VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE
by John Morrison
75: On the Edge
Even with a poncho, a sunbed tan and a week's growth of stubble, Wounded Man bears scant resemblance to The Man With No Name. He just looks like old man Steptoe in a blanket. But there's no going back, now he's sniffed the cordite in the air. He craves danger, excitement and adventure. He wants to pit himself against incalculable odds - a need unsatisfied by the weekly lottery draw. Even Triple Stamp Week down at the Co-op fails to quicken the pulse like it used to do.
He's made a start, of sorts, in adopting an outlaw lifestyle: there are overdue library books scattered all over his house. Is he going to take them back to the library? Is he buggery... When he gets a stroppy letter from the bank informing him that his account "appears to be overdrawn", Wounded Man doesn't merely resort cringing and begging: his usual response when faced by adversity. Instead he has the presence of mind to compose a playful reply: "Feel free to write me again when you're absolutely sure". He's already walked into his bank manager's office, armed only with a few good intentions and some hastily-conconted - and totally irrelevant - figures jotted down on the back of an envelope. Now that's scary.
When a lady stops him in the street, with a clipboard full of stupid questions, Wounded Man feels a liitle subversive. He tells her a blatant lie - about his age - and she writes the figure down without comment. It's liberating, for a hitherto law-abiding man, to realise not merely that he can lie... but that he can lie brazenly and often, and get away with it.
He tells a few more gratuitous porkies, just for the hell of it. "Height?" 7ft... "Employment?" Rocket scientist... "Favourite food?" Turnip... It's exciting to imagine that some frozen food conglomerate will be encouraged to introduce some appalling new product ('Turnip Surprise: tiny baby turnips marinaded in a spicy sauce, ready to microwave in seconds'), based solely on the barefaced lies that people like Wounded Man have told to middle-aged women with clipboards.
Every Thursday evening a group of unfulfilled men congregates in the upstairs room at the Flag, ostensibly to rediscover their virility. It seems to have shrivelled, alarmingly, like Wounded Man's scrotum after a cold shower. Within the supportive atmosphere of the Milltown Men's Group they try to make sense of their despairing lives, and undo some of the bad habits that have conspired to make men supine and subservient.
There's Domesticity Avoidance. "That's it", says the group leader encouragingly, "you fill up the sink with hot water, put all the pots in... and just leave them there, 'to soak'. For how long? What sort of question is that ?"
"And what's this ?, says the leader, waving an electric iron over his head. He is met with blank, uncomprehending stares from all corners of the room. "Excellent", he beams happily.
Then there's poetry. For real men? Yes, indeed... The leader assures the group that poetry can be accessible. To prove his point he plays a tape of that most comforting of mantras: James Alexander Gordon reading the football results. There's hardly a dry eye in the house when he comes to that most mellifluous and alliterative of Scottish score-lines: "East Fife 4, Forfar 5". It's powerful stuff: a shipping forecast for the landlocked, a weather forecast for the housebound, a Lord's Prayer for the Godless...
One group member raises his hand, shyly. "Ah, you want some advice about women", says the leader, tapping the side of his nose and winking broadly. "Well, that's too big a subject to cover in one evening, so I'll just leave you with a simple chat-up line to experiment with. I find that a combination of honesty, condescension and naked lust can often have the desired effect. Something like this: 'I'm not just interested in your tits, love, I'm interested in all your erogenous zones'..."
That's enough talk; it's time for a hands-on demonstration of male culinary skills. What is it about men and barbecues? Once they've had three sunny days in a row, even men who'd baulk at grilling toast will haul a rusty barbecue out into the front yard, fill it with charcoal, half a can of petrol... and, without a thought for their own safety, casually toss a match in. Then they add some steaks (good idea...) or maybe just a catering pack of budget beef-burgers (not so good...). Perhaps the smell of charred meat is a potent folk-memory from long ago: times when men dressed in fur, communicated in gutteral grunts and treated their women like chattels. That's right, the sixties...
The whole barbecue scene doesn't play so well with women. Do they get extravagant praise for cremating cheap cuts of meat? No, they just get another pile of washing-up, while their partners are doing a drunken lap of honour with a tray of charred sausages.
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