Authors: Will Self
Tough, Tough Toys for Tough, Tough Boys
and Will Self:
“[Will Self] is . . . a pure original with a striking capacity to see the world straight on and to envision what it may become.”
Dallas Morning News
“Self's satires combine humanity with ingenuity, manifesting a Swiftian obsession with scale, a Kafkaesque fixation with blind alleys and the narrative legerdemain of Jorge Luis Borges.”
The Times Literary Supplement
“Enough plot twists for both Vladimir Nabokov and Jorge Luis Borges.”—Richard Teleky,
The National Post
“[Self’s] imaginative tales of sexual confusion and insanity are undeniably entertaining.”—David Harsanyi,
“Immaculate, sometimes smooth as sharkskin and elsewhere purveying the scumbered prose that used to invoke comparisons with Amis. . . . But while we're doling out the comparisons, it seems only right to mention Swift. . . . This is a thoroughly enjoyable collection that soon leaves the foreshore and sails us through the clear blue waters of bizarre fantasy.”
“One of the most inventive scribes in the international literary scene . . .
Tough, Tough Toys for Tough, Tough Boys
gets dirty in the muck of maleness. . . . This formidable storyteller not only reinvents us as readers but he dares us to have a bloody good time.”—Elizabeth Block,
San Francisco Bay Guardian
“A wayward genius.”—
“A master of mimetic rendering, a dissector of snobs and proles, of status and shame on a par with Tom Wolfe . . . Wacked on neon language, as cold-bloodedly perceptive as some interstellar agent of our redemption, and yet as caringly outraged as the most liberal do-gooder, Will Self as literary bartender dispenses cocktails of acid-laced Cointreau.”
—Paul Di Filippo,
“[Self] is a masterly prose-maker . . . we should cherish him.”
The Sunday Times
“Tough, Tough Toys for Tough, Tough Boys,
[Will Self’s] superb new slice of contemporary Gothic, shows the writer no less keen on getting his hands dirty in the oily sump of the male psyche. . . . At his least florid and most deadpan, Self recalls Kurt Vonnegut.”—
The Independent on Sunday
“Grotesque, ticklish, and daft . . . Self nails his subjects with an exacting, invigorating stylistic temper like that of the truly great satirists. Surely Self is one of them—if that's not too immodest a proposal.”—Charles Wyrick,
“A pitiless, wickedly funny satirist, Will Self's style is edgy and densely layered with a verbosity that careens on the edge of lunacy. This new collection of short stories depicts a decomposing culture to devastating and hilarious effect. This is the perfect antidote for the modern misanthrope.”
“Ever-inventive . . . his prowess with the distinctly nonfantastic can be as gripping as his most disturbing hallucinogenic visions.”—
“Will Self . . . wanders back and forth across the reality divide with the playful confidence of one who has created both worlds.”—
The New Statesman & Society
TOUGH, TOUGH TOYS
TOUGH, TOUGH BOYS
Copyright © 1998 by Will Self
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Any members of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or publishers who would like to obtain permission to include the work in an anthology, should send their inquiries to Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 841 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.
Published simultaneously in Canada
Printed in the United States of America
FIRST GROVE PRESS PAPERBACK EDITION
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Tough, tough toys for tough, tough boys / Will Self.
Contents: The rock of crack as big as the Ritz — Flytopia — A story for Europe — Dave too — Caring, sharing — Tough, tough toys for tough, tough boys — Design faults in the Volvo 760 Turbo — The Nonce Prize.
1. England—Social life and customs—Fiction. 2. Satire, English.
New York, NY 10003
00 01 02 03 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
‘The Rock of Crack as Big as the Ritz’ was written with the last series of Penguin Sixties in mind, and was published in that format together with ‘Flytopia’, which was specially commissioned by Tony Lacey at Penguin. ‘The Rock of Crack as Big as the Ritz’ has appeared in
magazine in the USA, and under the somewhat teasing title:
Un Roc de Crack Gros Comme le Ritz
in Editions Mille et Une Nuits in France. In the same volume there's an interesting essay by Olivier Cohen which suggests that despite the fact he has met me personally, I still don't exist. ‘Flytopia’ also appeared in the
courtesy of Laura Cumming.
‘A Story for Europe’ was commissioned by Liz Calder for the Bloomsbury Quids series, and ‘Dave Too’ was commissioned by David Goodhart for
magazine and also appeared in a MIND anthology. All the other stories were written with this collection in mind.
Thanks as ever to Mary Tomlinson and all at Bloomsbury, and especial thanks to Noel ‘Razors’ Smith for his help in researching ‘The Nonce Prize’.
Back in dirty old London, February 1998
For Farrah Anwar, my best man
– and with thanks – as ever – to
‘Life is a dream that keeps me from sleeping’
– Oscar Wilde
THE ROCK OF CRACK AS BIG AS THE RITZ
building, solid and imposing. Along its thick base are tall arches, forming a colonnade let into its hard hide. At the centre are high, transparent doors flanked by columns. There's a pediment halfway up the façade, and ranged along it at twenty-foot intervals are the impassive faces of ancient gods and goddesses. Rising up above this is row upon row of windows, each one a luxuriant eye. The whole edifice is dense, boxy, four-square and white, that milky, translucent white.
Over the central doors is a sign, the lettering picked out in individual white bulbs. The sign reads: THE RITZ. Tembe looks at the luxury hotel, looks at it and then crosses Piccadilly, dodging the traffic, squealing cabs, hooting vans, honking buses. He goes up to the entrance. A doorman stands motionless by his slowly revolving charge
He too is white, milky, translucent white. His face, white; his hands, white; his heavy coat falls almost to his feet in petrified folds of milky, translucent white.
Tembe stretches out a black hand. He places its palm against the column flanking the door. He admires the colour contrast: the black fading into the yellow finger flanges and then into the white, the milky, translucent white. He picks at the column,
picks at it the way that a schoolboy distresses a plaster surface. He picks away a crumb of the wall. The doorman looks past him with sightless, milky, translucent eyes.
Tembe takes a glass crack pipe from the pocket of his wind-cheater and fumbles the crumb into the broken end of Pyrex piping that serves as a bowl. Setting the pipe down on the pavement, at the base of the white wall, from his other pocket he removes a blowtorch. He lights the blowtorch with a non-safety match, which he strikes on the leg of his jeans. The blowtorch flares yellow; Tembe tames it to a hissing blue tongue. He picks up the crack pipe and, placing the stem between his dry lips, begins to stroke the bowl with the blue tongue of flame.
The fragments of crack in the pipe deliquesce into a miniature Angel Falls of fluid smoke that drops down into the globular body of the pipe, where it roils and boils. Tembe draws and draws and draws, feeling the rush rise up in him, rise up outside of him, cancelling the distinction. He draws and draws until he is just the drawing, just the action: a windsock with a gale of crack smoke blowing through it.
‘I'm smoking it,’ he thinks, or perhaps only feels. ‘I'm smoking a rock of crack as big as the Ritz.‘
When Danny got out of the army after Desert Storm he went back to Harlesden in north-west London. It wasn't so much that he liked the area – who could? – but that his posse was there, the lads he'd grown up with. And also there was his uncle, Darcus; the old man had no one to care for him now Hattie had died.
Danny didn't like to think of himself as being overly responsible for Darcus. He didn't even know if the old man was his uncle, his great-uncle, or even his great-great-uncle. Hattie had never been big on the formal properties of family – precisely what relation adults and children stood in to one another – so much as the practical side, who fed who, who slept with who, who made sure who didn't play truant. For all Danny knew, Darcus might have been his father or no blood relation at all.
Danny's mother, Coral, who he'd never really known, had given him another name, Bantu. Danny was Bantu and his little brother was called Tembe. Coral had told Aunt Hattie that the boys’ father was an African, hence the names, but it wasn't something he'd believed for a minute.
‘Woss inna name anyways?’ said the newly dubbed Danny to Tembe, as they sat on the bench outside Harlesden tube station, drinking Dunn's River and watching the Job Seekers tussle and ponce money for VP or cooking sherry. ‘Our ‘riginal names are stupid to begin wiv. Bantu! Tembe! Our mother thought they was kind of cool and African, but she knew nothing, man, bugger all. The Bantu were a fucking
man, and as for Tembe, thass jus’ a style of fucking
‘I don’ care,’ Tembe replied. ‘I like my name. Now I'm big –’ he pushed his chest forward, trying to fill the body of his windcheater ‘– I tell everyone to call me Tembe, so leastways they ain't dissin’ me nor nuffin’.’ Tembe was nineteen, a tall, gangly youth, with yellow-black skin and flattish features.
‘Tcheu!’ Danny sucked the inside of his cheek contemptuously. ‘You're a fucking dead-head, Tembe, an’ ain't that the fucking troof. Lucky I'm back from doing the man stuff to sort you, innit?’
And the two brothers sat passing the Dunn's River between them. Danny was twenty-five, and Tembe had to confess he looked good. Tough, certainly, no one would doubt that. He'd always been tough, and lairy to boot, running up his mouth whenever, to whoever.
Danny, many years above him, had been something of a hero to Tembe at school. He was hard, but he also did well in class. Trouble was, he wouldn't concentrate or, as the teachers said, apply himself. ‘Woss the point?’ he used to say to Tembe. ‘Get the fucking “O” levels, then the “A” levels, whadjergonna do then, eh? Go down the Job Centre like every other fucking nigger? You know the joke: what d'jew say to a black man wiv a job? “I'll have a Big Mac an’ fries . . .” Well, I'm not going to take that guff. Remember what the man Mutabaruka say, it no good to stay inna white man's country too long. And ain't that the troof.’
So Bantu, as he was then, somehow got it together to go back to Jamaica. He claimed it was ‘back’, but he didn't exactly know, Aunt Hattie being kind of vague about origins, just as she was about blood ties. But he persuaded Stan, who ran the Montego Bay chippie in Manor Park Road, to get him a job with a cousin in Kingston. Rootswise the whole thing was a shot in the dark, but in terms of getting a career Bantu was on course.
In Kingston Stan's cousin turned out to be dead, or missing, or never to have existed. Bantu got all versions before he gave up looking. Some time in the next six months he dropped the ‘Bantu’ and became ‘London’, on account of what – as far as the Jamaicans were concerned – was his true provenance. And at about the same time this happened he fetched up in the regular employ of a man called Skank, whose interests included buying powder off the boat and cooking it down for crack to be sold on the streets of Trenchtown.
Skank gave London regular pep talks, work-incentive lectures: ‘You tek a man an’ he all hardened, y'know. He have no flex-i-bil-ity so he have no poss-i-bil-ity. But you tek de youth, an’ dem can learn, dem can ‘pre-ci-ate wa’ you tell for dem . . . You hearing me, boy?’ London thought most of what Skank said was a load of bullshit, but he didn't think the well-oiled M16s under the floor- boards of Skank's house were bullshit, and clearly the mean little Glock the big dread kept stuck under his arm was as far from being bullshit as it was possible to be.
London did well in Skank's employ. He cut corners on some things, but by and large he followed his boss's orders to the letter. And in one particular regard he proved himself to be a very serious young man indeed: he never touched the product. Sure, a spliff now and then just to wind down. But no rock, no stones, no
and not even any powder.
London saw the punters, he also saw his fellow runners and dealers. Saw them all getting wired out of their boxes. Wired so they saw things that weren't there: the filaments of wire protruding from their flesh which proved that the aliens had put transmitters in their brains. And hearing things as well, like non-existent DEA surveillance helicopters buzzing around their bedrooms. So London didn't fuck with the stuff – he didn't even
to fuck with it.
A year muscling rock in Trenchtown was about as full an apprenticeship as anyone could serve. This was a business where you moved straight from work experience to retirement, with not much of a career in between. London was getting known, so Skank sent him to Philadelphia, PA, where opportunities were burgeoning, this being the back end of a decade that was big on enterprise.
London just couldn't believe Philly. He couldn't believe what he and his Yardie crew could get away with. Once you were out of the downtown and the white districts you could more or less fire at will. London used to get his crew to wind down the windows on their work wagon and then they would just blast away, peppering the old brown buildings with 9-mm rounds.
But mostly the hardware was just for show. The Yardies had such a bad reputation in Philly that they really didn't have to do anyone much. So, it was like running any retail concern anywhere: stock control, margins, management problems. London got bored and then started to do things he shouldn't. He still didn't touch the product – he knew better than to do that – but he did worse. He started to go against Skank.
When the third key went missing, Skank grew suspicious and sent an enforcer over to speak to his errant boy. But London had headed out already: BIWI to Trinidad, and then BA on to London, to cover his tracks.
Back in London, London dropped the name, which no longer made any sense. For a while he was no-name and no-job. Floating round Harlesden, playing pool with Tembe and the other out-of-work youth. He lived on the proceeds from ripping off Skank and kept his head down way low. There were plenty of work opportunities for a fast boy who could handle a shooter, but he'd seen what happened in Trenchtown and Philly, he knew he wouldn't last. Besides, the Met had a way with black boys who went equipped. They shot them dead. He couldn't have anything to do with the Yardies either. It would get back to Skank, who had a shoot-to-kill policy of his own.
Without quite knowing why, he found himself in the recruitment office on Tottenham Court Road. ‘O’ levels? Sure – a couple. Experience? Cadet corps and that. He thought this would explain his familiarity with the tools, although when he got to training his RSM knew damn well it wasn't so. Regiment? Something with a reputation, fighting reputation. Infantry and that. Royal Green Jackets? Why not?
‘Bantu’ looked dead stupid on the form. He grinned at the sergeant: ‘Ought to be “Zulu”, really.’
‘We don't care what you call yourself, my son. You've got a new family now, give yourself a new name if you like.’ So that's how he became Danny. This was 1991 and Danny signed on for a two-year tour.
At least he had a home to go to when he got out of the army. He'd been prudent enough to put most of Skank's money into a gaff on Leopold Road. An Edwardian villa that was somewhere for Aunt Hattie, and Darcus, and Tembe, and all the other putative relatives who kept on coming around. Danny was a reluctant
he left all the running of the place to Aunt Hattie. But when he came home things were different: Hattie dead, Darcus almost senile, nodding out over his racing form, needing visits from home helps, meals on wheels. It offended Danny to see his uncle so neglected.
The house was decaying as well. If you trod too hard on the floor in the downstairs hall, or stomped on the stairs, little plumes of plaster puffed from the corners of the ceiling. The drains kept backing up and there were damp patches below all the upstairs windows. In the kitchen, lino peeled back from the base of the cooker to reveal more ancient layers of lino below, like diseased skin impacted with fat and filth.
Danny had been changed by the army. He went in a fucked-up, angry, potentially violent, coloured youth; and he came out a frustrated, efficient, angry black man. He looked different too. Gone were the fashion accessories, the chunky gold rings (finger and ear) and the bracelets. Gone too was the extravagant barnet. Instead there were a neat, sculpted flat-top and casual clothes that suggested ‘military’. Danny had always been slight, but he had filled out in the army. Darker than Tembe, his features were also sharper, leaner. He now looked altogether squared-off and compact, as if someone had planed away all the excess of him.
‘Whadjergonna do then?’ asked Tembe, as the two brothers sat spliffing and beering in front of Saturday afternoon racing. Darcus nodded in the corner. On screen a man with mutton-chop whiskers made sheepish forecasts.
‘Dunno. Nuffin’ criminal tha's for sure. I'm legit from here on in. I seen enough killing now to last me, man.’
‘Yeah. Killing.’ Tembe pulled himself up by the vinyl arms of the chair, animated. ‘Tell me ‘bout it, Bantu. Tell me ‘bout the killing an’ stuff. Woss combat really like?’
‘Danny. The name's Danny. Don’ forget it, dipstick. Bantu is dead. And another fing, stop axin’ me about combat. You wouldn't want to know. If I told you the half, you would shit your whack. So leave it out.’
‘But . . . But . . . If you aren't gonna deal, whadjergonna do?’
‘Fucking do-it-yourself. That's what I'm gonna
little brother. Look at the state of this place. If you want to stay here much longer with that fat bint of yours, you better do some yersel’ as well. Help me get the place sorted.’
The ‘fat hint’ was Brenda, a girlfriend Tembe had moved in a week after his brother went overseas. Together they slept in a disordered pile upstairs, usually sweating off the effects of drink, or rock, or both.
Danny started in the cellar. ‘Damp-coursing, is it?’ said Darcus, surfacing from his haze and remembering building work from four decades ago: tote that bale, nigger; Irish laughter; mixing porridge cement; wrist ache. ‘Yeah. Thass right, Uncle. I'll rip out that rotten back wall and repoint it.’
‘Party wall isn't it?’
‘No, no, thass the other side.’
He hired the Kango. Bought gloves, goggles, overall and mask. He sent Tembe down to the builders’ merchants to order 2,000 stock bricks, 50 kilo bags of ballast, sand and cement. While he was gone Danny headed down the eroding stairs, snapped on the yellow bulb and made a start.
The drill head bit into the mortar. Danny worked it up and around, so that he could prise out a section of the retaining wall. The dust was fierce, and the noise. Danny kept at it, imagining that the wall was someone he wanted done with, some towel-head in the desert or Skank, his persecutor. He shot the heavy drill head from the hip, like an action man in a boys’ comic, and felt the mortar judder, then disintegrate.