'Phew!I'd better open that window and let some fresh air in,' thought Michael Savage, getting up from his desk and going across to the nearest window.'That's better!No wonder people fall asleep on the job.Too stuffy for clear thinking.... Well, I couldn't ask for a better day to be leaving this place.Such a cloudless sky must be a good omen.The twenty-fifth of June, effectively my D-Day!'

††††† Returning to his desk, he cast a furtive glance around the elongated office in which it had been his fate to labour in various clerical capacitiesfor the past five-and-a-half years, before continuing: 'Eight-thirty and still not many people here.Even old Gerald hasn't arrived yet.Just as well I got out of bed on time this morning.Being here at eight-twenty is early for me.'He turned his eyes towards the young clerk at the desk opposite, a comparative newcomer to the clerical scene, and encountered an impassive gaze, the gaze of reticent youth which, however, he sought to investigate by tentatively smiling upon, the youth duly reciprocating this smile in an equally tentative manner, thereby reassuring him of the latter's shyness or perhaps even deference.On more than one occasion in recent weeks Michael had been disconcerted and almost intimidated by this adolescent's impassivity, this enigmatic judgement which rarely exposed itself to close scrutiny, although he subsequently dismissed the accusations he had hypothetically, and some would say pathetically, levelled against himself on the grounds that he had as much right to live as anyone else, even if he was occasionally a little paranoid, and that the youth, far from holding himself critically aloof from someone he despised, was probably uncertain of himself and, hence, fairly noncommittal.That, at any rate, seemed as plausible a conjecture as any!

††††† 'At least old grumpy guts won't be in for a while,' Michael resumed, thinking of the more experienced clerk who sat beside the one in question, as he turned the pages of a recent reprint of the G.B. and Channel Islands rail guide through which he was obliged to investigate the routes and times of the various intercity services the more important representatives of the firm would be obliged to utilize, in due course, for purposes best known to themselves.'So many stations in these things.I'd better make sure I keep a close check on the days of the week to which I'm referring.It wouldn't do to put someone who'll be working Saturday onto a Sunday service!Also refer to period validity.Make sure the timetable is still operative.Some of them don't begin to apply until the tenth of October.It keeps your mind alert anyway.'

††††† At that moment a smartly-dressed, portfolio-bearing clerk of average height, but slightly more than medium build, threw open the office door with a flourish and proceeded, at brisk pace, towards the Signing-in-Book at the far end of the room.He politely smiled at two nearby clerks before casting a glance at the newly-installed electric wall clock, which appeared to hover above the Signing-in-Book like a vulture over a carcass.

††††† 'Ah, there's Gerald now!Eight-thirty three, eh?He's a bit late this morning.... What-on-earth's he done to his hair?It looks a different colour today.Maybe it's down to some fancy shampoo he uses.He's growing a beard it seems.Suits him anyway.Looks slightly more like a man now.Always did strike me as being a bit effeminate.Wonder if he'll say hello.'

††††† "Morning, Michael!"

††††† "Morning, Gerald." - 'Christ, that surprised me!He hasn't been so friendly since I cold-shouldered him last week. Has probably changed his attitude on account of my imminent departure.' - "How did the piano lessons go last night?" Michael hastened to inquire of him."I trust you weren't too tired after yesterday's initiation into that job I gave you?"

††††† Having removed his summer jacket and rearranged the contents of his rather pretentious-looking black-leather portfolio, which included a sheet of music, a small packet of paper tissues, a wad of writing paper, and a pack of envelopes, Gerald Matthews abandoned his desk and, as though to shield his reply from potentially malevolent ears, replied, sotto voce, that the lessons in question hadn't gone too badly, that yesterday afternoon's headache had gradually subsided, and that his first pupil, an intelligent young fourteen year-old, had put him in a better frame-of-mind to deal with the second one, a young woman of dubious potential and inveterate laziness whose weekly lesson he would have no option but to seriously consider discontinuing if things didn't improve between them.Undoubtedly, being a rather garrulous fellow, he would have expatiated on that and similar themes at quite some length, had not Michael intuitively foreseen his colleague's verbal self-indulgence and thereupon quickly changed the subject to their office work.More specifically, to the fact that certain examples of Gerald's recent train-timetabling required slight amendments, the forms to the right of the latter's desk being the examples in question.

††††† "Oh, right!" said Gerald, returning to his desk and nervously thumbing through them."I'll deal with these as soon as possible.Thanks for drawing attention to the mistakes in pencil, by the way.I'm afraid I wasn't at my best yesterday afternoon."

††††† "Not to worry," responded Michael, getting back to his own work."We all make mistakes - good, bad, or plain indifferent.... As for me," he continued in a lower voice, "I'll try not to make too many today."He winked at Gerald, who smiled insightfully on the reception of this ironic remark.For it struck him as really quite esoteric.

††††† "Lucky you, Michael," he said.Then, after a short recollective pause, added: "By the way, if you'd like to celebrate the occasion at lunch time, we could go to that little restaurant again.Or to a pub, if you'd prefer that."

††††† Michael's feelings clouded over slightly at the prospect of being invited to take part in this virtually inevitable formality, to eat and talk in the company of someone he didn't have all that much in common with, especially in view of the fact that he hadn't envisaged any such invitation, having made no close friends at the office and hardly being on particularly intimate terms with Gerald, who was anything but his idea of a compatible conversationalist!Still, it was jolly decent of the bloke to suggest something, all the same.He would certainly have to oblige him on this occasion.After all, it wasn't every day that one left a firm."We'll go to that restaurant, then," Michael decided.

††††† By 10.00am all the staff had arrived, including grumpy-guts Vlad opposite, and the office was beginning to seethe with purposeful activity.The telephones would continue ringing virtually non-stop until lunch time, the gift of an hour's reprieve, and then at 1.30pm, when most of the clerks were back at their desks and diligently scribbling away, off they would go again, an incessant barrage of rings and voices, voices and rings, with their accompanying retinue of doubts, queries, unreasonable demands, abject pleas, pointless remarks, piss-provoking complaints, and last-minute cancellations.If you survived a week's telephone duty during the peak period of customer/supplier communication, answered all the queries, overcame perpetual earaches, and learnt to become ambidextrous, you were well on the way to a permanent position in the firm.

††††† However, having been responsible for answering the majority of routine calls hitherto, Michael opted for a breather on his last day.He assured himself that he had quite enough paperwork to be getting on with anyway, and consequently decided to allow Miss Daphne Smalls, who was seated beside him, to take sole charge of the telephone closest to-hand, it being understood that the 'rise', as he facetiously put it, would do her good.Well, someone would have to replace him on Monday and she, being the nearest and eldest, if not the most experienced, seemed as good a candidate as any, despite her inability, at present, to cope with a majority of queries.But she would learn in good time.A woman of her charm and intelligence could go quite some way in the firm!

††††† When Michael Savage next glanced at the bright-red wall clock it was just turning 10.30, time for a mid-morning tea break.Everyone appeared to be rushing around like mad now, as the chief clerk, the assistant chief clerk, and various other personnel of a subordinate though supervisory capacity dished out orders, intervened on the telephones, corrected clerical blunders, sorted letters, scolded junior clerks, and generally worked things up to fever pitch.Even Gerald, despite his customary composure, was busily engaged in ironing out a ticklish problem with his immediate colleague, a quiet, inoffensive little man by name of Ernie Brock, who had been a loyal servant to the firm for over six years, and who was now rubbing the end of a new pencil against his left nostril in indication, perhaps, of some imminent revelation.... Although, to judge by the worried expression on his clean-shaven countenance, it evidently wasn't a thing permitting an easy solution!As could also be confirmed by the equally tense expression on Gerald's somewhat more robust features.To be sure, life was full of such problems, and little Ernie Brock was as susceptible to the vicissitudes of fate as the next man, despite the double bonus of an innate and acquired sagacity which he indefatigably strove to utilize from morning till night.

††††† 'By Christ!' thought Michael, smiling in spite of himself, 'you just have to smile at the way those grey-flannel trousers come up to his chest, as though he were dressed in a sack every day.Up to his chest, with that tacky little belt girdling his ribs and the seat of his pants all shiny at the back from where he's been sweating in them too often.Must be an odd sight for the wife every evening, his coming home looking like a glorified scarecrow.Probably makes him more loveable, brings out her maternal instinct.("Yes, there's nobody quite like my Ernie.He's so individualistic.")Never seen him without a tie on, either.Probably against his religion.Might even ...'For a moment the shrill ringing of the nearby phone startled Michael out of his sarcastic reflections and he was about to answer it personally when he remembered he had left that privilege to Miss Smalls."Hello, are you going to answer it?Yes?Good!" - 'Give her plenty of practice.She'll soon get the hang of things.Oddly enough, it does take you out of yourself sometimes.Occasionally find yourself talking to some quite charming people.One of the few real perks here.... Whew!Am I glad of that breeze!Makes me feel like a new man.A great advantage in this stuffy place, having a seat near the window.Sustained concentration!

††††† 'That chap opposite-but-one, old grumpy guts, still hasn't said a word to anyone.You have to wait until he gets a phone call, then you hear a few terse words from him.Perfunctory but pertinent.Isn't really what I'd call the most generous of conversationalists.Quite the contrary!A member of our unofficially incorporated society of verbal misers, a strictly taciturn type.Swears under his breath quite a lot though, particularly in the morning.Often arrives late at the office in a terrible temper, makes that youth next to him quake with fright.You'd imagine it was the work, or the prospect of work, that riled him, but not at all!He's one of the most conscientious of people, a stickler for duty if ever there was one!In all probability, the work prevents his mind from wandering along too many unsavoury paths, keeps him on the track, as it were, especially when he's in a foul mood.... But what it is, exactly, that upsets him ... his Polish ancestry or a dislike of the West or a recollection of the number of attractive females he has to pass-up on his way to the office every morning?I shouldn't think he's gay or whatever.At least, he doesn't appear to show much interest in any of the males here, Gerald not excepted.Indeed, now I come to think of it, he made an unsuccessful pass at some young woman who used to work here last year, some little flash-arse by name of Cathy.Usual thing, however: already engaged, try again later.Such, at any rate, was the implication of her rejection.Well, it's my last day opposite him, thank goodness!I don't think I'll miss the sight of his ugly mug too much.

††††† 'I wonder what sort of thoughts pass through his mind every day?Quite chilling, if his face is anything to judge by!Something approximating to a chamber of horrors or even to a private mental orgy.Then that conscientiousness could be more than just a guard against the possibility of his thinking too many harrowing thoughts; it could be a sort of penitence, a form of self-punishment, a kind of Kafka complex he wields with all the manic determination of a born masochist, in a desperate attempt to atone for his numerous shortcomings.Still, he doesn't work too hard, the way I see it.Although, to be honest, I don't make a point of looking at him all that often, because he would only revolt me and probably return me a nasty look, to boot!However, what I have gleaned from an occasional curiosity indicates that his introspection is by no means confined to inscrutable reflections but also manifests itself quite unashamedly in what I can only suppose to be a form of demonic humour, some little idiosyncratic joke which the combined dictates of reason and commonsense are unable to restrain from bursting out in all its impassioned exhibitionism.Maybe some sexual innuendo going on in his head, or a personal moral victory over some senior member of the staff.In sum, something approximating to a self-induced deliverance from the general tedium of his work.Dangerous game, though.You could find people staring at you as if you were a madman.They have to know who or what you're smiling at.He's probably been alone too long, no-one to take him out of himself, like my nearest neighbour, Miss Bass.Therefore no alternative for him but to amuse himself in his own waywardly introspective fashion, to initiate an interruption of the funereal.Still, it's a very strict upbringing some of those East Europeans get, really.Too damn strict, judging by the results of it!Seems to have turned him into a fully-fledged dreamer, turned him in upon himself, a fish out of clerical water.

††††† 'Well, he can't be expected to restrain himself from lewd or vicious thoughts all the time.Nobody can do that!A person isn't born to be entirely good or evil.You have to mix it up, face the facts.... Gentle dreamer writes bitter satire.Gentle nun regularly indulges in self-flagellation.Impotent priest admires The Rite of Spring.Boisterous rock star turns reflective poet in his spare time.Inoffensive gent thinks scandalous thoughts.Offensive labourer regularly attends Mass.Meditation master writes A History of the Roman Empire.Spiritual guitarist plays hell with his guitar.

††††† 'Yeah, and that's precisely where a lot of people come unstuck, because they won't or can't accept their other self, whichever self that happens to be, and wind-up going either mad or neurotic.They may be in a social trap which demands a rigorous consistency in behaving politely, and the only thing they can do then, short of changing their lifestyle, is to effect a subtle deception so that good and evil are effectively interchanged, their particular brand of evil being fobbed off as a manifestation of good and their particular brand of good fobbed off as a manifestation of evil, depending where they're at.The gentle "spiritualist" who writes revoltingly violent music and the violent "materialist" whose music is enticingly gentle are really two aspects of the same coercion, the coercion which leads you to realize that you're neither an angel nor a demon but a man, and therefore a subtle compromise between two absolutes.

††††† 'Yes, Vlad is a man whether or not he likes the fact, in consequence of which he has to swear under his breath every so often, because a more audible form of swearing could lead to his being dismissed from a firm which is compelled, by commercial necessity, to maintain what some would regard as a highly repressive verbal conservatism.This repressed anger wells-up in his psyche like molten lava, like a kettle on the boil, and comes bubbling out of him in spite of any last-moment efforts he might make to impede it.But that's what happens when you haven't got a girlfriend to act as a kind of vent for repressed emotions, enabling you to release so many pent-up feelings through coitus and lovemaking generally.In fact, I'm in a similar boat to him, and it wouldn't surprise me if Gerald was in a similar boat to us either, something akin to a Ship of Fools, because there are so many of us who are suffering from a dementia peculiar to the age, an age abounding, for all its show of promiscuity, in sexual frustrations, general repressions, and simulated violence, which has given birth to the paradoxical phenomena of the womanly man and the manly woman: the former finding it difficult to assert himself in view of his social repressions and the latter finding it difficult not to assert herself in view of her new-found occupational freedoms.Indeed, most of the other men in this place appear to be suffering from it too, I can see it on their faces.For the male sex has been rather undermined recently!'

††††† "How's the poetry going, man?"

††††† 'Good God, someone's asking me a question!' - "Oh, not too b-badly," stuttered Michael, feeling somewhat embarrassed at being asked such a question at such a time in such a place."I try to do a little every day," he added, turning towards the tall, denim-clad figure of Martin Stevens, the general office's only black guy, who had just concluded a favourable telephone conversation with his latest girlfriend and was on the verge of returning to his desk at the opposite end of the room when he evidently thought it appropriate to offer Michael the sop of some friendly curiosity."That's the way!" enthused Stevens, his large plum-like eyes veering towards the open window."Keep plugging away."

††††† "I've no real choice," Michael averred."There's little else I can do."

††††† "Really?"

††††† "Well, you know what I mean."

††††† "Ha-ha, sure thing, man!" chuckled Stevens, his big round eyes abandoning the window."Hey, it's your last day here, isnít it?Ha-ha!Glad to be leaving?"

††††† "Well, I wouldn't be smiling if I wasn't," replied Michael, who was slightly taken aback, in spite of his apparent good humour.

††††† "Then you won't be coming back this time?" drawled Stevens with a mischievous glint in his eyes and a broad grin baring his immaculate white teeth."Not like you did on the previous two occasions?"

††††† "No, it's third time lucky for me," confirmed Michael impatiently.

††††† "Ha-ha, that's the spirit, that's the fucking spirit!Five-and-a-half years in this sodding place is evidently long enough, right?"It was the sort of rhetorical question to expect from a guy who had never been in any job longer than five months, or so Michael supposed.Meantime, Stevens had switched track to a more pragmatic question."Got another job lined up, man?" he asked.

††††† "Not yet," replied Michael, turning red in the face at what he took to be a sarcastic edge to Stevens' tone."As a matter of fact, I intend to concentrate on my, er, literary writings for a while, see if I can produce anything worthwhile."

††††† "Gee, I hope you do," concluded Stevens, before slinking back to his desk with sensuous ease.

††††† "I didn't know you wrote," Miss Smalls suddenly confessed in an almost begrudging tone-of-voice."You look like a writer anyway."

††††† "Well, I have to do something with myself in the evenings," declared 'the writer' solemnly, not quite understanding her."I can't play with my thumbs all the time, you know."

††††† Visibly taken aback by what seemed like a cruel remark, Daphne Smalls tightly focused her large dark-blue eyes on him in seeming anticipation of another statement.But, to her disappointment, nothing else was forthcoming from Mr Michael Savage, gentleman poet, potential genius, literary maniac, stultified clerk, womanless scribbler, so she turned back to the pile of forms and envelopes on her desk."I occasionally write too," she presently and almost blushingly confessed, looking-up from the envelope she was at that moment addressing."Bits and pieces for magazines and local papers."

††††† "Are they women's magazines?" asked Michael, feigning interest as best he could in this, the most recent of Daphne's personal confessions.However, the young woman emphatically shook her head and replied that she had written short articles on psychology and sociology in fairly influential scientific journals, albeit declining to name any.

††††† "I see," responded Michael, his thumb between the pages of the aforementioned G.B. and Channel Islands rail guide, a number of the pages of which were beginning to come unstuck from their bindings."And when was this?" he asked her.

††††† "Oh, a couple of years ago.I was actually doing part-time work at the time, so during my spare time I often sent letters on psychology and sociology to a variety of interested publications."

††††† "I see," repeated Michael, who was unable to strangle the acute feeling of ennui stealthily creeping over him, like a wary spider, at the prospect of having to continue this rather half-hearted conversation."And did they publish them?"

††††† "Sometimes.It really depended on what I was writing, actually.These days, however, I hardly write anything at all.I'm usually far too busy in the evenings."

††††† "Doing what?" asked Michael.

††††† Daphne took a deep breath, as if unsure whether or not to reveal the truth, but finally her ego got the better of her and she confessed: "Well, I do a lot of social work, mainly locally, which keeps me busy for about three hours a night on three nights a week.Normally I spend a lot of time just talking to people, finding out what I can about them, what makes them tick, what their views are on various subjects, what problems they have, and so on - a whole host of different things!Of course, I also read quite a lot, especially late at night."

††††† "Is that a fact?" rejoined Michael indifferently.

††††† "Oh, yes."And here, to his surprise, Daphne dipped into her brightly striped shoulder bag and extracted from its jumble of heterogeneous contents a thick paperback entitled A History of Madness, its cover like something by Hieronymus Bosch, which she then proceeded to brandish quite unashamedly before the startled eyes of the gentleman poet, potential genius, etc., who appeared to be momentarily hypnotized by it and unable, in consequence, to formulate anything even remotely resembling a coherent response."I've been reading it for quite some time," she went on, "as you can doubtless tell from the somewhat battered condition it's in at present.But it's a most enlightening book!"

††††† 'I thought at first she'd got it from a jumble sale, to judge by the state of it,' thought Michael.'Poor girl, I knew she was neurotic from the moment she started here.Might have been born unbalanced, for all I know.Whew! I'll become neurotic again, if I have to sit next to her much longer.Something in the oppressive atmosphere she creates.Thank goodness it's my last day here!I'll be rid of her for one thing!'

††††† Meantime, Daphne having returned the battered tome to her overcrowded shoulder bag, Michael felt called upon to say something."I see," he reiterated, as though entranced.Then, snapping out of it: "Are all your books like that?"

††††† Daphne pondered a moment, her mouth hanging open, as though in mute expectation of some spiritual visitation."No, not really," she at length replied."Mostly psychology, psychiatry, and sociology, with just a little, er, literature thrown-in for good measure."

††††† 'Hum, she certainly seems rather matter-of-fact about it,' mused Michael.'Leads a regular social life in the evenings, does she?Well, she won't do herself a power of good, the way I see it, by mixing-in with the spaced-out crowd she's evidently into at present.'

††††† "Soon be lunch time, Michael," the voice of Gerald Matthews was heard to interpose from a saner section of the office."Cod and chips for me today.How's the work going, by the way?"

††††† Michael glanced at the pile of completed forms to the right of his desk, the bulk of his morning's labour."Oh, not too badly, thanks.Now that I don't have to keep on answering the phone, I can get on with it.You needn't worry about having to take over from me after today.Most of it's done now."

††††† "Jolly good," smiled Gerald."I'd hoped it would be."

††††† 'Ah, itís twelve-twenty,' observed Michael to himself.'Think I'll take a wash break, clean the sweat off my face.'

††††† Grasping his bright blue tea-mug, he strode purposefully out of the office, along the corridor, and down the top flight of stairs towards the GENTS, wherein he proceeded to urinate, wash his hands and face, rinse the mug, comb his hair, and retie the flagging laces of his desert boots, which were usually somewhat loose by this time of day.Finally, since there was nobody there to disturb him, he leaned his elbows on the windowsill and, gazing out onto the dreary scene the open window afforded one, began to ruminate on what he would eat for lunch.Certainly not fish and chips, at any rate!That was far too much the done thing on Fridays.It would be better to order a doner.Yes, a kebab would do fine.

††††† At that moment little Ernie Brock shuffled onto the scene and, noticing him out of the corner of his eye, Michael greeted him cordially, because he was an inoffensive little man who mostly kept himself to himself and consequently inspired a degree of veneration.Reciprocating Michael's greeting in his customary laid-back fashion, Ernie began to straighten his checked tie and to modestly inspect his priestly countenance in the nearby mirror."Nice weather we're still having," Michael ventured to opine from his vantage-point by the window."Let's hope it continues over the weekend."He glanced uneasily at Ernie.'Not much chance of a positive response from him,' he thought, becoming slightly embarrassed.'Bit of a drag always reverting to the weather anyway, particularly where he's concerned!I suppose it's just a formality between us.' - "Incidentally, how's the wife?"

††††† Although still preoccupied with his clean-shaven reflection in the grimy mirror, Ernie managed an affirmative nod with his balding head, which was then corroborated by a terse statement to the effect that she was fine."Good!" sighed Michael, who was grateful for every little crumb of verbal response he could garner in such fashion."And how are the babies?"

††††† Having shuffled to the loo proper, standing-room only, Ernie smiled self-satisfactorily on the reception of this question which, unbeknown to anyone else, directly related to his chief pride in life: namely, his two baby daughters."Oh, quite well, thanks," he replied, while simultaneously relieving what sounded to Michael like a hard-pressed bladder."The youngest one's teething at the moment, but it shouldn't last too long."

††††† "Dear me, that must be somewhat painful for her," Michael ventured to speculate, feeling completely out of his depth.To which speculation, however, there was no reply, so he asked: "Is she crying a lot, then?"

††††† "No, not really," Ernie replied."Fortunately she's a very good sleeper, so she isn't aware of her situation all that often.Then, too, we've given her a plastic dummy to suck, in order to relieve the pain slightly.But she's really quite a tough little creature."At which point, to Michael's surprise, his narrow face expanded into a broad grin, as though in acknowledgement of his own contribution to his daughter's toughness.

††††† "Good for her," rejoined Michael."And how's the other one - talking yet?"

††††† "We can't stop her," Ernie smilingly averred."She evidently takes to the language."

††††† "Must be a busy job for the wife, then," opined Michael while staring disinterestedly at a couple of large pigeons which had just that moment alighted on the flat roof of a nearby warehouse, the male of the species being engaged in wooing the other, a similarly light-grey pigeon that appeared to be completely ignoring the male's song-and-dance routine in her intense preoccupation with a grubby-looking apple core which someone must have thrown from one of the firm's back windows.However, she soon discarded this titbit and straightaway flew off towards the roof of another building, while the male, having seemingly enacted a gratuitous performance, picked or, rather, pecked up his wounded pride and took off in the opposite direction, leaving the titbit untouched.

††††† 'These damn male pigeons are always at it!' thought Michael solemnly.'Making bloody fools of themselves every minute of the frigging day!I suppose they have little else to do.Food and sex, sex and food, in a vicious circle.It must be dreadfully annoying for the female, being accosted every day by any number of puffed-up males on the make and having to take evasive action most of the time.Not exactly a bed of roses for the male either, having to contend with so many ill-mannered rejections.Something of a regular cock-up, you could say.Still, he's not to know one way or the other at first, is he?Not, of course, unless the mate of the female from whom he happens to be soliciting favours is also there, assuming they do actually establish any sort of long-term relationship and aren't wholly promiscuous, as one might be led to suppose from their general pattern of activity.But surely, if the mate of the female was nearby, a stranger would have more sense than to accost her, wouldn't he?Ah well, analogies enough with human life, without the necessity of my having to feel sorry for these damn pigeons!They breed like flies anyway.There ought to be something done about them.After all, they aren't that much of a tourist attraction.Terrible mess they make everywhere!'

††††† "... and she'll soon be old enough for nursery," Ernie was saying."How quickly they grow!"

††††† 'Good God, I'd virtually forgotten he was there!' - "By the way, what time is it?" asked Michael, as Ernie, having washed and dried his cup, shuffled towards the door."Er, twenty-seven minutes past twelve," the latter pedantically obliged, consulting his wind-up.

††††† "That's good," said Michael."It seems to have been a long morning."

††††† Ernie made no reply but smiled sympathetically before gently closing the door behind him, so once again Michael was left alone with his thoughts.

††††† 'Wonder how he gets on with his wife.She must be quite a different sort of person, because I certainly can't imagine him living with a woman as quiet as himself.It would be bad for the children when they got older.But maybe he comes out of his shell a bit more in the evenings?Still, he has managed to knock two kids out of her, so there's evidently more there than first meets the eye.Probably the attraction of opposites.Like-poles repel, unlike-ones attract.Then again, homosexuals are like-poles, aren't they? And they attract.No, what I mean is the attraction of men and women towards people who are temperamentally different from themselves.I mean it would be terribly boring otherwise, like talking to yourself most of the time, with little or no incentive for debate.So if his wife is a garrulous person, she doubtless needs a sympathetic ear, someone on whom she can exercise her passion for speech, someone, like him, who's a good listener and therefore won't shout her down or tell her to belt up.Well, that strikes me as a fairly feasible conjecture anyway, something along the lines of a solid foundation for a durable relationship.

††††† 'But I can't imagine him sexually dominating her, though.That seems a bit unlikely to me, especially when one begins to take this place into account.Why, there's too much male servitude here, women ruling the clerical roost.Ah, but wait a minute!Perhaps it's his sagacity which stands him in good stead with her by granting him a more subtle domination.I mean, with a man like him who, unlike old grumpy guts Vlad, never seems to get worked-up about anything or rarely shows it if he does, you'd think he had the most sought-after secrets of the world in his head, that he knew all the spiritual dodges or schemes and was only keeping calm because he also knew, from bitter experience, that resignation was the wisest course.I mean, one's imagination begins to wander with a man like him.You never know quite what he's up to!

††††† 'Mind you, he's no dope.He has a great memory.His little round head is absolutely crammed with knowledge, superfluous or otherwise.He's not as simple or lethargic as a superficial appreciation of his personality could lead one to suppose.On the contrary, there's much of the genuine mystic about him.He probably knows the Christian religion inside out, back-to-front, and upside down, as well as the right way up, and that undoubtedly has a lot to do with it, with his general air of complacency, as if all's well with the world.He has faith in the divine plan, in the omniscient omnipotence behind everything, in the diurnal scheme-of-things in which he has his allocated place and, as such, he isn't going to get foolishly worked-up about various problems, real or imaginary, when that wouldn't solve anything but more than likely turn him into a neurasthenic idler with peptic ulcers instead!No, he's all for a quiet life if he can get it, babies or not!

††††† 'Ah, footsteps on the stairs.That means it's half-twelve.Guess I'd better put in an appearance just for Gerald's sake.'

††††† And, so thinking, Michael Savage hurried out of the GENTS and headed back, mug in hand, towards the general office.