the state of things
THE LAST FISH SUPPER - Making The Da Vinci Code Look Like A Novel, Since 2006
by Elvis Shackleton - 21:34 on 07 January 2013
Amongst the current exciting batch of digital releases from Blasted Heath is the Grail novel that some critics called "the Da Vinci Code with words", THE LAST FISH SUPPER. Unusually for a Barney Thomson novel there is little to no crime. It's intended to have the feel of a crime novel, but it's much more a tale of hope, obsession, madness, the Grail quest and the descendants of Christ.
The following short extract displays none of those things, but is nevertheless fairly representative of what makes up ninety percent of most Barney novels. (i.e. guys talking pish in a barbershop.)
THE LAST FISH SUPPER: for all your Grail novel needs. Read it and believe.
‘So, we go for a walk, beautiful, beautiful day. Warm and hazy, no clouds, the buzz of insects, the burble of a small river, just the slight breath of wind. All the live murmur of a summer’s day, as Arnold wrote, you know. Perfect. May 1941, remember it like it was yesterday. Birds in the trees, that delicious warmth that gets under your skin. Only one problem…’
‘The girl was mingin'?’ ventured Barney.
‘Crustaceous,’ said the old guy beneath his scissors. ‘Don’t know what was going on. I was with the Engineers, stationed down in the south of England. She was the sister of one of the other guys. Set me up totally. Got a weekend off, came up for a few days with her in Callandar, thought I was in luck. She meets me off the train. I’ll be wearing pink, she says, and that should have been the warning shot across the old bows straight off. Pink, for God’s sake. I takes one look at her and I think, you must be flippin’ kidding me, darlin’. I’m not touching you with a stick. Should have just walked right past her and gone to the boozer, got one of the other guys to write to her saying I’d been shot and killed in North Africa. But no, I’m a decent bloke, couldn’t completely blank her, so I go up, hold out my hand, I’m Rusty Brown, I say, and off we go for two nights in a hotel, and by jings was I glad we’d booked separate rooms. By jings!’
Barney stood back and checked the sides of the head. He was cutting the hair of another old fella in his early 90’s who’d come in looking for a Kobe Bryant. He was amongst strange people, but his gloom of early morning had lifted with his parade of pensioners with their stories and strange haircut requests. And it was almost as if they’d worked out the appointments between themselves, as they only ever came in one at a time.
‘So, where was I?’ said the old fella, who still called himself Rusty, even though he hadn’t been in the army since 1946, his given name Matthew was a perfectly acceptable name for anyone, and he was under no requirement whatsoever to have a schoolboy nickname. Like Midge Ure and Sting.
‘Beautiful summer’s day,’ said Barney. ‘Insects buzzing, trees and grass and a river running through it.’
‘Aye,’ said Rusty, ‘that was it. Postcard perfect. The war seemed a hundred miles away. Well, to be fair, it was actually about eight hundred miles away, but you know what I’m saying, it was like there was no war.’
‘I hear you,’ said Barney.
Igor swept and wished that Rusty Brown would get on with his story as he’d heard it before, and knew, as Barney did not, that he would tell it every time he came into the shop.
‘We sit by the river, side by side on the grassy bank. Watch the insects buzzing on the surface of the water, could even see a couple of fish. Not a soul in the world except me and the bogmonster from Inverary.’
‘So what happened?’ asked Barney.
Igor glanced up. You’ll only encourage him by asking questions, he thought, then he mouthed the answer in time with Rusty Brown’s reply.
‘I kissed her,’ he said, ruefully. ‘I kissed her! I mean, what was I thinking? In the name of God!’ He looked wide-eyed at Barney, Barney smiled. Igor’s timing had been perfect. He too looked wide-eyed and then he made the appropriate gestures with his hands as Rusty said, ‘How does that happen? Seriously. What is it that makes a sane man do something like that?’
‘How did you get out of it?’ asked Barney.
‘Ah,’ said Rusty and he looked sly. ‘I got one of the lads to send me a telegram telling me I was needed in Gallipoli.’
‘Right. Didn’t she know you’d got the wrong war?’
‘Ach,’ said Rusty, ‘she was a woman. She didn’t know the difference.’
Barney laid down the scissors, checked once more over the hair, then lifted the hand mirror to show Rusty the back of his head. Rusty nodded his appreciation, Barney went about the mop-up business, brushing off, removing the towel and cape.
‘Gave her brother a right bollocking when I got back,’ said Rusty. ‘Still, the eejit got a bullet in the face when he stepped off the boat in Normandy, so he got what was coming to him.’
Rusty straightened up, checked himself in the mirror, fished in his pocket for a fiver, handed it over, nodded at Barney, looked at Igor and said, ‘I’ve got a hunch you’ll be here the next time,’ then walked to the door laughing quietly to himself. Igor and Barney exchanged a look. And, as Rusty left, right on cue another old fella walked in, he and Rusty knocking knuckles as they passed. The door closed, the new customer looked from Igor to Barney.
‘You’re the new barber,’ he said to Barney, showing remarkable insight. ‘I’m Ginger Rogers.’
‘What can I do for you, Ginger?’ asked Barney.
Ginger removed his jacket and took his place.
‘I’ll have a Kiefer Sutherland, please, my man. 24.’
‘No problem,’ said Barney.
‘Aye,’ said Ginger Rogers. ‘It isn’t that they can’t see the solution, it’s that they can’t see the problem,’ he added, quoting GK Chesterton for no apparent reason.
‘Arf,’ said Igor from behind his broom.
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