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Then They Say You’re Drunk

The morning’s nutter was there.

Brixton, Guy decided, must have more headcases per square inch than any other place in the world. He had sojourned in the great cities of the continents, had seen some sorry, deformed, trashy sights, but for multitudinous loonies Brixton was unassailable. It was a pity he couldn’t find a way of profiting from it: then it occurred to Guy that since so many of them ended up in custody as clients of Jones and Keita, he did make a few quid off them.

Today’s guest nutter was massive. Could easily bounce into any bouncer’s position. That was the other thing about Brixton, not only was it plentiful in barkers, it had the biggest barkers he had ever encountered.

Walking up to the bus stop Guy reflected that someone with his trousers around his ankles, trying to eat his shirt wouldn’t normally have troubled him much. It was the size of the shirt-eater rather than his activity that was perturbing. Six three and big, big, big; they obviously didn’t spare the carbohydrates at the bin. What concerned Guy was that if the shirt-eater wanted something to wash down his victuals, and mistook Guy for a can of Tennents and tugged firmly on his ring-pull, Guy couldn’t do much about it, apart from croaking pathetically. The shirt-eater was huge enough to do anything he wanted to.

They were very keen on taking off their clothes. A week ago Guy had peered out of his window and spotted another whopper obsessing outside. Guy found using the window very stimulating; it was an eventful view: riots, accidents, robberies. The strapping loony had been fastidiously garnering items from dustbins and then arranging them in the interior of a car belonging to a neighbour; having installed the objects, he climbed in and joined the rubbish, sitting there peacefully in his pinacothek.

Phoning the police was the usual concomitant to looking out the window. Working seemed unnatural. Guy had been especially reluctant to phone for the law on that occasion because he hated his neighbours, and the owner of that car in particular.

Whether it was his job or merely living in Brixton, Guy found himself painfully short of warm, goodwill-like emotions. He’d watch his neighbours and get extremely annoyed by the way they walked. He hated Brixton, he hated his neighbours, he hated the clients, and the truth be told, he wasn’t too keen on himself.

Although he had been longing for the refuse-arranger to cause some expensive damage to the car he was in, because the nurse’s car was next to it, Guy had phoned the police. The nurse was ensconced in duodom, but you had to plan ahead. If the refuse-arranger wanted to extend his display to the adjacent car, there was nothing Guy could do about it on his own, and bearing in mind it took the police half an hour to turn up (the police station was ten minutes’ walk away) it was best to book in advance.

On the bus, one stop closer to Peckham police station, Guy watched a drunk attempting to buy a ticket.

Two police officers appeared: a policeman (five seven tops) and a policewoman (five six) with nothing in the girth department. Guy estimated that between them they could just about restrain one limb. They tried reasoning, not having much choice. Guy had time to make a cup of tea and another phone call while they implemented mateyness and coaxing. The refuse-arranger refused to budge and responded by pulling off his clothes. Guy observed the policeman speaking into his shoulder to summon reinforcements. Four larger policemen dragged off the refuse-arranger while the original pair retrieved the strewn clothing.

On the bus, one stop closer to Peckham police station, Guy watched a drunk attempting to buy a ticket; Guy wasn’t late yet, but the drunk had been fiddling in his pockets for four minutes in a search for coin, holding everyone up, until the passenger behind him volunteered to pay his fare.

Guy had been convinced that the drunk had been sent to multiply the unpleasantness of his trip to Peckham, but the drunk latched onto an African woman sitting towards the front, and leaning forward in the confidential manner drunks have (despite their shouting), battered her with his breath. The woman tried for the wrapping-all-her-senses-in-one-small-spot technique, however the drunk was so on that Guy was sure that even sober he was unbearable. “But I don’t want to BOTHER you with MY PROBLEMS,” the drunk promulgated with projection that would have got him a contract at the National.

In his coat pocket, Guy checked for his knife. Despite being overfamiliar with the law on offensive weapons, he had started carrying a flick knife. Not in case of being mugged. If anyone wanted his money, they could have it. He wasn’t going to risk injury over a few quid. No, what worried him was being selected for ring-pulling by one of the barkers.

Guy entered the reception area of the police station. And waited while the constabulary deigned to acknowledge him. In the streets, in the courts, in the newspapers they might have to take it, but here, this was their domain. “Solicitor’s rep,” Guy announced when they felt they had let him ripen enough, “in the matter of Scott.”

With most of the clients, you discerned a batting average in favour of criminality, that there would be a few months of good living before they got nicked; he always had the intention of asking the Scotts why they did it, because they were always caught. They were dependable clients, and had even started asking for Guy by name.

Part of the reason why Guy hadn’t asked the Scotts why they did it was because, despite their always being caught, they always claimed they hadn’t done it.

In an age where family bonds were often sundered in ugly fashions, or simply didn’t exist, it was rare to see a father and son so close. Scott senior and Scott junior were unusual in other ways. Street robbery was suited to the nifty. It was an offence much favoured by failed athletes, those who hadn’t got it right at county level, but who were happy to have a chance to put their training to use.

Scott junior wasn’t right for this line of work. So fat he wobbled like a water bed (born too late for success in freak shows), you couldn’t imagine him crossing even a bathroom with speed. This was where Dad came in, providing a chauffeur service.

In one respect, the Scotts fitted the profile of street robbers—they were exceedingly dim.

Peckham police station, after one of their early (if not initial) forays, was where Guy had first encountered them. No charges were preferred because Scott junior had attempted to snatch a bag from a lady who turned out to be his former PE teacher (he obviously hadn’t recognised her from behind otherwise he might have recalled her judo classes). His PE teacher did recognise him, and apart from loudly naming him tautophonically and clinging onto her bag, she had thrown him to the pavement and having pronounced “this isn’t school, sonny,” knowingly started to kick him senseless. Dad piled in and simultaneously joined his offspring on the pavement.

The Scotts were rescued by the police. Scott senior’s version was they had been assaulted by a demented woman and was outraged that a number of witnesses maintained that Scott junior had made a grab for the bag. Taking their contusions into consideration and the feeble nature of the snatch, they were cautioned.

In one respect, the Scotts fitted the profile of street robbers—they were exceedingly dim. Bag-snatching was not a crime which attracted the calculating or imaginative. There was some craft in finding the right sort of victim in a favourable environment: small, skinny females with no fondness for the martial arts or a predilection for carrying concealed weapons—in a badly lit car park or sequestered side street or secluded subway. The technique didn’t require much study: the handbag was grabbed and the victim pushed or thumped to the ground (though there were those who esteemed the method of shoving the victim to the ground first and then grabbing the bag). If nothing else, you could envisage Scott junior excelling at the shoving part.

Then came the Balham high street job. Scott junior plucked the bag cleanly, leaving bagless lady gaping, and jellied his way to the car. The Scotts sped off chuckling and turning the corner drove into a police checkpoint (a biannual event). No tax. No insurance. No MOT. No licence. No brake lights. No tread on the tyres. Arguably, they might have fronted it out if it hadn’t been for Scott junior sitting in the passenger seat with the contents of the crocodile skin handbag spread out, scrutinizing a powder compact.

Patiently, Guy had listened while the Scotts had protested that the bag had been thrown into the car by a mysterious stranger who had hotfooted it out of their lives. They had just been making their way to a police station to hand it in. They were stumped as to how the woman’s description fitted Scott junior perfectly, down to the “whip me and cum on my tits” logo on his T-shirt.

Out on bail, they had another whirl. The snatch went okay, the getaway was okay, but the car broke down on the way home. By the time they returned by bus, the police were waiting for them, after surmising from the description furnished by the victim (‘out of work Sumo wrestler’) who the culprits were. The Scotts: fit-up, victimisation. The jury: guilty. The judge: suspended sentence. Moral: get good wheels.

Finally admitted, Guy had a word with the arresting officer, who had that very jolly bearing policeman have when they have a perpetrator on the charge sheet within hours, and have the perpetrator so bang to rights that the entire legal profession working in unison (having resurrected and roped in every lawyer that ever lived) couldn’t do anything about it.

The Scotts were improving; they got the bag, got rid of it, and got home without incident. They went unrewarded for their improved efficiency since the crime had been recorded by a new high-quality colour security video camera, and the Scotts had been instantly recognised by the investigating officer.

The Scotts were very popular. There was nothing the police liked more than criminals who caught themselves. The officer was very chatty, revealing that the Scotts had disposed of the handbag but luncheon vouchers had been found on the sofa and (here the policeman gave a contented snigger) the victim’s credit card had been discovered in a coffee jar.

Guy instructed the Scotts to go no comment, because that was usually the best policy, doubly so with the dopier clients, who would invariably create more work for counsel if they detoured from those two words. And it was a stance you couldn’t be faulted for; it might not always be the best, but it was never wrong. You could always talk later if necessary. The Scotts would be better off putting up their hands in light of the videotape, the handbags contents making themselves at home in the Scotts’ home and the victim’s vivid recollection of Scott junior’s “Kill them all and let God sort them out” T-shirt.

Yet the Scotts clung onto their innocence like a pit bull to a favourite leg; somewhere, by someone, a long time ago the Scotts had been advised never to cough and this motto had stuck in their minds, like a hunk of hair blocking a drain, blocking out any prudent assessments of their predicament.

There were, Guy reckoned, three main categories of stupidity. First the nervy types who still reverberated from the shock of school and who liked to keep out of people’s way in case anyone asked them to add up something or tested them on the capitals of South America. They only got involved in crime by accident since they knew they would fail. Then there was the more practical group who realised what their limitations were and worked round them. Lastly, there was the category that the Scotts were domiciled in, the too stupid to realise they were stupid, those who spent all their time wondering why everyone else was so stupid.

The conference with the Scotts was affable, apart from their inability to comprehend why Guy thought bail was unlikely.

The Scotts had fitted in with unprecedented convenience. Guy strolled down the hill leisurely with time to spare before his appointment at Brixton prison. He popped into a shop and bought some cigarettes for Bodo. The Scotts had been disappointed that Guy hadn’t been able to offer them a smoke. Guy usually carried ten Benson and Hedges, but it had given him a surge of pleasure to have been without them.

Further down the hill, there was a fresh drunk with the question-mark posture of the profoundly inebriated. He held a can of blue-label and guttural in the gutter was declaiming “and then … and then people say to you, you’re drunk.”

They were relaxed at the prison. They normally were unless someone had gone over the wall in the previous week. Guy sat down in the interview room and waited for Bodo (currently the favourite client) to appear. Bodo’s problem: close association with seventy ks of marijuana.

A car replete with gargantuan bales of marijuana roused the suspicions of the police officers.

From Augsberg he had come to London to play guitar. Short of readies, he had met a man in the pub one evening (no, he really had). The man got chatting with Bodo and offered him three hundred quid to make a delivery. This was one of the reasons Guy liked him, it was such an easy mistake. Bodo knew perfectly well what was involved, but had thought, one run, three hundred quid. Guy sympathised with him; he had been in a similar situation when he had met Gareth who had persuaded him to try outdoor clerking for his firm. It could easily have been the man in Lewisham who had hired Bodo.

Duly arrived at the rendezvous, Bodo had found an edgy van-driver who wanted to rid himself of the bales as swiftly as possible. Bodo had been flabbergasted to find the transfer being conducted in the open, to wit, the car park of a McDonald’s and that the bales weren’t even disguised, just wrapped with a few shreds of newspaper. Bodo was greatly worried about the sloppy packaging since only a few of the bales fitted into the boot of his car and the rest had to be stacked up on his passenger seats.

Shaken, Bodo started off for the address he had been given (verbally), having been also told a car would be following him. Bodo watched as the red Lotus, which had been cruising twenty feet behind him, sped past after he had been pulled over by the police who wanted to talk to Bodo about the red light he had burned. (“I didn’t even notice the lights, I was checking the map.”)

The prospect of Bodo, sweating in conditions close to freezing, and a car replete with gargantuan bales of marijuana roused the suspicions of the police officers:

“Can you tell me what these packages are, Sir?”

“A very long jail sentence, I think,” replied Bodo in the way to win policemen’s hearts.

It didn’t look good for Bodo. He had put his hands up, though in a situation like that it didn’t do you much good. One kilo, you could pretend it had been planted or that someone else had left it there, but with seventy, you just had to start shopping for a good five year calendar. Bodo had barely had room to drive.

It didn’t look good at all. He had all sorts of disadvantages. University education. Undivorced parents. No history of sexual abuse. No history of substance abuse. No history of alcoholism. No illegitimate children. No criminal record. Flawless English. Skills. Nothing to mitigate whatsoever. The judge would throw the book at him.

In he came, wearing his “Legalize It” T-shirt. “Wie geht’s?” asked Guy always eager to exercise his one German phrase, because it made him feel European and because that night with a German girl in a youth hostel in Rennes hadn’t been in vain.

Bodo was trying to be tough about his forthcoming sentence, and being partially successful. He was settling into it; though he had some problems: he wanted to try for bail, but the only people who had that sort of surety were his parents and he hadn’t shattered their serenity yet. Essentially, Bodo wanted bail for a last fling with his girlfriend. He wasn’t fooling himself that she would be waiting for him when he emerged a much older and wiser man.

They discussed bail and other business. There wasn’t much to discuss. Guy had attended mostly for Bodo’s sake, to try and cheer him up; he knew there couldn’t be much to occupy him in HMP Brixton. It wasn’t as if he could learn anything: a virtuoso guitar player, a PhD in astrophysics, and he spoke and wrote better English than anyone else in the nick (the governor included).

Bodo was focusing on the future. “I will go back to Augsberg. Teach guitar. No more big cities. No more adventures. Everyone will know me as that boring Mr. Becker, and no one will believe I did crazy things in London.” He pulled on his cigarette with lag-like intensity.

“You know, by the time I get out it probably will be legal. Perhaps I should do something to speed up the campaign.”

They got up and waited for the warder to collect Bodo. “I was looking at the moon last night,” Bodo said. “You can see it very well from my cell. I was looking and I thought one day there will be people there and they will have jails there, because they will have arseholes on the moon. Wherever there are people, there are arseholes. Be careful, Guy, you never know when you may turn into one. Look in the mirror often.”

He got home and ran the bath. Guy locked both the locks on the door and placed his longest kitchen knife (with a nice serrated edge) on the toilet seat cover. It was unlikely, almost impossible for anyone to get in, but Guy found it hard to trust the universe these days.

He missed the police.

They had turned up the night Guy had complained about the noise next door. It had been four in the morning and Guy had learned there was something outstandingly annoying about a mighty salsa beat passing through a wall. Most styles of music he could handle, and he had nothing against people having fun, but this jarred. The police had the same effect as him: none. Either the neighbour couldn’t be bothered to answer the door, or the music was too loud for him to hear the furious bangings.

The police officer had commiserated with Guy, who had resolved to reciprocate the gift of insomnia by going out and slashing his neighbour’s tyres after the police had gone. The police officer had looked out of Guy’s window. “You’ve got a good view here, haven’t you?”

So Guy found himself with a surveillance unit in his front room. His citizenship wouldn’t have gone that far normally, but there had been early mention of a few quid being bunged his way for inconvenience.

It was the hairdresser’s they were interested in. It had impinged a little into Guy’s thoughts too. The hairdresser’s seemed to be closed more than was generally considered beneficial for a business, with its shutters firmly pulled down. Even when open, it didn’t seem to be doing any better than when it was closed. Nevertheless, parked around the premises were a number of cars that shouted affluence.

“Is it drugs?” Guy had asked.

“We don’t give a toss about drugs anymore,” the DC had replied. “They’re flogging guns.” The police left after a week, looking dissatisfied. Dissatisfied, Guy gathered, because nothing of a bang-to-rights nature had been attained, and because while they had been doing some close-up work in The White Horse, Guy’s flat had been burgled and their cameras stolen. Guy lost nothing; they didn’t take his television or video, which was rather insulting. They were old but serviceable.

The most grating thing was that his door had been kicked down. Guy had spent time and money fitting extra locks on the door. The locks had resisted admirably, but the door itself had disintegrated into toothpicks.

The company had been good though. Guy had enjoyed swapping tales of iniquity and vileness.

He was pleased to see his reflection in the mirror. He was going to Hampstead, that should give him a break from all this.

Strolling to the tube, Guy watched a Tennent’s drinker (discharged squaddie variety) lob his empty can onto the top of the entrance way of Lambeth’s Housing section, and then proceed to urinate lavishly against the building while his girlfriend gazed on in a my-hero fashion. You got tired of people distributing rubbish everywhere and dispensing substances that were not intended for public inspection, but it had to be acknowledged that it could never be wrong to hose down a Lambeth Council office.

At the tube, Guy broke through the cordon of evangelists (chiefly Christian, but with Islam closing the gap, some equipped with luggable speakers) and the selection of purveyors of politics (chiefly communist). Brixton underground station had a mysterious quality, the trait of congregating people who wanted to change your life, mostly noisily, by taking your money. And people who wanted you to change their lives, by taking your money.

Through the ticket barrier Guy was confronted by a sunglassed walkmanner walking up on the first segments of the down escalator (in effect, on the spot), drink in hand. Guy paused for a second to see whether the pacer wanted to walk off or whether he would work out that he was supposed to go down. But he carried on striding happily as if the underground station were his private gym, a perception provided by wonky mental machinations, or perhaps a simple craving to infuriate those who wanted to descend to the platforms.

Guy didn’t care what cortical flamboyancy had licensed this. Living in Brixton gave you a superb ability to distinguish between irksome eccentricity and hazardous lunacy. The drink was a complete giveaway—orangeade. Everyone knew real nutters and lovers of GBH drank Tennent’s. Besides he was quite small. Guy shoved him out the way without bothering to add “sorry.”

On the up escalator, an Australian surfing expertly on the handrail, glided past Guy.

With the train rattling away, Guy opened up packets of annoyance and determination. He was annoyed because he had been thinking for months now how attractive Vicky was, and how despite her being agenda’d, he wasn’t warming up her skin.

He hadn’t been able to understand how she had been able to go out with that twentieth century non-entity, Luke. Despite taking a pride in his amorous resources, Guy recognised, there were males who were stronger, richer, tanneder, excitingly employeder; he wouldn’t have liked it if Vicky had been dalliancing with one of them, but he could have understood it. He had wanted to say “If you’re not interested in me, fine, but at least let me fix you up with someone proper.”

Patience was Guy’s speciality: he was prepared to wait, a rebuff or two wouldn’t put him off, he was prepared to stay in touch without any physical remuneration, he wasn’t disheartened by polite conversation.

However, Luke had gone back to his home town of Ipswich for what had been billed as a long weekend, but hadn’t come back. What had appeared in his stead was a piece of wedding-cake in a flowery box, with an invitation to his wedding (that previous weekend) to an old childhood sweetheart (whom Vicky had long assumed relegated to the sporadic Christmas card league), accompanied by a short note: “I think it best if we don’t see each other for a while.”

He was rather worried he was falling in love with Vicky.

What had amazed Guy was Luke’s cruelty. Or humour. Both had seemed beyond him. Luke, a sound engineer, seemed to have such enormous respect for sound that he hardly ever uttered a word, and it wasn’t even as if the words he did utter carried extra pith to compensate for his long silences. Over and over again, Guy had been through his memories to verify his impression of Luke as tedious and nondescript. He took up about eleven stones’ worth of space, that had been his chief characteristic. Though of course the most vivid memories of Luke were the ones he didn’t remember but could see, those of Luke grimacing and groaning as he compressed Vicky’s buttocks.

Vicky had discovered that she had been matrimonially outflanked on Monday; Guy had discovered that she had discovered on the Wednesday. Congratulating himself on his diligence and the efficacy of his intelligence network, Guy had phoned instantly, ready to supply commiserations.

To his shock, he had found Vicky far from disconsolate, but about to move to Hampstead where she had acquired a position as house sitter in a four-bedroomed wonderland (sauna, jacuzzi, gymnasium, satellite TV) as well as some chef from a Korean restaurant who was taking her for long walks and who was talked about in tones which conformed with someone who was verging on a buttock-compressing position.

She had sounded very chirpy, indeed, the only rain cloud that appeared in her vocal firmament was when Guy proposed a meeting. She reeled off excuse after excuse, so it was only now, a week later, that Guy was getting his slot, since Vicky was having a drink with two Dutch female friends. Guy was buoyed up by the idea of the company, although he was rather worried he was falling in love with Vicky.

Guy found them in the pub, and noted that Vicky greeted him with that total lack of interest that too often signified a total lack of interest; similarly the two Dutch girls were perceptibly unexcited by his presence. Far from feasting on his words, as women who are intent on a holiday liaison would, they scarcely paid any more attention to him than to any of the other people in the pub.

Studying Vicky, Guy surmised that he was part of a batch job, that she had had to take the Dutch out for a drink, and he had been tacked on to kill two birds and one unacting actor with one evening in the pub.

Guy bought a round just in case the ladies were aroused by generosity and then they sat down at a large round table which had already acquired a hardened pubber (old single ex-door-to-door salesman variety), who sat there serenely with the tools of his trade, the never-diminishing half-pint in a pint glass, the roll-up with almost a cigarette’s length column of ash, alcoholic hair, and a smile that was confident it knew what was what.

The conversation rolled on without any aid from Guy, who was sitting next to the pubber. After a couple of minutes, the pubber with the ornate diction of those trying to disguise their drunkenness, asked Guy if he had a handkerchief. Guy replied that he hadn’t, because he didn’t. The pubber then tripped up the girls’ conversation by canvassing them for a handkerchief. They were unable or unwilling to provide one.

A few moments later, the man asked Guy again for a handkerchief, with a trifle more urgency and an insinuation that Guy was holding out on him. Guy repeated with bonus firmness, a firmness he hoped would penetrate the boozy padding, that he didn’t have one. What was beginning to irritate Guy was that it was a three-second walk to the bar or the toilet where, if his need were that great, a tissue could be obtained. The man seemed determined on annoying someone into fetching a handkerchief.

A strand of snot, a foot long, dangled like a dipstick from his right nostril.

The Dutch girls were now listing with Vicky (rather insensitively it seemed to Guy) which actors would be most welcome in their undergrowth; the actors they named didn’t have more talent than he did, Guy felt, but they did have advantages such as immense fame and wealth. He’d like to see how they would fare opposite the girls shorn of their celebrity and riches; probably the same as him. This enumeration of carnal preferences boded badly for him, since the girls clearly felt they were amongst girls—it was the soundtrack of a failed evening, when their mouths ran out of words and Guy was aware they were staring past him with the blanched visages of road-accident viewers.

He glanced over his shoulder. The reason the man had been pleading for a handkerchief was now abundantly clear. A strand of snot, a foot long, dangled like a dipstick from his right nostril.

For any Brixtonian this was rather elementary stuff, and Guy wasn’t hugely bothered. Unexpected in Hampstead (what was the point of paying millions for your home if you had someone growing mucous tendrils in the local?) but in Brixton they would have tried to lasso you with it. The pubber was progressively more and more amused as the pendulum parabola’d over a larger and larger area.

“Am I upsetting you?” he chuckled. It wasn’t upsetting, Guy analysed, but it was incredibly irritating. He hadn’t travelled all the way across London for this, and he wasn’t giving the pubber the satisfaction of knowing he had added another layer of unpleasantness to the evening. Guy shut him out of his mind, having checked that the pub (which wasn’t that busy) had no other rump havens.

Shortly after, alerted by the extra work of the revulsion muscles on the women’s faces, Guy revolved to witness the pubber escorting with two fingers the strand onto the carpet. This eased things a bit since he no longer had to worry about the swinging adventures of the snot.

However when Guy was tactically agreeing effusively with Vicky about the importance of a united Europe, he espied horror having another outing on her face. Guy lefted his gaze to perceive a three-incher worming its way of its hangar. There was another request for a handkerchief.

“Why don’t we go outside?” suggested Vicky.

They went outside and sat at a plastic table. It was the end of May but cold. Not cold enough to prevent them from sitting outside, but cold enough to prevent them from enjoying it. Guy didn’t see why they should be outside catching a chill. This was all too English for him, someone inconveniences you, so you help them make things even more inconvenient for you.

Things weren’t right. There had always been revolting drunks, the insane had always been partial to public transport, but Guy recalled in his teenage years it had been out of the ordinary. You saw one in the street and you went home to say “there was a really revolting drunk in the street” or “what a nutter we had on the bus today.” Now it would be striking if half the passengers on a bus aspired to civilised behaviour. Though perhaps he should try moving out of Brixton.

Guy’s reverie was terminated by the figure of the pubber lurching out of the doorway, the man with the metronomic catarrh. We’re in for a reprise, guessed Guy.

“Hope you’re … enjoying yourselves,” he said as he zigzagged past, with an inflection that broadcast that was the last thing on earth he would want. Perhaps he had been on course for home because he took a few more steps, but the group’s provocative lack of response caused him to tarry. He established himself a short distance away from their table (but more than a flob or a fist away) and started emitting abuse. They tried not paying any attention, but this didn’t impede the invective, in stock, blunt and unimaginative terms, but with a remarkable hatred.

And here we are, mused Guy. In a dying city. Where else would you spend your day being polite to morons whose only talent is burning up others’ money in benefits, legal and penal costs? Wading through beggars, spending an hour crossing the place, only to be ignored by women and to end up sitting in the cold being sworn at by a man whose secretions are no longer secret?

On one Dutch face Guy saw a look that said the man needed help and understanding. On his face Guy imagined there was an expression which maintained that the man needed to be kicked in the head vigorously, ideally until he was dead. He was close to snapping. The trouble was that the inveigher was old, puny and drunk; Guy would simply be beating him up. In a way this was the most galling aspect—that the pubber was sheltering behind their notions of decency. Furthermore, Guy’s familiarity with the law conjured up charges of assault or manslaughter.

Besides which the ladies wouldn’t approve of any laying on of hands. Women were funny about things like that. And there was no point in reciprocating the insults, that would only fuel the harangue.

“Some people aren’t very nice,” continued the pubber, “some people are … ” he went on using the verb that has proved most popular on city walls since city walls had come into being.

They opted for drinking up. Guy wondered if there was a country anywhere where individuals like the pubber would be executed and if he could emigrate there. However, just as they were getting to the bottom of their glasses, the pubber shuffled off.

The Dutch contingent was staying with Vicky and Guy accompanied them back home so that if anyone else wanted to swear at them he could assist them in ignoring it. In addition to which, Guy prided himself on not giving up. The possibility of the three girls unrobing and having a yearning for aromatic balms to be kneaded into their flesh existed. But as so often happened, it didn’t happen.

A minicab was called for Guy. Having missed the last tube, he was now rounding off with an expensive trip down South. The driver was a Jamaican. Guy had barely been in the car ten seconds when the driver asked him if he could seek his advice. The driver recounted how, back in Jamaica he had met a girl, got married: he had brought her back to live in London but she had absconded after a week. “So me had ’er deported.” All well and good, but then he had been back in Jamaica again where he had patched things up and now he wanted to bring her back again. He was thinking he should ring the Home Office.

Guy could see the Home Office relishing the call. Guy could see the driver walking into the office at Jones and Keita and asking for advice; like most of their customers he seemed to be in contention for some international award in imbecility. The driver must have had an age with a four in the front and Guy could see the wife with an age that still had a one at the start; a young lady no doubt older and wiser after her deportation who would either fit in her supplementary intubations while her husband was out on the road, or who would do a more thorough disappearing act next time.

Yet, perhaps because he was feeling tired, it glinted less like stupidity, it was simply part of the on-going. What people do. And apart from the airfare, what was the difference between going to Kingston or Hampstead?

“Give it a try,” said Guy.

“Dat’s what I say, give it a try.”

The minicab broke down halfway along Acre Lane. Guy waited patiently for a while in case the driver had the ability to revive it; then he paid, ready to walk the last ten minutes. “Good luck with your wife,” he said, surprised that he meant it.

He looked up for the moon, but couldn’t see it anywhere.