Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Agent Provocateur

In a moment of contemplation last Friday, my eyes drifted lazily through the studio window and scanned the horizon, picking a random memory out of the thick blue sky.

It was an odd memory to recall as it involved an agent I had about ten years ago. I sometimes wish I was still connected to him; not because he did anything stellar for my career, because he didn’t. I wished we were still affiliated because he was the oddest, most eccentric, erratic balls out mad man the world has ever seen.

He was around five foot tall, had a bald head, a tight curly white beard that ran off his chin and carried on going for about a foot and hair that went wildly for about a yard in the other direction. He chewed on a giant sized cigar, exploded without warning and had absolutely no sense of humour: which was very odd, especially when you consider he ran the largest and most successful cartoonist agency in the country---an agency which had two thirds of the businesses top names on its books. He also spoke like a BBC presenter from the 1930’s--- was one of the most talented realistic artists and sculptors I have ever seen and owned a beautiful gold Rolls Royce Silver Shadow.

And it is to the car, as much as its owner, that I owe this story.

We’d both been to London to see a potential client and had come back the next day after a very gruelling time in the dirty dusty city. I was tired and so was Toni, although he wouldn’t admit it and I had offered to drive his car for a while so he could get some rest.
“No!” he exploded
“Why not?”
“Because you’ll probably put your jiggy modern music on and Rolls Royce stereos don’t play ‘Modern Jiggy’”
I looked at him wondering, not for the first time or the last, what the hell he was talking about
“Toni, I don’t even have a tape” He looked peripherally at me and chomped on his cigar and grumbled with perfect etiquette, but I continued “...and anyway, what’s ‘Modern Jiggy’?”
“You know all that modern music like the ‘’Bottles’”
“The Bottles, who the hell are the ’Bottles’?” I asked. Toni’s turned to look at me with genuine surprise
“My god man where have you been; the ‘Bottles’---they‘re a band ---came from Liverpool---four cheeky little chappies--- although the memsahib never took to them”
 “I think you mean the Beatles Toni”
“The Beatles, they were called the Beatles, not the Bottles”

This was another of Toni’s eccentricities; he got dates mixed up with names and places, leaving his whole mind in some kind of an over populated time warp.

Toni harrumphed and chewed his cigar a bit more. We went on like this for about an hour; Toni speaking about random things and me trying to marry up people with times and places or, in some cases, eras and even epochs. After we turned off the motorway and headed down the country lanes it was about nine at night and very dark. Toni had spent the last ten miles trying to stifle yawns. Eventually I could take it no longer
“Oh for god sake, Toni, you can hardly keep your eyes open. Let me drive the damned car for a while before you have us off the road and in a ditch”

Toni exploded into life. It was like I’d lit some kind of secret Rolls Royce owners blue touch paper and he let fly with a torrent of bile and vitriol; bringing up the ‘Bottles’ again and many, many other random things. I sat frozen with fear; not because of his rage, but because he had turned his whole body around in his seat and was no longer holding onto the steering wheel---he apparently needed both hands to wildly pontificate his point of view.

That was when we saw the blue flashing lights.

Toni suddenly stopped yelling, turned around completely and looked quizzically over his seat at the lights. I panicked and lunged for the steering wheel as the car began swerving all over the road. As soon as I had the car in my grip, Toni whipped around, shot me a warning look, wrestled the car out of my control and continued to drive.
“Aren’t you going to stop?”
“Why?” he replied
“Well the blue flashing lights”
“Oh it’s just the Police; probably letting me know I was driving too fast”
“Too fast, you turned in your bloody seat to take a look at them, leaving me to steer the car”
“I know, and don’t think I’ve forgotten that. You touched my car without permission. That’s against the law you know”
“So’s driving with no hands you bloody lunatic!”

Toni looked into the rear view mirror and his brow furrowed
“They’re still there you know” as if I hadn’t noticed the blue and white light that was bathing the inside of his car. “I think I’d better see what they want”

When Toni decided it was time to pull over he did so in his own particular way: this involved a sharp and sudden slamming on of the brakes, an even sharper turning of the steering wheel, and when the car had come to a grinding, bumping halt and was on the grass verge or in a ditch, then and only then, would he put the indicator on. The police car was swerving all over the place behind us, trying not to collide with the idiot in the Rolls. Toni watched them in his rear view mirror with eye brows raised in interest. When they’d finally stopped he went to open his door to get out and talk to them.

It was around about this time in the 1990’s that the news had been filled with stories of car jackers using police lights on the front of their cars at night to make innocent drivers pull over so they could mug them. And when I saw Toni about to get out of the car, I remembered these stories and pulled him back. He flashed me a look that was both quizzical and laced with danger.

“What the deuce are you doing man?”

In the few short seconds I had before the shape emerging from the car behind us took to get from his car to Toni’s, I quickly explained about the news stories I’d heard. His eyebrows made an attempt to circumnavigate his head in shock and he slammed the door while locking the others centrally just as the Police man arrived at his window. Toni ignored him and looked resolutely ahead.

The Policeman knocked on the window. Toni ignored him. He knocked again. Tony continued to ignore him. The Policeman knocked on the window a little louder and Toni ignored him a little louder. The Policeman looked quizzically into the car. Toni started to hum in a ‘La-la, you’re-not-there kind of way. The Policeman tried knocking the window a little harder again and Toni replied by humming even louder.

In an attempt to break the deadlock I told Toni that we were okay and that he was a real Policemen. Toni didn’t seem convinced, so I negotiated with him and after a few minutes we came to an agreement that he could keep all the doors locked but he must open the window a little.

The window buzzed open by approximately three inches and the Policeman turned his head slightly, so he could talk to Toni through the gap.
“Did you know you were driving erratically sir?”
“I’m not surprised, you were putting me off with your damned blue flashing lights”
 “My lights were on because you were driving erratically sir. Would you care to tell me why?”
“Because this damned idiot was trying to drive my car!” he said, poinking an accusatory finger at me.
“That’s because you were swerving all over the road!” I retorted
“Yes, because his lights were flashing!”
“And that was because you were waving your hands all over the place and bawling out your usual pile of random nonsensical crap!”
“That’s because you were trying to drive my car---good god, man. Get your own!”
“I would if you started acting like a proper agent and got me some work!”

At this point, the Policeman, probably feeling a little left out, tapped on the window again and was immediately confronted by Toni’s little purple blotchy face.
“What do you want?!” he yelled.

It took the Policeman a few moments—either to compose himself or work out what it was that he wanted---eventually he plumbed for another attempt at controlling the situation.
“Would you mind stepping out of the car, sir?”
“Yes I would mind”
“Pardon?” replied the Policeman
“I said, yes I would mind”
“Why?” he replied weakly
“Because you might be a black-jacker”
“Car- Jacker” I corrected
“Absolutely...one of them”

The Policeman really was out of his depth and no amount of riffling through his little blue book of police quotes was going to get him through this one. So he stood back, allowing Toni to see him more clearly.
“But I am a real Policeman. Look at my uniform” Toni looked him up and down
“How do I know you didn’t get that from a fancy dress shop?” Came his considered reply

At this point I groaned and tried to make myself as inconspicuous as possible while the conversation raged between Toni’s odd-ball mind and the visibly shortening long arm of the law. This went on for about twenty minutes before the Policeman, in an attempt at having the final word, warned Toni to pay more attention whilst driving. Toni asked if that was it and could he go now and the policeman said that he could and Toni thanked him by driving off over his foot.

An hour later Toni had dropped me off at home and I was drinking myself heavily into sedation while he weaved his way confusingly home.

As a postscript to this story, I had a phone call the next day from a very irate Toni. He was yelling at me and accusing me of fiddling with his car and being the cause of it having been written off. When I finally got the story out of him I just burst out laughing which only made him more irate.

What had happened was this: He’d parked his car up that night and as he had switched the engine off an electrical fault had occurred causing the cruise control to come on. So when his frail wife got into his car to go down town the next morning, she’d gunned the engine, selected reverse and the car squealed its wheels in an attempt to reach 75mph from a standing stop. Once it gained traction it crashed through the garage doors, over the country lane outside their converted chapel, through the hedge opposite and into the field beyond. In fact it only came to a halt courtesy of a large oak tree that stood belligerently in her way.

Mercifully she was okay. The Rolls Royce and Toni, however, were most decidedly not.

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