12:27:34 o'clock BST
Hearing: Magpies cackling like phlegmy old hags outside my window
Albert's Little Vice by Grenville Allen.
Mitch Masters was sitting comfortably. He had his size ten cowboy boots well and truly under the table at a little ad agency up North where they thought the world of him. Lomas, Wigley and Pearce ~ or LWP Manchester, as it was known as far afield as Stoke-on-Trent.
But right now the said boots were not so much under the table as planted firmly upon it; his chair reared as he lay back, flicking through the latest issue of Creative Spanner. The whole idea of settling down with the weekly Spanner always took Mitch back ~ back in fact just as far as his schooldays....
He would cycle down to his local newsagents, pick up a copy of the Dandy comic, then spend the rest of the day feet up before the living room fire with its magical flame-effect orange bulb, reading while digesting numerous Bounty bars, Revels and his favourite Munchies.
It was around this time that Sooty, the family's seventeen-year-old cat, expired on the hearth rug (undergoing the weekly session on its own miniaturised dialysis machine, Mitch liked to recall) just as he was reaching the denouement of the latest episode in the Bash Street Kids saga.
Over the phone, his mother told him to wrap Sooty in an old newspaper "or something" and put him in the coal cellar till she arrived home. Unable to find an old newspaper, Mitch inevitably ended up sticking Sooty in between Desperate Dan's and Lord Snooty's respective pages. It was extremely difficult since rigor mortis had begun to set in so he had to poke its tiny rigid paws through the comic sheets to create the world's first true off-the-shoulder catsuit.
The makings of a true artist were already being forged, because even at that early age Mitch could appreciate the aesthetics of it all. In fact it was just such experiences that had made Mitch the man he was today.
At twenty-nine he was certainly a force to be reckoned with: lime-green 1975 Cadillac right below his office window, taking up half the agency car park, pilot's licence pending, and off-brown, nicely battered bomber jacket. All he wanted now was a job in London.
Reading Creative Spanner only served to make Mitch's craving for the London scene that much stronger. And this week's issue happened to feature almost every one of his various ~ and varying ~ advertising heroes. (They changed by the month, owing to the fickle nature of the business he was in.) Mitch was just picturing himself lining up the season's most voguish and sultry model on Justin Quinn's latest footwear shoot when he heard the incongruous shriek of "Yyyeahh!" emanating from half a dozen people in the adjoining room, followed by hysterical laughter.
It was Mitch's cue for the action highlight of the day. Smiling manically to himself, he carefully tore out the first couple of pages of his Creative Spanner, and, using his little art director's scalpel, proceeded to cut out and then fold the most elaborate paper aeroplane imaginable. After some five or so minutes of precision building ~ down to creating little ailerons and a rudder ~ he attached the finishing touch: a twisted strip of paper, like the tail of a kite ~ the Mitch Masters trademark.
He entered the office next to his own, bearing his masterpiece of aerotechnology, to find pandemonium. The windows were flung wide open, filling the room with the sounds of the traffic on the street below. On chairs, on desks, precariously perched on the window ledge itself, thronged a whole assortment of casually clad young men, each of them anxious to get a better view of what was happening outside.
What was happening outside was the feverishly exciting maiden flight of Wayne Spout's latest paper aeroplane. After teasing them by hovering for a good fifteen seconds, it did a dramatic loop the loop, before landing on one of the fourth floor windowsills of the office block on the opposite side of the high street.
"Wwwhoooo! Yyyeah!" went up the holler from the casually clad young men. "Yet another member of the Across-the-Road Club!"
"Right! Here we go." Mitch pushed his way through, climbed on to the window ledge, and stood there proudly, his plane poised betwixt finger and thumb. The crowd awaited his next move with breath bated, garlic-ridden, stale-booze-from-the-night-before-ridden, and a decadent sense of couldn't-really-care-less: it was only a paper aeroplane, after all. But then off went Mitch's beautiful aircraft into the early morning sunshine and everything changed. Straight away it posed, it poised, it dipped ~ a true Mitch Masters creation.
After performing a number of belly rolls it skimmed along the fourth floor windowsill, as destined, and then suddenly dived and took off along the high street, gliding above the slow moving traffic.
"Yeah-yeah-yeah!" shouted 'Doughboy' Johnson.
"Wwhhhooo!" whooped many of the others.
"Jesus! See that?! Missed that tart on the bike by inches elaborated the copywriter, Wayne Spout.
Inevitably, even this painstakingly crafted craft met the same fate as all the lesser models, and that was to become yet another piece of litter in the street for people to tread on and tut-tut over. (Indeed Mrs Irene Catchpenny, a sixty-five-year-old retired postman's wife who regularly shopped there, was at that very moment thinking perhaps she ought to complain to somebody one day.)
Back in the office "control tower" they neither knew of, nor cared for any of this. The scene was a heady concoction of successful Apollo mission and Wembley Stadium on Cup Final Day. And a casual observer who'd just walked in on all this spectacular gaiety and abandon about nothing might be forgivenfor assuming that here was a serious case of a bunch of overpaid yobs with nothing else better to do.
But not two miles away, in a bijou concrete hut, a jaunty, stocky little man nearing retirement called Albert Tupbottom was crouched over a bench vice, rapturously engaged in what to that same casual observer could be mistaken for similarly futile activity.
He whistled a few tuneless notes as his tenon saw quickly rasped through the top of a plastic litre cola bottle. Shuffling the remains of his hair back into position (it wreathed his otherwise bald pate as though a laurel), Albert held up the result of his efforts to the light and admired his handiwork, before placing it next to a dozen other sawn-off plastic bottle tops on his bench. They stood to attention in neat serried rows, like so many transparent breasts complete with not only erect but threaded nipples. All was surrounded by yet more assorted "odds and sods", as Albert referred to them.
Outside was a car park, and across from that the stately yet efficient offices of Messrs Froddard, Spay, Manger and Associates, International Executive Search Consultancy. Inside the offices was a stately yet efficient reception desk, where Miss Zoe Shacklock, her fine blonde hair immaculately pulled back with an Alice band, her lips and cheekbones aglow, busied herself upholding the company image by being generally stately and almost efficient:"Good morning. FSM International Executive Search. Can I help you? I'm afraid Miss Scrivens' line is engaged at the moment: would you like to hold? Good morning. FSM. International Executive Search. Can I help you? I'm afraid Mr Froddard's on the toilet at the moment. Can I get him to call you back?...You'll hold? Okay.... Good morning. FSM. InternationalExecutive Search. How can I help you? Oh no, I'm sorry but Mr Manger is still not back from lunch as yet. Yes, he did take rather a long one yesterday, ha-ha.... Ah, I think Miss Scrivens is off the line now; just putting you through.... Ah. Sorry about that. She's just gone straight into a meeting.... Hm, I think she's going to be tied up for rather a long time ~ probably the rest of the week...."
At which point, due to Mr Froddard's indisposition, Zoe was about to pass his call on to Mr Brian Spay, the MD. But it was not to be.
To be continued...