Episode 1: An Inspired Mess

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It's a strange sensation, being dangled upside-down over the side of a bridge in the middle of the night.

You might say that it brings about a contemplative state of mind.

Look at the way the light shimmers over the surface of the Thames, your brain tells you. Probably big, sharp rocks under there, it points out helpfully. My, the rope around your ankles feels rather thin, doesn't it? Sure hope it's strong enough to continue holding a full-grown man...

These were my unfortunate thoughts as I swung helplessly in the breeze. I was especially concerned about my coat slipping slowly down my arms towards the swirling waters below. I'm rather attached to that coat. It's a proper trench coat with lots of spacious pockets – I've no end of elixirs and doo-dads and curios stuffed away inside it.

There is a tendency to typecast men in trench coats as crooked characters, shady figures lurking on the fringe of the crowd with a range of dubious watches on offer for the discerning patron. This is totally untrue.

I don't sell watches.

"How are we doing, Mr Hansard? Have you reconsidered my offer?"

This was the slick voice of Mr Scallet from high above. It was at his leisure that I was currently being, ah, held.

"I think I could be persuaded," I called up to him. I was quite proud that my voice barely even squeaked.

I probably deserved this, I thought. I'd been going through a period of peace and quiet lately; not one of my sales had backfired in the past month, and no one had tried to kill me. This was quite an achievement, considering my usual run of luck was about as long as a one inch length of string on fire.

"Haul him up. Let's see if he'll be more co-operative this time."

This is the sort of thing you come to expect, when you're a dealer on the Black Market. The real Black Market, that is.

"You want we should rough him up some more, boss?"

The Black Market is the world I live in, thrive on, and it is a beautiful, surreal place. It's where abstract concepts can be purchased in neat little boxes; where success comes in the form of an edible powder and fame can be hung round your neck on a single cotton thread. In need of a little luck? Heck, I know a guy in Blackfriars who can sell you it in a bottle.

I'm a here and there man, myself. I specialise in everything, if you know what I mean.

When Scallet had found me, I was specialising in inspiration.

"Mind his knees, boys. Wouldn't want him bent out of shape now, would we?"

Inspiration is a funny thing. Some people are naturally lucky, and habitually stumble blindly over stray pieces of inspiration while going about their everyday business. Then they wake up in the morning with the next cultural innovation bouncing around inside their skulls. But for those not as blessed, inspiration is a bugger to get hold of. I should know. A bit of inspiration nearly took my arm off, once. It has a tendency to bite.

But it's worth the effort, because there are many people out there – writers,musicians, talented artistes – who will pay through the nose for just a sniff of the stuff.

Mr Scallet had been in need of a bit of inspiration.

It was a month ago that we first crossed paths. He had stuck out in the crowd with his sharp Savile Row suit and equally sharp, well-groomed features. He'd approached my pitch, which, at the time, had been in the centre of the bustling Camden Stables Market. In the midst of the alternative scene, I offer the most alternative goods you could ever hope to find.

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