I got up, made a pot of coffee and sat and read the paper. A churchgoing charity worker had stolen enough money from a 102-year-old woman to buy three properties in the UK and to consider buying a village in Spain. Nearly one in three court cases at magistrates’ courts fails to go ahead because the defendants can’t be arsed to turn up. The British are now so fat that endangered breeds of heavy horses such as the Suffolk Punch are being revived as personal transport. A computer screen aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth, our spanking new, state-of-the-art aircraft carrier, launched last week, was seen to be displaying the logo of Windows XP (copyright 1985–2001). An NHS contractor concealed 700,000 test results in a cupboard because it couldn’t be bothered processing them. A Nigerian-led gang has scammed the NHS of 12 million quid.
At this point, two or three hundred cigales commenced their wall-of-sound crepitations as if they were as disturbed by the news as I was.
Turning to world news, I read that George Soros has been accused of illegally trying to topple an African head of state. A lawyer called Eric Conn has successfully defrauded the US government of $600 million. A four-bedroom flat overlooking New York’s Central Park would now cost me as much as $50 million, if I can find a few 100-year-olds to rob, or invoice the NHS on homemade headed notepaper. A new Nigerian mafia has teamed up with the Sicilian mafia to control street prostitution in Palermo, while a North African mafia has had the breathtaking cheek to start operating in Naples. Turkey is re-allowing asylum seekers to move to Europe. The Great Barrier Reef, one of the wonders of the natural world, has been valued at
£33 billion. A commodities trader accidentally pressed the wrong number on his keyboard causing the value of gold to plummet within the space of a split second. The outcome of a football match between the German and Italian under-21s is alleged to have been arranged beforehand.
On the plus side, however, I read that I am without a shadow of a doubt descended from Edward III, Google has promised to stop reading my emails, and illicit production of the drug ecstasy, in the form of MDMA, now involves unprecedented heights of quality control.
I looked up Edward III to see if we had anything in common. He was a temperamental man — he started the Hundred Years War — but he was capable, I read, of unusual clemency. He had 14 children by a cousin, three of whom perished in the Black Death. Edward III and I shared few similarities. I concluded that I was therefore most likely descended via one of his three illegitimate children by Alice Perrers, the King’s ‘grasping and avaricious’ mistress, who first comforted him when she was 15 and he was a clap-riddled old man.
Reading the newspaper these days is an unnerving experience. What next? The sun rising in the west? A rough beast spotted slouching towards Bethlehem? I diverted my thoughts by draining the radiator in my car. The engine is running hot so I thought I should renew the coolant, which proved not as easy as I imagined, owing to difficulty removing the splash cover from under the engine. Then I realised that the gallon of new coolant I had bought wasn’t going to be enough to refill the radiator, so I drove to the local garage for another.
The usual woman was behind the counter. Typical of the demeanour of a certain type of French woman, this one views life as an unremitting tragedy, but a sexy one. As I paid for the coolant, she raised her eyes to squarely meet mine. I was being given the stage. It was a fleeting moment and after it I was conscious of having somehow disappointed expectations after showing initial promise. I departed the shop vaguely disappointed in myself, and when I got home I realised I no longer had my wallet with me. In all the excitement of meeting those eyes I must have left it on the counter. My wallet contained about €200, my gym membership card and my debit card. I raced back to the garage and ran, panic-stricken, into the shop. ‘Did I leave my wallet?’ I shouted. Life being one continuous tragedy, she was totally unmoved by my passion. She did, however, walk slowly around to my side of the counter to sweep the empty floor once with her eyes and give me her most indifferent Gallic shrug. Distant thunder of hooves in the newspaper and now I’d lost my wretched wallet. A bad start to the day.
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