"Value is the true meaning of life, if indeed there is such a thing as a meaning to life."
Having stated that, I stretch across the table, pick up a poppadum, break a bit off and then dunk it in the lime pickle.
I'm in the Ryde Tandoori and it's Saturday evening. There are seven of us, including yours truly, sitting round two tables pushed together. On the opposite side from left to right is Lena Zavaroni, Jeremy Irons, Amanda Donohoe and Carol Vorderman. To my right is the Auto Pilot from Airplane and to the far right is Arnold Schwarzennegger. I'm directly opposite Lena Zavaroni.
Okay, they're not the real celebrities but they are real people and I'm identifying them with the famous individuals they most resemble. It's also a kind of a game I play. Indulge me.
I munch into the poppadum cupping a hand underneath in case a bit breaks off and falls onto the clean white tablecloth, and if it did it would land chutney side down. I seem to be getting clumsier with every passing year, and I'm only thirty-three. Perhaps I'm turning into Frank Spencer. Remind me to tell you about the toilet block later.
"What do you mean by value exactly?" Jeremy inquires of me. Jeremy and I often have these deep conversations about life, the universe and everything, to borrow a title from one of Douglas Adam's books. Actually, neither of us are Einstein's but we can certainly hold our own among the pseudo-intellectuals. In fact, Jeremy has got some rather interesting speculations about time himself. I'll get him to talk to you about it, some time.
Apologies for the digression - it's one of my idiosyncrasies.
"Well," I respond before breaking into my rehearsed spiel, "we all agree that the universe sprang into being by a causeless cause at the beginning-less beginning of time, but for what reason?"
"How can you have a causeless cause and a beginning-less beginning? It doesn't make sense," Arnold interjects.
Arnold owns his own building and scaffolding firm - he's doing some work for Lena and Jeremy - and he is quite personable. He likes to project himself as a likable rogue, but he possesses a temper and has been convicted for assault in the past. Jeremy had confided to me that he was on a suspended sentence and had to be careful or he would be looking at six months. Physically, he is about five foot six and of slight frame but he's extremely strong and pretty useful apparently. His sandy hair is cut to a grade four, presumably to lessen the effect of encroaching baldness on his crown, and his eyes are an intense blue-grey - the eyes of a psychopath? His features do resemble Arnold Schwarzenegger, but I suppose he's more of a sawn-off version of him. I think he is thirty-two.
"To answer you Arnold, the universe couldn't just have started because one would have to ask what preceded the beginning and what caused the first cause. The alternative is to say that the universe has always been there, but that doesn't make sense either because an 'infinity of time' would have had to pass before we got to the present which is a bit like waiting for the end of eternity - it just can't be done or conceived. Since we are in the present the only illogical statement that makes sense, or half sense, is the theory of a causeless cause and a beginning-less beginning. There is nothing wrong with reality, just our failure to construct a mental model of it," I expound.
Carol catches my eye and her gaze lingers just a little too long. Carol is thirty-one, I think. She has long dark hair that tumbles onto her shoulders and I suspect she has a hint of Latin blood. She's not beautiful but she's attractive, and as I have already stated, has a similarity with Carol Vorderman. She's got lovely big brown eyes and a dazzling smile. She's wearing a sleeveless black top which displays her tanned bare arms which are slightly hairy but not enough for me to find them off putting. I find myself fantasizing about being spanked by her before shagging her, the doctor having recently advised me it was a good idea to pursue an outside interest.
Arnie looks across - I think he may have picked up on something - so I look away. A 'spanking' from Arnie just doesn't quite have the same appeal.
"So, Matt, what is all this 'value' about?" Jeremy probes me.
Jeremy is six foot and the tallest here. He is well spoken but not posh and you can always rely upon him to look smart. He works in IT, doesn't everyone nowadays, and is well paid. I sometimes wonder if that's the main attraction of him to Lena, his partner - or am I perhaps being too cynical? Jeremy is darkish and has a good head of well-groomed hair. He is thirty-two.
Jeremy and I have been friends for over twenty-five years - perhaps that calls for a silver anniversary of some sort. We spent a lot of time together as we grew up. We played soccer, Subbuteo table football, table tennis, chess, and even wrestled. We've also been little rascals at times too - knocking on peoples' doors then running off and smashing windows with catapults - and we never got caught.
The other thing we did but aren't really proud of is torturing woodlice. We burnt them with magnifying glasses, boiled them alive and on one occasion electrocuted them by holding them across the terminals of my model railway transformer. I can remember their little legs waving as the current passed through their bodies, then we would reverse the polarity and their legs would wave in a slightly different direction, like cornfields in a changing wind. We were cruel.
I'm not like that now of course. Perhaps one day Jeremy and I will be hauled in front of a 'Court of Creature Rights' and charged with 'crimes against species'.
Lena, Jeremy's partner, is dressed in a white blouse and a dark knee length skirt - perhaps a bit sensitive of her rather large thighs. Her hair is cut to her shoulders and her eyes are grey. Her complexion is also a bit pale and I wonder whether that is to do with being a vegetarian. She puts me in mind of a grown-up Lena Zavaroni, if you can remember the child prodigy.
I am not convinced she is that keen on me because she can be ignorant and quite rude to me at times. I have to tolerate her because Jeremy is my best mate and for some reason he loves her. Lena is twenty-eight and I hasten to add not married to Jeremy which I suspect is a bone of contention between them.
Once again, I have gone off on a tangent - back to 'value'.
"Well, Jeremy, the universe has gone to all this trouble to create itself - Big Bangs, expansion, cooling, gas clouds, the precipitation of galaxies, stars, planets and life - but for what? My answer is that must be value in it. Everything we do, we do because we gain, or hope to gain, value from it. There is value in breathing, drinking, eating, sleeping-"
"What value is there in suffering and death then?" Arnie breaks in.
It's a good question.
Immediately to my right is Auto Pilot and I'm getting the impression he's not really interested in the conversation at all. I have to say, perhaps I'm being cruel, that he really does remind me of the Auto Pilot in the spoof disaster movie, Airplane as he's chubby with a wide face and got side brushed light brown hair. I think he's overdressed for the evening because he's turned up in a pin striped suit - but Jeremy is also in a suit though his is Navy Blue and at least he hasn't turned up in a pilot's uniform. Okay, I jest, he's actually a sales rep and on good money and not averse to swanking about it along with his wife Amanda.
Auto Pilot is alright, but I find him a bit immature at times, like an overgrown schoolboy. When he's had a few to drink he sometimes thinks it's amusing to grab testicles which makes me wonder if he's not a bit latent.
His wife, Amanda, has come out in a longish floral-patterned dress - I quite like it. She's a quietly determined woman and is astute with money - not really surprising as she works in a bank. She is not ashamed to admit that she is quite ambitious and covets the material things of this world. She has two children with Auto Pilot but don't ask me how old or what their names are - I'm just not that interested. I do know however that she is twenty-nine and Auto Pilot is thirty-one.
I'm still going to respond to Arnie's question, be patient, but you may be wondering what well known person I resemble, well, I'm not going to tell you-
"Marty, can you pass your dish over?" Lena asks me with a mischievous grin spread wide across her face as waiter collects the last of the starter dishes.
Marty? My name is Matt.
Then it registers and with the exception of Jeremy all the other diners look a bit quizzical.
"Jeremy and I were wondering the other day who you reminded us of and both of us in unison said, Marty Feldman." Lena looks sideways at Jeremy for support as though perhaps she had gone too far this time and needed to shoulder the blame with her partner.
Okay, I admit I have got a Roman nose, but I've grown a neat little goatee beard to balance it out. I've got thick curly dark brown hair with a hint of red in and I also have large brown eyes. I'm of largish build though of average stature - five foot ten. I'm not handsome but I don't think I'm a minger either otherwise Carol wouldn't keep looking over. It's beginning to unsettle me just a little.
Lena knows she's being rude because Marty Feldman is generally accepted as being an ugly man though I certainly wouldn't mind his talent and money. I have a feeling he is dead now. It could be the truth that I resemble Marty Feldman - we have it drummed into us from a young age as how important it is to tell the truth - but in this world you don't just consider what a person says it's why they say what they're saying.
So, why has Lena chosen to mention it? Well, underneath she doesn't like me and it's her way of getting at me. She thinks I'm a bad influence on Jeremy, that he may see my 'single' life as more desirable and fun than his 'henpecked' existence with Lena. She wants me out of his circle of acquaintances so she can control and shape him more for her own purposes.
I choose not to rise to the bait.
"You have to admit you have a got a big nose, Matt." She was in her stride and so far, I had never been rude back to her for fear of upsetting Jeremy - I really did value him as a friend.
"It's just nature's way of compensating for a small penis!" I retort.
Everybody around the table laughs - and relaxes. I have handled what could have been an awkward situation well.
The smart looking waiter had now wheeled the serving trolley with the main courses alongside the table. He lays out the dishes and then places the warming trays in the centre. He distributes the portions of Pilau rice and carefully places the metal serving bowls containing the curries on the warmers before withdrawing. I feel that I can now continue with my lecture on value.
"We cannot really define value, Arnie, we can only experience it-
"I think you have read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. He called value, 'quality'. It was a good book though I didn't fully understand it."
Arnie was smart - I would have to be careful not to underestimate him. And even more careful not to cross him.
"Yes, I have but I see things slightly different to him. Pirsig postulates that value or quality is a positive thing, he talks a lot about the good, but I believe that it is more useful to think in terms of the less bad-"
I scoop up a spoonful of Chicken Dhansak and rice and, as I feel that I am about to present them with something deeply profound, I want everybody here to feel that this moment of enlightenment will be etched forever in their memories, kind of like a slice of classic cinematography - the waterfall in Zulu or the halted panting steam locomotive in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid just prior to the posse emerging from the cattle wagon...
I start to bring up the spoon, slightly slower for effect, but then notice too late that my sleeve, partially rolled up, has slipped down and caught the side plate to my right, causing it to tip up such that an onion bhaji is starting to roll off. I bring my left arm across in an attempt to grab hold of it but only succeed in knocking my right arm and depositing the contents of the spoon onto my chin. The onion bhaji rolls off the plate drops under then out from the table and into the path of the waiter who unknowingly squishes it underfoot.
Okay, it's still a classic cinema moment, if you're a fan of Laurel and Hardy!
I mop up my beard as best as I can and wait for a witty remark in response to my clumsiness.
Strangely it doesn't come.
"For example, we eat not because it is good to eat but rather that it is bad to starve. We wear clothes because we don't want to freeze to death - and pleasure is merely the release of tension. Pirsig says, in Lila, that elements chemically combine because there is value in them doing so at certain times and there is also value in them detaching themselves at other times. To summarize, value is more negative than positive, it's relative in time and space, and it's subjective. You asked me, Arnie, what value was there in suffering and death, well if we are in extreme pain, imagine been burned alive, then the attainment of oblivion, death, couldn't come soon enough though if you were fit and well and happy in life then oblivion would have little value. That is one example of the subjective and temporal nature of value. Of what value is suffering? Well suffering can sometimes be of value if it takes us to a higher state of value, fighting for freedom perhaps or just studying hard to improve our quality of life. There is something else though, it may be that our suffering and death serves a higher value, a transcendent value beyond our own narrow sense of being. I can't really answer that..."
I tail off because I'm close to concluding that value is God and God is Value. I also notice that there are quite a few glazed expressions round the table - I'm boring everybody. I wonder if my beliefs really matter anyway. What will be, will be.
We are all close to finishing the main course - you can't beat a Chicken Dhansak, a sweet and sour curry. Whoever thought of that needs a medal.
"Thanks for that Matt, you have somewhat lost us though." Jeremy takes it upon himself to respond for the others.
"I'm not certain that you aren't full of shit!" Arnie adds with an ambivalent smile.
Lena turns to Amanda and Auto Pilot and says, "How are you settling into your new house, you two?"
I finish the last of meal and lay my utensils down on the plate. I knew I had talked too much - I would keep quiet for a bit whilst Amanda and Auto Pilot bragged about their newly acquired upmarket residence. I look up, but not too late, to catch Carol quickly turn her alluring brown eyes away. She was becoming ever more attractive to me. I take a swig of Cobra lager.
The dirty plates are removed, and the waiter then returns with the sweets menu. Meanwhile, Jeremy and Arnie have got into a discussion about the Ian Huntley case. Arnie has just aired his opinion that Huntley should have been publicly castrated and then hanged. "He'd never do it again and it would serve as a deterrent!"
Jeremy was taking the contrary position - perhaps he was still feeling guilty about the woodlice. "We don't want to lower ourselves to their level and beside what if his conviction is overturned in the future as so many have recently, do we really want to hang an innocent man? Life imprisonment is surely punishment enough."
"He's as guilty as fuck, Jeremy, and the money saved could be ploughed back into the health service. As for so called 'miscarriages of justice' they're normally only technicalities. I mean are we going to ban cars just because of a few accidents-"
"Dying in a road traffic accident is the most likely cause of death up to the age of forty-five," I throw in.
"So, what's the main cause of death after the age of forty-five then?" Auto Pilot queries.
"Heart attacks, brought upon by the stress of all those near misses!" I retort wittily.
"Televise the executions like they used to do in Iraq." Arnie is not to be deflected.
Ali arrives with the desserts. I wonder, him being a Muslim, what he thinks about our conversation.
Lena, Amanda and Carol are engaged in a conversation about plants - I notice that Carol seems a bit out of it. Lena and Amanda are quite good friends though not above a bit of competition when it comes to who arranges the best dinner party - dinner parties to which I am not invited.
We commence to tuck into our desserts. I'm having coconut ice cream served in one half of a coconut shell as is Lena. Amanda had ordered what looks like to me a Knickerbocker Glory and is just about to plunge a long-handled spoon into the tall glass-
"Lucky you never ordered that Matt because you'd probably get your nose stuck in the glass, and then we'd have to get the fire brigade out to free it!"
Out of the blue Lena insults me yet again, but she's only just got started. She then tops it by putting a forefinger to her nose and then exaggeratedly traces the outline of my nose upon hers - repeatedly.
I decide not to lower myself to this kind of crass behaviour - I'm beyond this and others will see her for what she is. But then something takes over me.
"Well, actually Lena you have a large unsightly mole on your cheek which resembles a bit of discarded chewing gum flattened into the pavement, and your nostrils remind me of inflamed torpedo tubes!"
Have I really just said that?
Suddenly it's kind of quiet around the table. Lena, I can see, is seething inside. In her hand is the coconut shell from which she had been scooping out the ice cream. In my mind is the maxim, 'Revenge is a dish best served cold'. Should she elect to throw the shell at me then it would be, 'Revenge is a dessert best served cold'. Actually, now I think about it, it wouldn't be revenge - she fucking started it.
Lena smiles thinly and carries on eating. Jeremy silently breathes a sigh of relief. I get the impression she won't be taking the piss out of my nose again. Arnie gives me a knowing look and as for the rest of them, they all maintain straight expressions.
The waiter, impassive as ever, duly collects the empty wine bottles and glasses - it's time to get the bill.
Auto Pilot nips to the loo ushering Amanda out of her chair and I notice that Jeremy's eyes meet Amanda's. Sly bastard, he's knocking her off. I just know it. Well, well.
But, I'm no better as I'm surreptitiously ogling Carol - we'd be good together.
We work out what to pay and then chip in accordingly.
"Does anyone fancy going down to The Balcony?" I inquire hopefully.
The waiter takes the bill along with a wad of notes and pound coins - we leave him a generous tip.
Auto Pilot returns and we all get up in preparation to leave the Ryde Tandoori. It was a great meal - and fun.
"I'm off home Jeremy. You go if you want to." Lena places her arm around Jeremy and gently kisses him on the lips. What she means is, if you don't go then you're on a promise and if you do go then you can just forget about a fuck when you get back!
"I'll just have a couple then come back about twelve." Jeremy treads the middle path of wanting to have a few more beers but not wanting to upset her. Lena feigns a hurt expression.
"Matt, your aftershave is rather interesting," Lena throws in with a wry smile.
In a rush to get out of my place earlier on time I had inadvertently got confused splashing mouthwash on my face and gargling with the aftershave. The spicy meal had fortunately taken away the taste of the aftershave but obviously, despite repeated hurried rinsing, the chemical odour of the mouthwash lingered. I would have to nip back home, rinse yet again, and then apply a very liberal application of Aramis before going on to The Balcony.
"Lena, perhaps us girls could pop round yours for a night cap and then wait for the boys to get back?" Amanda suggests.
"What a splendid idea Amanda!" Lena retorts.
We are now outside the Ryde Tandoori in Union Street. "I'm going to nip back home, and I'll meet the rest of you down there in about twenty five minutes!" I shout out.
The others turn round and Jeremy shouts back, "Okay!"
I walk up Union Street and notice that it has become quite chilly - I can see the vapour of my breath. And smell the alcohol upon it too.
I let myself into my basement flat in Lind Street and then head straight for my bathroom where I wash out my mouth with Listerine, lather my face with soap, run a brush through my hair and then splash my cheeks with more Aramis.
Back outside, I walk swiftly along Lind Street then turning into Union Street - effectively retracing my steps. I pass Wetherspoons and clock a sexy pretty young blonde in the window - skimpy black dress with shapely golden tanned legs and arms. I really must get a woman. Soon.
I pass outside The Ryde Tandoori again then down to The Esplanade and along to the Balcony Bar night club. The time is ten thirty.
The entrance to the club is 'guarded' by two beefy bouncers - black suits, black bow ties and white shirts. They swing open the toughened glass doors for me. I idly wonder how Arnie would fare in a tussle with them - probably get flattened I conclude - and then hand over the four quid entrance fee to the girl on the desk. I enter the dimly lit, noisy and smoky atmosphere of the club.
The Balcony Bar consists of a largish dance floor with two semi-circular bars located to the north, sea facing end of the club. The DJ's box is raised slightly and faces the western end of the dance floor. I espy my friends propping up one of the bars, and I'm surprised to see Carol with them. But also secretly pleased.
Jeremy asks me what I fancy to drink.
"Pint of Fosters please, Jeremy."
Everybody else's glasses are full, so it looks like Jeremy has already bought a round. Jeremy attempts to attract the attention of the barman.
"Jeremy, I hope I haven't got you into trouble with Lena."
"No worries. Matt, to be honest, things haven't been going that well between us recently. I can see us splitting up."
"I'm sorry to hear that, Jeremy." I'm not sorry in the least but strangely feel the need to make sympathetic sounds.
Jeremy finally gets hold of the barman and orders my lager. Carol wanders over whilst Arnie appears to be in deep conversation with Auto Pilot. Auto Pilot looks quite pissed and unsteady on his feet. I can just make out Arnie talking about adding on an extension to his house and what the work would actually entail.
Carol suddenly presses close to my body and whispers seductively, "Glad you could make it. I like a man with something to say."
I certainly would be a man with something to say if Arnie was to glance across at this exact moment - the word would be, 'Help'.
Despite the increasing effects of intoxication, I feel my penis begin to swell. It's just at this moment that I notice Auto Pilot, with an inane grin upon his face, reach for Arnie's groin area before closing his fingers around his genitals.
Fucking hell, I think.
There is a kind of silence and then Arnie smashes his right fist in Auto Pilot's face. The Terminator versus Auto Pilot - no contest really. Auto Pilot reels back knocking into a girl who screams shrilly when she realises what is happening. The Terminator follows up with a left hook to the cheek and then rapidly with a right hand to Auto Pilot's ample belly - I half expect him to pop and whiz erratically around the place before dropping deflated to the ground like a balloon.
Okay, it's not funny.
Auto pilot, completely stunned, drops to one knee then keels over. Two doormen appear, as if from nowhere, and attempt to grab Arnie who manages to head butt one. Number two bouncer grapples Arnie and puts him into some sort of judo lock - and it's all over.
We rush over and try to assist Auto Pilot to his feet. He still doesn't know has happened to him. He's got blood running down his chubby face from a cut beneath his eye and a large swelling already on his cheek. He's also wheezing heavily from the last blow which knocked the wind out of him.
It's funny what you think at a time like this. Only a few minutes ago Auto Pilot was a pretty smug fellow with his attractive wife and pretentious lifestyle, and now he's just a pathetic twat on the floor. I wonder how along it'll be, after the public humiliation he's just undergone, before he feels like making love to his wife. But perhaps Jeremy has already done the job for him?
I'm a wicked bastard at times. Still, I don't reckon he'll ever grab anybody by the bollocks again.
Carol has gone over to the doormen who have Arnie well and truly pinned down. The bouncer he nutted is holding up a handkerchief soaked with blood to his face. Over by the main doors I see the police arriving. The main lights flick on.
In this moment I realize that all of our lives are changing - some undoubtedly for the worse but some for the best - after tonight. It looks like Arnie is going to be indisposed for a while, and that is good news - I look across at Carol. I also reckon that Jeremy has seen the light with Lena, so I get my friend back, and he gets his life back.
All in all, a rather interesting evening don't you think.
Oh, yeah, nearly forgot, I was going to tell you a little tale. About three weeks ago I was off to visit my uncle and auntie and just freshening up in readiness to go. I had just visited the lavatory and had gone into my bedroom to lace up my shoes when I had this sudden urge to lie back on the bed. It was lucky I did because I felt something press into my lower back. When I examined what was pushing into me, I discovered a toilet block hooked to my belt. It must have attached itself when I had pulled my trousers up. Can you imagine me strolling down the street with that hanging onto the back of my trousers? People would have remarked: "He must have a fucking bad B.O. problem if he's got to wear one of them!