James was very comfortable, or so the nurse had proclaimed; no one had actually bothered to ask him.
So this was the end, James thought to himself, mainly because there was no one to talk to.
He knew it would be soon and he really didn’t mind. He remembered a dear friend telling him not to hurry through life as “when god made time, he made plenty of it”. James had not ever found this; he was always hurrying, always late or with so much unfinished, but now, as the seconds ticked slowly, marked by the clock on the wall, for the first time in his life, he had peace… not a single thing was left unfinished but to die.
James was, by misfortune, in hospital. He had slipped on a journey he had made a thousand times, to collect his newspaper, the Daily Mail. He didn’t really like it, he preferred the Sun, but he didn’t like the look the girls behind the counter gave him when he used to buy it. Once he overheard one talking about him as “that funny little man”. “Yes but he’s harmless”, exclaimed the other one. Hitler was a funny little man. The guy that gets shot out of a cannon at the Moscow state Circus is a funny little man. James was, until ten years ago, a hard-working accountant and had been for forty years. “Oh, and in my prime, five foot eleven inches tall and athletic, not little or funny, methinks”.
Along with his paper, some milk (whatever happened to the milkman?). He didn’t really care when the local milk round went bust, it was mainly old people that complained, you know funny little old men and women with nothing better to do than moan to each other.
Well James slipped and fell, and it hurt, not like the sting of a graze on your knee as a child, this really hurt and then it got worse. He could not get up, he could not speak, he felt sick. No one stopped to ask if he was ok. They glanced, but through him, as though he was not there.
A funny little old lady… he had seen her a thousand times before, but never spoken, she was harmless, dressed a bit strange, things never matched or really seemed clean. She would mutter to herself and smile at him, as if he knew her or perhaps cared. They bought their papers and milk at the same place…she leaned over James and spoke.
She was shortly joined by other elderly, strange people, circling around him like distressed chimpanzees.
This irritated him somewhat yet he was stuck, no way of getting off the ground. He meekly requested an ambulance.
“Yes dear, one’s on its way” said the strange badly dressed one
“It will be here in a mo’; you just rest and try not to move, save your energy,” said one of the chimpanzee onlookers.
“I can’t bloody move, you imbecile,” said James. With that, all the chimpanzees decided he was delirious.
A man arrived on a motorcycle. He was dressed a bit like a gay policeman. He had the leathers but rather than a smart uniform he was wearing green and yellow. Some sort of super Chimp for, as he walked up to James all the other chimpanzees hushed and the circle they had formed broke, allowing him to crouch down next to James.
“I’m a paramedic” (Fan-bloody-tastic).
“How are we?”
“Well you’re dressed in a very silly way and I am unable to move.”
“Don’t worry, he’s delirious, he’s been rude to us too” pronounced one of the chimpanzees.
The diagnosis although vague, took the paramedic less than a minute of his precious time (James felt he never had his full attention, due to the constant chatter on his radio link and crowd control duties).
“You’ve broken something, probably your hip, I’ve called an ambulance.”
“That’s a shame, I was so looking forward to a nice ride on a motorcycle with a broken hip”. James thought to himself, except that it came out loud.
“Don’t worry. It will be here in a minute, I’ve up rated the priority.”
“It’s all this snow and ice, they are really pushed at the moment – it’s not just the pavement the council can’t be bothered to grit, it’s the roads as well.”
Yes I had noticed. This time James managed to keep his thoughts to himself.
“I’ve given you some pain relief and something to calm you”.
As if I care (obviously works quite fast).
He didn’t remember a lot from there, apart from no one knowing his name or where he was from or who should be told of his fall. This community in which he had lived for nine years knew nothing of him.
“Good morning James”
It was too early to tell. James didn’t know where he was. His eyes would not focus properly, the air tasted clinical and smelt like shit.
“How are we today? We’ve had a bit of a fall”
“No we fucking haven’t. I have had a bit of a fall, no we about it” he thought, but apparently out loud again. Note to self: must stop thinking out loud.
The diagnosis was about to take a turn for the worst.
“Well James, you’ve done a lot of damage and at your age it’s not going to be a quick recovery.”
‘My age, my age. I’m 73. 73 years old and in perfect health!”
It took them almost two weeks to kill me from that day. I developed a secondary infection from the operation and that was it, game over.
So here we are. In the last two hours, there has been a shift change. The nice rotund African nurse is on duty. She is kind, always smiles, big, big smile. You could tell her you were dying or that you had won the lottery. She would smile just the same. I don’t know her name, my eyes won’t let me read the badge on her tunic, I like her even though I heard her say I was a little strange (presumably down to the medication as I haven’t felt right since I came here).
It’s quiet on the ward now, the flickering light of televisions ripples against the walls like some tribal fire. The big round face of the nurse and her smile are illuminated by the flickers, making her almost appear like a voodoo queen, and then I die. And as I ascend from my earthly body, no one notices. They are all fixated, staring into their televisions, as the dumb dumb dumb of Eastenders twenty five years’ anniversary programme enters their lives.
Then the nurse notices I am dead, presses a button and mutters under her breath “bloody typical. “Couldn’t have chosen a worse moment. He’s had all day but he chooses now.”
Her colleague arrives and pronounces “funny little man, never did like him. What was his name?”
And I was gone (to a much better place).
James awoke feeling unwell. He was sweaty, dry in the mouth. His right arm was almost numb, with tingling pains passing up it. He could not move it. His eyes failed to open, they stung, the late morning sun burnt them every time the light squeezed through his half-open eyelids, forcing them into tight wrinkles as they shut.
He turned his head towards his left arm, sensed a soft warm smell and opened his eyes away from the glare of the sun.
He was horribly hung over.
There was the cause of the numbness in the arm. She was beautiful; he could only see the back of her head, tight black curls poking up from beneath the cover, soft bare shoulder, she was breathing so gently.
Then panic! Who was she? What was her name? Where was she from? He mustn’t move his arm in case it woke her before he had the answers.
Think, think, think!
Bus stop. She was at the bus stop, they were catching a bus (his brain was really not helping). There was a funny little man there, fiddling with a bag and smiling every time he caught their gaze (a pervert, if ever you saw one), he even sat behind them on the bus. Then her name came, Jane, it always works, taking yourself back, (just like losing your keys and all you have to do is remember where you last had them, perfect).
She began to stir and James gently un-inserted his arm from under her neck, gently dragging his hand across her bare breast as he did so.
Dazed, confused, hung over, she looked at him and she did not know his name.
Victory is mine, the power! This woman does not even know my name!
“Good Morning, Jane” I proclaimed.
My father’s favourite joke was:
“Why did God give women mouths?”
The answer was simple.
“So that you never know what they are thinking”
Women have never needed a mouth to tell you how they are feeling.
Jane stared at me, the corner of her right eye tensed with anger. Her lips lost their fullness and colour, turning narrow and pale.
“My name is JASMINE. you are such a tosser, James!”
“Well if you are going to be all emotional and girly, after we have had such a lovely night, just because I am tired and got your name wrong, I think you should leave. I am really not in the mood for this”
At that, she flung her remaining covers at me and flounced out of bed.
There is nothing hornier than an angry woman dressing or undressing. The problem was she was not about to make up. There’s nothing better than that shag after a row and nothing worse than lying there in all your morning glory and they bugger off, slamming doors and not speaking.
“Bye JAMES, you arsehole!”
“Love you too, take care.” James responded
I was 19, at Uni, drinking heavily, playing rugby, cricket and tennis, (never felt comfortable with the tennis all dressed in white trying to keep clean and what are men’s tennis shorts all about? Bloody uncomfortable, not like cricket where you get your whites dirty and all your tackle is contained in a box. Tennis is just weird) oh and I nearly forgot shagging (in fairness that was not just at Uni I think its what kept me going until I was 73).
Jasmine was gone and I was single again (the joy of one night stands and it was only Thursday).
I had learnt a valuable lesson: get her name wrong and she’s gone, out the door, no tears, no damaging her self esteem – no “You don’t like me because I am fat, thin, skinny, short, tall, blonde, brunette, redhead, my teeth, my breasts , my legs, my arms, my friends, my parents”
I’m not sure there is such a thing as Alzheimer’s. It’s just old people clearing stuff out of their lives that they no longer need (particularly people).
The lesson I had learnt had far-reaching effects. It could be used pre-coital as well as post. Forgetting an ugly bird’s name if something more attractive came along would have the same effect: freedom.
Likewise if you forget a woman’s name but don’t want her to leave just yet call her “Lover” “Sexy Arse,” anything but someone else’s name or fat.
I was getting an education (I became an accountant – where did it go wrong?)
Oh, and why did I play tennis if I found it so uncomfortable? Easy - a different class of bird (would have had to go to church to meet this type of woman. Tennis seemed less painful).
It’s funny what, and how, you learn. What’s that cliché? The more you learn the more you realise you don’t know.
It was not until my fifties when I truly grasped this fact, I discovered ME and realised how little I knew about the subject and set out to learn (I didn’t like what I found).
Since the age of fifteen and a half I had been a player, now I was fifty five. Forty years of playing with other peoples’ lives (mainly beautiful women but in fairness some of their husbands and boyfriends had had their lives affected. Some were still fairly pissed off and in truth, rightly so).
Smells had always been an important part of my life, sounds weird but isn’t, just complicated.
Smells trigger something powerful in the human soul.
We all have smells that remind us of things through our lives. I have three distinct memories of smell (I have hundreds, but three that are dangerous, emotionally).
From my infancy, the smell of cigar smoke meant Christmas, uncles, aunts, presents, fun and my Father at home.
The type grandmas, mothers and aunts wear.
I was safe and secure, loved and wanted.
The devil’s own invention (I would watch my mother painting her face with make up and lipstick, with devout reverence and adoration for her, not wishing the show to end, why do mothers use hairspray, let alone in the presence of their young, why not ask them to leave? No instead they spray clogging our lungs, stinging our eyes, disabling our sense of smell and leaving an acrid taste in our mouths). Exterminated like insects.
James awoke someone had been in his room; his door had been open and now it was tightly closed. He did not like it.
It was very dark and he was too frightened to move. He knew something was under the bed, his bed, there was also a large shape at the end of the bed. It wasn’t moving.
But what to do.
James screamed. It had worked before particularly for his elder sister. Their parents always came running even if she was just doing it for attention or to get James into trouble.
Two parents on demand, immediately present.
“James, what on earth is the matter?”
Now, it’s a well-known fact that whatever lives under a child’s bed immediately vanishes when a light is switched on or a parent enters the room. In this case, both had happened, the monster was gone.
But was it?
There, at the end of the bed was a huge, bulky, sack of presents (they tell you all year to be good, they send you to bed early on Christmas Eve because Santa’s coming and the bastard only sneaks in when you’re asleep, leaving a scary shape at the end of your bed and shutting the bloody bedroom door on his way out).
Father was good, clipped me round the ear (nicely, not in an Ester Rantzen way) told me to stop being a silly little man and get some sleep (What planet was he on? I’d got presents, I was awake and I wanted to play. It turned out he was actually on Planet Scotch).
Mother was much nicer (not). She kissed me on the forehead and as she moved forward and away her hair irritated my face and the hairspray clogged my senses. Give me cigar smoke any day.
It’s strange. However I look at it, hairspray means a woman is leaving (it’s a bit like buses and bus stops, it’s bleeding obvious).
You may be lying in bed, got a day off or something and she is getting ready for work. She stop’s talking to you, get the hairspray out and sprays it at you (not at you at you - over her hair as she sits on the end of the bed. Net result, 85% lands on you).
As a child I remember being in awe and proud of my beautiful mother as she sat at her dressing table. Her pearls would be in their case, removed from the drawer, but too precious to spray perfume on, let alone hairspray. No such care for five year old me, first she would overspray the perfume on me and finish me off with a good dousing of hairspray.
I was forty before I realised it was deliberate. I saw her doing it to a grandchild in the same playful way. It was a form of distraction; mother was going out and this was all part of a game.
James smiled, or was it wind? No, his father insisted it was a smile. James not for the first time or the last, couldn’t help it. He opened his bowel and proved his father wrong. Now James was smiling.
It was James’ christening and the congregation, if not the priest, found it amusing.
Strangely enough, this was one of only a dozen occasions James went to church. Would it be enough to get him into heaven?
“For the love of Jesus!” Was an expression his father enjoyed, usually followed by a well-engineered “for fuck’s sake!”
Now James wasn’t stupid. He often sang ‘for the love of Jesus’ at school and he knew that Jesus loved him. James hadn’t actually met Jesus but a strange man wearing a black dress, who called himself father, although he wasn’t James father and James didn’t think he was Jesus’ father because then he’d be called God, told him that Jesus loved him.
This was all too complicated.
Then it got worse.
“Father?” asked James.
“Yes, my son?” Replied the priest.
“Fuck!” replied James.
The strange man in the dress looked at James with anger in his eyes and did not speak a word.
He then clasped James by the arm and walked him at great speed to the headmaster’s office.
This “fuck” must be incredibly important.
“Tell the headmaster what you have just said!” ranted the priest. (At one point James thought he might have swallowed hairspray as he was gasping and spitting, very strange)
“Fuck” replied James.
“How dare you. Explain yourself!” exclaimed the headmaster.
“My father sometimes says “for God’s sake” and sometimes “for Fuck’s sake”. “Who is Fuck, sir?”
School. The best days of our lives, apart from random beatings by the headmaster.
Oh, then I got home and had another beating for using profanity at school. Fuck knows what that was all about.
If a person in authority, particularly a man wearing a dress, asks you to repeat something, don’t. It will only end in tears.
There is an add-on to that. The request may be phrased in a cunning catch-you-out way, such as “just tell the truth”, or “I only want to know.”
James awoke suddenly with a start and didn’t know where he was, not for the first time in his life. He was tired; he was, after all, 74 years old. He had been at a funeral the day before. Very sad, not much of a turn-out. That’s the trouble as you get older; not many of your friends left. It was bitterly cold; that always kept a few people indoors. After all, he himself was late, how embarrassing. Late to a funeral.
But where am I now?
I am in a waiting room, a very busy waiting room. It’s a railway waiting room?. Why? I don’t use public transport, it’s dirty, late, horrid. Ever since I left Uni I have had a car.
Then I remember. When I was 70, they took my licence away. If the bastards hadn’t done that, I would have been driving the day I slipped and fell. It was to do with my eyes. I couldn’t read a number plate at a hundred miles, or some other ridiculous pre-stated distance. Normal people just move closer if they can’t see something; it happens as you get older.
Anyway, who wants to read number plates, even the police don’t bother now. Their cars are fitted with a special machine called polar bear or something. How fucking lazy is that, and there are two of them in the car!
Anyway, I carried on driving for a couple of years, didn’t bother anyone. Well apart from that woman that helps the children across the road, lollipop lady and she had certainly eaten all the lollipops and the pies she was a walking obesity advert, what an ironic name.
It was her that reported me to the police, anyone would have thought I’d run her and her children over, I stopped a good foot away from her silly sign.
The young police constable, she was nice, nice legs, pretty face, but it soon became apparent she didn’t like men. Probably had a girl friend. The other police constable was much more normal, manly, fit, had the ability to listen.
“Sir, sir are you listening to us?”
“We’ve spoken to DVLA they have no record of you having a driving licence”
“Bloody typical, civil servants can’t be trusted with anything”
“Sir, are you saying you have a current licence?”
“No, I am saying BLOODY CIVIL SERVANTS”
“Sir, you are not being very helpful”
I wondered whether if I screamed my parents would come running to my rescue, a tear rose to the corner of my eye, no chance they were DEAD, it was just me myself and I.
This seemed to do the trick, the lesbian one backed off, stopped looking for answers, she even started to answer her own questions.
“You’ve been a very silly little man, you know your licence has been revoked, don’t you, you could have seriously hurt or even killed someone”
I had this vision of the guy out of the cannon at the Moscow state circus driving a cartoon car over a giant lollipop lady, huge body tiny head, another tear arrived, this time a happy one, I was trying not to laugh.
“I can see you are emotional and very sorry, so we will leave it here for now. Your case will be reviewed and sent to the CPS for consideration for prosecution”
They upped and left, without finishing all their tea, real shame that, as I had made it with some of my finest laxatives, little shits.
A loud announcement came over the railway tannoy “…due to a large influx from Haiti, we are experiencing severe delays.
Then I realised, I was dead. The funeral yesterday was mine. Late for my own funeral, yes of course there are excuses, I wasn’t expecting it, I didn’t know when it was or even where.
I was waiting in a railway station to go to a better place.
Then it got worse.
A funny little man appeared, quiet strange altogether, he was wearing a black dress, he looked me up and down, clasped me by the arm, dragging me to my feet.
“No ticket, no journey. No ticket no journey. Don’t know how you got this far without one. You’ll be in trouble.”
Trouble? Trouble? I’m fucking dead!
“Don’t swear at me, we have strict anti harassment laws here, I’m a member of Unite you know” said my little black-frocked escort.
“I didn’t say a word,” I replied.
“You were thinking, I can hear your thoughts. You have no mouth to hide your thoughts now, no body at all, just your soul, nothing to hide behind, no earthly form, your soul stripped bare for all to see and hear.”
“Stop it” he replied.
Endless corridors unfolded before us, my feet dragged and my arm ached as he pulled me. Which was strange as I had neither feet nor arms. I just knew where they should be and what they felt like.
We arrived, another waiting area, how I detest waiting areas.
“We are in court two in ten minutes.”
What for, I thought.
“Attempting to travel to a better place without a ticket” replied my little escort in a black dress
Where do I buy a ticket?
“Too late, too late, you had your chances - all 96 years of them.”
I was missing my mouth at this point. How could you have a sensible conversation if the other party knew what you were thinking all the time?
“It’s called honesty, James. If you are honest to your soul it does not matter what you’re thinking, so no mouth need ever lie for you,” replied the guy in the black frock.
I was confused
You said 96 years, but I am only 74!
“Yes, it’s a right cock up. Technically, you are not supposed to be here for another 22 years” replied the guy in the black frock.
“So I can go back?”
“You’ve been watching too many films,” he replied.
“But I am not supposed to be here, you said.”
“No, I said technically. Ah! I can see what happened. In 1991, when you were 55, something happened. Yes, yes, you became an atheist. Not good for the soul, you know. That was the last time your travel arrangements were reviewed. You see we didn’t know who you were travelling with - a bit of a self booker; wanting the cheapest fare, but when it all goes wrong you want us to sort it out.”
What happens now, I thought
“Well I am going to get your case adjourned and get you some legal representation.”
Will it take long?
“Does it matter?”
I went back to sleep.
It was a cold November morning, James was at Heathrow about to board a Concorde flight to New York, it was good being a top accountant, sticking your nose in to other people’s business at their expense (a bit like being an MP). The best bit was his expenses. He knew exactly what to claim for and how (a bit like being an MP he thought). He liked Heathrow, he liked Concorde, he liked BA and BA liked him, they even gave him special cards in recognition of how much they liked him, They knew his name, who he was and how important he was. He made an effort too, he would smile back and if someone had been particularly helpful he would read their name from their lapel badge and use it to get them to bring him more refreshments etc. It worked well.
Samantha came over to where James was sitting and crouched beside him. She was fit, stunning eyes, very attentive. Even with her BA uniform she was beautiful; those bloody BA skirts, just an inch and a half too long.
“Excuse me, Sir, we have a problem. The New York flight has gone technical” she whispered.
“Why don’t you go bother an engineer instead of me then” I replied
“I was going to give you the option of flying out on a 747 sir.”
“Not much of an option, is it? Had I wanted THAT OPTION I would have booked it, instead I BOOKED CON-CORDE”
“Would sir refrain from shouting, it’s upsetting the other passengers”
Then it got worse.
Words were had and I was put on a 747 to New York. A nod and a wink were given to the crew – obviously about how important I was – by my escort, I didn’t hear what was said, but it did the trick as they stayed out of my way most of the flight.
I liked first class, much more room than Concorde, more me time, even time to sleep.
Something strange happened at JFK airport. They appeared not to want me in their great country, something to do with an irregularity on my work status.
“I make this trip at least once a month and there has never been a problem,” I snarled.
“Yes sir, we see, but that was then and this is now,” replied the immigration officer.
“How much money do you have, sir?”
“Why?” I replied with as much patience as I could muster.
“Can you fund your stay?” the less than patient officer replied.
“Of course I bloody can! What sort of silly little man would fly halfway round the world without any money. What planet are you on?”
“Just asking sir, carry on,” he replied.
But I could not carry on. The ATM declined my company card and my personal card. Bloody machines! I had fifty-two dollars from my last trip, enough for a taxi. In the confusion over the flight I doubted the company would have sorted a car to pick me up.
New York was busy. I felt dirty and tired, emotionally drained. It had not been easy at work, part of the purpose of the trip was to reassure the American banks about our UK operations while our property portfolio was crashing. It had lost 100 million in four months (when a hundred million was 100 million) and trading losses were spiralling out of control. We were still 50 million liquid - the only problem was it was all in assets, and no one wanted assets.
The taxi pulled up outside the hotel and George the doorman opened the taxi door. He did not seem his usual self. I paid the driver and got out, palmed George some dollars and commented “Bad day George.”
“Yes, Mr James, very bad indeed,” he replied.
Miserable tosser, I thought. I’ve just given you five dollars. You shouldn’t bloody come to work if you can’t leave your troubles at home.
I proceeded to reception. Ah, a friendly face. Amanda. She recognised me immediately. She looked uncomfortable (ah, yes. I had behaved badly on a previous trip, shagged her sister rotten. Now what was her sister’s name? But anyway that was ages ago).
“Hello gorgeous, so nice to see a friendly face. Now have you got a very special room for me?”
Then it got worse.
“I don’t have a room for you,” she replied.
“Ha, ha’, I chuckled confidently. “You always have a room for me!”
Then, there it was on the telly in reception: while I had been flying, my company had gone bust. The banks had walked away. They had arrived for a meeting in New York and the British Finance Director (some bloke called James) hadn’t pitched up. They waited two hours and called it a day.
Amanda looked up “You didn’t know, did you?”
I shook my head in agreement. I did not know.
How could the Banks, BA, GOD do this to me? For Fuck’s sake! It wasn’t fair! For the love of Jesus, what was I going to do?
Everyone had seriously let me down. I had worked hard, never off sick like some people I could name. I had given to charity, let Boy Scouts clean my car (badly) even gave some cases of wine I received as a present (they were crap) to an old folks home (miserable bastards gave them back in case it interfered with their medication….gave it to the homeless instead… three blokes and a woman in a doorway, near Centrepoint. They were pleased).
No, GOD was a Bastard and it was time to find a new religion, one that cared about James. Until then he was going to be an atheist.
James awoke to find the guy in the black dress was back.
Who are you and what is your name, James thought.
“I am Peter and my job is to make sure you’re entitled to travel to a better place.”
Fuck me, I’ve just met St Peter! Don’t think much of his frock, James thought.
“No James, wrong Peter and I don’t think you will be going there. At the moment you don’t have a ticket to anywhere and you’re not spending an eternity in my waiting rooms. Let’s get you sorted.”
Peter, all those Haitians…they can’t have travel documents. Who’s dealing with them? Where are they going?
“They are all accounted for. Their travel arrangements are in order, they are all going to a better place. You really don’t get it do you? This is your barrister, James.”
Where did Rumpole come from?
“James that’s not nice. He is here to help you. If sarcasm was necessary, my reply need only be the Bailey.”
I liked Peter and at least he was trying to help. I wondered what religion he was – he had a good aura about him.
“Religion is the mode of transport we use to get to a better place. On earth we have BA, Easyjet, network rail, Eurostar depending on our needs and destination. Each soul’s better place is slightly different and needs different arrangements…”
James stared in irritated disbelief.
“Augustus will explain.”
Who the Fuck is Augustus? James didn’t get it and he was becoming highly agitated.
Oh, you mean Rumpole. Sorry.
“Right, James. It’s my job to get you off this charge of ‘travelling without a ticket’ and get the court to show leniency and issue you with a valid ticket, so we can get you out of here.”
And if they don’t show leniency, what then?
“Well, James, hell for eternity. Mind you, even if you do get a ticket it doesn’t mean automatic entry to a better place. That’s up to the panel. When you get there, they might not judge you favourably.”
“Hell again, I’m afraid,” replied Augustus
“But part of your defence will be that you’re Buddhist. Then you can get sent back to earth as a snake or something. Not really up to speed on that lot. Not many seem to get sent back. They seem quite accepting of each other. Nice lot.”
So Buddhism is just like BA? Just a mode of transport?
“No James, Buddhism is not like BA. Buddhism is more like Easyjet. BA is more Church of England.”
“Buddhism is like Easyjet. They don’t care who you are or what you do for a living or how important you think you are. Each and every passenger gets the same size seat, one bag each (no worldly goods), no food or drink. The staff smile when they want to and are equally attentive to everyone.”
Ah yes, but what about speedy boarders?
“It’s code for ‘special Buddhists’. Those that like the concept of being equal but want to be at the front of the queue”.
“No, that’s just hell” Augustus snarled.
Don’t be daft. It’s very cheap and the largest carrier on the planet.
“Hell has always been popular. Doing very well at the moment and quite honestly, very handy it is. Imagine if everyone only wanted to go to the nice places… they would end up like Dubai or Las Vegas!”
Or hell…So what about suicide bombers, how do they travel?
“In tiny bits, why?”
“This isn’t helping your case. We’re on in the moment”
James was standing in a long queue. He needed to buy a ticket, back to the UK, something he had never done before, something his PA had always done (she was a good shag, nice tits, needed some dentistry, could be a bit hormonal but never said no, remembered birthdays and so on, dead handy. Used to be a bit of a tease, stockings in the office, never crossed her legs properly… and then God created the wonderbra and made every day Christmas. Well at least in my world. What was her name?)
“Sir, sir how can I help?”
“Gill” I replied.
“ Sorry sir” came the reply from the confused ticket salesperson.
“Sorry, miles away. I was trying to remember my PA’s name. London Heathrow please.”
“First, Business or economy”
The sales clerk’s face lit up. She smiled at him, the way only BA can.
“When would you like to fly?”
“As soon as”, I replied.
Knowing my personal bankers were the same as the business and they had obviously stopped my cards, I presented a personal Barclaycard. I had only ever used it for ‘bad’ things (entertaining mistresses during my three years of marriage, boys’ weekends away, etc). Barclaycard liked me, they told me so. Without even asking, they regularly raised the limit. I currently had £50,000 leeway and it made me feel important, no, safe.
“That’s fine, sir. It has been authorised. Could you just sign there and we will get you on your way.”
My bad visit to New York was ending, I was going home, to sort this mess out.
I went to the lounge. There was a two-hour wait. I poured myself a large scotch. There was no ice. “What is wrong with these people?” I asked out loud. Well it got a response and eventually some ice.
The flight was boarding. I was on Planet Scotch and I was happy. My feet felt heavy and my centre of balance varied as I walked along the air bridge.
Emma was the first face I saw. I liked Emma and she liked me (apparently, had I not been in first class she wouldn’t have let me on her ae–ro-plan-ee cos I was pissed. She failed to realise that if I hadn’t been in first class, I wouldn’t have been able to get pissed.)
Emma brought me things, even a blanket. She always put ice in my Scotch (in fact more ice than Scotch).
Emma said goodbye at the door as I disembarked. She even said ‘take care’.
That was the last time I flew BA. It took me a year to pay off the flight on my Barclaycard.
I learnt that Barclaycard didn’t really like me. The relationship soon turned to hate.
Something about me not having a job.
But I did, it just didn’t pay a lot. For the next ten years I was a no one, I took dozens of badly paid jobs, book-keeping for builders and getting them tax rebates, spending my evenings in pubs, living in the world of scotch. It was nice and warm there.
All that kept my mind active was working out which barmaid might take me home, to that special place just above the stocking top. They all did in the end. They would take me home, feed me, wash and iron and take me to their bedrooms (but they always wanted more and I had no more to give so I would move on).
I had discovered a key when I was about five years old and I used this key every day of my life.
Everybody has the same key, but everybody uses it differently.
A key can be used to lock something up, such as a safe.
A key can be used to protect something, such as a house.
A key can be used to start things, like a car.
Or even open a gate to a secret garden.
My key was an emotional one. It allowed me to enter people’s lives, take what I wanted and leave.
I say I was five but the foundation was laid two or even three years earlier.
My elder sister would bake cakes.
“Tell me you love me and you can have one,” she would say.
“Give your mother a kiss and tell her you love her and …” Such and such would be the reward.
So early on, I learnt to smile, kiss and say I love you.
I wasn’t comfortable with the ‘I love you’ until I discovered the word meant all sorts of things to all sorts of people.
You can love television, football, cars, chocolate, more chocolate, flowers, animals, views, anything in fact, in every way.
So just because I loved women the way that normal people liked fish and chips I wasn’t lying, I was being honest. They never asked how I loved them (or if someone did it was obviously time to forget her name).
The word love got me in and out of more young ladies than I ever dreamed, the clever bit was not saying it but its mere implication, skirting around it, teasing them, with its unspoken presence. It drove them wild. In my 56th year, there were 24 such ladies. Some of these relationships overlapped, some even collided, husbands and boyfriends got upset. But I did not care, it was about me.
“Right James, time to go to trial,” said Augustus, putting his arm around me and walking me towards the door of the chamber.
I had a body again, a young fit body. How? I was in my twenties. My skin had a healthy glow and I could not recall feeling so good.
I looked at Augustus inquisitively.
“What has happened?” I could speak
“Oh that! That is nothing. The courts have to look at you in the best light possible, you know all the good you have in you, not the bad. In your case that would be when you were about 25, not such an arsehole then, probably.”
“I thought we weren’t using sarcasm” I replied.
“That was your and Peter’s arrangement – and I wasn’t”
“So you think I am an arsehole?” I retorted.
“NO, I know you’re an arsehole! I spoke with Jasmine earlier. If she hadn’t forgiven you, you could well have been appearing here as a one-year-old, farting in a christening gown. We had to do a lot of plea bargaining to get you this far.”
“Who the fuck is Jasmine?”
“Before we go in, what is Hell?” I asked.
“It is everything you hate for eternity” Augustus replied.
“It must be big,” I replied.
“In your case about the size of Australia and nearly as unpleasant.” Augustus smiled.
“So, what sort of things that I hate?” I asked.
“Everything”, Augustus responded impatiently.
“Everything I hate. PEOPLE too?”
“So that lesbian police officer, the one about the driving licence?” I asked, testing the water.
“Yes, when it’s her time she will visit you as often as she wants. She will be in her own better place. She finds out on judgement day your tears were false. She is angry you tricked her and laughed at her. She was there to help and she cared”, replied Augustus gently.
“So anyone I have wronged gets to come and torment me?” I queried cautiously.
“No. Anyone, any object, event, anything and everything to whom or which you have shown your dark side,” Augustus said indifferently.
“I’m fucked then.”
“You did ask”, replied Augustus pushing me into court.
James was dozing. He loved Sunday mornings. It was his birthday. Warm sunlight was streaming through his bedroom window and spooned into him was his beautiful wife of three weeks.
He was 29 and she was 32. Their suntanned bodies as one, even better than that, she was pregnant with their child. He gently rested his hand on her belly. It was still small; after all she was barely three months.
They had been together for four years on and off and it suited them both. Her parents adored her; if only her parents had felt the same about him. He was angry when she first told him she was pregnant. How irresponsible could she be? He couldn’t be responsible for her ovaries, that was her bloody job and she had screwed up big time! But was it all bad? On reflection, not. This would push him up the promotion ladder at work. His laddish escapades had cost him dearly (in particular, shagging the MD’s secretary. Apparently, he had wanted a go and didn’t much fancy it thereafter. She was fired within a fortnight. What was her name?).
Yes, yes, they needed to marry, James had agreed. A child out of wedlock would be frowned upon and no son of his (or daughter) would be a bastard. These were exciting times, this could really change his career.
Simone rolled over. Her face was almost angelic. Pregnancy agreed with her and she had been as horny as fuck, morning, noon and night (obviously worried he wouldn’t love her as she grew to be the size of two people…James was worried about this too, but didn’t share his fears).
Simone sat up.
Then it turned into the worst birthday of his entire life (not including his 74th to 96th which he never actually had, thank you Mr Brown).
“James we need to talk.”
This usually meant ‘James I am going to talk at you, telling you things you don’t like, and you will sit still and listen until I have finished’ (it was not just Simone who did this to him but any female, usually in bed, when he was naked or drunk, with nowhere to run or hide).
“James, you know how angry you were when I told you I was pregnant? Well, it was a joke. I wasn’t really and then you were so sweet and then we went to the register office and look how happy we are now!” she smiled.
“I knew we would be happy if only I could get you to settle down. Now shall we try and make babies again” she beckoned.
She was in-fucking-sane, there was no other word for it. They had been married three weeks on a total fucking lie and she was lying there without a care in the world and wanted fucking, unreal. Did she not get it? She was a liar, a user, a predator. Yes he’d fuck her all right, one last time and then in the divorce courts. How could she?
People say men think with their dicks. This is unfair – dicks think for themselves.
James climbed on top of her, no foreplay. He was going to show her with one last angry shag that she meant nothing. It was all about him, he was in control, not her. She may have tricked him once but never again.
Then his dick started to think for itself. It slowly but surely wilted. It was not going anywhere near this crazy witch’s cauldron of hate. There he was lying on top of a woman he hated, nowhere to run or hide, nothing to say, tears in her eyes slowly bubbling up to the corners and rolling down into her ears.
He wanted to scream but as if by magic the doorbell rang and there were her parents, father with a cigar and mother and her hairspray, oh and presents.
James was evil all through their visit it was after all his birthday and they had bought presents. It turned out she had confided in her mother when they returned from honeymoon. (In all the books James had ever read, witches came in threes so who was the third, he pondered?) The door bell rang again and there she was, witch number three. Jessica, Simone’s best friend, the serial engagement ring collector. She would pretend to be pregnant, get engaged, announce she was having an abortion, make the bloke pay for it, then dump him for making her do it.
How could James have been so stupid?
Simone went back to her parents. She and James never slept with each other again, which he found strangely sad. He was in no hurry to divorce. It suited his promotion plan to be married. It also made it easier to pull the secretaries as they found it a challenge once they saw the wedding ring. James threw himself into work and the rewards came. He divorced Simone after three years and one month of marriage, and celebrated with a local barmaid (now, what was her name?).
Peter was already in court. He ushered me to a table and beckoned me to sit. I liked Peter and Augustus was growing on me.
Peter stood up and respectfully outlined the case against me for travelling without a ticket.
Augustus took a deep breath.
“If it pleases the court, I wish to present the facts of the defence.”
I looked at Peter and beckoned him. “Surely the prosecution go first, then we defend?”
“No, it is a fact that you travelled without a ticket. No point in wasting time arguing that one. Fast track courts these days, much simpler.”
Augustus was in full flow and it was getting interesting.
“My client is not supposed to be here; he has been hoodwinked and betrayed. He was endeavouring to find the right ticket to a better place. He had changed, he welcomed the change but, like all men, he was a bit slow…”
I’m not sure I like Augustus at all at this point, I thought very quietly. He turned round mid-sentence and looked at me. He had heard even my most silent thoughts.
“Had my client been given his full allocation of time he would have become a Buddhist. He had turned his back on the rather elitist God of the Church of England, stopped flying BA, realising that all men were equal and did not need to be assigned seats in order of their own importance and, in fact, had started regularly flying Easyjet, where one seat fits all.”
I liked him again, I was sounding normal rather than arrogant.
“Did your client purchase speedy boarding?” asked the lead Judge.
I nodded meekly in acceptance of the fact.
Augustus did not bat an eyelid and continued.
“I make it quite clear that my client is slow to learn, for which we make no apology. My client also once flew Ryanair, but only the once. Hell was not for him, however cheap. ”
That reminded me, the speedy boarding annual pass was a Christmas present to myself. It arrived two weeks before I fell. I had never used it and it was non-refundable. The bastards!
The lead Judge leaned forward (I recognised him from somewhere, but where?).
The Judge spoke: “You make a point of your client’s slowness. Is it leading somewhere, Mr Augustus?”
Yes, probably to hell in a handcart at this rate, I thought, apparently out loud again.
Augustus stared at me with that angry look where the corner of the eye goes, the lips tighten and turn pale. He was livid.
“My client was technically allocated 96 years on earth. He received only 73 years, through no fault of his own. He was changing because he wanted to, not for any other reason. He lay in hospital, not choosing a God at the last minute, jumping on the bandwagon like so many do. He wasn’t ready to die; he saw himself as a fit man. He was hoodwinked as we all were.”
“Mr Augustus, please explain. We take hoodwinking very seriously in this court and you will be put to the strictest proof”, demanded the lead Judge.
“Well, it’s very simple. James’ life was allocated at 96 years. His first year as a loveable baby, years two and three as a terrible two, years four to nine as a revolting little brat. I am sure the court is aware of the type. Then from age ten to fifteen years he was an absolute darling. He actually brought something to the plan himself; he found ways to make his father proud. Moving on, James was supposed to be studious and hard-working from fifteen to twenty five. Unfortunately, he discovered women and, as you will see from the facts in front of you, became a complete tosser, some might say arsehole and often did. From twenty five to fifty five, James was supposed to be happily married with three children, living in Harrow, and he screwed up on that one too. That was not entirely his fault. Once the children had grown up, James and Simone were supposed to become an old couple, discovering Buddhism, Yoga, Omega 3 and what time together was really like. Simone was scheduled to die six months before James and they were due to be reunited in their better place.”
The Judge leaned forward “So what went wrong. Mr Augustus?”
The whole fucking lot, by the sound of it. These bastards were playing God with people’s lives and James didn’t like it.
“Well it all went horribly wrong thirteen years ago. We accept that James was off plan, doing his own thing and really had been since his horrible 29th birthday surprise thing. Meanwhile, the powers that be were overstretched – famine in Africa, Aids, Bob Geldof, Bono, that sort of thing. They didn’t have time for a Finance Director. Anyway James felt quite safe in his world. Nothing could hurt him, he was emotionally untouchable Simone had seen to that. Then a terrible thing happened, unforeseen by the powers that be. The Labour party was elected to power. The rest is history. More people than ever were forced into poverty. Spin and targets became the new words of caring, no body actually did anything to help, they just spent billions on slogans.
In summary your honour, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown stole my client’s last twenty-two years. He wasn’t supposed to die; he had another twenty-two years. They squandered billions. All James needed to be able to continue driving was some laser treatment but the waiting list was too long and he was not a priority. Had he had the treatment, he would still have been driving. He would have not been walking on an icy pavement, had Gordon Brown not squandered the Billions on the Banks and spent money on salt for the pavements and roads. Further, had the hospital been clean, James would not have got the secondary infection that killed him. Blair and Brown should be before this court not my client.”
I wanted to applaud! I was the good guy, the victim. I must be innocent. It was all their fault – and a bit of Simone’s.
And then it went horribly wrong again.
“Have you finished, Mr Augustus?”
Augustus nodded in compliance.
The Judge pulled out a tiny black hat from behind the bench and placed it on his head.
It came flooding back to me. I knew who the Judge was. It couldn’t be, but it was.
James couldn’t do it. All his life he had been able and now he couldn’t. He was sitting soaking in the bath, his favourite place for ‘me time’. One sharp jerk of the wrist and, well, job done. He had done it hundreds of times before but he couldn’t do it. He was sixty-five and retired; he just couldn’t do it. The fight was gone. With that, the spider that had invaded his space scuttled away to live another day. Now James had found true beauty for the first time. The spider had changed his life. It was cute. He wondered whether it had friends, a family, where it lived, what it needed to survive. He was overwhelmed by the thought of all God’s creatures that he had killed, from the hundreds of ants incinerated by a magnifying glass, to the spiders, wood lice, flies and the neighbour’s cat. Technically, the cat was an accident, but that did not make him feel any better. Soft tears rolled down his face as he recounted his actions. From that day James never knowingly killed another thing.
Well, apart from what he needed as food or clothing and, in most cases, he let Mr Tesco do that, so technically he never killed another living thing.
If only he could learn to like humans as much as that spider. Well, I am retired now, James thought, easing himself out of the bath. I have time, a little money, a car, a home, a pension. All I need now is a cause. Someone must need helping.
James got dressed, stepped outside, closed his front door behind him, got into his car and drove to the pub. Just a quick pint then off to help someone needy, he thought.
The Judge stared straight ahead. I was trying not to laugh. It was all just too ridiculous. The Judge fumbled beneath his bench, this time producing a pair of tiny black goggles. He placed them over his tiny black crash hat and onto his eyes.
It was the silly little man! Yes, the real silly little man. No, not Hitler – the Guy from Moscow, the cannon, the circus, you know the figment of my imagination!
Augustus looked at me “Oh he’s real, very real. Don’t laugh, James. He really doesn’t like people taking the piss.”
“James, stand up” he barked.
“I have heard all that has been said by Augustus and thought by you. Unfortunately what is done is done and can’t be undone, otherwise Princess Diana would still be appearing on the front of the Daily Mirror. Bloody Mossad! Anyway, as I said, what is done is done. Your earthly body is gone and you cannot return to it.
“I am not convinced beyond reasonable doubt that you had the makings of a Buddhist. However, I never believed Tony Blair was a Catholic and that in 2022 he becomes Pope, so if Buddhism is your true travelling companion, prove me wrong. Become a great Buddhist. You will go back to earth as a Buddhist for three years and then continue on your journey with a ticket to a better place.”
Augustus stood once more.
“Thank you. My client is eternally grateful and will not fail your expectations. What form must he take?”
“SNAKE!” barked the Judge. With that there was a big flash and a loud bang and the judge was fired over my head into a catch net before I could say ‘I don’t practise that school of Buddhism’. I really didn’t feel like applauding, in fact I felt quite sick.
I looked over to Augustus. “What happens next?”
“It will take a while to find a placement in the community for you. Don’t worry, you will be fine.”
James didn’t want to wake up, he really didn’t. It was his worst nightmare.
He was about to go to secondary school and rightly feared that it would scar him for the rest of his life.
Hanging on the back of his bedroom door was his new blazer. His mother had sewn his name into the collar and the school badge on to the front pocket.
There were also new trousers with the name sewn in.
It had been a traumatic weekend; the buying of school uniform always was. Apparently a child should smile while being fitted out. It was after all “for his own benefit” and “ridiculously expensive”, as his father would remind him. With the demeanour of a French hag watching an execution at the guillotine, his mother would supervise proceedings.
Why, if it was for his benefit was he not allowed to have any item of clothing that fitted? He would be standing there, manipulated like a shop manikin, turned and twirled. The correct size would be found and immediately discarded.
“Yes, yes that’s the one.” My mother would announce “a size or two bigger in case he grows.”
In case he grows? What fucking planet was she on? (He knew his father came from Planet Scotch, but he just couldn’t work out where his mother was dwelling). He decided he was going to grow very fast in order to need new clothes every week. He wasn’t just going to outgrow clothes; his bed was on the list. He wanted a bigger bed, a bigger room, a bigger house.
As James lay in his bed that morning, he looked around and took a peek under his blankets. He didn’t appear to have grown overnight, not even a little bit.
James washed his face and hands. The water was cold, but felt good. No need to do his teeth, he did them last week.
Breakfast had an urgency to it. James didn’t get it. They had known for six weeks this day was coming, why the rush now?
He couldn’t understand why he had been given parents who didn’t like each other. Surely it can’t be that hard to find two people who get along.
James walked alone to school. Gravity was annoying him this day and it troubled him.
He didn’t know it even had a name or what it did but it was out to get him. Firstly, it was slowly but surely pulling his long socks down, until they were curled, snakelike round his ankles. Gravity having got bored with the socks proceeded to work on James’ shorts. He held fast to them with his left hand. With that gravity took James’ feet away from under him. He fell awkwardly (not surprisingly since his left hand was holding up his shorts).
The pavement was covered in tiny loose stones, black sharp stones that stuck in his wounds and stung. His knees were red and bleeding, with tiny curls of skin where the stones had torn at them. The blood tickled as it travelled down his legs to meet his socks. James had also grazed his chin. He could not see the wound but it must be serious because every time he touched it stung, made him feel sick and left a crimson smear of blood on the back of his hand.
As James walked through the school gates, he was greeted by the din of the playground. He wanted to curl up and die. It terrified him. He saw a small door in a corner, with some steps leading to it (the sort that can only be found in Victorian buildings). He headed directly there, making no eye contact, in complete anonymity. He sat on the cool concrete steps, head down, shoulders curled in, staring at his feet, pushing and rolling his hands together.
Then he saw past his hands to the wounds on his knees, the blood had dried black where it had run down his legs. He rubbed and picked at it and it flaked away.
“BOY! BOY!” shouted a teacher.
James looked up. A scary little man, with a wizened white face, and wearing a black cloak, was approaching at a rate of knots. There was no longer a din in the playgro
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