The Great Gate groans from the depths of Hell, grinding steel on steel and grating the nerves of the shivering Gerbil.
‘Snumph! I codder died a death out there.’
‘Blunkett, you’re an idiot.’
‘Funk you, sar,’
‘You were born an idiot and you will die an idiot.’
— ‘Say hello to the Governor, boys.’
The bass drum of the devil smashes the skull with a sledgehammer <—> Stomach drops through the green linoleum <—> Throat seizes the strangles <—> Skull spinning <—> Weak and wobbly knees <—> Shit <—> A voice to die for even in the depths of the devil’s privy <—> The Governor swivels slowly to confront Heaven-blue eyes:
‘We’re off to see the Doctor for drugs.’
‘I see. And what part of drugs did you have in mind?’
‘Blessed be the dry at heart. For they shall receive stashes from Heaven.’
‘If you seriously think I’m giving free drugs to every Tom, Dick and Harry who dumps on my doorstep ...’
‘Governor, I’m ashamed of you.’ Pain zaps from the tip of a foreign ﬁnger and zippers the pigeon bones of the sternum with the force of a dentist’s drill <—> He staggers <—> Head throbbing <—> Hot blood races round and round hyperballistically <—> He faints before the barrier of a blinking freckled midget, black man and Mexican bandit <—>
... Leaﬂets ... lectures ... yes yes ...
‘... your full support ...’
‘Support?’ squawks the Governor and gerbil-charging the black man. ‘Yes of course. Now, gentlemen, excuse me please ...’
The gold nameplate on the office door glisters a sweet familiarity. Sanctuary. Fired with the determination of an Olympic sprinter on steroids he forces knees to pump at speed. Across the home-plate of safety. Fast ﬂops to the ﬁling cabinet. Fast ﬂows his favourite medicine.
Freefalls the souls of the dead.
A gutful of Knees’s open-house jibes. The Beast and her homegrown mutiny. Overdue the pot of medals promised at the privatisation party. Order of the Bath ... BBC ... TCP ... Top table at Lodge and tax-free share options toiled by a man of the people. Your angry red-top punter at the breakfast table must be made to agree a Hero single-handedly should be held responsible for liberating a backward Dickensian institution. The bad old days gone for good. Springwood two-to-a-cell, not ﬁve. Springwood with proper toilets and running electricity. Screws are no longer Screws, they are Client Managers. And every man-jack of ’em will readily be pushing their mothers for the management training courses in the Welsh mountains.
Knees peddling the white lie they have a drugs problem. Another red herring. Another rollmop. And the Governor of Springwood Prison will not be swallowing the bait this time.
Easily the best Governor in the country. A handsome highly paid Pioneer of Privatisation. Neck ready to be wrung with the over-rich rewards of High Office.
Blundering Blunkett bushed, burdened and buckled by a bale-weight of budget sheets, brows bursting with bile and bad eggs and bacon rashers and bottom burps and big bellies blustering, ‘Bad news, sar.’
‘Spill the beans.’
Boom-crash the budget sheets.
‘Hiss the Accountants’ Union ... hup in arms.’
The Governor rocks, scotch in hand, the cradle of crack-leather comfort. ‘I’m scared witless. What? Planning to attack me with a biro? Militant wing ﬁddling for blood? No don’t tell me — run out of paperclips — ha!’
‘Accountants’ Mob reckons Chef’s been shaving t’ Catering budget.’
‘Shaving a budget? Make sense. This is a prison. Not a bloody barber’s shop.’
‘I wouldn’t know, sar.’
‘Catering ... Catering ...’ A pot of trouble thumbing the budget sheets on account of his right hand’s refusal to stop shaking — ‘... Oh this is hopeless ... Where’s Catering?’
‘... You remember telling Chef and the boys you hex-peck them to be hot-shot Managers, don’t you, sar? ...’
‘... And, sar ...’
‘... Then there was the training ﬁlms and the lectures you dished out, wasn’t there, sar? ...’
‘... And who can forget the barnstorming sessions? ...’
‘... Which disney last long as I recall ...’
‘... And, sar, you must remember dat weekend in the Welsh mountains when you upset dem gypsies ...’
‘Oh for f —’
‘... And Clarkey’s todger got frostbite bad ...’
‘... And the rescue men drop him down the mountain for laughing ...’
Foetid foreboding forces the stomach up the windpipe with the force of a jet-stream from Hell <—>
Incomprehensible digits scurry the page like ants on acid.
Daily Food Allowance Per Customer:
He traces the row Actual Spending Per Customer ...
‘Oh my God!’
A wormhole rips the stomach and reaches the portals of Hell <—>
Tormented by the tail-devils of Sanity, Career, Pension, swirling the Toilet Bowl of Life, down the tubes and out of sight.
‘Wrong? Every-stink’s fucking wrong!’ The Governor regards with hairy suspicion the rug of grey wool and grey bush: ‘No wonder poor sods keep complaining ho being hungry. Wahhhhh!’
‘No need to swear. Hiss not my fault if the accountants are threatening to strike.’
‘Strike? Who said anything about a strike?’
‘They reckon topping prisoners lies outside their contracts of hem-ployment.’
‘They’re wanting money up front. Strictly on the nail per stiff.’ Stiff shoe shufﬂe, snowfall from fragged fringe of a grey rug, countering, ‘The Union wants a cut.’
‘Cut? Cut? Where do I keep hearing that?’
‘I’m sure Cheffy’s shaking his best.’
‘Best? You call mass starvation best? Good God!’
‘Chef reckons his he-conomies have saved you fowsands.’
‘Really? And wadder you think Amnesty fucking International will say when they suss how we make our economies?’
Stomach straining a Captain’s effort of steering a straight ship. Brain keeling a cesspool of pirate possibilities. None of which hauls a BEM or Duck of the Bath. Wrecked. Conspired against. What makes simple people steer for clear water? What terrible water sport ever sprung? A converted New New New Labour man. Detests blood sports. Gives to charities. And why isn’t Life fair? The Law of Averages dictates it should be some of the time.
Above all else why is it nobody listens?
‘Now I’m forced to explain to that Bunch of Bleeding Hearts from the Home Office how we sustain two hundred ﬂagship prisoners on the anorexic diet of a sparrow. Wahhhhh!’ Deep down. Deep down in a private pool of pity. And he doesn’t care one jimmy. ‘How am I to know? They all look the same to me in their striped shirts.’ Slithering down. Deep down. Mud-brown sap sanitises the sewer pipes. ‘Feed the sods on pâté de foie gras for a month or roast ox stuffed with wood pigeon and you can soon spot the difference. Wahhhhh!’
‘Don’t let them get to you, sar. That’s what they want.’
‘Here. Have another.’
The Governor pleads to the barred window, to the wild potboiling tent of black. ‘Snumph! I promised Rev Green hun Doctor Thunder Thighs I survive on the same pigswill!’
‘Sssh! There there. Don’t cry.’
‘I’m not crying.’
‘Yes you hiss.’
‘No I’m not. Dust — see — done.’
‘What you need is a holiday. Show ’em who’s boss.’
‘I’m the boss.’
‘Yes you hiss.’
‘Stuff ’em! Stuff ’em!’
‘Stuff ’em, sar.’
‘Stuff ’em!’ Driven by a desperation to stop Career, Big Job and gold-linked Pension nose-diving the Toilet Bowl of Life where Marriage had ﬂushed, drenched with the cold truth that when Troubles anoint your crown they wouldn’t bother with anything less than a deluge, red devil drilling ﬁve-prong trident into the fore-lobes of the liver, he hogs the budget sheets steaming <—> ‘Stuff ’em!’
‘Yes that’s what you gunner do — stuff ’em like prize turkeys.’
‘Hiss tat legal, sar?’
‘How many people know about this?’
‘Know about ...?’
‘This! This! The budget sheets!’
‘... ooer ... me ... you ...’
‘... hack-count-ants ...’
‘... Chef ...’
‘But that’s my point. Don’t you see? No-one gives a stuff apart from the pen-pushers. And it’s not as if they count.’
The ﬁlthy creek backwaters of the brain ﬂow catatonically. Don’t panic. See sense. You’re a highly trained Big Fish. ‘What are we forgetting?’
‘Our lunch, sar?’