Saturday, 21 May 2016

Down by the Side

I came to the seaside to find what was lost, but one can never go back. 
It doesn’t matter where; they’re all alike: one seaside town almost indistinguishable from the next, all dilapidated; worn through, whoring out what was left from the ‘60’s ‘kiss me quick’ innocence. It was a place I remembered from my childhood, one memory that had blurred into so many others. A worm cast of possibilities forgotten.
Childhood places certain pressures on adulthood; one can either forgive and forget, or spend a lifetime trying to uncover and atone. Perhaps it was the latter I was trying to do.

I remember that it took an interminable amount of time driving to this damn place, on nothing more than a whim. Of course, as a child I was free from the restrictions of miles-an-hour, junctions, roundabouts and road-rage (though I’m not sure that such a condition even existed when I was a child… how curious), not to mention the terminal traffic jam. I wasn’t much concerned about arriving anywhere as a child. It wasn’t that the journey was the destination –not in any Zen-like way, anyway- rather, I had absconded from reality completely, absorbed in whatever garish comic I had been given by my mother. At this stage I may have moved on from the naïve adventures of the Beano and had moved on to the British horror anthologies such as SCREAM!
But I digress….
As an adult I was no longer afforded the luxury of losing myself during the journey and had to sit through each torturous minute of it. By the time I arrived at the destination I was half a mind to drive home again.
After parking in the town centre I realised that I was lost; I didn’t remember any of this from childhood. Years ago it may have been but my memory wasn’t that bad… surely. I resided to wonder around regardless; I was on holiday, after all, and had no wish spending it alone at my flat. It was pleasant and warm out so I decided to stay.
The car park meter would only take exact change, something that I didn’t have and I resented having to pay the extra; but I paid begrudgingly and hoped that the money would choke the machine; causing it the metallic equivalent of reflux.

I took a path to the town centre and realised that, like before, this town was indistinguishable from the others that infested each other, like cancerous sores on the otherwise unblemished sandy beach. In my mind it was possible to walk from Climping to Selsey without tasting reality; as time functions differently in these coastal towns, like a bastard hybrid between eternal childhood and the smutty underbelly of the Carry-On’s and saucy post-cards, seen through the unforgiving eyes of today. Once they all seemed quaint, now just seedy and pathetic: the plastic windmills; bucket and spades that become warped and useless in the cold light of adulthood… But children aren’t interested in that kind of thing any more; they’re more violent than I ever used to be.

I went into a local tea-shop to get my bearings. I was loathe to go into a Starbucks or Cosa-Nostra coffee house. They seemed alien and out of place here. In more urbanised areas these had become almost pastiche and passé but here they seemed sophisticated and foreign, and I could envisage the patrons sipping absinthe rather than coffee. Worlds apart really; the double-Mocha latte as opposed to the granulated, freeze-dried generic crap served at the café I was visiting.
To be honest, it was only the waitress that caught my eye, said the fly to the honey-pot. She was young… too young to do anything about, but not young enough to feel guilty thinking about it. She smiled as she took my order and I felt ashamed at my previous thoughts. I asked the way to the beach, swiftly drank my coffee-flavoured water, left a sizeable tip to cover my guilt and left.

The road to the beach was squalid, run down and I found myself pitying the people who lived there. All the properties looked the same, just with different coloured front doors and different crap littering their minuscule gardens. The majority of them had their curtains drawn, whether to keep the world from seeing in or stop them from looking out in envy.
It was the boating pond that I recognised first. It had looked much larger as a child, of course, and cleaner too. I even remember paddling in it, but no one was that adventurous any more. Not that I blamed them…. The cloudy water gave way to silt and syringes. On the far side they were laughably trying to sell pedalo rides; a new white knuckle experience akin to canoeing across alligator infested swamps.
As I walked around there were a group of young children splashing about with small, gaudy coloured nets whilst their parents chatted, aimlessly ignoring their attempts to catch Lymes disease. An old man in an electric wheelchair lecherously hummed past them and I hoped that the wink he gave me was one based on resisting the temptation to push one of the buggers in… but I doubt it.
Further on was the object of my memories; the amusement park. As a child this seemed huge, cavernous even – the size of a shopping mall (even though no one had even heard of such a term outside of America at that time). There had been a hall of mirrors where I had become inextricably lost and immensely frightened. Sometimes I dream that I’m trapped there now; my life just another reflection.
The amusement park was nothing but an arcade that seemed bereft of shops. On the left was a ‘family’ café –squalid and beaten up from too many over-enthusiastic, coked-up kids (of the diet kind, of course) and on the right were all the slot machines and arcade games that one would expect to find; all jockeying and urging for attention, all promising but never paying out. Kids clamoured like flies to shit, pennies in sticky hands; adults flocking like addicts, eyes to the bigger pay-outs.
I picked a machine at random and put a couple of pounds in, a down-payment on yesterdays childhood. I became lost in the machines schemes and counter-schemes (Burgess, Phillby and MacClaen would have been proud) and unsurprisingly I lost my money rather quickly.
I walked through the rest of the arcade, ignoring the catcalls and coaxing, into the ‘fun’ area where all the rides were. It was still early and the rides hadn’t been switched on yet.
Expectant children mulled around their favourite rides whilst the attendants stared blindly out. They seemed immune and oblivious to the happy, happy, happy¸ atmosphere that the gaudy signs advertised. They were almost frightened of the kids as if they had totally forgotten what it felt like to be one. I felt a strange empathy with them; I couldn’t envisage a worse job: An artificially induced saccharine existence, selling a lie to zombies. Only a very desperate paedophile could put up with it, surely.
Without children the rides were just 21st Century torture devices designed to crush and re-mould impressionable young minds into dead adults. I walked around, trying to keep inconspicuous, aware that I was very much alone with no reason to be loitering in such a place. With none of the rides working it felt lonely, the children just ghosts of my own past and I quickly walked to the seafront.

The beach is a queer assault on the senses; a barrage on them, all at once. Aside from all the illicit sights there were derisory laughs from the gulls, in(s)ane cries from the kids (which often played on the emotional spectrum from anger, sadness to mania) matched by their argumental, disdainful parents.
Then there’s that unmistakable stench: a corrosive mix of seaweed, candy floss and fish & chips that could easily be weaponised to twist and pervert memories in homesick troops.
I found a secluded part of the beach far enough away from the rest where I could sit for a while. When I left the car it had been overcast and cool whereas now the sun was blazing and I was bemoaning the fact that I’d left my hat in the car and was wearing a long sleeved shirt and jeans.
The sand was hot but pleasant to sit on, and I sat in the corner with my back against one of the many sea-defences and had a full view of the beach. I wish I’d paid more attention to what was happening around me. But I looked out to sea, wanting to lose myself amongst the dirty green waves. (The sea is never blue except in memories and movies.) I wanted to be part of the ebb and flow the same way that I ached to be apart from it all. It was a similar sensation when I walked along cliff edges; part of me wanted to step off and be part of the infinite. It’s not a death wish and I don’t consider myself to be particularly deep, it’s just an urge I try to suppress.

I watched the sea haze into the sky and wondered again just what the hell I was doing there. It had been brewing for a while, an urge to visit this place and the more I tried to understand and rationalise the idea the more evasive it became. It was incessant and there were many times in the journey that I wanted to turn around but just couldn’t; something else felt in control.
And so here I was.
I initially thought it might have been about recovering lost memories –as most of my childhood is a blur- but nothing was forthcoming. It was a complete absence of memories and the more I tried to force them the more frustrated I became. I shut my eyes and tried to relax into enjoying myself a bit more; something I normally found infuriating. The word ‘fun’ was an enigma to me; I enjoyed doing certain things but for their own sake not for this amorphous concept called fun.

I didn’t notice her at first and I don’t even know how long she had been sitting next to me. It may have been the smell of her perfume or her proximity to me, but when I opened my eyes there she was, sitting between me and the sea like some errant mermaid.
She had flowing brown hair to her shoulders, a stern but cherubic face with a dose of freckles. A tight t-shirt amplified her curves and I was glad that I wore confining jeans rather than my normal immodest shorts. She also wore a flowing skirt which gave a lot to the imagination in the breeze. I found myself out of breath and wanted to get up, feeling suddenly exposed.
She put her hand on my arm and motioned in front of us.
See that bloke over there?” I followed her gaze but it was difficult to discern exactly who she was intimating to. “He’s my boyfriend.”
I was starting to feel quite uncomfortable now, it was hard to believe that such a woman was talking to me… I’m not unattractive by far, but I feel that a man should know his limitations.
We’ve just had a fight…. He doesn’t understand me…” She continued, oblivious to my discomfort. “He’s a weak man and despises me for my tenacity, but he can’t do anything about it. I have nothing but contempt for him.”
I wanted to get up again but she still had her hand on my arm and now squeezed it as if sharing a secret with me. “I want you to help me.” I looked at her now and tried to hide the panic in my eyes.
How?” I managed to croak.
I want to make him jealous. I want to make him suffer.” This was wrong … even though I had very little contact with people, even I knew that this.. what she was asking was wrong.. but I felt powerless to stop her, or myself.
Put your arm around me… Don’t look at me, look at him…. But put your arm around me.”
I did what I was told, placed my arm gently over her shoulders; something I had longed to do with a woman for many years, but not like this.
I didn’t know where to put my hand, unsure of how far she wanted to push this farce but she made it very clear when she placed it firmly on her breast. I was suddenly very aware of the other people on the beach: the families… the children. I wanted to withdraw my hand quickly but she held it in place and squeezed.
Now I could make out the man she was talking about, he was almost a thinner version of me… bespectacled and bookish; totally the opposite to what I expected. He was certainly no threat to me but I wandered what the hell she saw in him in the first place. He wasn’t looking directly at us but I knew he was aware of what was happening.
It was then that I felt her hand on my leg, working its way up to the heart of me. What was happening? Something I’d always fantasized about but never like this. I felt for the chap but couldn’t stop her from moving her hand higher. When she reached my crotch I felt her squeeze, gently at first but then with more pressure. I held my breath and grew hard beneath her.
That’s better… let’s make him really jealous.” She whispered in my ear and started stroking me, firmly feeling along my shaft, delineating it with her fingers through my jeans. I was aware of everyone’s eyes on me as she quickened her pace and pressure. I closed my eyes to block out the pleasure and their judgements.
Keep looking at him, make him suffer.”
So I did what I was told, kept looking at him as she worked me to climax and beyond. It was efficiency itself, like a trained whore she knew exactly what to do, with nothing to clean up after. That was down to me now, she could walk away… which she did, without a word. I had my eyes shut, partly out of shame.
When I opened them again she was gone. I looked out to where the man was …. He was still there but he held his head in his hands, wracking with sobs. I wanted to go over there, but say what?
When he looked up though he was actually smiling.. laughing, even; what was going on?
Even now I have no idea. Was he her boyfriend? If so, why was he smiling? Was he just another victim? Was she even there? Could she just have been a daytime hallucination – the cum in my boxers and the suspicious looking damp patch on my dreams were the only signs to the contrary…
I drove home perplexed; still none the wiser as to why I’d travelled there…

No, it was true, you can never go back… but you could sometimes come.

Monday, 9 May 2016


Being born with a name of Saul Kunt would have been a handicap to so many people but from an early age I realised that in order to survive I had to act like one.
I suppose time mellowed me a bit, but in my formative years all those who had mistaken me for an easy target ended up in hospital. However, I soon realised that the best kind of revenge was one that had a slow burn: I gained the trust of those who took the piss out of me, showed them that I was a better man by laughing along with them, and inevitably become friends with them.  Actually I was learning all I could about them, finding out their weak spots to exploit them in the nastiest possible way. Revenge was always best savoured and before long people feared and respected me.
It was inevitable that I ended up on television as a chat show host. I started off on hospital radio with a watered down, all 'happy-happy' show to a captive audience, but it was when I was talent spotted and booked onto local radio that I really took off. The format was deceptively simple – ridicule the guests. Set up a subject of debate, wait until the crackpots started ringing in and then rip them to shreds Yes, it did mean a fair few complaints were registered but it also generated a huge increase in listeners, an almost unprecedented 70% increase. That was when the offers flooded in and the only real choice was to move to a national radio station or leap into television; which was no choice at all.

Ah, but it had been a good night’s show, the guest had actually broken down and snivelled like a baby. I liked it when that happened and it always bolstered the ratings and meant higher viewings on YouTube.
The television show was the same format as the radio show but now I had researchers digging into the guests past. They always managed to find the something great to use which is why they were paid so well.
The chat show became an overnight sensation. It didn’t matter whether people loved it or hated it, as long as they talked about it and they certainly did that!  It made me many enemies: the friends and family members of those I had publicly humiliated were my main detractors, but they were mostly nothings to begin with. They were all given £250 for their time, so what was the big deal?
I'd also been given my fair share of death threats over the years but I was still on the air and no one had ever made good on them! I often wondered, though, how the researchers kept finding people to go on the show. I was in such a good mood that night though, and there wasn’t much further to go before home I decided to walk the rest of the way. I couldn’t have made a worse move.

Despite the chill, despite the grime washed streets my spirits were high, and why shouldn’t they be? There was nowhere to go but up. It wasn’t until I heard the scuff and stumble behind me that I realised that I was being followed.
It was too late at night for someone to be on their way home from work, or walking the dog. These were lesser known roads which was why I lived there. I quickened my pace and listened out for the footsteps behind, and yes - the other persons pace quickened as well, their breath becoming laboured as I broke into a run. I was still ten minutes away from home and I wasn't sure could I make it. What a stupid way to die!
Maybe there was a way I could turn this to my advantage though. I was known for the gift of the gab, after all, and I can get most people eating out of my hand, given time. So I stopped suddenly and swung around….
Right into a clumsy left hook which knocked me to the floor, blood smearing down my nose. I fell awkwardly,twisting my ankle, cursing doubly for a being a bloody fool. I looked up at the sunken, crazed eyes of my attacker. A dull knife stared back angrily. The man was no revenge seeker, just some kind of junkie opportunist and like a complete arse and I had handed him a golden opportunity!
What dya want?” Was all I could manage, wiping the blood from my mouth. One false move and I could get knifed, and no one would mourn except for the television executives.
Fuckin’ money.” Was the only reply I got in return, little more than a strangled croak, he was badly gone. Part of me was relieved though; if this had been a matter of revenge then I might have been dead by now.
Truthfully I don’t have any money on me now, my friend.” I replied, playing for time. Sooner or later the junkie would get fed up and leave him be.
Fuckin’ money.”
No can do.. haven’t got any on me.”
Fuckin money!.” He took a step closer. The knife was one step closer to me.
You’re not listening to me. I don’t have any money on me, I don’t carry any money on me at all.”
Pockets.. empty ‘em.” The knife jerked in exclamation. 
Look… I’m going to get up and show you that I have not got any money on me.” The junkie shuddered with each word that was spoken.
I got up slowly, painfully from the ground still trying to figure out the best way to handle this situation. Could I rush the guy, force the knife away and make a run for it? Or just try to bluff my way. I hadn’t been in a fight in years and didn’t fancy my chances, so it would have to be a bluff and hope I could get out unscathed.
So I turned out my pockets. The junkie took another step closer and leaned in towards, patted me down like a drunken police officer. I tried not to gag at his pungent, shit streaked clothes.
See.. told you – no money.” I flashed one of his prize winning smiles and stepped backwards. That was my biggest mistake. The junkie reacted, misinterpreting the move either as an attack. He lashed out with the knife, I barely avoided it, twisting badly and fell on my back again. I was for it now – the great Saul Kunt, killed by a junkie.
Whether the junkie was that desperate or bored, I didn’t know, but the killing blow never came. But that didn’t stop him from using me as a hacky-sack. None of the kicks had any power, but they all hurt and there was nothing I could do but curl up into a ball. The blackness was a welcome relief, a commercial break.

Pain woke me; beautiful, miraculous pain. It meant that I was alive and that was all that mattered. Was the junkie still around? I opened my eyes and thankfully there was no one else to be seen. It was still night so I hadn’t been out long.
It was raining now though –perfect. Well, tonight had changed from being one of the best nights of my career to one of the worst, and what made it even worse was that I couldn’t take that fucker apart on the show; there was no chance of retribution.
I picked myself off the ground and cursed: was there anywhere that didn’t hurt? My ankle felt swollen where I'd twisted it and my trousers were smeared with crap and rubbish, and god knows what else. I felt sodden and torn. My head throbbed like a paranoid's eyeball so there was possibly a concussion there too. I was battered and bruised from where the junkie had kicked and could barely walk. The best thing I could do was knock on the first door I came to and hope that they would treat me favourably. The last thing I needed was to be harassed and berated on top of this.
The apartment was unassuming and I barely made it. My head throbbed harder now and even leaning on the door frame was proving to be more than I could handle. There was no door bell… great. Pain fogged my vision now and I groped for a door-knocker, anything. I found something metal and banged it twice, three times.. then four times! The door finally opened and I fell inside, a bloodied, bruised heap on the floor. “And it’s the man you love to hate!” I slurred as the blackness slammed up against me once again.

When the darkness dissolved back into the light I thought I'd just been reborn into b-movie heaven. Everything was a relic from yesteryear. My body still ached as the bruises competed with each other for my attention. Lying on my back, my head propped up on the arm of a sofa, the type that MFI used to sell –ten years before it went bust! There was a cold compress on my forehead and it felt soothing. It was the only part of me that didn’t hurt.
The furniture must have taken a lifetime to crib together from thrift stores and charity shops. Everything was far older than I was, and I only really recognised most of it through old movies and repeats on television. An old retro teak sideboard took up the entire length of the small room with a lava lamp pulsating indigo waves across the walls and a record player… not a cd player, or an mp3 docking station – a genuine record player, complete with huge speakers. The carpet was a little threadbare and the ceiling was artexed…. It was surreal.
There was also an old radio which looked like one of the valve sets built from scratch through love and patience -two qualities that I had no time for normally. Surely it was a replica.
No – that’s an original.” Walked a voice into the room, slightly nasily but warm and friendly. “It was difficult to source all the parts, and it only has a few programmes that I can pick up –it’s limited to AM or LW broadcasts, but there are still a few die hard enthusiasts, like me, out there. The rest of the world brands us fogies, but we’re happy.” They call you worse than that, I thought but held my tongue. This odd individual had shown me kindness, the first act of kindness perhaps in many years and I didn’t want to ruin things just yet. “Luckily they all have the same kind of musical tastes as me, so it’s always worth tuning in. It’s funny – we all communicate with each other, by letter of course. There’s less… snail mail these days so it gets to us quicker!”
I looked up to the source of the voice. A ruffled mop of conkered hair, thick lensed glasses barely hiding intelligent eyes and a crooked but endearing smile. He carried a tray with tea and biscuits. “I’m sorry; I should have introduced myself first rather than rabbit on like that. I don’t get many visitors. My name is Graham Cleverly, apologies of the surname. It was a source of amusement at school and I suffered for it… And you are?”
He doesn’t recognise me? I was amazed and tried to keep the surprise from showing in my face; there was a small part of me strangely disappointed though. Course, that might change though when I introduced myself.
Oh.. I think I can relate to that… You think you had it bad, Graham, my name is Kunt. Saul Kunt, at your service.”
Graham looked perplexed. It was obvious to him that there was a punchline that he had missed but couldn’t grasp it. “It’s a sexual swear word.. a nasty word for… well..” I was actually almost blushing, something rare for me. “I don’t think we need to go into that now.” I laughed and Graham smiled back. Could anyone be this naïve?
Oh.. I understand what you mean. I think I must’ve lived quite a sheltered life compared to the others that you meet.” I’ll say you have. “But I do understand how people can be. Fickle is the word, I think. Popularity is like a woman, I’ve heard it said before. She has to be courted and wooed, brought gifts and seduced but she can turn on you in an instant.” Graham explained and clicked his fingers in emphasis. I nodded, trying to understand his angle. “Not that I’d really understand that analogy.” He laughed, almost braying in the process.
Don't worry, I know exactly what you mean. I haven’t heard it put quite like that before, but it’s the most accurate explanation I’ve heard.” All the time I'm thinking, he’s not heard of me! He didn’t bat an eyelid when I mentioned my name. How can he have not heard of me? I looked around the room, saw loads of books lining several cases, racks of vinyl records and yet more books and then I finally realised!
You’ve got no television set.”
Nope.” Graham replied. “I don’t believe in them.”

This was a dream come true. Despite the initial reservations it became obvious to me that Graham genuinely didn’t know who I was and the lack of television made it perfect. I soon realised that Graham didn’t believe in the modern world, he didn’t own a computer, mobile phone or even an i-pod. He played records, listened to AM radio, read dusty books by the dozen and interacted with the outside world only when absolutely necessary.
He’d built up a relationship with the few local shops that were left and who were more than happy to deliver to his home address for cash and a healthy tip. Graham was independently wealthy so didn’t need to worry about anything. All his money was kept secure in his house. I asked whether the money was actually safe and Graham simply nodded and smiled. “Burglars will take two minutes to check the place and realise that there’s nothing worth stealing. There’s nothing modern that looks as if it’s worth a damn.” I could only nod at that. Graham was eccentric but certainly not stupid. 
He’d inherited his money through his parents who were antique dealers themselves and quite recluse as well. This was when the past was actually worth something, Graham added.
Everything has become so trivial today, and I think that television is to blame for that.” I found it hard not to blush again, or to take offence. Part of me almost agreed with Graham though, and that was a strange admission.
It was safe to say that I'd never met anyone like him, and didn’t want to spoil things just yet. There was no guile about him, no game playing. He was very open, very honest and direct. What you saw was the whole package and I liked that.
Graham saw technology as an alienating force, separating the person from itself and from society. He laughed though when I pointed out that Graham was the one living the life of the recluse. “It suits me fine though. Life moves far too fast for me out there.” He admitted. “I can’t keep up. There’s no getting to know each other, not really. Everything’s on show, everything’s for sale. Everything and everybody is commented on all the time and there’s no time to develop oneself. It’s all instant ego gratification and I refuse to live in that kind of world.”
For someone so isolated Graham was remarkably aware of things in the outside world. “Oh well.. I’ve already said that I have plenty of pen pals, so to speak, and they’re not all recluses like me. Some of them even have a life!” I chuckled at that.

It was noticeable to everyone who met me the next day; from the driver, to the research team and even to the make-up team though no one could quite place it at first. Initially people thought I'd simply gotten laid, but it was soon pointed out that there were certain high-class agencies who already looked after that particular area of my life.
It couldn’t have been religion because I'd single handedly exposed and humiliated countless clergymen, priests and preachers on the show and it was highly doubtful that any church would let me within a hundred miles of salvation now. After a few days of my new behaviour they simply decided to make the most out of it while it lasted, but all were wary just in case I was lulling them into a false sense of security. Truth be told, even I didn't know what was going on...

I had found myself someone that I could actually really talk to. Not talk at, or down to as was normally the case. With Graham I didn’t have to worry about my public persona or others wanting to covet my show -which was one of my biggest fears.
Show-business had become really cut-throat, not the least bit exacerbated by the show. It raised the nasty stakes for broadcasting. Game shows now made contestants go through psychological and physiological traumas before they won their measly prize, which was often just enough to cover the Dr’s fees or therapy sessions. My show had even been used as a springboard to oust some studio exec’s job… which often meant resignations and promotions galore, and i know that that it was only a matter of time before someone succeeded in doing that to me. At the moment I had a tight network of highly paid spies to keep an eye on things and there were at least two occasions where that had paid dividends and I'd barely managed to evade potential embarrassment and humiliation. I’d been lucky so far, but it was constant strain.
When I was with Graham, however, I could drop the pretences, I could be something new and completely unrealised before – myself.
I don’t understand what’s so different about being yourself?” Graham would ask. “How can you not know whether you like, for instance, the Beatles early or late music? Or whether Warhol’s works were art or sociological predictions? How can you not have an opinion?”
Truth be told, I only felt comfortable with Graham at night. During the day I was followed by various bodyguards and studio lackeys, but at night I could relax off. My home was more like a compound and it was generally observed that I had no other reason to leave the comparative safety of it. I also knew that Graham very rarely went to bed before midnight so I could visit him at ten, under cover of darkness, dressed in a trench coat and fedora. It was such a blatant disguise that no one ever paid any attention to it.
I always maintained that it was for Graham's protection that such elaborate measures were taken, and part of that was true. It was also because I wanted Graham to myself, the last untouched bastion of sanity left in my world. To be brutally honest I was also unsure how others would perceive him. I doubted that people would understand Graham's allure.
You don’t understand show business.” I replied. Graham motioned for me to elaborate further. “It’s like being a spy the whole time, like being in Orwell’s 1984. I have to toe the company line and even though I’m quite an influential person on television I’m still living on a knife edge, trying to keep up a cover story. Everyone wants a piece of who they think you are and there’s not enough of the real me to go around any more. I’ve lost sight of who that is, actually. Which is why I’m grateful to have met you.”
You’re just daft, that’s all.” Graham mocked. “it sounds like there’s a lot of it about though.”
What’s that?”
People being daft!”
More than you know.” I replied. Graham’s simplistic way of seeing things burned through all the layers of crass bullshit that surrounded my life and the more I saw of him the more I wished my life was like his life –uncomplicated.

Every time I visited Graham’s I bought hima gift; I felt so much in his debt. To start with it was simply payback for saving my life when we first met. I bought a cd player and cd’s of his favourite albums, then a digital clock that he didn’t need to wind up, a microwave oven; silly things that I thought would make his life easier.
Graham was far too polite to refuse them, even if he didn’t always know what to do with them. He wanted to please me (who seemed far too unhappy for someone who seemed to have everything, according to Graham). So he lied about the cd’s, even though vinyl sounded warmer and more inclusive, intimate even. He didn’t like the taste of microwave meals and only ate them when I came over.
Graham saw it as me trying to buy his friendship, it was unnecessary but didn't understand, to me this was what friends did . But with each gift Graham noticed a faint humming sound that I just couldn’t quite place, and the more labour saving devices that I brought round the more pronounced it became. Graham didn’t mind it at first, but now three months into the friendship it was a constant peripheral buzz and he said that it made it harder for him to think clearly.

I must admit, I was finding things difficult as well. I felt as if I was almost becoming schizophrenic; worse; I was unsure what part of me was more real.  I was also finding the “I, Kunt” show harder to manage for my heart just wasn’t in it as much. Meeting up with Graham was showing me a better way of being.
People noticed the change early on but put it down to sex, a flu virus or a new shrink and prescription drugs. As the weeks progressed, however, and turned into months they had to change their views. That’s when the questions became vocal and I had to account for the change in behaviour, especially when it started to impact on ratings. I was becoming too nice on the show and it was also starting to unhinge some people, making others very uncomfortable.
Obviously I picked up on this and it just made me more determined to prove that I was changing. I spoke to Graham about meeting some of my friends… well, work colleagues. I had to prove to them that this was real…. Graham was reticent at first.
Meeting you is fine, there are no pressures for you to be anyone else but yourself. I don’t think the same will be true when we’re out with your other social circle.” He explained.
I don’t have a social circle, that’s the point. It’s all lies.” I replied, it was hard work and I wondered why I needed such validation. Why wasn’t it enough to have the friendship and leave it at that? Surely I was better off than so most of them? Was it, in fact, that I needed to prove them all wrong; that I was better than my surname suggested? But I wasn’t like that any more. Surely I was allowed to change. Eventually Graham agreed to meet up for the meal ...just for a couple of hours. Surely it could only make things better? It actually made things worse.

If people had suspected I had something up my sleeve before then they were certain of it after meeting Graham.
There was nothing wrong with the way that Graham behaved; he was in no way socially awkward –which I admit was my biggest fear. If anything Graham was relaxed, erudite and even funny on occasion. He, admittedly, knew nothing about modern technology, television or much about my life but that was all glossed over in the evening and used as the fulcrum of later arguments.
It was 'obvious' to everyone that I was setting Graham up. It was cruel, uncompromisingly so, but calculatingly brilliant. It was viral marketing at its most inspired, and the more I denied it the more insistent the rumours became.
Nobody seemed to take Graham seriously either. He was a constant source of ridicule, and there was even talk of him getting a spin-off series (Life In The Gray Line – a reality tv series where nothing happened). I desperately wanted people to see me the way that Graham did; the truth and honesty. I also wanted people to see the real Graham as well; the old world charisma, the corny but good natured jokes. Graham cared first and foremost and I was starting to, as well.

Then it dawned on me what to do. There was only one way I could get the world to see Graham as I did, and that was by putting him on the show. The ratings had slowly dropped recently as my heart was no longer into all the humiliating business. But this show, based on Graham's life, would show people what they were missing!
I even wanted a studio audience, some thing unheard of those days; I wanted Graham to see how loved he really was. The audience reaction to his charming idiosyncratic genius would be heart warming and I wanted Graham to see it. The studio execs were rubbing their hands with glee as they’heard of my dastardly plan.
On the day of the broadcast Graham was apprehensive.
Tell me again how you managed to talk me into this?” He asked.
They’ll love you.”
The audience was getting restless. They wanted feeding.

The broadcast… the gallows…. The couch seemed both too big and far too small for Graham. It had been designed to be as uncomfortable as possible and I wished that I’d realised sooner.
The lights were blazing and made things so much worse –there was no hiding anything. Every nuance of expression was for show; he was a small man caught in a big net.
I swallowed, took a deep breath and smiled encouragingly at Graham as the studio manager indicated that we were now live across the entire world. The studio audience held their breath in anticipation; they had been primed that something special was going to happen tonight and despite the recent downward trend, this was the one to watch.
It started badly.
People seem to think that it’s impossible for a man to change.” I said, aware that the camera was doing its best not to pan over to the enigma that sat to my right. “Anyone can change if they’re given the chance, and luckily I was given that chance! I never realised that
there was more to life than this.” I waved my hand to encompass the studio and I was aware of mutterings from the crew and a couple of audience members were leaving noisily. The rest shifted uneasily.
This chap here saved my life.” I intimated to Graham and the camera pulled back to show him poised nervously on the edge of the seat. His long legs crossed uncomfortably, his back sloped. He looked completely off balance. “In more ways than one… he didn’t do anything particularly heroic, but what he did was to open the door to a complete stranger and show him unconditional kindness. These last three months he’s continued to show me that same kindness as he’s opened his doors to me time and time again. He’s one of the most caring and thoughtful individuals that I’ve ever come across.” Graham blushed and tried to harrumph it away, but then became silent when the camera took a close up. I continued. “I’ve learnt things through Graham and believe that I’m becoming a better man. I sleep better and understand people more. He’s my friend and I want you all to meet him.”
Sharp lights choked back Graham’s reply. Not a great start, I thought ; his glasses reflected back too much and amplified his eyes like a magnifying lens. His presence was more akin to an open university lecturer who had wondered into the wrong studio.
I wondered, for the first time, whether I was doing the right thing. It was an inevitability, the veritable deer trapped in headlights, it’s own death approaching. I carried on, I had no choice now; I had to see this through.
True, Graham is a slice of yesteryear, so refreshing and quite an eye opener to me, I can tell you!” I continued as Graham tried not to shift about so much. “I wouldn’t say that he’s out of touch with us today for in some ways he’s still kept things that we’ve forgotten. But he’d never seen a CD before I played him one, let alone heard of music downloads. He still had a record player, would you believe! What do you think of the difference though, Graham?”
I preferred the vinyl.” Graham replied. The audience barely chuckled and more people were leaving.
It’s true; he does still prefer to listen to the records… and the bizarre thing is that he’s right! I started listening to some of his albums and they sound so much richer and warmer. How can that be? Mind you, he doesn’t even have a TV! Can you believe that! Why don’t you have a television set, Graham? You don’t even use the one that I bought you…”
I don’t have any need for it…I read, listen to the records.” This was no good, Graham was far too tense. He looked stiff and wooden and more people were leaving.
I don’t miss it either when I’m at your place. We talk most of the time and listen to music. You’re so knowledgeable as well, Graham – how so?”
Because I don’t watch TV?” he ventured, unaware of what he was saying… That’s going to hurt the ratings. People didn’t like to be reminded that they were stupid, and more people were leaving.
Well… you certainly read more than many people.” I carried on, trying to salvage what I could. “Most of the books must be from libraries, I guess? What do you think of the governmental plan to shut down more libraries?” He had to think of something, anything to engage Graham and to show people exactly what it was that had so entranced him. But at this moment in time I was finding it hard to see that spark himself.
Well.. I heard someone say that it was possible to determine the degree of civilisation by the way they treated their books. Our libraries are falling into disarray; they’re old, dusty buildings and the books are often in a really bad way.”
I’m not sure what you’re saying.” I replied, trying to hint to Graham to shift his tack of conversation but he was too pre-occupied by the nova heat coming from the lights; he was oblivious to everything else. Straightening his tie nervously he dug himself deeper in to the unscheduled suicide. I never dreamed it could go as badly as this. What had I been thinking?
Well.” Graham started to reply. Doubt flashed across his face and I hoped that he would come to his senses. But he didn't. “I don’t interact with people, as you.. ahem.. know. I just can’t. They live by the sound bite, short twittered attention spans, no depth to their lives. Books are an investment into ones soul, allowing the individuals to grow, but all I see are stunted people everywhere.”
I desperately looked around for anyone to signal to. This had to be taken off air, it was worse than watching a car crash because he was actually in the middle of it. And there were still people walking out, now in droves.
They hadn’t come to be insulted, they wanted to see some other poor slob humiliated. All the crew thought it was part of my plan and just held Graham’s gaze as he fell deeper and deeper into that pit of celebratory suicide in which there was no coming back from.
Worse than that, he was dragging me into it and pretty soon people would realise that it wasn’t all a prank; part of the gag, and my reputation would be in ruins –if it wasn’t already.
There was no choice. Even though it meant damning Graham and a small part of my own soul, I had to do it. That was what I told himself, there was no choice.
Whoah, whoah there, tweetie pie. I think we’ve heard enough from you!” Graham swung round to face me but the lights got there first, shining directly behind Saul to catch every nuance of the betrayal as it happened. The audience suddenly stopped shuffling out and turned, holding its breath in awe at this masterful switch.
I had actually managed the impossible; convinced everyone that I had finally lost the plot, only to trump everyone at the last conceivable second. The crowd surged back in, the scent of blood heavy on the air. Anything was possible now.
I laid into Graham; nothing was sacred, nothing left unsaid and there was nowhere for Graham to turn to. He had not the guile nor the defences to save himself from my savagery.
I had no choice, I kept saying that to myself… It was him or me and Graham had made his choice when he opened the door to me.
Soon all thoughts of morality and pity had left me and I was simply faced with the image of every-man. All the people that had ever criticised me or threatened me. This was the time to show them what lengths I would go to destroy anyone who stood in my way. This was the time to show why I was crowned the king of tv, the man you loved to hate. The executives were so pleased with what was happening they allowed the programme to overrun for an extra half-an-hour. Something unprecedented! It was the time of the Kunt.

I was hailed as a true giant after that and no one would ever question my judgement again, or try to usurp my position (for at least another year). Part of me died that night though. But I didn't really care. Life was even better now... There was one incident though that made me question myself.
I'd chosen to walk home again. There were no muggers any more, everyone knew who I was now and I’d earned begrudging respect of even my most hated foes. For the time being I was safe.
As I walked closer to home I noticed a familiar front door, even though it was boarded up, as were the windows. Broken glass lay haphazardly on the pavement and in the gutters and at first I thought that there was no one living there any more. Then I realised that I could hear music, faint and crackly, coming from within. I knew who lived there and had completely forgotten that he lived so close.
Part of me wanted to knock on the door, prostrate myself upon the doorstep and beg for forgiveness; a forgiveness that I neither deserved nor truly wanted. Graham understood anyway. Indeed, there had been many times he had actually espoused that modern man had evolved, but at such a cost. Now, at least, he knew that to be true.