the state of things

 

Revenge of the Shit

by Elvis Shackleton - 07:56 on 23 January 2009

Douglas Lindsay remains locked in the cupboard under the stairs working feverishly on the seventh Barney Thomson novel, The Final Cut. The following first appeared in his Letter From Belgrade on 2nd February 2005:

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, lived a little boy. His was a hard life, (or so you would imagine from the amount of complaining he did.) And despite his adoring parents cooking meals for him every night, such as seared carpaccio of beef with chilli, ginger, radish and soy, salmon fillet wrapped in prosciutto with herby lentils, spinach and yoghurt, and roasted sweet garlic, thyme and marscarpone risotto with toasted almonds and breadcrumbs, he never seemed to get enough to eat. And so it was that one fateful Sunday afternoon in early January, in a bid to fend off the hunger pangs which were engulfing his stomach like the icy breaths of a blizzard, and desperate for something to eat before his mother served up monkfish wrapped in banana leaves with ginger, coriander, chilli and coconut milk for dinner, he swallowed a small magnetic ball. The story resumes two days later with 'Dad' in the final stages of that day's rummage through the eternal faeces of the spotless child...

I clutched the small ordure-enrobed object and wondered if, at last, I might have stumbled across the elusive curvilinear metal item which the nurse at the medical centre had instructed us to ensure emerged at the other end. The children, who had been in attendance throughout the medical procedure, held their breaths as they realised that a great breakthrough in the lives of men might be about to be made. 'Is that it?' they asked. 'Have you found it?' 'Is it made of chocolate?' I was still unsure, as I carefully began to peel aware the layers of glutinous waste product. 'I think so,' I answered tentatively, and they, so bitten were they by the new millennium's need for instant answers and affirmation, immediately began to dance behind me like demented elves, cackling excitedly, wildly clapping their hands, and crying, 'It is found! It is found! The angels in heaven have appeared and with one voice cry, Rejoice! Rejoice!' In their delirious mayhem, they bumped my shoulder and suddenly my faeces-smeared pink latex gloves were waving uncontrollably in the air, almost contaminating the entire area. 'Calm down!' I barked, but it was too late, for they had been grabbed by the fever of the witch-goddess of expectation. I huddled lower over the toilet bowl and begin to work the small object d'art with both hands. It was disgusting work, but I was suddenly aware of the need to bring matters to a swift conclusion, before the children were completely overcome with the hedonistic excitement of the moment, and in some crazed existentialist act, supplanted the old metaphysical catchphrase of 'carpe diem', with their own version for this precise event, 'carpe faeces!' 'Be still you Balrogs of the netherworld!' I barked, a last grasp at the remote possibility of calm, but it was too late, they were being held by the bitch-seductress of insanity, and they charged wilfully around the confined space of the bathroom with absolutely no concern whatsoever for life, limb or the precise CSI-type examination which was currently taking place.

And then, as if all the black swords of Mordor itself were at once thrust brutally into the white balloon of hope, the moment burst and died in an instant. For it was no silver metal ball which I held between my fingers, there was nothing magnetic about this small orbicular object; instead, I held in my hand a plastic cannonball from the boy's pirate set. I held it aloft, so that the first shaft of light of the morning glinted dully off the grey paint, and I turned, like the Lady in the Lake to look at the two Arthurs of this sorry tale, as they danced the jig of the insane. 'Is that it?' they cried as one, their palpable excitement growing with every second on earth. 'Does it look like a metal ball?' I asked, annoyed. 'When did you swallow this?' I said brutally to the boy, my eyes cutting through him like a knife through brie. They stopped dancing, my demeanour giving them pause. 'So that's not the metal ball?' he said. 'No, it's a plastic cannonball, from your stupid pirate ship. When did you swallow it?' He laughed. He laughed, by God! and I nearly struck him down with a thunderbolt on the spot. 'Yesterday,' he said. 'Funny how it's come out before the other one.' I turned away, the stress contorting my body like a metal bridge twisting in an earthquake. 'Was the ragout of blette in a meringue of ginger courgette that I made not good enough for you?' I barked. 'So you haven't found it yet?' asked the elder spawn of the undead, and I shook my head, resuming the search through the final few milligrams of faecal matter through which I had yet to rummage. The lad lowered his head, coming down off the high of premature excitement, and said sombrely,  'Pale Death breaks into the cottages of the poor as into the castles of kings.'

I rested my head on my forearm, ensuring to stay away from the clutches of the faecal matter which had drifted up the swathe of pink latex. I was exhausted, and nearing the end of all hope and strength. The previous five minutes had seemed more like five millennia, and I had been completely drained, my spirit sucked dry by the endless rollercoaster of hope and despair. And, so it seemed, were my audience, as I heard the tiny pad of dejected footsteps mince out the bathroom door behind me. Without turning, I could see the dipped shoulders and the crestfallen expressions which bedevilled them, and when I heard the girl say, 'Come on, let's go and do maths homework even though we don't have to,' I knew that finally their spirits too had been defeated. 'I want to eat chocolate!' wailed the boy, but it was a joyless plea to the half-deaf goddess of false hope.

Resigned to that which had moved from a possibility to the outright assurance that I would be required to go through all this again the following day, I once more turned back to the last few grains of excrement lying in the corner of the ice cream bowl, through which I had still to search. However, I was consumed by the thought that it was in vain. I was three-nil down going into injury time. I was 67-8, needing another two hundred off the last five overs. I was fifteen over par with three holes to go before the cut was made at three under. I was 4th and 10 on my own three yard line, with six seconds left , no timeouts and trailing by nine points. I was doomed. Doomed to go through this routine, every morning it seemed for all eternity. I once more plunged my fingers deep into the pungent gloop, the succulent sound of squelching eating, through me like acid alien slime through the metal floor of a spaceship. Peas, corn, nuts, all the usual suspects were there in this final trawl through the unknown depths of degradation. In the distance, seemingly miles away on another continent, I could hear the children playing happily, throwing things at the television and performing nuclear experiments in the kitchen.

My fingers pinched together on something hard, making the breath catch in my throat. I looked down for the first time in an eternity. Having too often faced the horrible discomfort of disappointment, I was not about to start cracking open the champagne - not least, because I was still wearing rubber gloves smeared with keich - yet I could not help but feel the warm fingers of excitement and hope creep up my spine. Bringing my full complement of hands into play, I began to carefully brush away the clinging mass of excrement which embraced the small round object like a child hanging onto its mum. And suddenly, beautifully, with all the exquisite grace of an angelic host, something silver glinted between my fingers. In the skies above the grey clouds were once more rent asunder and the rays of the sun burst anew, making the small magnetic ball which I was clutching in my hand shine like the most effervescent sparkling disco glitter ball on planet earth.

'Yeeeeeeesssss!' I cried, 'Yes! Yes! Yes! Call forth the gods of rapture and on this day make preparations for such a celebration that no man has ever seen! I have the ball! I have the ball! The ball is mine! It is found! It is found! Cry freedom from this prison! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!' And then, in my stupidity, rather than wrapping it in many plastic bags and sticking it in the bin, I stupidly dropped it into the toilet, where of course it was to sit for many a day. On hearing my cries of exultation, the children dashed into the room, feverish balls of adrenaline waiting to explode. 'Did you find it?' they cried. They're pretty sharp. 'Yes!' I answered, in my joy eschewing the usual sarcasm. 'Great,' said one, 'can I get hot milk now?' 'Can I get chocolate?' said the other.

And just like that, the moment was gone, and the torture was over. To be replaced by that other torture, the constant demands of two small children. 'I want to watch tv.' 'I want sweets.' 'I want to paint, can we paint?' 'I want to draw on the walls.' 'I want to ride an elephant through the dining room.' 'I want to go into space, why do we never go into space?' 'I want to go to Disney.' 'I want chocolate, I haven't had chocolate for nearly ten minutes.' 'I want to swallow something else fun.' 'Hot milk! Can I get hot milk! I don't care that you're smothered in my brother's excrement, I want hot milk now! And if I don't get it, I'm going to act like a petulant teenager!' The ball had been found, and the great Ballbearing Cycle was over. None of our lives would ever be the same again, particularly our son's after we got his mouth sewn up. And yet we have moved on from that bleak and unhappy time, to forge ahead with our happy and contented lives as a model family with 2.4 children.

The rights to the Ballbearing Cycle have been purchased by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and he will be turning this amazing and incredible story into a stage show - with lyrics by Ben Elton - opening in the West End, autumn 2021.


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