The pub quiz – her story

My gaze is outward. My book has fallen into my lap. It rests rather heavily, as, watching through the window I see the young mother push her baby up the hill. She stops, though in truth she was walking so slowly that the process of stopping was imperceptible. She crushes the butt of her cigarette beneath her half booted heel, wearily exhaling the final cloud of smoke as she absently inspects her child. She tugs the hood further over the child’s face, as if to hide it, then proceeds up the hill, her sense of burden manifest.

 I continue to contemplate the blank space left on the pavement long after she has gone. My book falls now to the floor with a thud, the bookmark making a bid for freedom. It hardly matters; I will not lose my place. The book is a familiar friend, a reliable fantasy that has transported me from this world to a parallel place since I was a child. Nonetheless, I pick up the book and carefully replace the bookmark, quietly nuzzling the pages to inhale the reassuring musk of its so often turned pages. 

Tonight, I ‘go down the pub.’ Imagine that, it is Tuesday and I ‘go down the pub!’, quite as usual. Well not quite as usual. This pub has stood on my corner all the time I have lived here, quite unregarded by me except as a local landmark. Nine months ago, my Tuesday evenings were occupied with salsa classes in the church hall besides the pub. These were strange affairs, quite rum indeed. I joined, I suppose for the company, and company it was for a while, and the pulsating music rarely failed to brighten my mood.

However, the imbalance of women over men was acute, and I found myself ungenerously questioning why this queue of men had to move in quite so closely, the collective impact of their aftershaves growing suffocating as the effort of gently but insistently pushing them away to a place where our bodily contact was purely dance related became more and more bothersome. Three months ago I replaced the dancing with a local reading group, where I found that the imbalance between men and women was quite the reverse of the dancing class.

Naively assuming that this group would share my passion for books, I was soon to discover that in the main my fellow readers had done little more than skim through the fortnightly work, the conversation arresting around the obvious vagaries of plot and superficialities of character. The gossip around the margins was initially quite comradely and fun, but in the end far too prone to descend to inconsequential chat around TV soaps that I had never watched but felt compelled to share a view on. The jolly invite in the pub window seemed, by contrast to be something that might fall between these two experiences, and was at least worth a try … ‘Roll up, Roll up. Pub Quiz open to everyone, make new friends, win fine prizes!’ 

I was trepidatious of course when I first pushed that solid mahogany door open for the first time to release the tobacco fumes, you know how it is. But I was quickly reassured by the warmth of the welcome, the explanation of the team system, and by my ready adoption by Heather and her husband Frank, who enlisted me into their team ‘Heather’s Hopefuls.’ I was quick to apologise in advance for my sublime ignorance with regard to all matters sporting and popular, including pop music and most of reality shows and serials on TV. My mind was put to rest by Heather’s explanation that most contemporary culture topics were well covered by she and frank, and that where they were weak was in literature, history, politics and the arts, where they just knew that I would make a great contribution. I surprised myself at how quickly I left behind any feelings of not belonging, or of living up to this high expectation, to become absorbed in the quiz process, to really enjoy the whispered conspiracy as our team huddled together to bat around possible answers as the pregnant question hung in the pub’s fug.

I was relieved to find that the history and arts questions were indeed well within my compass, to the extent that ‘my’ points were the difference between we the ‘Hopefuls’ winning rather than losing. Heather was quick to open one of the bottles of red wine that we won as first prize. I felt a slightly giddy sensation as the warm cloying wine lubricated our celebration. Heather was animatedly orchestrating our campaign for the next weeks quiz. There was no dubiety as to whether I would be included in the team. I readily agreed that I would read the broadsheet dailies in some detail that week, adding current affairs to my growing list of specialised subjects. 

I lay tucked up in bed happily that evening, feeling more content and more full of life that I had felt for a while. Quiz night had far exceeded my expectations. It had proved to be a good combination of the suspense and vitality of the salsa, without the unwanted intimacy; and the intellectual stimulus of the reading group, without the rather claustrophobic, mildly despairing climate of the reading group. And then there was Simon, the final member of our team. Like me, he did not seem like a regular pub person, yet he clearly was, as they all seemed to know him well. There was a slightly studious air about him, something in the way his brow furrowed over each question, giving each his fullest attention – whether it be celebrity trivia, or an inquiry into the origin of life – that attracted me towards him. Last week – the third week of our victorious run – Simon and I were left with a bottle of wine between us, Heather and Frank having somewhat hurriedly announced their departure then scampered off with their booty.

Simon and I sit together in silence, both focused on the bottle in front of us. Simon breaks the silence first, timidly suggesting that he and I might share the bottle some evening, away from the pub, maybe over a meal. My heart skipped, on impulse I wanted to say ‘yes, let us share it now, let us share us now.’ But of course I held back, you know me well enough by now to know I would. I did say, though, that that would be very nice, and why didn’t he hang on to it, then we could enjoy it together some time. Then I muttered some excuse and left, half tripping over a stool as I made for the door. 

He has been on my mind this week. I notice that whenever I enter the pub for the quiz, he is already there. As I walked past the pub each evening last week, I noticed his graying head framed through the yellowed window as he sat at the bar. Tonight, I determine that I will arrive earlier, to allow us to get to know each other a little better, away from the urgency of the quiz. I return my book to the table, a faithful friend left to conduct her patient vigil while I adventure abroad.

This evening I have already decided that I will look a little less like the local librarian, and to wear that red frock that I recklessly bought in the January sales, then saved for a special occasion. I have now declared that tonight will be that occasion. I prepare then eat a light supper of white fish, which I absently eat while studying the Daily Telegraph for tit bits of current affairs that might prove useful during tonight’s interrogation. The fish should provide ballast enough to absorb the wine , should we win again, as we customarily do. I drop the final morsel in the cats bowl.

She seems nowhere to be seen, I suspect still canoodling on the rooftops with the newly arrived tom from downstairs. I swing open the pub door in confident and bright expectation, to reveal as ever a smiling Heather, alone, but no sign of Simon. Heather compliments me on my dress, then proffers me a drink. Noticing me looking around, clearly distracted from our casual chat, she drops her tone to a conspiratorial one, to assure me that I should not fear; that Simon will turn up, he never misses.

Without further encouragement, she starts to tell me what she knows of Simon, which it transpires is not a great deal. He lives alone, just around the corner, and his job is something to do with antiquarian books. He may well have been married at some time, but he has never mentioned an ex, and certainly never in that scornful, ‘you know what its like, feel sorry for me’ tone that so many men automatically adopt when referring to past wives. She has never heard him refer to children, or indeed to other family.  I mumble that he seems very nice, very gentlemanly, and she readily concurs. She giggles with a sisterly wink that he hasn’t fail to notice me either; and that his interest is undoubtedly more that just that of valuing the contribution of an accomplished team mate. I demure, pleased at that moment to be rescued by the arrival of Frank from this somewhat intrusive and disquiteingly accurate interest in my hitherto private deliberations.

The quiz master clears his throat and taps his microphone. Heather indicates that the three of us must proceed alone, accommodating Simon when he eventually arrives, which he surely will at any moment now. In the event, we are now deep into round three, my recent specialty, ‘Current Affairs,’ and still no sign of Simon. I mutter my way through the answers, but his absence is palpable, and my attention entirely elsewhere. I feel awkward, somewhat exposed in my dress, feel silly that I should have assumed that tonight would somehow deliver to the unreal expectations I have stupidly and without evidence attached to it. 

Come the half time break, I cough a little on my sausage roll, resigned now to the fact that he will not turn up tonight, and perhaps never again. Maybe I purely dreamed him, for no one else seems to notice his absence. I stand at the bar, more conscious than ever of my incongruous dress, as I fight for space among the throng to buy drinks for my teammates. I am never sure at busy bars if I should produce money first and wave it , as some do, or if that is rude, or whether I should instead be told how much it will cost before I find the money. Either way, it will probably cost more than I can afford. All at once, I feel alien . I know in a heartbeat and with a certainty that I was never meant to be in places such as this. I just don’t fit. To compound my discomfort, I feel a light touch from behind of hands on my hips. I shuffle slightly forward, turning to glance behind to discourage my unwanted assailant.

To my relief then delight, I see a smiling Simon, innocently asking if he can help me to ‘get them in.’ I smile, then nod eagerly, keen for assistance in this profoundly male task. We are crushed together, really quite close, as he leans over me to attract the barmaid’s attention. I grin idiotically, brushing sausage roll crumbs from my lips as I allow him to squeeze alongside me. Emboldened, perhaps, by the enforced intimacy of the situation, he remarks enthusiastically as to how pretty my dress it, and how it suits me. I blush, then swallow my normal reflex to discount a compliment, instead saying simply ‘thank you, I hoped people might like it.’ 

As the drinks slowly arrive, he explains that he was delayed at work. Amid the fall out from a house clearance, he had discovered an exceptionally rare book. Indeed, so rare that the mere faxing of a copy of the inside page of this first edition had magicked up in their small shop a full blown Sotheby’s valuer who wasted little time in confirming its progeny, and it extreme value. He bubbles with excitement as he confides that his find is now under lock and key in London, in the British Museum, the most significant find in the hundred year history of their modest shop. 

We return with the drinks to share ‘our’ good news, for so it seems with the other Hopefuls. Buoyed by a spirit of confidence and good fortune, our team sweeps through the second half despite the distraction of the book find, and cruises to a record breaking fourth consecutive win. Amid good-natured boo’s and groans from the defeated teams, Heather announces that they need to get back home early this evening. Without further do, she gathers up her prizes and her reluctant husband, and fights her way to the door past cries of ‘fix’ and ‘ringers.’ 

Simon and I are once more alone, although this time gazing into each other eyes rather than at the bottle. He grins widely, surrendering to any attempt to control his excitement over the revelations of his day. He tells me the whole story all over again, in every detail. We are closer than ever, oblivious to the diminishing crowd around us. I slip my hand over his, and squeeze it by way of encouragement of him to savour every nuance of his story. My squeeze is easily returned, as he presses a little closer, our thighs touching. 

Then it begins to happen. Those tears again. I want to choke on then to shoo them away. I inwardly curse them, but still they inevitably well, hot like coals behind my eyelids. I have no idea where they come from, or why they uniquely blight me so. All my life I have fought to control them, but now, even at this crucial moment in my journey, they conspire to undo me. I feel pathetic, ashamed, desperate that Simon should not notice. He does but his reaction, far from being to laugh at my silliness, is to apologise for his inconsideration that he should be so preoccupied with his day that he should fail to ask how mine had been, when clearly it had been distressing. He asks me immediately to share what is wrong.

I feel sillier than ever and stutter that in fact nothing has gone wrong, it has been a perfectly normal day. And that I very much looked forward to this evening. It is just… well just these tears. I tear my handkerchief between my fingers, wring it out as I gaze glumly at my feet. He gently places his arm around my shoulder, removing my hankie as he takes both my hands in his. I melt a little inside. Through gulps, big gulps I ask in a small voice if he doesn’t mind the tears? He whispers no, that in point of fact he finds them quite touching, and adorable. I ask him if he would escort me home, as I feel rather exposed here in public. He says of course.

 It feels so good to walk the pavement with this man. The tears now flow, but now I am beyond caring, even enjoying sharing them with him. At the front door we both know that there is no need to put ourselves through the ‘any one for coffee’ ritual. Once inside he places the wine on the table beside my reliable book. Oh my God, he will find my book choice childish, then the spell will be broken. But the spell endures. He strokes my friends spine, opens her up, and compliments me on the edition and condition. We move together by the window. As I look to the space where the mother was this afternoon, I feel his breath on my neck. I pull him close, closer into my closed world. I kiss him at last by the window, glad that I removed the net curtains when I first moved in.     

The Undivided Trinity

The Undivided Trinity.

“The time of my departure is approaching.

Nigh is the hurricane that will scatter my leaves.

Tomorrow, perhaps, the wanderer will appear –

His eye will search for me round every spot, 

And will, – not find me.”

Thomas Chatterton, quoted in ‘Chatterton’, Peter Ackroyd, 1987.

The evening sky casts its spell over a desolate Millennium Square as three bronze statues, one modern two ancient stir slowly as their shadows lengthen. Cary Grant checks his multiple reflection in the chrome plated Imaginarium, then adjusts his cummerbund to languidly stroll over to the seated William Tyndall, still arthritically hunched over his James the First Bible.

The urbane Cary good-naturedly teases William, while William in turn wearily berates Cary for the shallowness and ease of his previous existence, compared to the seriousness of his purpose in Bible translation, a passion that resulted in his being burnt at the stake. Despite their habitual banter, and their gulfs in background, they recognize that they are in this together. Cary helps William to his feet, shaking off the leaves as they proceed to an adjoining bench where upon sits Thomas Chatterton, eyes absently gazing into the middle distance, forlornly seeking inspiration from the tradesman’s entrance of the LloydsTsb Amphitheatre. He joins their conversation on the frustrations of another interminable day of inanimation.

 His muse has been blighted today by a photo-shoot promoting Bristol tourism. He has endured a supermodel being draped over him all day; she oblivious to his suspended animation and without a care as to the effects of her feigned intimacy upon his hormonal system. Cary bemoans the fact that whereas in Hollywood he could control his contact with fans – staging the apparent naturalness of those encounters for the lens of sympathetic cameramen – now it seems that anyone who feels so inclined can assume familiarity, sticky fingers everywhere, posing suggestively for their clumsy amateur snaps. William laments that the visitors have no idea that his sacrifice was made to popularise the word of God. They venerate the photographic image, but are quite lost to the Word. 

Our unlikely triumvirate shuffle across the Square, to conduct their evening ritual. They pass through the space in the iridescent wall of mirrored water, where a mysterious process transforms their carapaces of bronze into the resplendent hues of their original clothing, their countenances assuming a pale but human pallor. Thus attired, they are prepared for their self-appointed evening task of posing as Council sponsored historical animations. They head across Anchor Square with trepidation, anxious as always lest the gigantic black beetle, ever menacing on its plinth, should learn their trick of transubstantiation. 

Safely delivered to the strip of Waterfront bars, Cary, ever the leader selects for their cocktail hour the cool Californian minimalism of the Pitcher and Piano. By the door they spy a man wearing a Superman outfit. He appears quite crestfallen, as if he had fallen rather than glided from the Bristol and West Building. Tables proving scarce in this popular bar, they join our fallen hero. He shifts along the table with a grunt, hoisting his belt under his ample belly, barely noticing in his self-absorption their antiquated garb, contrasting as it does with his iconic modernism. William, ever concerned, inquires as to his disposition.

 Grudgingly pleased at the opportunity to share his misfortune, he explains that he is one of the founders of Fathers4Justice, now a nationwide movement which all began in Bristol. Today he was badly let down by so called co-conspirators while planning to scale the Council House and hang a banner. When he tried to contact them, the new leaders from ‘Up North’ told him that he was now banished from their number. They gave no reason, had not even been man enough to tell him face to face, merely dumping him by text message. He growls that, though gutted, he will fight on, start up a splinter group, recover the loss of his children and his protest movement. Single handedly if need be.  

Enlivened by this show of defiance, and appreciative of their sympathetic witness, he finishes his pint, wipes his hand across his mouth, and offers them a drink. All three eagerly assent, although Tom’s attention has drifted towards the group of young tourists sat at the adjoining table. These visitors have clocked our incongruous threesome, an American among them loudly conjecturing that the guy in the bow tie may be playing Cary Grant. This flicker of attention is the signal for our costumed ones to move into their practiced routine. Charismatic Cary leads, happily acknowledging the recognition.

He tells them of his realisation of the American dream, from his unpromising beginnings in Bristol. He introduces William, whose life story arouses pity and respect, while a thumbnail outline of Tom’s short life captures the imagination of an otherwise bored Goth girl among the tourist party. She pushes Tom for details of his death, but beyond acknowledging that it may have been caused by suicide, or drug overdose, or a broken heart, he coyly refuses to elucidate the mystery further. She declares that he reminds her of the cool singer Pete Doherty, due in her view to die some day soon through excess, though commenting that despite his disreputable behaviour, he has attracted one of the worlds most beautiful supermodels. Tom’s imagination runs riot, thinking that if only he could break out of this daytime statue routine, then his talent for tragic romanticism could lead him into the arms of a vision of loveliness such as the model sat on his paralysed lap today.

This girl feels emboldened to share her newfound insight that the threesome are in fact ‘celebs’ of yesteryear. William demurs at this sobriquet, raising a crusty eyebrow to explain that while they may correctly be described as celebrated Bristolians, their fame is based upon substantial achievement in life, rather than the pursuit of fame as an end in itself.  Cary kicks him under the table, anxious lest their source of another drink evaporate under this withering rant. In the event, they are about to lose their audience anyway, as the tourists explain with regret that they need to split, if they are to catch ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at the Hippodrome. Cary dreams wistfully of the time when he was centre stage there, performing in gripping murder mysteries, not in the phoney regurgitation of Disney cartoons. He feels immeasurably saddened that Bristolians taste in popular culture might have come to this.

 As the tourists take their final snapshot – obediently put change into William’s insistently upheld mortarboard – then depart, our Trinity’s conversation turns to their favorite subject. Escape. As they warm to the prospect, reciting how weary they are of this routine of endlessly relating their narratives in response to the tourists’ predictable questioning, our Caped Crusader returns at last with his tray of beers, proffering an alcopop to young Tom. They are defensive at first that should Superman – or Clark as he says he prefers to be called – know the full story he might blow their cover and consign them permanently to brass. However, the loosening powers of the drink, and Clark’s obvious relishing of conversational conspiracy in any form, encourages them to take him into their secret, and into the dilemmas they face.

 His fascination grows as he hears of their painful conflict between the attractions of escape from the ignominy of permanent fossilization in place and time, abandoned in that forsaken Square, measured against the dangers attendant on their breaking out. Their principal fear and superstition of escape is that they if they do not pass through the wall of mirrored water before midnight, their self designated witching hour, then they will never again be able to enjoy all of the nightly pleasures of miraculous resurrection. A secondary but significant worry is that while they nightly grump about how comparatively easy life is for everyone in this twenty first century – and how soft its ungrateful inhabitants have become – the reality is that they do not have the resources or the wherewithal between them to survive for the first few weeks of their release. 

Clark, all his life preferring reckless action to reflective caution, impulsively offers our vacillating captives the use of his house in Montpelier while they sort themselves out. He explains that his wife left him with the house and the huge mortgage months ago to run off to Spain with the kids to join her new ‘partner.’ With this unimagined opportunity of shelter and support, a new mood is suddenly upon them. In a heartbeat, our trio breaks out of their habitual defeatist conversation and begin to talk excitedly about new possibilities. Mobilising themselves before they can change their minds, they pick up Wills takings and scurry out behind Clark, fleeing over the Piro Bridge towards Christmas Steps, up and over towards their fate in Montpelier. 

Clark’s surprisingly capacious terraced house is all they could have asked for, situated in an anonymous street up a hill where none would think to find them. The hour before midnight passes painfully slowly. Clarke whiles away the time by telling tales, showing photos of his deeds of derring do during his Fathers4Justice days. They are impressed by a press cutting of his defiant stand atop the Clifton Suspension Bridge, feeling inwardly somewhat ashamed of their own cowardly fears of mortality. After all, they had each faced painful death before, and knew through this strange reincarnation that there was the possibility of life beyond.

As the mantelpiece clock strikes twelve, they regard each other in wonder, realising that they still here, on this twenty-first century earth, vibrantly and palpably alive. Clarke beams as they ecstatically clap his back, delighted that he has eventually effected liberation for someone after the entire frustrating impasse of Fathers4Justice. As the excitement subsides, he adopts a practical stance, proposing that tomorrow he will make a plan to ensure that they become happily assimilated townspeople, their statuesque identities eradicated. 

The next morning, Cary throws open his curtains, seeing a building that looks somehow familiar. Of course, it is his old school, Fairfield, a place of painful memory. He can only hope that the new building he sees by the highway might be a replacement for this monument to childhood oppression. The smell of bacon lures him downstairs, where Clarke is showcasing the clothes he bought during his early morning foray to the St Peter’s Hospice shop on Cotham Hill. They giggle as they try on this miscellaneous garb. Clark then lines them up for the mandatory hair dye procedure in the shower. Tom chooses black with a crimson streak, offset by a hoody top to complete his fashionable disguise. William looks forward to his new pair of spectacles.

Over breakfast, they discuss their plans for the day. Tom is directed towards Cotham Porter Stores cider house, where Clarke has a Fathers4Justice contact that will provide them with fresh identities. Mulling over new names, Tom goes for Tom Rowley, after the medieval poet he so imaginatively created long ago; Will chooses the name Martin Luther, a modernizing reformer whom he met and much admired; Grant plumps for Cary Leach, to his ear a pleasing amalgam of his old and new identities.

They alight the pavement with a happy tread, delighting in the freshness of their first morning of freedom. Armed with a Bristol map, they roll down the hill, seeking their way across Stokes Croft towards the Porter Stores. Walking the streets they are astonished by the diversity of people they encounter. Tentatively inquiring in the pub where they might find their contact, named simply Len, Tom is directed towards a table down the far end of the bar. He explains his purpose to Len, to be told that business can indeed be done, but only if he removes his hood. Cary and William snigger a little at this, leaving him to his nefarious transactions, while they head for Whiteladies Road, a thoroughfare holding fond memories for them both.

William points to the rash of Charity Shops at the bottom of Cotham Hill, surprised yet pleased that modern commerce seems geared mainly around giving. Cary enviously eyes a dinner suit in the window of one, anticipating the joys of sartorial freedom. Meandering past the BBC building, Cary reads a sign inviting citizens to audition for a reality show called ‘Escape Bristol.’ He gently explains to William that the temptation is irresistible, he simply must go inside. William is in fact pleased to have some time alone, to meditate on what purpose he might bring to his new life.

He pauses outside the University Tower on Queens Road, standing out among the throng of smoking students, while he reflects on whether the academic pursuit of ancient languages and history might make a welcome respite from Christian followership. And yet, and yet, despite all the pain that was inflicted upon him by fellow Christians, the tug of the Church remains compelling. With a sigh for the scholarly fascinations that might have been, he shuffles down Park Street, squinting at its incongruous mix of Indie music, high fashion and straight laced religious stores, past the windowless Masonic Hall towards the Cathedral, which is set back off the refreshing greensward of College Green.

 A board outside proclaims ‘The Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity.’ He is dismayed at this continuing promulgation of impenetrable liturgical nonsense when what the Church has always needed is to reach out, as he once put it, to ‘every ploughman in the land.’ Hesitating before entering, fearful lest he discover more of this alienating, superior language within, a young black woman with a beatific smile approaches. Confidently, eagerly she invites him to join him in the Elim Church celebrations, whose joyous mission is to ‘make the Bible relevant.’ She quotes Mandela’s Inaugural Speech from the Church’s colourful values statement: 

‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually who are you not to be? You are a child of God.’ 

 She directs him towards a marquee on the Green that spontaneously erupts to the sound of glorious Gospel song, filling the air with foot tapping invitation. William knows he has met his Damascene moment. He struggles with his resistance, then surrenders to her beckoning, as they walk side by side towards the marquee. 

Two months later, all three keep their Sunday lunchtime appointment at the Coronation Tap in Clifton to celebrate their benefactor, Clark’s, birthday. Keith Warmington of Radio Bristol is playing some redemptive live Blues, amid a  warm and friendly atmosphere. Over a glass of Exhibition Cider, cautiously supped, they share their recent adventures. Cary preens himself, telling of how he sailed through his audition, despite the yellow hair and fake glasses, and will be on a TV near you soon, his ultimate ambition to become a film critic.

He has made the Pineapple pub his local, he says because of the quality of the pasties there. Tom is eager to relay how his trip to the Porter Stores yielded not only passports, but also a lead to Christchurch Studios, situated next door to the Tap, where Massive Attack record. Len introduced him to a Goth band, formerly known as ‘Lupine Howl’, which is now enjoying reformation – as all good bands and faiths do – under the name ‘Marvelous Boy,’ with Tom as lyricist. And no, he hadn’t met any supermodels yet, but he is dating a comely hairdresser from Guy Henri whom he is sure will become one.

 William rhapsodises on his discovering of evangelism, his happy smile reflecting an inner radiance that takes years off his previously burdened features. Clark, happily acknowledging their birthday felicitations, sheepishly confides that when passing through Stokes Croft, he bumped into William outside his Elim Chapel. Reluctant at first to accept the inward invitation, he was now a regular visitor, considering – to his own amazement – involvement in the children’s Sunday School. He had talked to both his children this morning, hearing them giggle their way through ‘Happy Birthday’, and his heart is glad. He muses that he feels a different person from the embittered protestor of two months ago. 

Keith plays a poignant song with the chorus  ‘I feel like a worn out engine, I have lost my driving wheel.’ Cary sings along, then declares that far from losing their driving wheels, he feels that this merry band has found theirs anew, after a long directionless period in the wilderness. They look back on their previous existence, fondly remembering those antiquated celebrities arrested in time, a bizarre juxtaposition of characters separated by centuries while tantalisingly trapped in a new one, yet quite unable to fully engage with all it had to offer. Clark pulls out a copy of the Evening Post, pointing to the headline. 


The byline tells of the police abandoning hope of finding them, believing that a private collector commissioned this audacious theft. The outcry over their disappearance means that the statues will be replaced, only this time around increased security would include the placement of cameras. Cary chortles that his second reincarnation would not know whether to laugh or cry at being permanently on camera; or know what to think when the bronze was poured once more into the central casting. None of them could predict whether the fountain’s magic would continue to work, or if their successors would come alive every evening, as had happened to then so miraculously since their first day of installation. William sits bolt upright, dumbstruck by a flashback from those earliest times. Finding the words to speak, he whispers that at that moment of installation, he heard the sound of gospel singing from the nearby Anchor Square. It floated through the gap in the fountain, as it eased their transit into this new era.   

Ode to John Buckley

To John Buckley……….. 6/ 03/ 1992.

It was a perfect autumn morning, near my birthday time. I was luxuriating in a rare day away from client work. Making a desultory attempt at clearing my desk. I was enjoying the peace of alone; I was also expecting a visit from my friend John. I use the word ‘expect’ in the loosest sense, as you never really knew when to expect John, or what to expect of him on arrival. I was half heartedly assembling a list of people to ring, compiled from several other dog eared, half crossed out lists, when the naff door bell chime sounded at the Mill house door. I recognised the outline of John through the frosted door.

‘Good morning, Mr Freidland,’ beamed John, throwing himself towards me in a half intimate, half clumsy, reticent hug. John had been calling me Mr Freidland since he first arrived at my new Dorset house, when I had as yet failed to replace the door bells manufacturers name on the plastic bell push with my own. With john, I enjoyed being Mr Freidland. It felt exotic and strange. I believe that the world often looked exotic and strange through John’s lens on the world, and I felt honoured to be dignified by a different name from my own, his special name.

John was a regular visitor last year. Our house was en route to a number of client assignments that he had down the Dorset coast – or at least he said it was en route, though I imagined that it involved a detour. I eased my discomfort at the thought of him putting himself out by reminding myself that John’s life seemed full of extravagant and often enjoyable detours. Part of my guilt around his irregularly regular visitations was that I had only once visited him and his family at his home. I remember on that occasion regretting telling him that I would find difficulty following his detailed instructions through that particularly complex patch of English countryside. On the journey there, passing a pub, the last given landmark two miles from his house, I began to see notices stuck to trees at each minor junction. The notes read, ‘Dan – john’s house this way.’ Not many people would do that for you. 

I ushered him into my kitchen, where we shared our work and family agonies and absurdities over a cup of coffee and a cigarette. John had a strong sense of the absurd, and I always felt, if encouragement were needed, to enrich my client stories with a tinge of the ridiculous, as I recounted them to John. His animated listening encouraged further flights of fantasy.

As I looked back, it seemed that whenever John and I planned to spend time together exploring the meaning of the recent past, we instead spent most of our time together uncovering future possibilities. And that whenever the future was on our planned agenda, then the past would become compellingly captivating. It didn’t really seem to matter. It was how we spent our time.

I really enjoyed playing with the little boy in John. That perfect autumn’s day, we drove through the leaf strewn lanes in my newly acquired 1959 sports car, to an intimate pub in the middle of nowhere, run by a friend of mine. John revelled in the car, enjoying in particular the surge of power that kicked in when I knocked off the overdrive. He determined that he would get himself one. He had driven all the way down to me in his modern lilac open top, but there was a simple primitivism about the triumph that really appealed to him.

Over lunch, we drank some beers, and I shared some writing that I had been doing on reviewing my life’s direction. Much of what I had written, john related to. We talked in particular about the need for, and the difficulty in expressing creativity in a world that demands explanation and predictable solutions. We talked of the loneliness and demands of the consulting life, and reflected on the energy that it takes to stay inspirational among resistance and mediocrity, and among people who settle for less.

John was particularly struck by one line I wrote… ‘ I do not want it written on my gravestone that ‘ he really advanced.’ We spent some time dwelling on that one. The joys of the material life seemed to both attract and repulse John. He certainly could advance, had advanced; but did he really need to?

The Triumph transported us home. We drank some more coffee. John expressed how important our times together were for him, how they helped him contextualise his struggles and triumphs. I felt vaguely discomfited. I never really knew what it was he wanted, always seemed that there was something else there, some blazing need that remained unexpressed. I felt at once encouraged to touch but also warned off from getting too close tot hat secret place. There were tears there.

It was getting close opt the time for John to go. My telephone was becoming too persistent to ignore. I was not quite sure where nod when we would meet again, only I was confident that we would. The closeness was there, and the possibilities seemed limitless, if ill defined, as they often did with John. That didn’t really matter to me. It was part of the charm of being a friend of John’s. 

Another hug and he was back inside his open top car the interior of which was beginning to resemble an inner city skip. John took off his new half rim spectacles. I was not sure whether he needed them. They were identical to mine. John reversed out of the driveway with a wry smile and an accompanying ‘Bye Bye Mr Freidland. Love to Mrs Freidland.’

That was the last time I was to see John. And today we bury him. But hopefully not all of those possibilities.’