Meltdown part 3. The Spectacular Death of a Bearded Socialist.
Part 3. The Spectacular Death of a Bearded Socialist
The money George had left him was beginning to dwindle when the envelope arrived. The power station was on the outskirts of Saltburn-by-the-Sea, a North-Eastern coastal town Thor had never even heard of.
Although he was a recent graduate they were offering him the post of Assistant Chief Nuclear Engineer. It was certainly a step up from handing out shoes in the bowling alley.
For most of the train journey he sat between two square-jawed soldiers in tightly packed uniforms. They ate fish sandwiches, heads and tails sticking out at each end as if the fish still believed they could make a break for it upstream. The soldiers talked of life in a war zone, the fear of being shot at and how sand got between their bum cracks, mostly this latter, pulling their gums back from their gleaming army teeth and wheezing with laughter like old happy smokers.
Thor was sad when they got off because he had fallen a little in love with them, imagining sand in his own bum crack, a gun poised on his shoulder, an enemy target poised between his gun sights, although he doubted when it came down to it he would even be able to feather the trigger. He was against killing folk in general and that was the major problem with war.
After the last general election the Prime Minister’s chief advisor had advocated a ‘shock’ in a secret meeting and then a general had been shot while sitting on the toilet somewhere in the Middle East.
It didn’t take a genius to put 2 & 2 together.
The subsequent war would be the ‘shock’.
The Prime Minister could then get on with Making Great Britain GreatTM. It would be The Battle of WaterlooTM all over again. There was already a board game, EliTitsTM.
Each player took a token representing a company paying less than 0.001 per cent in tax. The winner was the one who acquired the most public services for the lowest price. There were bonus points for disposing of homeless people or setting fire to food banks. The game had 125 plastic interlocking parts. At the end of each round a marble went down a runway, knocked a domino which hit a lever which started a Merry-go-Round which sent another marble rolling which landed on a see-saw which fired a non-elected-governmental-advisor at a target, the hitting of which released a cage which descended and trapped a bearded socialistTM who then spontaneously ignited, burning fiercely until he was nothing more than a pile of ashes.
The game came with six bearded socialistsTM. Replacement packs were available to be bought in Evans Pharmacies and Evans Toys. They were flying off the shelves and the money raised was being used to fund Anti-BumBoy leafleting and posters advising of the dangers of Eastern European women. These women would appear in the posters in traditional dress stealing fruit picking jobs from eager young Brits or queuing up for pickles outside ethnic stores, severe-looking gun belts strapped tightly, and with menace, around their waists.
SUSPICIOUS PICKLE EATING. PHONE OUR HOTLINE. 0800-333-PICKLE.
That was one of one of the reasons Thor was heading North. Years of being screwed by those in The Capital, their industries decimated and doctors forced to take second jobs in health food stores or as scaffolding contractors, he believed he would find people of a similar mindset to himself.
His stop was the last. There was the smell of sea, over-cooked hot dogs, tanning lotion, and the blue rinse of a hair salon in the air.
He was supposed to be being met by Arkwright, the nuclear superintendent. He found the statue of the seal, Fidelity, easily enough. The seal sat staring mournfully in stone out over the chopping waters. This was their pre-arranged meeting point but after an hour waiting Thor gave up and he wandered along the front his suitcase banging against his ankles.
There was a certain quality to the air, lucid, that he had never seen before. And he could taste it.
I’m going to like it here, he thought. Here, he had no past, only a future. And like the air, it would be lucid, steadfast.
No more darkness, dank corners. Misery.
The proprietress of the B&B he choose had the blue hair he believed he had smelt coming from the hair salon. But the hair was tightly wound in pink curlers so from a certain angle she looked like a boiled sweet.
She was a talker.
She said she didn’t usually take in guests at this time of night but since Cyril had died she had a spare room. It was in the attic. The bathroom was on the floor below. He would have to share that with Mr Rogers and Mr Stanley. They were actors and two of her long-timers. They had come to the town fifteen years before for a production of Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party and never left. It was a shame but the old theatre had closed now. For a while it had been turned into a gentleman’s public convenience but apparently there was no money in that. She didn’t stand for funny business, or put on trips, but if he liked she was friendly with one of the local fishermen who would take him out to see the seals. Only he had to be careful they didn’t bite his hand. He could lose one of his beautiful fingers. She had noticed his fingers. She liked a decent finger. And then of course there was The Foetus Museum and The Aquarium, although it didn’t have any actual fish anymore, not with the new laws and the cutbacks. But still, it was worth a visit.
For most of the night he stood in his new suit at the window. There was a bottle of hair tonic on the bedside table and the yellowing pillow had a shiny spot in its centre where a head may have lain. Cyril’s he supposed. And he could imagine him, a small man who walked with a frame and who still had a collection of VHS tapes, Carry On films, Cagney and Lacey, all of Benny Hill’s Christmas Specials, and a Swedish fondue set he had purchased from British Home Stores in 1977.
He thought the sound he could hear, intermittent, cascading, was the sea or the gulls maybe, but then he noticed the glow of the neon lights along the curve of the front, Ginny’s Palace.
A penny arcade.
George had taken him to one once. They had had a top budget of 40p and they had been down to their last 5p, two 2ps and a 1p, when they had hit the jackpot.
With the winnings they had bought a battered sausage and chips which they had eaten in an abandoned bus shelter, the timetables water damaged and yellowing, advertising buses that would never come now.
At three or four in the morning, still awake, he saw that the neon tubes were finally extinguished. Minutes later the door opened and out of it came a women. She had silver hair and a tight dress that gleamed like scales. Thor let out a small gasp and cowered back.
She was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen.
Or this wasn’t entirely true.
He had seen her in his dreams, deep underwater, her long hair rising above her like a halo.
His trial period at the nuclear power facility lasted three months and after this, his continued employment assured, Thor moved from the B&B into his own apartment. He invited the only person he knew, Arkwright, his boss and mentor to a house warming party.
Arkwright was early by more than two hours. Thor was surprised when he opened the door and found him standing there, a jar of pickled eggs under his arm. He asked if everything was ok and Arkwright had said yes, and then no, and then that the eggs were a bribe of sorts and later he had something to show him.
The apartment was a conversion of the old station toilets. There was still a stained urinal down one wall, the flushing of which every five minutes had initially kept Thor awake through the night, and in the opposite wall were eight wooden toilet cubicles. His landlord had told him the graffiti was an original feature.
Thor read slowly, “Isabel sucks cock. Please call,” and then there was a number.
His landlord had shifted nervously from foot to foot.
“Well, I don’t know that the number’s current. It’s not part of the lease agreement.”
One of the conditions of the lease was that during the football season when the town’s team, Saltburn Uninvited (there had been cock up with the shirts and no money to change them), played at home the apartment be opened up for its former use by the supporters.
Thor didn’t mind the queues of raucous pissing men so much. It gave him an excuse. So on these days he would go to Ginny’s Palace and try and engage the young woman he had seen that first night in conversation.
He knew her name now, Mermaid, and that she was attracted to sailors, or tried to be. Several mornings on his way to work he had seen her half submerged on the rocks, singing out to the old fishermen, swishing her hair, attempting to catch their attention.
At the house warming party Arkwright was behaving oddly, seeming to dance on his feet although there was no music playing. He was an odd looking man at the best of times, extremely tall and thin, this tallness and thinness only emphasised by the tight clothing he wore, shirts and trousers that stuck to his body like emulsion paint. I could go to a fancy dress party as a drinking straw, was one of his favourite jokes, saying it while sucking in his cheeks and squeezing his arms tightly against his sides. Another was that he had worked his way up from the bottom of the nuclear industry, starting out as a little tiny atom, and when no one laughed he would say all he was looking for was a reaction.
On his first day at the facility, situated at the extreme end of the mud flats on the Northern edge of the town and accessible only by foot, Thor had been amazed by the simplicity of it all.
Arkwright had guided him through four or five security doors, codes had been entered, cards swiped. At one point Thor had had to strip naked and put on a heavy radiation suit but at the next checkpoint it had been removed again and replaced with a 1930s smoking jacket and a cigarette in a long ivory holder.
We sit and we smoke and we drink Martinis and we watch, said Arkwright.
Running a nuclear facility, it turned out, was rather like being in a Noel Coward song; something that only mad dogs and Englishmen should do.
At midnight, after first checking that there was no one hiding in any of the toilet cubicles, Arkwright said he had to tell Thor something. He pinched his nose at the top like he was about to jump into a swimming pool. Outside the night crawlers went past, a group of men who from the shame of the damage they had done to the planet, had taken to crawling on their hands and knees at night. Thor noted that some of them had also taken to wearing terrycloth nappies and it brought back a sharp memory of his mother. She had told him of men like this, right at the end, when she could only try and sell her wallpaper rolls at night.
I’m not long for this world, said Arkwright. The Big C. In some ways I feel I have only just made my first footprint. But before I go there is something I must show you. Come, come now!
Under the full moon they tramped across the flats to the nuclear plant. Out at sea the seals churned, joyous for the spring tide, tossing their heads both in and out of the waves.
It was beautiful. And sad.
And Thor wondered what madness would happen next. For if life had taught him only one thing it was this.
Expect the unexpected.
And yet still he remained always surprised.
This is what it was to be human.
The Red Flag sung by Billy Bragg - https://youtu.be/zEKYQ4GOqmk