Thursday 2nd July

Part of The Booze Cruise full account

The morning began with a British Waterways official banging on the front doors of the boat. Despite being the closest to these doors, I was not woken by the noise, so Mark had to get up and speak to the man.

The British Waterways official was not happy. Half of our boat was parked too close to the lock. Mark said goodbye to the man after promising to move as soon as everyone was awake, and then looked out of the window. He was amused to see that only the back of the boat was parked behind the mooring notice. We're alright, he joked to Finbar, who was also now awake. But Mike, John and Rizwan are gonna have to move.

I woke a few minutes after Finbar, Mark and Ben, and perhaps after the people sleeping in the poorly-parked sections of the boat.

We've got to go into the town and buy a new bin, Mark said. Do you wanna come?

Yeah, I said, squinting out into the new morning. I need to get some more film. Who else is going?

Just me and Finbar.

I got dressed and ready, John asked me to buy him some film, and then I pocketed my wallet and headed out of the boat with Mark and Finbar. They told me about the British Waterways official, and I again tried to clarify exactly what happened to the plastic bin. We went back into the town centre, to Queen's Square, and then moved down the streets busy with shoppers. I stopped at a cash machine, then went into a branch of Jessops. Finbar was disgusted to see me spend twenty pound on six rolls of film, but Mark thought the three-for-one deals were so good he bought a pack of three for himself. I got John a film with the money he'd given me, and we headed out into the street again to search for plastic bins.

We found a shopping centre and made our way into a Woolworths store. Mark was positively overjoyed to find plastic bins close enough to the one he disintegrated, and he carried the bulky beige container over to the checkout. While he was queuing, I and Finbar browsed through the music section. Then Finbar found a copy of Sky Magazine, handed it to Mark to pay for. We headed out of Woolworths and found a shop in which everything was priced exactly one pound.

We better not find a bin in here for just one pound, Mark frowned.

Don't worry, said Finbar. Just take that one back to Woolworths if we do.

Oh yeah, Mark countered, I'll just take it back and say I don't want this anymore because there's one cheaper over there. They'll love that.

So? Finbar argued.

We went into the bargain shop and saw a plastic bin collection, each for just one pound.

Shit, Mark cursed. Bloody knew it.

The three of us looked over the cheap bins.

They're not really big enough, I suggested.

Yeah, and the colours are crap, Mark decided.

I think they'd notice that cheap one more easily than they'd notice we'd replaced the original with the Woolworths one, Finbar added.

And so, after reducing the dissonance (a term I'd learnt from the Psychology textbook early on that first Saturday morning) we stuck to our Woolworths beige plastic bin that had cost us a fiver, and continued around the bargain store before leaving for the boat.

On the way out I asked if I could go to McDonalds and get a drink. To my surprise, Finbar and Mark agreed without complaint. Not even a weary moan. They well knew my addiction to chocolate milkshakes, and seemed not to mind waiting about for five minutes while I queued. While queuing behind a group of what looked like ten-year-olds, it struck us just how many school children seemed to be on the streets in this town, despite the fact they should have been in school at that time.

I got my milkshake and a chocolate doughnut, and we returned to the boat, Mark knocking people left and right with the bulky bin he was carrying. But we made it back to the boat without more than a hostile tut coming our way, and Mark set the bin down in its new home. I loaded a couple of films into my cameras, and gave John the film he'd requested.

We set off then and began a long, peaceful cruise to Birmingham. At least it should have been, but a while after starting, Ben got the boat caught in an awkward position. Nothing unusual about that. We'd all jammed the boat into stupid places and found it hard to manoeuvre out. The difference this time, though, was where Ben had got stuck – right in view of a load of construction workers on their morning break. They found Ben's struggles to push off from the bank most amusing, all of them grinning and pointing at the sixty-eight foot boat. Perhaps they didn't think Ben could move it away from the bank. Maybe they thought we were grounded, well and truly caught on the rock by the bank. Probably they just had nothing better to talk about. Whatever the source of amusement for them, they certainly found our situation funny, and kept pointing and staring and making jokes for five minutes. Until, that is, I saw a photo opportunity and ducked inside, quickly returning to the roof with my Canon. Aiming the camera at them, they suddenly squinted at me, realised what I was doing, and rapidly found something better to be doing, seemingly something that involved looking the other way. At the same time, Ben had become victor in the battle of sixteen-ton narrowboat versus one man, and he was back on the tiller driving us out of the way.

link to photo: Leaving Wolverhampton link to photo: Wasteground link to photo: Nosy builders

Not long later we hit a long section with a strange, foamy, green, organic material floating about at the sides of the canal. Moving through it had caused the propeller to lose all power, and the rudder to become heavy to steer. Within minutes we were forced to moor while Mark dunked his hands down into the moving parts of the engine and around the rudder to clear off the unwanted plant-stuff. When this was done the power of the boat picked up, and the steering became responsive again… for about five minutes until the propeller sucked up more alien weed and once again lost power. Thus forced to drive at a feeble rate, Ben got tired of steering, and gave the tiller to me. I overcame the power problem by throwing the throttle to almost maximum power, and the boat again took up a reasonable speed. But the engine didn't sound healthy and I hoped we'd leave the floating junk regions quickly. However, the junk seemed to go up the canal for miles, and the forced power through the engine was causing a stink of diesel fumes. I took the boat all the way past the bizarre algae-looking rubbish and through Coseley Tunnel, after which the canal was suddenly clear of debris. Then I handed the tiller over to someone else who took us through three locks at Tipton (which turned out to be the last locks we'd have to do that week) so I could take pictures of a foundry before Factory Junction.

link to photo: The organic debris

We headed down the New Main Line for hours, under a section of buzzing electricity cables, around a couple of concrete canal dividers (speed blocks, perhaps) and on towards Birmingham. Finbar wanted us to stop before we got there so we could fill the water tank to allow him to take a shower, but looking at the maps led Mark to decide that we couldn't do that before reaching Birmingham.

We arrived at Birmingham in the late afternoon, when the sun was low and warm, and the town was busy. All the mooring points were either taken or reserved for 'Permit-holders Only' and in the end we just moored at the British Waterways facilities point, to fill up the water tank. While Finbar took a shower, everyone else except Mark and myself went to look for a shop. Once they got back, I and Mark went to find the shops. We found a small, cramped little shop quite near the canal, and while I bought ice-cream and chocolate, Mark was purchasing Maxim (our forth and final men's magazine) and some stuff for himself.

link to photo: Birmingham by canal link to photo: Mooring by the BW facilities

We got back to the boat to find that Ben was now taking a shower, and the water tank was nowhere near full, so we sat about reading the men's magazines and talking to Finbar to find out what Wetherspoon's pub we were looking for when we got into Birmingham. He told us that there were in fact two Wetherspoon's pubs, so I was sure I'd get to eat another of those delicious burgers.

After what seemed like too long, we finished filling up the water tank and Mark tried to steer us around to get back to Farmer's Bridge Junction so we could find somewhere to park. As we passed a Flapper & Firkin pub I decided to take a picture. I aimed the camera, and suddenly noticed through the viewfinder that a couple who were getting intimate in the pub's garden thought I was taken pictures of them. I lowered the camera immediately and tried not to stare back at them. When they were happy that it was not them I was interested in, they started groping each other again. Mike noticed this, along with the others at the back of the boat, and aimed a yell in their direction: Cap'n Birdseye's Fishy Fingers!

Whether or not the couple got the meaning isn't clear, but when Mark finally manoeuvred around and we headed past the garden again, the couple was nowhere to be seen.

Mark took us to Farmer's Bridge Junction and steered left. John came into the front bedroom where I and Finbar and Rizwan were standing.

Oy, look! he shouted, throwing open the curtain above Finbar's bed. Look at all those ugly bastards staring at us!

He was right. Even as we passed a sign that read: Welcome to Birmingham Canal Navigations – The heart of Britain's canal network the locals gathered on pub balconies and foot bridges over and around us to stare as they supped their drinks, as though they'd never seen a canal narrowboat before. Some were taking pictures of us, and one group deemed us worthy to star in their camcorder footage. Our sudden attraction wasn't because of any unusual behaviour. Mark was steering perfectly. We weren't, at that particular time, holding loud bastard fights, nor was anything unusual going on aboard the boat. It surely couldn't be novelty value, because the town was packed everywhere we looked with canal narrowboats, leaving not a single mooring point for us.

Rizwan decided he knew why were so interesting. I reckon it's because all the other boats are either really small, or they're clearly marked canal buses. Think about it: we're seven guys with our own sixty-eight foot boat, and there's no company logo on the side to tell people that we're hiring it. They think we're rich. It wasn't a bad suggestion. All the other boats did have a boat-hire company name and contact number marked clearly. All the boats with family names were a lot smaller. The remaining boats were large, shabby-looking canal buses used to carry tourists around Birmingham, from one Canal Bus Stop to another.

Whatever it was about us that held fascination for the people of Birmingham, John was getting fed up with the attention. Just before passing under one of the many footbridges, John thrust himself out onto the front of the boat and yelled for all observers to hear: Yeah, that's it. Go on, gawk at us some more, like you've nothing better to look at. And you! John was already a favourite with people on bridges. Earlier on in the week, at the end of a bastard fight, he'd yelled: You're the bastard, Michael! But you're not as much of a bastard as the person on that bridge! The woman on the bridge, who'd previously been smiling at us, then yelled at Ben (just because he was steering at the time): Yeah, well you can fuck off back to your own country and stop ruining ours! And now the effect was no less sudden. People turned immediately away from staring at us, went on walking, or just pretended they were looking at something else. Happy with his work, John stepped back inside the boat. Bloody inbred northeners, he complained, a characteristic half-snarled grin and frown forming his visage.

Everywhere we pulled the narrowboat into turned out to be a '30 min max' area or an area reserved for the canal buses and tour boats. Even the basins we pulled into all seemed to be 'Permit Holders Only' and eventually we found ourselves very suddenly leaving the busy core of the town. Now we drifted around a right turn and pulled into the only empty mooring area we saw. This was worse. One half of the boat was in a permit holders section, the other half in a half-an-hour maximum section.

link to photo: Busy Birmingham

An argument grew up here. I and Mark argued that we could not park here, as it was not only violating two mooring sections at once, but was located almost right in front of the door to an information bureau. They would certainly notice our illegal position, so we wanted to move the boat a little further down the canal to a mooring point just beyond a bridge. Finbar, visibly tired, argued vehemently that mooring down there would get us robbed while we were at the pub. The rest of the crew just stood about on the bank, either watching the course of the argument intently or not giving a shit either way.

Finbar we can't park here, that's a tourist office, Mark said angrily.

I don't care, I'm not moving down there, Finbar spat, beginning to get furious.

Why? Mark glowered at Finbar on the bank. It's less than a hundred metres from here!

Yeah, Finbar softened his voice a little, tried to sink some reason into us, but if we're the only boat down there, we're more likely to get broken into.

For fuck's sake, I sighed, getting pissed off. Finbar there is fuck all difference between here and there. Untie the boat.

No, I'm not moving! He was angry again. It's not safe mooring down there.

Finbar, untie the boat, Mark tried to sound calm.

No! Finbar walked away then, clearly very angry.

Fine, I glared. Mike, untie the boat, I ordered, pointing at the rope at the back. Then, to Rizwan near the front: Rizwan! Untie the front of the boat! We're moving!

When the slaves had performed their tasks they jumped aboard, Finbar doing so unhappily. Mark drove the boat down past the bridge and the obedient muscles dismounted to pull us in and tie the boat up. Once this was done I realised that Finbar had very suddenly cooled off. He was even speaking to us as though all was forgotten. This was admirable, at least from my point of view.

Everyone now went inside the boat and quickly got ready to move out into Birmingham in search of the Wetherspoon's pub. Take everything valuable with you, Mark advised. Clearly he had little faith in the locals, and was taking no chances with his treasured items. They took everything with them: cameras, watches, CDs and players. It was like a crime forecast had foretold of a kleptomania wave hitting the Canterbury. Expensive or not, I thought it a better idea to leave my camera bag and all the gear on the boat, in the same hiding place I'd used all along, and take only my Yashica T5 compact as usual. John was taking his SLR camera bag off the boat with him, but there wasn't anything too unpredictable about that.

Dressed, geared-up and ready to go, we locked the boat and headed off. Then John decided to get something out of the boat. Giving John the keys, Mark, Finbar, Ben, Mike and Rizwan headed off without waiting, as they were always so eager to do. This annoyed me, and I waited on the bridge above the canal for two reasons. Firstly so that John could at least work out where we'd all gone, and secondly so that I could make sure he locked the boat properly. Once he was done, he thanked me for waiting and I started walking quickly in a hope of catching up with the others. Sadly they'd had too good a head start, and I only caught glimpses of Mike and Rizwan. I realised they were playing silly-buggers, hiding behind cars and waiting until we got close and then running off a bit. I caught up with them shortly, John jogging behind, and realised that they'd separated from Mark, Ben and Finbar.

Where are the others? I asked with little humour.

They ran off, Rizwan replied.

Where? I asked.

They ran off back at that corner, Mike said. We didn't follow them.

Something was bothering me. They'd replied too calmly, didn't seem at all bothered that they'd lost the group with the map. I got paranoid, knew that Mark, Ben and Finbar probably ran off in an attempt to lose John, which was stupid enough seeing as John had the keys. None of it made much sense, and still Rizwan and Mike kept walking, no apparent goal in mind.

Where are we going, then?

They went up this road, Rizwan said.

We walked up the street and suddenly found ourselves on a main road. Walking down a bit we saw one of the two Wetherspoon's pubs, The Figure Of Eight.

This is where we are supposed to be, said Rizwan. But there is another one somewhere.

You're sure this is the one we were going to? Not the other one? I checked.

Definitely this one. Rizwan had no doubt.

So we went into the pub. There was not a single seating area vacant, and the deserters were nowhere to be seen. We returned outside to the front of the pub. Suddenly Rizwan made an observation: This is like the West End in London: look at all the people in suits and the expensive cars, he pointed out, jabbing a finger into the street. He was right, it did feel upmarket in this area. The buildings were new and clean, the people appeared wealthy and in gainful employment, and the street was lined with clubs and bars.

At the time, though, I was more distracted by the disappearance of three-sevenths of the group. Yeah, good, Rizwan. Mike, if this is where they're going, where the fuck are they?

They might be lost, Mike offered.

I doubt it, I hissed, mind darkening. The fuckers probably think it's great that they've shaken us off.

John looked suddenly pleased. Yeah, but I've got the keys. He held up and jangled the key-set with its large spherical cork floater.

Oh, even better, I spat, they probably want us to go back to the boat. They'd love that – us all sitting on the boat guarding the shit they couldn't take with them.

Let's split up, Rizwan suggested, and I could just imagine the plan developing. I knew what would come next – Rizwan would tell me and John to stay at the pub. Then I imagined him and Mike 'getting lost' looking for the others.

Mike, you go that way around the block and I'll go this way, he said, and a cold smile crossed my face. Then: Bob, John, you stay here in case they come back here.

I watched them walk off, and turned to John. Come on, I ordered tersely.

What? John asked as I headed in the direction Mike took.

Just follow.


Fine, stay there, I murmured.

I caught up with Mike and now John was a distance back. Mike looked confused. What's wrong?

I'm not risking you meeting with Rizwan and then heading off to leave me here with John all night.

Oh, said Mike, displeased with my distrust. So what if they do go to that pub? No one's going to see them then.

Yeah, well, I'm sure they'll not be too disappointed.

John caught up, and the three of us headed around the block, met Rizwan half way. He didn't seem bothered by the fact no one was patrolling the front of the pub.

We got back to the pavement in front of The Figure Of Eight.

What now? Mike asked.

Fuck knows I said. But I'm not going to sit on the boat all night.

Yeah, there'll be plenty of places around here, John said. We can have a good night. I somehow doubted that, looking now at the group. I was still heated because I was convinced Mark, Ben and Finbar were in some other pub laughing at our abandonment; Mike and Rizwan looked too tired to get into a vibrant mood without Mark and Finbar to set them off; and John probably wouldn't say much before falling into a conversation about film speeds (which is fair enough, but it doesn't go down well in a pub or club).

Let's take one more look in this pub, Rizwan suggested.

Yeah, might as well, I agreed. We all filed in, looked around. While we were at one end of the pub I spotted the defectors walking through the large glazed entrance into the pub, all grins. This genuinely surprised me. They'd been lost all along, it seemed, and my dark thoughts were misplaced. I burned this moment of calm by remembering that they'd been the idiots to run off in the first place.

I stomped up to Mark, stopped beside him, scowling and uttered: Twat. Where the fuck were you?

The smile on Mark's face collapsed. He looked almost apologetic, and it was at this moment that I marvelled at Finbar's ability to cool off so quickly. I knew I'd be uncontrollably foul of mood for many minutes, and did not like the fact. It annoyed me further.

There's no seats here, Rizwan said.

Let's go to the other pub, Ben said, and after a quick glance over the pub we all agreed, moving immediately to the door.

We spent a long time trying to find the other pub, walking through the centre of Birmingham, taking in many sites, taking many pictures. Though I was calmer, I still couldn't become part of the core of the group for a while because they were still nervous around me, cautious not to inflame my fiery moods again. It would last a while I knew. I'd done this far too many times before.

link to photo: The crew in Birmingham link to photo: Baskerville House link to photo: Birmingham city centre

From what Rizwan had described as the West End, we now moved through a shopping area of long streets, and then out of the main avenues and into a suddenly dreary, dirty, different section of town. Everyone looked poor, ragged clothing, old cars, and staring, suspicious eyes. Homeless lay along each wall, in every other doorway. The other Wetherspoon's pub was in this region, and we entered it happily, tired after much searching. As we were sitting down, Mark went immediately to the toilets. We got two minutes before a young member of bar staff came over to us.

link to photo: New Street

Hi, he said, nervously. I need to see some ID from all of you.

We don't all have ID, I said.

Okay, the guy said. Who has?

Mike, John and Finbar presented the guy with ID.

You three? he pointed at me, Rizwan and Ben.


Okay, I'm going to have to get my supervisor. He walked off.

Oh goodie, I fumed. This did not help my dark mood.

A more senior member of staff met us then, standing over our table with a stern look. I'm sorry, but we can't serve the ones who don't have ID. I have to ask you to leave.

Even if we're only drinking soft drinks? Ben shot the man a face of absolute disgust.

I'm afraid so. It's not up to us.

Even with a meal? Ben again.

I'm sorry, we can't serve any of you with drinks.

Mark returned now, about to describe in detail what a relieving dump he'd taken in the toilet. He saw the guy.

Guess what, I hissed. We have to leave because this pub rather likes ID.

Oh my God, Mike moaned. He was tired also.

Our large group left the pub, Mike and John yelling on the way out: Good, we don't want to drink in that pub if that freak is serving drinks, and Yeah, what a bastard! and Fucking Hell, he looked younger than us, and he fucking works there!

After wandering about, debating a few options, we ended up back at The Figure Of Eight. There was a table free now, and we raced over to it, two from our group getting the first round of drinks. Before the drinks arrived we noticed a better, bigger, more spacious table just vacated and now being taken up by a young couple. We sent Ben over as diplomat to negotiate a table swap, and soon the couple came to claim our corner table; we moved over to the newly-acquired, larger table.

The drinks came, and discussion moved to food. We all chose a meal, and Ben and Finbar went to order for us. Mark and John were mildly furious that the mixed grill meal was unavailable again. The shortage was blamed on a conference which had drawn a lot of American delegates to the area.

I took some pictures with my Yashica, and this night, seeing as everyone else had their cameras too, the others also took photos. A game of 'blind each other with flash strobes' developed and soon no one could see clearly, John being the greatest threat with his bulky SLR flash accessory, able to remove sight and burn a block of glowing blue into the cells of the eye.

link to photo: Drinking at last

One by one the meals arrived, and when everyone else had theirs I began to worry that I was without food. Uh, this is strange, I said, noting that Mike's burger had arrived, but mine had not.

Ben suddenly got a look of panic on his face, then calmed it. I did order three burgers, didn't I? A minute more passed and Ben decided to find out, rushing over to the bar to check the bill before the kitchens closed for the night. I saw him in discussion with the guy at the bar, and then another guy turned up. Presently the second guy at the bar came across to me and, identifying me by the lack of a meal, said: Your friend forgot to order you a meal, but we're working on it, and you should have food in a couple of minutes.

Okay, thanks, I said as warmly as I could on an empty stomach.

Ben returned, spoke carefully: I'm really sorry. I didn't count right.

Mike suddenly asked me excitedly: Are you gonna have a stress? He seemed to be smiling. This displeased me, as I was nowhere near losing it at that point.

No, I said. I'm fine. I felt awkward then. It felt like all of the group was concentrating on me, and I sure as Hell didn't know why.

A minute later the kitchen staff delivered their finest burger, the largest slab of beef I'd ever seen captured in a sesame bun. And it tasted as good as the meal at the Wetherspoon's in Wolverhampton.

Meals finished, tables being cleared, Finbar and Ben went to get the next round of drinks. Rizwan, Mark and myself decided to move out into the pub garden, where we decided we'd be able to make much more noise. This was a genuinely great idea for about three minutes, and we made full use of the outdoors to yell and shout at each other, John and Mike having a bastard fight showdown, Rizwan making weird shrieking noises. Finbar came outside and made clear his dislike for sitting outside at night. We told him to bugger off, and he did, two minutes before Mark and Rizwan decided it was too cold outdoors and we all moved back inside, taking a seating area behind our previous indoor table.

Sadly, Mark and Rizwan found the balloons that had been left behind after some party or gathering, and now they annoyed all around by popping them loudly. John finished this game off by sitting on a balloon so violently the explosion caused the whole pub to pay attention. Noticing the discontented looks aimed at our table, a member of bar staff came over to us.

Do you mind not doing that? the bar staff asked harshly. I don't think he got much more of a response than a muffled giggle from John and a restrained smile from Mark.

Ben and Finbar brought drinks over to our new table.

I see you got fed up sitting outside, Ben said without smiling.

It was cold, said Mark.

John burst in, proud grin: Did you see that waiter guy having a go at us?

Yes, we heard the balloons, thank you, Finbar added, apparently not amused.

Our table got louder, John and Mike staging fights and Mark doing Cap'n Birdseye impressions on request. It got worse when one woman some distance away started laughing at something. It was a shrill cackle, and Mark couldn't resist.

Oh, my God! Oy, next time she laughs, all take the piss, alright?

Next time the woman found something amusing, her cackling was echoed from our table by at least three of our group. Undeterred by this, the woman spent at least another five minutes laughing like a demented banshee.

Soon we finished our last drinks and headed back into the street. Some plan I never was part of developed and it saw us walk all the way down that main street, then back the way we'd come, to the boat. I think Mark was looking for a kebab shop or a take away.

Back at the boat, we were pleasantly surprised to see that it had not been breached in any way, and that our stuff was still safe inside. John went to his bed, and the rest of us sat on Rizwan's, talking for a short while before we headed off to our own sleeping areas.

Again, Ben, Finbar and myself stayed awake talking, Finbar half-comatose while we formed strange and greatly irrelevant conversations.

Suddenly, Ben stopped, then: Have you heard the joke about the little green man?

I though for a moment, replied: No… which one?

Okay, tell me if you've heard it.

Will do.

Okay, there's this rich guy, big house, a Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, a beautiful wife and two lovely kids at private school, right? He's really happy with his life. Then, when he's sleeping one night, he smells smoke and gets up and sees a little green man on his front lawn, looking up through the window. So he runs outside and gets in his Ferrari and chases this little green man, and chases him and chases him, but he just can't catch him, so he gives up. When he gets home, his big house is all burnt down, it's gone.

A few years later, the same man is living in a nice, semi-detached house now, still quite well off, but he's only got one car now, a Ford Mondeo, and his beautiful wife is still lovely, and his kids are at a good school. Then one night, he wakes up and smells smoke, and out of his window sees that little green man again. So he runs outside and chases the green man in his Mondeo, follows him for ages, but can't catch him. When he returns home, his house has all burnt down, it's ruined.

A couple of years later, the same man has a council flat, and his wife is getting kinda pissed off now. His kids are at a bad school, they're in with a bad group and they're taking drugs. Now he only has one car, a Skoda, and he's not happy. Then one night he's woken when he can smell smoke, and looking out of the window he sees that same green man, and he charges outside and gives chase in his Skoda, but he just can't catch him, and when he goes home it's burnt down.

It's a few years later, now. The same man is miserable. His wife left him, kids are dead, and he lives on a park bench under a newspaper, with a skateboard for transportation. One night he wakes up when his newspaper sets alight, and standing nearby is that same damned little green man. So he leaps up, jumps on his skateboard and chases the little green man, and chases and chases, and doesn't stop because he's got nothing to go back for, and eventually he catches the little green man, and he shouts: Have you been setting fire to my houses?! And the little green man says: No.

The silence then told me that the joke had finished, and as Ben almost fell out of his bunk laughing at just how stupid the joke was, I tried and failed to pretend I wasn't amused.

Oh, God, I moaned, giving in to a smile. That's the best joke I've ever heard. I said it sarcastically, but I was laughing too.

Ben was still laughing hard, apparently very pleased that he'd kept me hooked with such a build up. Halting his laughter for a couple of minutes, Ben managed: I love that joke. Everyone falls for it. It occurred to me then that this was not a joke for the person hearing it, so much as it was a joke for the person telling it.

The futility of the joke had seemingly haemorrhaged Finbar's brain, for now he snored softly. I wanted to go out with my camera and get night shots of Birmingham, but Ben didn't like the idea and I found myself surprisingly tired.

I and Ben talked a short while more, and soon the day was over.