Errors of Comedy - Chapter 4
After donning his disguise, William Randall had gone to the monorail station to catch the next car heading north. He had stood and watched as the southbound car pulled out of the station. To his surprise, he was disappointed to see that it was empty. He considered his reaction. He didn't think of himself as a violent or vindictive man but over the last five months he had come to hate the inhabitants of the Southern Quarter. Suddenly, the monorail station began to shake and William looked down the track in time to see the monorail car leave the rail and fly through the air. He smiled. With a bit of luck it might destroy the Presidential Theatre and take Geoff Andrews out with it.
There was an explosion and William peered down, trying to work out where it had come from. He decided that it must have hit the stadium. Maybe it had wiped out the Magpies' squad. Not that it would make much difference. A team of corpses would be an improvement on the present rabble. A fire-helicopter flew overhead. William grinned. If the explosion didn't get them, the helicopter certainly would.
The northbound car pulled into the station and William got into an empty carriage. He settled into one of the luxury seats and contemplated his future. What was he going to do now that he was dead? His subconscious seemed to be telling him that he wanted revenge and who was he to argue? The problem was how to go about it? He was condemning himself to exile in the Northern Quarter with no easy access to either the central region or the Southern Quarter. Anyway, his first priority was to find a way to make enough money to survive. He took out his notebook. The first few pages were crammed with ideas for new jokes, all of them about northerners. He tore them out in disgust, then took out his pen and began to think. An idea came to him. He wasn't sure why, because he had certainly never been married, but he started to write about a mother-in-law.
By the time the monorail car had arrived at the only station in the Northern Quarter, William Randall had filled most of his notebook with his new routine. He read through it:
'Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. You know, a funny thing happened to me on the way here. I walked into a bar. It bloody hurt; it was an iron bar...'
William wasn't exactly sure where all this was coming from. He'd certainly never seen anything like it before.
'Now, take my mother-in-law... please! My mother-in-law, right. I'm not saying she's fat, but she's bloody ugly...'
Was this funny? William wasn't entirely sure. He had written the whole thing without stopping and now he was beginning to have doubts. He shrugged, slipped his notebook into his pocket and stood up. The monorail car stopped in the station and William stepped out and looked around. It wasn't as clean as the stations in the central region. It wasn't as big either and there was nothing that could be described as a facility; no Metroburger, no book-shop, no hairdressers. William began to wonder if he had made the right decision. Well, there was no going back now.
The doors of the monorail car closed and it began to leave the station. William stepped into the street. The architecture here was almost identical to that of the central region and Southern Quarter; big, square buildings with few distinguishing features, but these seemed somehow more dull.
William walked down the street trying to work out how this could be possible. He caught sight of himself in a shop window. He was still wearing the hat, glasses and moustache that he had bought from the theatrical supplies shop. He removed the glasses and moustache but decided to keep the hat to fend off the drizzle that had begun to fall. He pulled his jacket around him. It was far colder here than down south and far darker. William looked up. The sky was a dark grey and on the horizon a factory pumped out large clouds of thick, black smoke. He shuddered, pulled his jacket further around him and continued walking up the street. A man dressed in overalls was walking down the street toward him. William hailed him.
'Did you want something, pal?'
'Yes. I've just arrived and I'm looking for a job.'
'There's not a lot of work here, mate. What do you do?'
'I'm a comedian,' said William, expecting the man to fall about laughing and say something along the lines of 'Comedian? In these parts? You really are a comedian.'
'Oh, you'll be wanting the club then,' he said. William looked at him in surprise.
'Club?' he asked.
'Aye, working men's club. They mainly have singers and dancers, but they have comic turns every now and again. You should try there.'
'I will. How do I find the club?'
'Straight on, turn left and its on your left. You can't miss it.'
William shook the man's hand.
'Thank-you very much,' he said, 'you've been a great help.'
He walked away, narrowly avoiding a passing cyclist.
'What was that?' he stammered.
'A bicycle. Where the 'ell have you come from?'
'Southern Quarter,' mumbled William.
'That'd explain it then. Well, good luck.'
The man watched as William walked off.
'If you're going to get on that stage and tell jokes to that lot, mate, you'd better be good,' he said to himself and walked off in the opposite direction shaking his head.
Several days later, Eric and the few other people who knew William Randall had gathered in the City Hall for a memorial service, conducted by Mayor Burdon.
'Friends of William Randall, let us not be sad. William was, after all, a comedian and a very good one, so I'm told. He would not want us to be unhappy today. He would want us to laugh. To say, 'I knew William Randall before he was blown up and he was a good man.' To jump about and be cheerful and have a party with jolly music and balloons and party poppers and silly games and plenty to eat and drink and we should all wear amusing hats and have those things that you blow through to make them go in and out and make a 'wheeeeeee' noise. In short, to enjoy ourselves. But before we enjoy ourselves, it is only fitting that we pay tribute to the life of William Randall.'
'William Randall was a comedian. His aim in life was merely to make people laugh and he achieved this aim once a night. In fact, more than once a night. Several times a night. I am reliably informed that he made people laugh more than ten times every night. Whichever way you look at it, this is very impressive. I sometimes go for several days without making anybody laugh. This is the reason why I have the utmost... had the utmost respect for William Randall before he met with his spectacular demise. But we are not here to dwell on the horrific accident which put an end to William Randall. No, we are here to dwell on the life that was ended. There will now be a minute's silence in which you can reflect on the life of William Randall and his untimely, if somewhat impressive, demise.'
A loud blast of music signalled the end of the minute's silence. The Mayor stepped forward again.
'I think you'll agree with me when I say that, had William Randall been here today, he would have been moved by this ceremony and proud to call us his friends. I'd like to thank you for taking time out from your busy lives to come here today. Before you leave, there are a few announcements. The offices of the Sprawling Metropolis Pipework Contractors will be open to the public this afternoon from 1pm until 4pm, during which time you will be able to see the employees of the company contracting pipework before your very eyes. I myself will be paying a visit, so I hope to see some of you along to what promises to be a fascinating insight into the world of pipework contracting.
'Now a reminder that tomorrow is 'Air-Conditioning Appreciation Day' so I expect you all to be out and about doing your bit. I myself will be appreciating some air-conditioning early tomorrow morning.
'Well, I think that's everything. I hope you've all enjoyed yourselves. Thank-you for coming and have a nice day.'
The congregation applauded briefly but politely and then filed out into the street. Eric lost himself in the crowd and slowly made his way back to the theatre. Now that the only star turn currently on the bill was gone, the theatre would no doubt revert to being purely a cinema. There was a matinee performance later on and Eric, as usual, was on duty. At least it would give him an excuse not to go and see the Sprawling Metropolis Pipework Contractors. On the way to the theatre, Eric stopped to buy a copy of the Daily Thompson. Inside was a full transcript of the official report into the monorail disaster:
We, the committee (((specially commissioned under paragraph four, subsection 'b' of the 'regulations for the commissioning of specially commissioned committees') for investigation into the incident (involving a south-bound monorail car (hereafter referred to as 'the car')) at the Burdon Stadium (hereafter referred to as 'the incident')) hereafter referred to as 'the committee' (except when concomitant reference is being made to the committee for monorail time-tabling (central region, southbound division) or the committee for monorail repair and maintenance (general maintenance (on unreported or unspecified wear and tear) division) or the committee for municipal facilities (sports and leisure (buildings) division) in which case, all committees will be named in full)) find as follows concerning the incident involving the car:
Firstly, the committee for monorail time-tabling (central region, southbound division) shall be absolved from blame concerning the incident. It is the opinion of the committee for investigation into the incident that, as the car was running exactly to schedule at the time of the incident and no defects were reported in the monorail system within the allotted twenty-seven minutes (as defined by the committee for monorail repair and maintenance (general maintenance (on unreported or unspecified wear and tear) division)) before the incident, the incident was in no way foreseeable (and therefore in no way preventable) by the committee for monorail time-tabling (central region, southbound division).
Secondly, the committee for municipal facilities (sports and leisure (buildings) division) shall be absolved from blame concerning the incident. It is the opinion of the committee for investigation into the incident that the location of the incident at Burdon Stadium was merely a coincidence and not the direct result of action or inaction on the part of the committee for municipal facilities (sports and leisure (buildings) division).
The committee for investigation into the incident has been in close consultation with the committee for city-wide provision of law and order and maintenance of the peace (hereafter referred to as 'Police Commissioner Parker'). This consultation has been interesting and informative, leading to production of the following conclusion:
During the incident, the car left the monorail track for reason or reasons unknown and came into direct and violent contact with the playing surface of the Burdon Stadium.
This document has been verified by the committee for the verification of official documents (investigative division).
After studying the profusion of parentheses for some time, Eric crumpled the paper, dropped it into a litter bin continued on his way to the theatre.
At the offices of the Sprawling Metropolis Pipework Contractors, two ghosts were listening with a distinct lack of interest to a talk on pipework installation.
'... and the pipe is laid gently but firmly into the gutter that has been dug for it,' finished a very earnest young pipework contractor.
'If you ask me, this whole city belongs in the gutter,' said the English ghost.
'We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars,' said the Irish ghost.