Friday, 21 November 2014

November: The Twenty-First

Our daily adventure continues right here with The Twenty-First instalment of November: Ralph Conway's Immortal Diary. If this is your first day with us, I'd recommend you click here for links to the preface and previous instalments.
The content appears here on The Literary Word courtesy of Table 13 Ltd

THE TWENTY-FIRST


I don’t normally listen at keyholes, but I couldn’t help overhearing this conversation between Eric and Chloe this morning - in which Eric was wondering if he ought to suggest to me that I go and see a psychiatrist. Mavis was in the upstairs bathroom. I descended a flight and was about to go into theirs, when I heard Chloe say: “Who?”
To which Eric replied: “Ralph.” 
I was riveted.
“If anyone needs a psychiatrist,” said Chloe, “it’s you.”
“Me?”
“Yes. You.”
“What for?” asked Eric in a mystified tone of voice.
“For offering him a job.”
“He’ll be fine.”
“You’ve got a short memory when it suits you.”
“Anyway, he won’t take it.”
“Huh. It’s so depressing having him festering in that room.”
The idea of me going to see a psychiatrist is ridiculous. The biggest mistake I ever made was leaving this confounded book where Joan could get her prying little eyes on it. I don’t know - maybe it’s all worked out for the best. If she ever thought I entertained the notion of being immortal, she now knows I must have been disillusioned. But when she read this, I had not yet died up at Alison’s flat and really come back to life again as myself three days later. That’s still my secret, and I’m hanging onto it. I’m hanging onto it.
There’s been a good Sunday feeling in the house today. Eric has all the Sunday papers of course. Mavis took the children out, and we settled down with a forest or two of newsprint and the television. The efficiency of the Epstein central heating is such that Chloe could quite comfortably lounge about on the floor in nothing but knickers and a large T-shirt. Joan is always banging on about me fancying Chloe. I always say I don’t, which has, what’s more, been true. Or more or less true. But she was sitting there, leaning on her hand, with her left leg out and her right leg bent, and I found myself looking at the little strip of mons-hugging white cotton that was ... you know. Eric had his nose in the News of the World. Chloe was studying the Observer. 
And then, what with one thing and another, I found myself considering this part of Chloe’s anatomy in more detail and the phrase, Chloe’s clitoris, just sort of popped into my mind. Chloe’s Clitoris! It sounds like one of those French films. If you enjoyed “Clare’s Knee”, you’ll love “Chloe’s Clitoris”! 
And, what with one thing and another, these musings gave me a ferocious hard-on under the Sunday Times Colour Supplement, which I had let fall onto my lap. Then Chloe looked at me and saw to which part of her anatomy my eyes were glued. I think I may also have been licking my lips at the time. Our eyes met. Mine probably looked lecherous and embarrassed. Hers were annoyed. She pulled the T-shirt well down over her bum. I averted my eyes to the television, just as the Blue Danube Waltz began to emerge from it.
Twice in two days! It’s always the way. My raging erection subsided as I became sucked into the film, which was “Goodbye Mr Chips”, starring Robert Donat. And anyway, Chloe’s got herpes. Or so Joan tells me.
The tears started from the moment that Mr Chips ran down the railway platform in Vienna and proposed marriage to the girl, whom he loved, but whose address he did not know, as her train pulled out of the station. They kept on coming. They just sort of leaked out of my eyes. But the crunch came when - there’s this boy at the school called Collie, or Collis, Collie, I can’t remember which. Anyway, on his first day at the school, this Collie gets into a fight with one of the local boys. Come World War 1, Collie becomes an officer in the army. Before he goes off to the front, he comes to say goodbye to Mr Chips - and guess who his batman is. Yes, it’s that lower class lad with whom he fought on the first day of school all those years ago.
It was when Mr Chips announced to the boys in the school that this Collie had been killed going to save the life of his batman, not realising that the batman was already  mortally wounded - it was this that for some inexplicable reason sparked off a veritable explosion of grief inside me, which, loth as I was to give them any grounds for the Ralph-needs-a-psychiatrist cause, I found I couldn’t contain. Whoosh! Out it all came in a great heaving sob. I buried my head in my hands and sobbed away like a good’un. At which point, the children came in with Mavis, and I beat a retreat upstairs. There’s nothing like a damn good cry. I felt limp, but purged. I heard the front doorbell ring away downstairs and wondered who it was. Shortly afterward, Eric came up and told me that Normal and Hilarious had arrived, which is what he calls his parents behind their back. Their real names are Norman and Hilary. Eric sat down on the bed.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
“Yeah. I’m fine.” 
“Well, we all know what F.I.N.E.’s an acronym for.”
“Do we?”
“Fucked-up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional.”
I told Eric I’d come downstairs in a minute. I splashed cold water on my face. My eyes looked a bit red. I had some Murine in my jacket. When I went to get it, I came across the letter from my bank. I sat down on the bed and opened it. It was one of those chillingly formal letters that tell you you’ve reached your limit and as of now all cheques will be bounced. It was dated the sixteenth. With any luck they’ll be bouncing the cheque for dinner in Brighton - at least I’ll be revenged on the tinned green beans.
Otherwise, the outlook is grim. Grim. I have £360 in my deposit account, and my current account is £485 overdrawn. Money. I hate, hate, hate money. Why should I have to worry about bloody money?
I went downstairs. 
Mr and Mrs Epstein were very pleased to see me. Most of the discussion centred around Christmas and what Dylan wanted in the way of presents. The last thing I need at this juncture is Christmas. I’ve never known Christmas not to occur at anything other than the most inconvenient time. 
There was a programme on genetic engineering, which I’d missed earlier in the week and which was being repeated. Eric recorded it and said I could watch it later. I went out for a walk. It was wet and blowy. On the walk, I imagined that instead of going back to Eric and Chloe et al, I was going back to Joan and Cosmo, and that we were married. We got married in a church with all the trimmings. I pictured Joan pregnant with our second child. Tomorrow, I’d go off to work in my company car, to my £15,000 a year job: just like any normal boring trendy middle-class person. I conjured up this vision of myself - and I liked it. Ralph the Provider.
So this is the final capitulation. This is what I’ve decided. Tomorrow morning, bright and early, I am going to propose formal marriage to Joan. Apart from anything else, what with one thing and another, marrying Joan, when you consider the alternatives, well, the word convenient springs to mind. Somehow or other, the idea of a marriage of convenience is much more acceptable to me. I mean, if a marriage is not convenient, what is the point in it?
And now I shall go and watch that programme on genetic engineering.

I'm really glad I was able to take part in this opportunity. It's rare that we are offered the chance to read a book, collectively on a blog before the book is released. I can't wait for the release date so I can pick up a copy for my bookshelf.  How are you all liking it so far?

Thursday, 20 November 2014

November: The Twentieth

Our daily adventure continues right here with The Twentieth instalment of November: Ralph Conway's Immortal Diary. If this is your first day with us, I'd recommend you click here for links to the preface and previous instalments.
The content appears here on The Literary Word courtesy of Table 13 Ltd


THE TWENTIETH


I don’t know. I really don’t. I mean - I really don’t know. I was awake most of last night, planning what I would say to Joan this morning. And what I decided, in the end, was that I would offer her a 100% down-the-line commitment to producing an offspring. I was prepared to give this commitment in writing, if necessary. But I would not even discuss the question of marriage until such time as Joan had resumed normal eating. This seemed like a fantastically fair deal. It would allow both parties to emerge from the conflict with honour and all that intact.
Breakfast was Bedlam this morning. Coco started screaming from her high-chair. Naked rampant ego demanding attention. She threw her toast on the floor. Mavis picked it up. Coco threw it to the ground again. Mavis picked it up again. Coco threw it yet again, this time at Dylan. Which inspired Dylan to pick up his toast and throw it at Coco. It hit her in the eye.
Then her screaming changed frequency. Chloe leapt for her, picked her up and cuddled her - at the same time as Eric whacked Dylan across the top of the head with a rolled up copy of Screen International.
There was a long pause, while I watched him, Dylan, deciding whether or not he was going to cry, then he let rip. He ran to Mavis, who put her arms around him protectively.
“What did you do that for?” Chloe asked in disbelief.
“He threw the toast,” said Eric, defiantly.
“So what?” said Chloe. “You don’t hit people for throwing toast.”
“Look, hang on a minute here,” said Eric, “you’re supposed to back me up.”
“I’m not supposed to do anything,” Chloe roared.
I could see that Eric was absolutely furious, but he was attempting to play it cool. He kind of smiled at me out of the side of his face, stood up and dropped his napkin nonchalantly onto his plate. Then he pointed a finger at Dylan and said:
“If you turn out fucked up, kiddo, don’t blame me.”
Eric stalked away from the table toward his office, seized the handle of his door, opened it. He’s going to slam it, I thought. But he took control of himself, turned and said to me:
“You know that whole new dimension of love we were talking about. There’s an addendum. You’ll also discover a whole new dimension of HATE!”
Then he slammed the door. 
At this point, I judged it wise to make a hasty exit. I had been planning to ask if I could borrow one of their cars - but this was not the moment. On the train, I thought: “You have just escaped from a graphic illustration of the utter ghastliness of parenthood - and where are you going? You are going to instigate proceedings designed to make a parent of yourself. You are a lunatic. You shouldn’t be allowed out - except perhaps to see a shrink. You should be locked away in a loony bin. You are free. Free! And you are going to give yourself up into bondage. You are free to do ....”
At this point I seemed to run out of steam, and I found myself replying to myself:
“Free to do what?”
“Well .....”
“What is there to do except have children?”
Then I thought: Let’s be sensible about this. Let’s be rational. And above all, let’s be positive. You’ve made a decision and it’s settled. There’s nothing you can do about it.
There’s no law against changing your mind.
Despite all this mental pussy-footing, I found myself walking up our road. It had been a beautiful morning, yet again, when I left Chiswick, but the sky was grey and shivery as I turned in through our gate. I went down the side and rang Orson’s bell. Orson came to the door. Absurdly, I was nervous as hell, clutching the croissants I had acquired en route. The thought flashed through my mind that it wouldn’t worry me in the least if I never saw Joan, Orson, this house, or anybody, ever again. I could just leave London, leave the country altogether, and not come back till they’re all dead and buried.
I had been expecting to enter a house full of terminal doom and gloom - but Orson was in an extremely bouncy frame of mind. He waltzed into the living-room and I followed him. I use the word waltz advisedly. The whole place was whirling to the sound of some ridiculously cheerful confection by Strauss.
Orson returned to the chair at the table in the window, where he had patently been sitting prior to my arrival. A half-smoked cigarette smoked in the ashtray. A half-drunk cup of coffee steamed beside it. Orson picked up the cigarette, puffed at it and looked at the sheet of paper in the type-writer on the table in front of him. It was half-covered with typing.
“Where’s Joan?” I asked. “In the spare room?”
“Yeah,” said Orson - as the waltz that had been playing came to an end and the bloody Blue Danube commenced. Orson started conducting it with his cigarette. I walked out of the room.
Joan was propped up in bed. She had a dreamy expression on her face. Her eyes were closed. She was waltzing in her imagination. She said as much, when I announced my presence and she opened her eyes and saw me.
“Ralph,” she said - and gave an annoyingly tragic smile . “I was just dancing with you - “ dramatic pause “ - at our wedding.”
Can you believe it?
I shut the door, which muted the Viennese loonies somewhat. I went and sat on the edge of the bed. I kissed Joan.
“I’ve missed you,” she said.
“I’ve missed you too,” I said. Actually, when I started to say that, I thought it was going to be a lie, but by the time I’d finished saying it, I realised that it was in fact true. I really have missed the dear old boot. Let’s face it: the fact of the matter is that I love Joan. I do love her. I do. I’m sure I do. The trouble is that I’m also sure I could love anybody if I put my mind to it. So, why Joan? Well, why not?
“So?” she said.
I told her. An unconditional yes on the progeny front. And a postponement on the marriage front until such time as normal stuffing is resumed.
“No,” said Joan.
“What do you mean - No?! I’ve brought croissants,” I exclaimed.

“I want to get married.”
“For all you know, I might want to get married myself. But I’m not going to tell you till after you’ve started eating again. What could be fairer than that?”
“It’s nothing to do with fair, Ralph.”
“You’re not kidding. Well what has it got to do with then?”
“It’s got to do with you doing something that I want for a change, rather than us always doing what you want.”
She was short of breath by the end of that speech. Her eyelids fluttered, almost closed. She was obviously in a very floaty, transcendental frame of mind.
“I’ll say this for you,” I said. “You’ve got a lot of guts.”
It was perhaps not the most appropriate thing to say to a person on hunger strike - but I meant it most sincerely, folks. She smiled a little smile to show she’d heard what I said - and her eyes closed gently. I sat there and looked at her for a bit. It was very warm in the room. Too warm. I stood up and walked back into side two of Jo Strauss’s Greatest Hits. Orson was typing away in time to it. He stopped, when I walked into the room, and picked up another cigarette, which was alight in the ashtray.
“I thought you’d given up,” I said.
“So did I,” he said. “It’s this writing.”
“What is it?”
“Yet another screenplay,” said Orson, who tends to write screenplays when he is not looking for locations. To date, he has failed to persuade anyone to turn one of his screenplays into an actual film. But Orson is nothing daunted. A refusal, to Orson, goes to show the stupidity of the refuser, rather than his own incompetence.
“What’s it about?” I enquired.
“I’ll tell you when I’ve finished it.”
I filled him in on what had just transpired.
“So now what?” he wondered.
“I’m not sure.”
“Well you should be sure. She’s extremely weak.”
“Orson, believe me, I promise you, I know Joan very well. This is pure brinkmanship. As soon as she feels she’s in real danger - she’ll stop it.”
“You may be right. I don’t know. The trouble is that she may not be able to stop.”
“Hmmm,” I said. “Well, I have to go.”
“Tell me, Ralph, there’s just one thing I’d like to know.”
“What’s that?”
“If you didn’t take my suicide pill, why did you write what you did?
“Well, I don’t know. I just did.”
“What - sort of like fantasising?” prompted Orson.
“That sort of thing.”
“And the same with the girl?”
“What girl?”
“Alison Pitney. AKA Honey.”
“It’s got absolutely nothing to do with you, Orson.”
“Joan sent me up there.”
“Up where?”
“Melrose Court,” said Orson, jerking his thumb in the direction of that building.
“Oh, terrific,” I opined.
When I asked him what had happened, he told me that he had gone up there, rung the bell, and Alison had answered the door.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Where’s Ralph?” countered Orson.
“What’s it to you?” Alison wanted to know.
“He only happens to be my lover, dear,” Orson had been inspired to assert. “And I happen to know he’s here. Ralph!”
“I should’ve fuckin’ guessed,” said Alison, and then tells Orson he’s too late. “I gave that little sod his marching orders.”
“Thank you very much!” I snorted.
“It’s alright,” he said. “I didn’t tell Joan. I told her there was no-one who fitted the description resident in the building, and that you’d obviously been making the whole thing up, and isn’t it sad?”
“Very considerate of you, Orson.”
“Think nothing of it.”
“Well alright,” I said. “I’ll confess. I did take the pill.”
“You fuckhead. What did you want to do that for?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“But you should.”
“What difference does it make? It didn’t work.”
“Yeah,” says Orson. “Obviously.”
“I’ve gotta go,” I said.
As I was departing, Orson said: “Hey, Ralph, listen. Next time you feel like bumping yourself off - call me first.”
“OK,” I said, sheepishly, and departed.
I went upstairs and let myself into our flat. It was horribly cold, damp and foetid in there. On the mat, there was an ominous looking letter addressed to me from my bank. I put it in my pocket. I went to look in my tuck box.
I pulled out the Club International and had a look at Alison. “My pussy’s getting wet just thinking about what I’m going to say to you?” Chance would be a fine thing. Puckering up, more like. I put the magazine back in the box. There was the Envelope-envelopes-envelope. I’d forgotten all about it. The big E. with its thirty-one envelopes inside, with “envelope” written on each one. Thirty-one! 31!! And there are thirty-one years in my life, and 31 is 13 backwards and - how about this? - there are thirty-one days in ..... or are there? No there aren’t! There aren’t thirty-one days in November. Well, that’s something.
I headed back to Chiswick.
Alright - so Joan isn’t having it. It’s marriage or else. I really tried to address my mind to why the idea of getting married so depresses me. It’s so unoriginal. It’s so boring. Then I had a brilliantly original idea for a completely personal individual new type of marriage. A nice private marriage, just between Joan and me.
I popped into Smith’s and bought myself a DIY will-form. When I got back to Eric’s, I went straight to my room and filled it in. Very simple. I wrote:
“I leave ALL MY WORLDLY GOODS, everything I possess and own, to JOAN CECILY HENDERSON of Flat 1, 23 Abercorn Road, London NW2.”
Then I took it downstairs and got Chloe and Mavis to witness my signature.
When they had done this, Chloe mentioned to me that if Joan died, she would personally see to it that I got charged with her murder.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m just telling you,” she said. “Think of it as an incentive. Even if they can’t make it stick, they can make things extremely nasty for you, while they’re making up their minds. Ask Orson if you don’t believe me.”
“I’ll bear it in mind,” I said. “Can I borrow your car?”
One thing, about which Chloe is not uptight, is things like cars.
I drove back to Cricklewood.
It took a while to attract Joan’s attention. Then I said my piece:
“Joan. I’ve got an announcement to make. A proposal. I want to marry you.”
The beginnings of a joyful smile on Joan’s dear little physog soon faded when I started to explain the kind of marriage I was driving at.
“All we need to do is swap wills,” I said. “I mean, actually, when you come to think about it, that’s all a marriage is in the first place. And then, when you’re better, we can make a little formal thing out of it, if you like. We can work the details out later.”
I handed her my will. She had some difficulty holding it, and some difficulty reading it.
“It’s very sweet of you, Ralph. But I want to get married in a church.”
“What?”
“In a church. I want a wedding breakfast, champagne, an antique car with a ribbon, an aisle, bridesmaids, and you in a morning coat, with a carnation and a topper.”
“That’s what you want?”
“That’s what I want.”
“I see. But, Joan, this Swapping of Wills business is a really good idea. And then, if you ever go off me, all you have to do is change it.”
My words were falling on deaf ears. I thought she’d think this idea of mine truly romantic - but she obviously thinks getting married in a church is more romantic. I can’t see anything romantic about getting married in a church. I’m NOT getting married in a blasted church!
I happen to think that the idea of God is probably one of the most brilliant ideas any human being has ever had. God is a great liberating notion. Religion is not. I belong to no religion. I pay lip-service to no religion. I kneel to no priest. One man - one God. That’s my motto. That’s my platform. One man - one God. The new franchise. For me, for someone who thinks like me, to get married in a church would be totally out of order. And Joan knows it.
Orson had popped out to buy another packet of cigarettes. I left Joan in her stubborn stupor, and found that he had abandoned his screenplay to the gaze of an unscrupulous passer-by. I sat myself down and started looking at it. I felt absolutely no compunction about doing this, seeing that Joan had brazenly read my diary and just as brazenly told Orson all about it.
Boy, am I glad I did look at it. I only managed to read a few pages before Orson returned, but that was enough. I got the gist. He hasn’t even bothered to change our fucking names.
“Look here,” I said, “I’m afraid this isn’t on.”
To which Orson replied that Joan has given him the rights to our story - which Joan subsequently confirmed.
“Of course, obviously,” said Orson, “I’ll change the names in the final draft. But I find it easier to write it with the real names.”
“I’ll sue,” I said.
“Come on, man,” said Orson, “it’s a fantastic story.”
“I’m not having it.”
“Look,” said Orson, “you let me read your diary, and I’ll cut you in on it.”
“Out of the question.”
And it is out of the question. Though exactly what I’m going to do about it - I don’t quite know. At the moment, I can’t even think about it, because when I got back to Chiswick, Eric took me into his office and said he’d just been speaking to Orson on the telephone.
“Oh yes?”
“He told me you took that tab I gave him.”
“You gave him?”
Apparently, Orson had been banging on about how he’d rather be dead than do fifteen years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit - and the subject of suicide pills had come up. And when Orson started wondering about where he could get hold of one - Eric said he knew just the person.
“You mean, you actually procured him Instant Death?” I said, shocked and impressed. “How could you?”
“Of course I didn’t, you berk. But I thought it was safer if I gave him something he thought was a suicide pill, rather than he should get hold of the real thing from someone else.”
“You mean, it wasn’t a suicide pill?”
“Nah,” said Eric, with a chuckle, “it was a tab of acid.”
“What do you mean? LSD?”
“What did you think of it, Ralph?”
I was outraged. In the first instance, I was outraged on Orson’s behalf. Suppose there had been a miscarriage of justice, and Orson had been done for murder, sentenced to prison for fifteen years, and had taken what he thought was Instant Death, only to find - I mean, really. And in the second place, I’d been tricked. I’ve been tricked, TRICKED, into taking LSD. I thought I was dying and coming back to life again, and all I was bloody doing was tripping. It’s outrageous.
The dreadful Dave and his wife, Mandy, came for dinner. Conversation was dominated by Beaujolais Nouveau, the pros and cons, (I kept out of it) and the Circle of Gold - out of which Dave has made £8,000. And this is the guy who burns money instead of fireworks. He owns a recording studio. I must say he was very friendly. But I hate him. He’s one of these people who tries to draw you out. I don’t want to be drawn out. Fuck off, Dave.
Eight thousand quid. It’s this chain letter. The Circle of Gold. You buy it for twenty quid, send twenty quid to the person on the top of the list, cross that person’s name out and add your name to the bottom of the list. Then you make a copy of your list, so now you have two lists with your name at the bottom. All you now have to do is sell your two lists for twenty pounds each and in due course, you will move to the top of the list and receive something like £186,000 through the door. 
Chloe had attempted a cassoulet.  Joan is the cassoulet queen, and this apparently was Joan’s recipe. But Chloe just doesn’t get cooking. I don’t know how Eric puts up with it. There’s no doubt about the fact that Chloe is one of the most gorgeous girls I’ve ever clapped eyes upon, but she can’t even roast a chicken. Cassoulet is way beyond her.
Dave left most of his. Mandy is a vegetarian and just ate veggies. Eric had two helpings of everything. Does he actually like it? Or is it the dope he smokes before each course?
I never made it through to pudding. The pain in my bum was getting worse and worse. I kept on trying to find a comfortable position on the chair, first one buttock, then the next. Some invisible devil is deliberately sticking an invisible red-hot poker up my rectum and twisting it around and around and around.
In the end, I had to get down. I came up here. After a while, the pain abated somewhat. So what I’ve been doing is writing all this down. Somehow, it seems to help. It stops all these thoughts from attacking me at once.
I’ve just been downstairs to get myself some juice. They’re all hard at it down there, snorting coke, smoking dope and playing the Bumhole Game.
This, for future historians, is a very simple game, which involves thinking of a book, song, play, or whatever title - and substituting the word “Bumhole” for one of the words in the title.
“Bumhole Pacific,” said Mandy, as I was pouring my juice.
They all shrieked with laughter.
“’I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Bumhole’!” Eric gasped, in a paroxysm of mirth.
“’There’s Nothing Like a Bumhole’!” suggested Dave.
It’s quite a good game, if you’re in the mood. But right now the last part of my anatomy to which I want my attention to be drawn is my bumhole. So back up here I came - just as they were getting on to Agatha Christie Bumhole:    
The Bumhole of Roger Ackroyd. Ten Little Bumholes. Hercule Poirot’s Bumhole. The Mystery of the Blue Bumhole and, of course, that great classic, The Bumhole Cracked from Side to Side.

See you tomorrow for more..

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

November: The Nineteenth

Our daily adventure continues right here with The Nineteenth instalment of November: Ralph Conway's Immortal Diary. If this is your first day with us, I'd recommend you click here for links to the preface and previous instalments.
The content appears here on The Literary Word courtesy of Table 13 Ltd

THE NINETEENTH


I have never understood how a pain could be described as exquisite - until I went to the loo this morning. I had to lie down on my front for twenty minutes until the throbbing subsided. Hell and damnation. I have been stricken with piles. Hell and damnation. It’s just not fair. What’s more, my teeth hurt. Otherwise, I am feeling unreasonably cheerful. I have come to a decision which, when all is said and done, is monumental.
Eric and I went for a walk in Gunnersbury Park this morning, and he made several points. We were talking about love and marriage and children and everything. The sky was brilliant blue. It’s been a beautiful day altogether in fact.
“I know people always say that you simply can’t understand what it’s like until you’ve had one yourself,” said Eric, “but I’m telling you, man, it’s true. You just discover a whole new dimension of love. Really. You have to try it.”
A whole new dimension of love. 
I liked the sound of that.
“I suppose the thing is,” I said, “that I’m, well, I just think I’d be a dreadful father.”
“Nonsense,” said Eric. “And anyway. So what? Lots of people are dreadful fathers. Look at my father. It never worried me. Look at Orson’s father, for God’s sake.”
“Look at Orson.”
“Yeah, well, you know what I’m saying. As long as you feed the little fuckers and make sure they’re warm - they’re no problem. I promise you.”
“It’s easy for you to say that.”
“Why?”
“Come on, Eric, you’re rolling in it.”
“That’s got nothing to do with it. The point is that you and Joan are made for each other. Why don’t you just marry her and have done with it?”
“I’m not getting married,” I said.
“Why on earth not?”
“I’m not standing up in front of a whole lot of people and making some oath which I have no possible way of knowing I can keep. I mean, how can you say you’ll love someone until death?”
“We did it,” said Eric.
“I’m not saying it’s wrong for you to do it. I’m just saying it would be wrong for me to do it. For me it would be hypocrisy.”
“Bullshit,” said Eric. “It’s time you joined the real world.”
“I don’t like the real world.”
“That’s because you don’t do anything in it.”
“What am I supposed to do?”
“Well, if I was you, the first thing I’d do is marry Joan. OK, if you don’t like the vows, keep your fingers crossed while you’re saying them. Then take it from there. You know. One day at a time and all that. At least then we wouldn’t have this threat of Joan dropping dead of starvation at any second.”
“She won’t,” I said.
“Crap,” said Eric.       
“But I didn’t make her go on hunger strike.”
“That’s not the point. You’re the one who can make her come off it.”
“Alright,” I said, “so if some girl, some lunatic, her for instance ....” (I was referring to a sweaty girl in shorts who came thumping past at a lumbering jog.) “Suppose she happens to see you, decides she wants to marry you, and goes on hunger strike - are you then responsible?”
“The situation is completely different,” said Eric, somewhat testily. “You love Joan. And Joan loves you.”
We proceeded in silence to Eric’s BMW and climbed in. On the way back to his place, he offered me a job in this new video thing he’s setting up. He said he could pay me £15,000 a year and a car. I told him I didn’t know anything about video. Eric said I’d be able to do it standing on my head. I told him I’d think about it.
The only part of the house that isn’t open-plan, apart from the downstairs bog of course, is Eric’s office. He took me in there after lunch, which consisted of fish fingers, Cadbury’s Smash and Heinz tomato ketchup - Eric’s favourite food. Then he proceeded to fill me in on this new video company of his. He’s a very good salesman. He has an infectious line in enthusiasm.
“Look,” he said finally, “I just don’t have the time to run this thing myself and I need someone at the helm I can trust. I trust you.”
“I’d have to have a percentage,” I said, feeling very grown-up.
Eric pondered this for a moment, then he offered me 25%.
“That sounds pretty fair.”
“It is,” said Eric
Then the children came home with Mavis and put paid to any further intercourse. They wanted attention from their father. For the first time, I started to stop seeing them as unbearable nuisances and began seeing them as the providers of this whole new dimension of love, which Eric had mentioned on our walk. I watched him experiencing it. And I thought that I would like to experience it too.
Mavis did things in the kitchen department, while Dylan and Eric and I watched “Charlie Chan in Shanghai” on the box. Coco was goo-goo-gooing around on the floor. I observed that part of the appeal of Charlie Chan is the relationship he has with his Number One Son. I felt myself getting broodier and broodier.
Then Eric had to go and meet Chloe at the Hypgnosis party and did I want to come? Of course, someone like Eric has to be in the music business, as well as everything else. Eric’s trouble is that he is a sort of cross between Woody Allen and Richard Branson. Woody Branson! But he professes to loathe and despise both these characters. Allen he hates for having the unprecedented gall to look like him. Eric has absolutely no sense of humour on this point. And he hates Richard Branson for being richer than him. Richer Branson.
I passed on the party and went to join Dylan in front of the television. We watched a Bugs Bunny cartoon together. As it started, Dylan activated the video recorder with the remote control doodad. He did it with the ease of one who knew how to operate remote control video machines long before he could walk or even shit under his own steam. In the last line of the cartoon, Bugs Bunny said: “Well, like the man said, don’t take life too seriously - you’ll never get out of it alive.”
As soon as the cartoon ended, Dylan wound the tape back and played it again.
“Well, like the man said, don’t take life too seriously - you’ll never get out of it alive.”
Huh, I thought, unless you happen to be immortal.
Mavis summoned Dylan to the table for his supper - chipolatas and baked beans, followed by cherry Ski yoghurt - his flavour of the month. I watched him eat this, while Mavis put Coco to bed. I didn’t talk to Dylan, and Dylan didn’t talk to me while he ate. Instead he carried on a conversation with his E.T. doll, which he had leaning casually against the ketchup bottle.
I did say: “Are you looking forward to seeing E.T.?”
To which he replied somewhat snootily: “I’ve already seen it.”
“But it’s not out yet,” I said.
“I saw it ages ago,” said Dylan.
“Where?”
“In America ..... with daddy.”
That put me firmly in my place. It was so strange to think that here was a person who thought of Eric as daddy.
But would my son be immortal? I suppose I could always shoot him and see. No, I’d just have to wait. Of course, if I did know, I would never have to worry about him getting run over, or overdosing on drugs, or getting fantastically depressed and jumping off a tall building. But I couldn’t risk shooting him just on the off chance. I’d have to wait and see. I reckon that by the time the kid’s 150 or so, I’ll be able to stop worrying.
I’ve just thought of something - re this business of both parents having to be immortal, if you want to have immortal children. What if this hunger strike of Joan’s goes on and on and on and on and it turns out that she’s immortal too? And all this has been meant to happen? Of course, it would be awful if she dies. But if she does die, I will at least then know that she is or was only mortal - and consequently not the girl for me. How would I find my immortal partner, should Joan not prove to be the one? Unless I’m very lucky, I foresee all sorts of problems.
Either one tells the girl, or one does not. In the first place ..... well, imagine it -
Me: “I want to marry you.”
Her: “I want to marry you too.”
Me: “There’s only one problem.”
Her: “What is it, darling?”
Me: “You see, the thing is, I’m immortal - and I can only marry one who is also immortal - if we are to have immortal children. In order to ascertain whether you are immortal or not, I’m going to have to shoot you. If you come back to life as yourself again, we can get married.”
I can’t see it. I can’t see any girl who isn’t a raving lunatic going for it. Even if I didn’t tell her, just proposed and when she said yes, shot her regardless - well, as I say, fraught with difficulties.
Mavis took Dylan off to bed and when she came back downstairs, she ripped my clothes off, threw me onto the Corbusier chaise longue and ………. as if.
Apart from the fact that Mavis is a grimly efficient young woman, of the type that mugs muggers, the pain in my bum was playing up. I decided to go for a bath.
After the bath, I was feeling much better, though my teeth were hurting again.
There was a knock at the bathroom door. Mavis. She was not after my body. She wanted to know whether I’d like something to eat. She was making spaghetti.
“No thanks,” I said, emerging from the bathroom, which separates the guest room from her room on the top floor. If the truth be known, I could certainly have done with a large bowl of spaghetti, but I feared I would not be able to think of anything to say to Mavis. So I said: “Actually my teeth hurt and I’m not feeling so hot.”
Of course, I broke a cardinal rule here - never volunteer any information about anything, even if it’s true. Moments later, the telephone rang. Mavis called me downstairs. It was Eric, saying that they were going to Langan’s and why didn’t I join them there. I could just have done with one of their spinach soufflés with anchovy sauce, but having told Mavis that I was too far gone to handle her spaghetti, I did not have the heart to effect a miraculous recovery at the drop of a better offer.
I’d never been to Langan’s before I met Joan. It was quite a momentous occasion. I asked the waiter for a side plate and Joan muttered underneath her breath: “You don’t have side plates here.”
I turned to the waiter, whom I had asked to bring the article of crockery in question. He was hovering there, waiting to see what the outcome of this altercation between Joan and me might be.
“What are you waiting for?” I snapped.
“It pays the  rent, sir,” said this waiter.
Well, I laughed, and Joan laughed, and off he went, and I never got my side plate.
On the way home, Joan said: “I don’t think I could ever really love someone who asked for a side plate at Langan’s.”
Dear old Joan.
I went up to my room, the guest room, and I looked at myself in the mirror there and I said to myself: “Well, Ralph, you certainly have changed your tune.” And I have. I’ve decided to become a father.
There. I’ve written it down. I’ve been lying on this bed, scribbling away. And finally I’ve managed to write it down.
I am going to be a father!
I’ll take this fucking job of Eric’s. £15,000 per annum. Car. 25% of the business. I’ll be able to buy a video. And an electric guitar. I can go on holiday - and join the R.A.C. club. And I’ll be able to buy Joan presents and take her on surprise jaunts to Paris. God, it’s true what the man said: a man without cash is like a car without gas - useless. I could have an American Express card and charge things. I must go and give Joan the good news.
I bumped into Mavis on the way downstairs. She was coming up to tell me that if I could keep an eye on the kids she’d like to pop out. And out she popped to wherever it is people like her pop off to. I supposed that Joan was still chez Orson, went into Eric’s office and dialled the number. Orson answered.
“Hi there,” I said, cheerfully.
“What do you want?” said Orson in a far from friendly tone of voice.
“Is Joan there? I want to speak to her.”
“She’s asleep.”
“Wake her up. I’ve got some good news for her.”
“Oh yes?”
“Come on, Orson. Go and get her.”
“No.”
“What do you mean - no?”
“What I said. I’m not waking her up.”
“Oh. Well I want to tell her something.”
“What?”
“I don’t want to tell you. I want to tell Joan.”
“Well, she’s asleep.”
“I’ll tell you what,” I said. “I’ll come round for breakfast tomorrow morning.”
“Where are you?”
“At Eric’s. I’ll be there tomorrow morning for breakfast. I’ll bring croissant. Joan likes croissant.”
“Aha,” said Orson. “So you’ve given in.”
“Aha yourself. I’m coming round for breakfast – and I’m breaking Joan’s fast.”
And that’s it. I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to be a father. 
If it’s a son, I shall call him Cosmo. 
Cosmo Conway.
Dear little Cosmo, at this very moment you are just one of some three hundred million sperms swimming around in my balls. But one of them is you, and I love you already. You hear that, you little fucker?
Cosmo Conway. Cosmo Conway. Cosmo Conway. You have to admit, Cosmo Conway’s a pretty cool name
And if you’re a girl?
How about Aretha?
   
We're almost two thirds of the way through and I'm going to be so sad to see the end of this book.. 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

How many times do you have to die before the penny drops?

As a book reviewer I get some of the strangest subject lines in my e-mails, but none usually capture my interest quite like "How many times do you have to die before the penny drops?" I was excited when I finished reading the e-mail and I'm sure you'll be excited too by the end of this post.

The people over at Table 13 Books are giving readers an amazing treat. Every day in November I'll be posting a chapter from E.P.Rose’s new novel; NOVEMBER, Ralph Conway’s Immortal Diary.

The book will be published mid December – so you’ll be getting it before anyone else!

What’s it about?

Ralph Conway is a messed-up master-of-wine.
What with being unable to do his job,
and his girlfriend going on hunger strike,
and everything in the world being so crap,
he concludes that suicide is obviously the sensible option,
so he kills himself,
only to discover that he seems to be immortal.
This is Ralph Conway’s diary, written as the reality of immortality dawns.
You can read the preface now here:  Then come back every day in November to read each new entry in Ralph Conway’s immortal diary which I will also link to in this post for your convenience. Feel free to post comments sharing your thoughts about this title. I'm looking forward to reading it along with you, and then reading what you think. I love this serialization idea! Thank you to Table 13 Ltd, and Panpathic Communications for making it possible.
For more information about E.P.Rose and his books visit: http://www.tablethirteenbooks.com

November. (Please be advised the following posts contain mild adult content).

Preface

The First
The Second
The Third
The Fourth
The Fifth
The Sixth
The Seventh
The Eighth
The Ninth
The Tenth
The Eleventh
The Twelfth
The Thirteenth
The Fourteenth
The Fifteenth
The Sixteenth
The Seventeenth
The Eighteenth



November: The Eighteenth

Our daily adventure continues right here with The Eighteenth instalment of November: Ralph Conway's Immortal Diary. If this is your first day with us, I'd recommend you click here for links to the preface and previous instalments.
The content appears here on The Literary Word courtesy of Table 13 Ltd

THE EIGHTEENTH


I’m on the train again.
Taking up where I left off yesterday afternoon, it was my mother at the door. She came in with a pullover.
“It’s your father’s, but he never wears it.”
I could see why not. It was grim.
“Oh, thank you very much,” I said.
I’m going to give it to Eric for Christmas. Christmas! If only there was some way of avoiding it.
I was looking at my mother and I thought of something which was quite revolutionary to my way of thinking about her. 
“You know, it’s very odd.” I said. “I always thought that you were the impossible one and I could never understand why Dad didn’t divorce you ....”
“Ralph!” she gasped.
“..... but the odd thing is that since I’ve been down here now, I’ve come to see that it is in fact the other way around. He’s the impossible one. How come you’ve never left him?”
She became thoughtful.
“I mean, I hope you don’t mind my asking - but have you ever thought of it?”
“Well, obviously, I’ve thought of it.”
“Have you?”
“I did actually leave him once.”
“You didn’t? When?”
“When you were fifteen.”
“I never knew that.”
“You were at school.”
“What happened?”
“I went to a hotel. I don’t know why I’m telling you this ..... “
“Go on. It’s interesting. Which hotel?”
“Browns.”
“Were you .... I mean .... were you on your own?”
“I wasn’t running off with another man, if that’s what you mean.”
“There’s nothing wrong in that,” I said. “It happens all the time.”
“Well it hasn’t happened to me.”
“Never mind,” I said. “So what happened?”
“Well, obviously, I went back to him. The next day.”
We sat there in silence for a while, her remembering and me attempting to imagine that one night, sixteen years ago: my mother all alone in Brown’s Hotel.
“Why did you go back?” I asked.
“I think for the same reason that I left.”
“You’ll have to explain that.”
“I don’t think I can,” said my mother. “Where else was I to go? We all have our cross to bear. Your father’s mine.”
How’d you like that? 
I joined them for supper in the flat. It was stew. My mother’s stew is almost as good as mine, which is not surprising, as I got the recipe off her in the first place. My father has not cooked anything for himself ever.
They pulled out the table in the living-room, and we ate on that.
I told them I would be coming back to London this morning and that I would let them know about the wedding. Then mum and dad had an argument about going to Australia - and dad threatened to cancel the tickets.
“I just can’t see the point in going to Australia,” said my father.
“Oh for God’s sake,” said my mother, “there isn’t any point. There isn’t any point in anything.”
She pushed back her chair, went into the bedroom and slammed the door.
I shook my head and tutted.
He shrugged and gave me an awkward smile.
“How long’s Mum been grey?” I asked.
“Oh, your mother’s been grey for years.”
“Really? How many years?”
“She went grey when you went away to school.”
“Oh.”
“But ever since she came down here, she stopped dying it. Couldn’t see the point.”
“Ah.”
Then my father went off to play snooker with Earp.
I cleared the table and washed up, said goodnight through the bedroom door and retreated to my room, where I put a call through to Orson.
“Joan has just been telling me about your diary,” he said.
“Oh.”
“Is it true?”
“Is what true?”
“That you took that pill?”
“Of course not,” I said, absolutely without a moment’s hesitation. “I told you. I chucked it away.”
“Well why did you say you took it?”
“I never said that.”
“Joan says she read it in your diary.”
“If Joan goes around reading other people’s private diaries, she’s bound to get the wrong end of the stick.”
“He says he didn’t take it,” I heard Orson say, presumably to Joan.
“How is she?” I asked.
“Just about as well as you’d expect anybody to be who hasn’t eaten for eighteen days. What? Oh, sixteen days. Look, Ralph, where are you?”
“I’m not anywhere,” I said. “Goodbye, Orson.”
“Hey, wait.”
I hung up. I went to sleep. I stayed in my room till noon. Then I checked out and strolled up to the station and climbed onto this train, and here comes Battersea Power Station, and here I nearly am.

I walked all the way from Victoria to Eric and Chloe’s house in Chiswick. It only took me a couple of hours. I was wearing my father’s brogues. Halfway there I had to take them off and change back into my sneakers. I stopped at two McDonalds en route, in High Street Kensington, and then at the one in Hammersmith. I had a quarter pounder with cheese in each one.
Eric and Chloe were in, as was Mavis, their nanny/au pair, and the two children. Children are simply a nuisance. You can’t carry on a decent conversation when they’re around. Coco went up to bed at six, and Dylan finally retired at eight, when Eric and Chloe had to go out to dinner somewhere. I asked them if it would be alright if I stayed. Chloe was far from keen on the idea. What with her being Joan’s best and closest friend, she felt that giving me shelter would be something of a betrayal. But Eric said it would be fine with him - and I acknowledged the fact that Chloe had made an official complaint. 
One person who was extremely pleased with my advent was Mavis, who has taken advantage of my presence here by going out. So here I am - baby-sitting.
Bauhaus meets Glynn Boyd Harte meets Laskys in the Epstein household. The Corbusier furniture and the arsenal of hi-fi and video equipment are all Eric. The Glynn Boyd Harte, the colour, is Chloe’s input. I am sitting here at the Corbusier table in the huge open-plan downstairs. Everything is open and well-lit. There are no dark corners in this house. I’ve just been watching a programme called Birth Reborn about this French surgeon called Michel Odent - Mike Otooth in English - who runs a maternity unit in Pithiviers in France. Pithiviers, home of the eponymous pie.
I found myself imagining Joan giving birth to our child.
The weird thing is that on the one hand I got pretty excited by the idea, but on the other hand it made me feel ill.
Do I have dynastic longings in me?
Oooh, I forgot. While I was walking here, at one point I started counting my footsteps - to pass the time. It did not take me long to reach 169. I stopped and thought about it. I started again and soon reached 169 again. I stopped counting and carried on walking, and as I walked, my mind worked its way round to this extraordinary discovery: My birthday is on June 18. And, guess what, June 18 is the 169th day of the year!
Well so what? So what! What difference does it make? Supposing I was, supposing I am, well, suppose there is something special about me. Alright, let’s go the whole hog. Suppose that, for want of a better word, I am the messiah. Well, it’s perfectly bonkers. I mean, the whole point about Christ is not who he was, but what he said and did. Had he never said all that stuff, he wouldn’t have been anybody at all, never mind who his daddy was.
Look, you, God, the big whoever-you-are - if you think you’re going to get any mileage out of me, you’ve got another thing coming. I am no messiah. All I want is a nice quiet life.
Oh dear. Oh shit. How about this for a thought?
If I have children, will they be immortal too?
Or do both parents have to be immortal? And if so, is that the clincher as far as not marrying Joan is concerned?

I am really loving this book and I can hardly wait to see what the next instalment brings. See you tomorrow!

Monday, 17 November 2014

November: The Seventeenth

Our daily adventure continues right here with The Seventeenth instalment of November: Ralph Conway's Immortal Diary. If this is your first day with us, I'd recommend you click here for links to the preface and previous instalments.
The content appears here on The Literary Word courtesy of Table 13 Ltd


THE SEVENTEENTH


It has taken me sixteen days, fifteen excluding last Sunday, when who knows where I was, to fill up 121 pages of this book. I have just counted and there are 392 pages in this Flying Eagle Chinese diary of mine. If I do 121 pages in half a month, I’ll do 242 pages in a whole month. That’s 482 pages in two months, and 2892 pages in a year. (These calculations, by the way, are brought to you courtesy of my old man’s pocket calculator, which I came across in the inlaid box beside the gilt and green plush phone.) My God, suppose I live for the traditional three score years and ten. That gives me seventy minus thirty-one years to go. 70 - 31 = 39. (Steps!) Say 40 years. Going at this rate, I’ll have written 2892 x 40 pages by the time my time has come to kick the bucket, which = 115,680 pages. Now, all I have to do is divide 115,680 by 392, the number of Flying Eagle pages in this book. I make that 295. Amazing. If I keep this up at this for another 40 years, I’ll leave 295 of these volumes behind me.
Of course, being immortal, the figures become absurd. I have definitely thought the thought that someone would read these here words after my death. But if I am to have no death - what is the point in them? Oh God.
I supposed that sooner or later people are bound to start suspecting something. It won’t be all that long before I am England’s oldest inhabitant. I’ll get my hundredth birthday telegram from King Charles. But then, won’t it be news when I get my two-hundredth birthday telegram from King William, if he lives so long.
A most ghastly thought has just struck me. Suppose the loonies win and kill everybody, including themselves. And there’s only me left in the destruction. All alone.
Perhaps I won’t be alone! Perhaps there are others like me. Immortals. Total global nuclear war would in fact be a very convenient way of finding out if there are any others like me.  
I was walking along the front this morning and I was sort of looking at the sea out of the corner of my eye and what with one thing and another I started thinking about fish. You have to wonder about fish, don’t you, especially all these apparently super-intelligent dolphins and hump-back whales and the like. Well, yes, alright smartypants, I know that whales and dolphins aren’t fish, but they do live in the sea. That’s the point.
I went onto the stony beach and clattered down to the sea’s edge and looked at it more closely.
Supposing all the fish got together and started thrashing their tails in unison - they’d cause a tidal wave that could engulf the earth. No problem. Fish! We eat them and eat them and eat them. We hook them and net them and gut them and eat them. And sooner or later, they’re going to get fed up with being hooked and netted and gutted and eaten, and they’re going to get together, thrash in unison - and drown the lot us. Why shouldn’t fish get more intelligent? Humans are getting more stupid.
When my mother got back from the launderette yesterday, we finally had a conversation.
“So - to what do we owe the honour of this visit?” she asked.
“I just felt like seeing you.”
“I see.”
Inspiration struck me.
“I’m thinking of getting married.”
“To whom?”
“She’s called Joan.”
“Oh,” said my mother. I could see from the look on her face that the name, Joan, conjured up something unpleasant. “And who is this Joan?”
“She’s a waitress,” I said.
“Oh Ralph.”
Waitresses are rated on my mother’s social scale somewhere between prostitutes and bus-conductresses.
“She’s upper middle class,” I said.
My mother would like to think of herself as being upper middle class. In fact, she is middle class, verging, in her present state, on lower middle class. The thought that I might be marrying above myself soothed her.
“What’s her surname?”
“Henderson. Her father was a judge.”
“Was?”
I explained about Joan’s family and how her parents are dead.
“What’s she doing being a waitress then?”
“She likes being a waitress.”
“Huh,” said my mother, obviously finding this last assertion hard to swallow. “And what about you?”
“I’m not doing anything at the moment.”
“You’re out of work.”
“Yeah.”
“On the dole?” She made it sound like a nasty disease, like herpes.
“Certainly not.”
“And you’re living with this upper middle class Joan?”
“Yeah.”
“And she’s supporting you.”
“Well,” I said, “only up to a point.”
Fool! I should have lied. I should have told her I had a job. I should have told her I’ve got an incredible new career. What harm would it have done? It would have made her happy.
“And you and this Joan are planning to get married?”
“We’re thinking about it.”
“And when she gets pregnant?”
“What?”
“Is she planning to carry on at her waitressing, or what?”
“Getting married doesn’t automatically mean you have children, you know?”
“Whose idea is it to get married, Ralph? Yours or hers?”
“It’s both of our idea. Well, Joan’s very keen and I’m thinking about it.”
“She wants children, Ralph. Are you going to look after them, while Joan goes off to be a waitress?”
“I might do,” I said.
“Oh for God’s sake,” she snapped.
There was a silence, and then I asked her if I could take them out to dinner.
“On Joan’s money? No thank you very much.”
“I’ve got money,” I said.
“Oh yes?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact. Now do you want to come out to dinner?”
“Alright,” she said. “That’ll be very nice. It’ll make a nice change.”
“What about Dad?”
“You’ll have to ask him.”
“Well, where is he?”
“What time is it?”
It was one-thirty.
“You might catch him at Forfars in the Lanes. He goes there for lunch. If not, he’ll probably be at King Alfred’s. Bowling.”
“Bowling? It’s a bit cold for that, isn’t it?”
“Not bowls. Bowling. Ten pin bowling.”
“Good Lord,” I said.
The walk along the front to King Alfred’s Sports Centre took me about twenty minutes into the wind. My lips were good and salty by the time I arrived - and descended into that clattering subterranean world. I think I must have been fourteen the last time I went bowling. I know I wasn’t strong enough to lift anything heavier than the speckled balls. I used to go with Eric up to the lanes in Temple Fortune. When I first moved to Cricklewood, I went to see if they’re still there, but they’re gone.
Dad was alone on lane thirteen. I traded in my sneakers for a pair of bowling shoes, bought a couple of games, and went and sat in the plastic seats behind him. He had his back to me, was holding his ball up to his chin, preparing to roll it at the pins.
He was wearing a bright pink bowling shirt, with the legend EARP’S ANGELS on the back. He moved forward with three fluid crouching steps and rolled the ball gently down the runway. At first I thought it was going into the gutter, but two thirds of the way down it started to curve in onto the target. A strike! He gave the air a little punch of pleasure. Then he about-turned, came back to the scoring table, filled in his score, while his ball returned and the automatic machine replaced the pins. He failed to notice me.
With his next ball, he got eight, and left himself with two, in either corner, a split. A gesture of annoyance from him. Then he failed to pick off either of the two pins. It was strange, watching him. He finished his game and noticed me.
“Hi,” I said. “Fancy a game?”
He was very happy to play with me. I was astonished at how well I did. It all came back to me. I scored 169, which is an amazingly good score. Dad was miffed, as he had been expecting to beat me hollow. But then it dawned on me that I had scored 169 - and that we were playing in lane 13. And that 13 into 169 is 13 and 13 times 13 is 169 and that’s how many pounds I weigh. And I am 31, which is 13 backwards.
If I was the kind of person who tends to imagine that he is the victim of satanic plots, it is at this point that I might well have started seriously to worry. But I’m not that kind of person. I’m not. I do not believe in satanic plots and conspiracies with me as the victim at the centre. I don’t believe in that kind of stuff. I don’t. 
We did not talk during the game. Then we wandered round to this rather wonderful cafe-cum-ice-cream-parlour called Marocco’s, round the corner on the front - where we had hot chocolate.
“I thought I’d take you and Mum out for dinner this evening,” I said.
“Oh.”
“You don’t sound very enthusiastic.”
“No, it’s, er .... “
At this point a character breezed in and clapped my father on the shoulder.
My father introduced him to me. It was Earp.
“As in Earp’s Angels?”
“You’ve got it, son,” said Earp.
Earp is terrific. He’s a sixty year old Teddy boy, basically. He has grey Brylcreemed hair, combed up in a quiff at the front, and in a D.A. at the back. He was wearing drain-pipe trousers and winkle-picker shoes. Apparently, my father used to pop into Marocco’s on his various walks up and down the front. And it was here that Earp had recruited him for Earp’s Angels.
It turned out that my father’s reluctance about dinner had to do with the fact that he had made an arrangement to play snooker with Earp. But when Earp heard of my invitation, he insisted that my father accept.
Then we all went back to the bowling lanes. I sat and watched the two of them play. I declined their invitation to join them, claiming a sore shoulder. But the real reason was that I didn’t think I could follow the 169 in lane 13 with anything better. Another score in this other lane, where they were now playing, would spoil it.
Earp is brilliant. But my Dad beat him with his handicap. The old man was as pleased as punch. I played the space invader machines, while they had another game. Then Earp gave us a lift back to the Metropole in his customised Zodiac, which is black with leopard-skin upholstery and the names Earp and Sheila on the windscreen over the driver’s and passenger seat respectively. My father in this car, and indeed my father with Earp anywhere, was a thought-provoking sight. I thought that here he was, having the mis-spent youth he would have had, if he hadn’t had the misfortune to marry my mother and have me and my sister.
On the way up to the flat, Dad told me that Earp is 64, that his Christian name is George, but never used, that Earp and his sons run a we-buy-and-sell-anything kind of business in the back of Brighton, and that he is not to be mentioned “in front of your mother”.
My mother had organised a room in the hotel for me.
“Unless of course you plan to go back to Joan tonight?”       
“No, but it’s alright. I can sleep on the floor.”
“No you can’t.”
So I thanked her graciously. Then we discussed where I was going to take them, and my mother suggested a French place called Le Trou dans le Mur, which didn’t bode well. She booked the table and I went and had a look at my room. Nothing to write home about - but better than the floor. Apart from which there is a certain something about all hotel rooms, however ghastly, that is strangely enchanting.
I gave them time to get themselves ready. Then I returned to their flat. My mother had in the interim been going through my father’s wardrobe - and produced an outfit for me to wear.
The shoes weren’t bad. Black brogues. The trousers were out of the question. But I agreed to don the sports shirt - “which he refuses to wear” - and a herringbone jacket that I really like.
“Are you sure you want to part with it?”
He shrugged.
“He never wears it,” said my mother.
“I never wear it,” he echoed glumly.
I put it on.
This restaurant, to which my parents had not been, but about which my mother had read good words, was dreadful. I mean, they started you off with perfectly acceptable crudités - but when it came to the main course, tinned French beans were produced. Tinned! As everyone knows, a French bean, unless it be fresh, is simply not worth the shit in which it was grown. I said to le patron: “Look, you served all those nice fresh vegetables to start with - why serve tinned beans?” He made some preposterous excuse about the size of the kitchen.
Then my mother said: “If you don’t like them, Ralph, why don’t you just leave them?”
I dropped the whole subject.
Over the inevitable chocolate mousse, I mentioned that someone had read my palm and told me that there is a mystery surrounding my birth.
“The only mystery surrounding your birth,” said my mother, “is that your father ever managed it.”
I was shocked - but he was highly amused.
“I went to get my birth certificate,” I told them.
“Checking up on us, eh?” he chortled.
“What an extraordinary thing to do,” said my mother.
It seems to me now that I was stupid even to have considered that my parents weren’t who I’ve always thought them to be. Namely, them. Apart from which, what difference does it make? I mean, really, what difference does it make, whether my father is a retired incompetent shop-keeper or, I don’t know, a shower of golden rain?
I mean, when Jesus was a kid, did he know all along that Joseph wasn’t his father? No, I think that Joseph was Jesus’ dad, and that’s who Jesus thought he was, and when someone in the playground said to Jesus: “What does your dad do then?” - Jesus would say: “He’s a carpenter.” 
“So,” said my father, “your mother tells me that you’ve landed yourself a rich girl.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” I muttered.
“That’s what I always wanted to do,” he said, “but I got your mother instead.”
They wanted to know when they would meet Joan. I told them that we would try to manage it, but that she was very busy at the moment.
I always fancied being a restaurateur,” said my dad, “opening my own place.”
“Thank God you never did,” said my mother.
Then we talked about my sister. Most of the time, I completely forget that I even have a sister. She’s a few years older than me - and I hate her. I’ve always hated her. When I was sixteen, she fell in love with an Australian person and married him and went to live in Australia with him, in Melbourne of all places. Apparently, she now has four children. Mum and dad are going there for Christmas.
“That’s nice,” I said.
Dad gave the same shrug he gave when he gave me his jacket.
She said: “It’s better than nothing.”
“I don’t see why she can’t come here,” said he. “She’s always going on about how well-off they are.”
“You know they can’t, with the children.”
“Huh,” said my father. “Children.”
I paid the bill with a cheque. We walked home, said goodnight in the lobby of the hotel. 
Breakfast was included in the price of the room - so I went and had it with the delegates in the enormous hotel dining-room. Frosties, followed by  kipper.
I wandered up to the Brighton Pavilion, which looks as though it has just landed and is about to take off again at any second. Then I wandered around the town for a bit. Everybody here seems to be either old or stupid. The rest must have gone up to London. I met my father for lunch at Forfar’s in The Lanes - not the bowling lanes, but The Lanes - where I ate an excellent Buck Rarebit, with not one but two poached eggs on top.
I decided that my father was perfectly content, that he didn’t particularly mind my being there - but I was an interruption, a nuisance. I think that’s what I must have been, when first I erupted from his loins, when he was thirty-one and I was nought. Mind you, he’d already had to get used to my sister. But she went, and I remained. And my school fees were much more expensive than hers.
“Do you regret having children?” I asked him.
“That’s a funny question. From you.”
“I’m just wondering. I mean, why did you?”
“What?”
“Have us.”
“I don’t know really. There wasn’t much alternative, when I was your age.”
“But did you like being a father?”
“Some of the time.”
He said he had to get along to the bowling lanes, King Alfred’s. To give him his due, he did ask me if I’d like to come too - but I reckoned he’d rather be left to it. So I came back to the hotel.
I don’t know what to do. Whether to go or stay. I can’t stay in the hotel. They can’t afford to pay for the room - and neither can I. But I just don’t feel like going back to London. I - hang about. There’s someone at the door ...

See you back here tomorrow for more.