When I first met Carl he was licking a battery.
  He was sitting in the corridor outside the unit he rented for his vast collection of junk. He was sorting a small box of nine-volt batteries into two piles: flat and not flat. Carl would tentatively touch the end of each battery with the tip of his tongue, playing battery Russian roulette. With every new mini electric shock he'd jerk his head back and then break into a smile, before adding the live battery to the right hand pile. A flat battery seemed to disappoint him.
  Carl was videoing himself on a camcorder, set up on a rickety-looking tripod on the opposite side of the corridor. The camera captured Carl's reactions of joy or anticlimax on videotape so he could watch it all later.
  Carl looked like a roadie in a movie about a rock band. He had a mullet haircut and a fat set of keys and tools and a Maglite torch hanging from the belt of a pair of faded jeans that showed more cleavage than a Page Three girl's blouse.
  Some people might have said, no, not a roadie, what Carl looked like was a paedophile. If they saw Carl slow down outside a school to tie his shoelaces or to ask somebody the time, they might have called the police or taken Carl's photograph with their mobile phone. Just in case the Sunday tabloids ever needed it for a name and shame vigilante campaign.
  Those suspicious idiots wouldn't have trusted Carl's beard. Carl's weird beard. It grew in patches in about three or four different shades of brown, grey and ginger. It looked false. You could be forgiven for tugging at Carl's beard to see if it was real.
  Just like Disney with their forty-three year employee beard ban or New Labour when they instructed their hairy-faced MPs to shave, suspicious idiots looked at Carl and applied to him the principles that a Disney employee or a politician with a beard couldn't be trusted - they forgot that no politician could ever be trusted. They looked at Carl and they saw evil bearded baddies Charles Manson and Osama Bin Laden. They forgot about Jesus and Father Christmas. The sceptical fools saw Satan's evil goatee instead of God's comfy white curls.
  Then there were Carl's thick-lensed glasses. And again, people jumped to conclusions. They chose to ignore Mahatma Gandhi's bottle specs and how they might have helped him see the possibilities of non-violence and equality. When some people first looked at Carl, rather than thinking of Ghandi healing the world's wrongs and making it a better place, they imagined instead a myopic pervert wanking himself blind in front of a sticky computer screen.
  When I got to know him better, Carl would let me try on his thick-lensed glasses. They gave me an ice cream headache and left me with blurred vision for about two minutes. God knows what damage they were doing to Carl, hooked round his hairy ears all day long. Carl's hairy ears.
  Carl pretty much always wore the same greasy red baseball hat, pulled down tight over the mullet that lurked beneath. His mullet that receded at the crown and front and advanced in long straw coloured locks down the back of his heavily creased and stained My Cat Jeffers sweatshirt, with its iron-on transfer picture of Carl's cat Jeffers on the front. Carl only had two shirts as far as I could tell. His My Cat Jeffers one and a yellow t-shirt that had a picture of Edinburgh Castle on the front. Carl was from Edinburgh. He was fifteen years younger than me and at the risk of sounding like a child, I'd go as far as to say that Carl is my best friend.
  We bonded instantly, like superglue. When Carl couldn't afford to pay for the rental on his storage space, I gave him a job driving the company van. Carl's interview for the job consisted mainly of him showing me his BCG scar and the burn on his left shoulder in the shape of the gay holiday island Mykonos.
  His training involved me showing him these three guitar chords:


while he accompanied me by drumming on the desk and placing his hand in his armpit to make fart sounds.
  On quiet days Carl and me would be noisy.
  I acted more like a rock star with Carl than I ever did when I actually was one. I was always more Cliff than Keef Richard(s). All the time, while the rest of the band were snorting themselves into arrogance and self-importance or smashing up their hotel rooms. While they were emptying the mini bar into the toilet, blocking the bathroom sink with toilet paper and turning the taps on before morning check-out. While the drummer was dangling upside down from his hotel balcony, writing his name on the window of the room below with shaving foam and while the bass player and guitarist were gaffa taping the hotel furniture to the ceiling. All this time, I'd be sitting on my own watching CNN or washing my socks and pants in the hotel bathroom sink. The extent of my rock 'n' roll bad behaviour was to once unscrew a framed picture of a butterfly from a hotel wall and re-hang it upside down. Even then I felt guilty for weeks after and almost wrote a letter of apology.
  But now on quiet days, Carl and me would be Mötley Crüe. We bought giant pump action water pistols and hid in empty storage units. Lying in wait to ambush and soak Janie when she came to look for us. We glued pound coins to the ground and waited for customers to try and pick them up, filming it all on Carl's camcorder.
  Sometimes we'd open a bottle of champagne for no reason whatsoever. With nothing officially worth celebrating we'd shower each other with bubbly like we'd won the Grand Prix. We threw things at each other and played football in the corridor. If there was a box that was labelled handle with care, often we wouldn't. We were childish and we were stupid. If the Portakabin office hadn't been a bungalow, we would have thrown HAL out of the window.
  On Fridays we'd go out after work and get as drunk as a hen night in Prague. One such night we got so drunk that we bought a mobile library.
  Here's a picture of that vehicle:

The Mobile Library

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