Stanley Pidd’s parents would never admit that he had disappointed them; but neither would they pretend to be proud of him.
His father was a lawyer, and his mother was a doctor. He had an older brother, who was studying to be a doctor; and a younger sister, who wanted to be a lawyer. When Stanley was about 14 or 15 or 16, his parents asked him if which he wanted to be, a lawyer or a doctor.
“Neither,” said Stanley.
“Or a dentist or an architect?”
“No thanks,” said Stanley.
His parents looked at each other, slightly concerned. “Erm… a teacher?”
“Not really,” said Stanley. “I think I’d like to be a musician.”
“But we sent you to piano lessons,” said Stanley’s father, the lawyer.
“And you gave up after three weeks,” said Stanley’s mother, the doctor.
“I don’t want to be a pianist,” said Stanley. “I want to be a musician. I can play three tunes on my ukulele.”
Stanley’s mother looked in her big books to see if he was suffering from some kind of illness. Stanley’s father looked in his big books to see if he was breaking some kind of law. But they couldn’t find anything.
“Give him a few years,” said Stanley’s father.
“Yes,” said Stanley’s mother, “he might come to his senses.”
But Stanley didn’t come to his senses. After he left school, he got a job in a café, cooking sausages and pouring tea and picking off the dried-on bits from the ketchup dispensers. Then he got a job selling tickets in a cinema, then a job cleaning windows. Then he got a job as a dog walker. He still played his ukulele in the evenings, but he never really called that a job. By now he could play more than three tunes on his ukulele; about eight or nine, in fact. He was in a band with his friends: Wilbur, who played the melodica; Doreen, who played the drums; and friend Cuthbert, who played the tuba. The band was called Cuthbert and the Bottom Feeders. Then Cuthbert left, and Wilbur wanted to call it Wilbur and the Bottom Feeders, but Doreen and Stanley just wanted to call it the Bottom Feeders, and they had a big fight and that was the end of that. If a music journalist had asked, they would have said that the split was down to musical differences. But no music journalist asked. Stanley worked out that in all his time as a Bottom Feeder he had made almost enough money to pay for a new set of strings for his ukulele, if they were on special offer.
Then he lost his job as a dog walker. Times were tight, said his boss, and people were walking their own dogs, or just letting them stay at home watching daytime TV, or maybe getting goldfish instead. Stanley tried to go back to his job as a window cleaner, but now there were no window-cleaning jobs, because times were tight. People were washing their own windows, or letting them get dirty, or just doing without.
So he went to the office where they give you money if you haven’t got a job. The big sign outside read ‘Job Centre’. The sign on the door read ‘Social Security’. He went inside, and saw a sign reading ‘Jobseekers’ Allowance’ and another sign reading ‘Welfare’ and yet another reading ‘Signing On’.
“Where am I?” asked Stanley.
“You’re in the Dole Office,” said a lady with scarlet hair. Her badge said ‘Department of Work and Pensions’.
The lady with scarlet hair asked Stanley if he was working, and he said “No”. She gave him a form that asked him if he was working, and he ticked the box that said ‘No’.
“Does anyone ever tick the box that says ‘Yes’?” he asked. It was a sort of joke, because he knew that if you ticked the box that said ‘Yes’, you wouldn’t get any money. The lady with scarlet hair gave him a strange look. Stanley wondered whether that was the sort of thing you just don’t say, like talking about bombs at airport check-in.
The lady with the scarlet hair pressed a few keys on her computer keyboard. Her nails almost matched her hair, but not quite.
“There’s a vacancy that might suit you,” she said. She wrote something down on a piece of paper. “Call this number. Ask for Mr Bland.”
So he called, and asked for Mr Bland, who told him to come to his office in Soho at seven minutes to ten the following morning.
Stanley was very careful to make a good impression, and arrived at nine minutes to ten. He had polished his shoes and flossed his teeth and ironed his shirt and shaved his face and blown his nose and drunk three cups of rather strong coffee so he wouldn’t fall asleep during the interview.
He gave his name to the receptionist, and sat down on a big leather chair. There were some magazines around: Fruit News; Fruit Monthly; You and Your Fruit; Yo! Frootz, the Magazine for Young Fruiterers. He picked up a copy of You and Your Fruit, and began reading an article about making lychees last longer.
He looked at his watch. It was seven minutes to ten, and there was no sign of Mr Bland. He flipped over a few pages, and began reading an article about persuading people in Gloucestershire to eat more raspberries. The photos of the raspberries were nicer than the photos of the lychees. He made a mental note of that. Maybe that could be the sort of relevant observation that would impress Mr Bland. “Raspberries are more photogenic than lychees.”
He looked at his watch again. It was three minutes to ten. A door opened and a short gentleman came out.
“Stanley Pidd?” he asked. Stanley nodded. “Hello,” he said, “I’m Mr Bland.” Stanley wondered whether Mr Bland had seen him looking at his watch, and whether he’d minded. Would he think him impatient? Or maybe eager, which was better. Nobody had ever described Stanley as eager.
Mr Bland asked Stanley to come into his office. There was a lady sitting behind a desk, and Mr Bland went to sit next to her, and asked Stanley to sit opposite.
Mr Bland and the lady had pieces of paper in front of them. Stanley could see his name at the top of the pieces of paper, although of course it was upside-down. The pieces of paper also had pictures of Stanley attached to them, and they were upside-down as well. Stanley wondered where they’d got the pictures from. He hadn’t given a picture to the lady with the scarlet hair.
“Do you like fruit?” asked Mr Bland.
“Yes,” replied Stanley. He knew that wasn’t enough, and tried to think of something more interesting to say. "Yes, yes I do.” He thought back to the magazine articles. “I find raspberries especially attractive.”
“Raspberries, eh?” said Mr Bland. “Good, good.”
Stanley wasn’t quite sure what it was that Mr Bland thought was good. But at least nothing seemed to be bad. Or if it was bad, Mr Bland wasn’t saying...
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Stanley and the fruit
Something a wee bit different here. I’ve never published any fiction, unless you count the outright lies that make my non-fiction writing more interesting. But, I suspect in common with many writers, I have plenty of half-finished doodles, synopses and opening chapters lounging around on various hard disks. Over the weekend, I was searching for something else, and found the following, and on some devilish whim decided to put it here. Let me know what you think. Would you read on?