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The woman on the supermarket checkout has lank blonde hair and a face like a slapped arse. Vincent tries to gain eye contact as she scans his grocery items through the electronic pricing system. Small tin of beans. Beep. Bunch of bananas. Beep. One giant Eccles Cake. Beep. An awkward silence ensues leaving Vincent to fix his attention on the woman's scuffed badge bearing the name 'Bernadette'. More items pass through the scanner. Packet of crumpets. Beep. Cat Food. Beep. Vincent stares vacantly along the endless row of checkouts before suddenly remembering that he's forgotten to pick up toilet rolls.
9 a.m. is Vincent's favourite time to go swimming. He loves the smell of chlorine in the morning. By nine, he's missed the arseholes who rise at dawn and cause havoc in the fast lane before departing for joyless jobs as estate agents and traffic wardens. Vincent prefers a more leisurely pace, floating in the slow lane amongst the elderly ladies doing backstroke and pot-bellied men struggling with doggie paddle. As he swims, he lets the melody from the ‘Blue Danube' float through his head. If he's lucky he remembers to close his mouth as abandoned verruca plasters float by.
Vincent has lived in London all his life but is nevertheless astounded to read that the city is home to over seven million people. This evening he saw a middle-aged man dressed in a pin-striped suit, a bowler hat, diving goggles and a pair of flippers holding an open pink umbrella over his head walking towards oncoming traffic in the middle of a major road. Nobody else seemed to notice anything unusual. Vincent, turns over in bed, switches off the lamp and wonders how many other Londoners are resisting the daily urge to parade unnoticed in their flippers and goggles.
"I am my own worst enemy." says the bleary-eyed Nigerian taxi driver to a drunken Vincent as the beaten up Ford Sierra speeds them through the blinding lights of a motorway underpass at midnight. "My problem is promiscuity. I drink and do drugs. Shooting cocaine lost me my eye muscles. I would never shoot it directly into my eyes but they would always blur shooting cocaine. Now I have to wear glasses when I read. Like that man says, I do not believe it." The aroma of fried chicken lingers in the cab from the previous passenger. Vincent's stomach rumbles.
Vincent usually carries a banana about his person. He skips breakfast and eats the banana whenever he feels his energy levels dipping. This morning he stands half asleep in the foyer of Holland Park tube station waiting for the elevator. Experiencing an energy low, he removes the banana from his pocket and begins to eat it. The elevator doors slide open to reveal thirty-two old-aged pensioners cramped tightly together. After the pensioners untangle umbrellas, handbags and walking sticks they slowly file out. One old woman wearing bright pink glasses smiles at Vincent and says "You weren't expecting that were you?"
Grey bathwater laps gently around Vincent's pale body in his fluorescent-lit bathroom. An hour earlier an egg could have boiled in the piping hot water. Now it is almost cold. Three pubic hairs cling to the dirty water outlet and Vincent concludes that he has failed miserably in his cleaning duties. Outside, the unmistakable sound of ‘Hey Macarena' drifts in from the living room. At the point in the song where most people would jump around on the dance floor, Vincent closes his eyes tightly, splashes a handful of water across his face and submerges himself beneath the murky surface.
Vincent is thinking about becoming a vegetarian. Not because of suggestions that the meat served up in burgers and sausages is reconstituted cow's bowel or shredded intestine. It's more that Vincent has a feeling that in the future, science will make advances in the understanding of animal intelligence which will prove that the way humans treat them is beyond the horror of the holocaust. What's disturbing is the fact that this notion crossed his mind whilst sitting on a bus opposite an overweight woman in dark glasses who wore a bright yellow T-shirt bearing the legend 'I SELL CAT MILK.
A bright, white, silvery full moon illuminates wispy grey clouds hanging magically in the deep blue sky. On nights like this, Vincent chooses not to switch any house lights on when he gets home from work. Wearing only his underpants, he lies motionless on cool varnished floorboards, bathing his body in the moonlight. Usually it's the perfect antidote to an awful day avoiding the different kinds of arsehole trampling the chewing-gum-paved streets of London. But tonight, through paper-thin living room walls he hears the sound of a drug-crazed Brazilian neighbour playing a smashing, crashing drum solo. Inconsiderate fuck.
Vincent sits in a dingy toilet cubicle. Carved into the grimy formica wall are the words ‘I WISH MY WIFE WAS THIS DIRTY'. Underneath is the riposte ‘SHE IS'. From outside comes the swoosh of an opening door. Seconds later, a fart cracks out, followed by a shrill South African voice "Did you hear that? I wasn't sure I'd get here in time. I nearly pissed my trousers." Vincent sits sheepishly and waits for the swoosh signifying that the man has left. He reaches silently for paper and his eye catches three words beneath the plastic dispenser EVLIS IS KING.
As part of his morning ritual, Vincent listens to short wave radio frequencies whilst shaving. As the cold razor slowly removes yesterday's bristles, his mind disengages to sonorous foreign voices broadcasting across the universe. Recently, he's listened to solemn Germans paying elegiac tributes to Marilyn Monroe, food critics celebrating excellent seafood restaurants on Radio Prague and a tuneful balalaika orchestra from Helsinki on Radio Minsk. One morning, as he lathered his face, the sound of a French woman singing ‘You Don't Have To Say You Love Me' drifted eerily in and out of the static interference. Jai Guru Deva Om.
Vincent loves pornographic magazines. Not because of their explicit content - all big titted women lounging around in absurd poses as if they're mentally retarded. He is more amused by the garish strap lines flashed across the magazine covers, designed to entice the hapless reader into buying them. When he stands in a newsagents queue he enjoys standing behind grey-haired old ladies, looking up at the top shelf and reading imaginatively pitched slogans such as FILL ME UP, MILK ME LIKE A MARINE and (in a touching homagé to rap artist LL Cool J), MAMA SAID LICK ME OUT.
At night, before bedtime, Vincent ingests cheese-on-toast, cough mixture and cranberry juice in the hope of inducing irregular dreams. His results are encouraging. Last night he had a vivid dream about competing in the World Onion Juggling Championships. Family and friends gathered to cheer him on. Other respected onion jugglers from around the world watched keenly, all of them wishing him ill. As the cheers grew to a crescendo, a shadowy figure emerged from the crowd with a knife. Somehow, Vincent knew the blade was meant for him but juggled on regardless. As the knife finally plunged, Vincent awoke.
Vincent watches a television documentary about a killer tornado that ravaged the town of Kalamazoo in 1980. Later while chopping onions, the words to the song ‘I've Got A Girl In Kalamazoo' trickle through his consciousness and he realises how much he loves the word Kalamazoo. It occurs to him that he also likes the words sachet and meander. And malingerer. Yesterday in a café that smelled of cigarettes and chip fat, a wizened old lady in a hairnet asked whether he wanted any garnish with his baked potato. Which made him realise how much he likes that word too.
"AND LET ME TELL YOU…" screams the voice of a crackpot radio evangelist from Michigan. "SATAN'S WHORES ARE NOW CONTROLLING HEAVENS ONE AND TWO. THAT'S 178 TRILLION MILES OF SPACE. IF ALIENS DO EXIST, SATAN'S WHORES ARE CONTROLLING THEM TOO." As the preacher spews quotes from the Book of Revelations, he is joined by a woman. She suggests that some people have computer chips sewn into their brains – unaware that they are now controlled by robots. Vincent smiles. He rinses out his razor blade as the woman sighs "If ever we needed to be ready we need to be now."
Vincent is in ticket hall of Ladbroke Grove Tube station. A cherubic girl sits atop her father's shoulders, slapping his ears. A sign appeals for information about the abduction of a child by two women. Up the stairs a few pages of the Financial Times lie discarded. On the platform, various people stand around avoiding eye contact. A Japanese man reads about the winners of the Football League. An woman in a multi-coloured coat flicks through an old green book. A Cyclopean closed circuit camera watches closely over them all as they wait for a train to carry them on.
A woman called Phyllis lives in the flat below Vincent. She claims to be 103 years old and suggests that she is in regular contact with the ghost of Winston Churchill. When this information arose in conversation, Vincent was sceptical. Since then, a few things have caused him to reconsider. A couple of times he's entered the living room to find that the television has mysteriously changed channels to documentaries about Adolf Hitler. On one occasion he awoke from a deep sleep to use the toilet at 4am and the distinctive smell of cigars drifted up from the flat below.
Vincent is named after a 22 stone policeman from Wigan. The policeman who discovered him when he was abandoned at 8 days old in a brown Vauxhall Cavalier between junctions 16 & 17 on the southbound carriage of the M6 on September 4th 1969. Television, newspaper and radio appeals were made but Vincent's parents never came forward. Medical experts were astounded at the baby's ability to survive sub-zero weather conditions. Police experts were bewildered at the significance of a battered green notebook, two miniature porcelain dogs and a tin of corned beef left purposefully at the crying baby Vincent's side.
A favourite tune of Vincent's is Duke Ellington's ‘Caravan'. Whenever he hears the lilting tune, it reminds him of summer holidays sharing a six berth with his adopted family. Vincent's lasting memories of the time are the acrid smell of calor gas lamps and stalk-eyed crabs held captive in buckets beneath the caravan. Sometimes, a bearded man would walk around the site wearing nothing but sandals and bright yellow swimming trunks. Vincent's adopted parents never understood the man's idiosyncratic ways. Whenever he appeared, his mother would jokingly say "Here's Nature Boy." Vincent would smile but silently admire his free-thinking style.
Vincent stands vacantly on the kerb of a busy road clutching a four-pack of lager. Traffic hurtles past inches from his face. Suddenly his eyes meet those of an exceptionally attractive blonde woman who whizzes past on a bicycle. Within seconds she has gone. All that’s left is the sight of an ample, denim-clad arse, raised out of the saddle disappearing into the twilight. Perfume mixes with car fumes. The glistening of lip-gloss burns onto his retina. As he walks quickly across the road, the thought occurs that on some occasions beauty can be in the eye of the beerholder
Vincent cleans wax from his ears with the lid of a ball point pen. Whenever he meets someone new, the ears are the first things to be examined. Some say eyes are the windows of the soul but ears invariably offer greater surprises. Eyes obscure the truth. Ears never lie. This aural epiphany happened in a cinema when Vincent noticed the size of the actor Hugh Grant's tiny ears. After that, he stopped taking them for granted. He probes gently with the pen lid and remembers that ears are supposed to be as individual to humans as their fingerprints. Spooky.
Incessant pounding bass lines emanate from a loudspeaker inches from Vincent's head as he sways pissed in a pub in Camden. He squeezes through crowds to the bar between an ugly man whose head and face is covered with tattoos of Chinese demons and a bald Italian woman wearing towering platform boots. A raven-haired barmaid with a translucent blouse, pierced tongue and lime green eyelids wears a thousand-yard stare as she mouths insensible words whilst pouring a pint of Guinness. Vincent falters and his eye close. His cheeks swell and he struggles vainly to contain an unexpected mouthful of vomit.
HELP SUPPORT THE HOMELESS reads the red postmark on a plain brown envelope. Vincent picks it up off the doormat and opens it to find a solitary piece of card. Scrawled on one side in black handwriting is the message ‘All work of man's is as the swimmer's : a waste ocean threatens to devour him : if he front it not bravely it will keep its word. By incessant wide rebuke and buffet of it, behold how loyally it supports him, bears him as its conqueror along.' - CARLYLE. On the other side are the words. ‘Love, your father.'
DO NOT WALK OUTSIDE THIS AREA reads the message on the wing of the airborne jet cruising at 19,000 feet. Vincent stares intently out of a tiny Perspex window. A carpet of white billowing clouds expands 16,000 feet below until they meet a light blue sky at the horizon. He turns away. In the next seat, a woman with three discolouring love bites on her neck reads a newspaper article about an elderly couple who like to ramble nude in the Lake District. It is accompanied by a colour photograph. Man and woman. Their saggy arses flapping in the wind.
On the night of his eighth birthday, Vincent stood quietly in a local chip shop queue. Outside, thunder rumbled. Rain bucketed down. Inside, an elderly man in spattered spectacles dipped fish into lumpy batter while a three-legged cat hobbled around. An overweight woman in a floral-print dress and white stockings asked a teenage girl wearing too much mascara for “Cod and chips twice.” The woman was served quickly and departed. As she stood outside, waiting to cross the road, Vincent watched as a bolt of lightning struck, killing her outright. He has never ordered fish in a chip shop since.
The public telephone near the bus stop rings once before falling completely silent. Vincent wonders whether it is dreaming. Sleeping dogs who twitch and yelp dream. Why should public telephones be different? Dogs dream of chasing cats or postmen. Telephones might dream of the countless conversations that have filtered through their grubby plastic mouthpieces. Immigrant sons phoning home for the weekly catch-up. Hearts being broken through long-distance love affairs. Errant children ordering unnecessary taxis for men called Seymour Tit. The speeding bus looms on the horizon. Vincent roots in his pocket for bus fare. He burps. A martyr to indigestion.
Boon Hill. Engleseabrook. Arclid Green. On Sunday mornings, Vincent pores over his AA BIG ROAD ATLAS OF GREAT BRITAIN, paying close attention to the area between junctions 16 and 17 of the M6, where he was abandoned as a baby in the back of a Vauxhall Cavalier. Green, blue and red lines criss-cross the map. Vincent flicks through colourful pages and wonders if he was born somewhere with a quintessentially ridiculous British name. Like Thockrington, Cumdivock, Fingringhoe, Throop or Horton-Cum-Studley. Perhaps he was born elsewhere in Spridlington, Copdock, Buttercrambe, Skirpenbeck, Ulceby Skitter or his particular favourite of the moment, Cockington .
‘Trink Coca-Cola’. Vincent sips from what appears to be a German Coke can containing ‘Zutaten’, ‘Wasser’ and ‘Zucker’. He sits in a shopping mall alongside a bearded man wearing a yarmulke and a T-shirt featuring a robed skeleton and the words ‘FEAR THE REAPER’. Nearby, a three-man Mariachi band is ignored, save for the spasmodic dancing of an aged Japanese gentleman. Lilting versions of ‘Vaya Con Dios’, ‘You Picked Fine Time To Leave Me Lucille’ and ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’ are played . Vincent’s eyes close. He feels incredibly lonely. ‘Koffein’ enters his bloodstream. He will not sleep tonight.
"Should life mean life?" says the radio presenter "or do we want European courts telling us when to release our killers? Personally, I think Myra Hindley should be killed. I see no point keeping her alive. And abdication. Should the Queen stand down? And recycling. Are you a recycling nut like me? Also, let's hear about your obsessions. Or, have you ever found an unexploded bomb? Also, we're talking about mascots. And nicknames. Did you ever have nickname at school? We'll be talking to Cyril in Shelbourne next. Now Cyril, tell us, just why do they call you the squirrel?"
"This is Notting Hill. This is a Central Line train calling at all stations to Epping." The tube doors slide open. Vincent disembarks and walks along the platform. A bearded fat man wearing a baseball cap emerges at high speed from a connecting corridor. The doors begin to close. The man jumps. He trips. His cap falls off. He falls flat on his face. The doors close. As the train pulls away, he lies spread-eagled on the carriage floor. People stand over him. The train enters the tunnel. Vincent picks up the cap. It is embroidered with the slogan www.shopmilitary.com.
Vincent has an accidental cut on his nose from shaving. It's nothing new. He's done it before now. A slight nick from a razor blade. A chaotic search for tissues. Makeshift attempts to stem trickles of blood amidst evaporating bits of shaving foam. It's the curse of his distracted mind. Something that's ensured membership of an extremely select club. Men who have also cut their nose and ears whilst shaving. A phenomenon that never happens to handsome male models, caressed by pneumatic-lipped women, in dynamic TV commercials for Wilkinson Sword. Models with chins as smooth as baby's bottoms. And perfect ears.
Vincent wakes from a deep sleep in clean fresh cotton sheets. After a breakfast of fried eggs on toast, he reaches for the Sunday newspaper, and being a single man, turns to the ‘Lonely Hearts' page. Amongst the small ads for stylish ladies seeking solvent gentlemen, chivalrous males seeking shapely females and a Scottish air stewardess with GSOH seeking a sensitive, tall and patient partner, he reads the following : SHORT, FAT, rude, lazy, selfish, drunken tart, 32, seeks equally obnoxious male to share malicious gossip. Vincent rips out the advert and smiles. There may be a God after all.
The Tip Jar