Captain Birdseye, the Green Cross man and the Scotch Videocassette skeleton pulled up a chair each at the large oak table in the middle of the common room. The Green Cross man sorted out the chips; the skeleton opened a pack of cards and began to shuffle them.

“Hey, Hartley – you in?” said the skeleton to the old man sitting at the opposite side of the table to his. JR Hartley looked up from his copy of the Sunday Telegraph.
“Sorry – not today, old chap,” he replied, sadly. “I’m a bit skint. But if you could loan me some cash to play with, I’d be delighted to join you.”
“Skint?” said the Green Cross man. “Have you been taken to the cleaners again? I keep telling you – stay away from the Bear Enclosure! Those two will bleed you dry if you let them!”

‘The Bear Enclosure’ was the residents’ nickname for the corner of the common room where the pool table stood. Long ago, that would have been the spot where you’d find the old boys gathered on afternoons like this; flexing their cues, enjoying a pint and friendly banter. That is, until the bears arrived at the home. Cresta and Hoffmeister were the biggest pool hustlers known to man. Before long, the pool table became their turf. It wasn’t that other people weren’t allowed there (in fact, as far as they were concerned, the more mugs, the merrier); it was just that playing pool with those two was the quickest guaranteed way to lose all your money. Everyone was convinced that they cheated, but so far nobody had been able to prove it. Needless to say, both bears were barred from the old boys’ Sunday poker games.

JR Hartley blushed slightly. “Okay, so I lost a couple of games to the bears,” he said. “It’s really no big deal.”
“A couple?” Captain Birdseye quipped. “More like a dozen!”
“What you guys don’t get,” said JR Hartley defensively, “Is that this is just part of my strategy. I’m playing a long game here. As any good fisherman will tell you, patience is as essential in pool as it is in fly-fishing. I’m just letting the bears think they’re outsmarting me. I lose a few more games, they grow over-confident and let their guard down – and that’s when…”
“…you lose your shirt to them?” Captain Birdseye interjected.
“I give up,” JR Hartley sighed. “It’s pointless explaining it to you.”
“Oh, don’t take life so seriously!” said the skeleton. “And anyway, we’re not playing for money today. We’re playing for Werther’s Originals.”
“Lemme guess – his grandson’s been visiting again, has he?” Captain Birdseye said, waving at the elderly man in the far corner of the room.
“Well, at least his offspring care about him,” the skeleton snorted. “Look at our French friend over there. Poor sod hasn’t seen his daughter since she dumped him here last year.”
“Ah yes, Nicole,” said Captain Birdseye, not even bothering to hide the lust in his voice. “She was fit. I so would!”
“Birdseye, you’re a perv,” said the Green Cross man. “I honestly don’t know what all those parents were thinking, leaving their kids unattended with you.”
“You can talk!” Captain Birdseye spat back. “What were your lot thinking? One minute, ‘Kids – don’t talk to strangers!’ Then the next minute, ‘Kids – let this strange man with green leggings on help you cross the road!’ Talk about your mixed messages!”
“Oi! Children! Break it up!” said the skeleton. “Let’s play some poker! Hartley – you speak the lingo; ask him to join us, will you? I hate seeing him on his own, so depressed.”
JR Hartley turned round. “PAPA!” he shouted across the room. “MON ARMY! VOO-LAY-VOO JEW-EY LE POKER?’
“Mais oui!
” Papa replied, and headed towards the table.

“You know,” the Green Cross man said as he gathered up the chips he’d just won, “we’ve got some really good players in this little group of ours. If we went on one of those poker leagues on telly, we’d do really well.”
“Oh no, not that again,” said Captain Birdseye. “You say this every time we play. Be honest: this isn’t about wanting to play poker on TV. You know we’re nowhere near that good. You just want to be back on telly again!”
“Well maybe I do. What’s so wrong about that?”
“Look, I know you miss it; we all do. But face it, those days are over!”
“But who says they’re over?” JR Hartley chipped in. “I think Greeny has a point. Oldies come back all the time.”
“Exactly!” the Green Cross man said, happy for the support. “All I’m saying is, it’s possible. Look at Vera Lynn. She’s in the charts again, and she’s what – 150?”
“Well, it might happen again for you lot,” said the skeleton, “but I’m stuffed. People still eat fish fingers; they’ll still need to find a plumber’s phone number every now and then – but NOBODY USES VIDEOCASSETTES ANYMORE! I used to tell people that they could re-record on their videocassettes for 25 up to years. Boy did we get that wrong! Now it’s all DVD this and Blu-Ray that! Blu-Ray my bony…”
“Calm down, calm down!” said Captain Birdseye, doing his best Michael Winner impression (which, in reality, sounded more like Jimmy Saville). “Don’t get your ribs in a twist! They could bring you back for something else, like they did with that monk-”
“Shhhh!” the Green Cross man whispered, jabbing him in the ribs. “Don’t say the M-word when they’re in the room!” He jerked his thumb in the direction of the table to the left of theirs, where the PG Tips chimps were having their afternoon tea.
“Oh. Still a sore point, is it?”
“Thing is,” said JR Hartley, “The new talent’s really not up to much. You’ve got that panda who can’t even pronounce ‘biscuits’ properly. He’s dodgy, that one. I swear he makes those two look like amateurs.” He motioned towards the Bear Enclosure. “And as for that bloody bulldog – do I want to grab him by the neck and strangle him until he’s dead? Oh, yes!”
“The meerkat’s good, though,” said the skeleton.
“Hear, hear,” Captain Birdseye nodded. “Class act, that meerkat. Simples.”

Over on the other table, the chimps were having a similar conversation.

“Those Cadbury’s people need a slap,” Dad said angrily. “Anyone can tell that’s just a human in a gorilla suit. I mean, come on – he’s playing a Phil Collins song! PHIL COLLINS!! No self-respecting primate likes Phil Collins!”
“Speak for yourself!” Mum replied. “He’s made some good tunes in his time. Besides, I love that gorilla; he’s a real hunk! Top totty! And anyway, his drumming’s much better than your piano playing!”
“Ha ha! Got you there, dad!” one of the younger chimps chimed in.
“Shut it, you cheeky monkey!” Dad retorted.

Afternoon turned to evening, and as darkness drew in outside, the nurse arrived to give the Smash robots their nightly dose of WD-40. All the old boys fancied the nurse. It wasn’t hard to see why; she was delicate, serene and stunningly beautiful. It was just the taser gun she always carried in case Tango Man tried something stupid that shattered the ‘perfect angel’ illusion.

“I swear I know her from somewhere,” Captain Birdseye said.
“You say that every day,” said the Green Cross man.
“I just can’t place her. But it’ll come to me.” Captain Birdseye paused and racked his brains.

“Eureka!” he half-shouted. “The penny’s dropped. I know where I remember her from!”
“Come on, then!” said JR Hartley. “Tell us!”
“Here – watch this,” said Captain Birdseye. “Hey – Nurse?”
The nurse turned. “What can I do for you, Captain?”
Captain Birdseye reached into his pocket and pulled out a yellow packet. “Oh, nothing,” he replied. “I just wondered if you’d fancy a Flake.”

© George Luke, 2009


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