A comedy novel by Ian Hocking
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.
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 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?"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
"Next time, maybe I won't jump into a karate stance and, you know."
"Well, my point stands."
My mobile buzzed. Old Boy's eyelids drooped. "Any news from Doogie?"