Wet Lace

Her shiny shins gleamed in the lascivious flicker of the candle. Pam had waxed all traces of hair from every bit of her yearning feminine body in preparation for Jim’s visit. Including, whilst absent-mindedly agonising over when exactly blue cheese is unfit for consumption, her eyebrows.

“I like a naked flame” cooed Jim, but not like a dove, like a man paving the way for genital coupling.

c42841c0-378b-41d0-9d0e-d2af760b503c-280-0000004b6a3f1855_tmp“I adore candle light” Pam trilled, but not like a budgie, like a woman inviting a man to persist in paving the way for genital coupling. “There’s just something so…” she searched for the right word, performing an inadvertant little royal wave with her hand as she did so. “…thrilling about striking a match. Grasping the shaft and making it’s little pink head explode with a quick flick of my fingers”.

“Matches” Jim returned, confusingly, too distracted by an overwhelming surge through his groin. A sex storm which shorted his mental processes, like a sort of erotic stroke. A dribbling dog with biscuit balanced on his nose, Jim trembled with a beautiful agony awaiting the command. And Pam ALWAYS issued a command.

“That smell” Jim said through knitted brow, as he tried to place the exotic scent that hung, like like an invisible odour, or an atmospheric flavour, or a mysterious nasal language, in the air.

“You like it? That’s the candle, bought it today. Prosecco and oysters. David Hasselhoff’s new Hoffrodesiac range at Matalan”.

dcf56f88-e240-4f22-86f4-021a6811b632-280-0000004857517143_tmp“Yes, I was wondering why I’d been thinking about the harbour at Whitstable. I like it. They do some fantastic ranges there. Tom Kerridge’s Stinking Bishop Bath Moose is divine. Extremely relaxing and goes great with a glass of red, if you’re an ablution boozer that is!”.

Pam poured Jim a disaronno and Sprite, and sashayed over to the bed to hand it to him. Without warning, she felt an urgent pressure in her colon. With only a split second to settle on a gambit to mask the loud fart that this substantial bubble of feculent tummy gas would inevitably produce, Pam slammed Jim’s drink at the wall, inches from his head. On the plus side the impact and the smashing glass more than covered her bassy bum beefbelch.

“PAM! You’re god damn crazy, woman. Come here you unhinged mare”. Jim pulled Pam onto the bed, and kissed her fulsomely, like a starving man trying to eat an orange through a letterbox. Pam swung her leg over Jim and, in one smooth movement, subsumed his cock into her knicker-mouth.

27101955-2b80-4945-963b-06ec91d1b4cd-280-00000049a7136a35_tmp“Ride me like a rodeo bull, you sexy little cowgirl”.

“Sink your pink in my pocket, you filthy little snookerboy”.

Pam and Jim committed coitus for 7 hours and twenty three minutes, pausing only three times; for the pizza delivery, severe cramp and because Jim thought he could hear a ghost.

Blues and terrible twos

Two constables were working like Dutch whores in stag weekend high season to keep the growing crowd of rubber neckers and busy bodies at bay. As the investigating officer glided through the increasingly unruly throng of curious locals and into the relative calm of the crime scene, one of the officers instinctively went to lift the police tape to allow her to proceed unchecked. To his transitory astonishment, this wasn’t necesssary.

BRITAIN-LATVIA-CRIME-MURDER“This your first suspicious death?” enquired Detective Sergeant Nigel Muck. He was stood at the foot of the stiff: a well dressed, portly middle aged man with an expensive salon cut and bruising to his throat and face. The corpse, that is. Muck was a slovenly shit of a slaphead beanpole.

Without warning she stopped still in her tracks and fixed him with an incredulous, faintly amused look. Clearly feeling uneasy under her searching gaze, he muttered “don’t, er, I mean, well, take as long as you need, this is a real tit-twister. A bloody arsing great shitemare of a head-scratcher”. With that, Muck fished a Crunchie from his Parka pocket, and exited the room masticating horribly.

73e0ff11-7c85-439c-988f-6e6659eeba60-237-00000021f2fac38c_tmp“What happened to the man?” she asked, pointing at the prone unfortunate.

“It’s a bit of a mystery I’m afraid, ma’am” replied a forensic scene of crime officer, who was busily taking photographs, making the tatty little room at the top of this cramped Docklands bedsit feel like the world’s saddest fashion shoot.

“There are clear signs of a struggle, and yet the room was locked from the inside with only that tiny” he gestured with his camera “velux window in the roof. Only about 10 by 12 inches. I mean, you could probably” he tailed off, thinking better of suggesting that his superior could feasibly have been the mysterious Spring-heeled Jack that perpetrated this fiendish act. “His injuries” he continued, “are consistent with strangulation, and we’ve pinned the time of death to between 24 and 27 hours ago”.

ef5fcf00-82a3-4aa8-955d-4f4f42ecce26-237-00000023eccb36ac_tmp“Stangly-ayshon. Twenty teighty four hour wowers” she mused, drawing out and lingering on her words as though they tasted lovely. Her grin disappeared when she saw that the SOC officer was staring at her with a half disbelieving, half disdainful expression.

“NO! Why is the man there for?” she barked. Her unsignalled annoyance made the officer start, and he sheepishly picked up from where he had left off.

“Odd thing is, at precisely that time this room was being used by the young man who rents it. He’s one of those internet vloggers“. The last two words he said with special emphasis, as though at pains to signal that he found them alien or objectionable to utter. He might just as easily have said ‘one of those piss fetishists‘.

He continued. “He was doing some sort of live stream. Four hours and thirty seven minutes of utter bollocks. But as alibis go, it’s water tight”.

She hopped back and forth between legs, all the while shaking her head. Clearly a brilliant maverick, he thought, some sort of Holmesian savant, must be why she’s on the force so young, obviously a brilliant mind. But she was awfully young. Too young. It was silly, really.

“Well ma’am, what happened to him?”.

1ca504ef-2a6c-49c4-a1a4-648662e10519-237-00000029eb554368_tmp“That man POOED himself ‘cos he was very naugh-ty. And then he didn’t, and he did because YOU stangly-ayshon him with you BUM”. On this staccato ‘bum’ she dropped to the floor and started rolling back and forth, asserting every now and then that she was a “floppety spider” and a “no-face”.

The Chief Superintendent walked in at the height of her asylum worthy floor-based antics. “Shame” he muttered. “Such promise but clearly the job is just too damn much for her”.

“Is 30 months too young, sir?” offered the female Inspector at his side. “I mean, if you consider that there are 216 months in 18 years, is 30 months enough time to develop all the skills, knowledge and experience necessary to be a police detective?”.

c7b429be-3340-4ccd-9c31-44ed3273bf3d-237-00000028fd21c83c_tmp“Five minutes ago, I would have replied a resounding ‘yes’. But now”, he paused to observe the diminutive sleuth edging round the room whilst wearing the dead man’s shoes and issuing high pitched squeaks, “I’m not so sure”.

The Reckoning

I

Somewhere, an inconceivably massive number of calculations is taking place. It could be in the cloud, in the clouds or beyond the planets. It might equally be in a parallel realm or outside of space-time, perhaps inside a hollowed out mountain or flowing through a global network of supercomputers. The knowledge of the who, where, how or why hardly matters. Just as the ant neither needs to, nor can know anything of the freshly boiled kettle in the hands of the sadistic child.

Every second a zettabyte of information flows in and is assimilated. Information harvested from computer records, CCTV, biosensors, mobile phones, emails, brainwave monitors, paper records, diaries, dream logs, social media, in short every touch point between ourselves and the world – everywhere we leave an impression, scent, echo or trace – is added to the scales. Unknowable magnitudes of metadata for every living thing on the third celestial body from the G2V star of the Milky Way. All added to the scales. Which way they tip is the Reckoning.

He’d had a good life. Actually, no. That’s just an insipid platitude we trot out to comfort our fear-stricken minds. He was scared shitless at the thought of his imminent, eternal erasure. Even the defensive humour reflex catapulting his thoughts to a never ending purgatory loop of synth pop couldn’t cheer or divert him. No. This was the awful icewater-in-the-face clarity of dying and losing everything.

Think of it for a moment. Think that after you go to bed tonight, in the wee small hours as you lie supine and unconscious, your heart stutters to a stop. And your veins go still and cold. And whatever you are, or were, whatever the beautifully improbable thing that’s been haunting your meat module is, just leaves…forever. Dreams fade to black as the electrical storms in your brain flicker to nothing. And you never wake up. Gone.

He was subsumed by that paralysing, sublime terror. The visceral realisation that our life has an irreversible, immutable end game that has us trembling, pleading and acquiescing all at once. But in actual fact he had, according to the balance of the Reckoning, had a good life.

II

He had always had a keen moral sense. A felt and lived sympatico with his fellows, his lodestar was good intention. From an early age he was peculiarly sensitive to the inner states of others, aware that his happiness, sense of self worth, sanity even were all intimately connected to and contingent upon those self same states in other people.

At the age of twelve he had crossed the playground to stand next to, and talk to, a boy who had been singled out as whipping boy for the cruel pleasure of the pack. At seventeen he befriended a house-bound octogenarian lady on his street, got bits for her from the shops, went round for a cup of tea and to indulge her in her reminiscences. In his first management role at the age of twenty seven he had effectively saved someone from taking their life, although he never knew. The switch from being managed by a bullying autocrat to a nurturing coach was the ray of light this poor suicidal soul needed to summon the will to drag themself back to functioning and, in time, happiness. But he never knew.

He wasn’t perfect. Which, as utterances go, is a little like saying grey isn’t white. Mostly his sins were venal – commuting his bad mood to gormless first jobbers in the service industry, littering, not suffering fools, neglecting friendships. But he was never cruel, never wilfully unkind, never truly selfish.

There was that time, when he was eight or nine, when he kicked a frog over a fence. And the time he tried to evade a fare in a private hire cab by climbing out of one of the back windows. He’d lost his coat in a frenzied tug of war with the driver, having slipped out of it like Peter Rabbit in Mr McGregor’s field. The madcap impulsivity of adolescence. The reckless thrill-seeking of our youth. But yes, all in all, it had been a good life.

III

The Oncology Ward was at the top of a labyrinthine Victorian hospital. High, spartan, white walls gave it that cold, institutional air – imbued with an atmosphere of benign torpor, a stoic resignation that often comes from a foreknowledge of death. He had his own room, at least. In a liminal state, just below consciousness yet still dimly aware of the room around him, he sensed the presence of another close by. His brain logged the fleeting moment of shade as something walked round the bed and in front of the window. Despite this, he felt no panic. Rather, he opened his eyes with a beautific sensation of calm and clarity. Turning his head towards the window he saw a man, well groomed and kindly looking, smiling back at him.

‘Hello Phillip’ said the man. ‘My name is Peter, and I’m here for your Reckoning’.

Phillip nodded, slowly, as though in assent although, in truth he hadn’t understood anything of what Peter had just said. He glanced down to read the identity badge clipped onto the lapel of Peter’s suit jacket. It read:

Peter St. Keys,
Ingress Coordinator
Nacre Gate Passing Solutions

In the kind, calm voice of a parent talking their child out of upset, Peter asked softly ‘you are aware that you are dying, Phillip?’

‘Yes’ his whispered reply. ‘I’m just running on fumes, I know’.

‘I am here to deliver your Reckoning verdict. Now, this will all seem very strange, if not fantastical. I know. But I want you to listen to your instinct. I think you are ready to hear what I have to say, and I also think you are aware that this moment is a transcedent one for you’.

Phillip was neither curious nor alarmed by this. He was aware only of an utterly alien feeling of serenity and perfect peace. It wasn’t just that this was a feeling different in degree to anything he had experienced throughout his life. It was altogether different in kind, hitherto foreign and unknown. It was bliss.

‘I’ll use language that you’ll understand’ continued Peter. ‘We – the entity I represent – deal in big data. Every action, every interaction you have had since you became a sentient lifeform we have collected, quantified and added to the balance of your Reckoning. Every thought, word, deed, sin – including those of omission – every beneficent act or utterence, every cruelty and unkindness, every intention and impact we have monitored and thrown into the balance. You are no special case, I should add. This we do – have done, will do forever more – for every senteint thing. At the end of every life we deliver the Reckoning, which is a calculation of impact, good bad or somewhere inbetween, of that life.’

Phillip smiled and let out a little grunt as he enjoyed a private joke with himself. ‘Are you sure you’re not Peter St. Nicholas? That sounds a lot like his naughty and nice list’. He was eager to amuse this stranger, oddly drawn to him as he was.

‘You’ve got it’ replied Peter through a warm grin, ‘except for Christmas, read Annihilation’. They both smiled. It was an immensely pleasurable exchange for Phillip. Which was paradoxical since it centred on that most feared existential threat. But all thoughts of that were gone. Now there was only a delicious warmth radiating out from his solar plexus and galvanising his entire body.

‘In essence, those with a positive score are granted an extension. And the length of that extension is commensurate with the size of that score’.

‘An extension?’

‘An extension. Advances in gerontology have enabled us to fully crack the millennia-old conundrum of ageing. For a long time we have been able to retard or arrest the process, but now we can reverse it’.

‘Since when?’.

‘Oh, last century, 2016 I think. Don’t worry about the details, it’s enough for you to know that we can and that I am here in that regard’.

‘If you would just humour me’ said Phillip, ‘I’ve been a scientist all my working life. I’m just interested I suppose’.

‘OK. Well, a Japanese team put us on to the epigenetic theory. They honed in on two sections of DNA that control the production of a particular amino acid – glycine. You’ll like this, most people do, they bathed a cell line derived from a 97-year-old in glycine for ten days, and found that it restored the mitochondria’s ability to produce energy and actually reversed some age related defects’.

‘Neat’, Phillip cooed. ‘I had no idea’.

‘Would you like to receive your Reckoning?’

Silence. Just the hum of the ceiling fan, the indistinct hubbub ricocheting up from the street several storeys below, and the buzz-buzz-tap-buzz of a fly being confounded by the window.

‘Yes’

IV

Peter St. Keys looked uncharacterisically solemn as he reached into his jacket breast pocket. His fingers emerged clutching a small piece of paper, the size of a library catalogue card. He read from it in a steady, sonorous voice.

‘Phillip James Gregory. During the course of your 59 years, 7 months, 3 weeks, 5 days, 14 hours, 7 minutes and -‘ he looked up to meet Phillip’s eyes with a wry grin ‘I think that’s specific enough -‘ he resumed his recitation ‘all of you thoughts, words, deeds, dreams, sins – including those of omission – every beneficent act or utterence, every cruelty and unkindness, every intention and impact, has been monitored, quantified, and added to the balance. Your Reckoning, as you face 34 minutes left of life, is a net benefit and statistically significant positive impact. You have therefore been granted an extension of 6 years and 2 months’. He looked up again, narrowed his eyes and whispered ‘well done!’ with a heartfelt, affirmative nod of the head.

‘I’m fine, thank you. I’m ready’.

Peter cocked his head and, raising an eyebrow, echoed ‘ready?’.

‘Yes’ Phillip asserted, firmly yet cheerfully.

‘Are you sure? No-one has ever refused an extension’.

‘Yes’. Phillip closed his eyes. He drew in a long, deep breath. ‘I reckon so’.

Do Unto Others

He felt his fists balling in anger as he watched the Alsatian deposit its feculent pay load, the third of the week, on the pavement between his gate and the road. It’s owner, a bald, badly dressed mouth breather with faded green prison tattoos and a violent criminal stare, sucked vacantly on a vape contraption. He looked like an ape orally exploring a piece of alien technology. The fucking unthinking cunt.

3ea83fe5-bd13-448b-83ab-d2204a2d2999-215-0000003e2e870d93_tmpThe dog finished its crap and lurched off. The man followed, although not before sending a lump of spit hurtling into the hedge. No thought to bag up his dog’s business. A gift to the neighbourhood, a freshly squeezed little tower of shit to surprise unsuspecting shoes and pramwheels. Well, not quite this one. This one was bagged up. With the man and dog still in sight, he followed behind at a discrete distance, the little orange bag of warm crap swinging from his fingers.

He followed his quarry a couple of streets away, where they went into number 25 Staunton Terrace. Biding his time, it wasn’t long before he saw a light go on upstairs. Swiftly he made his move down the driveway. At the door he tore open the bag, lifted the letterbox open with his index fingers and gently jiggled the turds through. With a satisfying ‘phut’ they hit the carpet inside the hallway. Nervously, excitedly, he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out several flat but heavy stones, which he also dropped through the letterbox. As they hit the dog shit they squashed it deep into the carpet fibres, ensuring maximum disgust and difficulty to clean out.

Walking home he felt buoyed by a warm surge of righteousness. Natural justice had been dispensed, a wrong had been righted. Biblical, perhaps, but no less just for that.

a375b65e-df9e-4c0c-a642-b68a2697cbb2-215-0000003dcfad6a16_tmpRounding the corner of Parson Drive, he slowed his pace to watch a young woman size up the gap between a badly parked car and a hedge. Adjudging it too narrow, she had no choice but to push her pram around the car on the road, her mouth drawn tight with frustration. As he crossed over he reached into his coat pocket and clutched his door key tightly. Manipulating it between his middle and index fingers, like some covert prison shank, he slipped his hand back out of his pocket and pressed the key hard into the pristine paintwork of the selfish areshole’s Audi, holding it on to leave a good foot long scratch, in one smooth movement as he walked by. Untraceable. Expensive. A just dessert.

At around 8 o’clock it started again. Mr Mayhew next door always seemed to come to life every evening about this time. The cavity-less 1930s wall that divided their dwellings might well have muffled much of the sound of that analogue age, but it was no match for the decibels kicked out by Mr Mayhew’s Bose bins. Classic rock filled his living room, almost as clearly as it did Mr Mayhew’s. It was a maddening intrusion, an unforgivable encroachment into his private sanctuary. Mr Mayhew couldn’t have affronted him more if he’d let himself in the kitchen door, popped the kettle on and fixed himself a sandwich.

There was none of the instant karma he was used to with this one. No, this was a slow burn, a long game. The first symptom was a ringing in the ears. He knew Mr Mayhew was suffering from tinnitus because he heard him speaking to his family on the phone, when he would complain, rather loudly – no doubt as a consequence – of his aural disturbance. Some months after the onset of the tinnitus he had been delighted to see Mr Mayhew fall over in the street. It wasn’t icy out and it was barely 10 in the morning, so booze wasn’t a likely candidate. No, he was sure that it must be the next symptom. Loss of balance.

730b683e-6b21-4d94-9527-e8d46eb8c4d1-215-0000003f62db286d_tmpMr Mayhew’s inner ear was under attack. The cells that regulated his hearing and balance were losing a protracted and covert war being waged by a cocktail of ototoxic medicines that were being syringed into his gold top every morning. The aspirin was easy enough to come by. Six of those over-the-counter little bad boys every day. The neomycin he liked, an antibiotic with particular toxicity for the cochlear. That, along with the ethacrynic acid, the viomycin and the chemotherapy drugs were hard to come by, but not impossible. Very soon, if it were not already the case, the nerve damage would be permanent. Irreversible. And then there will be no merit in playing your music, will there Mr Mayhew. And our living rooms will fall silent. Yours, dispiritingly so. Mine, blissfully.

He felt a dull twinge of conscience. Once or twice. After all, this wasn’t anything a good scrub with bleach or visit to a car body shop could fix. But it was really the only fitting punishment. This was, beyond doubt, the most heinous of all selfish behaviours. That which invades, pollutes, makes intolerable another’s private space.

And why not?

It started quite innocently, just a mundane mistake. As the minute hand on the boardroom clock jolted to three past nine, the Chair of the Change Management Project Steering Group meeting got proceedings underway.

The last to arrive, Terence sat down next to Gordon Mayhew. His right ankle resting on his left knee, Terence glanced down to witness an anxiety dream made flesh. He could see flesh. Terence wasn’t wearing socks.

img_0188Between the black leather of his brogues and the grey pinstripe of trouser leg, there was a strip of pink ankle on show. All hair, bone and cracked desiccated skin. With great effort to appear casual and unflustered, he swung his leg back under the table and tried his damndest to focus on the overlong, dry-as-dust discussion that followed. But as jaws flapped and pens scribbled, Terence was dimly aware of a distant, almost imperceptible siren. It was not a sound, rather a feeling. A crescendo of something faintly pleasing from a hitherto anechoic part of his brain. The muffled, yet welling klaxon of liberation.

The next day Terence passed over his usual choice of charcoal grey tie in favour of a gold bow tie he remembered was squirrelled away in a box under his bed. It shared it’s forgotten Clarks time capsule with a host of desultory odds and sods from his early twenties, his life as an undergrad. As he clipped it round his chuckling gullet, he grinned at the memory of sharing a late night kebab with Sarah Gough somewhere in Manchester. He, resplendent in a crimson shirt, bootcut orange corduroys and a gold bow tie, she, at the intersection between laughter and aneurism as he baffonishly, drunkenly knocked back a table top condiment bottle of arse-melting chilli sauce. The kind that makes you wonder whether you’ve been kicked up the fundament by a horse while you were sleeping.

img_0186Terence was delighted to note the looks, some odd, some approving, most bespeaking of a dim judgement. He was replaced by Neil McCulloch for an important presentation to the Senior Management Team. On the grounds that “Neil has been working with the data very closely and just has a greater familiarity with it, really, that’s all”. But Terence knew it was the bow tie.

By week seven Terence had drawn the focus of his line manager’s line manager. The golden bow tie sparkled against the obsidian night of a jet black cowboy shirt, all embroidery and rhinestones. Pinstripes had been superseded by salmon pink shorts, which allowed for the full display of white knee socks complete with Morris Man bells. On his head a granny style plastic rain bonnet, bulging at the sides with shaggy ginger mutton chops. Today was the maiden outing for his homemade makrami cape, made up of Celtic knots and vaguely phallic shapes.

He had been warned. In writing. By Human Resources. But it seemed that there was ultimately nothing the company could do. Terence had muttered some mischievous nonesense about his right to express his “gender dysphoria and atypical transvestism” which seemed to inject just enough doubt into the situation to effect inertia on his employer’s part.

img_0187Seventeen years later, as Terence arrived home from his retirement bash, he ‘birthed’ from his erotically decorated Zorbing ball, opened the front door and slumped on the sofa.

Casting off his silver matador jacket, unwinding the neon green electrical tape from his arms, kicking off his spherical shoes and removing the preserved whale foreskin hat from his head, he sat naked for a good hour.

Eventually he pushed himself up from the sofa and plodded upstairs. In his room, he opened the wardrobe and took out a white shirt, charcoal grey trousers and a slate grey tie. He admired himself in the full length mirror. A picture of unremarkable corporate officialdom. A well-pressed, bland yet respectable company man. The very outfit he was buried in six years and seven months later. The outfit he had worn, through a rotation of near identical variations, since the moment he retired.

And why not.

Silk sheath

‘Fix me a bourbon’ Pam barked. She ran her hands down her hips, like she was miming climbing out of a chimney.

Jim went over to the antique oak drinks globe and poured her a measure. He felt his hand trembling with the anticipation of the evening. With growing member squashed in his trousers and balls writhing like a nest of newborn mice, he handed her the glass.

‘Give me four fingers, goddamit man’. Jim quickly poured her more bourbon. He liked her stern tone. It was powerful, dominating, chiding. He felt excited and frightened, like a naughty boy at a nude firework display. He glanced back to see Pam slip out of her custard yellow dress to reveal strawberry jelly neglige. Pink and diaphanous, like a see-through twat.

img_0183‘Ever done it in a hotel, Jim?’.

‘Never’.

‘I have. I’ve been entered in every Ibis in London. Come to think of it, I lost my prison purse virginity in a Benfleet Travel Lodge’.

Pam necked her drink like a stressed cop in an American movie, in the bar scene following the bit about his domestic chaos, just as the narrative arc is taking him to his nadir.

‘She’s hungry, Jim’ she growled, looking down at her midrif. ‘What’s on the menu?’.

Jim almost reached for the room service leaflet next to the phone, but checked himself and grinned broadly.

‘A big pork banger for main’.

‘And for pudding?’ Pam whispered.

‘Bollock yoghurt’.

img_0185Jim dropped his cream cords and kicked them across the room. One flailing leg knocked a cup of tea onto his Exchange and Mart. Jim made a mental note to request a hairdryer from reception later. Advancing towards Pam, he whipped off her bra to reveal enormous nipples, two mighty rivets holding together steel-hard breasts. They were amazing, two beautifully engineeed pleasure domes straight out of a Kingdom Brunel wet dream.

Kissing every square inch of her body, Jim struggled to control his obsessive compulsive disorder. ‘I want your chod rod to prod and sod my love pod’ sang Pam, to the tune of the Dad’s Army theme.

Feeling impish, Jim waggled his bloated phallus.

‘You filthy fuck metronome’ gushed Pam, licking her lips, her facial lips.

‘I only go one speed, Pam’ said Jim. ‘Allegro’.

‘I like it low and dirty, Mr composer, lots going on down the bottom end’.

img_0184‘Get ready for the bassoon solo. I call this next piece, Flight of the Bumhole Bee’.

Jim and Pam locked soft parts for about an hour. Afterwards Pam watched a fascinating edition of How It’s Made all about the manufacture of moulded pulp containers. Jim dried his car magazine with a small hairdryer and did a couple of sodokus.

Bowling at one stump

The training room was on the fourth floor of a characterless office block overlooking the river.  A dull, dirty grey concrete carbuncle probably thrown up in the 1960s, he pondered, as he pushed his way through the revolving door and into a time warp vinyl-floored, neon strip-lit lobby.

‘Enterprise House’ the cliched, faintly ironic name of the building. Ironic since it’s prefab uniformity spoke of automation, ugly efficiency, a dispiriting artlessness that was as far away from the spark of human creativity and dynamism – the true hallmarks of enterprise – as it was architecturally possible to be.

img_0170The bowls of the building were as humdrum as the dermis. The lift was out of order, so he climbed the stairs to the fourth floor, passing a rather forlorn looking – and presumably lost – soft bunny rabbit, slumped against the water damaged wall where it had been dropped by a sleep-slackened hand.

‘Hello, I’m here for the Distraction Training. The name’s Peter Curtis’.

‘One moment please, sir’ replied the girl behind the reception desk, without looking up. Peter went up on tiptoes to take a surreptitious snoop over the counter, and was a little peeved to see her finishing off a text with a flourish of emojis. She smiled to herself as she poked the screen to send her little e-missive off into the ether. To her boyfriend no doubt, Peter thought, his annoyance provoked as much by the realisation that this thought-derailingly beautiful girl was spoken for, as much as it was by her churlish ignoral of him.

‘Go on through, it’s room D16 on the right. Go through the double doors, follow the corridor round to the right and it’s the second door after the lift’. She smiled the sort of smile one squeezes out when someone in a position of power, whom you loathe, says something they deem funny.

‘Thanks’ he muttered, already walking away. Peter could feel himself shrink. He was a very sensitive soul, like a blank photographic plate onto which other people projected themselves, he often thought. It was as though his frame of mind or sense of self were governed by, connected to everything in the outside world by millions of microfine wires, and every little tweak on them, good or bad, sent impulses racing into him, each one recalibrating his psychological state. A marionette boy, jerking and jigging to the tweaks of the world.

The training room was a large, square space with an old oak desk in it’s centre. Three chairs faced one chair, the standard interview set up. Around the edge of the room women sat on chairs with young children on their laps, or crossed legged on the floor, eating or drinking, reading books, a few asleep, five or six running around. The sleeping ones awoke when a large wooden door at the other end of the room swung open and vomited forth three besuited men who were engaged in raucous and jocular conversation. The women, children and Peter all gave the men their full attention as they seated themesleves in the three chairs. The panel.

‘Good morning all, and for many of you welcome once again to another Distraction Training session. There are a few faces I don’t recognise, including – of course – yours’ he gesticulated towards Peter. ‘I think the basic premise of today’s training bears elucidating, for which I look to my colleague here, Mr Brownlaw’.

A few of the children, who were all aged somewhere between 2 and 3, started to lose interest in the men, occasioning their mothers to hiss some stern words of rebuke, and no doubt sanction, into their wandering little ears.

‘Yes, thank you Mr Pepperdew. Mr -?’ he aimed interrogatively at Peter, who swiftly responded. ‘Curtis. Peter Curtis’.

img_0171‘Mr Curtis, I do beg your pardon. Mr Curtis is here for a 30 minute session of Distraction Training. The scenario he has specifically booked onto is our Distraction Interview Training. Myself, along with my colleagues Mr Bronwnlaw and Mr Renshaw, will be delivering the interview part of the bargain. You -‘ he said, pointing around the room at the mothers and toddlers, ‘will be providing the distraction’.

At this point the women got up, coaxed their little ones across the room towards Peter, and went to leave. A few of the children tried to follow them, one in tears, but they were soon distracted again by the cry of ‘who would like some chocolate?’. It was Mr Brownlaw. The children swarmed to him, wide eyed and palms outstretched in hopeful supplication. ‘Mr Curtis over there’ he pointed ‘has the chocolate’. The children came padding round the table. ‘Can you tell me a bit about yourself, Mr Curtis? What is your professional background?’.

The interview had started. Some of the children were still hovering around Peter, expecting treats. The rest were now running about, shouting, playing with the toys that Mr Renshaw had just dumped in a pile around Peter’s chair. The decibel levels were rising, and so was Peter’s heart rate.

‘Well, originally I studied English Literature at -‘

‘What are you saying?’. A little pug nosed boy was pulling at his shirt sleeve.

‘Oh, I’m just telling the man-‘

‘Focus on the interview please, Mr Curtis’ bellowed Mr Pepperdew, looking reproachful with knitted brows.

‘Yes, of course, sorry. Well I subsequently went on to train as a -‘ there was a loud scream, as two little girls fought over a plastic pirate toy. Peter instinctively wheeled round to attend to the sound of infant alarm, but again he was chided, and he turned his attention back to the mock job interview.

After an exhausting half hour, with his ears ringing and his head swimming, the women came back in to collect their little gems.

‘By the way, I should say there’s a toy rabbit on the stairs’ Peter tannoyed to the room, and an appreciative lady gave him a broad smile and a mouthed ‘thank you’.

When the room was emptied of everyone except Peter and his three interrogators, Mr Pepperdew led the feedback.

‘Well Mr Curtis, after a shaky start I’m pleased to say that you did very well and showed admirable concentration and focus under the most testing of circumstances’.

‘Indeed’ concurred his colleague , Mr Renshaw. ‘If you can conduct an interview as expertly as that without the distraction of twelve rambling, babbling, chivvying, mithering toddlers, then I’m convinced you’ll ace the real thing sans distractions’.

Peter walked back out into the street, feeling enlarged, recalibrated, at peace. His Distraction Training had been a success. He knew the job was his.