Sunday, 24 July 2011

Gang of Miserable Capybara’s

I know exactly what it is I am going to get because the item in question has already been agreed with Carnaby. So I should not take long and after then, I will venture home to rest and prepare for my evening with Florence. But as I approach the Virgin Megastore my eyes fall upon the wonder of the bookstore opposite and hypnotically it is there that I enter first. I assertively recognise the crucial role in how I must go to work and passively distance myself from every violent image that is still fresh and loitering in my current memory; and how instead I should remember exactly who I ultimately really am, that I am a writer, that I am of peace, that I am at home here. Yes, at home here in this wonderful shop of books. I begin to feel better already. I head over to the left, towards the giant bank of bookshelves that house a fully comprehensive selection of quality modern and classic fiction and immediately set about patrolling the corridor of books, browsing, contemplating, pensive, deeply, browsing over such important pondering as to my next intellectual advance, the future road to my next essential read, the continuation of my in-house schooling. And it was there in that same shallow corridor that I was crudely interrupted as I comfortably flicked through a book of short stories by the famous emotionally tortured European author Franz Kafka. My sound waves and nearby space invaded by an immediately perceived worthless family. Rich, pompous, loud and wholesomely ugly. An unsightly unit if ever I have seen one. A small close knit threesome that shuffled together in their own close proximity, like they are all stuck at the wrists by glue. Ma + Pa + Boy Junior. They were so close by to my sacred space that I just had to inspect in greater detail. I carefully rose my holy gaze from the page, oh my word. Take a look at that my good friends. All of them, the worthless family with their stinking wealth. The worthless family with tiny matching bodies and huge heads. Huge heads with faces that provide them with the disconcerting appearance of a walking upright family of Capybara’s. Tiny bodies with huge heads like a mutant strain of the alien image we have all grown to love so much. But not this. Oh no. No love can be thinly spread to encompass these terrible creatures of the damned.
The Ma, well she moaned. Loudly. She moaned so all in the aisle could hear how the copy of ‘A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man’ by James Joyce that she held aloft was dog-eared. Oh my word. No one leaves the store until the culprit is hung drawn and quartered. This was not good. This was not good for anyone there in the bookstore during this painful punctuation of daily life. No, not good. I looked to see their expressions. I just couldn’t help myself. So I looked to see their expressions and saw the anger, the disbelief, the impatient searching for help. Help that would address this dismay, the dismay of the dog-eared book held aloft in Ma’s hands. So an assistant was called out for once again, this time the volume on the invisible megaphone, the loud hailer from hell, was increased and proved to be a highly effective action. Help advanced from a far corner of shelter. 
The victim, the shop assistant – a neat ageing typical librarian type with short curly grey to brown to grey hair, a white powered face that badly hid the years, gold reamed glasses which housed and protected two wide Owl like eyes forever blinking, a neat red and blue flowery Marks and Spencer type of old lady blouse, a grey skirt that fell bellow the knees, and beneath that, brown sexless stockings. She approaches the scene far too confidently. She was totally unaware that she, the owl, was to be bullied so cruelly by a brutal gang of miserable Capybara’s that just loved their books to be free from dust, fingerprints and abandoned folds. And boy did they cut her down. In public. She was humiliated when they implied that the book was placed on the shelf from the outset in such an impoverished condition and demanded a proper new copy plus compensation for the inconvenience. This mighty book was for her son. He is presently at a nearby sixth form college. We also get to hear on how he was been reading daily for months and it is excitingly perceived to be the right time for him to get ready and all set to approach, to read, seriously read, a certain James Joyce no doubt. They appear to have such well thought out and thoroughly approved plans for their son. Yes indeed. For he apparently has such potential.
While criminally frozen in the bookstore, I am positively sure my bottom jaw is hanging in a partially drunken detached disgrace. For they are now proclaiming like the lunatics that they must surely be, how they are positively certain in a positive healthy way, that this transparent adolescent hideous idiot before us, will certainly more than likely, definitely one day become a great writer of great books. And, oh yes there is an ‘and’ to all this. And, these books, these books written by the baby Capybara, they will be sacred books that no righteous house of books would ever dare display dog-eared.
          Well the owl blinked and flapped and disappeared only to return moments later empty handed, while proclaiming in a returning firm way (a returning firm way that also happened to be the dear close cousin of a grave undertone) that unfortunately that particular book was the only copy currently in stock. Do you dig motherfuckers? Seemingly not. Look, she nursed, there really are no others. But get a load of this. An order could be placed. It may even be here by next weekend. I beg your pardon? Next weekend? No. No. No. Not good enough. The dear boy, he must have and hold and he must read this book NOW. Today, this afternoon, before nightfall. He must learn every damn word and then appropriately translate into French and then from French into Latin and then from Latin into the punishment of German. And all by the coming Tuesday. And you stand there before us, a stupid goggle-eyed fool of an owl blinking and speaking insulting empty words of ‘next weekend?’ How dare you. How dare.
And so, Ma, the actual angry bitter Ma who is the forefront victim of injustice, well she happens to present a case for some form of fantastic discount, and she is told in no uncertain turns that they do not accommodate compensation or discounts for pre-sales – it is just a fact of life. Ever so slightly damaged books do happen to find loving homes (and may I use this opportunity to say what we all want to say from the darkness of our hearts: God bless all you good loving people who purchase ever so slightly damaged goods without complaint, while paying in full the retailers listed price). For the good loving people are the prevailing foundations of our civilisation that most of us contemptibly prevail to stamp and spit all over. But still, in the cut and trust of paper and hardback transportation this is unfortunately the way some books arrive from the warehouse. The process and risk of failure can really be so delicate and thus you can one time in a million get the odd subtle imperfection. It happens. Deal with it. But no. They continue to bemoan such ill fortune met with such shocking customer service.
So the assistant again tried to pacify the situation, but this time Pa moved in, big bold pipe smoking Pa (only he did not smoke a pipe but take it from me he sounded and looked like he probably does), and Pa, yes big bad Pa, he moved in, his cruel, bullying tone nothing short of unrestrained anger and so we wait for the inevitable arriving words of how: “I was in the RAF and I am so going to smack you in the mouth if you don’t get this sorted and while I hate to hit a woman the fact of the issue still prevails: someone needs to wake up to the seriousness of this situation.”
I, Rome Street, presently now also house an unhealthy unrestrained anger that one would not readily expect to see from such a passionately and publicly non-smoker of pipes. My anger is rising because this Pa, he just does not like NO for an answer. No sir. No he does not. No he cannot stomach such unprofessional negativity. Therefore he bluntly rudely abusively continues to demand what he obviously cannot have. A substantial discount on the list price.
What a fool of the damned.
The brave honesty of the gentle book service provider has already been spelt out five times and counting. What incredible new madness of the day therefore prevails. We have shot a million miles a second in hyper space and we are all so far past a controlled belittlement of this dear poor helpful-in- her-helplessness woman, running spinning zooming fast towards a new form of anarchy and the store is as near as it will ever be to witness the raw free terror of fists and clubs and I really do not like what is occurring. No. Not one disgusting crumb of it. Just then my phone rang. It was Caravan Cooper. But the phone must stay in my pocket because I could not let this go.           Immediately, with raised volume, I intrude: “Dog-eared?” I said. Silence from all four prostrate figures. “Dog-eared I said,” I said again. But this time my voice is met with pain, a long pensive silence that mocked me in vain. “Now look here.” I roared at the four. Breathing in, I approached for more. Many now flocked in through the door. I raised my head and powered my chest and proceeded to thump my angry breast. All in the duty of a humble passing guest. I coughed out loud, standing proud.
Silence. More silence. Perfect.
And then I viciously began:

“Even if dog-eared, harpoon speared,
Soaked in beer or by a million tears,
Shredded from fear, perhaps half eaten by a deer?
If the print, the writers words,
His story, his efforts, blessed be the birds,
If all are fit to view in earnest,
In calculating merriment from the fire in the furnace,
In sentences of finished drafts,
In paragraphs of printed dance,
Of day and night and love, perchance?
If all of the aforementioned are duly met,
I’ll buy the damned book, so you will need not fret.”

          Sometime not very much later at all actually, and I am surveying the scene of the necessity of my battle and I am instantly (and obviously) pleased to be on fire with such a passionate display of natural flowing watery brilliance. But pray, something truly worthy must have surely followed your excellent improvisation you ask? Rome, now come on. A quite masterful and splendid deliverance yes, but please, please do not stall us. Please tell. Please tell us what followed? Okay, okay, calm down. I will reveal all: My friends, what followed, what followed was a fountain of endless joy. The house, this marvellous house, this colourful auditorium of life and its spectators of silent participant, all of whom had been cemented, transfixed in wonderment, the anticipation of this now endless fountain of joy. The house, how it roared its muted approval of the mighty Rome Street. Not merely now just a novelist, but also a quite breathtaking poet. A gifted young poet. Whose poetry is of such stunning high quality. Street level poetry emancipated from sentimentality and nonsense by England’s most refreshing new young writer and a man capable of improvising at will, with or without invitation. What a man this Rome Street
is, the Capybara tribe want to announce, congratulate. What a writer of fiction, what a poet. But are they true of this rampant cutting opinion? Why, they must be. For they are none other than the famous Capybara’s, the readers of James Joyce, the writer of dog-eared books, for they are the holy, the thinkers, the crusaders of contemplation. Of course, how can anyone question that they would not know how to identify true talent. They would tell you how true talent will always succeed in time. And I so wanted the moment to last, to crawl along wounded, slowly, therefore allowing me the treasure of golden time to gain so much more recognition, to be honoured and accepted, to be gloried by educated minorities, talked about positively at select diner parties, the man, this Rome Street, the man who is the only S stocked under S worth buying and reading and discussing in book clubs. Oh yes, these are the days. This is what I have been waiting for. But alas my phone, my phone, my present bane, the enemy of the poet of the bookstore, it would not stop its jingle jangle jingle. It would not stop throughout. And thus I was rendered with no other choice but to surrender to its call.
          “Fucking hell, Streety. What the fuck’s going on?”
          No indeed. It would not have ever stopped.
          “Streety. Where the fuck are you?”
          I would never have ever chased away that jingle jangle jingle.
          “Erm, nothing, nowhere. I’m in a shop.”
          “A shop? What fucking shop?”
          “Just…a shop,” I softly concealed as I misplaced the Kafka book on the shelving, avoiding all eyes and all shapes and all noise. Kafka, a good fellow, and right now because of me he was presently suffering under E, forcefully planted in between Ben Elton and another Ben Elton. I would apologise and explain my reckless but necessary albeit damming action to Kafka at a more appropriate, more convenient interval.
          “Well, I’ve moved on and I’m now over in The Card Trick and it’s your fucking round. So get your arse in gear and get over here quick. You’ve been ages. I’m well cunted off with you.”
          I promptly left the shop assistant and the Capybara’s and a tidy upward march soon became a manic collapsing race as I purposely moved out of the store, pausing momentarily to remind myself to get the CD for mum (which I did) before heading east and towards the overhead jet black thunder cloud that appropriately sat mean looking, high and directly above The Card Trick public house. But all was not fully lost and bad. At least I had not wasted £6.99 on a book by James Joyce that I knew I would never get round to reading. A book that was dog-eared too. Shocking stuff. After my returning words with Kafka, my deep apology, I will make note never to shop in there again.

This is an extract from King of the Zulus by Joe England

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