Series 2, Episode 3: The Jaffa Cake Paradigm
But was any of it real?
The men of the Millport barbershop seemed real enough, although there had been no customers yet that day to validate their existence. As the great philosophers of old used to conjecture, if a man doesn’t cut anyone’s hair, can he be called a barber?
They were standing at the window, three men in a row – Barney Thomson, legend of the fall, Keanu McPherson, hairdresser pursuivant, and Igor, their deaf, mute hunchbacked aide-de-camp – looking out upon the world. The road, a pavement either side, the white promenade wall, and beyond, across the sea, to the distant freighter, bound for the spice islands off the coast of Myanmar.
The men were eating cinnamon buns, which Barney had made that morning. He’d had the dough proving overnight, then he’d risen at four a.m. in order to have time for a second prove, before getting the buns in the oven in time for work. A batch of sixteen, eight of which had gone with DS Monk to the police station, the rest here at the shop. Two each for the men, with a couple spare should they consider any customer worthy of being a bun recipient. Didn’t happen often.
The cinnamon buns, of course, may well also have been fictional. Hard to say. They tasted great though, so that was all that mattered.
On the customer’s bench behind the men lay the raw sewage of that day’s newspapers, already largely condemned to be ignored. Barney liked to play his part, though. He had his order in at the local newsagents, and he didn’t want to cancel it. And occasionally they would get in a customer who’d pick up a newspaper, rather than take a phone from their pocket.
On top of the pile was the Telegraph, headline Hero Johnson Watches Trump Coup With Interest, Makes Notes, beneath which lay the Guardian, Washington’s Capitol Hill Ablaze, Trump Regime Pins Blame On Pelosi; the Express, Johnson Backs Trump Purge Of Leftist Loons; the Mail, No 10 Bloodbath As Priti Patel Closes In On Power; the Mirror, 73 Democrat Lawmakers Executed Or Jailed, As Trump Loses Shit; the Sun, Trump Has Erectile Malfeasance Claims Latest Porn Star To Share Diaper Donnie’s Bed; the Independent, Cummings Leaves Johnson’s Flayed, Mutilated Body Hung From Lamppost Outside No10 On Way Out The Door; the Star, Gove Writes U.S.A. In Crayon On Birth Certificate, Throws Hat Into Ring For 2024 GOP Nomination; the National, ‘Get the fuck in!’ says Nicola, As Scotland Qualify For Euros.
Unlike the town of Millport, the barbershop and the cinnamon buns, sadly there was nothing fictional about the destruction of democracy on either side of the Atlantic.
‘What’s that line about the lamps going out around Europe or something, that Churchill said?’ asked Keanu.
The mood in the shop was sombre. There were so many things going on in the world, and none of them were good. Sure, the cinnamon buns were pretty phenomenal, by the way, but a good cinnamon bun and a cracking cup of tea or coffee can only take you so far in life.
‘The lamps are going out all over Europe,’ said Barney, his voice low. ‘We shall not see them lit again in our life-time.’
‘Arf,’ said Igor, nodding.
They stood in silence for a while. Outside, all was quiet. The wind still, and with the door closed, the sound of the sea was lost to them. Occasionally Barney had music playing in the shop, but not this morning. He’d given Petroc on Radio 3 the first half hour of the day, but with the passing of the Breakfast show, the radio had been turned off and silence had fallen.
‘He was pretty good, Churchill, right?’ said Keanu. ‘He’s like Gandhi or Oscar Wilde. A quote for every occasion. I wonder if he ever said anything about Bond movies.’
‘It wasn’t Churchill.’
‘It wasn’t Churchill who said the line about the lamps going out. He gave a speech in ’38 where he said the lights were going out, but he was mirroring the fuller line from the Foreign Secretary during the first world war.’
‘Who was that?’
‘Who was the Foreign Secretary during WW1?’
Barney thought about it a moment, couldn’t remember his name. Looked at Igor.
‘Arf,’ said Igor.
Igor could remember everything.
‘Never heard of him,’ said Keanu. He took a drink of coffee, then another bite of cinnamon bun. It really was the perfect bun. ‘Had a way with words, though, eh?’ he added a while later.
A seagull settled on the promenade wall across the road, looking into the shop. The men looked at the gull, the gull stared back. It was apparent that the gull had an eye for one of those buns, it being entirely possible it’d heard talk of their quality.
No one really knows for sure whether birds understand the concept of glass.
‘I’d eat up, lads,’ said Barney, ‘if only to protect that wee fellow from taking a header into the window.’
And so, as it had been commanded, the men of the shop finished off their buns, and the gull lived to see another bleak day in the west of Scotland.
Everyone loves a Bond villain. But what if you actually LOVED a Bond villain. With so many actual potential Bond villains in the world, from uber-weird Elon Musk, to haunted sarcophagus Mark Zuckerburg, the chances of meeting the real thing keep rising. With the incredible new Bond film, NO TIME TO DIE, out this week, we took a look at Bond’s most famous villains, from the ones who’ll give you the feels, to the ones who’ll have you pressing the ejector button in the passenger seat.ROSA KLEB: You probably don’t want to go anywhere near the brutalist Kleb, the SPECTRE operative from the second Bond film, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. If you do inexplicably find yourself about to head to the bedroom, make sure she takes her shoes off first. SKEDADDLEAURIC GOLDFINGER: No oil painting, but on the plus side, he has a private jet and you’ll stay in the best hotels. However, he looks like he’ll be into some seriously kinky sex, and when he gets the gold paint out, it’s time to run. SKEDADDLEELEKTRA KING: Glamour millionairess from THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH. Sure, she might have you killed so you probably don’t want to stick around, but she’s rich, she’s gorgeous, and who wouldn’t want to take that risk? SHAGALEC TREVELYAN: Turncoat MI6 character from GOLDENEYE. You know you can’t trust him, but hey, it’s Sean Bean. Go for it, take out a massive life insurance policy, and wait for him to die. Sean Bean ALWAYS dies. MARRYMIRANDA FROST: Frost, from chill thriller DIE ANOTHER DAY, is as beautiful as she is untrustworthy. You don’t want to miss out on the sex – and if you can rope in Halle Berry’s Jinx from the same movie to join you, we salute you – but commitment will be the end of you. SHAGJAWS: Everyone’s favourite loveable Bond giant, Jaws is the vicious villain with the heart of gold. Go on ladies, you know he’s worth it, just watch out for the clash of teeth at the height of passion. MARRYXENIA ONATOPP: Famke Janssen’s killer character from GOLDENEYE has tonnes going for her. Fighter pilot? Yep. Intelligent? Yep. Beautiful? Yep. Has orgasms while committing murder during sex? Wait, what? Yes, the alluring Onatopp likes to crush lovers to death with her thighs. SKEDADDLEBLOFELD: The character has truly found his mark in the hands of Christoph Waltz, first in SPECTRE, and now in the latest Bond thriller NO TIME TO DIE. Cunning and charismatic, he’s evil with a knowing smile and the coolest scar in film. If you like supreme criminal power, and don’t mind being married to a psychopath, Blofeld might just be worth it. MARRYPUSSY GALORE: Is she actually a villain? Who cares? Pussy Galore was the sexiest thing to come out of the 60s, and the 60s had Diana Rigg and Daphne from Scooby Doo. MARRYSAFIN: In NO TIME TO DIE Safin is the uber-intelligent, uber-vicious terrorist that finally might be a match for Bond. Naturally, in the hands of Rami Malek, there’s something delicious about him. But ladies, beware. Safin wants to kill everyone. You’ll want to check this villain out for yourself, but we recommend: SKEDADDLENO TIME TO DIE, the 25th Bond movie, opens in cinemas, Friday 13th.
Hmm, thought Keanu, I wonder which Friday 13th they meant?
‘Who’s your favourite Bond villain?’ he tossed out to the shop, looking round. Boffo Longbottom was only the third customer of the day, so, so far Keanu had made one cut, and it was almost 11 a.m. Some days he went with the flow, as time ground to a halt, and some days he wouldn’t have minded another customer or two.
Even though most right-thinking men are happy to live without conversation, few are there amongst them who can resist talk of Bond villains. Or, indeed, any topic that might be Bond-related.
Barney paused the cut for the moment, Igor leant on the top of his brush and stared off into the far yonder, and Longbottom, who no one in the town had heard talk in over two years, nodded to himself as he stared at his own reflection and considered what might be one of the great questions.
‘Fiona Volpe,’ said Barney to kick things off.
‘I’m not sure I’m familiar with her work,’ said Keanu.
‘Sure you are,’ said Barney. ‘The lady assassin in Thunderball. Helps steal the nukes, rides a missile-launching motorbike, has sex with Bond, nearly kills him, doesn’t quite pull it off because Bond dying isn’t in the script. Something like that.’
‘Right,’ said Keanu. ‘Hmm, not bad. She’s decent.’
‘Aye,’ said Barney. ‘What about you?’
‘I like Silva,’ said Keanu, ‘from Skyfall. I mean, Javier Bardem looks like a serial killing lunatic even when he’s eating Weetabix.’
‘Have you seen Javier Bardem eat Weetabix?’
‘Not sure. And then he’s got that weird jaw thing he does. That shit is awesome.’ A beat, he nodded to himself while he thought about the weird jaw thing, then he said, ‘Igor?’
Igor looked guiltily at them for a moment, then sniggered.
‘Arf,’ he said, unable to stop himself laughing.
‘Ha!’ said Keanu.
‘You are a piece of work,’ said Barney.
‘What?’ said Longbottom. ‘What’d I miss?’
The rest of the shop looked at Longbottom, surprised. Keanu hadn’t expected him to actually get involved in the chat. Indeed, word around town was that Longbottom had taken a vow of silence following the acrimonious conclusion to his relationship with Mavis Dunwoody, after hearing of her part in the hard-core Weymss Bay pornographic movie business.
‘Doesn’t matter,’ said Barney. ‘Igor can be very non-PC. Some things are better left unsaid.’
Keanu was still shaking his head, then in order to move on quickly threw, ‘Boffo?’ into the conversation.
‘Moneypenny,’ said Boffo Longbottom.
‘We’re talking about villains.’
‘Moneypenny’s a villain,’ said Boffo. ‘Pretty obvious she’s been working for the Russians this entire time.’
Everyone looked at him, only Igor with a sly smile on his face.
‘She’s always trying to get Bond into bed, even though she knows… she knows he’s a bit of a cunt. And why doesn’t he take her up on it? There’s easy sex there, and Bond’s a piece of work. Don’t go pretending he’s too chivalrous to bed the boss’s PA. Bond would shag your mum if he needed to kill five minutes.’ I’d’ve liked to see Bond shag my mum, thought Barney… ‘He knows, you see,’ continued Boffo Longbottom, tapping the side of his head, his hand lifting the cape as he did so. ‘She exists only to extract information from him. And, of course, in the current incarnation, she shoots him on that bridge, pretending she hadn’t meant to. But we know, she was aiming to kill him, but just fucked it.’
‘Hmm,’ said Barney, ‘not sure I completely agree, but it’s a theory. We’ll put it to the full executive steering committee of the Barbershop Practical Hypotheses Department and get back to you on whether or not it has any validity.’
‘I don’t really know what just happened in that sentence,’ said Longbottom, ‘but I’ll take it, thanks.’
Barney raised his eyebrows at the customer in the mirror, between them they accepted that it was time to once more rejoin battle, then Longbottom settled down, and Barney resumed the cut.
Keanu and Igor exchanged a quick glance, conversation over, then Keanu returned solemnly to the next Fuzzbeed article – You Won’t Believe The 7 Weird Things This Mom Found In Her Husband’s Pants – and Igor once more took up the brush.
The grey-blue sea, the small islands in the bay, the sweep of Millport bay around to their left, a mile across the sea the muted green of the mainland, principle feature being Hunterston B nuclear power station – the whereabouts of the missing Hunterston A nuclear power station having long been a mystery – the wind farm up on the hill behind, the turn of the land around to the south, Ayrshire disappearing behind the hills, the constant still line of the horizon; and to their right, the featureless hulk of the island of Little Cumbrae, and beyond that, further to their right, the hills of Arran, their early winter summits covered in a light dusting of snow, currently hidden beneath low, grey cloud.
How often had Barney and Monk sat at their window on the other side of the bay, looking across the water at those distant hills, and talked of taking a few days over there to walk them, to look down on Cumbrae from across the sea? They never did seem to go anywhere. Of course, this was 2020. No one was going anywhere, not even two boat rides away.
Here they were, Barney and Keanu and Igor, three men and their view, enjoying the post-lunch cup of tea, and it didn’t matter that they weren’t looking at Lake Louise, or the Wahiba sands in Oman, and it didn’t matter that they’d each made the decision to come across the road without their second cinnamon bun, and were all now kind of regretting the decision. There was comfort in the familiar, and they’d been standing in silence now for almost fifteen minutes, jackets on against the cold, taking in the day, their thoughts drifting randomly in whichever direction they allowed them to go.
‘D’you think anything’s going to happen?’ asked Keanu after a while.
For another few minutes the men stood and stared out upon the world. A car drove by behind them, far out in the firth a small yacht appeared, inching through featureless distant sea.
‘Might,’ said Barney eventually.
Igor remained silent. Maybe he hadn’t heard.
‘Might not,’ Barney added a while later.
The end of the day rush, such as it was. Four forty-five, and there were two customers in. Barney was giving Old Man McGuire his weekly Debilitated Strangler, while Keanu was giving Old Man Jefferson his monthly Constipated Turkman Fauxcut. In a move that they’d both already come to regret, Barney and Keanu had allowed Old Man McGuire and Old Man Jefferson, to get into an argument about Brexit. Barney’s usual route out of such unnecessary conversational diarrhea, hurrying the cut up and having the customer out in seconds, had largely been closed to him as McGuire kept turning around and gesticulating wildly at Jefferson.
‘This,’ said McGuire, ‘this is exactly why Brexit’s happening. That lot in Brussels cannae keep their hands out of our pies.’
‘We’re no’ talking about pies!’ barked Jefferson, ‘we’re talking about cakes!’
‘Ha! There you go again. They’re no’ cakes, they’re fucking biscuits, and soon as we’re out of the EU, the name’ll be getting changed.’
‘Away to fuck.’
‘And guess what, see after that, where will you find them in the supermarket? Oh, look, they’ll be in the biscuit aisle, where they are at the moment, because they’re a fucking biscuit!’
Barney and Keanu had taken a step back, sharing a glance and a sigh. Little to be done with a pair of old fools and the age-old argument about Jaffa Cakes.
‘On you go, change the subject, you old muppet.’
‘Who’s changing the subject? We’ve been talking about flippin’ Jaffa Biscuits for the last twenty minutes.’
‘Aye, and you’ve been saying they were defined as cakes by the EU, which is, as we’ve established here today in court, complete and utter shite, by the way. Now you’ve had your arse handed to you, funnily enough, you’re changing the subject.’
‘My arse? I’ll have your fucking arse, Jefferson, y’old cunt!’
McGuire started to get out of his seat, looking angrily at Jefferson, who similarly started to rise, and then suddenly they were up and squaring off in the middle of the shop, barbershop capes on, small amounts of grey hair falling, each wearing a blue surgical face covering, eyes flaming fire and vengeance.
Barney and Keanu had taken another step back, but Barney was thinking that this probably ought not to go any further. Sure, there was something comical about the situation, but wasn’t it Old Man Jefferson who’d once impaled an axe in the back of Chipper Sudgrove during a disputed game of Scrabble? And a barbershop, as Barney well knew, was a positive arsenal of murder weapons.
‘Cunt, eh? Right,’ said Jefferson, ‘I’m fucking having you.’
Keanu regarded them warily, unsure whether to intervene. He usually left this kind of thing to Barney, and by this kind of thing, he wasn’t entirely sure what that meant, as they’d never had a fight between two men with a combined age of two-hundred and forty-seven. Barney was inclined to walk away, and come back when one or both of them was dead. A fool and his stupidity could not be easily parted. Still, someone had to be the grown up.
Both men had their fists raised beneath their cloaks, hardly the first to come to blows about the Jaffa Cake definition – which is, after all, a window into a much deeper philosophical discussion on identity and language – and Barney sighed heavily.
‘Bollocks,’ he muttered.
McGuire took a step forward, fist raised beneath his cloak, Jefferson braced himself for the weak-ass, old-man’s punch, his face contorted with fury. And then, and then, from nowhere it came.
The red handle of a brush, spinning through the air, held lightly in Igor’s nimble fingers, as he introduced some Jet Li type shit to the party, and then he brought the brush down in a sweeping move, in between the combatants, bringing it to a sudden halt with the brush head less than an inch above the shop counter.
Igor looked at Old Man McGuire, and then gave Old Man Jefferson the same harsh, icy stare. The old men quailed beneath it.
‘Arf!’ barked Igor, the old men glanced gloomily at each other, and then returned to their seats, each of them sitting down with the same look, lips pursed like a tightened sphincter, neither of them to open their mouth again for the duration of their cuts.
Igor nodded at the others as he returned to his duties, Barney doffed a fictional cap in his direction in appreciation, and then, well, blesséd silence returned to the shop, and Barney was quickly able to complete the execution of McGuire’s Turkman fauxcut and have him on his way.
They’d cut hair, and they’d chatted, the day had wound its way along the slow-moving waters of the firth of Clyde, and now it was over.
5:30 had come and gone, the Closed sign had been placed on the door, the men were sitting around, polishing off their last cup of tea of the day, little left to be said. Barney waiting for DS Monk to pitch up, before walking back along to the house in the dark. Keanu, jacket already on, about to head out, Igor sitting in the barber’s chair, staring at the floor, waiting for the call from Garrett Carmichael, telling him she was done for the day. If he felt any buzz about finally getting to display his martial arts skills in the shop, after all these years, he wasn’t showing it.
‘So, there we are,’ said Keanu, ‘another day in the bag.’
Barney smiled, not a lot to be said.
‘Arf,’ said Igor, nevertheless.
‘Question is,’ said Keanu, ‘another day nearer what?’
‘No one knows, son,’ said Barney. ‘No one knows.’
Keanu nodded, he lifted a hand to wave to the others, and like that, like a ninja, silent feet across barbershop floor, he was gone.
Barney and Igor were left in the quiet, finishing off their tea, all talked out for the day. One minute passed to the next, Barney could feel that Monk’s arrival was not far off.
‘Nice work today,’ he said after a while.
‘Arf,’ said Igor nodding.
And as the door opened upon DS Monk’s arrival, allowing in another blast of chill November air, Igor smiled grimly to himself.