It's all down to the leaving parties, of course. Practically everyone I know has lost their job recently and has thrown a shindig to celebrate. I've been to ten leaving parties in the past seven days and the strain is beginning to tell. You know how they are: every time you go to one you swear you'll just pop in for a couple of drinks and a speech, and the next thing you know it's 2am and you're reeling into an all-night garage in search of a fifth packet of Silk Cut and a Mars Bar for your dinner, as all you've had so far is a handful of peanuts, a couple of corn chips and two bottles of house wine.
It was during the second-to-last of these that I realised the grim truth about the feel-good factor: it sure as heck ain't on the way back. I know you can't book a table for love nor money these days in certain areas, but that's not because of renewed consumer confidence. It's because for every bar in the country there's someone with a redundancy cheque to sling behind it. All those groups of shiny, happy people aren't really having fun: they're holding a wake for another colleague's hopes and dreams. When they open the files in 50 years' time, it'll turn out to have been a plot hatched between the government and the catering industry. Soon the only people with jobs will be the ones working minimum wage.
Anyway, the Lynch things started happening the day before yesterday and I've been drinking mineral water since yesterday morning. It started in the post office. A man with a beard and a fetching print dress walked through the door, past the queue and up to the counter. Of course, there are few things more surreal than the reaction of a British crowd to queue-jumping. Eyes rolled, stays creaked, a thousand throats cleared and the words "well, really" swept the ranks.
The calipered lady behind the counter hobbled back to her window. "I want to go to Manchester," said the man. "This is a post office," she replied. "Yes," he said. "And my sister wants half a pound of mince." "Well, I suggest she goes to a supermarket for that." "She's in prison." "Ah." There was a pause. "Well," he said, "I can't hang around here all day. Is there anything else I can do for you?" "No thank you," she said. He turned on his brogued heel and strode out.
OK, fine: London's full of crazies. We all know that. But I ended up in Camden that night, which is home to every crazy who ever walked the face of the planet. As I emerged from the Tube, I had to squeeze past a woman in a fur coat. She was haranguing a tramp. "I hope," she shouted in cut-glass accents, "you die screaming from cancer." The tramp laughed scabbily. "Your mother," screamed fur-coat-lady, "was a whore and your mother's mother was a whore."
It turned out to be a perfectly normal leaving party: too little food, sudden discoveries of hitherto hidden secrets, easily-made promises of lifelong friendship. We played hunt-the-cab in the street afterwards, and a blue Ford stopped and offered his services. We bargained for a fare down south. Once we were inside, he drove at 60mph through the darkened West End while we gripped each other in fear. Shrieking to a halt at traffic lights, he turned to us in the back seat.
"Is Jesus your saviour?" he asked.
"Yes. Absolutely. Every time," I replied.
"Well, make him your husband as well," he said. Slammed his foot down on the accelerator and didn't say another word until we gave him his money and ran for the front door.
In the living room I lit candles and played some Van Morrison because I thought it would calm me down. It didn't, much, but by 2am I was ready for bed. I blew out the candles, went to the window and opened the curtains. In the street below stood a giant. He must have been seven foot tall. He was wearing an anorak, and eating what looked like chips from a paper packet balanced on the junction box for the traffic lights.
Anyway, he stood there - swayed there - staring at the traffic as it pulled up. And then this white stretch limousine with a satellite dish on the back slid to a halt in front of him. It had shaded windows and pink neon strip lights flashing on the places where you usually find metal trim. The giant stared at the limo. The limo sat and flashed. The lights went to green and back to red again, and nobody moved. And then the giant suddenly tugged his forelock in the direction of the limo, bagged his chips up and shambled off into the night.
At four, the phone rang. I answered it. "Hello?" I mumbled, the usual who's-died-now fear quaking through the shroud of sleep. A woman's voice: "I thought you should know," she said, "the horses are out."
In the morning when I came down, I found the pavement outside the front door was scattered with lamb chop bonesReuse content