Pete: Sunday 30th May
It took us at least forty-five minutes to stop crying about Rory after 'Cold Blood'. I'm not quite sure how, but we've already been through two full boxes of man-sized tissues this weekend. Jeff had to go to newsagents. He said the fresh air would probably do him good, but when he returned sometime later, he looked more emotional than ever. Apparently, he'd broken down in the shop, inadvertently collided with a shelf and 'accidentally' punched a hole through box of coco-pops. Omar had to take him into the back and make him a cup of milky coffee.
Whilst I had the flat to myself, I tried watching the endings of 'Earthshock', 'Doomsday' and 'The End of Time' in order to accurately update my empathy response chart, but the emotional commitment was just too much. Instead, I flicked through the channels hoping to find something to cheer me up. It'd been a while since I'd stepped out of my sci-fi DVD comfort zone, and I wasn't prepared for the horror of prime-time entertainment. Over the course of 17 channels, I saw teenage girls dressed in revealing snow white outfits, dancing provocatively with gay dwarves; people in tanks trying to stick five-pound notes to their slime-covered bodies; a Yorkshire Terrier pulling a cackling man in a skiing armchair round a brightly lit studio to rapturous applause; and Graham Norton trying to goad David Dickinson and Alan Sugar into eating Maltesers off one another's bodies.
I longed for the days when Patrick Troughton saying 'My giddy aunt!' was the most provocative thing on Saturday night TV. Was I born in the wrong century?
Jeff: Tuesday 1st June
I sat fidgeting in Cafe Nero. I was half an hour early, and my plan to sit coolly sipping a Latte was thwarted. I'd been so nervous I knocked back the whole thing in five minutes. My throat still hurt. I couldn't just sit here with an empty cup... They might arrest me or something. I had to go and buy another drink. But what if she walked in? It would look so undignified, for her to see me fiddling with change and balancing sachets of sugar. Also, I'd have to drape my coat obviously across my chair and a part of the table to make it clear that it was taken in my absence. If she saw that she'd think I was a naturally untidy, reckless sort of person. (Which I am, but I was hoping she might have forgotten.) Also, if she caught me just leaving the till, it would be rude of me not to have bought her a drink, so I'd have to queue again and that would spoil the whole greeting thing... So should I buy two coffees? But then if she didn't get here soon it'd go cold. You can't give cold coffee to someone you love, it'd be like telling them to fuck off. But, I suppose if it started to cool and she wasn't here, I could drink it and then feel less bad about occupying space in a cafe without actually drinking anything. That could work.
But no! Wait! If anyone saw me sat there alone with two coffees it would be bad enough, but if they saw me drink the second one they'd know I was some kind of lonely freak. But I'm not – I'm on a date.
No, it's not a date. Not a date.
I checked my phone but then abruptly switched it off. There was another conundrum. I had check it regularly to make sure she didn't text to say she was late or not coming, but I couldn't leave it on in case Daisy called. I'd have to lie, and I'm no good at lying to Daisy. Like that time I told her I couldn't go traveling because a potential job had opened up at Lazarus Industries in Cardiff. (The trip clashed with series three.)
Anyway, it's not like I had anything to hide from Daisy. I was just meeting a friend for an afternoon coffee, where was the harm there? But when you've been in love with this person since the age of twelve it still somehow feels a bit wrong.
Shit, I had to concentrate on looking good. What would the Doctor be doing right now? He'd have probably noticed that the coffee machine was behaving in a way that could only mean severe alterations to the displacement hyper-time vortex. The manager would be calling him a madman and insisting he leave, the Doctor (Tom Baker in this one) would fix him with a stern glare and say “Listen to me. You're all in grave peril, it's of the uppermost importance that you get these people out of here right now.”
But I couldn't do that, the coffee machine looked to be working just fine.
I thought about it. I hadn't seen Rachel for eleven years. In fact, I think it was here that I last saw her. Before the kids, before the engagement to captain wankface. He was the king of France. Yeah? Big deal, I was the Lord of Time! I snorted inwardly.
I smelt her before I saw her, the same imitation Vivienne Westwood perfume she used to wear at school. She looked the same too. My heart exploded and I was thirteen years old again. We talked about the usual rubbish. Work, TV, our families... But the way she looked at me, it was like nothing had changed. Like despite the fact we were grown ups having coffee, it was just a facade, and underneath we were still two kids having sharing an illicit cigarette. I don't know, maybe I was imagining it. I didn't really hear most of the words, but being there was just magical. Rain was cascading down the windows and a radio hummed faintly in the background. The rain made me think of Blink. “I have until the rain stops.”
“Oh, I love this song!” She said all of a sudden.
“Me too.” I nodded and smiled. I'd never heard it before in my life.
“Well, I'd better get back. I need to pick James up.” She laid her cup to rest on the table and with those words and that gesture the bubble was broken and it was 2010.
“It's been really good to get out of the house. It can all get a bit... You know? I mean, thanks. It's been really lovely to see you, we'll have to meet again soon.” We hugged, and she walked out into the summer rain and it stopped. I could still smell her.
I sat back, reeling from it all and then did something a bit ridiculous. I threw my coat on, jumped over the table and ran up to the man behind the counter. “Listen to me!” I did my best Tom Baker voice. “It's of the uppermost importance that you tell me what that last song was right now!”
“What?” He looked a little afraid. “Err... Muse, I think.”
I had to buy it! I tore down the street to WH Smiths and asked the girl behind the counter where the singles chart was and she looked at me like I was insane. How can they not be selling singles anymore? How are songs going to get into the charts?
Jeff: Wednesday 2nd June
The song was called Undisclosed Desires. I had it in my head all night, but awoke to a revelation, I could could buy it online as one of these new fangled mp3s!
I went onto Amazon to see it would only cost 60p for one song, what a bargain. However, when I proceeded to the checkout it said I couldn't download an mp3 without installing an Amazon mp3 installer.
After waiting twenty minutes for the infernal thing to download, I was asked to click to visit the mp3 store. What about the one I'd already bought? When I clicked, it opened the mp3 store in a different window, using Internet Explorer. I didn't even think I had Internet explorer, I use Firefox! Which meant I had to go about signing in all over again.
Once again I found the song I wanted. I clicked “add to basket” only to be confronted by “This Page Cannot be Displayed.” Refresh. Try again. Add to basket. “This page cannot be displayed.”
At this point I may have screamed the word “Fuck” very loudly. I'd been at this for over half an hour. How was this any better than buying a CD from a shop?
I gave up. Opened a new window in Firefox, found the track and added it to my basket, only to be told that I couldn't download an mp3 without installing an Amazon mp3 installer. “I already have a fucking installer!” I yelled at the screen.
After a few minutes shaking my fist, I eventually discovered some small print, telling me to click if I already had an installer. I clicked. I paid. An Amazon icon appeared on my desktop. What happens now? Does the song just start playing? Another icon appeared informing me I had to launch the installer, then the first icon disappeared and I was informed the mp3 was “being downloaded.”
Five minutes later, media player launched of its own accord. I clicked play, and then the screen went white. “Windows Media Player is not responding.”
I shut it down and sent an error report to Microsoft that I somehow felt they wouldn't be that eager to reply to. I sat waiting. I clicked the amazon mp3 icon, but all that did was start installing the installer again. Where had my song gone? I scoured my files. My Music. My Downloads. I even looked in the recycle bin, to no avail. I'd now been sat at my computer for an hour and eleven minutes and had singularly failed to achieve anything. I burst into tears and flung the laptop at the wall. The screen shattered and keys flew across the carpet.
Before I really knew what I was doing, I found myself kneeling in Pete's doorway wailing “I need a computer doctor! I NEED A COMPUTER DOCTOR!”
Jeff: Thursday 3rd June
It's been over two weeks since I signed on, where's my money? For a start I need to start saving up for a new laptop...
I called the claims processing department, and after being on hold seemingly forever, I was informed that my claim had been “shut down.”
“I'm afraid Mr Greene, you were claiming the wrong band of income support.” Band? “Our records show that you're caring for a child, Mr. Greene. You'll need to re-apply for single parent living allowance.”
“I'm sorry... What? I don't have a child!”
“Yes you do Mr Greene.”
“No! No! Really I don't ... I don't even have a wife...”
“You don't need to be married to have Children, Mr Greene.”
“That's not what I mean... I mean I'm footloose, you know, fancy free!”
“Footloose and fancy free, Mr Greene? May I remind you that you are only eligible for income support if you are actively seeking employment. It's not our responsibility to fund a lifestyle of decadence.” A life style of decadence on forty quid a week?
“But you've just said I can't have income support anyway!”
“Never the less, you made a claim. We take fraudulent claims very seriously, Mr Greene. You could face a fine or even a custodial sentence.”
“Look, I'm not committing fraud, and I don't want to go to prison! I just want some benefits that your leaflet said I was entitled to!”
“I've already told you, Mr Greene, you are not entitled to income support whilst you are caring for a child.”
“But I'm not!”
“According to our records, under living arrangements, you stated you were living as a single parent at your recent meeting.”
“No! I didn't say that at all! I said my flatmate had the mind of a child! It was a joke!”
“The benefits office is no place for tomfoolery, Mr Greene! May I remind you that at the bottom of the form you signed to authenticate that all information given was correct.”
“I thought it was!”
“Very well, but we won't turn a blind eye the next time you decide to abuse our system.”
“So, does this mean I can have my money?”
“No. I told you, Mr Greene, your claim has been closed. You will need to open a new claim.”
“But how long will it take to get my money?”
“The claim will take fourteen working days to process. You can fill out the online re-application form...”
“I don't have a computer at the moment, could you post it to me?”
“Print is dead, Mr Greene. If you insist on filling out a form you must obtain one from your local office.”
“So I can go to Blackpool and...”
“No, Mr Greene!” I wasn't entirely sure, but it was almost as if I could near him banging a fist on his desk. “Our Blackpool office is merely a sorting office, you must visit a designated processing department. You're nearest department is Preston. Good day Mr Greene!”
I drove to Preston, where the Job Center was unfortunately located next door to my former place of employment. I scurried along, crouched beneath the low wall so they wouldn't see me. I felt like Tom Baker in Pyramids of Mars.
I filled out the form with information they already had, and then noticed it came with an envelope labeled “Processing department, Preston.” What was the point in that? I was already here, I could just give it to them. I made my way over to the information desk.
“Ahh, no I'm afraid we can't except this. I has to come through the post.” I was told.
“But... Why? I mean, it's here. Now. What's the difference.”
“Yeahh, it's just that with all standard issue claims they have to be received internally. I mean, I'm just here to give information, I don't actually know who to give this to!”
“So, you're saying I have to go across the road and post it so you can get it tomorrow?”
“No, as I say, it has to be received internally. Hand that in at your claims office and they'll forward it to us.”
“What, in Blackpool? But I've just come from there!”
I was beginning to despair when an idea struck me, I picked up a leaflet from a stand. “Invalid Carer Allowance”.
Pete: Thursday 3rd June
A Mr. Harrison, of South Shore, Blackpool, was on the radio tonight, appearing on a show about disability. He said he'd had agoraphobia and, at one point in his 30s, couldn't leave the house for years! The voice sounded oddly familiar, so I ran downstairs as soon as the interview had finished and knocked at the ground floor flat. It was as I suspected. No one replied, and I couldn't hear anything coming from within. So if this was the same Mr. Harrison I'd met a few weeks ago, it proved it – he couldn't be me from the future, because I DEFINITELY didn't have agoraphobia!!
Pete: Friday 4th June
Jeff thinks I have agoraphobia. It all started when I tried to repair 'sexybexy's laptop. I don't know quite what happened, but it wasn't fifteen minutes before the whole thing was in bits on the floor, each component artfully laid out, and I found myself asking 'How did I do this? Did I blank out or something? Maybe I can repair computers!' Unfortunately, my new burst of confidence was short-lived. When I tried to work out what the actual fault was and attempted to put it back together, I soon realised that any old spastic can take things to bits when they're bored. Conversely, it turns out that wiring circuits to the motherboard, rewriting the core programming, hooking up a monitor display, removing virus traces from the software, and getting the 'S' key to actually mean 'S' (rather than 'F') does seem to require some level of skill.
When Jeff walked in, things were looking bleak.
“I think I've thrown a spanner in the works!” I whimpered.
“I can see that.” He looked at the memory card slot, in which a half-submerged spanner was jammed. “How long have you been at this?”
I couldn't rightly say. I'd lost all perspective of time, but I pointed him in the direction of an absurdly large heap of teabags, spilling off the edge of the table.
“Shit.” He shook his head mournfully.
“I thought I was on a roll. I even managed to get that marmalade out of the USB socket.”
“Did you manage to get rid of the lisp?” He cocked an eyebrow.
“Well, I... H-how did you..?”
“The 'S' key doesn't work, right?” I didn't reply. Had Jeff been a psychic all along?! Had he been listening into my thoughts? It was too terrifying to contemplate! Whilst on the outside, I appeared personable, normal and well-adjusted, my inner monologue had a tendency to make me sound like a total wanker. “When you press 'S', you get 'F', so if you were to go onto a forum and type... 'this site totally sucks', you'd actually be saying 'thif fite totally fucks'... which doesn't really make sense, unless you're a total moron!”
“Jeff?” I shuffled back cautiously, my voice wavering. “Do you have special powers?”
He was laughing. “Well, that's got to be the only logical explanation, hasn't it? Unless, hmmmmm, let me think...” He stroked his chin. “The only other way I could possibly know is if... I used to own this compu- but, no. That defies sense!”
“Yeah, I'm not totally stupid!” (I wasn't even convincing myself). “Just cause you used to own a laptop exactly like this, you can't fool me!” Even as I went for the old self-confident head tap, I could feel myself faltering. “I happen to know for sure this isn't the same one.” It wasn't supposed to sound like a question. “This one belongs to...”
“That's absolutely... Wait! No... Because!” I raised my finger into the air, and clapped a hand to my forehead. If only I'd been David Tennant, my moment of mental revelation would have been accompanied by a liberal amount of hair ruffling, and some snappy editing. But I wasn't. I was just some guy, you know? Some guy who felt as though his brain was trying to leap in two different directions. I reached for the nearest beanie. It was all I could do to prevent my grey matter from escaping altogether. Thank god I'd spent last night alphabetically categorising my collection of mediocre hats. Didn't want another Morbius on our hands!
“It was me, Pete. I'm Sexybexy.”
“Noooo...” My self-confidence shifted down an octave. “Because you're Jeff. I can prove that.” I snatched a notepad, on which he'd been doodled the words 'Jeffmeister' repeatedly: was this some kind of nervous habit, or was he planning his own TV show? I waved the thought away. “So, if anything, it'd be SeffyJeffy, and that doesn't even work. It sounds like a brand of lavatory cleaner. So...” I tried to think of a suitably witty and urbane put-down. “Fuck off!” He just sat there, biting his lip. “Okkkaaaayyy... So, why did you do it? Was it some kind of joke?”
“Of course not. I was trying to be nice to you.”
“Nice to me!? Couldn't you have bought me chocolate or flowers or something normal?”
I counted as he tried to start at least eight different sentences before any actual words came out. He chewed his lip, ruffled his hair, dug fingernails into his arm. I was about to get up and put the kettle on, when he said “Pete, this isn't the first time I've said this, and it won't be the last: I love you. BUT – and this is a big but...” (He'd already insulted my arse: things could only get worse.) “You're a hopeless computer repair man, you've got some serious stuff to work through, and I can't be your dad forever.” A formless, numb, 'O'-shaped sound escaped my lips, as he finished. “But I could be your carer...”
“Are you trying to suggest...” My voice came out as a whimper. “...That I've gone a bit mad or something?” I chewed at my fingers as though they were KitKat bits.
“I don't mean to be, well, mean... But look at you, Pete: you can barely leave the house these days, you're surrounded by toys and bits of circuit board. It's 6pm and you're half naked in a bobble-hat!”
“It's not a bobble-hat.” I protested. “It's a beenie. And I'm not mad... And some of these toys are yours!”
“Mine aren't toys. They're authentic collectors' memorabilia.” He sounded unusually tetchy. Surely he wasn't growing up. If he did, I was screwed! “The difference is that I don't line them all up and have pretend battles, setting fire to tiny cardboard castles with little matchboxes. And I didn't say you were mad. But I do think you've got agoraphobia. There's nothing wrong with it. It's not all that bad really. I did this to prove a point: I don't think you stand much chance of working if you can't leave the house, and I'm not gonna be able to pay for this place on my own anymore, so I think you need to sign up for Disability allowance. The government have money for people like you.”
“People like me??!” I leapt to my feet, strode into the kitchen furiously and slammed the door. My initial plan was to go on hunger strike. Unfortunately, however, the fridge was empty, and the emergency cake I'd left beneath the sink had gone kind of damp, so I'd have had no staying power. I spent the evening building a 3D Death Star jigsaw, ignoring Jeff, and trying to unremember what he'd said. I'd prove I wasn't mad for sure! I laughed long into the night.
Pete: Saturday 5th June
“Hahahahahaha!” I cackled, not remotely maniacally. Breath probably didn't expect such a jeffless greeting the moment he emerged from his bedroom, so I grabbed him by the dressing gown sleeves in case he tried to escape to the bathroom.
“I couldn't sleep after last night,” he looked guilty, “andiwasdoingsomethinking.” It all came out as one word; a formless mass of syllables; a creature from the pit.
“Are you alright? You eyes look kind of bloodshot.”
“I'm fine... Just... Fine. Been drinking a lot of coffee, but I'm definitely... Just... Fine. Just... Look, I don't know quite how to say this.” I took a deep breath. “I've been doing a lot of thinking about some pretty serious stuff, and I'm not gonna pretend I'm not worried.” I took six more deep breaths. I was going to have to spell this one out slowly. “One day... Stephen Moffat...” Jeff nodded. “Is going to leave... Doctor Who.” I waited for the shock to resonate, but he seemed more concerned with trying to shrug his arms free. It was as I thought. I knew I wasn't just being paranoid. He was going to lock himself in the bathroom and start a siege. If that happened, I wouldn't get to tell him my plan, and, to make matters worse, I'd have to piss into the 'Meals for Mum's Tupperware. I shifted my weight to block the door. “If you think about it logically...” I realised I was shouting a bit and tried to appear calm by winking, which, in retrospect, probably didn't help. “...They're not gonna let Mark Gatiss be showrunner anymore. So – and I mean this seriously – and I'm not trying to sound egotistical – and you'll need to stick with me on this – but the only people I can imagine taking over as head writers are... Me and you.”
I cut across him before he had time to say anything. It's a well known fact that people always come round to your way of thinking if you talk continuously for a long period of time. “Thinkaboutit: how many men in their 30s can there be that know as much about the Whoniverse as us?? Who've seen every surviving episode, and own the Target novelisations of all the missing ones? Who've religiously purchased 'Doctor Who Magazine' every month since 1979? Even during the dark 1990s when there was literally NOTHING to write about? Who actually listen to 'The Pescatons' despite its dubious canonicity? Who have a cupboard full of Dalek mugs, and disappointingly inedible spaghetti shapes? AND, we've got all these...” I rifled through a Kwik Save carrier bag, labeled 'Script Ideas: 88 – Present', with obvious enthusiasm. Some of them were written on the backs of old food packaging, such was the furor of our late night creativity. “You can't argue with titles like... Countdown to F.E.A.R., The Kraagan Masterplan, Timeray!, Aliens of Death, All Aboard the Horror Express, The Nightmare Machine... They're all potential classics, Jeff! And I've been working on what could be our pièce de résistance : let me introduce you to... The Armageddon Factor! Twelve episodes full of horror, adventure, and masterful plot twists. I tell you, there's no way the BBC are gonna turn this baby down. So, what do you think?” I picked up a toy spear. “Isn't it time we called Broadcasting House?”
“Well, I don't know quite how to tell you this, but... Most of those ideas are... Terrible... And there's already been an episode called 'The Armageddon Factor'... And it was shit! And...” I grabbed his shoulder with one hand, and pressed a finger to my lips with the other.
“Is that crack in the wall making noises again?” I felt my eye go into an involuntary spasm.
“Pete, have you taken your pills?”
Pete: Monday 7th June
We hadn't spoken about it for days, but sooner or later I knew the agoraphobia monster was going to rear its ugly head, except it would be far scarier – and, dare I say, more convincing – that the one in 'Vincent and the Doctor'. I couldn't help empathise with Van Gogh, but much as I tried to argue my case to 'Comedy Dan' on 'Forum from the Deep', I knew deep down that I was no genius. Vincent's bedroom was full of brilliant paintings. Mine was a mess of moldy mug-o-soup, creased magazines, 'vintage' cider bottles and Kwik and E-Z noodle wrappers. You wouldn't even have to buy the stuff to know that it was cheap. All the packaging was orange and white, and the labels were spelled out in text-speak, in an effort to sound cool and modern. I picked up a half-crushed bottle and read the imitation-handwriting slogan aloud: 'Tastes like shit, but getz u pissed'. It was so old and faded I couldn't tell whether the drawing of a downcast-looking homeless chap stroking a possibly deceased dog was part of the design or something Dom had scribbled on.
How had I let myself get like this? When had it all started? It wasn't as though I'd intentially stopped getting dressed and leaving the house. I just hadn't fancied it for a while... surely? Deep down, I suppose I knew the answer. Under my bed was a stack of old diaries. All I had to do was find the one with the David Tennant stickers all over it... except that they all did. If I'd found one of them in the street, and didn't know they were mine, I probably would have guessed them to belong to an eight-year-old. I rifled through until I found the one from...
Tuesday 13th February 2007
“Yes! Yes! Yes!” I sprung up from my bed at the sound of a vigorous banging coming from the living room. I was still a bit dazed – it was, after all, not quite lunchtime – so the thought that Jeff might be sweating and naked barely crossed my mind (we'd been on something of a roll recently: neither of us had inadvertently exposed a part of our body to the other for nearly THREE weeks!)
“Back of the net! Spawn has left the mothership!” Jeff said, somewhat confusingly.
“What's with all the commotion?” I asked cautiously. I don't know why, but it came out sounding Scouse.
“Come and have a drink with your uncle Roger!” I didn't know what the hell he was talking about. A whole range of terrifying thoughts ran through my head. Was he on drugs? Was I going to have to restrain him, steward a rave or prevent an orgy? He indicated a spot on the sofa, shuffling up and flinging a bundle of yellowed tissues to the floor. I was careful to put a cushion over the chair before sitting down. “You may need to sit down.” He wore a serious expression now.
“I, erm... I'm already sitting down.” There was definitely something weird about him as he pointed to the screen with a trembling hand.
“I've just... Made the winning bid...” He was breathless with excitement, and I suddenly saw why. “...On a Tenth Doctor... FLOOR LENGTH COAT!” I was speechless. This was massive. Perhaps he'd let me wear it. I almost wished I wasn't going to France so I could see it arrive. That said, if it came right away, maybe Jeff'd be okay about me taking it, and people would think that I – Pete Ross – was The Doctor. I – Pete Ross – WAS The Doctor...
“So you're going for it then?”
“Yep. Gonna stop at The Crescent for a bit of Dutch courage first, but then I'm going to march right in there...”
Jeff raised a hand. “I wouldn't 'march' if I were you. I don't think they're allowed to sell to mad people, and you already look a bit... you know... since you permed your hair.”
“You know why I did that!” I snapped testily. “If I'm gonna go to Paris, then I'm gonna give it the full Tom Baker treatment. I've got the scarf, I've got the pretty girl. I needed the Fourth Doctor's curls to complete the look.”
“Yeah? Well you look more like Leo Sayer. Ooh, by the way, will you be around later? Daisy's coming round and we're gonna watch 'Spearhead'. I showed her a clip on the website, and she said the Autons bursting through the shop window was 'grisly'. Isn't she great?” He didn't give me time to answer, which was good because I didn't have time to turn my nose up. “So, you know what you're going to say in the shop then?”
“I think so. I mean, it's not really that different to buying cling-film or balloons, is it?” I tried to shrug nonchalantly, but it probably looked like I was having a little spasm.
“Just remember: everyone does it, everyone uses them. Be forthright. Be strong. Brave heart, Pete!”
I strode confidently to the counter, looked the cashier square in the eye, held out a fifty pence piece and – in my most authoritative, blokey voice – said “I'd like to purchase a condom please”. Except that the sound which came out wasn't authoritative or blokey at all, but high-pitched, pathetic, almost camp and stuck in default defensive mode as though I were battling away a fresh wave of high school 'Spotty Pete' insults all over again. Here I was, thirty-five years old, and I was back in the schoolyard. Except that my tormentor had a name badge, a degree and the sort of rehearsed smile you only got on a training course. (N.B. I am, of course, talking about the chemist, not the condom itself. Pinning a name badge onto the latex would somewhat defeat the object.)
At length, I realised that the man behind the counter had been talking and gesticulating wildly for some time. Shit! I hadn't taken in a single word. I tried to smile apologetically, but came out looking like one of those mad people who talk to bus drivers. When I repeated my request to shut him up, it came out sounding rude.
“And what kind would you like, sir?” I couldn't tell if it was out of spite, or a sincere desire to be kind and helpful, but he spoke in the same patronising voice that Daisy used to talk to Bucky when he wasn't wearing his 'Miracle Grow Extend-O-Stilts'.
“Well, er, I don't know. It's not like I've measured anything down there for a while, if that's what you mean? Just the usual, I guess...” Saying that made me think of country pubs, handled glasses and listening to 'Heavy Horses' on the jukebox, so I added “And a pint of bitter please!” But it didn't seem to illicit a laugh. What was wrong with him? Dom would've been in stitches.
“What do you usually get?”
“I usually just come in here for deodorant, anti-odor foot spray and sensitive skin face cream.” He narrowed his eyes. What else did he want from me? “I've got a sensitive face.”
“No, I mean, sir,” he elongated the 'ir', “what about the condoms?”
“But I don't think you're supposed to put them on your face.” My scalp was getting sore from all the head scratching.
“Oh, for god's sake!” I was getting the slightest impression I'd irritated him, though I couldn't for the life of me work out why. “Which one of us here is a qualified chemist?” I shot him a puzzled look, unsure of how to respond. Was he having some kind of personal crisis, or merely being rhetorical?
“It's you, isn't it... Surely?” He folded his arms, and my unique understanding of people told me it was time to move things on. I ended up asking for one of everything and took out my credit card.
He returned to the counter with a very full carrier bag, said “Stick it in whenever you like”, folding his arms expectantly.
Oh my god! Did he really want me to..? No! “I don't want to have sex with you!”
“I'm talking about the credit card, you wanker!” He slammed his fist onto the table.
I knew that going round to Simone's with the entire 'Big Mates' Contraceptives' range in a carrier bag would look a little unsubtle, so I concealed it in her bush before gaining entry. Her housemates, Joanne and Kitty, answered the door, giggling as soon as they set eyes on me. They always did that, like I was the butt of some kind of in-joke.
“Is Simone about?”
“Upstairs.” Joanne OR Kitty inclined her head – I've never been able to tell them apart: they both dress in that ironic studenty way, have curly hair and often finish each other's sentences. “She's with Rik.”
“Goth Rik?” I could barely contain my outrage.
“What's she doing with that loser?”
“She's, er...” They smirked as one. “...Helping reboot his hard-drive.”
“Oh. She's been stealing all my business since I paid for her to go on that computer course. Rik should've come round my gaff. I would've given his hard-drive a good reconfiguring too.” This provoked a whole new wave of giggling, as though I'd said something hilarious. “Well, can I come in?”
They led me through to the living room, where the usual array of half-drunk alcopops littered the table, cigarette ash floating in the dregs of pink, sugary liquid. There was a vigorous and persistent banging coming from the ceiling above.
“Is that Simone?” I asked awkwardly. “Or do you need to get a man in to take a look at your pipes?” More giggling.
“Must be.” One of them replied. “Charlene's over at Greg's.” Charlene? Greg? Who were these people??!
“She must be giving his system a really good going over.” Smirked the other girl. I had to get away from these two harpies. Think, Pete, think! What would James Bond do?
“Mind if I pay a visit to the little boys room? I'm bursting for the loo!”
“Yes, but... Oh... My... God! Kitty, will you take a look at Simone's washing up?!” She clapped a hand to her mouth in exagerated shock. Kitty responded in kind, her mouth dropping open, like the scary bit in 'Fury from the Deep'.
“Oh, Jo'sers! She treats us like slaves!” She whimpered. “And it's not even our responsibility!” Theatrically, they both folded their arms and faced me as one. I knew that they were trying to manipulate me, but that wasn't enough to stop the waves of crippling guilt. This was probably what being married was like... Well, to a woman, at least. Now there were two of them, and the Helvetica Scenario was upon me. I was going to have to do someone else's washing up. They'd probably have me cleaning the toilet with a toothbrush and ironing their knickers next, while they peered over my shoulder, eying every crease critically and screaming if I got something wrong. I was their eunuch, their manservant... And I was powerless to stop them.
It was a good forty-five minutes before I emerged from the kitchen, having finished a mass of washing up, covered in soap suds and pasta sauce. I recognised very little of the mess as Simone's, although many of the plates were mysteriously marked with Js and Ks. The living room was free of its former annoyances: Joanne and Kitty seemed to have vanished elsewhere, and the rhythmic banging from upstairs had ceased. Sure enough, however, Goth Rik was slumped on the sofa, stroking his goatee beard and leaning heavily upon a cane. A trilby hat was pulled over his dirty-blond hair, and his whole posture exuded the air of practiced despondence. Even his roll-up hung wearily from his lips. I think he thought it made him look cool. It made him look like a cunt.
“Rik.” I acknowledged him with a nod.
“Steve.” He nodded back dejectedly.
“It's, er, Pete... actually.” He didn't say anything in response. Only an icy silence followed, punctuated occasionally by the sound of muffled swearing from above. “So, erm, what're you doing here?”
“I was passing...” He took a deep breath. Every syllable was labored, like the energy was constantly being sapped away from him. I'm sure he imagined that this sounded distant and enigmatic. “...On my way back from Skeletor's house.”
“His real name's Tony.” He croaked, and no further conversation was forthcoming. As soon as I left the room, I felt the tension lift from the atmosphere. Before I went, I shouted upstairs to Simone, eager to catch a glimpse of her so that it didn't feel like a completely wasted trip. After much clattering, and an exchange of words so strong they probably should have come with a 'parental advisory' warning, she called back “What do you want?”
“Just wanted to check we're still okay for tomorrow? 8.30? Squire's Gate?”
“Yeah, yeah. I'm packing now. Christ!” She sounded unnecessarily pissed off for someone who was about to be taken on an all-expenses-paid romantic break.
“Do you want me to take one of your bags while I'm here? Save you carrying it?”
“Nah, there's stuff in here I don't want you to see...” She wavered hesitantly. “...Yet. Girl's stuff.” I could barely contain my excitement. Tomorrow night was the night! I could feel it! Although when she said, somewhat bluntly, “Now go, will you?” my spirits were dampened.
I shouted “Farewell, my Rose!” but didn't get a response, although I swore I could just about make out the sound of an eerie giggling drifting ghostlike down the stairs.
As I was on my way out, I stopped to look at a picture by the front door, which showed Rik, Simone and the girls halfway down a roller-coaster drop. Everyone had their hands in the air, and mouth's wide open, apart from Rik, who looked as bored as always, still smoking a cigarette and still leaning on a cane. Simone, pressed next to him, looked happier than I'd ever seen her. I had to wonder where I was. I searched desperately on the pinboard for even the smallest photo, but I didn't feature at all. I tried to convince myself that it hadn't been updated recently, but even I couldn't ignore the fact that last week's date was printed in the bottom right corner of the most recent one – a shot of Simone, drunkenly leaning into the camera, a fake bridal veil on her head, and 'Just Married' scrawled across her cleavage in marker pen.
I stopped for a few drinks with Big Dougie on the way home, who wanted to read me his latest poetic ode to the male genitalia, so Jeff was already in bed by the time I got back to the flat. But he'd left a CD on my bed, with the note: 'Something for you to listen to on the train back' (I bet it's full of romantic songs!) 'And just remember, whatever happens, I love you.' The big puff! He must have been pissed.
The following pages were all scribbled over in black, and I remembered that the trip itself was written up in another diary. I had a feeling I knew where it was, but I couldn't bring myself to deal with it just then. Instead, I went through to the kitchen with the intention of making an Irish coffee. But I ended up filling my cup with whiskey to the top, and lay on the sofa, shoveling teaspoons of coffee granules directly into my mouth. Then I got a bit overexcited, wrote an incredibly moving short story about talking potato and forwarded it to all my email contacts.
Jeff: Saturday 12th June
It started just like an ordinary day. I'd been lying on the sofa eating Frosties and idly comprising a list of what kind of Christmas Present each Doctor would be likely to get you. I think it's remarkably astute...
William Hartnell – An expired book token
Patrick Troughton – A recorder
Jon Pertwee – A molecular hydrolic polarity reverser
Tom Baker – A bag of Jelly Babies
Peter Davison – An illustrated children's Bible.
Colin Baker – A cake made of Play Dough and and ABBA CD
Sylvester McCoy – Would have forgotten, but wowed you at the last minute with a remarkable performance with spoons.
Paul McGann – One Jelly Baby. However, he would magically and theatrically produce it from behind your ear.
Christopher Eccleston – A lump of coal and a clout round the ear.
David Tennant – A winning lottery ticket (smug bastard).
Matt Smith – A bow tie (Bow ties are cool) and a bowl of custard.
I'd finished my list and realised that it was passed midday, so it was now officially socially acceptable to get pissed. I went to bargain booze and got a four pack of Tuborg lager and some twiglets, which I then consumed whilst watching The Horror of Fang Rock.
It was only as I was folding away the cardboard and stuffing it in the bin (Thank God Daisy wasn't there, we were using her cardboard recycling box as a footrest.) that I noticed the enthusiastic font on the inside proclaiming “Congratulations! You have won two tickets to the Glastonbury festival!”
Pete: Sunday 13th June
I'm not ashamed to say that we cried fat tears of sheer happiness watching Matt Smith play football in 'The Lodger', and laughed like schoolboys during The Doctor's hilariously ill-timed 'Annihilate' speech.
As soon as 'Confidential' finished, I fired off an email to Omar, advertising for a lodger. It's not as though either of us actually want one. It's not as though we'd even have room if someone showed up. But you never know: we might end up with Matt Smith! He'd willingly watch Doctor Who with us; we could do amusing 80s montages; and we wouldn't even have to tie him up in the shower, like that bloke in Preston claimed to have done with Christopher Eccleston.
I couldn't wait to see the look on Jeff's face when he found out!
Jeff: Monday 14th June
I can't go to Glastonbury! I'm too old for all that now. I know my 18 year old self would be appalled, but I've grown quite fond of showering regularly, watching daytime TV and wearing shirts. When you're younger you think you'll never change, and if you do it will be some kind of massive compromise, but the thing you never anticipate is that you actually begin to genuinely enjoy some of the things you once shunned. Like slippers, pajamas and Trisha. I suppose this is why the Doctors never get on in multi doctor stories. I bet the first Doctor never thought he'd end up saying “Sor' of yeah.” or dancing to Soft Cell, just like the sixth Doctor probably wouldn't have thought he'd one day wear all black. And I bet the eleventh Doctor is really embarrassed by the fact he used to wear that cat badge... and that dreadful question mark tank top! I think I'll watch The Happiness Patrol...
Jeff: Tuesday 15th June
Daisy was on the phone, lecturing me on the fact that we never do anything nice together, I never have time for her and I never leave the flat. I couldn't help it. The words just tumbled out of my mouth.
“How can you say that? I'm so hurt! Here I've been planning an amazing surprise for you and everything...”
“A surprise? Really? What?”
“Daisy, I'm taking you to Glastonbury! So we can get back to our roots! Commune with the ... Meridians and all that.”
“Glastonbury? Jesus, Jeff! Why don't you just take me out for a romantic lunch at Burger King? This isn't 1994 anymore, the whole thing's just a big corporate firework display of capitalism and convention! I mean, who's playing, U2?”
“Yes, actually. And ... errm ... Snoop Dog?” She was silent.
“Besides, I can't get the time off work.”
Thank God, this is probably fate intervening. I mean, I can't be away on the 26th, it's the season finale!
Pete: Wednesday 16th June
Jeff stormed angrily upstairs, looking aggravated, and pulled the TV cable from the wall.
“Oi! I was watching 'Richard and Judy', you bastard!” I said, trying to speak between mouthfuls of mashed potato.
“What the hell do you think you're playing at?” He demanded. “Advertising for a lodger? Did you think Matt Smith – Matt Fucking Smith – was going to show up or something?”
“No...” I replied guiltily.
“I've had to turn away a nun with a prosthetic hand, someone dressed as a giant cockroach and a guy with a bag full of hacksaws!” He replaced the plug.
“Ooh, hacksaw man's still doing the rounds, is he?”
“That's beside the point, Pete. You've got to... Ooh, wrestling!”
Jeff: Friday 18th June
I received a letter from the council about my housing benefit claim. Apparently there was a “problem” and I had to contact them straight away.
“Ahh, yes.” Said the claims adviser as I sat in his office at the Town Hall that afternoon. “We've been asked to investigate your claim as we have reason to believe you may be having a relationship with your housemate.”
“As you know, different rates apply for live-in couples, married or not Mr. Greene.”
“But I ... I mean, well, he's ... for a start, he's a man!”
“Don't think we don't know what goes on Mr. Greene! Our records show that you've lived together for the best part of a decade. Why is this?”
“Well, we just... do. He's my friend.” The adviser gave a mirthless laugh.
“You recently ended employment as a barman, but as I see your partner Mr. Ross was unemployed during this time.”
“I see. So tell me a little about your living arrangements. Rooms?”
“Yes.” He made a note of this. “A living room-”
“Yes... A bathroom-”
“Just the one?”
“Yes...” He raised an eyebrow.
“Most irregular. Do continue, bedrooms?”
“Shared?” How can two people share two bedrooms?
“Yes, we share them... One each!”
“According to the plans of the building one is a double and the other is a mere box room!”
“Yeah, but we keep most of the toys- I mean, the stuff in the living room. And obviously when Daisy stays over I need the extra room so -”
“Ah! So you have a tenant. You should have declared this Mr. Greene. Falsifying a claim can result in a fine or a custodial sentence!”
“She's not a Tennant, she's my girlfriend!” He considered me dubiously.
“Do you and your flatmate shop individually?”
“Yes, well.. no.”
“And does Mr. Ross ever prepare your meals, Mr. Greene?”
“Yes, but -”
“And the cleaning, the household chores, who deals with those?”
“Well, Pete, I mean, I'd like to but, the man's a clean freak!”
“So you ever socialise together?”
“Do you go out?”
“No, he's agoraphobic.”
“I see. Cosy evenings in, eh? I think we have all the information we need, Mr. Greene. We'll be in touch.”
Pete: Friday 18th June
I found it buried at the bottom of a box, which was otherwise full of vintage comics: the book of doom. Considering all the heartbreak I'd come to associate it with, it looked inappropriately cheery, with its embossed Eiffel Tower silhouette and picture of a poncy-looking French couple riding a bicycle on the front. A cruel irony or just one more thing to hate the French for? Inside, all but a few pages had been torn out. Although I knew exactly what was written on the remaining ones – the diary of my last trip outside – I couldn't face reading it at that moment. Going back there would be like admitting defeat.
I was relieved when there was a knock at the door. I answered it to Andy Pond, and instantly began crying, except this time I wasn't putting it on. When he came in, we barely said a word: we just sat next to one another, drinking cup after cup of tea, both of us in tears. I had to wonder what his excuse was.
Before he left, he said “I hope you don't mind, but I've told my therapist all about you. He thinks this is really good for me. Same time next week?”
Pete: Wednesday 14th February 2007
My heart skipped a beat every time I heard somebody walking over the bridge, and I couldn't help but check my watch at least every thirty seconds: the minute hand never seemed to move. It had settled comfortably somewhere in the region of Rose Tyler's pink hoodie, nestled into her breast; who could blame it? It was 8.42am, and Simone was a good ten minutes late. A good ten minutes late is probably a bad choice of phrase, come to think of it. There had been nothing good about them. As if the morning hadn't been stressful enough having to get up at 4am; packing, packing and repacking – just to make triply sure; constantly scanning the tickets, scrutinising the dates and travel times, convinced they could shift at any moment so that we'd miss our Euro-tunnel connection; unpacking to organise the contents of my holdall more efficiently; changing footwear at least seven times. I'd rung my hands so many times they'd come up in a rash, and now, here I was... alone.
Just short of calling the whole thing off, I tried one last desperate attempt to phone her, but just as it started ringing, I heard footsteps coming slowly down the stairs. I hung up and spun round, full of hope and relief, only to be confronted by twin horrors: an angry looking chav lolloping towards me, and the train pulling into the station. This was it. Make or break time! Obviously, there was no question of me getting on the train. Simone must have been in some kind of trouble and it was up to me to rescue her, whisk her away to Paris and give her the night of her life. I'd be her David Tennant, her knight in shining armour, her prince charming, her – the train pulled in and I saw my reflection in the window – her... twat in a trilby hat.
“Oi, mate!” The chav snorted. “This the Kirkham train?” I nodded, and tried to make my exit, but he carried on talking at me. “Ah, thank god. Me bird's gonna be well pissed. I said I were only goin' out for an hour, or... A couple'r hour, or summit.” He made a noise like a tumble drier and heaved a glob of mucus onto the platform. “Thing is, I was out with Steve-O, an' Gary and Brian last night, and let me tell yer about Brian, right? Brian is a twat. And he, like, ended up getting' into this fight wi' this bouncer. It weren't 'is fault like. 'E 'ad it in for him from the start. Know what I'm saying?” I didn't know what he was saying. I hadn't the slightest idea. “Anyway, 'e only went an' landed himself in the Vic...” Hang on! What had happened? Somehow, I was on the train and it was moving. How didn't I notice getting on? Climbing up the steps? Taking a seat? I looked at my ticket and saw that it had already been stamped, but I had no memory of a conductor coming round. Had this moron's conversation really been so scintillating that I'd channeled everything else out??!
“I'm terribly sorry, erm, mate...” I started to say, but he cut in again.
“Hey.” He looked me up and down, a threatening glint in his eye. Thank god I'd packed the punishment spray. “I like yer t-shirt.”
“Really?” I looked down. But I was wearing my 'Keep Watching the Skies' shirt. No one liked this shirt! Not even I liked it!
“Are you like...” He rubbed at his nose and made an unpleasant face. “One o' them sci-fi geeks or summit?” Once again, I didn't have to say anything, because he saw my scarf. “Eh, lookarthat! Ah, let me tek a picture of you to show me mates. You could play the next doctor who!” Oh no... He'd done it. He'd made the ultimate mistake. It didn't matter that it would almost certainly end up with me getting kicked to shit. I was going to have to correct him. But, just then, there was a timely intervention. “Ah, don' worry about it, mate. This is my stop.” What?! We were in Kirkham already? Bloody hell. I was almost halfway to Paris, and I'd yet to do anything about the Simone situation. My overly-friendly antagonist left and I was relieved when no one else took his seat. I could make a phone call. One phone call to save the world. Except that I didn't have a signal. Bollocks!
I'd tried to relax on the London train, but my heart filled with disappointment each time I looked at my phone screen – which was frequently – and saw it blank – which was all the time. Not even a message from Jeff. He must have been on his 6am shift at work... the lazy sod!
I went and sat in Subway when I got to Euston, not knowing what to do. After fifteen minutes, a waiter in a silly hat came over and told me that people usually tended to buy food in order to reserve a spot in the cafe, so I chose a sandwich at random and cried inwardly when I realised I'd picked the most expensive thing on the kids' menu. Then the phone started blinking, and, for a moment, I thought everything was going to be okay, but it was just a message from Dom. It read 'I AM Destructron!' He must have been having another ego attack. What a tool! No sooner had I put it down, however, than it started ringing. I snatched it up immediately, nearly dropping it into my Monster Truck Cola in the panic.
“Simone...” It came out as one huge sigh of relief. “Where are you? I was beginning to think you weren't coming?”
“Oh my god! I can't believe you'd think that! You're so nasty to me sometimes. Anyway, that thirty quid you left me for a taxi went missing...” I heard her take a long drag on a cigarette, and suddenly got the feeling I knew exactly what had happened to the money... but I couldn't bring myself to voice that suspicion somehow. Jeff said it was like she had this weird hold over me, but that was just rubbish. “Anyway, I definitely am coming to Paris, but I'll just need you to transfer a little bit more money to me.” It wasn't a question. It was an instruction. From here on in, what I actually thought and what came out of my mouth were polar opposites.
“Of course.” No way, you penny pinching bitch. “How much would you like?” Bleed me dry, why don't you?
“Erm, not too much. Perhaps just like sixty? Seventy pounds? Just enough to get me to London. I mean, it's not like it's as far as... Sheffield, is it?” She laughed in an oddly humourless way, and I reciprocated in kind.
“Well, that is quite a lot of money...” And I'd already booked our tickets, you stupid cow, so now I'm going to have to pay twice. “But, this is your big week, so I guess I can get over to the nearest bank, and I'll wait for you here?”
“Oh, I wouldn't want you standing around. You get going, and I'll meet you there. Just, you know, send me the money, will you?”
“You're going to meet me? In Paris?” So, it's come to this. You obviously can't bear the thought of spending any time with me. We're fucked. “But you've never even left Lancashire?”
“Well, I've been reading this really good magazine recently, and it said that expanding your mental horizons is a lot like expanding your physical horizons.”
“Oh, erm, that's profound.” But the only physical horizon you've been expanding has been your waistline.
“Yeah, well I'm a very deep and spiritual person, Pete, and it's about time you... Oh, I've got to go. 'Loose Women's just starting.”
“Right... But you are coming, aren't you?” Please don't make me check into the hotel alone. Only a complete looser would book a double room for one on Valentine's Day.
“Oh yeah, for sure. Just you concentrate on wiring me that money.”
“Okay. And I'll meet you outside Gare Du Nord at 9?” No reply. “I love you.” A mirthless laugh, and the sound of a phone hanging up. Even though I had a really bad feeling about the whole thing, I found a Post Office outside King's Cross and sent her one hundred pounds, to be on the safe side.
It was at shortly before 11pm that night, stood outside the station, when I came to regret that decision. I'd been there for well over an hour-and-a-half, freezing my balls off; everyone that passed seemed to be pointing at me; and I'd just fended off yet another wave of Romanian beggars in Nike trainers when I decided to give up and go back alone to my hotel room. The arrivals board had been blank since about 10pm. I knew, deep down, that I'd been deluding myself, and about a LOT more than just the train timetables. The only thing that could possibly save the situation was an expensive French pint, but when I reached my hand in my back-pocket, I found it empty. I'd been mugged!
Pete: Thursday 15th February 2007
Even though the sheets were brown and cigarette burned, I didn't want to get up. The world outside sounded noisy and chaotic, and I wasn't sure I could cope with it all. But the Moroccan hotel manager kept banging on the door, and shouting at me to “clear out”, so I was forced to drag myself up and, without showering, left the room in the clothes I was already wearing – the clothes I'd been wearing since yesterday.
“Many wonderful things to see in beautiful city of Paris, my friend.” The hotel manager pitched his voice somewhere between politely affable and threateningly hostile, his hand on my back, all but steering me towards the exit. The city didn't look all that beautiful from the porch. Cars screeched through the streets at frightening speeds, their horns wailing angrily; pedestrians walked shoulder to shoulder, pushing past one another; litter covered the already filthy ground; and pushy street-sellers spoke at a million-miles-an-hour, jostling for attention, and peddling their cheaply made crap upon unsuspecting tourists. Well, I certainly wasn't falling for that!
“Electro-pens. Just five Euro!” A surly looking guy in a dirty vest grabbed me by the wrist and reeled me in. What the fuck were electro pens? I wanted to ask. “Top-of-range high-quality gifts, to give to your family? Your girlfriend, no?” He'd hit my weak spot and rendered powerless. He'd located my kryptonite. Somewhat against my will, I found myself buying one of his 'electro pens' (a tacky, light-up thing with a glowing Eiffel Tower perched on top) and the sort of journal that no right-minded writer would be seen dead with... Except that I didn't have anything else to do, other than keep a diary of the things I wasn't doing, and the fun I wasn't having, so it wasn't all bad news.
I found the nearest bar, bought an eighteen Euro half of lager and began writing. Maybe this would be a turning point in my life: the legendary holiday where the legendary Pete Ross begun his legendary Doctor Who script. Inspired, I set my stupid-looking pen to work, but fifteen minutes later, all I'd done was draw an anthropomorphic clove of garlic, dancing with angry baguette in a striped jumper. I was relieved when a squat man in a tailcoat pulled up a bar stool next to mine and began talking to me in a language I didn't understand, presumably French. If only I remembered anything from lessons at high school. No, wait. I did remember something: reciting 'My Daily Routine' over and over again – constantly, pointlessly, incessantly – for FIVE years!! I understood now. All that 'talk to strangers abroad' and 'cycle round youth hostels with Pierre and Stefanie' stuff was bollocks! The whole course was geared towards us learning one minute of mindless drivel by rote, and reciting it to grade C standard. And the worst thing of all was that it obviously worked, because, whilst I couldn't say anything useful, I could remember the whole fucking routine! So why didn't I just keep my mouth shut, finish my drink and leave apologetically? WHY did I think it would help my situation to recite it all? None of it was even true anymore. I told him I was 15 years old; that I lived with my parents, in a house with eleven bedrooms, and that I had a gerbil. That had been a lie even back then. Dad always said pets were for girls and told me I wouldn't end up a company director if I was too busy poncing around with a sodding rodent. The French man put his hand on my shoulder, and shook his head, a defiant look about him. What did this mean? By the time I got to telling him about traveling to school on a yellow bus, he was shrugging wildly, a hint of frustration to his muttering. I continued, moving on to my uniform and the contents of my pencil case – had this stuff always been so mundane? – but he kept repeating a single word over and over again.
“Porquoi? Porquoi?” What could it possibly have meant? He looked agitated and I was about to back away when he saw my drawing and seemed to take offense. I was on my feet when he gave me a shove, and it was only when I stumbled backwards that I noticed he wasn't on a bar stool at all. He was in a wheelchair! Oh, god no. How could I fight back if he was disabled? I could just see the headlines: 'Brutish Brit Thug Vents Vicious Race Hate on Innocent Foreigner'. If I could just get my bag back, I could leg it. I lunged for my belongings, but he seemed to think I was making an assault, threw a leg out and kicked me.
“Please... Just leave me alone!” I whimpered, holding out the remainder of my drink to him as a peace offering. He pushed my arm away, and the contents of the glass spilled down my shirt. It was clear that I stood no chance of getting my bag back. I was just going to abandon my dignity and leave. I dashed towards the door, trying to block out the torrent of abuse and cruel laughter, and didn't stop until I was down a deserted alleyway. I'd lost my mobile phone, my lunch and yet more cash. They'd all been in the bag. On the plus side, I'd managed to salvage the notebook and pen, which I hadn't actually wanted in the first place. On the minus side, however, I was hopelessly lost.
It was late when I found my way back to the hotel. I checked every pocket of my suitcase, but it was no use. All my cash was gone. I was down to the remaining balance of my credit card, but I'd already used most of that to bail Simone out and pay off the double room where I slept alone. I felt panicked, like the dirty walls were closing in all about me. I needed some air. I hadn't managed to get the window open last night. It had been painted with emulsion so thickly that it was jammed completely shut. I wasn't going to bother trying again now. I didn't have the energy.
I left the room in a daze, not even bothering to lock up. Everything of value to me was gone anyway. What did it matter if my ultraviolet security pen and Speedstroke swimming trunks got taken? Outside, tense looking waiters stalked the pavements, trying to beckon even the poorest looking passers by into their overpriced, unpleasant looking restaurants. One woman leapt out, waving a menu intrusively into my face and I slipped over the kerbside, onto the road, where a camp looking police man shot past on a bicycle, blowing his crime whistle. What the hell was going on? I hadn't signed up for this! I ended up running down into a metro station for safety. Seeing that it wasn't staffed, I jumped over the ticket barrier and onto the first train. Tonight I'd been planning to take Simone to see the tower. I had no great desire to go on my own, but descending into the claustrophobic tunnels at fearsome speeds brought a knot to my stomach, and, seeing that Trocadero was the next stop, I ended up there anyway.
Emerging back into the icy winter air, I was a little baffled that the tower was nowhere to be seen. As soon as I rounded the corner, however, I reeled back. It was HUGE! I'd watched 'City of Death' countless times, but it looked a lot bigger than on the telly. Perhaps it was because we only had a thirty-six inch screen. Fairy lights twinkled along the side, drifting down like snowflakes, and long beams cast an eerie, sonic-screwdriver-blue glow onto the steel frame. Leading up to it, a long paved area descended down some steps, to fountains, statues and a park, where the frost on bare tree branches glittered under the moonlight. Cold and lonely as I felt, there was no denying that it was beautiful. But everywhere I looked, happy couples seemed to be strolling hand in hand, wrought with emotions and feelings I couldn't even begin to imagine, throwing their heads back and laughing at jokes I couldn't hear – jokes that were probably at my expense. I wrapped my coat tighter about my chest, my lip trembling. At first I thought it was just the cold, but then I began to sob, and it wasn't just like the sobbing me and Jeff had descended into when The Doctor said goodbye to Rose at the end of 'Doomsday'. It came from deep within. I couldn't remember ever feeling as sad as I did now. I looked at the tower, and then at myself, wondering who would miss me if I jumped. There didn't even seem much point in trying to reason with myself. I was going to do it. When I saw the lines and admission prices, however, I realised I couldn't actually afford to commit suicide. So I went for a Thai Green Curry instead, which was marginally cheaper and, even though everyone seemed to be looking over their shoulder and snickering at me, decidedly less uncomfortable. I mean, I could've KILLED myself!
Pete: Friday 16th February 2007
I miss Britain! I miss Marmite, and Doctor Who, and tea that tastes of tea, and Monty Python, and, most of all, I miss Jeff! There was another lone Englishman at the communal breakfast this morning, and I breathed a sigh of relief when he came to sit with me. Finally- intelligent conversation! He told me his name was Anthony Carmichael, and that he'd been a rap music pioneer, but it hadn't really worked out for him, so he'd gone on to work in sales.
“I was a rap music pioneer,” he said, “but it didn't really work out for me, so I went on to work in sales.” On reflection, it seems he said little else. Every time he repeated the sentence, the words came out in a slightly different order, and it always seemed to end with a little chuckle, but I couldn't work out which bit was the joke. Nevertheless, I laughed along with him heartily, in the hope that the other diners would mistake us for good friends. I'd had this horrible feeling everyone had been staring at me ever since I got here, like they knew I'd been stood up: like they could actually see the depth of my shame and embarrassment. I kept hoping me and Anthony'd have the opportunity to start reminiscing about good old Blighty together, but I never got chance to communicate my homesickness.
When I went back to my hotel room to pack my stuff up, I realised it had been broken into. They'd taken just two things: my ultraviolet security pen, and my Speedstroke swimming trunks. I was far too puzzled to even give it a second thought. One of the biggest advantages of being serially robbed is that it makes your bags considerably lighter. Plus, if I hadn't lost all my money, I only would have spent it on useful, interesting and entertaining things... And then I would have had to carry them around. I had to check out of the hotel at 10am, but my return train wasn't until 6, so I had to cart all my stuff around with me for the day. Thankfully, the entire contents of my belongings now entailed a moth-eaten scarf, a packet of Digestive biscuits and a lifetime supply of unused condoms that would probably never see the light of day. I think I knew who was winning...
Unfortunately, my good mood didn't last. It wasn't long before I found myself stood in the middle of a dual-carriageway, too scared, or at least too numb, to move. Every time I thought I'd got my head round the left-hand drive thing, the polarity of the neutron flow seemed to reverse, and a fresh onslaught of cars would hit warp speed in my direction, as soon as my toe touched the tarmac. It was an inauspicious start to a nefarious day, in which – for a brief period - I descended into the ranks of Jack-the-Ripper-esque villainy. Loneliness can do strange things to a man, and I wasn't proud of that day's crime spree, but I hold Simone entirely responsible. It all started when a woman with a pram pulled up next to me at the crossing. On top of her pushchair was a yellow cassette Walkman. I didn't mean to steal it. It's just that I hadn't seen one since 1993, and I wanted to take a look. The next thing I knew, I'd jumped a bus and was sat at the back, humming along to Paul McCartney's 'Live and Let Die' and kicking the seats as percussion. I was thrown off somewhere round the Arc de Triumph, stumbled directly into the nearest supermarket and stole two bottles of red wine by concealing them under my jumper and pretending they were just ordinary breasts: the kind you'd see on any ordinary woman. Classic.
I don't know why, but the more I drank, the more lonely I felt, the more angry I became and the more I wanted to drown Simone in a vat of warm peanut butter (she hated the stuff – it was what had brought us together in the first place, and now the cruel irony would be all mine!) I spied a record and DVD shop in the distance, and knew that it was the only place that could give me any solace, so I dashed towards it, all the blood rushing to my head, in the same way it had done when Colin Baker had unexpectedly regenerated, causing me to have a miniature fit. Out of nowhere, a Polish woman sprang at me, immediately trying to extort money out of me by waving around a photograph of a black child dressed in Pirate gear.
“The poor child.” She said, in her weird accent. “He embarrassed, because he have to dress in Pirate gear. Gimme some cash, and I buy him real clothes... I make him a man, like his mother. No?” She followed me, reeling off this sort of crap, for some time, but I was preoccupied. I'd just remembered pinching a handful of complimentary sweets from the hotel reception as revenge against the pushy Moroccan owner, and the sugar rush had hit. I escaped from the Polish woman and into the record shop, going into such a frenzy that I blacked out.
When I came round, I was slumped by the river, a CD named 'The Best of the Spice Girls – sung in French!' tucked just inside my coat, and a life-sized cardboard cut-out of the singer from Tears For Fears standing over me, his mad hair stood accusingly on end. Where'd he come from? I didn't even like Tears For Fears or the Spice Girls! I felt terrible, but any negative thoughts were swept away by the elated feeling of knowing I'd soon be going home, to tea and toast, and to the end this horrifying ordeal. That was, until I checked my watch.
“Oh god, no.” It was twenty-past-six. My train home was due to leave at any moment, and I was nowhere near the station. The floodgates opened and I broke down there and then. If I couldn't get home, back to our lovely flat, back to daytime television, back to junk food, back to Blackpool and back to Jeff then I really did have nothing left worth living for. Simone was gone, all my most treasured possessions were gone, and I was stranded in fucking France! I stood up and walked to the water's edge, staring down into the dirty, slimy depths, teetering precariously on the brink. The water was so black, you couldn't even see the reflection of the city. The pollution alone could swallow me whole. I took off my jacket and unbuttoned my shirt, the cold hitting me instantly and making me feel sick. Then I picked up my chemist carrier bag from the bottom corners and let its contents tip into the Seine. Before long, condoms of every different shape and size were bobbing up and down along the water. What with this being France, people would probably be diving in to retrieve them before long, but the only way they'd ever be any use to me was if I decided to make an army of 'Green Death' maggots. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a police man running towards me, shouting at the top of his voice, but I knew he wouldn't make it in time. I put one foot out. Was I really going to do it? Could I? Really? I shifted my weight, but then a thought prevented me from going all the way, and, before I knew it, the policeman had seized me, pulling me back onto the hard stone floor.
“Sir. What were you doing?” How did he know to speak to me in English. Perhaps it was my overwhelming air of erudite sophistication, or perhaps it was the fact that I was overweight, carrying an ungainly amount of luggage and wearing a silly hat and Tom Baker scarf over a stretched Blackpool FC shirt. Either way, I didn't care. God – or Patrick Stewart – had intervened, and I wasn't going to die today. This policeman had saved me, and that meant somebody did give a fuck about me... even if it was just his job to give a fuck when people were about top themselves. But then he said “Ze River Seine iz a public heritage spot. How could you litter it with your zex aids and fat English body?”
“I was planning to commit suicide by drowning myself,” I said frankly, “but then I remembered that I didn't have any swimming trunks.” The policeman shook his head and put me in handcuffs. All things considered, it wasn't the worst thing that could have happened.
I was racked with terror as he drove me to the station. I'd seen what they did to criminals on The Bill. But then I remembered that this was France, and that the police force solved crime at a leisurely pace, stopping for a morale boosting sing-song if need be. When we arrived, the sergeant was playing cards with one of the criminals in a cell. They were laughing heartily, drinking from a tankard of wine between each move, and the room was filled with acrid smoke.
“What did he do?” I asked.
“He stole a cake from the patisserie... a LARGE cake.” He said threateningly. I was thrown into a cell with a man who'd 'nearly made things difficult' for another busker by playing his accordion too loudly, and a man who'd got a bit tipsy and ridden his bicycle down the central aisle of a church. We spent the evening singing woozily, even though none of us seemed to speak the same language, until someone came for me.
“Where are we going?” I asked warily.
“To the airport.” They were the worst possible words I wanted to hear. I'd been terrified of flying since the age of seven. I couldn't fly. I was aeroplaneaphobic. I felt sick and panicky, like I wanted to jump out of my own skin. Something in me tried to do just that, but it only made my head hurt more, like a pressure building up so badly I thought I might explode, or scream. But, in actual fact, I found I couldn't say anything. “We searched your bags, and saw that you'd missed your train. Think of this as us being merciful, if you like, after all the trouble you've caused for us.”
“I didn't mean to... honest! My girlfriend left me, and I went a bit mad, and I may have stolen some stuff, and I may have beaten up a cripple... but I didn't mean to. Really I didn't. Please don't make me get on the plane. Please.” I wailed.
“If you refuse to cooperate, we will have to sedate you.”
“Plllleeeeaaasssseeeee!” I was in tears. The policeman took out a syringe, which appeared to be full of red wine, and plunged it into my arm. I started to feel tipsy instantly.
“I'm afraid you leave me no choice. You are being deported, and if you ever return to our country I must inform you that we've taken serious measures to prevent your embassy bailing you out again. I hope you realise the severity of your crimes.” My head was swimming, until he said. “Is that clear, Mr. Carmichael?”
“You can't make me get... WHAT?” I stopped dead. “But my name's not...” And then I blacked out.
Pete: Saturday 17th February 2007
I didn't know what time it was when I found myself in the passenger lounge at Manchester Airport. I felt so weary and nauseous. What had been in that lethal French concoction? I lurched to my feet and had to steady myself on the headrest to stop a sudden fall. A group of teenagers with big hair and fluorescent, cartoon-strip hoodies, who sat opposite, seemed to find this hilarious. They were drinking a similar looking concoction to the stuff Simone always had lying around. I could see from the bottle label that it was called 'Nuclear Waste', the graffiti style caption underneath reading 'survive the fall-out from this holocaust, dude!' When had the world become so horrible? Why weren't people nice to each other anymore? Why had everyone stopped treating each other with courtesy and respect? And WHY THE FUCK was everyone pointing at me??!
Obviously, I couldn't afford the train fare back from Manchester, so I spent the entire journey hiding in the onboard lavatory. Despite the overflowing, tissue-clogged sink and faint musty odor, I found the privacy of an enclosed, windowless space strangely comforting and was reluctant to leave. Of course, when I did, I had to walk the rest of the way, through the windy streets; past the pub advertising 'one-weekend-only classy and professional Las Vegas weddings'; left at the 'Sunny Horizons Dating Service' (with a missing apostrophe); and straight on past the karaoke bar, where a colossal woman wailed her way through 'Stand By Your Man'.
When I got home, it took a good degree of fumbling to get the key to turn. Just as I was about to walk in, a thuggish looking kid on a tiny bike drew to a halt outside our gate, pointed at me and let out a single hollow laugh. It was all I could do not to hurl a rock at the little bastard. Up in the flat, I drew all the curtains, and, as soon as I knew no one was looking, burst into floods of unstoppable tears. Simone had broken me.
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