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Childhood Dreams

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'When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?' Martin asked, squinting at Arthur in the bright sunlight.

Arthur rolled his eyes. This was exactly the sort of question that Martin liked to ask after a few drinks and was proof he'd been dipping into his girlfriend's books designed to help the reader be more annoying.

'I don't know,' Arthur said, 'a fireman or a train driver or a spaceman or something. Frankly, working in radio's a damn sight better and it's less likely I'll have flaming joists falling on my head. Did you think you'd work in community education?'

'Oh, I always wanted to be a teacher,' Martin said smugly. 'Do you remember my innovative programme for art in that comprehensive?'

'That would be the one where you and that sixth-form girl --,' Arthur said innocently.

'Shut up,' Martin said sullenly and took a long swallow of his bitter.

Arthur hid his grin and looked across the table at Ford, who was resting his forehead on the sun-warmed wood in either extreme drunkenness or exhaustion.

'Another pint, Ford?' Arthur asked.

Ford's empty glass was shoved vaguely in his direction by an unsteady hand. Arthur looked quizzically at Martin who nodded eagerly. By the time Arthur emerged from the darkness of the pub into the beer garden again, Martin was poking Ford in the shoulder.

'I think he's dead,' Martin said, accepting the pint. 'He won't answer me.'

'S'because you're asking stupid questions,' Ford mumbled.

'Come on, what did you want to be when you were a kid? Did you always want to be an actor?'

'Can't remember. It was a couple of hundred years ago,' Ford said, grabbing the pint as if he thought Arthur might take it away again.

'See, that's your problem, you've forgotten what it's like to be a kid. No intellectual curiosity, that's you. Not like me, education keeps you mentally young, you're always meeting new people, learning new things. You'd probably get more work if you had kept a bit of childlike enthusiasm in your spirit.'

'Here, Martin,' Arthur said, 'that's a bit much. Leave him alone and let's all just enjoy --'

'Do you ever shut up?' Ford said, which worried Arthur until he saw that Ford had raised his head and was staring fixedly at Martin who gradually began to assume an expression like that of a mouse that was trying to convince itself that it was really, really sure that it hadn't just heard an owl. Ford leaned forward slightly across the table and both Martin and Arthur leaned back. 'When I was a child,' Ford said, 'I wanted to be a travel writer. I wanted to go to places no one I knew had ever been. I wanted to find out new things. I wanted to stand on worlds unknown to oxygen-breathing lifeforms and see dim and ancient suns flaring up above the horizon, illuminating a landscape I could see but never touch with my bare hand. I wanted to find the most sophisticated restaurants known to venerable civilisations and write scathing reviews of their menus that would be read by millions. I wanted to be sent on assignment to war-zones so that I could hide out in the pub for six months faking reports and claiming my danger money. I wanted to meet exotic and beautiful people and persuade them to go to bed with me. I wanted to use my job to talk my way into the back-stage parties at cutting-edge rock concerts. I wanted to make a name for myself, one that people could actually pronounce. I wanted to do all that and go home and have my cousins look up to me as the coolest cousin they had, even though I had bloody stiff opposition on that front. I wanted to be the greatest asset and the greatest embarrassment my family had ever had to endure. And now I am an out-of-work actor, scraping a living on what the government of this piddlingly small and small-minded country thinks is an acceptable amount of money for a single man to slowly starve on. Is that the answer you wanted to hear, Martin? You'll have to excuse me if I haven't got this social interaction quite right. It's probably due to my lack of childlike enthusiasm.'

'Er,' Martin said.

Ford got up and stalked away, standing over in the corner and apparently trying to kill the rather sad potted palm by glaring at it.

'Um. I'll have a word with him,' Arthur said, glad of the opportunity to not look at Martin's stunned expression. He approached Ford carefully.

'Er. Ford? Are you all right?'

'No,' Ford said conversationally. 'I want to go home.'

'Oh. Would you like me to drive you to Guildford?' Arthur said.

Ford looked up at him, and Arthur all of a sudden felt intensely homesick. He also felt awfully worried that he was about to have to deal with a drunk, aggravated and crying Ford. Actors were so emotional.

'Are you going to cry?' he asked nervously.

'No. I can't,' Ford said.

'Um. Well, if you want to, go ahead. It's the Nineteen-Seventies, Ford, people won't think any the less of you.'

Ford snorted and produced an unconvincing version of his usual grin. 'No, it's just that it's not a physiological emotional reaction that I'm actually able to perform,' he said. 'Don't worry about it, Arthur. I'm just talking drunken nonsense.' He looked back at their table. 'Should I apologise to him?'

'If you want,' Arthur said cheerfully. 'He'll probably stop asking stupid questions now.'

'You're a good friend, Arthur,' Ford said, looking at him intently. 'Let me buy you a drink, I got my dole yesterday. Someday I'll take you to Milliways, and buy you something really alcoholic.'

'Sounds good to me,' Arthur said, glad to see the unconvincing grin blossom into the real and far insaner grin Ford wore when he was pleased.

The three of them drank quite happily for the rest of the warm summer evening. No one asked any probing questions at all.

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