..I will always maintain that everything that
me and the Archbishop of Canterbury was all Princess
Margaret's fault. I really wanted to stay in that night. I was tired and
in no mood for a party. I
was sitting on the sofa with four bottles of Stella Dry happily waiting for
Frasier and Whose Line
to come on. Then against my better instincts I answer the
phone and she's there, "Please, Mikey, come and save me from
these boring people." It was her that dragged me out to the
diplomatic reception at Downing Street where I got into the fight
with Bill Clinton. You could, I suppose, make the case that all that followed
was Clinton's fault, but when you trace the thing back to first causes I
still blame Margaret.
..The one person I don't hold it against is the Archbishop, because at the start of it all he was just an innocent bystander, someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, the wrong place being standing by my side at the buffet table in the reception room at No. 10, and the wrong time being right after Bill Clinton spilled a drink on me accidentally on purpose. Clinton, that shitkicking redneck turd. Was it my fault Hillary had been making eyes at me all night? As the Archbishop agreed with me afterwards, if he can't control his bird, that's not my problem. He wasn't even subtle about it. Pretended he was turning his wrist to look at his watch while forgetting he was holding a drink in that hand conveniently poised right next to my midriff. Like Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins in the Cinzano ads, for Christ's sake.
.."Gee, sorry," he says, and smiles at me, a classic case of what they call a shit-eating grin.
..Now by this stage of the evening I was still comparatively sober. Comparatively. I'd had one of the Stellas, maybe four glasses of champagne, and a fat line of coke John Major had chopped out for me in the men's room while we laughed about the time he staggered out of there shitfaced drunk and dried his hands on the headgear of the Saudi ambassador. So I was not sober enough to take any shit from a fat creep like Clinton, but I was sober enough to play it cool.
..So at first I just smiled back, and pretended to accept his fake apologies, and acted like I was going to stand still for it. "Let me get you something to wipe it up with," says Clinton, and turned to get me a napkin. It was as he was turning back to me that I punched him in the throat. It's generally accepted in civilized circles that you don't hit a politician in the face if they've got any public appearances the next day, but I was thinking less of that and more of the fact that there's usually very little comeback after a really good blow to the windpipe. To make sure of matters I kneed him in the groin too. Clinton dropped to the floor and stayed there whimpering, hunched up defensively with his arms over his head like an unhorsed jockey.
..Now I knew I only had a few seconds before the American secret service men or John's own hard boys jumped me, so I had to make them count. It was dimly in the back of my mind that if I went so far as to kick his ribs in John might never invite me back again, and besides I didn't want to scuff my new shoes on the bastard. Still, he had to pay. So I grabbed the Archbishop's staff or crook or whatever you want to call it, just snatched it right out of his hand, and started to really paste Clinton with it. I got in four or five good blows before the Archbishop managed to wrest it back from me, and then Clinton's bodyguards were all over me.
..The next thing I knew the secret service men had grabbed me and the Archbishop by the arms.
.."Hang on," said the Archbishop, struggling against them, "what did I do?"
..John Major pushed his way through the throng that had gathered.
.."All right," he said, "what's going on?"
.."They attacked me," Clinton wailed, hauling himself shakily to his feet.
.."He started it, John," I said. "And His Grace had nothing to do with it."
.. "He punched me for no reason," whined Clinton, "and then the faggot in the dress," - this in reference to the Archbishop's episcopal regalia - "hit me with his stick."
"Dress?!" snarled the Archbishop, straining against the arms holding him, his face contorted with rage. "You fat shithouse, if I'd hit you you'd still be on the fucking deck."
I looked at John calmly and without any emotional blackmail. John knows I'd never start anything unprovoked, but I was well aware he really had no choice in the matter. He gave me a pleading, 'What can I do?' look. "I think you two had better leave," he said.
"But I didn't do anything!" the Archbishop cried.
We were hustled towards the door. On our way we passed Margaret and her sister. Margaret gave me her standard 'I can't take you anywhere' look. I shrugged and held up my hands towards her. The Archbishop got an extremely icy glare from her sister, who is technically his boss, after God. "I didn't do anything!" he tried to tell her.
In the front hall there was a certain amount of argy-bargy about whether we were actually going to leave or not. The Archbishop didn't want to go quietly. He kept insisting he was innocent and inviting Clinton to repeat the dress crack and daring him to come and have a go without his gang. "He's quick enough to blow up wogs with his cruise missiles, but he's not so handy with his fucking fists, is he?" he sneered when Clinton declined.
"Leave it, Your Grace, just leave it," John kept saying.
"This is all your fault, you slapper," Virginia Bottomley hissed venomously at Hillary. "Keep your hands off our men." Ginny had also been giving me the eye all night and hadn't been pleased at the competition from Hillary. I could see that Doug Hurd, who's always ready for a kick-off, was prepared to leap in on our side. He was already squaring up to one of the American G-men and prodding him in the chest with one finger. Of the others, I could count on only maybe Ken Clarke to back us up if it came to a scrap. But I didn't want to spoil the party for John and Margaret anyway, so I said to the Archbishop, "Come on, we can find better places to be than this. Fuck 'em. They're not worth it."
"Yeah," said the Archbishop. "It was a shit party anyway. I'm never coming back."
"Just go and get your head down," said John. "You'll feel differently in the morning."
"You and me are finished, John," said the Archbishop, "we're finished." I'd got him outside by now but only as far as the doorstep.
"Ah, kiss me ringpiece, you drunken old fart," said John, suddenly irritated, tossing the Archbishop's crook out after him.
"You're shit!" the Archbishop yelled as John shut the door on us. "You arse-licking Yank-lover! We're finished! You're full of shit! You're all shit!"
He ranted on in this vein for several minutes before I managed to drag him away. I barely dissuaded him from putting the windows through.
"I'm sorry I got you involved in that," I said as we made our way along Downing Street.
"Shit, it wasn't your fault," the Archbishop said hoarsely. "I saw the whole thing. You should have crippled the fat sweatpig. Fucking foreigners run this country, and John's there licking their arse. He's shit his bucket full with me now. Making me look bad in front of the boss. He's lost his fucking Lambeth Palace privileges, I'll tell you that much. If he ever shows his face round my neighbourhood again I'll break his fucking knees for him."
We had reached the end of the street, where the Archbishop's red Ferrari Testarossa was parked.
"Get in," he said, "I'll give you a lift."
We got in. The Archbishop took a bottle of Southern Comfort out of the glove compartment and we passed it back and forth a couple of times.
"I have it on good authority," the Archbishop said with a big sigh, "that in heaven the angels' nipples will lactate Southern Comfort. Fuck it. Are you on for a mad one? Let's you and me find some trouble to get into. You know, I try to be good, but when shit like that happens it just makes me want to be bad. What do you say? Are you on for it?"
I studied him and sniggered. "What are you proposing, in layman's terms?"
"What I am proposing, in layman's terms, is that for starters we get faceless drunk and screw around London in this fine Italian babe-magnet, and find some fallen women and maybe some smack. I am proposing we embark on a nightmare odyssey of drink, drugs, debauchery and degradation the marks of which will be harrowed into our faces until the end of our days, flout every law and traffic ordinance known to God or man, connive at the overthrow of Judaeo-Christian civilization, and then back home for tea and Robinson's jam."
"I'm game," I said.
"All right," he grinned. "An unholy alliance is formed. Now pass me that bottle, you unclean son of a warthog."
Even before I had done so he had turned the key and we were roaring along at terrifying speed. He gunned the Testarossa for all it was worth, upending the Southern Comfort down his neck as he drove. He put a Pixies tape on the stereo, 'Trompe Le Monde', and turned it up full belt. When 'Planet of Sound' came on he started screaming along to it, shaking his head wildly and butting the steering wheel and emitting frenzied animal whoops. For 'Alec Eiffel' he actually took his hands off the wheel to play air guitar and bucked and writhed in his seat while continuing to screw the Ferrari down Oxford Street at close on a hundred.
"Ah, Black Francis, you make me feel so young," he finally said. "I'm gonna canonize that motherfucker, I swear."
"Can you do that?" I said.
"I'm the Archbishop of Canterbury! I can canonize anyone I choose. One phone call, that's all it would take."
"Go on then," I sniggered. "I dare you."
"You dare me?" he giggled. "You fucking child."
"I double dare you."
"Right, you fucker." He snatched the car phone and punched a number, steering with his knees and nearly ploughing into a bus as we ran a red light. "Hello, Janet?" he said when he finally got an answer, looking at me and sniggering. "Yeah, it's the big man. Sorry to get you out of bed, but this is a matter of immense theological importance. I want you to canonize Black Francis immediately...Black Francis, you mongoloid! The Pixies! Make him the patron saint of extremely evil guitar music...Well there is one now...What do you mean I can't? 'Oh kiss me cunt! Oh kiss me cock!'" he screamed along to 'U-Mass'. "No, not you, Janet...No, I haven't been drinking. Look, just do it, okay?...Oh fuck off then. You're fired and damned for all eternity as of Monday." He slammed the phone down.
The pair of us were crying with laughter.
"You can't go round damning folk for all eternity willy-nilly," I giggled.
"Can't I though?" he wept. "I'm the fucking Archbishop, aren't I?...Are we on one?" he asked as we tooled along.
The next thing I knew we were somewhere near King's Cross and he was offering to sell indulgences to all the fallen women we passed in the street.
"Indulgences for sale! Get it here, ladies!" he yelled, slowing the car to a crawl and banging on the side with his crook. "No-strings-attached absolution in return for sexual favours! I'm selling indulgences here, damn it! Genuine archepiscopal dispensations! Once in a lifetime offer! Sin all you want with no come-backs! A free pass to heaven! A free pardon in writing, guaranteed genuine!"
"I know for a fact you can't sell indulgences," I sniggered. "That's a papal thing."
"Fuck you! Anything that Polish peasant can do I can do better."
"Really, Bish, the whole history of your church, that was one of the main things that pissed Martin Luther off."
"Frig Martin Luther! Frig him and his hairy-backed grandmother! I could have been in Rome now, sitting in the sun all day selling indulgences to all the dirty Euro-crumpet and getting back-rubs off nuns like that baldy-headed Pole."
"You better watch what you say about the Pole, mister."
"Whoah," groaned the Archbishop," look at that little honey! Over here, darling! I have beeg lov for you, Senora! I slurp you up good, lady!" He waggled his tongue obscenely.
"That's a policewoman, Bish."
"So it is." We accelerated off with a squeal of tyres. "Christ, I'm horny," said the Archbishop. "Let's go to a lap-dancing club. I know a place where they sit right on your face for a fiver." He grinned at me and waggled his tongue horribly again.
"Jesus, Archbishop," I sniggered. "A man in your position can't do that sort of thing. What about photographers, the paparazzi? All it takes is one picture and your career's down the toilet."
"Yeah, I know," he muttered, suddenly morose. "Everywhere you go they're there snapping at you. A man can't have any fun any more."
Just then we saw a guy standing on the pavement ahead of us with a camera slung round his neck. He wasn't trying to take our picture or anyone's picture, he was just standing there. He didn't even look like a paparazzo, I think he was just a tourist. But, "There's one of the bastards now!" the Archbishop snarled. The next thing I knew he'd swung the car up onto the pavement and was driving straight at the guy at high speed. The man with the camera goggled at us in terror and turned and ran for his life. We chased him to the end of the street, where he plunged down the steps of the Underground. Without hesitation the Archbishop drove the Ferrari down after him, his face a savage mask of fury. At the bottom of the steps we saw the man with the camera vaulting the barrier. The Archbishop floored the accelerator. "Er, no," I said, but before I could stop him he'd tried to drive right through the ticket turnstiles. The car ground to a halt wedged right into them with the front crumpled up.
"Shit," said the Archbishop softly, seemingly genuinely astonished by this turn of events. "I was sure we could make it. Live and learn."
I got him out of there before the police arrived. We holed up in a nearby bar and drank several shorts. "I can't believe it," the Archbishop moaned, slumped on the bar with his head in his hands. "My beautiful car. No other major religious leader had such a nice car. Look at the Pope. A fucking Land Rover with a phone box on top. No class."
"I've warned you before about bad-mouthing the Pope," I muttered dangerously.
"Fuck you, you Papist bastard!" With a snarl he grabbed a bottle and swung it at my head. I managed to dodge out the way and caught hold of his wrist and slammed his hand on the counter until he dropped the bottle. He punched me in the stomach with his free hand and then sent a right hook to my jaw that sent me sprawling. I got up and swung at him but he sidestepped. "Come on," he taunted me, sticking his chin out. "You want a piece of me? Give me your best shot." At first there was genuine animal rage in his eyes, but somehow before long we were grinning and sniggering as we jabbed and weaved and slugged one another and soon it had degenerated from a proper fight into an Ernest Hemingway, Clark Gable - Spencer Tracy sort of homoerotic sparring session and eventually we fell into each other's arms laughing mightily.
"You take a good punch, kid," grinned the Archbishop, tapping me playfully on the jaw one last time. "Guess you're all right for a papist. Let's say you go to your church and I'll go to mine. Barkeep! Another round of drinks here!" As we clinked our glasses and commenced drinking I became aware of a couple of birds standing next to us at the bar eyeing us up. It was Sue Lawley and Moira Stewart, dressed to pull in mini-skirts and PVC. I'd actually had a brief thing with Sue some months before but she gave no sign of remembering it now, which was unsurprising as she had been comatose at the time.
I played it cool as they looked us over and whispered about us and tittered and nudged each other. Presently Sue came over and said saucily to the Archbishop, "Me mate wants to know if you're on your way to a fancy dress party." He was still in his robes and carrying his crook.
"Ooh, I never said that," said Moira shoving Sue in the back. "Don't shame us up."
"Actually we are," I said. "He's Bo Peep."
The Archbishop drew himself up with a kind of drunken hauteur.
"Fancy dress?" he echoed. "My good woman, I am the Archbishop of Canterbury, and this is His Extreme Lasciviousness Cardinal Kelly, roving shitkicker for the Curia and official procurer and personal gash-tester to His Holiness the Pole. He has the power to damn you for all eternity unless you accede to his sleazy demands and set him up with your sister too. We're part of an ecumenical commission set up to investigate the habits of fallen women and score some smack."
"Please pardon my companion," I said. "Syphilis and amyl nitrate have corroded his already meagre brain. If he tries to sniff your knickers, I advise you to surrender them without a fight and pray to whatever foul gods you hold dear that he stops there."
"Good with your tongues, aren't you?" said Sue.
"Madam," said the Archbishop gravely, "you should see us slurp." We bought the girls drinks and there was a deal more kidding around. The pair of them were obviously gagging for it.
"We're in there," I said to the Archbishop when they'd gone to the toilet. "Let's go back to your place."
"Skinny-dipping in my new pool is patently the next move," the Archbishop agreed. "But I have to see a man about a horse first. In layman's terms I want some heroin." I told him it was a foolish move when he'd been clean for weeks, but he was adamant. We went and made some phone calls but drew a blank.
"Bob Holness!" the Archbishop suddenly exclaimed, clicking his fingers. "Bob Holness always has smack. Let's take them round to his place."
"I dunno," I said. "Those two might be a bit freaked out by some of the goings-on at Bob's."
"They seem like a couple of broadminded girls. There'll be nothing they haven't read about in the Satyricon."
We asked the girls if they wanted to go to a party and they were enthusiastic. The Archbishop pulled a large wad of money out of his sock and negotiated to buy two bottles of tequila for the journey, and we went out and grabbed a taxi. The way things were shaping up was that I would bag off with Sue while the Archbishop took Moira, which he was keen about even though he seemed to have got her confused with Moira Anderson and kept asking her to sing hymns. Me and him hogged the back seat and told the girls it was dangerous to sit on the pull-down seats and they had better sit on us. As soon as we pulled up outside Bob's I could see it had been a bad move. There was a crowd of people standing outside Bob's house staring up at something and looking very unhappy.
"Stay here," I said getting out. "I'll see what's happening."
I made my way to the edge of the crowd and followed their gaze up the side of the house and saw that Bob was standing on the roof, stark naked and swaying perilously near the edge.
"You love me!" Bob screamed down at us.
"Yes, Bob, yes, we love you," called several voices.
"You hate me!" screamed Bob.
"No, Bob, no," protested the crowd.
"You love me!" screamed Bob. "You hate me!"
I looked around. Standing several feet away from me was The Animal, the sixteen-stone ex-Hell's Angel who's Bob's bodyguard and major domo, his hands on his head and tears streaming down his face. The Animal loves Bob more than his own life, and does everything in his power to protect him from himself and others. He has appointed himself to look after Bob because he knows Bob can't look after himself. Anyone who wants to get close to Bob has to go through The Animal, and The Animal doesn't let anyone get close to Bob if he can help it. The rest of the crowd consisted of a couple of Bob's showbiz pals and a smattering of groupies and a hardcore of Bobs hangers-on, the worst bunch of leeches in the celebrity world according to The Animal and me and anyone else who knows anything about it. These are the ones who are already in tight with Bob, the ones who call Bob Bobby. It's Bobby this and Bobby that. Bobby, can I have a new car? Bobby, there's this man with some great Peruvian flake. Bobby, I just need a little to tide me over, I swear it's the last time I'll ask. You're the greatest, Bobby, you haven't changed at all, still ready to help your old friends out, you know if you ever turn into an arsehole I'll be the first to let you know. These are the ones The Animal can do nothing about now. What he spends his life engaged in is damage-limitation. He shields Bob from new bad influences as much as he can, tries to tone down his excesses and keep his dysfunctions from spilling over into the public domain. One of the times he failed was that time on Blockbusters when Bob suddenly pulled out a glove-puppet and started talking to it, but The Animal later tracked down the dealer who'd given Bob the crystal meth before the show, and the guy's legs still don't bend the right way.
Yes, The Animal is highly protective of Bob. I once saw him beat a man half to death with a spade - this was in the gardening department of Debenham's - because he wouldn't stop saying 'Can I have an E, please, Bob,' when Bob was there supposedly incognito, I mean wearing his shades and all, and only two days out of rehab. They squared that one with the police somehow, but The Animal would definitely do time for Bob.
Between the end of Blockbusters and the beginning of Call My Bluff, Bob fell into a trough of terminal depression. He lay in bed all day for months on end, never speaking, doing nothing except ingesting Dilaudid from an I.V. drip, eating Mars ice creams and endlessly watching Teddy Edward videos on a TV screen mounted on the ceiling above his head. To all intents and purposes he was a catatonic vegetable. At one point The Animal paid two Page Three girls to rotate their boobs over Bob's face for hours at a time, but the most response they got out of him was when Bob told them to get out of the way of the telly. He was in a bad way. His old cruising buddy Richard Whiteley came by one day, tried to talk to him for ten minutes and got so depressed he burst into tears and took off on a three day bender then came back and tried to smother Bob with a pillow. "Bob's not there any more, man," he screamed at The Animal as he dragged him off, "Bob's gone."
It was a terrible time. But The Animal stuck with him and nursed him through it. He washed Bob and changed his nappies and tried to get him to eat, endured his black mood patiently and never left his side, and eventually the corner was turned, and the last I had heard Bob was a man reborn; living high and wild again, but saner than he'd ever been, with a better sense of perspective, no longer haunted by his old image of himself as a human sacrifice waiting to happen, some tragic Dionysus doomed to be torn apart by his own followers or crucified by the squares; maybe he was even happy.
So it was very sad indeed to see Bob now, strutting up and down the roof of his house like a mad king, stark naked and screaming, "You love me! You hate me!" and similar weirdness at the crowd below. A very freaky scene. Even Jeanette Krankie was freaked out by it, and Jeanette's no stranger to weird scenes. The Animal's trying to coax him down, the groupies are crying, all the leeches are wondering if their meal ticket's about to take a three storey swan dive, and everyone's very, very bummed out.
So into the middle of all this The Archbishop comes staggering like a bull in a china shop.
"H please, Bob!" he yells. "Bob! Bob! Give us some smack!"
Bob stared uncertainly at this intrusion into his psychodrama.
"You want me! You don't want me!" he cried, somewhat less forcefully than before.
"Oh, jump, you fucking drama queen," the Archbishop yelled. "Just tell us where your stash is first."
Well, that was it. All of a sudden the crowd was a lynch mob. I really think they would have strung us up even if The Animal hadn't been steaming towards us with fists clenched ready to reduce the pair of us to a bloody rubble. I grabbed the Archbishop a second before The Animal did and started to drag him back towards the taxi. I'm pulling him towards the taxi, he's struggling against me because he still thinks he can buy some heroin here, The Animal's trying to drag him back so he can pull his head off, the Archbishop's clobbering The Animal over the head with his crook and telling the pair of us to unhand him, the crowd's trying to rend him limb from limb, and meanwhile Bob's standing naked on the roof with his hands on his hips staring down at the commotion and looking understandably miffed at being ignored. Somehow I bundled the Archbishop and myself into the cab, slammed the door, and yelled "Go! Go! Go!" to the driver as The Animal beat on the window.
"What a humourless bunch," said The Archbishop as we drove off.
"How could you be so insensitive?" I said, wresting the tequila off Sue and pouring it into me as fast as I could.
"It was Tough Love," said the Archbishop. "Muscular Christianity." He sniggered and flexed one arm. "Here, love," he said placing Moira's hand on his bicep, "check that out for muscular Christianity."
"Aren't we going to the party then?" said Sue.
There was some debate about where we should go now. The Archbishop said he still wanted some heroin, I said in that case he was on his own, Sue said she had a block of weed at her place, he said he supposed that would do, and Sue gave the driver her address. I couldn't have cared less by this point. The scene at Bob's had brought me down badly and served to make me feel that in the Archbishop I was saddled with a rabid, out-of-control pariah dog. This was further reinforced by what happened when we got out of the taxi at the top of Sue's street. The cabbie wanted to add an extra twenty quid onto the fare to cover him for any damage that had been inflicted on the vehicle in the contretemps at Bob's. I wanted to pay him, but the Archbishop wouldn't let me and him and the driver got into a violent argument. "Stick your taxi, up your jacksey," the Archbishop yelled. He kept on repeating it over and over, struck I think by the poetic felicity of the phrase. "Stick your taxi - up your jacksey!" He punctuated it by banging on the bonnet with his crook.
At first I watched this scene in silent despair, applying myself bleakly to the tequila, but Sue and Moira seemed to find the constant repetition of "Stick your taxi - up your jacksey," uproariously funny, and the pair of them fell about and started to shout it along with the Archbishop, and then the tequila started to do its work and I too saw the funny side, and then the Archbishop started to laugh in spite of himself, and we were all laughing like maniacs, except for the driver, but the Archbishop finally let me pay him after first forcing the man to allow him to hug him and give him a quick blessing and write him out an indulgence for traffic offences and the sin of avarice, just to show there were no hard feelings. Then the four of us linked arms and walked merrily down the street with the Archbishop singing, "Stick your taxi up your jacksey, "and sundry variations on this theme to the tune of 'To Be A Pilgrim.'
Sue let us into the house and made us take our shoes off in the hall.
"Keep your voices down," she whispered. "Don't wake me Mum and Dad up." I'm not sure why Sue still lives with her Mum and Dad but it seems to suit her. She took us through to the kitchen, saying we'd have to smoke out on the back patio and keep the noise down, and went and got her weed from upstairs. But the Archbishop was not to be satisfied by anything as straightforward as a joint. "That's for pussies. Only Anabaptists smoke it like that," he sneered. At first he wanted to employ a tropical fish tank we'd passed in the hall as a water bong but Sue said no. "We'll hot-knife it then," said the Archbishop. To Sue's fretful protests he knocked a hole in the side of a milk bottle, breaking a couple in his initial attempts, and then heated up a couple of knives on the stove. When they were white-hot he picked them up with oven gloves, gripped a sliver of cannabis between them and inserted them into the bottle. Clouds of pure white smoke rose up.
"This is how they announce a new Pope, you know," he murmured with a look at me.
"I've had about enough of that!" I cried, and this set us off on a sniggering brief return to our slugfest.
"Shh, please, me Mum and Dad'll kill me, they're working in the morning," said Sue.
"Take that, you transsubstantiationist pig!" laughed the Archbishop, swinging a frying pan at me.
We had a couple of hits off the hot-knives and some swigs of cooking sherry, which the Archbishop said I probably thought was the sacred blood of Fanny Craddock, and then I suggested to Sue that she come into the living room with me, just to talk. Meanwhile the Archbishop was making his move on Moira, looking meaningfully into her eyes from a distance of three inches and saying, in what he probably believed was a hypnotic murmur but which was really more of a drooling drunken mumble, "The church needs to reach out to young people like you...embrace them...fondle them...slurp them up..." Me and Sue retired to the couch in the front room and with a minimum of preliminary, namely Sue putting a Careless Whispers twelve-inch on the stereo turned down low, started to make out. Sue conscious and willing was even more desirable than Sue comatose and with a puddle of cheap cider down the front of her blouse, as at our last encounter, and things were quickly progressing to a point of no return when all of a sudden there was an almighty crash from the kitchen. Sue wriggled out from under me with a gasp and we went out to find the Archbishop standing there with a slack-jawed look of dismay on his face, drenched in water and with tropical fish flapping around his feet amidst shards of broken glass. Moira had repulsed his drunken advances and gone out into the garden to cry, so he'd sought to console himself with a water bong, only the fish tank had slipped from his grasp before he could get it onto the kitchen table. He looked mournfully at Sue.
"Er, have you got any Bostik?" he said with a queasy grin.
Sue shrieked and started to belabour him about the head. "Calm yourself, woman!" he giggled. "Don't have a conniption fit! Slap some moderation into this bird, Cardinal Kelly!" I was giggling too, I'm ashamed to admit, mainly because he had somehow got a fish caught in his collar and its fin was wiggling in counterpoint to the blows Sue rained on him.
Just then there was a roar like the cry of a bull plesiosaur from upstairs.
"Susan! Have you got boys down there?"
"Me Dad," gasped Sue. "He'll kill me."
"Uh oh," said the Archbishop. "I think it behooves us to extramuralize ourselves precipitately. In layman's terms, let's scoot."
We scooted out to the hall and frantically stuck our shoes on but already Sue's Dad was pounding downstairs. He was a big burly bruiser in a string vest, West Ham shorts, and slippers, and he carried a baseball bat which he was slapping against the palm of his free hand menacingly. Giggling, "Jesus," and "Fuck," me and the Archbishop tried to scramble past each other to be the first to the front door but neither of us were able to manipulate the chain properly in our current wrecked condition.
"What the hell's going on here?" Sue's Dad yelled.
"Allay your fears, my good man," said the Archbishop, choking me in a headlock and rabbit-punching me in the kidneys in his desperation to make me get out of the way and let him have a go at the door. "I am the Archbishop of Canterbury."
"Oh yeah? And I'm the Duchess of Windsor!" Sue's Dad sneered.
"Not in that vest, surely," said the Archbishop.
"Show him your crucifix," I suggested.
"An excellent idea." The Archbishop whipped out his crucifix and suddenly turned and brandished it at Sue's Dad in a big dramatic Van Helsing take. "Back!" he bellowed. "Begone, I say! Back to the infernal regions, Moloch!" Literally taken aback by this, Sue's Dad instinctively retreated a couple of steps towards the stairs. The Archbishop took advantage of this to move past him into the kitchen, holding Sue's Dad at bay with the crucifix and a commanding stare all the while, while I went with him cowering behind his back. In the kitchen we found the back door locked and Sue standing in front of it holding the key.
"You're not leaving me to take the blame," she said.
"You're in big trouble, Susan Lawley!" her Dad shouted following us in, and then stopped dead as he beheld the wreckage of his aquarium and several milk bottles, the burnt knives and the block of resin on the kitchen table.
"Er...I know this looks bad," said the Archbishop looking around at the devastation, "but then good and bad isn't always a matter of simple black and white, is it? Very often things which look, on the surface, to be all bad turn out, on closer inspection-"
Sue's Dad growled like a Rottweiler. "Oh, believe me, this is bad," he said breathing heavily, slapping the baseball bat against his hand again and advancing slowly towards us with an unholy gleam in his eye. "This is very, very bad."
"There's no reasoning with him," said the Archbishop. "Plainly, the man is some sort of rabid Manichean."
We backed away, our eyes fixed on the bat.
"What do we do now?" I muttered.
The Archbishop shook his head, shoulders sagging defeatedly. "Do?" he said bleakly. "We scream and bleed and have our teeth knocked out." Then suddenly he moved in a veritable blur of speed of which I would not have thought him capable at this stage of the night. He grabbed hold of his crook or staff or crozier or whatever, which he had left propped against the fridge, and with a fucking terrifying Ninja-type cry used it like a martial arts stave to whip Sue's Dad's legs out from under him. Then he sat on his chest and started to throttle him with the curly end of the stick. "Get the key!" he cried. I snatched the key from Sue's hand, shoved her out the way and unlocked the back door, and then the pair of us raced out in to the garden, tripped headlong over Moira, who was lying face down on the lawn being sick, picked ourselves up, raced on, were both simultaneously garrotted, very nearly decapitated, by a washing line that suddenly loomed up out of the darkness, picked ourselves up from that and finally clambered over the fence into the next door neighbour's garden with Sue's Dad a yard behind us yelling hellfire and blue murder. An ignominious departure. I haven't been back there since. I heard later that Sue's Dad, who apart from everything else found Sue's knickers on the couch after we left, not only beat the living shit out of Sue with a belt but also grounded her for a month. He let her out to do the 6 O'Clock news but only if he drove her there and picked her up again afterwards, which was really humiliating for her.
Meanwhile me and the Archbishop had our own problems. In our desperation to escape the wrath of Mr. Lawley we hurdled at least a dozen fences and raced across as many darkened back gardens, en route squelching through compost heaps, splashing through fishponds and getting tangled up in washing lines and kiddies' swings. At one point the Archbishop tripped over a wire strung across some kind of vegetable bed and went crashing down like a felled tree with a cry of, "Aaaargh, fuck no!" "Are you all right?" I sniggered. "I have been transfixed," he giggled, rolling weakly onto his back, "by about half a dozen fucking bamboo poles. Saint Sebastian! I have been martyred!" I dragged him out of there just as lights went on and an enraged householder started to emerge. Two gardens later the pair of us crashed blindly into some sort of bird coop, destroying it totally and not doing ourselves much good either. The Archbishop beat hysterically at a dove that was fluttering about his head, screaming that it was the Holy Spirit coming to get him."Ohh shit," he sniggered when we got out of there. "That 's really shaken me up. That was a sign. The big guy's pissed off at me. I'm in big trouble. He doesn't fuck around with job performance memos, he just makes your nob drop off and stuff. Will you change clothes with me? Just give us enough time to go and hide in a mosque and defect to Allah. Allah should give us a good position in his organization if I give him all the company secrets. I've always fancied being an Ayatollah. No fucking pissing about tolerating shit. It's just, 'Oy, sonny, play with your nob and I'll chop your hands off.'"
"Don't stand so close to me, you fucking apostate," I giggled. "You're gonna be a pile of cinders in about two seconds from now."
"Ohh fuck," moaned the Archbishop looking skyward, and started to jink and weave and run around in circles to present a difficult target for lightning bolts.
Eventually we decided we'd put enough distance between us and Sue's Dad and tried to get back to the street. But every garden seemed to have a padlocked gate on the side entry. "Fuck this," said the Archbishop eventually, and banged on the back door of the house we were behind with his crook. Presently the kitchen lights went on and an old lady came to the door. The Archbishop hastily adjusted his mitre and attempted to brush some of the compost, birdshit and squashed vegetables off his vestments. "Good evening, Madam," he intoned with grave dignity. "I am the Archbishop of Canterbury, and this is the Ayatollah of Weston-Super-Mare. We have been using your flowerbeds for an unnatural act. May we trouble you to pass through your hovel?"
The old lady appeared not to take in any of this except the beginning.
"The Archbishop of Canterbury?" she echoed, goggling.
"The very same," he said smiling winningly. "Note the stick," he said flourishing his staff.
"Ooh, you are, an' all," she said openmouthed. "I've seen you on the telly."
"Possibly," he allowed, "although very often I find that people have got me mixed up with Johnny Depp."
"This is an honour, your reverence," said the old lady. "But what are you doing in my back garden?"
The Archbishop glanced at me.
"What do you think, Cranmer, can we take her into our confidence?"
"I don't see why not. She seems like loyal C of E to me."
"I suppose we will have to trust her. The fact is, Madam, this area is a hotbed of Pelagian heretics. I have been supervising the extermination programme personally. Tonight we managed to locate their secret bunker, but unfortunately our flamethrower failed to ignite and several of them managed to escape before the attack rats could finish them off. Myself and Sergeant-Bishop Cranmer pursued a couple across the back gardens and finally ran them to earth in a marrow patch not far from here. You may have heard the hideous, gurgling screams as we despatched them. Now we feel soiled and strangely hollow, but before we packed in killing for the night we thought we'd better check there were none of the brutes lurking in your woodshed. Before you know it they'd be nesting in there and performing their strange rituals at all hours of the day and night."
"Would you like a cup of tea?" said the old lady.
"Splendid," said the Archbishop.
The old lady took us in and sat us down and gave us tea and biscuits, after the Archbishop had ascertained, to his dismay, that she didn't have anything stronger to offer us 'to keep out the cold', not even a bottle of sherry or meths. She was a sweet enough sort, perhaps a couple of sticks short of a bundle, and obviously dazzled to have the Archbishop in her living room. She was strongly religious and eager to talk about God. A look of vast weariness and depression quickly settled over the Archbishop. He started to fidget in his chair and then pace agitatedly around the room desperately trying to change the subject. He later told me this was not only because of boredom but also because he's never actually got around to reading the bible and it wouldn't look good if she tripped him up on something. Eventually he asked if he could use her bathroom and rushed upstairs at high speed. I surmised he would be ransacking her medicine cabinet. This proved to be correct, for when he came down again he covertly dropped a handful of brightly coloured pills and capsules into my tea and gave me a thumbs-up sign. He seemed much happier now and when the old lady lamented the general decline in moral standards started to answer her in unexpected ways.
"You've got to do something about all this permissiveness," said the old lady.
"You know, I think there's a lot of bollocks talked about the evils of permissiveness," said the Archbishop genially. "God doesn't mind a certain amount of screwing around, as long as he can watch. He likes it best in the open air so he can see properly. 'Do it in the garden,' that's what I tell young people who ask me for advice about immorality."
"Yes," said the old lady, "but they never listen. And what about all the pornography on the telly and freely available in newsagents?"
"It may be pornography to you, Madam," said the Archbishop, "but for some of us it's a window into a better world."
"Well that's what I say," said the old lady, "but no-one does anything about it."
"She isn't hearing a word I say," the Archbishop muttered to me. "I get this all the time with these elderly surplice-chasers. When I'm wearing the costume, anything non-pious I come out with simply doesn't register. Check this out. Flange titty gruttocks love-torpedo, in the sight of God," he said solemnly to the old lady.
"Yes," she said, "but you try telling that to the young people of today."
When she started in on the gays the Archbishop got really outrageous, smilingly putting his hand on my crotch and sticking his tongue in my ear as he grunted agreement with her. The old lady noticed this but after a brief look of surprise and uncertainty seemed to complacently accept it as an expression of clerical camaraderie and Christian love and blithely continued with her diatribe. I was getting rather uncomfortable with the situation; for one thing he was Frenching my ear quite expertly and it was beginning to turn me on. But the Archbishop was enjoying himself now and it took me a while to prise him out of there.
"This has been such an honour," said the old lady when we took our leave.
"Perhaps you'd like an autograph?" I suggested.
"I only autograph thighs," said the Archbishop airily. The old lady didn't want him to autograph her thigh, so we left.
"What now?" I said out on the street.
"Let's go and find some heretics to persecute," said the Archbishop. "Sipping tea and talking about God always makes me violent. Let's get a mob together and go and decorate that bastard Enoch Powell. I've been meaning to point out a few home truths to him for some time now. You realize if the pointy-headed prick can prove that Christ was stoned to death, instead of making the sign of the cross we'd have to do this?" The Archbishop made rocks of his fists and hit himself repeatedly about the head and chest. He suddenly stopped in front of a street sign and clicked his fingers. "Fuck! Talking of heretics, Salman Rushdie lives round here. Let's go round to his place for a curry and a go on his new Playstation."
So we bent our steps to Salman Rushdie's house. When we got there the place was in darkness. We stood in the street outside shouting his name and throwing pebbles at his bedroom window. Eventually the light went on.
"Sal! Sal! Let's in for a curry!" called the Archbishop.
The window opened and Salman stuck his head out, wearing a hairnet and a nightshirt and an irate look.
"Go away!" he cried. "Get lost, you drunken bastards!"
"Just let us in for half an hour, Sal," said the Archbishop. "We just want a quick Vesta and a go on your Playstation."
"Fuck off! I'm in bed!"
"Sal! Sal! Come out and play with us, you fucking recluse! You've not been out for ages!"
"Keep your voice down!"
"Come out, you fucking hermit!"
"I'm not coming out at this time of night!"
"Well can your Playstation come out then?"
"Fuck off the pair of you!"
Salman slammed the window shut and the light went off. We loitered outside for a while, the Archbishop singing 'Sally Cinnamon' up at the window. Eventually Salman got tired of it and sent out his Gurkha manservant, Smiling Billy, to deal with us. Smiling Billy must have got out round the back and crawled down the alley to us, for the first thing we knew about it was when I felt the lightest possible touch on my shoelaces and looked down to see two glinting eyes and an unnerving grin in the darkness. "Chop chop," he whsipered, "you dead." He had his kukri out so we legged it.
By now the Archbishop was as intent on getting a curry as he had been on scoring some heroin earlier in the evening, so we went to an Indian restaurant. The Archbishop's behaviour was relatively sober and restrained in there, apart from once or twice calling for a waiter with the words, "Oy, Sabu," and telling them if they wanted to put a mob together he could give them Enoch Powell's address. As we ate and drank we plotted a terrible revenge on Bill Clinton.
"I know where I can get hold of a busload of Tourette's Syndrome sufferers," said the Archbishop, his words coming hard on the heels of a tremendous introductory belch. "A charity I'm patron of. We'll drive them to wherever Major and the potatohead are appearing tomorrow and plant them in the audience. My credentials should appease the security. Clit and Hillary and Marjory will be there burbling out all their pious platitudes about the brave new world and all of a sudden half the auditorium will be yelling, 'Cunt!' 'Fuckhead!' 'Wanker!' 'Fat cracker twat!' 'Slut!' 'Four-eyes!' If the security strong-arm them there'll be an outcry over their heartless treatment of these poor deranged unfortunates. Or if we could dress them all up as nuns that would be even more effective. Even Clinton might have to hang himself after being confronted with two dozen snarling nuns calling him a cunt."
This concept excited us deeply and we spent the rest of the meal elaborating the details. During the lager desert the Archbishop entertained me with a series of impersonations of the leading political figures of the day. These consisted of him sniggering, "This is my impression of Bill Clinton / John Major / Tony Blair / etc.," and then behaving like a spastic for two minutes, flailing his hands about and making farty noises with his lips.
"Fuck 'em all," he sighed at length. "Whores of the multinational conglomerates one and all. They talk and talk and drown you with their lying shit and nothing ever changes. The only thing left for a sane man to do is just get his nob out and piss on them from a great height. And I'm gonna do it one day. Maybe when Thatcher dies, and I've got Major and Clinton and Blair and all the other corporate whores sitting in the front row of the cathedral, right in the middle of the funeral I'm gonna do it, just leap up on top of the pulpit and unfurl the serpent and piss on them. But I bet no bastard'll back me up afterwards." He shook his head mournfully. "But I will snap one day. I'll piss on them figuratively if not literally. I'll denounce them all from the pulpit, and the bastards'll do to me what they did to Ken Saro-Wiwa and Kurt Cobain. Or they'll make me disappear. I'll end up in a padded cell with LG corporation scientists doing experiments on me brain. Come back six months later with a lobotomized smile and a reassuring word for everyone and a fucking Nike logo on me hat. This is an evil fucking world, my son. Stay in the shallow end if you know what's good for you."
"Jesus, Archbishop," I said, surprised and moved by this outburst, "you're like a Thomas Becket for our times or something."
He shrugged embarrassedly. "Well, fuck," he mumbled, "I just tell it like I see it." He sighed and paid for the meal with a dud cheque.
My memory of events grows a trifle hazy after we left the restaurant. Possibly our downing some more old lady pills with the last of the lager has something to do with that. I have a distinct image of pushing the Archbishop down the middle of a street in a supermarket trolley, with him signalling for turns with his staff and shouting racing challenges at cars pulled up next to us at traffic lights. The next vivid recollection after that is the pair of us sprawled on our backs on a traffic island somewhere laughing maniacally, with a suited shop window mannequin lying next to us and a shop alarm ringing not too far away. Then we tried to take the dummy into a nightclub with us but got knocked back. Then as we were staggering along a high street somewhere the Archbishop got his nob out. "I bet my nob's bigger than yours," he suddenly said, apropos of nothing, and got it out to demonstrate. It was indeed a beauty. "The world of porn lost a great star when I went in for sky-piloting," he said. "Now bend over, boy," he chuckled. "It's like a Gurkha's knife. Once it's out it's got to see action." I got quite alarmed and told him to put it away and he started chasing me down the high street with his robes pulled up and his trousers down. After that I remember nothing until the police van.
"I claim benefit of clergy," the Archbishop kept saying in the van. He was slumped in the corner holding the shop window dummy, which he appeared to mistake for me. "Speak to me," he said to it at one point, and tugged at its hand. The arm came off and slid out of the sleeve onto the floor next to him. "No!!!" he screamed in horror. "What have you done to him?" He cradled the dummy against his chest and started to cry, looking up at the roof and screaming, "Why? Why?" over and over until I was pointed out to him at the other end of the van. "Oh, phew," he said. When we got to the station he declared he was a political prisoner and demanded to be locked up in a separate cell, but ten minutes later he was snoring and farting on a bench next to me.
Sometime before dawn I woke to find him stripped to his underwear and pulling my trousers down.
"I said no, you horrible old goat!" I cried in alarm, fending him off.
"We've got to change clothes," he muttered urgently.
I groaned. "Oh, for fuck's sake! No-one's gonna strike you down with a plague of boils!"
"I'm not talking about that! What about court? Someone might recognize me if I'm wearing the kit."
I could see he had a point. So we changed clothes, and in the magistrates court the next day he wore my suit and gave his name as Luther Blissett and I wore the robes and just looked like some cunt who liked to go round dressed as an Archbishop. It caused a mild stir and probably increased the severity of our fines and community service sentences.
Afterwards we slunk round the corner to a greasy spoon and ordered breakfast. The Archbishop rang for one of his official cars to come and pick us up. When the chauffeur came in he saluted me and said, "Your Grace."
"Maybe we could swap lives," said the Archbishop. "I could become an anonymous lowlife and you could do my job."
"I haven't got your iron self-control."
"No, that's true."
We were quiet and hungover during the car journey. The Archbishop was subdued and a little ill-at-ease with me, already putting distance between himself and the events of the night before. When I got out at my place he said, "Have the suit cleaned and sent back," and shut the door.
The car moved off, only to stop again ten yards down the street. The Archbishop put his head out the window, sliding a pair of sunglasses up his nose, and beckoned with one crooked finger.
When I got close he gripped me by the shoulder and whispered, with an air of imparting great wisdom, "Always remember one thing, son. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, but absolute corruption empowers absolutely." He gave me a brilliant grin and signalled to his chauffeur.
And that was that. I haven't seen the Archbishop socially since. Just the other day, though, I bumped into him in Sainsbury's. He was wearing a kaftan and pushing a trolley in the company of a very giggly Thai girl with an indefinable air of mail order Bride-of-the-Month-Club about her. He pretended to be scared and said, "Keep that maniac away from me!" Then we shot the breeze for a while and agreed we'd have to get together one night soon. So far, however, we have taken great care not to do so.
Posted April 2000