Thursday, 23 October 2014

As part of my community service I must polish the ghost of Jeremy Bentham

As part of my community service I must polish the ghost of Jeremy Bentham

As part of my community service I must polish the ghost of the social reformer Jeremy Bentham who died in 1832.

I am compelled to perform this court-appointed punishment for a period of 8 months. At the end of this time I will be considered rehabilitated, the act of polishing having in some way redeemed my character and righted my errant moral compass.

To aid me in this my task I am given special ghost polish. The polish is made from rendered lemur bones. It is manufactured at a factory in Basildon and is sold in 100 litre drums that I must wheel along the corridors of University College, London, on a metal porters trolley.

Occasionally one of the professors at the college will usher me to one side and quietly enquire as to whether I might be able to siphon off a little of the polish: They are expecting important dinner guests and there is a ghost at home who must be made to look presentable. I am duty-bound to for account every last drop of ghost polish on a paper form, copies of which must be submitted to three different departments. I give none of it away. There are charities that offer ghost polishing services, although these use inferior lemur-friendly polishes made from synthetic compounds.

My supervisor impresses upon me the importance of regularly polishing the ghost of Jeremy Bentham. The more tarnished a ghost becomes the harder they are to clean. Jeremy Bentham's ghost is prone to fidgeting and sometimes wanders off. I follow behind with my squeaky porters trolley and my bouquet of dusters. When I am finished Jeremy Bentham's ghost emits a lustrous golden glow that attracts magpies. He must remain indoors until his aura has sufficiently dimmed.

When Jeremy Bentham died his skeleton was dressed in simple clothing, padded with straw, and placed in a sitting position inside a glass cabinet. His head was mummified according the practices of the indigenous people of New Zealand. The end result was macabre and so a wax head was attached to the body instead.

The ghost of Jeremy Betham is unhappy with this arrangement. He continually petitions me to include the reattachment of his head to his body as an item on the agenda at University College board meetings.

I inform him that I am not an employee of University College and have no influence over the agenda in any of their meetings. I am one of criminal classes convicted by a jury of my peers of selling a counterfeit stegosaurus skeleton to the Royal Society of Junior Palaeontologists.

With the end of my sentence approaching the ghost of Jeremy Bentham becomes agitated. He asks me who will polish him after I am gone. It will probably another community service worker. If there is no-one suitable then maybe somebody who is claiming job seekers' allowance will be forced to polish the ghost of Jeremy Bentham in return for their unemployment benefit, or the job will be offered as an unpaid apprenticeship.

It is the final day of my sentence. Me and the ghost of Jeremy Bentham journey across the road to the park on Gordon Square where we both sit in reflective silence. I watch the ghost of Jeremy Bentham as he is slowly dulled by traffic fumes. Around us the dusk gathers erasing the fine details of London. The end of the day and our time together is sketched out in abstract in the sad evensong of a blackbird, perched in silhouette, high in bare, still branches.

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