THE GREATEST OF TIMES
By Julian Fairbanks
What programme is she going to flick onto now? Big Brother! I might of guessed.
I’ve been trapped here for over two hundred years, and “THEY,” the powers that be, the ones that I dare not speak their name never seem to tire of thinking up new ways to torment me. I’m sure they had me in mind when they planted the concept of reality TV into a member of the livings head a few decades back.
Cor, I don’t blooming know. I really don’t. It’s as if I’ve just died and gone to hell ... Metaphorically speaking, of course.
Actually, I did die, but that was back in seventeen hundred and flammin’ nineteen.
I suppose I best explain meselfs.
You see: I was a fresh private in Cromwell’s all conquering army back in dem days. Wellllllllllll, it was a livin’... of sorts.
Long story short, ladies and gents of the living: One day I’m in me barracks in Nottingham, kicking a pigs head around with the rest of me regiment - footballs hadn’t been invented yet, you see. Anyway: ole Mr Cromwell told me to come over to Ireland for a bit of erm ... a peacekeeping mission, yeah, that’s it, peacekeeping ... Somefink to that effect anyway. Well, he didn’t say it to me personally, obviously - I never met the great man. No, sir, said in a letter to the head of me regiment: General Longshanks - proudest blooming roundhead you ever met. Not that he was actually a member of the peoples parliament, ole Longshanks, just he had a really round head and was extremely proud of it, is what I’m trying to say.
So there we are, getting off the boat in Ireland, all full of ourselves in our lovely clean uniforms - hadn’t done no battles yet, you see.
Anyway, here’s us, all us army lads, all tarted up in our uniforms, strutting off the boat, finking we’re somefink special; well, sir, we got a rude awakening, that’s for sure!
All these angry Paddies yelling insults and frowing rotten potatoes at us - well, you couldn’t get a fresh pink, or a juicy King Edward for love nor money in Ireland back in dem days. Bloody potatoes were rotten they were, and “get ahht of it,” they’re yelling and shaking their fists at us. I turned around to my friend Ned during all this palaver, and said: “Bloody racist bunch, the Irish.”
And just as Ned was in the middle of replying that the Irish tourist board was going to have a devil of a job getting future funding if this was the way they treated tourists, when a rotten Kerr’s Pink hit’s him straight between the eyes. Ole Ned, well, he never had any time for the Irish after that.
Of course things were different back then. For a start there weren’t any apartment blocks or pointy things sticking into the sky in O’Connell street. It was a different country altogether. There had been no building boom and dodgy banks in those days. Just loads of fields with little shacks with straw sticking out the top of em. Bloody handy mind, when we were ordered to burn a Paddy aht of his house, all you’d have to do is stand outside his gaff, shout a few intimidating fings at the front door, then light up me clay pipe for a relaxing little smoke and frow the match on top of roof. Bloody marvellous those straw roofs - catch fire in a jiffy, and before you could say: “King James is a bad un - love live lord Cromwell,” you’d have a raging blooming inferno to keep you warm while you had yer little smoke, and then it’s time for a bit of light smiting, and its back to the barracks all cock the hoop. And ole Roundhead Longshanks would say: “Wilf, did you burn that Paddy out, like you were ordered?”
“Oh, yes, sir,” I’d say.
And he’d ask: “What about the Paddies wife and kids?”
“Oh, yes sir,” I’d reply, “smote em good, sir.”
And ole Longshanks, he weren’t a bad sort really, he’d reply with a playful tweek of me ruddy cheek, “I’ll have to watch you, private Wilf. You’ll be after my job soon. Smiting all them women and children, you blood thirsty little rascal. Go on with you, wash all that blood and guts off your sword, and then you can go and get yer supper.”
He was a good sort really.
Anyway, enough of me smiting - or you’ll fink I was some kind of monster. It wasn’t all burning Paddies out of their homes and smiting their women and children. I mean, in a good month, you’d butcher an entire village and that would leave you a lot of time off because there was nobody left to smote while you waited on your next orders.
To pass the time we’d follow the latest fashions. I know what yer thinking. Fashion?! In the seventeen hundreds? Oh yes, sir. Fashionable haircuts didn’t begin in the twentieth century with the Beetles, and yer Beetlemania haircuts. It was ole Ollie, lord Cromwell himself who started the whole haircuts fing off. You see: he was worshiped like a God back in dem days. Everybody loved him. Well, everybody bar the Irish, obviously. Mind you, they’re a hard lot to please at the best of times.
But going back this haircut fing. Olivermania it were called. All us lads copying the great mans quasi bowl haircut.
The popular haircuts became known as “Oliver’s.”
You’d only really notice our fabulous haircuts though, when we took our helmets off during R&R and then you’d see our Oliver’s being proudly sported on top of our pates.
Though ole Ned never bought into the whole Olivermania haircuts. Mind you, he went prematurely bald when he was thirteen. But he said he thought the whole Olivermania fing was stupid and that we were all like sheep, and how unoriginal we all were, wearing the same haircuts. Between you and me, I fink it was sour grapes on his end.
And even if he had wanted to participate and fit in with the rest of us lads by maybe Ned sporting a fake Oliver, those Oliver wigs cost a small fortune over on Carnaby street back home in London. And on Ned’s wages there was no way he could afford an Oliver rug.
Now believe it or not, but it was me Oliver haircut that indirectly has me trapped here where I am today and explains everything.
Back then in Ireland, any barber cutting an English soldiers hair was considered a traitor and there was no hairdressers in Ireland who’d defy the people ... except one. Colin Murphy. Or “Colin the Collaborator,” as the Irish people called him. Didn’t give a stuff he didn’t as long as his palm was crossed with silver - greedy so and so.
Because of the fever of Olivermania, Colin the Collaborator would have us queuing around the block to get our Oliver’s. It was during my turn to get me Oliver all neatened up - well, I was going out that night. When all of a sudden there’s this enormous explosion and the blooming roof comes down on top of me Oliver, killing me instantly.
Bloody member of the Irish rebellion had sneaked into our barracks the previous night and stolen a cannon from the arsenal out the back. Bastard bloody fired it at Colin the Collaborators flamin’ barber shop with muggins here sitting inside getting his blooming Oliver.
Demolished the place it did. And I was the only fatality.
Of course nuffing much happened after that. Colin the Collaborator got the message and never rebuilt the shop. And with all things fashion, Olivermania died out - it had become passé. But I was stuck there. My ethereal being. Bored. Lonely. Unable to move on because of all that smot-ing I’d gotten up to. THEY. The ones that I dare not speak their name, said it would be eons before I can move on.
It was the twentieth century before I was to have any company again; the early nineteen sixties it was. For years I had existed in the ruins of the barber shop, where even the ruins were long gone by this stage - just me hovering all electro-plasma around the confines of what was once the shop. At the time Colin the Collaborators’ shop
had been situated in a field, like everything with a roof on it in those days, surrounded by more fields.
Well, these fields were now yielding to the JCB’s and soon great jungles of concrete shot up in the form of housing estates. I was now living in a cosy three bed-semi, number 2 Hawthorn terrace, with
Cecil and Hilda O’Brien and there two children, young Robert and Sally. It was a cosy arrangement. I was invisible but I nevertheless felt a part of the family as the kids grew up and finally flew the nest. Mind you, although it was sad to see them finally leave to start families of their own, we were glad of the peace. Cecil had retired and I was able to venture just enough outside to enjoy the splendid little rose garden that Hilda had worked so hard on.
For many more moons we all enjoyed our golden years, watching Coronation street on the telly and discussing all this money that had come into the country - of course, I couldn’t actually discuss anything with them, because they couldn’t hear me, but I’d pretend.
We were happy. More importantly, I was happy and contented.
That was until 2002 when the O’Brien’s got offered an obscene amount of money to sell their house to a property developer.
Well, as Cecil said, they’d always talked about buying a little place over in Spain.
And just like that without any further ado they’d gone and left me.
Before I know it the house is caving in all around me. Bang comes another belt of the wrecking ball and the bloody roof comes falling down around my ears. Now why does that sound so familiar?
Whoomph! Up comes a flammin’ apartment block with muggins here trapped inside flat number 3 over looking the Merion road with Tony and Pipa, a self proclaimed designer couple. Christ, he spends more time getting showered and dressed than she does.
And before I knew it, its designer this and designer that. And money this and money that. They’re so bloody transparent. Perhaps I fit in after all? You know, ethereal, see-thorough, ghostly, spectre-like, geddit? Oh, forget it. You need to be dead to get the humour. A Lifeless joke as it were, har, har.
So there’s me still sporting me Oliver hovering beside Tony and Pipa doing my best to haunt them, you know get rid of them - but it’s not working - contrary to what some of the living say, you can’t see ghosts - we can’t haunt you, no matter how much I scream and yell at this pair.
So I’m resigned to watching Big Brother and all these house makeover programmes, and flipping aimlessly through so-called celebrity magazines of brain dead nobodies who are famous for having a zero IQ, known from some moronic reality show, when all of a sudden the arguments start. Tony’s lost his job. Next: Pipa’s job is gone as well. Next thing I know, they’ve been evicted, and I’m thrilled and all smug like. But nobody from that nice bank is moving in to keep me company.
Late at night, every night, I cry: “Come back, Tony and Pipa, I’m transparent too. We’re all transparent. A nation once again.”
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My name is Julian Fairbanks, I'm 40, Irish, totally insane and I believe my writing reflects this. I write dark humour. I have an army of short stories in reserve and am currently working on my third novel as part of a satirical trilogy.
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