Santa’s little helper
“Merry Christmas!” The driver, a rotund man in his late 40s, was greeting every single person who got on the bus in the same cheery way. The broken veins on his nose indicated a life of warm beer, television and a cosy domesticity. I hated him.
Over the top of his itchy nylon uniform he wore an even itchier, more nylon Santa outfit, accompanied by a beard held on with elastic and the obligatory hat. The whole thing looked like a nightmare of flame retardant material, the kind which industrial chemists herald as the beginning of a new era in modern fabric, safety first yet comfortable. Judging by the rash where his fat neck met the collar of his shirt, comfort had come second to safety.
This was exactly why I wanted to get away from Dudley. It was entirely appropriate that the kind of thing which made me want to run screaming away from the place was going to be part of leaving it. As I sat on the bus taking me to the station which would take me to another life, all I could do was fantasise about testing quite how flame resistant his beard was.
That night in a hostel in London I dreamed of four things:
- A runaway horse, galloping all over the place, giving birth to weird fantastic monsters, one after another, without order or design.
- A friend I had when I was nine years old, who ignored the government information films and fell into a pond while trying to retrieve a football, his ghostly white drowned face with his mouth gulping at the water like a goldfish in a too-small tank
- A house that I had never lived in, with a family that wasn’t mine, who treated me like their own child despite my protestations that I was nothing to do with them and could I go home now.
- A cup in the hands of an old man, a crack running through the porcelain, weeping stale tea on to his fingers.
I have always lived a rich interior life. Moving away was all about finding something else to be interested in. As I had been obsessed with my own inadequacies, so my life’s work would be making the world around me less perfect, less pristine, for everyone.
Gluing up locks was where I started, when I was 14 and discovered my father’s stash of superglue in his shed. Local banks, building societies, Rotarians and other assorted Oddfellow’s halls were all logical targets.
But just squeezing glue into a lock was too easy and too obvious. Building something which slowly leaked glue into a lock so that it got stiffer, then seized up entirely while giving a small electric shock to anyone who tampers with it – that was much more fun.
Cars were fertile territory for my work. I spent time working out how to loosen the nuts on a wheel so it rolls away from the car as soon as it starts, like it was owned by a clown. I also placed a little piece of electronics under the car, which played a loud hooter as its wheels fell off. My next project was to work out how to make the doors fall off too.
One day, when the normal people realise I am the master architect of every single gremlin which inhabits their now not-so-perfect world, I will go back to Dudley, find that Santa, and gleefully set fire to his beard.