oh, well, whatever . . .

Posts Tagged ‘the flood

a broken napoleon and a dead spider

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Returning to work after a holiday is always a difficult transition, like stepping from a garden into a bullring. Transitions like this are often best managed by a ritual, and in my case this involves washing and ironing all my clothes, polishing my shoes, trimming my sideboards, and having a long bath. It’s as if the odour of recreation must be washed from me, as if to return to the old world I must make myself a new man. Going back to work is like rebirth. I must purify myself before my eviction from the womb.

Things have been surprisingly quiet at work. Sightings of the Arab have declined dramatically it seems (although Robin Hood may have become a permanent resident). Debs says that in part this is because Elephant Carmichael has been remanded in custody on charges of aggravated burglary and attempting to pervert the course of justice and Flinty’s keeping his head down. More significant though is that Flinty’s shacked up with Molly Armstrong in her flat at Rothesay Terrace down at the Station and is otherwise engaged, at least for the time being. What’s more, the schools are open again, the nights are drawing in a bit, and the weather hasn’t been good. The population of Flinties is dwindling rapidly, as if they’ve been nothing but summer migrants. I spoke to Gilmour a day or so ago and told him so and that I thought things were settling down. He told me that this was great news.

‘Looks like we’ve cracked this one, eh?’ he said. ‘I’ll let the Director know. Good work!’

‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘We do what we can.’

It rained heavily last weekend. Morpeth was flooded and Northumberland finally became the victim of freak weather and got the publicity and pity that for so long it has been denied. A disaster can be a cloud with a very silver lining. Eat your heart out the Vale of York: Charles and Camilla visited us today. They dallied a while, meandered along the loyal fringe of their postdiluvian subjects and shook a few of their damp northern hands. The television report showed them at a chip shop in Morpeth town centre. I think it was the Market Chippy on Newgate Street, next to the cheese shop. I like the look of Charles. He’s consistently odd. Somehow he reminds me of a gundog, one that perhaps lacks a little in the way of grey matter but who has an irrepressible sense of mischief. A springer spaniel perhaps. A one that would chew your furniture. He also sometimes reminds me of a bedraggled fledgling, an owlet perhaps.

The Widow Middlemiss hasn’t yet returned from Derby. Despite the heavy rain her property has suffered no further flooding. Griff has obviously taken steps to avoid another PR disaster. When I came in from work earlier this week Margaret was in the Widow’s garden dead-heading her French marigolds and hoeing the borders. I glanced across to see if Hugo was back. He wasn’t. I went inside and made myself a cappuccino. I was sitting in the conservatory with De Kooning pondering the realities of wage slavery when I became aware of a faint ticking. I followed the sound to the door of Margaret’s bedroom. I pushed it open slowly, as if I was about to find a bomb. What I found was a lot stranger: the ticking turned out to be the Napoleon Mantel Clock on her dressing table. It had come back to life. It was ticking enthusiastically. It had broken ranks with its twenty two silent and motionless companions. It now said it was almost five o’clock, which wasn’t right but suggested it had probably started working again about two hours earlier, at which time I knew Margaret would have still been at work.

‘The Napoleon in your bedroom is working,’ I said to Margaret when she came back in.

‘It can’t be,’ she said. ‘It’s broken.’

‘It can’t be broken,’ I replied. ‘It’s ticking.’

She went to the bedroom and checked. She was still wearing her wellies and green gardening gloves. She came back with her mouth hanging open.

‘How can this be possible?’ she said. ‘That clock is broken. The Greek said it was beyond repair.’

‘The Greek was obviously wrong,’ I said.

‘He’s never wrong. The Greek is never wrong. Never.’

My pizza was ready. I sat for a while eating and pondering the mysterious resurrection of the broken Napoleon. It had the look of a miracle about it. But it wasn’t, of course. I asked Margaret if it was okay if I examined it. I went into her bedroom and gazed at the ticking timepiece. I picked it up with both hands and looked deep into its face. It was now keeping perfect time. It had a sort of blank insolence about it. A smugness even. This was a clock that wasn’t about to give anyone an account of its baffling revival. I stood it back down on the dressing table, next to a copy of Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now. Brenda had recommended this to Margaret a few days ago. I picked it up and flicked through a few pages. Zen meets narcissism. Absurd and incoherent. Pure Brenda. The perfect companion for a clock that rises from the dead, I thought.

I rang the Greek. He told me there was simply no way the Napoleon could be working. It was a broken clock. I told him it had. The Greek was puzzled.

‘Then I was wrong,’ he said. ‘It was never broken. A broken clock is a broken clock, and it cannot repair itself.’

I told Margaret I’d spoken to the Greek and that he’d said the clock must have been in working order all along.

‘If that’s so then why didn’t it start ticking before now?’ she said. ‘And why did it start now? There’s something funny going on here, I’ll tell you that. Clocks just don’t stop and then start again without reason months and months later. It doesn’t make sense.’

‘There’ll be an explanation,’ I said. ‘But we might never know what it is. Perhaps a dead spider was jamming the works and it has finally decomposed or its corpse has finally fallen from the cogs. That could have happened.’

She rolled her eyes. ‘Oh, yes, that’s very likely,’ she said. ‘The corpse of a spider falling from the cogs. I think I’ll give Brenda a ring.’

I glanced at De Kooning. He was washing his face with his paw. Behind me I could hear the television newsreader saying that a junior whip has come out and said openly that their should now be a leadership contest in New Labour. It was starting to rain and looking very dark outside. The economy’s in recession. I wondered what Gordon was doing tonight.


a case of mistaken identity

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There were many suspected sightings of Flinty last weekend. By Monday morning a pattern had emerged to support a widespread belief that he had now settled on a consistent disguise: an Arab. The Arab is a man of about Flinty’s age and build. He wears a white dishdasha, a keffiya and Ray-Bans. He drives an old white Mercedes with a red leather interior.  He has been seen on the estate parked across the street from Mandy’s on at least two occasions, and in the neighbourhood many more times. He was also been seen in Amble on Sunday afternoon, eating chips from the Harbour Chippy with no other than Elephant Carmichael. Standing with Elephant and the Arab were the Fisher boys, infamous as purveyors of dodgy amphetamines and benzos.  By Monday morning the Arab had acquired a mythical identity around the estate: he was Flinty bin Laden.

While the evidence for a fixed identity seems compelling, it needs to be kept in mind that Batman was also spotted twice on the estate last weekend, on both occasions driving a pearly blue P-reg Peugeot 306.  There were also a couple of other curious single sightings of note: on Saturday a Rastafarian in a bronze Citroen BX Estate and on Sunday morning Michael Jackson in a white Fiesta with a black offside wing and a cracked headlight.  There was also an unconfirmed sighting of Robin Hood in a Honda Civic at around teatime on Sunday, although the source of this report is Cheryl Amstrong, a notoriously unreliable witness. It is generally agreed though that none of these individuals was Flinty, but that doesn’t explain the rash of exotic visitors to the estate. There are three plausible explanations for this:

  1. Chance. Despite the statistical odds being long these simultaneous rare visitors are no more than an unlikely coincidence.
  2. Copycat disguising. Flinty has started a craze. Already people are talking about ‘doing a Flinty’, but so far as anyone knows no-one actually has.
  3. Decoys. Flinty has got his mates to dress up to confuse and mislead people. If they can’t all be him maybe none of them is.

The smart money is on the third option. The presence of Flinty bin Laden is now considered an established fact. And while dressing as an Arab doesn’t seem like the most obvious way to avoid drawing attention to himself, remarkably enough he’s never once been pulled over by the police.  Perhaps the decoys are doing their job. Or perhaps they’re mistaking him for Dekka Douglas.

On Wednesday morning Flinty rang Debs to ask about Mandy and the kids. He said he hadn’t heard from her since he came out and was a bit worried. He was just ringing to make sure everything was okay. He was Mr Charm himself, a nicer guy you couldn’t hope to meet. But Debs wasn’t going to let him go without a challenge.

‘People say you’ve been seen hanging around the estate near Mandy’s house.’ she said.

‘People? Which people? Tell me their names.’ Flinty replied.

‘Lots of people, Flinty. I don’t think they’d want me to tell you who they are.’

‘Because they know what would happen if I found out they’d been saying things about me.’

‘A couple of people have said you were across on Saturday afternoon. They say you were disguised as an Arab.’

‘It couldn’t have been me.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because I wasn’t there.’

‘Other people say you were there on Monday as well, around teatime.’

‘Do they? So what was I dressed as on that occasion – the Last of the Mohicans?!’

‘No, as an Arab again.’

‘Oh, come on, Debs, do I look like a bloody Arab to you? Tell me who’s saying these things and I’ll go and have a talk to them about it. I think you’ll find what we have here is a case of mistaken identity.’

‘How could you go and talk to them, Flinty? You’re not allowed to cross the Wansbeck.’

‘I’ll ring them, or maybe I’ll get the Elephant to drop in on them to clarify the matter.’

‘Mandy herself thinks you were there on Monday.’

‘Nah, Debs, it couldn’t have been me. I was somewhere else that day. And besides, if the person who was there was dressed as an Arab how would anyone know it was me in any case?!’

‘Because it was an Arab with your face, Flinty.’

‘Nah. It couldn’t have been me. I was with the Elephant in Seaton Delaval seeing a geezer about some DVD’s. Ask the Elephant.  Any way, what kind of car did this Arab have, Debs?’

‘The Arab drives a white Mercedes.’

Flinty laughed, almost theatrically. Then, suddenly, the line fell completely silent.

‘You know I love the lass, Debs,’ he said, ‘and you know she loves me. The kids love me as well, you know they do. I’ve always treated them like my own. So why won’t you lot let us be together? It’s a breach of human rights not to let us be together.’

Debs began to wonder if Flinty had somehow forgotten that he tried to lop off Mandy’s ears with a pair of secateurs. ‘Mandy doesn’t want to be with you, Flinty,’ she said, very deliberately. ‘You know that.  She’s moved on and you need to let her go.’

‘Who says she doesn’t want to be with me?  Does she say that? I bet she doesn’t. Nah, it’s just you and the other busy bodies who say that. If you tell her she can be with me she’ll be back in a shot. Tell you what, Debs, you set up a meeting between me and Mandy – you can be there if you like – and let’s see what she really says.  How about you do that?’

‘No, Flinty. Mandy has a right to get on with her life without having you scare the shit of her.’

‘You reckon?  Yeah, well, time will tell, won’t it?  Tell her I’m asking after her. You can also tell her I’ve seen my brief and my release conditions are going to be changed because they make it impossible for me to follow my usual employment.’

‘What’s your usual employment, Flinty?  You’ve been on the dole as long as I can remember – except when you were locked up, of course.’

‘Scrap. I’ve always dealt in scrap, everybody knows that.’

‘Well, you’ve been convicted of stealing cable, Flinty, but I don’t think that makes you a legitimate businessman.’

‘Look, the law says I’ve got as much right as anybody else to be given a fair chance. That’s all I’m asking for, Debs. Just tell Mandy and the kids I love them. Tell them I’ll see them soon. Okay?’

Debs didn’t reply.

‘Okay. Well, whatever,’ Flinty said. ‘Salaam, Debs.’

Flinty hung up.

‘Cocky bastard,’ Debs said, and logged on to her computer to read her emails.

On Wednesday night it rained heavily. The telephone rang at about six in the morning, and I stumbled to the hall all groggy and tousled and answered it.

‘Hello,’ a quaky, panicky voice said.

‘’Oh, hello, Mrs Middlemiss,’ I said. It was The Widow Middlemiss, as I call her. She lives next door, on the other side from Hugo.

‘Is your garden flooded?’ she said, as if she was stranded. ‘Mine’s under a foot of water. Is yours?’

‘’I don’t know,’ I said. I was a bit bewildered and wondered what I was going to do if it was – mop it up with kitchen roll? ‘Er, I’ll go and check.’

‘It’s terrible,’ she said. ‘It’s run in from the Citadel.’

‘I’ll go and look Mrs Middlemiss. Thanks for ringing,’ I said.

I went into the conservatory, De Kooning traipsing along behind me. The garden was wet but not flooded. I looked out of the side window. Mrs Middlemiss’s garden was indeed under a foot of murky yellow water. Spindly pink lavetera teetered above the flood, like blighted ballerinas.

‘Oh dear,’ I said to myself, and went back to bed.

I went back to sleep and had a vivid, highly anxious dream. We were on an island and a yellow flood was rising all around us. It was gloomy and steam was rising from the water, which was lapping beneath almost luminous double-glazed kitchen and bedroom windows and seeping under white plastic doors. Crocodiles and giant snakes were slithering through the muddy flood and green frogs and brown toads were erupting suddenly out of the depths, like ferocious little missiles. A swan glided eerily across the scene. I was watching all this from the conservatory window. I ran upstairs and threw open the bedroom door. Gordon was there in the centre of a shabby assortment of characters, some of whom I knew but couldn’t identify. On his knee Gordon was nursing a spherical time bomb and gently stroking its smooth surface. Gathered around him were ruddy faced men and women, all gazing in wonderment at the baby in Gordon’s arms. A pale horse was running around; the Widow Middlemiss was its rider. I tried to scream but no sound came out of me. It struck me later that this terrifying bedroom tableau roughly resembled David Wilkie’s painting The Blind Fiddler. The fiddler in my dream version was Tristan, and the man in the red waistcoat was George Bush. For some reason there were a number of traffic cones in the dream too.

As I was sitting in the conservatory on Thursday morning having a cappuccino before I went to work the telephone rang again. I assumed it would be Mrs Middlemiss again and let Margaret answer it. I listened to the news on Radio 4 and ignored the conversation.

‘That was Geraldine,’ Margaret said, when she came back. ‘Edna was flooded last night! She rang Geraldine in the middle of the night, though God knows why. Geraldine did nothing. Typical Geraldine!’ Edna is the first name of the Widow Middlemiss, although not one I ever use since I have never felt I have achieved a sufficient level of intimacy with the woman.

‘She rang us too,’ I said. I forgot to tell you.

Margaret was annoyed. Geraldine had already presumed to ring Griff about the flood.

‘Why didn’t you wake me up?’ Margaret asked.

‘I couldn’t see the point,’ I said. ‘What were you going to do, paddle across and rescue her? The water wasn’t in her house. She wasn’t sitting on the roof with a cow.’ I could see that images from Oh Brother Where Art Thou? were seeping into my brain. I stopped there.

Margaret stomped away to ring Mrs Middlemiss. No doubt she was going to offer her better advice than Geraldine’s. The Widow Middlemiss is about eighty years old, lives alone and has arthritis. She is the kind of accidental victim who has the makings of a cause celebre.

‘You can swim, can’t you?’ I said to De Kooning. He looked at me and then licked his paw and began cleaning his face. He can, but he’d prefer it if he didn’t have to.

On Friday Debs visited Mandy to see how things were going. Mandy told her that Flinty was dressing as an Arab and driving around in an old Mercedes.

‘They call him Flinty bin Laden,’ she said.

Debs said yes, she already knew. Mandy said she hadn’t seen him herself but Mr Zee thinks he saw the white Mercedes on Station Road one afternoon.  Mandy said they weren’t going out much and she felt like a prisoner in her own home.  She said that on Thursday morning there was a small pile of sand on the step in front of her door when she got up. It had appeared there during the night. She thought it was a message from Flinty.

‘Has he rung you any more?’ Debs asked.

Mandy shrugged.

‘We had Yvonne Fair a couple of times last night,’ Mr Zee said. He was sitting on the settee with Sparky, who had a pair of toy binoculars around his neck and a plastic rifle in his arms. As usual Mr Zee was in his full regalia and looking very well turned out.

‘Is that a new mask?’ Debs asked him.

‘Yes, it is,’ he said. ‘I got it over the internet from ZorrStore.com. My old one was getting worn at the edges.’

‘It’s nice,’ Debs said. ‘It’s really, really black.’

‘Thanks,’ Mr Zee said.

Debs was thinking how young and naïve he seemed. She didn’t know how long a young man like him would be able to cope with the situation like this. She didn’t like to think what might happen if Flinty ever got his hands on him.

‘You both need to be careful,’ Debs said. ‘The police say they’re going to keep a look-out for him. They’ll arrest him as soon as they see him.’

Mandy and Mr Zee looked blankly at her and nodded their heads.

‘Has he rung you, Debs?’ Mandy asked.

Debs nodded. ‘Yes. Yes, he has. He rang me to ask if I’d seen you. I told him I had.’

‘So is that all he said?’ Mandy said, frowning.

‘Yes, more or less. Yeah, it was. He said he was living with Elephant. Just chit chat really.’

Debs gave Mr Zee a lift up to the Job Centre. She asked him how he was coping. He said he was fine but he was worried about Mandy and the kids. Sometimes he thinks Mandy is cracking up. He said she was hardly sleeping and she’d been to the doctor’s to get something for her nerves.

‘Do you think he’ll eventually just go away?’ he asked.

Debs shook her head. ‘No, that’s not his style,’ she replied. ‘He won’t go away until they lock him up again. He’s a dangerous bloke, Mr Zee. You need to keep your eyes open.’

Mr Zee in his best brown cape and new black mask thanked Debs for the lift and told her not to worry. He promised her he’d make sure Mandy and the kids would come to no harm.

When Debs got back to the office Jen Larkin from the police rang her. She had some intelligence to share with her.

‘We think Flinty might be dressing up in disguises to cross the Wansbeck,’ Jen said.

‘Never?’ Debs said.

‘Yes, we think so. But we’re not a hundred percent on this one, Debs,’ Jen said. ‘Some lads on patrol thought they had him on Monday when they pulled up a punter dressed as Batman on the Pegswood road, but he turned out to be a bloke from Guidepost on his way to a fancy dress do.’

‘Was he driving a pearly blue Peugeot 306?’ Debs asked.

‘Yes, he was. Do you know him?’

‘No, not really,’ Debs replied. ‘Just a lucky guess.’

This morning Maureen and the Whelp passed our house. They didn’t knock, though. I was disappointed. I had wanted to ask her about the passage in the Book of Revelation which says that three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.

I let De Kooning out into the garden and cut back a few unruly brambles and pulled up a few weeds. Margaret was going off to Brenda’s to pack some orders for despatch tomorrow. It was fine day and forecast to stay dry.

When I went out Mrs Middlemiss was in her front garden, pottering about with her petunias and French marigolds.

‘Hi, Miss Middlemiss,’ I said. ‘Is you back garden okay now?’

‘Oh, wasn’t that just terrible?’ she said. ‘I didn’t know what to do. You must thank Margaret for being so kind to me.’

I will,’ I said. Mrs Middlemiss looked as I imagined Mrs Noah must have looked sometimes. Oddly enough her husband was a stevedore, I believe.

I drove up to Amble and walked up through Warkworth. Amble was bustling with market goers, as usual on a Sunday, but it was quiet along the Coquet. Eider ducks paddled to and fro towing nurseries of little brown chicks. A flock of lapwings swirled overhead at one point, like locusts. Along the river bank the dog roses are becoming ragged, their pale petals falling. The blue vetch is beautiful when it’s in flower, as it is now. I love its weird curling tendrils. They remind me of lyres and millipedes. There were quite a few cars at the castle at Warkworth. I wandered down the hill behind the Sun Inn past the little housing estate they’ve jammed on to the river bank. I saw a heron roosting in a tree on the other side of the river and I sat on a riverside seat eating an apple and watching it for a while.

When I got back into Amble I walked through the path past the marina with a well-spoken man who was on his way to the Co-op. He told me that the big Co-op shop near the church square was closed now and that the building was going to be taken over by Tesco, who were also going to build a superstore with a big car park on another piece of land away from the town centre.

‘Bloody hell,’ I said. ‘What do people think about that?’

‘Most people support it,’ the man said. ‘It’s the car park, you see.’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I see.’

I walked around the pier and back past the Harbour Chippy, which as usual had a queue right out the door and around the corner. I was on the lookout for an Arab in a white Mercedes. I didn’t find one, and I saw no sign of the Fisher boys either.


Written by yammering

July 13, 2008 at 10:51 pm