Dulltown, Europe: Today’s joke is the one about the Admiral and the rubber walrus. Oh, how we roared…
Oh, hello, what’s this? Just as I was about to throw a gaudy pizza leaflet that had arrived through my door a few days ago into the recycling bin, I noticed that an envelope from my normal postal delivery had somehow slipped inside it. I didn’t recognise the stamp, but the envelope had an airmail sticker on it.
It turned out to be a second Christmas card from Veronica Crush, writer and poet from the glory days of the Hull Surrealist League, and her tall tree surgeon, millionaire ‘friend’, Monty Tick. She didn’t say much on the rather cheap-looking card, except that they were having a nice time staying with Santa Claus and his cuddly reindeer at his grotto at the North Pole. Ha!
There was, of course, a piece of Veronica’s nutty writing enclosed too…
Barney Moonchild tried to take the old man’s story down as fast as he could. He had never learned shorthand, but he could scribble faster than most. The old man had point blank refused, for some reason, to have his voice recorded. Moonchild had been writing for an hour or two; the old man seemed untiring and spoke very quickly, the thick notebook was now two-thirds full. The man paused in his narrative, leaned forward, and spat accurately into the old heavy brass ashtray in the middle of the coffee table.
Barney didn’t smoke, but kept the ashtray on show for its aesthetic charm. Sometimes he kept nuts and dried fruit in it. He cleaned it with metal polish as part of his weekly household routine to maintain its bright golden lustre.
‘Do you smoke then?’ The man snapped. Barney nearly wrote it down…
‘Er… no, no I don’t. I used to but…’
‘I thought you wouldn’t.’ The old man spat again, the sputum landing exactly on top of his previous shot.
‘So…’ said Barney, trying not to look down at his bespoiled ornament, ‘What happened to the Berlin souvenirs after that?’
The old man continued his tale for a few minutes, with Barney writing in blue ballpoint pen, filling and turning the spiral bound pages, and then suddenly broke off mid sentence.
‘I’ll bet you drink coffee Mister Moonchild…’
‘Why yes. Oh, forgive me… Would you like a cup?’
‘No… I hate the stuff.’
‘Perhaps something else? How about…’
‘Do you have any weapons in the house?’
‘I have a few at home Mister Moonchild, do you have any… in the house?’
‘I think you are a bit of a sissy Mister Moonchild, or is it Doctor Moonchild?’
‘No, it’s just plain ‘Mister’ at present…’
‘I have a machete, two shotguns, only one working at the moment, and a World War Two officer’s pistol in its original leather holster… What about rum? Have you got rum?’
‘No, I don’t think that…’
Suddenly the old man continued his narrative in mid sentence, at the point where he had broken off a few seconds before. As he spoke he took out from his cardigan pocket a pack of grubby playing cards which had an advertisement for a long gone brand of cigarettes printed on their backs. He dealt out two hands onto the coffee table, one each side of the ashtray.
‘Persian Monarchs, do you know the game Mister Moonchild?’
‘No, I’ve never come across it…’
The old man reached across and picked up the hand he had dealt for Barney.
‘Pity… you had a really good hand… Not much of a sportsman are you Mister M?’
‘I’m afraid not…’
‘The old man picked up his own cards, fanned them out, cleared his throat, examined them, and said, ‘Look at mine… Piss poor! You could have taken me for a few quid… if you were any kind of a man… Do you have any spirits in the house? Maybe brandy, for instance?’
‘Actually I have some brandy, I’ll get it… How do you like it?’
‘In a glass… just in a glass… I remember one time with Monty in the desert, I’d liberated a bottle of brandy from a dead German officer, we had to wash the blood off the bottle…’
As the old man spoke, instead of going for the brandy, Barney picked up his open notebook and felt the thickness of the curling closely written pages under his thumb. He quickly laid the book down, picked up the big ashtray and brought it down hard on the top of the old man’s shiny brown bald head, knocking him cold with one blow, in mid-sentence. Barney dropped his improvised weapon which thudded onto the carpet, wiped his fingers on the old man’s cardigan, removed from the cardigan’s top pocket the bunch of twenty pound notes that he had handed over earlier, and sat down again. He picked up the notebook again, and now smiling, flicked through the pages…
‘Now, you old bastard, I wonder if you’ll fit in the boot of my little car?’
After a few moments thought, Barney stood up, retrieved the ashtray from the floor and carried it, dangling between finger and thumb, into the kitchen to wash it. As he ran the hot tap, he turned his head and shouted back, ‘Academia is a cut-throat business Mr… now, what was your name again?…’
Veronica Crush. 2011.