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By Michael Marr
Legend Times LtdCopyright © 2008 Michael Marr
All rights reserved.
Because the Golden Gate Bridge is over-engineered, it is impossible to perch comfortably astraddle the superstructure's tubes and girders. Instead, we have to take the more precarious option of sitting along them. For comfort and safety, I have found it best to wedge myself into an interstice created by these giant red oxide beasts.
Here we sit, the three of us. We are exhausted by our tugging on the cradle ropes to winch ourselves up; and then from our mad scramble about the ironwork.
We are high above the causeway, higher still above the blue waters of the Golden Gate. Far below, scuttling across the surface, are, according to the courier on our Gray's Tour Bus, probably some of the finest windsurfers in the world. From here they look smaller even than broken sequins. The cars on the roadway are of a more reasonable scale and would have been a boyhood delight for me – I picture my lordly hand stretching down to push them along, as powerful as the hand of God, as real as the blasphemous sub-text of Michelangelo's Adam.
I try to loosen my grip – not on life, not just yet. I hold up my left hand. Did Adam's hand shake so? It is red and swollen from all that tugging. Is it a mirror? I seem to see the puffy florid features of my face reflected there.
The courier didn't just tell us about the We are now viewing those distant waters, according to her, from one of the ten longest single span bridges in the world.
Neither her script nor her telling of it surprised me. We've been in this country for only a short time, but I've heard and seen enough to know that everything in the States has to be the longest, the greatest, the fastest, the fattest.
On the tour bus, our American fellow passengers "and "aahed' at the enormity of it all, of this news about the bridge, of this newsworthy bridge. I didn't care to interrupt them, to boast that lately I'd been across a much longer one, one in the North of England, one called the Humber Bridge. That it is longer than the Golden Gate is a fact I guess very few people in England either know or care about. In England, I believe, our aims are slimmer. In most things, I fancy we are intensely happy if we attain mediocrity. (I'm puzzled by this significant difference in national perspective, given that many of us come from the same basic European stock. Implicit in the American Dream is a lust for domination. The British seem to prefer insinuation.)
Even though it is mid-Summer and a balmy clear afternoon, the wind whistles – up here – among the ironware, the massive cylinders, the tubes, the cables and the wires. Well, it doesn't actually whistle. It keens. It howls. It strikes unsettling chords.
It foretells doom. It is a brutal, deathly noise. Because it is the Pacific wind, it is an incongruous noise – but from up here there's nothing between us and Asia, so the wind blows strongly – buffeting us, tugging at our clothes, biting away at our ear lobes, streaming out our hair, making my nose run ...
... Making me distinctly nervous ...
... Are you jumpy, too, Trevor?CHAPTER 2
Trevor. The red nose you purchased from the corner shop that morning pinched uncomfortably and was pirate stock. It seemed that nothing whatsoever of the five pounds you paid for the pennyworth of round red plastic on that television charity day was bound for its intended good causes. It was a counterfeit nose. It bore no impressed logo. It was bereft of the bona fides of endorsement. It was not a pukka nose.
So claimed the sour-faced girl, the one who used the desk opposite yours on the few days a year she deigned to come into the office, though you should not have been surprised to see her on that particular Friday morning. It was a charity day, after all. The probability of her attendance was improved because there was the prospect of low-key fun to attract her. And so prepared, you might have tried earlier in the morning to remember her name. Rehearsed it.
Celia, it is. Now you remember. She was something her mother mucked out of the stables, you implied, like a nest of feral cats. She was a public humiliation, one that a private education had failed to compensate either Celia or her mother for.
Later, you sat on the pen your mother gave you. It broke in half. You watched the ink soak into the tired fabric of your swivel chair. Mostly. Celia couldn't suppress her laughter. It would have the power, if and when you heard her laugh again, to remind you of the acid metal smell of arse-warmed ink, and the pang of regret at the irreparable damage you inadvertently inflicted on the token of fond memories, on the pen your mother gave you – a long time ago.
Your boss flopped your latest report back on your desk and insisted on a different interpretation. He asked for "A more positive spin". I had to agree with you. There was, on the face of it, little good news to be had from increased incidents of overcrowding, more equipment failures and broken rails, worse punctuality, growth in cancellations, more absenteeism, a higher incidence of fare-dodging, easing of recruitment standards, more assaults on staff, lower capital investment, and falling profits.
I told you, "If I were you, I'd focus on the lower capital investment," but I knew nothing about your job. And I guessed you were not really bothered anyway. What the hell.
The fire bell rang. Being a fire officer, you were relieved that eventually the emergency stairs were filled with a downward-spiralling serpent of chattering humanity. In the absence of smoke, you checked your work area for signs of bombs.
You saw none.
At the assembly area (you were disappointed to see that you were the only person wearing a red nose), you heard Celia suggesting to one of her friends that she wouldn't be surprised if the alarm weren't a practical joke aimed at raising more money for that evening's TV charity show.
After the chief fire officer gave the 'All Clear' and you returned to your desk, you found that a person or persons unknown had helped themselves to your wallet. Perhaps Celia had been right. Perhaps more money was being raised for charity. But you couldn't tell her so, because she didn't come back to her desk. When the fire bell had sounded (and while you were joshing people into taking note of it – it was not, so far as you knew, just another fatuous drill), while you hadn't even remembered to pick up your jacket from the back of your ink-stained chair, Celia had had the presence of mind and found the time to take her coat with her, and her handbag, you noticed at the assembly point, and even her lunchtime shopping.
You spent an hour on the telephone telling call centre operators about how your credit card/cash card/debit card/ company sports and social club membership card/credit bookmaker's card/video club card/railway season ticket had been stolen. By the time you finished your calls the office had emptied again. It was half-past-five.
When you returned from the elephant house (your euphemism for the windowless toilets, not mine), you found your wallet on your desk, lighter only in respect of some cash. Ten pounds, perhaps. Perhaps twenty. Your stock of plastic cards had been returned intact.
The call centres you phoned again were sympathetic but unhelpful. These cards of yours had been cancelled and replacements would be issued to you within five/four/seven/an unspecified number of/three/ten working days.
At least your railcard would still work – and take you home from this perdition.
But then, you had to run the last hundred yards or so to the station because the heavens opened and you had no umbrella with you. At the station, the down escalator was out of order and you had to join the chain of tired and disgruntled fellow travellers hobble-bobbling their way down the stairs towards one of the deeper bowels that made up the London Underground.
The platform was swollen with the backwash of another cancellation.
* And after you gave up fighting against the surge and let yourself be carried onto a wrong train
* After you'd made two changes and found yourself a seat on the final leg of your homebound journey, so that you could easily distinguish, as the train pulled away from each station, the strangers because they were jolted, from the regulars who remained unmoved because they were so in tune with, or should that be inured to, the possibilities of the train's every motion
* After the infuriatingly apposite aphorism that called itself a "Poem on the Underground" kept repeating itself unbidden in your mind
* After the empty beer can rolling about on the ledge behind your seat turned out to be not quite empty
* After its contents dampened and stained the sleeve of your coat
* After looking at your watch as the train pulled into your stop to see how much longer than usual your journey had taken you
* After the ticket machine chewed up your already-once-reprieved season ticket
* After you'd queued at the understaffed ticket office for twenty minutes to get a replacement because you wouldn't be able to do so in the morning (there being no one at all on duty in the East Putney ticket office on a Saturday morning), but you had to get into work to finish rejigging that report, the whole of your afternoon having been wasted on those fatuous telephone calls
* After knowing the ticket office was understaffed only because the queueing model you'd been responsible for installing at the London Underground Company determined it that way
* After the begging teenager, the one with her hands always hidden in the too-big sleeves of her too-big coat, the one who pretended to live beside the pile of yesterday's evening papers at the exit to the station, the one who could shape her gap-toothed mouth into smiles or snarls to order, tugged at one of your trousers legs and laughed at your discomfiture
* After negotiating the rain-covered pavements knowing there were paving slabs primed to propel the large muddy puddles they hid into the shoes of unfortunate pedestrians
* After crumpling the pages of one of those yesterday's evening papers into balls and stuffing them into the old leather Oxfords you had been wearing before leaving them under the radiator in your entrance hall
* After remembering you'd forgotten to call a heating engineer to come and fix the cranky boiler
* After throwing your wet socks into the kitchen bin because they both had large holes in
* After the socks nestled among the empty takeaway cartons that evidenced a week's worth of your rich, varied and convenient international diet
* After checking the racing results on teletext and being disappointed to find no mention of the horse the janitor at work had promised you was sure to win the five o'clock race at Cheltenham
* After heating a can of ravioli
* After watching some of the TV charity spectacular, intermittently parading its donation-provoking images of desperation on the TV screen – except it mostly showed well-adjusted communicators, young, black and partially-nourished, speaking in front of a possibly-blue-screened arid landscape
* After another call centre operator phoned, this one working on outbound calls for the agency of a double-glazing company, attempting to interest the householder in some new windows
* After ascertaining that, no, unfortunately they did not supply householders with people who could mend boilers
* After supposing the call would be the most personable approach you'd get that evening
* After watching, just before bedtime, the same charity TV show reprise your wasted afternoon – captured by some hidden camera. First, with red nose still correctly positioned, you telephoned all those call centres (there were lots of cuts and fast forwards, though the editors did show at normal speed an occasion when the little finger of your right hand disappeared under red plastic to access your real nose and reappeared with a bogey for you to examine with the precision of an art critic, before aiming it at your waste bin with a damp flick). Then you came back to your desk to find your wallet, you riffled through it before angrily throwing your red nose at the bin and settling back down again to your second batch of calls
* After hearing one of the charity show presenters thanking Trevor Tumbrell for his ten-pound donation
* After no one called to thank you
* After no one called you to say they'd seen you
* After all that
* And because you recognised that there was a sameness about your days
* And because you decided you had more contact with the faux-homeless teenager in the East Putney tube station entrance than with your own family
* And because you were unable to decide which of them cared for you the least
* And because you recognised that prejudices could rankle Trevor Tumbrell, you decided, there and then, to end it all.
Trevor, yours was a harsh appraisal of self-worth.
You told me you had been thinking about it for days, in between reciting Poems from the Underground to yourself, and considered yourself not to be one of the world's net assets:
* Sometimes a taker, seldom a giver
* A consumer first, a provider second
* An obstructor rather than a facilitator
* Asaver of other people's money, a builder of other people's wealth
* Credit-worthy, but neither a borrower nor a lender
* A man who uses up as much energy as he contributes
* A serious contender for the exception that would prove the incredible shrinking man's rule, that nobody is a zero in God's eyes
* Except that you are neither depressive nor optimist, but a realist
* And you insist there is no God
* So, reductio ad absurdum, Trevor Tumbrell can only be the nobody who is nothing in a non-existent eye
And you can't get much more insignificant than that.
Trevor, I agreed. This was not a strong case for prolonging an aimless life.
Trevor, you told me all these things. You also gave me impressions ...
I imagined that there was more than this single historical day of inconvenient incidents behind your decision ...
I imagined there was a whole raft of otherness to explain your sense of disillusion ...
I imagined that, with your self-esteem at an obvious low-point, at the end of the night you advanced upon your bedroom, a picture of Lara Croft and an Andrex tissue box close at hand, for a further contribution to comic relief.
Those were, more or less, the words I wrote about Trevor, shortly after I'd met him for the first time. After I finished them, I would have taken another sip of cold coffee from my Captain Fantastic mug, sat back in my chair and stared at the ceiling.
Trevor Tumbrell had not been what I'd expected.
When I'd placed my entry in Yellow Pages, under "Authors and Scriptwriters', my name added to those of the other sad bastards who were prostituting themselves, I thought I might get a few commissions to write birthday poems and suchlike, offering my services as a sort of everyman's poet laureate ...
I dreamt of corporations with major communications projects they needed help with ...
Or maybe the odd piece of subcontracted homework. An essay for an English assessment, perhaps ...
Something to earn a few quid to keep me going until the next feeble royalty cheque came in, or until my weasely publishers decided I was worth another advance ...
But a funeral oration, an elegy, a valediction? This sort of requirement had not occurred to me.
Me? Bardolph Middle, the obituarist? It would take some getting used to. Mostly, I spent my days, when I was writing, trying to fill blank pages with Gothic Suspense.
* * *
Trevor Tumbrell, your terms were not demanding. I would write you a fitting eulogy, and much against my better judgement, but because it was a part of your terms, I undertook not to try to talk you out of it, so long as you undertook to pay me our agreed fee ...
It occurred to me then that, on the basis dead men don't pay bills, I would be insisting you made some provision for ensuring I was not just a part of a queue of postmortem creditors ...
I didn't want to have to wait to be one of the beneficiaries in your will ... You had written a will, I supposed ...
Excerpted from Three Jumpers by Michael Marr. Copyright © 2008 Michael Marr. Excerpted by permission of Legend Times Ltd.
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