"Of course there is a certain ambigue in the very histrionic act of mounting a barricade under fire from the agents of repression, to wave the bloody shirt of that first martyr, and ram your message down the gorge of the incensed partisans," Jem paused, took a sip of the Laphraoigh I had just handed to him, and smiled, rather disarmingly, "I do get rather heated," he admitted, a slow blush spreading from his neck, "but I have always been drawn to Causes," and I smiled back encouragingly, "and to those you perceive as having Causes?" he nodded, so I patted the cushion beside me and, hesitating slightly, he stood and took the few steps across my small sitting-room and joined me on the sofa, "we are all going to be ensconced in the Residence in Edinburgh, living at very close quarters," I said, "a veritable Social Bubble of our own, so there is little point in holding back," so he didn't!
As we left the pub, Jamie still matching my every move, one of the girls, Shonagh, or perhaps Sheena, or maybe Sharon, no, actually I believe it was Sharona, drew our attention to a desperate little scene being enacted on the pavement: a beggar sat cross-legged, a McDonald's drink beaker just in front of him, a scrawled request on the slab it stood on, Falklands Veteran—PTSD—Please Spare Some Change, and beside him, an even more pitiful bundle of rags, with a smaller beaker, but no written appeal; as we watched, a passer-by dropped some coins into the Veteran's beaker, and moment's later, from the rags, a hand shot out, took one coin, and dropped it into his own beaker; lounging against the wall, two well-dressed men were holding their glasses of—if my eye for shades of amber is still as true as it once was—Laphraoigh and smoking cheroots, and one of them remarked to his companion, or perhaps to us: "a fallen hero, reduced to a descamisado existence by the ruthlessness of 21st century monopoly capitalism which has no room for reminders of past conflicts, and a hyperparasite living off him," and in the voice of a yawning bromide, his associate drawled: "great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em, little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum," at which Jem remarked: "and the descendants of callous voyeurs who happily watched lions eating Christians or gladiators hacking each other to death in the Colosseum still find pleasure in the misery of others," crossed in front of them, tucked a note—I couldn't make out their colours—into each of the beakers, said: "my dad was with 2 Para at Goose Green," and seemingly oblivious to their mumbled thanks, crossed to the spectators, took their cheroots from unresisting fingers and dropped them into their whisky glasses, saying in a remarkably unthreatening but steely voice: "and they don't need a pair of jibbons like you pontificating on their situation," returned to our group and remarked: "the lads may be rapscallions, but the other two leave a taste like sour scallions in my mouth," and I clapped him on the shoulder—oops! forgetting my SD—as we all walked round the corner in what I believed to be the direction of the nearest Tube Station.
My team turned out to be rather a motley bunch of, at first glance, teenagers, from which it is likely to prove difficult for me to remember who is whom, the four girls—oops! very non-PC—being Shonagh, Sheena, Sharon and Sharona, presumably someone went shopping for BOGOFs and struck lucky, and the boys—ha! that seems to be permissibly ironic these days—are James, Jamie and Jeremy, who's rather a Jem and I know that looks like a miss-spelling of gem, but in the circumstances I claim more intimate knowledge of my subject—rent boys—than either of my readers; anyway, after the Investiture we retired to the beer garden of a nearby pub where I quickly identified the revolutionary sansculotte tendencies of all four girls, the pessimizing depression of James—who would no doubt defend it as realism in the face of Covid-19—Jamie's subconscious emulation of me, of all people, that strange mirroring that only succeeds in making me try self-consciously to avoid any movement whatsoever, until I must take a sip from my glass, when Jamie's synchronisation would make us favourites for one of those curiosity corners of Sporting Championships where two athletes attempt to be perfectly united, and the overweening coxcombery of Jem, whose lashes are lusher and longer than even the stuck-on ones all four girls were fluttering—at me!—such a waste of energy, the same thought I have whenever I see a moth making a bee-line for a candle flame: it will all end in tears!
Well, it was nothing like I had imagined: "briefly, Tim," said Razz McTazz, giving me the sound-bites: "the devolved administrations in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff are so underwhelmed by London's handling of the Pandemic that they are going to try to put even more distance between us and themselves and step 1 is the appointment of three Ambassadors to the Court of St James, effectively neutering the present Secretaries of State and establishing, and I quote, Independence in Principle and Practice, and I admit Tim, I was gobsmacked, not least because they are actually permitted under the terms of their Devolution, to set up effective structures for dialogue with Westminster, and that is exactly what they are doing; step 2 is the appointment by Her Majesty of Ambassadors to Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff - civil service, Tim, quite separate from the three Secretaries of State and effectively euthanising them, and, in short, that's it and HM is quite delighted about the idea, so we have to move very quickly not to seem like kids standing in the mud while the parents talk over our heads, yes?" and I replied, "absolutely, Razz, absolutely, but why did you think of me for Edinburgh?" and he snapped his fingers for the waiter to bring us another round, grinned and leaned slightly forward over the table, making me lean slightly back in my chair, to maintain social distance, and he hissed: "no-brainer, Tim, total no-brainer, your reputation points in one direction and that's Edinburgh, because you have absolutely no political baggage trailing behind you, you have a sound record for Independent Thought and Positive Action, just what we need to get us through this crisis, not like your namesake, that smarty-pants twerp who was MP for Pimlico for a few months and even Old Theresa's Secretary for Exiting the EU for about a day and a half, I wonder what became of him, eh?" but I said nothing as he produced a folder and slid it across the table to me: "this is just the delectus, the full prospectus will be with you this evening, it contains all the documents you have to sign and arrangements for getting you sworn in at Buck House tomorrow, where you'll meet your compadres, Llewellyn ap-Helion who's going to Cardiff, and Count John McCormack, who'll be in Belfast, then we'll introduce you to your hebdomad, your staff at the Embassy, and all eight of you will travel up together on the PM's newly painted plane, oh and as well as the place at the bottom of the Royal Mile, just across from Holyrood Palace, you're getting a weekender in Melrose, Rugby chap are you, Tim?" and I shook my head slightly, which he took as a nod, going on to say, "excellent, you'll fit in well with the boys at The Greenyards, ever been to their Sevens? where the game was invented, of course, splendid, well, I'd better get back to the Counting House and pass word along to the PM that it's a done deal, so pleased, Tim, I know you're going to keep the Old Carriage on the rails, eh, what?" and with that he was gone. . . . .smarty-pants twerp indeed, I have no idea who he thinks I am, this other Timothy Michaelmas-Daisy, but I'm going to take advantage of their own incompetence and do this for Her Majesty and the people of Scotland, then I thought, Melrose, where the fuck's that when it's at home? so took out my phone and Googled it, very nice, a Dacha there will suit me down to the rugby ground!
This was probably the point at which I should have admitted that I didn't have the faintest idea what McTazz was talking about but I always was a bit of a redshirt, late starting Nursery, therefore late starting at Prep School, consequently late going on to Public School, my mother thought—presumably—that being a year older than the rest of the boys would give me an advantage and I'd be top of the class simply by virtue—or vice—of having a head start on them, but the truth of the matter was that the Masters hadn't been in on Mother's way of thinking, and they presumed that I was actually backward, held back to give me a chance to catch up, by repeating a year somewhere along the line, and this communicated itself to the rest of the pupils in that strange legerdemain, or ensorcell, by which School Masters transmit some aspects of their knowledge—affinity, taste, preference, prejudice, bias, bigotry, whichever you prefer—without moving their lips, so without actually failing at any point, despite in some subjects performing better than the others did, I was, nonetheless, regarded by all and sundry as the Class Dunce, so when I went to Cambridge, a year older than most of that year's intake, not very much was expected of me, least of all by myself, so you might say that in the Lifemanship Stakes I was decidedly the outsider, and when McTazz suddenly pointed at me with his finger, and said: "which is why, when your name came up, Tim, I thought to myself, yes, yes I thought, yes, old Tim Michaelmas-Daisy is the very man for this sort of Project, he's got the knack of seeming to agree with everything everyone else is saying, while actually steering things in the right direction and that's just the kind of man we need, what used, in the Good Old Days, to be called A Safe Pair of Hands!" I thought, for fuck sake, he's got me confused with some other Timothy Michaelmas-Daisy, what a lark! do I burst his bubble? tell him he's got the wrong one? or just—and it was probably the knowledge that I was rather overdrawn in every way imaginable which made me think this—go along with it, at least until I'm rumbled?
"Of course," drawled Razz McTazz somewhat theatrically, adopting an appropriate stage-whisper so that he would be heard clearly at the nearby tables, "Llewellyn ap-Helion isn't the only Welshman in town, you do know that when the Tudors came to power they had the opposition deracinated and sent to the Colonies?" and he pulled out a coffee-table book from his attaché case and casually dropped it onto the table, narrowly missed knocking over my drink, threw it open—I thought, at random, but no—pointed to an illustration of a Welsh Prince, Owain Glyndŵr and said: "he was the last of the real-dealers, but vanished in 1413 so once Henry Tudor came on the scene he stole it, played the Long Game and it was your man," and I glanced at him, wondering what he thought he knew about me, "Henry VIII—the less than couth one—who put the last nail in their coffin, pardon the pun, and the crowning of the POW—it's no funny coincidence that the initials are the same—was," he chuckled at what he obviously thought was his own wit, then continued: "was just a simi-dimi, a bit of froth, the Prince was merely a courtesy title, the Principality, just a Regional Name, like Northern Powerhouse, did you know there is a whole section within the Nudge Department who come up with those stupid—but supposedly dynamic—names for places, plans, projects, people, all those so-called Czars, I ask you, what's that all about?"
"Llewellyn ap-Helion may well be considered reasonably couth, as couthness goes, which is a far cry from the Scotch term couthy, with an altogether different meaning, you suppose, and you would be right enough, but he's not at all American, in any way, shape or form, which you can spot readily enough by the cut of his jib, if you follow my drift," as the speaker's eyes drifted towards the bar, where our waiter, who was not exclusively ours, was collecting drinks for another table, but Razz McTazz is not a patient man, so he snapped his fingers and called out, "chop-chop, that man, the one in the yellow pants, don't forget us!" at which the waiter's head turned and his eyes caught mine and he mouthed the words, "as if I could!" before picking up his tray and carrying it over to a table by the window where two blondes sat, comparing their Covid tans, during which journey McTazz's eyes never left the young man's buns and I wondered why he was wasting his time with me when he had other irons he would like to put in the fire.
Now, everyone knows that Zig Motlopi Farrago is a reasonably couth youth, that he is an ambivert, who endeavours not to give anything of himself away in his Art—in other words, apart from his art he is really rather boring, however gifted at manners-painting, depicting the idiosyncracies of the human condition, but no different from so many others—but has now discovered that, in Found Art he has put his finger on a new pulse, in which anything he touches can turn to gold, indeed he has the business card of Josiah D Tinkerman, President of America Inc—whether for real or just a con-man—to prove it and suddenly realised that he had found his voice, and it is a stentorian one, and that the entire sequence had been captured by Kermit Hackensack's photographer, and that afternoon, in Hackensack's Conference Room, Ziggy signed contracts, exchanged pledges, became, in a word, Incarnate! and that evening, on the stage of Cabaret Voltaire, he gave the performance of his life, backed up by Hugo Ball, Tristan Tzara, Dada Wolff, Laszlo Licinic and Jakob Feldman—the Creative Chorus of The Cabaret, indeed it's very nucleus—he declared that Art As We Know It Is Dead and DADA Is Born, an acknowledgement that his friend, whose name is now inextricably linked with The Movement, deserved a warm round of applause and as many steins as he could put away, which is why, after the audience, a-buzzing and a-fizzing, had dispersed into the night, a rather intoxicated Dada proposed to Magda Bloom.
Which was when Farrago was accosted by a florid American with a long patrician nose, smoking a cigar as big as an umbrella and wearing a top hat as tall as the Eiger: "aha!" he cried, grasping Ziggy by the elbow and forcibly shaking his hand as if he was pumping water from a deep well, "no doubt you are Señor Ummkopf, yes, of course you are, I've been following your career avidly, avidly I say, name's Tinkerman, you'll have heard of me, of course you have, Josiah D Tinkerman, President of America Inc, and I want to obtain that particularly famous example of your work, obtain it I say, and obtain it I most definitely will, for it has long been my ambition to site it in the Grand Foyer of Tinkerman Tower at Number One Tinkerman Boulevard, New York, New York, you'll know the address, course you will, and I know how much it's worth and I have in my pocket a cheque drawn on First International Bank of America Inc, for one million dollars cash when you present it to the Bank at Number Two Tinkerman Boulevard, New York, New York, I'll see a tinge of green on the face of Old Curmudgeon when he sees it, the Scotch Skinflint I call him, yes I do, and to his face and he can't deny it, why he only has a dry oatcake for breakfast, he's so mean, won't spend a penny if he can avoid it and all his philanthropic endowments bring huge tax deductions, man's a scoundrel, I say, a scoundrel, and I don't care who hears me say it, there ain't a crooked rort he wouldn't engage in if it saved him a nickle or a dime off his Income Tax, no sir, Señor Ummkopf, here's my business card, I'll have my man put it on the roof of the car and he can crate it when we get back to the hotel, now don't forget to look me up when you get over to New York, New York, that cash money's waiting there for you and if you open an account and deposit it, it'll start earning interest from Day One, yes sirree, Day One, come on now Hermann, put your back into it, that's the way, lash it down with those ropes, don't scratch the car or it'll be five cents off your wages, remember me to to Frau Ummkopf, and bring your friend too, the more the merrier," and with that, together with a great bang and a cloud of exhaust, the car, looking more like a tank, with Downcycling perched on the roof and the three mannequins' scarves flowing behind them, screeched round the corner and disappeared," and Ziggy looked at Dada, who looked back at him, then both began laughing and crossed the road to the Caffe Des Artistes, where Ziggy bought Dada a stein of beer in return for a promise never to mention the name Tinkerman in his presence ever again!
Meanwhile, in Zurich, something unusual was happening outside the Cabaret Voltaire Art Gallery run by Dada Wolff: the experimental artist, Zig Motlopi Farrago had dragged a battered and rusty combination pushbike tandem with sidecar—which had obviously spent a few years in the Lake—and deposited it in front of the building, then he had burned all the rust and paint off with a blow-torch and polished the bare metal till it shone in the afternoon sun, after which he had placed three mannequins—somehow obtained, licitly or, just as likely, not, from a clothing store—on the bike, the two adults seated and with their feet fixed to the pedals and their hands on the handlebars, a child sitting in the sidecar, gazing up what might have been his parents, and alongside the sidecar, a toy dog on wheels, it's lead in the grip of the child; all three mannequins were naked, save that each had a brightly coloured scarf around it's neck, somehow contrived to seem to be streaming behind them, as though blown by the wind if they were bowling down a mountain road; in front of the group, Ziggy had placed a placard on which he had written: Downcycling and signed D Ummkopf and a photographer from Kermit Hackensack's News Agency was pacing around it, taking shots of the tableau from every conceivable angle—and a few rather unexpected; Ziggy stood with folded arms, grinning as Dada joined him: "this is the future, Dada," the Frenchman said, offering his Austrian friend a Gauloise, "found Art," and Dada asked, "what makes it Art, Ziggy?" and Ziggy looked at him, gave a Gallic shrug and puffed air from between his lips, then said: "because it was I who found it, non? comme ci comme ça," and laughed.
And in his dreams that night, Little Levy was a rather louche, swashbuckling buccaneer, hatching a plat with his sidekick, Miney Moe, to waylay King Kong's galleons on the Spanish Main, seize a fortune in Gold Imperials and Doubloons, kidnap the daughter of the Governor of Martinique and carry her off to his own Desert Island—"Jamaica?" asked Moe, "no, it was her own idea," laughed Levy, tossing back his curly black hair, white teeth sparkling in the sun—where Man Friday and Men Saturday and Sunday would have cooked a sumptuous feast for the heroic crew of The Salty Seadog and Hula-Hula girls in grass skirts would bring golden platter of meat and fish and chips and flagons of Irn Bru as the Pirates sang sea-shanties and nursery rhymes to the Mermaids who swam in the calm blue waters of the lagoon and nearby a solar-powered record player would select one of Levy's eight favourite discs, rescued from the Titanic after it struck a Great White Whale and sank, and everyone would fall silent and listen with rapt expressions on their faces as the sound of The Beach Boys' Good Vibrations filled the tropical air and Levy would check the delenda on his fiendishly impenetrable Treasure Map—if you really don't want anyone to find your booty, why make it easy for them—and deleted South at one point and fifty paces at another, "ha ha ha, with any luck they'll fall off the cliff," he thought as his mind slid about with the oscillations of the theremin and his dream became a jumble of nonsense.
Over a coffee and cake, quite late,
Jasmine assessed her friend's fate, to date,
"You have two lovely little boys,"
"But," said Rilla, "they'll make lots of noise!"
"And Rary loves you, I can see that's so,"
"He loves his bike—did you see him go?"
"I have a book by Ann Onymous,"
"No!" said Rilla, "that's surely anomalous,"
But Jasmine dismissed that idea:
"The citerior part makes it clear,
You can tell that she writes from the heart,
Two lovers, one Juliet, the other, Bart,
Are sprunting, she shows with each parse,"
But Rilla just hooted: "my arse!"
It took Jasmine, who had plenty of theory but little practice in mothering, some fifteen minutes to restore order, first to ascertain that there was no serious and life-threatening damage to Little Levy's head, just an egg-like bump on the back where it had hit the—thank goodness—thickly carpeted floor, then to calm the obviously traumatised Miney Moe, witness to the fall and frightened by her big brother's howl of pain, and Jasmine had cherished memories of her grandmother placing a dummy, dipped in a glass of whisky and water, in her mouth at times of anguish—and a large measure of Laphraoigh, sans water, still did the trick for her—and was delighted that it worked as a pacifier with the baby, so that she could then make a more detailed assessment of Levy's mental state, so she told him an address which she would ask him later to repeat back to her, "and what's today's date?" she asked, "28th June, 2020," he replied, "who is the Prime Minister?" got, "the bumptious Old Man who lives in a shoe, and has so many children he doesn't know what to do with them, or even remember all their names and birthdays, and Scotland's First Minister is Ginger Goldfish, and she's better," which made Jasmine grin, although it may not have been a literally correct answer to the precise question, for a onager—a child whose age is reckoned in single digits—it was pretty good, then wondered if he knew of any synonyms for argot, and he said, "slang or cant are my favourites, I'm reading Rilla's copy of Eric Partridge's Smaller Slang Dictionary at the moment and I've asked for his fuller, Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, for my birthday, Abe Books have a first edition, but I wonder if a later one would have more on Polari, I'd really like to learn that, it's so funny," which was when Jasmine asked him if he shared fifteen pennies with two friends, how much would each have, and he looked scornfully at her, "not enough, Auntie Jasmine, what can you get for five pence? maybe when you were my age it would have paid for a night at the pictures - did they have talkies then?" with a fly wink, "then a discotheque, a few drinks at the bar, maybe a bag of fish and chips and the bus home, or even a tramcar, and change left over for a packet of fags and poke of peppermints on the way to school in the morning," and she pulled a look of outrage, "at your age, Levy? I'll have you know I didn't start smoking till I was six!" and then asked him for the ironclad certifier that he was not brain-damaged: "that address please?" and he recited, "17 Drumsheugh Gardens, Auchenshoogle, Clackmannanshire, are you satisfied I'm not suffering from a bleed on the brain or early-onset dementia?" and when Jasmine confirmed that he was fine, he said: "can we no celebrate? ye gied Miney Moe a poteen dummy, we baith got a fricht tae, so hoo's aboot a wee drap o the pure fer us anes tae?" and checking her watch to be sure that it would be about half-an-hour before either Rilla's alarm would wake her or Rary returned, she pulled out her silver hip-flask and gave Levy a single measure, taking a swig from the neck herself.
And it was later that afternoon, so it was, with Rilla and Moe having been discharged from the BGH, while Rilla was having a nap and the children had been left in the care of their Aunt, Jasmine Juniper-Green—their dad, Rary, out for a short ride on his new IroncladTM pushbike—that Little Levy and Miney Moe had their very first conversation, during which Levy's Spirit—df3n3hho—laid out the incontrovertible evidence of Moe's Spirit—QP7blb9X—being guilty of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity in a previous Lifespan, and having stated everything, concisely and with an objective sense of satisdiction, gave the new arrival time to consider a reply; which, surprisingly, wasn't long in coming: "there would be no point in my denying the facts, as you state them, Levy," whispered the baby, "and I offer no mitigation, beyond that my role was set by the Creator and I possessed neither the understanding nor the power to over-ride it, but I would ask you one question, if I may," and when Levy nodded, the baby's immature voice, kept quiet so as not to attract Jasmine's attention, said: "are you the very same person as when you were Pherson Dalwhinnie?" and Levy, who had not—even in his dreams—thought of that lifetime in the past five years, now experienced a massive flashback, compressed into a second of time, but containing the history of perfidious evil committed in that identity, from his first act of murder—of his loving parents—through his years as a henchman of Sir Parlane MacFarlane and the catalogue of crimes, all unpunished, up until the last, his attempted murder of his own twin brother, Tavish, followed by the lightning strike which erased him from the Earth, and was itself succeeded by his re-birth in his present form, he sat down with a bump, his body toppling backwards and his head thudding on the floor, followed by his own howl of pain and Moe's shriek, which brought Jasmine hurrying in to scoop Levy up in her arms and check that he was alright.
Actually, as it happens, Little Levy Balquhidder wasn't exactly over the moon when he met his baby brother, Moe, a little later, and it wasn't anything to do with displacement, sibling rivalry, all that mumbo-jumbo he'd read about during Rilla's pregnancy, so don't get the idea that he is some kind of local yokel, because he lives in the puckerbrush where time passes and people move with the speed of a somnolent indri—the nickname Lemurville has indeed been maliciously applied to Melrose, by Flash Harrys who are denizens of the bustling metropolis of Galashiels, ha ha, and what do you think their home town is called by folk fae Dalkeith, never mind Embra?—no, it was because as soon as he looked into the eyes of Miney Moe—"why, oh why," he asked himself, "did I have to give him that pet-name?"—and saw the Spirit who had been allocated by the Creator, and knew with ironclad certainty that this was one Spirit he would never be able to work with, for this one had caused the shedding of too much blood, the suffering of so many innocents, and had become a byword for inhumanity and evil, second only to Satan!
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