View from the Bridge: 35

by John Morrison


35: A Tour of Duty

This is the day that the royal yacht Britannia is being decommissioned. The Queen has gone on board, one last time, to fill her handbag with light-bulbs and check down the back of the sofas in case any long-lost tiaras are still lurking there.

Most people are surprised to learn that Britannia has required a crew of 250 men to keep her running smoothly. It was regular, well-paid work, like being the organist at Liz Taylor's wedding, and almost as labour-intensive as Barbara Cartland's make-up department.

One minute the ship's crew were employed to cater for every whim of our pampered royal parasites. Then, suddenly, they're left high and dry, with nothing more to show for their years of fawning subservience than sea-legs and a P45. So there are a lot of people with specialist qualifications who are unlikely to find other work in their chosen fields. For example, what realistic hope can there be for the Inspector of the Royal Foreskin, as he forlornly circulates his brief CV to a shortlist of minor public schools?

Of course, this is not a question that preoccupies the shoppers of Milltown. With less than two weeks to go before Christmas, they are frantically looking for presents. It's a grim quest: to fill the void where Christmas spirit used to be with as much festive rubbish as their shopping bags can hold... and their credit cards can handle.

Charities, bless them, choose this time of the year to add guilt to the complex range of emotions already doing a frenzied tour of duty in our minds. There's quite an art to avoiding these tin-rattling do-gooders, while not appearing as tight-fisted as you really are. To deflect the guilt you need to adopt a facial expression that suggests: "Right on, comrade. I already give over-generously to a variety of charitable causes (including yours) but have a policy of not giving money on the street. Sorry". It's a complicated expression which needs to be practised regularly if it's not to look, to the recipient, like a bad case of constipation.

The shoppers' desperation to give their credit cards some serious hammer is good news for the retailers of Milltown. At the Twig Shop, for example, prices can be hiked to an unfeasibly festive high simply by going over the stock with an aerosol can of clue and a handful of glitter.

The record shop nearby specialises in music that nobody likes, which saves the constant hassle of ordering new stock. The shop window is full of CD compilations, featuring 'your sixteen soppiest love songs', with titles like Summer of Love, Body and Soul and Heartbeats. Then there's one called All by Myself. Who would have thought there were enough songs about masturbation to fill a whole CD? Town Drunk has bought a copy - for himself, appropriately enough. (Memo to record executives... Once you've raised the marketing stakes by issuing a CD entitled The Best Rock Album in the Universe. Ever. Honest. No, really, how can you possibly bring out Volume Two?)

Further down the street is the Chinese take-away, the Wok of Ages, where hungry diners stand around for hours, drumming their fingers in frustration on the Formica counter. The only thing that keeps people coming back is to see if, just once, someone will order the advertised 'set meal for two'.

The Milltown Building Society next door has voted not to join the Gadarene rush to become a bank. It's somehow typical of Milltown that this august institution should have decided instead to convert into a delicatessen. There'll be no undeserved windfall for regular savers, just a year's supply of taramasalata.

Having nothing better to do, old folk queue stoically at the Post Office. Displaying the patience of grazing ruminants, they gaze myopically at the video screen on which ageing actors extol the benefits of stair-lifts and commode chairs. Best not to be in a hurry, since the man in front of you will want to cash eighty-four postal orders, all for different denominations, before attempting to renew his provisional license to drive a three-wheeled, steam-powered road-roller. It's at moments like this that you wonder: how DO they get second-class post to go slower than first-class?

There's a fleamarket every week in Milltown, where discerning shoppers can haggle over a variety of pre-owned treasures. You see stuff here that you just don't seem to find anywhere else: toasted sandwich makers, Polaroid Swinger cameras they stopped making film for twenty years ago, and LPs from the sixties with a mini-skirted dolly-bird doing the Mashed Potato emblazoned across the cover. And there's always an ancient Hoover with a sign reading 'Genuine Reason For Sale'. Yes, it's a genuine reason alright: it's fucked.

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