The assignment was simple, the man, not so. All I had to do was spend a week poking, probing, and if necessary, pulling from him the information required. After waiting a half hour at the pub, I was about to leave, flustered, when I saw my quarry enter…sharp, exact, and malign. He headed straight towards me, glowing cigarette leading the way, hat at a jaunty angle, worn sports jacket highlighting his small frame. Extending my hand to meet his, he ignored my bodily presence completely, focusing his unseen eyes on my hip pocket. “So, are y’gonna get the fuckin’ drinks in, or wot?” he barked. “Er..yes, yes, …of course” I stammered, quitting my cleverly rehearsed introductory speech and ice-breaking jokes. I was now forced into a servile position, “Get us a stout” he said, and I walked off to the bar, arousing the suspicions of the regular customers who looked as if they had to be dusted from time to time. A blonde woman with thick, pouty lips eyed me suspiciously from the confines of her faux fur jacket, which was thirty years out of date, but suited her nonetheless. Turning quickly to the long oaken bar, the roar of a darts game covered my request to the barman, who was polishing already clean pint glasses with a cloth. I had to raise my voice to meet his hairy ears. Nodding, he returned with two fresh pints “That’ll be four and twelve,” he said, taking my five pound note, and depositing the change on the clean, dry bar. “And just one other thing, if you don’t mind” which I didn’t, eager to gain information from any and all sources, “why on Earth would anyone want to interview HIM?” he asked, pointing to my subject, who was now slouched in a corner bench, signaling his impatience clearly by tapping his foot. The best answer I could manage was “Well, er..it’s just that he’s sort of a…’cult figure’ in other parts of the world. And, he’s never granted an interview before…until now.” I beamed at this last bit of information, and at this proud moment, the rather beat looking blonde laughed and blew smoke out of her pert, snub nose “He must be really hard up this week,” she snorted “’cos normally, a man like Andy Capp would’ve beaten the shit out of you by now!” I forced a laugh, a grin, and a paltry wink, and made a realistic exit back to the table, not wanting to keep Mr. Capp waiting.
After years of relative silence and obscurity, THE Andy Capp was about to reveal to me, your faithful reporter, his inner workings, hopefully. He seemed a man of few words, and rather reactionary reactions. I wanted to chart the course his personality took, and try to make sense of it all. A straightforward assignment enough, as it were, if he were willing, which he was about eight pints later. We came to the agreement that I would stay at his house for the week, and tag along with him as unobtrusively as possible—he made special note of this last condition by making a fist and holding it under my nose—all this, in return for buying him his libations.
By midweek, having exhausted the magazine’s expense account and some of my own savings, I was nonetheless impressed, or at least awed by Andy’s lifestyle, and decided to carry on with what would be my most important assignment to date, both personally and professionally. On Saturday, he managed to play an entire game of soccer with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Not only that, but Andy also scored six goals, and started, fought, and won three separate fights.
A routine developed. I slept uncomfortably on the floor while Andy napped—frequently, and paid his bar tab every afternoon and evening. Covering his expenses like a generous blanket. I also bought drinks for Andy’s friends, and the seemingly identical looking women he courted at the pub, but had to make myself scarce while he romanced them up against walls in urine-soaked alleyways. I also met Andy’s longtime friend and companion, Chalkie, and bought his drinks too.
The week came to an end, quietly, as we sat in the front room of the Capps’ small townhouse, me thinking about the week spent together, he probably thinking about how many more drinks he could wring from my wallet. Who was this man, exactly, and why hadn’t he spoken more than a few grunts to me all week? Why was he so reluctant to bare his soul, when his physical body required so little to sustain itself? And why did I have to pawn my watch, and hitchhike to the airport? As if in answer, Andy suddenly looked me up and down from his perch on the sofa “Let’s go” he croaked, his voice strained, and he pointed in the opposite direction of his local public house. An hour later, in a distinctly uncharacteristic tea house, and refreshingly sober, Andy let Andy fall out before me. The drinking, the darts, the women, and finally, the cap. In my memory, he had never taken it off. It was on his head at every twist and turn of his rather exhaustive yet routine life. Never to be adjusted or altered in position by tumbling fights on each and every Saturday afternoon, never knocked askew by a chance meeting with Flo and her rolling pin. Never sent flying into the street as the result of a slap from one of the girls with the pert noses, bobbed hair and fake fur jackets. I finally asked the question, “Why?” why he never took his hat off, even at bedtime, and presumably bath time as well.
Tilting his head sideways, and then lowering it, Andy’s delicate, nicotine stained hand grasped the brim of his peaked cap. Taking a deep breath from his cigarette, he lifted the cap upwards, making a slight sucking sound, and placed it on the table, lost and lonely. Trembling slightly, I stared at the shadowy space where the hat had been. Andy broke the fearful silence with a strained, gravelly whisper “You want to know why I never take me cap off, you speccy bastard?” Knowing full well my answer, Andy raised his oddly pointed head, and looked at me…directly. Shaded for years behind a cheap twill hat, two bright, blue orbs, book ended by iridescent whites, with ebony pupils pinpointing an exact center, stared at me with an honest intensity. Never had I seen eyelashes that long or sensuous, on man or woman, and a sparkle glinted from them, even in the grim Northern dusk. Those eyes spoke reams of poetry and magic to me, and I wondered aloud why. Why had this man never shown his gift to the world, as success in the cartoon would be guaranteed, not just a marginal spot in low-level dailies? In answer, Andy shrugged and wiped a large tear from his left eye. Again, he addressed me with more words than he had used the entire week, putting his cigarette out on the table, along with, it seemed, his carefully constructed defenses. “A long time ago…” he began, voice aquiver “I promised me mum I’d never abuse these eyes..that I’d never exploit them…’cos some folk don’t have ‘em. She didn’t. Not even pupils.” He leaned closer to me “And her…just a poor orphan…..Annie…”.