“They’re at it again,” he says.
I pretend not to notice.
He sighs an Intense Ginger sigh and shakes his Intense Ginger head.
“Always them, at it. Fucking animals, the lot of ‘em.”
Intense Ginger Bloke is on the internet. He sits opposite me, our desks separated by a blue divider littered with the instructions, warning notices, guidelines and specifications that my boss is so fond of printing out and pinning up. It forms a wall of meaningless collage, above which Intense Ginger Bloke’s head pokes like a frowning Belisha Beacon.
I pretend to be concentrating on my work but in reality all I can think of is that big, orange head, the angry way his fingers batter the keyboard and the frantic, metronomic jiggling of his leg under the table.
And now he belches. He does this thing when he belches where he bobs his head up and down, his cheeks and eyes bulging, looking for all the world like he is about to regurgitate whole the slimy and glistening corpse of his last kill – a large rat, for example, or perhaps a young rabbit. Instead, a baritone BOILK and a waft of fetid air drifts over the partition to titillate my senses.
“Excusé Moi.” he says.
I wince, but I don’t say anything.
There is no point saying anything. He is what he is. He was set in his ways from the moment of birth, each new task learned then becoming set in stone. When he eats he eats like a child, knife and fork gripped clumsily in a large fist, his mouth open, showing the masticated contents like the window in a washing machine door.
When he walks he looks like he has a rolled up carpet under each arm, and I can imagine him walking like this as a child in a playground, trying to look bigger than he actually is in a vain attempt to discourage the focus of the bigger boys.
His opinions are the opinions of a man from 1979, namely his father. I’m convinced that for his tenth birthday he was given a well thumbed Hayne’s Manual called, ‘How to be Manly – a Concise Guide to Manly Opinions, Manly Actions and Bigoted Generalisations’.
He learned it by heart. It is his bible.
“Someone should drop a bomb on the fuckers and be done with it.”
I look at him.
He is reaching back, scratching his arse with great rigour.
Every task he takes on is tackled with that same, frowning concentration of a boy putting together a particularly challenging box of Lego Technics.
It repulses me and fascinates me in equal measure.
When he is making these ambiguous statements he wants me to get involved, to ask what it is that’s rattled his cage so that he can merrily vent his spleen about the state of the world, mouthing opinions formed from the half-chewed remnants of tabloid headlines and right-wing soundbites. Usually I pretend not to hear, mainly because it winds him up, but also because I don’t want to waste my energy trying to reason with the utterly unreasonable.
But I can no longer remain silent. I know who he thinks deserves a jolly good bombing and I need to hear it from his own mouth.
I say, “Who needs a bomb dropping on them? Not the Welsh again?”
This has the desired effect. His head pops up. He stops smashing his fingers on the keyboard. His leg ceases to jiggle.
“Huh?” he says. “What you mean, ‘Welsh’? I’ve got nuffin against the Welsh. Who said I’ve got anyfing against the Welsh?”
I shrug. “Sorry, my mistake. I thought you hated the Welsh.”
His eyes are flickering. I can see his mind flitting through past conversations, opinions, images of Welsh people, what Welsh people might have done to deserve his righteous ire.
He says, “No.”
I say, “Sorry. Who do you want to bomb then?”
He rolls his hideous blue eyes. “Them Muslims. It’s always them. You read owt in the news about owt bad in the world and you can bet your bottom dollar it’s them lot who’s behind it. Now I’m not a racist or owt, but…”
And so on and so forth.
I interrupt. “Ok, ok. So where would you drop this bomb then?”
“I mean, you’ve got one bomb. You want to drop it on these evil Muslims. Where do you drop it? Which city or country are you going to nuke to halt this Muslim scourge for good?”
He blinks some more. His eyes are the palest blue, but not a nice blue. They look like watered down anti-freeze. A chemical blue. Pale redness rings his eyes from lack of sleep and he has long ginger eyelashes, like a pig’s.
He frowns at his computer screen, clicking the mouse madly. Then he nods and says, “Syria. I want to nuke Syria.”
Syria. Where hundreds of thousands of displaced people already swarm into the sea to avoid death, where war has ensured that disease is rife, where many other nations are already dropping billions of dollars worth of bombs, where several different factions of Muslims desperately struggle to fight for a place to live, each one believing that they are in the right. Just one Muslim nation in fifty that are predominantly Muslim nations, eighteen million Syrian Muslims amongst one and a half billion Muslims worldwide.
I say, “Well done. That’s that sorted then,” and I turn back to my work.
Intense Ginger Bloke briefly looks pleased with himself, then the frowning begins again.
And the jiggling. And he throws in a bit of nose whistling too.
He has a great beak of a nose that has a large bulge in the middle. I imagine it is a sounding chamber, used for trumpeting across the plains to his kind for help if ever he is in peril.
I realise I am spending too much time near Intense Ginger Bloke, but I spend all day with him in front of me. I can’t help it.
I try to ignore him.
A minute later he snorts and smiles.
“Here, look at this.”
He tilts his computer screen slightly towards me. I can still only see the back of it. I stand up, lean over the partition and look at the screen.
There is a picture of a toddler. She is chewing a toy. She has white blonde hair and the same disconcerting blue eyes as Intense Ginger Bloke. I have seen this girl in pictures many, many times. He is a proud parent and likes to share pictures of his daughter but I’m not interested. Why would I be? I like my own children, but I’m not so keen on gawping at pictures of other people’s. I find that a bit weird. Besides, whenever Intense Ginger Bloke wants me to look at a picture of his daughter, I always have to adopt this same, awkward pose. I don’t think I’ve yet seen a picture of her where I wasn’t at a ninety degree angle, craning my neck awkwardly. Intense Ginger Bloke has a huge monitor, so together this gives the feeling that I am looking up at a vast pale child with laser beam eyes who is forever looming over me in a variety of poses, usually gnawing something, perhaps a car or a passing pedestrian.
I say, “Aww.”
I sit back down.
This is repeated three or four more times before he is satisfied. I am left feeling defeated, crushed beneath the chubby foot of a giant albino overlord.
I do what I usually do in these situations and leave my desk to go hide in the bogs for ten minutes.
A toilet timeout.
It helps, but only slightly.
When I return Intense Ginger Bloke is chuckling to himself.
“He’s a right character,” he says.
I say nothing.
“He speaks a lot of sense,” he says.
I say nothing.
“If only more politicians were like him,” he says.
I say, “You on about Jeremy Corbyn?”
Intense Ginger Bloke screws up his russet face. “Who?”
I say. “Jeremy Corbyn. you know, Leader of the Opposition.”
He shakes his head. “Never heard of him. No, I’m talking about that Nigel Farage. Ordinary fella, talks straight. He likes a pint. He’s my kind of bloke.”
I say, “He’s a fucking cunt. He’s a conniving racist who postures with a pint to persuade gullible punters into thinking he’s normal, rather than a power hungry loon who wants to brick up the channel tunnel and bring back hanging.”
Intense Ginger Bloke’s shallow forehead furrows into a series of deep ruts and his eyebrows beetle. His shoulders hunch defensively. I can feel his leg jiggling. It feels like a steam engine is operating in the room below.
“Sounds alright to me,” he mutters sulkily. “He don’t seem racist…”
I say, “He is.”
We work in silence for a while, which is bliss.
But Intense Ginger Bloke gets distracted and he’s drawn back to the internet like a big ginger moth drawn to a shit-fueled flame.
He’s got an email billing him for work on his boiler.
He’s got a text from his girlfriend telling him the kettle is fucked and to buy a new one.
He’s got a car insurance quote that is BANG OUT OF ORDER causing him to shop around feverishly for an hour until he comes back to first the quote and bitterly accepts it.
Now he’s in a bad mood.
He is muttering and jiggling and mouth breathing and nose whistling. He’s belching, but there are no ‘Excusé Moi’s’ offered.
You see, Intense Ginger Bloke likes spending money, as long as he’s spending the money on treats for himself. He’s a selfish fucker and the needs and comfort of others are completely beyond his understanding. He doesn’t shower on a morning because he likes to roll out of bed at 5.50am to get to work for 6.00am. It’s a fifteen minute commute that he does in seven minutes because he puts himself first and any other fucker that gets in his way last. Or dead.
Because he doesn’t shower as frequently as he should he often stinks, but he combats that with a deodorant that smells like a cross between a maiden aunt’s knicker drawer and fly spray. The deodorant is about as close as he gets to consideration for others.
Now that he’s getting all cross and flustered he’s getting too hot – another favourite beef of his. It’s always ‘sweaty’.
“Who’s been messing with the air con? It’s getting well sweaty in here.”
No, Intense Ginger Bloke. We are not sweaty, the room is not sweaty, it is you who is sweaty, and your maiden-aunt-knicker-drawer-fly-spray deodorant is reeking the place out. It smells like someone has dug up Dame Barbara Cartland and hid her talced, desiccated corpse in the ceiling space.
But as Intense Ginger Bloke gets more angry and uncomfortable he begins to resemble someone I’ve seen recently, but I can’t put my finger on who it might be. I’m good with faces too, but it escapes me.
His fingers are really testing the keyboard to breaking point now. I have no idea why he needs to type so feverishly and I’m presuming there is someone on the internet who is WRONG and Intense Ginger Bloke is putting them right. He administrates a caravanning forum on Facebook and he wields his power like Thor, cutting down all those who oppose him. I imagine that each hammered sentence is the death knell for some poor camper and his four berth tourer, cast into the darkness of forum banishment where there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth…
BZZZZ BZZZZ BZZZZ.
His huge phone skitters across his desk as it vibrates. His phone is the biggest on the market, naturally.
He picks it up, jabs the screen, then he frowns.
His eyes bulge. I think he’s about to belch again but he doesn’t.
The strange transformation into something tantalisingly familiar continues.
“NO!” he booms.
I’m momentarily terrified. I really do not expect this. His entire body has become a twitching, contorting mass of frustrated rage.
“NOO!!!!” His big, pale, hairy hand bangs down on his desk. Cold tea splashes out of his mug.
“You are kidding me. YOU ARE FUCKING KIDDING ME!!!” he screams at the phone.
The only other person in the office, Mike TV, has stood up to watch what’s going on.
Mike TV is alright, I suppose. He’s American, but he can’t help that. He’s possibly the most American person in the world. He’s got a Californian accent, he surfs, he calls everyone dude, he’s got a buzz cut, a big jaw bone and little close set eyes. The only thing he doesn’t have is American citizenship. It turns out that Mike TV’s parents aren’t American at all, they’re English, but moved to California when Mike TV was little and just forgot to tell him. Trouble started when Mike TV applied for a social security number and couldn’t get one. He, and his family, were illegal immigrants. They all got deported.
Deported from the only country he’d ever known, from sunny California to piss wet through Yorkshire.
The poor bastard. It’s a fate so cruel it’s almost funny.
“Erm, you okay there, dude?” calls Mike TV. He’s wandered over, holding a steaming cup of joe.
Intense Ginger Bloke swivels his terrible eye towards him. The hand clutching the huge slab of a phone is trembling.
“Okay? OKAY?? I’m pretty fucking far from okay, Mike TV! I’m ANGRY is what I am!!”
I’ve never seen him like this.
It must be like how the residents of Naples feel when Vesuvius suddenly starts belching out a million tons of hot lava after a century or two of dormancy.
I find my voice and say, “Erm. What’s wrong, Intense Ginger Bloke?”
Those eyes. Almost reptilian.
He growls, “It’s her. Our lass. She’s… she’s just texted me… She says… can the young ‘un have a hamster.”
his lips draw back when he says ‘hamster’ to reveal his weak, grey teeth.
I say, “Sorry, I thought you just said ‘hamster’.”
“I DID SAY HAMSTER! SHE WANTS A FUCKING HAMSTER!! NO NO NO!”
He slams the desk again, snorting out loudly through his immense nose. It actually make a parping noise, which somehow pleases me. I look round quickly, half expecting a dozen or so Intense Ginger People to stampede.
Mike TV looks bewildered. He sips his coffee and says, “Jeez, it’s only a fuckin’ hamster, dude. Let the kid have the fuckin’ hamster!
I reach slowly under my desk for my kevlar helmet but I remember I don’t have one, I only have my bicycle helmet but I’m not putting that on because everyone looks a cunt in a bicycle helmet.
Intense Ginger Bloke is growing. He’s turned a deep brick colour and he’s rising from his seat. the air is vibrating. I can feel the heat coming from his body and there is a sharp metallic odour in the air.
It is a spectacular thing to witness.
“THEY’VE BOUGHT THE HAMSTER ALREADY WITHOUT ASKING ME! SHE JUST WHATSAPP’D ME A PICTURE OF THE FUCKING THING AND THE FUCKING THING’S FUCKING CAGE IN THE BACK OF HER FUCKING CAR! I WAS NOT CONSULTED! THE HAMSTER WAS NOT DISCUSSED!! WHAT KIND OF SICK WORLD DO WE LIVE IN WHERE SOMEONE BUYS A FUCKING HAMSTER WITHOUT TALKING THROUGH THE PRO’S AND CON’S OF HAMSTER OWNERSHIP WITH THEIR FUCKING PARTNER?? THAT’S HOW WARS START!”
The heat from the blast singes Mike TV’s eyebrows, the shockwave momentarily disrupts the power supply to three thousand homes within the South Leeds area. The fluorescent lighting in the office flickers and becomes steady again. I pick up my chair from the other side of the room.
And suddenly I want to slap him. Just reach across the desk, wind my arm back and give him a good hard whack around the chops, because the preposterous man is having a tantrum. A thermonuclear tantrum.
His body writhes and twitches with impotent rage, his rage a rage which seethes constantly below the surface, a rage of frustration and stupidity that is brought to the fore by any kind of petty indignation, imagined insult or the slightest lack of that most modern of apparent essentials, ‘respect’.
Intense Ginger Bloke is a man of no importance. He is a buffoon, a boor, filled to the brim with righteous indignation. He is the living epitome of the new Middle Englander, under informed and over opinionated with a pathological need to be heard, to be listened to, to be respected, whatever the cost.
He shouts, “I don’t want a fucking hamster, hamsters rattle in their shitty little wheels making horrible repetitive annoying noises, hamster smell as well, that horrible hamstery smell that hamsters make, I don’t want a fucking hamster…”
And I’m staring at him, and I suddenly recognise what he reminds me of, what he looks like.
In the news a week or so ago there was this big seagull that got into a skip behind a supermarket and fell into a vat of curry sauce. They rescued it and hosed it down, but the end result was a dark orange seagull, furious looking, with this hideous blue eye that stared out at humanity with a terrible hatred.
Intense Ginger Bloke looks like Curry Gull.
And I can’t help it.
I start to laugh.
I just burst out laughing and keep laughing and Mike TV starts to laugh too at this ridiculous, tragic, frustrated man making a spectacular tit of himself, squawking and flapping over the purchase of a tiny mammal.
Intense Ginger Bloke looks stunned. He snatches his car keys from the desk and lurches to the door. He turns, still seething, and squawks, “I’LL TELL HER!! I’LL TELL HER THAT ONE OF US IS GOING, IT’S EITHER THE HAMSTER OR ME!!
The door slams.
He is gone.
Mike TV shakes his head in a pitying way. “Jeez. I mean… dude.”
He returns to his desk and I sit back down at mine and I look at the empty chair opposite me.
I imagine a little hamster cage there, the cute little thing trundling in his wheel or nibbling a sunflower seed, nuzzling through some fresh hay and watching me with his bright, black, bead of an eye.
I think of the ultimatum that Intense Ginger Bloke is about to deliver to his girlfriend.
I envy her.
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