Terça-feira, Maio 24, 2005


Spike Milligan, genius. He'd always loved Spike, the 70s radio re-runs of the 50s Goon Show, his marvellous war books, his poems, his classic 60s film, The Bed Sitting Room, and the Q TV series which pre-dated Monty Python, until his death at an respectable age, after his two comic peers, Sellers and Secombe had left the building. When he died it was his wish to have written on his grave, "I told you I was ill". The diocese protested it would upset people in the churchyard, so he lay unmarked for a year, until his family persuaded them to allow it in Gaelic.

There was something he couldn't get out of his head, though, and it was puzzling him.

He recalled a sketch where there were two scenes superimposed and playing at cross-purposes. One was a typically punning melodrama, with accusations and counter-accusations and denials bouncing about with a degree of hilarious slapstick. This would have been funny enough, but the second scene which paid no attention to the other whatsoever was a tennis match.

An umpire was up a ladder, in his perch, instructing invisible players to play a let. The dialogue in this surreal scene was constructed in such a way that you could concentrate on one, or the other, or both, and they were all funny. Genius. Except that it too closely resembled his life right now, and this was deeply unsettling.

"Play a let," he kept hearing. "I said, play a let!"

"I'm sorry?" a young woman in a soaking wet macintosh in front of him was asking "Pardon me?"

"Pardon who?" he countered.

"Did you say something?" The bank queue shuffled forwards, and he was slow to react, confused by the woman's question.

"Er, no, I don't think I did," he responded nervously, clutching his umbrella. "Did you hear something?"

She looked at him strangely. "Yes," she said. "You said, new balls please."

She said it flatly, matter of fact. An older woman with a red face in a winter coat far too heavy for the blast of heat the bank was supplying, turned back and chipped in, "I heard it. I heard it! New balls. New balls!"

"Did you?" he asked, embarassed, having to stop himself echoing her repetition. "Well it wasn't me, I'm sure."

There was an uncomfortable pause. The cashier sign flashed, and automated audio announced "cashier number four, please". The old woman moved to the window with a well-I-never backward glance, and he was left standing awkwardly behind wet mac woman. Had he said something unwittingly, like one does sometimes when preoccupied and deep in thought? Surely not. He looked everywhere but at anyone. Two people behind him shuffled feet and coughed. Come on, he thought, let's get this over and done.

In front of him was a colour screen showing a CCTV image. He could see behind him one of the men was carrying a sports bag. New balls! More like no balls. "Play a let," said his mental umpire.

The woman in front of him went forward to her window, and straightaway a second window became available. Sensing his imminent exit, he approached the chirpy young black female cashier with some relief.

"The machines are not working outside, and I'd like to draw out some cash, please, from this account." He slipped the plastic card through the gap at the bottom of the window. The mac girl was at the window on his right, waiting while some detail was checked. "How much would you like to withdraw sir?" asked the cashier. "Thirty, love," he responded, too hastily.

He glanced up at wet mac girl, who was now staring hard at him, and he coloured. Damn! Why the fuck did he have to say it like that? He felt all the eyes in the bank on his reddening neck and the hole in his cuff became incredibly interesting. Come on, come on! he willed the moments to hasten. Clickety click went manicured nails on the plastic keyboard.

"Tennis?" asked the cashier. He looked up, horrified. "Eh...um...ahh..." he stammered, conscious now of his beating heart. She looked at him expectantly. "Tens OK?" "That'll be fine," he forced out. She counted three tens and passed them through. "Thank you, sir," she sang, "Have a good day."

He turned. "Cashier number two please." Mac girl was still staring, looking sneeringly triumphant, and looked as if she was about to say something. He narrowed his eyes and clenched his jaw. Her face changed to mild alarm, and she took half a step back.

"Play a let," he hissed at her through his teeth. Picking up the cash, he walked rapidly out into the cold air.

Segunda-feira, Maio 23, 2005

Bitch Of A Morning

I woke up and polished my shirt. The Dog was bitching as usual.

"Why the fuck won't you let me sleep on the bed?"

"You stink."

"No worse than you! I get fucking freezing out there in that so-called basket - more like a wicker cell with prison blanket." The Dog whined, sniffing my bare ankles. The shine was dull, the morning had broken.

Light bars threaded through the blind, catching the purple black head of the Dog and making his brown eyes blue and eerily deep. He was in a foul mood, I could tell. I scrubbed and scuffed away at the colours, trying to get glints out of a remorseless matt finish. Why on earth did I not trade it in for the permashine when I had the chance? One of a million missed fashion opportunities I had come to regret.

"Where's my breakfast?" asked the Dog, resentfully. The fridge door was open, which meant he'd already had it and mine too, probably. He was a good actor. "That shirt stinks. You look shit in it."

Ignoring this easy bait, I scrunched up some old newspaper and applied it in an effort to restore order. Collars and cuffs, said Mum in my ear, collars and cuffs, and quickly down the front. I rubbed, increasing speed, feeling my heart ribs bump with the effort too early.

Down the front, all right, that's where I needed to be, pressed up against the railings and reaching through with eager hands for the next delivery. You could wait years for a moment like that and still miss it. Ah, what the fuck. Holding the garment up to the light, I wondered if it would pass muster. A patch under the left arm would soon need re-skinning, the shine was approaching 6am on a 9pm day, but at least it was approaching. Fuck it that will do. I stuck my neck through the top hole and reached my already-tired arms through, flapping like a big leather baby bird unable to take off.

"Enthusiam is not enough," said the Dog, "and also, shaving. Beards and stubble are bad."

I contemplated shaving the Dog, but decided there wasn't time. I had to be off or I wouldn't be on. "First impressions are lasting impressions..." The Dog trailed off meaningfully and realising I was not about to be drawn, and that more food was out of the question, skulked out of the room and started going round and round in the corner, muttering as he did so. The basket was long since reduced to a circle of straw with centimetre-high sides, and as he lowered himself like a geriatric onto the damp blanket, half-said something which sounded like "rough stuff not enough for bluff muff cuffs".

"Since when did you become an expert on dating?" I asked, shoving my naked feet into my boots, pulling the hide wrap which passed for a coat onto my back.

The Dog feigned haughty disinterest and putting moist blue black jowls on forelegs, settled down with a whimper and raised his left eyebrow, which was his customary bizarre way of declaring a truce. Truce! In a war that had not been waged. I had to hand it to him, he was a damned effective campaigner.