Bernard Manning and Les Dawson should not have been sharing the same car, but they were. They should not have been going up the M1 to the same club, but that was what was happening. Seemingly the same to the untrained observer, the pair could hardly have been more different.
“You remember to pack your dresses?” said Bernard.
“Don’t be bloody pathetic,” said Les.
“Well, you write books. I know what writers are like. Can’t be doing with reading myself, the paper’s fine for me.”
“I know, I’ve seen your act.”
“Bernard is currently seething inside at that remark,” said the radio. “This is Radio 4 on Medium Wave. In half an hour there’ll be the shipping forecast, but first, the racing. Lundy, very large horses, tiny men, lots of pain. German Bight, SAT-1, a load of girls on a boat, 24 hours of rock…”
"We're nearing a branch of Julie's Pantry," said Bernard.
Les scoffed. "You’ve eaten plenty of chicken and chips already, you fat fool."
"Chickens are an optional diet," Bernard said.
Chickens are an optional diet...?, thought Les.
Why the bloody hell did I say that?, thought Bernard. Then he felt a tear of Bisto run down his cheek, which Les mistook at first for Christ's blood, and then Les drifted off into thoughts of Paris in the decades and years before the Age Of Shit Hair...
"They're meat," Les replied. “All just meat.”
And now why did I say that?, thought Les. Maybe it’s because I’m tired. And that bastard’s probably tired too. He’d better not drive this car off the road.
After a long, deep silence, the radio began to play a song. It was “I Play The Spoons”, by Clive Dunn. One of the stars of Dad’s Army, one of Britain’s most beloved sitcoms. They’d both met him a bunch of times, Les had talked to him the most. Clive was a much younger man than the character he played on television, imitating a typical old duffer older than even they were now.
It wasn’t a good song, and it eventually winded down to its tired end. “I play the spoons,” sang Clive in a mournful tone.
Les felt haunted by the ending of that song. “I playyy the spoooons...”. All of a sudden it struck him as haunted – even vaguely malevolent. He imagined Clive expiring as he sang that, in a church hall somewhere; falling over face first in slow motion at the final word, smoke pouring out of his mouth like an escaping soul, his body shrivelling up and browning like a mummified Pepperami...
And when he hit the floor, he didn’t simply hit it, he went straight through the boards with the force of a ten-ton weight. For some reason this was soundtracked in Les’s mind with the sound of people larking about in a swimming pool. Everything was still in slow motion – this ghastly reverie demanded it.
Now there was a “replay” shot from a camera underneath, looking up at a bright gaping hole splintering horribly through blessed darkness, an elongated meat stick dropping through like a turd. Daylight streaming in. A woman’s face. She is screaming the words: “Jung once had visions of God shitting on a cathedral...”
The sound of Bernard making crackling noises snapped Les out of it.
Wait, crackling noises? Bernard’s head was juddering like rubber, his lips parted and speckled with froth, jaw wide open. His eyes were looking ahead at something that was not actually in front of them. His clothes were drenched in sweat as his throat made terrifying sounds like a chicken frying in an entire swimming pool of boiling fat.
The first thought that Les had was that he couldn’t understand how a human being could make that noise. The second thought he had was how could it possibly be that loud? Then his third thought was: We’re driving at full speed along the hard shoulder and we’re getting dangerously close to the crash barrier.
Les grabbed the wheel and shoved them back into the fast lane. Bernard seemed to instantly snap back into normality. He shook his head, sweat flying off him like a wet dog.
“You absolute idiot!” roared Les.
“I was in complete control!” shouted Bernard. “I was, and still am.”
“How the bloody hell did you make those noises? Why were you making those noises?”
Bernard wasn't aware he had been making any noises, but for some reason he couldn't fire back at Les with his usual sub-witticisms. A heavy sensation of worry nestled in his spine.
On they drove, into the night.
To be continued