Monday, 24 December 2012


Here's the third and final short story, with hopes that you've now forgiven me and/or left me forever. That's right. You get to leave now. No, not now. Once you've read this.

I can't remember how I came up with this one. But it's pretty good. I hope you enjoy, and I hope you have a wonderful Christmas  and I hope that this story inspires you to give money to a charity, or visit that lonely old lady next door to see what she's doing, or forgiving someone who has wronged you, because Christmas is a time for things like that, and it can be really crappy if you're alone or have something on your conscience.

If you do find yourself in need of company on Christmas, feel free to come over here, for a complimentary Pringle and maybe some Heroes for afterwards.

Merry Christmas. I love you all. Masha'allah.

Image Courtesy of Abi Jones -
The Finsbury Place Hostel for Working and Elderly Men was, as the name suggests, a place with a purpose. Whilst the wrought iron gates and aforementioned name signposted upon them offered only a slight misinformation – working men had ceased to inhabit the building decades ago – the grey speckled walls within offered no illusions. It was no Victorian salon, fifties diner, intellectual commune, nor any place that might conjure grand images in the mind of the reader. It was simply a place where men of a certain age sat, and smoked, and sighed.
However, let me not allude to the dear reader that Finsbury Place was a particularly dull location. All this talk of iron and grey and smoke may seem like an indicator of a boring place, but those details were merely the rough and unappealing peel on the outside of a juicy orange of a location.
You see whilst the walls of Finsbury Place hardly breathed, and the heart of the building in dire need of a pacemaker barely beat, it was the inhabitants – ex-bankers, ex-builders, ex-bookies, and ex-bouncers alike – that made Finsbury Place Hostel for Working and Elderly Men such a wonderful building for persons of the people watching persuasion – like myself, a resident.

Oh if only you could turn on your television set and see – banter blowing through the thick smoke in the rec room, the click of what balls remain on the snooker table, the glug of old Pete pouring his morning glass of Guinness – a medical drink, he always says. If broadcast live I swear on my Sunday shoes that audiences would flock daily to watch the residents at play.
Allow me to give you an example – this morning, aforementioned Pete with his aforementioned Guinness was having an enthused conversation with Charlie – this toothless Irish sod that nobody can understand outside of Finsbury – about a toaster.
Now, even to look at, the pair of them are odd. Charlie, the more conventionally dressed of the two wears this big fleecy jumper thing, a bright green reminiscent of pine leaves, with little wolves printed on the chest. It’s one of those tatty ones you buy in the markets, but incredibly warm and comfortable – you can tell, because he wears it 365 days a year, come rain or shine.
Pete, however, is on another level – both literally and figuratively. He stands at 6’7” and is a skinny man whom without clothes might look like a stick insect with a gravel grey beard. He wears the garb expected of a Wild West cattle rancher, with a patchy leather waistcoat, floppy leather ten gallon hat, and props himself up on a tall stick with a hammer head at the top, the type of thing that the police might confiscate if only the man wielding it didn’t look so close to death.
Anyway – this morning, Charlie was telling Pete about how this toaster exploded. I won’t transcribe the conversation word for word, but Charlie nearly blew his hand off with ‘the damn thing’ and when he went into town to buy a new one, he tripped up whilst saying hello to the ladies on the bus, and dropped the brand new one right out into the street.
The way he told Pete all serious and goofy had everyone in tears by the time he had finished. Charlie is funny to laugh at because he gets so mad about it – he wants you to take him seriously. It was hilarious. I guess you’ll just have to trust me.

But when it comes to characters, the leading legend of Finsbury Place has to be the Count.
It says an awful lot that nobody knows his real name – he never has any visitors, and Mary, the landlady, likes to keeps us wondering, a nod of respect to how shrouded in mystery he has now become.
So instead, people have made names for him – Count, the Accountant, Count Dracula, all because of what it is that he does. You see, the Count – he counts.
He comes down in the morning and starts at one – and then carries on. He pauses to eat and drink, and presumably to sleep – although I have heard rumours. He never loses count, and never speaks a word that isn’t a number. He has, over the course of Finsbury Place history, become a legend, a piece of furniture, and an ambient noise, like the clock, or the radiator. Whether or not the radiator is meant to make a noise is a different story entirely.
Where the Count is concerned, there are a number of unwritten rules. You don’t speak to the Count, you don’t touch the Count, and most importantly, don’t make the Count lose count.
So as far as other Finsbury residents were concerned, the Count was an unimportant yet crucial element – he disturbed no one, and in return, nobody disturbed him. It fact, it was almost as if for a long time, the Count only resided within the residents collective imagination. Of course, like all things that stay the same for long enough, things were destined to change - but not until the arrival of a certain Jon Crow.

Jon Crow was a plump man who stood at 5’4”, the required height for a bad case of angry short man syndrome. The only personal details I know relating to Mr Crow were gained second hand – you see Crow had a drinking problem, as well as a nervous disposition, which made him rather awful company. He also has no patience for chess, which is how I do most of my socialising.
What I will include concerning Jim Crow are three facts. One – he was fastidiously adjusting his slicked back black hair every waking hour of his life. Two – his favourite colour was orange, and he always wore at least one item of orange clothing. Three – he hated the Count.
The Count and his perpetual counting annoyed Jon Crow to no end, and every time the Count came in he would run his fingers through his shiny black scalp and assert himself in his chair, his whole body visibly on edge whenever the Count passed.
So it was that from the day Crow arrived at Finsbury Place, the reign of the Count as chief enigma was somewhat threatened. Whenever there was a dip in the conversation and the Count was not in the room, Jon would pipe up and make countless threats that whilst countless, all concerned the Count.
People would sigh and shake their heads whenever Jon said it, but as the frequency of the threats increased, it got to the point where whenever the Count and the Crow were in the same room together, the tension became almost unbearable.

Now the Count was a very well-dressed man – he never failed to wear a shirt that was tucked into freshly ironed trousers, held up by braces, and on Sundays, would be adorned with a dark red bow tie.
Crow, on the other hand, was not so daintily arranged. He wore a bright orange t-shirt, a shirt so ill fitting that his gut protruded from the bottom like a gluttonous prisoner begging for sunlight. His jeans cut into his waistline leaving bright red marks, and a comparatively tiny pair of spectacles sat unsteadily on the end of his pock marked nose.
This contrast of characters and clothing made the whole scene all the more dramatic for the other residents, and Jon had started getting into the habit of standing up purposelessly whenever the Count entered the room, leaving everyone in a tense silence. The Count, however, never seemed to notice – until one afternoon.

It was a quiet afternoon, and as luck would have it at the time I was practicing my chess in the corner of the room. Crow was engaged in a conversation with Pete, and when he entered the Count was around 4000.
Immediately, as if on cue in a play, Crow stood up, leaving the conversation dead in its tracks. The counting stopped – and the silence started.
I feel I should add at this point that the biggest question of all surrounding the Count is why he did what he did. There were many a conspiracy theory surrounding the matter, but the truth – and something that annoyed Crow more than anything – is that no one knew why the Count counted. This is probably why at that moment, Jon yelled:
‘Count!’ The ticking clock was the only noise remaining. It occurred to me at this point that nobody has called him the Count to his face before. ‘Why do you have to keep counting like that?’
And then the Count paused. And waited. And looked pensive, as if this was a new question for him.  Suddenly, in a voice that came from his direction, but didn’t seem to come from him, he said:
‘My name is Herman. And I’m bored, god damn you. Entertain me!’

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