I’ve passed seven street corners on this bus journey so far. On six of them stand ex-pubs. Inside the ex-pubs are ghosts. Ghosts of men mostly, ghosts of hard men, real men, men’s men, each still pretending he’s escaping ‘er indoors, the missus, the ball and chain.
I sit on this rattling, jerking red heap of Borisjunk and I wonder if the ghosts are pissed off having to constantly step around carpet remnants or rickety shelves of East European chocolate or vats of knocked-off cooking oil or rats annoyed they’re never more than three feet from a human being. Or a ghost. I wonder too if there are ever fights between ghosts and the current occupants. And I wonder, if there are, whose police force deals with them.
What must they be thinking, these spectral pissheads, these forlornly bantering spooks? Do they even know they’re dead? Do they know their wives and livers are also dead? (I meant to write ‘lovers’ there, but I’ve never got the hang of predictive keyboards and… somehow…) Yes. Do they know Tottenham still haven’t won the league? Do they know Jimmy Savile, remarkably, turned out to have been a bit of a git in the end? When The Change came – you may remember – I lost my omniscience. I lost my omnipotence. I lost my omnipresence. And I lost a lot of money. And so, at the next one I see – the next pub-turned-carpet warehouse or pub-turned-kebab shop or pub-turned-block-of-not-really-luxury flats – maybe I’ll jump off this thing, walk assuredly, charismatically through the doors (as is my wont), slip back through the chronological stage-curtain like a time-travelling Eric or Ern and talk to them, talk to the spooks: tell them the truth, breathe in their fear, then ask them what it feels like to be almost dead, ask them if it’s any different to being almost alive. A little satisfaction there, at least.
And I can speak their language, after all. I’m an expert at late-20th century bloketalk. At ghostish. At any language you can name. In fact, I’m an expert at everything. Or was.
When I was God, properly God, when these people – you people – feared and respected me, when I didn’t have to use the 91 to get from A to B, I didn’t believe in ghosts. I didn’t have to believe or not believe, to be honest. I had the power to kill and the power to let live: why on earth (or wherever) would I create ghosts? Yet they – you – those who once worshipped me – felt compelled to create ghosts, unwilling ever to quite accept me as enough. And I let it happen. (To be honest, I knew I’d made a couple of mistakes during the manufacturing process, felt I had to try and rectify them somehow. It would have been cruel not to. So I let you all believe in me and in ghosts simultaneously. Or, rather, half-believe in both. Yes, it’s complicated.)
It’s funny, isn’t it, that ‘spirits’ – whisky I mean, vodka, gin – are called that? Or rather, no, it’s not. Because one of the little amusements I allowed myself when I created your world was to infuse alcohol with me. The essence of me. The Good and the Bad. The Quick and the Dead. Every drop you take, have ever taken, has me in it. My cells, my souls, my lusts, my fears. Surprised? I don’t think you are. There’s no Devil, you know. There’s never been any need.
So. I think I’ve changed my mind. We’re just coming up to Caledonian Road station. Blimey: that’s a coincidence. (No such thing, Freud said. The same Freud who said ‘God is simply a projection’.) This – Cally Road –is where it all started going wrong for me, over there to be precise, in that building, there. Look! Even you can tell it was a pub once, surely, full of the adolescent lager-and-lime of pride and shame? Right there I tried to become like you. I did become like you. I loved one of you there. And that was the end. The Change came.
So. They used to say talk was cheap. Seems about right to me. I’m not angry but I do need revenge. Or, rather, justice: no need at all for emotion. The place, this particular North London ex-pub, is an ‘All Day 24/7 Supervalu Pollish And Meditteranean Market Closed Fridays’ now. I could take a ghost from here, but I think I’d rather take one of you – one of the almost alive – instead. It’ll make me feel better. And that, dear reader, is what actually matters. Come on, come with me. It really won’t hurt.