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                                                            LIFE, THE UNIVERSE AND GOATS


                                                                                   Chapter 1     


                                          Wednesday  14th June   Northanger Abbey Road off Whitehall


Life!  Strictest of disciplinarians.  Taut talons plucking Archie from a mire of obscurity and dropping him nose-splat in a dungheap of heroism.

   No-one who slaps eyes on the runt from sprogging will suppose him suckled a New New New Labour hero.

   A cold comfort farm litter of one, thin awkward figure, piggy skin of yellow and weak features — so much for his person — and not unfertilised for heroism seems his mind.  For Archie kindles not a twit of his parents’ talent for public service.  Aspires not their shining public bushels.

   A low spark as fairy atop the Christmas tree, or sacrificial lamb in the Nativity play, lack of inches, brain, hair, the predilections of father and mother swing equally against.

   Father practises the laying on of hands as Bishop of Lower Springwood without being neglected or poor.  A respectable man but with a name of Gordon.  A man given to the pursuit of sadomasochism.  A man of girth. Generosity.  And not in the least bit addicted to locking up his son.

   The lonely only forgotten begotten son.

   Mother serves the community as a White Witch highly respectable in the modern Church of England.  A woman of plain sense.  She burns beacon-like on the radical wing of the Women’s Institute.  The church press, glowing in its high praise, calls her a lay-lady of leading light who goose-marches in the avant-Gestapo-est of circles.

   How appalling for the Good Author to report Archie the loneliest lamb-i-kins in Christendom.  Not a wit inspired for New-Age heroism of the woolliest Labour kind.  Fond of all girls’ plays and greatly preferring dolls to guns or cricket.  Compelling father, if reason be needed, to pen the lamb promptly for public school — a suitable knocking shop where the lamb can earn his stripes.

   The Lamb of the Family Loins fails to grasp the bones of Life.  Greek. Latin.  Fagging.  And to reward such stunning mediocrity he is grilled for a career in the Civil Service.

   The Gentle Reader may bet a bottom buck on the mature Archie boring a hole into the legs of the deadwood ranks to happily hibernate but for that too too cruel mistress — Life!

   Gentle Reader, we warp our minds forward to a wicked decade.  When that cunning fox el Presidenté Tony Blair rudely rages democracy on hot air, sea and land.  Poodle-in-Chief of the Mad Axis Forces.  Smarting rose-fresh from good hunting in the Iranian and North Korean oilfields.  And on the home front under forests and national parks.  A fifth whack at democracy.  Rank, satanic, heady days when scandals of Sex and Favour run rife.  Comes to mind the Majorist, most sordid of a myriad of murky scandals.  So stiffen the sinews and garter the groins for a sorry tale of treason, treachery, sexual depravity, betrayal, injustice and all the other admirable traits that elevate the Englishman to the eyes of a wondrous world.

   The best of times for a spawning of government spin doctors.  For New New New Labour bends to privatise Her Majesty’s prisons.

   (And a grateful nation responds with a generous show of apathy.)

   Home Secretary Straw-Boot, secretly a bastard rebel, seeking to scupper the plan before he is appointed a spot of proper work, and seeking a sacrificial goat.

   (A wholly bizarre woolly coincidence for Archie’s mother remains famously partial to a sacrificial goat.)

   Gentle Reader, we fly to a bog in the bottom bucket of a greasy building deep in the bombfields of the heavily condemned Northanger Abbey.  The Queen’s lowest grade civil servant the singular Archie skiving the day dram by dram.  Hip-flask of firewater for a sacrament.  Daily Trumpet for a Gideons’ Bible.  Swig swig.  Rustle rustle.  A soulless shrine to religious chilling.

   Strictly in the lines of duty and hands full of a case of cocaine Home Secretary Straw-Boot crashes the cubicle next door, nose to the grindstone, a man in a rush, skis the slippery slope of soap <—> a blow for the nation <—> but Archie is on hand <—> the nation relieved <—> and Home Secretary Straw-Boot relieved to free groinal truss from hot water pipe.

   What better avant-garde revenant adventurer — Home Secretary Straw-Boot leaks to a life-raft of listeners to Radio Whitehall Village — to float the nation’s penal policy in the sinking-ship century?  What better unheralded hero to blow the whistle — at the wheel — on the poop deck — at the helm — of a flagship — the very first privatised prison?

   Three cheers for Captain Archie!

   Free red light warning: beware the Vicebergs of Life:


                              On the backs of blessings greatest

                              Burdens heaviest hitch a ride


[Editor: The publishers have asked me to demonstrate how they do not promote the practice of hanging about public toilets.  Notwithstanding, if you feel yourself drawn to this activity, ring the number printed on the inside cover and we’ll chat.]




The slow lingering torture of Life.

   Archie arches red eyes to a tent of blue <—> Strange that the sun should be blasting for a first fart in a month of dog days <—> Shafts of pain poleaxe the spine <—> Pain racks your frame from backflap to sternum <—> The morning ritual begins <—> The first exercise of the day Tail grants to Trunk <—>

   Soul and the peachiest parts perfectly attuned in pain <—>

   Pain <—> Cold stabbing pain <—> A personal octopus stretching poisonous tentacles to tickle the tips of your fingers and toes <—> Every cell corrupted with bad electricity <—> The devil’s harpoon drives pain through paper skin, bad bone and clotted marrow <—> down the spine and back again <—> tingling along fibrous wires <—> an inner network of nerve- endings alive <—> on fire! <—>

   Flushing hot like Hell <—> Perishing dungeon-cold <—> Scratching without <—> Itching within <—> Piercing sharping needles fizzing the skin <—>

   Here lies the gerbolic Governor of Springwood Gaol.

   Shiv-er-ing and shaking <—> pinched and gripped at the shoulders and arms <—> trying so hard to control the spasms <—> to lie at peace and at one with the world <—> When from a volcano rips a molten ball of lava to smash through the walls of his stomach and scorch a train of bullets behind <—> Shot and numb with poison rolls Archie to suck on the pillow <—> Ow-wee! <—> Oh how he wishes the quaking will go! <—> God’s morning infliction <—> Curse of the half-dead <—> A conspiracy against those souls wicked from a past Life <—>

   For the sport.  For the Hell of it.

   Under the marital counterpane toes throb to the pulse of poison <—> God reeks a ribald revenge <—> A lump of raw Logic and Life’s lashings makes sense <—> Reality is a curse succoured by the gods to those souls wicked from a past Life.

   And conspired against in this Life.

   Too readily a shrivelled soul to the devil to sell for a large scotch followed by another.  Warm and golden nectar sliding sweetly down.  The most heavenly of medicines to wash away the aches and shivers of pain, tremors, shakes and stabbing pains, pinches, panics and pokes, quakes and quivers ... oh my God!

   A perfect vision of loveliness before a mind’s eye!  Golden and warm and velvety.  And the vision is always with him never more than a blink away.


   The Beast of the Bedroom bounds the stairs bent on bullying.  No escape!


   The Beast!  The Beast!  Rising from the Underworld and snorting nearer ...  nearer ...


   Archie’s soul screams in desperation <—> She can sniff his fear, can snuffle a tongue at his morning inflictions and with an all-seeing eye to sink her barbed darts to the bull’s-eye of the nether-skin <—> He flees the bed in a flash of a pickled walnut and jars on the edge <—>

   Suddenly the room smaller than a prison cell and so very warm and muggy he cramps to breathe <—> The heat! <—> Must get out! <—> Too late! <—>

   ‘Well well,’ bays the Beast, breasts bursting a yellow floral dress, riot of auburn hair a ring of fire, ‘if it isn’t Mister Floppy.’

   ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones —’

   ‘But turds like you will never hurt me,’ belts the Beast and with a railing finality of tone that denotes, if solely for a semiquaver, he is battle-glad to have bed as shield between body and wife.

   ‘Oh don’t you start,’ he returns but reeling from the breath of the Beast basting the hairs on the back of his neck like dragon’s fire <—> ‘I’ve a pig of a day in that stink pit.  Mother Goose poking fun I need like a hole —’

   ‘Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t pump my Brief on your little problem.’

   The usual subject rears its ugly head.  ‘I’ve told you hundreds of times, dear.  The specialist is banking on psychological.  This work-related stress business is costing me —’

   ‘Don’t you dear me!  You call yourself a man?’

   He fakes juvenile indifference.

   ‘I don’t give a toss,’ roars the Beast.  ‘I don’t give a toss about your grubby little penal seminary.  Little here the operative word.’

   ‘Ho ho.  My ribs are splitting.’

   ‘Don’t tempt me.’

   Not an inch will he not trust the Beast not to be grabbing a butcher’s at the blue grapes and banana below.  Archie is having none of it.  Left hand cradles the James family fruit basket and right hand rakes a stray sock from the floor.  Cruelly his arm jerks of its own accord <—> empowered with a residue of bad electricity <—> and his hand cups the sock with the consummate conviction of a crumpled vine leaf <—>

   She has him trapped.  Trapped in a stuffy bedroom.  Bare and butt-naked no way will he risk a run for freedom.  She fills the frock.  Fills the crack of the door.  Fills his heart with bollock-loss-a-phobia like the great beast Cerberus guarding the gates of Hades.  Bravely he chances an arm — ‘Don’t you think I’ve enough on my plate without you banging on —’

   ‘Banging on!  I am not banging on, thank you very much!  And that’s enough foul language in my house for one day.  You stay out all night with your fancy woman, Archibald Hornblower James.  Hell can freeze over before I’ll come buggering and pick up the pieces.’

   ‘Fancy woman?  Have you gone stark Maggie mad?  God give me strength! You can’t resist sticking the boot in.  Kick a man when he’s down.  Why don’t you.’

   ‘Man?  You call yourself a man?  Don’t make me laugh.  Mouse more like. Do I look like a fool?  I was not born yesterday.’

   Archie shivers worsterer than a newborn lamb <—> Jerks wildly <—> Tethers teeth to tongue.  Ducks to spot long-johns lurking under the bed though how the hell they had gotten so bogeyed and yellow and blotchy he hasn’t the darndest idea: ‘I’d like to see how you’d cope with a factory of nutters.  I grind my knuckles to the bone to put a roof over your head and this is the thanks I get.  A large slice of your nag pie.  Now if you don’t mind I need a bath.’