Every Time A Bell Rings An Angel Gets Its Wings

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Every Time A Bell Rings An Angel Gets Its Wings

Post by stanmore on Tue Apr 07, 2009 4:39 am

This was my entrant for the council-wide write a story about Birmingham competition. This is why I've been neglecting my CT promises... sorry... (If you look closely it is about Doctor Who - and where Horror of Fang Rock was filmed)

Mr. Birmingham was depressed. He never liked the bi-annual conferences that were organised for the human embodiments of the UK’s town and cities. The winter shindig was the worst; the venue was always some third-rate members club in a grotty northern former-miners’ town and the weather was always bitter winds and cloudburst. This year was no exception. It was Mr. Kingston-Upon-Hull’s turn to host the event and he had chosen a tavern alongside the banks of the river, normally frequented by unemployed dock-workers and former fishermen. The weather, set a challenge by the location, had also upped its game in the grimness stakes and brought in a vicious snowstorm from the North Sea.
He looked around. Little Miss Edinburgh was sitting by herself, planning her weekend reading The Guardian Saturday Supplement, circling ballets about Croatian drug-addict refugees and deciding which BBC4 documentaries on Jazz superstars to record. Mr. Manchester was at the bar, ordering vodka and lemonade for the girl either side of him, vehemently refusing to take off his sunglasses. Behind him, he could hear the argument between Mr. Bracknell and Mr. Chipping Sodbury; Chipping thought the “foremost” development in brickwork design happened in the early-to-mid 18th Century, whilst Bracknell disagreed. And then there was Mr/ London – Bloody Laaahndon – casually offering to pay for the drinks like he can afford it. Just because he has a bowler hat and the national sporting stadium, he thinks he’s the lord and gentry.
Not everyone was there. Mr. Glasgow, as with every other conference, had already been removed for a drunken “incident” and Little Miss Liverpool never bothered with any of it. She had “better things to do than fill in a few forms and talk about A-roads with some poncy southern git.” Even though Mr. Birmingham knew these “better things to do” were little more than curling her long ginger hair and sharpening her nails, he was still jealous. Everyone was happy apart from him.
Mr. London had waited long enough for the stragglers to arrive. He never had much time for those northern coastal resorts that always arrived twenty years after everybody else. He stood and chinked his glass. “If you would all like to sit down…” He was a big, bald man and people generally took orders. Even Mr. Manchester found himself a seat – admittedly with every inch of his body expressing contempt. Mr. London raised his glass: “I ‘ave been ‘onoured to work for so many years as your capital and I’m so pleased to see so many of you back ‘ere again…”
The commuter belt towns cheered and whistled.
“Now, I know 2008 has been a struggle for a lot of us. We are now part of a new economic order in which certainty is…”
Mr. Birmingham had already trailed off. These speeches on the hardships of economic conditions could go on for days. He motioned to those around him that he needed a toilet break. Moments later he was by the roadside wrapped in a duffle coat. A pint of Bank’s had been smuggled past the reception desk in an inside pocket but the night was far too bitter to enjoy it comfortably. He discarded it in a hedgerow and walked on.
He eventually managed to gather his thoughts despite the cold and the noise of the traffic and the putrid air of the north; “This is a low… nobody cares for me… look at ‘em all smiling and laughing and not having to pick up the remains of the car industry… I wouldn’t give sixpence for the lot of ‘em… They just look at me and think I’m scum… I mean, what’s the point of even trying? ... I dunno, I think I should just end it all… No money, no hope, no future… I’m so low I wouldn’t even get an EU grant...” He walked aimlessly, head down, his eyes fixed on his shoes. Eventually, he came to a bridge crossing a dual carriageway for pedestrians. He climbed to the top and stared awhile at the oncoming traffic; haulage lorries from the docks, fathers racing to spend Christmas with their families… “life will go on… even if I don’t…” He checked that he was on his own. He was. He climbed onto the railings. He took one foot forward and –
“Do you come here often?”
In front of him was a sharp-suited, blue-eyed young man, who appeared to be floating in mid-air.
“You what?”
“Well, obviously, you don’t come here often – I mean for the vast majority of people suicide is a once-in-a-lifetime experience… I mean… um… shall we start this again?”
“Who are you?”
“I’m Clarence… I’m a guardian angel.” He handed over his card. This was only partially true – the card revealed him to be a trainee. “Or, at least, I will be if this assignment works out…”
“What assignment?”
“Well, the basics… and, between you and me, I want to keep this quick as possible – how anyone can even consider suicide on Top Gear night I’ll never know… the basics are that I show you how rubbish the world would be without you, you want to live, I get this job full-time.”
“What?”
“I don’t think I can make the explanation any simpler than that…”
“But why would I want to live? I’m fat and ugly and have a stupid voice and everybody hates me.”
“Right, for starters, you’re not fat… perhaps a bit of urban sprawl but nothing ungainly. And you’re not ugly. People will miss you. You’re not Atlantis, the only other city to try and end its own life. When she was dangling that snake near her breast, people were cheering the snake on. ‘Go on! Bite her!’ they were shouting. She wasn’t popular, what with her new-age mythology and her amphitheatres. ”
“Yeah, whatever…” Something was wrong. Mr. Birmingham was thinking so much about being miserable, he had forgotten all about basic physics. “Er… why haven’t I fallen?”
“Well, let’s think about this. We’re not going stop time after you’ve hit the ground now, are we? You’d be a mess. It’d be unprofessional.” Clarence beckoned Mr. Birmingham to take his hand; “come on. We’re wasting time here.”
Mr, Birmingham took Clarence’s hand and in a ball of fuzzy white light, they disappeared.
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Re: Every Time A Bell Rings An Angel Gets Its Wings

Post by stanmore on Tue Apr 07, 2009 4:39 am

*

“This is a Birminghamless universe,” Clarence proclaimed, gesticulating wildly with his arms aloft.
“It’s exactly the same as the universe containing Birmingham as far as I can see…”
“Just you wait…”
On the face of it, Mr. Birmingham was right. The first thing he could gather from this world without him is that his absence had not permanently damaged the upholstery industry; half the walls were decked in linen, and there was thick shag carpet. Judging by the hairstyles, it was 1988. A pretty young woman was being shouted at by a small fat man, telling her that she wasn’t walking right.
“What they doin’?”
“They’re making an advert. One of the most famous adverts of all time.”
“I can’t see why you’ve bought me here. Pretty women are still around, adverts are still being made and carpets are still being walked upon...”
“Just you wait.”
Suddenly a jaunty jingle was blasted all around them. Only the crumbliest, flakiest chocolate, tastes like chocolate never tasted before. The short fat angry man began to shout at whoever “let that damned thing off.”
“You’ve taken me to the making of a Flake advert?”
“Look closer.”
It took a moment to dawn on him. Everything was as the cliché dictated; humankind was walking upright, the world hadn’t destroyed itself in a nuclear holocaust, advertising executives still wore suits... but wait... something out of the corner of his eye...
“Kit-Kat?” Mr. Birmingham was completely incredulous. “But that makes absolutely no sense! A Kit-Kat doesn’t flake, it doesn’t crumble and it tastes exactly like chocolate tasted before! It’s friggin’ ridiculous!”
“Well that’s a universe without the Cadbury chocolate company... The jingle was still created and another company jumped right in there…”
Mr. Birmingham seethed. But gradually his anger ebbed away and it was replaced by the familiar melancholy. “So that’s it then? Without Birmingham there are inappropriate chocolate adverts?”
“Well, The Cadbury Family did also make huge inroads into improving the quality of life for the average worker…” Mr. Birmingham looked like he didn’t care about the quality of life for the average worker. “Well, anyway, I hoped you would have seen this as just the beginning of the journey rather than the key argument.” Clarence was going to add “you idiot” but decided that that was a risky thing to say to a suicidal manic depressive.
Clarence opened a door and ordered Mr. Birmingham through it.

*

On the other side of the door there was a rock concert. The costumes were as you would expect them to be – the girls wore leggings and eye-shadow, the boys had T-shirts with the band on the front and tedious details of when and where the band played on the back. Everybody had the obligatory sweaty hair. The floor was impossible to walk upon because it was littered with disused plastic cups and covered in that unidentifiable sticky substance unique to low-rent music venues. Mr. Birmingham and Clarence were at the top of a stairwell looking down at the crowd. “This seems regular enough.”
“Yes, it does, doesn’t it?” Clarence new that Mr. Birmingham would notice the difference instantly when it occurred.
A band, on average in their late thirties, came on to rapturous applause and the occasional scream. The drummer gave the drums a quick beating, and the bassist hit a few random notes. The lead singer began to goad the crowd: “Are you ready to Rock?”
“Yeah” chorused the masses.
“I said ‘Are you Ready to ROCK?”
“Yeaaaahhhhhh.”
“I don’t think you’re listening to me Milford Haven: ARE. YOU. READY. TO. ROOOOOOCK?”
“YEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!”
Having ascertained that the band that the audience were indeed ready to rock, he ordered his band to begin. They made one mighty sound.
“What the flying frig is that?” To demonstrate his displeasure, Mr. Birmingham put his fingers in his ears.
“That’s music,” shouted Clarence. “That’s how music sounds without Birmingham in the world.”
It was a genuinely awful sound. “But surely this is just an example of a particularly rubbish band.”
“Ah, if only that were true. This is indicative of how music sounds in the world without Birmingham. Just you think of all those great bands from Birmingham that have shaped music, inspired other people to pick up a guitar or plug in a synthesizer: Black Sabbath, Steel Pulse, The Moody Blues, Dexys Midnight Runners, The Spencer Davies Group…”
“UB40.”
“Yeah, well, nobody’s perfect.” Thankfully the noise was too great for Clarence’s cynicism to be heard. He spoke louder for the next bit:- “Look, I did a bit of research before I started this and I got some cosmic statistics. That band is twelve percent less good than it should be if they had been able to listen to Judas Priest from an early age, and that audience is six percent less happy than it should be.” Well, apart from the usual grinning, head-banging fifteen-year hold jumping up and down on your feet that would be happy enough if they played him two hours of white noise to listen to. Clarence did not add this point.
“Yeah, but, you know, you’ve still just shown me music and chocolate.”
“Just shown you music and chocolate? Just? Music and chocolate are two things that make life that little bit more tolerable and if you went, you would be depriving millions of people of some of the finest examples of them.” He got a photograph out of his inside pocket. “This is a photograph of somebody listening to Ocean Colour Scene whilst eating a Twirl. Do they, or do they not, look happy?”
“They look quite happy.”
“She looks bloody delirious. That’s the power of music and chocolate.”
“But you know what? It’s not enough. I want something a bit more than just life’s little luxuries.”
“Not everyone can provide luxuries.” Clarence was beginning to wonder whether Mr. Birmingham was worth saving anyway, but he knew that it was bad practice to say this out loud. “There is more that you do. You need to take my hand again, though.”
Mr. Birmingham, rather reluctantly this time, took his hand.

*

They reappeared in what seemed to be a quarry, though this had many more patches of scorched earth than you would get at Portman Down. There were no signs of life, bar a few weeds and the occasional carcass of a cat. Mr. Birmingham slipped on a burnt-out tin lid. “Where are we?”
“This… is Birmingham… Central Birmingham, to be precise that’s where Colmore Row turns into Newhall Street.”
“Eh?”
“Well, I mean, that’s where Colmore Row should turn into Newhall Street.” Birmingham still looked blank. “Look; what I’ve shown you, is a world where Birmingham never existed. But that’s not what will happen if you fall off that bridge. You will die and it won’t be you that suffers. People live in this city and those who can get out in time will need to be re-housed. Not that many would get out in time…”
“Eh?”
Clarence was getting frustrated, but he was only showing it with his eyes. “The cosmic order says that a city cannot simply disappear, when a city takes its own life there needs to be an explanation… and that explanation normally ends in carnage…”
“So, you’re saying that I should stay alive because I have to?”
That was the moment Clarence’s professionalism ceased: “think about someone rather than yourself for a change. You provide warmth, shelter and… and… a life… for hundreds and thousands of souls.”
Mr. Birmingham looked to the ground. He knew this. Perhaps he had been a bit selfish… perhaps he should…
The ground was rumbling. “What the hell’s that?”
“It’s another side effect of Birmingham not being part of the world. Come on, we need cover.” Clarence grabbed hold of Mr. Birmingham and threw him down behind a rock. He clambered down beside him.
The rumble was a battalion from the northern army, traipsing through no-man’s land on their way to fight southern “cavaliers” in the second English civil war. The army, red-eyed and ill-nourished, was losing the war and the mood was downbeat. The northern military just couldn’t compete with the south in terms of budget or organization, even if the Celtic fringe was helping out. “What happened here?” asked Mr. Birmingham when they had marched past.
“When Birmingham was destroyed, the peoples of the north and south of England remembered how much they disliked each other. You see without the good humour and willingness to be located in the middle of Birmingham and its people, war was inevitable…”
“But that’s insane…”
“So’s a city taking its own life, Mr. Birmingham. Come on, I’ll show you something that isn’t insane…”

*

It was a living room. They had arrived in the 21st Century in the universe known by you or me. They had arrived in Birmingham. A girl, eating a Twirl and watching a Judas Priest DVD, looked deliriously happy. Her father, occasionally peeking out from behind his Evening Mail to grunt, looked less so. The mum was in the kitchen.
“And this is what you would destroy. Happy... ish... normal lives. Thousands of them. Is that really what you want?”
Mr. Birmingham looked around. No, this wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted people to live and breathe. Yeah, he wasn’t perfect, but who was? ‘Specially not those fools going to war because there was a hole in the middle of the country. He turned to Clarence. “Take me back.”
“To the bridge?”
“Er... no... a bit before then.”
“Alright... I’ll get a pint in...”
For the first time that day Clarence smiled.
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Re: Every Time A Bell Rings An Angel Gets Its Wings

Post by Jennyjenkins on Thu Jun 04, 2009 12:28 am

*APPLAUSE*

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