Modus operandi 3 The Degenerated Gentleman in Town.

The cat wakes our liver’ish, fifty-five’ish writer with a tongue, as rough as its owners, at ten o’ clock’ish, every day. A groan, developing into a coughing fit disrupts the cat’s onslaught. The smell of old tobacco smoke spilled beer and rotting fish invade his nostrils, and our writer engages his world. His world, that of a literary hack, is a downward stroll into oblivion. It is not entirely his fault, well, yes it is; it’s his set of ideals that have been his downfall, that and a strong penchant for alcoholic beverages. Twice married, twice divorced with three daughters and a son who visit him at very irregular intervals and two grandchildren who are not allowed to visit him at all. His income is derived from occasional royalties from a long-forgotten script for a sitcom but still popular in Burkina Faso and the Upper Volta. Otherwise, he has no visible means of support.

No morning tea for him, a stagger with his cat entwined around his ankles to the fridge develops into an obstacle race, around discarded manuscripts, reference books, ashtrays and dirty washing. This  crusade is even more commendable  when you consider that because he has mislaid his glasses and  lost the ability to focus on anything whatsoever he does the journey entirely by feel.  Eventually, when the finishing line is reached and the fridge door opened a can of beer is grabbed, a very shaky hand manages to pull the ring and he is sprayed with cheap lager. It is the only wash of the day. His next movement is to blunder around in the fridge’s innards to find something for the cat. A half full tin of mouldy sardines is discovered and after an inward struggle to eat them himself his compassion for his one true friend surfaces and it is deposited on the floor.

The need for the lavatorial department also surfaces, because he lives in a one room rented apartment, the contrivance he is getting desperate for means a trip down the outside corridor to a communal facility four doors away. He decides to put number two plan into action and opens the window. A dilapidated flower box with withered blooms of the last century receive some of the decantation but the pedestrians five floors below him, on the pavement are the main recipients. Some even put up umbrellas.

Eventually, a dressing gown, a garment held together by burning cigarette holes and the odd strand of wool, is donned and the search for glasses undertaken. They are found underneath his desk half an hour later in a bowl of congealed milk that the cat declined to poison itself on.  The computer is kicked into life and our hero searches round for his first gasper of the day. He finds a half smoked one in a saucer and has his second coughing fit of the day. Whilst the computer churns its constipated way through the start-up procedure a kettle of water is placed on an old gas ring. The resultant mixture of old coffee grounds, crusty honey, condensed milk and other unmentionable floating debris is taken back to the desk. Our hero’s day’s contribution to the literary world begins.

The state of the desk defies description, so I won’t, save to say the basic components, grease, bread crumbs, bits of bacon and spilt beer covered keyboard, monitor and mouse are just serviceable. After fifteen attempts to win ‘Free Cell,’ e-mails are the first port of call. The only one not binned straight away  is one from his literary agent asking if he wishes to ghostwrite a book for a retiring little-known footballer with no known charisma and even less known command of the English language. A quick search in a grubby notebook shows this is the fourth time he has been approached by this individual and been declined. The reply to his agent, telling him that the footballer can shove the football up where the sun ‘don’t’ shine is posted off.

By noon after a further twenty games of ‘Free Cell’ and twenty-five dog end cigarettes found half-smoked in the ash tray and floor,  our hero feels a little peckish and trolls off to the fridge. The remains of what, at first thought, was a jam roly-poly pudding turns out to be a rolled-up sock. So, he puts on an old pair of verdigris jeans a cigarette holed polar neck sweater covered in an ornate patina and a pair of non-matching flip-flops.  Making sure that no creditors are waiting to pounce he goes down the fire escape and makes his way to the pub.

The saloon bar of his local pub is the real stage for our hero. He tells tales of tremendous scoops that he just missed, television scripts that were stolen from him, famous film producers that died just before they were about to accept his film adaptation of Androcles and the lion and the publishing business’s sad decline due to the employment of illiterate twelve-year-old girls who wouldn’t know the difference between a book and a wet fish if it jumped up and slapped them in the face.

The pub’s newspaper is scanned for likely winners in the horse race meetings during the afternoon and names noted. The landlord is told to put what he owes on the slate and he will pay later. The trip to the bookmakers goes past a supermarket waste bin which after a careful perusal of its innards reveals two, out of sell by date, loafs of bread, a distinctly off-colour packet of lamb chops and a crushed box of cornflakes. These are put in one of the many bags blowing about in the wind on the car park. Further down the road, he passes a green grocer’s shop advertising, ‘ Todays’ special offer. Mangoes’ at half price.’ This isn’t the first time he’s had cause to remonstrate with the greengrocer about the misuse of the humble apostrophe and he gets as much abuse this time as he has before. But he has made his point and refreshed with the thought that the great jockey in the sky will surely favour his choices for the race meeting at Epsom he marches into the bookmakers.

At five o’ clock he stumbles out with a small return on his investment. Working out he has enough for a fish and chip supper, a couple of pints at the pub as well as his paying his morning’s slate and a packet of roll up tobacco he makes his way back past the half price mangos’ on the other side of the road. After a further rummage in the supermarket’s waste bin and finding six squashed tins of ‘out of date ‘tuna chunks in brine,’ he finally makes his way, full of the joys of spring, through the doors of  the saloon bar. At half past ten, he staggers home, completely forgetting to buy fish and chips and spends the next hour sending e-mails to newspaper editors complaining about the demise of the country’s social standards.  At midnight, he and this cat curl up under the bedclothes and fall under the guiding influence of Morpheus.

 

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‘The Writing Imperative and How to Survive It’ No 2

The Single Country Lady.
At seven fifteen prompt, a housekeeper awakens our wordsmith by drawing the heavy velvet drapes revealing an immaculate lawn, a glimmering lake and distant wooded undulating uplands. On a tray with a pot of tea, a plate of two digestive biscuits rests the morning post. Sunlight envelopes a four-poster bed with rays of dancing dust-laden particles in which a lady of interminable age reposes. She gently sits up and tunes a bedside wireless to a serious news channel and her brain to the day ahead. After a shower, she dresses in tweed and makes her way to the dining room.
At nine thirty in the morning our Lady author, after breakfasting on muesli, a kipper and coffee during which a deep perusal of the newspapers is carried out. She gathers her writing paraphernalia, a bag containing a bottle of gin, a small pork pie and a jar of pickled onions, summons her four basset hounds and repairs to her writing habitat. The walk is very pleasant, through a small bluebell wood that gives her time to gather her thoughts and her dogs to gather buried bones.
A wooden summerhouse some three hundred yards away from the main residence is the natural abode for successful lady authors. Overlooking a weeping willow-bordered lake on one side and rolling meadows on the other. Inside is a bamboo chaise longue, a desk, a telephone connected only via the house which intercepts all calls and re-routes them to the summerhouse in cases of extreme importance. On one wall a bookcase containing a hundred or so reference books; atlases, ordnance survey maps, town street maps, train timetables, bus routes and police procedure. On an adjacent small round table on top of which resides a six pack of tonic water, a plate of sliced lemon a plate with knife and fork where she adds the bottle of gin and lunch.
Our lady author is a writer of detective fiction. Her family is steeped in crime fighting. She has developed a deep knowledge and love of crime fighting from her father, his father and so on. They have been involved in the security of the country for generations and having reached the higher echelons of the government security establishment they have been suitably rewarded.
She works assiduously until one o’clock taking occasional sips of gin and tonic. For the next hour, if the weather is clement, she takes a deck chair outside and sits by the lake, eating her lunch, sipping her gin, playing with her beloved hounds and thinking. The afternoon from two o’ clock until the gin bottle is emptied is taken up by planning. Notes are written, facts checked and telephone calls made and accepted by interested parties. The gin bottle is like an egg timer. When it is empty she gathers her writing paraphernalia, her hounds and retires for the day.
At home in the evening, she occasionally has a guest or two for dinner but usually sits and reads. The television is switched on for news and selected programs only; mainly the radio suffices for background noise, a lot of thinking still pervades her time. At eleven o’ clock she goes to bed
Because deadlines determine her literary output her life this daily routine is a seven-day week activity. Holidays are mostly taken in locations which stir the imagination and plots can be hatched. Her work is her life and life is wonderful.

‘The Writing Imperative and How to Survive It’.

The Single Gentleman in London.

Upon rising in the a.m., after a cup of tea or after a particularly heavy evening’s frolics, a ‘Bloody Mary’ heart starter, a long soak in a bath should be undertaken. This clears the soul, invigorates the mind and sets one up for breakfast consisting of a bowl of cereal then an amalgam of bacon, eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes and sausages. This is followed by two rounds of toast and Dundee marmalade and a glass of champagne.  A perusal of the day’s newspapers is undertaken whilst victualing with particular regard to the obituary columns, making note of the death of relatives or old school chums.

The arrival of one’s secretary, at ten o’ clock, denotes it is time for work and one repairs to the study. After the secretary recounts one’s former musings, one should gather thoughts, aloud, for the continuation of the narrative. This is best undertaken while walking backwards and forwards whilst staring at the ceiling and imbibing a single malt at the end of each traverse.

At one o’ clock the morning travails stop for luncheon. A brisk walk to one’s Gentleman’s club is undertaken and after a few pink gins with fellow members beetle into the dining room for a light lunch with one’s publisher, grouse or pheasant washed down with a pleasant grape followed by spotted dick pudding and Napoleon brandy.  At three o’clock one returns home for an hour’s snooze and upon wakening another heart starter is taken and afternoon tea, sometimes with an aged aunt who is in town for the season.

At five o’ clock, after the aunt has departed and the cocktail hour looms, a gentle read of the mornings thoughts, now typed out by the secretary, is undertaken and modified where necessary. At six o’ clock cocktails are served and one dresses in the appropriate paraphernalia for dinner and later beguilement. This involves further wining and dining and probably dancing.

This way of life is conducted from Tuesdays to Thursday only. One departs to the country on Fridays and returns on Mondays. No writing of any sort is effected during these long weekends.

Hello Hello

 

 

 

‘Have you used the phone today?’ I asked my wife Laura, as I gently supped an early morning mango juice on our balcony overlooking Mombasa creek in Kenya.

‘No,’ she replied, ‘Why?’

‘Look over there,’ I said, ‘You see where our telephone line goes across the road and into that tree?’

She followed my pointing finger and we watched as a local chap started draping the lower branches with old plastic sheets and bits of corrugated iron. The tree was just outside our compound, and grew out of what once was the pavement; it was soon reminiscent of a Christmas tree decorated by a deranged Turner prize winner.

‘He’s moved into that tree,’ said Laura.

‘He’s moving a couple of goats in as well,’ I said, and we both watched as the real estate developer tethered his pets to the tree using our telephone line.

Telephone poles are a rarity in these parts as they make exceedingly good objects to run into when the brakes fail, allowing the vehicle to come to come to a stop, albeit a sudden one. The answer is to drape the line from tree to tree thus giving the Telephone Company workers the double advantage of being able to sell any new replacement poles to local charcoal burners and itinerant builders.

‘That’s it,’ said Laura, ‘That’s the end of our telephone again.’

By ‘again’ just about summed it up. It was a regular occurrence for one reason or another, ranging from floods, fire and monkeys. Getting back on line again was always fun. If you didn’t look upon it as fun, you may as well book a straight jacket there and then. Dealing with any Governmental department here in Kenya was the same. Logic goes out of the window and so does any sense of common sense.

I arrived at the Kenya Telecom offices later that morning. An old colonial building that had served the Mombasa telephone subscribers for decades. It was like walking back a few decades as well, as you enter the reception area. This area is one to miss as it’s always crowded with customers, Africans, Arabs and Asians waving sheets of paper in various stages of agitation at the laid back clerks There were unofficial guides wanting to show anyone the attributes of the now wonderfully decrepit building for a few shillings, and  a couple of Security guards reading newspapers. Niftily avoiding the maelstrom surrounding the reception clerk’s desk, I mounted a staircase on the way to the Promised Land of mystifying East African beguilement.

And promises were all I was going to get, I knew that, it was a start though and in this land of illusions all I could expect. The shabby, corridors were full of files, sometimes up to the ceiling, probably I thought, holding the damn thing up in places. Glancing through opened doors into offices was much the same boxes and boxes of files stacked in every available place. Overhead, fans ground their way slowly around like arthritic mosquitoes, while their healthier cousins flew around biting anything that moved. Flimsy pieces of paper that had escaped from the filing system, perhaps twenty years ago gently wafted around the building in humid air currents. Occasionally someone would catch one, read it idly and then send it on its interminable way to continue its gentle flight of fancy.

Eventually I reached the office of Mr Umbungo, who I was informed was the very chap to sort out my problems. The office was much like any other, no sign of technology, not even a phone for God’s sake, just stacks and stacks of files and a girl fast asleep under a table.

‘Ahem,’ I sort of coughed. She stirred, opened one eye, closed it and yawned. I moved a stack of newspapers off a chair and sat down. When she finally arose she seemed to go into a semi trance while staring at an empty coca-cola bottle. This went on for some minutes and I was beginning to worry that she had somehow self hypnotised her self and was going to suddenly pick up a stack of files and suffocate me with them. However, all was well, she sat down and she smiled very sweetly in my direction and said, ‘Good morning, how are you?’

‘I’m very well thank you.’ I said.

‘And how is your family?’

‘They’re very well as well. How are you….’

This exchange of pleasantries regarding the wellbeing of families is a normal formality in Africa and if not brought as diplomatically as possible to an end can go on ad infinitum. It’s a precursor to the start of any business or meaningful discussion. The meaningful discussion in this case was whether I would like a drink? I suppressed the retort that a large Bloody Mary would indeed be welcome and told her that a coca-cola would be nice.

‘Frederick,’ she shouted, out of the door.

A young lad ambled in. ‘Go and fetch two cokes,’ she said, and turned to me, ‘Give him thirty shillings.’ I did as I was bid.

‘Mr Umbungo will be here very soon,’ she said.

I was used to this very soon nonsense ‘Very soon’ in Africa means anytime within the next six hours. I settled down to wait.

Mr Umbungo arrived at about half past eleven and we exchanged the usual pleasantries vis a vis the well being of our respective families, Frederick was again summoned, and I bought him a coca cola.

‘You say there is a man building a dwelling on your land?’ he said, after I had, I thought, described the exact nature of the problem.

‘No I suppose the council owns the tree,’ I said.

‘But you are in the wrong department,’ he replied.

‘No,’ I said, ‘the telephone wire that connects my phone to your exchange has been used by this man to tether his goats. He has cut the wire from the tree that was being used as a telephone pole.’

‘We do not use trees,’ he said.

I would have gone to the window at this stage and pointed out any number of trees, bushes and old broken down lamp posts, come to that  being used to convey wires to the exchange, if the window hadn’t been blocked by old files. Anyway, that wasn’t the way to deal with African logic, I knew what he wanted and he knew that I knew.

‘I will have to pay a visit and assess the situation,’ he added. ‘If what you say is true then this man will be in serious trouble. You can collect me in the morning’.

A time was set for three o’ clock the next morning, which meant in real time anytime after nine. Time starts at daybreak for Kenyans and finishes at sunrise which makes life complicated for those of us who don’t realise there is a completely different time scale out here. It doesn’t matter much though; time is a very flexible element in any case and has no meaning.

We were ready for Mr Umbungo the next morning. The outcome, we knew, rested on cost, cost to us that is. Kenya society runs on bribery and corruption, a facet that any outsider should do well to remember. It’s all done very nicely and generally without threats or menace, it’s just a way of life. We were old hands at the bribery game so anything of value that denoted wealth was hidden and I used Laura’s old Toyota Starlet to fetch him. He arrived at ten, which wasn’t too bad.

Mr Umbungo expected at least a Toyota Landcruiser for a start and his expectation of the amount of bribe dropped a few points. It dropped a further few when he realised I hadn’t got a driver and drove him to our home myself. We lived in an old colonial style of apartment, three stories up without a lift which must have depressed him even more. A mineral water on the balcony was the first port of call, served by Laura who had told the maid to make herself scarce. By the time he had looked around and found no swimming pool, no computer and not even a TV, never mind a satellite dish he was about as despondent as it’s possible to get. It was obvious that we had done it well as we watched his face drop as the bribery expectation duly dropped to a very low rung.

The three of us watched the goat herd enlarging his home to accommodate, no doubt, a wife or two and various offsprings. If past experience was any guide we would expect him to have added another two or three rooms by the end of the week and then rent them out.

‘This man must be removed and your line restored,’ said Mr Umbungo.

‘Yes,’ I said, waiting for the opening salvo in negotiations.

‘I have a very sick mother,’ said Mr Umbungo, which is quite a common opening ploy; it could have been sick wife, child or anything. We expected it, but had to go through the paraphernalia because it was the African way. To offer an out and out bribe meant a loss of face for him, and anyway it was a form of wheeling and dealing which is well set in the African psyche.

‘Oh I am sorry,’ said Laura. She was far better at this sort of thing than I was.

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘and the school fees are due now.’

‘Well,’ said Laura, ‘Maybe a little donation towards…’

‘That would be most useful. It means I can devote all my time to your telephone line rather than having to spend all day taking my mother backwards and forwards to hospital.’

A one thousand shilling note was pocketed and with the promise that all his family’s prayers would be directed in our direction for the foreseeable future. Mr Umbungo got up to leave.

I drove him into Mombasa and on returning gave me a knowing look, ‘Honour done on both sides I think,’ she said. As one thousand shillings would buy you a couple of big Macs and fries back home, I agreed. I remounted the satellite antenna, the computer terminal and waited for our driver to come back with the Landcruiser that he’d taken for servicing.

‘I expect the phone will be back on within a week,’ Laura said, uncovering the washing machine and dish washer. ‘Where did you drop Mr Umbungo?’

‘Oh, outside the Indian Ocean Beach Club.’

 

 

Hello…Hello

© Kit Chapman

1765 words

 

 

 

 

 

Origins of the Pig & Bladder

 

A week before midsummer’s eve in 1431, the Squire, the Honourable Egbert Wazock decided it was high time the villagers of Plod celebrated something, anything, on the day the sun seems to stand still. The New Year saw exhibitions of hedgehog squatting by nude octogenarian members of the community and multiple cartwheel splurging by spinsters with amorous intensions, both activities originating in Druidic rituals, but that’s as far as it went. In the Welsh mountains and valleys other villages were engaged in pagan practices on midsummer’s day including sliding down the mountain on tea trays and bog snorkelling in the valleys.

Squire Wazock decided to use another Druidic rite and gathered acorns from the oldest oak tree in the village  soaked them overnight in a pig’s bladder full of ale. After twelve hours of soaking the acorns were fed to Druid Blodwyn Maddog, a lady of indescribable grotesqueness with a penchant for eating ale soaked acorns and pronouncing words of wisdom, some of which were prophetic but usually utter gibberish.  This time she prophesied that mid summers day should be   celebrated in Plod by rolling the same pig’s bladder, full of ale, down the mountain into the valley below and wherever it came to rest there be to built an ale house. Midsummer was to be celebrated by all, from that day onwards,  by every villager getting absolutely bladdered and bugger any silly rituals