THE BALLAD OF EDMUND TUPPENCE
CANTO THE FIRST (Part Two)
Part One here if you missed it
1st February 2020
But, soft, I hear the typhoon rise on cue.
Quick! Grab my coat flaps! Now we’re on the move!
Authorial omnipresence may suit you;
I wish the mode of transport would improve.
But from the city’s east a pigeon coo,
That other player in this game of love.
I see I’ve started mixing half-rhymes. Damn!
So hang me for a sheep, not for a lamb.
To Edmund Tuppence’s bedchamber now
(Our poetical wind has dropped us here).
Our anti-anti-hero takes a bow,
And muses on the morning. Never fear.
It will hold short-term benefit, here’s how:
With drugs and vodka, premium-strength beer.
He’s showered and shaved, a brand-new spliff is ready.
The very soul of excess, that’s our Eddie.
Now Edmund’s on the streets. Where first to call?
A trip to his accountant might be made.
And lest that sound too bourgeois for you all,
The man has more to do with turf than trade.
His money’s made through nag and leather ball.
They’re in! They’re off! And Edmund’s money’s laid.
Auspicious start as Bible Black romps in.
Ed pockets the delightful wage of sin.
Eleven bells! The bolts are shot within
The tavern and the wine bar and the pub.
His tenner cocked, our boy is first man in,
No barmaid would this puckish entrant snub.
And Edmund knows which way the shuttle spins.
There is an indefatigable club
Composed of morning drinkers who believe
That membership is free; you pay to leave.
Each pub lives but one day and is reborn,
A very mayfly thus reincarnated.
And so the lunchtime kick-off ends the morn
And goals are scored and offsides are debated.
The afternoon slides by, the old men warn
Of Irish counties where once colleens waited.
But Edmund casts a wan sclerotic eye
O’er this fine example of hostelry.
A hangover, when rattling at the gate,
Will always make the hangovee delirious.
The crapulous sensoria rule the state
And cast a ruinous wand with wave imperious.
That chemical imbalance can dictate
Might seem to non-drinkers a tad mysterious.
But Ed has little time for metaphysic;
In fifteen minutes’ time he’s due in Chiswick!
He rides the tube – the very same we took –
And, like us, has no ticket. Not for him
The Kantian imperative. But look;
We’re not all perfect. Some might take a dim
View of the Konigsbergian’s small book
With that most famous ethical maxim;
To act as though your action were a law.
(That’s not the version Edmund Tuppence saw).
But while Ed thunders on through bowels of earth,
We’ll check on Sally sooner and not later.
The meal’s all done, the wine has led to mirth
(And will you check the arse out on that waiter!)
They’re all denouncing men for all they’re worth
As slobs and chauvinists and woman-haters.
Now, all this am-dram sociology
Reminds me - I owe an apology.
When I said ‘every mother’s son’ back there
I’ve been advised that I forgot the daughter.
Before the ardent feminists declare
Your prim narrator don’t know what he oughter,
And shrill-voiced redbrick harpies fill the air
With shrieks and invitations to the slaughter,
I’ll just defend myself and say that girls
Compared with swinish boys are always pearls.
And Sally is a pearl (though in her shell)
Worth all her tribe. And now she says goodbye
To Tamsin and Annette and Annabelle.
How best to make the afternoon go by?
A long slow bath? A soak au naturelle?
How nice to have a man to make it fly!
It’s not the time to be so sentimental;
She needs a taxi cab that’s up for rental.
A hundred yards away, around the block,
Young Edmund Tuppence steps into the light.
He’s met with folk who should be under lock
And key, and would, if caught there bang to rights.
But as a dealer Ed won’t be defrocked,
He knows too much to share the old lag’s plight.
For Edmund’s done his weekend shop again;
He’s carrying a kilo of cocaine.
Now Edmund too needs four-wheeled transportation.
He needs to visit several ports of call
And doesn’t care for bus stop or for station
When loaded with narcotic wherewithal.
A beggar begs him for a small donation
But Ed does not do charity at all.
He stops to boot the fellow up the jacksy
As, round the corner, Sally hails a taxi.
Young Miroslav sees Sally there and blinks
And brings his Audi to a skidding halt.
Should be a decent fare, the young Pole thinks,
And not a bad babushka. Who can fault
An immigrant who works and scarcely drinks
And over petty regulation vaults?
Allow this Slav to drive and to be free,
With no insurance, tax or MOT.
As Sal climbs in and states her destination
The Pole takes off as if he is on pole
Position as he hurtles past the station,
And Sally prays for her immortal soul.
To stop at red he has no inclination.
One-way means nought; young Miro’s on a roll.
The road is free of all save Edmund Tuppence
Who seems about to get a harsh come-uppance.
A car crash is a far from pleasant sight,
And all the worse when human flesh is struck.
I feel quite queasy. Do you think I might
Eschew the details? But young Edmund’s luck
Now seems run out. No more for him the fight?
The driver leaves, not one to take the buck.
This cabbie’s anxious not to stand and jaw;
He plies his trade some way outside the law.
Now Miroslav has fled the scene and Sally
Is left alone with Edmund’s silent form.
To check if Death has added to his tally
She touches Edmund’s cheek and finds it warm
And more than warm. Behind her, from the alley
Emerge two shady, undernourished forms.
Are these two vengeful spirits sent from Hell?
No, just two addled addicts. Can’t you tell?
This brace of junkies lope towards the scene
Like jackals drawn to offal on the veldt.
They scent narcotics. Both this pair have seen
Young Edmund as a dealer who has dealt
Around this postcode. They themselves have been
Recipients of smack from Eddie’s belt.
But now they see what they have long desired;
A dealer for whom cash is not required.
A horizontal Edmund views the scene
As though without his body, from above,
Oh, now I’ve really torn it. What I mean
Is that I’ve limited my rhymes to ‘dove’
And all the rest. Ah, well. You will have seen
The list by now, and know it includes love.
And where love is all things may still be well.
But let’s return to where young Edmund fell.
Now ‘streetwise’ is a modern epithet
Reserved for feral children and rude boys.
And, wise as Sally is, let’s not forget
Her upbringing’s suburban. It annoys
Her that she is an ingénue, and yet
She stands with equanimity and poise.
She won’t allow these predators their prey,
And stands defiantly right in their way.
The taller of the junkies curls his lip
And bares dull teeth all stained with methadone.
He plucks a length of piping from a skip
And stalks towards our Sal, who stands alone.
She’ll not retreat, back off, or backwards trip;
She’s drained a draught of bravery unknown.
Just as the situation turns to black,
Salvation comes about behind her back.
For Edmund’s wholesale druggist views the scene
From out his window. Like Greek tragedy
The play unfolded, every action seen
By Royal Mullins, bouncer and bouncee.
He trundles down the stairs and clearly means
To knock some heads together and, you see,
The needle merchants know they cannot thump
Three hundred pounds of doorman with the hump.
The opiated shades fade into dark
And leave poor Sal to face this seething hulk.
But Royal Mullins has a soft spot, mark,
He has a heart of gold despite his bulk.
He warns off the departing junkies, hark;
They’re off now in a poppy-sponsored sulk.
Now Royal Mullins is in charge of all,
Whips out a mobile phone and makes a call.
In minutes flat a Mondeo arrives
(Though not the ambulance that Sally sought).
With Edmund on the ninth of his nine lives,
To hospital is really where he ought
To go. But Royal Mullins now connives
To banish A&E from Sally’s thought.
Can Sal suggest a place where he’ll be fine?
To which she says; “I’ll put him up at mine”.
The deal is done, and Royal’s done his bit.
He hoists young Edmund carwards, pops him in.
The driver takes instruction. Sally sits
Beside unconscious Edmund, who begins
To murmur and to stir. But what is it
He says? Now Sally Quicklake is on pins.
The driver carries Edmund up the stairs
And puts him on the bed, absolved of cares.
Now night has drawn a cloak o’er London Town
Which is, as always, quite the perfect fit.
The roller-blinds on jewellers’ shops are down,
Kebabs have ceased to spin upon the spit.
The sky is darker than a bailiff’s frown.
The tidal Thames is filling, bit by bit.
And now through tasteful shutters we may peep
And watch a woman watch a man asleep.
End of Canto the First
Mark Gullick is a philosophy PhD from London, England, who went on holiday to Costa Rica four years ago and forgot to go home. He now works there as a musician. He blogs at https://postcardsfromtraumaville.blogspot.com/