Oddballs and freaks are like bees – you’d only realise how important they are once they were gone. I mean, who’s going to manage launderettes, become assistant groundsmen, present daytime television shows, if those lads ever disappear? The world would be a lot poorer without them I can tell you, not least because some of us would end up having to fill the gaps they left.
There’s an old woman who runs the garage shop where I come from. It’s not part of the garage, yet it falls within its construction, bailiwick, demesne, curtilage, whatever the term is. It’s independent of it, yet not – no one knows who really owns it. It operates like a corner shop, but you can buy motor accessories too. I think that there’s even a means by which you can pay for petrol when she’s the only one at the garage. Though she’s often the only one that isn’t, which is a problem for those of us who use the place as a casual and discrete off-licence. She may own it herself, but judging by her appearance, I think she works there for nothing, for something to do. She may be one of those people like that old boy who ran the car park at a stately home for about twenty years, then buggered off with the entire takings – the home thinking that he worked for the council, and vice versa. They only found out what he’d been doing when he didn’t turn up. By then, of course, he was in the Bahamas lying on a lounger, laughing his head off, sipping a pina colada. I’ve often imagined the same of that woman, even though she’s too old to run off anywhere, and wouldn’t enjoy it when she got to wherever it was – she’d just go looking for another shop to ruin. She’s miserable you see, but in a reassuring way. She asks questions like she’s interested in you, then whatever answer you give her, she screws up her face and says something negative that sounds as if she’s taken offence. “You like Guinness, do you?” was her stock question to me when I called in on the way home from a dog’s walk, and I’d say, “It’s alright,” and sometimes I’d add, “You can still drink it when it’s warm.” Other times I’d change “drink” for “manage”.
“I like a drop,” she’d say then do this sort of nodding thing, bunching up her lips at the same time. But she’d never say it to me, she’d address the comment to some faraway cupboard towards the corner, then she’d add something like, “but I don’t like the blood that comes with it.”
“Anything else, love?” she’d ask, then wander away from behind the counter as if she was going to tidy up something or other whilst it was on her mind.
As she went, she’d mutter something under her breath, which always turned out to be the price of whatever it was I’d bought, and yet it always surprised me when I finally realised that was what she was saying. Then from somewhere over near the cupboard to which she’d addressed her earlier comments, she’d shout, “Just leave it on the top.” Like you’d have exactly £3.76 to leave. I’d always put, say, £4 or £5 on the counter but she never came back to collect it, put it in the till, and give you your change. Sometimes she disappeared entirely. I always assumed that was how she made her wages.
Well, pollinators like her occupy an important position in society. We will never know whether we are their masters, or they ours, but they perform this important function whereby they anonymously touch millions of lives without really engaging with any of them, but by doing so they help to propagate our sense of what is normal. Take her out of the equation and we’d start analysing each other more closely to discover which of us is the odder, and from there, who it fell to to take responsibility for driving the country forward and creating an economy that is resilient, robust and world beating.
That said, while they’re still here, there’s no obligation to feel comfortable in their presence. It is perfectly reasonable to think unkind thoughts about them, and to do what you can to make them leave you alone. Take Keith, over there, for instance. He sits quietly in his corner all day, neither reading nor speaking for hours on end, seeming not to be engaged in his thoughts either. Just empty. Then when you try to take a sneaky look at him, he immediately catches your eye and returns a really sarcastic smile.
I can imagine him living in one of those little between-the-wars semis in an area that was once considered the suburbs, in what is now just a neglected house sat on a dual carriageway on the way out of town, where you’d never meet, let alone speak, to your neighbours. If he ever invited you round to his house, he’d make an effort for a while, then he’d be all like, “would you like to listen to some Sparks” and the next minute you’d be looking at one of your own body parts cooking in his frying pan.
As someone who is deeply flawed, unfulfilled, having got every single important decision in his life wrong, yet who is smarter and better than everyone else he meets [concept delivered by DNA, I do apologise, I am useless to resist], I feel that it is incumbent on me to get the better of Keith. We are both the captives of Sweet and Sour, Marudeva, and whoever it is that they work for besides whatever it was that went before us, but vis-a-vis our daily, hour by hour, situation, he becomes my slave, or I, his.
I’ve had a couple of ideas. I’ll tell you about them next time.
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