Freedom From Money

Entry by: safemouse

7th April 2017
The television that was unfashionably late

My girlfriend Trudy thought it would be tremendously funny if she bought one of those old cathode ray tube televisions off Ebay. The ones that are nearly square. And that was fine, as a stop-gap, but it wasn’t long before we noticed something wrong with it. It was broadcasting things slightly out of sync. This happened back in the tenties, before the last of the analogue TV transmitters was switched off, but we’d get transmissions from years before. We’d turn on the box and a newsreader would say, “Good evening, the headlines at six o’clock. Two homosexuals were spotted in Banbury, Oxfordshire today. Police beat them up and arrested them.” We’d change channel and Jimmy Savile would be assaulting a teenager live on Top of the Pops. We’d kick the TV and sometimes that would work but more often than not, rather than showing us broadcasts from our past or present it would show us our future.
A weather girl would be telling us it was going to be 32 degrees in Scotland in April, but not just that, she was an ample and curvly size 18. Or we’d see a holiday programme with men on the beach wearing ball-kinis, strange swimming trunks with holes in the lower-groin area.
I suppose someone really should have taken it to a repair shop, but money was tight, so we just put up with it. After a while it seemed not to matter that the news was out of date. One terrorist attack or breakdown in peace talks was similar to another, whatever decade it was happening in.
Then one day things really took an unusual turn. Trudy was chewing some gum and making a daisy chain when she looked up at the screen suspiciously.
“That is some haircut.”
“Ah yes,” I said, confidently. “Probably from the 1990s.”
“Late 80s.”
“No, I think you’ll find it’s 1990s.”
“What does it say in the TV guide?”
I was about to answer when I noticed a large comet streak through the sky behind the news reporter. It was hard to say how far away it was, but there was an explosion, a mad panic and within seconds the transmission was lost.
“I think that was mankind getting wiped out, live on television,” I said, offering Trudy some of my cheese and onion. “Thankfully it’s not ‘live’ live.”
“What channel is this?” Trudy asked, pressing the sixth and last button.
“That just takes you back to BBC 1,” I said. But there was only static.
“Shall I whack it?” Trudy asked.
Trudy smacked the television.
Sure enough, it tuned back in, this time to something fairly contemporary, albeit several hours ahead of schedule. We caught the tail end of Match of The Day. Southampton had beaten Manchester United 1-0 and we saw the goal scored by their new signing in extra time.
“Well done Trudy. Looks like it’s on time. Well, near enough.”
We switched off and on again to test it. It was showing a black and white wildlife documentary. Trudy thumped it again and the transmission jumped back to the sports round up.
“Hey, this hasn’t happened yet, has it?” Trudy said. “Supposing we put a bet on Southampton. It should win, right?”
“That would be against my principles. Can you do it?” I replied.
We went to the local betting shop, heaving seven carriers of spare coppers into a room smelling of disappointment and screwed up betting slips. I’m sure the teller would have okayed the transaction, but the manager tapped him on the shoulder.
“Let me have a go, Wayne?” he said, like an older brother showing his sibling how to jump over a puddle on his BMX.
“Hello, I’m Mark.”
“Hello, I’m Trudy and this is trouble.”
Mark raised his eyebrows. “Come to my office for a sec?”
We were shown to an office some might call a broom cupboard.
“I see you want to place a bet.”
“That’s right. Is there a problem?” Trudy said, slightly anxious. Mark smiled, non-committal.
“It’s always amusing seeing punters liven things up a bit by paying for bets in loose change-and in fairness many find themselves reduced to such extremities- but when there’s that much shrapnel it does cramp our style a bit.”
“Sorry, we just thought we’d bet some money we found around the house. Won’t happen again.”
Mark looked at his watch and frowned. “This is more than than my job’s worth...Alright, just this once, okay? By the way. Have you seen our offer in the window? 10-1 on Man City and Liverpool winning by 2 goals.”
“Well, actually we need odds for something specific. Agoala to score with a header in the last minute of extra time, with an assist from James Dribbly, who volleys a corner kick, and Saints to win 1-0.”
Looking askance at us, Mark emptied his drink into a plant pot.
“At Old Trafford?”
I nodded, Mark blew out a stagey breath of I-wouldn’t-chance-it-if-I-were-you.
“I need to ring my boss.” Mark’s colleague walked by, a smirk spreading across his face like a snake chasing a mouse. Mark made the call, put the receiver down, nodded.
“So what’s your favourite style of South American dance?” Trudy asked. There was a copy of The Rough Guide to Latin Dance on Mark’s desk, and a half-eaten digestive.
“That’s like choosing between children.”
Anyway we got our odds, a rather stingy 10,000-1. But in fairness, it took an hour to count the money. We were just in time to place our bet before the match. Someone approached as we were doing the necessaries. A man in shades and suit, carrying a white stick.
“How about hedging your bets? 1000-1 on Agoala scoring, or 1000-1 on your goalkeeper to score at anytime? Score 1-0 to Southampton,” the stranger suggested. Mark kept his poker-faced counsel.
“You just never know,” said the man, tapping his nose. Always best to hedge your bets.”
“Er, yeah. Go on then, who’s counting,” I said, flustered because the match was starting.
“You won’t regret it.”
Trudy elbowed me afterwards. “You’ve just lost us thousands.”
“I’m sorry, I’d no time to think. He just sprung it on me, that man,” I replied.
“Well, at least it looks less suspicious.”
Then we went and killed time in Smiths and the library. In the country’s favourite newsagent all was unique yet normal. A man took a sneaky snap of a picture in Shotgun Magazine with his smartphone. A phone rang on its default ringtone. A pensioner bought a scratchcard and complained that he never won anything anyway. Trudy and I wandered around surmising what we’d do with our winnings.
“What are you spending yours on?”
“I’d like to have a plaster-cast of my vulva made and have it mass-produced as a sex toy.”
“Your Volvo?”
“My vulva. Your ears need cleaning out.”
“Well you do have a Volvo.”
“Well I’d like to open a Jeremy Clarkson museum. This town is crying out for one.”
“Good idea. Which Jeremy? Not the television presenter, I hope.”
Back at the betting shop Mark looked liked he’d seen a ghost.
“So. Did we win?”
“Did you win? Don’t tell me you haven’t been watching.”
“Our television’s playing up and it gets a bit lively in the Fox and Hounds.”
“You won alright. My office?”
We followed him to his closet.
“We can’t give you the money here. Meet us in the car park round the back of Frankie’s Nightclub?”
“Sounds dodgy.”
“It’s fine, trust me.”
So we went to the car park. It was quite stony, with plenty of room. Our cane carrying tipster from earlier was there with Mark. Strangely, he was holding a baby. We walked to the centre of the car park, looking around nervously.
“I’m Terry. Can you wait a minute.”
Terry looked at his watch and was silent so we had a quiet word with Mark.
“You must be pissed with us,” I said.
“No, I’m pleased for you. Not pleased for myself, though. I’ve lost my job. No idea what I’ll do now.”
“Don’t worry, Mark,” Trudy said. “This could be a new beginning. There you were in some dismal town trying to earn enough to pay your ex maintenance cheques when you could have been dancing merengue in some seedy South American bar, running your hands over the ample body of some sexy conchita,” she supposed.
“I know where I’d rather be,” I added, tapping my nose.
The moment a woman pulled up in a hatchback with a skid. She took a briefcase out the back and handed it to Terry, who gave her the baby. Then Terry gave us the briefcase.
“Scram,” he said to us. We cleared off.
“What do you want for dinner?,” I asked, my voice fighting the sound of police sirens.
“Not fussed.”
We stopped off at Burger King and went home and had a TV dinner. Jimmy Savile was on again. The wonderful harmonic shifts of the theme tune giving one the sense that all was right in 1980s Britain.
The television was really playing up now. A late 80s programme about HIV somehow blended with a 1990s show discussing different music formats.
“Heterosexuals listen to compact discs, whereas gay men and lesbians listen to records,” a woman with a large perm and red lipstick advised.
“What about bisexuals?” her male co-presenter asked, in received pronunciation.
“Research shows that bisexuals listen to minidisc,” she replied, with a faint touch of East Midlands.
“And transexuals?”
“Digital compact cassette. But remember,” she said, turning to the camera and assuming a serious countenance. “Whatever format you listen to, AIDS is a danger to us all.”
Then I turned on Points of View. It was a Czech pay-per-view teaser, showing a model doing a softcore striptease. But as the woman slowly divested herself of clothes she read out letters from disgruntled television viewers in a Slovak accent. Some were complaining about the Aids programme. It was on too early. It was inappropriate. It ignored sapiosexuals.
I switched to something political.
“This is a historic day that wouldn’t have happened had we not had cross-party support for at least one MP with Down’s Syndrome. I think we have that support because, let’s face it, they’re nicer than people with only one 21st chromosome. Also, 1 in 600 babies has Down’s Syndrome and there are 600 MPs,” a woman on a sofa said. Then someone rang the doorbell.
It was Terry. “Mind if we have a look round?” he asked.
It’s a surreal fact of life that even when a gun is being pointed at you you notice things like what’s on television. It was one of those budget early 80s adverts in which a 45 year old man in a brown suit stood in front of a car hectoring the viewer.
“Three years anti-corrosion, three years break down recovery and a five speed gearbox. You won’t find a better deal,” he said. Then he opened the boot, which was full of cocaine. “And that’s a promise.”
“The Austen Allegro Party. Talk to your dealer about a test drive,” went the voice-over.
The woman came back downstairs. “Got it. It was under the mattress.”
“And I want the Ipod and the hair curlers.”
“What about the television?”
“Are we free to go?” Trudy asked. The man smiled.
“When someone unties you, yeah. You’re free to go. And free from all this lovely money.”
Our friends disappeared, I changed back to striptease Points of View with my chin.
“I’d like to apologize on behalf of the BBC. Sapiosexuals listen to cassettes,” the dancer said, one breast al fresco. And if anybody’s interested, those bi-curious listen to digital audio tape. And non-binary are rather partial to streaming services. Don’t have nightmares,” she said, and winked. Then a man came on wearing a ball-kini, and showed us his balls. Trudy tutted. “What about asexuals?”
“8-track, I would think.”
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