Mr X—- P— ordered another drink from the bar, unbuttoned his cuffs, scratched his upper lip, blinked his right eye, stroked his companion’s knee, fiddled with a fingernail, and began:
‘Robert Wray,’ he said, ‘is the name that comes to mind’. We all nodded slowly. Robert Wray: of course! The poet Wray.
‘I met him four times,’ he went on, ‘in the summer of ’89. Or was it five in the winter of ’86? I know not. Does it matter? I think not. Every time I met him, at any rate, the animal was also there. Every single time.’
He took a sip of cider. ‘I was playing darts at the local pub. Research for a novel, of course, otherwise I simply wouldn’t have been caught dead hurling small arrows at concentric circles. It was a long novel, however, so I’d joined a team. I was, in fact, rather good. The novel required this of me – and so it was.’
Another, longer, sip.
‘One night we were due to play a team from Hartlepool. They cancelled, but our captain had a friend who had a friend whose captain had a friend who was part of team playing another team who had also cancelled. So we two teams played each other instead. This other team were a decent lot, a regular squad of fellows, so to speak, with only one exception. This exception was Robert Wray.’
‘What was so annoying about Robert Wray? First up, he never took his coat off all evening. He wore this whopping great coat, fur-lined and all – but he never once took it off. He threw every dart with his coat on. And the coins in his coat pocket, of which there were a horrible lot, went clink-clink-clink all the way. Every time he leaned forward, moved a leg or a hand, cink-clink-clink went the coins. It drove us mad. We played, needless to say, like a gang of feckless mongrels.’
‘There was, however, worse to come. Nothing could stop Wray when it came to making a fuss. He really was the one when it came to professional fuss-making! And god, did he get under your skin? Playing Wray was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. He disrupted the rhythm of your very breathing, let alone your game. He wouldn’t let a falling leaf settle. He was, in short, the most frustrating man I’ve ever met.’
‘But what about the animal? I haven’t even come onto the animal, have I? You’d think it was bad enough, what with Wray himself, clinking and fussing away. But no – this wasn’t enough for poor old Robert. He needed more – just a little something else. So what did he have? A chicken on a leash! A full-grown and feathered chicken on a three foot leash, clucking and clucking to its heart’s content. Clink-clink-clink, cluck-cluck-cluck. What a game of darts that was! Robert fuss-pot Wray and his flipping chicken-on-a-leash. Tied to the radiator, clucking the night away. Can you believe it?’
Well, yes, I can believe it. It was Robert Wray after all.
More on that, however, later.