NINETEEN

How I felt about being put in the stocks and having sponges thrown at me seemed to matter not one wit to my two co-fund raisers as they bundled me to the mediaeval punishment block in the village square and invited me to put my head between two pieces of ancient wood. It was months, of course, since they’d last been used in anger and the hinges were a little reluctant. I raised this as a possible future problem vis-à-vis my getting out of the stocks again but my co-fund raisers – rather more Francois Devine than Melba now that I think back – said this definitely wouldn’t be a problem and even if it was, they would find a way to get on with their lives without letting it spoil the rest of their day. The restraints clanked into place and I was at the mercy of the people of Bendaton.

“May a being I have very little interest in have mercy upon an inner force I find highly improbable” I said wittily. The only person who heard me was a passing nun who said a polite “Oi” and scuttled off.

“Throw a sponge at Dennis Brent” called Melba once he’d got a few buckets of water and borrowed some sponges from the 24 hour car wash (which didn’t need them because it closed at the weekend). “Only a pound per sponge. Win a handshake from Francois Devine if you knock Dennis Brent’s glasses off.”

“I haven’t agreed to that” I shouted. “That is an unofficial, bootleg promise.”

“Nor have I consented to touch a prole” added Francois Devine. “Dennis Brent’s misgivings are one thing but mine are really quite firm.”

“Roll up, roll up” continued Melba. A prole wandered over and squinted.

“How much is it?” he asked.

“Just one pound” said Melba.

“And what do I get for that?”

“A wet sponge.”

“What for?”

“To throw at Dennis Brent.”

“Who?”

“The man over there.”

“Why?”

“Look at him.”

The man squinted at me.

“Oh him. I’ll take fifteen. Nah – make it twenty. I’ve just won the football pools.”

The man paid his money – such a lot of lovely money – and began throwing sponges. Luckily for me he was a terrible shot and none came within a yard of my face. The worst I got was a little bit of residual turtle-style wax splashed in my eye but it was nothing a course of anti-inflammatory drops couldn’t solve.

“That was fun” he said when he’d exhausted himself. “If you’re still here when I get back from the Post Office I’ll have another lot.”

“This is easy money” I called to my colleagues as they stared at the twenty pound coins in Melba’s plastic coinage bag.

“A reasonably successful suggestion. Well done, Melba” agreed Francois Devine.

“It just… came to me” said Melba modestly. We picked up on his mood of slight shyness and silently agreed not to give him any more unwelcome praise or credit, no matter how much we raised.

A handful of other proles came and tossed a wet sponge or two in my general direction, some caught me a glancing blow but most miscalculated how much a soggy sponge will change direction as the water moves around its baggy structure. It’s very similar to seeing telehistorians trying to play on the seesaw with Francois Devine during relaxation breaks at a document analysis retreat. They think they can work out the shift patterns but they can’t. His mass moves in a mysterious way – I blame his catholic upbringing – and many is the eminent documentologist or indexologist that has been propelled short distances as a result. The unlucky ones make it past the wood chips and land on unforgiving cement.

Suddenly, my glee at how well this sponge thing was going turned to pain when a rock hard sponge hit me square on the nose.

“Hold hard” I protested.

“Actually, where did you get that sponge?” asked Melba with all the authority of a female steward at a book signing.

“The other man sold it to me” said the prole bafflingly.

“What other man?”

“The one that’s charging two quid for sponges that have been in the freezer overnight. Well worth the extra though.”

“I’m fogged, Melba. Who is he talking about?”

Melba followed the man’s point and we saw a figure with a long queue selling sponges from an insulated box. Suddenly I was in a war zone as frozen sponge after frozen sponge came flying at me. My glasses were the first casualty – luckily I have nine identical pairs and was able to recover within seconds of my release having learned my lesson about trying to live without sight. It is harder than it looks – no wonder blind people wear dark glasses as they must be terribly embarrassed at all the things they get wrong. I tried a cheap repair firm in India who took a fortnight to send them back with some generic sticky backed tape on the hinge and in that fortnight I was nearly run over a hundred and eight times, nearly ate a sandwich that had a firework put in it by mistake, only realised there was a rabid Alsatian in my bedroom when I heard the foam dripping from its mouth and wore the wrong trousers for the duration. Never again, hence my taking precautions. The same cheap firm in India offered to clone my spectacles for five pounds a pair and I bit the bullet.

It was only poor aim and too much anger in the throws – presumably they were angry at the extra cost for the frozen sponges as I can’t think of any other reason why they’d put so much effort into throwing something at my face – that saved me from death by frozen sponge. By the time the mysterious figure had run out of frozen sponges I was battered, bruised and bloodied but basically all right. I’ve had worse mornings in the village square.

“Get me out of this contraption” I shouted and Francois Devine waddled over to obey.

“Don’t panic folks” shouted a prole to the throng of disappointed proles who felt Melba’s wet sponges were a pretty poor second place to the mystery man’s frozen ones, “I’ve got a tool kit here and the spanners are on me.”

“Quickly does it” I urged Francois Devine on. His heft made short work of the ancient hinges and his bulk deflected enough spanners to avoid an incident. We ran to the Elk and Bush for cover and to lick our wounds. Mainly my wounds but we all licked our own. I wouldn’t want you to think there was anything like Story 5P going on with people feeding off the blood of their leader. Charity and vampirism may have much in common but this isn’t one of those things.

“Thanks for helping out there, Dennis” said a voice that had not been invited to our table. It was Miles Saragh-Jayne. “I made over eighty quid thanks to your facial generosity.”

“So it was you” I said, letting it hang.

“That sold the frozen sponges” added Melba unnecessarily.

“Teamwork, Dennis, just like the old days. How much have you raised now?”

“I hardly think that matters” I said dismissively.

“Only a couple of hours left – you’d better not spend all day in the pub or you’ll never get your hands on that memo.”

Curse the man for he was right.