The Misadventures of Mark E. Smith in Purgatory

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Here is one for the road. Actually meant for publication several months ago. 


This is a gift for Opher too, in two parts:   1) spot the Fall song lyric references in the article


2) Here is the net result of your glorious British Socialist Smashing Success. The winter of your discontent and all of the wonderful music it spawned and the NHS gets express customer service with Hell. Not a bad record at all. :)




“Christ on bike! I’ve been sittin’ ‘ere for fookin’ months now! I’ve punched this ticket, mate! When am I gettin’ in t’ Hell?”


“Now Mr. Smith, ah…..Mark was it?”


“Mark E Smith-uh! ‘sright.”


“Ah! Yes, there you are. Ahem, well you see, Mr. Smith, erm...well, it’s a rather common name, isn’t it? There’s the problem! You just can not possibly imagine the number of Smiths we have come through here! I, er…..Oh! Well that’s it then.”




“I...oh, this is horribly embarrassing! Mr. Smith it seems that in your application there was a typographical error. The E has been erroneously entered as an H. I can only speculate you understand, but it seems there was some bit of an anomaly in our algorithms…”


“Right! There it is then, how bloody typical! The highest British attention to the wrong detail!”


“Oh now! It’s not as bad as all that! Hmm… this is curious, though. The system keeps rerouting everything to a Mark Henry Smith. Let me check something here, just a moment. Yes, it’s a Mark Henry Smith, a middle aged bloke from Philadelphia, but that doesn’t even...”


“A Yank?”


“….make sense. Not only is he not British, he’s not even dead yet!”


“Fortunate for ‘im. Wot’s it to me?”


“Right! We’ll get this sorted. Let me make a few calls, yeah?”


“Oi! Since I’ve been sittin’ ‘ere you’ve already ‘ad two Russians run through this place!”


“Now now, Mr. Smith! That’s an entirely different matter. Those gentlemen simply expired on British soil. In those cases we’re merely an expediter.”


“Yeah? Well ‘ow about you get t’ expeditin’ me, mate! I’ve ‘ad it up the arse from you lot from the day I was born. Make yer calls, ya sod!”


Smith turned away, still muttering to himself in disbelief. He’d done everything that was expected. A life of drunkenness and nearly every other substance abuse imaginable. Why in one ten year span, from 1978 to 1988, he had single-handed bolstered the stock of every amphetamine manufacturer on the planet. Fornication, adultery, verbal and physical abuse, every manner of gluttony, sloth; by all accounts he’d been a right bloody prick to everyone in his life. Where was the justice? From the desk a few feet away he overheard the phone conversation.


“Yes! Hello? Hello? Can you hear me? Oh good! Yes, this is Trevor Jones from the NHS Purgatory Liaison Office? Oh fine, fine...yes, thank you. Right, yes, well there is a bit of an administrative issue here on our end, I’m afraid, and I was wondering if I might speak with someone there who might be able to assist?”


Oh those killer civil servants! Even in death! Mr. Jones offered a reassuring smile from behind the desk and held his hand over the mouthpiece to politely mouth the words “I’m on hold”. Smith scoffed at the effort and gazed down at his shoes, musing that at least someone had got something right: they’d seen to it that he was clad in that Czech pair for his send off. Despite all of the hype Smith was still convinced that the Bohemian talent for cobbling far exceeded their Pilsners. That bloody piss water wasn’t going to tide him across any muddy pitch, was it? Besides your choice of Football Club what else mattered?


After those few awkward minutes Jones resumed the phone conversation.


Good morning! This is Ernest Hemingway, Chief of Staff. How may we help you today?”


“Mr. Hemingway? Oh thank you! Yes, this is Trevor Jones from the...”


Yes, yes Mr. Jones. I know where you are. What can we help you with?”


“Right. We’ve discovered a bit of a mix up here and I am trying to set it right. We’ve got this fellow here, a Mark E Smith, and it’s a most unfortunate circumstance. You see he actually expired, er let’s see now it was...”


“24 January you git! Gone two months now!”


“ Er, yes Mr. Smith, please! I’m trying!…”


What are you saying?”


“Sorry, Mr. Hemingway. This Mr. Smith actually died on 24 January and although all of the correct procedures were followed in bringing him here, there was a minor typographical error in the initial application. I still need to determine why, but for some reason our system generated some sort of an anomaly that had him as a Mark Henry Smith of Philadelphia. I’ve only just discovered this and wanted to get our Mr. Smith on his way, then sort out the rest later. If I give you the details would you perhaps be so kind as to open his pass and move him ahead of the line?”


Well that’s highly irregular, but I may be able to do something. So the application would have been dated for January 24? Let me see… I may need to look into our January 25 applications. You said it was entered as Mark Henry...umm…yes here it is, let’s see. Smith, Mark Henry, Philadelphia, USA...oh! Well there’s your problem. The poor bastard’s not even dead yet. Yes, this file has been marked rejected.”


“Yes, we are aware of this. As I said, we do not yet understand why, but at this time we’re just concerned with getting the right Mr. Smith on his way. I was wondering if you might be able to simply correct the original application to reflect the proper name?”


Oh! That’s going to be a bit of a problem. Once the file is rejected it is just so much easier to submit a new application. Tell you what I can do. Why don’t you give me the details and I can enter the new file directly into the main terminal. That way we can unlock the gates to get him down here at least.”


“Oh Mr. Hemingway! That would be splendid! Let me know when you are ready.”


Jones held out a thumbs up for Smith to indicate that they would have it all solved. Smith just rolled his eyes and sneered “Tosser!”


Alright Jones. Go ahead.”


“Ready? It’s Mark Edward Smith, Prestwich, Lancs, UK. Date of birth 5 March 1957...”


Wait! Hold it! We’re talking about THAT Mark E. Smith?


“Why Mr. Hemingway, whatever do you mean?”


I’m sorry Jones. You have your procedures, we have ours. I’ve got a red flag on this guy so I’m gonna need to go to the boss on this one. Hold the line a moment.”


“But… would you like to just ring us back?”


I said hold the line! This shouldn’t take long.”


Jones was briefly miffed at this abruptness, but masked it well enough. Smith had been listening from his nearby seat and the snarl on his face grew by the second. “They are a longhorn breed, just paste the lot of them”, he thought. After only a few minutes Jones’ countenance again brightened as Hemingway returned to the line. His expression, however, was shortly changed.


Mr. Jones, we have a little bit of a problem. Here, at Hell Inc., we are a for profit organization. We are not a government subsidized social Ponzi scheme like your NHS. We are not obliged to take all comers in all circumstances. We have standards here, Mr. Jones and we don’t appreciate you trying to foist your refuse off on us by some subterfuge. Now maybe it’s not your fault, Mr. Jones, you have a job to do the same as I, but there is no way in Hell that sonofabitch is getting in here. Are we clear?”


“I...I don’t understand. But...what should we do then?”


Jones I’m really running out of time here. I’m sorry I can’t help you. I wouldn’t presume to tell you how to do your job, but if it were me? I’d just send him to Philadelphia.”


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