Errors of Comedy - Chapter 6
Billy Hilarious stood amongst a crowd of twenty-two thousand people watching twenty-two people kick a small, plastic sphere around a field. He was surprised to find himself enjoying the game although, judging by the noise around him, most people were enjoying it far more than he was. He leaned over to speak to Harold Simpson, manager of Rumblethorpe working-men's club.
'Do you do this every Saturday?' he shouted.
'Give it to the man in the box, give it to the... No! Not him. Oh my God! What are you playing at? Look, knock it square...' replied Harold.
'Knock it square?' asked Billy, with a vision of something very difficult to kick around.
One of the players suddenly kicked the ball into one of the large nets. The stadium erupted as four-fifths of the spectators gave a huge roar. Billy tried to peer through the mass of people who, for some reason, had started jumping up and down and hugging one another.
'Have we scored?' he asked.
'You beauty!' replied Harold and grabbed him round the waist.
'We've scored,' deduced Billy and decided to enter into the spirit of things, leading Harold in a short dance.
So this was football then. People were certainly passionate about it. Billy began wondering how to turn this to his advantage. He looked in the programme. Apparently, Sprawling Metropolis United were one of the top teams in the league, not that that counted for much anywhere else but inside this stadium. What would happen if they stopped being one of the top teams? People would become despondent. They'd want cheering up. They'd come to see comedy. They would grow to love Billy Hilarious. Then, with the huge amounts of money he would have made, he could buy the football club, which would undoubtedly have dropped in value since they stopped winning. Once he had bought the club, he could set about making it great again. The people would grow to idolise Billy Hilarious and they would be his to command.
He considered the idea. It was certainly a long-term plan. It would probably take about twenty years or so. The first problem, then, was how to set the club on the slide to oblivion. He wondered if footballers drank bitter. Of course they did. Everybody in the Northern Quarter drank bitter. Now, what would happen if the bitter supplied to the players was to be... contaminated in some way? That could be disastrous, especially if the club was to get into financial trouble as well. Imagine that; useless players and no money to buy any more. Billy smiled. So it would take a long time. He was in no hurry. He looked around at his potential army. He'd better start by becoming one of them.
'Come on, United,' he shouted, and eighteen-thousand voices took up the cry.
David Daniels, last seen disappearing into the kitchen, hadn't managed to stay in the real world long enough to produce the tea. He stood with the kettle in his hand, staring at an audience that wasn't there. The kettle wasn't a kettle at all; it was a glass of champagne. He was about to make a speech at Derek and Lisa's wedding reception.
'A funny thing happened to me on the way here,' he began.
The audience laughed politely. Somebody cleared their throat pointedly. David ignored it and continued.
'I'd like to begin...'
'By pouring the water into the teapot? That's the usual way to begin a cup of tea,' said Deborah.
David turned around in surprise, spilling boiling water onto his hand. He dropped the kettle and thrust his hand under the cold tap. The lid of the kettle was dislodged in the fall and water began seeping onto the floor. David grabbed a cloth and dabbed ineffectually at the ever widening puddle. Deborah looked at David and then looked at the baby in her arms. Half of David's genes? Poor Derek didn't stand a chance.
'Sorry, Debs,' said David, scrabbling around on his hands and knees. 'I got distracted.'
'I know,' said Deborah. 'Now, are you going to make that cup of tea or shall I do it?'
'I can manage,' replied David, waving his cloth in the direction of the living room. 'You go and entertain our guests.'
'Perhaps you could entertain them with your kettle juggling act,' said Deborah smiling.
She patted him on the head and carried Derek out of the kitchen. David watched her go. He wondered if he deserved her. He didn't mean to daydream but he couldn't help himself. Maybe there was some trauma in his childhood that he was trying to hide from. He gave a short laugh. Trauma? There had been no trauma when he was a child. There had been no anything. He got up, he went to school, he came home, he did his homework, he had his supper, he went to bed. Now he was an accountant. He got up, he went to work, he came home, he watched television, he had his supper, he went to bed. Not much trauma there, although it did make plain the reason why he daydreamed so much.
He had to admit, things were different now that Derek had arrived. So why did he still dream? Perhaps he was addicted. Perhaps each daydream released pleasurable endorphins into his circulation. He wondered if he could ever give up. Maybe if he cut down gradually, only daydreaming after meals. He would have a look in the chemist to see if there was some sort of patch he could wear on his arm as a substitute. Chewing gum might help him as well. He would start tomorrow. Or maybe the day after. The kettle boiled again and David poured the water into the teapot, stirred it, let it stand and then poured the tea. He arranged the cups neatly on a tray and carried it into the living room.
The television had been switched on and everybody had gathered around it to watch that evening's episode of The Paradoxicals. David distributed the tea and then settled down to watch the programme. It was quite a silly idea, but he liked it; each story centred on three time-travelling detectives, two men and a woman, whose job it was to prevent criminals from altering the course of history for their own evil purposes. The programme was really just a subtle attempt by the government to teach the basics of American history to an apathetic population but the plan had backfired somewhat. Instead of absorbing the patriotism of the War of Independence or the bloody conflict of the Civil War, people became distanced from the events. If they appeared in a silly detective programme on the television, they couldn't possibly have happened for real. Besides, these events were ridiculous anyway. Who would fight a war over some tea?
David pondered this; he and Deborah nearly had. So perhaps they were true then? He didn't really care. As long as The Paradoxicals won in the end and the world was saved, that was all that mattered.
This week, a group of fanatics were trying to prevent the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, under the impression that this would make the world a better place. The Paradoxicals, of course, had other ideas. They had dressed themselves in nineteenth century costume and had travelled back to 1865. The woman was telling President Lincoln about the wonderful new play that was on that evening. One of the men was searching for the fanatics' headquarters, where they were plotting to burn down the theatre. The third member of The Paradoxicals had engaged a certain John Wilkes Booth in conversation and was currently explaining how much better America would be if it had a different President.
David thought carefully about this. The good guys were trying to get one of the most respected presidents in American history assassinated, whilst the bad guys were trying to save his life? No wonder nobody paid any attention to this programme. It was patently ridiculous. Derek certainly wasn't paying any attention to the programme. He was more interested in the small, frilly thing that was sitting at the table, scribbling on a piece of paper.
'Hello, baby,' said Lisa, turning to look at him.
She studied him for a moment and then stuck out a finger and prodded him. Derek giggled. Lisa thought for a moment.
'Boring baby,' she said and turned back to her drawing.
Derek didn't say anything. He just gurgled at Lisa. He didn't know what this vision in pink and white was but it fascinated him. He'd never seen anything like it before. He hadn't seen many things before, but he was familiar with the Daniels' house and its contents. Caroline and Martin vaguely resembled his mother and father, so they were nothing new, but Lisa was something different. She had entered his life and he was interested. She had even touched him. Not just to pick him up and hold him. Actually touched him. Derek was unsure how to react, so he played it safe and gurgled again. Lisa stuck her tongue out at him and carried on drawing.
Derek was confused. Normally when he gurgled, somebody paid attention. They didn't usually do what he wanted them to do; feeding him when he wanted his nappy changing and so on, but at least they made the effort. He decided that he'd have to make more of an effort to get this thing's attention. He gurgled some more.
'I think Derek wants his nappy changing,' said Deborah.
'I'll do it,' said David, eager to make up for his earlier tea-producing debacle. He picked Derek up, laid him on the table and removed his nappy.
'I don't wear nappies,' said Lisa disdainfully.
It can be difficult to read the expression on a baby's face, but Derek definitely looked embarrassed. He didn't want his nappy changed at all. Especially not now. Fortunately the thing looked like it was falling asleep. Martin turned to Caroline.
'Look at her,' he said. 'She can't keep her eyes open.'
'We'd better be going, Debs,' said Caroline. She stood up and kissed Deborah on the cheek.
'Thanks for having us,' she said.
'Thanks for the tea, David,' said Martin.
David started guiltily and looked at Deborah, who tried to hide her grin.
'Come on, Lisa, we're going,' said Caroline, and picked her up, 'say goodbye to Mr and Mrs Daniels.'
'Good bye Mr and Mrs Daniels,' said Lisa and was carried out of the house by her mother.
Derek watched the thing go. It had been called 'her' so presumably it was a girl. He thought about her farewell. She hadn't said goodbye to him. He wasn't sure how to react to this, so he gurgled for a while until Deborah fed him.
The two ghosts watched the interchange between Derek and Lisa with interest.
'It seems as though Derek has made a thorough analysis of the young lady,' said the English ghost.
'Men can be analysed, women... merely adored,' said the Irish ghost.