Monday, 8 June 2009

Exit Music

A partial dramatisation.


“My project will be complete,” quipped the beaming young Tony, for in those days he smiled whenever possible, “when the party learns to love Peter.”


Peter held his palms together and smiled in a way that made the room uncomfortable. “We are,” he began the grin warping around his face, “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.” He unclasped his hands, leant back in his chair and waited for the flashbulb dust to settle.


With no doubt of the men he had in mind, Gordon continued: “I want to lead a government humble enough to know its place – where I will always strive to be – and that is on the people’s side.” He smiled, because he felt he ought to.

1997, April 30th:

I crunched the gears of my bright red Fiat Panda and accelerated around the milk float. The morning sun curved through the stains of the windscreen casting light inside like a disco gone on far too long.

“I don’t know,” I said hesitantly, “there’s something just not quite right. I’m not sure I trust him.”

But there was tangible inevitability and we felt as though we would be ones to crown the new king. Us, who had never known anything other than the Iron Lady and her Grey Man, would break down the barriers of the past and announce the dawn of the future. Ah, for we were young and the young are filled with anger and optimism in equal doses.

“Well, who are you going to vote for Dave?” asked my passenger.
I turned and raised an eyebrow: “No-one. I’m four days too young. As you well know.”

And he cackled hysterically because he knew how disappointed I was to be missing out on the beginning of tomorrow.


The protestors marched along the Sheffield tram lines from the University into the centre of town. A rhythmic thumping of drums kept the marching tune, ramshackle tattered banners of unions’ power only recently castrated fluttered at the head and all through the chant repeated: “David Blunket, can’t you see? Education should be free.”

An older guy, an ex-boxer with a mangled upper lip, a permanent lost stare and an interest in renaissance history muttered: “Same old shit. Eighteen years out and then less than a year back in and already they’re as bad as the rest of them.”

“We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.”

“Bit too fucking relaxed if you ask me.”

2006, July:

I lay on a steel and wire hammock contraption; a firm mesh net slung between two rigid metal frames embedded into the ground. The sun felt good on my cheeks. I was tired. Exhausted. I’d been working so hard that for a couple of weeks that summer, after every evening meal, I would traipse upstairs, throw up and then crawl into bed for half an hour before spending most of the night allocating white spaces on a building plan to companies and ticking off thousands of pounds.

That afternoon, in my then in-law’s back garden, was more than welcomed. I lazed quietly in the sunshine with just the chatter of birds and somewhere on the edge of my awareness my now ex was talking with her family about this and that. One of her sisters turned to me and said: “You should take her away, Dave. To the tropics. Or the Caribbean.”

And how would I do that? I thought. How far does a twenty-six grand basic go unless
I actually hit the target this year?

But I didn’t say anything. I think I pretended to be asleep.

“We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.”

“Aren’t we all chum?”


“Ooo, I’ve just bought my first place – you must come up for the house-warming party,” she cooed excitedly down the phone.

“How’d you manage that?” I jealously asked.

“Well, I had a bit of help…”


“Well, you’ve just got to get yourself onto the ladder else your missing out, haven’t you?”


“Karen’s moving out,” one of us said over dinner.

“What?” the other replied pointing downwards. “Basement flat Karen?”

“Yup. Sold up and moving on.” Tubes of pasta, slithers of tuna, a shred of tomato and half an olive all pulped onto the fork. “She told me what she got for it.” The mouth opened and the food disappeared into the maw.

“Did she now?”

“Do you,” chew, chew, “want to guess?”

“Not particularly.”



“Almost twenty grand more than what she paid for it two years ago.”

2007, January:

I leaned into the window of the estate agent’s and wiped the drizzle off the glass. Still I couldn’t quite see, so I flipped back the off angled hood of my old duffel coat.

“Jesus. Two-hundred-and-sixty-four for a two bed flat.”

The bequiffed and greased, incredibly young and smug head popped out of the half open door.

“Now, you,” it said smarmily, “look like the kind of chap who doesn’t bother looking for a home.” I pulled my hood back up. “You’re looking for an investment, right?”

“Actually,” I turned to leave, “I’m trying to remember which one of these places I left my pet tortoise in.”

It was the best I could come up with.


“If you can’t afford a place in London, why not buy somewhere in Birmingham and rent it out.” My friend shrugged like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “Get yourself on the ladder. Make some money.”

Make some money.

Make some money.

Make some money.

“We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.”


We sat at the wooden table outside the pub on the very outskirts of London. It was, as is so often the case, the afternoon after a night before and someone said, for whatever reason: “But the thing is: Food is getting ridiculously expensive in this country.”

“No it’s not,” I countered possibly because I’m such an argumentative bugger at times and possibly because, having discovered an organic greengrocer, I’d been surprised to find myself thinking differently.

“I went into Sainsbury’s and the aubergines were ninety-nine pee.”

“It’s a fucking aubergine.” I sipped my too-sweet bitter shandy and felt a sugary film form on my tongue. “It’s come a long way.”

2004: November:

I gunned the engine and the Ford Focus positively snarled its way down the Redditch bypass. My eyes flashed across the wing mirrors, I flipped the indicator and nipped through two too tight spaces. The man in the suit and tie in the passenger seat didn’t look nervous. Which was disappointing.

Back in the showroom he thrust brochures in my hand and we walked in circles around a car I’d seen thousands of times before. I looked at my reflection in the gleaming black paint. He was talking about percentages and interest rates and, perhaps noticing I wasn’t listening, simply said: “It’s cheap, isn’t it? Money’s really cheap.”

And then he smiled like a particularly perverted trout.

2004: March:

“Dave Marston,” I said in those days whenever the phone rang.

“Miiiiisssssttttteeer Marston,” the voice on the other end announced its identity – no-one else I knew ever spoke like that.

“Morning. You coming in today?” This was before we all worked in the same office, when only two of us would fit in the booth in the converted bus factory, where the tips of my gelled hair brushed against the ceiling, and the others would dial in for, generally speaking, a natter.

We were in construction, the value of houses was intensely relevant. He talked about percentage increases, tracked land banks and geographical indexes until eventually he said: “So, I’m going to predict that the bubble will get spiked and burst before the end of next year.”

I didn’t argue, after all he was the economics expert. Besides, I was more than a little distracted by the odd sloshing noises in the background so instead I asked: “Are you in the bath again?”

2009: Last Friday in fact.

“Shall we go on for another drink somewhere else?”

“Ah, you know what,” I uncharacteristically said, “I think I better call it a night. Bit skint.”

How, I wondered on the way home, am I earning the same as my basic salary two years ago and still struggling? And there’s not even going to be commission bonuses. I have to think twice before paying for anything. I have to measure the value of everything.

How much money have I wasted thinking it was going to last forever?

2009: January:

The last train tilted gently homewards and I watched the skeletons of the East London Line springing out of the dirt, illuminated in the black by neon, electric fuzz.

“I was going to go over to Woolworths with the boy and get some cheap colouring pens and bits to make a collage with – you know the sort of stuff - when I remembered: Woolworths doesn’t exist anymore. Try explaining the credit crunch to a four year old! I gave it a go, but it’s tough. Then my friend was round the other day and she suggested going up to Moonbow Jakes for a coffee. I had to tell her it had closed down. This little voice piped up: ‘It’s because of the credit crunch.’”

2008, March:

“You see,” a friend stabbed a gin and tonic towards me, “I think it’s a male-female thing. My boyfriend will always argue totally logically. God, he’d draw a graph demonstrating fiscal policy to prove you wrong if there’s a pen and paper handy.
Sometimes I just want to scream ‘what about the people.’ Shouldn’t the most important thing be keeping people safe and well?”

2001, April:

The bear of an old man bristled his moustache and fumed: “Not the bloody labour party I joined.” Then he drank deeply from his pint of mild.

2007, July:

My boss squealed his sports car into the bus stop and I clambered out into the rain. I pulled my case out of the boot and as I tapped the roof to signal that he was clear to leave, water soaked up my sleeve. The Masartti growled away into the floods and I walked through the torrential storm, the flaps of the trousers getting sodden with every puddle I bounced through. Baker Street station was only a hundred metres or so away, but it felt out of reach.

Dehydrated, despite the weather, I stepped into the newsagents and wiped my streaming glasses on my tie. I took a bottle of water out the fridge and, with a slight distaste, picked up a copy of the Evening Standard.

I darted across the road in one final flurry of sprayed water and into the station. I rode the escalators down and sat on the bench for the Jubilee line. It was almost nine o’clock. I felt utterly shattered, but strangely content. It was the first day of Gordon’s premiership and I enthusiastically read the details of his cabinet announcements. A new, I hoped more left-leaning, leader for the country to pull us back from the precipice that seemed to be approaching rather to fast for comfort -and in a couple of weeks I’d be leaving work to go back to University.
It felt a new beginning, but little did I realise it was simply the beginning of the end.


"Not only have we saved the world, um,"


Peter smiled that sinister smile all across the evening news once again. Back from beyond, recalled from Europe installed in the House of Lords and given power and influence by a man whom he’d betrayed thirteen years before and who had in turn systematically tried to end his career ever since.

“It’s not what I was seeking; it’s certainly not what I was expecting.”

“My project will be complete when the party learns to love Peter.”

“Third time lucky.”

2009: June:

“Peter Mandelson,” said the newsreader as I sat in the traffic queue into the supersava supermarket “will become First Secretary of State and deputy prime minister in all but name.”

“This is crucial,” interjected the alleged expert, “because Mandelson is a big hitter, a man capable of helping Brown steer himself out of this mess and the Labour party recognises that. They need him.”

“My project will be complete when the party learns to love Peter.”

“We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.”

“You know,” I slurred a little pointlessly recently, “I used to feel like I had a proper job?”

“We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.”

“My project will be complete when the party learns to love Peter.”

“Intensely relaxed.”

“My project.”

2009: February:

“Do I really have to fill one of these out?” I moaned brandishing the wodge of papers as we walked along the corridor.

“It’s a project. It needs a project plan,” replied the manager with the open shirt collar.

“But it’s scheduled to finish at the end of March. What’s the point?”

“It’s a project. That’s a project plan. You need to identify risks and issues, outline the scope, the stakeholders, the delivery strategy, the communications plan, the objectives, the outcomes and the key performance indicators.”

“By the time I’ve done we’ll have finished.”

“That’s not the point. One should have been done earlier.” We buzzed ourselves through the rather gratuitously high security doors. “This isn’t optional, David.”

“Okay, okay.” I sighed. “So, once I’ve done all this then what do we do with it?”

“Well, in theory, we use it to measure progress and if anything goes wrong we should be able to identify where and how. Maybe even learn from our mistakes.” He smiled, but only fleetingly, as he prepared the close the office door behind him. “But to be honest, at this stage, we’ll probably file it in the archive and never look at it again.”

1 comment:

  1. Leave the drizzle behind and move to the 3rd world. It's the way forward.

    Trust me,
    I'm a doctor.