Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Best So Far

“’Batter me a kipper!’ is the best so far,” the old man wheezed to another old man.

“The best what so far?”

“The best catchphrase.”


“Yes, my brother’s starting a career in good old-fashioned stand-up comedy – and he wanted some ideas for catchphrases, like Bruce Forsyth’s ‘Nice to see you, to see you Nice’”.

“Batter me a kipper? Better than butter me a kipper, I guess. But I don’t think much of it. How about ‘Cold chips, Missus?’?”

“’Cold chips, Missus?’? That’s rubbish!”

Just by the coincidence of childhood Christenings, the two old men sitting on a park bench, chatting away, were called Bill and Ben. The sun was late setting – the first day after having turned the clocks forward for British Summer Time. However, the trees became grey swags shaking in the March wind – because the cloud cover was now too thick for the late sun to penetrate. Bill shivered. Ben knew it was Bill himself, not Bill’s brother, that Bill was talking about. Bill simply didn’t want to admit to having ideas of starting a new career at this advanced stage of his life, especially one that involved being a comic like Tommy Cooper or Bob Hope.

There was silence for a while as the gloom caught up with itself and eventually doubled as darkness.

Bill muttered: “The best so far” – as if listening for a catchphrase suggestion from God Himself.

“Yes, the best so far,” Ben replied, as if hearing God for real.

That park bench was in a park in the city. The whole city was now a huge dissipation of light-pollution. Younger people were emerging and moving along the streets intent on nights out. Everything they said to each other seemed to be a series of catchphrases, some in jargon or some text / slang speak. They had little time for old men like Bill and Ben.

A young couple – Mary and Midge by name – were heading, hand in hand, towards a Night Club called ‘The Juice Islands’. A great name for such an establishment, even if one of questionable relevance. Indeed, nobody questioned the existence of a place called ‘The Juice Islands’. In these young people’s short lives, it seemed as if it had existed under that name forever.

Quite often, ‘The Juice Islands’ organised stand-up comedy shows rather than dances, with budding comics testing out their skills with a live audience.

Mary and Midge were going to such a show tonight, although Mary preferred dancing.

Midge told Mary that some famous comics had started their careers at ‘The Juice Islands’. And who knows but tonight there might be seen the birth of a future legend of entertainment.

Meanwhile, upon the park bench, Bill and Ben’s shadows had been left behind to remind others that there were such things as ghosts. The owners of the shadows had departed to their one-room bedsits where there were too many shadows already – shadows that fed off the behaviour of any people too mean to light the lights ... or, paradoxically, too generous to the rest of us by over-rationing themselves under the threat of global warming.

Upon the stage at ‘The Juice Islands’, there stumbled into view – amid only a little applause – an old man.

“Batter me a kipper!” he said tentatively into the microphone, as if nervous of its power to pick up his voice too loudly.

Midge stared at Mary and shrugged. They ambled off together. They jigged up and down mindlessly in the corner shadows, along with a few others, to the lost stridency of silence.

The old man left stage left. His act tonight had been his best chance to utilise the hour his world had skipped.

He was certain he had been the best so far.

“Yes, the best so far,” he whispered to himself, the phrase catching in his throat ... as the lights went out.

Written today and first published above.

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