View from the Bridge: 43

by John Morrison


43: Dreams of Avarice

It's reassuring for Wounded Man to read that there might actually be - as he's often imagined - a gene for bad luck. It's intriguing to conjecture that his straitened circumstances might be due to the fickleness of fate rather than his own ineptitude.

Like so many other Milltown folk he's taken the decision to resign from the rat-race and the ceaseless striving for promotions and bonuses. He refuses to be defined merely by the work he does, and by the acquisition of meaningless status symbols. In the process he has rendered himself virtually unemployable, except perhaps in the town's burgeoning corn-dolly making industry.

Now, following the Christmas festivities (which included such expensive treats as a 20lb turkey-shaped nut-roast) he's running a fore-finger down the columns of figures on his bank statement. He may not be very good with numbers, but there's no getting away from the unpalatable truth. Wounded Man is broke.

There was a time when your bank manager was an avuncular man, with a firm handshake and a reassuring manner, who offered advice and comfort from an oak-panelled office. There was a sense - however illusory - that his role in life was to help his customers navigate the choppy seas of their personal finances, by avoiding the rocks and icebergs.

He would be prepared, when necessary, to deliver a measured speech of mild reproach to his more feckless customers, on occasions when their ship seemed rudderless. But he'd leave you with a friendly pat on the shoulder and the certainty that you'd take his words to heart. He was a man you could trust. Along with the vicar and the family doctor the bank manager made up a secular trinity of irreproachable professionals. But those days, alas, are gone.

These 'old school' bank managers have been hastily ushered out of their offices and into early retirement, to spend their declining years trimming the roses and listening to Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. The bank staff of today are a different kettle of fish. Sharks, in a word: cruising dangerous waters in search of the luckless and unwary. The moment they see the fear in your eyes, they attack. There's some thrashing about, some stifled screams, then a chilling silence... and water - now deathly calm - stained red.

It is into this cut-throat world that Wounded Man enters on Monday morning: an innocent abroad. He is ushered into an office the size of a broom cupboard, furnished with a table, two chairs and an Anglepoise lamp. The only decoration is a framed Hogarth print, one of a series extolling 'The Pleasures of Usury'.

Wounded Man's simple request - a small overdraft until his ship comes in - is greeted with hollow laughter from the Lending Officer, a woman who would give Edwina Curry a run for her money in an Edwina Curry look-alike contest. "You don't seem to understand", she says, icily. "The bank's policy is to deny overdraft facilities to those of our customers who can prove beyond reasonable doubt that they actually need one. Once we see that life has become difficult for you, we feel it is our responsibility to ensure that it becomes absolutely impossible".

Wounded Man sits open-mouthed, like a stunned mullet: no match for a basking shark. "So you won't help me..." "I'm afraid not", she replies, snapping her briefcase shut with a finality that seems to preclude further discussion. "On the contrary I will give you till Friday to get your account back in credit. Otherwise I will send two of our most unpleasant bank tellers round to your squalid little house. Then, if you can't pay - in cash, in full - they will be authorised to chop off your bollocks and use them as a table decoration. Good day to you".

He reels out the door in confusion. Since he doesn't drink at the Grievous Bodily Arms, or watch Eastenders, Wounded Man is unaccustomed to this sort of language. How can he possibly find the money so quickly? His usual response to trouble - adopting a foetal position and whimpering - can do nothing to postpone the appalling prospect of being emasculated with a rusty machete.

Drastic problems require drastic solutions, so Wounded Man thinks seriously about selling one of his organs. A brochure from the Burke 'n' Hare Transplant Clinic puts flesh on the bare bones of an unsavoury trade. Their speciality is celebrity organs: from the sublime (Cliff Richard's todger, "as new", apparently) to the ridiculous (Oliver Reed's liver, offered free, without guarantee, to anyone who can offer it a good home). He notes that they buy organs for cash, and offer generous part-exchange deals... just nano-seconds before he wakes up, bathed in sweat, to realise that episode 43 has been a bad dream. Yeah, that's it. Just a bad dream.

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