Proper Job

A comedy novel by Ian Hocking

Author Ian Hocking gets down to some 'research'

Coming of age was nev­er meant to be this hard. Fabe Carrick, an eight­een-year-old sales assist­ant for the St Austell branch of Shoe World, has been offered a place at Oxford University. In the regret­table absence of a Cornish Affirmative Action pro­gramme, Fabe will need to work every hour of the sum­mer or he’ll fall short of his tuition fees.

The crimp in his plan arrives in breath­tak­ing form: Penelope Brown, heir­ess to the Brown’s Ice-Cream empire. Before long, Fabe has been sacked from Shoe World, and finds him­self in the sur­pris­ingly dan­ger­ous role of ice-cream man.

The cut in pay will not help him achieve the tuition fees. Neither will his best friend Doogie, who has also taken a shine to Penelope, or his new boss, Big Jeff, whose belly shakes like a bowl full of jelly when he screams, “You’m fired!” Then there’s Fabe’s mil­it­ar­ist­ic older broth­er, The Rupert. And Old Boy, whose name no one can remem­ber.

Proper Job is a story about a boy, a girl, long queues, dan­ger­ous driv­ing, CB lan­guage, the dark art of magazine inserts, and Alaskan mal­amutes. Beach-time read­ing will nev­er be the same again.


Some Excerpts

On meeting Penelope Brown

She had scar­let rib­bons in her brown hair, and they flickered when she moved. Her eyes were steady and con­fid­ent. She wore a blue T-shirt. It stopped above her belly but­ton, where a dot of sil­ver twinkled. Below that, she wore a den­im skirt and flip-flops. These clothes – peri­pher­al irrel­ev­an­cies – were enough to make the edge of my vis­ion crinkle with star­light before I even con­sidered the body under­neath. As I stopped, a little too far away to be nor­mal – a great start – she smiled. I began the usu­al busi­ness of col­lect­ing and sift­ing every ele­ment of her expres­sion for the gold of genu­ine attrac­tion and the pos­sib­il­ity that she might, one day, giv­en the right cir­cum­stances – and, if neces­sary, chem­ic­als – agree to have prop­er sex with me.

Proper sex, mind. With the lights on.

Ironic, then, that I chose to des­troy the pos­sib­il­ity of such a scen­ario by hold­ing out my hand and say­ing, “H’mah,” which isn’t even a word.

Later that same conversation

So,” Penelope said loudly, restart­ing the con­ver­sa­tion, “you work here.”

Deep breaths, I thought. Articulate your­self.

Work. I work in Shoe World.”

Excellent. Now ask her if she’d like to see some pup­pies.

That’s that settled,” Penelope said. She was on the brink of anoth­er smile.

Right, for­get the pup­pies. She thinks you’re being iron­ic. She is impressed by your post-mod­ern approach to con­ver­sa­tion. Cite some­thing eru­dite.

I –”

Yes?”

I work in Shoe World.”

Remember this moment for every day that remains of your sex­less life.

On the all-out fun of paintball

I glowered at him as he spread an icing of mud across his fore­head. A hood covered his dark hair. Across his goggles, he had scrawled ‘Born To Kill’ in Tipp-Ex. On my own goggles, and at Doogie’s urging, I had writ­ten ‘Animal Mother’, but my writ­ing was so neat that the effect was ruined. Doogie wanted to write ‘Me love you long time’ on Old Boy, but the lat­ter could not be pinned down for long enough.

After the first-aid

The paint­balling had done its evil work: to a man, the war­ri­ors stood akimbo as though their testicles needed sep­ar­ate score sheets for size. One or two were smoking cigar­ettes for the first time. They spoke with the gravely resig­na­tion of sol­diers expect­ing com­bat flash­backs, wives who hid the steak knives and chil­dren who wanted to know why daddy was liv­ing in the tree house.

Philosophy for eighteen-year-olds

Penelope, her water­proofs returned, approached the last of the Contemptibles as we sat on the bon­net of Doogie’s Fiat, toss­ing stones at a crisp pack­et. The fig­ure under her jeans and T-shirt was unbear­able to behold. I wondered what would hap­pen if the irres­ist­ible force of her sex­i­ness met the immov­able object in my trousers.

No hard feel­ings, boys?”

H’wah, fah.

On looking gruff and manly in front of the woman you love

As the bike slid into my arms, I was sure to appear unfazed by its crip­pling weight. I even whistled, but because every muscle in my body was as tight as a viol­in string, and because my feet strut­ted left, right and back­wards with the grace of a cock­er­el with anarch­ic leg syn­drome, and because the bike was slip­ping through my unfurl­ing fin­gers, the tune car­ried more spit than note; it was a move­ment more bowel than music­al.

As you are,” he said.

To me,” I replied. “Steady as she – harnf!

I fol­ded like a weak poker hand, was pressed to the ground, and watched the bike’s single rear wheel roll over my gool­ies, up my stom­ach, across my mouth – where it pushed my lip into a brief snarl – and watched all over again as the two front wheels delivered the same treat­ment to the edges of my body, only twice as pain­fully. I was the image of Vitruvian Man in first draft, when Da Vinci had sketched him hold­ing his gon­ads and look­ing sur­prised.

To you,” I whispered.

The sterling support of friends

Old Boy jumped astride the con­trap­tion with the easy swing of a cow­boy born in the saddle. He took a breath, straightened his tie, and nod­ded at the blue yon­der. He opened the leath­er pouch on the cross bar and pulled out a huge hand-bell. Penelope nod­ded like a proud moth­er sur­vey­ing her son’s spiffy blazer on his first day of school.

He rang the bell.

B’ding, dongy-dong.

I’m not proud of what I said next. But it was my duty as a friend and, above that, as a human being.

Mate, you look a right twat.”

On the humane treatment of tourists

It was with little regret that I made sud­den topi­ary of those cus­tom­ers near the roar­ing back wheels. I did not salute as pre­lude to depar­ture, but, by God, I was power­fully temp­ted. For their part, the queue folk looked at me in a way that implied a wish to lock me inside a wick­er man, set fire to it, link arms and sing ‘Summer is A-Cumen In’.

Then I looked at the sweaty head of the thwarted Highball man and, damn it, treated myself to the salute I deserved.

‘Ere,” he shouted. “Are ‘ee goyn give me a Highball?”

I’ll give you ‘Highballs’,” I growled.

Really?”

No!”

A grand day out

Though it was only my second day on the job, I went about the pre­par­a­tions for launch as though I were a pen­sion­er repris­ing a slow, easy dance from his youth. Scoops: one miss­ing. Return to desk and pick up strag­gler. Float: mis­coun­ted. Return to desk. Van: though tickled by the key, won’t burst into the laughter. Receive les­son in how to start a dies­el engine from Big Jeff. Take hem of white jack­et. Wipe spit from glasses. In back of van, check water taps are work­ing. Take hem of white jack­et. Wipe water from shoes. Fill buck­et with soapy water. Wash out­side of van. Throw dregs of dirty water across wind­screen. Take hem of white jack­et. Offer it to drenched Old Boy. Maintain straight face. Check oil and water. Fail to find either, but call it good. Check chimes: Wartime Vienna evoked won­der­fully by the zith­er theme from The Third Man. Attach Old Boy’s bike trail­er to the tow hitch. Start engine. Nod grimly at oth­er van drivers, who are also ready to launch. Who are ready to eat their own ice-cream and ask for seconds. Roar from the depot pulling zephyrs of dust. Pass Big Jeff who stands in the centre of the ramp­ing wheel­ing his arm in a G’wan, m’beauties fash­ion.

Professional rivalries

Ahead of us, in an unset­tling repeat of the pinched-pitch débâcle, was the rear of a 1940s ambu­lance with Mafia-inspired blackened win­dows. I knew I had to over­take it at all costs. My driv­ing style shif­ted from com­mon-or-garden pan­ic to the dev­il-may-care double-declutch­ing-for-the-hell-of-it mad­cap­pery of a tele­vi­sion motor journ­al­ist voicing a to-the-cam­era line to top all lines, in the world, ever.

I’ll chase him round Good Hope –”

Steady,” said Old Boy.

And round the horn –”

Is that leg­al?”

And round the Norway mael­strom –”

We’re not that lost.”

And round perdition’s flames before I give him up.”

We swooped on the ambu­lance.

Easy, Fabe!” screamed Old Boy. “Easy like Sunday morn­ing!”

I looked across and saw that he had put an empty ten-litre tub over his head.

All play and no work

I looked for Old Boy. He was stand­ing next to a young woman. Both were star­ing at some­thing on a work­top, but Old Boy obscured my view of it. When I touched his shoulder, he turned to me with sick dread.On the counter, mov­ing in slow circles like an obscene spin­ning top, was a vibrat­or. I pulled Old Boy back before it could injure him.

She asked me,” Old Boy whispered, “how many speeds I have. I don’t have any speeds, Fabe. I don’t have any speeds!”

What to do as Old Boy slowly drifts into the maws of industrial machinery

Madame screamed again. I tuned into her ultra-son­ic wavelength. “The red but­ton!”

There are no red but­tons.”

Heng, it’s look­ing right at you.”

There’s a blue one.”

Push the red one, shit bag.”

I whirled around and flapped my ridicu­lous mit­tens. “There is no red but­ton.”

Madame’s gor­gon eyes blazed. Her hair writhed in a Hadean wind.

Alright,” I said. “I’ll check again. Ah, now. There is a crim­son one. Though ‘car­mine’ would be a bet­ter term.”

I’ll frickin’ swing for ‘ee.”

Thoughts when falling at high speed

My brain reques­ted in its bene­vol­ent, dic­tat­ori­al way that my left foot please meet the ground at the earli­est pos­sible con­veni­ence. This was due to unfore­seen cir­cum­stances involving my right foot. My left foot – always a troop­er – struck the sandy path without both­er­ing to inform my knee about the new sched­ule. My knee had no time to bend. The shock trav­elled up my leg to my hip, briefly popped the ball from sock­et joint, and chimed up my spine with the enthu­si­asm of a tone deaf tod­dler play­ing mummy’s piano with daddy’s ham­mer.

The situ­ation held room for improve­ment. My legs had turned to jelly. My brain, jelly-like at the best of times, now needed to rally the troops.

Now jolly look here. Left hand and right hand: On behalf of the body, par­tic­u­larly the face, which would prefer not to be rubbed away on the ground, could you please – listen, I know you’re busy flail­ing – clutch des­per­ately for the handle­bar. Thank you so much. Mouth: you know what to do.

H’yaaaaaaaaaaaaaar!”

Hiiding in the bushes on the eve of a fiendish plan

Old Boy, who squat­ted next to me in his baker’s whites, asked, “Is this leg­al?”

I shook my head at his naiv­ety. “Well, there’s the leg­al defin­i­tion of ‘leg­al’ and then there’s the ‘non-leg­al’ defin­i­tion, and there’s no time to go into either now.”

But you said we had ten minutes yet.”

I gasped at my watch. “No, it’s now! Now’s the time!”

Old Boy sprang upright into a kar­ate stance and pivoted on his back foot. “What? What’s hap­pen­ing?”

Nothing. I did that to dis­tract you.”

Old Boy dropped back to the cov­er of the bush. “Mate, that’s really annoy­ing.”

Sorry.”

Next time, maybe I won’t jump into a kar­ate stance and, you know.”

What?”

Well, my point stands.”

What point?”

My mobile buzzed. Old Boy’s eye­lids drooped. “Any news from Doogie?”

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Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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