The Untimely Death Of Jerzy Gruszka

My writing set-up

A few years ago, I was approached by a few people* who said, “You know what, Gary, your columns really are top-drawer, but they’re only ever 750 words long. What you need to do is write a novel featuring the same sort of character who appears in your columns. I bet you it would be really successful.”

These people were mistaken in several ways, but the two errors I’d like to focus on at this point are: a) The character who appears in my columns is not a work of fiction. I am he. It’s all true; and b) it would not be really successful.

Of course, it was only after I had written such a novel and tried to flog it for a year that the point I made under b) above became clear. I do not know if you are aware of this, but novels take some time to write, unless you’re one of those successful American airport fiction novelists who can pass on their work to a farm of typists, and when I had finished it the market had changed. Apparently we’ve all heard quite enough from middle-aged white men. WHEN, OH, WHEN WILL MIDDLE-AGED WHITE MEN BREAK THE GLASS CEILING?!

Anyway, the point is that there’s a novel sitting on my laptop, and I’m never going to make any money out of it. And if you are – or were – a regular reader of my long-running column, you’re more likely than most to be interested in reading it.

So, seeing as we’re all cooped up indoors for the foreseeable, and unless somebody talks me out of it, I’m going to release a chapter a day from tomorrow (Friday, March 27, 2020) until it’s finished. It won’t see you through the entire lock-down, but it might keep you diverted for 15-20 minutes a day.

It’s called The Untimely Death Of Jerzy Gruszka, and I’ll link to the chapters here.

01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

*Real people, not people I have invented to make me look good.

The Big Staying In: Day One

A bee, drawn from memory

ONE of the advantages of a full lockdown situation is that human contact is very limited, especially if your partner is one of those key workers we have these days.

It is not so much that I prefer my own company, more that I am aware that a little of me goes a long way, and it’s probably better for all concerned if I am left to fend for myself.

Anyway, this morning, on Day One of the Big Staying In I put some breakfast dishes and such into the kitchen sink, then went for a shower, then put on a dressing gown, then topped up my existential anxiety with a quick scroll through Twitter, then found a YouTube video which explained in detail what was wrong with a film I didn’t like, then made a cup of tea, then drank it…

“Oh, yes,” I thought, as I went to deal with the used cup before I got fully dressed, “I must deal also with the previous dishes, about which I had forgotten.” And so I went to the kitchen sink…

One of the disadvantages of a full lockdown situation is that it is very difficult to pass the message on to the animal kingdom. And, disappointingly, I found that an uninvited bee the size of an M&S mini mince pie was having a lie down among the dirty dishes.

I am not good with bees, or any insects which carry stings on their person, which is sort of the point.

But I am also aware that, before the current situation, we were very concerned about the reduced number of bees buzzing about the place, and I did not want to be responsible for a further reduction.

What I needed to do was persuade the bee to go outside without testing my memory of whether you use vinegar or baking soda on a bee sting.

Reader, I said “shoo” to a bee. It worked about as well as you might have expected.

So I pulled up the blind, then watched the blind fall, then pulled up the blind again, then watched the blind fall again, then pulled up the blind again, this time with the cord at an almost imperceptibly different angle, and opened the window over the sink.

Then I used a small stream of water to guide the bee into what I’ll call the drain guard. I don’t know the real name of it, and neither do you, but it’s one of those removable things that you put over the plughole to stop largish objects from clogging up your drain.

But the bee was very close to the protruding centre of the drain guard, and, if I went to grasp the centre, my fingers would have been dangerously close to the bee’s bum. So I thought for a moment, and then grabbed some tongs from the drawer.

Then I picked up the drain guard and its insect passenger, with the tongs, using all the dexterity of an Operation player on a well-frequented bouncy castle, and pushed it through the window. “Get out, you furry bastard,” I yelled. I shook the drain guard, and the bee tumbled out onto the window ledge, and the drain guard tumbled out of the tongs and onto the patio.

“Gah!” I said, and headed towards the patio doors. I didn’t wish to go into the garden in my stockinged feet, and a pair of my girlfriend’s flip-flops were near the exit. Now, I am not a natural flip-flop wearer and would normally shun them, as I have enough difficulty keeping hold of things with my hands.

But I put them on. I wouldn’t say I slipped into them, as it’s quite difficult to wear flip-flops and socks at the same time. I felt awkward in my own company.

But I slid open the patio doors and stepped outside, safe in the knowledge that nobody would see me at the back of the house, with my bestockinged and flip-flopped feet and flip-flopping dressing gown.

I arrived at the fallen drain guard. In the time it had taken me to decide on flip-flops and then find the patio doors key and then to flip-flop to the scene of the impact, the bee had somehow flown back to the guard and was circling inside it.

I was incensed and, without regard to my own safety, I shook the guard, ejecting the bee. “BUGGER OFF, YOU ABSOLUTE SOD,” I cried.

“Morning,” said my girlfriend’s neighbour over the fence, self-isolating in his garden.

And this is just Day One. I don’t think this lockdown is stringent enough.