I opened the door to my cold flat, unlived in for some months and breathed in the stale air, familiar from other extended trips away. Mumbling to myself, I echoed the words of Sam Gamgee: “Well, I’m home”.
There was a pile of post which I knew I was going to have to sort through and that, together with the layer of dust, spoke of the chores that that faced me following the flat’s recent unoccupancy: suddenly I was overcome by a wave of tiredness. Without bothering to undress and barely taking the time to kick my shoes off, I lay down on the sofa, pulled a convenient rug (tartan, of course) over me and promptly fell asleep.
The next morning I awoke far too early. I made tea with leaves that were a little elderly but which still held the requisite doses of tannin and caffeine and started on all the prosaic tasks which never afflict the heroes, in the best books, who have just saved the world. I stuffed clothes into the washing machine, listened to messages on the ansaphone – those which weren’t tele-sales were hopelessly out of date – and set about balancing the books. Bank and credit card statements of the last few months told the story, at least in parts, of my adventures. As I sorted out the accounts, I found myself remembering my journeys, a new memory sparking with every entry.
There were a few rather snotty letters from my bank manager – I had rather hammered my accounts whilst I was away and bank managers are always keen to talk to you if you have no money or seem to be spending the little you have more quickly than usual. For that matter, they are keen to talk to you if you have lots of money. Whilst I was never in danger of being in that position, a grateful Government had deposited a payment for generous expenses and a healthy (if not extravagant) bonus with gratifying speed, and so the officious tone of my bank manager became cringingly polite in the latest letter. Even with my modest style of living I was not now wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice, but of course it had never been about the money. Still I had returned to my “independently poor” status and my “idiot fund” had been replenished and in fact extended.
I think that I’ve explained that “independently poor” is that state of grace whereby one won’t starve if you don’t have a job. Apart from the almost inevitable pride that occurs from not having to take the first job that comes along so that one can improve one’s lot, it is a most excellent position to be in as one doesn’t have to take the first job that comes along. On top of this is the “idiot fund”. Anyone can acquire one, usually through hard graft and they come in a variety of forms and sizes. Whilst careful investment of legacies and bonuses has left me independently poor, there is, of course, a difference between merely surviving and being comfortable. By careful and judicious economies I could afford to call my boss an idiot and still live a comfortable 12 (now, thanks to the, ah… hazard pay, 18) months whilst I found a new job to interest me.
And so I sat and balanced my accounts, caught up with the stock market and made a mental note to call my broker (Consolidated Holdings looked like a good bet – luckily I had never invested in Universal Exports whose stock had bombed in a bad way; still, perhaps now might be a good time to invest…? Of course the company might just be allowed to slip away) and another mental note to call my bank manager. Although some of the letters before the most recent were quite snippy, so I’d leave it a couple of days and allow some stewing to occur.
I did some ironing and renewed my acquaintance with Isaac at the little shop around the corner. I dusted; I skim read the periodicals that had piled up before filing them on the ongoing assumption that one day I’d read them again or – even more implausible – that I’d use them for something. A few of the more recent ones had job adverts some of which I was interested; I circled a few and thought about what job I wanted. There was no real chance I was going back to my old job and I didn’t think that I could count on a reference either. During the days of debriefing – not as ominous as it sounds in the thrillers – there had been some vague talk of a government position but I was, frankly, sceptical, although I didn’t think that a reference from this quarter was entirely out of the question, and a letter of introduction might not be pushing things too far, either.
A few days passed and then a few more. All the chores to return my home to normalcy had been completed. There was food in the fridge and freezer, my bank manager had been appeased and a few jobs had been circled in various papers. I gave some thought to inviting a few old friends round for dinner some time soon – and wandered down, on occasion, to the “Tale of Two Cities” for a quite pint of something and a chinwag with Owd Jock, the landlord. I frittered away a week in fairly meaningless pursuits, reacquainting myself with the environs by going for walks. I sauntered to the shop or pub, ostensibly for a paper from the former or a pint of something from the latter but mainly for the conversation with the proprietors. I read and listened to the radio.
Saturday night found me in a capricious and restless mood. I perused the shelf for a DVD to watch and couldn’t find anything, went to the kitchen for a slice of toast, abandoned it and picked up a book and slumped in a chair, read a few pages before tossing it aside and it was then that my eyes lit upon the bottle of single malt stashed on the top shelf of the book case. Nominally I was saving this for a special occasion but defeating a bunch of murderous thugs and staying alive seemed like a special occasion to me…But I knew that once started, with the mood I was in, the bottle would not last long: one drink is too many and two is not enough. My mind whirled and gyred and I think I was within a hairsbreadth of deciding to open the bottle when the phone rang.
“Jack! Good to hear from you! Why do you insist on calling me Carstairs?”
“Never mind that now, the game is afoot old boy, the game is afoot and I need your help. There’ll be a car picking you up in 30 minutes. Can you be ready?”
Typical Jack, no query as to my health and no cheerful reminiscence – and for that matter, no doubt that I would drop everything and come running, no fear that I wouldn’t be interested.
“Of course – what do I need?”
“To be ready for anything, old boy, ready for anything.” And he hung up.
Life was good and worth living again. I left the bottle where it was and went to throw some things in a bag…
© David Jesson, 2017