by John Morrison


89: All About Eve

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a set of jump leads will never be short of friends. So Wounded Man is only momentarily taken aback to find Willow Woman knocking on the door of his little house in Hippy Street, and asking him for a jump. No problem. He's an obliging sort of chap, so when she asks him for a definition of a double entendre... he's more than happy to give her one.

Willow Woman's car is maintenance-free: not that it doesn't need maintenance, just that it doesn't get any. Once it has shuddered reluctantly into life, she pushes the gas pedal to the floor. The din is appalling. It sounds like what you'd get if you combined a banshee howl with the death rattle of a life-long smoker, and then broadcasted the result to the people of Milltown at a volume way beyond the pain threshold for dogs, humans and a stubbornly unserviced internal combustion engine. If Willow Woman was wearing white overalls and carrying a clipboard, it would be called 'testing to destruction'. She drives off in a contented frame of mind, leaving Wounded Man gasping for breath in a cloud of toxic exhaust fumes.

The days are short and the nights are long, here in the heart of a Milltown winter. Disheartened by sunlight deprivation, we succumb abjectly to seasonal sniffles. Children get colds, men get flu... women just get on with it. We argue, pointlessly, about the relative merits of conventional and alternative remedies. There's no need to argue: the best idea is to try them both, simultaneously, and see which cures us first. Following the lead being given by government scientists, we are making our own investigations - albeit unofficially - to see whether cannabis can alleviate the symptoms of familiar complaints. Such as boredom.

The National Health Service is fifty years old. Like a lot of fifty-year-olds it doesn't make a big fuss of birthdays any more. But we should. It's one of the few worthwhile things this sorry little country has done this century: one of the few ideas for which we can justifiably push our chests out with pride. And now, just when we should be improving and consolidating the National Health Service, we are allowing it to wither away. The social historians of the new millennium will shake their heads in bewilderment, and wonder just how we let it happen.

We scan the pages of the Milltown Times in search of mindless entertainments. There's a children's pantomime starring one of the gladiators ('Ferret'), a monosyllabic Rugby League star, the straight man in a now-defunct comedy duo, and an actress who was booted out of some TV soap back in 1987. The Milltown Strollers, our local amateur dramatic company, are staging a musical. This year's aspirational offering is 'Don't Cry For Me, Arthur Negus': a heartwarming tale of life, love and laughter at the sharp end of the antiques business. If the review in the paper is to be believed, "You'll gasp, you'll cry... you'll want to rifle your granny's attic for items of more than sentimental value".

The editorial hot-seat at the Milltown Times has hardly had time to cool down, after years of soaking up warmly flatulent emissions, before it is filled with the rather more svelte form of the new editor, Eve Currier. She's young, she's ambitious and, as she gazes with pride at her name-plate on the office door, she feels she has the ropes of life clasped firmly in her hands. By the age of twenty seven Alfred the Great had annexed most of the known world into his empire, and now, at the very same age, Eve Currier is blazing a trail of her own.

No-one but Eve could have forseen such an outcome. In a school poll, to find 'The Student Least Likely to Succeed', she had come a disappointing third. Despite such early setbacks, she's managed to pull herself up by her bra-straps and make a name for herself in the cut-throat world of provincial journalism. Yet even in this moment of small-town triumph she might have taken a moment to wonder why the name-plate appears to be a blackboard, and why her name has been hastily scrawled on it in yellow chalk.

If the paper's outgoing editor was generally thought of as an anchor - dragging along the seabed, stubbornly resistant to progress - then Eve has been hired to be a sail. Her task is to catch the prevailing wind and turn the ship around; it's been becalmed for far too long. She won't find it easy. A woman editor on the Milltown Times would have been unthinkable a few short years ago; even the notion of a competent editor breaks with long tradition.

As she settles herself contentedly into her chair, and sinks into the cushions, she makes a mental note to have the drains checked. She picks up a copy of the paper, and takes a long hard look at what she's inherited. Her eye first alights on the column by Milltown's own celebrity Yorkshireman. He continues to be as well-versed about the issues engaging hearts and minds in Milltown as we are about the nefarious goings-on in the leafier suburbs of Surrey. We don't know his more irascible neighbours, of course, but we warm to them anyway. In any kind of dispute we're quite prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Eve frowns. The face that gurns out at her from the top of the column seems strangely familiar. She's seen it many times on TV, of course - impatiently haranguing some blameless soul or other - yet the feeling still lingers that she's seen it in another context altogether. That's it... she gives her forehead a slap of remembrance with the palm of her hand. Those pudgy cheeks, those pendulous jowls, those paranoid piggy eyes, that constipated expression... Yes, it's the face of a Cabbage Patch Doll.

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