Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 M.C. Miker “G” & Deejay Sven “Holiday Rap (Instrumental)”
 John Williams “Indiana Jones Theme”
 Quinceharmon “It’s a Grand Life On The Buses”
 John Williams “The Mine Car Chase”
Wherever would we be without love? I’d hazard a guess at somewhere between the dark ages and hate central. Perhaps my GPS is on the blink but these appear to be the go-to coordinates for anyone allergic to hearts and flowers. I hear it’s a barren place, devoid of warmth and kindness, where negativity is commonplace and it’s a felony to break a solitary smile. Bleak is one word that springs instantly to mind and destitute would be another.
Either way, it sounds like the kind of digs that would smell like regurgitated onion rings and depressed couch farts. The Savoy it most certainly isn’t. Indeed, it’s more like a crack house for shame, where misery junkies shoot up their poisons of choice and zone out from anything whatsoever deemed sentimental. Meanwhile over at the love shack (advertised as “where it’s at” in the glossy brochure), there’s a hootenanny going down and everybody trusts the bar nuts.
I wasn’t required to ponder long and hard over which of the two emotions to steer my wagon towards as a wide-eyed ankle-biter. Sure I suffered the odd hardship, but never once was I found wanting for affection. Better yet, it was entirely unconditional, the kind of love that glues a family unit together using nothing more than blood to bind. I consider myself blessed to have built my house on such sturdy emotional foundations as not everyone is quite so fortunate.
Given that my motoring neurons were still wiring at the time, it seemed pukka to lay tracks to the sunnier climates I still hanker after to this very day. Regrettably, public transport tends to be prone to lengthy delays. Take it from me, I spent a full twenty years waiting patiently on the platform like a leper on a second date and was all set to throw in the towel before the 3:10 to Zuma eventually decided to show its grill.
You’re no doubt wondering what the flying fuck frisbee the 3:10 to Zuma is and I’d be only too happy to elucidate. You see, that is my ticket out of Glumsville and the word on the street is that this train leads to a mystical place where eagles fly on a mountain high. After two slender thumb-twiddling decades holding out for some bastard to lift me up, I know precisely where I belong. With a slither of blind luck, we’ll pass Julie Andrews en route to our destination as rumor has it that the hills are alive.
Alas, I’ve also heard careless whispers of the very same grassy knolls having eyes so this commute is clearly not without its heinous hazards. 3:10 to Zuma eh? When I think of Zuma I instantly recall the name Montezuma and that brings to mind Montezuma’s Revenge. After hitting up Google, I’m now aware that this is actually another term for travel diarrhea. Suddenly my ticket to ride is beginning to resemble a one-way toilet pass and any visions of grandeur appear soundly pebble-dashed.
I’ve never really been a fan of public restrooms, if I’m honest. For me, it’s all about making any porcelain donations in the minimum amount of moves feasible. Only one finger is permitted to touch the door handle and that same digit is also responsible for flush duties, leaving the remainder of my visit to place squares of toilet paper meticulously around the bowl. Not that I intend to set to set my nectarinal buttocks down for one second. Nay, hovering works better as the vaguest splash of anything foreign can really take the shine off those drop ships.
Heaven forbid the paper towel dispenser is running on vapor as that entails reaching in and fuck knows what kind of debauched poop parties have been playing out behind the alloy curtain. Montezuma is more than entitled to exact his fecal revenge, should that pan fry his prawns, but I certainly won’t be queuing up for a bout. After all, intrepid adventurer Indiana Jones only narrowly escaped that runaway boulder back at the temple and that didn’t even have peanuts sticking out of it.
The thing is, twenty frigging years is a long time to stand around looking mildly suspicious. When the choo-choo cometh, I’ll be left with nominal time to mind the gap and embark, before the fat controller’s whistle blows and said transporter departs. Thus I shall gather my belongings and board post-haste. If I’m ever to reach the elusive promised land; then it’s quite clear I’ll be required to do so via Zuma.
Now I’m no archaeologist but I am always up for a spot of misadventure, provided it doesn’t entail being dropped into a pit of venomous snakes or sacrificed by high priests that is. Besides, my prize for completion of this task is way too immense not to recruit myself a pint-sized Chinese sidekick and start cracking my bullwhip. I may not have the combat roll down to pat like Indy, but I’m 50% certain I could marginally overcome Allan Quartermain in an arm wrestle.
If nothing else, it’ll be a snappy little anecdote to one day tell my grandchildren. Then there’s the added bonus of making it to Nirvana; the kind of holiday hot spot where an ageing shrew can release an E.P. of love songs without fear of judgement and bears can take that grizzled dump they’ve been holding in all month. I’m with Meat Loaf and would do anything for love… well… other than that. I won’t do that.
There’s still a plethora of things I would do however and one of them happens to be rooting through Aztec temples like Cleopatra on the cluck to pinpoint some shonky idol that’ll most likely melt the face off my skull. If it were lurve at stake here, I wouldn’t even be entertaining it. Everyone knows lurve is nothing more than a cheap knock-off emotion and hardly worth getting out of bed for. Now love, on the other hand, that’s the whole fucking reason I perform my morning stretches. And to think, it don’t cost a thing. Bargain!
In for a penny, up for a pounding – that’s been my life motto ever since Steve Martin stole “you mean I’m not black?” way back in the eighties. Jerk. Only kidding my good man, you’re a stand-up guy with some mad banjo skills whom I love like any boy would love his premier comedy guru. What I’m saying in essence is that my heart is much akin to a cookie jar and I know a tweaking blue monster when I see one.
Should my moreish macaroons go down well at village fêtes and other social engagements, then I have no problem whatsoever with replenishing said jar accordingly. You know – love comes out, love goes in – that kind of merger and acquisition. As long as my glass doesn’t reach any lower than half full, then I’m quids in at the love bank and my credit limit increases. Naturally I won’t go spunking the entire bundle in one go as it’s good to keep some stashed away for those rainy days and zany nights. But I’m more than happy to buy the next round.
Of course, this crazy little thing called love cannot hope to flourish unless the pusher in question is prepared to take a little of their own medicine. Charity begins at home – isn’t that how the old chestnut goes? Easier said than done when you’re naturally more au fait with giving than receiving but there’s undoubtedly some swag behind that rather bold statement. Bearing in mind the greater good of this self-professed second-hand emotion, it’s not selfish to sample the shellfish right? Regrettably, this is where we often begin to clam up.
You see, society has a tendency to suggest it’s a bad thing to love yourself, when I’d argue it’s downright compulsory. What makes me so cocksure? The four years I spent doing precisely the opposite, that’s what. Sentiment had no place in my depression. I was far too predisposed hating my own bones to jump back and kiss myself; too culpable to capacitate such cherished observation. It’s all well and good being addicted to love until the hangover kicks in and you realize you’re all out of the stuff.
Mercifully, all this “me time” counted for something as I began to grow on myself before too long. For as much as I’d convinced myself that I was tainted, another truth was staring back at me when I consulted my full-length mirror. All of my numerous flaws were still evident, glaringly so in fact, but they no longer felt so much like the deal-breakers of my darkest hours. Indeed the majority of them were actually rather endearing.
Before you go tossing that confetti, I wasn’t quite ready to start holding my own hand in public just yet. But at least I could bear to be in the same room as he who must remain unnamed. Where I come from, a victory is just that, irrespective of how small and seemingly insignificant that might be. Liking myself again felt rather splendid and, while Whitney already called dibs on the greatest love of all, there was still hope of scraping into the Billboard Top 100. At very least, I was guaranteed a hand job. Now that’s the power of love.
Fuck hate in its little bronze bung basket; I’m strapped into the rollercoaster of love and on track for some big dipper action. I have no idea how much longer I have on this planet, but one thing’s for sure, I won’t be wasting my time on spreading scourge when I could be scratching backs and lifting spirits. That said, I still have to make it to my destination in tact and there appears to be another hurdle to negotiate in the form of the dreaded ticket inspector currently doing his rounds in the next carriage. I wouldn’t mind but, in all the excitement, I seem to have misplaced my stub.
Screw it, I’m a people person, with a little gentle persuasion I’m sure he’ll turn a blind eye to my misdemeanor. Actually scrap that, I just realized who this taskmaster is as he used to do the rounds on the buses. It’s only Inspector Cyril Blake, or the dreaded “Blakey” to the thousands he has turfed off public transport just to feel self-important. Don’t look now but I reckon the old buzzard just clocked me. Here we go.
“I know you. You’re Blakey ain’t you?”
“Yes well, that depends who’s asking. It’s Inspector Blake to you”
“You don’t remember me, do you?”
“It was the 147 to Slough, about twenty years ago on a mid-October afternoon. I surrendered my seat for an elderly woman if you recall. You patted me on the back and said “that’s made my day that has”. Ring any bells?”
“Twenty years ago, you say?”
“Give or take”
“The 440 to Chiswick Park, you say?”
“Bingo. Actually, it could have been the 220 to West Acton now I think about it”
“Mid-October afternoon, you say?”
“Around three thirty to four, yes”
“This old lady you’re talking about, she wouldn’t have been wearing a paisley neck scarf would she?”
“I believe she was”
“Walked with a limp? One leg longer than the other?”
“That’s the one”
“Not a tooth in her face?”
“It’s all coming back to you now isn’t it?”
“No… don’t remember. Tickets please”
“Right. Well you see… here’s the thing”
“I haven’t got all day you know”
“I appreciate you must be pressed for time. Which is why I thought you may not mind turning a blind eye on this occasion”
“Turn a blind eye he says. Don’t make me laugh. Do you realize the penalty for not producing a valid ticket? Eh?”
“I dunno. Slap on the wrist?”
“A ton. On the spot fine”
“A hundred quid? But that’s extortionate”
“You got a problem with that? Then take it up with the boss”
“Okay then. I’d like to speak to your superior”
“You’re speaking to him”
“Fuck sake. It’s you, isn’t it Blakey?”
“You cotton on fast, you”
Jesus wept as his disciples peeled onions, he’s only gone and got me bang to fucking rights. Of all the steam trains in all the world, trust me to board the one ferrying Blakey. This jobsworth plum has only one pleasure in life and that’s sucking all the fun out of anything that doesn’t adhere to strict company regulations. Unless I pull a cat out of the bag and pronto, I suspect this may be the end of the line for me. Time to go for broke methinks.
“Listen up Blakey, either you walk away now or I’ll tell the world about the young lady you’ve been chatting up back at the depot canteen”
“How dare you! She happens to be a very respectable young woman, we’re getting rather close”
“Don’t give me that just friends rubbish. I’ve seen the extra slop servings she gives you. I know you’re having it off, you crafty old fox you”
“I don’t much care for what you’re insinuating”
“Well I don’t much care for the caterpillar perched upon your top lip but you don’t see me checking its ticket”
“Oh I see. It’s like that, is it? Eh?”
“Your actions leave me little choice”
“My actions? My actions he says. I’ve got some actions for you if you carry on. I used to be pretty handy with my knuckles back in the day, you know”
“Really? Was that before or after the dinosaurs ruled the earth?”
“I’ve met your type before you know”
“My type? And what, pray tell, is that when it’s at home?”
“All mouth, no trousers”
“I do yes”
“Well then it looks like you’ve called my bluff, doesn’t it?”
“What’s wrong? Got you worried, have I? Scared you might take a hiding in front of the other passengers?”
“I just don’t think this is necessary”
“I’ll tell you what’s necessary son. It’s necessary for you to produce a valid ticket for the entire journey or it’ll be necessary for me to remove you by force. I’ve got no time for fare dodgers”
“You’ve made that crystal Blakey, thanks a million”
“So that’s a hundred quid then”
“Yeah about that. I’m a little light right now”
“You’ll be getting a lot bleeding lighter when I knock that block off your shoulders”
“My watch is worth almost that. Here, take it and leave me alone”
“You wouldn’t be attempting to bribe an inspector, would you? Oh dear. Oh dear”
“There must be something I can offer you for reimbursement”
“Is that a bullwhip, is it?”
“So what if it is?”
“I’ve always wanted one of those”
“It’s not for sale”
“I didn’t ask whether if it was on sale. I’m telling you to hand it over”
“But I can’t do that”
“More practical actually. You see, I’m headed for Zuma and have been advised not to turn up without it”
“Zuma you say?”
“Yes. Short for Montezuma. It’s a Mayan thing I think”
“You’re well out of luck buddy boy. We passed that station a couple of minutes back while you were giving it the Billy Big Balls”
“Ha. Not so sure of yourself now, are you?”
That’s what he thinks. As luck would have it, the utopia I crave is the very next stop on our route and he’s just saved me a whole lot of that heinous hazard I spoke of earlier. By his own admission, failure to produce a valid ticket for the entire journey would mean being forcibly ejected at the very next station. Promised land here I come. Hold on, what’s he doing grabbing me by the scruff of the neck when the train is clearly still in motion? For crying out loud, I thought old folk were supposed to mellow with old age. I’ll break every bone in my body and wind up fish food if he tosses me out over this ravine. No Blakey, NO!
On the bright side, I only broke 194 of the 206 bones in my body on impact and appear to have befriended a rather kindly mackerel. Better yet, all streams lead directly back to the promised land and I can almost smell them smoking me a kipper at this very moment. I knew love would find a way; that was never really in any grave doubt. Okay you’ve got me, I fully expected to die horribly and still can’t quite believe I escaped by the skin of my teeth. But that’s all behind me now as I’m a short paddle away from Havana and can already see the villagers gathering at the shore line to greet me.
I reckon they’ll love a tree-hugging hippie such as I. As a matter of fact, it seems a shame not to mark the occasion with a group photo as this tribe appear so excited to see me. Indeed one or two of them are even licking their lips in anticipation. There’s just one thing I’m a little stumped about as my phrase book is soaked right through – does anyone know what “Mata al intruso” means?
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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