A young man and woman sit at a table in a London pub. The woman is almost inscrutably calm, just back from a third fag. The man aligns the lip of an ashtray with the tabletop grain, clutches his elbow, flicks his nose.
Man: And by the third novel, it was like, Houellebecq man, this is the first two again.
Woman: Yeah, like he’s trying to work something out, and does, but it won’t take.
Man: Yeah. Ah, this is peaceful isn’t it. I haven’t had this for… must be five years.
Woman: About two here. I don’t want to spoil it by getting piddled though eh.
Man: Yeah, no. But sod’s law, I’ve been just about deaf in my left ear all day. Every bloody time I’m due to meet up with a woman…
Man: It’s just a coincidence, it’s not psychosomatic. This morning some water fell in my ear and–
Woman: Some water fell in your ear?!
Man: Yeah, you know like when some water falls in your ear? That. I was in the shower, which has tended to increase the likelihood.
Woman: Your voice just went falsetto then as well, what are you nervous about?
Man: I’m not nervous, it’s–
Unfortunately it has happened again during the word ‘not’. At this point another man appears. He’s at least 7 foot 16; leather jacket; thick, glossy brown hair seldom seen on non-equine lifeforms. He comes to a stop at the table and fixes his gaze on the woman. The first man’s eyes swoop to his knees, the woman does a double-take.
2nd Man: [to the woman] I think you’re done here, aren’t you?
His voice is so rich that several patrons’ internal organs dissolve. The furniture’s varnish ages drastically. He holds out his arm to receive hers. She rises like a snake. I’m not implying anything there, I’m being literal, it’s just how it looks.
Woman: I’ll just… go… to the Ladies’…
2nd Man: [bowing] But of course.
The woman goes to the toilet. The second man sits down with the first. The first man reaches out – a screwdriver is in his hand.
Man: Part of your neck covering’s come loose. We’re lucky she didn’t notice. I’ll just…
He screws the artificial flesh back in place.
Man: Okay, as usual it turns out she doesn’t give a shit, push to shove. Well if we keep this up, one a day, two at weekends, you’ll have paid for yourself before I hit 60. Superb. Let’s go before she gets back.
The man lifts a control pad and presses a button. The robot rises.
2nd man: Yes, Master.
The two leave. A woman sitting at the bar turns, clearly grumbling. A similar control pad is in her hand. She looks over at the Ladies’, huffs and puffs.
2nd Woman: These bloody things, where the fuck is…
The barman turns to the second woman with a chuckle.
Barman: Oh ho ho ho! Oh ho ho ho! Now don’t you worry your pretty little head about technology there Madam…
I bought this grill yesterday, up that Comet. Teppanyaki grill, £29. It died about ten minutes after I first turned it on.
So I took it back this afternoon. Contrary to my imaginings on the bus it was replaced without incident, without voices being raised or Rugby manoeuvres from Security. But when I got home I noticed by the sink the wooden spatula that had come with the other grill! I had not put it back in the box, prior to returning the grill, but instead had left it out.
I now had two! Of the spatulas. I was so pleased. I could probably get one for about £1.20, and I’ll never use either of them, as wooden utensils harbour germs, but I interpret the second spatula’s presence in my kitchen as compensation, possibly even a form of medal, all the same.
Next Tuesday, Boots present me with my trial pack of Daily Disposable contact lenses. I’m going to wear each of them for at least a week. Even if the second wearing throws me into a fog, I will stick it out.
I went into this pub earlier in the week. I goes, “Can I use your loo? I am staying, me mate’s due, but I’m busting.” She waved me through. On the toilet I had another heart attack, and had to be dragged out of the pub apparently with my trousers round my ankles, such was the undisturbable delicacy of my condition. But, as I mused after coming round later in the hospital bed, I had already used the toilet, gratis.
That’s right, Capitalism, it’s pay-back time.
And you’re paying in full, motherfucker.
“Come quick, Doctor! Come quick!” shrieked Nurse Baker. “Mrs Dalglish in Cedar Ward has eaten all the things.”
“Eaten all the things?” said Doctor Porter.
Along to Cedar Ward went trotting Doctor Porter and Nurse Baker.
It was true. Mrs Dalglish, in Cedar Ward, had eaten all the things. The dialysis machine was gone, the fruit bowl was gone. The wall-mounted television set was no more, and part of a bed was just disappearing into Mrs Dalglish’s mouth at that moment. The crumbs of a cabinet spotted her blouse. But there she stood, still as tiny as when she’d been admitted with acute aura failure. The Aura Dialysis Machine was the only one of its kind, on loan from the States and worth a million dollars.
“That’s really annoying,” said Doctor Porter.
“It is,” said Nurse Baker.
“Some people can eat what they like and not put on an ounce. Bitch.”
I was In Tesco the other day when I saw some tinned meat. It was ‘chopped ham and pork’. I thought to myself, I wonder if that’s better than chopped pork and ham.
So many things to experience.
As I reach The Ivy, I see Little Ted outside stubbing out a cigarette. He smiles and we go in to find Big Ted tucking into an egg and cress sandwich. I start by asking the two how their lives have gone since the show’s end in 1988.
Big Ted: Not good. Not good. That Julia Somerville’s just got back on prime time after moaning her tits off about the BBC’s ageism, but she should thank her lucky stars she’s not a stuffed toy.
Little Ted: We done Butlins for the first three years but even they gave us the heave-ho. I’ve been on Income Support since then.
BT: I get an extra £20 for me mental health stuff.
Me: What about the trend in such circumstances for self-reinvention?
BT: (looking sarcastically at LT) Oh yeah. That’s just being a whore. I ain’t just going where the money is. I may be full of foam but I’ve got principles.
LT: Plus, look at Jemima. She was a drum ‘n’ bass DJ in the clubs for a couple of years but it didn’t make her happy. Got in with the wrong crowd, ended up in a squat. All her money goes on ketomine now, she’s a muppet.
BT: She wishes. I bet Miss Piggy’s never eaten out of bins.
LT: No, she has. She likes it.
BT: What people don’t know is, for a while he got mistaken for me and I got mistaken for him. I lost a ton of weight and he ballooned right up.
LT: It’s like the blokes out of Abba. The one who didn’t have a beard before has got one now and vice versa.
The comparison has thrown Big Ted.
LT: I think the blonde bird’s a brunette now and the brown-haired one’s gone blonde as well. Give it another twenty years and the birds’ll have the beards and Benny and Bjorn will have the… knockers.
Me: So you’ve seen your former colleagues then? Are you in touch with Hamble and Humpty too?
BT: He sees Hamble a bit, I can’t stand her. She’s a Neuro-Linguistic Programming practitioner now, in bloody Islington, she’s doing all right, dosh-wise, even if she’s full of shit.
LT: I don’t condone the school of therapy she chose, it’s just quick-fix garbage I realise, but I feel calm with her. She was always like that, she just radiates calm.
BT: I don’t know if it’s calm, she just seems stolid to me. Stolid. She dresses like Ann Widdecombe as well now – you know, them horrible collarless jackets.
LT: Well I like her. Humpty though, he’s went and got religion. He’s changed his name, the lot. He’s not one of the mental ones though, he’s more like Cat Stevens.
BT: Cat Stevens is mental, you can tell, he’s sort of a smiling cretin, like the Dalai Lama, but he’s harmless.
At this point Tom Baker approaches us. He asks after the pair’s health. Then he’s off to his table.
BT: That cunt owes me a tenner.
LT: Has he still not paid? Is he still saying he don’t remember?
BT: No, he’s changed his story now. He’s saying he paid me back when I was drunk and that I don’t remember. I just don’t know.
LT: I’ll go and have a word.
BT: No leave it…
LT: Two minutes.
BT: No seriously. Oh…
Within a minute the three of us have been ejected from the building. The mood having soured considerably I thank the pair for their time. I begin to head back to Charing Cross, but at the street-corner I hear Little Ted shout across to me.
LT: If you stitch us up I’ll fuckin’ FIND you…
I was just about to go into this cafe this morning, when the bloke coming towards me on the street turned to go in there too, so we sort of bumped into each other. He goes, “Watch it, I’m a gangster you know.” I sort of chuckled a bit. He goes, “No, I am. Ask anyone.”
I goes, “I’ve not heard of a gangster announcing himself as a gangster before,” and I laugh through me nose. So he grabs me by the throat and bangs me head against the ajar door.
“I’m a gangster – end of, like,” he says.
I says, “Nah, you’re not a gangster.”
He says, “Aren’t I?”
I says, “No.” So he punches me in the stomach, I go down, and he kicks me in the side of the head. I goes, “How does that make you a gangster?” So he picks me up by me hair, knees me in the nose, blood starts gushing out, I start to have an out of body experience. As I drift I just manage to say, “Gangster my arse.”
So he gets this Stanley knife out of his pocket, slashes me left hand open, blood everywhere, then he kicks me in the bollocks. The chef comes over and he says, “Lee, shall I call the police?”
The other bloke goes, “I wouldn’t if I were you, I’m connected. I’ll have your place burnt down.”
I says, “He won’t, he’s crap. He thinks he’s a gangster.”
The bloke says, “I am.” And at that point he pulls a junior hacksaw out of his coat pocket and starts trying to saw me head off. It’s hard to get a purchase of course – he probably got the saw from Wilkinsons. He gives up on that and twists me arm up round me back, and he says, “Say I’m a gangster or I’ll break your arm, pal.”
I says, “I could say it if you like, but I’d still be thinking you’re not a gangster ’cause you ain’t.” So he breaks me arm and throws me through the window.
Then he comes out and he says, “Last chance.” I shakes me head with me eyes shut – all smug, like. So he starts kicking me in the head, then he picks me up by the hair again and starts ramming me head into the window frame. Then he storms off.
I love winding people up like that.