Monday, January 31, 2005


Sometimes someone emails you over something – and then you get chatting.

And sometimes you get to know a bit about her, her life in South Africa, her business and her dogs and her man, and sometimes she gets to know a bit about you, too.

And then you discuss other things, musical tastes say, and end up arranging to send each other tasters.

And then she’ll write – before you’ve sent it – that maybe she’ll learn more about Adam through his choice of music than through all the emails in the world.

And then as you sit burning the CD on Saturday afternoon, you wonder just what can you say about all this music?

1 Cassandra Wilson – Tupelo Honey

Lilting, lovely, relaxed, night-time music. Music To Ignore The Washing-Up With. If only there were more women singing to me such songs.

2 Paul Weller – Broken Stones

From an illegal recording of a live session: our student union markets were full of such pirate music. Mostly, you listened to them and realised the long haired man with the electric guitar really couldn’t sing and was an idiot. Like a monkey at a typewriter who got lucky, and typed out a lost sonnet of Shakespeare’s, this song from that period of my life has endured in my affections. Whereas the music of the big posturing overgrown adolescents, funnily enough, hasn’t. Except:

3 The Stone Roses – Going Down

A mythic band: hurtling from the hard, northern, working-class streets of Manchester into moody or groovy bedrooms everywhere. They were the fountainhead of several strands of new, ‘authentic’, musical subgenres, that became cool in 1990s, and which were a blessing to sincere male students across the land who wanted to belong to something, or feel like they did. This is a b-side and not one of their more famous or ambitious songs, but I’ve always liked it. It’s about oral sex.

4 Aretha Franklin – Call Me

That emphatic, powerful, tender voice making a masterpiece of truly naff lyrics, probably towards the end of the most successful part of her career.

5 Royksopp – Sparks

The football TV programme had this loopy, crazy tune they used in the stylized highlights. And an advert for a phone had this strange, edgy, electronic symphony, which accompanied images of a baby that were scattered throughout a city: on the sides of buses and buildings, in shops, in newspapers. A metaphor for picture messaging. Both were by Royksopp an internet search showed, but this is the song that I have ended up really liking from their otherwise disappointing album that tired quickly, neutered of the momentum that moving images provide. Funny how these things come about.

6 Presence – So Far Far Away From My Heart

I used to read a lot of music magazines, and have a lot of friends who were DJs or aspiring DJs or carried around their university work in record bags, at least. A lot of them liked ‘deep house’. Well, one magazine said Presence’s album was the best deep house album of the year, so back home during my summer holiday, I bought it. I didn’t like it much (it’s grown on me a bit now) but this particular track, a melancholic, late night cry, I do.

Back at university, it turned out Presence isn’t ‘deep house’: it’s tuneful house or garagey house or vocal house some other type of inferior house. What they meant by ‘deep’ was usually either intricate (i.e., some detailed thought went into the percussive arrangements) or better still, intricate with an emotional force (usually some sad instrumentals above the beats or something like that.) Although, probably what they really meant by ‘deep’ was, I’m deep for understanding and liking this stuff.

Where are they all now, the deep DJs? In offices, in banks, in pubs, their bedrooms stuffed with old records, if they haven’t overcome their nostalgia and sold them. Although to be fair, a few of them, fuelled by blind optimism and a sniff of cocaine to see them through the garish night, still make fools of themselves by entertaining at parties. Whatever. I like this tune. It doesn’t mean anything now, just that I like it.

7 Stevie Wonder – All I Do

Ok, I like 70s music. Great stuff. I have no idea if this tune is actually from the 70s (doesn’t Mr Wonder do the same thing in every decade, blissfully blind to the changes which time brings?) but it suits the coherence of my memory to say it’s from the 70s.

8 Daft Punk – One More Time

Probably the best kind of all-round house music: good to dance to, complex and groovy enough to listen to, if you can get into it. I’m really not sure if you’ll like this tune or not – some familiarity with the type of music makes it more accessible. I don’t know what you listen to out there in South Africa, on the other side of the world. Are Daft Punk famous, world-wide? Or just a little European phenomenon? I have no clue. Probably best played loud, on your own, when you can try to bop around a bit. But maybe you’ll hate it. If so, here’s the bad news: the next track is similar…

9 Cassius – Feeling For You

… although a bit more obscure. The type of people who really like this kind of music aren’t my type. It’s Saturday night music for people who’ve been in an office they don’t mind, are doing reasonably well in, but like to on the weekend indulge in something of the drugs and dancing available to them. Contented, normal, mostly-unthinking 20-somethings. They like to wear trendy clothes, have stylish hair, seduce each other randomly and promiscuously, proudly announce the quality of the drugs they’ve got, and then aggressively stride back to work on Monday, admittedly feeling a touch off-colour. But knowing they wear a knowing smile. And email each other accordingly, using code words.

But make no mistake – there’s nothing counterculture here, except the fact of illegality; there’s no spirit of rebellion, no dream of a utopia, no energy for meaningfulness. It’s an instant, intense, speedy, shared fun – with no pretences or desires to be more. (Occasionally the lyrics will suggest a little bit more – but this is an illusion, a mist. A mist suggesting magic. A mist thinly spread amongst the parochial utilitarianism of their particular fair, which is nested in no more than a village market, disguised as a world. Mist.) But some of the music is really good.

10 Nightmares on Wax – A Nights Interlude

Music for short people from the suburbs who want to dress cool, in a hip-hoppy way, and sit around stoned with music that has a bit of emotional content and depth. It says, “I may be a midget, but I have quite a mind, you know.” Handily for such awkward, self-conscious creatures, you can’t really dance to it either. I’m tall and was never really one of them, although some became my friends, and this is the only track from a whole album of this kind of stuff that I can listen to without being bored. Years later, I heard Quincy Jones’s version of ‘Summer In The City’ (?), and realised this whole song is basically an elaborated version of a section of that song, which is a much more interesting song. But I don’t have that tune to hand I’m afraid.

11 Roy Davis Jr with Peven Everett – Gabriel

A beautiful song I think, slow-paced for its genre, a dispersed jazziness interlacing with an ethereal, lamenting voice. I found it on an album of music that blurred the line between jazz and dance music, and which features many excellent, unusual tunes: Gilles Peterson & Norman Jay’s ‘Desert Island Mix’. Gilles Peterson is a famous DJ whom has introduced a lot of interesting, eclectic music to the scene in Britain. Unfortunately, it’s part of a mix, so the beginning is blurted, and has some stupid, ugly voice hectoring you to “Listen, Listen” and some other crap over the top. O well.

12 The O’Jays – Back Stabbers

I like quite a lot of tunes like this – some of which are a lot more disco-y, whereas this really is soul-pop music, I suppose, from the 70s. (Unfortunately, most of it is on tape – copied from a friend years ago – so I can’t record it for you.) The lyrics of love and the streets being tough, with people out for themselves, might sometimes form an evocative cliché. Useful for those who wish to suppose music gives them a connection with distant others, others whom for some reason have come to have a certain cachet. Black, tough, urban, American, but with a 70s strut and stomp – I suppose that is the particular cachet. And perhaps the attraction of this alien world has something to do with a lack of a feeling of authenticity for those growing up comfortably with dull parents, here in little old Britain. Anyway – most of the lyrics from this type of music, especially the more obscure stuff, can be a lot more interesting. My favourite, from an otherwise unremarkable song which isn’t on this CD, features a couple arguing about where to make love: outside or inside? Public or Private? The closet or the park? Duets, especially of this sort, are all too rare.

13 Donald Byrd – Elmina

I have always had an interest in jazz; my Dad liked it, I improvise at the piano, and used to play the trombone in a jazz band. This is a flukey find: an obscure album I picked up in a student union market. Perhaps it’s deservedly obscure, because the improvising isn’t that great. But what I like is the timbre – a fuzzy, lush mix of jazz and electric instruments, a warm but also energetic and perhaps even edgy sound, and also the complicated, fast rhythms that, remarkably, anticipate certain types of sophisticated 1990s electronic music. It’s slightly hard to listen to: going on for a long time and that. But it’s highly representative of a lot that I like. There’s no accounting for taste? Or the music you like says a lot about you? You tell me, my lovely Michelle!

14 Herbie Hancock – Dolphin Dance

I like a lot of the jazz from the 60s which is called, I think, hard-bop, and a lot of jazz tunes and artists from that period are rightly listened to still, it seems to me. The music is accessible and subtle, energetic and emotional, complex and tuneful – tricky binaries to achieve. Herbie Hancock was a master – but this tune is not so famous and somewhat atypical, being slower, odder, more spacious and more reflective. I think it’s a great song – but I know people who find it overlong and dull. I’ve never seen Dolphins; maybe it expresses something of the way they dance, or maybe it doesn’t.

15 Bill Evans – Some Other Time

I, naïve and ignorant, was at a university interview, and announced to my interviewer that I played jazz piano. He told me that I had to get hold of some Bill Evans, whom I confessed to knowing nothing of: in fact, technically the most brilliant and innovative jazz pianist ever. I have several of his albums now, which I like to different extents. This is my favourite song from my favourite album of his (‘Everybody Digs Bill Evans’.) A lilting refrain, reflective, emotionally acute, but very calmed, I think. There’s nothing aggressive at all here; a similar number on the same album is called ‘Peace Piece’. I think it’s also an influence on Miles Davis’s everlasting masterpiece of an album ‘Kind of Blue’ – where Evans was also the pianist. Certainly track 5 of that album – ‘Flamenco Sketches’, I think it is called – is another version of this song. Also very beautiful. I can’t seem to locate it at the moment in my CD collection, but I’m sure it will turn up somewhere.

When I try to play jazz piano, sometimes I try to capture the mood of this track. (The style – slow, spacious and simple – is elementary to emulate, I should say.) Anyway, maybe I have even done that once or twice. When I was 21, at the end of November, my Dad died at the end of a long illness. A week or so later I was booked to go for a weekend away somewhere with some people from a creative writing course I was taking. I made a mistake I suppose, and went. The course was held in this beautiful mansion in the middle of the Welsh countryside – think rolling lawns, covered with snow on the second day, then woods, and a backdrop of mountains. Think dark-panelled rooms, old portraits, high ceilings, old-fashioned sofas, roaring fires. There was a grand piano in one such room, and it was the right kind of piano for me – not too diffuse a sound, quite clear and loud when you struck the keys – so I could use the pedals to hide my lack of a controlled technique, which makes my playing somewhat painful on much better pianos, such as Steinway’s.

One night a few of my friends were sat on the sofas, and I played my version of this song – or something like it, more melancholic maybe. I had a beer on top of the piano and was very drunk, and would swig from it when I wanted to give my right hand a rest and allow the lilting, lonely left to pose centre stage. My friends listened in total silence from over in the lounge area, and somehow I improvised without a single slip.

Afterwards I saw some of the sensitive women were crying a little, probably thinking of my Dad – all thoughts of whom I was desperately trying not to show, to them or myself. Later some of them would ask about him, trying to get me talk about it. I didn’t know them well, and didn’t do so. I’m not in touch with any of them now. At the same time, I had a new girlfriend whom I liked a lot (and still do) and was very attracted to. She had only known me two months I suppose, and our relationship was fresh and raw. She didn’t know how to speak to me about what I was going through, and avoided the subject like it was a tribal taboo. She didn’t even accompany me to his funeral, although perhaps in a sense that was appropriate; she’d never met him, we didn’t know what the future held for us.

Anyway, when she listened to the kind of music that is on the last track of this CD, or me playing the piano and trying to emulate it, which she deigned to do once, she would never say anything – about whether she liked it, or the emotional content, or anything. She’d sit stony faced, avoidant, unable to communicate anything – even indifference or boredom or dislike, which would at least have been an honest response... She liked political rock music, scruffy men shouting about what is wrong with The System. I should like to look back on the changes in me and on those missed opportunities and such differences in people with a sense of wonder – but it is only really in sadness. If this last track on this CD hints at a distant sadness from some other time in its emotional tone, then at least it is a sadness which has been resolved into something for other people to listen to. Sad whispers transformed into a beautiful, wordless thing – clear and pure and good after all.

Thursday, January 27, 2005


“Thomas, look. You’ve been staying at mine since – the 11th? And you haven’t found a job yet. And you don’t seem to have anywhere to move out to. And Dimtrios is back in a week – and he has to have his room back. And also, I don’t mind lending you my laptop while I’m out at work – I know it helps you writing your poetry and stuff – but I checked the websites you’ve been on. Porn? For an hour? So, young man, time to get a job and get a place and generally just get your damned act –”

“Hi Adam!” said Thomas, interrupting the little speech I was constructing in my head as he walked into my office. “I’ve just been having a look around the British Museum – God London is wonderful – and anyway realised you were near by – and just wondered if you’d like to go to lunch with me?”

“Well – I – ” I can’t think of any reason why not. “Sure.”

Soon we were in a Pret, me again trying to work out which soup would have the most soothing affect while Thomas was paying for his vegetarian salad.

“O no,” I heard him suddenly say from the till. “I’m seventy pee – Adam! Hold on – I –” I passed my blushing cousin some extra change and soon he was sat down while I was ordering. Soon he was sat down – next to the beautiful temp, as it turned out. The beautiful temp called … whose name is …

She picked her head out of her book and spotted me just as I was walking over.

“O hi Adam!”

“Hi there,” I said. “I’m just having lunch with my cousin Thomas here.”

“Hello there,” she said, smiling her beautiful smile at him.

“This is,” I said, fumbling my soup with a pause.


“This is – look actually you looked very absorbed in that book. Are we disturbing you?”

“No, no, it’s pretty boring anyway!”

“He usually is,” said Thomas of the author, masterfully.


“Anyway, Thomas. This is – Te – Th – I’m sorry, how do you pronounce your name?”


“Yes – I thought – never mind. Thomas, Teresa.”

And soon he’s recommending some Ian McEwan novel or another instead and telling her about the poets he likes and that he’s a poet and that cuz Adam here (touching me on the shoulder) is putting him for “a while” – a while – and –

“That’s kind of you Adam,” said Theresa, turning back to Thomas. “Very supportive. Just what a young poet needs.”

“Thomas is looking for temp work, actually. Know of anything, Theresa?”

“Well – no – I –”

“Actually Thomas that reminds me. There’s usually some spare work going in the post-room – the people they have down there are pretty unreliable sorts – not that well paid – a bit grotty – but for you –”

“You may as well have a look, Thomas” said Theresa. “Don’t look so doubtful! Heh – I’ll show you where it is on the way back.”

And suddenly I want to say that I wrote a poem once, while I was at university and slowly working out why Marx could be fun but wasn’t for me and I didn’t think he had it all worked out right at all and even why Lukacs was wrong in his famous statement and in a quiet moment in a café on my own how I worked out the little feeling I had about it all and I never even showed anyone it once – and – and – and now I’m back at my desk, having dug the thing out of some old discs I keep locked away in a draw, mementos of distant memory, with nothing better to do than let go of it all. And wondering if I should offer Thomas my bedroom floor for a few weeks more when Dimitrios returns.

The Other

When the curtain of reason finally falls
and the cup of knowledge is full to the top
with God’s secrets and the essence of man,

and from earth’s confused and violent lands
the borders and flags have gone forever,
and ever-ripe gardens hold no trace, no scar

of history and its endless nightmare,
and universal truth is the speech of all –
the universities of false philosophy

as quietly dead as forgotten tongues,
and the things I have wondered upon all my life
are little problems cleared up in Primary School,

if Primary Schools are needed at all –
and when the books I’ve suffered or enjoyed
are unmasked as devils of a wrong belief

whom played upon my eyes to make me blind
to the horror of the world and the truth
of the need for violent change,

then this wandering poem about you,
O complete being of the perfect future,
this uncertain and disorderly thing,

this deceived dream and shallow whim,
this failure of artful knowledge,
will speak silence on that which I wish to say
of me, of this, of that, of the other.


Last thing at night now, and first thing this morning is the one thing on my mind:

“George here, Adam,” said the voice of my superior on the end of the phone. “Working from home this morning and can’t find my notebook, the grey one. Think I left it in C69. Important stuff. Have a look for it please and phone me back in five.”

“Seen a grey notebook in here?” I soon asked the temp, having her coffee alone in the room. “Ahh there it is!”

“Good morning, Adam!” she said.

“Hello! Sorry to dehumanize you like that, first thing in the morning!”

She smiled a fragment of her beautiful smile and said: “Actually, do you mind if I ask you a question? I have to take something to the post-room and can’t work out where it is!”

O, how angelic, how polite, how swift I am, as I tell her: “bottom of building over the road. I can show you if you’re not sure.”

But she is sure. It was a different story when bursting into my office like the door is just a tube station gate, some French woman blurted out: “C69! Where is that?”

“69? Rings a bell – yes. yes,” I replied idly. “Now… You know the double doors you’ve just come through?”

“Yes, yes!”

“Well you took the wrong turn there. See, rooms one to fifty are always on this side of the building – the rest the other. Now, 69. Go back through them. Remember the photocopying room opposite the lifts?”

“Yes – I think so – I –”

“Go around that. You’ll come to the stairs again. Now, C69. You did say C, didn’t you?”

“Yes, yes –”

“Not B?”


“Yes you said B?”

“No – yes – C – B –”

“Not B? Not D? Because they’re different –”


“Right, C69. C69. What you want to do is – ahh, that’s right, there’s another set of double doors just after the stairs. Probably you missed them. They have a sign saying rooms 50 to 80 above them, and – well, go through them. Follow the corridor around. It branches off into a little kitchen area on the right. Don’t take that. You don’t want to go into that kitchen! Anyway. Carry on a little bit. Not too far, just past the post-box for internal mail. The blue thing. Then there’s a lift. Take it down one level, and –”

“And it’s there?”

“Sort of. It’s –”

“Right I’ll find it.” And out she stormed, forever hopefully, as if storming away from a malfunctioning ticket machine in a tube station.

“You’re smiling like a little devil,” said a little voice from an obscure corner of the office.

Thursday, January 20, 2005


“Here, have my seat” says the young man to the pregnant lady, rising from his tube seat with a homely smile. Always nice to see? Even when she and her huge belly have been stood in front of him since Holloway Road, and now he’s getting off the tube anyway, a good five minutes and two stops later at Kings Cross?

A family unit, negotiating the rush-hour tube at Holborn, all worried looks and checks on each other, with mum manoeuvring a push-chair behind and father up ahead with twin-boys hanging off him. Always a sympathetic plight, the sight of such innocent, close-knit explorers, braving the big city? Even when Thomas politely tells the woman she keeps running over his feet, and she stings back with, “you pushed ahead of me at the top of the escalators, mate”? And when Thomas looks sickened and strides off?

A deliberate act of minor violence from a mother against a perfect stranger: always a horror? When Thomas hasn’t shut up for the last hour about how ‘wicked’ the tube is? How some ‘beauty’ at some shoddy temp agency excited him by suggesting, ‘marketing’? That euphemism for slave-wage telesales? And when Thomas sits in my chair each night, as deserving as a pregnant woman? And hasn’t said when he’s going to move out? And when I ask him which couch is next in his sofa surf, says, “something will turn up, Adam, I’ve got lots of friends here”? Friends whom he never seems to see? Preferring to stay in and bond with his family? Meaning me? Each night?

At Holborn, we make it over to the central line platform without further incident. I was ready with pins of sarcasm with which to puncture various bubbles. But Thomas had sad eyes and a fallen smile, I saw there on the platform, and then on the tube. “At least it wasn’t the wheels of the train,” I say, as we crawl on to his false, temporary home, at mine.

Thursday, January 13, 2005


Two men standing in a packed tube-train, one accidentally kicks the other, says, "I'm sorry about that." "That's quite alright." "Oh, ok - I'll do it again then." :D

One man walking down a street, brushes past a meandering cutie, says "I'm sorry about that." A vague scowl and away she turns. Oh - I - :(

Daily the city delivers one thousand unnatural knocks, lapping up around eyes with a small sea of such shocks. And the mind just notes it all down. And the face just plays along, like an obedient emoticon - an immortal jester, no skull beneath.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


How to sleep, after this:

Midnight, and finally the doorbell rang. Did it wake Alexa? Creeping down the stairs I think not. And it rang again. Longer.

“Adam,” cried the weary voice of the confused, beautiful Greek from her bedroom. “The door’s binging. Thomas at last.”

“Got it.”

No need to creep down now.

“Thomas,” I said answering the door to the unfamiliar face of my cousin – staying for a few weeks (no longer) with me while he finds his feet in London, if not his watch. “Welcome!”

“Thanks, Adam. Sorry I’m a bit late.”

“Three hours late. What happened?”

“O, you know – trains.”

“I was worried, but didn’t have your mobile number,” I went on, lugging loudly up the stairs a heavy bag of his stuff. “Neither did Mum.”

“O, I don’t have a mobile,” he said, slumped in the lounge now, in my favourite armchair. “They destroy conversation.”

Text me, phone me, someone, I thought, distract me before there’s a murder. No-one did. Go to bed Adam, now, I told myself; then told myself I’m hardly calm enough to sleep.

“Speaking of conversation,” on went Thomas, “I’d love to catch up with you. It’s been – how long?”

“Since we were kids.”

“Since we were kids. I don’t, to be honest, remember anything about you, Adam,” he went on, as though smiling brashness made for humourous charm.

“Me either,” I lied. Had I remembered the fat, sweaty eight year old at that wedding, who ran around and around and around, then glooped down glass after glass after glass of wine some bridesmaid fed him, then puked and puked and puked in a plant-pot, perhaps he wouldn’t be here now. That was Thomas, I realised, looking over the plump, red-faced infant spread out uncomfortably all over my chair.

“So man to man, family being family, we should get to know each other. What are you – what do you do?”

“Well,” I stumbled out. “I have an admin job at—” and go on to explain it’s dull, but pays the bills, just about, but not enough to buy a place, but enough to have fun on the weekend – that kind of waffle. Twenty-something London stuff. “Er – what about you? Where are you at?”

“Well, actually… I’m a poet,” he said. “A poet. My influences are Allen Ginsburg and Ted Hughes, mainly. Your Mum said you read a bit of poetry – so you know what I mean. I’ve been published in” – and I forgot the few, obscure names he listed, on purpose. “And while I’ll have to work for now in London, it shall not be for long,” he stated. “I hope – I dream – of course, because who really knows,” he added, falsely.

And then I knew how I could get to sleep: type out his crap for this blog. Exorcise the stupidity and rudeness and irritation of it all, by making a mild joke out of Thomas; Thomas, my companion for the next few, two, three, eighteen, nineteen, no more than twenty-one days. Twenty one days!

Hardly days: brief corridors of passing contact, between coming home and going to bed, nothing much. And soon he will be gone. And soon it was time to sleep. And soon breakfast and the beautiful fact that Thomas is slow, quiet and dull in the mornings. And too soon the post; to expel the night before, grim-faced for grim-time tonight.

Thursday, January 06, 2005


“Any gossip? From the political world, I mean?” I asked Becca last night, her sprite features shadowed in our cosy, quiet corner.

I’d just been telling her my favourite bad old joke for my new year’s resolution. Do not die of a heroin overdose in the next twelve months. And I’d just been complaining about the looming stay of my long-lost ‘kid’ cousin Thomas. And we’d already exhausted the tragedy of the tsunami, the obvious football talking point, whether Strada pizza was better than Sapori, exchanged more than one bad joke, discussed how to best roast potatoes and where to get goose fat, the rise of London train prices, indoor gardeing for life in rented flats – and what we’d been up to over the holiday – and were now half drunk and in a nice pub and in a good mood. It was getting late.

“Only – well, you probably know this already?” she replied, drawing herself forward. Try and concentrate on what Becca’s saying, I told myself, Becca, Becca. Becca … cleavage.

“Heck, I’m out of political loops proper – let alone gossipy ones.”

“Well, you remember the Hutton Inquiry? It’s sort of to do with that.”

“Of course I remember it,” I answered, trying to remember it over the waves of wine. “I’m not that out of it! The BBC, the scientist, and the war in Iraq.”

“Yes – whether Blair had lied about intelligence in the build-up to the war, that kind of thing. Well, this isn’t really gossip,” Becca related on. “The night before Hutton’s report was published – Blair’s teenage daughter – she’s still at school – fifteen or so I think … she attempted suicide.”


“She attempted suicide.”

“No, no – I heard the first time. I mean – ?”

“She gets bullied mercilessly at school. You can imagine – given the public view of her father, and the war – terrible isn’t it – you know what kids are like – but anyway,” Becca went on. “The gossip, although it’s not really gossip, well that’s not it. Remember all that stuff in the papers about Blair will resign soon, and Brown is in the ascendancy? Probably you didn’t notice. Well anyway, that actually was the plan, but the real reason Blair wanted to resign was because of his daughter. Except then he was cleared by Hutton and his advisors convinced him not to go. Brown’s lot were hopping mad, of course. Don’t know about his daughter.”

She paused her ramble, sat up, and then announced like a newsreader nobly concluding a speech: “The media know about her troubles – and it’s by no means just that one night – but they choose to keep it quiet. The public may be interested, but it’s not in the public interest.”

There was a certain silence as she regally observed my responses.

“Is her troubles why Blair stayed on holiday this Christmas, despite the emergency?” I asked. “The papers say that is unusual. I’ve noticed that, at least.”

“Well I can hardly know that now,” Becca answered, obviously.


“But such things don’t stay private secrets for long, in our lovely day and age.”

“No?” (No.)

We chatted briefly on, about that and other things, and soon our separate ways off we went. It seemed appropriate that the thin sheets of a newspaper or two lined the floor of my tube carriage; muddy footmarks stamped over the scattered pages of barbed headlines, dramatic pictures, clear simple diagrams, sports news, bold advertisements, the gloss and colour of the lifestyle sections.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005


Occasionally, I’d unfold a little leaf of information myself:

“Alexa’s had her friend I don’t like staying again in December –”, or,
“be quiet in the flat in January – Dimitrios’s not back in the till the end of the month–”, say.

But more typically, for stems our talk had small things like:

“So I was watching that chat show late last night, and”, or “for lunch, fancy –”, or “whatever happened to that guy from school –”.

And immediately, the big instant bloom would be something like:

“Ooh Adam could you hear me snoring through the ceiling I bet you could you know because after three glasses well alright maybe four I’m always off and I was sound off straight away as soon as down my old head went down and out like a light it went out and I slept ever so sound until guess who why yes of course Petal woke me snuggling against me at three in the morning it was snuggling and meowing and I was still snoring and there Petal was dribbling and purring and I hope I didn’t wake you or spoil your programme for you…”


“Not cheese, no, you’ve had enough cheese well you can have some cheese if you like I’ve got some of that nice Wensleydale left but you should watch your weight Adam you’ve put on a bit you know I saw it when you arrived home and cheese won’t help oh that red cheddar is delicious isn’t I was thinking of making cauliflower cheese for tonight you’d like that wouldn’t you course you would with potatoes they’re a bit fattening too not as much as cheese but so delicious and no don’t offer to help I don’t have you home often and how about some cheese for lunch now? You were going to suggest a salad, were you? With some nice feta? Well you can burn it all off in the New Year, back in London!”

Or – last one that doesn’t involve the plot of this entry, I promise –

“You know a new boy joined the top-set I teach English to last term and didn’t half remind me he had such a lovely smile really wide you could see all his teeth really just like yours although he’s a bit of tearaway only fourteen and got a girl pregnant already such a shame with such a smile and smart lad too just isn’t interested and no, I suppose he’s not really like you, but did I tell you that before, on the phone? I did did I O deary me O…”

Bored one late morning this Christmas holiday, trying not to picture cheese, whole cheese and nothing but cheese, as I lolled like a cat on the sofa, I quietly supposed such half-conversations of ours were like vase-flowers: fragments cut from abundant life elsewhere; fitting with the comfy furniture in the cloistered lounge; but going nowhere, half-dead even – dying in fact; in stagnant waters and misty glass, dying.

“Now,” my mother interrupted my muse, “I’ve brought you some nice cheddar, a bit of bread and pickle, some grapes and a cup of tea, and you’ll never guess who I spoke to the other day!

“No, not Elvis. Your kid cousin Thomas – well he’s not a kid anymore he’s 21 and he’s been through a bit of a rough patch one way and another but I won’t bore you with that but he’s a lovely lad reminds me of you in a way anyway I was talking to Thomas well his father your uncle you see and the thing is Thomas has decided to drop out of his Masters degree. It’s not that he’s not bright enough it’s just money I think or something anyway it wasn’t very clear – and he’s going to start looking for work in London and as Alexa has people to stay at yours and Dimitrios is away, I didn’t think you’d mind if–”

“He stays at mine?” I blurted. “Thomas? I haven’t seen him in years! And –”

“Well it’ll be a great opportunity then. He’ll be up on the 11th. Alexa won’t complain will she? Not with the number of times that friend of hers has stayed! Like you said. Anyway. It’ll only be for a week, or two. Or until Dimitrios is back, or – anyway. Until Thomas finds his feet.”

“As long as he doesn’t plant any roots.”

“It's only a short while and I'm sure he'll be as quiet as a mouse.”

“Makes me wish I had a cat.”

“Now, now, Adam. I’ll tell him that’s alright then, shall I? And I was thinking, I might come up one weekend – go to the theatre with you both perhaps and maybe lunch or dinner or perhaps…”

O well-arranged, predictable image of a vase, o orderly object, come back! All is forgiven! The disorderly family tree sways, reaches, grows; subject to such unpredictable weather.