Losing my Religion by K. A. Laity

“I could do it,” Tony said as I started the engine. “Believe me. Easy.”

I backed the Subaru up then eased away from the kerb. An old lady in a Ford pulled into the spot almost before I got out. Life in the congestion zone. “Might better open up a car park. You’d get rich a lot quicker. Especially around here.”

Tony shook his head. “A car park is a finite investment. There’s no end of growth potential for religion.”

“Growth potential? You’ve been watching those YouTube videos again.”

“Sidney, the knowledge of the ages is free for the taking if you know where to look.”

I checked the map and made a right at the corner. “What, Wikipedia?”

Tony sighed. He thought I lacked ambition. “You really need to develop your online presence.”

“I’m not getting on Friendface.” I shot him a look as we idled at the light.

“Facebook! Criminy, you don’t even know what it is. You might as well live among the Neanderthals.”

I shrugged. “I got plenty of friends. They drink at my local. Why would I need friends I can’t drink with?” A muffled shout from the boot made us both turn around. Some impatient stockbroker behind me tooted the horn of his Mercedes and I stepped on the accelerator.

“Think we need to pull over?”

“Nah, it’ll be all right.”

Tony turned around to face front again. “You might be content with your lot in life–“

“I am.”

“I’ve got ambition, Sidney. I want something better.”

“Your own religion?”

“Small investment, low overhead at the start then huge results.”

I laughed. “What about those vows of poverty?” The evening sky had that pink glow that never lasted for long but made the old city look new again.

Tony laughed. “That’s for the low level minions. You ever been to the Vatican? Untold wealth. Same thing for all major religions. Mecca. Taj Mahal. Crystal Cathedral. Scientologists.”

“They got a church?”

Tony shot me a look of withering scorn. “They’ve got the whole of Hollywood! Hands in everything. All those rich actors and directors — they’re all due-paying Scientologists.”

“Not Jason Statham.”

“Well, no,” Tony admitted, “but then he’s not really Hollywood is he?”

Another muffled scream from the boot, more of a sob really. “So what’s your religion going to be about?”

When he thinks he’s got a world-beater, Tony gets this smug look that begs for a punch to the kisser. “Happiness. What everyone wants and nobody’s got.”

“I got it.”

“You don’t count, Sidney. Most people are miserable. Hold out the possibility of happiness and riches and you’ll have people eating out of your hand.”

“You don’t say.” I looked at the map again as I found myself facing the wrong end of a one way street.  “You’re going to offer them riches? Won’t that deplete your own quickly?”

Tony sighed. He could sigh for England. “You don’t give people riches. You hold out the possibility of riches. Like car commercials that hold out the possibility of sex with supermodels. You ain’t getting it, but you think you might.”

“So you’ll be advertising?” I slowed the car, squinting into the thickening dusk.

“All modern religions advertise. I’ll have my own website, Facebook page and YouTube channel. I’ll be an internet sensation.” Tony looked properly smug.

“We’re here,” I said, turning into the building site. I pulled around behind a large skip filled with rubble. Old Bill said they would be pouring concrete in the morning. All seemed quiet.

“Looks wet.” Tony sighed.

“Well, let’s dig first, then see about the baggage after,” I suggested, opening the rear door to grab the shovels. I handed one to Tony who frowned at it. “They don’t come with golden handles, mate.”

He scowled and pointed. “Here?”

“Looks good to me.” The dirt was wet, but the shovels cut through it with ease. Nonetheless we soon sweated profusely. “Not so young anymore, are we?”

“Speak for yourself,” Tony retorted. “Prime of my life.”

“Think it’s deep enough.” I scanned the horizon. All remained quiet. People having their tea  about now, surely. “Let’s get the baggage.”

“So what was he?” Tony stared at the face without recognition.

“Someone who made a serious error in judgement. You want feet or hands?” We dragged him over and dropped the baggage in the hole.

“Face down so he can see where he’s going,” Tony snickered.

“Will there be a hell in your religion?”

Tony considered the thought, which meant he leaned on his shovel and let me do the work. “Carrot and stick really, eh? You need to have both.”

“Dig.”

“If there were no fear of punishment, more people would end up like this baggage. But you can’t have it too grim or people won’t be attracted. Gruesome punishments but easily avoided.”

“Like fairy tales.” I heard a sound and whipped round. The biggest dog I ever saw stood by the skip, hackles up, a low growl rippling from its throat. I lifted the shovel, figuring I could bash it with the blade. Tony stared.

The dog crept closer. I wondered if he were diseased or something. Tony joined me, keeping the corpse between us and the mutt. The dog lunged forward and grabbed the baggage’s hand in its mouth and started pulling at it, growling even louder.

“S’pose its his? Trying to rescue him?”

“Bit late.” At least the dog didn’t seem to want to attack us. Inspired, I leaned forward, brought down the shovel and sliced through the wrist. The dog, who’d shied away at first, made a lunge and sank his teeth into the hand. Then he turned and ran off with his prize.

I laughed until I cried. Tony scowled. “What are we going to tell Old Bill?”

“Nothing. He won’t mind him being a hand short. Or is that against your religion?”

“Maybe my faith needs a dog.”

“Well, dog spelled backwards –“

“Stop that.”

“Hand of glory –“

“Shut up and shovel.”

[Originally appeared in Spinetingler Magazine: 29 June 2012. Reprinted in Kwik Krimes. Ed. Otto Penzler (Thomas & Mercer).

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PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A CONSUMER: GRAHAM DUFF

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Photo (c) Xavier Itter.

 

SONGS

A Mutual Friend – Wire

I Can’t Swim (I Have Nightmares) – Ludus

Sleepwalker’s Woman – Scott Walker

Atomic Little Thing – Family of God

Weather Report 2 – The Fall

Big Sex II – The Anti Group

Just a Minute – Faye Wong

The Universe Is A Haunted House (Live in Prague) – Coil

TELEVISION

Hancock’s Half Hour (1956 – 1960)

Doctor Who (1963 -1977)

U.F.O. (1970)

Gangsters (1975-1978)

The Middlemen (1977)

Twin Peaks  (1990 – 1991 & 2017)

The Day Today (1994)

The League of Gentlemen (1999 – 2002 & 2017)

BOOKS

Cities of the Red Night – William S. Burroughs

Remove Your Hat – Benjamin Péret

Miss Shumway Waves A Wand – James Hadley Chase

Today I Wrote Nothing – Daniil Kharms

Without Feathers – Woody Allen

Les Chants du Maldoror – Comte de Lautréamont

Doctor Who & The Auton Invasion – Terrance Dicks

Crash – J.G. Ballard

 

FILMS

The Rebel (1961)

Scream and Scream Again (1970)

O Lucky Man! (1973)

The Phantom of Liberty (1974)

Mirror (1975)

The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976)

In The Mood For Love (2000)

Mullholland Drive (2001)

PLACES

Golden Acre, Great Harwood, Lancashire.

The Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art, Nice.

My bed.

BIO: Graham Duff is a prolific scriptwriter and script editor, whose shows include the BBC TV sitcoms Ideal, Hebburn and Dr. Terribleʼs House of Horrible, the Sky Arts horror anthology series The Nightmare Worlds of H.G. Wells and Radio 4 comedy shows such as Nebulous, Stereonation and Count Arthur Strongʼs Radio Show.

He’s written articles about music for Wire magazine, as well as publishing essays on contemporary art.

He writes about the yearʼs best new music releases for the Dangerous Minds website and presents his own online music show Graham Duffʼs Mixtape.

As an actor he often appears in his own shows and heʼs also had tiny, tiny roles in big productions such Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Doctor Who. His book Foreground Music: A Life in 15 Gigs will be published in 2019.

Photo (c) Xavier Itter.

Stone Me, What A Life! – Tony Hancock by Paul D. Brazill

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They say that all small boys are influenced by their big brother’s music collection, and while that may well be true of me, I was also influenced by my family’s taste in other forms of entertainment.  Luckily I grew up in a time when television and radio weren’t as youth focused as they are now and I could enjoy the same shows as my parents and siblings, such as Will Hay, Ealing Comedies and Tony Hancock. During the miners’ strikes in the ‘70s there were power cuts. Which meant no telly. Reading comics by candle light and listening to an old transistor radio. Radio 2, usually, since my parents were of that age group. The Navy Lark, Round The Horne and, of course, Hancock.

Tony Hancock – the easiest comedian for charades – and I share the same birthday, May 12th. Whether or not we share the same death day remains to be seen, of course, and let’s just hope we can put that little fact-finding mission on hold for a while, eh?

One of the UK’s major television and radio stars throughout the 1950s and early ‘60s, British actor and comedian Tony Hancock killed himself on 25 June 1968. He overdosed on booze and pills and left a suicide note that said:

‘Things just seemed to go too wrong too many times’

Indeed, Hancock’s eponymous character on radio, on television, and in film, regularly tried his hand at countless activities and endeavours that invariably failed.

One episode – The Bedsitter – teeters dangerously on the precipice of bleak existentialism. The Bedsitter is a one-room set, one-man-show, where Hancock endlessly flips through a Bertrand Russell tome trying to find meaning in life, but fails, of course.

Tony Hancock - The RebelIn the most famous episode of his television show The Blood Donor,  ‘the lad himself’  proudly donates a pint of his particularly rare blood only to end the episode by cutting himself so badly on a breadknife that he needs a transfusion of his own blood. The recording of the television version of The Blood Donor proved to be problematic as Hancock had recently been involved in a car accident and suffered from concussion so that he had to read his lines from autocue.

After the American failure of his film debut The Rebel, Hancock broke with his long time writing team of Galton and Simpson, who were responsible for most of the great writing in Hancock’s shows, as well as ditching his long-term agent, the splendidly named Beryl Vertue. This pretty much led to his career decline.

Disappointment was always breathing at the back of Hancock’s neck, it seemed.

Hancock, and other character actors, are regularly in my mind when I’m creating characters. Quigley, the hit man in my yarn The Bucket List, was partly inspired by the image of Tony Hancock stalking the streets with a gun.

Hancock could be said to be the perfect noir comedian, in fact. I’ve said before that crime fiction is about bringing order to chaos and noir is about bringing chaos to order, and Tony Hancock’s comedy is pure noir. A natural loser. When I started writing I wanted to write small, odd stories about small, odd people – like Hancock.

Like his fictional incarnation, Hancock was prone to introspection, a concoction of egotism and self-doubt which he bared when he was interviewed in the BBCs Face To Face programme in the early 1960s.

Spike Milligan said of Hancock that he was a ‘Very difficult man to get on with. He used to drink excessively. You felt sorry for him. He ended up on his own. I thought, he’s got rid of everybody else, he’s going to get rid of himself and he did.’

As Tony Hancock said: ‘Stone me, what a life!’

(This first appeared at Tom Leins’ blog as part of his Under The Influence series)