I didn’t think it got much worse than being kicked out of a seaside amusement arcade whilst enjoying a game of 2p shove and listening to The Connells, but it just has.
I’ll start at the beginning. Having got back to my luxury Bayswater apartment two days ago, I was stopped in the downstairs corridor by my neighbours Ray and Julian:
‘More salami there, Jonathan? You’re doing a roaring trade, aren’t you?’ Ray said, nodding at the Head bag on my shoulder and probably smelling the 184 sticks therein.
‘Yes, they’re selling like hotcakes. A fresh supply here, just in from Moscow.’
‘They deliver it in Head bags, do they?’ Julian asked, the first time I’ve ever heard him speak. I was trying to think what to say when Ray answered for me.
‘Oh Julian! Does everything have to be shrink wrapped in acres of non-recyclable plastic before you’re happy? You’re such a drain on our planet’s resources!’
‘Yes, that’s right. Just doing my bit for the environment. See you later.’
I had barely taken the bag off my shoulder and sourced a fresh can of Coke when there was a knock at the door. Julian.
‘Oh, hi, Julian. I’m really sorry I was rude to you just then – I didn’t mean to…’
‘Don’t worry, Jon. He’s the real drain on my resources. Anyway, I want to ask you a question.’
As usual when someone says this to me, I felt a bit nervous. I grabbed my Coke.
‘Is it about the noises at night? Sorry about those; it’s just that sometimes I get really angry with my team in Football Manager and…’
‘No, not that. How many sticks of salami have you sold since I last saw you?’
‘Yes – I’m guessing less than ten.’
‘Try less than one and you’re getting even closer.’
Julian smiled, probably realising that I’m more desperate than he thought.
‘OK – well let me help you. I’ve got some contacts I can sell them too. How about I give you three hundred pounds for all that’s left?’
‘Erm, I’m not sure. Can I check with my business partner?’
‘Is that the fifteen year old Russian boy? Yes, perhaps you should.’
Feeling like Noel Edmonds must on Deal or No Deal when he pretends to call the banker, I called the speaking clock and pretended to talk to Vladik.
‘He says he’ll settle for four hundred pounds, but no less. Deal or no deal?’
‘You’ve been watching too much television, Jon. Three eighty.’
‘OK, I’ll go and get the cash. By the way, what is the correct time?’
Having done the exchange, I decided to hold off telling Vladik and to spend some of the money on a day trip. Bayswater seems to have lost something since I was last here, so I did what any loner with some money and a free day would do – I found a map of the UK, closed my eyes and pointed my finger at the place where I would spend the next twenty-four hours.
There’s not an awful lot to do in Milford on Sea if you’re under 65, and that’s a shame because the train journey took me the best part of three hours. The most popular activity seems to be sitting on benches and looking out to sea, but even I got bored with that after three hours. Luckily I found one amusement arcade and dutifully changed five pounds into two pence pieces so that I could mindlessly slot them into the 2p shove machine to a soundtrack of The Connells and Deep Blue Something, the top two at the moment in my nineties’ chart.
I was frustratingly close to winning a pile of two pences and a plastic Marge Simpson key ring when a banging noise disturbed me from the drone-like state I’d fallen into. A child was hitting the 2p machine opposite to get money out of it. I went over.
‘Excuse me, that’s cheating. You must stop or I’ll call the manager’, I said, sounding as authoritative as I could. The boy turned to me, revealing a shaven head and a Wolverhampton Wanderers football shirt.
‘Piss off or I’ll get me dad on yer.’
‘I don’t think there’s any need for that. Besides, I wouldn’t get so excited wearing that shirt. You know your team is going to be relegated by Christmas, don’t you?’
The scene caused not only the boy’s father to come running over, but also the arcade manager. And the stupid boy was quicker than me to explain what had happened.
‘Dad, this man was banging the machines to try and get money out then blaming me. And he says Wolves are shit! I think he’s drunk.’
The father stared at me with a look that I’ve only seen once before – on the dancefloor of Krystal’s nightclub in Leicester after I trod on a girl’s toe.
‘What you still doing ‘ere?’
‘It wasn’t me! Your boy…’
The manager helpfully chipped in.
‘Come on, out! I think you’ve had enough fun for one day.’
Turning to the father, he even apologised for me.
‘I’m sorry sir, we’ve had a bit of a problem with tramps coming into the arcade this year – it’s the bad weather. I hope your boy’s OK.’
Leaving with my tail between my legs, I took a quick bit of revenge by jamming the 10p shove machine with some of my two pences.
I said that it got worse, and it did. I was just about to find a quiet bench and calm myself with some Nick Drake when my mobile rang. Saul Pope’s name came up on the screen.
‘Hello. What do you want?’
‘You lucky man, Jonathan. I think you’ll thank me for this!’
‘Do you fancy a holiday?’
‘Good – as you know the film is coming out soon and the book’s getting some good reviews on Amazon at last, so I need your blog to support that by getting a bit livelier than a few problems with a game of shove ha’penny.’
‘It’s not shove ha’penny, it’s 2p shove!’
‘Whatever. Basically, I’ve bought you a plane ticket so that you can do what you should have done all those years ago.’
‘What? Oh, you don’t mean…’
‘Yes, I’ve got you a single ticket to St. Petersburg, so you can go and find Olesya and patch things up.’
‘But what if I…oh, do I have any choice?’
‘Not unless you want The Man to find out where you live.’
‘When do I leave?’
‘Tomorrow morning at 6.30.’
‘Get yourself back to Bayswater and find your passport. One day you’ll thank me for this, when you’re living happily ever after with her.’
‘And you’ve got your sequel written.’
‘Good idea. Perhaps we can co-write it…’
Not a chance. I snap my mobile shut and start walking to the station. One day I’ll start living for myself again. On the train I start planning how to get the maximum expenses out of Saul Pope for this little joke he’s played on me.