LIFE, THE UNIVERSE AND GOATS
Thursday 15th June Inner London Rotten Borough of Lower Springwood
We are just statistics,
born to consume resources
HORACE (EPISTLES I)
You’re feeling the hard man.
Opening night of your bird cooped in a peter and you’re tickety-boo. No nasty Brutus has come in the night claiming bits of your body. The slab of a door clam-shut.
The cruel coil of coffee from the staff rest-rooms snakes up the stairwell and closets your nasal coffers.
Boots bang the hard green landing. Key stabs black hole. The door coughs a bout of dicky chirping into your blue dream. Opening night of your bird tossing and turning in a private box in the State Hovel of Her Majesty. No charge to be levied. Except on your soul. And that’ll do nicely.
The hairiest danger to your day comes not from fellow boarders or from the hammering of Screws, but from your breakfast. A man carries raw Life in his hands up the iron stairwell. How your fellow boarders loafing on the landings of the Twos and Threes will admire your spunk as you pass on by.
Get a grip! Don’t suppose you fancy an eight-hour ﬂog in the prison foundry? Your ﬁngers ﬁddling the ﬂaps of drainpipes. I’m sorry but you should have thought of that before you did them robberies. You’re innocent! Pull the other one. Be a man and crack on with your bird. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. Life could be worse. You could be trapped in the press box at Ashburton Grove and forced to watch the Arsenal commit north-London robbery.
A full-throated warbling sensation of dickies greets the staging of diminutive General Chopper on to the ramparts of Elsinore Castle; and supported upon the perch of a private cardboard box, hands gripping the wooden rail, General Chopper espies every key movement of the enemy Tosa-the-Man-Mountain and the Nazis with an eagle’s eye. Paws grip the high rail of the Happy House roughly halfway between the Gutter and the Stars, the fortress green landing of the Fours.
A purple haze of peaty honeysuckle hovers from the hippy peter Room 102, and spacehead to the stars Professor Knees and Private Benjamin ﬂat to the fluffy pillow and slaving as hard as say your average European Member of Parliament.
He is the General. General Chopper. A military man to the core. Personal attaché to the Court of Field Marshal Jason Knees. Human collateral consultant to the very best. For when the chips are down, when Life boils down to a man and his bottle, the General is never the one to let the side down.
To the gutter born.
The baby General brought by beak of stalk to the tradesmen’s entrance of the boys’ workhouse, a bundle of dimple, freckle and bone, and stamped upon by Father Dolan telling him every little day of his little life that rubbish should be seen and not heard, telling him he will never get anywhere in life, telling him the basement is not the place to reason why, telling him to stand in the corner with burning hands clapped to a cropped-bowl head, telling him he is too rough at games, telling him he can’t commit muscle-and-bone to the Third Gulf War because he can’t sign his name, is short of six inches and most of his marbly bobbins.
General Chopper licks thin dry lips and cold-ﬁngers best blade of steel against the thigh. For ’tis the sport of the morning beside fellow boarder of Room 101 Gonzalez-the-Basque-Bank-Robber to survey the savannah of the Ones for greater-spotted Nazi. From the wooden rail of the Fours today: Ronnie Priggs the postboy. Red armband. Dead sack of Dear Johnnies he dumps. And scrambles. At a knock of knots. Faster than el Presidente’s promises.
The General’s tiny tinny tranny transmits Bizarre Inc.’s Playing With Knives to ten receptive brain cells.
Why, man, down on the bower of the Ones Doctor Astrid Thysson ﬂoating the queen of an exotic island. The click-click of stiletto heel to the ear-drum of the General the beat of Morse code. The long blonde ponytail. The tight line of the back of her skirt. He laps every delicious detail. Sweet paradise denied of Doctor Thunder Thighs.
The bell! The bell! One ... two ... rings squiventy times.
I spy wid my liddle eye.
The daringest dickies suicide-duck the holey net to be ﬁshers of men. A post-dawn chorus, a cut above the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for harmonic hymning, delights your descent to the Ones. Highest of Heavenly orders. A befeathered band of brothers and sisters and heard by so few of God’s creatures and as honest as the day is our swansong. A salvation army of artistes aligned on rafters and never wavering to serenade the beasts who grovel below.
O Horace! O Virgil! Where now your odes? Closest may we mortals come to the minor gods who creep each dawn to listen to the befeathered choir of Springwood.
The invisible invasion of boiled cabbage violates every warning hair at the levee of the nose.
For the remainder of the day the good General stays faithful to his post. As trusty a guard-dog as the godson of Cerberus, Mrs Thatcher’s lap poodle.
Halfway between the Gutter and the Stars we haul our guilt-heavy heads to the threshold of the Happy House and hang with two hippies a-stirring.
Paleface Benjy sniffs with a pinch of suspicion the pot-free pottage of pre-lunch and spills putrid dreams of damp earth, fried ﬂesh and the clawing of coffin lids making him scramble and cry out many times in the night, ‘Not me! Not me!’
‘Wery worrying,’ affirms the General.
The familiar fall-out of a massive mushroom cloud dimming the ramparts of the Fours and half-invisible at the hardcore core to emerge a mauve butterﬂy the silk smoking jacket of Professor Jason Knees. ‘Ah good morning, gentlemen.’
‘Buenas dias, seňor Mad-Dog Professor.’ Gonzalez spits over the edge with the venom of a Missile of Mass Destruction a dead matchstick — ‘You thsee heem?’
‘Who?’ A shooting gallery of four heads tip over the edge.
‘Heem. I thswear to you on the grave of my ﬁve fathers, I thswear to you on the grave of my four mothers, I revenge my familiesth. I keeel heem.’
‘One should always hunt Nazis on a full stomach.’
‘Cut!’ cries the General, who you can count on never to forget a knobbly head and always to keep score.
‘Cut!’ cries the General like a demented Caesar at the Pythian Games.
‘Keeel! I keeel them all!’
‘Well, General, and what magazine have we today? Ah! The Wonderful World of War.’ An exploding blue twinkle to the space-blue eyes of the shrapnel-brained Professor. ‘Goes down a bomb with toast and marmalade.’
A mission of mercy.
To convert Doctor Thunder Thighs.
General Chopper licks thin dry lips. Hot-ﬁngers best blade. Left. Right. The landing strip of the Fours. Down the iron hill he plunges.
Dust gets everywhere. Dust sits in the back of the throat and rubs the lining layer by layer like sandpaper <—> Balls of dust by the trillion dance down the long barcoded sheets of light ﬁltering the smoked-glass panels of the dome. The Block can never throw off its cloak of gloom even in high summer. At best you’re inside a black and white ﬁlm.
The General plunges one steep step for a pigeon on the crosswalk of the Threes and stomps his men down the stairwell.
Nothing escapes the thirsty eye of the General: ‘Willy die?’
‘Die, old chap?’
‘Willy like lose a load o’ blood?’
‘I think we can safely say that if this chap doesn’t get an immediate intake of drugs we can expect an adverse reaction.’
‘You huff le lick ho le devil, my friend,’ (Gonzalez from the rear). ‘Le hombre shed keeper le blood God ith giving heem.’
A military man at heart. Head of a battalion. For when the chips are down, when the Operation boils down to a man and his bottle of ketchup, the General is never the one to let the side down. He is the General. And should you want a Big Job with guns and tanks and everyﬁnk then the General is your man. What with military training and brown badge for safety with the Beavers.
Hard iron eats soft sole.
Speed-stepping the spangling ﬂoor of the Ones trustees with red armbands are spun a merry dance by their saucer-shaped polishing machines.
One giant leap for a Gang of Four.
One small step for Institutional Insanity.
One gurgle of regret and the Great Gate regurgitates the grimiest goat.
‘Well blow my soul,’ cries Field Marshal Professor Jason Knees, ‘but look who the cat’s dragged in.’
Blah! Nuts to the Beast. Nuts to Life. The Governor sick to the false teeth with other people taking advantage of a gentle, generous nature. Chip-chip-chipping the bone and gristle until he has not a sausage left to offer. And where the medal of thanks? A stinking conspiracy. A KGB or Baby of the Bath should have been plopping on the mat monkey’s moons ago. Well they can sod off and pick on some other Charlie Muggins.
‘Sod off.’ The Governor turns by the Screw on the Main Gate and heads into a bay of concrete.
A private devil tippy-tap-taps the walls of his skull with a hammer <—> Peptic ulcer playing up rotten <—> The rollocking, roasting, railing ransacking from the Beast at the breakfast table reducing his cranial crisis to burnt toast <—> Promises lashed like marmalade to consult the important people over the sticky state of their marriage: best friend Mavis Clarke, Dear Lizbie Browne whose Problem Page in Modern Woman runs a popular campaign against men, Margaret Roberts from the cornershop, last and by all means fattest her solicitor Percy Pettifog.
Common clouds of Sin smother the dome and squall Judgment Day. The mother of all storms blowing from across the Atlantic, says June Stark the Weatherlady, and sane Englishmen are advised to cower in their castles and prepare for cover.
Walls and bars ooze thick blobs of black. A hideous hangover from the wash-houses of Victoria. Ghouls are said to hide in the crooks and crevices. But the ﬂushing of voices in the head is when you should really worry.
‘Lemme in!’ screams the Governor at a bulwark of sheet-metal and wood. Waiting with the patience of a saint.
The ﬂap drops. Bulging bloodshot eyeballs blink: ‘Who dare?’
‘Me,’ says the Governor.
‘The man with your P45.’
‘Oh lummy. Sorry.’