Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Another story from the pen of...

The last headline stuck. The rest were just some news-hound’s idea of being
smart, pithy. The fact was a pauper had found Paradise, at least for a few days
over Christmas.
"What the Hell does tatterdemalion mean anyway?" Nobody was volunteering an
answer till Mike stood up.
"I guess it means tramp, underdog, that sort of thing..erm..sir." He sat down
again pretty quickly.
"If it means tramp, why don’t you damnwell say so?"
"Well, sir.." Mike was on his feet again.
"That wasn’t a question, siddown, sir." Mike dropped like a stone.
The boss wanted to make his point, and punched the air as arms went up to
volunteer a more sycophantic explanation. ("Time for Brownie points, chaps and
chapesses," muttered the creep sub-editor.)
"Who, in the name of Radamanthus ever heard of tatterdemalion?" Mike thought
better and kept his hand close to his side. That wasn’t a question either.
"Now," shouted the Editor, "go yonder," he said pointing through a window at the
snarling traffic circulating the Wopping office, "and find me a shaggy dog story
for the punters before the Twelfth Night comes and all the Peace on Earth and
goodwill to all men crap dries up for another year.’
He pointed at the huge portait of the owner of the newspaper.
"For him." Chairs shuffled, the team stood up. Ed had spoken. It was time to go
newshounding with noses close to the ground.
"But a shaggy dog story, I ask you."
"Sir has spoken," from sycophant Sub-Ed, and then trying to reclaim authority,
"First on my desk gets it," and a rushing out to find something, anything.
Ziggzagging out away from the office, Mike made his way back to the store where
the discovery had been made. Two cleaners, bleary eyed, still hung over from too
much Christmas spirit, had found the old man asleep amid empty whisky bottles,
half-eaten cheeses, shiny boxes of Black Magic, their tops ripped open, soft
centres missing. How anybody could managed to get locked in over the few days
the store was closed was a joke, except it wasn’t.
"Heads will roll," said Tom, shaking the keys to wake the old bugger.
"Glad it wasn’t me had the job," Jack was looking at the bunch of keys still
jangling in Tom’s fist.
Tom dropped the bunch into the old man’s midriff, Wasn’t me, mate," and picked
up the keys as the old geezer came out of his torpor.
"What ‘ave you been a doin’?" And then looking round for an answer in the pile
of empties and rubbish that had served as a bed for the couple of drunken days
and nights of Euphoria at the end of a rainbow in suburbia, was how the papers
put it later that same day.
"I asked you?" What? Who really knows what’s round the corner? The two cleaners
picked the old man up, brushing him off as he stood up straight.
"I mean tersay, here’s this old lad, and the world rushin’ off to parties and
drinks, turkey dinners, Christmas crackers, Hark the Herald, all that sort of
thing, an’ here’s miladdo dreamin’ of doin’ the same on his park bench, when by
the Billy jingo, some stupid git locks him in ‘ere."
"I never meant to.." First words from Lucky Jim.
"I’ll bet you didn’t, matey."
Then three coppers show up, smiling all over their faces, they were.
"What’s up ‘ere then?" says Plod. They marched the old sod to the front desk.
The Seargeant roars, "Phooar, what a pen an’ ink."
"Sorry, Sarge, says the other, holding yer man by the elbow. "It’s this un."
None of that: Anything you say may be used in evidence against you stuff.
We just bundled him into a cell to let him sober up, get a wash and bugger off,
but then the Press came in, wanted to ask him all sorts of questions, till they
got a whiff of him, so they asked me. I got the mention.
" ’A Seargeant at Shepherd’s Bush Police Station’, that was all I got, no name
or nothing, just that. Could’ve been anyone at this Nick."
"It must never happen again." Everyone nodded earnestly. "That much is clear."
"Soft Furnishings, I think you can leave, Sportswear, Accessories for the
Millenium, yes, you too."
"The question is," the Chairman paused for emphasis, "how can we minimise the
damage if it does?" Everyone frowned earnestly again.
" A think-tank,’ said a young buyer, thinking of Mrs Thatcher..lovingly.
"Or an Action-Group," said a junior assistant, longing to be part of one.
"No," the Chairman said emphatically, "we must put ourselves in his place."
"Who does he mean by ‘we’ and ‘his’," mumbled the ranks.
"We must sample the joys this supermarket has to offer. We must make an
inventory of everything that cam be taken down off the shelves and eaten here
and now."
"I think we can safely say that nothing can be taken off the shelves and
cooked." The Chairman looked grave. "The kitchens are locked every night, are
they not?"
"They are," he was assured.
"And so is the building."
"Were it otherwise, " frowned the Chairman.
"An inventory of everything, quite," said the Senior Buyer, "and then a testing
of our products. Any volunteers?" A flock of eager hands shot up. "I think we
can safely leave the liquors and the wines and spirits." Some hands shot down
"And everything that is conventionally regarded as edible, tasty and delicious."
All the hands went down.
"The unusual, glues worth sniffing, vitamins with side effects if taken
liberally, that sort of thing."
"Pick me up adhesives," said a wag from Fish and Fruit.
"And for that one, Jonathan, you can be the guinea pig to try everything out
"Everybody clear?" More nodding earnestly.

"An uncommon number of cases of pseuds Bottulism cum Legionnaires’ Disease,
wouldn’t you say, Nurse?" The House Consultant on a flying visit, tails trailing
in his wake, and a batch of auxilliaries mopping up the place.
"And so much vomiting," said the great man carefully side-stepping a pool of
something half-eaten.
"House of Commons Dining Room, usually, this sort of thing, but.." looking at
his watch, "three days after Christmas, they should have invoked the
"All from the same place, Sir" Nurse Hill, starched pretty in nylons, wishing
Sir Archibald would return to his Bridge and his Brandy.
"Same place, you say?"
"Yessir, Debenhams Food Hall." Sir Archibald looked aghast.
"No, Sir, staff." Nurse Hill blushed slightly, knowing Sir Archibald Sturrock
would require an explanation.
"Trying out their products, Sir." Knowing that wouldn’t be enough, Nurse Hill
turned to face the consultant.
"Guinea pigs?" he snarled, tweaking his moustache, feeling in his waistcoat for
his watch.
"Sort of, they were trying out a theory. Sir Archibald looked perplexed.
"Don’t get this sick trying out theories," and then laughing up at the ceiling.
"Should try these things out on the public, like the rest of us." Nurse Hill
stepped out of the consultant’s way. His thoughts and his girth had undoubtedly
turned in the direction of cards and cognac.
"G’night, Nurse, and tell these theorists to be more careful next time."

Robert L Fielding


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