Twenty Scottish pounds

Nate’s got a bogey the size of an aspirin hanging from his left nostril, but no one’s telling him about it, least of all me. We’ve got a three-way challenge going on, the rest of us have. The person that gives the game away gives a tenner to each of the other two. I’m driving the van, so I’m at a kind of advantage in that I can keep my eyes on the road and mainly just put all my attention on the driving business. But Julia and Ray are sitting in front of and next to Nate respectively, and since it’s too dark to read and the radio’s junk, they have nothing to keep their minds off the bogey. Julia’s tactic, I can see, is to look only at Ray when she turns around to speak. She thinks that by obliterating Nate and the bogey from her line of sight, she can obliterate it from her mind also. This is of course foolish, because as any idiot knows, the more you try to ignore something, the more it plays on your mind. Julia is normally very smart so she will be aware of this; she’s just for some reason at this moment unable to master the fact and allow herself to look at Nate as well as Ray. By contrast Ray is not what you’d call a man who likes to overthink things, and yet he clearly has the upper hand as things currently stand. Maybe not thinking too hard is key here. The irony. Ray divides his attention between Julia and Nate roughly equally; not only that, but when he does look at Nate he always meets his eye, although significantly not in any non-normal, fixed-stare kind of way, and yet never letting his gaze fall to Nate’s nose-bauble either. He also – and this is the clever part – he also allows a tiny wee smirk to cross his face when he’s looking at Julia, just to let her know he knows what she’s doing, or rather struggling to do, and also that what she’s doing (studiously ignoring Nate-plus-bogey) means he’s got her pinned (via his equally studious but more skilled Nate-acknowledging-plus-bogey-ignoring). Which would appear to put Ray in the lead in terms of the challenge, and well safe from having to part with twenty crisp Scottish pound notes. But not necessarily. Because what neither Ray or Julia know is that I am aware of each of their tactics, through little opportunistic rear view mirror glances. I’m also aware of the little personal head-to-head they’re having as a result. Which essentially puts the whole fate of the game in my hands, because as long as I don’t crack and let it slip to Nate that he’s got a bat creeping out the cave, I won’t be caught out by any sudden tactical offensive by Julia or Nate; I will have seen it coming. What’s more, my superior awareness-levels mean I could lay a little trap for Ray if I dare. All of which leaves Nate as wild card, desperado; a figurative bogeyman, and not just a literal one. Dark horse of the bogey-bet movement, if you will. Is it possible that he’s aware and in control of everything here? Does he know about the bogey, know about our game? Is he aware of Julia’s and Ray’s and my awareness, plus the side-awareness that is what Ray and Julia believe to be a private head-to-head between the two of them? And that he’s alert to my awareness of all the awarenesses currently going around in the van? He was the first to get in after we loaded up the gear at the end of the show, and it’s possible he will have heard the rest of us sniggering and scheming while we were still outside. If he subsequently felt or otherwise noticed the bogey while we were driving, he may well have deducted a) that the bogey was the cause of the street-side sniggering, and b) that we three’d got a little challenge going on as a result. We’ve spent many hours together in this van over the years, and this is just the kind of low-level, boredom-killing shenanigans we often go in for. I take a wee peep at Nate just now. He’s got a good poker face, that man. He’s just staring out the window and clapping a slow paradiddle on his knees. I think he knows about the bogey. It’s been there for hours. It must have itched or twitched or something by now. Which introduces to this game a very interesting two-man side challenge between me and Nate. Julia’s talking right at Ray again now. She might crack. Nate’s closed his eyes. Somehow tellingly. I take a longer peep this time. They’re all struggling now, in their own ways. Only I am aware of everything. My twenty Scottish pounds is safe, safe, safe, I know it. All I have to do is keep my eyes on the ro-

(c) Martin Cornwell 2012