MY LAST WEEK WITH MODOLIA
Let's start with me down a hole.
But what am I doing here? What I'm doing here is my lousy job. I dig up buried treasure for a living. Around 30% of wills these days include a treasure map. A lot of people want their beneficiaries to do a bit of work for their money so it's become popular to bury a chest and leave a map and instructions for a doddery solicitor to read out after their deaths. Now most folk can't be doing with daylong traipses and midnight digs and so they contact me to find their inheritance. And this is where being able to see the imps has always come in very handy. They're all of them terribly excited about buried treasure, for some reason, and just following them has tended to pay off. Because no matter how hard they pretend they don't care, when there's something naughty they have the chance to be up to, they'll be up to it.
I've mentioned the imps a few times now. Let me tell you about them.
Secretly, invisibly, annoyingly, when things go wrong there's always a tiny imp that's doing it, but noone else seems to be able to see them. And I don't notice them that much. When everywhere you look you see imps, you tend to take them for granted. I'd look down the street and see the imp of missed buses pushing hard against the legs of some poor fellow who could only watch the 29 pull out without him on. I'd see the imp of broken umbrellas chuckle furiously as someone gets drenched while expecting to remain dry. I've seen people tear houses apart while the imps of lost keys or mislaid wallets sit sniggering on a sofa, invisible to all except me. Every time I watch the Zapruder film I see the imp of exploding Presidents; I see the imp of missed penalties smirk as David Batty or Gareth Southgate place the ball on the spot.
For anything that can go wrong there's an imp, and seeing them doesn't mean I can stop the thing from happening; it just gives an insight into the way the world works.
Oh and yes, they do usually hang around in threes.
Now I can't remember quite when I started seeing the imps or why, but, as I said, this story is about when I stopped seeing them and of someone who showed me that life was not just a series of things going wrong, but a time in which to make things right for yourself.
BEN SITS DOWN AT A DINNER PARTY. . .
It was the annual Lost Weekend - the new Bank Holiday instigated by the alcohol industry where everyone gets drunk and stays completely drunk for 72 hours - and I was to go over to Mike and Martha's for lunch. My ex-girlfriend Lucy was going to be there and I hadn't seen her since we broke up last year.
There are some people whose hearts are never fully frozen nor never fully warm; they exist in a state of permaslush. Lucy was like that. Before we'd met we'd each had a string of placebo relationships, love affairs which hadn't made much of a difference to our hearts. But we'd fallen for each other. I had loved her seriousness; the way she looked at the world through grey tinted spectacles.
I once spent a gloomy Christmas with Lucy's equally serious family and they'd get their Crackers from Amnesty International - instead of jokes inside, there were brief stories of human rights abuses, crepe blindfolds instead of crowns and Red Cross parcels instead of toys. But there were fun times too - we'd spend evenings at her place playing Russian Kerplunk, where one marble is a bomb and each straw you pull out might just be your last.
And she was beautiful. She had these sweet little duelling scars on her cheeks from spatula fights during her days at a Prussian catering college where she was taught to bake cakes with military precision.
Did I love her? Yes, I think I did once - I could again, I'm sure. We had left a lot unsaid and undone.
Mike and Martha were good chums. Mike was the artist on Battle Picture Weekly's top selling mini comic, "Our Forces in Pubs", the illustrated true life stories of some of the most courageous bar room brawls involving British servicemen of the post war decades. You must have read "Leave Him, He's Not Worth It", "'Take-It-Outside!' Thompson" or one of the all time classics, "Nobody Calls Me Squaddie!" I've got them all - what can I say, I'm a fan.
Mike was a much better artist than that though. He was working on a huge painting of dogs of many breeds sitting around a card table, drinking whiskey, smoking cigars, playing a game of Magic: The Gathering. Beautiful.
Martha had just been fired from her last company (or more accurately exiled) for not partaking in their transfer over to a monarchical structure. Most of the big firms were doing this now - it was something to do with a tax break that monarchies get that corporations don't. Anyway, the CEO was now referred to as King (the Coronation ceremony had been ridiculous she said), the group directors were all Barons, and the workers, subjects. When the new company jester was promoted to the nobility ahead of her, that had been the last straw - she led a rebellion but the General of Building Security cut her army of typists off before they could storm the upper floors. Her trial was a sham and the King had declared a company holiday for having been delivered from the threat she'd represented. She was glad to leave; what next, she doesn't know. We all seemed like Yellow Brick Roadkill, knocked down on the way to attaining our dream. Squashed by other Tin Men, other Dorothies, even other Totos moving a little faster and a little nastier. It seemed nearly everyone I knew was like that too - hoping to achieve and being let down by their self-fulfilling sense of failure. It was as though our body clocks were forever flashing 00:00 and we never reset them. I needed something else. Someone else. But I could see the imps and in a way that made up for a lot of other things - right now the imp of boiling over was doing his thing and a pan was getting cursed in the kitchen.
BEN GOES INTO A TV STUDIO. . .
I've got to go to TV centre where I'm a judge on the final of the BBC Young Plastic Surgeon of the Year competition. I'd just come from the hole where the imp had made it rain unexpectedly. So I enter the studio dripping wet - someone gets me a new suit and I dry my hands under the World Dryer Corporation's ZA-48 hand dryer which is so powerful at sucking up moisture it will literally dessicate a hand that's placed too close.
The studio is buzzing, then someone tells me I'm still dripping and I shouldn't stand on that cable. It stops buzzing.
Now, I'm a judge here because it's widely accepted that I'm one of the top amateur plastic surgeons in my region - I actually won this BBC competition in 1983 with one of the first collagen implants in the country. That was when I thought I knew what I wanted to be, before I became what I don't know I am. But, you know these were great junior plastic surgeons, way better than I was at their age. And the judges, well I felt like an alleycat in a hot tin alley - they were amazing, heroes of mine. There was Modolia Vass, the Godmother of British facial alteration. George Stinsahter, better known as The Deacon. He was the Church of England's top surgeon, responsible for the Archbishop of Canterbury's simply fabulous new cheekbones. And Carol Smillie, now presenting 'Kids Say the Most Technical Things', BBC 1's top smart aleck juvenile freakshow. She's a leading advocate of baby tattoos - her six month old son sports a Mickey Mouse on his left bicep and 'Mummy's Little Soldier' on his right fist.
As I stood there like a lone tree on a windy horizon she walked into the room.
We looked at each other and in that exact moment I knew that love was a chaotic force - that a butterfly in someone's stomach could cause a hurricane in the heart of another. And you don't know where that hurricane will hit, or when, or what damage it's going to do, all you know is that you want to get caught up in it. And there was the woman I was to fall in love with - Modolia Vass.