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[SCENE: Morrison Street.]

Tori: Hello Zbigniew. Where are you going?

Tychy: Hello Victoria. I’m drinking in Diane’s Pool Hall. I just ducked out to get some more cash…

Tori: Are you playing pool?

Tychy: Unfortunately not. You need to be a member to put your name down for a table and there’s quite a queue. My editor and I are having a meeting about the website.

Tori: Ah, here he is now…

James: Hello Tori. Oh, Zbigniew, something terrible has happened…

Tychy: What are you doing?

James: We can’t go back there.

Tychy: What have you done?

James: I‘ve knocked over a man’s pint. It was on one of those little tables and I bumped into it on my way back from the bar. And the man is gigantic. A perfect buffalo.

Tychy: We’ll have to go back there. I haven’t finished my drink.

James: Oh no! Please don’t go back.

Tychy: I insist.

James: Well, I’ll stay here with Tori. You go on ahead. Text me when he’s gone.

Tychy: Disgraceful. You ought to be ashamed.

Tori: I’m going with Zbigniew. I’m not standing out here in the street.

James: Oh please don’t leave me…

Tychy: Goodbye James…

James: No wait…

[Inside.]

Big Man: There’s that cunt who knocked over my pint.

James: Hello there. Sorry about the whole pint thing.

Big Man: And then you ran away you little shit! [He pushes James against the wall.] Come on you cunt!

James: Okay, but we’ll do it like this…

Big Man: Like what?

James: We’ll take turns. I’ll punch you ten times and then you can punch me ten times.

Big Man: Okay then.

James: What?

Big Man: Punch me.

James: Really?

Big Man: Aye, ten times.

James: Err… well…. here’s the first one. I hope this isn’t too much of a nuisance.

[James punches the big man in the arm.]

James: Ouch! Oh that really hurt!

Tychy: James, you’re meant to put your thumb inside your fist. It will get broken otherwise.

Big Man: Have you punched me yet?

James: Oh this isn’t very civilised. Let’s call it quits.

Big Man: If you don’t hurry up I’ll pull your fucking heed off.

James: Right come on then!

[James pummels the big man with punches.]

James: Take that! And that!

Big Man: This is like being attacked by a moth.

James: Have you had enough?

Big Man: That was only seven.

James: Wait for me to get my breath back. Jesus!

Big Man: Two more.

James: Hey man, are you sure that you don’t want to give up?

Big Man: Come on. Two more.

James: My arms are tired.

Big Man: Two more.

James: Well, okay, here is one.

Big Man: And one more….

James: And now here’s the other.

Big Man: Good. Now I have ten punches. Come on you little cunt!

[The big man chases James around the bar.]

Tychy: Stop that. Leave him alone.

Big Man: Oh yeah? Why don’t you fuck off pal?

Tychy [taking a step towards the big man]: What was that?

Big Man: Oh alright, I cannae be arsed anymore. [To James.] But if I see you in here again, without your pals, you’re deed.

James: Oh God, I feel terrible…

Tori: You were very brave James. My hero.

Tychy: As I recall, we originally came here to discuss the website. It’s not doing very well is it?

James: The readership has fallen steadily over the last three months. I can’t explain it…

Tychy: I can. There are too many of your boring book reviews and not enough of my fiction.

James: It’s more complicated than that…

Tychy: Well, as I understand it the literary criticism is simply not attracting visitors to the website. Your articles on Mary Norton and Susan Hill have scarcely been touched.

James: The traffic has inevitably dropped over Christmas… As the website grows and features more literary criticism, its standing will rise with Google and it will attract more visitors. The website has such a diverse contents that despite its fantastic literary criticism, search engines are in no hurry to identify it as a literary website.

Tori: I think that you have made the wrong decision about your intended readership. You have alienated your regular readers by featuring specialist literary criticism which has no general appeal, but the website is equally unable to attract specialist readers.

James: I think that we should just carry on. There are more articles scheduled on Herman Melville, M.R. James, and E. W. Hornung. We will soon have a significant library of literary criticism – our articles on Poe’s “The Gold Bug” and Melville’s “Benito Cereno” are flatly amongst the best on the internet – and students will quickly discover these resources and the website will prosper.

Tychy: Or else we’ll just have a vast graveyard of unread articles.

James: You have to buck your ideas up too Zbigniew. I enjoyed “Biggy” and “Man in the Moon,” but “Letter Concerning the Whereabouts of Marcin” was too long, it was in bad taste, and it was rather thin on jokes.

Tychy: It was not meant to be funny and your editing knocked the stuffing out of it. The notes and letters which I gave you were very powerful, but you reduced them to a narrative which simply failed to convey the voice of a woman suffering from paraneoplastic syndrome.

Tori: The editing was sloppy. For several days, “Letter Concerning” was published with several glitches and errors.

James: I apologise for that. But there is a pleasing tension in that letter between the correspondent’s neat prose and her awful deterioration, between her clarity and defeat. But I was unhappy that people searching for information about paraneoplastic syndrome may discover this letter, which was essentially a rather callous entertainment.

Tychy: It was not meant to be funny.

Tori: The website seems to be increasingly aloof from politics. You had promised a number of articles about employment agencies, student housing, and high speed rail, which were to be in the same vein as that piece on justice and rape…

James: I disliked that article and I think that pontificating on general issues is boorish and obnoxious. These are heady days in politics – and various features of the financial meltdown license unprecedented opportunities for public investment in new infrastructure, technology, research and development – but one is dismayed by the fear and conservatism of the political class. The banks are becoming a money pit, and all this talk of “freeing up credit” disregards the reality that there are actually few profitable areas of the economy in which to invest. The political class seems to be oblivious to the potential within our economy, but I don’t know how to write about such huge themes. I think that the best political writing on the website lately was Zbigniew’s article on Edinburgh graffiti, which was original and lively.

Tychy: Let us drink to originality and to the future.

Omnes: The future!