Crossroads

PUSH #14 is out now, as is the anthology of PUSH #1-10 from East London Books. Get them both via PayPal from joe.england64@gmail.com as they contain the best apocalyptic prose in the country right now. I had this piece in PUSH #13 of which I’m reasonably proud….

traf

Tuesday morning. Usual rendezvous in The Trafaglar with Frankie and Aldo for a couple of early liveners. Always a canny day on the peeve is Tuesday. You’ve had a good run at the weekend and are ready to get back to the serious bevvying after spending most of Monday detoxing with a few cheap medicinal ones at the “Start the Week Beer Sale” in The Castle, which the lads on incapacity give a wide berth to, as the bogs are on the first floor since they done it out. The story is the dole have shanghaied the CCTV footage and used it to sanction half the cunts that drink in there. Their line is that if some arsehole with alleged chronic mobility issues can make it up 2 flights of stairs for a slash after skite of pints before the sun’s over the yard arm, then the poor fucker can probably graft for his bit. The big fucking society eh? Cunts.

So, a pair of breath fresheners later, we tell the Over 60s snakebite connoisseurs and the pulmonary embolism gang who are all smoking tabs in the entrance that we’ll see them later and head off down the Job Centre for our weekly Career Crossroads meeting, fighting our way through the front door, past the fleet of bespoke mobility scooters. Some classic designs round here like, based on Lambrettas or Harley Davidsons.  Aldo reckons they could shoot a disabled remake of Quadrophenia in The Traf, with all the Mods having prolapsed discs and the rockers on the sick with emphysema.   Honest man, we’re still bad laughing at the thought when me and Aldo stop off at Lidl for a few of those 660cl big bottles of German Pils with the twist off caps, just in case we get delayed. Same time, Frankie calls into Bargain Booze to get his cider prescription filled. Consequently we arrive to sign on with our customary precision at 11.29 and 45 seconds.

Me and Aldo nearly mess ourselves when the advisor calls Frankie over to desk 3 and he wanders across doing that limping sort of dance we learned from that Blazin’ Squad video years back. It’s the cue for me and Aldo to start singing “meet you at the crossroads, crossroads, crossroads,” sotto voce like, until every other claimant in the queue joins in, doing the hand signals as well, because it’s sort of our anthem. A kind of “We Shall Overcome” for the thirsty, shifty and mad that gets sung same time, same place every fucking fortnight. I’m telling you man, there’s surreptitiously opened Perlenbacher leaking out my sneck and Aldo’s choking like some cunt better give him the Heimlich manoeuvre, while all the dozy fucking dicks who work for the dole seethe in fake Trappist indignation in their padded office chairs behind their computer monitors at their veneered work spaces, because they can’t do fuck all about us cunts. Except maybe sanction Aldo for having a shit singing voice.

Suddenly, just when you expect the community a Capella  to get really fucking loud, the singing stops as Frankie takes an unrehearsed, slow motion stumble forward, then plummets towards the broad slice of horizontal wood that separates the haves and have nots. It’s all going fast again as he smashes his forehead on the bevelled corner and lands in a messy heap on the lakeland blue carpet. Nice floor covering that one. You wouldn’t know it was scotchguarded until you see Frankie’s blood running over the lip of the desk and settling in a pool. None of it’s soaking in at all.

Soon as he processes what’s going on, Aldo’s up out the chair and in control of the situation, in loco parentis. Starts demanding the security guard gets on the blower to 999, wanting paramedics here immediately to take a look at her dearest and oldest friend “ASA fucking P.” I’m trying to make light of it though, not wanting Frankie to go in to shock , saying we’d best get the priest down from St Joseph’s as we need to make sure he’s got the right support network in place if things go rapidly downhill.  Goes down like a lead balloon that one. Half of them look quizzically at me and the rest ignore what I said, so I nip over and try to look after Frankie to stop feeling like a spare prick.

He’s fucked like. Awful. Almost as bad as if some fucker had offered him a job, you know. There’s a grey tinge to his complexion that’s normally a nasty combination of red and yellow like a Partick Thistle home shirt. Or a Barcelona away one.  He’s struggling to get up, but eventually he manages to flop over on to all fours, before hoying up the breakfast pints (that bigger puddle didn’t soak in the carpet either). Empty, he turns himself round and sits with his back to the desk, blood and sweat sliding down his face. “Somebody give this poor man a tab,” barks Aldo and this skinny wife whose bad with her nerves and always hides beneath a massive fringe, saying nowt to anyone, sends over a Richmond Superking Menthol that he sparks up without any fucker daring to complain about it.

Frankie is an ugly cunt at the best of times, but today he’s extra fucking shan. Matinee idol looks for a video nasty.  He’s split his eyebrow open, like the time he’d collided with a lamp post coming out of a late one in The Wheatsheaf, but this time it’s on his left side. Some young kid from the back office, who is obviously the designated first aider round here, presses a cotton wool pad over the seeping wound, getting Frankie to try and hold it steady while he winds this yellowy, piss coloured crepe bandage several times round Frankie’s head, securing it with what appears to be a 70s style nappy pin, giving him the appearance of a homeless participant in a Six Nations scrum, before offering him a glass of water. Fuck that. Frankie, eschewing the restorative qualities of my proffered Rheinheitsgebot influenced carry out, extracts an emergency Strongbow from his inside breast pocket and swallows 4 Codeine one of the back pain squad pass over to him.

Frankie’s just putting the tab end out on his shoe when the chief bod in the dole office joins us. Frankie hands him the filter. “Cheers pal.” The boss is being all pretend sympathetic, but you can tell the cunt wants normality restored, which means getting us out of here double quick. He points out that as First Aid has been administered, there’s no obligation for any member of Job Centre Plus staff to call 999 as, in his opinion, paramedics wouldn’t do anything different.  Aldo’s not having that. Explains forcefully that what we’ve all just witnessed could have had a very negative effect on what is, “let’s face it pal,” a room full of some of the most vulnerable and marginalised members of society. The lost, the lonely and the infirm who in no way can be expected in this instance to go through the fortnightly rigmarole of interrogation and browbeating, before being granted their meagre JSA or other non means tested benefits.

Gesticulating at the assembled flock, Aldo announces with sombre finality “these poor cunts are all in shock.  Look at them. They need a drink, not the third degree about their noble yet fruitless efforts to secure regular paid employment.” Meanwhile, I get properly into investigative journalist mode, down on my haunches, searching for evidence as to the cause of Frankie’s fall, imperceptibly shifting bits of office furniture, in order to infer their incorrect and indeed hazardous placement has resulted in this unfortunate event that we are all now reaping the bitter harvest of, as well as nimbly loosening the carpet tiles.

I yank at the boss cunt’s suit jacket as he looks fearfully down at me, while I solemnly indicate the overlap between a displaced pair of 1 metre Axminister squares, before brandishing the one I have decided to blame for snaring our hero and causing his tumble. “We need to see the fucking accident book, bonny lad,” Aldo tells the supervisor cunt. “No doubt it is chocka with evidence of a vainglorious, cavalier attitude to health and safety that will validate our associate’s civil claim for damages. Isn’t that right comrade?” he inquires of a still visibly shaken Frankie whose need for bevvy now outstrips my requirement for a piss. Either they show me the staff shithouse or I water the assembled collection of tax payers’ yucca plants with a quart of metabolised Stella.

Before I have time to vocalise my requirements, boss twat bows to the inevitable and announces that all appointments were now cancelled and payments would be processed in due course, on account of a medical emergency. When Mr Suit suggests we take Frankie up to the walk-in centre, Aldo snorts with derision, saying Frankie was in no fit state to walk anywhere and consequently extracts a brand new twenty from the supervisor’s wallet to defray our necessary taxi expenses. It’s our cue to go. Like those far off days when the head teacher used to get you in the hall at Juniors and say school was cancelled as the heating was fucked or the caretakers were going on strike, news of our afternoon’s freedom causes a ripple of joy that soon spreads to a tumult of ecstasy as 50 freed long term claimants pour on to the High Street, wondering whether The Metropole, The Half Moon or Curley’s would get their trade. “Good decision my man,” announces Aldo, “but you can expect to be hearing from our solicitors in due course.”

It’s straight back up the hill to The Trafaglar where Dr Aldo diagnoses Frankie as suffering from acute sobriety syndrome and prescribes a large brandy on the house, wangled out of Janice the barmaid by a complex, embellished retelling of the events of the morning, so as to make Frankie’s continued existence the kind of miracle not seen outside the Old Testament.

I’m half wondering whether we should actually take Frankie down the walk-in centre to get his head properly looked at, especially as when he passed out in The Star about six months back, they sent him up the General for some tests. Gave him a brain scan and that. The docs told him he needed to stop drinking immediately until they found out exactly what caused it. He didn’t like. Just never went back for the results. Well, the appointment they gave him was for a Friday afternoon, you know. No news is bad news I suppose. Of course in the end, we don’t go anywhere and it ends up being a normal Tuesday.

Several pints and a series of rapid interchanges between the Racing Channel and Hits TV allows the majority of the gathered clientele to engage in their pecuniary interest in the sport of kings, while our choreographic obsession with Blazin’ Squad is taken to new heights as, after the last race at Haydock Park, the whole fucking room erupts when “Crossroads” comes on at number 13 in 100 Best Boyband Hits. Me, Frankie and Aldo word perfect on it, escorting Janice, out on an empties mission, across the bar in a full-on rendition of the song and the dance. Then we raise a glass to Kenzie, Reeper, Flava and the rest of the daft fuckers, before turning the telly over to Kerrang, which was showing “The Dead Flag Blues” by Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Aldo keeps hold of the remote and jams the volume up full, shouting above the noise that “this is what I fucking call dance music,” which clears the afternoon punters from the bar. It’s like a disabled Brands Hatch, seeing all the mobility scooters jockeying for position at the corner.

Then, it’s just the three of us pondering what exactly GY!BE meant by the line “we’re trapped in the belly of this horrible machine and the machine is bleeding to death” over a last pint, before Aldo calls a taxi as his lass wants him  home for his tea. So we drink up. Canny day out I suppose.

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