“Pertaining to Mr Smacker’s rehabilitation and psychological well-being, we will now hear the words of our prison psychologist, Doctor Arthur Porter. Doctor Porter, would you please?”
“Fank yew, Misser Swanson. Fank yew orl, genul’men. Ah hem. Wot iz dair dat cun be said about Misser Smacker dat izzn da most glorious of praise? ‘E izza a genul’men of the finest spess’mn and trewly a brill-yent asset to d’popa-lay-shun of thiss’r HM Wakefield. I would like to begin wiv a few words about Misser Smacker’s exshellent be’avyar, and den dere’ll be a small int’val in which my bewt’ful wife, Tulip, will p’form one uv ‘er darnces dat she duz so very well.”
I can clearly remember the sight of the peculiar Doctor Arthur Porter, a bespeckled, balding man with a severe hunch and a right leg approximately two foot shorter than his left. He was that day adorned in the most tolerable brown tweed jacket and a pleated pair of, at the time revolutionary, skin-tight denim short-shorts. Doctor Porter was not formally educated in the medical practice of psychology – his Doctorate of Visual Merchandising was an honorary title bestowed upon him by the University of Leeds – but he’d provided exemplary morale guidance and analysis to footballers as manager of Doncaster Rovers in the previous season and had signed on loan to HM Prison Wakefield as soon as the transfer window had opened.
My father was ever the charming man, even following his laborious and destructive sentence, and it eventuated that he had cast a considerable spell over Doctor Porter in their sessions together. They had even co-directed Wakefield’s production of Romeo & Juliet in which the two of them played the eponymous roles and switched places for the second act; a dramatic construct that a reviewer for the Leeds Mercury newspaper described as “a mind-numbingly untranslated complexity; like being bludgeoned unconscious with a gift-shop miniature Rosetta Stone”.
Father wore a look of intrigue and also trousers. He was, after all, a mere eighteen months into his four-year sentence and despite his apparently meticulous behaviour, such a premature release was virtually unprecedented. In the room were sat a dozen men of various status, including the embittered son of the late Earl of Zetland who had been pushed from the will by his mother and had volunteered to testify as to the brilliance of my Father’s foresight.
I was in attendance, with my esteemed friend, Sir James Ferdinand Bambi, who sat deep in thought alongside me, quietly muttering something about an upcoming flume venture in distant Australia.
“Who would love the thrill of the flume more than the colonials? A flume could provide a wondrous and welcome reminiscence of their epic journey to the Southern Land! Think of it, Baggy!” he ejaculated close to my ear.
I thought about how absolutely correct my dear friend was in his assertion.
“My James, however do you come about these magnificent ideas?”
“Ideas come to me, Baggy, as eggs to the hen.”
“No, Baggy. I mean I produce them approximately once a day and it often irritates a vegetarian.”
I laughed at Bambi’s joke until I took from his glare that he was fiercely serious.
Dr Arthur Porter continued his testimony.
“I’m shtood before you t’day, to talk uv the re’abilly-tay-shun of a Misser Whitlock Smacker, an’ I shtand before you, a man lackin’ in words to describe how bewtafully adorned in redempshun ‘e mosht shertainly is.”
From behind a trestle-table supporting the plates of finger food we had all been asked to bring, Dr Porter produced a large, framed painting. It was a portrait of himself and my father, sitting upon the coast of Swanage, both of them stooped toward each other to facilitate the biting into of a single Cornish pasty from opposing ends. The Doctor swallowed loudly and pointed toward the painting.
“Duz dat look to you like the posture and gena-ros’ty of a man who dushn’t know remorsh and c’mpasshun and redempshun?”
The gathered audience tittered together in the agreement that a man who lacked remorse and compassion and redemption would not have the sort of light in their soul that could conjure the humble abandon required to share a Cornish pasty with another man upon the twinkling and sparkling jurassic coastline of the town of Swanage.
For several minutes, Dr Arthur Porter proceeded to describe the meticulous facets of my father’s disposition, revealing both the closeness of their friendship and their matching tattoos. It appeared, however, that not all were convinced. As Dr Porter seemed to draw towards a dramatic emotional climax, the prison’s Chief of Security, a ghastly-looking man named Captain Radley, announced himself in a stern baritone.
“Doctor Porter, you speak as a man touched by an angel, and I believe you have been genuinely enlightened by a celestial grace, but we know there to be both angels of light and angels of darkness. With that in our minds, I do have some questions to ask. On the seventeenth night of the most recently passed May, Prisoner Smacker found himself involved in an altercation with three other inmates in which he was the only survivor. He was found by inspection, in a pool of their blood and limbs, to be in possession of a crudely-improvised scimitar. As the only white man involved in the incidence, he blamed his actions on a most unlikely allergic reaction to coltsfoot rock. How does this behaviour align itself with the figure of pristine decency that you would have us believe in?”
A collective wince rippled through those of us close to my father. He had indeed been involved in an in-house triple-murder not more than six months beforehand and I had completely forgotten of it. But upon Radley’s recollection, I remembered suddenly the blood-written letter that had been delivered to me in, which Father had declared the wilful nature in which he had carried out his misdeed, and specified his intention to do it more upon his release, over and over and over until all in this world that dared to stand within a mile of him were chopped up into tiny little pieces as their children and wives watched on. I had dismissed these sentiments as his usual post-eucharist, anti-union rhetoric and discarded the letter without so much as a second thought, but I began to fear that Radley was about to stunt Father’s chances at an early reprieve.
“You shee, Cap’n Radley, those men what he killed were a bad sort.” Doctor Porter replied.
“Are not all of our inmates, Doctor Porter, in the eyes of the laws of our land, ‘bad sorts’?”
Doctor Arthur Porter was in a tight spot. Several of us shuffled awkwardly in our seats. Jennifer Bambi’s disdain became palpable, as she had slaved for several hours over a mango cheesecake all for this moment and perhaps would have considered something store-bought had she remembered all the murders.
Porter paused for a moment longer. His eyes flickered slightly. He looked over at my father who cupped his hands to his mouth and, with a look of urgency, attempted to whisper something toward HM Wakefield’s resident psychologist. Unfortunately, for the past many months, the constant clanging of hammer upon stone – the staple activity of my father’s laborious incarceration – had rendered his hearing limited and therefore his perception of volume miscalculated, and so he quite loudly shouted, “Arthur! Attack his heritage like we practised!” for all among us to hear. Nevertheless, after a moment’s hesitation, Doctor Porter returned his gaze to Radley with a renewed look of resolve and spoke.
“You’re uh… You’re half Irish, are you not, Cap’n Radley?”
“Now, look here…” Radley began to splutter.
“An Irish… Caf’lick, if I’m not mishtaken?”
“Oh now come on, we just heard Mr Smacker say you’ve been prac-”
Dr Porter waved aside his protests and bravely forged ahead.
“Tell me, Cap’n Radley, if your b’loved Caffolishism is so won’a’ful, whateva as drawn you ‘ere ‘cross the Irish shea, away from you blesh’d emerald isle? Running from shome’fing, are we?”
“Oh for goodness sake, this is utter madness. Did we all not just hear Mr Smacker quite clearly advertise conspiracy between himself and this alleged psychologist?!” Radley cried, appealing to the crowd for their support against such a ludicrous tactic.
Unfortunately for the Captain, the political climate of the time had proven anti-Irish sentiment to be a thing of considerable trend, and the tide of apprehension surrounding my father’s misdoings felt to be heading away from shore. A growing, hibernophobic murmur began to form and quickly rose to a boil, spurred on by James Ferdinand Bambi III crying out things like “Those beasts could not tell their log flume rides from their river rapids rides!” and “I hear that those godless micks steal from their own grandmothers!” and “The difference is in the myriad variations in the design and capacity of the passenger vessel, with the key positive of the former being that all ride participants are facing the same direction and are therefore able to share the experience as a group, allowing for creatively envisioned scenery and a spectacular climax via the exhilarating final plunge!”
As the tension and noise escalated, Jennifer Bambi frantically dashed to the table with an empty tupperware container in hand, hell-bent on repossessing her mango cheesecake. Before she could attend to its safety, the prison chaplain rushed forward from among the attendees and shanked her four times in the back with a sharpened crucifix. True chaos was only seconds away.
With the room turning upon a trembling Mr Radley, Dr Porter skillfully stepped in with strategic grace.
“Now, now, ladies and gen’ulmen,” he gestured calmly with open hands, “Are we not above all thish? Is this not eshackly what Misser Radley wants to ‘appen? Is this not the goal of the Irish? To divide us. To seperate us against one another. Those beasts dat da good Misser Smacker moved on from this life, they ‘ad it coming. One of ‘em was a child-murderer. One of ‘em was a rapist. One of ‘em was convicted of lottery fraud. They were society’s worsht. Misser Smacker does not desherve any more humilay-shun. He frew a bottle at a woman on a beach. ‘Aven’t we all done that at shum point in our livesh?”
This was met with nods of agreement.
“‘Ow would you deschribe your mother?” Porter questioned, indicating toward the son of the late Earl of Zetland.
“A right bitch, Doctor. Quite definitely bottle-worthy.”
“And sho I shay to da members of the parole board, ‘ere before you sits a good man, wrongly incarsharated. A man who knew ‘e did wrong and who ‘as promished not to do anyfing wrong, ever again. Even for large shums of money. Ishn’t that right, Misser Schmacker?”
At that moment, Tulip began to do one of her dances whilst Doctor Arthur Porter began handing out complimentary Christmas hams to the members of the parole panel.
Father’s freedom was unanimously granted.