Friday 19 February 2016

Would you like people to be nice to you?

So, it’s about 7.30 in the morning and I’m heading down the mountain for an 8am appointment. The twisty-turnys are a little petulant this morning due to a generous frosting of dew so I gingerly pilot the Vespa, making full use of my lane to soften the bends. Then in my mirror I spot a shiny white X5 BMW. Any closer and he’d need lube! Now, I’ve been on two wheels since I’ve been on two legs and I’m not about to be intimidated by four wheel drive. I keep my mind on the task of keeping both wheels pointing down. He’s itching to get past but the blind turns keep sending oncoming traffic that could easily give him reason to abort any overtaking manoeuvre right onto my day, my medical insurance and my Vespa’s pristine curves. I hold my ground. Then after the thirteenth bend (yes, I’ve counted them) he floors his Bavarian tractor, nearly clipping me with his fully-automated door mirror. He honks and gives me a mountza (an open hand thrust in the direction of the insultee, rather like the middle finger you may be more familiar with) through the back window. I sent it right back. About a kilo later I catch up with him at the lights where his tractor is stuck in a queue of traffic along with the proletariat. I slip in next to him and tap on the window. And this is where my morning lesson really begins. He’s a mousy looking guy, completely at odds with the brawn of his wheels, no bigger than my eldest pre-teen son. His son was in the back seat. I asked him what his problem was, I was pissed off and probably showing it. He lisps in riposte that I had the problem and I should have pulled over for him to pass. So this weaselly arse in designer gym clothes is telling me that his right of way is way more right than mine and I’ve got my toe on the centre stand ready to dismount and charge. The child in the back seat keeps me from venting profanity but I’m getting ugly. The lights go green and he makes off, still adamant in his righteous behaviour and I start doing the maths of ramming his SUV with my Vespa and fortunately make the right decision.

I relayed the story to a friend and he began to tell me about his Dad. Before his death he insisted on driving but did so at his own pace. He regularly acquired a tail of disgruntled motorists all in a hurry to be nowhere in particular. He told me that he kept this in mind when stuck in irritating road situations. Yeah! So the dick up my arse on the slippery winding road should have been more charitable to me! “No,” he said. I should have been more charitable to him.
Ok, So how many of you are buying this? I wasn’t.
He told me that if I had said sorry, but the road was pretty slippery and I was just trying to stay alive a little longer (without the irony that I’m projecting through the keyboard right now) he might just have seen me from behind the mist of all the problems of his morning. The anger would have been defused, the defences would have dropped and maybe an understanding achieved. Not to mention a valuable lesson for the son in the back seat (did I mention that I’m a teacher? No maybe not the best of times to bring that up). My mind went back to nearly ten years ago when I was involved in a near-miss on a cross junction. We rolled down our windows and I gave him a piece of my mind. He left and the car behind stopped in my path and the driver asked, “Would it have hurt so much to say sorry?” I still remember how humbled I felt.
We all want to live in a more understanding world where people consider others. We all want to feel that others see us yet we continue to vent our frustrations on those who have little to do with its cause. If we are going to turn these situations around, we need to disarm our opponents and open a window into the life which is so similar to theirs. Turn opponents into momentary friends. It’s easy to stay angry when you are met with anger and bile but difficult when met with understanding and charity. The guy in the Bavarian tractor would have passed this anger off onto someone else but he could just as easily have been given a pleasant surprise and the beginning of a whole new day.

I won’t be pulling aside to let an impatient schmuck pass, I will expect him to do what I always do on the twisty-turnys, hang back and wait for the straight. I won’t resist the urge to tap on the window of someone who has put me in danger. I will not desist from giving them a piece of my mind but I will invest in my environment by making sure that it is a better, more constructive mind that I share.

Wednesday 6 January 2016


The two female voices above my head gently volleyed their subject back and forth. Short strokes passing turn to the other, neither the questions too probing nor the answers too comprehensive, like a heartbeat. Systole. Diastole. One of the voices was my wife, I think, but I wouldn't swear to it, neither was overly-concerned. The slow regular metronome beeps of the heart monitor seemed to punctuate their conversation, each beep a bullet-point of my life waiting for details to justify its existence.
I first became aware of my condition, as it were, one day at Frinton-on-sea or Southend or somewhere. Charlie, my youngest, was splashing in the water, emitting shrill giggles of pleasure. The wife was beside me, sunning herself behind huge dark lenses. The wave rolled in and lifted him before pulling him down. I saw it all happen, even watched for a while, like a YouTube video.  The events developed behind a sheet of glass. Running, mouths open, arms flailing, a limp child. Then I had to drive. Fast. The wife’s mouth was wide open, her eyes streaming. I focused on the road. At one set of traffic lights a Citroën pulled up beside us, the new one with the windscreen that goes up over the roof. I was involved with the campaign. Fabulous visibility if you want to look up, otherwise it was like driving a greenhouse. The hospital carpark was quite empty so we found a space in no time; it’s the little pleasures, eh? They took the kid in really quickly, say what you like about the health service but there’s nothing like a four-year-old with purple lips to get them in action. I took the opportunity to go out and check my emails.
When the doctor came out he said it had been touch and go. He was still pretty shaken up but he would be fine. I could have told them that; the waves had shaken him like a martini. I was probably relieved. The tide had taken him quite deep and he had taken in a lot of water. I knew then that it was the first time I was aware of it because I knew that it wasn't right, something was missing. I realised that I should have felt something but I couldn’t focus on what it should have been. I looked around and did my best to emulate the faces of the people around me. There was a buzz in my pocket, Facebook. I told myself it wasn’t important and checked the faces of my wife and the doctor before pulling the device from my pocket; a puppy meme. Puppy memes are the new cat videos. Their faces changed but I couldn’t mimic this look. Something had changed. I still remember the events but I couldn't tell you what it was.
That night the wife stayed with the boy in the hospital and I took the remaining one home. I explained to him that mummy wouldn't be coming home for a few days because his brother had nearly died and mothers like to be there when these things occur. He took it quite well, but why wouldn't he. I ordered pizza and let him play on my tablet until long after his bedtime.
When the kids came along life changed its soundtrack from laughter with friends at the pub and cosy nights of quiet bliss to noise. Crying from the baby, screams from the wife. I tried to make things right. I bought teething gels, employed babysitters, bought her lingerie but the lingerie gathered dust, the nights out were spent waiting for a crisis call and the baby continued to scream.
I started to live a permanent state of fury, losing my temper for reasons I couldn't explain. The wife told me I wasn’t being sensitive enough to her needs. I could have argued that I was too sensitive to her frustration. Love amplifies pain. When someone you love has forsaken happiness for obligation, the only viable act of self-preservation is detachment.  I started drinking to muffle the pain but that just made things worse. Alcohol allows you to say things that an otherwise active part of the brain would filter. The same part of the brain that is wholly underdeveloped in bigots and zealots and people who speak too loud on public transport. Thing is though, once things are said they cannot be unsaid and women collect pain, like dogs collect fleas ready to be shared on contact.
Our childless friends stayed away. Babies evoke jealousy and sympathy in couples but mostly a fear of contagion.
My days became a cycle of flying cutlery, apologies and a cold back growling 'fuck-you!' before snoring back into the next loop.
Work required one-hundred and ten percent. The wife demanded undivided attention, the kids needed complete care. I got what was left.
Thankfully, the fatigue brought with it a warm muffled haze of exhaustion. The pressure of work became a haven, the relationships were similar but at least I wasn’t supposed to care about any of them.
I think in the beginning it was a conscious thing, I actually turned down the volume and the more I did the more it stayed down. 
I worked in marketing and I was very good. Advertising requires a finger on the pulse, an understanding of the Great British consumer. Empathy. I had that in spades in the beginning, I always knew what people wanted but as the time went on, I lost it. I used to be able to walk down the high-street and pick out anyone from the crowd, I could tell you their drivers, their desires and where I could seduce them into sales. Then they became faceless mannequins, units of consumption. Curious thing was that I got better at my job. When you strip down all the frilly edging, people just want. They want new stuff, they want what you have, they want what you can’t have and they want more. I, on the other hand had trained myself not to want, not to need.
As the kids grew up, the wife grew old and I wore my ties a little tighter. When they went to school she went back to work. After bedtime stories she told me about the flaws in her colleagues and I did my best to say the right things before she left me on the sofa to wait for the alarm to signal the beginning of another cycle.            
The room is empty now, just me and the slow regular beep of my existence. I open my eyes, a slight change in light but little else. I remember events in spartan detail, step by step like history revision notes. Some of the events bleed into others but mostly just bullet-point information.
Work was still going well. It was me that came up with the “Buy these biscuits, they’re better than the cheap ones!” campaign. It became a cult classic, people said it was post-ironic. I couldn’t see it myself. A big faceless company wanted to sell more biscuits so we got some celebrities to tell them to do it. Simple. 
My trips to the doctors began after an incident one Sunday, I could tell you the time and date as well but that would be showing off.
The kids were protesting about something and the wife was trying to out-protest them when a blue Hot Wheels car came flying over my shoulder and landed with a plop in the chip pan. I first looked down at my shirt, one of my favourite Fred Perrys. Then an explosion of tears from the youngest boy and the realisation that the car was bobbing around with the potatoes, slowly sinking. I plunged my hand in and snatched at a potato but eventually grabbed the car, its plastic pieces were a little soft but it appeared undamaged. Fortunately, the screaming stopped. I turned holding the toy in my outstretched palm to see the wife and kids staring. I couldn't remember them looking at me like that before. No yells, no demands just silence. I followed their gaze to my hand and the car. The oil was running down my arm and dripping from my elbow onto the floor. I had saved the car and now she was going to bounce on my balls for a couple of drips on the kitchen mat; fucking typical. The eyes followed my hand as I put the car down on the table. I remember thinking that some of the red paint had transferred to my hand but it was blue. The black plastic of the wheels had begun to harden on my fingers, some had fused. I looked up at them all and offered an empty apology and intention to replace the bloody thing. The Fred Perry would come right in the wash.
All feeling evaporated like sweat replaced by a refreshing anaesthesia. Food and sex lost their flavour and watching films and reading books was an indifferent waste of time but I found myself absorbed by documentaries so it wasn't all bad.
At some point walking became an issue. My relationship with the earth became tenuous until one day I took a tumble down the stairs. Some bones had articulated beyond normal tolerances and one was making its exit through my forearm. Getting up had been impossible. I pulled out my phone with my good arm to pass the time. The kids started playing video games in the living room the moment they came back from school. I was reading an article on the Guardian online about interest rates when the wife got home. She made a terrible fuss. The kids were sent next door to the neighbours. I didn't get to finish the article.
The ambulance crew kept asking me where it hurt which became a bit of a pain. They seemed to be a bit preoccupied with huffing, calling control, huffing some more and asking me where it hurt again. I managed to finish the article before we arrived though.
That began my residence of the University hospital as an object of interest and research. The doctors were a little baffled, they tried dozens of cocktails of drugs for the pain; to cause it. They gave me so many cat-scans that I felt like I was stuck in a drain.

There were so many theories, acquired congenital analgesia, late-onset autism, early-onset Alzheimer’s, Asperger’s. My favourite was one who believed it to be a rare bowel disorder that had caused my pain receptors to overload, I actually laughed. Because as the beep turns to a long flat tone, I don't give a shit.                          
This is the second part of my Love and Marriage Trilogy a dark and harrowing study of what it means to survive the til death doing us part. 

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Tuesday 5 January 2016

Episode 40: A New Hope?

You know me. You followed me around the country. You loved me on the TV when I had you in stitches with jokes about my penis. You followed me in the tabloids, you supported my charitable works. Then you didn't. I don't know why. You just stopped. Now, I have people who love me again. So much that they made me their mayor. This is my new story, From Under Dark Clouds.

She didn’t like it, not at all but I was unfamiliar with her approach. She didn’t shout and she limited her expletives to moderate and non-personal.
“I can’t have a camera in my face twenty-four-seven. I can’t do that again, not now, not with the boys.”
She was right, of course. This was about me and the campaign not her and the kids.
Jude and Roni were downstairs, I couldn’t be sure that she wasn’t recording this conversation. Maybe that explained my wife’s temperance. I went down to lay some ground rules to find Roni with her camera following the kids playing with their Lego.
“Stop!” My demand had immediate affect on the kids but not a twitch from the camerawoman. “Put the camera down, NOW!”
She did but looked up at me with bemused eyes.
It took more than an hour to come to an amicable agreement. She wanted access to me but negotiated like the girl with the golden ticket. Exposure was, is my business and she seemed to understand that like I couldn’t. She would get a couple of interviews with the wife, some shots of the boys, pixelated and with no interaction from her and I would have power of veto on interviews with anyone else. The last one was the hardest. She claimed the right to retain journalistic freedom. I gave her open access to me and the campaign. She agreed.
The narrative would be my fall from grace and subsequent rise.
“And whatever happens after that…” she added.
We wrote it all down and signed it with Jude and the wife as witnesses.
“Well, that’s that in order. What do we do today?” Jude enthused.
“Sit down!” the wife barked. “Same goes for you!”
We wrote out the same conditions, adapting some for copy journalism and signed. Roni relished her loopy signature planting a heavy full-stop at the end.
The local coverage of the attack waned a little until, maybe due to a dearth of real news, the channels all picked up on the foreign interest. The number of Youtube views of the English version of the campaign video was a prominant part of the story as well as one of Jude’s articles in The Cerberus. He beamed. The news was that our news was big news in their news. The attack, the campaign video and even the kid with the bouzouki went ballistic. Just as and when Mike had predicted. That reminded me. I needed to speak to him, he was getting weird… weirder.
My phone buzzed, not its usual ringtone, it just buzzed. I swiped and put it to my ear. Nothing. Looking at the screen, Mike’s avatar appeared. “Hey Boss! The Youtube videos are going viral worldwide but domestic stats are showing significant engagement with over eighty-four percent watching the whole clip. Ninety-six percent, excuse some rounding of figures, are watching more than seventy-five percent of the clips. I have planted a script on all GD and sympathiser sites that phishes all their data when they log in. I am in the process of analysing the emails and PMs as we speak. All online communication, forums, facebook, twitter etc that refer to you, or them, are automatically modified in our favour. Persistence invokes the phishing script.”
“Wow, good work, Mike.” I looked round. Jude and Roni we plainly eavesdropping.
“Oh! And Boss.”
“Yeah, Mike.”
“You have no need to worry about me. We are fine.” The image shrank to a dot and disappeared.
I turned to the journoes. “Wow what they can do, eh?” They stared at me. “You heard that, right?”
Jude looked at Roni. “Just heard like white noise.”
“Me too!” she replied.
I got Yiannis Galtides on the phone and told him to meet me at the town hall. He wriggled tried to schedule for the coming week. I needed to see him now, while I still had the ideas in my head but he was preparing for a tech startup conference in Sofia, Bulgaria. I told him that I was considering him for a consultant or even ministerial position but I need to find out if we were on the same page.
“One hour in the conference room.” I told him.
He agreed.
I grabbed the Vespa keys from their hook. “Get your stuff, you got some journalism to do!”
We stood round the scooter. I looked to Roni and Jude with their flight bags and back packs. “This is not going to work.” I stated the obvious.
Fortunately, they had rented a car but suggested following me on the Vespa. “Who’s that guy in South America somewhere with the VW?” Roni asked.
“Yeah, Uruguay, the president.” He squinted. “Jose Mujica. Drives an old original Beetle. You know he was offered a million for it?”
“Nah!” she regarded the Vespa and pulled out her camera. “Awesome narrative motif!”
It started on the forth kick, with a little choke.
Whether Yiannis and I were on the same page remained to be seen, but we were definitely not in the same time zone. He arrived nearly two hours later with a little girl in tow.
“I needed to see you alone.” I motioned to the child.
“She’ll be OK, she has her crayons.” He looked to her and she nodded. He turned to the journalists.
“They’re with me,” I assured.
Roni pulled out a piece of paper and told him to sign.
I picked up the phone. “Mike, I need a computer game for kids.”
Roni was filming Yiannis signing the paper.
“English,” I looked to the girl, Yiannis looked up and nodded.
“About eight, nine?”
“I’m eight,” the girl confirmed.
“Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. Workstation three, secretary’s office.” Mike instructed.
I turned my back “Oh! And Mike. Keep an eye on her, please.”
“Face registered, surveillance activated. She’s safe, Boss.”
Yiannis took the girl to the door, raised his arm and directed her down the hall.
“What are your ideas for turning this economy round when we get into power?” I asked Yiannis.
“When!” I repeated.
“Well, we need to rebuild the entrepreneurial infrastructure. Build a new generation-wide mindset through tech startups and cross-border commerce.” He leaned back in his chair, rubbed his hands together and smiled broadly.
I looked up at Roni who was flitting around the room with her lens trained on us. “Did you get that, sweetheart?” She smiled and gave a thumb-up. “Now, Yiannis. What do you think we can DO to turn this economy around?”
“We need to expand the Startup Shed ideology to encourage young neophyte ventures to grow into viable value propositions for the world market and encourage international investment.” He dug into his backpack and pulled out his laptop. “Look! I got a powerpoint which outlines the strategy we proposed to Socrates.” He connected a cable to the machine and searched behind the wall-mounted screen for somewhere to plug it in.
“Mike, how’s the little girl getting on?”
“Level three, two upgrades and a bonus. She drank juice.”
“Shut it down at the end of the next level and save all her progress, please.”
Who doesn’t love a good powerpoint? But I was sure he had a lot of preparation for Sofia tomorrow.
At the door, I asked him how many of our accelerator teams had received seed funding.
We had some interest from some major VCs.
“Interest enough to put capital on the table?”
He nodded heartily, “Not yet.”
I wished him a safe trip.
“And Yiannis. Look after that little girl.” She took his hand and lead him out.
I closed the door behind me and wandered down the hall into the secretary’s office. Her head sprung up. She asked me who the little girl was. The screen where she had been sitting was still flashing an animation of Kim Kardashian saying “You are a STAR!” I answered without thought, “A business partner.”
I asked her to arrange some coffee and sandwiches. And, some tea for the Brits. With milk!
Back in the conference room, Jude was tapping away and Roni was reviewing her footage.
“See, investment in the youth is the answer. A new generation of entrepreneurs to bring this country into the twenty-first century.” They each looked up and smiled agreement. “Can’t argue with powerpoint!” I added. They both swung their heads over their laptops.
When the refreshments arrived, Roni peeled back the bread and recoiled. “Anything without meat?”
I picked up the phone and called the secretary. She apologised and promised immediate rectification. I passed this on and she smiled, stirring a third teaspoon of sugar into a liquid milked to a pale ecru. “I need you to get someone on the line and patch them through to my mobile.
“Of course, Sir. Who?”
“Panayiotis Karaletsos.”


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Wednesday 23 December 2015

Making Holes in Water: Chapter One

Before we get started, let’s get something straight. You want to kill them from time to time, husband, wife, don’t worry, everybody does. Well, I do. Problem is getting rid of the body; can’t bury it in the garden, first place they’ll look. No, you need to be smarter than that. It takes attention to detail, planning. It takes the mind of an accountant to get away with it. This is It’s a wonderful life in reverse; what would your life be without them.
James Hamilton is a financial auditor, skilled in the tricks of hiding things in plain sight. He now has to hide his wife’s body as he sets about beginning his wonderful life. Keeping her in the freezer with the oven chips and the Vesta beef curry is only going to work for so long and you have no idea how tough it can be to find a free space to dump a body in Essex. No, if no-one is looking, no-one will find her. So, he takes her on holiday.
He meets Sarah, a girl looking for her own wonderful life. They drive down the continent to Greece, a place where she knows it’s easy to disappear. James deposits little bags of wife along the way while she enjoys being the new Mrs. Hamilton.
Missing persons are not dead; they’re just mislaid until someone wants to find them. And, like body parts, they have a way of coming to the surface.
James is loving his new life but how long can he keep the books cooked. How long can he resist the gravity of suburbia.

Chapter 1

The compressor worked hard trying to bring temperatures down to usual tolerances. It sent warm vibrations through James’ back, massaging the pain of his exertions. The motor shivered stop momentarily then continued; there was still some core temperature to tackle before its new contents would freeze. James lifted himself and opened the lid of the appliance. He moved a family bag of McCain oven chips and a Vesta beef curry revealing a face. She was still there. He replaced the convenient foodstuffs and slid back down to the floor.
He had woken late that morning; the events of the previous night had necessitated a little lie-in. He rolled over and watched Laura lying serene and motionless. He planted a gentle kiss on his wife’s forehead. “Nothing new with you this morning, darling.” He looked over at the clock; 8.37.
“I tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to pull a sickie so we can spend the day together. I know, I know not me at all but today’s going to be different, today we’ll have fun”. He pulled the duvet back and threw his long pale legs out of the bed. Next to where his feet landed was a book-marked copy of Luke Rheinhart’s The Diceman, he swept his slippers aside and swaggered in the direction of the kitchen.
As the kettle boiled James took the opportunity to call the office.
“Jane, yes, it’s James— no, not very,” he coughed. “Well terrible to be precise— no, no I don’t think I’ll be in today”. He half covered the mouthpiece and in an overloud whisper called out, “Yes darling, you go back to bed. I’ll be there in a jiffy— yes, of course I do pussycat.” He heard the giggle from the other end.
“Yes, I’ll see the doctor if it doesn’t get any better—. Well I don’t know, but maybe wise to count on a couple of days.” Another titter. “Well, thank you, Jane—. I’ll see you in a few days then—. Yes, send my apologies to Mr. Giffin—. Ok bye then— thanks.”
He put down the phone feeling quite proud of himself. He made a pot of coffee and poured a cup. He strolled into the bedroom sipping at the hot coffee.
“So darling, what can we do today? Would you like a swim, a little gardening or a drive into the country?” He sat on the end of the bed, pondered the dilemma for a minute, took a large gulp of coffee and made his way downstairs.
At the back of the house in the utility room stood a large chest freezer. James removed the contents of the capacious appliance and put it all neatly on the washing machine.
It was time to interrupt Laura’s slumber. James pulled the duvet from Laura and turned her onto her back, her satin nightdress had ridden up to mid-thigh, which he rectified dutifully. Laura’s eyes still closed, her mouth still filled with last night’s meal. He lifted her knees and began to pick her up in his arms; his back protested. “You’re a dead weight pumpkin, any chance of some help here?”
James opted for the less dignified but far more practical fireman’s approach. Standing at the foot of the bed he pulled her right arm over his shoulder, the rest of her body followed, moving his shoulder into her waist and straightening his legs and she was lifted.
He negotiated the stairs quite well but by the hallway his legs began to tremble. His foot slipped on some paper on the floor. Looking down he saw one of the glossy brochures from the credit cards he’d missed while cleaning up; happy faces selling diamond-white-teeth and push-up-bra debt. James reached the utility room and with his strength all gone, only determination powered him to put Laura unceremoniously on top of the freezer. He leaned against the wall and dropped to the floor exhausted. Laura sat on the edge of the freezer.
James took an invigorating breath and raised himself to his feet. Laura had begun to slip down the wall, he righted her. A corner of paper peeked from her lips like feathers from a guilty cat. James pulled at it, a slightly masticated credit card statement followed by another. “No shopping today pussy cat!”
He hoisted her back onto his shoulder and lifted the freezer door. Laura fitted perfectly after a little twisting of her slender legs. The silk nightdress he had dressed her in the night before had ridden up again and James took a long look.
The frozen prawns and ice cream fit back nicely. He touched her cool lips. “Chill out for a while until I can work out what to do with you. Sorry!” Then placed the family bag of McCain oven chips over her face. He closed the freezer and slid down to the floor.
The motor had settled into a gentle purr when the clouds parted allowing sunlight to pour in through the utility room windows.
On the driveway outside sat the red Volvo estate, its predecessor had been exchanged for a new one less than a year before as had the two before it, every two years and washed every Sunday. James leapt to his feet and strode toward the study. Opening the draw of the big mahogany desk he selected the folder marked “Volvo” and pulled the contents, log book, service history and a few other bits that he felt might come in useful. He put them into a large buff envelope and left them on the desk while he went for a long shower.
Soon he was feeling cleaner than he’d ever felt before, no worries of tell-tale damp patches under the arms, no manic mining of the ears with a Q-tip, no need to shave. In the wardrobe, right at the back he found the cargo pants he’d bought a couple of months before but never worn. Laura, in lieu of comment, had merely covered her mouth and sniggered. The quest was now a shirt, he pulled out a pastel blue Ben Sherman shirt, it had a button-down collar; he’d seen younger men wearing them. With the ensemble nearing completion he looked in the full-length mirror, he looked much better for his thirty-eight years than he had ever thought. All he needed now was footwear; tennis shoes, he’d bought some for the oh-so-dreary doubles match with a fellow auditor and his wife.
Picking up the Volvo’s life and times, he bounded to the door, stopped and caught his reflection in the mirror. He undid the top button of his shirt. In the warm spring air, he could smell every flower, hear every bird sing. He watched a little sports car passing slowly, its driver’s red hair billowing behind her, for a split second she turned and looked at the grey cocoon from which was emerging a wonderful new life and smiled, James felt himself erect quite suddenly.
The sun shone brightly and as the leafy suburb gave way to the bustling high street. He swung into a space opposite an opticians, a car horn wailed past. Stepping out of the car he resisted the impulse to lock and alarm but just bounded across the road into the shop. The young assistant flicked her long brown hair from her eyes.
“Can I help?” she asked.
“Yes, you just might!” She groaned a smile.
“I need some new sunglasses, something a little more, well, current. You know what I mean. What’s trendy?”
The assistant looked through him. “Well,” she began. “We got Ray-ban, we got Paul Smith, we got Police, we got— ”
“Could you just help me pick a pair that suit me or would that interfere with your plans!” he said through his teeth. The assistant stepped back, looked down and huffed. James looked over the young girl’s head to the older looking woman at the counter. She looked up and he caught her eye.
“Can I be of assistance sir?” she beamed.
“Yes, I think I need the guidance of a lady of taste. Would you help me pick something.”
“Of course. Sally, I’ll take over from here. What would you like?”
“Something fresh, yes fresh I want something very GQ”
“Let me have a good look at you,” Andrea, for that was the name on the badge pinned to her gossamer white blouse, looked James up and down then straight in the eyes. “Calvin Klein, this style is very popular with successful young professionals.” Andrea took a pair from the display stand and put them gently on James’ face. His eyes now shielded he took a languishing look through Andrea’s blouse.
“Mirror?” James slipped his conscious thought back into his head.
“What do you think?”
“I think you may need darker lenses, sir.” James blushed.
“Excellent, I’ll take them.” He took out his wallet and thrust a gold card into Andrea’s hand.
“Thanks, Andrea.”
“You’re welcome Mr. Hamilton.”
He didn’t hear the giggles as he left and nor did he need to.
A mile up the road James found exactly what he was looking for, Lancaster Jaguar. Pulling into the car park he saw it, exactly what he needed this time he didn’t need help choosing. The racing green XKR sat on the forecourt like a caged animal daring all comers to take her out and give her all she had. He stepped out of the Volvo and homed in on the sleek creature on her low-profile paws.
The salesman saw the longing in James’ eyes and rubbed his hands together. “Gorgeous isn’t she, no pussycat, supercharged, fully loaded, superb ICE pack.”
“ICE pack?”
“Yes sir, In Car Entertainment, look at this,” he opened the boot. “This here is the 10 CD changer, fill it up and control what CD you listen to from the front”
“Yes, just like in my car. Now run along and get the keys.”
“Yes, of course, sir” the salesman skipped up to the office and soon returned with the keys held high like a trinket glinting in the sunlight.
The salesman cleared the way for the car’s exit then went to jump into the driver’s seat.
“My money, don’t you think I should drive.”
“Well sir, it’s not company poli— ”
“You think I’m going to buy a car I haven’t even driven? You want to stop this here, young man, that’s ok with me. I’ll find another.”
“No, no of course, you’re right” the salesman held the door open like a scolded chauffeur. James was in control; complete control and he liked it.
The car purred, a cliché but it did, not like a house moggy more like a freshly fed beast of the jungle, James put his foot down gently and the scenery began flashing past the windows, the salesman’s smile grew strained and asymmetrical, so he put it down harder. A smile from deep down began to find its way to his face, not the same smile that followed a profitable bit of bean counting or even the rapture at discovering and negotiating a tax loophole, no this smile it came from deeper down, a hitherto dormant area of his being, the red-head, Andreas tits and now the Jaguar. James had the most turgid erection he could remember since his teens. He spotted the slip road and turned onto the motorway.
“Let’s see what it’s got then,” flashing the loin-laden smile at the salesman.
“There are cameras on this stretch of road, Sir.”
He knew the salesman was bluffing. “You don’t keep logs of who’s had the car, do you? And you don’t know my name.” This dog would have his day! And he pushed the pedal harder. And the scenery sped by faster. And along with it went the dust, the dust from the grey suit, the dust from the accounting, the dust from Laura’s spiteful frigidity, the dust that settles on a man who stays too still too long.
By now the salesman was visibly perturbed, a bead of sweat had broken free and was being thrusted back towards his hairline. A tinny William Tell overture prompted a frantic slapping of pockets until he found the small trilling device. “Hello,” he answered a little shakily. He turned to the driver, “They need the car back now.”
“Tell them you’re closing a deal!” The dust-free pilot barked, indicating off the motorway onto a small slip road that ended up in a large shingle car park. Small stones causing a wake as the big cat eased to a majestic halt diagonally in a parking space in front of the once country pub now traditionally themed beefery and bar.
“I don’t know about you but I need a drink.” He extinguished the beast and stepped out adjusting his new shades.
“They need the car back at the dealership!” The red tie protested.
“You want to close this deal or do you want to keep your thumb up your arse.” He remembered somebody tough and no-nonsense saying that in a film.
“Sir, I must protest!”
“You must, but you won’t.”
In a sales pitch knee jerk reaction he retorted, “The button on the key activates the alarm, immobiliser and central locking while also closing the windows.”
The car chirped, flashed and the passenger window closed. “So it does.”
James led the way into the bar and a young girl in a period milkmaid costume approached him. “Would you like a table sir?”
“No, I’d like a drink, I take it you still serve drinks,” she replied in the affirmative and scampered away.
James ordered a double malt and looking at the flustered salesman ordered a second. He spied a couple sitting in front of a stable gate partition eating. Her; pristine, manicured, pedicured, painted and puckered. He; grey, dusty, forty going on six feet under. He breathed hard on the events of the previous night, drank deeply and ordered another.
“Women!” he blurted out and the salesman agreed without knowing exactly what to. “Can’t live with ‘em.” He stopped. “Can’t bury ‘em in the garden!”
The deal was indeed closed in the pub and James was pleased to find that car salesmen could be quite accommodating when you kidnapped them. The final paperwork was done back at the dealership and the Jag would be delivered the next day.
Smug satisfaction filled the man freshly reacquainted with his manhood, like making the school bully back down in front of all the class, like telling your boss to stick his job where the sun don’t shine, like he was going home to reclaim his thrown, be King of his castle again. And he had a thing or two to discuss with the Queen.
Pulling into his leafy lane he noticed a small blue hatchback parked on his driveway, reality dropped like a lead weight in his bowel, he clenched.
Letting himself in through the front door, he repeated under his breath that he was the iceman, the diceman, Clint Eastwood’s greatest fear. He heard a vacuum cleaner humming; forensics?
“Oh! Mr. Hamilton, you could kill someone creeping up on them like that.” The ample woman held her flower print chest as if to keep her heart from breaking free. “Sorry dear, we haven’t met have we. I recognised you from the photos.”
“Mrs. Bassett.” She thrust a rubber-gloved hand toward the trembling King of the castle. “I clean for Mrs. Hamilton.”
The lead floated to his throat, “Jay— James Hamilton.”
“I know luv, dusted your picture a thousand times.” The dustless man digested the lead and adjusted his crown. “Had a bit of a party last night, eh dear? Well don’t you worry.”
“Everything’s shipshape and Bristol fashion again, never you fear. Be finished in a jiffy. Where’s Mrs. Hamilton?” Without thinking James replied that she was shopping. The rotund flower arrangement smiled sympathy. “Cup of tea dear? Hungry? I could rustle you up some egg and chips in no time at all, not proper chips mind, no spuds, but I think I spotted some oven chips in the freezer.”
He explained that he had not long had a sandwich and that they were going out for dinner that night. She scuttled around quite deftly for a woman of her girth and in what seemed like a rather long jiffy was making for the door. “Beds are changed, laundry’s done, I’ll be back on Friday to iron.” She lowered her tone and her head a little, “Mrs. Hamilton usually pays me on a Friday, little envelope on the kitchen table, ever so discreet.” She returned to her relentless tone and pace as she wished Mr. Hamilton a good day and regards to his good lady.
He turned to regard the scene. No sign of struggle. The broken glass that had hit the floor as something snapped within the grey bill-paying, Volvo driver. All cleaned away. No evidence of the thrashings of a vocational consumer, her spiteful goading stifled by her own credit card bills. No trace of the dress ripped down to reveal the silk and lace underwear that he would never take off.
Ship-shape and Bristol fashion! Mrs. Bassett, you have just become my favourite woman.

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From Under Dark Clouds

The Century of DIY