The Expletive Deleted of the Average Briton "The average Briton swears fourteen times a day" --The Metro
The first as your fist deals with the alarm - make that two if you wake with a hangover. The stubbed toe or the elbow impacting on the dado rail's chamfered corner - that'll be the second or third, depending.
Spilled coffee? Minor oath. Dropped toast executing that mid-air flip to ensure its buttery side smears the kitchen floor? Oath in a major key. The gridlock and frayed nerves of the drive to work? Horn Concerto in F.
The office threatens a grand symphony, a Mahlerian parade of missed promotions and belligerent bosses, rendered in the arpeggios of Anglo-Saxon, four letters to the word as surely as beats to the bar;
but you hold back. You’re in the arena of best behaviour, the all-hearing ear of the conference call attuned to even the softest imprecation. Thought-profanity replaces the verbal, Orwell in Dilbert’s cubicle.
Does it count as one of your fourteen if it’s imagined – a word bubbling into being in the mind’s alphabet soup, the four syllables of what you think of your boss achieving their Oedipal rendezvous?
The tree GP attended first; pressed his cold stethoscope to the bark, listened, wasn’t sure. Sap was sent to histology; came back inconclusive. The tree consultant requested a twig biopsy; had more sap work done; reviewed a diagnostic imaging report. Spoke quietly as he broke the news. The tree nurse ticked the checklist box by box, the benefits and risks laid out dead straight. A fallen leaf was taken for consent. And now the tree surgeon’s ready to operate – he’s wearing boots and denim shirt instead of suit, a lunch tin where black bag should be the norm. No sterilised implements. A grubby pull cord yanked, the stink of smoke and petrol in the air. Visor snapped in place and noise to wake the dead.
Stupid o’clock, the last few chapters paced out like countdown markers, the denouement on the horizon and the smudgy pink-grey of dawn not far behind it. Common sense shook its head an hour ago, like a literary critic dismayed at your choice of potboiler, or your boss foreseeing your yawn-stifling showing at tomorrow’s presentation. Tomorrow? Try later today. You shrug – or would if you weren’t pre-occupied with page-turning. This car chase is what’s important. The revelation is one burning automobile and a shoot-out away. There’s some business about a girl and a suitcase crammed with non-sequential notes, but that’s strictly epilogue stuff. The mano-a-mano shenanigans is what counts – that, and the big reveal. Has it been a game of bluff and double bluff or double cross and triple cross? It all depends on who staggers out of that burning wreck, pistol in hand. You think you know: it’s either the high-flying corporate lawyer or his brother, MIA since Desert Storm, back from the burning sands and coveting the trappings of another man’s life. But you’re wrong. The villain is closer to home and legion: it’s the alarm in four hours’ time, the six cups of coffee before the meeting, the tombstone eyes of the unimpressed clients, the face-palming that greets you back in the office, the way the phone stays sullenly silent like the antagonist in the last chapter keeping shtum in the interview room.
We Renew Our Vows in the Presence of the Auto-Wed Machine
(The Camera Obscura & World of Illusions, Edinburgh. 30 April 2017)
Exit through the gift shop, but not before you’ve descended the staircase that resounds with whatever tune your footfalls create, or been waylaid by the wedding machine –
don’t mind us. We’ll only be a minute. We’re renewing our vows in the presence of said coin-slot operated gizmo for the not-so-princely sum of one pound
and I wonder by whose authority its powers are vested? The guy who made the chess-playing Turk? Skegness’s Jolly Fisherman, the chuckles under control
and a more dignified sense of purpose? Robbie the Robot, redundant, heartsore for Anne Francis and quietly stacking the scales, one tourist couple at a time,
against the loneliness of tin, glass, lights?
Godzilla in pain, wracked with toothache from chewing buildings, bridges, cars. Incisors shattered by lumps of brick and concrete, molars set on edge as metal screeches against enamel. Gums bleed. Dumpsters fur his tongue. The ocean was clean. The city’s anything but. Godzilla retches.
Keep to the path. You will know the path by its coating of moss and wet leaves. It will try
to unfoot you. Three kilometres of bad camber and changes in gradient: it has unfair
advantage. No campfires or ball games. But you will know the picnickers by their safe proximity
to the car park. Their flasks, their point-and-shoot snaps of the lake. No drinking of the water;
no dog fouling. But you will know the enthusiasm of the dog unleashed, its happiness at the path
and the acreages of things to sniff. You will know its muddy paws, its tongue unfurled in welcome.
Swat the thick of the dirt from your coat or trousers. Stout footwear is recommended.
It hangs there, on a sign lettered in the Seventies, a word with a fag in its mouth:
depot. A word redolent of oily patches on broken concrete and a row of lorries
parked against a clapboard structure. Tea from a flask, the last cold dregs flicked out.
Box files on a makeshift shelf in an office that'd be happier as a workshop. Punch clock
and girlie calendar, walls painted in whatever stores had over. Some vital support service