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Red Christmas – a tale of torture and woe

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PART 1
It was Christmas morning in London. That is to say it was raining fiercely and there wasn’t a flake of snow to be seen this side of the South Pole. In households all over the city ugly ungrateful brats were busy tearing open lovingly gift-wrapped packages and tearfully complaining about what was inside them. In other words it was a normal Christmas morning. Well, normal for anyone whose name happened NOT to be Johnny McKenzie, otherwise known as Johnny Nothing.
“Why do I never get any presents?” thought Johnny to himself as he dragged himself out of bed with a shiver.

“Brrrrrrr! It’s cold!” thought the shiver.

The other occupants of the rat-infested council flat that Johnny called home were all asleep as he and his shiver made their way downstairs into the living room. It had been a busy night for Johnny’s parents, the loathsome Felicity MacKenzie and her useless lump of lard husband Billy. As well as drinking several gallons of something that tasted like cheap lager they had found in a skip, the grisly pair had also been laying a trap for someone. Someone whom you might know very well indeed…

On Christmas mornings in most people’s homes you might expect to find a nice juicy Christmas tree covered in twinkling lights with a fairy perched on the top. Not so in Johnny’s home. Here, there was no Christmas tree. No twinkling lights. And there was no sign of a fairy with a giant pine tree stuck up her bum. Instead, there was a sweaty old man with a straggly white beard squatting in front of the gas fire making curious gasping noises. Sort of like this: “Gasp… Gasp… Gargle…”. (Did I mention that he occasionally made gargling noises?)

The man was dressed from head to toe in a red all-in-one body suit with furry cuffs. On his wrinkled liver-spotted old head there was a really stupid looking hat. He looked ridiculous. I’m not joking – he really did look like a complete pillock. Moreover, someone had tied him up with rope and gagged him so that he could scarcely breathe. Johnny recognised the stranger instantly.

“Are you… Are you… Santa Claus?” Johnny asked in astonishment, prising the gag away from the old man’s mouth.

“Who do you think I bloody am?” spluttered Father Christmas. “Barrack Obama?”

“Not really…” said Johnny, fairly sure that this was not the president of America sitting in his living room.

“Untie me!” yelled the tied up stranger. “There’s going to be hell to pay – I can tell you!”

For a moment Johnny thought he was dreaming. “Am I dreaming?” he murmured, as if determined to play along with my description of what was happening.

“No you’re not bloody dreaming!” said Santa, as if determined to undermine my description of what was happening. “And if you don’t get these ropes off me I’ll have your guts for garters!”

Johnny frowned a little, as you do. He rubbed away a bit of that scummy stuff you get in the corner of your eye every morning (for a moment he considered eating it but changed his mind and wiped it on his pyjama trousers instead) and took a closer look at the stranger in the living room. It was not every day that you got sworn at by Santa Claus.

“Are you really Father Christmas?” he asked.

“Yes,” replied the old man irritatedly, as if he was totally fed up of answering that question. “Now will you please untie me.”

Johnny dropped to his knees and began working at the ropes that bound Father Christmas. Whoever had tied them had made a good job of it.

“No offence,” said Johnny. “but I thought that Santa Claus was just a made up person.”

“Oh… I’m real enough all right,” grumbled Santa. “Who do you think delivers all those presents every Christmas?”

“But you’ve never delivered any to me.”

“I most certainly have.”
“Well I’ve never received them.”

“Of course you haven’t – your bloody mother has always nicked them before you’ve had a chance to lay your hands on them.”

Right on cue the sound of an extinct woolly mammoth could be heard descending the stairs.

“Talk of the Devil,” groaned Father Christmas, as Johnny continued to struggle to untie him.

“Johnny stop untying him right now!!” ordered the hungover voice of the extinct woolly mammoth as it entered the room. “That silly old scrote is my prisoner!”

I suppose it’s fair to point out that it is a little cruel to compare Johnny’s mother, the delightful Felicity MacKenzie, with an extinct woolly mammoth. You have my apologies for doing so. Because woolly mammoth’s – even though they were big and hairy and smelly and prone to accidentally squishing any cavemen who accidentally got in their way – were actually quite cute. Baby woolly mammoths were particularly cute; and quite tasty on the barbecue, too, I’m told.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of Felicity MacKenzie, who was neither tasty nor cute. In fact, she was the opposite of tasty: quite rancidly tasteless, if such a thing is possible. The sort of human being tastebud equivalent of Brussel sprouts marinated in fart juice. And she was also the opposite of cute, which I make as being ‘etuc’, quite a meaningless word in actual fact.

She was so fat that she exerted her own gravitational pull. She was so ugly that when she was born her mother slapped herself. She was so mean that she won’t even allow me to finish this senten

Back to the story:

“Why have you tied me up!” yelled Santa Claus. “What do you want from me?”

“What do you think I want, you stupid dosser?” smiled Felicity. “I want all your presents and you’re going to give ’em to me! But before you do so, it’s time for an advertising break…”

END OF PART 1
ADVERTISEMENT

She was an evil woman was Felicity. I’m not kidding – she was really evil. More evil than Margaret Thatcher ever was – well maybe not. You can read all about her (Felicity not Margaret) in my lovely smelly book entitled: Johnny Nothing. It’s available from all half-decent book retailers in ebook and paperback formats and has a really nice yellow cover with scratchy bits on it. If you’re reading this before Christmas why not click on one of the links below and you and/or your beautiful ugly child can find out what happens when Johnny’s uncle dies and leaves him a fortune only for Felicity to steal all the money from him and go on a really long shopping spree. It’s quite exciting and all that.

 

PART 2

Felicity MacKenzie was rummaging through the large sack of presents that lay beside the still tied up Father Christmas. Beside her was a blobby heap of beer belly and builder’s crack clinker named Billy MacKenzie. If you don’t already know, he was Johnny’s dad and Felicity’s husband. As usual he was unshaven and smelled of Victorian urinals and dog breath.
“This is no good!” scowled Felicity, throwing a box of Lego across the room. ‘We want expensive gifts. Something we can flog on eBay!”

“Stop opening my presents!” urged Santa. “They’re not for you!”

“Or what?” growled Billy MacKenzie.

“Or… Or… I’ll get very cross,’ said Santa, which wasn’t really much of a threat because he was still tied up and – let’s face it – however cross he might be, Santa Claus is never going to be that scary, is he? He’s Santa Claus for goodness sake!

“I’m ravenous,” said Felicity. ”’Ere Santa – you got any food in these parcels?”

“Even if I knew the answer to that question there’s certainly no way that I’m telling you.”

“Oh la-de-da.” said Felicity, which doesn’t really mean anything but people still say it from time to time.

As Santa looked on, the horrible pair continued opening the presents in his sack. Books, CDs, socks, after shave, strange looking adult toys that required batteries, and boring games like Cluedo and Monopoly were hurled to one side.

“Should you really be doing that?” asked Johnny, who had kept quiet while all this was going on.

“Mind your own business!” said his mother, spitting out a mouthful of perfume that she had hoped might be whisky. “And get me some food you little brat!”

Johnny went into the kitchen and rooted around for something to give to his mother. Apart from a small piece of cheese that was growing a quiff, the fridge was lukewarm and empty. There was nothing in the food cupboard either. There was no sign of a turkey and all the trimmings waiting to be cooked like you might find in other peoples’ houses. The MacKenzies never bothered with Christmas dinner. They usually went to the pub and if they were feeling generous they would bring home a packet of crisps for their son.

Johnny went back into the living room to give his parents the bad news. Before he could speak, however, Felicity MacKenzie let out a hoot of triumph, whatever that sounds like. “Hold on a minute,” she announced, looking over at a very unhappy Santa Claus.. “How did you get here?”

“I beg your pardon?” he replied.

“Are you stupid? I said: how did you get here?”

“Is that an existential question or do you mean into your flat?”

“Whatever!”

“Well down the chimney, of course.”

The fact that there wasn’t a chimney in the flat didn’t seem to deter Felicity MacKenzie. “No I don’t mean that you fat old imbecile!” she said. “I mean how did you get here? How did you journey to the flat?”

“Why on my sleigh, of course.”

“On his sleigh!” yelled Felicity in triumph. “And where is it now?”

“Why, it’s still parked outside.”

Felicity MacKenzie pulled herself upright and began to cackle. “Billy,” she said, “go outside and fetch our Christmas dinner.”

Billy looked confused. “Whatdoyoumean, Fliss?” he asked.

“I’ve got a special treat for us all today,” said Felicity, licking her bulbous trout lips. “…Roast reindeer.”

“Lovely,” said Billy. “But before we eat have we got time for another advert?”

 

END OF PART 2

ADVERTISEMENT
I’m not one of those writers who’s always harping on about their books. In fact, when asked at parties I often tell people that I’m a tax inspector. Sometimes I tell them that I’m a murderer. What I was going to say, however, is that if you’re enjoying the story so far you might want to to go and download the first three chapters of Johnny Nothing from the iBooks Store or from the Kindle Store. They’re free, of course. And if you end up liking them there’s another thirty or so chapters for you to read. Hold on, what’s that nice smell?
PART 3

Although when pushed she could just about rustle up a Pot Noodle, Felicity MacKenzie would be the first to admit that she wasn’t much of a cook.

“I’d be the first to admit that I’m not much of a cook.” said Felicity macKenzie, as she sat at the head of the dining table. There. I told you so.

Nevertheless, she had made a surprisingly good job of Christmas dinner. Delia Smith would have been proud. Delicious odours of cooked meat wafted around the flat like clouds of tangy loveliness making Johnny’s tummy rumble like a long extinct volcano. Hold on… If it was extinct it wouldn’t be rumbling. Would it?

“Shall I carve?” asked Billy.

“Please do, my darling husband,” said Felicity, putting on her poshest voice.

While Felicity and Billy sat at either end of the dining table Johnny stood in the doorway to the kitchen looking on in horror as his blood soaked father began cutting the Christmas dinner into succulent slices. Still tied up on the floor was Santa Claus, who was weeping profusely.

“Stop crying you big baby and have a bit of dinner,’ said Felicity.

“But… But… You’ve murdered… My Rudolph…” cried Santa.

“Oh stop fussing,’ said Felicity. “Do you fancy a slice of nose?”

Billy MacKenzie had been uncharacteristically efficient with Rudolph. First he had dragged the whimpering reindeer into the flat by its harness. And then, using a carving set that he found in Santa’s sack, he had set about slaughtering the animal.

First he had cut Rudolph’s throat, collecting the gallons of blood that gushed from the wound in a tin pot that he used for soaking his feet. “We can use this for black pudding later,’ he had said cheerfully.

Then he had neatly sliced the still warm and trembling carcass into smaller portions, passing a leg over to his wife which she swiftly popped into the oven with a bit of garlic. The whole exercise was over in less than ten minutes. However, the mess this created was terrible. Everywhere you looked there was reindeer blood: on the walls, the ceiling, the curtains. Most of the blood was on Billy, who looked even redder than Santa Claus. It was a red Christmas.

“Tuck in,” urged Felicity.
END OF PART 3

ADVERTISEMENT

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When the room smells fresh so do you

Next time you vacuum you know just what to do

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Do the shake and vac and put the freshness back

Do the shake and vac and put the freshness back

(Sorry about that. I had to sell this advertising spot to someone else.)
PART 4

Dinner was over. Felicity and Billy McKenzie slumped into their chairs in front of the telly, stuffed to satisfaction and watching as the Queen gave her annual speech.

“Philip and I would like to thank everybody for giving us all of your hard-earned money so that you can help to maintain an oligarchy that is thousands of years old and patently unfair to all but the select few,” she said. “It keeps us in jewels and Corgis and helicopter rides and makes sure that you, my subjects, have no hope of ever achieving anything with your lives unless you go on the X-Factor or Big Brother or Strictly or some other asinine turgid nonsense…”

“I love the queen,” Felicity said dreamily, as her stomach struggled to digest the unexpected influx of reindeer matter. “She’s always so honest to her people.”

“Yes, she has a lovely turn of phrase” agreed Billy.

The speech finished and the couple reluctantly got to their feet when the National Anthem was playing. Then they sat back down again to watch a Bond movie with a Welsh bloke playing Bond. After that there was a Dad’s Army repeat which led to the inevitable Christmas snooze followed by a Two Ronnies repeat, a Morecambe and Wise repeat and Jurassic Park 3. It was a great Christmas day. If you’re American and reading this you won’t have a clue what I’m going on about. But do I really care?

In the morning there was only one more thing to think about. The remaining bits of Rudolph had been stuffed into the fridge and under the sink and in the bath and into various cupboards. The presents that had been pilfered from Santa’s sack were already on eBay. (Although Felicity wasn’t particularly hopeful that they would make that much money from their ill-gotten gains – all of Santa’s presents seem to have come from the Pound Shop.) It was just a question of what to do with Santa Claus.

Santa Claus. All over the world that name had suddenly become hated overnight. This was because, apart from a couple of isolated regions in the south of England, no presents had been delivered anywhere else.

Santa Claus. Millions of parents were left wondering how to stop their children’s desperate tears. “But it’s not our fault,” said mothers and fathers everywhere. “It’s that evil Father Christmas who’s to blame.”

Santa Claus: you could almost swim in the wave of bitter disappointment that washed over the globe.

Santa Claus: What a smelly old rat!

On television, newscasters told tales of the hated devil named Santa Claus. Police and politicians were interviewed, universally condemning this once loved figure. A warrant for Santa’s arrest was issued by Interpol. In many countries the death penalty was reinstated in anticipation of Santa’s capture.

On boxing day there was knock on the MacKenzie’s front door. “He’s in here,” said Felicity to a man waving an identity card. Early in the morning, Felicity had called the police and told them that she had apprehended a familiar looking intruder.

“Get him boys,” said the man, and at once a dozen or so police officers bundled into the council flat.

“I caught him killing a reindeer,” said Felicity. “So Billy banged him on the head and we tied him up.”

“Thank you madam,” said another man. “You’ve done a great service to the nation.”

Santa was handcuffed and taken into police custody. Three days later he was sentenced to death without trial. The Home Secretary’s triplets had caused such a fuss when they discovered they had no Christmas presents that he had vowed to get an instant revenge.

At the execution a jeering crowd threw rancid Christmas puddings at the cowering figure of Santa Claus. Some hurled chocolate cherry liqueurs. As his head was placed into the noose, Santa was asked if he had any last words.

The old man hunched his shoulders and coughed. Then he replied: “Yes I do, actually.”

The crowd grew silent as the man known as Father Christmas or Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas uttered his final words.

“What an ungrateful bunch you are,’ he said softly. ‘For thousands of years I’ve been making and delivering presents for you all and never once have I received a thank-you for my troubles.

“Despite living in a freezing cold draughty house in the North Pole with no-one for company save for a couple of imps and a reindeer with a genetic nose impairment you’re still not satisfied.

“Despite having to sit on rooftops for most of December waiting for your little brats to post their Christmas wish list up the bloody chimney I’ve never got so much as a ‘ta very much, mate’.

“Despite having to listen to endless crappy Christmas records by the likes of Slade and Wizzard and Bing bloody Crosby you still want more.

“Despite depositing millions of gifts into your kids’ stockings for longer than I care to remember, it doesn’t stop you from hinting to them that it was actually really YOU who bought the presents.

“So goodbye and good riddance you ungrateful mob. In future YOU can fish around in red hot coal embers retrieving your semi-literate kids’ note to Santa. YOU can spend literally minutes on Amazon ordering your brats’ myriad requirements, complete with personalised message and reasonably competitively priced gift wrapping paper. YOU can take delivery of the parcels, a couple of days later, signing for them, unpacking them and then hiding them under your bed or in a cupboard somewhere. YOU can wait until your kids are asleep on Christmas Eve and then creep into their bedrooms and carefully place their gifts at the foot of the bed. And YOU can sit and watch while they open those presents believing that are not from you – their bloody parents – but from some mythical, sleigh-driving deity from the North Pole.”

There was a murmur among the crowd as the spectators took in Santa’s words. Then a crescendo of voices rose up and almost to a man began chanting the same words:

LET HIM…” they cried, thinking of all the hard work they would have to do if Santa was allowed to go to the gallows.

LET HIM…” they chanted, wondering how their lives might change without this universal figure of kindness and joy.

LET HIM…” they chorused, trying to imagine what life would truly be like without Christmas.

LET HIM… DIE.
THE END

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Come to Archway With Words

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On Friday 16 October I’m going to be reading excerpts from my kids book ‘Johnny Nothing’ to a press-ganged group of children as part of the annual Archway With Words Festival. Do come along if you want to be deafened by a horde of screaming ten and eleven-year-olds.

It’s also worth mentioning that there are still tickets available for most of the other acts and personalities appearing.

ArchWay With Words Part Three – a 9 day odyssey of fiction, science, comedy, history, poetry, puppets and singing!

ArchWay With Words 2015 has an illustrious line up of ‘superstar authors and spellbinding speakers’. There’s headliners galore with National Treasures Joan Bakewell and Phill Jupitus, Booker winner Ben Okri and the hugely popular and cool historical novelists Jake Arnott and Tracy Chevalier.

Esther Freud, Joanna Briscoe and Matt Baylis lead the literati and there’s another terrific showing for science featuring Simon Singh returning with his original Enigma Machine, Professor Peck of the Antarctic Survey talking about polar biology and the Professor and stand-up comic Sophie Scott on the ‘Science of Laughter’.

As usual AWWW will be showcasing the prodigious local talent with writers Penny Hancock, Callum Jacobs, Heather Reyes and Caitlin Davies all speaking on the first day, but the programming net is thrown very far this year with the finale headed by New York performance artist and recent Fringe First winner Penny Arcade, in a session with punk pioneer Viv Albertine.

This year’s Spoken Word offer features the hottest London talent and is spectacularly headlined with a rare performance from Linton Kwesi Johnson. Biography is well represented too with talks on Alexander McQueen and John Peel, and special interest subjects are clue-cracking with a Times cryptic crossword setter, recordings from the urban hubbub with the London Sound Survey, ‘Hot Feminism’ and experts on the history of protest in the Capital, and London’s best swimming spots including the Thames.

We hear from playwrights Tanika Gupta and Diane Samuels, with the latter undertaking a huge creative writing project that will culminate on the 2nd weekend at Archway Market, on a day of fun with storytelling from Spud & Yam, a performance from a sitar maestro and three booksellers on hand to assist with your reading needs. With 35 events in all, this is another spectacular feast for your mind from AWWW.

AWWW2015 takes place from October 10th – 18th in Archway Methodist Church, Hargrave Hall, the new ‘Bomb Factory’, the nightclub above the Tavern and the Library. Tickets are available at archwaywithwords.com and this year Archway Library will be the very conveniently located box office. Brochures can be found in shops, restaurants and venues.

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Reading Johnny Nothing to the kids.

The last time that I did a public reading of any of my work was way back in 1998. It’s so long ago that I’ve forgotten what it’s like. Nerves aside, it’s tremendous fun and really does put you face to face with your readers.

Last Wednesday I undertook a short tour of primary schools in Cambridgeshire. Apart from appalling the odd headmaster I can report that things went swimmingly. It was really enjoyable, so much so that I’m doing it again in London tomorrow. Here’s a brief excerpt:

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Red Christmas – A Christmas ebook-isode from the creator of Johnny Nothing

xmas, christ,as

Red Christmas

PART 1

It was Christmas morning in London. That is to say it was raining fiercely and there wasn’t a flake of snow to be seen this side of the South Pole. In households all over the city ugly ungrateful brats were busy tearing open lovingly gift-wrapped packages and tearfully complaining about what was inside them.

In other words it was a normal Christmas morning. Well, normal for anyone whose name happened NOT to be Johnny McKenzie, otherwise known as Johnny Nothing.

“Why do I never get any presents?” thought Johnny to himself as he dragged himself out of bed with a shiver.

“Brrrrrrr! It’s cold!” thought the shiver.

The other occupants of the rat-infested council flat that Johnny called home were all asleep as he and his shiver made their way downstairs into the living room. It had been a busy night for Johnny’s parents, the loathsome Felicity MacKenzie and her useless lump of lard husband Billy. As well as drinking several gallons of something that tasted like cheap lager they had found in a skip, the grisly pair had also been laying a trap for someone. Someone whom you might know very well indeed…

On Christmas mornings in most people’s homes you might expect to find a nice juicy Christmas tree covered in twinkling lights with a fairy perched on the top. Not so in Johnny’s home. Here, there was no Christmas tree. No twinkling lights. And there was no sign of a fairy with a giant pine tree stuck up her bottom. Instead, there was a sweaty old man with a straggly white beard squatting in front of the gas fire making curious gasping noises. Sort of like this: “Gasp… Gasp… Gargle…”. (Did I mention that he occasionally made gargling noises?)

The strange man was dressed from head to toe in a red all-in-one body suit with furry cuffs. On his wrinkled liver-spotted old head there was a really stupid looking hat. He looked ridiculous. I’m not joking – he really did look like a complete pillock. Moreover, someone had tied him up with rope and gagged him so that he could scarcely breathe. Johnny recognised the stranger instantly.

“Are you… Are you… Santa Claus?” Johnny asked in astonishment, prising the gag away from the old man’s mouth.

“Who do you think I bloody am?” spluttered Father Christmas. “Barrack Obama?”

“Not really…” said Johnny, fairly sure that this was not the president of America sitting in his living room.

“Untie me!” yelled the tied up stranger. “There’s going to be hell to pay – I can tell you!”

For a moment Johnny thought he was dreaming. “Am I dreaming?” he murmured, as if determined to play along with my description of what was happening.

“No you’re not bloody dreaming!” said Santa, as if determined to undermine my description of what was happening. “And if you don’t get these ropes off me I’ll have your guts for garters!”

Johnny frowned a little, as you do. He rubbed away a bit of that scummy stuff you get in the corner of your eye every morning (for a moment he considered eating it but changed his mind when he realised we were watching and wiped it on his pyjama trousers instead) and took a closer look at the stranger in the living room.

It was not every day that you got sworn at by Santa Claus.

“Are you really Father Christmas?” he asked.

“Yes,” replied the old man irritatedly, as if he was totally fed up of answering that question. “Now will you please untie me.”

Johnny dropped to his knees and began working away at the ropes that bound Father Christmas. Whoever had tied them had made a good job of it.

“No offence,” said Johnny, “but I thought that Santa Claus was just a made up person.”

“Oh… I’m real enough all right,” grumbled Santa. “Who do you think delivers all those presents every Christmas?”

“But you’ve never delivered any to me.”

“I most certainly have.”

“Well I’ve never received them.”

“Of course you haven’t – your bloody mother has always nicked them before you’ve had a chance to lay your hands on them.”

Right on cue the sound of an extinct woolly mammoth could be heard descending the stairs.

“Talk of the Devil,” groaned Father Christmas, as Johnny continued to struggle to untie him.

“Johnny stop untying him right now!!” ordered the hungover voice of the extinct woolly mammoth as it entered the room. “That silly old scrote is my prisoner!”

I suppose it’s fair to point out that it is a little cruel to compare Johnny’s mother, the delightful Felicity MacKenzie, with an extinct woolly mammoth. You have my apologies for doing so. Because woolly mammoth’s – even though they were big and hairy and smelly and prone to accidentally squishing any cavemen who accidentally got in their way – were actually quite cute. Baby woolly mammoths were particularly cute; and quite tasty on the barbecue, too, I’m told.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of Felicity MacKenzie, who was neither tasty nor cute. In fact, she was the opposite of tasty: quite rancidly tasteless, if such a thing is possible. The sort of human being tastebud equivalent of Brussel sprouts marinated in fart juice. And she was also the opposite of cute, which I make as being ‘etuc’, quite a meaningless word in actual fact.

She was so fat that she exerted her own gravitational pull. She was so ugly that when she was born her mother slapped herself. She was so mean that she won’t even allow me to finish this senten

Back to the story:

“Why have you tied me up!” yelled Santa Claus. “What do you want from me?”

“What do you think I want, you stupid dosser?” smiled Felicity. “I want all your presents and you’re going to give ’em to me! But before you do so, it’s time for an advertising break…”

END OF PART 1

ADVERTISEMENT

She was an evil woman was Felicity MacKenzie. I’m not kidding – she was really evil. More evil than Margaret Thatcher ever was – well maybe not that evil. You can read all about her (Felicity not Margaret) in my lovely smelly book entitled: Johnny Nothing. It’s available from all half-decent book retailers in ebook and paperback formats and has a really nice yellow cover with scratchy bits on it. If you’re reading this before Christmas why not click on one of the links below and you and/or your beautiful ugly child can find out what happens when Johnny’s uncle dies and leaves him a fortune only for Felicity to steal all the money from him and go on a really long shopping spree. It’s quite exciting and all that.

The Links:

The iBooks Store

Amazon UK

Amazon USA

PART 2

Felicity MacKenzie was rummaging through the large sack of presents that lay beside the still tied up Father Christmas. Beside her was a blobby heap of beer belly and builder’s crack clinker named Billy MacKenzie. If you haven’t already guessed, he was Johnny’s dad and Felicity’s husband. As usual he was unshaven and smelled of Victorian urinals and dog breath.

“This is no good!” scowled Felicity, throwing a box of Lego across the room. “We want expensive gifts. Something we can flog on eBay!”

“Stop opening my presents!” urged Santa. “They’re not for you!”

“Or what?” growled Billy MacKenzie.

“Or… Or… I’ll get very cross,” said Santa, which wasn’t really much of a threat because he was still tied up and – let’s face it – however cross he might be, Santa Claus is never going to be that scary, is he? He’s Santa Claus for goodness sake!

“I’m ravenous,” said Felicity. “’Ere Santa – you got any food in these parcels?”

“Even if I knew the answer to that question there’s certainly no way that I’m telling you.”

“Oh la-de-da.” said Felicity, which doesn’t really mean anything but people still say it from time to time.

As Santa looked on, the horrible pair continued opening the presents in his sack. Books, CDs, socks, after shave, strange looking adult toys that required batteries, and boring games like Cluedo and Monopoly were hurled to one side.

“Should you really be doing that?” asked Johnny, who had kept quiet so far while all this was going on.

“Mind your own business!” said his mother, spitting out a mouthful of perfume that she had hoped might be whisky. “And get me some food you little brat!”

Johnny went into the kitchen and rooted around for something to give to his mother. Apart from a small piece of cheese that was growing quite an impressive quiff, the fridge was lukewarm and empty. There was nothing in the food cupboard either. There was no sign of a turkey and all the trimmings waiting patiently to be cooked like you might find in other peoples’ houses. The MacKenzies rarely bothered with Christmas dinner. They usually went to the pub and if they were feeling generous they would bring home a packet of crisps for their son.

Johnny went back into the living room to give his parents the bad news. Before he could speak, however, Felicity MacKenzie let out a hoot of triumph, whatever that sounds like. “Hold on a minute,” she announced, looking over at a very unhappy Santa Claus.. “How did you get here?”

“I beg your pardon?” he replied.

“Are you stupid? I said: how did you get here?”

“Is that an existential question or do you mean into your flat?”

“Whatever!”

“Well down the chimney, of course.”

The fact that there wasn’t a chimney in the flat didn’t seem to deter Felicity MacKenzie. “No I don’t mean that you fat old imbecile!” she said. “I mean how did you get here? How did you travel to the flat?”

“Why on my sleigh, of course.”

“On his sleigh!” yelled Felicity in triumph. “And where is it now?”

“Why, it’s still parked outside.”

Felicity MacKenzie pulled herself upright and began to cackle. “Billy,” she said, “go outside and fetch our Christmas dinner.”

Billy looked confused. “Whatdoyoumean, Fliss?” he asked.

“I’ve got a special treat for us all today,” said Felicity, licking her bulbous trout lips. “…Roast reindeer.”

“Lovely,” said Billy. “But before we eat have we got time for another advert?”

END OF PART 2

ADVERTISEMENT

I’m not one of those writers who’s always harping on about their books. In fact, when asked at parties I often tell people that I’m a tax inspector. Sometimes I tell them that I’m a murderer. What I was going to say, however, is that if you’re enjoying the story so far you might want to to go and download the first three chapters of Johnny Nothing from the iBooks Store or from the Kindle Store. They’re free, of course. And if you end up liking them there’s another thirty or so chapters for you to read. Hold on a moment, what’s that nice smell?

PART 3

Although when pushed she could just about rustle up a Pot Noodle, Felicity MacKenzie would be the first to admit that she wasn’t much of a cook.

“I’d be the first to admit that I’m not much of a cook.” said Felicity MacKenzie, as she sat at the head of the dining table. There. I told you so.

Nevertheless, she had made a surprisingly good job of Christmas dinner. Delia Smith would have been proud. Delicious odours of cooked meat wafted around the flat like clouds of tangy loveliness making Johnny’s tummy rumble as if it were a long extinct volcano. Hold on… If it was extinct it wouldn’t be rumbling. Would it?

“Shall I carve?” asked Billy.

“Please do, my darling husband,” said Felicity, putting on her poshest voice.

While Felicity and Billy sat at either end of the dining table Johnny stood in the doorway to the kitchen looking on in horror as his blood soaked father began chopping the Christmas roast into succulent slices. Still tied up on the floor was Santa Claus, who was weeping profusely.

“Stop crying like a big baby and have a bit of dinner!” said Felicity, hurling a piece of dripping meat in his direction.

“But… But… You’ve murdered… My Rudolph…” cried Santa.

“Oh, stop fussing,” said Felicity. “How do you fancy a slice of nose?”

Billy MacKenzie had been uncharacteristically efficient with Rudolph. First he had dragged the whimpering reindeer into the flat by its harness. And then, using a carving set that he found in Santa’s sack, he had set about slaughtering the animal.

First he had cut Rudolph’s throat, collecting the gallons of blood that gushed from the wound in a tin pot that he used for soaking his feet. “We can use this for black pudding later,” he had said cheerfully.

Then he had neatly sliced the still warm and trembling carcass into smaller portions, passing a leg over to his wife, which she swiftly popped into the oven with a bit of garlic. The whole exercise was over in less than ten minutes. However, the mess this created was terrible. Everywhere you looked there was reindeer blood: on the walls, the ceiling, the curtains. Most of the blood was on Billy, who looked even redder than Santa Claus.

It was a red Christmas.

“Tuck in,” urged Felicity.

END OF PART 3

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PART 4

Dinner was over.

Felicity and Billy McKenzie slumped into their chairs in front of the telly, stuffed to satisfaction and watched as the Queen gave her annual speech.

“Philip and I would like to thank everybody for giving all of your hard-earned money to us so that you can help to maintain an oligarchy that is thousands of years old and patently unfair to all but the select few,” she smiled. “It keeps us in jewels and Corgis and helicopter rides and makes sure that you, my subjects, have no hope of ever achieving anything with your lives unless you go on the X-Factor or Big Brother or Strictly or some other asinine, turgid nonsense…”

“I love the queen,” Felicity said dreamily, as her stomach struggled to digest the unexpected influx of reindeer matter. “She’s always so honest to her people.”

“Yes, she has a lovely turn of phrase” agreed Billy.

The speech finished and the couple reluctantly got to their feet while the National Anthem played. Afterwards they sat back down again to watch a Bond movie from the 1990s with some Welsh bloke playing Bond. After that there was a Dad’s Army repeat which led to the inevitable Christmas snooze followed by a Two Ronnies repeat, a Morecambe and Wise repeat and Jurassic Park 3. It was a great Christmas day. (If you’re American and reading this you won’t have a clue what I’m going on about. But do I really care?1)

1The publishers of Johnny Nothing – Red Christmas would like to point out that its author, Ian Probert, actually loves all Americans. He adores them all – he really does. He frequently kisses them and is definitely grateful for chewing gum and their assistance in World Wars I and II. (Although it’s only fair to point out that America made an awful lot of money from selling supplies to the the UK during both wars. Furthermore, it’s unlikely that America would ever have entered World War II but for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. (Which, in itself, is a bit of a joke. I mean have you ever compared the size and population of Japan and the USA? It’s like an ant attacking a rhino.))

Yes, the author loves America. Elvis… Chubby Checker… Cindy Lauper… All of you. So there.

In the morning there was only one more thing to think about. The remaining bits of Rudolph had been stuffed into the fridge and under the sink and in the bath and into various cupboards. The presents that had been pilfered from Santa’s sack were already on eBay. (Although Felicity wasn’t particularly hopeful that they would make that much money from their ill-gotten gains – all of Santa’s presents seem to have come from the Pound Shop.) It was just a question of what to do with Santa Claus.

Santa Claus. All over the world that name had suddenly become hated overnight. This was because, apart from a couple of isolated regions in the south of England, no presents had been delivered anywhere else.

Santa Claus. Millions of parents were left wondering how to stop their children’s desperate tears. “But it’s not our fault,” said mothers and fathers everywhere. “It’s that evil Father Christmas who’s to blame.”

Santa Claus: you could almost swim in the wave of bitter disappointment that washed over the globe.

Santa Claus: What a smelly old rat!, thought everyone. We never really liked him anyway.

On television, newscasters told tales of that hated devil named Santa Claus. Apparently a particularly favourite habit of his was to beat up old grannies. Police and politicians were interviewed, universally condemning this once adored figure. A warrant for Santa’s arrest was issued by Interpol. In many countries the death penalty was reinstated in anticipation of Santa’s capture.

On Boxing Day there was knock on the MacKenzies’ front door. “He’s in here,” said Felicity to a man waving an identity card. Earlier that morning, Felicity had called the police and told them that she had apprehended a familiar looking intruder.

“Get him boys,” said the man, and at once a dozen or so police officers bundled into the council flat. “Give him a bit of a hiding!”

“I caught him killing a reindeer,” said Felicity. “So Billy banged him on the head and we tied him up.”

“Thank you madam,” said another man. “You’ve done a great service to the nation.”

Santa Claus was handcuffed and taken into police custody. Three days later he was sentenced to death without trial. The Home Secretary’s triplets had caused such a fuss when they discovered they had no Christmas presents that he had vowed to get an instant revenge.

At the execution a jeering crowd threw rancid Christmas puddings at the cowering figure of Santa Claus. Some hurled chocolate cherry liqueurs and stale Crunchie’s from their selection boxes. As his head was placed into the noose, Santa was asked if he had any last words.

The old man hunched his shoulders and coughed. Then he replied: “Yes I do, actually.”

The crowd grew silent as the man known as Father Christmas or Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas uttered his final words:

“What an ungrateful bunch you are,” he said softly. “For thousands of years I’ve been making and delivering presents for you all and never once have I received a thank-you for my troubles.

“Despite living in a freezing cold draughty house in the North Pole with no-one for company save for a couple of imps and a reindeer with a genetic nose impairment you’re still not satisfied.

“Despite having to sit on rooftops for most of December waiting for your little brats to post their Christmas wish list up the bloody chimney I’ve never got so much as a ‘ta very much, mate’.

“Despite having to listen to endless crappy Christmas records by the likes of Slade and Wizzard and Bing bloody Crosby you still want more.

“Despite depositing millions of gifts into your kids’ stockings for longer than I care to remember, it doesn’t stop you from hinting to them that it was actually really YOU who bought the presents.

“So goodbye and good riddance you ungrateful mob. In future YOU can fish around in red hot coal embers retrieving your semi-literate kids’ note to Santa. YOU can spend literally minutes on Amazon ordering your brats’ myriad requirements, complete with personalised message and reasonably competitively priced gift wrapping paper. YOU can take delivery of the parcels, a couple of days later, signing for them, unpacking them and then hiding them under your bed or in a cupboard somewhere. YOU can wait until your kids are asleep on Christmas Eve and then creep into their bedrooms and carefully place their gifts at the foot of the bed. And YOU can sit and watch while they open those presents believing that are not from you – their bloody parents – but from some mythical, sleigh-driving deity from the North Pole.”

There was a murmur among the crowd as the spectators took in Santa’s words. Finally, a crescendo of voices rose up and almost to a man began chanting the same words:

LET HIM…” they cried, thinking of all the hard work they would have to do if Santa was allowed to go to the gallows.

LET HIM…” they chanted, wondering how their lives might change without this universal figure of kindness and joy.

LET HIM…” they chorused, trying to imagine what life would truly be like without Christmas.

LET HIM… DANGLE!

THE END

6

Johnny Nothing – What happens when we die?

32 God

Blatant advertising, I’m afraid. Here’s an excerpt from my new kids book Johnny Nothing. It’s currently selling like cold cakes. If you could head over to Amazon and buy a copy I’d be so grateful that I’d stand outside your house at two in the morning and sing the middle section of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ by Queen, accompanied by my ukelele.

If you have a British accent you can buy it here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00ITZTOUA?*Version*=1&*entries*=0

If you own an American twang you can buy it here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ITZTOUA

All in all it costs less than a burger and fries. It’s got lots of words, some of them good. Each word costs about 0.0000000023 of a penny. Very cheap indeed. Some of the longer words are tremendous value.

Chapter 22  – Handbags

Ebenezer Dark was having a dream about the instructions that he had given to Johnny Nothing a day or so earlier when the youngster had visited his office. It was both a convenient and an inconvenient dream.

It was convenient because it gives me the ideal opportunity to do a movie-style flashback and let you know exactly what was said to Johnny in his office on the day in question. It was inconvenient because Mr. Dark was currently sitting in the driver’s seat of his car, which, even more inconveniently, was hurtling down the motorway very, very quickly indeed.

To make matters worse, sitting behind the wheel of a small mini and hurtling very, very quickly indeed in the opposite direction was a young lady named Minnie Driver. To make matters worse she was mini driving on the wrong side of the motorway. Silly moo, don’t you agree?

What’s the chances of this but Minnie was also a solicitor and she was also asleep and having a dream about a ten-year-old boy named Ronny who had visited her for advice only the other day? In actual fact, Ronny was the star of another book called ‘Ronny Everything’ and his parents had just stolen HIS cash card in order to stop HIM from spending all the wonga. Funny old world, isn’t it?

It’s an absolutely amazing coincidence – I’m not denying it – and opens up all sorts of exciting possibilities for sequels prequels, cross-pollination of story-lines, Ebenezer and Minnie falling in love and getting married, etc. etc. But…

 

Bang!

 

Actually, that bang is simply not loud enough to describe the truly ear-splitting noise that the two motorcars produced when they crashed into each other head-on. Let’s try all caps and a couple of exclamation marks:

 

BANG!!

 

Still not good enough.

 

How about a nice illustration to demonstrate just how loud that bang was?

 

32a Bang

That’s better. Although if you’re reading the interactive version of this book press the button to the left labelled ‘BANG!!’ and you’ll get an even better idea of the ear-splitting noise that the crash produced. For still more fun, wait until your dad’s having a snooze on the sofa and hold your iPad or Kindle up to his waxy earhole and press the button. Write and tell me what happens.

I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced having a dream in the middle of a car crash and then waking up to find that you were dead. I can’t say it’s happened to me much lately. But if you haven’t I can tell you that it really is confusing. In fact, when Ebenezer and Minnie awoke from their dreams to find themselves dead, their level of confusion was simply off the confusion scale.

The first thing that they noticed was that they were floating a good ten or twelve feet above the wreckage of their smashed up vehicles. This is what happens when you die — ask a teacher. You leave your body and float away into infinity. At least, that’s what I read somewhere I think. Looking down they could see their mashed up bodies sitting motionless in the respective driver’s seats of their mangled cars. It looked like an explosion in a tomato ketchup factory that had been sprayed with zombie gore.

The next thing they noticed was each other. And out of politeness they both gave each other a friendly little wave and a really cute bashful smile. This initial joviality quickly disappeared, however, when the pair of them put two and two together and realised what had happened. It was Ebenezer Dark who spoke first:

‘I do believe that we’re dead,’ he glumly announced in his best solicitor’s voice. ‘And I do believe that you are culpable!’

‘I do believe that you’re correct,’ said Minnie Driver, in her best solicitor’s voice. ‘In that we are both dead. However, I do not agree that it is my fault. After all, you were asleep at the wheel.’

‘Agreed,’ agreed Mr. Dark, ‘In that I was asleep at the wheel. However, not only were you asleep at the wheel but you were also driving down the motorway on the wrong side of the road.’

Minnie Driver pondered this for a moment and watched as an ambulance duly appeared at the blood splattered scene. ‘I cannot fault the validity of your argument,’ she conceded finally. ‘For this reason I reluctantly accept culpability and I am willing to make a frankly insulting offer of damages.’

It was at this moment that another voice entered the fray. It was deep, and booming and masterful. LIKE THIS. Except in a really chunky font with better kerning and thunder and lightning coming from the top of the ‘H’.

‘I am God,’ the voice bellowed in a general tone that was a bit like that angry T. Rex in Jurassic Park when that stupid kid shone his torch in its eyes. ‘I created everything in six days and then took a day off for a break and I happened to be watching this stretch of the motorway when you crashed.’

Ebenezer Dark looked a little concerned. So did Minnie Driver, only more so.

‘This is what happens when you die…’ continued God, who, I should explain, looked quite a lot like an old man with a long white beard. He could easily have earned a little extra money in December by posing as Father Christmas, except that he wasn’t wearing a red costume; in fact, he didn’t seem to be wearing anything at all. (Which sort of begs the question that if you’re God and all powerful and omnipotent and all that, why would you make yourself look like a doddering old geriatric without any clothes on instead of, say, Brad Pitt or David Beckham in a really smart suit?) ‘…You float out of your bodies and I come to collect you so that I can decide whether you go upstairs or downstairs…’

At this point another figure floated into view. He had red skin and horns and hooves like a red skinned hoofed horny goat. He was carrying a large gardening fork. He jovially waved over at the two recently deceased solicitors. He seemed quite friendly actually. He smiled a lot and looked a little like Alan Titchmarsh⁠1 would if he fell into a vat of indelible red paint.

‘If you have lived a worthy and honest life you will go upstairs and spend the rest of eternity having a pretty darned good time,’ said God. If, however, you have lived a worthless and dishonest life you will go downstairs and spend the rest of eternity sitting on a blow torch in the depths of hell or somewhere equally horrid such as Burnley…’

It was at this point that God thought for a moment. ‘Wait a second,’ he announced. ‘Aren’t you both solicitors?’

Ebenezer and Minnie shuffled about uncomfortably and looked downwards at their feet.

Suddenly there was a deafening clap of thunder and God shook his beard angrily, if such a thing is possible – although obviously God can do anything. He didn’t say a word. All he did was point his finger downwards and shake his head reproachfully, if such a thing is possible.

Without warning the scene went all shimmery and out of focus. A harp could be heard playing a weird ethereal tune like this: ‘da… dada… da… da dada’. You had to be there really. Then Ebenezer Dark awoke to find himself lying on a stretcher in an ambulance. ‘Calm down,’ said the voice of a white-suited doctor named Doctor White. ‘You’ve had a very bad accident and you’ve been dreaming.’

‘Thank God for that,’ said Ebenezer.

‘Nothing to do with God,’ said Doctor White. ‘More to do with this country’s woefully unappreciated ambulance service.’

‘Am I… Am I… badly injured?’ groaned Ebenezer.

‘Broken ribs, broken scull, perforated scrotum, pierced lung, pierced ears, ruptured spleen, broken neck, triple heart bypass, very bad cold, carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive strain injury, fractured skull, in-growing toenail… I don’t think you’ve got long, old boy.’

‘How long?’ asked Mr. Dark.

‘Well, put it this way,’ said the doctor, ‘I wouldn’t bother booking a holiday this year…’

‘Oh, dear…’

‘In actual fact, if you’ve got any tickets for the theatre this weekend I’d think about putting them on eBay as quick as you can.’

‘In that case I simply have to tell you what I said to Johnny Nothing when he visited me in my office the other day.’

‘Well I can’t pretend that I’m interested but if it makes you feel any better getting it off your chest then do go ahead,’ said Doctor White.

‘I’ll do it as a series of bullet points if you don’t mind,’ said Ebenezer Dark.

‘Whatever.’

‘I told him to:

 

  • Withdraw some money from the bank account.
  • Get rid off all the boxes that were cluttering the flat. Put them up for online auction or something. Put them on Gumtree because Gumtree doesn’t charge a 10% commission like other online auction sites.
  • Hire some cleaners and decorators and get that dung heap of a flat looking ship shape.
  • Get some office furniture to put papers and calculators on.
  • Hire Bill and Ben the bodyguard men. In fact, don’t bother. I’ll arrange it for you.
  • Lock your parents up in their bedroom to stop them getting up to any more mischief.
  • Telephone me when you’ve done all this so that I could come to see you and discuss how you are going to get all the money back that your thicko mother has squandered.’

 

‘Really… How interesting…’ murmured Doctor White, who was absent-mindedly thumbing through the blood-soaked listings guide of the local newspaper.

Ebenezer Dark closed his eyes for a moment and wondered if he was about to die for real this time. He thought about his life. Had it all been worthwhile? Had he done all the things he’d wanted to do when he was a young ambitious spotty nerd or had he wasted it by becoming a boring old solicitor? You’ll find that you probably do the same when you’re just about to die, particularly if you end up being a boring old solicitor. Either that or you’ll post stink bombs through the letter box of anybody who winds you up. Teachers, headmasters and evil ice-cream men are suitable targets.

It was his father’s fault. The rotten swine. His father had been so mean and pushy when Ebenezer was a young bookworm reading copies of Solicitor’s Weekly. He’d never let him express himself. His father had forced him to become a solicitor. It was the most boring job in the world apart from, perhaps, a checkout girl in a £1 shop that no one ever goes to because it happens to be right next door to a 99p shop. Now that he was on the verge of death, Ebenezer Dark wanted to tell the whole world about the secret ambition that he had harboured deep inside him for all of his life.

With as much energy as a dying man can muster, Mr. Dark opened his mouth and spat out some words with all his might: ‘I want to be a girl!’ he cried, feeling truly liberated for the first time in his life. ‘I want to be a girl! I want to wear dresses and make-up and go to pretty handbag shops!’

Ebenezer Dark was suddenly aware of another voice speaking to him. ‘Mr. Dark,’ it said, ‘Are you OK? Wake up! Wake up!’

Without warning the scene went all shimmery and out of focus for the second time and Mr. Dark opened his eyes to find himself slumped at the desk in Johnny’s little room in the council flat. Johnny was sitting in a chair opposite looking at him strangely. Bill and Ben were standing behind Johnny staring at him with their mouths wide open.

‘Hmmm… Sorry about that,’ said Mr. Dark. ‘I must have drifted off for a moment or two… I was having a dream about having a dream… Happens all the time, y’know.’

‘But Mr. Dark, we’re supposed to be thinking of ways of earning back the money that my mum has spent,’ said Johnny.

‘Hmm… That’s right…’ said Mr. Dark. ‘Now where were we?’

 

anImage_0.tiff

1 Portly red-faced bloke from the telly. Appears on boring gardening programmes and digs things out of the ground quite a lot.

2

The Comeback – Chapter 02

Thanks so much for the very nice and very helpful comments yesterday. It’s really appreciated. Here’s the second chapter. Ian x

 

CHAPTER TWO

The sweet scent of liniment when combined with the ripe odour of stale sweat produces its own unique and distinctive aroma. But most of the people who were going about their business that morning in Dino’s Gym smelled nothing at all. They’d gotten used to that smell a long time ago. To them it was like breathing in fresh air.

Barry Pearce, a young looking forty-five in a tracksuit who helped Dino out, was keen to fill the gaffer in on what he had missed while he had been out on his travels. ‘Vincent Mortego was ’round again last night,’ he panted. 

‘Again? What did the flash fucker want?’ said Dino, not even looking at Barry.

‘He wouldn’t say,’ said Barry, whose working arrangement with the older man could at best be described as informal. He had no regular salary as such, but was reliant on sporadic handouts: twenty here, fifty there, a ton if Dino was feeling particularly flush or particularly guilty. ‘Told me he needed to speak to you personally. He had little Clyde with him.’

‘Don’t the cunt know how to pick up a phone?’

Dino had just come out of the shower. He stood naked and steaming on the wooden floor of the gym. Soapy water dripped off his huge hairy belly and flabby white back. Prince Kilimanjaro followed closely behind, all six-feet-five of him. ‘All right boss,’ he nodded seriously, apparently impervious to the contrast that his magnificently muscular black torso provided in comparison to Dino’s grotesquely overweight figure. 

‘All right Derek,’ said Dino, addressing The Prince by his real name. ‘How’d the sparring go?’

‘OK I suppose.’

‘You turning your fist like I said?’ Some weeks before Dino had highlighted a weakness in the way that the boxer administered his punches. 

‘Yeah boss… Most of the time.’

‘Do what I tell you, son. Turn your fist as you throw it. You’re less likely to break your hand and more likely to cut the other fellow up.’

‘I know Dino,’ said The Prince patiently. Dino had a habit of repeating himself these days but it was a small price to pay for what he still had to offer.

There were perhaps a dozen boxers in the gym that morning. Some were doing rope work, others weights and one or two were undertaking stomach crunches that were painful to watch. Anonymous rap music boomed out of the building’s aged speakers.

Nearly all of the fighters had known Dino since they were juniors. They had seen him naked more times they could remember and scarcely batted a scarred eyelid at the spectacle. In a perverse way Dino was almost proud of what he had allowed his body to become. He took four or five showers a day, determined, it seemed, to place his gut on public display. He would sometimes joke that it had been twenty years since he had last seen his cock but no-one really laughed any more. 

The gym was a theatre of contrasts. Situated in a basement underneath a clothes shop in Carnaby Street the passing tourists and shoppers had no idea it was there. While the street above was bathed in colour and light and texture, the gym was like a dark cave, lit only by neon strip lights that added an orange glow to the obligatory fight posters that adorned the walls. The younger generation represented by photographs of Mike Tyson and Tommy ‘Hit Man’ Hearns; the older by images of Jack Dempsey and ‘Sugar’ Ray Robinson. In pride of place was a picture of Dino’s old man shaking Rocky Marciano’s hand way back in the fifties.

Dino had been renting the property for nigh on fifteen years but the rent had gone up and up. Among his many concerns was the thought that he might soon have to seek other premises unless he got some money in. And for Dino the best way of getting money in rested on turning one of his boxers into a champion.

Despite his size and the perfection of his body, The Prince was never going to be a champion, Dino knew that. He was too musclebound and not a natural fighter. The best he could hope for if he kept his nose clean was a shot at the British title. Dino had never told him that, of course.

Dino sat down on one of the wooden benches that were screwed to the walls of the gym and pulled on his underwear: white old man’s underpants. Standing with his back to Dino was Simon Clarke. Simon was a middleweight and as close to the real deal as Dino had ever had on his books. Before he had turned pro he had won the ABAs, an essential pre-requisite on a champion’s CV, and despite one small glitch on his record (an accidental cut that stopped the fight prematurely) Simon was definitely going places. Dino knew had been very lucky to sign him.

‘Hey Simon,’ Dino called, unable to hide the pride and the love in his voice.

But Simon did not hear him. He was standing in front of a giant mirror that covered one whole side of the gym. He was listening to his Walkman and staring admiringly at himself, striking up poses, throwing the jab, throwing the uppercut, sucking in air, scowling at no-one in particular, trying to imagine what his opponents would see when he stood before them in the ring. 

Dino squeezed himself into his tracksuit top and struggled into his pants. He got to his feet and tapped Simon on his shoulder. Simon ignored him, unwilling to abandon his posturing. Dino moved in front of the young boxer and pulled off Simon’s headphones.

‘All right, son,’ Dino smiled. ‘How’s the weight? Looking good from where I’m standing.’

Simon did not respond immediately. He regarded Dino with unconcealed resentment in his eyes. Dino stared back.

‘The weight’s good,’ said Simon coldly.

‘Something wrong kid?’ said Dino, although he had a pretty good idea what it was. He’d seen it before. It’s what usually happened when people spotted potential; they’d start whispering in its ear. And lately too many of the wrong sorts of people had been whispering in Simon’s ear. Trouble was, the boxer was not mature or streetwise enough to ignore it and send them on their way. He was a good boy from a nice church-going family.

‘Nothing,’ said Simon, snatching his headphones back petulantly.

Like all boxing gyms, Dino’s place was governed by the bell. Every three minutes it would go off and people would stop what they were doing and rest. A minute later the bell would sound again and people would resume their activities. It was all about educating the body. Life here was measured in rounds and the breaks between rounds. 

Fortunately, the bell sounded right at that moment to break the tension. Simon smiled at Dino like he used to when he was a kid and Dino smiled back, even giving a little wink. Dino made a mental note to get Barry to keep a closer eye on his investment. 

In the meantime Dino had work to do. In the centre of the gym stood a full-sized boxing ring. Prowling around the outskirts of the ropes,  charged with electricity was the dreadlocked Oliver Long. He was Dino’s only current champion – although he could hardly be described as a cash cow. He had ended up on Dino’s doorstep because no other manager wanted him. Despite his manifold talents he simply wasn’t worth the bother. 

In three days he was due to defend his European Welterweight title in Italy. Sitting beside the ring and watching intently was Long’s oriental girlfriend, Paula Chan. She was Yoko Ono to Long’s John Lennon. She followed him around like a bad smell. A journalist she called herself, and a right royal pain in the arse.

Dino climbed into the ring and pulled on the pads. They were upholstered soft vinyl, like a small mattress attached to each fist that allowed the boxer to throw his punches freely without hurting himself or the person wielding the pads. The bell sounded almost instantly. Dino’s body clock was very finely attuned to that important interval.

Oliver Long was thirty-seven-years-of-age, a granddaddy of a boxer whose beard was white when he let it grow, but despite years of self-abuse everything still seemed to be working. He had not lost his speed. If you touched his stomach you would think that it was made of baked clay. Under Dino’s tutelage Long was currently enjoying an Indian summer.

Dino took to the centre of the ring and allowed Long to circle him. Long was singing to himself softly like he always did as he threw a lazy jab followed by three straight right hooks that were heavy enough to knock Long backwards a step or two. ‘Saucy bugger,’ Dino smiled, regaining his position at the centre of the ring. Long was looking good: he had just about hit his peak. Even fighting away from home, Dino knew he was more than the Italian Rossi would be able to handle. And Dino obviously knew all about Italians.

More jabs followed and Dino began to issue his instructions. ‘Three-six-two,’ he called. This was his own special code for a patent combination. Long responded by throwing a left jab followed by a right hook and a right uppercut. Long administered the punches with the grace and style of a ballet dancer.

‘Three-six-two, I said, you dozy fuck!’ panted Dino.

‘Sorry boss,’ said Long, his Jamaican twang muffled by his gum-shield.

Long effortlessly continued his dance around Dino. Skipping like a teenager, holding his arms low and letting them swing freely.

‘Arms up, Ollie,’ urged Dino. But experience told him that he was wasting his breath. Everything about Oliver Long was unconventional: the way that he moved, the way that his legs supported his weight, the way that he threw the jab and the uppercut. What Long did could not be found in any text book.

And ironically, Long’s unconventionality was actually his greatest asset. When he went into the ring his opponents suddenly found that they had only three minutes to unlearn everything that they had ever been taught to do in thousands of hours of practise. Only the very best fighters possessed the ability to make such a profound real-time adjustment.

Added to this was the fact that Long was also a southpaw, he was left-handed – a physical difference that was often enough to tip the scales in a battle of equals. This made Long a formidable opponent. Formidable but ultimately flawed.

A small crowd of boxers had stopped what they were doing to watch Long in action. For a boxer to be admired by his peers in this way was a great tribute. But Long was used to it, it had been happening since he turned pro in the mid seventies. 

‘Cover up!’ yelled Dino. Instructing his fighter to adopt a defensive stance against an imaginary onslaught. 

But Long was having none of it. ‘Don’t need to cover up,’ he grunted, his exertions polishing his body with sweat. ‘Nobody touch Ollie Long.’

Dino smiled at Long’s arrogance and suddenly jumped forward, playfully pushing his fighter into the corner of the ring and buffeting him with the pads. Having fun. ‘Oh yeah? That so?’ he said teasingly.

But the smile quickly turned into a frown at the first appearance of red. ‘Oh fuck!’ said Dino, lowering his hands and waving a halt to the proceedings. ‘You’re cut.’

Long froze in his tracks and dabbed at his brow with a glove. He turned pale when he saw that it was covered in blood.

This was another aspect of Long’s unconventionality: unlike every other boxer on planet Earth, Long refused to wear a head guard when sparring. Dino had lost count of the number of times he had told him to do so. And now it had come back to bite him.  

Dino put his head in his hands and audibly groaned. He took a long look at his boxer, somehow hoping that he had imagined the injury. The cut was in the corner of the left eye. It wasn’t a bad one but it probably needed a couple of stitches. It meant that Long’s title fight was off. It meant that the boxer would not get his purse. And it meant that Dino would lose the money he had already spent on plane fares and hotel bookings. Not to mention the weeks he had spent preparing Long for this fight. This could end up costing Dino thousands.

‘You fucking cunt!’ before Dino had time to speak, Long was yelling at him. ‘You fucking cut me you fucking ras-clat!’

It was all a blur. There was no time to talk about justice or injustice. There was no time to mention the fact that Dino had told Long to use the head guard on innumerable occasions. Because now Long was throwing real punches at Dino. 

As well as his unique approach to boxing, Long was also known for his blinding speed. And before Barry Pearce could haul him away Long had already caught Dino twice in that great big fat open target of a belly of his. And another punch had caught him square in the mouth, staggering Dino and making him taste blood.

Long’s girlfriend Paula Chan had also managed to get in on the act. She was quickly into the ring, talons bared, aiming and missing with swipes at Dino’s face. She was screaming something at him in Chinese.

Dino would have loved to have landed one sweet right hand on her jaw. It would have made him feel a whole lot better. But he stopped himself.

12

The Comeback – Chapter 01

Been a little too busy to work on this blog for the past week. In the meantime here’s a question for my numerous followers (well, about 12 followers actually). This is something that I began a year ago and then abandoned. I sent this one to an agent and was asked for the full m/s. However, I didn’t have the energy to continue past three chapters.

I’d appreciate a little feedback. Anyone?

 

The Comeback

Chapter 01

 

‘Come off it Dino, you gotta be serious about this.’

‘I am serious, Jimmy. I mean it.’

‘But you haven’t done anything like this for… Just how long has it been?’

‘Twenty-five years… Twenty six, I suppose, if you’re counting.’

‘So why now – after all this time?’

‘It’s my granddaughter’s wedding… I just want to make it a special day for her.’

In the back room of the Royal Oak in Canning Town Dino Andretti stood before the desk of Jimmy Smith like a naughty schoolboy waiting for the cane. He was sixty-two-years-of-age: balding, fat, nineteen or twenty stone. In contrast, Jimmy couldn’t have been older than thirty-five: slicked back hair, wiry thin, scholarly glasses. From an elegant leather seat he looked Dino up and down through those glasses. It was difficult to know what was going through his mind.

‘Look Dino,’ he said, almost tenderly. ‘Our families go back a long way, there’s no denying that. But if it’s money you’re after we can work something out. You don’t have to do something like this.’

‘I can do it, Jimmy,’ said Dino, a hint of iron in his voice. ‘Don’t you worry about me. I wouldn’t be here if I couldn’t… Some things you never forget.’

Jimmy shook his head slowly. Dino and his father had been at school together. They had been best friends until the day he died. It pained Jimmy to have to say this: ‘I’m sorry Dino, but you have to be realistic. It’s a young man’s game. It always has been. At your age you should be putting your feet up. Doing the garden. Something peaceful.’

Standing beside Jimmy in a smart grey suit was Alan Civil. Alan was a muscular twenty-year-old and this was the first time that he had met Dino. He had none of his boss’s sentiment and simply saw Dino for what he was. ‘No offence, mate,’ he interjected. ‘But you ain’t up to it. Anyone can see that.’

Jimmy shot an angry glare at his boy, who took a step backwards and immediately fell silent. ‘Take no notice of the kid, Dino,’ he said. ‘He means well but he hasn’t learned to control that mouth of his.’

Dino stiffened. The buttons bulged on his too-tight jacket. He loosened his tie to let some air in. ‘He’ll learn,’ he said, slowly turning to look Alan in the eye. ‘If they’ve got a brain they all learn.’

Alan stepped forward, about to say something. But a short, sharp glance from Jimmy once again cut him short. Jimmy slid open a drawer in his desk and pulled out a metal cashbox. He opened it and took out a pristine brick of banknotes. He counted it nonchalantly, accustomed to holding large sums of money, licking the tips of his fingers as he did so. ‘Listen Dino,’ he said at last. ‘Here’s ten. You know I wouldn’t do this for anybody else but it’s yours. Just take it and walk out of the door now. No need to worry about paying me back. You can get me some tickets or something… Get the kids some autographs…’

Dino looked at the money and fell silent for a moment. ‘Thank-you Jimmy,’ he sighed. ‘It’s not that I’m not grateful but it’s… it’s not enough.’

Jimmy Smith looked surprised. ‘Not enough? Come again?’ he said. 

‘He says it’s not enough, Mr. Smith,’ said Alan, anxious to be involved.

‘I need sixty,’ Dino continued.

Jimmy’s eyes widened. ‘Sixty?’ he said. ‘What is this? The fucking royal wedding?’

‘Ha, ha…royal wedding,’ said Alan.

‘I know,’ said Dino, ignoring the boy. ‘These things cost a lot of money these days. There’s the cars, the catering and whatnot. It all adds up. The invites alone are almost a grand. It’s daylight robbery, I’m telling you.’

But Jimmy was already suspicious. ‘You sure you need the money for a wedding?’ he asked. ‘You ain’t in trouble are you? You know you can tell me if you are.’

‘No. Nothing like that,’ replied Dino. ‘I just want to give my little girl a special day.’

Jimmy thought for a moment. ‘Listen, I shouldn’t do this but I can let you have twenty,’ he said reluctantly. ‘But I can’t give it to you for nothing. I’ll need you to buy me a drink some day soon. You know that.’

Dino looked at the younger man awkwardly and dabbed at his forehead with a handkerchief. ‘I don’t want to offend you, Jimmy,’ he said. ‘But I need sixty and I hear tell that the purse for this job is eighty.’

Jimmy Smith found himself laughing at the older man. ‘Fucking purse,’ he said. ‘Never heard it called that before.’

Jimmy stopped for a moment and once again looked the older man up and down. He was known for his cold dead eyes. More than once they had seen him though difficult times. Alan Civil took the silence as an opportunity to fill the room with his voice. ‘Listen old man,’ he said. ‘Mr. Smith’s a busy man. Why don’t you just take the money and fuck off like a good old boy?’

Under normal circumstances a speech such as this would have been acceptable. Alan’s main job description was to intimidate people who were getting on his boss’s tits. Today, however, Alan was lacking a proper sense of history. He simply had no idea who he was talking to.

Dino moved fast. And even though the younger man was a good foot taller than him, he instantly had Alan pinned against the wall by his throat. ‘Watch your fucking mouth, kid,’ he said, hitting Alan hard in the stomach, making him gasp. ‘Learn some fucking respect.’

Dino hit him a second time, this time in the balls. Alan let out a yelp and crumpled to the floor groaning. Less than four seconds had elapsed since Alan’s insult.

‘Leave the little wanker alone, Dino,’ said Jimmy, smiling but somehow looking serious at the same time. ‘He don’t mean no harm. He’s just young.’

‘Sorry Jim,’ said Dino. ‘I know that. Yes, I know that.’ He was aware that he had overreacted. But it was a calculated overreaction. Normally he would have let the boy’s insult go but he was keen to prove a point.

‘Don’t worry about it,’ said Jimmy. ‘All the same, that was pretty to watch, Dino. You don’t waste any time do you? You’re still a sight to behold.’

‘Thanks. You know I appreciate you saying that.’

‘Listen Dino, let me think about it for a day or two. I’m not saying that I’m giving you the work but I’ll give it some consideration. You’re no spring chicken any more, Dino, and this job needs a safe pair of hands.’

‘You won’t find yourself a safer pair of hands.’

‘Well that’s arguable,’ said Jimmy, staring at a pile of papers at his desk like an accountant. ‘There’s three or four boys I know who would have this for their breakfast.’

‘I’m sure that’s true,’ said Dino. ‘But they’re not as hungry as I am right now.’