Gas looming through the smog in divers places. Dig the deformed streets of Springwood! What the dickens were they thinking of when they put up her tumbledown housing estates? The raw afternoon is rawest and the muddy streets are muddiest and the dense smog is densest near that leaden-headed old obstruction the nuclear-rubbish-incineration-plant. A mad English prince opening a new wing in 2010 and calling it, ‘A monstrous anal carbuncle festering on the pox-ridden butt-cheeks of a much loathed and leaking friend.’ Springwood is more accident than man-made scheme, a discarded abortion at the intersection of the North Circular Road, the M25 and the New Road. England’s poorest borough. England’s most rotten borough. England’s most radioactive borough. Boasting a high street with proper shops and a luminescent prison.
So all aboard the good ship Springwood! A third-class cabin groomed for your pleasure. You have done the crime and may now enjoy the time. A guest of Her Majesty measure for measure.
Her Majesty’s Prison Springwood is nowhere near as appealing as her bigger sisters — the famous ﬁve-star prisons of Scrubville and Wormhill. The beautiﬁed Scrubville offers free wall-to-wall electricity (for a courageous programme of correction). Wormhill conducts chemical research under the charge of a Doctor Mengele from the Home Office. But the ugly sibling Springwood made up of the one prison Block, Victorian barracks of black brick and soot, not built in the strict neo-gothic style as the chthonic. A crack’d glass dome its crowning glory. A squadron of dickies plunder a wonderland of mutant insect wildlife.
A magic forest of mushrooms and pot plants thicket the cell of that misty stargazer Professor Jason Knees high on the Fours, Room 102. We soirée to this oasis of puff and poetry in two shakes of a lion’s tail, when the moon is high, around the witching hour, and our birdie friends are fast-nested on the Destroyer-grey rafters of the good ship Springwood.
The prison Block slumbers not much like a brick of cadmium sulphate in the afternoon smog.
We sniff a shallow shack of dirt and glass festering in an unkempt corner of the empty exercise yard. A rusty cruciﬁx riveted to the red swinging door advertises the trade within to the lost sheep without: † a House of the Lard wavering on stony ground.
What to our untrained eyes resembles a potting shed nestling in the bruiséd shadows. A butcher’s within and we uncover six beds of a hospital wing. No prisoner is allowed to lick wounds around this neck of the woods as the Governor has decreed this would likely breach security.
The beam of the eye — O Gentle Reader — is hooked to the carpet rolls of barbed-wire <—> the razor-snakes gladdening the heart and littering Her Majesty’s Estate at Springwood <—> Would Her Majesty be game for a decent spot at shooting — or a welcome change from potting rotting peasants — perhaps Her Majesty swings her sights at the swollen rooks and ravens on the boughs of the Main Gate and prison walls. Benches of Beaks reserve judgment on the weedy specimens below. ‘Haw-haw! Haw-haw!’ They can check out any time they like but they can never leave. These darkling beasts reign from the dreary skies of Springwood in like manner to their cousin vultures who deliver justice from the death skies over the plains of London Fields.
Beware the slumbering Leviathan nesting the Main Gate — the mighty Admin Block! A parasite army of shirker ants bivouac unseen within these palatial chambers of the species humanus clericus.
For many a blue moon Governor Archibald Hornblower James (free from the ﬁre of the Beast) and his ﬂock of bagmen when they are touring their ﬁefdom ﬁnd their wishes ﬂeeting to their favourite watering hole. To a clipping of the beaks. To a wetting of the tonsils. To the George W Bush Management Bar. Demented neon signs pump their lumens and illuminate the snakes of razor-wire without (waiting to entrap the nocturnal wanderings of any staggering Screw) like the streams of tinsel on a Christmas tree.
One naturally wonders what that rascal Horace would make of the Killing Fields of Eschaton Street, Lower Springwood. Nil desperandum his motto on the Main Gate. Si possis recte, si non, quocumque modo rem on the portals of workshops, where workers are rehabilitated, whether they like it or not, with a prisoner’s living wage of £4.40 for a 50-hour week to provide luxuries like sheets and food.
If possible honestly, if not, somehow, make money
Why man, we spot Governor Archibald Hornblower James boldly bestriding the hard exercise yard the brave gerbil.
Scampering for cruel Life from the sickening excess of the wide open black
expanse of concrete, each pigeon-shuffle one peck closer to the safety and sanctuary of a private den, to the filing cabinet, to the bottle of golden medicinal scotch waiting for a rainy day filed within.
Run, Gerbil, Run!
The taste tricks the brain, tantalises, trips the toe, tips the buds of the tongue into termite hills. Inexorably the bladder leaks, the brain blows off Mount St Helens, chin dribbles a waterfall.
Throat drier than a desert goat’s gonads the Governor shivers a winnowing Cockney sparrow before the overhanging cattle-grid and cat-ﬂap of the Great Gate.
Gird the stomach, pluck the loins, brace the bollock-strap, brick the walls with our English dead.
A stretch of green linoleum hard-baked like a June football pitch. Staircase to Heaven (or Hell) centre-circling like the iron creepers of Jack the Beanstalk. A blanket of chicken-wire overhead rusted and holey. The stench of rotting Life soars to the bridge — to the hilt — to the scabbard — Stand by your beds!
The overpowering rabbit-hutch punch of putrefying men.
A Gerbil on the promenade deck!
Come to praise Caesar, the great unwashed of the Donald Trump Prison Block overbearing and overly keen to relay from rails of wood their warmest wishes — suppressing and mill-stoning the shoulder-blades, sickening the stomach, scampering and reaching and reaching the heavy grey door slap-shut. Safe. Safe and snug and a richly deserved mug of glorious brown sewer-fluid to ease the stresses and strains of a back-breaking day. Ah. Bliss. The smallest splash of spirits you can imagine. Barely a drop. Good enough for a refill. Glug glug glug. Down the hatch it ﬂows. Warming the blood. Another. Ripples of peace to pacify the ocean storm of body tremors.
Boom — boom on the door: not good for the Governor’s poor fraided nerves.
Leading belly-bowl and brass buttons, Deputy-Dawg Blunkett bursts a blue barrel of bluster. Droopy bushes of grey overhang tired rheumy eyes not of a younger pup. Impudent improper pig-rude dumping of deep-piled top-secret files, buff-fingered folders, upsetting the Governor’s golden pick-me-up.
Behold! Mark how the face of the Governor lights as when a boy at boarding school and receiving rumour of a present at Christmas.
He contemplates the lavish spread, delicious documents very very tasty, reports from the High Court, reports from the most serious crime squad, reports from desperate university deans and over-worked students, reports from the highest-paid Shrinks out there.
Stamped Top Secret and cover-sporting a health and safety skull-and- bones, yellow-wasp hazard signs, scribbled warnings, and a steel dead-bolt trip-lock, the cover covertly coveted; Governor James greedily fingers the gold lettering JASON KNEES, ‘My my,’ and ogles for a moment the gift befallen from the lap of the gods now laid before the greenest of eyes. He hovers with the lust of a Fagin. Scaly ﬁngers claw the yellow ribbon and clasp the goodies inside. Revenge served hot with rabid relish.
‘I suppose my thanks are in order.’
‘You’re out of condition,’ snorts the Governor before a trough of red mist and to the dumping of Blunkett’s bulge into the midden of papers. ‘No, don’t thank me ...’ The Governor raises the firm hand of management — ‘... but I’m pushing you forward to run my next management training course in the Welsh mountains.’
‘Could mean a promotion in a ﬁve to ten stretch, say.’
‘Funk you, sar.’
A strong steady slug to civilise wild overstrung nerves and he is quivering high normal. Hot on the trail of the enemy he cold-ﬁngers a sheet of long, incomprehensible, benumbing words and symbols — ‘I’ll let you into a secret. That lunatic bastard lunatic Jason Knees has bent out of his way from day one to make my life a misery. A misery.’
‘Hat’ll be two lunatics, sar.’
‘Knees is ruining our lives without lifting a ﬁnger. Knees is a nutcase. A twisted crackpot psychotic nutcase.’
Big-blustering Blunkett doffs a blue ﬂat cap and ruffles a grey rug of wool — ‘Hiff you don’t mind me asking, sar, but how mad is our Knees friend exactly?’
‘Well, Blunkett, we’d be talking barking cuckoo mad. Like herr ... Jeffrey Archer mad.’ Archibald Hornblower James, hero to the people, grails in wild circles the dregs at the bottom of the cup. ‘Why couldn’t they send the bastard to a loony-bin? Uhmp? Why’d they have to pick my prison? Where’s the justice in that? They should’ve left t’ bastard to rot.’
Bars bars everywhere but never a decent drop to drink. ‘I can’t think in this place.’ The Block banging a bedlam of brain-damage worse than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The Governor drags from the bottom drawer the bottle of blended varnish-remover reserved for the rainiest of dog days. Life. Life is a conspiracy. Life likes to rip the rug from under your feet, boot you in the ribs and laugh in your face. For the Hell of it. Life. If the Governor had his time over again, next time he wouldn’t bother.
‘How is it possible — you explain this to me — how is it possible for one man to be bagging government funding for six doctorates?’
‘Should be a law against it.’
The hit to the bridge of lively spirit reviving the memorial corpse of a murderous week wasted in the High Court and high public stink of pleading for mercy before their Lordships.
‘Now Professor Knees claims he can’t do a proper day’s work ’cause he needs reg’lar eighteen-hour naps — ’snot normal.’
‘I swear on the wife’s grave ...’ The ghastly ghosts of judges in satanic red robes injuncting for the Governor’s blood arise before the black-ash management desk. ‘... I proved beyond a ﬁddle of doubt Knees is as mad as a church mouse and the bastard judge had me thrown out of Court ...’
‘A stupendous day for British justice.’
‘Thank you, Blunkett. At least somebody is listening.’
‘Ho it’s nothing, sar.’
A Life sentence to the heart every kick and barbed tail of every message scratched into the Wailing Wall of white bricks.
‘I tried pushing our pycho-bollock-boys into the witness box —’
‘Our what, sar?’
‘You mean our psycho-geologists.’
‘Has I remumble as they tooks a keen interest in you when they last charged the door.’
‘Ghastly people. Pestering and poking their noses in your private life.’
‘Missus James says you haven’t got a private life.’
‘Missus James ...’ barfs the Governor, imbuing the anathema with as much venom as a birdie frame can muster.
‘Steady on, sar. Missus James says yoos not a well man.’