By David McNulty
I always knew how I was going to die. By that, I don't mean I was psychic or had visions of the future. For all I knew I was just as likely to die from falling out of an aeroplane or being eaten by a shark. No, what I mean is after my death I had everything planned out. Just as a bride to be plots and plans her wedding, so I tortured myself over my funeral. Everything had to be just right.
At first I was going to have a classic old school burial in the ground. This is appealing because of its cost and there are fewer chances for something to go wrong. But it didn't seem adventurous enough. I wanted something that would spark of a rash of suicides as people tried to outdo each other in the big event stakes, a James Cameron funeral if you will.
Cremation was the next possibility. The fiery death is certainly dramatic, but nobody can see your coffin as it 'goes' into the afterlife and I'm robbed of people seeing me being sunk into the ground, preferably as drops of rain fall on the roof and roll down the sides like tears. Great stuff, very dramatic and something you'd probably want to record on a camcorder and watch every year at Christmas.
The burial at sea was certainly novel, but also very expensive. I would want to do it right, so a large cruiseboat would have to be hired along with catering staff and a captain. The danger here is that once I've been lowered into the sea, the cruiseboat will still be floating around. This could lead to lots of drinking in the sun and an impromptu Rodney Dangerfield type party could start, accompanied by bad 80's pop music. Hardly respectful of the dead. I.e. me.
So I had my problems. Every type of funeral had its own advantages, which were cancelled out by the disadvantages. It reached the stage when I was just going to have a plank of wood saying: "Here lies Paul Turner. Go fuck yourself. RIP." but this might be considered vaguely cheeky. I think it was in 1986 when I finally hit upon the solution.
Why not combine them?
It was a great idea! After some careful planning I decided on the following strategy.
I would have a huge Viking boat at a dock. My grieving friends and family would be gathered around the sides of the harbour and would watch my coffin be lowered onto the deck. Then said coffin would be set alight along with part of the boat and it would be sent out into the ocean, maybe with a discreet propeller to make sure it went in the right direction. After around 8 minutes the boat would start to sink and I would disappear into the sea. The throngs of people would stay for a respectful amount of time, before departing for sandwiches.
I had yet to decide whether or not to have a buoy float up from my coffin and mark my burial spot. At first I was going to have a lightbulb on it flash morsecode messages at people saying thing like "See you soon!" or "Doing fine and the weathers great" but I don't know how legal that is.
Weather was also a concern of mine. I didn't want it too cold or too hot. I settled for August as the best month to have it. I also decided if I reached the age of 95 I would commit suicide in the summer so as to ensure perfect conditions. It would be really gutting to hang around and die of natural causes on Hogmany in the middle of winter. Terrible timing when you considered the weather, plus it would clash with the biggest party of the year.
Finally, after I was buried/cremated/sank at sea, there was going to be a huge ballroom extravaganza with whatever bands were fashionable at that time playing live for my guests. The best food would be served, the finest champagne and to top it all off at every table there would be a special effect picture of me. If the guest looked at it from the left-hand side they would see me sleeping peacefully. If they moved to the right, I would suddenly wake up and give them a wink. I'm sure it could be tastefully done and the kids would enjoy it.
All in all, the only bad thing would be the fact I couldn't attend it myself. But you can't be the star on the big stage and watch from the crowd at the same time. Also, I'd be dead as well, which whatever way you look at it, would be a downer.
But beyond that, everybase was covered. I was really looking forward to it and had to keep forcing myself not to bring the date forward (actually this wasn't a major concern as the estimated cost of my funeral was 10 million pounds and I only had a fiver in my savings account). I couldn't wait.
Then a man called Bob King entered my life and fucked everything up.
The day I did die was the 24th of June, a Friday on the eve of a bank holiday weekend and a payday no less. It was not a good day to leave this mortal coil.
Perhaps I should introduce myself though. My name, as I might have mentioned earlier, is Paul Turner. I live and work in Glasgow, Scotland which is a relatively nice place. I'm of average build, average height, average intelligence. An average guy basically. I have a girlfriend called Kate Geller, who is also average across the board in all catageries. As you might be able to surmise from my negative thoughts I was not too happy with the way my world was and the fact that I had to go to work on a hot Friday wasn't helping my mood.
Nobody wants to work on a roasting day. Nobody wants to work fullstop apart from the 2% population of the world who get that elusive gift that is more rare and precious than the lost treasures of Atlantis; job satisfaction. But on a sunny day like that all you want to do is go down to your local river, peel of and jump in, ignoring any sewage that floats past your nose for the thrill of pretending to be Huckleberry Finn for an afternoon.
That morning was unusual in that I was sober for a change. Usually my flatmate, Rob Diaz, who is below average in many respects and could be classed as lazy or insolent, would coerce me to go out for a few drinks on a Thursday night. The few drinks would lead to a nightclub, kebab, taxi and a headache all before my alarm went of at 7.00am.
But Rob was saving up for The Party. This was going to be the biggest event of the year, bar none. Drinks, drugs, women, men, animals, if it wasn't there, then it probably didn't exist in the first place and it was all taking place this weekend. The host of this sordid night of fun was none other than Samantha Frost.
It was hard to describe quite why men and most women loved her. On a purely mental level, she was the equivalent of a 90-year-old pensioner with one tooth and more wrinkles than an elephant's testicle. The woman simply couldn't hold a conversation for more than a minute and usually spoke in sentences containing less than 3 words. But physically…Jesus H. Christ. She had long blond hair, red full lips, and deep blue eyes. Her figure was the shape of an hourglass that shouldn't be possible in a universe governed by the laws of physics. You could get an erection just hearing her name. Sweat would pore profusely out of your body if she walked past you. Someone had died of a broken heart after just meeting her (actually that last one is rumour, but hell, it seems possible). On some instinctual level deep in your genes from cave man days, you knew that this was the perfect mate who would give you a flawless child. Your balls cried out to be emptied before a Tyrannosaurus Rex came by and ate you.
Yeah, she truly was a thing of beauty, a legend whispered around pub tables everywhere. Of course, not that I cared. I was perfectly happy with my girlfriend, Kate, who understood that I would maybe look, but never touch. Maybe just a poke or a prod, but never serious touching.
The only problem with this party was that neither me nor Rob knew where it was. Or indeed knew Samantha Frost at all. Still, Rob seemed confident in his detective skills and I was just glad a long weekend was coming up. Saturday, Sunday, Monday. 3 days of lying about doing nothing, assuming Robs legendary skills happened to fail us.
That was the reason I was suprisingly fresh for 7.05 in the morning as I walked out my room.
Rob was already up, sitting in the good chair watching cartoons and spilling milk from his Rice Krispies down his t-shirt.
'Uhh,' he said, not looking up from the television. This was suprisingly articulate for Rob first thing.
He waved his hand, but his eyes were glued to the screen.
I popped two pieces of bread in the toaster and had a look at the diary calender to see if anything important was happening this week. The diary part was blank for the entire first half of the year, as neither me nor Rob really had crucial events we had to go to usually. A picture of my girlfriend stared down from the top, with the words JUNE printed across her forehead.
Rob said it reminded him of Big Brother from 1984 and had actually spent an afternoon trying to hide from the gaze of Kate. He worked out that unless you squatted directly underneath it, her eyes would follow you round the whole room.
It was meant as a gift from Kate for my 25th birthday and she got it especially made, but it was quite spooky. She also gave us one for the toilet but Rob drew the line at that, and I didn't like the idea of her knowing what I was doing in the bathroom either.
I checked the calender and saw today was Audit day. I groaned. Every year in my work we would be tailed by a shadow as we went about our daily business. They would have a checklist of procedures and if we did not adhere to every on then they would fail us and the company would lose its prestigous B.S.O award, which really meant nothing to the workers, but could mean the sack for the supervisors. Also, I'd been given the responsibility of organising the staff for the visit (for no extra money I might add).
Just what I needed on a Friday. I silently thanked God I hadn't gone out last night, as my bread popped up.
I went to the fridge for butter, but saw only an empty carton of milk.
'Rob, did you get more butter?'
He craned his head round to look at me. 'Nah, I though you were going to buy some Paul.' He wiped some of the Krispies off his shirt and on to the floor. 'Why, are we out?'
'Oh well.' And with that went back to the TV.
I decided not to press the issue and added it on to a list of things that Rob hadn't paid for yet including rent, TV licence, phonebill, and batteries for the remote control, which had vanished last week and somehow ended up in our neighbours flat.
I opened the fridge for some juice and saw an empty plastic container with the words "Juicee Delight" printed on the side.
I poured some water into a glass and sat down on the couch with my dry toasted bread . I munched and slurped as loudly as I could, but it's almost impossible to annoy Rob with bad manners and I began to feel ridiculous, so I stopped.
After finishing my Prisoner CellBlock H breakfast, I put on the kettle for a cup of coffee. Most of our mugs were stolen from various friends and aquantencies and Rob seemed to take great pleasure in drinking from the "Happy 99th Birthday Great-Grandma!" mug. I settled for any cup with a handle and no hole.
While I waited for the water to boil I went to my wardrobe and tried to find something that was vaguely office like. The only tie I had was a black number which either made folk think I was a dick because I was trying to appear cool or I had a huge family and attended funerals on a semi-regular basis.
My office gear was in fact my high school gear, to my eternal shame. I was skint pretty much all the time and I really hadn't grown since school, so I figured why waste money on clothes when I could spend it on food to stay alive for another month.
After dressing I went to the coffee jar to find, of course, it was empty. There was also still no milk in the fridge since I last check 10 minutes ago.
He raised his head. 'What?'
We had had thrilling conversations like this for the past 3 years and somehow I never tired of them. The kettle came to the boil, so I poured the water in and had a cup of hot water. I noticed that my mug had a drawing of a naked man with a thermometer penis on the side of it that frankly failed to amuse me.
I finished of my hot water with out scalding myself, grabbed my denim jacket and left with out saying goodbye. I didn't know it, but that was the last time I would see the flat before I died.
It was 8.00am and the sun, which would become a huge ball of fire in a little under 2 hours, was still low in the sky but burning off the morning cold quickly.
I have always hated the commuting part of getting to work. It's bad enough being up at some insane time in the morning and knowing you have to do something you don't want to do for the next 8 hours, but then you see everybody else who is in the same boat as you. Its like the living dead on the zombie train as we all shuffle into the carridges and shuffle off, thinking about eating brains. The collective misery is worse than your own individual sorrow.
So I always buy a tabloid to keep me sane for the hour-long journey on the train. I usually can't read anything before 9.00am, but I look at the pretty pictures and that keeps my mind of the daily slog.
Today though the papershop had sold out of red tops. It looked like everybody was having the same idea as me, so all that was left was a couple of broadsheets. I groaned inwardly, but given the choice between looking into the eyes of a flesheating cadaver and reading the upper class dailys, I'll plump for the politics.
I paid for the suitcase of a paper and felt my muscles twinge as my arms lifted up the enormous tome. The trouble with broadsheets is that they're designed to be read on a flat surface, say, the size of a ballroom dance floor. That way you can spread out all the sections and sub-sections. On a train however, you sit (if you are lucky), and can read the front page easily enough, but your personal space is limited to the end of your nose. When you try to turn to page 2, it's like turning the sail on a boat.
You send it out into the open and hope it travels round a 360 degrees arc to your waiting left hand. What inevitably happens though is that it encounters somebodys arse and bounces back or a gust of wind hits it, taking the entire page out your hands and sailing through the open door. Once I saw a rogue broadsheet page detach and wrap itself around an unsuspecting passenger's face, like some malevonent creature. Said passenger ripped it of and stamped on it fiercely, but he still eyed it warily as if it might try to bite his ankle.
I trod up the road to Queen Street station and prepared my self for the worst.
I was pleasantly surprised by the train being on time. Unsurprisingly it was as busy as a bar in a nightclub. Once the train pulled into the station and opened the door, there was a 4.2 second gap for anyone wishing to actually leave the train to do so. After that a rush of workers flowed through the doors and instinctively searched for the best seat, then a seat, then somewhere to stand and finally just to get on the bloody train before the doors shut.
I used my Times to clear a path before me, like a plough scoops snow to one side. Once on the train, my predatory instincts revealed that all the seats on this carridge were taken and there wasn't enough time to go through to the next one. Without thinking, my subconcious reminded me which passengers got off at the next stop and I subtly (if that’s the word when you're barging people out the road and silently threatening them with your eyes) made my way and stood next to them.
The doors closed and I saw a few unfortunates through the window who hadn't managed to make it onboard, either lacking a ruthless streak or new to the savagery that is early morning commuting. Never mind endless discussions about evolution and man, if you want to see Darwin in action, visit your local train station.
My instincts proved right as an elderly gentleman with huge grey muttonchops suddenly stood up before the train was even halfway to the next station. This caught me off balance and I nearly missed the seat as a nice enough woman, who looked like an elderly librarian swooped down like an eagle on a rabbit. Once again, my paper saved me as I threw one of the subsections ('The Euro and how it will benefit Britain') on to the floor in front of the now vacant seat. This seemed to take librarian woman by surprise and I near enough jumped over the man sitting by the aisle to grab the seat. Victory!
The librarian woman backed away, but not before marking me with a look that is more commonly found on serial killers.
I sneered and began picking up my 20 pages of supplement, before realising I didn't want to read it anyway, so dropped them back to the floor.
I looked at my watch and saw it was 8.23. All in all, not a bad start to the day. I had a paper, a window seat, the sun was beginning to rise in the sky and it was payday. I've had worse mornings.
The office I work in is in Union Street, facing a bar tastefully called "Bobs Boobies" and a burger joint. There was also a church a few doors down if you found you couldn't resist the temptation of these delights and had to cleanse your soul.
My employer, Janson & Janson, operated on the 4th and 5th floors. Travel agents had the bottom, a work agency had the 2nd and 3rd and the samartitans had the 6th . Presumably this was so they could spot jumpers on buildings from their windows and coax them down with a loud hailer.
It was also a building with Air Conditioning that worked when it could be bothered. Dust would swirl in the shafts of sunlight and dance like tiny fairys, but none of it went outside. It just gradually came to rest on whatever surface it could find, including your lungs.
Our setup in my department office was fairly simple, as was the job. 9 fax machines were arranged in a circular shape on a large desk. Out of 4 of these machines would come requests for clients paperwork. All the files were kept on the 5th floor in allegedly alphabetical order. So you take your request, go up the stairs, collect the file, photocopy the relevant pages and fax back the request in the 5 remaining machines. Simple.
Except round about 11.00 a.m., these machines started spouting out page after page every minute. And theres only 6 people to retrieve them. So you have to run like a vampire who finds himself unexpectedly in the Sahara desert.
As I said earlier, today was Audit day, which was the first piece of bad news.
The second unfortunate piece of news I received was that 3 people were off sick. I was suspicious to say the least. Who actually falls ill in summertime? Around 5% of the population, and that’s being generous. No what we have is the sick-of-work day when you can't be arsed going into the office. To be fair I was going to do the same, but I was plagued by Catholic guilt the night before and felt obliged to come in.
We also couldn't keep any doors or windows opened for fear of a security risk, despite the rising heat. Never mind that we're 5 storeys up, there may be a pink panther type burgler scuttling around, stealing incomprehensible legal documents and selling them on street corners.
So the basic team for today was me, a woman called Lea Buckett and old Archie Adams.
Lea was 31, a devout Christian and believed Jerry Springer was possibly the new messiah. She ate chocolates and based her life on what adverts and articles told her would make her happy. She was the first stereotype I have ever actually seen in real life and despite her apparent blandness, was a continual source of facination for me. If The Sun editorial said something, then she adopted that as her own stance. If another paper contradicted it, then she changed her mind straight away. She'd have made a great fascist, following orders blindly without question. Still, Lea did made a great cup of coffee, so I loftily forgave her shortcomings.
Archie was drunk. Not a drunk, but continually sloshed. I had worked for J&J for 3 years and I had never once seen Archie sober. He conducted conversations, read books, watched films, got married, had kids - all the time he was drunk. I had only saw him sober up once after a party in the Luss Hotel out by Loch Lomond.
You couldn't buy booze from the Hotel so we had brought our own carryouts. Archie had purchased 24 cans of lager, 1 bottle of Vodka (or Voo Doo as he called it) and 1 bottle of Whiskey. The poor bastard had totally underestimated his capacity for booze and by 3.00am he had exhausted his entire supply. Then he took ours. He was about to start on petrol from cars nearby when the Taxi came to take us home.
On the journey back, his eyes became less glazed, his pupils started to focus, and bit by bit he sobered up. He gradually looked like a man who was witnessing horrific things through the gates of hell.
He staggered from the Taxi as soon as we reached Glasgow and ran with a look of disgust and fear on his face to the nearest off licence. That was the last time I saw Archie sober.
'Alright Archie,' I said, slipping into the seat beside him. I took a sip of my coffee from the machine (and winced at the horrible aftertaste - if I gave blowjobs for a living, my mouth would surely taste like this, although I'd probably be on better wages) and looked at the back page of the Metro.
'Look, the Celts are chasing after that foreign reje-' I stopped talking right away. I had looked in Archies eyes and saw they were focused. Nuclear dawn bloodshot eyes, but definitely not glazed. Archie was sober.
I lowered my coffee slowly to the table. 'Archie, bigman, what's happened, what, I , a…' I wanted to hug him, to tell him it would be ok, we would find whiskey from somewhere, but the truth was it wasn't even 9.00 yet and the day was gaping before us like a limitless wasteland.
He looked me in the eyes for the first time and sighed. 'Gina, my wife, you know her, she's very headstrong when she gets an idea in her head.'
I nodded. Gina was apparently over six feet tall and looked more masculine than Chuck Norris in "Delta Force 2". I hadn't met her, but this was apparently not a woman you fucked around with.
'Well, she decided yesterday that I drink too much and before I knew it she had poured every bottle down the sink. Every hidden stash I had is gone. She even called the supervisors and told them where my caches are in here.'
Archies stashes were legendary and you might think it odd that the bosses tolerated a drunken worker who could be a danger to him self and others. But the fact was that Archie was the best worker in the place and the more he drank the less he talked, so they turned a blind eye to it.
However Archie couldn't pull out a bottle of hard liquor and start glugging it at teabreak time. He had to be discreet and secretive, so one day on a particularly boring lunch hour, he shuffled his chair over, looked around to see if anybody was watching (which included Lea who was watching and looked very interested in what was going on but Archie stared at her until she went to the sink and started washing dishes, even though she brings a packed lunch in every day) and pulled out a tatty, but carefully folded piece of paper from his shirt pocket.
It was in fact a map.
It was covered in clear polythene and had yellowing sellotape round the edges. In the bottom left hand corner was written v3.2 and had dates written in small neat handwriting down the side noteing what changes had been made and when.
It was two blueprint pictures of the 4th and 5th floors top down. The supervisors rooms and cleaners rooms were labeled red, as these were the most dangerous locations. Hidden booze was marked with a yellow X and there were 17 on the 4th and 25 on the 5th. The stashes also ranged from the sensible to the outlandish.
He had whiskey hidden in plantpots, cisterns, under floorboards, inside old folders. He had 2 bottles dangling out of windows on pieces of string that faced onto an alleyway.
The ladies toilets Tampax machine wasn't safe, neither the charity box (which was a real indicator of how inclined we workers were to part with our cash since no one had contributed any money in the 4 years I had been working) or old filing cabinets.
There were bottles hidden that even Archie didn't remember and he would occasionally scutter round corners and rap his knuckles on walls to see if any old treasures could be found.
Today though, which was rapidly going downhill, Archie was dry as a ship in a desert. And he didn't look happy about it.
'I don't know what to say. Have you tried the shandys from the vending machine.'
'Removed and replaced with more of that fizzy juice stuff that rots your teeth.'
As opposed to your brain, but I kept that thought quiet. 'Listen, Arch you know that the auditors are coming today, right. I mean you've read up on the rules and regs?"
Whichever one of the 3 Auditors seemed the sternest, the most unwilling to bend rules, I was going to present them with Archie. Drunk, the man was a walking mine of useful information, and I couldn't see him slipping up. Now I was worried he might vomit on them.
I turned to Lea to come up with a new plan, but she was over at the window, shielding her eyes and looking down at the carpark outside.
She turned round and audibly gulped. 'They're here.'