...Days passed and Rob found he was rather enjoying not going to work. Maybe then
this had been the source of all his problems. He was a still young (-ish), perhaps
he'd always been in too much of a hurry to achieve stability and success – whatever
that was. Now he was stuck, like a hamster in a wheel, doomed to travel forever in
the circle of routine his job and society demanded and always going nowhere. He wondered
if he could get off but the trouble was other people kept the wheel turning. The
chances of a graceful disembarkation were slight to say the least. If he stopped,
he had to be ready to fall, knowing that no one was going to catch him. There was
evidence enough of those who had left the wheel; the homeless in every doorway. Rob
would pass them every day, barely giving them a moment's thought or second glance
but today he paid them more heed. Many didn't seem so terribly unhappy; some chatting
in a huddle could even be heard to laugh. Their eyes betrayed no bitterness to society,
no resentment. Not all asked for money. They seemed as oblivious of society as society
was of them.
Rob suddenly became aware of one man looking up at him curiously. Realising he had
been staring, Rob plunged his hand into his jacket pocket and self-consciously pressed
a coin into the man's hand before continuing on his way. Fifty pence is a small price
to pay for piece of mind and Rob walked away just that little bit easier in the belief
that he had helped.
Penny For Your Thoughts?
the tramp's tale
There is a Machiavellian principle which states that in order to appreciate 'good'
one must have first experienced 'bad'. Jed wasn't too sure about this. It seemed
a very long time since he had experienced anything even approaching 'good' – certainly
not in his adult life. He was, nevertheless, fairly certain that his current station
in life was 'bad'.
Time was moving ever onward; the day was waiting to be enjoyed. In a moment Jed would
be off on his daily perambulations and if he happened to stumble across a copy of
The Prince he would lose no time in adding it to his library of newspapers, magazine
publications and well thumbed paperbacks that he liked to call his bed. In a cascade
of cardboard and having, literally, fought his way out of a paper bag, he was off.
Jed's life on the streets was an active one and his day began with Communion. As
a child he had known precious little of religion, his parents just two of an increasing
number in these enlightened times who preferred to prostrate themselves before the
altar of Ye Olde Lyon's Heade, taking the blood of Our Lord Fosters. Consequently
Jed's appreciation of religious symbolism was perhaps not all that it should be.
His appreciation of Communion wine and bread was considerably more developed. After
a bit of serious meditation, not to mention warming-up, his next port of call was
the bins along Erskine Road.
Erskine Road: a happy and rewarding hunting ground. Erskine Road: populated by hard-working
suburbanites – those with the first foot on the road to middle-class oblivion. Erskine
Road: the cars are not new but well cared for. Erskine Road: shops at Marks and Spencer.
Erskine Road: upwardly mobile – sometimes works late (unexpectedly). Erskine Road:
tries hard to make ends meet – unexpectedly works late (sometimes). Erskine Road:
has to pay off that bloody M&S Chargecard – sometimes works unexpectedly late. Erskine
Road: avenue of bountiful bins and rocky marriages.
Later on Jed would have some very important sitting down to do... followed by some
standing up; maybe a little walking and then some more sitting down but first, decision
time: What aspect would he adopt today? The cheerfully optimistic, 'nothing bothers
me' vagrant – always ready with a polite smile and greeting: “lovely day, isn't it?”
The shuffling, quietly spoken old man? - “God bless you guv'nor.” The a-musical busker
– tin whistle, harmonica or voice – requests available. The silently shivering and
forlorn? - hood pulled tight.
The possibilities are many and varied. In the end Jed opts for a challenging role:
“Spare some change for a cup of tea, guv?” Such a role has become ever harder with
which to attain any degree of success such are the suspicions of the 'man on the
street' – that's 'ordinary guy' as opposed to 'homeless,' by the way – for whom such
a role invariably comes across as “Spare some change to feed my drug addiction, guv?”
Jed however, just liked tea. Before long, indeed rather sooner than he had expected,
he met with considerable success when a fifty pence piece was thrust into his grubby
palm. “Jackpot,” thought Jed. “Tea,” thought Jed. Clutching his prize tenderly, he
hurried on his way. Moments later he was perusing the bill of fare at a nearby 'greasy
spoon', scanning down until he found what he was looking for:
Mug of Tea.........................................35p
And then something happened – his eyes, unbidden, had continued reading onto the
Mug of Tea, Toast and Butter.............70p
He stood, hardly knowing what to do. Jed was not by nature a greedy man but suddenly
he was overcome by a terrible desire: He must have toast and butter, nothing else
now would do. He looked from the price list to the coin glinting innocently in his
hand and back to the price list. Filled with disgust he turned to walk from the cafe.
On reaching the door, he paused to glance at the happily blinking, winking fruit
machine; it seemed almost friendly, cajoling. Afterwards he would swear that he had
never wanted to win, never considered his actions. He was angry. All he wanted was
simply to be rid of that silver coin. And rid of it he was to find it magically replaced
by five slightly heavier yellow coins. Jed didn't get to see too many of these very
often but he believed they were in some way connected with the green pieces of paper
he had known as a child. A trifle bewildered, Jed gathered up the fruits of his morning's
work and stepped into the street. He needed a walk; time to consider his new-found
It was amazing but true: Jed was suddenly seeing the world in a whole new light.
He felt he could finally identify with all those people who had previously seemed
so alien; felt that in some small way he thought how they thought; saw the world
through their eyes. Suddenly he knew that he had wronged all those whom he had thought
too selfish to spare some charity, too callous even to look at him. He wanted to
run up to each and every one and apologise. Now at last he understood the truth –
their burden was great indeed. No wonder they passed him, eyes cast forlornly to
the floor or raised imploringly to the sky. Such wealth – such responsibility!
All this philosophical rationalising was making Jed hungry. His wanderings had brought
him to a public house – he did the sensible thing. Ah – the endless culinary delights
that greeted him! Eventually he settled on:
Sausage and Mash, Peas and Gravy.......... £3.75
and to compliment his meal a pint of... ah, problem. Jed was, unsurprisingly, far
from impressed. The horizons of his expectation had broadened considerably since
he'd set out that chilly morning. His appetite for both refreshment and wealth suddenly
knew no limits. He handled this further setback by purchasing a lottery scratch card
having carefully and meticulously reached the decision that “this was his lucky day...”
* * *
Time, as is its wont, passed. Jed's lucky day became a lucky week which in turn became
a lucky fortnight, a lucky month, a lucky year. Jed had got this cracked – real estate;
dodgy business deals; playing the stock market; the futures market. But was he happy
– whadda you think? Oh admittedly it was still tough: all that wealth, that responsibility;
studiously avoiding the gaze of those odious vagrants cluttering the pavements. But
Jed was a good man – he knew they didn't understand. They deserved his pity.
So, how are we to end this cliched tale of rags to riches? Jed's nearing the top
of this particular money tree. Can he live happily ever after or is there evil at
the roots? Hang on a minute lads, I've got a great idea...
The man entered the car showroom.
“Good morning, Sir. May I be of assistance?”
“Yes, I'd like to buy a car.”
The salesman hadn't made it this far in the business without recognising money when
he saw it and turned his obsequious setting to 'full.' “You've come to the right
place, Sir! Anything in particular catch Sir's eye?”
“No, not really. Just so long as it's obscenely expensive.”
“Ah, very good, Sir. I think we have just the thing. This way please. Would Sir care
for a test drive?”
“Sir certainly would.”
“Sir is obviously a man of exquisite taste.”
“Sir is a man of exquisite wealth...”
Sir's test drive took him past scenes of industry and activity of all kinds: From
city suits to building sites and one building site in particular. His heart was light
as he looked out at those toiling away. The generation of money for money's sake.
As he sat there, cosseted by the plush upholstery, the smell of the new leather filling
his nostrils he smiled at them all, wanted to tell them that it was worth all their
effort! Startled from his indulgent reverie, Sir had to swerve suddenly to avoid
Sir's crane as it demolished an old cafe on Sir's newly acquired land. Meanwhile,
Sir's workmen, distracted by the approach of what looked like an obscenely expensive
car, dropped the fruit machine they were wrestling with; it smashed to the pavement,
spilling its treasure far and wide.
Some of this treasure crossed the path of a grizzled old man as he shuffled through
the day. Stepping from the kerb, he retrieved his prize from the gutter – a gleaming
fifty pence piece. Sir, distracted by the noise of a tumbling fruit machine and the
shouts of the workmen, looked back to the road in front of him just in time to avoid
a disgusting tramp who had stumbled into his path, before losing control. Jed's luck
finally ran out. So unfortunately, did the car salesman's; still can't be helped
– probably for the best anyway. The tramp was oblivious to all this. His only thoughts
as the car slewed across the road before finally ploughing into the wall were 'Jackpot'
and 'Tea'. Curiously, so were Jed's.
* * *
He was so confused. Was work really the problem? Perhaps Rob only enjoyed his time
off safe in the knowledge that before long he would return to work. Savouring this
glimpse of another world without fully exposing himself to it; knowing that soon
it would be snatched away from him. Rob gazed skywards as if searching for inspiration
in the clouds and, as unlikely as it seems found his answer, though in a considerably
more substantial manifestation than he had anticipated...
(continued in The Forgotten Rule)