Tuesday, 20 January 2009

The Dance of the Pheasodile

These are the first two chapters of my 2008 novel "The Dance of the Pheasodile" which takes its characters to the streets around Hull where my family was brought up 100 - 75 years ago - Coltman Street and Gee Street.

The story is of a London commercial architect, Keith McGuire, who was an orphan and is married to another orphan, Chrissie. Given their background, brought up in Care, they are determined to create the perfect family setting for their children and to give them all the things they never had.

Things are going well. Against all the odds, Keith is an up-and-coming architect and Chrissie is the partner of a law firm.

They decide to address some niggling issues associated with their childhoods and visit a hypnotherapist. Chrissie's session goes well, but when Keith comes round from his trance he discovers that he is in the body of a different man - a penniless Hull gangster, hated by his wife, in trouble with two local gang leaders and firmly on the Humberside Police's hit list .......

Chapter 1

I have to admit that I am in a bit of a predicament.

I have regained consciousness to discover myself swinging upside down outside the plate glass window that wraps around the lawyers’ office where my wife works – where she is a partner, in fact. I am bumping up against the pane as I dangle here. I can see several of the office staff taking pictures of me with their mobile phones, and feverishly distributing them somewhere over the ether.

My wife has just noticed me, and she is holding her hand to her mouth in shock.

If I tell you that my wife works on the eighteenth floor of the Baxter Spires building, you may get an inkling of what is happening to me.

If I add that I am freezing cold, despite its being mid-summer, you might guess that I am not appropriately dressed for such a feat. I will let you into a secret I too have only discovered since I came round. I am only dressed in two boots and a safety harness, and all those secretaries in there with their mobile phones are almost certainly taking pictures of my winkle, which is probably about winkle sized, given that I am freezing to death.

Someone is saying to Chrissie something like “Do you know him?”

She nods horrified.

Presumably they will have followed up with “Who is he?”

Has Chrissie admitted that I am her husband? I cannot tell. Yes, she has, I think. There is a scowl on the other person’s face as she turns round to point towards me, referring to me as something like “that thing”.

Everyone is looking at me in a new light.

Another woman is arguing with Chrissie.

Chrissie is nodding emphatically.

The other woman shakes her head equally emphatically.

I guess that she is saying “That is not your husband!”, and Chrissie is saying “Yes, he is!”

“But your husband doesn’t look like that. I have met your husband. He is slim and intellectual-looking, not stubby and hairy.”

That will take some explaining, which I would very much appreciate the opportunity to do, but we have been joined by several army helicopters and a couple of fighter planes, probably objecting to our flying over London, which is massively against the law. We could be terrorists.

Well, I am the one being terrorised. I am some seventy metres from the traffic and the tarmac below, held only by a rope and a harness of uncertain strength and durability, my hands tied behind my back, utterly defenceless, with the pilot of the helicopter that is trailing me realising that he, she or it is going to have to take evasive action. I have now been swung away from the site of my shame and humiliation, and am hurtling towards another skyscraper, swinging wildly. There is nothing I can do to protect myself. What if the pilot simply jettisons me? What if they make an error of judgment and smash me at seventy or eighty miles an hour right into a concrete tower? What if the rope snaps? What if they forget I am even here in their hurry to get away?

I think I know why I am here. I think it is because my other wife thinks I have been committing adultery with my wife. I want you to know that half of me is entirely innocent, although the other half is less so. My body may have been inserting itself in places it should never have been, but my mind is totally innocent.

Let me explain ……..

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Chapter 2
I have always adored Chrissie. We first met when I was twelve and she was ten, and we fell deeply in love instantly. You may assume that children of that age are incapable of profound love, but from personal experience I can assure you that you would be wrong to think so. I am as in love with Chrissie now as I was then, and it feels exactly the same. I sense her every vibe, and quiver alongside it, amid calm, ecstasy or despair. Chrissie is my reference point. I have no other. Whatever will please Chrissie delights me. Whatever will upset her tears me apart. I cannot bear to hurt her any more than I would want to drive a nail through my big toe. The pain is the same – I have done both.

Chrissie is beautiful. She is so beautiful that she steals away my breath every time I look at her, and I cannot even glimpse her without appreciating everything about her. She is so elegant. Her body is straight if you see her from the side, and nicely curved if you catch her from the front. Her hair naturally swings like a soft, glossy rope. Her smile is innocent, yet a touch knowing. She only thinks the best of anyone, and never gossips maliciously. She is devoutly Christian, yet she never talks about it, or tries to impose it upon you. When we make love, I feel that I am swaying with an angel, a female angel that is. Her skin is pure white and as perfect as an exotic silk.

We talk to each other all of the time. We are continuously in a state of excitement with each other, fighting to share our thoughts.

Our children are a girl and a boy. Ella is twelve and Mark is seven. Ella will no doubt grow into a stroppy teenager in time, but she has yet to be soured by all that stuff. She is sweet and helpful and kind. She is excellent at her homework, and effortlessly bright. Mark is a boy. He rushes around doing energetic things, and playing riotously with his friends. He has never been known to do the least harm to anyone. He has short hair and a frank expression, and likes to cuddle both of us during quiet times. He is mummy and daddy’s boy equally. He also works hard, and his results are reliably competent. He has it all under control, without exerting himself any more than is decent for a sporty, physical young man.

I am an architect, whose commercial designs are increasingly in demand. Chrissie is a partner within one of the top law firms in the country, specialising in maritime law. My only gripe is that she works long hours, and yet she brought the children up without breaking her stride and without a single word of complaint as to how difficult it all was to raise children and to keep the flame of her career ambition stoked at the same time. I did pitch in, but men do not really contribute that much, even when we believe we are shouldering half the load, do we? We also have a housekeeper and nanny, a lovely Scottish lady called Agnes, who can only be described as rigorously spick and span, and absurdly well organised. She is almost one of the family, like a surrogate grandmother to the children, and she often pops round at weekends too for a chat with us, and to play with them. Chrissie and I are both orphans, left with no family whatsoever. In fact, we met in a residential care home, when such institutions were still prevalent. Perhaps that is why leading the perfect family life is so important to us. We want everything to be right for our children, squared with our consciences.

We both love reading. Chrissie has to read mountains of paperwork anyway, but when she has cast that aside, she still reads magazines and the occasional book which she regularly falls asleep to. Come to think of it, she has probably been reading “Wuthering Heights” for the last five years. I recently asked her, as a prod, how Heathcliff was getting on, and she replied “Who’s he?”

“Heathcliff?” I exclaimed in astonishment, thinking how could she not know who Heathcliff is, even if she weren’t reading the book.

“Oh that Heathcliff,” she recovered. A puzzled look crossed her face, followed by a slightly embarrassed smile. “To be honest, I cannot really remember. I think he is OK.”

According to her colleagues, Chrissie has a jaw-dropping capacity both for marshalling complex data and for precise communication, so it is strange how daffy she can be over her reading, not that feyness characterises her in any way in the manner with which she runs the house. She and Agnes between them are so organised that they could ensure that everything was spotlessly in place and march on Russia at the same time, not that Chrissie has a single warlike instinct in her psyche.

We may have two children, but we still go out a lot. Chrissie read somewhere that it is really important for a couple to act as a couple even after their children are born. The children are special, and must bask in the warmth of their parents’ unconditional love for them, but they must also understand that while they may be the primary focus of the family, they are not a part of your marriage. That is something exclusive to you two as lovers, and must remain sacrosanct and fully electric. That way, you two thrive as people, and therefore as parents, and your children will also benefit accordingly.

I cannot say whether it was good or bad advice; all I can say is that Chrissie and I have found it very easy to follow it. Every week, since each child was old enough to physically survive without us, we have gone out on the town, which is why you may have noticed that so much of London is red. We didn’t do stupid things like nightclubbing to all hours, commuting to New York, or attending relentless corporate events. We spent time quietly by ourselves in intimate restaurants we fancied trying out, and seeing movies, and we always topped off the night by hiring a room at the same prominent hotel near Hyde Park Corner for some post-prandial, vigorous and, most importantly, uninterrupted nookie.

At first we got some suspicious looks from the reception staff when we booked out of the hotel at one a.m., having only booked in at eleven. They wanted to know whether “Everything was all right, Sir, Madam?”, or rather they wanted to ascertain whether Chrissie was a hooker. On our third visit, the manager took me aside and discreetly asked me what was going on.

“We are a married couple and we have children,” I told him rather sharply.

My off-the-cuff answer was not immediately enough for him; it was too forthrightly delivered, which he mistook for being a sign of defensiveness. He raised an eyebrow.

“Chrissie,” I shouted across the lobby, “the manager here thinks that you are a prostitute. Is there anything you want to say before we never come back here again?”

An elderly couple who were making slow progress across the lobby, seemingly encumbered by the sheer weight of the jewellery she was wearing, stopped in their tracks.

“You see,” I explained to them, “we have very young children, and we want to be alone together.”

The couple beamed. Her well-powdered nose even hinted at a delighted blush. “Good for you, my dears,” she exclaimed. “Do you know, Harold here is eighty-three and I am seventy-seven, and we have been doing exactly the self-same thing for the last fifty-six years. It keeps you regular, doesn’t it?”

The manager was beginning to hop up and down on one leg in sub-conscious acknowledgement that he had made a serious faux-pas.

“Still,” the woman went on, “for thirty of those years, Harold used to come here with his mistresses too on other days of the week, but so long as I got the Saturday slot, I have never minded too much. You can get too precious about sex, can’t you? You can accord it an importance it doesn’t deserve.”

Chrissie grinned at the old man, and whispered, “If you see Keith here with another woman, could you let me know?” She started searching in her bag for our address card.

“Oh, he doesn’t do that sort of thing nowadays,” the old lady boomed across the lobby. “At eighty-three, his tank doesn’t refill that fast. I knew that if I stuck to the Saturday night slot, I would outpace the rest of them in the end. Come on, Harold. We had better let these two romantic young things get back to their children.”

The manager was seriously flummoxed. I think he feared for his job. Chrissie smiled sweetly at him, and offered him the card she had been searching for. “If you ever see my husband with another woman, or another man come to think of it, could you let me know?”

I was absolutely incensed as I paid the bill. The manager apologised to us in grovelling terms all the way to the steps, and insisted on hailing the taxi and paying for our ride home.

“What on earth did you give him your card for?” I asked Chrissie.

“I just wanted to make sure he knew where to send the champagne, flowers and chocolates in the morning,” she replied.

And she was right. All three arrived on cue at ten o’clock the next day.

So we decided to give the hotel one more chance. When we arrived there the following Saturday, the manager came straight out to greet us with the news that, by a stroke of luck, one of the executive suites was available, and he would be delighted to offer it to us for the night at our usual rate. We accepted graciously, and giggled at each other all the way to the room, which was wreathed in a mass of fresh flowers. A chilled bottle of champagne and a box of Belgian chocolates were being proffered as peace tokens on both sides of the bed. More miraculously still, they kept it up week after week, as did we. We were not always so lucky as to be offered an executive suite, but we always got the flowers, champagne and chocolates.

About a year later, I happened to be reading The Daily Telegraph, and saw a photograph of the old man we had met in the hotel that night. He had just died. Being both titled and a luminary in his industrial field, he merited a full-page obituary. His wife, it reported, had died twenty years previously, and not a day had gone by without his missing her. He had never remarried. He was reputed to be one of the most generous philanthropists in Britain. Over the last ten years, he had been greatly comforted by his friendship with the Countess of XXXXX.

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