1. Out, damn spot
He found himself in his dressing room, a few walls and one narrow corridor behind the hushed set. The mock-up of Alan’s house was now as empty as the one it replicated (save for Mike, Ted, and their guard dogs, who he hadn’t forgotten charged by the hour.) On the other side of the door to his momentary sanctuary, the scratchy feminine voice of an usher led the final audience members from the studio in what Alan imagined was a slow-moving, single-file line, not unlike mourners at a funeral, only these mourned the end of a high-quality, Norwich-based television show and not a beloved friend or relative.
The partridge slid off his fist, still clenched from where it had struck Tony Hayers’ smug face (albeit through a layer of surprisingly moist poultry.) Without a thought to food wastage, Alan let it drop into the bin. The plastic liner crackled as the bird settled, and Alan turned to his reflection.
Not an hour earlier, he’d given the finishing touches to his hair in this mirror. There was more at stake now than teasing his flyaways with a cleaned mascara wand, however.
Why was the BBC so dead against him doing well? They’d fought him at every turn, made things much harder than they had to be. Was it because he wasn’t a Jew, or wasn’t Ponder’s sort (one alphabetically adjacent letter away from “Poncer”?) Or was it because he wasn’t a box-ticking minority, such as dark-skinned (Trevor McDonald, Moira Stewart, et al.) or mentally handicapped (Jim Davidson.) He might never know the answer.
The smell of meat, sage, and onion invaded his nostrils, snapping him from his inward reflection as he looked at his outward one. His hands were glossy with melted butter and fat, lubricated to such a degree that Fanny would no doubt find a joke in it that would inevitably end in, “Oh, pardon!”
Rinsing them under a stream of cold water, he pumped out a palmful of pink soap and began to scrub.
It was therapeutic in a way. Alan may have lost control of every aspect of his life, but he had control over this small task: washing his hands. There was a splotch of oil on the cuff of his maroon cardigan, but he let it go.
Once his hands were sufficiently clean, he dried them and raised them to his nose. They still smelled of poultry.
A week later, he compared himself to Lady Macbeth while explaining to Lynn the events that followed that disastrous special. Tony Hayers was the king, and the stuffed partridge the dagger. Yes, specifics of the Scottish play were incorrect, but Lynn got the gist, though the nuance of her employer’s recollection may have gone right over her permed hair. The metaphor was thus: Alan had scrubbed and scrubbed at his hands for what felt like hours, tormented by the smell of meat on his skin like blood on a murderess’s hands.
It was the smell of failure.
4:02PM – ALAN [THROUGH PANTED BREATHS]:
In the eventuality of my corpse being discovered, probably by a dog-walker, I’m leaving this message for the police and, if they give a damn, my wife and children. My name is Alan Gordon Partridge. I present Norfolk Nights on Radio Norwich, which . . . [HE GULPS] . . . it doesn’t matter, does it. In the grand scheme. What does matter is that I was murdered—and I’m presuming here—by a deranged man named Jed Maxwell. He tricked me into believing he was a normal fan of mine . . . and that’s why I should’ve stated my profession before isn’t it. Can I start again? I’ll start again. If this is played on the News at Ten, I want to sound dignified . . .
[HE CLEARS HIS THROAT]
My name is Gordon Al—Alan Gordon Partridge, you can edit that last bit, and I’m a well-loved television and radio presenter. The time is just after 4:00PM on Thursday the eighth of May 1997. I’m recording this message from my final refuge: beneath a bush in a field in south-west Norfolk. I was deceived by a man named Jed Maxwell. He lured me to his home under false pretences. Witnesses to this are . . . Christ, what’re their names? Two execs from RTE. Lynn’ll know their contact details. That’s Lynn Benton, my PA and next of kin, should I survive this ordeal and end up in hospital, disfigured to the point that nobody knows who I am and I’m unable to articulate. Other witnesses are the staff at the Linton Travel Tavern on the A11, my temporary lodgings.
Once inside Maxwell’s home, I was physically violated. No, not in that way. I was asphyxiated—again, not like that—in a violent chokehold. I was also forced to endure unwanted conversation and tea that was not only too milky but also tasted faintly of washing detergent. Also, he has a whopping great tattoo of my face on his chest! Someone had to sit there and put that into his skin; someone wilfully allowed a man to exchange payment, god knows how much, for that monstrosity of a so-called homage to my visage. But I’m digressing . . .
Maxwell chased me from his home in a fit of maniacal rage after I politely refused his request to accompany him to a social gathering. I had to abandon my vehicle, registration P453 PEX, then sped across a stretch of countryside at what I assume was a record-breaking pace, in the general direction of my temporary abode—the aforementioned travel tavern. And that just about brings you up to speed.
I’m unaware if Maxwell’s still pursuing me. If he is, by leaving this final message I may inadvertently be alerting him to my whereabouts, so I should wrap this up. If he is chasing me . . . he could quite easily delete this message.
Oh, God. I’m gonna make a run for it again—
4:29PM – ALAN [VOICE STEADY; TRAFFIC AUDIBLE THROUGHOUT]:
Lynn, look into whether someone can be sued for the unauthorised display of a person’s image on their skin. I’m referring to a tattoo, of my face, on another person’s body. Actual size, possibly larger.
4:30PM – ALAN [TRAFFIC CONT.]
On second thought, scrap that last message. My face has, unfortunately, not been trademarked. After the fuss we had trying to register “Aha!” I don’t want to go through all that again.
6:27PM – ALAN:
Reminder to apologise to Susan for ignoring her as I passed through reception. My mind was, unsurprisingly, elsewhere. I mean, the guy knows where I live. I should probably . . .
[DISTANT] Hello, is that reception? It’s Alan Partridge. Yes, if the gentleman by the name of Jed Maxwell approaches the front desk again, call the police immediately and do not, I repeat, do not allow him access to the living floors . . . He’s booked in for tonight? Booked a room at the same time he booked his ticket to my afternoon without Sue Cook? . . . No. No, you can’t do that. I simply cannot allow that . . . Because he’s a madman! He had photos of me on his walls! . . . Well, tell him the hotel’s fully booked or give him a refund, that’s not my problem. My problem is— . . . Susan, I will call the police. . . . Okay, fine. Fine! I’ll do it now . . . Oh, this thing’s still going.
8:44PM – ALAN:
Lynn, can you collect the Rover from the end of Brook Drive in Haverhill? If you could leave it outside Radio Norwich it’ll save me getting a taxi in the morning.
6:17AM – ALAN [WHISPERED]:
Reminder to discuss reinforcing the locks on my room’s door and windows with Michael. A child could break into this room, blindfolded and with one hand behind its back. I mean, that would be . . . bizarre, but still, I’d rather no adult or minors entered my personal space.
Parked outside the Dundee branch of Dolcis, Alan turned on the car radio. The plastic bag in the footwell contained a number of items: one, a pair of simple lace-up, faux-leather shoes; two, a pair of Scholl insoles (just in case); three, a bottle of Gaviscon Dual-Action™ antacid liquid; and four, a quarter-sized pipe of original Pringles, because he wasn’t about to pay cinema prices.
Walking shoeless into a newsagents had been an interesting experience, but the desire for relief from Toblerone-induced indigestion had been strong enough to forgo social expectation. The Pringles were an afterthought, calling to him from their display of neat, colour co-ordinated stacks beside the till.
After leaving Lynn another answerphone message about his current mental condition, he’d decided seeing a film would calm his nerves, but he couldn’t exactly go see Shrek in bare feet, could he?
The next stop had been Dolcis, where a spotty bleach-blond salesman had immediately rushed over to serve him, then stopped, surprised by the sight of his customer’s bare toes.
Too humiliated to reveal he’d left the house that morning in such a hurry he hadn’t thought to don footwear, Alan made a clever excuse on the spot about a baby being sick on him. Falling for it hook, line and sinker, the blond boy laughed nervously and offered Alan some lemon-fresh wipes for the soles of his feet before he tried on any of the display models. A kind gesture, though probably provoked via concern for hygiene rather than Alan’s emotional well-being.
Alan had slipped on his purchased shoes before entering the cinema, the tub of Pringles hidden within the inside breast pocket of his coat.
Partway through the film, he slid the contraband potato crisps from their place of concealment and began devouring them one by one as the film’s green protagonist made the small audience roar with laughter. Getting one up on the establishment by avoiding their extortionate prices was a rush. Those sharing the darkened rows of seats had no doubt paid £2.50 for their snackfoods, possibly more for their beverages. Alan had paid a trivial fifty-nine pence.
Accompanying that sense of rebellion, an urge Alan couldn’t quell had him sliding his feet out of his new shoes and kicking them up against the back of the empty seat in front. Should anyone tut under their breath or glare at him silently in the semi-darkness, he’d elect to ignore them. Today was just one of those days where he didn’t feel like following the rules.
Once he’d finished the Pringles, he considered rolling the emptied tube down the central aisle as a sort of prank, but the thought of someone slipping on it and suing made him reconsider.
Queen’s King’s Head
The stage was mid-shin height, black paint chipping along its edges. A disco ball suspended from the tiled ceiling above sent flecks of light spiralling from the pub’s stage to the bar. To make it more visually appealing, the owners had draped a ribbon curtain around it to block off the dreary paper donning the walls, stained yellow from years of tobacco smoke.
Alan couldn’t remember the name of the pub, only that he’d been here before. He recognised some of its patrons seated around the stage. Tony Hayers, back from the dead. Those Irish execs from RTE sporting black berets and holding large Kalashnikovs. Dan Moody, the owner of Kitchen Planet off the A416.
Angling his head, Alan understood why his legs felt cold; they were bare but for a pair of white platformed trainers, nothing but a vulcanised rubber thong with laced eyelets down its centre concealing his genitalia.
Then, everything made sense.
The music—some generic, repetitive pop beat—filled Alan’s ears as he stepped up onto the stage, poised and confident in the tall platforms, balanced on them with the graceful elegance of a figure skater. But the stage wasn’t an ice rink, and he wasn’t there to spin or salchow in front of a panel of judges, though that metaphor was not too far off the mark.
Four pairs of eyes turned to him, captivated by the fluid, hypnotic movements of his hips. Alan swayed, gyrated, shimmied, threw his head back, swept a hand down the breast of his understated sweater vest. It must’ve been as dazzling a sight as the disco ball spinning above his head.
His rapt audience were men of power, pockets deep with fives, tens, and twenties he imagined. Dan was the first to throw one: a twenty, because he wasn’t cheap. The RTE guys threw fistfuls of fives before returning their hands to the weapons standing proud in their laps. Tony Hayers was last to put his hand in his pocket, probably down to his Jewish heritage.
What did Alan want from them? Fame? A platformed foot in the door of television centre? A life of excitement and broken boundaries? He crouched, scooping up the money, until Tony Hayers cocked a finger at him.
The dream usually ended around there, as Alan approached the lap of one of the gentlemen in attendance of the rather seedy, badly lit affair. Tonight, it didn’t, and Alan woke with a start, peeling himself from sweat-drenched sheets with a member as hard as a very hard diamond. The specifics of the dream faded fast, but the disturbing sensation between his thighs persisted.
No matter how he framed it or tried to explain it using Freudian psychology (or that Dream Meanings book Sonja got him from his birthday), dream-Alan had whored himself out, bent happily over that sticky pub table as several pairs of hands stroked and clawed and had their merry way with him.
5. Word Porridge
A duck and her ducklings cut a leisurely path through the park’s sparkling pond. The sight of them dipping their heads under the surface was delightful and a joy to behold. They were beautiful, and the mother would’ve made a fine layer in one of those seven-bird roasts.
On the other side of the pond sat an old, grey-haired chap with a paperback, cover bent back on itself as he held it one-handed. He ate a sandwich while he read, breaking off pieces of crust every now and then and tossing them into the water. You weren’t supposed to feed ducks bread—a little known fact. Something about malnourishment and water pollution. But Alan let it go.
It wasn’t the bread tossing that bothered Alan. From his own pond-view bench with dedication gold plaque, he wondered what it must be like to be that lone elderly man, to be an unknown who’d made no mark on the world, who spent his late Thursday afternoons looking at ducks and eating white bread sandwiches. A depressing outlook—though, a sandwich would be pleasant. Perhaps he’d get Sonja to make him one when he got home.
Alan had stopped for a breather. A bag of pulped book was heavier than it looked. It also drew the gaze of many a passer-by, but he was used to over-the-shoulder looks of don’t I know you from somewhere? If he had a pound for every time someone recognised him from the television, well… he’d have quite a few of them.
The book being pulped wasn’t as final as others seemed to think. The remaining copies would sell for a pretty penny on eBay now there were fewer in circulation. The sales figures were exact too, so Alan could say for certain exactly how many were out there. A limited run, he could call it, like art prints.
He didn’t even mind the idea of people passing Bouncing Back from generation to generation, lending it to friends, scanning the pages and uploading them to a book piracy website—though that last one was pushing it—because it meant that people were digesting his words, masticating them in their brains, then belching them out again (in the form of an oral review perhaps.) The unimportant man sat opposite might pick up a copy from a charity shop for twenty pence and not only be giving something back to Norfolk’s disadvantaged but be in for a ruddy good read. In the end, it was his words being read that mattered, not the material cost of the pages they were printed on.
Weeks of his life were dedicated to that book. Then weeks more arguing with the so-called editor over spelling, grammar, and the possibility of libel.
The bag of porridgey pulp beside him was the culmination of all that time and energy, his heart and soul laid bare then whisked up in a giant, industrial-sized blender.
Alan peered at the bag, hoping to see a word, even a letter, pushed up against the transparent plastic. Which word might float to the surface, a single part separated from its whole? Would a word alone be worth anything? Was an anecdote, free-floating and unconnected to a larger narrative, meaningful? Yes it was, of course, but these philosophical thoughts plagued Alan as he stared at the soupy mush and wondered why he felt something other than satisfaction.
Was it him resisting his desire to tell the old man not to feed the ducks what was essentially poison? Was it that, had he decided to self-publish, he would’ve made more profit on the ninety-three total units sold? Was it that annoying child playing too loudly with her frisbee?
One of the ducklings turned toward Alan, its black beady eyes seeming to stare into his soul. If the duckling could talk, it would’ve told him—perhaps with a Donald Duck style cadence—that the reason for his blue mood was because the bag of sickly goop beside him wasn’t something to be proud of, even if it could be reconstituted into something useful.
Well, screw you, beakface! Things weren’t as black and white as all that. In fact, they were the colour of the pulp: a mixture of a black (type) and white (page). There were things he could do with his pulped book that ordinary folk wouldn’t think of. For one, he could pour it into the pond and really give the ducks something to complain about.
While this was just a pond in a local park, probably man-made, Alan wondered what might happen if the pulp somehow got into Norfolk’s water supply. Everyone from Cromer to Thetford would drink his words then. He could put it directly into someone’s tea, serve them a steaming cup of Alan’s Blend, and they wouldn’t even know. Sonja might believe it was a British speciality. Lumpy word tea.
If Sonja died of pulp-related poisoning and Alan was caught, he could say it was a crime of passion, almost poetic in a way. He could claim it was performance art. That would certainly get his name in the history books. Alan Partridge: murderer. Alan Partridge: modern artist. Each had a nice ring to it.
But he didn’t have the time for all that.
Instead, he’d make something practical from his pulp. He wasn’t sure what yet, but it’d make a great talking point. His guests would love it.
As he left the park, his hand momentarily lost purchase on the bag. Ironically, the pulp-filled balloon didn’t bounce back. It tore open, its contents spreading across the hot pavement like child’s sick on a playground. Alan stood, watching it slide along the kerb and trickle into a drain.
A fitting end, perhaps?