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.