Dangerous Expensive Principles
To the barflies in the Duke of Clarence I’m known as The Beard. It confuses the gentrifiers who turn up in the Malmsey Lounge searching for an “authentic” East End experience, because I’m clean shaven these days. But not so long ago I had chin topiary so long, thick and bushy that I could have played an Old Testament prophet in a Cecil B. DeMille epic. Anyway, the trouble that ensued after I shaved it off is considered the funniest story heard in the public bar since Light-fingered Lenny came a cropper after he half-inched an unguarded packet of cheese and onion that turned out to belong to Ronnie Cray. My mate Geoff says it served me right, but to me it was a matter of principle. The fact is that I hate being taken for granted.
It started like this: Chantelle - that’s my girlfriend –decided that she wanted to visit her old dear down in Margate on account of she’d taken a funny turn and might drop of her perch at a moment’s notice. Similar situations have been occurring for years and, if you ask me, I think the old bag is yanking Chantelle’s chain, but that’s another story. The point is, Chantelle made it clear that she expected me to be at St. Pancras with the motor to pick her up when she returned on Saturday afternoon. It seems Her Ladyship wanted to ride home in style and not be molested by the perverts that she imagines frequent the District Line. Not only was I being taken for granted, but also Geoff had told me he was onto a dead cert in the 2.30 at Epsom that afternoon. When I let slip that I would be more disposed to taking the bracing Surry air, than chugging exhaust fumes outside a central London terminus, Chantelle was having none of it.
Over a pint or three with Geoff down the Duke, I shared my displeasure at playing Hoke to Chantelle’s Miss Daisy. But I should have known better than to expect sympathy from that quarter. Geoff laughed like a hyena and told anyone who would listen that I was “pussy whupped”, like he’s a Homie straight outta Compton instead of a toe-rag from the Mile End Road. After he settled down he said:
“You can’t blame her for avoiding the Tube after that incident with the weird bloke who had a horse’s head in a bag.”
“It wasn’t a real horse’s head. “ I pointed out. “It belonged to a pantomime horse. He’d just run the London Marathon as the Front End. Anyway, the magistrate accepted that he was suffering from low blood sugar at the time and acquitted him.”
“All the same,” Geoff countered, “I heard Chantelle got the wind up and now she’s taking self-defense lessons down Joe’s gym.”
It was then that I hatched my plan to get one over on both Chantelle and Geoff at the same time.
“Geoff, old son” I said, placing a foaming pint under his weasely nose, “how do you fancy a little wager?”
He squinted suspiciously at me, but I knew that Geoff couldn’t resist a flutter.
“Oh yeah, what’s the play?”
“A ton says that when I go to meet Chantelle on Saturday I will stand at the end of the platform, in full view, and she won’t recognise me.”
“Leave it out,” he scoffed, “you’ll be wearing a disguise or something.”
“Not at all, she will have a full and clear view of my face.” I promised, “You can come along and witness it yourself.”
So we shook on it and agreed to rendezvous at the end of Platform 11 in good time to meet the 15:30 from the coast.
Three days later I was wandering around St. Pancras wondering how they were going to fit some locomotives into a shopping centre. Since my last visit it had been transformed from a grimy terminus for the East Midlands into a retail destination for continental Europe. In these dangerous times, armed police now roamed the concourse and regular announcements asked punters to bring abandoned luggage to the attention of the authorities, as they might be stuffed with explosives. Adding to my sense of unreality was the unfamiliar breeze now wafting around my pale and newly naked chops.
When Geoff showed up, his appearance only added to my sense of dislocation. So that Chantelle would not recognize him while he spied on our platform encounter, he had discarded his usual baseball cap and sportswear in favour of a raincoat and trilby.
“You look like that statue of John Betjeman!” I said, pointing across the concourse.
“Never mind me,” he declared pointing at my naked chin, “You said you wouldn’t wear a disguise.”
“I’m not – if anything I’ve removed a disguise. How can you object to that? Anyway, ” I pointed out dejectedly, “you recognised me soon enough.”
“I’ve known you longer than Chantelle. She’s never seen you wihout the beard. You want to be careful mate, she doesn’t know just how ugly you really are.”
He pointed to a bench at the end of Platform 11.
“I’m going to watch from over there.” and he stalked off to his vantage point, where he periodically peered over a copy of Sporting Life.
As the train came to a halt I positioned myself prominently at the end of the platform. There was no way Chantelle could fail to see me. She soon appeared through the crowd of disembarking passengers, tottering on her high heels and dragging a leopard print suitcase on wheels. I kept a straight face and looked off into the distance. Sure enough, Chantelle didn’t give me a second glance as she walked right past me, almost bumping into me as she negotiated a small child in the crowd. Triumphant, I bounded over to Geoff.
“Pony up, old son. She didn’t give me a butcher’s!”
“Jammy beggar!” said Geoff, throwing down his paper in disgust and handing me a bundle of notes.
My celebrations were cut short by my mobile chirruping in my jacket.
“That’ll be Chantelle – I’d better go and patch things up.” I said, heading in the direction she had taken.
I soon found Chantelle standing a few yards away with her back to me. One high-heel tapping impatiently while she surveyed the concourse. Elated at winning the bet, I was feeling bold. Creeping up behind her, I hugged her from behind and whispered “Hello Darling!” in her shell-like.
My surprise at the blood curdling scream she let out was short-lived. Her right elbow flew backwards, catching me squarely in the solar plexus. Winded, I doubled over, trying to catch my breath. Chantelle, then pivoted on her left leg, like Lampard losing a defender in the six-yard area and sledge-hammered her right knee into my downturned face, breaking my nose. As I lost consciousness, I could hear a hyena laughing hysterically.
Geoff insists that at this point an armed response unit in black balaclavas abseiled from the glass and metal arc of the roof, to restrain Chantelle and save me from further damage. But when I came round I only saw a couple of British Transport plods in high-viz jackets and the paramedics. Even after the misunderstanding had been explained, the Police insisted they had a zero-tolerance policy to violent affray and had to press charges.
I think the Magistrate saw the funny side of things, but he just about managed to keep a straight face. We were bound over to keep the peace and he described the fine of £100 as “only fitting.”
Geoff said he may have lost the bet, but his tip at Epsom came in at 6:1, so he was in profit at the end of the day. What’s more, he has a steady supply of free pints from punters in the Duke wanting to hear the story of the Beard straight from the horse’s mouth.
Chantelle has explained that she didn’t think it was me who had grabbed her, since there was no tell-tale scratch of beard on her neck. But she says she likes me clean-shaven and that there’s something manly about my rearranged conk. She has put her prowess in the martial arts to good use, landing a new job as Ray Winstone’s bodyguard.
As for me? Well, breaking my nose is something I could have done without. But on the other hand, I was starting to get tired of being mistaken for a hipster. What’s more, now that she can handle herself so well, Chantelle hasn’t asked me for a lift again – and you know how I hate being taken for granted.
Julian collected his thoughts. He knew that there was no way through this objection, he just couldn't see what her objection could be. She was waiting for his reply but he had none. In the same way she had demanded an erection on the perfect day in her cycle to get pregnant and he had failed to perform then. And yet in the end he had managed what had been required of him. He clutched at the past. 'You said you fell in love with my wild side. You loved watching me take risks'.
'That's true' she admitted reluctantly.
'I do this every year', he added, feeling a wave of confidence. Perhaps there was a side of her that he had never seen that would give in after that steely expression. She dropped her gaze. The defiant face returned. 'But this year is different. We need you'.
She had never used 'we' in that sense before . Perhaps for the first time Julian acknowledged that he was to become a father. But this, fuelled by adrenalin, was who he was. It defined the deepest sense of his existence. The annual expedition 'with the boys' to Switzerland, the routine of researching new routes, putting on the wing suit. The thrill of the moment when he launched himself into the air with only rock below. It defined Him. She had loved him for this. Did she no longer love him?
'You have to see that your priorities are going to change,' she stated. 'You have to see that being a father will alter you. You can't jump off mountains any more'.
But Julian knew that she had fallen in love with his sense of risk, his love for life, his recklessness. Who would he be if he turned his back on himself?
(n.) an intense and irresistible desire for freedom
She sat upon a hidden rock while the sun rays delicately tip-toed across the tide.
Behind her blurry eyes The beams kaleidoscopic, endlessly weaving and winding Each shape and colour emanating from stones,
threading around bones;
A dream coat if ever there was.
The tongue of the wave whispered to her in its undercurrents The ebb bringing with it the purest truth that lay bare and vulnerable with each flow.
Less becoming, more being Numinous, luminous.
The conductor raised his baton as the symphonic vibrations of awakening began,
Resonating within her the meaning of what it is to be human.