The early days of captivity were the hardest. Not for the loneliness. In a way I relished the solitude. Like that time on Desert Island Discs when I chose a twelve-mile exclusion zone (nautical) as my luxury item. But soon my only defence to the crushing boredom was sleep. Real sleep was wonderful, but the hours spent lying awake desperate for a sleep that was miles away were unbearable, and they were of nothing to the waking hours, where sleep has not quite gone but full consciousness not yet resumed. That essence of being human that allows your brain to wake before your body in case there’s a fire or a predator about – it can’t be switched off when there’s nothing doing and so goes looking for trouble. Worse still, I welcomed it in. It’d open up by suggesting something innocuous, ‘Don’t you think it would have been better that you stayed behind for an hour in the library instead of rushing home to watch television?’ Who could deny such logic? It drew you in by establishing common ground. Then once it had you cornered that was it.
Like Einstein’s insane man, I constantly repeat the same experiment, but worse than him, I seem to want the same outcome each time. Why do we do that? The sting of recall to understand an error that you once made? – hoping that by analysing it over and again it will be made right? Or that if we think about it enough, we’ll be able to travel back to it and get to face the situation anew? For there is something about these thoughts that is me, and in those half-awake hours when they start, I somehow want to listen to them again; reluctant to leave until they’ve said their piece. Perhaps successful types just know how to get out of bed at the right time. Perhaps it was that successful types possess confidence in their intellect? They know what they don’t know, as well as what they know; whereas me, everything I ever said was a sort of a guess.
‘Good morning, it’s 5 a.m. and the lines are open. If any of you out there have got any embarrassing anecdotes about our friend Dickie, we’d love to hear them. And when we say embarrassing, only call if they’re the type to make you wince. Come on now listeners, we’re trying to destroy this man, dismantle him from the inside. Don’t let me down, I want to hear those calls. There we go – the switchboard’s going into meltdown this morning. And remember, today’s calls are all about mishandled relationships.’
If only I’d had a flock of sheep to tend to, to get me out of bed.
I came to accept that these episodes were just to be borne and suffered until they’d said their piece. Some days I’d remember a new event – a fresh, shaming moment that would be re-run until it became like the rest – permanently imprinted in my memory, ready to be piped on board as soon as I turned in my sleep. They too closely resembled an old adversary for me to say that they were brought on by captivity, but I guess that they flourished there, like that thing in chemistry when you re-lighted a glowing splint. Within a few weeks I knew for certain that every decision I’d ever made was wrong and I soon came to the point where I could recall the key moments of my life in one short session. It felt like grief. Like I’d let a healthy thing die.
Oh yes, grief: I had missed life and others had lived it. I just didn’t know how to jump into it like they did. That crucial element that allowed you to join in on life’s happy journey. It was lacking in me. Timing really. The trick was that you weren’t supposed to hang around waiting to be invited; you had to time your jump and do it before the invitation came – the moment just before the time was right.
I liked it best when I’d fallen asleep during the day and Sweet and Sour woke me with one of his visits. It broke the spell and allowed me to come alive immediately without enduring the demimonde purgatory. Why did it require a third party to do that? It is an argument for reveille. In fact, it makes a strong case for all institutions managed and operated by educationally subnormal filth. I decided that if I ever got out, I was going to become a fisherman. Why a fisherman? You might ask. I would. I did, in fact. Well, shepherds are too landlocked, plus the Almighty has made it very clear that only yes-men need apply, and I’ve had enough of that already.
Sweet and Sour comes in carefully with a foil tray that looks like a cheap version of a silver catering tray. He’s unsteady with it, and I sense that it has started to bend in the middle and will fold itself in half so I jump up with my arms outstretched to help catch it as it falls – but it doesn’t. Sweet laughs, mistaking my actions for enthusiasm. He’s confident with the tray and its contents, which, as he approaches me, I see contains a large glass of something too. It turns out to be apple juice, which I guess is how he interpreted pomade, or the egg chef did. The tray contains a disgusting mixture of half-eaten items: rice, dates, a sort of curry thing, a small bowl of tagine, other meat, some nuts, torn off fragments of bread. It has been thoroughly picked over and I’ve been given what they didn’t like or couldn’t finish. He thinks he’s giving me a treat.
If you don’t have the good sense to share a Nairn’s Oatcake when you’re presented with one, you don’t deserve a Fondant Fancy when they come around.
I immediately lock on to the halves of boiled eggs and reckon on storing them away to be eaten at the right speed later. His smile is too broad and I wonder for a moment whether there are any nasty surprises waiting for me amongst the salmagundi, like when Alan Turnbull, through his mother, told me that I was allowed to play with his cowboys and indians, and I found a rubber snake in the middle of them. The crazy thing was, I knew it was coming.
He makes a sort of praying, bowing gesture towards me, which I, still stood up, reciprocate to show my gratitude, and I am glad to see that he responds to my good manners and immediately backs out to allow me to enjoy the feast alone. How gracious. I think of his stinking armpits and imagine their toilet habits and wonder how I am going to make the feast disappear by first light tomorrow. I refer you again to the Nairn’s Oatcake. Polk used to reach over and eat the unwanted chicken skin for us before it became an issue. Now I was on my own. I should have asked for sass. At least then I could swig it off to banish the thoughts of the thing I’d just consumed. And Dolly, smiling, filling it right to the top, so that I could do it all over again. You’re sublime, you’re a turkey dinner, you’re the time, of a Derby winner, I’m a toy balloon that’s fated soon to pop, but if Sour I’m the bottom, it implies a very interesting question about where you stand.
That last line needs some hard work on it.