‘Arnold Layne had a strange hobby
Moonshine - washing line
They suit him fine’
Pink Floyd: Arnold Layne
It may be assumed by those with more than a passing interest in matters of this nature that, at forty-nine, Brian Blockwood could be said to be in the prime of his life. After all, to all intents and purposes he lived an ideal existence; loyal wife, beautiful daughter, a well-built semi in a desirable location and a position of responsibility at Crankitt & Sons Ltd, funeral directors of quality of distinction, with prices to suit all needs and budgets. But Brian, behind the somewhat bland facade of quiet contentment and studious reverence one generally associates with Harley Street physicians or elderly gentlemen of the cloth, harboured dark thoughts which, if challenged, may have bordered on the frankly unusual, and certainly not the kind of thing one would drop into the polite conversation he had perfected over a lifetime peppered by unopinionated small talk. For, if you could say one thing about Brian Blockwood, it was that he fitted in. The choir at St.Anges’s, where he sang baritone every Sunday morning, the White Elephant stall in the entrance to the Indoor Market, which he manned dutifully every third Saturday of the month, selling bric-a-brac and interesting curios donated by well meaning spinsters in aid of Miss Fortheringay’s Cats In Crisis Appeal, one of the numerous worthy causes instigated by the dear old codger in order to provide solace and comfort to forgotten felines in their darkest hour of need. Along with these and numerous other charitable pursuits, Brian could be found taking minutes at the bi-monthly meetings of The Friends Of Constance O’Donnelly, an ad-hoc committee which consisted of a group of pensioners wrapped to varying degrees in the arms of dementia, meeting every Wednesday evening after Emmerdale in the lounge of the local nursing home, a kind of circle time for the hard of hearing and short of memory, which is where Brian came in. After all, without his meticulous minuting none of the octogenarians would have had the foggiest as to what they’d been droning on about for the past hour and a half. That was another thing that could be said about Brian Blockwood.
He had the patience of a saint.
Brian was uncertain as to when the urge had first began to overwhelm him, though maybe overwhelm was not exactly the right choice of word, although it was one the police psychiatrist had tossed around like cheap confetti at an Irish wedding. He preferred to think of it as less of an urge and more of a vocation, a calling, a path down which he could merrily meander on the journey towards ultimate enlightenment. He realised that at this juncture that he was coming over a bit like a Born Again Christian, although he doubted if they’d ever seen salvation the same way he had. Still, each to his own, as his dear old dad used to say just before he’d reach for the heavy leather belt and beat Brian to within an inch of consciousness for the crime of having unclean thoughts, a term he could never quiet comprehend. After all, if God had given his little children those things (a word his Mother used to describe the bits that distinguish girls from boys, always spat out the side of her mouth as if it was a lump of vile tasting mucus) then surely it was because He intended them to be put to good use. So why was it that when Brian used his in the privacy of his bedroom with a chewed up copy of Big Jugged Babes for company, he was punished with such severity that even he, Head Altar Boy and Deputy Candle Lighter, began to question the very existence of The Almighty. If God is love, he mused, then He has a strange way of showing it. At school Sister Mathilda never tired of telling her Little Ducklings that the Good Lord had already mapped out their every move and therefore knew what they were going to do before it had even crossed their tiny minds, a kind of Derren Brown for the chosen few, which surely meant that Our Father who art in Heaven had decreed that the stroke mag his mum had discovered in the bottom of her husbands sock drawer and tossed into the dustbin, only to be retrieved by their young offspring, was intended for use as its current owner saw fit. That was the implausible beauty of religion, mused Brian from the position of forty years hindsight. You can use it to justify just about anything. Those ancient hacks who wrote down the reports supposedly thousands of years after they had occurred (but with an assurance that suggested they were actually at the game, in the stands, live and direct, like John Motson on Match Of The Day) covered their asses by inserting lots of conflicting evidence so that any crackpot with a soapbox and glazed look in their eyes could set themselves up for salvation. The Good Book thought Brian, allowing himself the luxury of a wry smile.
All Styles Served Here.
My God, thought Brian one wet Wednesday evening over a dinner of Chicken Drummies (two for one at Farm Foods) and raspberry Angel’s Delight, my wife is turning into a hag, a word so extreme and unused in Brian’s personal lexicon that, for a moment at least, he questioned as to whether he had actually meant it, although after a moment of deep reflection interspersed with some intense eyeballing across the table, he was able to confirm it was indeed an accurate description of the woman he had shared the marital bed with for the past fifteen years, eight months, twenty-four days, five hours, fourteen minutes and eight seconds for, if nothing else, Brian Blockwood was unerringly accurate in both his management of time and assessment of others. His nearest and dearest had metamorphosed before his very eyes into a sow from Orwell’s Animal Farm; the one’s who dress up in outlandish clothes, totter around on two heels and rewrite history in order to suit themselves. Brian treated himself to a sublime smirk as he contemplated the prospect of life imitating art.
Across the table Juliet Blockwood scraped the remains of the gooey pink pudding from the dish with the index finger of her left hand before reaching for the half empty bottle of Aussie Gold (three for a tenner at Morrison’s) and topping up her wine glass to the point where it almost overflowed on to the Gingham tablecloth, which looked classy but was actually a Laura Ashley knock off courtesy of a car boot sale. She was dressed in a burnt orange crushed nylon tracksuit and white no-brand trainers with pink squiggly lines plastered over them, the uniform of the perennial weightwatcher, the compulsive faster, the consummate health fanatic, although in Juliet’s case these attributes were of a somewhat abstract nature following the triumphant departure of her calorie counting buddy Pat, who had exited the Monday night weigh-in draped in a cloak of glory as a result of dropping a stone in just over a week which, for those in the know, was less a product of careful cuisine and more a testimony to the enduring power of a brandy only diet. Juliet had put a brave face on things, congratulating Pat on his success while inwardly consigning him to a life of bulimia punctuated by the twin excesses of starvation and gluttony, a condition guaranteed to induce a coronary before his thirtieth birthday, which was another thing she despised. He was younger than her which, in her eyes at least, just wasn’t fair. It was always easier for the young she reflected, thinking about her teenage daughter, who ate like a horse but was as lean as a whippet.
Brian caught her eye and forced a smile, which, to anyone close enough, was more of a grimace than a semaphore of joy. Her lips were greasy from the processed pap she liked to pass off as home cooking and her forehead was beaded with sweat, a result of the sheer exertion of consuming her daily intake of empty calories. That woman has a face like a neglected grave thought Brian, content in the knowledge that the hands of time had omitted to run their silky fingers through her unruly mop of red hair, and safe in the knowledge that the only way his wife would ever see forty again would be on a no speeding sign.
Beauty may only be skin deep thought Brian as he sipped his instant own brand coffee (half price at Poundstretchers), but ugly’s to the bone. The lurid yellow glow of the table lamp struck her face like a hit and run, accentuating her hard features and throwing off a blunt nosed leer which resembled nothing short of a hyena in heat with hellfire on a dimmer switch burning behind her gangrene green eyes. How he despised this creature who stalked the hours not otherwise engaged with gainful employment or charitable works, who kept him awake nights with her unruly snoring and burnt up his precious free time with her incessant demands to be taken shopping, and ordeal Brian likened to having his toe nails extracted by a man in a leather mask wielding a rusty pair of pliers while simultaneously stretching him on one of those contraptions that no self respecting Medieval torture chamber would be seen without. Brian looked over his wife’s shoulder, through the bay windows and out towards the green expanse that constituted the rear of the property and thought that, although well tendered and orderly (Brian was nothing if not an Alan Titchmarsh obsessive), everything in his garden was far from rosy.
It was the phone call from the Bat Conservation Society that clinched the whole deal. The connection had come out of the blue, the result of a personal recommendation from someone in a position of authority, for Brian was nothing if not respected by the self appointed guardians of decency who upheld standards within the community. It appeared that a bunch of well meaning activists and nature lovers had formed a bat watching society and, as is the case with many hastily assembled organisations, they needed a steady hand to sail the ship, an individual with experience in the fine art of simply making things happen. Which is where he came in for, if one thing could be said of Brian, he was a man who could make things happen.
So, following the inaugural meeting of the newly formed society, Brian was elected unopposed as Chairman, which meant that he got to arrange meetings, print posters, take minutes and ensure that issues of a catering nature were suitably dealt with. The Friends Of The Pipistrelles had a packed programme of walks and watching sessions organised for the summer and Brian, a man who liked to be tucked up in bed with a mug of cocoa and a good book well before ten, now found himself walking the streets armed with a clipboard and an electronic contraption the size of a mobile phone that, when pointed skywards, picked up the sonic sounds of the furry mammals as they embarked on their nightly raids into the heart of the insect community, like fighter pilots blitzing behind enemy lines. Brian, a man not noted for his affinity with members of the animal kingdom, found himself becoming strangely attached to these cute little creatures that appeared every evening after dark. Furthermore, he began to look forward to the solitude of his nightly bat walks although, with benefit of hindsight, it was at this juncture that things started to go horribly wrong.
That evening over a dinner consisting of an Iceland Steak & Ale Pie (‘just like mother used to make’) and toffee muffins (buy one get one half price at Aldi) Brian had mused on the meaning of life. What was it all about? Why were we here and what were we here for? And what awaited us at the end of it all? Brian, who was nothing if not cautiously philosophical in his outlook, felt a Niagara of depression engulf him, catching him a riptide of negative vibes, washing him up on a deserted beach, a Thursday night Robinson Crusoe without a Friday in sight. Looking over at his wife he felt a physical sickness that went way beyond revulsion, blasting him into an atmosphere of emptiness bordered only by the outer limits of his imagination. And, although it pained him to admit it, his daughter was no better. Granted, she harboured none of the physical attributes of her mother, which in itself was something to be thankful for. Rather, it was her sheer precociousness that troubled Brian. In short, the girl was far too smart for her own good, and never failed to bombard him with useless information about how many bland politicians she was following on Twitter, or what the President of Syria had said on Russia Today or how she was going to change the world courtesy of a handful of GCSE’s and a short stint in Higher Education.
Oh my, thought Brian, that girl has so much to learn.
He’d stumbled on the back garden entirely by accident, having lost his way somewhat while pointing his detector skywards and omitting to look where he was going so that, without warning, he’d found himself in the middle of somebody’s back lawn.
That somebody must have been a member of the medical profession judging from the array of lab coats hanging on the line like freshly starched white soldiers on parade. As he moved near them the gentle breeze wafted a pleasant aroma in the direction of his nostrils. Was that the sublime odour of the buttercups sprinkled across the grass or the zesty tang of All New Comfort Fabric Conditioner? Brian was intrigued to the point where he could no longer resist the temptation and, reaching up towards the line, he gently removed the two heavy wooden pegs and took down the coat. How soft and smooth it felt between his fingers. How incredibly white the powder had got the washing. How inviting that lab coat looked.
He tried it on, luxuriating in its length and cut. A perfect fit!
It was at this point that Brian, a man not noted for acting on impulse, pegged it, running towards the back gate and on to the deserted street, coat flapping behind him like the cape of a crusader or, somewhat more ironically, the wings of a bat. He ran until he felt his heart would burst, giggling manically, elated by the sheer outrageousness of his actions. He ran and ran like an excited schoolboy until he reached his street.
My God, he thought as he entered his house by the back door and placed the neatly folded coat in a long forgotten sports bag in the cupboard under the stairs, I haven’t had this much fun since I don’t know when!
In fact Brian, a man not noted for outbursts of spontaneous frivolity, had never had this much fun at all. Ever.
My God, thought Brian over his breakfast bowl of low calorie Bran Flakes (thirty percent off at Lidl while stocks last), if ever a name was misappropriated then it was that of his dear (as in expensive) wife.
Juliet; a name associated with innocence, beauty and love, a moniker designed to conjure up thoughts of eternal devotion, a paradise gained but then ultimately lost. Perhaps, contemplated Brian as he sipped his Super Saver Value Tea (eighty pence for a hundred and twenty bags at Home Bargains, ask in store for details), he’d been seduced by that very name fifteen years ago when he’d bumped into her in his local branch of the Nat West. He’d been a Senior Clerk at the gasworks who, as part of his extensive and varied portfolio of duties, paid in the takings from the soft drinks machines every Friday afternoon, while she was a Junior Cashier with aspirations, a smart blue uniform and the kind of look in her eye that went well beyond a twinkle. He’d asked her out the following week, for Brian was nothing if not decisive when it came to decisions of the heart, and they were married four months later. For a couple of years everything was hunky dory as they luxuriated in each others company, starry eyed and laughing, captivated by the sheer wonderfulness of their collective consciousness, like Barney and Betty before Bam Bam came along. Granted, their daughter bore no physical resemblance to the Rubble’s offspring, but she’d grown up to be twice as irritating, to the point where she engaged in nightly stand up rows with her mother while studiously avoiding her father, outside of a few well chosen jibes as to how he’d allowed himself to sink in a swamp of middle-aged middle class mediocrity, although he took great pleasure in reminding her that without those two components she wouldn’t be living in the house she presently resided in, stocked as it was with all manner of technology that allowed her to socially network eighteen hours a day, and that her wardrobe would be considerably emptier without the monthly salary he brought home from his boring nine to five job.
Some may describe what Brian did next as a mid-life crisis, others a cry for help. The local constabulary however, preferred to view it in an entirely different light.
Where did all the good times go thought Brian as he gazed out of the barred window of the Xtra Guard Prisoner Transit van (‘Security Is Our Speciality’) as it sped out of the court driveway and into the evening traffic. Through the early evening gloom Brian could make out the harsh flashes of the photographers cameras as their owners chased the vehicle to the traffic lights in a desperate attempt to capture an image of the fugitive who, after an extensive covert operation on the part of the police, had finally been apprehended wearing a cassock and dog collar while officiating over the marriage of Wayne Gresley and Chelsea Nuttall at St. Catherine’s RC Church, three o’clock service with a buffet lunch to follow at the Glassblowers Arm and a disco later that evening at The Arcwelders Sports & Social Club, seven for seven thirty, smart casual, grooving to the sounds of Barmy Barry & His Super Soaraway 70’s Roadshow.
Imagine the surprise and shock on the faces of the congregation as the officers burst in just as Wayne had been handed the ring by his best man Tyrone and was about to place it on the third finger of his intendeds left hand, a manoeuvre he was having a few problems with as a result of very poor hand / eye co-ordination, was diagnosed ADHD, was wearing a tag on his left ankle that was giving him some serious gyp, and was unable to remember what he was supposed to do next as a result of a blinding WKD hangover and the fact that the stupid teachers at his stupid school had never taught him nuffin’, although his Key Worker had said it wasn’t his fault he was educationally subnormal and that she’d sort him out with a course at the local Day Centre, one where he just had to turn up for a few weeks, sign his name in the register and then sod off down the pub, and after a couple of months he’d have an NVQ Level 2 in something or other which, according to the representative from Social Services, carried as much weight as a degree. So there.
As far as Brian was concerned it was a few high jinks that may have got a little out of hand. As far as the judge was concerned it was a serious case of trespass, breaking and entering, theft and impersonation of others with attempt to defraud. I suppose, like a lot of things in life, it all depends on which side of the garden fence you’re currently standing.
Brian Blockwood was sentenced to eighteen months for the theft of various items of clothing from a variety of washing lines at a number of addresses in the parish, entry to said premises gained as a result of trespass on to what essentially constituted as private property. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the aforementioned then dressed up in the stolen garments and proceeded to act out what the prosecution could only describe as “a series of infantile fantasies…the product of a troubled mind and warped imagination”. He was charged with impersonating a junior doctor and administering a colostomy to one Mrs. Edith Warrilow of 52, Dog Kennel Lane before lancing a boil belonging to Miss. Emily Axelrod, a spinster of the parish who did not wish her address to be known to members of the press, consumed as she was with both guilt and embarrassment.
The jury were also asked to consider the case of the two hundred fake tickets that were placed on the windscreens of legally parked vehicles in the High Street area of town by an unidentified Traffic Warden, the four thousand items of mail that were collected from local businesses and later discovered in the defendants shed, and the twenty four bedrooms that were surveyed by the double glazing engineer who turned up without a van or any noticeable sales material.
As well as hearing testimony from a number of key witnesses, not least Miss Chantelle D’Angelo of Flat 6, Abattoir Crescent, who apprehended the aforementioned sniffing her sheets while supposedly measuring her up for a new UPVC window, the jury heard from the defendants wife, who told of her fifteen years of physical and emotional blackmail at the hands of her cruel and uncaring husband, a testimony so gripping in its intensity that a representative from a well known Sunday tabloid signed her up on the spot for a series of kiss ‘n’ tell, warts ‘n’ all articles which, it was hinted, could open the door to a spot on Woman’s Hour and, holy of holies, a shot at The Jeremy Kyle Show. All she had to do was tell the truth. Not the actual truth of course, but the kind of truth the great unwashed want to hear. She said she’d be up for a bit of that.
You see, when all is said and done, Juliet Blockwood was nothing if not smart.