I came home that night to a message on my answerphone: this is the end of our relationship. It came as quite a surprise to me, as I hadn't started a relationship yet. I had, however, pencilled in a speed-dating session that night at Gregor's Bar. It had been three weeks since the previous relationship I had participated in -- a frustratingly long postal correspondence with a Dutchwoman who wanted to milk me -- and I was looking forward to entering into an affectionate, non-milk-based union with a native woman.
What to wear! Rootling through the closet, I auditioned the bowties, corsets and skunk-fur coats upon my person, admiring the tautness of my musculature (I had been balancing household appliances upon my chest), and settled upon a moleskin poncho and a pair of leather jockstraps made from the hide of Arizonian desert horses. The dating session would be the first time I had set foot outside the house in over nine months. I worked from home, had my food and drink delivered, and made my friends come to me.
Stepping outside was rather shocking: the sharp intake of oxygen flummoxed my sense of balance, and I fell down an open manhole into an underground office of some description. Approaching the pretty secretary, I enquired as to my whereabouts. She asked me for some ID, which I produced -- my passport photo from 1989.
"Christ, you have changed," she said, pursing her lips. "You were one ugly runt back then, weren'tcha?"
"Well, that's rather candid of you to say so," I said, blushing. It had been some time since my ensconcement in the hurdy-gurdy world of adult banter, and I encountered a momentary period of healthy embarrassment, as though a regression to childhood had taken place.
"You're quite the looker now, though. Hows about we go on a date sometime?" she asked.
This disturbed me. I had grown up under the assumption that men were responsible for instigating romantic relationships, not people who weren't men (women). I refused to answer at first -- protesting for this blip in my education, then nodded.
"Good. Meet you at Gregor's Bar in ten minutes," she said. "Oh, and bring a bottle."
"A bottle of what?" I asked. A crow, perched on a water pipe on the wall opposite, sniggered at me.
"Oh, you're cute! Go away now."
Scrambling up the ladder, I found myself back out on the street, surrounded by a gang of insurance salesmen. Their tongues had been cut out, and they waggled their polices at me, making 'uh-uh-meh-neh' noises in lieu of proper words. I waved them away and hailed a taxi. Driving the taxi was a rather interesting gentleman who told me about his encounter with radical atheist Mikhail Bakunin.
"Met him in Millets," he said, snuffling. "He was looking at cycle shorts and swimsuits. A keen fitness freak, apparently. I asked him what he was up to now, and he just looked at me and said 'IT repair' and walked away. Quite rude of him, I thought, but there you go."
"I suppose he has a reputation to uphold," I offered.
"Yeah, well ... there's no need to be rude, is there?"
It was five minutes into the cab ride when I realised I hadn't told him where I was going. He had driven me to his flat -- a shoddy tenement in the working class cesspool of town -- and invited me inside for a biscuit while I mused on my destination. Unfortunately, I couldn't stay, despite his rather impressive selection of nibbles.
"We have Ginger Nuts, Chocolate Hobnobs, Viennese, Party Rings ... hell, you name it, we have it!" he giggled. His face resembled that of a Turkish backpacker tripping on amphetamine in a field in Dusseldorf.
"No, I can't come in -- I have to be at Gregor's Bar in five minutes."
"Gregor's ... well, why didn't you tell me? Hell, I could have taken you there!" he said, growing angry.
"I'm sorry! I was engrossed so much in our talk, I suppose it never occurred to me. I apologise," I said, looking at my watch.
"Tell you what, come in for a Custard Cream, then we'll get you there sharpish!"
Having offended his honour as a trusted cabbie, I entered his flat. The entire space was populated by shelves containing packets of Paracetamol, with the odd clothbound book severed in half on a three-legged table. Apart from this, an air of the abnormal permeated the room.
"I get a lot of headaches!" he joshed. I wondered whether I should ask for his name, or whether the albino budgie in the corner of the room -- kicking back on a deckchair with a stogey -- should be acknowledged. Checking my watch, I took the biscuit he produced on a saucer and gulped it down. It was an oaty snack -- dry, tasteless and horrible.
"Was that satisfactory? Oh, you want something chocolaty, don't you?" he asked, half-winking at me. I sheepishly nodded. From his seemingly bottomless box of biscuits, he produced a star-shaped caramel surprise, which I munched on for a few minutes.
"Rather yummish," I remarked.
The albino budgie cawed something rude about David Frost's navel, but I missed the butt of his remark. At this point, the cabbie grew silent and rapped his fingers on his counter.
"Well, time to get you to your destination, eh?"
"Yes, let's go."
For some reason, he was upset at me. Was it because I hadn't asked his name? Was my reaction to the oat biscuit too indifferent? I had thanked him several times for his hospitality, for the delicious chocolate biscuit, and for making me feel at ease in his curious dwellings. Perhaps he had a headache? The journey to Gregor's Bar was conducted in silence, and it was only when I left the cab did I realise my error: I had failed to compliment him on his lustrous pink quiff and flashing neon eyelashes. How remiss of me!
I was four minutes late for my date with the secretary, and in that time, she had already abandoned me for the throng of speed-daters assembling around the tables for micro-chats and fruitless banter. I wasn't too disappointed -- I would get to meet her in due course. My first meeting was with a former Tour de France cyclist who informed me she had once got a haddock caught in her spokes, and once ate three yoghurts simultaneously. We didn't hit it off, so onto the next candidate I shambled, checking my flies.
I noticed that all the male suitors except me had had their tongues removed, and wondered if the entire male contingent were insurance salesmen. The next woman I approached seemed amiable enough -- she worked for the YWCA as an audio assistant.
"Hello you," I began. She looked around her, askance.
"You ... you still have your tongue?" she asked. I sniggered.
"Yes, of course! I was wondering about that, actually. All the men here seem to have had their tongues removed. Is there some reason, behind that, d'you know?"
"Is ... is that allowed?" she asked, looking around her for a waitress or someone in charge. I felt criminal in her gaze, as though still having a tongue was less than sacrosanct in this particular bar.
"Don't you know? We only see men in here who've had their tongues removed. There's no way we'd ever date a tongued man," she explained, shivering at the sight of me.
Something unusual had happened since my absence from the dating scene. It seemed that the trend was for middle-class professional men to have their tongues cut out before courting a woman, to somehow eliminate them as a sexual threat, or merely as a fashion trend. Before I could giggle with the woman about how absurd the world had become -- "Oh, what a turkey this globe is, ain't it?" -- the tongueless manager approached our table wielding a scimitar, followed in tow by a waitress with a selection of knives.
"Do it for me, cutie?" the audio assistant asked.
"Hmm. I'm torn. See, you are a desirable hunk of lady, but I value coherent conversation too much to want to sacrifice my beautiful tongue. Plus, I don't really know you very well. What if you're very charming for the first hour, then an irritating wheezebag for the remaining two?" I asked.
I was slapped, drop-kicked in the gonads, and thrown out of the bar -- tongue intact. As I roamed the streets looking for leftover biryani or lemon soup, radical atheist Mikhail Bakunin collided with my rump (which, at the time, had an extra wing on it to attract tourists).
"Watch where you're going! You could have damaged my slim calves," he said. His face was not as I had imagined. Instead of a small, bearded, hobnail-wearing Commie oaf in a packamack, he looked exactly like Dennis Farina.
"Wow! Mikhail. How are you?" I asked.
"Going hiking this weekend with fellow radical atheist Jacques Derrida. D'you wanna come? I have an extra hiking thing that people use to go hiking with if you're interested in coming hiking with me at all?"
"The hiking place. A hill of some description. One with a rather steep incline, to assist in the hiking process. We're taking a radio, so we can listen to Nemone on the way," he said.
I paused for a moment, contemplated the last four hours of my life, then decided that what I required from existence was an electric eel flambéed in goat turds and whale sperm. It seemed unlikely that a godless Commie with a beard topiarised into the shape of a rooster could fulfil my needs, so I shook my head and moseyed on.
"It's a shame. We were gonna have an electric eel flambéed in goat turds and whale sperm," he called.
"When do we leave?" I asked.
"Ha-ha-ha-ha. Priceless. Monday, turnip."
My weekend was conducted thus: shower, bestial congress with a Womble, shower, slapped an ape, bestial congress with a Scientologist, shower, raped a bollard, shower.
I set off with Mikhail at 2AM sharp. He proved a demanding hiker -- insisting we lick the dirt off his hobnails and carry him up the hill to prevent his precious packamack from being besmirched. Halfway up, we met an eccentric creative writer who wrote graphic stories about her sex life in quasi-poetic stabs of misanthropic metafiction, but we pushed her off the cliff after setting her on fire and bashing her head in with a jumbo pebble, so everything was fine.
As we reached the summit, we found a balding gameshow host swearing into a box of his reviews. It turned out that this suave Patagonian gent, who had once eaten four peaches simultaneously, was being badly lacerated by a Lancastrian pedant who wanted to eat his navel hair.
"I just can't take the pressure anymore! Every week, he lambastes my witticisms and makes my audience banter out to be Viking propaganda. He accused me of fondling the bosoms of a wombat after he'd won three million pesetas in the quick-fire currency bonus round. It's just not true! But here I am -- ensconced in the rude pudenda of cultural mores," he whined.
Mikhail wasn't interested in the problems of this presentable but piteous oaf in his John Dryden commemorative cagoule. He wanted to ascend to the highest peak and shower lightning bolts upon the peasants, not listen to the lamentations of a TV has-been.
"Be a doll and push him off the hill for me, would you?" Mikhail asked. As much as I loathed the old goat, I didn't want to murderise him for no apparent reason other than he was being a twazzer.
"Umm ... perhaps we can use him, Mikhail?"
"Whatever do you mean, minion?"
"I mean ... he could host a gameshow for you. Maybe something about buggering peasants, or shooting disbelievers, that sorta thing? Would that float your angle of interest?" I asked, flailing around in desperate desperation and disparate disoperation.
"Stop your wordplay. OK, he can host a gameshow. I want you on as a contestant. We can call it Dunk the Unradical Atheist? No ... that's not what we'll call it. We'll call it Slice the Semi-Radical But-Not-Radical Enough Atheist! Yes, that's better. Find another contestant and start it now," he said.
I was booted off the mountain, but fortunately, I had packed a parachute and had taken a pocket-sized TV studio in my pocket. We began round one as I hollered my answers to the gameshow host. He had avian abilities, and so flapped around me with the questions.
"Now, for one wet kipper in the 'nads, answer me this -- who was the Gentile responsible for putting golf on the television? Was it ... a) You, b) Me, c) Aaron Neville?" he asked. The second contestant, a perspicacious crow, opted to poke his beak into my question.
"C! Aaron!" he cawed.
"Shut up, crow. It's not your question!" I snapped. It was too late -- the crow had won the house.
"Waa! Waa! House!" the crow waa-waa-housed, delighted to have waa-waa-won the waa-waa-house.
I, dejected, returned to my abode in disappointment and baked a croissant in the oven of shame. Waiting for me on my futon was the secretary I had jilted at Gregor's Bar -- completely naked apart from the chassis of a Volvo S40 covering her mandibles. She was, beneath her clothes, a woman-sized stag beetle with a mucilaginous pouch stuffed with chocolate bananas -- that is, bananas pre-dipped in chocolate.
"Care for a fruit?" she asked.
"No," I said, "I'm allergic."
"Right. You know it's coming, don't you?"
"The end. To these stories. To the whole Lucy Biatch Postmodern Enterprise, your natural Nigelness and that other one. It's coming to an end," she warned.
"I'm tired. Could you get out?"
"Oh. OK," she said, picking up her things and walking out.
I went to sleep alone.