Diary. Saturday 2nd February 2008

Studies indicate that regular shift work shortens your life [1]. The rapid, gut-sickening alternation between days, afters and nights alters the state of consciousness and mucks about with the internal rhythms of your body. It’s not healthy. It’s not good for you. There’s plenty of evidence supporting this fact. Enough examples. Take the police, for instance. Bobbies completing their 30 years service, big retirement dos in the Police Bar, faces flushed with cheap subsidised lager, a fine spread of award winning pork pies and organic cheese laid on. Leaving present of a gold carriage clock. Framed presentation memento of handcuffs arranged between a pair of numbered epaulettes and a wooden truncheon. Stories from half-remembered night shifts, leathering some prisoner in the back of a Vauxhall Senator. A life of freshwater angling and a bleach white holiday home on Cyprus stretches before them. Three years later they’ve kippered it. A brief mention in General Orders. It’s with regret that… Name spelt wrongly. Over and out.

It’s all down to the shifts.

I’ve just finished nights. A guest appearance out in the sticks up at Rivendell. 2100hrs through to 0700hrs. Heartbeat. Blue shirts, tunics and gentle queries from concerned pensioners about the legalities of organizing a raffle in aid of the PDSA, all to a 1960s soundtrack of Herman’s Hermits and the Monkees. I wasn’t expecting much activity. No calls came in. We toured the high lands out towards Rohan and then retreated back to the station. The weather was atrocious – as we fully discovered when we finally looked out at 0100hrs after some serious online gaming. A good two inches of snow had fallen in between my last peek outside and killing Nazi stormtroopers on ‘WW2 Sniper’. So it was out onto the bleak beauty of the Kirith Pass towards Mordor in a blizzard, closing the road. It was bad. In true Heartbeat tradition I was anticipating a life or death moor land emergency. Some nubile blond hiker (Swedish) had become separated from her party of walkers. Alone, down to her last bit of Mars bar, scrounging in her pockets for broken flakes of Kendall Mint cake. And she’s Bi-lingual!!! gasps a woolly-hatted nature geek with beaded raindrops on his glasses. Leave it to me… I reassure them. With no other preparation than turning up the collar of my coat, I set out. The hero, pushing my way through a blinding wall of hail, snow and sleet, across snow sodden heather to the stranded rambler, cradling her wet, cagouled body to mine as Aretha Franklin screams out ‘Save me’, played through the atmospheric Banshee wails of hurricane force winds.

But no.

The gritters came. Orange hazard lights through darkness and the picturesque dreamscape of falling snow. The road ploughed. We re-opened the Pass and it was back to the warmth and the faded Victorian certainty of Rivendell nick playing games on miniclip.com.

Finished at 0700hrs, going off duty back at my home station in Gondor. In bed by 0720hrs after some orange juice and a squint at BBC News 24. Gales, ships floundering in the Irish Sea and the North Atlantic, people being chopped up with machetes in Kenya. Heating racked up to full. Deep asleep, swaddled in my duvet, then up. 800 calories on the cross-trainer and some weights. I was soaking in the bath by 1400hrs under the luxurious glare of the ceiling lights. Cobalt blue Radox ‘Muscle soak’ in huge perfumed clouds rising over my semi-submerged head.

I’d left the door open so that I could see John Lennon. He was leaning in black and white against the wall next to the cross-trainer, looking at it with suspicion. He was just at the tail end of his Fat Elvis phase. Between Help! and Rubber Soul, heading towards 1966 and Revolver. Sat at home in Weybridge, scoffing Quality Street and Fish suppers. Bottled Bass and marijuana. The top button of his white Levis surreptitiously un-fastened. A black polo neck sweater hugging his body.

And then it happened. I was staring vaguely into space, thinking over something Lennon had said about writing ‘You’ve got to hide your love away’, a revolving riff in my head, all 12 string Rickenbacker and Paul McCartney melodic bass, when the brushed steel door handle on the bathroom door evolved itself into a face. It was a definite transformation. From inanimate object to living thing. No mistake. Without making it obvious I peered closer. It had a long rectangular head, circular surprised mouth, two small eyes which a moment before had been screws and a long nose that from my vantage point resembled a pipe that was nipped down at the end.

I stared at John, John stared at me. The face looked for all the world like one of the emotionally ambivalent characters from the animated film Yellow Submarine. Relieved, we agreed that it wasn’t a Blue Meanie. We were in trouble, but things could be worse. It definitely wasn’t a Blue Meanie. I was partially comforted by the fact that I’ve experienced this sort of thing before. The Renaissance head of an old man used to regularly appear in the Artex swirls on the ceiling of my bedroom at my mother’s house when I was tired or daydreaming. A Da Vinci cartoon in plaster and brilliant white gloss emulsion – the peevish, avaricious undershot chin and menacing brow with wiry eyebrows. So I wasn’t phased by this, naked and lacking a testicle, though I was.

John munched the comfort of a Caramel Keg and searched his pockets for Rizzla papers. He hoarded those soft centres.

A short burst of electronic chatter. It was speaking. The sound was coming down its nose. A nose that looked more and more like plumbing work the longer I stared at it.

Lennon raised his eyebrows, a cigarette paper on his bottom lip. ‘I think he’s talking to you,’ he said.

The buck-passing Scouse tunesmith.

I could see the door handle’s beady eyes spin on their threads and turn towards me.

The electronic noises slowly acquired coherence. I strained to hear.

Trumping sound down its nose, the door handle said: ‘You look bloody knackered.’

Grinning, Lennon pulled out a Zippo ‘Sgt. Pepper’ commemorative lighter. Bought for £29.99 including postage and packing from the back of the Radio Times. He lit up.

I turned on the warm water.

‘And this,’ I thought to myself, sinking lower under the bubbles, ‘is what it’s come to…’

[1] BBC News, 20/04/2005

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One comment

  1. Surfing on a tide of relentless cynicism – Part 1One question Guinness….how do I get a posting to Rivendell?Spare a thought for your companeros a mere ten miles down the road, in the metropolis. A night spent with a ring side seat, watching the disintegration of civil society.Two thirty in the a.m …

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