Sunday, April 17, 2005

Jason Bandages

A most peculiar sight greeted me when I awoke this morning and for a while I didn't know where I was. Nobby Harris was standing over me in the company of a pale and fragile-looking fourteen-year-old boy who was grinning nervously and dressed for a day in court. I realised it was only a dream and rolled over, relieved.

It's a kind of unwritten rule that Nobby never bothers us before lunchtime unless it's really important and certainly not to show off one of his numerous great-great-grandchildren. The sofa in the mess room was so comfy, the red blanket so warm, and if I could just get back into that other dream, and if only she would

"Wakey, wakey! Rise and shine! Come on, son, look lively! The station's on fire!" I felt a strong hand gently shaking my shoulder and smelt the familiar aroma of Old Holborn and shoe polish; but today there was also a strange hint of something perfumed. No. Surely it couldn’t be. Not a woman. Not here.

Wearily, I opened my eyes and instinctively looked up at the old brown clock on the wall. Ten past eight. Ten past eight!

"Nobby, what the blithering bejesus . . . ?" Without conscious effort, one tends only to use quaint and very mild profanities in the presence of our revered and ancient Station Officer. Even when half asleep and roused at the crack of dawn for no apparent reason, no one swears when Nobby's around.

"Son." Nobby calls everyone 'son'. For one thing, he can't remember anyone's name, and also it makes him feel good to think of us as only thirty or forty years his juniors. He examined the sheet of paper he was holding, squinting through his thick spectacles.

"Son, this is Jason Bandages, he's going to be working here."

"Are we getting the horses back?" I asked, not entirely without seriousness. Many years ago, when Nobby was a mere slip of a grandfather, they'd used a horse-drawn ambulance and in my somewhat befuddled state I assumed that this must be a new stable lad. Or a jockey. Or a groom, or . . . I hadn't thought it through, obviously.

Nobby laughed gently and gazed wistfully out of the window.

"No, son, don't be daft. He's the new station manager. He'll be taking over at the end of the month. I'm showing him round, helping him get to know everyone." He turned to Jason Bandages.

"Um . . . " Nobby had already forgotten his name. "This . . . " He'd forgotten mine before this boy had been conceived.

I sat up, shrugged off the blanket, and looked at the two of them. Nobby, with his gaunt, large-boned frame and cadaverous bald skull in his black serge tunic with its highly polished silver buttons looked like a relic of the Great War. His usual air of slight bewilderment seemed exaggerated a hundred fold by the sharp-eyed wariness of the diminutive youth in the modern suit. So this was the future. Hoping my face didn't betray the sinking feeling inside, I stood up and extended a hand.

"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Bandages." The boy looked up at me and took my hand, exuding a curious mixture of fear and arrogance. His high-pitched, accentless voice sounded like the death knell for the culture of an entire civilization when he spoke for the first time.

"Please," he said. "Call me Jason."