HOLD ON 2.0

Hold On 2.0 by Andy Gell

It’s ok.

I’m fine.

Don’t worry.

I’m not afraid.

I’m already dead.

I’ve been dying a lot recently and I’m kind of getting used to it.

A bit like The Fall.

Always different.

Always the same.

But this time wasn’t the same different.

It was a different different.

Definitely.

Definitely a different different.

So, I thought I’d write this one down.

It was just after midnight on August 23rd.

I heard no bongs, but my best guess would be about 00:00:23.

If they’d been on time things might have been different.

And by different, I mean neither the same different or a different different.

This was nearly a different where I don’t die.

Spot the differents.

Spot the difference.

A man could die trying.

On this occasion I did.

What difference does it make?

The plan was for the ambulance to arrive at 00:00:23.

It was written down that way.

It was what was expected.

But I should have known what to expect.

I should have known not to expect what was expected.

There it was in black and white.

Expect the unexpected.

Well I expected an ambulance.

I got an Ice Kream Van.

I’d spent the last couple of hours stood outside one of the many radical book shops on Bold Street. I was eager to get my hands on a signed copy of ‘Hold On, I’m Coming’, the autobiographical account of soul men turned revolutionary paramedics, Sam and Dave. Early reviews had called it the ‘definitive account of mobile emergency medicine to be written by ex-Stax artists’. Sure, we’d been wowed by Booker T and The MGs ‘intimate account’ of their time as mobile vegetable washers – Clean Onions – and we’d all shed a tear at Otis Redding’s ‘heart wrenching’ account of his time as a Port Authority Lavatory Technician – S*itting On The Dock Of The Bay – but this was something new.

After Dave’s tragic death in 1988, the pair announced that they were leaving the music industry to set up the world’s first paranormal paramedic service. Their tag line was ‘Soulful Healing In This Life And The Next.’ Sam would sooth the dying with his sweet tenor voice, while Dave would welcome those that could not be saved with the warmth of his deep baritone. Their arrival into the world of first responder medical treatment was heralded by a series of full-page ads in The Lancet, a Spotify Playlist – Dead Soul For The Dying Soul – and by a three-minute segment on Oprah with Dr Phil. But the world wasn’t quite ready. Not ready at all.

Condemnation came from across the board. From the Chief of Surgeons to Nicola Sturgeon. From Doctor Kervorkian to Doctor And The Medics. Everyone hated the idea that these men of soul could just turn around and call themselves paramedics. Where was their training? Were they even serious? Was this just a cynical attempt to relaunch their ailing careers in music?

Some people were just creeped out by the sight of bandages and blood bags moving by themselves as Dave was only still visible to Sam, and only really after Sam had been drinking heavily. This precluded Sam from driving the ambulance on most nights and the ghoulish image of a driverless ambulance careering around the streets of Liverpool sent many a poor soul to an early grave.

Undeterred by these poor first impressions, a rarely sober Sam pressed on with their plan and invested heavily in supplies. A late-night slip on the finger on his Amazon app led to the purchasing of 20,000 packs of bandages, each being a pack of 50. They arrived the next day, thanks to Dave’s yet to be cancelled Prime account in a box much bigger than it needed to be. Unable to fit through the letter box of their two-bedroom semi, the monolithic cube sat in their garden blocking out the light and killing off Sam’s prized tulips. There it was, everything in a 23 foot high cube of regret. 529 cubic feet of bad choices and shattered dreams.

Something had to change and so on the night of August 23rd, 1994, Sam took a flaming torch to the bandage cube and set it alight. The tightly packed material sustained the flames well into the afternoon of the following day and it took three fire trucks to quench the inferno. As a consequence, that year’s Erotic Fireman Of Liverpool calendar was late into the stores, missing the key ‘this’ll do’ days just before Christmas and leaving them well short of their fundraising goals.

The investigators suspected arson, but the only witness to Sam’s wrongdoing was the invisible earthbound spirit of his late singing partner and Dave was saying nothing.

Over the next 23 years the pair drifted apart. Sam worked hard on his miniature sculptures in a wheelie bin, whilst Dave secured the patent to a new shade of purple that he was hoping to interest Prince in. But on the occasions that they met, they talked fondly of their time together on board the ambulance and with the book launch imminent they got their wagon out of storage and prepared for one last ride.

Such was the decline in their psychic connection that Sam had to ingest large amounts of ketamine just to hear Dave’s voice, which made Sam not the best of company for Dave. Not that Dave minded too much. He treasured these connections with his former life. The life he had before his death. His afterlife-based side of their business was really not the success that they had hoped it would be. Not that he told Sam, it would break his heart. Truthfully, the soulful meet and greet service that Dave offered the recently departed was less than enthusiastically received on the other side, both by clients and The Management. The process of passing over was a complicated one. Not good, not bad. Not terrible, not great. It just was, and the addition of Dave’s crooning was never a good fit with what was, for most people, the most important moment of their life. Song choice was often the problem, as was timing. Dave was never sure when to come in. Even when he was singing with Sam, he was always looking to Sam for his cue. He wished Sam was here. He wished he was…

Meanwhile, outside of the radical bookshop, leaflets were being circulated detailing the rules of engagement for the signing.

  1. Do not mention the movie Soul Man.
  2. Do not mention that god-awful cover of Soul Man that Sam recorded with Scooter for the aforementioned movie.
  3. Do not act weird when Sam starts talking to the empty chair next to him.
  4. Do not offer him any drugs. He’s sorted, thanks.
  5. Do not queue up all night on behalf of the BBC and take up one of the first 23 places in the queue.
  6. Do not take photographs.
  7. Do not use thermal imagining technology.
  8. Do not invoke the spirit of Sam Cooke.
  9. Do not mention the best-selling Sam Cooke Cook Book.
  10. Do not mention bandages, tourniquets, or plasters. Or cubes. Or Amazon 1-Click Ordering.

Well, at least I knew what to expect.

It was there in black and white.

As the time moved ever closer to midnight, there was a party mood developing in the queue. The Discordians, who had attached themselves to the duo handed out fanzines. I’ll read that later. Bemused Liverpudlians walked past asking what was going on. Some offered half-baked anecdotes of when they knew Sam art school. Others were just half-baked. Truth be told none of us really knew what was going on and when it came to these guys that was Situation Normal. All Fucked Up.

Meanwhile, just a few minutes’ drive away, Eric’s mobile buzzed into life. He’d been waiting for this text all day. Maybe all his life, but most definitely for the last 23 minutes.

SORRY WE’RE LATE. TRAFFIC WAS HELL. LET’S DO THIS.

Eric grabbed his jacket and keys, locked his hotel room door, and took the stairs down to the lobby. There were mutterings from the assorted tourists, businessmen, and staff in the reception, and bristling with excitement Eric answered their questions in his mind.

‘Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is what you think it is. But tonight, it’s my ride’

Meanwhile, Dave reversed the ambulance out the driveway and Sam climbed into the back. His emotional state since the fire had been fragile at best and he had taken to travelling everywhere in an oversized cardboard box that his copy of John Higgs’ book about the M6 Toll Road had been delivered in. With dimensions of 200cm by 50cm by 23cm, the box had a coffin like quality about it, particularly when lined with some of Dave’s old red velvet smoking jackets. It was Sam’s safe place, away from the flames, the stench of burning cotton and the jobsworth that worked in Amazon’s returns section.

Dave cued up and old 45 of Hold On, I’m Coming, put the microphone close to the deck and set off on the short journey along The Strand to their midnight rendezvous with the fans.

Meanwhile, as I waited impatiently I checked in my wallet for my ticket to tomorrow’s open-top bus tour of Liverpool taking in all the sights most associated with the city’s most famous sons, The Farm. The £23 tour visited the Stepping Stones, the home of Peter Hooton’s Aunt Fifi and finished with a ride around Albert Dock on the Groovy Train. I’d picked up the ticket in advance from The Farm Museum on Mathew Street, right next to the statue of the famous philosopher Peter Ustinov. But where was it now? Keen to see more clearly under the street light I stepped forward into the road. And there it was. In black and white.

Meanwhile. As the engine idled whilst they waited at the traffic lights, Dave took the opportunity to restart the record player. That was the trouble with timeless soul records: they were notoriously short. This one was 2:35 from its fanfare start to its ad-libbed fade. But Dave was confident that this play through would take them nicely to the corner of Bold Street and their queuing fans.

Don’t you ever feel sad,

Lean on me when times are bad.

When the day comes and you’re down,

In a river of trouble and about to drown

Meanwhile. There it was in black and white. A strange pyramid design on the bonnet and the number 23 on the roof.

Meanwhile, Dave tapped along to the music on the dashboard.

I’m goin’ my way, your lover.

If you get cold I’ll be your cover.

Don’t have to worry `cause I’m here,

No need to suffer baby, I’m here.

‘Sweet Jesus, we were good Sam. Ain’t nobody can take that away from us.’ Dave looked over his shoulder for Sam’s response, but saw nothing.

‘Cause hold on, I’m comin’

Hold on, I’m comin’

Hold on, I’m comin’

Hold on, I’m comin’

“Sam? Do you hear me, Sam?”

Reach out to me for satisfaction,

Call my name now for quick reaction.

Meanwhile, whilst I could make out the Pyramid design and the number 23, the occupants were less clear. Probably because of the speed. I couldn’t be sure but both the driver and his passenger seemed to have their hands to their cheeks and their faces were contorted like that famous painting of the guy on the bridge with the two mysterious top hat wearing gentlemen in the background. Now what was it called?

Meanwhile.

“Sam? Quit screwing around and answer me”

Don’t you ever feel sad,

Lean on me when times are bad…

“Right. That’s it. I’m stopping the wagon”

When the day comes and you’re down,

When the day comes and you’re down,

When the day comes and you’re down,

When the day comes and you’re down…

Dave pulled over, just by the entrance to Chinatown and climbed into the back of the ambulance. He knew. He knew right away.

When the day comes and you’re down,

When the day comes and you’re down…

Meanwhile. The Scream. That’s it. It was there in black and white. The fake American Cop Car from the movie Superman. The pyramid logo. The letters KLF. The bonnet. In black and white. Moving fast. Towards me. Next to me. Through me. Right there. In black and white.

When the day comes and you’re down,

When the day comes and you’re down,

When the day comes and you’re down,

When the day comes and you’re down…

“Rest easy. My friend. You’re passing over now. Don’t be afraid. You’re already dead.”

When the day comes and you’re down,

When the day comes and you’re down,

When the day comes and you’re down,

When the day comes and you’re down…

“Damn stupid record player. Quit skipping”

Dave hurled a pack of bandages towards the deck and nudged the arm.

In a river of trouble and about to drown,

In a river of trouble and about to drown,

In a river of trouble and about to drown,

In a river of trouble and about to drown…

“OK buddy. I know what we got to do. Change of plan”

Dave turned the ambulance around and headed back towards The Strand.

Just hold on, I’m comin’

Hold on, I’m comin’

Just hold on, I’m comin’

Hold on, I’m comin’

Just hold on, I’m comin’

Hold on, I’m comin’

Just hold on, I’m comin’

Hold on, I’m comin’…

Meanwhile. There it was in black and white. And red. Mostly red actually. Someone supported my head, while I gazed up at the stars. Then the stars dimmed.

“It’s OK. There’s an ambulance on its way. I can hear it. It’s close.”

The light of the stars swelled as they went out of focus.

“Here it comes. Hold on. It’s coming. Hold on. It’s coming. Hold on. Hold on.”

Meanwhile, Dave sped towards the river. In the back, Sam’s body rocked with every corner. With the blue lights on they ran every light. Traffic cleared a path. The river glistened up ahead. The moonlight highlighting the waves. Through the barrier to the ferry. The ferry that wasn’t there. They were heading for the other side. Together.

Hold on. We’re coming.

Meanwhile.

“Hold On. Hold on.”

Hold on, that not an ambulance.

That’s an Ice Kream Van.

It’s OK.

I’ve done this before.

It’s fine.

Make mine a ninety-nine.

Epilogue

Sam and Dave’s reunion tour broke afterlife box office records and after a 23-month residency at The Luxor in Las Vegas, they we inspired to open their own casino, not in Nevada but in the North of England. Specialising in deceased Northern Soul heroes, The Pyramid has been a great success despite Sam’s insistence that it’s plaza is dominated by a 23-foot-high pyramid made of bandages.

Eric and his driver were cleared of any wrongdoing. The Ford Galaxy sustained minimal damage, but was retired from active service. The driver’s new project involves the painstaking recreation of a Ukrainian Ice Kream Van.

The drivers of the Ice Kream Van were useless. The application of Strawberry Mivvi to my wounds did very little to stem the bleeding and the chimes of their van were discordant and far from melodic. I’m not really convinced they were Ice Kream Men.

My next life involved growing up in the 90s on a small Scottish island mostly known for its whiskey. My parents run a guest house there. As I write this, it’s after midnight and four guests have just left clutching some holdalls. I don’t know where they are going at this time of night.

There’s nothing to do on Jura.

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