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Barry Desmond Is A Wanker – Martin Knight

Barry Desmond is an only child raised in the manicured London commuter-belt of the 1960s. It is a decade of unprecedented change as the cult of the teenager gathers pace, but not in the Desmond household. Barry is cosseted and ‘protected’ from the outside world by distrustful, middle-aged parents and this leaves him woefully ill-equipped to cope with the savagery of a secondary school education. He does not fit in, and knows it – small eccentricities and a submissive manner make him a target for bullies. On top of all this he is wrestling with a masturbatory habit, his isolation causing him to believe that he is alone in indulging this compulsion.

On leaving school with a limited academic armoury Barry becomes the third generation Desmond to join the Empire Bank; an institution founded in the colonial prosperity of the 19th century and foundering in the economic uncertainty of the 20th. The family pedigree secures him a place on the graduate-accelerated scheme, but Barry can only watch as others accelerate past him. Eventually he finds a niche in the archives department where he and his colleague Danny Holloway, a rascal from the Caledonian Road, manage to survive under the radar and a wall of Bankers’ Almanacs for nearly a quarter of a century.

When Empire Bank falls to a US predator the changes that follow are traumatising. Barry’s world is turned upside down – he volunteers for redundancy to save his younger colleague and also, in quick succession, his parents die. He is desperately alone, only finding solace in masturbation (and his collection of Seekers’ LPs), by now believing that he must be the only middle-aged man persisting in this adolescent perversion.

Rarely leaving his flat and lost without an office infrastructure, Barry takes to answering junk mail during the day in an attempt to provoke dialogue. In the evening he drives to the airport pretending to meet passengers in the arrivals hall and opening up conversations with complete strangers.

Barry does not succumb to hopelessness. Essentially an optimist he resolves to force himself to go out. To interact. To form relationships. To live a life. He is not short of money. He discovers the internet and learns the art of fibbing, not grasping that everyone else is at it too. The proliferation of pornography on-line offends him. His confidence builds in the digital world and soon he is booking a holiday in the real one. In Cyprus he experiences a foreign land for the first time, gets terrifyingly close to flesh and nakedness, and meets a lady who does not seem repulsed by his presence.

Back home again, he makes a friend at a football match after buying a season ticket at Fulham Football Club, in another bid to force social interaction. His new companion introduces him to beer and curry and, at last, Barry feels a part of society. He is content, and looking forward to each new day. Even his habit subsides, but at the age of 50 has Barry really cracked it? Or is life preparing another nasty surprise?