch their attention
provided he’s wealthy. Today really is the Golden Age: gold gets
friends, position and love. If Byron dropped in–accompanied by the
Graces, yet short of cash–he’d be shown the door at once. The only
time to flatter girls in verse is St. Valentine’s day–a bawdy
declamation, the trashier the better–this will do to win their love.
Sophisticated or plain silly, at these times they’ll take a poem
fashioned in the early dawn, for them, as a welcome gift.
Things had reached the point where something had to give, and the
decision had to be in the hands of Gross. Not only was he
editor–indirectly, the whole thing was his creation. If he’d let
my selection of love poetry see the light of day the libbers might never
have batted an eyelid. One afternoon he called me to his office,
solemnly told me I was to take a month’s leave. That VOID was to
stop, following the appearance of those in press, at least till the
crisis blew over. He told me that my job was safe, that personally he
rated my work, he even gave me an idea for a new slot I might like to
take on, on the sex lives of insects. He wanted me to cover something
less controversial. I met Di that day at the Cafe Selavy. Told her I was
going on leave; and of the editor’s decision to end the VOID slot.
She was delighted–thanked me for my good work, said I was a winner.
Evidently, she didn’t connect my leave with the VOID affair.
No man can be expected to stick to a single girl. Have a good time
by all means, yet act with discretion. Don’t boast of affairs
simply to boost the ego. If well-hidden affairs are discovered
nonetheless, deny them flatly. Never be slavish, don’t resort to
excessive flattery–to do so is certain proof of wrong-doing. Go for it
in the sack, that’s the only way to win her over, with a screw so
good it eradicates all misgivings.
I was away for a month, in what felt more like exile than leave. I
spent some time in Constantinople–I can’t bear to call it by its
official appellation–visiting the temples and palaces, then spent a
week or so on the Black Sea, a desolate, barely habitable region. I sent
a few postcards–one to Di depicting the harem at Topkapi–telling
people what a great time I was having, and that I wished they were here;
yet in reality I was bored to tears, dying to get back to terra nostra.
The Ottomans are a dreary race, all kilims and cartomancy.
Women’s characters are all different. To trap twenty hearts
calls for twenty different methods. Some soils are best for barley, some
for oats, and some for rye: they can’t all be grown in the same
field. Women have as many altering roles as the protean gods. One needs
to adapt oneself as occasion demands, to transform oneself, like the
shape-changer, into water, then a horse, now a dog, a hog, a headless
bear, sometime a fire. Some fish are got by trawling, some with nets,
some with line and hook. Above all, don’t attempt the same method
on all age-brackets: an old bird will spot the nets from afar.
When I got back things had altered irrevocably, as if by some
bizarre sea change. There were no tents opposite the office block, no
chanting femos. Traffic was flowing normally. There were no Panda cars,
no black Masons. When I went into the office–C’est pas
possible!–it was no longer there. After the initial shock, one of the
porters told me we’d been relocated onto floor 18. Here, I was
greeted by the new editor, Goodman, who welcomed me back with open arms.
I’d find editorial policy somewhat changed, he said, now that the
Aphrodite conglomerate had gone into receivership. My desk was
new–false mahogany–yet the Whipp-IT was still in place. I switched it
on. Lit my pipe. Had a few games of chess. Lost. Then I spotted the NO
ENDING A RELATIONSHIP
Ending a relationship is never easy, especially if it had some
happy moments, yet even the brightest stars fade, and there’s
always a time when it’s best to close shop. An amicable parting is
best–don’t dash to the bench from the bedroom, and let her hang on
to any gifts to avoid litigation. Be pitiless, don’t go all soft
when she starts to cry–women teach their eyes to sob at will. Silence
is strength: the lover who reproaches a girl is inviting her to prove
him wrong. Don’t give reasons for wanting a separation: foster a
grievance, don’t give her it in black and white.
The new management regime had a new brief: “Sexy not
Sexist.” And Goodman gave the go-ahead to my long-cherished
selection of love poetry. I battled with limbo in the Whipp-IT, emerging
the victor in the end, and re-began work on my selection, avoiding Ovid
to be on the safe side. I printed some risky pieces, yet the slot proved
to be well-liked, giving rise to no protest.
In the end things were resolved fairly satisfactorily. Gross got
the boot and I’m still in work. Yet the victory seems hollow
somehow, for it took place behind my back. Paradoxically, now, I look
back on those days beneath Gross with nostalgia. Yet it still irritates
me that nobody spotted my scam.
Maddy says she’s not interested unless you stop smoking. No
buts. Maddy used to smoke like a Turk. Now she’s stopped and she
wants you to stop as well. She wants you to choose between her and
smoking. She wants you to choose her. Can’t we talk about it, you
say. Maddy puts the phone down.
You undress a fresh pack of Gitanes, tap the box until one of the
line of cigarettes pokes its head above the level of the others. You
slip it out, light up, inhale.
Nothing could be clearer. Either you give up the fags for Maddy, or
you give up Maddy for the fags. The problem is you want both; you want
to be spoilt. You want Maddy and the fags.
You take out another cigarette. Light it. Inhale.
At the cafe they ask if you’ve seen Maddy. You say no, that
she’s playing hard to get. You clear the tables from lunch in
readiness for the next set of customers.
There are two ways out of the dilemma as you see it. You either
travel back in time looking for Maddy-who-still-smokes-like-a-Turk
(difficult); or you persuade Maddy to re-start (also difficult, but less
so). Other ways out you will consider later.
“A cigarette is the perfect type of perfect pleasure. It is
delicious, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one
From a call box you phone the Smokers’ Helpline. You ask them
how you should go about preventing a friend from stopping. As soon as
they have understood your demand they hang up.
That evening you take a long meditative bath. You smoke a joint,
then suture the remaining Gitanes. Before going to bed you drink a large
tumbler of whisky accompanied by a Havana cigar. You dream of Maddy,
At the cafe there are workmen installing a waterwheel propelled by
an artificial waterfall. The dust and noise created by their goings on
keeps most customers at bay, despite the BUSINESS AS USUAL sign in the
window. You sit in a corner reading the daily papers, nursing your sore
head with a glass of tonic water.
You phone Maddy. There is nobody at home. When the ansaphone whirrs
into action you speak calmly: call me.
Later, you check out the smoking section at the local library:
predictably, there is a great deal on stopping, nothing on starting up.
The only book holding any promise, Richard Klein’s Cigarettes Are
Sublime, you read in one sitting, without stopping for a cigarette. You
are particularly impressed by his chapter on Carmen, which describes the
seductive powers attributed to tobacco in the opera. You resolve to take
Maddy to see it.
Outside you light up, taking a profound drag on your cigarette,
letting its toxic smoke caress the cilia of your lungs.
You phone Maddy. Still the ansaphone. When it whirrs into action
you speak calmly once again: please. You flirt with the idea of paying
her an impromptu visit. Think better of it. Light up.
Sweet talk, sweet talk of lovers it's all smoke! Their raptures, their raptures, and their vows, it's all smoke! Drifting away into the air, we watch the smoke the smoke the smoke the smoke!
–Georges Bizet, Carmen.
In the park two small boys are playing on the slides. Behind them,
on a bench, sits their young mother, smoking. You ask her for a light.
Your ideal lover.
She would smoke all the time.
Maddy phones. She asks if you’ve given up. You say you’ve
bought two tickets for Carmen.
Have you given up?
Will you come, then?
If you’ve given up.
You lie, say yes, you have. She blows you a kiss down the phone.
You spend an evening in front of the television, smoking Old
Holborn. Before turning in you flirt with your pipe over a small port.
You dream that someone has stuck pins into your cigarette box, so that
when you go for a smoke the cigarettes emerge tattered, flayed.
At the cafe they ask after Maddy. You say you’re meeting her
in the evening. That you’re going to a show. You clean out the
coffee grinders, sweep the floor.
A down-and-out stops you in the street. Asks you for a light. You
reach into your pocket and pull out your lighter. Offer it to him. He
takes it, pockets it. Then asks you for a cigarette.
In the park three fit-looking men in tracksuits are jogging round
the outer path. Sitting on your bench, cigarette in hand, you follow
their fictional movements with your gaze. Where are they going?
Your Top Ten. Gitanes Gauloises Lucky Strike ("It's toasted!") Marlboro Camel Benson and Hedges Rothmans Navy Cut JPS MS
“The healthy are not real. They have everything except
being–which is only confirmed by uncertain health. –E. M. Cioran.
You weigh up your chances of converting Maddy. Low. Nevertheless,
you purchase a packet of Silk Cut, just in case she rises to the bait.
You light a Gitane. Inhale. You exhale slowly, through the nose,
the smoke descending in swirling eddies over your lips and chin,
enveloping your head in its dizzying cloud.
Maddy arrives late at the opera, and you are shuffled ungraciously
into two pillar seats. The production is set on the planet Argon, in the
21st century. Carmen works in a microchip factory. None of the cast
smoke, and the songs have been altered accordingly. Nevertheless, after
the performance, you offer Maddy a cigarette. I knew you were lying, she
You smoke your last cigarette of the day, accompanied by a
tumblerful of whisky. When you stub out the cigarette a fair amount of
whisky remains. You top it up, smoke another last cigarette of the day.
At the cafe they ask you about the show. You say it was great, that
Maddy loved it too. A fetching young woman with dark hair and prominent
breasts asks you for a coffee. You take her order, pass it on, without
bothering to explain you’re not one of the waiters yourself.
Already, you are beginning to lose hope of converting Maddy.
She’s a tough nut to crack, and you haven’t the necessary
stratagems. As a last resort you decide to try getting her pissed.
Your bete noire.
NO SMOKING signs.
You telephone Maddy: no reply.
In a bar you find yourself eyeing up the women customers. One girl
in particular, wearing pink tights and a tartan mini-skirt, smoking
roll-ups, attracts your attention. Before you leave your eyes meet: the
look in hers is hostile.
A friend tells you he’s seen Maddy with another man. You
remark that she’s not your property. That she’s often to be
seen in the company of other men.
“The cigarette is the prayer of our time.”–Annie
It occurs to you there might be another way out of your dilemma.
Rather than having Maddy and the fags, you could have another woman and
the fags. Even another, woman-who-smokes-like-a-Turk and the fags. A
compromise, for sure: but better than Maddy plus no fags. An improvement
too on fags plus no Maddy.
In bed you toss yourself off, thinking alternately of Maddy and the
woman with prominent breasts.
In the cafe you empty an ashtray full of lipstick-stained
cigarettes. You read the Lonely Hearts.
Fit 31yo, brunette. Virgo, hedonist, seeks 24-30yo Gemini man,
GSOH, for partying etc. NS.–ML 25066.
Woman, WLTM warm, wickedly funny man for walks, talks and corks.
When will I get my cuddle? NS.–ML 13072.
NS could only mean one of two things: NO SEX or NO SMOKING.
You telephone Maddy. There is nobody at home. When the ansaphone
comes on you put down the receiver.
In the park two small boys are playing on the slides. On a bench
behind them sits their young mother. You sit down beside her, ask her
for a light. She says she’s given up.
“The cigarette, which is the most imperious, the most
engaging, the most demanding, the most loving, the most refined of
mistresses, tolerates nothing which is not her, and compromises with
nothing.” –Theodore de Banville.
You light a cigarette. The smoke pierces your lungs, then emerges
slowly, softly enfolding your body in its mist, at once extending and
dissolving the body’s limits, erasing the boundary marking inside
You phone Maddy. No answer.
You wander from bar to bar in the hope of picking someone up.
It’s so long since you did this sort of thing that you forget how
to read the signs. You get as far as asking for a light three times, but
even when the response is encouraging you fail to follow up your first
move, retreat to your own table to enjoy the cigarette, your only true
mistress. Late in the evening, when you’re fairly drunk, you manage
to share a few drinks with a student taking a year out. Even though you
don’t fancy her, at least she smokes. When the bar closes you
invite her back to your place. She says no.
You stumble clumsily into bed, hit the light. You dream you are in
a forest. At the forest’s edge you find a path leading up into the
mountains. You climb to the top, where you find a lake. You are about to
strip off and go for a swim when, suddenly, snow begins to fall, fast
At the cafe you cut the stems off some gladioli with a blunt pair
of scissors before placing them in vases on the dining tables. Again,
you leaf through the Lonely Hearts. Again, NS everywhere.
A friend tells you you’re looking rough. You’re feeling
rough, you say.
You phone Maddy. She picks up the receiver.
Hello, Maddy, it’s me.
I’m sorry, we’ve got to talk.
Maddy, please, why don’t you come round for a drink?
Then can we meet?
Eventually, she agrees. Insists on her place. You assent, not too
Your worst nightmare.
Finding the 24 hour garage shut.
You buy a packet of Marlboro. Smoke half of them on the trot.
“If Prometheus had stolen fire from heaven in order to light
his cigarette, they would have let him do it.”–Mme de Girardin.
When you arrive at Maddy’s flat she’s watching Casablanca
on TV. You make an ironic remark about allowing Humphrey Bogart to
chain-smoke in her sitting room. Regret it. During the meal you keep
topping up her wine glass. Every time you do so she smiles at you, in
her enchanting, disapproving way. When you’ve finished eating you
casually roll a joint, offer it to Maddy. She refuses, says she has a
headache, is going to bed.
You catch the last bus home. Finish off the evening with your
remaining cigarettes and a can of beer. You dream you are attacked by an
oversized pair of scissors.
You wake up wanting Maddy more than ever. You are mad about her all
Running full tilt in the face of your most powerful instincts, you
resolve to STOP.
You telephone Maddy. There is no answer.
At the cafe you busy yourself placing small brightly coloured paper
parasols into slices of melon. You empty an ashtray full of
lipstick-stained cigarettes, holding it at arm’s length.
In the park you stroll round the outer path, soon becoming
breathless. You need a cigarette.
You telephone Maddy. Still no answer.
Your favourite colour.
Increasingly in need of a cigarette you visit the local library
again to solicit the aid of its literature. Stop Now/advises you to
begin by disgusting yourself with cigarettes, suggests smoking a whole
packet. You follow its advice. Then smoke another.
A friend tells you he succeeded with nicotine patches. I’m a
new man, he says.
In the evening you smoke your last cigarette. Ever. Four times. You
dream someone’s fist-fucking your lungs.
You wake with a sore throat, drink a glass of orange juice and chew
a clove of garlic. Following the course of action prescribed by Stop
Now! you free-associate, writing out a list of all that is bad about
THEY KILL YOU THEY STOP YOU SLEEPING WITH MADDY THEY KILL YOU THEY ARE EXPENSIVE THEY STOP YOU SLEEPING WITH MADDY THEY KILL YOU THEY CAUSE BRONCHITIS AND OTHER DISEASES THEY STOP YOU SLEEPING WITH MADDY THEY STOP YOU SLEEPING WITH MADDY
In the park there is a juggler practicing. You watch him trying to
light his cigarette while maintaining his three batons in the air. He
drops one, but is able to scoop it up again with his foot.
From a call box you phone Maddy. There is nobody at home. When the
ansaphone whirrs into action you speak forcibly: call me.
At the cafe they ask after Maddy. You shrug. You distribute
ashtrays in the smoking area. Breathing in deeply, hugging the margins
of the occupied tables, you gather as many fumes into your lungs as
passive smoking allows.
A friend offers you a cigarette. You refuse, saying you have
Life is a cigarette, Cinder, ash, and fire, Some smoke it in a hurry, Others savour it.
At home you find yourself biting your nails. You tell yourself to
stop. You find your hand reaching out for a cigarette. What the hell,
you think. A last last cigarette. You light it, inhale.
Maddy phones. Asks if you’ve stopped. Yes and no, you say.
I’m just smoking my last.
She asks you to call her in a week if you’ve still stopped.
The deal stands.
That evening you have a cup of tea and a joint, go to bed early.
You can’t sleep. Get up. Have another cup of tea, another joint. In
bed. You wake to find your mattress on fire, heave it out the window,
crash on the couch. You dream of Maddy, smoking.
That’s the way Blue, you can do it, get that blessed key into
the lock old boy, that’s the first thing. Rusty old effort’s
not fit for a brothel if you’ll excuse Blue saying so. In fact
it’s totally knackered. Not the only one either. The governor
should have had it changed long ago. Ah! There we go. At last! The
little bugger. Catch your death standing out here in the street all day.
Now, close up again, just until we get the lights on and then sort the
place out a bit. See if we can create a little order. Easier said than
done in this place, I can assure you, but then beggars can’t be
choosers. There, at least we can see where we’re going now. Christ,
there goes the blower already. Who could that be I wonder? After the
governor no doubt. I don’t know why they bother, he’s never in
before lunch, they ought to know that. Leave it Blue, leave it. Sorry
sir, but we’re not open till nine-thirty. It’s stopped. Thank
God for that. Now, before we get going, let’s see if we can’t
propel a little soup out of those old bowels of yours before it’s
too late. Perhaps a first gasper just to be certain of a result. Where
on earth have those Vestas got to? Don’t want to have to push too
hard, that’s the thing. Go easy on those piles Blue, otherwise
we’ll have a blood bath on our hands. Hah, the governor’s
lighter, that’ll do. Curious the effect they have–just the thought
of a Dunhill’s enough to open the floodgates. Whooosh! Now, quick
over to the closet Blue, stop pissing about. That’s an order.
There, that’s better. What now? Ought to open that sodding
door again, I suppose. Christ Blue, there’s already a couple
hanging about in the street! Quick, before they start beating on the
windows, planting their greasy paws all over the shop front.
Good day, sir. Good day to you, young lady. How can I be of
assistance? Very well. Just browsing, sir? Feel free. Don’t let
Blue get in your way! Now, first things first Blue, need to get your
priorities right. Let’s get that kettle on to begin with, then
another gasper. Then perhaps we can see what tasks need doing. Who
knows, with any luck extra troops will have arrived by then. Good job
you’re in charge, that’s all I can say Blue.
Huh, speak of the devil! Good day Teeny. Julian. Er, could I just
have a quick word Julian? Yes, well, there’s a very pressing task
which needs urgent attention with which I think your capable hands
perhaps would care to be entrusted–get that kettle on would you,
Julian? Oh, you’re nipping round to the cafe are you? Well,
let’s see, er … in that case I’ll have a tea and a bacon
butty if you’d be so kind. Yes, sir, how can I be of assistance?
Bolivia? Try the travel section, sir, downstairs on the left. Not at
all. Now, where did I put that list? Here we are. Let’s have a look
HOOVER CLASSICS DELIVERY (PENTANGLE BOOKS) SHIFT G&L VERA STERNE PO WINDOW DISPLAY AOB
Huh. Got your work cut out for you there Blue. Better get going,
stop pissing about! Jesus, and it’s ten o’clock already! This
will never do. On Blue, get your battle plan in order. Let’s see.
Hoovering. Shouldn’t take long, say half an hour at the outside:
say ten to ten-thirty. That’s about right. Then tackle the Classics
section: ten-thirty to eleven-thirty, say. That should do it.
That’ll still leave an hour or so to quash a few other jobs before
lunch–with any luck the delivery should turn up around twelve, though
God knows, it could arrive next week–then take a break around one. Just
leave it there Julian. Obliged indeed. Don’t forget to ring Vera
Sterne in the lunch hour either. Vera Sterne–I don’t suppose
that’s her real appellation. Just check your booking for tonight.
Right, let’s get cracking! Er, Julian, while you’re
breakfasting you wouldn’t oblige by holding the fort for a few
seconds would you, I just need to give the carpet the once over. Yes,
very true, Julian. Now, let’s see if we can’t get this place
in order for once before the governor gets here, he’ll be giving us
our redundancy notice if we don’t.
Heavens above! Where the governor procured this fiasco of a hoover
with its grinning cat’s face God alone knows. I suppose he got it
on the cheap, as per usual–no doubt it’ll break down like all the
other hoovers we’ve had here over the years. Sooner the better, in
Blue’s opinion. Sooner the better. It looks ridiculous, especially
with that great black tube poking out of it where the nose should be,
like that creature in Galactic Wars. Could give one of the clients a
nasty turn! An elephant would have been slightly less incongruous. Not
that I’d be keen even then, to be sure. I suppose the idea is to
put a bit of fun into hoovering. Pah! That’ll be the day. Certainly
doesn’t present the right front for a serious bookshop in
Blue’s opinion. You wouldn’t find the likes of it in
Waterstone’s, that’s for sure.
Strewth, I’d forgotten those boxes were still there. Just have
to hoover round the things for now, though we’d better try and
shift the lot later on. Could do with getting rid of all that crap on
the lower shelves too, sitting there gathering dust. Where does all this
blessed dust originate, that’s what I’d like to know. Beg your
pardon, sir. Of course, a lot of it enters the shop with the books,
particularly the second hand ones, a lot of which have been sitting
around in attics for donkey’s years. But that doesn’t explain
all of it, not for a second it doesn’t. You can believe Blue, the
dust in here is unnatural. Teeny was saying only the other day that we
ought to be issued with breathing apparatuses, or else have a whip round
and get these ourselves. And in the stock area it’s even
worse–down there on a bad day it’s a regular pea-souper.
Well, it hasn’t had the dazzling effect you hoped for, but
that’ll have to do for now. What do you think, Julian? Yes, very
true. Obliged, Julian. Now, what about a bite of that butty Blue?
You’ll need it to get you through till lunch, that’s for sure.
Sorry, sir. I’ll be with you in a second. No respite for the wicked
Blue. Buying or selling, sir? If you’d just like to bring it round
here, sir, I’ll see what I can do for you. Now, what have we here?
Forster, Coover, Ishiguro, O’Neill, Blythe. Spanking new or not, we
can’t give you a lot for hardback fiction, sir, I should tell you
that now. Sade, Bataille, The Story of O. Hnnn, interesting edition.
Ronald Duncan. Would that be the librettist, sir? Yes, I think you could
say that. Gliding for Beginners, A Juggler’s ABC. Not a great
future in those. The Beats. Could we say 15-00 [pounds sterling] for the
lot, sir? Right you are. Obliged, indeed.
Now, don’t beat about the bush Blue, you’d better tackle
that Classics section before another job crops up. On your knees old
boy, don’t want to cripple your back, today of all days. Vera
Sterne would be very upset. Now, let’s see if we can introduce a
little order here, whip out the worst of the bunch and arrange the rest
alphabetically. Waterfall, P.J., Drainage Slopes: Design & Function.
Well, that can go for a start. Should never have been allowed here in
the first place. God above, there really is a lot of rubbish down here
Blue. Half of these could go straight in the bin. Addison–hah!–who was
asking for that the other day? No wonder I couldn’t find it down
here with the Rs. Heavens, there goes the blower again. Teeny!
Where’s she got to now? Teeny! Sod it, better take it yourself
Blue. Hello, Bruised Books Ltd, how can I be of assistance? No, terribly
sorry, I think you have the wrong connection. Not at all.
Oooerrrgh! This is backbreaking work, you can rest
assured–squatting down here scraping around the Classics section just
about takes the biscuit. I keep telling the governor to junk the lot.
And why he’s reluctant I haven’t the foggiest. It’s not
as if anyone actually buys any of it. In fact the clients don’t
even see this lot tucked away as they are down here on the lower
shelves. It’s really beyond belief. He doesn’t realise that
nobody wants to read Cowper these days, let alone Lever, Clever,
Waterfall, Dryden and the rest of the bunch. And who’s to point the
finger? Even the scholars aren’t interested, they want the
annotated editions, usually the Longley series, and we don’t get a
lot of those. Even when we do they go straight in the window and are
snapped up in seconds.
It’s all right everyone! Just Blue’s back playing up
again! Definitely your FINAL WARNING Blue, no two ways about it. Take it
easy old boy, don’t want to overdo it.
Have a gasper.
And why not treat yourself to a Batchelors’ cup-a-soup as well
Blue, while you’re at it, there’s an idea. First get that
kettle on though. Julian, could I trouble you for a second–I think we
ought really to get that kettle on. A bit of a breather before the
governor gets here, or we won’t know what’s hit us. You know
what he’s like. Now, how are we doing? Twelve-thirty. Already!
Doesn’t look like Pentangle are going to turn up before lunch. Best
thing you can do is take a quick break Blue. Then lunch at one
o’clock sharp. Don’t forget to ring Vera Sterne either.
Wonder if she’ll wear those long riding boots again tonight?
Sorry, sir, did you speak? Poetry? Through the door on your right, sir.
Foreign poetry downstairs. Not at all. Spurs last week. Wonder if
she’ll have that gear on again tonight? Yes, I’ll have a
cup-a-soup if you please Julian. Chicken and celery, if there’s any
left. Now, better light that gasper Blue, can’t be standing here
Hello, don’t say the blessed CCTV’s on the blink again.
Perhaps just not focussed properly. Let’s have a quick look, now.
Hnnnnn. Is that any … no. Not a lot Blue, not a lot. Not that you can
see a great deal even at best. You can just about pick out a
person’s shape on those rare occasions when one chances to venture
downstairs, but even then visibility’s so poor it’s difficult
to see what they’re up to. Perhaps it works as a deterrent, though.
Just leave it on the counter, Julian. I suppose that’s the idea in
any case, though you’d need to be pretty desperate to pinch
anything out of our geography section. Good luck to the needy’s
what I say. Thank you, sir. Is there a student card with that? A student
card. Yes, we offer 10% discount. No? That’s 7-50 [pounds sterling]
then, thankyou. Very obliged. Ahh, that’s better. Should be able to
follow it up with a solid lunch shortly, go to that place round the
corner which does the all-day breakfast. Sausage, chips, egg and beans
for 2-00 [pounds sterling]. That should set you up again Blue. Wonder
where the governor’s got to? Probably suffering the gout again I
shouldn’t wonder. Says it’s hereditary. Too frequent late
nights and bubbly breakfasts if you ask Blue. Not that anyone does.
Nearly there. Just ten then off to lunch Blue. You can do it.
Sorry, Julian? Well, there’s plenty of pricing to do. You could
start with the new fiction. As you like. Yes, two o’clock would be
fine. Perhaps you’d hold fort again while Blue’s at lunch.
Five to one. Get your coat Blue. Yes, sir. Downstairs, that’s
right. Now, those Vestas. Where on earth are they? Huh. Don’t
worry, the governor isn’t going to notice his lighter just the
once. See you shortly, Julian. Help yourself to a cup-a-soup if you feel
so inclined. Yes, I take your point.
Afternoon, governor. Lighter? No, I don’t believe I have. Oh,
Pentangle phoned did they? Soon? Fair do. They’re still downstairs,
unless Julian’s been at work on that front. No, fairly quiet on the
whole. Right you are.
What’s that Teeny? Just a second. Ah, good day to you, sir.
Goods for Bruised Books Ltd, yes, that’s us. You’ll be wanting
a hand unloading, I suppose. I’ll just gather the troops, we
weren’t sure when to expect you. I see. Julian! Julian! Grab the
trolleys would you, Julian, we’re ready to unload.
Typical of the governor not to lift a finger. Always leaves Blue in
charge when there’s drudgery to be done. Just pass those down here,
sir, that should do it. Christ, they’re heavy enough. Watch your
back Blue, bend at the knee. That’s the way. Careful how you go,
Teeny, we don’t want any wounded. Huh! Try telling that to the
governor! Now, where should we stack these, I wonder? Eventually,
we’ll want the lot downstairs for sorting and pricing, but
we’d better just have a pile to begin with. Have to be in the back
of the shop, I suppose, though it wouldn’t worry Blue stacking the
lot in front of G&L I can tell you. Not sure the governor would be
bothered either, though it could upset Julian. It was his brainchild,
after all–though why the governor gave Julian the go ahead heaven only
knows. Probably thought it would sell well. Pah! Just there in the
corner, that’s the way Teeny. It’s not a serious worry, but
I’d prefer subjects like G&L to be located downstairs, out of
the way, rather than out in the open. Just one on here, sir. How are we
doing? Very good. I’ll tell Julian to bring out another trolley.
Where do I sign? Not at all. Very obliged.
Phew! Well that’s that. Now, while there’s a lull with
the others off on their lunch break, you’d better just check that
list of yours Blue, see what needs doing. Where are we now?
HOOVER CLASSICS DELIVERY (PENTANGLE BOOKS) SHIFT G&L VERA STERNE PO WINDOW DISPLAY AOB
Half way there Blue, halfway there. Perhaps tackle G&L now,
seeing Julian’s out, should get that over before he’s back.
Then the PO and finish off with the display if you can. But be sure
you’re away by five though, or you’ll not catch the five
twenty-five express. Vera Sterne’s expecting you Blue, don’t
want to let her down! Said she was looking forward to it too, that saucy
tone in her voice again. On Blue, get those books shifted, that’s
the way. You can do it. Christ, better go careful–sorry, sir!–on those
stairs, they’re steep enough without a load. That’s the way.
We’ll get those on the shelf in just a second. Now, back for
another load Blue. Poof! At least the exercise should do you good Blue.
Don’t get enough of it these day’s. Didn’t get enough of
it in those days! Perhaps ate just a bit too big a lunch old
boy–let’s hope you can still fit into Vera’s cuirass. Crikey,
watch your step Blue. Needs seeing to really that loose carpet. Strange
idea, dressing your clients up like that, but I’ve no objections.
Certainly, there’s a sensuality about steel next to your skin.
Hides the flab too. I wonder where she picked up the idea? Oh, I beg
your pardon sir! Perhaps it’s just Blue she does it for, who knows?
Her little cuirassier. Says he has a warlike bearing.
There, that should do it. Now get the sods on the shelves Blue,
that’s the way. Needn’t worry about alphabetical order, just
get the things out of the way, that’s what counts. Prrrrrrph! I do
beg your pardon. It’s not right, in Blue’s opinion, and
that’s all there is to it. Personally, I accuse the schooling.
Laxity, lack of discipline–that’s at the root of it all, no doubt
about it. There, that should do for now. Clears a bit of space upstairs
There’s the governor calling. What can he be after? Hold on,
I’ll be there in a jiffy! Easier said than done Blue, easier said
than done. Yes? Pricing? Certainly. I’ll get cracking straight
away. Now, where’s the Whittaker gone, I wonder? Last saw it over
by Classics. Yes, there we are. Start with this box to begin with.
Let’s see what we have here. E.V. Fitts-Willis Cybernetics and
Cyberspace. Can’t see there’s going to be a huge call for
that, but at least it looks up to date. Not really your field is it
Blue? Let’s see now. Fitts-,Fitts-, Fitts-Waller, Fitts-Wellings,
Fitts-Willis, E.V. 45-99 [pounds sterling]. Huh. We’re certainly
not going to shift it at that price. Let’s try 15-00[pounds
sterling]. What’s next? Bryan Knocker Beyond Differentials:
Calculus & Hypercalculus. Worst part of the day this, and it’s
one of those tasks that’s never really finished. As soon as
you’re through one load there’s always another just arrived.
Knitter, Knivett, Knobler, Knoblock, Knock, Knocker. It’s not quite
so killing when you know the field, of course, but even then the
pleasure is attached to a certain pain, usually in the backside. R.D.
Drake Astrophysics Now. Not Blue’s cup of tea. Drab, Draffin, Drag,
Dragon, Drain, Drakakis, Drake. Jesus, there are a lot of these. Drake
P., Drake Q., Drake R.A., Drake R.C., Drake R.D. Here we are. 17-99
[pounds sterling]. Try 8-00 [pounds sterling]. Not as bad as Jones of
course, but quite a few nonetheless. Wonder if he’s a descendent of
Sir Francis? He got around a bit by all accounts. Wouldn’t be
allowed today. Not even royalty can get away with it. Bartlebooth.
Shouldn’t be a lot of those. As I thought. Hole in one.
On Blue, you can do it. Keep your head down old boy, it’s the
only way, like digging trenches. Deardon. That’s an odd one. Like
the start of a letter. Got it. Ah, Fitts-Willis again, what did we put
that one at? 15-00[pounds sterling], yes. That’s the best thing
about these bulk deliveries, several copies of the one book if
you’re lucky. Brickbatt. About all that can be said in their favour
if you’ll allow Blue to say so.
That’s enough of that for now. Besides, if you don’t
shift soon Blue, the PO will be shut. Ah! Better check the governor
doesn’t want anything sending special delivery.
Er, could I trouble you on the subject of the afternoon post? Yes,
I see. That’s all in order, I believe. And are there any packages
for the special delivery service this afternoon? No? Fine. Well Blue,
just those two parcels downstairs for Zurich then. In which case it can
wait. I’ll pop those in on the way to the station, save the extra
journey. Ah, Julian. I … er … felt it … better off there if you
understand. Yes. I don’t deny it. Very true. Yes. A cup of tea
would be splendid. Two sugars if you please, I’ll hold fort. Just
one second, young lady. Thank you. Is there a student card with that?
That’ll be 6-00 [pounds sterling] then please. Obliged. Quick,
better put the governor’s lighter back now the coast’s clear.
There. What now? Jesus, the blower again. On Blue, you can do it. Hello,
Bruised Books Ltd, how can I be of assistance, sir? Yes, we do stock a
wide range of historical texts, sir. Any particular publication? I see.
No, I don’t think we have a copy of that available at this instant,
but you’re entitled to browse, our stock changes on a daily basis.
Yes, thank you for calling, sir.
Ah, Julian, I’d nearly forgotten. Just pop it on the counter
would you? Obliged, indeed. Now, what are we now, I wonder? Huh,
three-thirty already. Flies when you’re enjoying yourself! Oh
bugger, looks like the teabag’s broken again. Another of the
governor’s false savings: the only teabags in the world which need
a tea-strainer. Now, where are those biscuits Blue? There we are. And
the scissors, they were here a second ago, I could have sworn. Where on
earth have they got to? You’ll have to sort this out Blue. Christ!
It’s no wonder you can never find anything in this place the state
it’s in. Lord knows, Blue’s always eager to create a little
order, but you’re fighting a losing battle in this place, I can
assure you. Teeth Blue, use your teeth and let there be an end of it.
There, that should do it. Just one second, sir. No rest for the wicked
Blue. Buying or selling? If you’d like to bring yourself round
here, sir, I’ll see what I can do. Right, what have we here now?
Huh, Buddha: An Introduction, Augustine City of God. An interesting
book, sir. Yes. Icons in Renaissance Art, The Flagellation of Christ. A
nice little collection, sir. We haven’t any call for the Buddha,
here, but I’ll give you 20-00 [pounds sterling] for the rest, you
can’t say fairer than that. Very obliged. Not at all.
Get that tea down you Blue, that’s the way. Put you back on
the straight and narrow. Prrrrpp! Real gut rot that lunch has left you
with, probably all that greasy food again Blue. You don’t learn, do
you? Can’t keep off it. Now, before it’s too late Blue,
I’d get cracking on that window display. Looks like a
hurricane’s hit it right now. Let’s see now, just the once
over with the duster for starters, don’t piss about Blue. Christ,
there’s plenty of dust here too. Though I don’t think
anyone’s been round here with a duster for ages. Achoooooghh!
Jesus! How’s that whip round for the breathing apparatuses going
then Teeny? I could certainly do with one over here! Right, a prize
piece to fill the place of those tatty leather bound things that have
been squatting over there for the last few weeks. Yes, why not
Augustine, nothing beats a pious facade. What else? Could try a row of
those new Pentagon books, that’s the way. Here we are. Lord, is
that still there? Huh! No wonder at that price! One of the
governor’s bright ideas. Put it at 6-50 [pounds sterling] Blue,
that should do it. Now, finish off with a few art books just to brighten
things up a bit. Pissarro, just the ticket. Teeny, I don’t suppose
I could trouble you just to nip outside and tell Blue how the window
looks? Obliged. Gauguin, he’ll do. Well? Looks all right does it
Teeny? Right-ho! Obliged indeed.
Where are we now, then? Four-thirty. Huh, better not piss about
Blue, still got the PO on the way to the station, then an evening to
savour with any luck! Nobody can say you haven’t earned it either
Blue. Christ no! The unsurpassable Vera Sterne will no doubt be taking
your cuirass off the wall this very second Blue, giving it an
affectionate little polish with her blouse, slipping into her boots and
spurs, unfurling her whip…. Sir! I beg your pardon. Not at all. Is
there a student card with that, sir? Yes, we offer a 10% discount. Very
good. 10-00 [pounds sterling] to you sir. Obliged.
Now, before there’s a to-do, you’d better get your skates
on Blue, I think that post needs urgent attention. And you’d better
stop for a bit of cash too, we wouldn’t want Vera to be
dissappointed in you. That would never do. She’d punish you
severely if you pulled that one on her Blue, rest assured! She’d
posteriorise you good and proper. Without a shadow of a doubt. Better
just tell the governor, so he can hold fort.
Yes. First class. Rest assured. Until Friday, then. Teeny. Julian.
Don’t forget your gaspers Blue. Sorry, what did you say? Yes, I
take your point.
He took the job out of necessity, nothing better being on offer,
needing the work, the money. He’d seen it outlined on one of the
Job Centre posters, red on white. He’d ignored it to begin with,
instinctively dismissed it even, yet by the end of the week when
he’d unsuccessfully tried the other possible outlets (The Inquirer,
the post office, the corner shop window), he thought why not? Everybody
needed to begin somewhere. Besides, he’d nothing to lose.
Receiving the forms by return of post, he proceeded to fill them in
directly, beginning with his country of origin, then on to his
employment history–of which precious little–finishing up with his
hobbies. He’d little to write here too, not being one to indulge
himself in chess or judo, or even outdoor sports, for on the whole he
disliked clubs, but in the end he put down swimming, then tennis, though
he didn’t swim often, nor frequent the tennis courts. The form in
the post, he went into the closest sports shop, emerging with two white
Deep down he’d not expected to get invited for interview.
He’d only two previous ones under his belt, both of which ended up
with him being weeded out before the second set. He’d been
dismissed with words of succour both times, counsel on improving his CV,
his exposition, his dress sense, which he’d interpreted, correctly,
to imply don’t phone us we’ll phone you. So when the letter
turned up on his doorstep informing him of the time of the interview he
felt mildly stunned. Yet he turned up in good time, spoke on cue, nodded
on cue, even smiled on cue, then, to his surprise, got offered the job.
He even thought of refusing it to begin with, thinking to himself
he’d never been entirely serious–for who’d opt to collect
rubbish for their living?–then the money could definitely be more
inciting, but in the end, for better or worse, he took it: Disposer of
Refuse & Ecologic Goods (support level).
One uniform, blue.
Two boots, brown.
One oilskin, yellow (fluorescent).
One set nose-clips, brown rubber.
During his one month test period time went quickly. He got up
before five for his eight hour shift, which left him tired in the
extreme, immobile, then spent his free time in bed. But nevertheless he
felt things were going well. Besides, if they weren’t, deep down,
he didn’t mind. In working he fulfilled his role for society, kept
the work ethic lobby content–here he’d include his mother–but if
he didn’t come through the test period with flying colours, deep
down, he didn’t mind. He’d been content to just cruise, job or
no job, so if he ended up on the dole once more, his month up, so be it.
He’d no problem himself living like he’d been until recently,
unemployed, immobile, prospectless, bored.
There were some surprises in store for him, foremost of which the
smell. None of his fellow workmen, he noticed, used the issued
nose-clips, looking on them indeed with contempt. They preferred their
own methods. Some smoked pungent roll-ups, Old Holborn or Drum, which
hung from their lips like fuses. Others crunched strong mints, which
they were forever offering round. Others still simply inspired through
the mouth, finding they got used to it once through the first few bins.
In short, the nose-clips were no-noes. Still, curiously, he found he
liked the smell.
One set nose-clips, brown rubber.
While the weeks went by, quickly bringing him into his second month
without upset–the test period, it turned out, mere custom–he
discovered the city, including districts he’d not known to exist
(green belt neighbourhoods with imposing mock Tudor buildings served by
long drives, modern housing developments cutting into the surrounding
countryside) with the method of one inspecting new rugs from the wrong
side. He found he could guess the prosperity of different neighbourhoods
from the constitution of their refuse. The poorer districts would
disgorge endless tins of dogfood, boxes of Kellog’s Frosties,
ketchup bottles; while in the refuse of the richer districts one found
broken hickory pipes, empty wine bottles, even every so often the odd
item which his fellows were quick to procure for themselves: stereos in
good working order, television sets, cotton shirts.
One week with his fellow workmen he’d to empty the contents of
the house of the retired London eye doctor, Mortimer French. The moment
he stepped into the building he found himself overcome by the powerful
smell of extinction; here, like with the smell of the more routine
refuse, he found he enjoyed it. While they threw up clouds of dust,
quickly settled since the doctor’s recent demise, piling up stools,
oculist eye testers, lenses, old books, in surroundings of mounting
sobriety, he felt the oddest sense of homecoming, the scene flooding his
mind with memories of his uncle Len whose house he remembered being
emptied in just this style. Then he understood this smell which he found
himself so bewitched by to be the smell of the dying.
One monocle, with silver rim (lens missing).
One box Pickwick nibs.
One eye (perspex).
One Peugeot coffee grinder (rim split).
The quilt of fog which descended on the city the next morning
distorted well-known contours beyond recognition. Bins suddenly turned
into hellish monsters looming up from the murk, doors into terrifying
torture devices from which no egress. Numerous times the truck took
wrong turnings owing to the poor visibility. Even his torch proved of
little service. The only things which persisted unmodified were the
repetitive noises of the truck’s twin grinder while, like some huge
two-mouthed Cerberus, it relentlessly devoured the rubbish they fed it.
One lunchtime in the refectory, he found himself sitting opposite
some new recruits from Revenue. If rumour were to be trusted,
they’d been hired to improve efficiency–in other words, to trim
the workforce. Listening in on their colloquy, it disconcerted him to
find himself one of the DREGS, the monicker derived from the
infelicitously worded title of his specific division of the refuse
collecting set: Disposer of Refuse & Ecologic Goods. The ecologic
goods referred to the council’s development scheme no. 471 whereby
households were Supplied with free bin-liners into which they were to
put refuse for recycling. The DREGS were the lowest level workers in the
firm. Common household rubbish–unfinished foodstuffs, old clothes, used
boxes–fell to them.
The next week, on spec, he went to the interment of Mortimer French
in the cemetery over the river. There were few present, besides the
personnel–French, it seemed, outlived most of his friends–so there
were plenty of empty pews in the gloomy meeting house. The obsequies
over, there followed the brief procession then the lowering of the
coffin into its pit, presided over by the priest, with the help of the
interment director who supervised his busy personnel. Like these
shuffling men in their sombre clothes, it suddenly struck him, he’d
become involved in the city’s unseen underworld. These men were his
brothers: while they presided over rites of interment, removing corpses
so the living could get on with their business unimpeded, he presided
over the beyond of junk–used newsprint, spilt food, old clothes–which
likewise needed removing so the world could continue in its routine.
Like them, he’d become one of the city’s unseen ministers of
From time to time, over mugs of coffee, his fellow workers would
swop stories from former times. None of them were old enough to remember
the horse-pulled rubbish vehicles of the twenties, but most remembered
well the hefty unlined zinc bins they once shouldered for their living,
pellets of food stuck like limpets to their insides. Most, too, were in
concurrence over the single step which most revolutionised the job, the
introduction of the modern bin-liner, enclosing the detritus in its
smooth flexible skin, helping collection no end, while rendering the
whole exercise less offensive. Its only inconvenience, serious enough
without doubt, could be put succinctly. it rendered the jettisoned goods
invisible, so worthwhile items were thus more difficult to find. Yet by
the weight, the feel of the bin-liner, one could often guess the
contents, even if close inspection proved dicey. Frequently, though, one
threw into the grinder bin-liners which seemed full of soggy kitchen
refuse, only to see their spilt contents disclose some fine woollen
jumpers. Then one could open bin-liners sure they would be stuffed with
electric goods, only to find them full of empty tins of rice pudding.
Yet in this business persistence could bring rich returns.
One chess set (white rook missing).
One pottery bird.
One copy Spurt.
Coming up to the end of his second month, settling well into the
routine of work, even to the extent of building up some kind of bond
with his fellows–one of them he’d even met outside working hours
for snooker–he understood for the first time the secret necessity
which, from the beginning, drove him unwittingly to find his current
employment. In other words, he understood how, curiously, his finishing
up collecting refuse couldn’t, in the end, be considered the fluke
of contingency he’d thought it. For better or worse, his job
fulfilled one of the secret propensities of his being–in short his
perverse interest in extinction, the defunct, dissolution, demise, ruin.
He felt it strongly in the house of Mortimer French, then once more
during the service, then he felt it every morning too, confronted with
the smell of the bins.
In his childhood, he remembered, he’d found it thrilling to
rip the legs off insects, storing their dismembered bodies in little
boxes. He’d enjoyed too holding the spirit in his lungs till his
body rocked on the edge of sensibility.
One morning spent in the seedier side of the city–the district
being more often covered by other trucks–turned out to be full of
surprises. The district, one of the city’s most extensive, proved
unexpectedly quick to service, for in lieu of the routine six or seven
bin-liners per household there were on the whole only one or two. Then
while the refuse of most neighbourhoods consisted chiefly of used food
boxes, here there were none, which left one wondering if the people
round here were one properly. The refuse in this district consisted
mostly of binned news, household objects–from pictures to items of
furniture–suggesting nobody stopped here long. Other refuse included:
one rubber doll (punctured); three brightly coloured rubber rings; one
One egg timer.
One bicycle pump.
He spent the evening in, browsing through the copy of Spurt
he’d recently found. It proved on the whole undistinctive of its
genre, except possibly in one extended photo-sequence depicting three
zombielike women in some kind of dungeon or crypt, from the ceiling of
which hung two girls, seemingly unconscious, in their wedding dresses.
Of those on offer he found this sequence the most enticing. The women,
dressed in stockings with high heels, crowned in blonde wigs, set upon
their consorts’ bodies with tongues, fingers, mouths, even toes,
until, in the concluding shot, they slumped motionless on the floor,
under the suspended brides, mouths open in synthetic bliss. With his
eyes devouring this picture, his fingers twined round his surprise, he
pulled himself to the edge of oblivion.
The next morning he woke well beyond his given time, missing the
truck setting off, so took the bus in order to rejoin his fellows,
who’d by this point completed most of the round. They greeted him
with condescension–it seemed he’d broken one of the revered rules
of refuse collecting–then, hoping to redeem himself, he pulled his
weight twice over, but still the others were cold, unresponsive.
There’d been fresh rumour of Revenue thinning down the workforce,
one of them pointed out. If this proved true, he thought, he’d be
the first to go. The evening he spent on his own, in his bedsit, losing
himself in the repetitive criss-crossing design on his ceiling,
listening to the spigot dripping in the kitchen, too tired to get up to
One model glider, wooden (wing missing).
From time to time, finding himself with little else to do, he would
distribute over his floor the objects he’d procured during his
period of employment, now entering its third month. The objects which
most bewitched him, he found, were curiously not those which were the
most useful, like the boots or the tie, but those whose .usefulness
tended to zero, the monocle (lens missing), the coffee grinder (rim
split), the chess set (white rook missing), the glider (wing missing).
His interest in these objects could be connected with their very
impoverishment, which rendered them suspended in limbo, neither being
the things they seemed, nor not being those things. Strictly, the words
for these objects (lid not yet exist. He would occupy himself, sometimes
for hours on end, inventing neologisms for these incongruous objects.
Why did the world ignore them, fostering this groundless division
between things, useful or not? Denied their rights by the world in its
sell-seeking pursuit of utility, these curious objects were for him
touchstones which signified his crossing of forbidden borders, bore
witness to his love with their kiss of extinction.
One night he woke from disturbing unconscious stimuli. He’d
pictured himself climbing into one of his household bin-liners from
which, subsequently, he’d found egress impossible. He’d then
lost consciousness. Once more in possession thereof he’d noticed
the churning sound, then felt the pelvic jolt when turfed into the
grinder. Its noise drowned out his thoughts. He cried out. Woke.
The following morning they covered the routine streets, collecting
the routine refuse in their routine order. Due to the light drizzle it
proved sensible to don the yellow oilskin, which while it protected one
from the elements, grew sticky-hot on the inside. To liven up the
morning he doggedly explored the contents of numerous bin-liners, but
none held much of distinction.
One sieve (rusting).
One weekend, finding himself on his own–he never phoned his
friends now, nor they him–he inventoried the objects he’d found,
listing the words he’d coined for those without. He couldn’t
decide whether or not the sieve required one, for while unbroken–its
only holes being those it required to function–its rusty condition
rendered it dodgy. In the end he christened it his EMERGENCY SIEVE. The
rest of the weekend he spent home, eyeing his distorted reflection in
the dirty windows. Brooding on the word which now signified his own
self, he wrote it with his finger in the dust: DREG.
The end of the weekend he spent browsing once more through his copy
of Spurt, once more finding himself seduced by the photo-sequence
depicting three zombielike women in some kind of dungeon or crypt, from
the ceiling of which hung two girls, seemingly unconscious, in their
wedding dresses. The women, dressed in stockings with high heels,
crowned in blonde wigs, set upon their consorts’ bodies with
tongues, fingers, mouths, even toes, until, in the concluding shot, they
slumped motionless on the floor, under the suspended brides, mouths open
in synthetic bliss. He found the sequence beginning to excite him, like
it did before, but this time he found his excitement punctured by the
sudden perception of the women’s joyless eyes, which looked without
exception in his direction. The sequence did not, then, find its centre
in the women’s own desires, but in those of its expected viewer.
Moreover, it courted this viewer not only with the women in the
foreground, but with the suspended brides. In other words, it courted
him with the lure of two brides who were not conscious, possibly not
even living. This thought sufficed to fill him with horror, of his own
desire. With scissors, he cut the Spurt into numberless thin strips,
depositing them in the bin.
One copy Spurt (stripped).
During his fourth month on the job the summer broke in its full
force, the uncollected bin-liners grilling in the morning sun. Even
tied, the smell could be so powerful he found himself for the first time
regretting the nose-clips. The detritus inside the bins, moreover,
seemed to swell under the sun’s influence, while the skin of the
bin-liner wilted, which rendered the rotting contents likely to spill
out onto the ground. When they did you were supposed to scoop up the
mess, but didn’t.
Coming home by the city centre he stopped on seeing some young boys
juggling in the precinct. The best juggled three clubs, one of which,
from time to time, he guided under his leg without letting it drop.
Every so often, too, he would project one of the clubs into the sky,
twenty feet or more, while continuing to toss the other two, then would
effortlessly reintroduce it into the round on its descent. The boy
possessed enormous skill, but his connection with these clubs could only
be described in terms of love. No other sight he’d ever seen seemed
so full of joyful possibility, triumph, overcoming; yet he left the
scene filled not only with hope, but sorrow too.
The next morning in work he got summoned to report directly to the
boss’s office. When he got there reception told him to hold on for
ten minutes. Fifteen went by before they told him to go in. The boss
told him to sit down, so he did, then the girl from Revenue spelled out
the position. If they were to continue to be effective under competitive
conditions it would be requisite to introduce efficiency cuts in the
workforce. The budget for the next revenue period would be down by 32
percent beginning next month. Under these conditions–he felt it
coming–his recent employment on support level couldn’t be
defended. Hindmost in, frontmost out. They regretted the short notice,
but hoped he’d comprehend their position: they’d been fighting
up until the very end to prevent these cuts. Did he get the picture?
Seconds on he found himself stood in the corridor once more, still
chewing over the news. To begin with he felt shocked by the
pronouncement, for in his four months he’d done his work with
diligence. He took his work seriously–he’d even believed sometimes
he’d found his profession. But then who knows, he thought. Possibly
the opportunity to move on–forcibly or not–should be seized. Even the
dole he could cope with, even grow to like once more–he felt sure of
it–yet now he’d got one job under his belt why shouldn’t he
set his sights higher? He felt the pull of obscure futures tug his body,
fill his being with sudden unexpected energy. Briefly, it felt like he
surveyed the city–its life, its options, soft or otherwise–from some
high-up point, like the top of some hill, or high-rise building, though
in truth he did no such thing. He turned, pursed his lips, took himself
Bin-liners, grinders, dust, nose-clips, spilt food, the odd find:
he’d felt their secret powers of seduction, to be sure, sometimes
with such power he might’ve worshipped them. But in the end,
despite this hidden promise, such things were poor friends. This only
proved it. He took off his uniform, his boots, slipped into his leisure
clothes then out, into the street. He’d spent too much time under
the blind spell of this grimy underworld, he thought. Four months too
There are thirty-six cameras in the store which are all linked to
the central monitoring office where I sit from nine till five-thirty
five days a week and from nine till six on Saturday.
SCRN7 LWRGRND CM006 13.03
A man in his mid-thirties wearing a blue anorak, jeans and
trainers, leans over the freezer and takes out a box of frozen cod
fillets in herb sauce. He reads the nutritional information deliberately
then, having satisfied his curiosity, tosses it into his wire basket. He
walks slowly in the direction of the bread and delicatessen, then jerks
suddenly to a standstill, his eye caught by a rack of sandwiches in
their see-through boxes and an assortment of variously embalmed
ready-to-eat meat offerings.
The cameras are distributed unevenly over the store’s three
floors. There are six on food and kitchenware (low-risk), eighteen on
ladies’ clothes (high-risk), and twelve on menswear and footwear
SCRN2 FRST CM027 13.06
A man in overalls stands examining ties, a large green holdall,
unclosed, at his feet.
This sounds like quite a lot, but given an average turnover of four
thousand customers a day–and on Saturday it far exceeds
this–there’s a lot of room for error. Having only six cameras on
food and kitchenware leaves a lot of hidden corners, the most serious of
which is doubtless dairy where action moves offscreen round about the
SCRN7 LWRGRND CM001 13.08
A customer in black leggings cranes forward over the fridge unit to
reach a slice of cheesecake which she lowers into her wire basket.
Behind her there is the image of a dark-haired girl with closed eyes
taking into her mouth a sizeable choux bun. The carefully manicured
fingernails of her chocolate-covered hands, coloured bright red,
contrast calculatedly with the thick white cream which oozes from the
Items such as sieves, coffee grinders and kitchen scissors are
rarely taken so they are shelved together and remain unmonitored. The
unmonitored areas are low risk but our store detectives do their best to
cover them nonetheless. The cameras on the whole tend to be situated so
as to cover high-risk sites: silk shirts, lingerie, wine and liqueurs.
Thieves who know what they’re doing tend to go for goods with a
high-cost value. So long as they’re easy to move on the streets. To
be sure, we lose the odd bag of sweets or fig roll, but this is nothing
to get alarmed about.
SCRN2 FRST CM027 13.10
The man in overalls walks away from ties, taking his holdall with
him. At least it’s not a bomb. From the way it sags it must be only
half-full. He walks in the direction of knitwear.
The store’s thirty-six cameras are relayed to a total of nine
screens in the monitoring room, stacked in a bank, three by three, on
the wall. This means that only a quarter of the available information
can be scanned at any one time, so the monitor has to be extremely
vigilant, constantly juggling the images on the screens. It does no harm
to know what you’re looking for in advance, how to identify the
likely candidate. Most thieves, before they make a snatch, tend to look
around to check that the coast is clear, so if you see someone glancing
from side to side you need to be on your toes.
SCRN6 FRST CM030 13.12
A young middle-aged man in jeans, naked from the waist, holds in
his right hand an orange T-shirt which he is trying out for size. His
wife, wearing a see-through chiffon blouse, stands at his side, looking
Another thing to look out for is a man and a woman working in a
team, above all if they’re with a baby. They often use the baby as
a screen, both to give themselves an innocent family look and, if the
baby is in a buggy, it’s here that they stash the goods. I’ve
seen men take hold of a whole rack of shirts at once, nine or ten items,
and hang them on the back of a buggy while the woman shields them and
then covers the lot with her coat.
SCRN5 GRND CM019 13.14
A smartly dressed woman in her thirties examines a new range of
black lace underwear on show in lingerie. To test the softness of the
material she holds it to her cheek, her mouth unclosing slightly as she
does so to reveal a set of immaculate white teeth. Her dark hair is
tightly curled and is held off her face by a silver hairband. Returning
the item to its hanger she walks over to the other side of the stand,
from where her full face is clearly visible. Her eyes are large and
brown, like those of a doe. She looks around, uncomfortably, as if
someone might be watching her.
Teenagers working in a gang is another thing to look out for–they
tend to crowd the stand they’re interested in, blocking it off from
view before taking anything. Here of course it is very difficult to see
the actual theft, but if you notice a gang acting in this way you can be
sure nine times out of ten that’s what they are about.
SCRN1 GRND CM007 13.17
In ladies’ knitwear a fresh widow in a bright batik dress
holds a small fluffy white dog under one arm while with the other she
examines a red lambswool cardigan. As two elderly ladies brush by, the
dog lets out a little bark which makes one of them start. She steadies
herself on the arm of her friend. Over the shoulder of the fresh widow
the image of a juvenile model wearing the same lambswool cardigan as on
show is just discernible. She stands in a meadow beside a stone mill
whose wheel is turned by an artificial waterfall. High above the meadow,
in the background, floats a yellow glider.
Not everyone is cut out to make a good monitor. Like many jobs it
requires individual skills. Some days are full of action and these can
be quite exciting–you need to be constantly on the ball–but more
difficult to tackle are those times when there is a lull. It’s
these moments which lead a lot of folk to think of monitoring as a dull
and boring job, but it shouldn’t be, not if you do it in the right
frame of mind. I try to think of it as a kind of game. To win the game
you would have to detect every single theft, see it coming in advance
and alert the store detectives in good time so that no criminal ever got
out of the store undetected. This is the dream, the bonanza, the
SCRN4 FRST CM026 13.20
The man in overalls comes into sight once more, this time examining
children’s shoes. He is standing in front of a rack of brightly
coloured trainers, one of which he holds in his hands as if testing it
for weight. The large green holdall, unclosed, is still at his feet.
In the end, for intricate reasons to do with economics, this total
victory is never attainable. The real battle, the target of the game, is
therefore to maintain theft at an absolute minimum which may tend
towards zero, but never quite reaches it. To do this you need to be
constantly on the alert for the slightest sign of a likely candidate.
The regular thieves are always on file and a fotofit image of them can
be flashed on screen at the touch of a button. We’re encouraged to
commit their faces to memory, however, and I also try to read their
whole files from time to time so as to get to know their characters. You
might think that once somebody had been caught red-handed they would be
inclined to take their business elsewhere, but not a bit of it. Many of
these customers are obsessive thieves and even when they’ve been
caught two or three times they’ll come back for more. It’s
these obsessive ones who are the most variable, because they do it for
the risk, the high. They are the real addicts of the scene, and nothing
short of a stiff sentence is likely to deter them. Those who steal for
the money tend to be clumsier on the whole, more nervous, since
somewhere they still know that what they are doing is wrong.
SCRN4 GRND CM021 13.21
The smartly dressed woman, unclothed, stands before a full length
mirror wearing an all-in-one bodice from the new range of black lace
underwear on show in lingerie. Behind her a blind man hits the floor
rhythmically with his stick. The softness of the material is evidently
to her liking. She stands erect with her shoulders back so that her
chest is thrust forward. The outline of her breasts is clearly visible
as she runs a finger down her back and onto the hem at the base of her
Something to watch is the way customers behave around the changing
rooms. The oldest trick in the book is for someone to go in with four
items and come out with three and we have a disc system installed which
tries to deal with this. But such a system is always at the risk of
subterfuge so it is wise to maintain close surveillance at all times.
For a long time security has argued for the installation of hidden
cameras in the cubicles but management has on the whole been reluctant
on legal grounds. This is a shame, because if some of the stories about
what the customers get down to in there are true this would make very
interesting viewing. One of the cleaners even found a condom in there
last summer. Something else to watch for are customers tugging at the
security tags. We have these attached to all high-cost value items of
clothing and the girls at the tills remove them with a key once the
customer has settled accounts, but often a strong sudden tug in the
right direction is all it takes, though the garment may be damaged as a
SCRN9 GRND CM017 13.22
A woman in brown tights is standing by a selection of brightly
coloured beach towels and swimming costumes. She has taken a small hand
mirror out of her bag and holds it before her face as she adjusts h, er
hair. To her left is a free-standing model, a beach ball under one arm,
wearing a blue bikini and a smile of bliss. In front of the model, on
the ground, two teenage girls, naked from the waist, roll a marble back
and forth between them.
Nothing irregular about this woman most would think. But my
training tells me that she might be making use of the mirror to check
out the store: see where the security guards are at the moment, where
the cameras are situated. Maybe I’ll ask security to watch out for
SCRN8 LWRGRND CM002 13.23
An elderly woman with a blue rinse in a thick woollen coat is
trying unsuccessfully to reach a box of biscuits on the highest shelf.
She looks around for someone to aid her but she is alone in this corner
of the store, at this hour. She stands still, staring at the box,
It’s very useful to maintain good relations with security on
the whole. In the last analysis we work as a team and this should never
be forgotten. Store detectives have a variety of functions. Not only are
they the last barrier between the thief and the street but they can
cover the hidden corners where the cameras can’t go. If I have
doubts about a certain customer who then moves offscreen the first thing
I’ll do is alert a store detective on the walkie-talkie. It’s
essential that a store detective should be able to maintain low
visibility when necessary, however. If they’re too obvious in the
store then nobody ever steals anything.
SCRN6 GRND CM021 13.26
The smartly dressed woman stands before a full length mirror
wearing knickers and a bra from the new range of black lace underwear on
show in lingerie. She holds her head back and observes her reflection in
the mirror with an uncertain look. Stretching a hand over her left
shoulder she unhooks the bra and lets it fall to the floor. She
continues to gaze at herself in the mirror as if lost in reverie. With
the bra removed her full breasts sag slightly under their own weight.
The trick is for the store detective to move away from a risk site
just before the thief is going to strike. This serves to alleviate the
thief’s worries and to force them to make their move. This is a
risky manoeuvre but usually works well so long as I have a clear view of
them on camera. When we catch thieves they often seem astounded since
they were sure the store detectives were out of sight–but this of
course is just the intention. In thinking too much of the store
detectives they forget about the cameras and then we have them caught.
SCRN2 LWRGRND CM005 13.30
A gentleman of the cloth carrying a bottle of wine in one hand and
a box of ice-cream cones in the other stands in a checkout queue, mouth
tightly closed, eyes raised heavenwards. In front of him a middle-aged
woman wearing a scarlet jacket with gold buttons is buying a large box
of assorted seafood nibbles, while her son tugs at her dress. He wears a
black cotton T-shirt which reads: “Your story has truly moved me.
It is not only truly sad but has the hallmark of real genuine loss and
forbearance. Now before you say anything more **** off out of my way and
let me be.”
One of the things I most like about the job is the satisfaction of
observing the women customers. It’s not mentioned in my contract,
of course, but it is one of those things which make the job worthwhile.
And it makes amends for not having a girlfriend myself. I can choose
from among the several hundred women in the store at any one time and I
can look them over to my heart’s content–after all, I’m only
doing my job. Then if any of them takes my fancy, well, I can devote a
little extra attention to her. Sometimes, I have to confess, above all
with the flirty ones, I carry their image home in my head and then have
my way with them over a hand job in the bath. I can’t grumble
really, with my own harem there for the taking. Every day brings
SCRN8 LWRGRND CM003 13.32
An untidy man in a dark cylindrical greatcoat, buttoned to the
neck, shuffles by the cheese counter. His shoes are just visible beneath
the frayed hem of his greatcoat. They have been roughly daubed with
white emulsion which obscures their original colour, and even their
exact style. From a distance, with the addition of a bowler hat and a
red nose, the man might be mistaken for a clown.
A regular customer this one. Always trying his chances on the wine
and liqueurs. Very keen on cherry brandy according to his file. History
of mental illness too, but with no traceable family he lives on the
streets. A regular bum in a word. No matter how many times we catch him
he always comes back for more. It’s what we call the yo-yo effect
in the trade: a kind of irresistible urge to return to the scene of the
crime, act it out again.
SCRN9 GRND CM024 13.33
The woman in brown stockings is now entering the changing rooms.
The girl in charge hands her a green disc (two items) but I am certain I
can see something else, more brown tights maybe, tucked under her left
arm, which she holds unnaturally close to her side. I should warn
It is frustrating not being able to see what she’s doing in
there. I might be letting a dead cert slide away from me. If we had
cameras installed in the cubicles of course I’d be able to be more
certain about the truth. As it stands she’ll have a good chance of
getting away with it. Or at worst get the benefit of the doubt. Even if
I do maintain surveillance as she comes out. If she undresses and hides
the brown tights in her knickers then nobody’s going to be able to
find them. Not even Max on security.
SCRN4 FRST CM029 13.34
The man in overalls is kneeling in front of a rack of green duffel
coats, tying his shoelace. The unclosed green holdall is just visible at
the base of the coats.
Even with increased security the number of thefts has hit a record
high over the last year. How to tackle this rise is the most frequently
discussed issue at our monthly security board meetings. A local
constable from crime deterrence usually comes along and his
recommendation is always the same: increase the number of cameras,
monitors and security guards, and crime will fall.
SCRN4 FRST CM034 13.38
A child with a green woollen bonnet is tearing the magazine which
sticks out of his father’s jacket. The father is holding a cotton
waistcoat out in front of him at arm’s length.
But things never have been nor ever will be so straightforward.
Above all, the economics of the situation have to be considered. The
need for security in the first instance is of course financial. The firm
can only sustain a certain amount of theft with comfort, and when this
level is broken combative action needs to be taken: this is the birth of
modern security. But security too–increasingly so today with the new
technologies–costs money, so that a total security situation becomes
untenable. In the end, a balance needs to be struck, between the loss of
income incurred by theft and the costing of security, so as to maintain
crime at a tolerable level. For better or worse, this is the reality of
the situation, and this is why total victory can only remain a dream.
SCRN1 GRND CM008 13.40
An old woman with a blue rinse in a thick woollen overcoat is being
escorted back into the store by two security guards. She is looking
around for someone to come to her rescue but there is nobody available.
One of the security guards carries a box of biscuits under his left arm.
Well I never. Mind you, I thought she was dangerous looking from
the way she eyeballed that biscuit tin. But how did she get it down I
wonder? It just shows you: nobody can be trusted these days, not even
the elderly. And they’re the first to grumble about the youth of
today. I bet she’ll blame her memory when she gets interrogated.
That’s a favourite trick with these older customers. Still, if
she’s a first offender they’ll let her off with a warning and
add her to the file. Just to shake her a bit. Teach her a lesson. Well,
I guess this is one story she won’t be telling her grandchildren in
The 60s and 70s are a blank. Your mind is a blank. There at least.
A LAKE. That’s what the doktr says. The doktr has a ginger beard
and wavy dark hair, thinning on top but still strong & thik
elsewhere. He is Welsh, though his aksnt is hard to detekt. When he
smiles you kan see his gold krouns, at the bak. He is METIKulusLY Kleen,
always in a hurry.
You have nothing against lakes. You like lakes. The only trouble is
that this one’s in your head.
The doktr asks you your birthday. You tell him. He asks you what
size shoes you take. You say. He asks you your WAIST SIZE. You
kan’t remember, you say.
The nurse shines a tort shin your eyes. Then in your ears. Then up
your nose. You hope she’s not going to shine iT Up your aRse, you
say. She doesn’t.
Overnight someone pulls up all the motrwys. Ms 1-n. What happens?
Things don’t just kuru to a standstill. People find other means of
getting from A-B. They katsh the train, or the bus, or sykle. Or else
they take those little minor roads that don’t get used mutsh.
Kuntry lanes, farm traks, B-roads/routes. You understand, you say. But
what’s this got to do with you?
The nurse gives you a karmative. To put you to sleep. You pretend
to swallow it, then, when she’s gone, tuk it karefully under your
pillow. Then you tell yourself not to be so stupid. This isn’t a
novel. You take it bak, swallow it again, for real.
You need to exPRESS yourself, says the art therapist. As a start
she suggests some memry exersises. Everything you kan remember from the
60s and 70s. What about the 50s? you ask. She looKS AT your file. Says
you were too young in the 50s. Koodn’t possibly remember them.
You remember elvis.
You are fortunate that you have been pleist by the window. If it
were kleen you would have a view. Of the park, or the street, or the
football stadium, or the lake. Whatever lies on the other side. If it
wasn’t keiked in DUST you would have a prime view of whatever lay
on the other side.
You remember Steeleye Span.
You remmber your first StRAT.
The doktr says you have lost 30% of your brain. But not to despair.
MOST PEOPLE funkshun on less than that. He says it’s a question of
making the brain work through new shannels. He asks how it’s going
with the art therapist. Fine, you say. Just fine.
You remember The Beatles. Paul, George, Ringo and
The nurse has nais hands. They are white and smooth. She has a nais
mile, too. She shows you yr brain on a skan. Look, she says, that’s
your brain. It has a whole in the middle, like a polo, but shewed at as
if by rats. Like knob-rot in the head.
You remember Woody Woodpekker.
You remember Radio Karoline.
The nurse hands you a SMALL PLASTIK bottle. Asks you to flu it next
time you go to the toilet. You do so, get piss all over your hands. Wash
it off, then nok the bottle over. You try again but you’re out of
piss, fill it with tapwater instead.
You remember your first live gig. Supporting The Murk.
You reMEMberP UNK.
The doktr arrives, akumpanied by a group of medikl students, all in
white koats, holding klip-boards and pens. He asks you how you’re
FEELING today. Fine, you say. He asks to walk in a straight line. You do
so. Now a wobbly line. You do so, lose your balans, fall. One of the
medikl students stifles a laugh. That’s all says the doktr.
The art therapist asks you to kum to the drawing klass. She tells
you to doodle. Draw anything that kums into your HEAD. You draw a:
You remember a Floyd konsert where everyone was given LSD at the
door. Halfway through the set they inflated the floor.
You remember The Forsythe Saga.
The art therapist has dyed blonde hair. She looks like Monroe. Or
madonna. More than anyone else in the unit in any keis. You feel a
sertain affinity with her. You are both artists.
You remember “Loosie in the Sky with Diamonds.” An
You remember working out “The Flight of the Bumblebee” on
guitar. Pissing off the neighbours.
It’s time for a manikure, says the nurse. She means she’s
going to kut your nails & give you a bed bath. You hold out your
hands, winse eatsh time she kloses the nail-klippers. She asks you to
turn over, passes a wet sponge akros your buttuks.
You remember your first rekording with The Zebras: “Baby,
what’s your Name?”
The okupant of the neighbouring bed asks you what you’re in
for. Partial brain-death due to persistent SUBSTANS abuse, you say. How
about yourself?. You ask. Prostate, he says.
The nurse gives you an injekshun. To boost your metabolik rate,
whitsh is abnormally low. She says it might make you feel heady. It
You dream the doktr has to remove your eyes for an experiment. That
the experiment kan’t be done with the eyes still in your head. But
what will you do in the drawing klass? you ask. You need your eyes. He
says he’ll find a way ROUND that. Tells you to relax. Then he
produses the tongs.
You remember The Eagles.
At the drawing klass you are asked to draw/paint a waterkuller. You
You paint it blue. Then fill in a pink bakground. Others in the
group paint a waterwheel, a parasol, a shovel. The paintings are hung up
on a line to dry, like washing. The blue runs into the pink. Some of the
paint drips onto the floor, where it is likked up by a dog. A purple
You remember living in a kommune, passing round the joints and the
You remember Martha.
You remember DnEASE
You remember “Itshyku Park.”
The doktr tells you to breathe deeply. Examines your pulse. Then he
asks you to raise your T-shirt/pyjama. He plants the stethoskope on your
heart. Listens. That’s all, he says.
You remember Steph.
Your remember your first band, Repulsive Strings.
You remember Maggie.
The nurse gives you a karmative. You swallow it. Sleep. You dream
you are Rod Stewart’s mikrofone stand. He THROWS you into the
audiens, where you land on the head of a young fan who is taken to
hospital. You get arrested, while the drunk ENrod gets off with kawshun.
You remember Mousetrap.
You remember ABBA. Agnetha, Benny, Bjorn and
You remember “God Save the Queen:”
God save the Queen She ain't no human being, They made you a moron Potential H-bomb.
The doktr arrives, akumpanied by a group of medikl students, all in
white koats, holding klip-boards & pens. He asks you to walk in a
straight line. You do so. Now a wobbly line, he says. You do so. Now a
zig-zag line. You do so, lose your balans, fall. The medikl students
skribble something on their klip-boards. That’s all, he says.
You remember your ex-WIFE, Trixie:
Head Small and round Eyes Blue Komplexion White Hair Yellow Features PromiNENT NOSE Nek 14" Bust 36b Shoes 6 1/2 Instrument Keyboard
You remember the first men on the moon.
The nurse hands you a small plastik bottle. Asks you to FILLET next
time you go to the toilet. With urine this time, please. She twists the
kap off, inverts it, demonstrating how it kan be used as a funnel.
The art therapist asks you to write down whatever kums into your
head, starting at wuns. You write:
If you kum into the linen, your time is thirsty bekoz the ink saw some wood intelligent enough to get GIDDINESS from a sister. However, even it should be smilable to shut the hair whose water writes always in the plural, they have avoided the frequensie, meaning mother in law; the powder will take a shans; & the road kood try. But after somebody brought any multiplikation as soon as the stamp was out, a great many KORDS refused to go through. Around the WIRE'S people, who will be able to sweeten the rug, that is to say why must every patents took for a wife? PUSHING four dangers near the listening-pleis, the vakation had not dug absolutely nor this likeness has eaten.
You remember the fanzine Pink Guitar:
You remember Sharles Manson.
You remember double-meanings: pot, axe, session.
The nurse gives you a karmative. You swallow it. Sleep. You dream
you are playing The Rainbow. The nurse fronts the band, in a miniskirt,
singing “Stuk in the Middle with You.” Bakstage, she signs
autographs, while you jak up in the kloset.
You remember your honeymoon, in Kalifornia, drinking pink
shampagne, smoking grass on the beatshes.
The art therapist asks you if you like musik. You say yes. She asks
you if you play an instrument. You’re a guitarist, you say.
Professional. Eksellent, she says. She hands you a Spanish guitar; you
play a klassik, “Stairway.”
You remember sessioning for Automatik Hamsters when Smith was too
out of it to play.
You remember the Gypsy Moth.
You remember people burning Beatles LPs after John Lennon said he
was bigger than Krist.
You remember “Woody,” from The Base Itty Rollers.
You dream the nurse kums in, starts to undrESS you. What are you
doing? you ask. Just be patient, she says with a smile. Then she starts
to undress herself, getting into bed with you. She has magnifisent
breasts/nipples, whitsh she holds out for you to shower with kisses, lik
with your stiff tongue. This is what we kall sexual healing, she says.
You remember Rok Opras.
You remember the first song you wrote, when you were seven,
“Dizzy Orange Lollypop,” rekorded on a Phillips’
reel-to-reel with gazoo and piano.
You remember The Magik Roundabout.
You remember Woody Allen.
At the drawing klass you experiment with felt-tip pens. You draw a:
Others in the group draw a juggler, a boat going over a waterfall,
a lamp, a revolving door.
You remember Blak Leb.
You remember Linda Loveleis.
You remember that Henrix was REPUTed to wear a plastik tube down
Everyone's a Fruit and Nut keis, It really is a must for Morris dansers The nuts are so nutritious, The fruit is so fruititious, The konoisseurs of shoklate Pronouns it quite delishious.
The nurse kums in, fully klothed, asks you to spit into a bottle.
You do so. The spit is pink. She asks how many sigarettes you smoked a
day. None, you say. Smoked, she says. Oh, sixty, you say. Marlboro. Like
The doktr arrives, akumpanied by a group of medikl students, all in
white koats, holding klip-boards and pens. He asks you to walk in a
straight line. You do so. Now a wobbly line. You do so. Now a zig-zag
line, he says. You do so, nokking over a vase of flowers by the
neighbouring bed. Eksellent, says the doktr. The medikl students give
you a round of applause. FUK YOU, says the okupant of the next bed, to
You remember Little Ritshard.
You remember Shay Guevara.
You remember Janine, your last girl friend:
Head Long and thin Eyes Green Komplexion Yellow Hair Brown Features Prominent nose Nek 12" Bust 36a Shoes 9 Instrument Vox
You are not the only MUSISHUN in the art therapy group, it turns
out. One of the patients kan play the bongos, another the rekorder. You
have a jam session, play “Route 66,” “Stepping
Stone,” “Love me Tender.”
You remember the Winter of DISKONTENT.
You remember Hergus Ridge.
The nurse gives you a karmative. You sleep. You dream you have a
hole in your body where the groin should be, as if someone had zapped
you in the nuts with a lazer gun. The nurse gives you a bottle, asks you
for a urine sample, but you kan’t find an orifis to piss from.
Eventually, rummaging around in the hole, you pull out a transparent
plastik tube with a rektangular nozzle. The nozzle slips perfektly onto
the bottle. You relax, begin to piss. You wake up, feeling warm &
wet. kall the nurse.
You remember the death of Hendrix.
You remember Rok Against Reisism.
You remember kresta (“It’s frothy man”).
You remember Janine’s telephone number: 744351.
One day the doktr announses that they’ve done all they kan,
that you are well, and though you don’t feel it you nod
thoughtfully. You’re well enough, he says, to leave the unit and go
it alone. He says something about a waiting list for beds, then explains
that you’re free to leave at the end of the week. How does that
sound? he asks. Great! you say. He gives you the name of a
hostel/home/centre where you kan stay until you get things sorted. You
You remember fresh air.
You remember the Isle of Wight festival.
You remember beer.
You remember Winston Shurtshill’s funeral on TV.
You remember Vietnam.
You ring Janine. The ansaphone kums on. You speak slowly,
keirfully. It’s me, you say, Ron, I’ll try again. You put down
You remember Rolf Harris.
You remember Suez.
You remember Broos Lee.
For your farewell party you get together with the others from art
therapy and do a few songs. The nurse agrees to sing. You play
“Stairway,” “Waterloo,” “Love me Tender,”
“Knights in White Satin.” You dress in an Elvis kostume,
pushing a kushn up your shirt for komik effekt. Everyone applauds the
performans, inkluding the doktr, who has taken the afternoon off
espeshly to kum. For the enkor, you do “Stairway,” again,
improvising a solo on slide guitar, using an empty sample bottle.
You remember Torville and Dean.
You remember Red Rum.
You remember RobERT Leppan and Gyronaut X-1.
When the day kums you put your few belongings into a plastik bag,
and make your way to the foyer. You would like to say a final farewell
to the doktr, the nurse, the art therapist. But none of them are around.
You walk out through the swing doors and akross the tree-lined parking
lot, then right, into the busy High Street, where you are quikly lost in
The Engine-Master has few visits these days. His friends are dead
and dealings with the public are left pretty much in my hands. Having
always been the retiring type, his present reclusiveness isn’t
unusual. He’s lived here in Hillside Farm ever since they shut the
railway, and is quite happy here as well. I’ve heard it said that
reclusiveness can warp the mind, but the Engine-Master has been quite
happy in his retirement, I’d say.
I guess we saw the railways shutting with a presentiment that he
was denied. He was right at the centre. First they started shutting the
branch-lines, that was way back, then–it was inevitable–they started
shutting the main-lines. There was resistance, naturally, but it merely
delayed things a little. When they shut the line here he was made
redundant. But he didn’t give up–he was a fighter, even when in
retreat. He’d been in the war and the experience had left him with
an uncrushable spirit. Immediately afterwards he did a stint with
Truckline Ferries, but it was plain his heart wasn’t in it. It was
clear that he was still hankering after the railways. Retirement is
difficult, even in the best circumstances, but he adapted well. Within a
year he’d started making his miniature replicas–the great steam
trains–and a little while afterwards they were being displayed weekly
in Railway News, The Great Railways, Chuff-chuff! and similar specialist
magazines–I can’t remember all the titles, they were innumerable
after rail-death, as the papers called it.
At first the payments came in fits and starts. These magazines had
small budgets and it must have been difficult finding the ready cash
when they started. But as sales grew and grew–the public’s
appetite was insatiable, railways were it–the cash started trickling
back. Then rushing back. With spreads in all the best-selling magazines
the Engine-Master was quickly made. I’d find it difficult naming an
exact sum, but suddenly he was rich. And this was at a time when many
were suffering the effects which came with the general slump.
It was at this time that he hired me, first as minder, then butler,
then eventually Estates Manager. Legal advice had persuaded him that a
minder was indispensable, yet when he stayed in I was little use, and
when he ventured further afield–he still liked dealing with the mail
himself at this time–he didn’t really want me with him. He must
have realised I was redundant–yet rather than fire me he made me his
butler, a kindness which will place me always in his debt. As minder
I’d dressed in anything I liked, within limits; as butler I was
issued with my first livery. Yet if the livery which came with my new
rank spelt regularity and definiteness, imagine my surprise when I
realised that the charge, as a structured activity, was just as empty as
it had been in my capacity as minder. In truth, there was little butlery
needed at Hillside Farm. I met callers at times when it was required, I
ferried the rare dish tablewards, sure, but in general things were
In such circumstances, it came as a great relief when the
Engine-Master revealed his new scheme. He was planning a miniature
railway within the estates and he’d like my help erecting it, he
said. I began by preparing the earth, which, in effect, meant digging a
ditch then filling it with three alternate layers–sand, sawdust and
gravel–where the track went. The initial plan, put crudely, replicated
the pattern made by the great main-lines which had been ripped up, even
if things were simplified a little because the estate’s limits
required it. I fast became expert at fretsaw and lathe, a dab hand with
a paint brush. There were viaducts, tunnels, sidings, signals, cuttings,
everything required. Even this day, thinking back, the scheme’s
rapid advancement surprises me; yet certainly, the Engine-Master had
hurled himself at this task with fervency; and his enthusiasm had
Helped by hired hands–a few slackers fulfilling public service
duties–the scheme’s initial stage was finished well within the
targeted time-scale. The Engine-Master was very pleased with the
results, and decided we must celebrate. He said a Public Visits Day was
what we needed, and he put the arrangements in my hands. We had the
stable-yard WC refurbished, discarding the antiquated Mutt urinal, and
fenced in certain areas where the Engine-Master didn’t want the
public. Publicity-wise, I invited a writer with The Standard, giving him
a preview visit. He was a real rail-head and an enthusiastic article
appeared in the paper the next week. A great many advertising bills were
put up as well in the city centre–and, since a large attendance was
desirable, entry was made free.
Happily, the Visits Day was sunny. And attendance surpassed all
expectancies–it was even a little better than might have been wished in
the catering department: tea and cakes were all finished by midday!
Nevertheless, the punters had a great time, and were enthusiastic when
the miniature trains began running. Children had never seen railways,
and as the engines hurtled between the tracks, they ran after like
beagles pursuing their quarry. Rail-heads turned up in multitudes, and
were suitably impressed with the detail the Engine-Master had given his
replicas. As well as the extensive railway in the park the Engine-Master
had undertaken rebuilding the city in miniature. The piece de resistance
was the main terminus building, which was situated in the stables.
Inside were gathered the city’s inhabitants in miniature, waving
flags and cheering as the trains whizzed by. Many were taken aback when
they saw their imaged selves in miniature, yet they weren’t unduly
perturbed. The figures, even if diminutive, sent back a pleasing
message: that here was a happy citizenry, inhabiting a dream-like city,
where puffing steam trains, bunting, and public festivals were the
events which punctuated their lives. The Engine-Master himself was
represented in the replica as the driver in the Exley Prince Charles. My
figure, I saw later, was placed by the miniature Hillside Farm replica
itself where, in my butler’s livery, I was ushering in
guests–perhaps guests expecting a guided visit, in the park. Here, a
replica within a replica, a tiny `N’ gauge railway had been
Later, a Hawker biplane flew by the park, trailing a banner
advertising the Engine-Master’s business interests. As it flew past
the Engine-Master, standing at a parapet, waved at the multitude. They
His waving picture appeared in the paper the next week, under the
heading TRAIN ENTHUSIASTS’ PARADISE.
After the Visits Day’s success, as a reward, the Engine-Master
made me his Estates Manager, a charge I’ve held till this day.
There weren’t any replacement butlers available, and as a result,
if at times butlery were required, I’d make an appearance in my
livery and act the part, as I still might if the need were there, but it
rarely arises. During this time the Engine-Master rarely tampered with
the railway. He began attending Miniaturist Fairs and became heavily
engaged in a team re-creating a scene in the Prussian Campaign,
requested by Military Miniatures. He made several charitable gifts at
this time as well, including the funds needed in building a
children’s play area. I had my blueprint, but generally maintaining
and upbuilding the railway was left in my care. Landscaping was the
chief undertaking at this time: we flew a glider past nearby areas,
surveying the terrain; we had a miniature river and waterfall installed.
It was near this time that I split up definitively with my wife.
She had been seeing this Dutch chap–fewer years, better future–since
her Amsterdam trip and suddenly she upped and ran away with him. After
the barristers had finished she ended up with the semi, thus it seemed a
sensible step shifting my gear and taking up residence in Hillside Farm.
There was plenty space, and in this way when the Engine-Master was away
engaged in business–his business affairs, while he never vaunted them,
were very successful–I was always there tending the estates.
I’ll always remember the time when the Engine-Master was away
at a Miniature Railway Fair in Bally and the farm was burgled during the
night. I still can’t understand why I never heard them–they had
even smashed a glass pane breaking in–but the truth is I didn’t. I
am a heavy sleeper and the farm wasn’t alarmed. The burglars ran
away with the Engine-Master’s VC and three valuable paintings: a
still life by Van Eyck (1714); an unsigned etching depicting an early
steam train, The Piper (C19th); an early Duchamp, Le Paradis (1910). The
Engine-Master had never displayed any bitterness when he was made
redundant, but he did after this. He was bad-tempered with all the
staff, including myself–even if he assured me I wasn’t culpable in
his eyes. He blamed public degeneracy, he said. The farm’s
perimeter, up till this time, had been marked by a slatted fence, which
had been kicked in at a certain place behind the stables. The law
believed that this was where the criminals had made their get-away. The
fact that they had needlessly damaged the fence here, when they might
have climbed it–the thing was just chest-high–incensed the
Engine-Master. He decided that a perimeter wall needed erecting, and he
put me in charge. There was a disused quarry in the estate thus finding
the raw materials was easy. Yet finding a builder was very difficult
indeed, especially a builder experienced in granite. Finally, the
alternatives were these:
(i) Build it unaided (ii) Have a sturdier fence installed (iii) Leave things as they were
The Engine-Master, reluctant at first, agreed the fence plan in the
end. I was much relieved by this, I need hardly add, since the wall was
in my charge, and building it, even with the staff’s help,
wasn’t by any means a light undertaking. Happily, having agreed the
fence, he was very pleased with the result when he saw it fully erected.
This time it was seven feet high and held up by heavy pillars.
The burglars were apprehended after a few weeks–teenagers living
in an estate nearby. They were given suspended sentences, yet if the
Engine-Master had had his way they’d have been put away. At the
time he railed frequently against degeneracy and declining standards.
He’d act as well in an eccentric manner–if less frequently than
his enemies argued. I remember well the time when, in just his
underpants, he whistled between the miniature tracks astride a Marklin
shunting engine. The paintings, unusually, were never retrieved.
After the burglary the Engine-Master busied himself again with the
miniature railway. He was pleased with the advances in the landscaping
but insisted this had left the track itself and the rail plan lagging
behind. I aided him in installing several significant branch-lines,
while he spent the remaining time beavering away in the stables, tending
the miniature city like a garden. He’d shut himself in there all
day at times, even demand his meals be served up there. He even spent
several nights in there, beavering away until the early dawn, then
making up sleep in a bed I’d fixed up especially. Eventually the
day came when he emerged and declared the task finished. Immediately, we
began making arrangements regarding the next Public Visits Day.
Like the first Visits Day, it was a Saturday. The weather had been
clear all week, but when Saturday came it bucketed. In the
circumstances, attendance was excellent, very likely because we were
having a Prize Draw and had distributed tickets in advance: as they say,
chance is a virile magnet. In the circumstances, the park railway was
unusable; the punters thus invaded the stables. It was lucky, indeed,
that the Engine-Master had beavered away as he had; the miniature city
had been hugely expanded, lengthened and stretched till it fitted
perfectly the stable wings. The main terminus had been supplemented by
churches, clubs, supermarkets, cafes, newsagents, leisure centres,
parks, play areas and municipal buildings. And while, at the first
Visits Day, the Engine-Master had placed the citizenry exclusively
inside the terminus
building, here they filled the streets in a haphazard manner, jumped
in cars, weaved past garbage trucks, and hailed buses. A strange feature
was that they all carried umbrellas, which gave the replica a cheerless
air. And while punters searched the streets, seeking their diminutive
images there, the umbrellas rendered this activity fruitless.
Yet a few figures were clearly identifiable after careful scrutiny,
including the thieves, making their get-away, umbrellaless, by the
farm’s perimeter fence, which they were busy kicking in. The
thieves weren’t unique in being represented critically. A PC was
depicted leaving a strip club; several teenagers were dealing drugs in a
back alley; a man was seen in his bedchamber, pants hugging ankles, his
mistress wielding a whip. These figures augmented the cheerlessness with
their fallen depravity, giving the replica a sinister quality, a chill
electricity which had been entirely absent in its first rendering. Yet
it wasn’t seen by all in the same way–the paper viewed these
eccentricities in a cheeky light, which made the Engine-Master’s
caricatures seem merely saucy.
I was uncertain in which way I might take my image in the
replica–it was seen sleeping in an exaggeratedly ample bed at the farm.
Yet little ambiguity was seen in the Engine-Master’s image itself:
he was standing in the park, with his gun, wearing a deerstalker hat.
The gun was raised, its barrel directed straight at the thieves.
Later in the day, when the rain had cleared, and the beer tent had
been drunk dry, the public filled the park. A dirigible, trailing a
banner advertising the Engine-Master’s business interests, flew
majestically by. While the railway was still unusable, the children
might at last test the inflatable castle. Then, as darkness fell, adults
and children alike united in their pleasure at the Firecracker Display.
The Engine-Master, perhaps because he disliked wet weather,
didn’t make an appearance himself. In the Prize Draw the winner was
Mrs. E. P. Fipps. She carried away chrysanthemums and a scale miniature
(the Blandfield Belle). The runner-up, Mr. Peter Gray, a bald man in his
thirties, was presented with a whistle.
Given the circumstances, the Visits Day was adjudged a huge
success. Yet this feeling was tainted a little by several willfully
destructive acts which were detected afterwards: several figurines,
including the Engine-Master, had disappeared; track had been ripped up
in the park; and a signal kicked in. The Engine-Master had his enemies.
After the vandalism the Engine-Master became determined in
preventing such a thing happening again. If the public were insistent in
blighting his garden, he’d take his stand against them. Lifting up
the British Rail Timetable he asserted that if ever he held a third
Public Visits Day he’d make them pay entrance. We had the perimeter
wall laced with barbed wire, and the miniature railway was encased in a
perspex shield. Every day, after that, I surveyed the estates with an
Alsatian and a stick.
The Engine-Master was very busy at this time. Chuff-chuff! had
requested an article, and Railway News were interested in a Hillside
Farm feature. At the same time, he’d been elected as chairman at
Heathbrick Primary; then as well, he had his usual business affairs.
Nevertheless, he kept up with the railway. He finished the branchlines
with his usual assiduity; he even had a digital panel installed in the
stables, since the railway’s intricacy had made the manual system
unusable. I remember as well that he was then tied up with a miniature
penitentiary which had been requested by the HMI.
It was near this time that I had an affair with a chambermaid,
Martha Peters. It was a brief but steamy affair–she left in tears when
she became pregnant and never came back. When the Engine-Master was away
we’d fuck in the stables with the trains whizzing by us. It had an
illicit feel, like sex snatched in transit in a railway carriage.
Death always strikes when least expected, and when its victim is a
dear friend it is cruel indeed. The Engine-Master’s friendship with
Sleeper predated rail-death, and thus it signified a past and cherished
era. He always laughed ecstatically when she chattered: “Bugger the
trucks! Bugger the trucks!” She might have lived till a ripe age,
but Sleeper lasted a mere nine years. After her death the Engine-Master
became silent and glum, and again he shut himself up in the stables. His
health vexed us, but it needn’t have–he had a sturdy physique, had
pushed himself hard all his life, and changing a lifetime’s habit
at this stage made little sense.
Yet the Engine-Master had his public duties, which prevented him
staying in the stables full-time, as he’d have liked. Heathbrick
were keen that he have a third Visits Day, and while he was
reluctant–clearly–their arguments were persuasive: the children might
see what life had been like in the Rail Age. In the end he gave in, and
immediately we began arranging the third Visits Day. This time, with the
children in mind, the Engine-Master wanted the entertainments side
stepped up, which kept us all busy. Yet when the time came we felt that
all was set, a great day guaranteed.
The third Visits Day, like the first, was sunny. And despite the
adult entrance fee, the punters came in their hundreds. In the park
there were refreshment stalls and beer tents; entertainment was supplied
by fire-eaters and jugglers. The rail-heads were there as always. They
were impressed by the changes in the track plan, and especially the
digital system which let us run a great many trains at the same time.
The public displayed great keenness in visiting the stables–this
time they half-expected changes in the miniature city, even speculated
what these might be. Their instincts weren’t mistaken. The petty
criminals had left the streets, and the thieves had quit the park, which
this time was defended by barbed wire. With careful scrutiny, several
new details became apparent as well. There was a miniature penitentiary,
with a central surveillance turret, which let the warder’s watch
the inmates in their cells at their leisure (a diminutive Engine-Master
was visible in their midst). Several teenage delinquents in the
penitentiary’s striped livery were placed nearby, dredging the
murky river bed with large ungainly sieves. They were supervised by a
man with an Alsatian, resembling myself. And in the city centre there
had been suspended a giant steel cage, where the thieves were displayed,
at the egg-hurling citizenry’s mercy. A life-size replica cage,
with a plaque detailing the design’s C14th Italian paternity, had
been erected in the garden, behind the stables. If there was a certain
primitive brutality in these images, the city taken in its entirety
nevertheless had a brightness and gaiety. The streets were smart and
pleasantly lined with trees, and as a result the general city-scape
presented the viewer with that serene and desirable image, the redeemed
city, crime- and drug-free, where the leisured classes might reclaim the
Late in the day, a huge dirigible, shaped like a steam train,
drifted by the farm, manned by the Engine-Master. He waved cheerfully at
the gathering, a signal-man’s green flag in his hand. Then came
three jet fighters advertising the Engine-Master’s business
interests. We gave the Prize Draw a miss, but as at a party, every child
was given a present when they left.
After the third Visits Day, which was the last, an enthusiastic
article appeared in the paper describing the Engine-Master as a MIRACLE
MINIATURIST. The piece praised at length the Engine-Master’s
beneficence, painting him as a public-spirited man with big ideas and a
big heart. A few were less easily impressed: several griped that the
entrance fee was shameful; a number argued that the cage was sadistic,
and in bad taste. A little after this, walking in the park, the
Engine-Master was dismayed at finding the track’s perspex shield
multiply punctured, as if by a gun.
Later that year, persuaded by a friend at Heathbrick Primary–the
thing was surprising in the extreme, since at heart he was really a
private man–the Engine-Master became interested in a vacant seat in the
City Chamber. There was great excitement at the farm during canvassing;
at times I nearly persuaded myself that he might win. We cruised the
city in a transit van, disseminating his message in the streets. His
hard-lined stance regarding capital punishment was praised, as were his
eccentric plans as regards setting the steam trains running again. All
the excitement, as it happened, was in vain. In the end he did very
respectably, but he wasn’t elected.
Regrettably, it was his last appearance in public. Whether the
undue campaign stresses were the cause is uncertain, but a little while
afterwards he suffered a severe seizure. Medics advised privacy, and he
became increasingly reclusive. In his speech he betrayed a befuddlement
which, in him, was entirely new. At times he’d discuss the railways
heavy-heartedly, at times he’d talk animatedly as if they were
still there. He’d ask me why I’d released Sleeper, and if
I’d bagged any trespassers. And then, making miniatures became
difficult, which made him tetchy–until the day I suggested he make his
miniatures in bed.
As I said, Visits Days are finished, but I still act as guide when
an interested party calls. Yet by and large it is just me and the
Engine-Master these days. Excepting myself, the servants have been
dismissed, and he has few visits. He still makes his miniatures, and
keeps his business interests alive, but he can’t be as active as he
was, rarely leaves his chamber, in fact. As I’ve said, he is
reclusive by nature–yet even if his best days are past, he’s quite
happy in his retirement all the same, and that’s what matters in
The refectory’s water supply has run dry. The taps are dead.
Seated at long oak tables, before bacon and egg breakfasts, the
becassocked vergers are all talk: the drought can only be a bad omen.
There has been no tea at all today. Nor any coffee. To a man they sup
orange squash, or cola, or lemonade. Verger Paul makes a joke of the
catastrophe, says they’re lucky the font’s not to be used
today, but nobody laughs. Verger John, between slurps of cola, says
there’s a curse on them, a curse from above. There’s a Judas
Clad for all weathers, Verger Thomas descends the cold stone steps
purposefully, walks on past the entrance to the crypt and out to the
courtyard beyond. He passes the waterfall and waterwheel, then darts
through a large wooden doorway beneath the courtyard wall, steps onto
the street beyond. He leaves the door unbolted, though not ajar.
He that walketh erect walketh surely; but he that perverteth the
ways of the Lord shall be known.
Later, hounded by the press, Verger Thomas shall refuse to speak
about the scandal that’ll soon cover the front pages of both local
and other newspapers. Reporters, duly concerned by the state of the
church, moral qualms, and the chance of a story, shall be met by a
The plumber and the plumber’s mate turn up. Ask what seems to
be the problem. Verger Luke takes them through the transept and out to
the refectory. The water supply has faltered, he says. Watched by
helpless cooks, they check to see whether the washers aren’t worn.
The plumber says the whole lot needs replacement, but that the urgent
problem’s elsewhere. The supply ducts, he says, are full of rust.
Has there been any leakages? Not as far as he knows, says Verger Luke.
Verger Thomas enters a newsagent near the cathedral. Back to the
owner, he glances up at the top shelf, scans the glossy mags through
glazed eyes. Another customer enters, a woman who pushes a double buggy.
At once Verger Thomas changes tack, takes up a copy of the Standard and
peruses the sports pages. The woman buys a pack of sugar-free gum and
twenty Rothmans. When she has left–the door proves to be a problem for
the buggy, so the owner helps out–Verger Thomas plucks down a copy of
Spurt. The Standard please, he says to the owner. And that.
For by the Lord was all created, all of heaven, and of earth, both
known and unknown, whether thrones, or palaces, or lands, or powers: all
was created by the Lord and for the Lord.
The plumber pulls off a manhole cover under the crypt that accesses
some of the cathedral’s supply ducts. Verger Luke holds the end of
the ladder steady, as the plumber and the mate carefully descend the
hole, helped by powerful torches. They splash around the dark vaulted
room, mumble words of alarm. Moments later the plumber emerges, followed
by the mate. There’s water all over the floor, he says, and several
of the ducts are cracked. He says the whole bunch needs replacement, but
that the urgent problem–the refectory water supply–can only be
elsewhere. There are several other avenues to explore, he says. Verger
Luke pulls out the ladder, as the plumber and mate replace the manhole
ST. JOHN 3.20
For every one that doeth wrong hateth the Father, nor cometh to the
Father, lest such deeds should be reproved.
The cathedral’s song-boys chant psalms from the heart of the
chancel. Verger Thomas, who as usual leads the cortege of honour, holds
the heavy ornamental cross up front, the pole at an angle of 45
[degrees], to the heavens. The vergers proceed slowly along the nave,
two abreast, each step marked by the beat of the psalm. The long
cassocks of the cortege sweep the ground. As he approaches the altar,
Verger Thomas feels the cross’s end rub the crotch area as he
advances, feels cock and balls move house, forced out by God’s
banner. Careful to keep to the beat of the psalm, he pulls the holster
up onto the stomach, where the cross rests more comfortably.
Abruptly–there’s no advance word–the song-boys stop. The cortege
comes to a sudden halt, as does Verger Thomas, as does the heavy
ornamental cross–taken head-on by the tender navel area.
Long ago Verger Thomas went to Sunday School every weekend, even
the hols, chaperoned by mother. Here, from large dully coloured
storybooks, he learnt by rote the tales of Adam and Eve, of Job, of Lot,
of Samson. All tales of love. All, too, tales of agony.
Bless them that persecute you: bless and curse not.
Verger Thomas takes a group round the gallery of martyrs. A French
woman asks about one of the holy men portrayed there. The man stands
erect, attached to a wooden post by heavy ropes, flesh punctured by
seven barbed arrows. Verger Thomas shows the woman the halo, represented
by a loop of effulgent yellow, apparently suspended above the head. At
the man’s back, one can just make out the banks of a stream, the
walls of a town. Softly, so as not to break the calm, Verger Thomas
unfolds the legend.
The memory of the just shall be blest: but the name of the unjust
Alone beneath the vestry, Verger Thomas eagerly leafs through the
copy of Spurt, devours breathlessly the exposed legs, arms, breasts,
arses and stomachs that a hasty glance through the pages exposes to the
eye. After he’s done he once more tucks the copy of Spurt safely
under cassock, lest he should be found out.
Verger Thomas shall later refuse to comment to the press on the use
of pornography. The archdeacon shall make a press statement, on behalf
of the cathedral, that condemns such use as counter to the morals of the
church, and the law of God. Even as stated by the ten commandments.
As they make a tour of the apse, Verger Thomas and Verger Paul
restock the chapel’s supply of candles. What does one make of the
statement of Adobard’s, that Mary was fecundated through the ear?
asks Verger Paul. She must have had very large ears, for a woman, says
By the waterwheel the plumber’s mate screws together dowel
rods that the plumber feeds down a length of exposed duct–the
overflow–beneath the waterfall. The plumber shakes the connected rods
now and then as he pushes the length of dowel further and further down
the overflow. Every so often the plumber pauses, to allow the mate to
add another dowel rod. The cathedral clock sounds twelve resonant tolls
of the bell. The lunch hour, announces Verger Luke. The plumber and mate
down tools, start to unwrap cellophane-covered rolls. Lucky We
remembered the flask, says the mate. You bet, says the plumber.
And the angel gave me a reed, broad as a rod: and the angel spake:
gather ye up and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that
The refectory has no water as yet, a fact that has wrought havoc on
the menu: no peas, no pasta, no cabbage, no mashed potato. The oven,
though, has been unaffected, so there are plenty of baked potatoes. The
plumber hasn’t had any luck, says Verger Luke, but seems to know
what he’s about. The plumber says the whole waterworks are up the
spout. Perhaps, adds Verger Luke, as he cuts a baked potato lengthways,
they have left events to the care of God for too long now. Verger John,
as he quaffs claret, says there won’t be any water unless the
ungodly are found out.
As he contemplates a sculpture of Jesus on the cross beneath the
roof of the narthex, Verger Thomas wonders whether or not agony’s a
necessary aspect of heavenly love. The agony of Jesus, after all, was
anathema unless as such proof were made of God’s love for man. So
was the love of God the father related to that perverse love celebrated
at length by yon Sacher-Masoch? He puts the proposal to Verger Paul.
Gets a vague answer.
ST. LUKE 23.33
And when they were come to the place, that people call Calvary,
there they put Jesus on the cross, and the malefactors, one on each arm.
Seated on the lavatory, Verger Thomas leafs through the copy of
Spurt. He stops at the centrespread, where a naked woman stretches out
on a sort of bed or pyre of branches and leaves. Her face has been
almost completely covered by the blond mass of her locks, her legs are
bent and somewhat spread, the pubes strangely smooth when contrasted to
the abundance of her locks. Her left hand, held aloft, grasps a small
gas lamp made of metal and glass. At her back, one can make out wooded
crests, green and red; lower down, a small lake covered by a dense patch
of fog; a blue sky; two or three small clouds.
ST. MATTHEW 25.1
Then shall the heavens be compared to ten young women, who took ten
lamps, and went forth to meet the groom.
Verger Thomas ups cassock to reveal a hugely erect love-pole that
stands at an angle of 45 [degrees], to the heavens. He caresses the
beast left-handedly, playfully to start, as one would fondle the beads
of a rosary, then suddenly speeds up the hand movements, all of a
frenzy. When the jerky movements start to hurt, he ejaculates, all over
the place, feels the momentary ecstasy, before he collapses, falls off
the lavatory seat and onto the floor.
Does God masturbate? wonders Verger Thomas. As God loves everyone
equally he must also love the Godhead.
O full of all subtlety and all waywardness, thou son of Satan, thou
enemy of all goodness, shalt thou not cease to pervert the ways of the
Verger Thomas’s letter of departure shall say that though he
profoundly regrets the scandal he has brought on the church and the
clergy, and now repents such acts of abandon, he feels nevertheless
closer to God than he has for some years. And thus, he shall say,
he’s unable to regret wholeheartedly these depraved acts, these
perverse departures, that have led to such a state of grace. God’s
love, he shall say, has always been a detached bounty, yet a love
also–even supremely–for those who are unworthy.
After lunch, the plumber and the mate start once more to plunge the
rods down the overflow beneath the waterfall. They have not been at work
long when the rod encounters a blockage. The plumber pushes and turns
the rod, but can’t make the blockage budge. He starts slowly to
remove the connected rods. As he does so the mate unscrews each emergent
dowel, takes them back to the waxed sack from whence they came. The
plumber tells Verger Luke that they’ve located the blockage but
that they need to approach from the other end.
Ashamed, Verger Thomas cleans the mess off the lavatory wall. He
puts an ear to the door for a moment, peers out through a small hole
where a coat-hanger should be attached. There’s nobody about. As he
kneels down on the floor he tears the centre pages out of Spurt, rolls
them up and puts them down the lavatory, then pushes the flush button.
He repeats the process on the next pages, once more flushes them down
the lavatory. He puts an ear to the door. There’s the sound of feet
as they approach. A door bangs. Verger Thomas flushes the lavatory once
more. The tattered copy of Spurt he rolls up and pushes beneath the
water tank. He pulls down the crumpled cassock, opens the lavatory door,
then proceeds to clean face and wash hands. Verger Luke enters, followed
by the plumber and the mate. Good day, says Verger Luke. Yes, says
Verger Thomas, as he shakes dry.
As a teenager Verger Thomas went on a great many church tours: to
Scotland, to Wales, to Germany. He remembers too a journey to Chartres
on foot. When the top of the cathedral appeared from the road, the troop
of holy travellers fell to the ground. On the cathedral steps he had sat
among French schoolboys and exchanged swear words:
Bollocks! Le con! Turd-face. Merde! Wanker! La pute. Arsehole. La verge.
There hath no allurement taken you but that common to man: yet God
shall be true, he shall not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are
able; but shall there also make a way to escape that ye may be able to
bear your burden.
Verger Thomas encourages the flock to seat themselves, as the organ
waxes and wanes to the tune of “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam.”
The turnout’s unusually good for the afternoon slot–though
doubtless because parents want vocal proof of the costly cathedral
school’s advantages, rather than for any sacred reason. Unless the
Reverend Bull’s suddenly good news, though that’s doubtful:
the Reverend Bull’s bald and fat, and the sermons he makes when he
appears are reputed to be both long and dull. He starts to read:
NUMBERS, 3.14-22. Unmoved, Verger Thomas goes off to the refectory.
The plumber and mate are at work by the shower area where–Verger
Luke the handler–they pour bucketfuls of hot soapy water down the
central supply duct. When the water ceases to run down, they take up the
dowel rods. The plumber, before he starts to plunge them home, attaches
a barbed end to the frontmost dowel. Every so often he pauses, to allow
the mate to add another rod, before he starts once more to push the
length down the hole.
Hold up your eyes unto the peaks, from whence cometh all help.
The rod has struck the blockage. We’ve got her, says the
plumber. He turns the rod sharply, then pulls slowly, as the mate
unscrews the emergent dowels. The plumber tugs for all he’s worth
to extract the last rod, falls backwards onto the floor. Attached to the
hooked end of the rod comes a soggy mass caught up round a Tesco’s
bag: rags, potato peel, a Macdonald’s carton, some 3-D spectacles,
a number of porn mags. There’s the rascal, says the elated plumber,
as he toes a soggy shot of a tatooed buttock. Lucky to get done so fast
all that lot down there, he adds. The mate, eager to get off’,
takes the unscrewed dowel rods back to the waxed sack from whence they
came, gathers the tools and takes a drag on a roll-up.
Then says the preacher, are these events so?
At last, the refectory’s water supply comes back on. The
becassocked vergers slurp eagerly large mugs of hot tea. The cooks are
busy once more, as they restore the menu to normal, peel potatoes, cook
pasta, cabbage, peas. Already, the talk at the long oak tables has
turned to the shock appearance of the porn mags from the depths of the
water system. How’d they get there? Who could the offender be? What
on earth shall the archdeacon say? Verger John, seated alone, sups
devoutly a cup of fresh tea, sure he’s blameless beyond reasonable
doubt. Mark my words, he says, the truth shall out.
At Sunday School, Verger Thomas recalls, he was startled to learn
that when Eve ate the apple and the fated couple were ejected from the
garden of Eden, the event was called happy. Does that make every
catastrophe a happy event? A necessary step on the road to grace?
News travels fast, supremely so when fresh and saucy. A reporter
turns up from the Standard, demands he see the deacon. He probes the
vergers too, throws at them a barrage of stock reporter-formulae, as he
uncovers the whens, the whats, the wheres, the whys, the hows. Any
suspects? he asks. The vergers close ranks.
Who shall not fear thee O Lord, and uphold thy name? For thou only
art holy: for all peoples shall come and bow down before thee, for thy
judgements are made known.
The next (lay, told by an anonymous source that he has not turned
up at work, the reporter shall call on Verger Thomas at home, on the off
chance. Later, reporters from numerous other papers shall turn up as
well, hammer on the glass panelled door–but however greatly hounded by
the press Verger Thomas shall refuse to speak. He shall say only two
words, over and over and over, before he bolts the door: “No
Have mercy upon me, O God, after thy rule of love; of accord unto
thy tender mercy, blot out my fault.
When the pressmen refuse to leave Verger Thomas alone, he shall
allegedly shoot at them from a second floor balcony. Photographs of
Verger Thomas as he shoots shall be shown to shocked readers of the
Standard and other newspapers. But he shall not be pursued to the
courts. As the PCs reach the full hot bun scene, the house shall be
surrounded by vans, dogs, marksmen. And when they proceed to break down
the glass door, Verger Thomas shall be found suspended from a noose,
barefoot, enveloped by a collarless brown mac. Beneath the bony feet
shall be found Verger Thomas’s letter of departure, neatly folded
on a green velvet footstool. There he says that though he profoundly
regrets the scandal he has brought on the church and the clergy, and now
repents such acts of abandon, he feels nevertheless closer to God than
he has for some years. And thus, he adds, he’s unable to regret
wholeheartedly these depraved acts, these perverse departures, that have
led to such a state of grace. God’s love, he says, has always been
a detached bounty, yet a love also–even supremely–for those who are