STRAIGHT TO HELL (2009)
A man wearing an orange dress stops me on Liverpool’s Bold Street, tries to sell me on the delights of Hare Krishna and the vegan diet then calls me ‘miserable’ for doing the Van Helsing ‘Keep away Dracula’ sign using a pair of giant Toblerones.
Miserable? I’m not miserable, I’m furious. This is the fifth time my abstract thought has been invaded by a complete stranger since I entered this once prosperous Victorian thoroughfare just five minutes ago.
I mean what if Professor Stephen Hawking were ambling down here in my motorised wheelchair – deep in cosmic thought and just nano seconds away from finally nailing the unified field theory when accosted by 3 Big Issue salesmen, this hairless devotee of Hare Krishna denies me my moment of illumination?
Its not about the cash, this is an invasion of privacy. I buy a poppy on Remembrance Day, a red nose on red nose day, a bottle of vodka on polling day why I even sponsor Nigel the donkey at a Southport animal sanctuary, but it is 9:35 in the morning, I’ve had no breakfast and a devotee of Hare Krishna has just insulted me to boot. And speaking of boots, he’s not wearing any; he’s wearing open-toed sandals. With, I kid you not – blue socks.
I’m feeling dizzy from hunger and more than a little sarcastic.
“Nigel! How are you? I like the frock, is it Karen Millen?”
He beams, thinking that he’s hooked ‘a real character’ this time and asks me why I’m so angry. I suggest that perhaps it’s because he’s the fifth complete stranger to accost me in the space of just 25 yards. He ventures the opinion that I must be very unhappy in my life to be so cross, so I tell him that I wasn’t feeling in the slightest bit unhappy until a woman brandishing a clipboard invited me to partake in a marketing survey, three (count em) Big Issue sellers repeatedly offered their wares, a wildly overconfident teenage Cockney girl representing the RSPCA, the RNLI, the NSPCC or the NRA and an obscenely cocky teenage boy representing the failed to get my bank details, and now a human Satsuma has physically blocked my path and interrupted my train of abstract thought.
Smiling insincerely, he says “Say Gouranga! Be happy!”
Feigning puzzlement I answer, “What’s Lenny Henry got to do with it?”
Dipping into his manbag he produces a slim paperback book with a picture of a blue-skinned, flower-garlanded god playing a flute upon its garish cover. He recommends that, after making a donation, I absorb its thousand petal’d wonders and thereby put an end to my wasted life of abject misery. Swiping the book from his hand I pretend to check if it’s a first edition while asking him exactly which periodical he writes for, The Times Literary Supplement or New York Book Review.
He opens his mouth to speak again but because my blood sugar is low my brain is processing at frightening speeds and before he can serve up his next platitude I’ve embarked upon a convoluted hypothesis concerning his rejection of his moneyed Southern middle-class upbringing (he talks just like recent Big Brother contestant and uber-toff Freddy) and how I consider it offensive and morally objectionable that he should think so highly of himself that he has the effrontery to presuming to convert me from my religion of politically left(ish) Bohemian under-achiever to chick pea munching cross dressing sandal wearer.
Nigel tries to interject but I’m on one now and riffing on how thanks to the Regeneration programme, the once elegant Bold Street is fast becoming just a neglected alleyway to Liverpool One and how I consider him an audio/visual pollutant and how if he doesn’t step out of my path this instant I shall strike him asunder with my nougat, honey and chocolate.
He’s grinning widely now, clearly not taking ownership of his part in my meltdown so I raise my voice by several decibels, in fact my diatribe is attracting the attention of other shoppers, telling him that what I really object to is the fact that he’s not actually trying to save my soul, how in my opinion, he’s just another money collector adding to the chaos and how I suspect that the truth is that he has no real desire to convert me to his religion and the delights of the vegan diet but rather that has a minimum amount of cash he has to collect this shift or he wont get his cracked wheat and lentil surprise and a tummy rub back at the commune tonight.
“You are too young to be so jaded,” he shouts as I break the Mexican standoff and run for cover.
“And you’re too smug to be enlightened” I yell as I head down the hill towards Church Street. If you meet the Buddha on the path kill him.
The trumpet player outside HMV is having a volume war with the accordionist opposite, I drop some shrapnel into the accordion case of the old bent-backed guy playing La Vie en Rose in a urine smelling doorway.
I just have to dodge the human roadblock at the side entrance to Central Station now, the anti-vivisectionist table outside the old Post Office, a 4th Big Issue seller, the 6 piece pan-pipes orchestra and the guy with the placard who is shouting that unless I repent this moment, I’m going straight to hell.