Tag Archives: social commentary

WAR – WHAT’S IT GOOD FOR?

10 Apr

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THE HISTORY BOYS – ALAN BENNETT

           The seemingly random historical revelations that occur within Alan Bennett’s play “The History Boys” are nothing of the kind and are in fact waypoints intended to reveal future events. Simple asides and seemingly innocuous, disconnected historical trivia are the milestones with which the plays main protagonists are fleshed and developed. What may appear to be trivial, interesting, historical minutia or rather “gobbits” crafted to fill the play and amuse potential audiences, are crucial in developing falling action. The characters’ literary lives and futures have been pre-determined by that which has gone before, their futures encapsulated in the history that Bennett chooses to reveal. The present and future of all the characters has already been divulged and revealed through historical precedence, their subsequent fates a simple reflection of the past. Theirs is a circuitous journey of events that have already occurred, a historical “deja vu.” Just as in history, their lives are nothing more than “one [bloody] thing after another.”(p.106) There is nothing original neither in their choices nor in their achievements, as the representation of Bennett’s past preemptively foreshadows their futures. Bennett very cleverly reveals the play before the final curtain but it isn’t until the end of the play that the audience is made aware that they’ve been cheated of an original climax. Bennett previews his ending to his audience without their willing participation, allowing for a cognitive dissonance to mask that which has already been exposed. The audience is unwittingly privy to future events through the revelation of the past and so the subsequent ending shouldn’t be a surprise, although of course it is.

               By analyzing Bennett’s selective history and cultural trivia we can plumb the depths of its meaning and equate it to events within the play to achieve an understanding of parallelism; a pre-determined synchronistic mish-mash of a play within a play. (The plays in question, of course, are the drama of history itself and Bennett’s own “History Boys.”)

               The historical points are all meaningful, from the discussion of past world conflicts to the performance of 1940’s black-and-white movie scenes, none of which are thematically random and all serve a purpose. Bennett has chosen carefully and each historical caveat is a magnification of character destiny. Nothing is random, everything is etched in stone, and each vignette is reviewed through the myopic lens of historical contemplation. The play seems to evolve in front of the audience and yet there is a sense of having seen it somewhere before. This is the duality with which Bennett experiments, the assumed juxtaposition of history with contemporary issues. Time it would seem is nothing but an accumulation of past experience and a compaction of future events. A human stratum of sedimentary remembrances and occurrences that serve to create a foundation for all that ever was, is, or can be.

“The History Boys” is a play with a parallel narrative encompassing human emotion and ambition with both historical and cultural retrospective. By analyzing Bennett’s proscribed history, it’s possible to decipher and understand the prospects of his characters. In particular, historical warfare is used to determine the destinies of the play’s protagonists. By utilizing the First World War, with allusions to the monumental waste of human life, and the Boer War, where soldiers far from home were lost forever on distant horizons, he reasons the hopelessness of his own characters through historical reference.

               Bennett beguiles his audience with a projected dissonance, a pretense that the play’s obsession is with university placement and that the plot of his production is to see young men triumph where others have failed. Not for the headmaster the red brick of York and Manchester, but rather the cold stone and musty libraries of more illustrious temples of learning, namely Oxford and Cambridge. In the grand scheme of Sixth Form College statics, their personal achievements will be an escutcheon on his shield of personal, professional pride; a vanity, for the one man who has the most to gain from his boys’ achievements. Their exertions are for a disparate figure in a room where one must knock before one is permitted to enter the rarified atmosphere of the headmaster’s office. The symbolism of one man gaining from the letting of scholarly blood is picked up later in the play by the new man Irwin, the master engaged to inspire. Irwin is charged with the final push which will have the boys in Berlin, or rather Oxford, before Christmas.

               Irwin is tasked to shrive the school of past failure, to erase the memory of those who’ve gone before by sacrificing the new youth under his charge. Bennett engages his audience in a subliminal comparison to the First World War and how it was fought for all the wrong reasons. The Great War, the war to end all wars with its Glorious Dead and universal sacrifice for King and country, or rather those who are remembered in epitaph alone. Simple stone cenotaphs with the names of lost boys carved in granite. Bennett links the boys with the volunteers of 1914. It’s the students who must go over the top and suffer the rake of enemy fire in order to satisfy the will of their betters. Lions lead by lambs, for which “Dulce et Decorum Est” isn’t just a nod to a long dead poet but also to an ageing geographer.

               It would be all too easy for the boys, as “Totty” so eloquently describes, to attend other schools where along with pizza and other firsts they could be so much happier. Durham instead of Oxford, or perhaps the allusion is to Oxford rather than the Somme? Bennett hasn’t given us a classroom of boys but rather a platoon of “pals.” Britain’s best who must go forth and carve honor for themselves in order to achieve a greater glory for their headmaster. All nonsense of course, but by instilling in his audience the idea of conflict we understand what it is the boys have to endure: the study sessions, the long hours, the extra classes and above all the pressure. By alluding to Belgian battlefields and contrasting that with a nineteen eighties classroom the reader should be left with little uncertainty. The war as history records didn’t end well, with a forgotten generation of boys doing their post-mortem best to enrich foreign fields! Some of the pupils may return, but there will be casualties, and there will be lads left hung out to dry on the barbed wire of further education.

               Bennett constructs a predictable future, one which won’t be a happy in the majority of cases. Yet the reader is left with an ambiguous optimism that the boys may still succeed when they charge the enemy trenches, or rather sit the exams and attend the university interviews of Oxbridge. The college exams are the barrage before the frontal assault, hence the attention paid to so carefully to the vignette of the First World War. Bennett could have picked any war, the second which was closer chronologically perhaps, but instead chose the cauldron of Flanders to frame the boys’ futures. The lads are doomed youth, their futures uncertain and with their happiness very much in the balance.

               This is reiterated during the beatification of Hector, aptly the greatest of the Trojan warriors, at the end of the play where in a third person setting the boys are individually addressed to measure their personal success. None of them appear to be happy or fulfilled, their earlier aspirations having crumbled into the consolations of weekend drugs, emotionless sex, and the soulless pursuit of money. There should have been more. We the reader expected more. The brave new world the pupils thought would welcome them after college never materialized and now, just as the fallen are immortalized on the stone crosses of a thousand church yards, their names are mere murmurs, faint remembrances, in the halls of Sheffield schools. They strove, sought, didn’t yield and yet, the question remains, why? Bennett told us it was going to happen, we just weren’t paying attention when he did.

               Bennett uses war throughout the play to polarize the destinies of his protagonists and to camouflage events from the reader in the hope that, beguiled by the propaganda of theatrical illusion, they’ll happily accept that the boys will, by curtain close, achieve their goals. There are however many miles to tread before the reveal but once again Bennett signposts his destinations meticulously. From a French dressing station to a kopje crest on the South African Veld, fortunes are divulged as cryptically as gypsy-read tea leaves.

               Hector, a teacher with a penchant for younger boys, is determined to keep the real world firmly shut outside the locked door of his classroom. In an impromptu exercise the boys are asked to practice their French language skills in a “maison de passé,” a brothel, where with the help of the subjunctive the lads are free to allow their imaginations to run wild. The scene is developed with an overt sexuality until unexpectedly there’s a knock at the door. In an instant the brothel transforms into a battlefield dressing station where wounded soldiers lay screaming and dying tended by an army of orderlies, doctors, and nurses. Once again Bennett plunges his audience into war.

               Drawn into formation the antagonists stand ready to do battle. All will engage but few will survive and even fewer will succeed. The troops in the form of the boys are assembled, their captain Hector at the front. The confrontation is obvious. The solders “blesse” are at the mercy of the headmaster. Irwin is introduced and the two sides face off in a war of words, furtive eye movement and double entendre. All those present in the scene will be wounded, the symbolism of World War One once again suggesting body counts and unknown soldiers mulched into Flanders mud. The battle lines are clearly drawn with the headmaster holding supreme command. Irwin is the unknown quantity, the new man fresh from Blighty bursting with spit-and-polish who must somehow mold his indefatigables into a cohesive, driven unit capable of anything. Doomed youth isn’t yet aware of what is about to happen. Only Bennett is aware of his own master plan. The teachers will go head to head, the boys will follow orders, the headmaster will attempt to achieve total victory whilst crushing dissension in the ranks and poor “Posner” will suffer a life of post traumatic college stress from which he’ll never recover.

              The classroom, or rather the dressing station, is roll call and casualty list rolled into one. Every one present will be detrimentally affected by the continuance of the play. Whether in unrequited love, lost career, or missed opportunity, all stand to lose. The campaign which the headmaster insists must be victorious has already been lost. The dressing station far from the halcyon days of pre 1914 is a wasteland filled with straw men and damned humanity. The audience sees a classroom whilst Bennett alludes to trench warfare and a tent filled with wounded men.

               Thomas Hardy’s poem “Drummer Hodge” is used to great effect to illustrate the play’s underlying tensions regarding the boys and their masters in their Oxbridge quest. The poem tells of a dead drummer who’s been buried, albeit “uncoffined,” on the far side of the world. A lad who’ll never see home again and for whom southern stars and strange constellations will in perpetuity “West” across his grave. Of all Hardy’s poetry, why does Bennett choose this one? What possible connection could there be to a mass grave in what today is South Africa with a secondary modern in Britain? Bennett once again utilizes a martial device to illustrate his point.

               The forsaken boy buried in the Veld although named but only recollected through Hardy’s poetry, died in a forgotten war that was fought for reasons nobody can recall. Just as the boys who’re about to embark on their own journeys to distant colleges whose names only ring true thanks to common utterance, they may as well be going to the far side of the moon. Theirs is a journey of necessity, for reasons that have been made quite clear to them. “It’s the hottest ticket in town … other boys want to go …, standing room only,”(p.6) and of paramount importance, because the headmaster demands it. Although a communal effort to get them there, the last steps of the journey must be taken alone. A successful interview with college Dons will allow them to further their education, or should they fail, guarantee one way tickets back to Yorkshire. The play poses a paradox that the likelihood of provincial boys achieving intellectual status is as ridiculous as the British defeating the Boers. As Bennett recollects he too was “…up against boys who’d been better educated and at a higher price.” The boys from the school are armed only with a comprehensive education which in the 1960’s probably sounded like a good idea. Hodge had only his drum.

               Drummer boys were usually the youngest soldiers and were enlisted in regiments to act as orderlies and to acquiesce to commissioned whim. “Posner,” the youngest of the Oxbridge candidates, is directly associated with the poem. In what is a homoerotic theme that runs throughout the play “Posner” is in love with a fellow boy who in turn is loved by other masters. Just as Drummer Hodge is alone Posner, foreshadowed by a casualty of war, will end up alone. Rather than the romance of “his brain and breast growing to some southern tree” he instead will grow old and bitter living vicariously through the middling achievements of his former classmates.

               Bennett through historical conflict reveals to his audience not only the result of martial futility but also his own premature dénouement. “Posner” will be forgotten and alone with his recollections in the same manner that the memory of the Oxbridge campaign will fade with the passing of time. Although General Kitchener marched his men across Africa for increased British influence there’s nothing left in that country today except perhaps the bad taste of post colonialism that alludes to the armies ever having been there. Likewise in France, there are only ploughed acres and poppy fields where the greatest nations on earth once tried to destroy one another. The audience is gifted by the author with precognition and the outcome of the play should be self-evident. “Wish me luck as you kiss me goodbye,” is sung by the departing boys as they head south, just as “Union Jacks” were waived to the sounds of bands playing the same tune in the final years of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. “The History Boys” maps the fortunes of Bennett’s characters through historical reference; a play that mirrors the past in all aspects and reflects on the improbability of the future.

 

 

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TOP GIRLS – CARYL CHURCHILL

22 Mar

ALBION DECLINING

AN ODE TO THATCHERISM

 

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            Churchill doesn’t introduce us to blood-spattered Colonel Mustard guiltily holding a dripping candlestick in the library, nor do we meet Miss. Scarlet with a glass of red wine in one hand and a dagger in the other. There’re no murders in the play but cordite hangs so thick that the reader nearly chokes on the fumes. Instead we’re offered a play that’s devoid of one person, a protagonist who isn’t listed in the dramatis-persona, nor who’s to be seen on any stage and yet whose ghost, like a murdered Scot, haunts the production. Churchill relates that when she initially wrote her play she was heavily influenced by the political climate of the time, and the temperature of that specific period perspires in measured degrees throughout its production. Instead we’re offered a good old fashioned “M for Murder” where it’s up to the reader to sift the detritus in order to discover that, “when the possible is impossible, then only the impossible is probable.” Scrutinizing her list of characters we’re able, just as great nineteenth century consulting-detectives are able, to determine for ourselves the identity of the uninvited guest. The main character of the play isn’t Nicola, Deborah, or Abigail or any other proto-eighties name that the love-generation of the sixties decided to endow their first born with, but Marlene; Marlene with a not-so silent “M.” It’s this letter which defines the play, that construes character and which is representative of the entire undercurrent of the production. “M” is for Margret not Marlene and it couldn’t be more obvious if the lead character had it crayoned on her forehead during each and every performance. The spook that haunts the play is the late, but not lamented Margaret Thatcher; the female inspiration for Caryl Churchill’s play, “Top Girls.”

            Margaret Thatcher, probably the most divisive character who ever held the contentious title of Prime Minister, carved her legacy into the very heart of what was once England with surgical disregard. Apologists would say Britain, but Margaret, as her legacy proves, only truly cared about England, the other countries of the unfortunately named United Kingdom reduced to sources of revenue and contention, depending upon her government’s needs. In order to subtly communicate to audiences the inherent dangers of Thatcherism “Top Girls” was written as a societal introspective rather than a theatrical reflection. Through the character of Marlene, Churchill chronicles the beginning of the downfall; the death of empire and all that was great about Britain. Through her character we discover the demise of society, the rise of the individual to the detriment of the collective, the North-South divide, the destruction of the family unit and what it meant to be a disenfranchised native on a sinking island nation. With total disregard for British heritage and accompanied by a specious reverence of wealth, Margaret Thatcher left her mark, just as Marlene indelibly scrawls her own legacy in the play. The Top Girl in question is Thatcher, the production Thatcherism, the encore, a wilderness of industrial and social dereliction.   

            A play of two acts with the first being a confused and muddled retrospective; a group of women representative of historical figures who, the more wine they drink, the more they chat and obfuscate one another. One could be confused that Churchill is attempting to portray feminist triumph; that women through the years have fought their corner and progressed under the direst of circumstances in order to obtain at least the hammer with which to smash through glass ceilings. Tales of rape, subjugation and a will to overcome unfold throughout the first act; experiences of fortitude and despair that both enthrall and perplex. This is supposed to be a celebration but for whom, or rather of what? Marlene has been promoted and is about to achieve directorial status, proof that she’s got what it takes to be top-bitch in a dog-eat-dog world. The assumption then, is that the party is to celebrate professional success? The women at the party through loss of self-respect, love and even life, have helped to pave the feminist path. Marlene likewise has apparently overcome the odds but rather than the epitome of female success she’s portrayed as the antithesis of empathy. The corner office is now hers, but what was it that she sacrificed in order sit comfortably within it? Rather than dwell on her promotion, Churchill chooses to showcase the struggle of the others and in doing so intentionally glosses over Marlene’s perceived achievement.

            The first act is representative of transition, what Thatcher would’ve undoubtedly termed progress. The achievements of the past, personified by the historical women, are discarded in favor of the contemporary and her irrepressible march towards monetarism and egocentrism. When Thatcher took office, Britain was indisputably the “Sick Man of Europe.” A flirtation with state run institutions and the empowerment of the unions had led to stagnation in production and too much power in the hands of those who controlled vital services, rather than an equitable equilibrium of shared power. It’s easy to understand the rise of Labour after nearly a century of crushing worker subjugation. The Second World War had made a difference, and the social contract that’d been the country’s reward for surviving and destroying Nazism was well deserved, however, in retrospect was a peter-principle of too much too soon. The empowerment of the workers meant that the political pendulum swung too far to the left and ultimately had to swing once more to the center. Under Thatcher rather than finding that center, the pendulum swung instead, inexorably to the extreme right. Instead of celebrating the policy of nationalism and social awareness as alluded to by the various historical figures at the party, the social contract is discarded as Margaret steps into the second act; an allusion to the origins of Thatcherism and the abandonment of socialist values in order to empower the individual at the expense of society as a whole. A little short sited when one considers Margret’s humble beginnings – similar to the tales of Churchill’s historical women – as a village grocer’s daughter at the hub of the local community and who participated enthusiastically as a member of a congregation. The society she’d learned to appreciate as a young woman was clearly no longer to her taste and the lady was definitely for turning when it came to the idea of deconstructing Britain. In act two we encounter a modern, vibrant, controlling Marlene who’s focused on the future, having dismissed the ideals of old Labour and any hope of a revitalization of the social-contract.

            Two girls play outside, one a coarse, older girl, the other a younger more eloquent and obviously brighter child. Despite their differences they both play in the same back yard. There’s an adult in the vicinity, however, her attentions are elsewhere; Mother Britain no longer has time for her children and so the young Albions, left to their own devices and outside influences, are quickly choosing their own path. The mother is Marlene’s sister Joyce, or rather she personifies Britannia, the children in the back yard, although we don’t yet know it are not hers, and are representative of a divided nation. Although the oldest is supposedly her daughter there’s an obvious appreciation of the other child and her abilities. Britannia questions the younger girl about her future and is flabbergasted by her aspirations. It’s apparent that under the flagship of Thatcherism, if one works hard anything is seemingly possible. Britannia can only despair at her older daughter and shake her head, no longer seeing the value of posterity but imagining instead the brave new world of individual success. But at what expense, Churchill asks? Shouldn’t society benefit both children, aren’t both children worthy, don’t they each have talents which could be utilized to the betterment of the collective? It’s obvious that one of the children in the production will fail whilst the other will undoubtedly succeed. With a shrug of the shoulders and a matter of fact acceptance the sister character goes back to the minutia of life. Here Churchill demonstrates to her audience a fractured and polarized society. Yes, the future according to the new political doctrine is for all, but unfortunately not attainable by all. The ideology of personal monetary success at the expense of others signifies that rather than standing on the shoulders of the giants – the female guests of the first act – the Thatcher generation is crawling across the bodies of their neighbors; a simplistic scene but one which is analogous of Thatcherism.

            Marlene is now the top-girl at the Top Girls agency and professionally is in control of her life. Just as Thatcher had risen to the top, so has our protagonist. Young women with aggressive male vernacular are her subordinates, their accents denoting them as working class girls made-good and therefore tolerated by the British caste system and the new model society. But at what expense has she achieved her management  status? She’s given up a daughter, walked away from family, betrayed her roots and all but deserted a sister whom she hardly sees. In order to succeed she’s had to abandon so much. Once again Churchill is demonstrating the dearth of society, the disintegration of the family unit, geo-political separation, and the rise of the individual.

            To achieve promotion Marlene had to overcome traditional male hegemony and become the best man for the job, as Thatcher probably would’ve undoubtedly enjoyed saying with her tongue planted firmly in her cheek. The man she’s supplanted, despite the supplications of his wife for his position, suffers cardiac arrest. Again Churchill’s skill in blanketing her real meaning is sublime. The sick man and his loving wife represents the mass unemployed and their communities who’ve been dumped and forgotten after the wilful destruction of steel, shipping, coal and industrial manufacturing. With no recourse, thanks to Thatcher’s illegally instituted regulations, the withdrawing of labor has become a crime. The heart attack signifies not only the death of the unions but also of the nation. Coal the life blood of the country, the fuel which boiled the kettle of the industrial revolution, employed millions and was the foundation upon which the North of England was built is eviscerated. Thatcher policy crushes them to the point where they’ll never recover and dismisses their communities as unviable just as Marlene dismisses the wife of her former colleague, “Could you please piss off!” Instead of industrial excellence and full employment it’s the rustle of bank notes and the flashing of computer screens in a money driven economy that signify transition. One could perceive Marlene’s promotion as representative of female progression but to define it as simply the usurpation of male domination would be naïve. Churchill clearly makes her point and it’s hard not scream Margaret every time Marlene’s name is mentioned. Her careful crafting of the scene is indicative of the demise of the British way of life.

            In the final scene there’s an attempted reconciliation between sisters – again read Britannia and Thatcher – both drunk and maudlin, who although related, can never be friends. Bearing the gift of a too small dress Marlene offers unwelcomed charity; a halfhearted attempt to patch the irreparable rift of a divided nation. The daughter Angie, who’s doomed to failure and representative of those who don’t personify the ideals of Thatcherism, tries on the ill-fitting garment she’ll never get the chance to wear. The realization that things have gone too far and that amends need to be made is obvious in Marlene’s demeanor, with the explication of her private rather than her professional persona in a place where she’s neither welcomed nor wants to be ; Maggie perhaps, not Margaret? The concept of an abandoned daughter representing a neglected nation creates momentary doubt in Marlene/Margaret’s intent, and is perhaps a glimpse into the never, publically displayed humanity of Thatcher? As a mother and wife she conceivably possessed the ability to empathize and yet was so compartmentalized that she was capable of destroying the lives of vast numbers of the population and their communities to pursue an ideal of neo-conservatism. The sisters continue to argue and even surreally discuss the policies of Margaret Thatcher, both adopting stereo-typical juxtapositions. The notion that one can succeed no matter where you come from is contradicted by a post- card of the Grand Canyon lying on a small kitchen table, in a house in the middle of nowhere, containing a forgotten family and an abandoned child. To add insult to injury Marlene tells Joyce, “I believe in the individual, look at me!”

            The daughter who’s been privy to what was supposed to be a private conversation is now aware of the true relationship between herself and her birth mother Marlene. No longer a child of Britannia but the progeny of Thatcherism her final words are lamentable. What choice does she have as a potential Tesco’s shelf-stacker, “she’s not going to make it?” She doesn’t want to emulate her adopted mother and eke out her life in rural anonymity, but realistically nor does she see herself fitting into the sophisticated professionalism of London briefly experienced when visiting Marlene in the city. The final word she utters, in a moment of self-realization, is, “Frightening!” Evidently she doesn’t have a choice, and in a world of top-girls, doesn’t stand a chance.

            Top Girls is suffused with the idea of Thatcherism and the misrepresentation of character to define the plight of 1980’s Britain is understatedly brilliant. Ignoring all the usual clues for literary discovery and avoiding the elephant-trap of feminist criticism, one grasps the epiphany of Churchill’s monumental political commentary. The only top-girl in this play is Margaret Thatcher, and Churchill doesn’t give a damn who knows it.

 

 

 

 

 

ART FOR ART’S SAKE

10 Aug

             

 

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“The first time I ever laid eyes on him was at the night school down the High Street. I was modeling for an art class and he was obviously there to improve or better whatever talent it was he supposedly had. I’d never done it before, the money was good and well, you only live once don’t you? They’ve got all sorts of people they use as models, funny when you think about it. When you see an advertisement in the paper for nude modeling you’d think that only the perfect bodies would apply but that simply isn’t the case. All kinds of shapes and sizes, people from all walks — makes you wonder what the attraction is? Personally I needed the cash — that was my excuse. Obviously exhibitionism springs to mind but when your way past you prime and your knickers would house a troop of boy scouts on a Dartmoor camping expedition that doesn’t seem likely does it? What did they have to gain by standing in a drafty old classroom with clanking radiators and poor central heating in their where-with-all, in the buff, in the nude.

I received a telephone call a couple of days after applying to the advertisement in the Press.

“Wanted.

Models for the School of Art.

Two nights a week, travel and time will be reimbursed.

Call Professor Pinkney. (York 55724)

 

 The telephone interview had been fine, all the usual questions. Did I realize that I would be posing for nude portraits and body imagery?

Yes I said.

Was I comfortable standing in front of strangers for a couple of hours?

Yes I said.

Could I be there tomorrow, a little before six to meet the professor?

Yes I said.

The office was small or rather it was full. The professor, John, sat behind a desk that burgeoned with the weight of untold amounts of paper and what appeared to be a libraries worth of books. Typical artist type. You know the sort — wild hair, glasses, bit disheveled. Nice enough though. He dug around the drawers looking for the release papers for me to sign and finally after a wild paper chase through all the books and folders came up with a coffee stained copy of what he’d been looking for. He was very nice. Put me right at ease.

The session generally lasts for a couple of hours.

No, you don’t have to sit still the whole time.

If you need a break, need to use the loo, then feel free to stand up.

Yes, yes, everybody is very respectful.

“You have to understand,” said John, Professor Pinkney, “that this is about art and nothing else. We’re simply creating an atmosphere that will fire their minds, get their creative juices flowing — capturing the moment as it were. These are fourth years, so they’re all pretty advanced and some of them really are quite talented!” He opened a folder on his desk and pulled out a couple of large pieces of paper. Beautiful penciled and inked pictures of not necessarily beautiful people. It seemed that the models ranged from people of my age in their early twenties to models who were way past retirement. Fat ones, thin one, skinny ones — all shapes and sizes. The professor smiled at me, not the way some bloke would down pub, but appreciatively as though he were seeing beyond the boobs and the blonde hair, seeing me for who I was, seeing me. He paid me up front — twenty quid for two hours! Where can you earn that kind of money for taking your clothes off? Well I can think of one, but this was legitimate, this was art.

The first time I’d been nervous. The professor had introduced me to the class, a mix of about twenty students most of whom I could barely see as they were stood behind their easels. It was a little like being in a darkened theatre where the actors don’t see the audience but rather feel them, the intensity in the shadows. That’s how it was, the feeling of their eyes upon me. Easier than I thought, and as I slipped out of the dressing gown there was a round of applause, not something I was expecting but there you are.  A woman assisted me into my pose — draped me as they say, just me, a bowl of grapes and nothing else.  The time flew by the only sounds the scrape of pencils and the scuffle of wood as the students adjusted and then a flurry of activity as they captured my likeness, my essence.

I saw his easel first, it was different from the others, painted bright yellow, as if he’d tried to add a little personality to what’s essentially just really three sticks held together with a couple of screws and a bit of wood. But it stood out and so I concentrated on that. The lad behind it was fairly ordinary – nice enough face and fairly well built but nothing special. He was so intent, so serious, and clearly very keen on what he was producing. I never did find out his name, it was all a little sterile. A big clock ticked away on the wall and along with the huff and puff of concentration there wasn’t much going on.

No music, which would have been nice as John, Professor Pinkney, didn’t want to spoil the atmosphere.

Time flew by and before I knew it I was putting my dressing gown back on, smiling my thanks for their brief applause at the end of the session, and exiting the room. It was suggested that I didn’t mingle with the students as there should be no hint of impropriety and so I simply went to the ladies, put my clothes on and left. Money for old rope, easy as falling off a bicycle.

Well the money came in handy and before you knew it I was modeling three or four times a week, same place but not always the same class. You could tell by the standard of the art that there was broad mix. Some of them really did me justice and the sketches really were very nice. I was allowed to keep a couple. One of them’s hanging in the down stairs loo. The lad with the yellow easel would be there a couple of times a week. Never spoke to him, just noticed him. He  stuck out like a sore thumb!

Think I’d been at the college for the best part of a year when something funny happened. I remember it was raining; I was rushing so I wouldn’t miss the bus, grabbed my mac and brolly and ran for the shelter at the end of our road. It was a Wednesday — they collect the bins on a Thursday so most of the bins were already on the pavement. I think I saw it when I was halfway to the college – water running off the windows, smokers upstairs, non-smokers down – hard to miss really but there it was, sticking out of one of the bins, a yellow easel, the one that belonged to the lad. One of the legs was snapped off and it’d been stuffed in with all the other rubbish.

Never did see him again. Strange that.”

AN ODE TO CURRY

24 May

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“It is a truth universally acknowledged that an Englishman in possession of a couple of quid and a belly full of beer must be in want of a curry…”

Jane Austen; Pride and Prejudice.

 

“Oh, sweet elixir of life, the meaning of reason, and the object of my desire. What it is to be bereft of thy company, only to rekindle joyous acquaintance in my unhappy hour of want? Words cannot quantify nor does allusion describe the bitter sweet of fond empty-plated remembrance. Clothed in plastic-bagged-fantastic and foiled in silver, thou art a joy to behold; a breath of fresh, pungent air, a tangible tingle to the nostrils, a veritable mistress of saucy delight. A jewel to the eye, a sear to the soul and a burning rush of requited love. Solitary confined moments shared and savored where one can reflect and revisit the intimacy of oral delight. Never was there a less selfish lover – never were the clinging moments more cherished – never was one left so bereaved by flushed adieu. Until we ‘eat again, I bid thee a flatulent farewell!”

*

“Last orders ladies and gentleman, please!” screams the potbellied publican from behind faux teak and poor dentistry. Standing amidst an island of factory-produced nostalgia he checks his watch and rings the bell one last time. “Come on now move your arses! Ain’t you got homes to go to?”

I finish the suds in my glass, choking back the stagnant liquid that just moments before browsed golden as it bubbled and foamed, and place it on the counter top with the other dead soldiers. Pint and shot glasses stand together in blissful union, unaware their usefulness has passed and that closing time has robbed them of employment. I look around at my fellow imbibers and through alcohol-addled eyes, spy the lonely and the loved as they file through the exit and into to the icy embrace of life. Their moments of communal pain-dulling congenial inebriation now forgotten as they check wallets, grab jackets and fondle newly-found soul mates. The weekend is over and the morning brings another day at the foundry, office or other unworthy place of forced employment. Wage slaved to the boss, the credit card, and the mortgage they scuttle to grab precious hours of sleep before the onslaught of fresh corporate demands engulf them.

I consider making a move on the last female at the bar however realize before I engage in optimistic social intercourse that either from want or neglect there’s probably a reason she’s still there. I rethink my strategy, drag myself from my wooden throne, and trudge into the night.

It’s cold outside and I spy my reflection in the puddles of monsoon-ravaged Middle England. Despite the chill there’s prospective inner warmth, the knowledge that only mere yards away lays a harbor of tranquility – a safe haven in an otherwise harsh, unforgiving world. I smell it before I see it; my feet splashing through water, my heels clicking on the pavement as unseen, aromatic hands grab me by the shirt collar, slap me about the face and drag me towards their irresistible event horizon. The choice isn’t my own. It’s a necessity, survival instinct; an innate sense of following one’s nose and complying with one’s inner hunter-gatherer. I stand before the plate glass window, the light from the restaurant transfixing me with its hypnotic tractor beam. There’s no escape, no use running – the dinner bell has sounded, and like a Pavlovian puppy I salivate into my jacket.

 The House of Bombay; it might as well be the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the final resting place of the Holy Grail, or the gates of Valhalla. I grin moronically, my eyes wide with anticipation, my tongue thickening in my mouth at the prospect of what I am about to receive. I am truly grateful and I push open the door and enter paradise on earth. It isn’t a religious revelation however the Buddhists and Taoists would recognize the spiritual transformation I am experiencing. Truly one of the converted, my faith unshakeable, I accept the dogma completely and throw myself before my altar of expectation.

The restaurant is full of excited voices and exotic smells, its tables occupied by like-minded individuals who’ve escaped the pub and stopped for a bite on their way home; a perfect ending to a perfect night. Ten pints of lager, a bag of crisps, a game of grab ass on the dance floor, all washed down with lashings of the hot and spicy.

*

“…These are the things. These are the things. The things that dreams are made of…”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     The Human League

*

What to choose, what to choose? The delicacies of the great Indian sub-continent are catalogued before me in a cornucopia of delectation and gastronomic delight. A temptation to the weak, a fix to the addicted but a delight to the enlightened. The crash of pots and pans and the mantra of cursed Urdu transport me to a place far from windswept, rain-soaked, Yorkshire. No longer the last man at the bar but a willing supplicant at the place of pilgrimage. An acolyte shoves a much fingered menu into my hands and demands to know what I’m drinking. Being the connoisseur that I am, I choose an Indian beer that claims to have been brewed on the banks of the river Ganges. National Geographic images waft through my mind as I briefly swim through the corpses and crocodiles to the sari-ed beauty that holds a bottle outstretched in her henna-ed  hand.

 I grasp, I sip, I swallow.

 Reacting to the broken English of the waiter, I flick through the curled pages of the stained menu and peruse the delights of the Punjab, the Kashmir, the snowcapped peaks of the Himalayas, and the golden sands of the Southern Keralan coast line.

 Lamb or beef, chicken or shrimp, veggies or not?

The aromas are intense, the Bollywood music blaring, the Indian chatter emanating from the kitchen incessant. Having made my choice I shut the menu. Poised with pen in hand, the sauce-splattered waiter prepares to notate my desire.

“Vindaloo, so bloody hot that it’ll burn my arse. Don’t forget the Nan or the poppadums, and jump to it Gupta! I’m bloody starving.”

The waiter smiles, he’s heard it all before, the well-meant racial slurs roll off his back like a rice-paddied buffalo flicking flies. He beams his gold-toothed smile and moves quickly behind the counter and disappears through the hanging colored beads into the kitchen, The bastard will make me pay for my flippant comments and no doubt there will be more than just chili powder in my tinfoil take-away box – a huge dose of scotch bonnet pepper, a little liquid napalm perhaps. It will be Gupta’s name that I scream in abject agony the morning after the night before.

Cold hard cash clinks from my sweaty palm and the mutually beneficial exchange is made. A silver container, already oozing brown joy, exchanged for  a couple of dirty notes – the pleasure is all mine, although judging by the grin on my newfound friend’s face the pleasure is all his. I walk to the door and make my exit.

As I trudge through the rain I reflect on the wisdom of ignoring the femme-fatale at the bar. The last girl in the world, at least on this particular Friday night, shunned for the illicit pleasure of liquid love –I hate to share and besides Gupta only gave me one plastic fork.

C’est la vie baby, maybe next time.

*

“…Club Tropicana’s drinks are free. Fun and sunshine – there’s enough for everyone…”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Wham

AUX PRINTEMPS

9 Oct

 

Contemplating the vista below, Bill fished inside his jacket for his pipe, tapped it into his hand, and then stuck it between his teeth. Leaning on a shovel, he watched as dawn broke, the lights of the town gradually extinguishing to reveal blackened chimney stacks and dilapidated rooftops.  For the inhabitants, warm showers and corn-flakes would be the order of the hour before another day of toil and struggle demanded their presence on factory floors.  A city slowly coming back to life; a magical now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t moment. What just minutes before had been a sea of lights and flood-lit streets, returned to daytime normality.

He packed the pipe with tobacco and reached into his trousers for his matches.“Damn it,” he thought,” where were his bloody matches?” He turned around. “Hey Jim, you got a light? I can’t find me frigging matches.”

Jim cursed; stopped work, fumbled in his pockets, and after a quick shuffle came up with a lighter. ”Are you going to help me out you lazy old bugger, or do I have to finish this all by my bleeding self?  He demanded.  

Bill smiled, told him to go fiddle with himself, and lit his pipe. Smoke billowed around him, the sweet scent of caramel filled the forest glade. “It was a beautiful spot alright,” thought Bill. “What was the word? Pristine, that’s what it was.”

 It was good to be out in the fresh air, at one with nature. He looked back at his son who was shoulders deep in the trench shoveling dirt for all he was worth. Father and boy, sons of the soil, unified in a common purpose – there was nothing like a bit of hard graft to unite and repair passed differences. It hadn’t been easy raising the lad – memories of a never satisfied wife who’d left them both in the lurch for what she thought was bigger meal ticket.

“Shame the meal ticket had left her for a younger pair of tits – life’s a bitch aint it?”

With record unemployment, miner’s strikes, and industrial austerity the effort it’d taken to put food on the table hadn’t always been easy. The list of cock-ups and myriad difficulties that’d gotten in the way of raising the boy right had often seemed insurmountable. He hadn’t done badly though, and the strapping man who was digging his way to Australia was a credit to him; all the fellas down the pub had told him so.

Ever since he and Jimmy had gone into business together, their fortunes had taken a dramatic turn for the better and life had suddenly become a lot more tolerable. No longer the two-up-two-down on Isambard Kingdom Brunel Terrace but a couple of semi-detacheds in leafy suburbia complete with P.V.C. windows and indoor plumbing. Finally they were moving up in the world.

The figure in the hole grunted and swore, the sound of a shovel flung high into the air thumped onto the ground. “For fuck’s sake dad, give me a hand will you? We’ll be here all bloody day.”

The sun climbed higher in the sky and the coastline along the south side of the town began to take shape; the boats in the harbor and the rock-ridden beaches all coming into view. Tilting his head to one side Bill imagined he could hear the voices of the men unloading freshly caught fish but it was more than likely just the tinnitus playing havoc with his eardrums. A brief spell with the artillery during national service, lobbing shells across desolate moorlands at imaginary communist hoards and practicing the defense of the indefensible, had put his piano playing days to bed for good, at least that would have been the case had he have ever played the instrument. Eighteen months of pure bull-shit, but at least he’d managed to wangle a trip to Germany. A smile spread across his craggy face as he remembered dirndl-dressed frauleins at the bier fests he and his mates would frequent on the weekends. It hadn’t been all bad.

Jimmy was starting to get angry. “Move your wrinkled arse you old git. I’m sweating my bollocks off over here.”

But that was a long time ago, a different epoch, life had moved on since then. Partnering with his son had probably been his best move; it was definitely his most lucrative. They should have done it years ago, but reconciliation is never on a time table, and after Jimmy’s release from nick it hadn’t been easy to pick up where they’d left off.

Bill watched as Jimmy climbed out of the hole and walked back to where they’d parked the car. He was a good lad. All it’d taken for him to realize it was a thirty year pain-in-the-arse and a short, sharp, injection of capital. He drew smoke into his lungs satisfied with his lot, happy with his circumstances. Turning his back on the view, he sauntered over to where Jimmy stood impatiently waiting.

The boot was open. “Give me a hand here, this bastard weighs a ton,”complained Jimmy.

Sucking on his pipe Bill looked into the boot,turned away, and then wretched, “Bloody hell boy, the bugger’s starting to stink!”

“No shit Sherlock, we need to get him out of there and then burn this bloody thing.”

Grabbing the corpse by the shoulders Bill and Jimmy heaved the body out of the car and dropped it onto the grass. Their latest post office extravaganza had gone slightly array and instead of making their usual clean getaway they ended up in a gun fight on the pavement outside. Bill was certain he’d taken out the guard; he’d watched him drop to the ground after unloading on him. He hadn’t seen the second man though, and as Jimmy jumped into the car the glass on the driver’s side had splintered, the bullets ripping through the interior and killing Danny their getaway driver. Luckily Jimmy had the sense to jump behind the wheel, and with a screech of rubber and a couple of backward shots for good measure, they’d headed for the hills. It would’ve been a little awkward to drop Danny at a hospital – too many bloody questions!

They dragged Danny by his legs and pushed him into the hole. Gasping from their exertions both men stared at the man in the woodland grave.

“Alright dad, you finish covering him over and I’ll do the car.”

“Lazy little bastard,” thought Bill, he always got the shitty-end of the stick. He stabbed the shovel into the heaped earth and scooped it over the body. The exploding car and ensuing fireball illuminated the corpse, giving Danny a final, if slightly macabre vitality before his face disappeared under the dirt.

Burning upholstery crackled as dense, acrid smoke from smoldering tires blotted out the town below and filled the clearing. Bill took one last look, stuck his pipe back into his pocket, and concentrated on the job at hand.

FREE CHECKING

25 Sep

 

Economic malaise is gnawing a hole in my wallet. Wait a minute, isn’t that what austerity is supposed to do, isn’t the economy meant to take its toll on the average wage slave? Let me throw a little energy saving, mercury-filled-light bulb-illumination on my situation and clarify exactly what I am ranting about. We’ve all experienced the so-called invisible effects of the economic downturn, the escalating price of gas, the deflation of house prices, and the plethora of for-sale signs that have sprung up overnight like fiscal-fungi in our thinning neighborhoods. Talking heads on BBCNNBCBS allude to political tensions in the middle-east, that it’s the attenuated Straits of Hormuz that are squeezing the financials, not an aggressive western embargo on Iranian oil causing economic shrinkage at the not-so-super market.

 My dollar is still the same size, yet the amount of product it buys has significantly decreased. The peanut butter jar, not just my optimistic outlook, is now only half full. The container, that used to hold lashings of the brown sticky stuff, has been down sized to hold a mere modicum of product deemed worthy for the same price. My bill’s metaphysical dimensions remain constant yet the amount of earthly return i.e the measure of spreadable deliciousness from the jar-of-plenty has clearly shrunk. Should I close my eyes, click my heels, cross my fingers, and hope for Aunt Em to make things better? Perhaps I’m imagining things, but then again no.  Consumer theft is in progress on every aisle. If it isn’t the pb-and-J then it’s the soap containers and shampoo bottles. Shades of a twentyfirst century Gulliver as I walk through an ever shrinking world; my shopping cart Swift-boated in the current of corporate greed. From the perspective of an Ancient Mariner the boards are shrinking without environmental embellishment, instead some pseudo entity in New York, with capital interests, is hedging and bonding my vessel of free enterprise with Titanic effect.

So where am I going with this?

I recently joined a credit union because I’m sick of banks – mortgaged to the hilt and foreclosed upon at the point of a paper sword. Enough already, Wells Fargo can go and fuck themselves at wherever stage they consider appropriate. So far so good – no problems, and they accept my remunerations as though I were a customer and not a virgin bride on prima nocta. Until today, hence my literary vitriol. The only downside to the upturn of my recent financial affiliation is the quality of their plastic. You know, that residual product derived from oil, hailed as the shape-shifter of modern society, the universal material of our current epoch – a manmade replacement for organic perfection?

“How would you like groceries sir, paper or plastic?” A common enough question at environmentally conscious grocers across America except, at my credit union, the only material they offer their psychedelic A.T.M. cards is in plastic. Personally I’d prefer wood. A nice mahogany or ebony, something that would enhance my own personal opinion of myself; alas! It would seem shaving pennies and gouging customers is the order of the day at the Desert Schools  Credit Union in Phoenix Arizona where I am offered a lesser, a faux if you will, plastic. I didn’t know it was possible, but there again I’m not a rocket scientist nor a plastic-ologist. I’ve been with the bank since February and am now the proud owner of bank card number five. Am I frivolous with my processions? Do I wantonly sling them hither-and-thither? No of course not, it’s a bank card; I keep it in my wallet, along with all my other cards!

 Due to the chemical combination that forms my blue and white garish access device to all that I hold financially sacred, the card has a tendency to split along its magnetic seam. Not such a big deal and a quick visit to the union, one would think, would resolve my pliable predicament. Several times this year I’ve walked into the building, proffered my spoiled cards, and within ten minutes been reimbursed with a brand new card allowing me to access my own impecuniosity. Today however, I had the questionable pleasure of meeting the delightful Tammy, a fully paid up, card carrying member of the fascist-bastard corporation, that does its best to cloak itself in the affability of a credit union. An endearing folksy title, a euphemism for community and neighborhood that offers the hard working, impoverished-employed a sanctuary, a safe harbor, for their monthly pittance. Unfortunately, turns out that the new boss is the same as the old boss.

It’s football Friday; Tammy has a football shirt on, so does every other employee. A cheap attempt at showing unity with their public, that they have our interests at heart, that deep down they’re on our side, not that of the Rothschild’s and the Bilderberg’s. She doesn’t remember me even though we’ve spoken on several occasions with regard to accounts, business contracts etc. But that’s okay, Tammy probably sees a couple of hundred clients a day.

I fill in the necessary paperwork. All is well with the universe, any second now I am going to receive my sliver of plastic, the world will continue to turn, and I’ll go about my business. Except it doesn’t.

Tammy looks at me from behind her football blackened eyes and asks me in if I would like to pay the five dollar renewal fee from my checking or my savings and then to add insult to injury, smiles.

Piss boils and a vein pulses on my forehead. My demeanor has obviously changed and before I split my shirt and turn green Tammy, in a moment of life preserving lucidity, pushes back her ergonomic chair on carcinogenic carpeting and asks tentatively if I’m angry? Angry – fuck yes I am angry – I would even go as far to say that I’m slightly perturbed; to say the least Tammy,I take exception. If that constitutes displeasure then I guess you have your answer.

I do my best to explain to her that this is the third card in so many months that has broken and that obviously the quality of their product is inferior and therefore why should I be expected to pay? Tammy feigning surprise asks me if I keep it in my wallet along with the other plastic fantastic that has never broken, despite the fact that they’re stored in exactly the same place, in exactly the same arse- controlled climatic environment. Naturally, and in a manner that would exemplify a father chastising a small child rather than an invading Norseman bludgeoning a pleading Christian, I try to clarify the reason for my disdain.

Free checking with enhanced costs! I’m loving it, but beginning to question my own sanity and reasoning of why I moved from one corporate entity to another? Surely my savings would be better off stuffed in a sock under the mattress? No late fees, no additional checking or early withdrawal charges, and no Tammy. Refusing to pay and carefully enunciating my four lettered explanation, I’m eventually offered a complimentary card so that I can continue to deposit my hard earned wages into the yawning coffers of the Desert Schools Credit Union.

I leave the building victorious; my bright shiny card nestled in my obviously inept wallet. Tammy has had the most exciting day of her banking career, now she to has a story to tell around the water cooler with her other football-shirted colleagues. “Do you remember the day when…?” A story that’ll be related from colleague to colleague; a saga of epic proportion that will be embellished and invigorated, with scar displayed enthusiasm with its retelling. Oh, the excitement! A day in the life of a corporate hireling or, as her brass anointed name plaque announces her, personal financial assistant.

Corporate greed is insidious; free checking accounts have turned into monthly stipends. It may be a small victory, hardly worthy of mention, but they’re my laurels, my lap of honor, my flag-flapping-gold-draped-medal-moment.

Mumbled platitudes of, “I’m just doing my job,” allusions of, “Ja mein Fuhrer. Heil Hitler! Please mind your step on the way to the showering facility.”

Vine Vide Viche.

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE – RAPE 101

17 Mar

 

Picking up his jacket, the man reached out to her. “Thanks gorgeous, that was amazing.”

Anna smiled the smile she saved for her clients, kissed him on the cheek and gently coaxed him out of the apartment. What was it with these blokes? They were paying for sex, not love. Didn’t they know her time was valuable? Jesus! If she lingered and whispered sweet-nothings to every swinging dick that came through her door she’d never make any money. Did they really think she thought they were special, that they were the only ones? On a good day she’d see six of them, all of them the same -married, single, with jobs, careers, professions, titles and university accreditation. All of them looking for non-committal, illicit sex, but always yearning for something more – a heartfelt conversation, an emotional connection, the feeling they were wanted for more than just screwing shelves to mortgaged homes, weeding gardens, forty hours a week plus over time. Lawyers, bricklayers, school teachers and mechanics, even the occasional woman. Apparently there were females out there, who despite having the physical accoutrement to score in an convent, preferred the seclusion and security that went along with the services she provided. It made no difference. To Anna money was money; her moment of rehearsed ecstasy was brief but lucrative. As her clients lay gasping on her bed from their exertions, pinning her under their matted chests and heaving bellies, it wasn’t exactly l’amour she was contemplating.

The luxury apartment she’d acquired overlooked the river Ouse; an old bonded-warehouse that’d been turned into yuppie condos back in the eighties. It’d cost a packet and the brand new German automobile parked in the subterranean garage, purchased to accessorize her new found affluence, hadn’t just materialized out of thin air. When people talked about working-girls they didn’t know the half of it! Between escorting and scamming she’d done pretty well for herself. Not bad for a girl who’d left school with three o-levels and a set of double-dees.

As a lass she’d enjoyed plenty of male attention, never having to put her hand in her pocket. Realization quickly dawned upon Anna that her path, thanks to her looks, was paved in gold. Single pot culinary masterpieces in dingy shared accommodation had been exchanged for the fine dining and silk sheets. Sure she’d dated in her teens, but the gooey-eyed, sentimental love songs sung by her boyish lovers where nothing when compared to the overtures of the mature wealthy men prepared to treat her like a princess and pay for the privilege Escorting hadn’t been her first choice. She’d tried to fulfill parental expectation and do the college-thing however, the lure of easy cash in the clubs and bars around the city soon made her reconsider her profession of choice. Weekends stuck in bedsits with mountains of homework were not for her and the quotidian indecent proposals she received offered her the escape from the working class purgatory she so desired.

Anna kept up the pretense of college for a couple of years before committing to apprentice in the oldest profession. She’d told her parents she’d found a job as an air stewardess, allowing her to account for her time away and the money she was earning. She hadn’t found it hard, the life style she led more than made up for the sweaty half-hours she had to endure. Beautiful clothes, perfect make up, fun friends and wild destinations became the norm. It was from this pedestal of feminine invincibility that she’d ventured into black mail; an easy enough transition. Having stepped over one line it was simple enough to leap over another.

Her first mark had been a man who’d approached her in Betty’s Tea-Rooms on the High Street. Not an unusual occurrence- the sexuality she oozed attracted men like lemmings to cliffs. Nice enough fella and judging by the shoes and clothes he was wearing a man of substance. It was the little things she noticed, the expensive watch, the silk tie, the oversized wedding ring. They’d talked, he’d asked her out for drinks and she’d said yes.

Child’s play she’d thought to herself; they made themselves targets. For some reason men who cheat love to talk about their home, their kids, their jobs, and their wives. It was a wonder they cheated in the first place given the conversations that were always so up beat – how lucky, fortunate ,happy, (pick the adjective) they were, and yet here they were trying to get into her knickers as though she kept the crown jewels down there! They’d arranged a rendezvous, set up a time and place to do the deed. It had been easy enough. She’d left him asleep on the bed, rifled his pockets, taken his watch and pocketed the wedding band he’d judiciously laid on the night stand. With his credit card in hand and his driver’s license there was no fear of repercussion. He’d be stupid to call the police, especially with the photograph of his doting family nestled in her handbag.

*

Frank had been one of the first people she’d really got to know when she arrived in the city, always seemed to be working the doors of the hottest night spots in town. Nice guy, big as a brick-shithouse but always smartly dressed – handsome in a rugged, aggressive kind of way. He’d ushered her past red-ropes, jumped her through crowds and set her on the arms of several different wealthy men. Not being slow on the uptake he’d managed to coerce her into a little business proposition. Didn’t want to muscle in on the escort side of things, wasn’t looking to pimp her out, but there was something they could do together that could make them both a lot of money. Shed accepted an invite for coffee and it was then he’d discussed his plans.

Wiping the cappuccino foam from his top lip Frank leant across the table.“Married fellas, out-of-towners and race-go-ers with money, are always asking me for girls. Not just any girls but something a bit special like you. Offering big money as well. Fellas like that have a reputation to keep and nine times out of ten a family as well. The last thing they need is publicity of the wrong sort.”

The plan was to entice punters into hotels, get them naked and then photograph them in compromising positions. No sex required just a couple of snaps of the punter in his Jockies, Anna in her bra-and-panties and the job was a good-‘un – the money theirs. They’d never know what hit them and they’d pay up every time.  A couple of thousand quid was cheap compared to a divorce and their faces splashed all over the local papers. It almost sounded too good to be true!

The first one she met at the Ebor hotel, told her she was the most beautiful women he’d ever seen. Of course she played the virgin, fluttered her baby-blues and blushed in all the right places. Anna embelished the occasion with the panache of Garbot; with long lingering looks, furtive glances and brushed fingertips. The small felt box he’d slid across the dinner table with the necklace had been his first inducement. He’d later dropped her off, at what he though was her apartment, had his advances rebuked, and his cheek kissed.

Gorgeous in the console light of the parked car she’d taken his hand, “Never on a first date darling. I want you to respect me. I want this to be special.” Worked every time, the idiot would go home and fuck his wife like they were newlyweds in anticipation of their next meeting. The second meeting was always at a hotel, something posh and very public; somewhere there would be no fear of retaliation.

In the room he’d open the wine, while she’d make the excuse to slip into something more comfortable. The sound of a shower running softly and the soft silky inducement for him to take his clothes off would always get the punter down to his y-fronts and socks. Anna would walk in smelling delicious wearing a little something from Victoria’s Secret – classically beautiful but expensively slutty, and then join him on the bed. His arms would barely be around her before the intruder burst from the closet. Frank dressed all in black, with a balaclava on his head and waving a baseball bat was enough to scare the shit out of anybody

“Get off the fucking bed,” screamed Frank. “Now! Off the bed you fucking nonce!”  Standing at the foot of the bed with the club in his hand he was a hard man to refuse. “You too, you fucking slut. Both of you stand over there.” Screamed Frank, pointing his weapon towards the cowering couple. The camera would flash and the john would look for all the world like a naughty school boy caught peeking at dirty pictures rather than the captain of industry or doting husband that he supposedly was.

Despite protestations the camera flashed again. “Shut up and listen you twat! In a few days you’ll receive a call with an amount and a drop-off. Don’t fuck me around or these photos will go around the world. Don’t try and screw me ‘cos I’ve already given instructions to release these should something happen to me. Understand, comprende, capiche?”

The john nodded.

“It’s simple see. You pay the money, shut the fuck up, and these go away.” Frank brandished the camera stared down the client, who would invariably cower behind Anna, and then leave. Left with the client to clean up the pieces Anna would quickly get dressed, promise she’d never see ,or mention him to anybody, and urge him to pay the money.

The money was invariably delivered. The photos and negatives would end up with the John and Anna and Frank would share the rewards. Not a bad line of business, and something they were able to pull off fairly regularly.

Anna looked at the clock on the wall – it was a quarter to ten. She had to get a wiggle on as she was supposed to interview with their latest target, a man called John who was the owner-operator of the Slug and Cabbage, one of the most popular venues in York. According to Frank the man was minted and needed to be relieved of some of his ill-gotten wealth. An easy target; married with a couple of kids he couldn’t keep his dick in his pants. Anna would interview for the position of barmaid, something she’d done in the past, and within a couple of weeks worm her way into John’s good graces –although according to Frank it probably wouldn’t take that long. Then using their perfected modus operandi they’d take him down. Frank reckoned he was good for a thousand or five, not the sort of money you could earn on your back or for selling muscle for money on a nightclub door.

She needed to jump in the shower and wash the client of her. She could stillfeel his breath on her neck and his sticky cum was still in her hair. God he was disgusting! It wasn’t as though she was doing it for the money. The man who liked to be tied up, spanked and occasionally pissed on was none other than Inspector Pinkney of the East Yorkshire Constabulary .

She’d first met Pinkney a couple of years ago when he’d busted her on a prostitution scam. She’d been expecting some well-heeled client but instead when she’d answered the door Pinkney had been there. He knew everything and had threatened to take her down the station and bust her. A couple of years in Leeds wasn’t exactly what she’d had planned. Given the crackdown on vice that was going on in the city, especially the clean up around the railway station and Lendel Bridge, there was little chance of leniency. Anna was afraid she’d end up in jail cell with a couple of dykes that would fuck her to within an inch of her life and so the invitation to suck Pinkney’s dick and to make the matter go away seemed preferable.. Of course she’d got on her knees but the inspector hadn’t disappeared and she’d been forced to endure his increasing list of perversions on a regular basis. Pinkney, good to his promise, kept her out of Jail, and on a couple of occasions had managed to get her out of scrapes. Although a literal pain in the arse, he was a good card to have up her sleeve.  If the shit really hit the fan she could always rely on the inspector.

 Anna walked towards the bathroom, picked up her clothes as she went and tossed them on the destroyed bed. Handcuffs and a strap on dildo still lay were she’d left them. She’d tidy up later, she had to get in the shower and get out of there.

*

Smelling clean and expensive she looked herself up and down in the mirror. The black skirt over sheer stockings and high heels would take his breath away; her bosom threatened to explode through the laced shirt she wore, a hint of pink bra peeked from beneath pristine white. Anna was a vision. John the man she was going to interview with didn’t know it yet, but was already dead meat. He’d be putty in her hands, and in in a couple of weeks she’d be counting his cash. Grabbing her bag and keys she walked toward the door.

The telephone started to ring. Anna was late, she had to get going, she had to be there at twelve and the Slug and Cabbage was on the other side of town. She closed the door to her apartment. The answering machine would pick up, shed get it later, probably just a booking.

The answering machine kicked in. The honey chocolate tones of the gorgeous Helen, Anna’s working name filled the void. “Hi sorry you missed me. Not here right now but if you leave a name and number I’ll get back to you just as soon as I can.”

“Beep.”

“Hey Anna, Anna, it’s me Dmitry – pick up the bloody phone!” The sound of a man with an eastern European accent echoed through the room

“Anna it’s Dmitry. I’ll be in town tonight, maybe we can get together baby. Dmitry’s going to make you rich baby. Call me back, I missed you so bad.”

The machine clicked off. The red light on the answering machine pulsed.

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