Errors of Comedy - Chapter 12
David Daniels sat on the end of his bed, putting on his shoes. Today was the day that he would walk
into the offices of the Daily Thompson with his son. No doubt Derek would be quick to make an
impression on the editor. Perhaps there would be some sort of disaster that only Derek could sort
'It's vitally important that we cover this story,' said the editor, 'and all my reporters
are out investigating other things.'
'Perhaps I could help?' asked Derek, modestly.
'But you're just the janitor, how could you possibly cover a story of this magnitude?'
'Just give me a chance, sir. I won't let you down.'
'OK, Daniels, go out there and get me a story.'
David smiled to himself and the scene moved on a few hours:
'Daniels, this is incredible,' shouted the editor. 'This is possibly the finest piece of
journalism that I have ever seen. I'm going to promote you to the head of current affairs.'
David jumped. His son, head of current affairs at the Daily Thompson. He had to congratulate
'Derek!' he shouted.
'Sorry I'm late, Dad,' said Derek, coming into his parents' room and trying to tie his tie and
shoelaces simultaneously. 'My alarm didn't go off.'
He fumbled with his tie. Somehow he had managed to tie his shoe to the end of it. The shoe swung
precariously around his knees, occasionally bumping into David's shoulder, as Derek struggled to
untangle it. David's aspirations for his son took on a slightly less ambitious form:
'Derek,' said the editor, 'I've decided to keep you on as janitor.'
Oh well, it was a start. That was assuming of course that Derek ever made it into the office to
begin his work as janitor.
'You'd better hurry up,' said David. 'You don't want to be late on your first
'Yes I do,' replied Derek. 'In fact, I don't want to go in at all.'
'Look, Derek, I know it's not much of a job but it's better than nothing. I had to pull a lot of
'I know. I'm sorry, Dad,' said Derek. 'I'll go and finish getting ready.'
He walked out of the door, still fumbling with his tie.
David and Derek finally made it to the Daily Thompson, more or less on time. They left the
monorail car and stood beside the elevators.
'Well, this is it,' said David.
'Yes,' said Derek.
'Good luck, son.'
The elevator doors opened and David stepped in. The doors began to close. Derek put his hand
'Dad, where am I going?'
'The basement. Along the corridor, turn right, past the trash cans, down the stairs. See you
later.''Thanks, Dad,' said Derek.
Down the stairs? What sort of building had an elevator that didn't go to the basement? More to
the point, what sort of building had a basement that nobody wanted to go to? Derek had a feeling
that he was about to find out
He walked along the corridor. After a few yards, the bright, clean tiling on the wall stopped
abruptly to reveal peeling plaster. The carpet ended, leaving bare concrete. Derek looked back.
People still streamed out of monorail cars and into the elevator or out into the street, seemingly
oblivious to the deteriorating state of the building not ten yards away. He carried on down the
corridor, which took a sharp right-hand turn. Derek stopped. Ahead of him was a tall, thin man with a
moustache, carrying a large metal canister on his back.
'Mornin', squire,' said the man. His accent was English. The sort of English accent that
Dick van Dyke would have had in Mary Poppins if he'd been any good at accents.
'Good morning,' replied Derek.
'You must be the new janitor.'
'Well I'm Alfred, the bin-man.'
'Yeah. I empty the bins. Dustbins. Trash cans. Hello?'
'Sorry?' said Derek, noticing the man properly for the first time.
'Look, what's your name?'
'Er... Derek. Derek Daniels.'
'Good morning,' said Derek, absently. Alfred chuckled.
'Don't worry, you'll be all right.'
'But what do I do?'
'There's a cupboard downstairs. That's your office. You go in there, put the kettle on and put
your feet up. When anybody wants you, they'll ‘phone. Then, at the end of the day, you go around the
building, tidy all the rooms, lock all the doors and go home. The cleaners then come in during the night
and actually clean the place. You just have to keep everything in order so that they can.'
'Tidy all the rooms?' asked Derek. 'But there's hundreds of them. I'll be here all
'Calm down,' said Alfred. 'When I say ‘tidy', what I mean is, you stick your head round the
door, have a quick look, if it looks OK, you go onto the next one. You don't have to do the spring
cleaning every night.'
'When do I have to do the spring cleaning?' asked Derek, beginning to panic.
'Spring,' replied Alfred.
He put his arm around Derek's shoulders. 'Come and have a cup of tea.' Alfred put down the
dustbin he was carrying and guided Derek along the corridor and down the stairs. The stairs ended in
a wooden door. Derek turned the handle.
'It's locked,' he said. Alfred held up a key.
'Don't panic, squire, I've got the key.'
He opened the door and Derek stepped inside.
'It's not a very big room,' he observed.
'That's because it's a cupboard,' Alfred pointed out.
Along its left hand wall, the cupboard contained a fridge, with a kettle and a telephone on top, and
a sink. At the far end was a bench and arranged down the right-hand side were a selection of cleaning
implements and a door. Derek looked at the sink. For some reason it was only a couple of feet off the
ground. A plank of wood leaned against it. Derek picked up the plank and studied it.
'What's this for?'
'That,' said Alfred, taking it from him, 'is for when you have guests. Like now.'
He placed the plank over the sink and sat on it. Derek stared at him. Alfred pointed at the
'Sit yourself down, squire,' he said. 'Make yourself at home. It's your office.'
Derek sat on the bench. A bunch of keys hung on the wall. Derek lifted them off the hook and
'They'll get you into every room in the building, they will,' said Alfred.
Derek thought about this.
'You mean you have the key to this cupboard, which contains the keys to every other room in this
'That's right squire.'
'They must trust you.'
'Of course,' said Alfred proudly. 'I've been here for years. The place couldn't run
Derek nodded slowly. He was about to ask a question when Alfred interrupted.
'So how about that cup of tea, then?''What? Oh, yes, certainly,' said Derek.
He got to his feet and picked up the kettle. It was empty. He waved it at Alfred.
'How do I...'
'Oh yeah,' said Alfred, standing up and removing the plank.
Derek squeezed in between Alfred and the sink and filled the kettle.
'Cosy, isn't it?' said Alfred, cheerily.
Derek nodded uncertainly and returned the kettle to its position on top of the fridge. As it began
to boil, Derek began to hunt around for some cups. Alfred reached out a hand and opened the fridge.
Inside it were three cups, a box of tea bags, a jar of instant coffee, a bag of sugar and a pint of
milk. Derek picked up the milk and sniffed it.
'Don't worry, squire. It was fresh this morning,' Alfred reassured him.
Derek made two cups of tea and sat back down on the bench. He gripped the cup tightly. It was
one of the few things that made sense at the moment. He looked up at Alfred.
'So I just sit here?'
'That's right. If they want you, they'll call. You dash out, do the job, come back here and put the
kettle on again.'
'So what do I do when I'm in here, apart from drink tea and coffee?'
'Whatever you want, squire. Read a book, do some knitting, do a crossword, build a model of the
Burdon Stadium out of matchsticks, whatever.'
'I don't have any matchsticks,' said Derek, beginning to panic again. They hadn't said anything
about matchsticks when they gave him the job.
'Fine. Perhaps you should read a book then.'
Derek stared at him. Book? This janitoring business was turning out to be more complicated that
he had thought.
'What book? I don't have many books. Does it matter what book?''Derek, calm down,' said Alfred. 'You don't have to read a book. You don't have to build a
model out of matchsticks. You don't have to do anything apart from answer the phone and do as
you're told. You don't even have to drink the tea.'
Derek held the mug tighter to his chest. Nobody was going to take it away from him.
'In that case,' said Alfred, raising his own cup, 'cheers!'
'Why?' said Derek. Alfred raised his eyebrows.
'Never mind, squire. Just drink your tea.'
Commissioner Parker stood with Eric in a garden. It wasn't much of a garden. There was a lawn.
Well, there was some grass. An almost square patch of grass, with a small statue of a man in a red hat
in the centre of it. The grass was surrounded by some bedraggled yellow flowers of an indeterminate
type. Along one side of the grass was a hedge, its centre dominated by someone's rather pitiful
attempt at topiary. Eric nudged Commissioner Parker.
'What do you make of it then, Chief?'
'It's certainly, how can I put it, "different",' replied the Commissioner.
'What do you think it is?'
'Or an elephant?'
'It's not an elephant, the ears are too big.'
'Oh,' said Eric, and then looked at the Commissioner, puzzled. 'If the ears are too big to
be an elephant, how can it be a chicken?'
'Those are its wings.'
'Well where's the beak?'
'That pointy thing sticking out of its, how can I put it, "head".'
'But that's the back, surely.'
'Is it? Perhaps it is an elephant.'
'Whatever it is, it's very nice,' said Eric pointedly, seeing the owner of the offending shrub
'Is it?' asked Commissioner Parker in surprise, and then added, 'Yes. Yes it is. Very, how
shall I put it, "nice".'
'Why, thank-you, Commissioner,' said the owner.
She stood in front of Eric and the Commissioner and waved a pair of shears at them.
'It's very good of you to come.'
'Just doing our job, ma'am,' said the Commissioner. 'Now what was it you wanted to see us
'Well, Commissioner, my neighbour's cat...' Eric and Commissioner Parker exchanged glances.
'...has been coming onto my garden.'
'Onto your garden?' asked the Commissioner.
'Indeed, onto my garden. Not only onto my garden, but also into my flower beds.'
'Into your flower beds?'
'I should say so.'
'Should you?' asked Eric and received a dig in the ribs from the Commissioner.
'Now then, Ma'am, what exactly does the cat do in your garden?'
'Yes. Does it damage the lawn? Eat the flowers? Attack the chicken?'
'Elephant,' whispered Eric.
'Elephant?' suggested the Commissioner.
'Better make it hedge, just to be on the safe side.'
'No, it doesn't attack my hedge,' said the woman.
'Well, what does it do?'
'It comes into my garden.'
'Naughty pussy,' said Eric, helpfully. Commissioner Parker ignored him.
'I see,' he said. 'It comes into your garden and it does, how can I put it,
'What are you going to do about it, Commissioner?'
'Have you spoken to your neighbour about it?'
'I have. I said, "Will you keep your cat out of my garden?" Do you know what she
'I have no idea,' said Commissioner Parker, wearily.
'She said, "No!" Just like that. What can you do with people like that?'
'Line them up against a wall and shoot them,' said Eric, 'twice. And then rend the bodies
limb from limb with your bare hands...'
'We'll go and have a word with your neighbour, Ma'am. We might be able to get her to, how shall I
put it, "co-operate".'
'I'd be very grateful, Commissioner.'
'...and put all the rent limbs into a big pile...'
Eric and Commissioner Parker made their way around the house to talk to the neighbour.
'Eric,' said the Commissioner, 'you're going to have to take this job a bit more, how can I
put it, "seriously".'
'How can I take it seriously? All we ever get called out for are cats and bushes. It wouldn't be so
bad if the cats or the bushes were doing something offensive. Cats that trespass on other people's
lawns and bushes that dangle aren't what I'd call offensive.'
'Eric, are you getting paid for doing this job?'
'Are you getting paid quite well for doing this job?'
'Is there a bottle of whiskey in the drawer of your desk?'
Eric thought for a moment.
'You know, trespassing cats can be quite a nuisance,' he said.
'And I wouldn't want someone else's bush dangling in my garden.'
'Of course you wouldn't.'
'I quite agree,' said Commissioner Parker, ringing on the doorbell. A woman answered it.
'Yes?' she said.
'Good morning, ma'am. I'm Police Commissioner Parker and this is my assistant, Eric. We've come
about your cat.'
'What about my cat?'
'It's been found, how can I put it, "straying" into other gardens.'
'Of course it's been straying. It's a cat.'
'People have been complaining.'
'And who exactly are "people"?'
'We're all people, ma'am,' said Eric, helpfully.
'I'm afraid we're not a liberty to say, ma'am. That information is, how shall I put it,
'It's that old bat next door isn't it? Well you go and tell her that I'll keep my cat off her garden
when she cuts that eyesore off the hedge.'
'Oh, so it's an eyesore, not an elephant,' said Eric. 'Well, I was close. I knew it began with
'Whiskey,' whispered Commissioner Parker.
'Now then, ma'am,' began Eric, 'I don't think that we can ask your neighbour to chop down
her eyesore, can we? It is her hedge, after all. Now, don't you think it would be better all round if
you could find some way of keeping your cat out of her garden.'
'I'll see what I can do,' said the woman grudgingly and slammed the door.
'There's another job well done,' said Eric cheerfully. 'Now then, what were you saying
about whiskey?' He began to walk out of the housing estate towards the monorail station.
'I think I'll confiscate it,' said the Commissioner.
'If you do that I'll never work with you again.'
'Is that a promise?'
Two ghosts stood in bafflement and watch them leave.
'Hard to believe that people can get so worked up about so little,' said the Irish ghost.
'Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs,' said the English ghost.