Monday, 23 November 2015
The Expected Effects of Desert Conditions on a Lemon Drizzle Cake
Asil was powerful in the chest, with black gelled hair and a slightly slow left eye. When the Combined Services Entertainment tour approached check in for the flight to Camp Bastion he was dealing with a bald, late-teen.
'But Asil, how can it have not got here by now?' the teen was asking.
'You know I don't control how quickly stuff gets here from the UK, Farnsey. I don't put anything personal on any kind of priority, either.'
'But it got sent two weeks ago. What's in those sacks over there?'
'Maybe your parcel, for all we know. But we can't go rooting through it all to find out. You know this. It's the system. You just have to wait.'
They had reached an impasse. Asil with his palms raised, Farnsey with his shoulders sunk. Farnsey sighed heavily and walked out of the holding bay.
Asil watched him leave and waved me forward.
'I'm not very pretty in the picture.'
He looked. 'No, you're not, are you?'
'It was taken at Woolworth's,' I said defensively.
'No wonder they went under. It's quite a mugshot. Let's check your criminal record for shits and giggles, shall we?'
Oh, no. He typed for a few seconds, eyes flicking between my passport and a computer screen. He stared at the screen. He frowned. Oh, no. His eyes widened slightly and he blew out air. Oh, no!
I panicked and blurted out:
'My mother told me to make those nuisance calls. You see, I was renting from that woman, Diana Chadwick, on her small holding in Guildford. I'd left it late to find a room to rent when I started teaching full-time at the Guildford School of Acting and hers was all there was. She had to rent it because she was so strapped for cash. It was her son's room. He was away at public school. During half term she made him stay at a friend's in Winchester. And then she had to buy a new horse for her daughter; on hire purchase, but she had to put a couple of hundred down. She didn't even have that. Her daughter was whiny and whey-faced and threatened to stop her periods again if she didn't get the horse. Diana she got so desperate I paid her a month's rent in advance, rather than week to week as we were doing. Then the son, Sam, get expelled because deadline after deadline for the payment of arrears in his school fees had come and gone, so I was out. And Diana told me I couldn't have my rent back just then because she had such a cash-flow problem, it wasn't true. Totally struggling to make ends meet. They were going without some essentials with Sam back and eating her out of house and home, that's how bad it was. I said, er, but you've just bought a horse? She said, yes, but that was for her daughter, and, actually, it was only a pony. She would try and get the money back to me at some point. Meanwhile, I had to move to Farnham. One of the ballet teachers at college had a cottage there and took in lodgers. For the next six months I rang Diana on and off to get my rent back, and every time she sounded like how dare I, and how unreasonable, and how did I expect her to just conjure it up? So my mother told me to chalk it up to experience - get a lease next time, all down on paper - let it go. And then get my two month's worth of rent back from that Diana woman in annoyance. She got up early to feed the horse, right? Well, I should ring her in the middle of the night whenever it occurred to me. I did that for about a year. Drunk back from a night out, usually. PC Dellowes left me a note on my door in Aldeburgh asking me to go down to the station. There was a woman police woman in the room with him. Maybe they thought I was hermaphrodite? And tea and biscuits. The room smelled of Ammonia. PC Dellowes accounted for all the calls I'd made to Diana; and then made it clear,eyebrow raised, that, no, withholding my number wouldn't have worked once the police had set a trace. Oops. Then he asked if I'd said anything during the nuisance calls or just hung up? He was reading his notes and he said he thought I might have said something on one occasion, you see. I said I couldn't remember. He said it would be good if I could remember. I said i couldn't. He said might it have been something along these lines: "As the rent I ever so kindly paid out in advance helped buy that pony-upgrade for your fucking daughter - who might be pale, but certainly isn't interesting - I own a forelock of it at least. I hope it ends up as glue. And that your daughter ends up pregnant in a bus-shelter in Woking by someone who works in McDonalds and doesn't have any stars. You'e a stupid arse-like-the-Mona-Lisa's-smile in those drainpipe jeans, smelling of apples, horse-fiddler!"? I told PC Dellowes that, yes, I might have said that. I got a police caution, no more, because of course I was owed the money; it was about the nuisance I had caused. But, Asil, surely you can't send me home from Afghanistan for being a security breach over some nuisance calls?'
I stopped. Asil was looking over the computer screen at me.
'Mate, chill. How could that count as a threat to security out here? I'm actually still waiting for the page to load so I could check on you. Internet's so slow today it's meeting itself coming back. But tell you what: there's the ban on using your mobile out here because enemy sympathisers have been locking onto signals from calls made from on base and then threatening whoever's receiving the calls in the UK with beheading? None of the threats have been carried out as yet. But how about I look the other way and you ring your old landlady in her stables? Oh, here we go, Farnsey again...'
'Asil, I just messaged my mum and she said she definitely sent it two weeks ago.'
'What was it?'
'Farnsey, we talked about that! Your mother mustn't send you any more chocolate cakes out here. It's forty-one degrees today. She just puts the cake in foil and in a parcel envelope. It'll get here again looking like someone sleeping rough's shat their cardboard box again in the night.'
Farnsey shook his head, witheringly. 'For your information, Asil, I told her about that. This time she's made it a Lemon Drizzle.'