April fish and other hoaxes

Salena Godden's poetry and short stories appear everywhere; she is also half of ska-punk-breakbeat duo SaltPeter with Peter Coyte. Their new single "I'm Not Gay" was released on April 1st 2006.

The walrus and the diamond ring

I was exactly fifty quid short for my rent and I had decided the best thing to do was to borrow a tenner each from five friends. That was how we got talking about money, that was how it came up, and that was when he says, "See that? It's real diamonds! Real diamonds and real gold! Look you can see for yourself they're the real thing; look how the light catches them you can tell, a cluster of real diamonds and a sapphire in the middle, I know it's a real sapphire that there, because my favourite colour is blue and that is a real blue sapphire and that's an eighteen carat gold ring, don't you believe me?"

Let's call him Peter Pepper the Painter; if I put his real name, you'd never believe. I believed him and besides, you never know, he might have been telling the truth. Kelly and I were in the French sitting in the corner when Peter Pepper the Painter started flashing the diamonds. The way Peter told it, a robber had turned up on his doorstep with a heist from a jeweller's up north, Yorkshire somewhere. The robber had done one and turned up in East London with a rucksack of jewels of all descriptions and he needed somewhere to lie low for a bit. Peter had aided and abetted the villain. I pictured a robber with a swag bag and a black and white striped t-shirt like the cartoons. Peter said he'd been selling the pieces for twenty quid around the pubs; he had to shift the gear and shift it quick smart. People were just snapping them up. The Yorkshire robber had made about five hundred quid in one evening but they needed shifting double time, Peter said in his thick Manky drone.

"Only five hundred quid - only five! And that alone, see that, that ring there is worth three fifty or hang on... see that ring there, that ring there, yeah, its worth over four hundred quid that ring there on its own, alone, that alone, see, look!... That is real diamonds... a cluster of diamonds with a sapphire in the middle! Look!"

I was cynical, screwing up my face; Kelly took the ring and examined it closer. "It's got a mark inside..." she volunteered by way of confirmation.

"Yeah right..." I said and looked and there was some kind of hallmark it was true, cum grano salis but you never know.

"Can we have a ring Peter?" Kelly asked arching her eyebrow and her back simultaneously like a cat; she was never shy our Kelly, you had to give her that. "Peter, can we have a ring... each... Peter can we?" she repeated, her tongue licking the corner of her mouth as she lit a cigarette. Peter told us he had loads, loads of different rings and he had one in mind for Kelly that she'd especially like, a wide thick silver Celtic band because Kelly didn't like sparkly girly stuff. Satisfied by this, Kelly got in another round of drinks and the subject changed, other people joined us and we did the crawl around Soho. We went to some free beer art launch, the Dean Street shuffle: Blacks, The Colony and Gerry's, and then rollercoasted into a hefty session of vodka and smoking hubbly bubbly around an open fire and now, three days later, I woke up with a diamond ring.

It was Saturday. In my fridge I had a heart of celery, a hard old bit of cheese, a potato, jam, ketchup and a sealed Christmas pudding mum had made last year, eleven months ago. It was a sad state of affairs and I was feeling pretty bad; the word is worthless. I was waiting for a cheque to clear but there never seemed to be any end to the struggling and juggling of late. Then I looked on my dresser and there was this sparkling treasure, the diamond ring. Peter Pepper had given it to me saying he loved me and I was to keep it safe and I had joked "I know where to keep it safe, the pawn shop in Kentish Town might look after it for me".

Joking aside then, that's what I would do.

I put on a hat to disguise my hair and this beige fur coat I hardly ever wore. In my mind, a terrible scenario: the pawnbroker pressing a button under the counter and a load of coppers appearing to question me. I pictured myself in the cells and Kelly having to come bail me out. Peter Pepper in the line-up; I imagined having to lie - no officer that is not the gentleman who gave me the ring, I got the ring off some stranger in a pub one dark night, honest as the day is long, I'm a good girl I am, honest m'lord. I was paranoid, that hungover cringe when you are convinced of trouble afoot. I hadn't pawned anything before but I was so broke and hungry. Surely if Peter Pepper ever asked me about the ring, I'd confess. He'd understand, we artists and writers stand together, for richer for poorer, in bad reviews and in wealth, I solemnly swear that if I ever see you sober and skint I will stand you a wee drinky and you can share my fags, Amen.

Walking down through the Saturday shoppers of Kentish Town, I popped into a busy Woolworth's and nicked a toffee; it got rid of the taste of empty in my mouth. I passed a bakery and the warm pastries wafted into the cold morning air but I sucked on the toffee and concentrated on getting my story straight. I would tell the pawnbroker that a rotter had given me the ring; some rotten bloke had palmed me off with a diamond ring to make up for being such a stinking no-good-for-nothing rotten stinker and I thought it was an unlucky ring and I wanted a quick sale to get rid of it. Peter had said it was worth over four hundred so I'd be happy with two or even one hundred pounds, that would be plenty of money to get me through, get something to eat and maybe I'd buy mother a birthday present. I couldn't help winding the film on, imagining my mother's face lighting up, opening ribbons and paper; she would never need to know where I'd got the money.

I grew hot under the collar as I passed a few pawnshops. There was one that looked flash, like a proper jewellers, and I stopped and looked in. You could see the place was alarmed. You had to buzz to enter and they locked the door behind you. There were bound to be cameras. Anyone would think I was casing the joint the way I was peering in; it was as if I was going to do an armed robbery myself.

I bottled out and kept walking self-consciously, thinking through my story again. I would say something like, hey hello there pawnbroker, I was just passing and wondering what this silly diamond ring might be worth, it was given to me by a stinking rotten bloke who broke my heart and did the dirty on me and it's an unlucky ring and I want to get rid, I'd say that, yes, that would sound convincing. I would say some rotten two-timing good-for-nothing swine of a bloke palmed me off this stupid boring diamond ring and I want to get rid of it; the rotter said he wanted to engage me, the pig, the swine, so I took his ring and told him, what time do you call this Romeo? It's over, there is no us, we are finished, done and dusted and don't you ever darken my doorstep again with your diamond and sapphire rings, it's too late for diamond rings now sweetheart, now don't you sweetheart me! Get out you rotten filthy diamond ring-giving brute!

I was furious with the pigging rotten swine by the time I came across a poky dirty place that had a sign in the window saying they even took gold teeth. I licked my two fellas, my gold smilers; I was in the right place. When I opened the door a cloud of fag smoke billowed and engulfed me. A toothless old man that looked like Steptoe shuffled to the counter.

"Hello there!" I said all bright and breezy.

"Hello, what can I do for you, dear?" Very friendly.

"Oh I've got this diamond ring and was just wondering what it might be worth, but I..."

"Ooh diamonds!" giving me a toothless smile. "Well, well, well, young lady... you'd better come out back; you need to talk to this gentleman here. I only do gold see; he does the stones. Come through and see if he can help you, love."

There was an air of back-street abortion about it but I was led out back to a room with horse racing on a portable television. There was a window with a view to the back of the bins and a brick wall through yellowing net curtains, a worn paisley carpet, an out-of-date calendar on the wall and a sleeping smelly dog. Shelves to the ceiling were packed with knick-knacks, boxes, magazines and manuals. There was a teenager in a tracksuit and white trainers moodily smoking a fag and a big puffing walrus man lighting a fag. I passed Walrus the ring; he leaned forward with fat fingers and took it wheezing with the effort. I sat on the edge of an upright wooden chair with a peeling Formica seat, a newspaper on it open to page three. He took the ring and started to examine it squinting with a one-eye magnifying lens with an air of a connoisseur, a specialist, with deliberation. The room was cosy; they had been drinking tea and smoking fags. The teenager had wet-look gel on spiked hair and acne; he could be a grandson.

I felt a need to make conversation. "Um I just want to see if it's worth anything... I think it's unlucky..."

"Oh yeah, that so? Why's that?" Walrus said scrunching up his face and scrutinizing the ring.

"It was given to me by a rotter..."

"A rotter... you don't say? Really?"

"A rotter!" Steptoe was taking quite a shine to me.

"Yep..." I smiled keeping to my story and quite amusing myself.

"Heeee hee hee a rotter!" Steptoe was also amused.

"Why is he a rotter then?" Walrus asked.

"Just you know... a rotten swine..." I said, wishing I hadn't started it now.

"Well, dear...sorry love; I'd offer you five pounds for this, these aren't real diamonds, look..." Walrus pointed to the letters inside. I didn't know what CZ meant but he showed me the hallmark and there, plain as the naked eye could see, was a C and a Z.

"See that means they're not diamonds..."

"Oh really? What a pity..." I tried to hide my disappointment, act like I was just curious.

"Yeah best I can do is offer you a fiver, love; you're best off keeping it..."

"A fiver? Blimey, it really is unlucky." I chuckled. "He really is a rotter!"

"Yeah you're best off hanging on to it... you might as well keep it..."

"Oh well worth asking I s'pose, you never know. Well what do you know, eh? Not real diamonds then... Oh bugger..." I laughed a bit and Walrus and Steptoe chuckled too and we all laughed a bit because we were giggling and then Walrus broke it up by wheezing coughs and spluttering and the teenager just looked at the carpet some more and smoked without any opinion on diamond rings or rotters.

Once the Walrus had caught his breath and cleared his phlegm, he said, "I just hope this rotter didn't take advantage of you love..." He looked at me lasciviously licking a walrus tusk and smoothing out his walrus whiskers.

"Oh what? Take advantage of me? Yeah right, he'd be lucky, in his dreams... ha ... goodness no, I just didn't want the ring that's all..."

I was standing up, slipping the ring into my pocket and putting my gloves back on. I considered asking Walrus for a fag, I wanted to have a cup of tea and ask him about diamonds and his pawn shop; it was kind of cosy and warm in that back room, I was considering asking for the fiver anyway so I could buy my own fags or asking if Walrus and Steptoe had any tips for today's gee-gees, for the races, but he just coughed a bit and said "Cheerio love, now you take care! Watch out for those rotters!"

"Thank you, yes I will!" I replied cheerily and said thank you and bye bye to Steptoe who showed me back out through the little shop to the front door.

They must get that all the time I thought and I caught my reflection in a shop window. I looked awfully suspect in my hat and fur coat. I took the hat off, shook my hair and took a bus heading towards Liverpool Street. Maybe I could track down Peter Pepper and ask him which pub he'd been selling the diamonds in so maybe I could get twenty quid for my Christmas cracker ring. Of course I could let you into a secret; I could hint that this was the start of a beautiful friendship with myself, the Walrus and Steptoe, but all you need to know is I did find my rent, that fifty quid I was short, without borrowing ten pounds from five friends. Next time you see me, like a crocodile be sure to make me smile and check if I have my two gold teeth because that, as they say, is another story.

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