This is a film poem, and I imagine Lance Percival in the lead role.
Interlude for Xylophone, Banjo and Trumpet
He sits on a sofa, smoking a joint. The phone starts to ring.
It’s for you, says his flatmate, just out of the bath.
He strays to the window and talks with his back turned.
Got a part for me? he asks as a xylophone jingles.
In the opposite flat the gas-fire is glowing
and a lady is ironing with a fag in her mouth.
I’ll be there in five minutes, he says and hangs up.
He stubs out his joint on the tail of a mermaid,
perched on the rim of the rock-pool shaped-ashtray,
checks his tie and his teeth and his hair in the mirror,
winds his scarf round his neck and lets himself out.
Outside the baker’s a busker is playing a hillbilly love song
on his granny’s old banjo and elderly hags are shoving
their trolleys, frantic to get to the head of the queue.
He walks down the street, takes a right then a left,
past florists, dry cleaners, cake shops and chemists,
and two prancing pugs in their little plaid jackets
glare at him hard with their soulful black eyes.
Off a crowded street market, he turns up a passage
and runs up the stairs hung with portraits of actors
into an office where women and men of all races and ages
sit reading The Stage with their backs to the wall
while the Management juggles three calls at a time.
Without interrupting her work for a moment,
she hands him a folder marked Gagging and Binding –
A Play for our Times by Fielding Carstairs.
Back on the street, the sky’s turning pewter
and the custom for bootleg cassettes is declining;
outside the Tube a man with burst shoes
is playing a voluntary sketch on his trumpet
like a summons for women to take off their clothes.
Decidedly hungry, he enters a restaurant,
slips into a booth, scrutinizes the menu.
The adorable waitress stands poised with her pad.
He smiles and says I’ll have the steak,
the pie and the custard and a very large cup
of your infamous brew.
He waits in the gloom for his meal to arrive
while a dilatory sunbeam sneaks through the curtains
and he sees, to his horror, there’s rice in the salt.
At the close of his meal he asks for the bill.
Was it OK? the waitress enquires.
Yes it was, he replies – except that your chef
made the custard with water and that is a thing
that I cannot abide.
from The Best Man that Ever Was (Picador, 2007) copyright © Annie Freud 2007, used by permission of the author and the Macmillan Publishers.