(v)
Sally almost didn’t come out tonight, but Rochelle had eventually irked her so to the point of distraction, that she was wriggling to get a vodka and orange, to help blow the steam off. On how many occasions has she come to within a hair’s breadth of slapping that irksome, useless bitch square across the jaw? She lost count as she pedals furiously to get herself to Pearly dewdrops, where Sylvia is just finishing her shift, through the jam packed Friday traffic.

About nine buses are blocking her way, so she puts on her earphones and listens to some of Kate Bush’s brilliant eighties stuff, to keep the city out of her head for a while (to kill, deaden the pain which oozes through her every muscle). She dare not weave through the traffic. The last time she did that she got side swiped by a bus and needed a skin graft and seventeen stitches on her left thigh. Extra caution is now her way on the city trail — she even wears very gothic (she enameled them black in Pablo’s workshop) bicycle clips, holding her voluminous cherry emblazoned black skirt out of the way of the bicycle’s teeth. The soaring music in her headphones blocks out the city for now, and she follows the nine red buses (not all really red, she ruminates, some are brick red, others magenta, or crimson, cherry, maroon and fuscia. Burgundy and port, even), past plane tree after plane tree, terminal buds aching now to sprout, releasing their hay fever inducing seeds… but still, the aching pain which is always there, letting her only half perceive things and again, she daydreaming, hoping she’ll be swimming again this summer in the warm cold shallows, darting unidentifiable fishes pushing mysterious shadows on the course golden Iona sands.

Eventually she gets to Pearly Dewdrops, finds a free space to chain her bicycle, and walks in after removing her bicycle clips (she won’t forget to to this like she did last Friday). Sylvia is sat at one of the window tables, drinking with Kate and Brenda and a young blonde guy she’s never met before who watches every move that Brenda makes. She walks over and says hello.
‘Sally, how are you! Love your hair. It makes such a “look at me” statement. I see you’re still wearing your drag on the floor skirt…’
‘Shut up Sylvia. I appreciate the compliments, but you’re rambling again! Hi Brenda,’ Sally says, seeing that Brenda’s blonde roots are showing through.
‘Hi Sally. This is Anthony, my new friend.’
‘Hi Anthony,’ Sally says
“Please, just Tony,’ he says somewhat grumpily.
‘Anyway,’ Sally says, ‘I’m going to get myself the drink I’ve been dreaming about all day, Anybody else want one?’
There’s a palpable silence until Tony says, ‘We’re all broke, so why not get a jug of Honeydew. It’s a tenner for a five pint jug.’
“It’s bloody delicious,” Kate says.
‘What is Honeydew, anyway?’ Sally asks.
‘It’s the lager which won the London Lager competition. Don’t tell me you didn’t hear about that. It was all over the press.’
‘Yeah,’ says Kate,’The Sun ran the headline London’s best to beat Continent on Monday.’
‘Don’t have a telly, don’t read the sun, and work is too busy in these times for idle chatter.’ (She is not going to tell them a big screen scrolls the news all day across from her reception desk.)
‘It’s delicious, anyway,’ Tony says, draining the very last, warm looking dregs from his oily, fingerprint laden glass.
‘Okay then, a jug of Honeydew,’ Sally heads off for the bar.

Outside, Chris is happy to be with his old courier buddies from five years ago. They’re talking and moaning about the stagnant wage situation — the hourly rate hasn’t gone up for over two years. It’s the third round of beers already, and Arnie is looking sheepish: ‘Sorry guys, I’m broke…payday’s only next Friday, and I’m still paying off the van, and the school fees.’
‘That’s fine,’ Chris says, ‘I’ll get these. Same again?”
‘Yes,’ Seb and Arnie say in unison.

The bar is quiet for a Friday evening. Just seems to prove the the point that she and about a hundred thousand other people ‘alternative culture’ people have come to — there’s nowhere left in this metropolis for individual expression, and what is there, is so substandard that it just isn’t worth the effort of showing up.

‘Hello,’ she hears.

She looks behind her, and she’s lost now. She has always held onto the assumption that you never meet the same person twice on the same day in a city this size, but here is the man she blew kisses at this morning with his gorgeous curly hair twinkling his blue eyes at her.
‘I really appreciated that series of kisses this morning, even although they positively bedeviled me.’ ‘
They did?’ she can’t help an involuntary giggle.
‘Want to feel the bump?’
‘Not right now,’ she’s trying as hard as she can not to blush, but can feel the heat pushing up her cheeks, ‘what bump, anyway?’
‘Calm down, I’m only playing. Go ahead and get your drinks. We can talk later.’
She can’t work out his accent. It’s flat, almost northern. He spots her at once as a Fulham girl, She orders her jug of Honeydew from the surly barman and turns back to where he was, only to see he is outside, smoking a cigarette and talking to his friends.

Time winds on, talk of careers, families and finances, and then Chris finds the conversation winding down to ridiculousness.
‘What beats old street for its grotesque ugliness?’ Arnie asks, out of nowhere.
‘Euston underpass? Especially with the new University hospital, which I think looks like an hypodermic needle.’
‘Highbury corner, ugly, unthought about, post war rubbish?’
‘Holland Park Roundabout with the dirty Thames Water indicator?’
‘Hammersmith Broadway. Shopping mall culture meets bus hell?’
‘The roads around Speaker’s corner, Hyde Park. Carbon heavy haze?’
‘Archway and it’s hideous eighties architecture which once looked like a good idea?’
‘Hampstead Road – total sink.’
‘Camden High Street, just a higgle piggedy mess, apart from the bit around the canal.’
‘Putney Bridge.’
‘Finsbury Park, around the station. It’s all rotten concrete.’

Chris, bored now, wonders off to find that young lady who he is so intrigued by. Maybe today is a day of two halves. Lucky and unlucky. Ying and Yang. He feels like he’s living that old Chinese proverb, and indeed living in very interesting times.

He finds her, looking very bored with her friends, their table full of almost empty glasses. The music is thumping louder in the background, all agony, pain and emo. She sees him coming and smiles. He smiles back and bends over to whisper in her ear: ‘Fancy a bit of a club night tonight.? This place is so god-damned depressing.’
‘It’s not going to be too expensive?’
‘My treat! Meet me outside in about five minutes, and we can make our escape. There’s a great club I know, and it starts to get going about eleven on a Friday. Thump-ing music, cutting edge DJ. Not what you’re used to, but I guarantee you’ll love it,’ he says, not knowing of any such club.
‘Okay, I’ll meet you ouitside in five then.”

He has to think on his feet. He has never been out clubbing in London. It’s not his style (he prefers big boisterous house parties and loves them for their who gives a fuck attitude) In the corner, next to the cheap plate glass door, is a leaflet which stands out and grabs his attention. He goes over to take a closer look. On a midnight blue card, in bright electric blue letters:

NEW TO THE ELECTRIC QUARTER
equator
chemical dreams 30 March 2010
£16 @ the door
£12 advance

He knows, just knows, that this is something he must experience. He pockets the leaflet and goes back outside to have a banter with Arnie, who is so proud of his son’s mathematical skills, and goes on and on about it. Chris gets a tap on the shoulder which makes him spill a bit of his beer. He looks back and sees that it’s the red headed woman. God. He doesn’t even know her name, and they’ve been flirting all day long!
‘You’re ready?’ he asks.
‘Yes, I am, and I don’t even know your name.’
‘It’s Chris. And you?’
‘I’m Sally.’
‘We’re going to this new nightclub opening tonight. It looks very interesting,’
Chris hands her the flyer, ‘you still going to join us? It’ll be mental.’
‘Mental is the only way.’ ‘
The place doesn’t seem very gothic to me.’
‘Did I say I’m gothic?’
‘Well, you dress the part…and you’ve got black finger…’
‘They’re not black, but burnt cherry red. Black’s like white. It comes in many hues and tones.’
‘Okay! I can’t get it right!’
‘He gets nothing right,’ Arnie pipes in, the only one of Chris’s friends not to have called it a night already, ‘not today, anyway!’
Chris punches Arnie on the shoulder, hard, “Shut up daddy! The lady and I are having a private conversation.’
‘Then get a room,’ Arnie replies, smiling broadly at Sally.
‘He assumes a lot,’ Sally says to Chris. ‘You’d better get used to him. His mathematical genius son is spending the weekend with mummy, so he’ll probably be next to us on the dance floor tonight, if he doesn’t pull first.’
‘It looks,’ Sally says, ‘like an equatorial treat.’

(vi)
Outside the neon strip, under the purple overcast dark sky, Arnie, Sally and Christopher find themselves. The strip sprang up suddenly at the start of the year and just hasn’t stopped growing, the latest addition being Bar Heavannah (during daylight hours, a humidifier with cigars is attended by a beautiful blonde ambigu-sexual who every business cigar chomping man and woman goes to for their social networking and plain old gossip) On weekend nights, Flloyd the cigar seller works as Tranceman the DJ at the recently opened Equator nightclub — the place which has taken the neon (neon for the eighties retro feel, LED for the slickness) wars to a new level. Hence, the most exciting light show outside Vegas, and certainly, unlike anything London has ever seen before.

When they arrive at Equator, they are agog at the queue, which goes round the block one and a half times.
‘How big is this place?’
‘It’s at the old Empire — it can hold thousands, I’d say,’ Arnie says.
‘I’ve never been here before,’ Chris says, eyeing a girl in front of him wearing what looks like a one piece latex body suit, emblazoned with web and raindrop designs. It looks brilliant, especially on such a lithe and sexualized body. Suddenly he realizes that Sally is watching him, a rye smile on her lips. He stops looking at once, all to aware of the energy he’s put into pursuing Sally tonight, and not at all in the mood to have to repeat those energies all over again.
‘I was only looking,’ he says.
‘No you weren’t,’ Arnie chirps in, ‘You were eating her alive.’

Even the banks have gone in for fancy light work to fit in among the crowd. Chris needs to withdraw some money, and does so when the queue passes a bank machine. He is amazed by the illuminations above the machine and on the screen :’The electric quarter welcomes you to National Bank Holborn, the best, most individualised and careful bank in all of Britain.’ He snorts at that.

Cash drawn, Chris rejoins the queue, ‘Damn,’ he says,’that bank machine almost charmed the pants right off me.’
‘You mean,’ Sally says, ‘that it’s halved the work I have to do?’ and she laughs a silly little laugh Chris would never have expected. There is a palpable sense of electric excitement in the air as they pay their cover charge and go inside. A sense that this is special, that is the start of new direction in cultural evolution, or, at the other side of the spectrum, just a bloody good night out — entertainment par excellence. Depends on the mindset, these things,Chris thinks, and the mindset here among these twenty and occasional thirty somethings is high and effervescent, anything to get away from the depressed gloomy strike and march world out there. Chris, not too far from forty, finds himself feeling a bit old and truly horrified by the price of the beer (not horrified enough to stop buying an extra can for himself and Arnie and Sally to avoid having to queue too soon again — he knows that he’ll have a lot of dosh to play around with in the not too distant future).
‘So, should we wonder about for a bit, find out what this place is like?’Arnie says, ‘Oh, and Chris, I’ll pay you back next week, thanks bro.’
‘That’s cool. Sally, you want to explore?’
‘I know this place. I used to come and see live jazz singers here with my dad when I was a girl.’
‘You mean you’re still not a girl?’ Chris says, grinning broadly, showing a gap where one of his incisors was punched out in a high school fight.
‘I’m not too sure I like the lighting — either pink, blue or a mixture of the two. It really is very retro.’
‘Everything has something of retro about it, Sally! Look at me. An eighties kid in a twenty first century nightclub, fitting in even.’
They find a sofa to sit on in a darker corner (projections of the milky way making them all feel a bit silly at first)
‘You think Scotty is going to show up?’ Arnie says, sipping his beer
‘I’d prefer Luke Skywalker,’ Sally says, squeezed between the two virtual strangers.
‘Me — I’d like Osama Bin Laden just to give him a good bollocking and then a a good lesson in human rights.’
‘Good luck on that,’ Sally says. ‘ I hope the DJ starts soon. These thumped up covers are doing my head in. I’m almost tempted to start listening to my i-pod…’

She is cuts off by the sound of some kind of pipes echoing and rebounding off the walls, undercut now by a pulsating bass beats which sounds like a man humming underwater. They strain their eyes but the lights have dimmed right down that they can see only five feet in front them (the fog machines are adding their scent and thick whooshing sound to the music which is slowly ascending. Sally feels a hand touching her right flank and she asks:
‘That is you, Chris?’ as a woman’s voice begins soaring with the music which is as loud as anything, but not intrusive.
‘It’s me,’ Chris says, leaning in to kiss her.

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a short story by
noinvisiblehand
Ian James McAdam 2009

The town’s police station is a nineteen-seventies concrete mess. I had never been inside it before, and was still not sure why Michael Jones had asked me to come along that day. It was a call out of the blue, and we hadn’t spoken apart from the occasional hello and wave on the street for more than twenty-five years. The blue painted door creaked as I entered dubiously.

Was this to be the last lie ever told. before we speak, allow us to clarify. for this the ninth millionth time. no hyperbole. my views. your perspectives.

Michael saw me and walked towards me, ‘This is serious,’ he said, leading me into an interview room where a uniformed woman officer was sitting, taking me in, and writing down her observations.
I said, ‘Michael, I thought this was a social visit…’
‘There’s not the time,’ he said.
‘But there has to be the time. You said on the phone you were fascinated by my civic plans. You’ve never paid them much attention before. I should have known you were up to your shenanigans again…’ My voice trailed off, faint echos taunting me in the enclosed space.

You took another drag from another cheap cigarette, the smoke acrid and over-burnt and sticking to my hair. The air was heavy and stale, getting murkier as the second hand ticked (ticks which rebound to this godforsaken day) loudly and you regarded me stonily, giving everything and nothing away, just as you’d done as a child.

‘I never thought it would be you,’ you said, ‘but everything now points to you. Your way of thinking — and I know how you think and behave better than anyone else. Your intelligence has let you think you are above everyone else. But you forgot me. You forgot your childhood. Do you remember where you first crossed the line?’

You stared at me and all the way through, the air conditioner making the room hotter, hotter. I noticed your sweat moistening your pink shirt’s underarms and chest to a rich crimson hue…blood coursing through… everything at that moment seemed surreal and stayed that way. More in relief, more painted on by the fluorescent light being mirrored down by the up-there suspension. I stared at the fish lines the line was suspended from, next to the rotating fan, up above his head . I willed the gut to snap suddenly, shatter the whole fixture into scissoring shards over his head. I still had no idea for what reason I was there, but of one thing I was certain: I was going to be grilled, and if I remembered him, it would be a long and hard grilling, just like when we used to play cops and robbers.

I still can’t help my childhood. It has passed. I am an adult now, doing adult things.

He asked me: ‘Can you tell me about those dreams you used to have?’
‘Can you please tell me what this is all about, Michael?’
‘Constable,’ he said, ‘Will you please read Mr Barnard his rights.’

This was duly done. Then you and I had a conversation which I cannot for the life of me remember. You stared at me for a good few minutes, smoking your third cigarette, until you cleared your throat and asked:
‘So are you going to tell me about that recurring dream you used to have, Michael?’
He smiled briefly, displaying his nicotine stained teeth, and continued,’ The one you used to tell me about, where you suddenly realized you were a killer, and the police catch up with you.’
‘It was only a dream, for God’s sake,’ I said, unable to hide my exasperation, as much as I wanted to appear calm and collected.
‘Dreams and reality march very closely together, Michael.’
‘Yes, Andrew, they are flip-sides of each other. You dream what you know and what you can tangibly fantasize. The reality is for realizing those fantasies.’
‘Oh, I forgot. I heard that you studied psychology in university. You must have been very taken with the Jungian mumbo jumbo.’

The constable was writing this ridiculous conversation down, seemingly keeping one eye on me and the other on what she’s writing. Michael smokes and watches me, feigning impassiveness while I know he’s trying to reel me in, get me back for hitting his puppy with my dad’s car when we were almost teenagers.

It was my madcap idea — it was getting dark, and Michael needed to be home for dinner in two minutes. My father was busy reading his newspaper with his feet up, drinking a beer, and getting ready for the Arsenal Chelsea match on the telly. There was no way he’d give you a lift home… not in a million years.

I found myself in the past. some kind of time shift, even although I desperately needed to be in the present. too stuck. too unaware of malice. snakes in the grass. I was too taken with memory. memory was not going to save me. just catch me me out and taunt me.

So you coaxed me, as only a more popular boy can coax a less popular one, and we snuck into my father’s car. Your puppy, the dog you’d been asking for since you were tiny, was following us, but we wouldn’t let her into the car because she still had muddy paws from the game of frisbee we had earlier played in the still sodden park.

‘That dream, Michael, was just what it was,’ I said to kill the silence and to stop the silence which was forcing me to reminisce on less than happy memories.
‘It might be, it might not be. Often, people tell you something they say is a dream but it’s actually made up, or is a fantasy they long to live out.’
‘But that was a teenage dream which recurred for three or four years. I don’t even remember my dreams any more.’
‘As you know, you’re here for questioning. The law says I have twenty four hours. But if you cooperate by starting to recount that dream as requested, you might be out of here in an hour.’

An hour! I had honestly expected at least a cup of tea, some biscuits, a chat about this and that. To have been arrested on suspicion of murder… that demanded a five tier cake! I was beyond words as we stared, stared some more, put more bad atmosphere into the smoky room. It was now that I wished I’d never given up the dirty habit. A cigarette would have eased the tension. Only for a moment, sure, but it would have been a very much appreciated moment nonetheless. And again, he was back at it, like a dog with a bone;
‘Tell me about the dream.’

The dream. It recurred for years — even now, I still have hints of it, which bring me instantly to wakefulness and a cold, clammy reality.

‘Remind me on what grounds I’ve been arrested.’
‘You’ve been arrested for the torture and false imprisonment of Gordon Norris. Are you going to tell us this dream?’
‘You’ve heard it before.’
‘And I’ll hear it again.’

I had to give in. my breathing was rapid, poorly controlled. This was worse than the dream had ever been. I had to give in. I wanted out that room so badly.

‘Okay, Michael, I’ll tell you, if only to get out of here sooner. I think this dream started when puberty began, just after I had turned twelve years old,’ I said, my voice trembling against my best efforts to stop it from doing so.

The fan above our heads spun lazily, wisping your cigarette smoke into a horizontal plane, blue-grey, hazy.

I continued…

In this dream, which recurred almost nightly at first, then petered downwards slowly until the age of seventeen, I was a fully grown man having a flashback to something I’d done on the cusp of manhood. I don’t remember the details exactly, but it goes something along the lines that I was living as home help for an old guy who needed me to help refurbish the property, re-landscape the garden and cook his evening meal, which we’d eat together every weeknight. For a no reason at all, I killed him and buried him deep beneath the landscaped rockery. I then left with a briefcase of cash I’d found under his bed (only after I’d murdered him). The dream then flashes forward a substantial amount of time — fifteen years, at most. At that time I was running my own landscaping business. I had mentally blocked out the memory, and had no idea I’d done something so terrible in my past. One day, my business partner — Jimmy, and I were working on a garden which needed its rockery redone. As we got there I had a flashback to all those years before and my head spun. I said to Jimmy: “I know this place.” When I first had the dream — and I remember this very clearly — I woke up at this point. I was shocked and horrified because I woke up with an erection (I told you about this, Michael), but as soon as I caught up with reality, it flattened like a dropped souffle…

At this point I stopped, my mouth dry from the overbearing heat in the interrogation room. It’s a waiting game, I was aware, and you had to offer me a glass of water before I asked for one.

‘So that was how it was the first time you had the dream?’
‘The first time I remember having it.’
‘And you were how old at the time?’
‘About twelve and a half.’
‘Earlier you’d said you’d just turned twelve.’
‘For God’s sake, Michael. I was about twelve, around there, that’s the best I can remember.’

I flashed back again to that day with you dog, me behind the wheel of my father’s car while you ran around trying to catch the muddy dog so that you could hold her and prevent her muddying the upholstery.

We didn’t get very far, I didn’t get the chance to get out of reverse. As I turned the key I accidentally pushed on the accelerator and for a reason we never managed to understand(both mom and dad refused culpability), the car was already in reverse gear and moved backwards until there was a crunch and the car stopped. I heard a high pitched mewling noise and jumped out of the car, and there, under the real wheels of the car, was the dog, and Michael was holding her head, stricken with grief…

as I looked into his eyes in that tiny interrogation room, I saw grief unresolved. To grieve forever for a dog, surely impossible, I thought. The situation was clarifying inside my head. This was revenge, And revenge is a dish best served cold, I’ve always been told.

Our friendship, after the dog had been buried at the back of your family home (mum had sent me along with a box of Milk Tray, which I’d been temted to eat along the way. That afternoon, after rose petals had been sprinkled over the mound of earth marking where the dog had been buried. Later that night, after his parents had gone to bed and we were up for high shenanigans, I told you about my dream and you made me repeat it, time after time, just like you’d asked me to do that other thing we’d started to do when puberty was hinting.

I knew in your bedroom that night that our friendship was spent. My conclusions were proved right when you called less and less frequently after that night, and ignored as far as you could at school. It wasn’t long before were off to different high schools, and lost contact, apart from the occasional meeting on the street (we only lived three blocks away from each other) where we’d update each other on our progress.

In that small, enclosed interrogation room, the blood was rushing to m,y head, making my nostrils flare and my eyes, I’m sure, appear manic. I broke the silence.
‘It’s about the fucking dog!’ I said, with venom, I hoped.

The constables expression remained deadpan, almost as if she had botox injections. You, too, remained impassive

Lazily, you said: ‘The dog? You mean Fudge, the Jack Russel you squashed with your father’s car when we were twelve? Come on, that’s more than twenty-five years ago. You think I’d hold onto something for that long? I’m a police officer, not your local madman effing and blinding this and that.’

I was speechless. I’ve never been as dry in the mouth as I was then, utterly aghast at how hopeless things seemed.

‘Are you ready to tell us the rest of the dream, Andrew?’
‘I’ve told you the crux of it. The remainder of it is very much like what is happening to me right now.’
‘You could just summarise it.’
‘Fine, then let me summarise as briefly as I can. We dig up the rockery, find a body, the police interrogate me and finally, it’s DNA which gets me convicted of the old man’s murder.’

“Ah, yes, talking of DNA — you don’t mind giving us a sample, as every arrested person has to do?’

The constable brought out a cotton swab, just like the ones I’d seen a thousand times on the telly.
‘If you’ll just open your mouth,’ she said, and I complied, knowing I had nothing to hide.

Nothing to hide! It was after I’d given the DNA sample that Inspector Jones(he’s had a meteoric rise through the local police force) let me back out onto the street — I’d been in that room for almost three hours, and the bright summer sun hurt my eyes. A heated room in the middle of summer, and him smoking despite the smoking ban! Something very fishy was going on, and I walked down to the library to take a look at the newspaper archive. In retrospect, if I had a choice of what do do then over again. I’d be trying everything to find a criminal lawyer.

When I googled Gordon Norris, an article in the day before’s issue our local paper caught my attention (I curse now my strange ignorance of local issues, seeing as I worked for the local council).

NEW SUSPECT IN UNSOLVED MURDER MYSTERY
Police in Shirley have a new suspect in the murder of Gordon Norris, who was murdered in 1994.
Mr Norris, who was a retired architect, was found under his garden rockery in 2005 when his family was re-landscaping the garden. Up until that time he had been missing.
This is the first suspect the police have found, but they will not release his name until a DNA test clears or incriminates him.

Two days later, as I was driving my children to school, Jones drove up behind me with his siren blaring. I knew the game was up.

My lawyer tells me my appeal has little chance of succeeding.

CHEMICAL EQUATOR

(OTHER WORKING TITLE IS 52%, OR, GOODBYE NOUGHTIES?)

copyright 2009

ianjamesmcadam

 noinvisiblehand

 Ian James McAdam

 

 

 

CHEMICAL EQUATOR THE POEM OR, PREAMBLE

 Saturation of substance

 Reaching higher,

Sub-spacial now,

 Condensing our hopes and dreams

 Into toxicity

 

Force for equilibrium

A cycle within a cycle

(A multiverse experiment)

The progression of nature

 (For we are nature)

Water, earth, air and fire.

And us.

 

 

 CHAPTER ONE (first section)

spring rose spirituality, crimson to green...

(i)

 Blossom petals litter the road as hyacinth smells assault his nostrils in a rush of instant sweetness. The sun is strong now that it’s managed to fight off the dirty cloying mist, heating his pvc jacket to instant discomfort. He’s just picked up a message from Westminster and is coming past Trafalgar square (where there is another march, this one with placards today shouting for “PRICE DETERMINATION BY THE PEOPLE FOR THE PEOPLE”, and “ECONOMICS IS SCIENCE NOT SOCIOLOGY” {they’re all creeping out of the woodwork}), and the police are still hoi-toying.

 By his count, this is the third march this week, the fifty-fifth this year, he’s lost count of how discontented this, the English capital, is, placarding up with with more focus on the chaos, emphasizing the chaos…why he came back…but he knows it was money.

And money is making him impatiently honk his wincing Vespa hooter. He has to get through the gridlock for his Bloomsbury delivery and decides the only way is to cut through Soho. He getting used to mindmapping his way through the gridlock that is the standard 2010 Trafalgar Square, always in protest, way.

He has a moment at a red light contemplating other people insularly contemplating him. They’re all jiving to their various forms of music-radio technologies, apart from one girl on a bicycle — with the most ridiculous shade of red hair, who stops him in his thought tracks and every other bit of sensory perception he has — because she is blowing him kisses. Beautiful wholehearted twinkle by the eye kisses…

There is the sound of twenty hooters and bicycle bells behind him. Damn, he has to rev up and move on. Ah well, he thinks, another perfect moment, lost in the endless album of perfect moments, fading already to uselessness.

He notices that he is now surrounded by a whole bunch of bicycles. Old bicycles, new bicycles, bicycles which are cutting edge and lightweight (hardly heavier than a starving budgie) and bicycles which are solid, heavy, reliable and have baskets with fruit, flowers and dogs. Aerodynamic cycling helmets in the eighties resprise dayglo coulours, making those wearing them (along with their earpieces) look like clones of the basic human animal. They look, he thinks, as if they’re auditioning for the cover of a Pet Shop Boy’s album cover, which he hopes in a wayward wish way, will be like the old fullsize album covers. Fat chance, he chides himself.

His Utopian dream is bankrupt…his moped motor chugs up the barely perceptible gradient of Regent Street, stuck behind an infinite row of taxi cabs, the one next to him saying, with a dreamy picture of the sun, that 300 days of the year are like this in South Africa. He chuckles under his breath. Not in Kwa Zulu! In Kwa Zulu it weeps like a premenstrual woman, and the humidity is like an invisible blanket. Things are moving so slowly so he lights up a cigarette, thinking in his random way of Catholic blue hot war Bushism. The pollution magnifies, as a lens intensifies, accentuates, and clarifies the loud, pulsing traffic flow.

He suddenly sees a gap opening up ahead of him and whizzes through, making his gambit for a quick, efficient delivery.

Someone shouts after him: “You fucking idiot!”

The defeaning noise in his ears (louder than anything he has ever heard in his life) is secondary to the feeling of being a rocket flying through the air, the sky, hemmed in by the buildings, a perfect flat plane of blue. The fast falling feeling as gravity returns him, head crashing through the glass of a estate agent’s speed racer painted, Mini Cooper windscreen.

“Sorry,” he says to the shocked estate agent.

 He looks behind him, and there is a jackknifed articulated shiny red lorry, and glazed red bricks everywhere, and the post accident silence he’s always been told about. Amazingly, there are no crushed vehicles, or any injured people he can see. Already the pigeons are pecking at the Doritos spilling out of the red lorry’s cab which is lying on its side and separated from its load. Chris can only smile at the ‘Eat my shorts’ slogan and picture of Bart Simpson on the back of it. The driver crawls out with a bloody nose, which makes his pale terrified complexion look even whiter. Chris looks back for only one more second before he rushes ahead to his dented moped to make his escape.

There’s no way he is taking responsibility for this mess. He just hopes that he hasn’t been captured on the ubiquitous camera culture mill. Down one of the sidestreets, and he realises, Damn, that he’s lost the package he was delivering. He’s never lost a package before. How is he going to explain this?

He’s pleased at the effect of the crash, though. He has never seen Oxford Street so quiet, except perhaps on Christmas day, and chugs his damaged moped down the street, which he has all to himself, apart from the people staring and gaping and taking photos and video of the fine mess he’s created.

 (ii)

The housing benefits office is busy, as is usual in these economic down times. Sally is wishing she hadn’t had such a heady Thursday night, especially with Rochelle bitching consistently. The reception desk is still dented from the heavy kicks it got from that abusive poor confused man this morning (he had to be dragged away by five security guards, he must have been on crack). Outside, the crow is singing the old Nokia ring tone — it really is behind the times.

“I’m goin to sue the bloody council for this,” Rochelle moans, “I’m not paid for this, and if they don’t put up barriers to protect us from the public, they’ll rue the day the didn’t when one of us gets stabbed.”

“Don’t be stupid, Rochelle,” Sally says, “We’ve already got a security guard watching over us all day.”

She books another customer in to see a benefits officer, and when the phone has rung for the sixth time, she glares at Rochelle. Rochelle knows the look, and answers the phone quickly.

Ah, Sally smiles to herself … the weekend, after the drama of the day, drinks with her old friends at Pearly Dewdrop’s and who knows what London will throw up this weekend? That was a wonderful moment this morning, blowing kisses…

“Sally,” Rochelle is whining again, “You do realise your hair dye is running down your blouse, don’t you?’

“That’s the intention.”

“You coming to that march on Sunday”

“Which March?”

“The March march. Better conditions for working mothers.”

“I’m not a mother, Rochelle…”

The conversation meanders along this strand as customer after customer is pointed in the right direction. She always knows that the ones with the old worn shoes are the ones who need the benefit most.

(iii)

‘Damn,’ he thinks as he walks through the door of Angel Wings Couriers, his place of employment, trying to sort out the lies… I should have called Alpin — my little brother can lie his way out of anything! ‘

I’m in trouble, Roxy. I’ve lost the package I was supposed to deliverl to the TA. Is Danny in his office?’

‘Yes, he is, and it sounds like they’re already on his case. Good luck, Chris.’

He smiles at her, andf she smiles back, as he makes his way into the boss’s office.

‘So, Danny, there I was cycling down Lamb’s Conduit, trying to avoid the protests on around Whitehall and Westminster, when all of a sudden a group of young hooded teenagers appear like from nowhere, block my path, knock me off my bike and steal the contents from my backback. How they knew…’

 ‘I don’t care how they knew, Chris! Do you know what was in that envelope, don’t you, Chris!’ 

 know it was something for the territroial army headquarters…’

‘Chris, use your fucking brain! You picked it up in Westminster to go to Bloomsbury. They were bloody military instructions!’

‘But wouldn’t they go with an armed escourt?’

 ‘Moron! With half the army beoing used to contain the civil unrest and guard the streets of the country? Chris, you’re a fucking moron. Do you know how much trouble I’m going to be in?’

‘Don’t worry, Danny.’

‘I am worried, Chris. Get yourself to Holborn Police Station and report the theft.’

He takes a bus to avoid having to find a place to park (and to avoid having his dented Vespa inspected by the law). He decides he needs some giudance, so he quickly dials his brother, Alpin, hoping the little bugger isn’t boozing away his lunch hour.

Alpin answers on the first ring, and after the cordial hello’s, Chris asks: ‘Alex, how do I get myself out of this one?’

‘Well, I kinda caused a lorry to jacknife accross Oxford Circus, and lost a very important document.’

‘That was you? It’s all over the news. You’re lucky no-one was killed. Still, sounds like something you’d do.’

‘Anyway, listen, Alpin, how do you always manage to lie so convincingly? With such…panache?’

‘I’ve put that behind me, Chris. You know that.’

 ‘I know. But how did you manage to convince people?’

‘Easy, Chris. You have to believe what you say. Anyway, I have to get back to the pub for evening service.Good luck. Ciao, big bro. Good luck.’

 ‘I’ll need it.’

Chris walks as confidently as he can to the reception desk, involuntary repeating his childhood prayers.

(iv)

Evening rushing on,lies told, and believed by the impressionable constable, and apologies accepted by Danny, and now it’s reunion drinks with his old pals at Pearly Dewdrops. He used to hang around there on his last stint in London. Now it has been relocated, and as he motors over in the Friday evening traffic (mellowly congested – the only time of the week where gridlock is treated as hardly a problem, which makes it seem even more jammed than is usual), he wonders if they still have mice playing together behind the bar. That used to amuse him and his old mates no end. He’s very curious to see what the new place is like. His phone rings, and he’s lucky to be at another red light so he can answer.

 He sees on the display that it’s his business partner, Arno, calling from South Africa.

‘Arno! Howzit goin, bro! Hows the consignment looking?’

‘It’s on the way from Malawi as we speak, just wanted to update you.’

‘Schweet, got that, speak soon,’

Chris puts the phone back in his pocket.

West facades are basking now in a strengthening, post equinox, sun. The light, mellowed through the haze — red super strength, brown brick lifted, momentarily, from its dirty dullness, windows twinkling — the closest thing this city sees to twilight. He feels the cold eating into the eastern terraced basements. Winter is lingering and does not want, nor is ready, to say goodbye. Seasons move by degrees, with the minutes and seconds marked by flower phases, moon phases, insects and birds on the wing. He listens for a moment to the sounds from the pavement, and hears at least ten different languages all overlaid each other — and, passing by, a group of continental student types all speak in various degrees of English to each other. He knows that his own accent is half London, becoming more so the more time he spends in this godforsaken city.

 He arrives at Pearly Dewdrops, and is horrified to see its new exterior, all concrete with over exposed curtain windows. The building can only have been built in the eighties, and Chris is horrified that Sebastian had even thought to ask to meet here. The old Pearly Dewdrops was dodgy as anything, but at least it was a suitable, poorly ventilated, poorly lit Victorian, aged,becoming dilapidated,building.

He parks his Vespa as close by as he can (which ends up being more than 300 yards from the pub), the sun lingering forever. Everything seems to wait for this moment — especially on a Friday in the spring time, even the contrails forming at maximum altitude take on a spirtual illuminance. Infinity moments, Chris calls them, because they are forever remembered.

whoah!!  What a picture!

whoah!! What a picture!

                                                                         ART BY Jacqui Farell

—————————————————————————————————————-

His sisters had been smoking on the weekend, with his cousins. Christopher misses nothing, so he knows exactly where the smoking paraphernalia is hidden. Cigarettes, matches and even some strange papers he can’t identify are hidden under the plaster-of-paris mountain in the middle of his older brother’s train set. He walks past the lounge to the play room, and sees that his mother is lavishing yet more attention on his two-year old brother. He takes the matches, puts them in his red dungaree’s pocket, and makes his way out of the kitchen door, progressing down the hill to the farm with the yellow sunflowers and ripening corn.

The burning sun shines on his face, bringing his freckles into sharp focus, turning his nose into a sharp shadow sloping down his chin. His tummy is still full from the caramel tart he’d eaten at Auntie Maria’s this afternoon (after he’d spent an hour watching every little thing the canaries, cockatiels and budgies had done in the aviary). He is still buzzing after finding the corpse of a puffadder on his way home. He had pushed it along with an acacia branch, poking it with the thorns.

He looks now directly at the sun, against his better judgement, against everything he’s ever been told he should do, his little legs still marching him down the hill to the farmer’s field, the seven matches rattling in the box.

He climbs over the rusty barbed wire fence, and feels the dryness of the red soil on his bare feet. It’s been three days since it last rained, he knows. He sits down under the tall corn stalks to continue his exploration of the way things work.

Later, that evening, after his hiding, and after his refusal to eat the broccoli on his plate, his father unceremoniously takes him to the farmer’s house. The farmer is red faced in his fury, and says that he will whip the bejesus out of Christopher if ever he sets another foot on his land.

Trying to sleep, all he can see is the tears on the face of the farmer’s wife. He puts his face into his pillow, and cries at his misfortune. His fat little brother ticks  like a mentronome in his cot on the other side of the room.

FIN

The plane tree stands firmly before the house more deeply embedded in the rocky soil than the house could ever be; more green than the house but for that the house was once my home and once Mum had green curtains across each street facing window.

That the house is still there is a miracle, that there’s still the tree though more gnarled and more woody is doubly surprising. The house jars now with its brand new middle class Tony Blairised neighbours although it is now undoubtedly middle class, not like it was when it was Mum’s den of inequity.

Little red brick house with friendly back yard where fairytales were obvious and magnolias where bright where Mum grew her spinach which I’d never eat sitting from six to eight at the dinner table the lamb cutlets and mash would be gone but not the spinach. “Bed!” Bed. Bedtime sory of the bears eating…sleep. Woken sometimes by strange sounds but still – sleep – school in the morning.

Teacher big red hair and long talon nails (I wish the bears would eat you I want to be home with Mum and hugs). Teacher glaring at me with non-care, with hatred almost, even tho I’s clever and always did my homework and always answered questions with perfect accuracy still the hate.

Teacher with beg red hair and long talon nails her husband visited Mum, you now know.

That the tree should be such a bastion and grow so steadfastly strong surprises me now as I contemplate once being six. Ah well… Mum’s dead and me thirsty.

The public house (white walls dirty) hard lived faces with pint or plonk or cheap smelly liquor and nasty little barflies drowning in my pint. I always walked past here on my way to school, but never went in. I was too young and taken away before the thought could even cross my mind. Now that the thought’s crossed my mind I’m thirty two and quite able to handle a drink or ten. (Twenty drinks later—then I’m the guy you tut at on the late night street).

The little local—crowded this Easter Monday typical British way of being the local’s more home than your sex filled bedroom, as I’m sure Mum could testify from her grave I’v just visited up the road. Psychedelic purple and yellow Tulips like the ones in Regent’s part at springtime. Me and the pastor burying her, what a famous farewell, no Elton John singing a hackneyed song esp for someone else. Small tine criminals never get grand tributes.

Teacher, small and hunched grey and wrinkled smoking a Superking sittting on a barstool and drinking gin and tonic sees me and smiles. “I’m sorry I judged you because of yourt mother, that whoring bitch!” she says, with venom. It is half an aopology, at least.

FIN

The quality of winter afternoon light on an undulating English heath(crisp but dull))pushing its way through the last young beech leaves; hundreds of shades of copper, green, puffed moody clouded tangles and lattices of branches, boughs(seemingly infinite); thrushes, robins and magpies hardly ever seen but always singing nonetheless. In this congested land though, the traffic and jet engines are never far away, human noises mingling with the eddies of wind moving through that  high branch now, this holly bush next, lifting the bracken, pushing it back down again.

And dere footfalls!

If you dislocate your mind for a moment and concentrate on the cumulous clouds(white, graduated grey to black, and bronze) the sound of the rumbling metropolis could indeed be the motors of the clouds above. Stretch, I know, but if there really is such a thing called infinity mention of

In another world, six times removed but absolutely parallel to ours, clouds may indeed be powered along by intelligent motors.

FIN

It is a carbon saving decision on Jeff’s part. All his life he’s jetted here and there, but after seeing firsthand, in June, the perilous state of the Arctic ice sheets, he has made the decision that air travel is something that should be relegated to the history books. His friends and associates had laughed cynically at his uncharacteristic decision.

 He is travelling to the Scottish Highlands to do his skiing this Christmas and New Year, and is pleased to see, from his morning weather check, that the snow thickness is the best it has been for years. At least he won’t be referring to his Italian phrase books again this year. Sure, the Grampians aren’t the Italian Alps, but they’re closer to London, easier to get to, and cheaper to enjoy. It isn’t, though, an entirely practical decision. That his ex wife got the job of carbon recapture scientist for the Department of the Environment was a shock to him, considering he had laughed at her when she told him she had applied for the job. That she had to move to bloody Inverness was a true crusher, which took his two young daughters away from London. He’s looking forward to meeting Anne and Jennie again, he hasn’t seen them since the divorce was finalised two weeks ago.

He makes his way along the people congested (almost everyone wearing grey and dowdy coats) platform, towards carriage D and notices that the train is called The Euston Flyer. Naff, he thinks. In front of him are two young Scottish women, talking in sing song Glasgow accents, with wide hips and big backsides swaying precariously on stiletto heels. They are red cheeked, giggling and exhaling steam in the cold early morning light. The overhead power cables have that sharp, acrid electric smell mixed in with the damp winter air. He steps up onto the carriage into the centrally heated standard class carriage and notices that the fabric on the seats looks a little shabby. There is a faint whiff of disinfectant that he is sure will fade after the carriage fills up. He hopes the fluorescent lighting won’t give him a headache – the ones in the office are a real killer. Still, he reassures himself, it’s only a five-hour journey, and no foot tapping waiting about in departure halls or mind numbing data reconfiguration in front of a plasma screen.

He buries his nose in the Christmas Eve edition of The Times as a suited man, smelling of citrus and sporting holly motifs on his tie, sits down opposite him and sets up his laptop. Jeff sighs, wondering why on earth technology has to be so ubiquitous, and just as he thinks this, a group of 3 i-podded youths sit at the table on the other side of the aisle. They’re talking excitedly about how hot Girls Aloud looked last night. Jeff suddenly feels much older than thirty-two.

The news in the paper is dire (it’s the economy, stupid), so he flicks back to the sports pages to see how Arsenal have been punished for losing their game last night. Living with a bird’s eye view of the Emirates stadium is no coincidence. He takes a special, somewhat obsessive, interest in their progress. He is distracted when a heavily pregnant woman asks him to move so she can get onto the window seat. She is wearing a dowdy fisherman’s sweater but despite this looks radiant and blissfully content. Her green eyes smile at him and he smiles back, conscious of the tooth he chipped on the choc chip cookie he had for breakfast. She takes out a notebook and begins scribbling away.

He gets back to the sport pages as the train announces its departure and slips away from the sixties monstrosity that is Euston Station, lulling him into a shallow sleep. The dirty city haze gives was to clear blue skies. The ticket inspector who clips his ticket awakes him. Jeff notices that the man’s hands are stained by strange purple ink. He is surprised to have fallen asleep, but that can be blamed on his late night with Frank and Ralph last night. Those Christmas holiday drinks always get him in the mood for the festivities, part and parcel of routine and tradition.

He turns to the editorial page and is very surprised to see that the letter he sent to the paper last week regarding the Simon Cowell factor on the music industry has been published. He’s been writing letters to newspapers since he was twenty-one and never been published. To see his name in print gives him a sense of empowerment. “Why is it that music is no longer about the feeling but about the sound, which is super compacted, and over produced? Simon Cowell claims that he is a cultural man, but how can a cultural man claim that El Divo are anything else but a karaoke band who murder tired old songs? The X Factor, I am loath to say, do not encourage creativity. Instead, the contestants seem to be forced into moulds that they have no choice in manufacturing. Take the artist out of the creative process, and you can only call them a machine…”

 The drinks and snacks trolley comes along and Jeff pays for a coffee and cheese and ham croissant.

‘You don’t have anything smaller than ten pounds, do you sir?’ the vendor asks in a Jamaican accent.

‘Sorry,’ Jeff says, ‘I don’t. But tell you what, it’s Christmas, why don’t you keep the change?’

‘Thank you sir, much appreciated, and a happy Christmas to you too,’ the vendor smiles, revealing a gold incisor.

‘That was very kind of you,’ says the pregnant woman sitting next to him, rounded vowels in a soft Welsh accent.

‘Really, it was nothing. I didn’t want to deplete his change supplies. Are you sure you’re comfortable with me sitting next to you? These seats aren’t particularly spacious and there’s a free set of seats I can move to at the front of the carriage.’

‘Don’t be silly. I’m fine with you next to me, plus, its nicer for you to sit at a table seat where you can put your coffee and newspaper.’

He takes a sip on his coffee and winces.

The suited man opposite him chuckles: ‘First time for train coffee, ay?’

‘Is that how they recycle their old oil?’ is the best response Jeff can muster.

Behind them, a prim woman with a little dachshund puppy says to them, eyebrows aquiver, ‘Please folks, keep it a little quieter, this is the quiet carriage, in case you didn’t notice.’

‘Sorry,’ they all mutter, and Jeff gets back to his newspaper, finding out that his stock portfolio, pension fund and overseas Euro bank accounts have lost yet more of their value. He tries to suppress the sigh but it still escapes. Last Christmas he and his family were on his brother’s Lear jet to Milan. Now that his brother’s luxury airline has gone south, the Lear jet is but a poignant memory and his brother is living with him in his little pad. Never, they’d both laughed when Jeff got home at two o’clock this morning, not even in a million years, they giggled, sipping Tesco champagne, had they seen that one coming.

He suddenly gets a whiff of nutmeg, cinnamon, and fruit and hears crinkling paper. The pregnant woman is opening a package and already he’s guessing that it’s mince pie.

‘Fancy one,’ she whispers in his ear, ‘to go with your gourmet coffee?’

‘’Why thank you,’ he says, taking a tiny pie from the proffered package and popping it in his mouth.

The taste! The last time he’d tasted a mince pie like that was at his late grandmother’s house in 1984. He is tempted to take another as the festive-tied businessman quickly wolfs one down.

‘That was delicious,’ Jeff says quietly.

‘Yes, I know, it’s made by the Lambeth Co-operative for the Salvation Army’s Christmas charity drive. I hear that the philosophy is that the tastier the mince pie, the more generous the donations of the beneficiaries. I was lucky to get hold of some! They were in hot demand among the representatives on the Co-Operative development board. Talk about trends, ay?’

Jeff smiles dubiously. This co-operative malarkey! What in the world is she on about?

‘Yes, trends,’ he mutters and turns back to the funny pages of the paper. He can’t concentrate though because there are a group of dubious looking people drinking super strength lager, and bigging up their conversation, a few rows behind him. He’s never travelled with people like this before and finds their pre midday drinking distasteful. It’s something you’d expect on a park bench, not on the first train on Christmas Eve. Still, he can’t help smiling at the red and green pixie-like beanies they are all wearing – at least they’re in the festive spirit, and maybe, he reasons, this morning drinking thing is part of their festive routine. He’s tempted, in fact, to have a beer himself, but no… he can’t meet his daughters smelling of alcohol.

The train is speeding through the English countryside, and Jeff must admit he’s getting a better feel for the lie of the land than he ever has from a plane or the M6 motorway. The winter fields are bare of crops except for some weird yellow plants, which he lazily assumes must be rapeseed. He drifts back into a movement-induced slumber. He is brought back from sleep by guffawing laughs from the lager louts. He adjusts his eyes to the artificial light and looks behind him. The snooty lady’s dachshund has done his business in the aisle, causing mirth among the drinkers who are poking jibes as the dog’s owner quickly scoops the doggy doo into a plastic bag. ‘Savin that for ya Christmas puddin, luv…’ He looks at his watch and notices that the train is more than halfway to Glasgow. The only stop is at Preston in the Lake District, which a cheerful Yorkshire man announces over the public announcement system, is only half an hour away.

He remembers suddenly that he needs to make an appointment to have his tooth repaired. He takes out his phone and walks out of the quiet carriage, dialling directory information for the numbers of a few dentists in central Glasgow. He manages to make an emergency appointment and then calls his ex wife to ask her to drop the girls at the hotel two hours later. She reluctantly agrees, annoyed that she has to modify her Christmas Eve plans. It is then that he hears an ear splitting scream from his carriage.

He rushes back to see what is going on. The pregnant lady, he realises with a shock, has gone into labour, and the I-pod wearing youths are looking at her agog. He rushes to her.

 ‘My God,’ she says to him, ‘This is my third, and I think it’s going to be quick!’

‘Anybody a doctor?’ he yells across the carriage, ‘There’s a lady gone into labour over here!’ He cannot help but feel ill as he notices that her waters have broken onto the mottled grey acrylic carpet.

‘Yes,’ says one of the lager drinking beanie-wearing men he disapproved of earlier, ‘and to make it ever more of a co-incidence, I’m a paediatrician!’

He comes over and Jeff asks him, quietly, ‘You sure you’re sober enough to cope with this?’

‘Don’t be silly. It’s not like driving a car. Also, I’ve helped deliver two hundred and ninety six babies, so anything thrown at me, I can cope with!’

He goes over to the woman in labour and asks: ‘What’s your name, love?’

‘Justine,’ she says, her face running with sweat and grimaced, ‘and this baby wants to come out super fast.’

‘I’m Danny, a doctor, and after we’ve spoken to the conductor, we’re going to get you ready to have this baby.’

Ten minutes later, in the middle of the aisle in carriage D, a baby girl is born. For Jeff, it is an eye-opener, because even although he was at his ex wife’s side for the birth of both their daughters, he always avoided a bird’s eye view. This time though, he had no choice, as Danny needed him to sterilise a knife with a lighter, get him a towel for swaddling, and hold the freshly emerged baby while the umbilical chord was cut.

 ‘Are you okay, Justine?’ he asks

‘I’m just fine,’ she says, smiling as she is handed her freshly swaddled baby. Just then the train arrives at Preston.

Two paramedics rush on, lift Justine and her baby onto a stretcher, congratulate Danny, and rush mother and child off the train. ‘Bye,’ Justine says, smiling proudly. Only now Jeff remembers the story his brother was telling him last night…about his summer holiday on the Western Scottish Islands, an isolated, self-sufficient community who brewed their own alcohol, and a whirlwind romance with a Welsh woman with the clearest green eyes. It can’t be, he thinks.

 Is it possible, he wonders, that I just aided in the fastest ever delivery in the records of Virgin Trains, perhaps in British medical history, and that the baby, quirkily, was actually my niece? It is at this moment on Christmas Eve 2008 that carriage D on the Pendolino Express is truly a quiet coach, apart from a yap from the dachshund. Jeff turns and glares at the prissy lady. She smiles at him and says: ‘Do you want to come and sit next to me?’

Jeff relocates himself, his skis, and luggage to carriage E. Something is just not right about the Quiet Coach. And he will have that beer, after all.

FIN