Edvard Munch: In the Lair of the Revenue Inspector

The appointed day for my interview with Her Majesty’s Revenue Inspectorate having arrived, I redeemed my three piece worsted suit from the pawnbrokers and put a shine on my shoes that a Guardsman would have been proud of. My toiletries having been completed, and a fresh handkerchief stuffed in my breast pocket, I betook myself to Waterloo Station as instructed, to throw myself on the mercy of that iron-souled body of men, the Revenue Inspectors.

Arriving at a grim lobby, I approached with trepidation the Sibyl who presided there, sat on a three legged stool behind a reception desk. After some time, she looked up at me with scarcely disguised loathing.

‘Edvard Munch, madam.’

The Sibyl checked her computer, then rose to her feet and waved an incense burner across the desk.

‘Edvard Munch! You shall miss your lunch!’

I looked at the clock. It was quarter to the hour of one. The Sibyl’s prediction was true. An icy hand began to grasp my heart.

The Sibyl raised a bony finger and pointed to a door in the far corner of the lobby.

‘Go, Edvard Munch, go hence. Ye shall be tested, as never man was tested before!’

As I approached the door, with terror in my soul, the Sibyl’s voice rose to a shriek:

‘Procol o, procol este, profane!’

I knocked on the door.

A deep voice bade me enter.

As my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I saw one of ancient years sat poring over a ledger on a bench.
O Newgate wretch, dost thou approach the bench where sits the implacable Jeffreys with greater trepidation than do I the Revenue Inspector?

He, hoar-headed and careworn, whom power clung around as ivy to a tower, finally spake.

‘Mr Much?’ asked he, without looking up from his paperwork. So busy was he that he had no time for small courtesies.

‘Munch,’ I querulously corrected.

‘My mistake,’ said the Revenue Inspector, making a mark on a paper. ‘Please take a seat.’

Some moments passed. Finally, like an elephant seal hauling itself from the surf, the Revenue Inspector broke surface from his paperwork and addressed me directly.

‘You have lost your season ticket, Mr Much? On what date did this occur? At what time did you lose your ticket? How did you lose it? Where did you lose it?’

All memory fled my mind.

‘Err…three weeks ago?’ I guessed.

The Revenue Inspector looked at me with rheumy eyes that pierced my soul and weighed my heart against a feather.

‘‘Do you have tickets, Mr Much? Tickets you have purchased since you lost your Season Ticket?’

I did, and after some ten minutes fumbling in my wallet, I produced them, and, after some further period, put them in something resembling date order.

‘What is the date of the first ticket, Mr Much?’ asked the Revenue Inspector.

‘21st April?’ I hazarded.

‘Where did you purchase the ticket, Mr Much?

‘At Waterloo Station, sir,’ I said.

‘What time did you purchase the ticket?’

‘At 8pm?’ I hazarded again.

‘How did you arrive at Waterloo Station?’

I told the Inspector the tale of my loss, leaving out the bit about the pigeon.

The Revenue Inspector inspected the ticket. ‘This ticket was purchased at Waterloo Station at 2000 on Thursday 24 April. Was it that evening that you lost your ticket?’

‘It was!’ I cried.

The Inspector seemed satisfied.

‘Very well, Mr Much,’ he said, making a mark on his paperwork. ‘You have passed stage one of your interview. Now, to the practical. Come with me, Mr Much.’

The Revenue Inspector rose heavily to his feet, like an elephant seal rising from a rock. He took down a lantern from a shelf, and a bunch of great keys from a hook behind the desk.

‘Follow me, Mr Much.’

With that, he unlocked a low, narrow door in the corner of the room, and beckoned me.

The door squeaked like a mouse under a cat’s paw on rusted hinges, and I followed him
down into cavernous darkness. The air was damp and a smell of cold water rose to my nostrils.

We descended down a spiral stairway, the lantern ahead lighting the way. Finally, the Inspector halted by a dark body of water.

A small boat bobbed on the noisesome flood. The Inspector bid me step down, and cast off.

Some half hour later, we arrived at a landing stage, where the Inspector tied the little
boat to a ring and bid me step out. A portcullised grille stood before me, through which a
dozen pairs of hands waved piteously from within an ill-lit and unfragrant dungeon. Some waved tattered copies of the London Evening Standard or The Times. Some rattled the bars with furled umbrellas.

‘We have arrived, Mr Much,’ said the Inspector, ‘At the Place of Imprisonment for those who have lost their season ticket more than twice in any given twelve month and cannot afford to replace it.

Now they reside in the cells of the Revenue Inspectorate, for they cannot afford to travel to work, and here they must stay, until they are redeemed, or a new calendar year commences.’

It was indeed a dread sight. One of the imprisoned, a young man in a ragged city suit,
beckoned me close. ‘I say, fellow! Can you lend me two and a half thousand pounds, just till I get straight?’

‘Shall such a sight not impress itself upon your mind, Mr Much?’ asked the Inspector. ‘What would you do to avoid such a fate?’

‘I will never ever lose my season ticket again, sir,’ I said.

‘Indeed, Mr Much, that is the wisest course to take. Look at these wretches, without hope or succour, their clothes as tattered as their lives. Learn, Mr Much, and keep your season ticket secure. Perhaps in a special pocket in your jacket. Now, let us return and continue the interview.’

Chastened, I followed the Inspector back to the boat.

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The Equity Train is Leaving

‘The Equity Train is leaving!’ bellowed a City pillock wearing a pair of earphones the size of sunflower heads, on my train last evening as it approached Esher Station, to what appeared to be a potential investor he was trying to earn a commission from.

We are having a bit of a run on shouty City pillocks at the station – the night before last, as got off train in monsoon conditions, another Financial Wizard was bellowing like a typhoon off the coast of Java on his phone to a hapless client as a monsoon-like deluge pelted down at Esher station and harried commuters hurriedly took shelter and summoned their wives to pick them up.

I have zero interest in the equity train, or indeed, any other financial matters, which is why possibly am always in a stew. However, I am very interested in the small goings on of the tiny spiders who spin webs amongst the railings at Esher station.

Each set of railings has its spider, mostly very small, about the size of the * on my keyboard, who spins their webs in a spirit of optimism like Ernest Shackleton’s.

The Station building sits at the top of a steep incline, like a mini-Acropolis, and the railings hang over a high drop, with the station car park entrance and Esher common and golf course beyond. For the little spiders, it must be like pitching a bivouac on the side of Mount Everest, but they are persistent. They are entirely exposed, but they manfully – spiderfully –keep on web building. Wind and rain may sweep them away and leave their home in tatters, but there is always a return, and a new web being spun.

Of the night of the torrential rain recently, when I didn’t dare leave the shelter of the station for twenty minutes, I saw that one tiny little thing was sat stubbornly on his rain-encrusted web, where the rain drops were bigger than he was.

As I Ieft the station last evening, checking on the little spiders, the sound of City Pillock died away in the distance, and the sound of the blackbirds began. Like every railing having its spider, it seemed, so bright was the music of the blackbirds, that every tree must have its bird. I know, of course, that since blackbird numbers have fallen dramatically, this is not the case. But as I walked down Station Road, and down Lower Green Road, Wood End and Douglas Road, the sound of caroling blackbirds accompanied me. Some of those blackbirds were mighty noisy. But none of them were in any way irritating like the City Pillock. Maybe they were telling each other that the Worm Train was leaving. Or they may have been telling me it was time to pack in the commuting and spend more time where the birds are singing and the City pillocks are quiet.

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Edvard Munch Receives a Letter

14 May 1893

Several weeks having passed since the terryifying loss of my Season Ticket, I had been lodging in that miserable abode of pain and suffering, Croydon Workhouse, where, at the utmost extremity after my daily expenditure on railway tickets had seen my life savings whittled away to nothing, I had taken refuge in the hard bosom of Parish charity. There, to the company of other miserable wretches who filled their hours picking oakum, I nightly returned from my London studio to nurse my anguish over a mug of the thinnest cocoa heated up over a candle stump and a slice of bread scraped with lard. After some weeks of silence in which I grew to believe that Her Majesty’s Revenue Inspectors were as fabled as the Vittra, an envelope bearing their frank arrived. So hungry was I that forthwith I steamed off the penny farthing stamp and licked up the life giving nourishment of its glue.  The letter within commanded me to appear at the hour of 18.30 a week hence at Waterloo Station where I must be interrogated by a Revenue Inspector. I should bring proof of identity, a bank statement – I laughed hollowly – and a character reference provided by a doctor, a lawyer or a Justice of the Peace. The Inspectorate in its wisdom did not ask me to vouchsafe the word of a bank manager, knowing that no man Who Has Lost His Season Ticket is in any position to ask favours of his bank manager.

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Mind the Gap!

The London commuter has evolved to be a simple, ruthless animal, subject to few emotions when travelling, generally contempt, anxiety and derision. Note eternal truth of this when taking Jubilee Tube from Westminster tube station in evening, en-route to Waterloo. Jubilee line most efficient on Underground, with trains arriving practically every minute to whirr off commuters at break-neck speed to next stop. Thus, no one, unless has plane to catch, and in which case, would not be taking Jubilee line, need worry little head about missing any particular tube train.

Enter Tube train, stand near door with shopping as only one stop, thus in excellent position for entertainment which follow. Tube doors start to close. As doors about six inches from full closure, see arm thrust desperately through door, where flail about a bit, followed by another arm. Commuters nearby stop whatever they are doing, and pay full attention to door.

Arms belong to young bloke dressed in green cardigan and, revealed as left leg is thrust through gap in doors, pebble coloured jeans.

Bloke apply full strength to wrench open doors.

Post-Traumatic Commuter experiencing two finely balanced emotions at same time, wound like tangled skeins of wool: 1) amusement, which start to bubble away like hot spring in which Japanese macaque monkeys keep themselves warm in winter and 2) anxiety in case train move away dragging cretinous commuter with it.

Cretinous commuter succeed in wresting open doors and plummet into train carriage, like pea shot from peashooter. Post-Traumatic Commuter burst out laughing.

Other commuters start laughing. At no point any commuter consider helping hapless commuter as too busy enjoying show.

Hapless commuter however, has rucksack, which still outside train doors.

Post-Traumatic Commuter fighting mightly to contain amusement as show continues with hapless commuter endeavouring to drag rucksack through tiny gap in doors. Merriment of other commuters not contained whatsoever, as bloke applies foot to gap in doors and, as though trying to drag reluctant elephant onto train, applies every last atom of strength to getting rucksack through doors.

Difficult to convey how unsophisticated this look. Suffice to say not kind of thing Cary Grant ever doing.

Rucksack finally pings through doors, almost bowling bloke over, and, as commuters wipe away tears of laughter, bloke takes seat, with air of Buddha sitting down under Bodhi tree.

‘Cool!’ says Post-Traumatic Commuter, mercilessly adding to general amusement, but somewhat reducing effect of being Comedy Queen when reaching for non-existent pole to hang onto and almost falling through space like Del Boy in ‘Only Fools and Horses’when bar top Del Boy is trying to lean on in pub is no longer in place.

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The Horror! The Horror!

‘Loud blows Heimdall, the horn is aloft,
In fear quake all who on Hel-roads are’

Völuspá, Poetic Edda, Henry Adams Bellows’ translation

It’s not widely known that the real reason the figure on the bridge in Edvard Munch’s
‘The Scream’ is howling in anguish is that he has just realised he’s lost his Annual Season Ticket. ‘The angels of fear, sorrow, and death stood by my side since the day I was born,’ said Munch, and no more was this more in evidence than the day he lost his Gold Card at South Kensington Underground Station.

A recently discovered diary of Munch’s reveals in harrowing detail his experience following the loss of his Annual Season Ticket.

Thursday 24 April 1893
A catastrophe has befallen me. Travelling homewards this evening I entered South Kensington Tube Station, and having shown my Annual Season Ticket to the Ticket Inspector at the entrance, I descended to the Stygian gloom of the gas-lit platforms, where, distracted by a late-staying pigeon that looked hungry, and feeding it with a few crumbs of the crusts that remained from my luncheon sandwich, I foolishly, so foolishly, failed to ensure that my Season Ticket was safely transferred from my hand to the protection of my wallet.

On arrival at Waterloo Station, I brought out my wallet from the pocket of my overcoat, whereupon I discovered, to my anguish and pain, that the precious Season Ticket was no longer contained within it. I searched my wallet, my pocket, my portmanteau, my person, like a man in the grip of a fever. But no trace of the Season Ticket could I find.

The dragon claws of despair dug their bloody nails in my shoulders. I was a man possessed. I clutched my head in my hands, I howled with anguish.

‘Edvard! Edvard! What have you done?’ I heard the voice of my mother. ‘You foolish one, you have brought disaster upon yourself!’

Indeed, it was true.

Through the glass wall of the station that looks out on Waterloo Road, I saw the Sky turn blood red. I fell to my knees with the horror. A kindly Ticket Inspector helped me to my feet. I explained my loss.

‘What would you like me to do about it, Sir?’ asked the Ticket Inspector, as though perplexed by my situation.

‘I would like you to please let me through the ticket barriers,’ I replied.

‘And will you then purchase another Season Ticket?’ the Ticket Inspector asked.

‘Sir, I shall,’ I replied.

I made my way to the Ticket Office on the main concourse, a broken man.

At the Ticket Office window, I explained my situation. The Ticket Office Clerk frowned.

‘I cannot issue you with a replacement ticket. You have more than six months remaining on your Season Ticket. You must be interviewed by one of our Revenue Inspectors.’

My heart, already dropped to my boots, fell, it seemed to me, through the mantle of the earth and into the icy caverns of hell.

‘You must purchase a Weekly Ticket. You can reclaim the expense once your Season Ticket has been reissued,’ said the Clerk.

I put my hand in my pocket and inspected my wallet, mentally. I mentally counted the coins tied in the corner of my handkerchief. I did not have sufficient monies to purchase a Weekly Ticket.

‘I’ll just buy a single to Croydon,’ I said.

I returned home and considered putting my head in my landlady’s gas oven.

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Women Who Eat on Trains

Whilst tucking into salmon onigiri, plump triangular package of nori wrapped sushi rice and salmon deliciousness bought from Waterloo Station on way home last night, read Evening Standard news story of protest on Circle line by ladies objecting to the ‘Women Who Eat on Trains’ Facebook page put up by persons unknown who have been photographing ladies stuffing their faces on London tube trains as attempt to shame them in public. Gist of protest is that travelling ladies have right to stuff faces without being subjected to indignity of having mug shots on Facebook. Personally, am all in favour of women eating on trains as long as woman is me.

Fortunately no one bonkers enough to photograph me. Only in London though, and possibly Japan, though suspect not enough room on bullet trains to unwrap onigiri without elbowing fellow commuters in eyeballs, would people be eating sushi whilst commuting. Also suspect, even if not case, either Japanese ladies have full oriental tea ceremony whilst travelling rather than glugging takeaway cappuccino in polystyrene cup, or else far too polite to eat whilst travelling.

Anyway, here are the top things I like to scoff as a commuting Woman Who Eats on Trains:

1. Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Chocolate. Good for all occasions.
2. Walker’s Cheese and Onion crisps. The best crisps in the world. Shouldn’t be eaten for breakfast.
3. A Kit-Kat. Can serve as breakfast, lunch or dinner.
4. Fries, ditto except for the breakfast when should be accompanied by red-eye coffee, bacon and beans – not yet obtainable at London stations.
5. Any croissant except the plain and almond ones.
6. Big Mac. Utterly delicious and utterly messy.

Read story again in Metro when travelling to work next morning. After running into elderly
chap polishing shoes on train, sit down near woman applying full make up. Additional woman get
on at Wimbledon and apply full make up. Consider if would ever have nerve to apply full make up
whilst travelling. Smother face in Macdonald’s mayo and decorate coat with slices of dropped
tomato and gherkin in full public view, yes. Put on foundation, powder, blusher, eyeliner and
primer? I don’t think so.

Figure that if Women Who Apply Make Up on Trains Facebook site ever get set up, protests will be a
lot more strenuous than for the ‘Women Who Eat’ one, especially if pre and post make up photos
put up.

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Returning refreshed from mid-week break to frozen North, have public altercation on Piccadilly line tube train on first morning back on commute when get on train to find very annoyed young West Indian mother stuck precariously just inside doorway, surrounded by luggage and clutching toddler, complaining bitterly about lack of manners on tube train. No one prepared to give up seat, apparently. Words of music to my ears, swivel to follow young mother’s eye line like Dalek searching for Dr Who on abandoned space ship. Find other young woman, in first seat by door, two feet away from Mother with Child, oblivious to world as sporting giant pair of radio headphones and keeping eyes closed, whilst occupying priority seating for Mothers Carrying Children, Elderly People and some other category cannot now remember.

Eye swivel back to Young Mother Carrying Child. Eye swivel with meaning back to Seat Incumbent. With unaccustomed boldness, perhaps brought on by lack of cappuccino, suggest to Seat Incumbent she give up priority seating to Young Mother. Seat Incumbent eventually opens eyes, but appears to not understand English, though is English. Repeat suggestion, this time with added gestures towards Priority Seating Notice. Incumbent outraged, informs me that she is having a bad day and that always, always gives up seats to people in need – though obviously not on this particular day. Point out Priority Notice again – indicating picture of Mother Carrying Child.

Reminds me of recent article read about Charlie Chaplin’s direction of ‘The Gold Rush’ in which he insisted his leading lady say words in certain way although film silent. Attempt to improve silent film gestures, re-indicate Priority Seating Notice.

Incumbent, very titchy, so looks like angry pixie, stands up and squares up to me, informing me along lines of her never having been so insulted in entire life as to be to asked to give up Priority Seating to Priority Case and that am Very Ignorant. Entire carriage of commuters staring at Post-Traumatic Commuter with expressions as inscrutable as only London commuters can achieve, i.e. no one can understand if they agree or disagree with participants in argument. Angry pixie gives up seat and stomps off, advising me once more am Very Ignorant. Young Mother with Child continues standing. Train Dalek-like eye stalk on Young Mother. Young Mother, without saying thank you, places child in seat.

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