Love and Chaos Part 1(B) Chris 1

12th November 2020

Part One. London. September 1992

The first time Chris met Richard, he was asked for a urine sample. From that moment, their lives began to follow a totally unexpected trajectory.

Richard was impressed by Chris’ ability to remain calm and unflustered, while Chris was relieved to find someone who not only shared his sense of humour, but seemingly surpassed it. The meeting, Chris punned, was a watershed; Richard was literally taking the piss.

Chris had just started working at Fordham Books & Tapes, the company name itself being just one of the many anomalies that he was to encounter. The shop hadn’t ordered any audio tapes for years and was aggressively but unsuccessfully trying to rid the shelves of those dust-gathering relics with ‘two-for-one’ sales, ‘three-for-a-fiver’ sales and so forth.

On his first day, after a brief form-filling introduction by one of the company secretaries, Chris was given the low down on how things really were by Angela, his department head. Her manner, like her clothes and general mien, was down-to-earth, homely (he didn’t want to say ‘frumpy’).

The store was likened to an eastern bloc country, an endless, impenetrable labyrinth whose sole purpose was to confuse and depress. Whatever book the customer wanted would be here, but the exact whereabouts was anybody’s guess. It would never be found, that was everybody’s experience.

Angela went on to joke that not only the Minotaur, but dodos and Japanese soldiers could be encountered amongst the endless miles of shelving. She rather over-did the analogy, Chris felt, but at least she was friendly. The other two men working there had formed their own select clique, and greeted him, one by a half-hearted, “All right ?”, the other with a somewhat begrudging nod of the head.

The first day was confused uncertainty, not being able to discern staff from customer and not being exactly sure what he was supposed to be doing. While Angela unpacked boxes, priced books, checked invoices, Ben and Simon sat and talked, read books and drank coffee. They explained it was pointless learning the names of new staff, as the turnover was so high, nobody could keep up.

Angela suggested he familiarise himself with the stock, so Chris walked around, wondering what use his Physics course would be in the Technical Department which covered such diverse subjects as ergonomics, DIY, Geography and concrete. A whole wall unit, shelf upon shelf, about concrete.

As he was trying to create the barest semblance of appearing to know what the job entailed, Chris saw a tall, dark-haired man approach Angela. He appeared to be asking for something, then began making a buzzing, humming sound, miming the use of the desired apparatus.

“Yes, I know what a Hoover is.”

“I didn’t want to imply that because you’re a woman, you would automatically be au fait with items of domestic usage.”

“Well, I don’t have it.”

“Have what ?”

Angela merely went back to work and the young man, obviously staff from a different department, moved over to speak with Ben or Simon. Chris had made a point of not learning their individual names.

Three times a day there was a collection from all the cash desks. Two members of staff received metal boxes where bank notes were deposited and brought them down to the basement office.

On the fifth morning of his new job, Chris was behind the till with Ben and Simon, it being Angela’s free day. At the approximate time, two staff appeared for collection and Chris recognised the man who had asked for the Hoover. He handed the box over which the man passed to his colleague, then consulted a clipboard, eyebrows furrowed.

“Ah, yes … you must be … Chris. Good morning, I’m Richard. Would you be so kind as to fill this ?” He handed Chris a specimen jar, then continued, “and I have heard all the jokes before: no you do not have to fill it up to the top, yes, you may take a wee while and so on. There’s a good chap, take it to the manager when you’re done. Problem ? You have been … I don’t believe it. You weren’t told, were you ? I really must have a word with Doris, that’s twice this month. Puts me in a somewhat delicate … Awfully sorry, but it’s company policy to carry out random drug checks. All in the contract. Don’t worry, it happens once, twice, at most.”

Just then the act was spoilt as Ben couldn’t contain his laughter.
“You should of seen your face. Looked like you were gonna shit yourself.”

“Then he could have given a shit sample,” added his sidekick.

“Now, now chaps, ladies present and all that, keep it clean. Sorry, Chris. You played along well. You’re a good sport.”

“You really had me there. I was worried because I’ve just been and didn’t think I could go again.”

“He got me with Arabic lessons,” said Simon. Richard elaborated,

“Yeah that was a good one. I pretended that the staff had to attend mandatory Arabic lessons once a week.”

“He was so convincing, giving it all, “Oh, it ain’t much, just a few phrases, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and counting and ‘no we do not stock it but would be happy to order it for you.’ Bastard.”

Just then Debbie, the poor young lady struggling with all the metal boxes, suggested that they get back to work.

“Why ?” asked Richard, “this is Fordham’s B and T. Nihil fiendo factus. Nothing can be done, roughly translated, the Fordham’s motto and you’d do well to learn it. How’s it working out, so far ?”

“Could be worse. I didn’t expect to be in Technical. Not what I studied.”

“Let me guess. Physical Education degree ?”

Chris was slightly shorter than Richard who was close to six foot, had large, blue eyes, a straight, slightly pointed nose, light brown hair and a very slight build.

“Home economics.”

“Very good. You’ve heard about the Friday drinks ? No, I’m serious now, right ?” He appealed to Debbie who, while being quite attractive and pleasant, didn’t seem the joking sort. She nodded, adding that Chris should come.

Just before Seven that evening, Chris found himself next to Richard in a local bar. They clinked their beer glasses.

“Didn’t think you’d be a beer drinker, “ said Chris, “thought you’d order a strawberry daiquiri.”

“I had one for lunch.” Richard introduced Chris to the staff that had turned up. Chris tried to catch Debbie’s eye, see if there was any possibility of a work romance, but the outlook wasn’t encouraging.

Richard gave some background, a mixture of fact and gossip and, Chris suspected, fabrication when the truth seemed to lack a certain bite, and he appreciated the effort.

At the moment, there were four inter-departmental romances going on. Ben in technical was seeing a girl called Geri in economics, a situation that Richard loved, but no one else seemed to notice. The pompous head of history was seeing the lovely new Spanish girl who was having a mock war with a young man in Education who was Catalan, who in turn was seeing a much older women in Sociology. Finally, Ed in sports was engaged to Nicola in General Fiction.

Chris and Richard spoke about work. Chris couldn’t believe how lax the shop was. An Italian girl who worked in children’s interjected that at Fordham’s, “You can do work or not do any work and it doesn’t matter.” Richard could only nod in agreement at the sage reflection.

Chris spoke about his first week. He gave his opinion of Angela, very nice, obviously gay (erroneous) and Ben and Simon, obviously idiots (irrefutable.) They all joined in with horror stories about customers.

“Have you noticed,” asked Ed, “that they all say, ‘I’m looking for a book,’ then shut up, as if I have to guess which one ?”

“I always say, ‘ you’re looking for a book ? You’ve come to the right place,’ and they laugh,” said Nicola.

“I always say ‘You’ve come to the wrong place,’ but they don’t laugh,” Richard responded. Chris already had a story:

“One customer looked all around and then asked, ‘Where are the books ?’ Have you seen my department ? Books everywhere, even hanging from the ceiling”

“So what did you say ?” a girl from drama asked.

“I said that I wasn’t altogether certain, but that they must be around here somewhere.”

Later, Richard and Chris learnt that they had two things in common. They were both physics students and they both loved a drink. They were the last of the staff to leave and then it was just to find an ATM and another pub.

The next day, the busy Saturday, they learnt another fact: they could both work with dreadful hangovers.

Love and Chaos Part 1(A) Richard 1

11th November 2020

The decline of Tottenham Court Road, former electronics capital of London –  urban75 photo features

Part One. London. August 1991 – September 1992

Everything came to a head for Richard Marshall that summer.

The University course and campus life were nowhere near as exciting as he had been expecting; no budding life-long friendships, merely uninspiring inoffensive exchanges with fellow students. The lectures either confused or bored him. Indeed, as the year progressed, he felt the only reason he went at all, was to get away from the bed-sit.

The bed-sit. Another way life was cheating him. The landlord, a rather over-familiar sort, had oversold it, telling him what was going to happen, what improvements were going to be made, how the washing machine would “soon” be repaired and Richard had believed all of it. But one point irritated him beyond all others.

When he had been shown the house, he had glimpsed a very attractive girl hanging her washing in the garden, said washing consisting solely, it seemed, of black lingerie. He didn’t know that it was her last week in the house and that she would be gone before he arrived.

A suitable metaphor of his luck. No wild student parties, no hot flat-mates running around in skimpy underwear.

The house was home to a bleak collection of loners and misfits: a recently divorced teacher, a prudish secretary, a Danish student, unbelievably arrogant, and a girl about whom he knew little and wished to know even less. Unfortunately her boyfriend had semi-officially moved in and tended to walk around the house singing, “Arsenal, Arsenal.”

Richard had to move and to do that, he needed money. To do anything in London, he needed money, so that made the decision easier; he wouldn’t go back for the second year of the Physics degree, but would take some time out, get a job, save up.

Initially, he went to a temp agency and got some unskilled factory work, then unskilled kitchen work, then progressed to a record store, for the Christmas rush, subsequently onto a bigger branch in the new year, then to a provisions shop in the West End. He moved to a better bed-sit, bigger room, less tenants. He enjoyed being able to buy food other than dried beans, and had signaled his new affluence with five different types of deodorant.

One day he was in Fordham Books & Tapes, looking at the well-stocked Physics Department, and began a conversation with the elegant Finnish lady who worked there. He jokingly asked about a job and she told him that with his background in physics and a university education, he had a good chance, providing he applied before the post-study student onslaught.

Thus, at the beginning of June 1992, having passed the perfunctory interview, Richard was offered a place in either the Physics or Medicine departments and, unsurprisingly, choose the former. On his first day he was directed to his new post; the Theology Department.

That gave him plenty of scope for jokes, but they, like the work, soon got tired. He was alone in the small top floor corner of the immense five-floor store, and found himself dealing not with quiet vicars or genteel old ladies, but obnoxious occultists who cursed him for not stocking out-of-print diabolical texts or people proclaiming that they would be paying in US Dollars, as printed on the back cover. Every second customer demanded a discount because they were buying Bibles and how dare he profit off the prophets. Richard became very familiar with camels and needles.

Evidently, working in a bookshop in the West End would be no picnic. The threats of assault, the atmosphere of barely repressed anger and frustration and the constant alerts for shoplifters and pickpockets made for an unpleasant environment. Something had to done.

Richard, at first, dressed the part, turning up in a suit, causing no end of amusement among the other staff who were very causally dressed. He toned down, by degree, but still chose to wear a smart shirt and more often than not, a tie, though now it was more for irony than fashion. It also helped in the playing of pranks.

By mid August, there was no pretence that this was in any way a serious job. It paid a weekly wage, but staff were mostly on temporary contracts. This created an attitude where as long as staff did the minimum required, which most of them did, they would be left alone to do as they pleased.

Richard had been a fan of Mark Twain, more specifically Tom Sawyer and how he wouldn’t just sit back, like Huck Finn, and allow things to happen, but would instigate them. He must follow the same approach.

At first, he left his department, which was hardly a hub of activity, to talk to other members of staff. Philosophy was next door, but the staff were too pretentious, as if it were they who had actually written the books, so Richard peregrinated further, eventually covering most of the five floors. He would go up to the desks and ask the staff if everything was ‘OK ?’ Afterwards, he would explain that he was doing the regulation ‘OK check’. The foreign staff seemed to respond better to this than the British who mainly just looked at him and shook their heads.

One night, after clocking out, an unpleasant, heavily-built man, working in Military, got out of the staff lift, letting the door swing back into young Charlotte (who was in classics), giving her a hefty blow to the head. Charlotte was one of several women that Richard liked and had frequently yet innocently flirted with, when their lunch breaks coincided.

Richard, who comprised the third person in the lift, had just cause to caress Charlotte’s head and plant a gentle kiss there. Unfortunately she had a second job to get to and therefore couldn’t go for a drink, to help ‘numb the pain’.

A few days later, and for several weeks thereafter, the villain of the piece received, among the usual delivery of books on uniforms, weaponry and famous battles, various self-help books on dealing with obesity, addressed to him, personally. Ordering books was just a phone call and a Department number away.

The next step was harassing new staff with instructions to meet him half an hour before work in the office, on the following Friday, for the informal Arabic lessons.

Four months into his contract, having already decided that he needed at least another year to save up before continuing his degree, Richard saw that there was a new intake of staff. He checked out the fresh victims, deciding that the two women were not suitable at all, but that the lanky lost-looking lad in Technical was a prime target. He went to the first floor, ostensibly to borrow a Hoover, but more to get background information. After a brief chat with Angela, he went over to the desk where Simon and Ben were engaged in one of their inane conversations.

“What’s the new guy’s name ?”

“Dirk,” offered Simon.

“No it ain’t, it’s Chris Somingkkk.”

“Well, which one is it ?”

“What you going to do this time ? Arabic ?” asked Ben.

“No, got something a little more … you’ll see. So, who is he ?”

“Yeah, Ben’s right, Chris’s his moniker. Friday’s best, no Angela.”

“Friday ? Right. You’ll both be here ? Good. Just follow my lead. No giggling.”

That lunchtime, Richard went out and bought a specimen jar from a nearby chemists.

Love and Chaos: Contents

11th November 2020


Part One: London / Berlin August 1991 – September 1993

Richard – 1 London August 1991 – September 1992
Chris – 1 London September 1992
Melanie London September 1992 – Spring 1993
Marina London Spring 1993
Richard – 2 London Spring 1993
Chris – 2 Berlin Spring 1993
Claudia Berlin Spring 1993
Chris – 3 Berlin Spring – Summer 1993
Richard – 3 Berlin September 1993
The Divine Poet From Florence
Chris – 4 Berlin September 1993
Shoulder Berlin September 1993
Steffi Berlin September 1993

Part Two: Berlin November 1993

Richard – 1 London / Berlin Sept – Nov 1993
Chris – 2 Berlin November 1993
The Knock On The Door
Will Berlin November 1993
Firefly Prologue
Nuno Berlin November 1993
Chris – 2 Berlin November 1993
Richard – 2 Berlin November 1993

Part Three: London / Berlin Spring – Summer 1994

Richard – 1 London Spring 1994
Chris – 1 Berlin Spring 1994
Richard – 2 London Summer 1994
Chris – 2 Berlin Summer 1994

Part Four: Berlin Summer 1994

Richard – 1 Berlin Summer 1994
Lorelei – 1 Berlin Summer 1994
Chris – 1 Berlin Summer 1994
The Concert of Grotesques
Gabi – 1 Berlin Summer 1994
Chris – 2 Berlin Summer 1994
Monika – 1 Berlin Summer 1994
Richard – 1 Berlin Summer 1994
Arizona Al – 1 Berlin Summer 1994

Part Five: Berlin Autumn – Winter 1994

How A Coffee Break Started A New Scientific Theory
Chris – 1 Berlin Autumn 1994
Richard – 1 Berlin Autumn 1994
Burkhard – 1 Berlin Autumn 1994
Chris – 2 Berlin Autumn 1994
Tommy – 1 Berlin Autumn 1994
Tommy – 2 Berlin Autumn 1994
Richard – 2 Berlin Autumn 1994
Chris – 1 Berlin Autumn 1994
Sylvester – 1 Berlin New Year’s Eve 1994

Part Six: Berlin / Winter – Spring 1995

Chris – 1 Berlin January 1995
Monika – 1 Berlin January 1995
Richard – 1 Berlin February 1995
Three English Portraits
Arizona Al – 1 Berlin February 1995
Monika – 2 Berlin February 1995
Johan – 1 Berlin February 1995
Descriptions Of ADoctor
Jake – 1 Berlin February 1995
Chris – 2 Berlin March 1995
Richard – 2 Berlin March 1995
Daniel – 1 Berlin April 1995

Part Seven: Berlin / London / USA Spring – Summer 1995

Stefan – 1 Berlin Spring 1995
Daniel – 1 Berlin May 1995
Chris – 1 Berlin May 1995
Boris – 1 Berlin
Ragno Prologue Berlin Summer 1995
Ragno – 1 Berlin early – mid 1990’s
Richard – 1 Berlin June 1995
Daniel – 2 Berlin June 1995
Monika – 1 Berlin June 1995
Alan – 1 London July 1995
Eric – 1 L.A. USA July 1995

Part Eight: Berlin. Summer 1995

Alan – 1 Berlin August 1995
Chris – 1 Berlin August 1995
Richard – 1 Berlin August 1995
Julie – 1 Berlin September 1995
Chris – 2 Berlin September 1995
Daniel – 1 Berlin October 1995
Alan – 2 Berlin October 1995

Part Nine: Berlin.

Daniel – 1 Berlin November 1995
Johanna – 1 Berlin
Serge – 1 Berlin