When I got home last night, the real pain had not yet properly begun. But it was in the post. Express delivery. In fact, it would shake me awake like a sociopathic prison guard in about seven hours. I just had time to revisit Money by Martin Amis to see how I measured up to John Self when he was foolish enough to think he could play tennis and get away with it.
I ended up reading for at least an hour and a half. I’d forgotten how much I love Martin Amis’s writing. He was the first writer I ever really fell for. Here’s a bit from the tennis match scene. It’s fun:
‘…At love-thirty I served so blind and wild that Fielding simply reached out and caught the ball on the volley. He pocketed it and strolled forward a few paces – several paces. I moved wide and, in petulant despair, hit my second serve as if it were my first. And it went in! Fielding was less surprised than I was but he only just got his racket to the ball – and he was so insultingly far advanced that his return was nothing more than a skied half-volley. The yellow ball plopped down invitingly in the centre of my court. I hit it pretty low, hard and deep to Fielding’s backhand and lumbered cautiously up to the net. A big mistake. Fielding chose this moment to unleash a two-fisted topspin drive. The ball came screaming over the tape, skipped a beat, regathered its momentum – and punched me in the face. I toppled over backwards and my racket fell with a clatter. For several shocked seconds I lay there like an old dog, an old dog that wants its old belly stroked…
After five minutes I was playing with a more or less permanent mouthful of vomit. It was the slowest hour of my life, and I’ve had some slow hours.’
Yep, that’s pretty much exactly how it was. I played with Pip, a friend of Keith’s who was something in software till he was made redundant last year some time. Pip is nearly ten years older than me but much, much fitter. He plays tennis a lot since he lost his job, and despite the fact that he wiped the floor with me, it was clear that he was actually taking it very easy. By the end of the hour and a bit that we played, he hadn’t broken a sweat, whereas I looked obscene, like a giant overripe plum, throbbing dangerously and tossing out phlegm.
So naturally, I woke up this morning feeling like I’d been beaten to within a millimetre of my life. I inched to the bathroom an hour or so ago, then made a detour to pick up my laptop. Now I’m back in bed. I have a lot to do today, but I’m not sure I can manage it.
I’m also slightly hungover, which doesn’t help matters. Speaking of which, I had a very odd conversation with Pip last night in the pub.
It begins with a poodle.
Six months ago, because she was worried, Pip insured his mum’s pet poodle. Then, as she’s without funds beyond a substandard state pension, he finds himself paying the £17 monthly premium. (Which seems like an awful lot to me. Especially for a poodle.) Then as the months creep by, Pip starts to worry himself. He’s running out of money. The last thing he wants to do however, is find another job, so he starts to look at how he can save money. He cancels a couple of direct debits. For example, a Lovefilm subscription which he never uses, and a gym subscription which he never uses, together amounting to a saving of £50 a month. But he’s bitter about that poodle. He says he wants some return on his investment.
He said to me, ‘How hard can it be to break a dog’s leg?’ He said, ‘It’s not like it’s a Great Dane or anything. It’s not like it’s going to retaliate. It’s a scrawny little thing, and it’s old. Weak. On Sunday I was round at my mum’s, and Steve was there, snuffling about.’ That’s the dog’s name. Steve. Steve the 14-year-old poodle. ‘He’s not even very friendly anymore. Plus he’s started shitting indoors, which is annoying. To say the least. So I’m doing the washing-up after dinner. Stacking the machine. And he’s mooching around my feet. So I crouch down and I say “sit”, and he sits. Then I say “give me your paw”, and he gives me his paw. And I’m there, with Steve’s paw in my hand, thinking, “How much would I get for a paw broken in two, maybe three places?” I apply a tiny bit of pressure and he whimpers and scampers off. It would have to be a swift, clean break.’
At which point I put it to him that if he breaks the dog’s leg and receives money from the insurance company to fix the dog’s leg, surely – correct me if I’m wrong, and I may very well be – but surely that money would have to be spent on fixing the dog’s leg? He nods, thinking. ‘You might be right.’ He nods again. ‘You’re right.’ He shakes his head, looking sorry. ‘There’s only one thing for it then. Steve must die.’
We spent the rest of the evening discussing the moral implications of murdering his mother’s dog – I can’t imagine that the thing actually has life assurance; this seems like madness to me – and then I came home, aches and pains completely anaesthetised by four pints of Guinness.
Now as I lie here, with the anaesthetic worn off, shifting around in groggy agony, I realise that Steve and I actually have very little in common.
You see, I wanted to say that we had a great deal in common, and be dreadfully poignant about it. But we don’t.
* He lives with a lady. I live alone.
* He has insurance. I have none.
* He cannot learn new tricks. I most certainly can.
* He has a psychotic software developer - who apparently could have played tennis for the county - trying to cripple him. I… actually yeah, we do have that in common.
Still, three out of four ain’t bad. Ah, I’m feeling better already. Now all I need is someone to pop round and stroke my old belly…