Monday 2 November

How strange it will be to leave the flat; to step outside the soothing machinations of the cotton warehouse, to stumble beyond the slippery trading house floor. Locked into these worlds you presume I am, and until today I could not countenance meeting you elsewhere but meandering down Oxford Road, looking for the nearest grog trough when your pounds and pennies would be better spent on fixing those gangrenous teeth; could think of nowhere but the handy Bar That Twas a Bog when it came to taking you aside and thrusting a temperance pamphlet into your gnarly old paws while standing you ‘one last drink.’ Yet all that may change, my fair-weather friend, for today – in the time that it takes you to adjust your corset, apply your lippy, and career blinking back out into the street – a communiqué rustles its way round work; a fresh breeze that prompts amongst my colleagues a mixture of airless gasps and prolonged heavy breathing. For we are to be offered Voluntary Early Death (VED), a scheme dreamt up by the uber-bosses in London to separate the wheat from the chaff. Yes, short-term riches may be (y)ours, in exchange for lifelong unemployment and a pauper’s grave.

Short-term riches!! Seconds before the wind of hope is deoxygenated by the guff of indecision, I have applied for release. There is no guarantee that it will be granted. You more than anyone know how my financial skills have come to be relied upon (when, sated, you told me that the dimpled ceiling of the Rochdale Ritz was ‘as of the stars an’ heavens an’ that’, remember how quick I was to use said imperfections to demonstrate basic tax law?) Nevertheless, I live in hope of a new beginning – a chance to write, a chance to sing, a chance to dance, a never-to-be-repeated opportunity to buy a solid gold bong encrusted with images of semi-precious stoners. Never has impending doom given me quite as light a head. Walking home along the canal, wondering what career a man could pursue after 12 months bitter struggle with the page, who should I spy but my old friend Porthole Drift, the famous detective, coming my way on his crimson barge ‘Gypsy Lady’, enjoying a pipe while Muff the dog hunts out some tea for the tillerman?

‘Ahoy Porthole!’ I harangue.

‘What-ho,’ he replies with added pith.

No doubt in town to solve one of his cases with a leisurely disregard for the mounting death toll, I see a future beyond the piles of rejected manuscripts with which I’ll insulate myself next winter, if only in penning the unpublishable biography of this distinctly peculiar fellow.

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