I killed a fly. It was getting on my nerves. You butter the bread; put it on the table; the fly’s on the bread. It keeps fizzing at you like a mosquito. Flies spread germs. Don’t they? So I killed it, got it over by the window with my niece’s A level copy of Huis Clos and flattened it. Don’t worry, Natasha, I cleaned the Huis Clos off. After I killed it, Olde dad – Olde dad who once threw his daughter’s present to him into the bin in front of her eight year old eyes; olde dad who had the least empathy of anyone I ever knew – that Olde dad got all bleeding heart on me. Big man, he said and then Man with a gun. He delivered these two judgements with expert deadpan sarcasm. I couldn’t believe it. Where did he get this empathy for a fly? Since when was he William Blake? Where did he get this wit? Since when was I George Orwell? So now I, as I make him his prunes and custard, as I chaperone him across the main road, as I adminster his pills, as I jovially repeat the same conversation about the weather, his food or the time of day for the umpteenth time, I am the villain of the piece because I killed a fly.
It reminds me of once when a man I knew, a banker, bought an artwork, and I asked him how much he had paid for it and he said to me that some people knew the price of everything and the value of nothing and I said just a minute you’re the banker. By refusing to mention figures you sanctify money.
Whatever. What am I supposed to do? Usher the fly out the backdoor? I’m happy to do that for a spider but with a fly yo’re on a hiding to nothing. A fly would lead me as merry a dance as Olde dad has been doing all this week. No, Olde dad, I draw the line at flies.
While running round Kennington Park – seven laps today; don’t worry, it’s only a little park – I note the people sitting on the park benches. Today there was a couple on the stretch leading up to Oval station. As you run past, you see seven snapshots. At first, they didn’t seem to know each other very well. By lap two – six minutes later – they know each other better. They have turned their bodies towards each other. By lap three her leg is folded on the bench in contact with his leg. Anyway, to cut a long story short, by lap six she had her head on his shoulder and he was stroking her hair.
Photo snapshots are actually a better representation of the way our mind works than continuous narrative flow. In life we perceive something, register it, interpret it, chew it over. While doing all this we have frozen the image. It is like a portrait painter. He notices something, then looks away, to his paint or his canvas, and then paints it up. It is, in fact, more complicated than that, for the painter takes a long time to transmit the impression to canvas, a number of examinations of the model, so that what he is painting is an aggregate of perceived images. In other words, something that was never there. Reality is untrackable. And so for the couple on the bench. Maybe my seven-split version of their story is closer to reality than their own more detailed versions. And by the way, in the seventh snapshot they were separate again; she was smoking a cigarette looking out into the park and he was fiddling with his mobile.
The message on a teeshirt is never in the slogan. It is in the gap between the slogan and the wearer.
* Do Cool Shit. On a man on his smartphone telling someone to ‘Die of cancer’.
* Manchester Country Club UK. Which Manchester England is this? Not the one I grew up in.
* Besome One. In two words. On an old drunk stuffing his face with a family size pack of crisps.
* Everything happens for a Reason. Much appreciated by middle-class boys on gap years.
* Eat Sleep Rave Repeat. A mother pushing a twin buggy ignoring the crying kids as she blabs on into her mobile.
* A young woman wearing an awful lumberjack style shirt with sleeves coated in glitter. As she sat down next to me she started reading messages on her i-pad. I glanced across. She worked in the fashion industry. Another in the long line of professions where the practitioner is least suited to the job. Add fashion to nutritionits, psychoanalysts, hairdressers.
A small (how to call it?) tumescence has been discovered in the house. It started with a feeling that something was not quite right, then an odour, an unpleasant whiff that hit you on the landing at certain times of the day. Then one of the lodgers tracked it down. It was under a patch of old rug that hadn’t been changed when the new fitted carpet had been laid, just an old bit that went round where the bannister and the top of the stairs created an awkward shape. Anyway, the… what are we calling it?… tumescence was there. The first lodger, Orly, didn’t know whether it was meant to be there or not. He just left it. Then one day he exchanged a look with Tegel which needed no words. And independently of them, other lodgers had words and managed to track the source to the landing. Now quite a few of the lodgers had noticed it, though when the matter of the tumescence was brought up, Tegel and Orly, as well as many of the others, found ways of not really registering the issue of the tumescence, mainly by the use of abstract nouns which said a lot while saying really very little. Until one day Tegel decided to bring up the issue of the tumescence over breakfast when all the lodgers were present. One or two of the lodgers thought it was wounded and needed assistance of some kind, but others left the breakfast table as soon as this idea was mentioned, saying that it was a historical inevitability that this tumescence would heal itself. Tegel said it was a minor excrescence in the project that they had set themselves. He used the word project a lot. When the idea of the project and its historical inevitability was evoked, many of the lodgers shook hands and agreed to have breakfast together on a regular basis. And so they began to have elaborate breakfasts together and ignore the tumescence. It wasn’t actually till a long time after that some of them decided to give it a name, at first a secret name because Tegel and Orly did not like the use of names, but then even they understood that the unnameable had to be christened. They called it Grexit.
Jiggerypokery on the train between Poitiers and Tours. I get to the station half an hour in advance to buy a ticket for the 20.22, but the option didn’t appear on the ticket machine screen. The ticket office had just closed. At the Information desk I was told that these tickets are only sold on the internet. So how can I buy a icket for the train? I asked. You can’t, she said. The only option is to wait on the platform and when the train gets in, the controleur will step off for a few seconds. You must catch him and ask him if he’ll let you buy a ticket on the train. But the train is long and nobody will know where he will step off. And it will only be for a few seconds. I looked at him incredulously. Is this a game from Jeux Sans fontieres?
The train arrived at 20.22. and I am haring up and down Platform 2 with my bags in hand screaming Ou est le controleur?. I see him three wagons up and just get to him before he can hop back on.
– Je peux acheter un billet dans le train?
– Pas de probleme.
So I’m on the train when I do my rant.
– C’est pas normal. On est dans une gare avec une dizaine d’employes and personne ne veut me vendre un ticket. Et si j’etais un touriste ou une personne agee? D’ailleurs je suis les deux.
The ticket inspector is good-humoured. He looks at me with a touch of understanding in his eyes. I think I’ve made my point. I want to rant a bit more though. The controleur interrupts me.
– Votre braguette est ouverte (Your fly is open).
– Merci, I say. Yes merci (as I zip up). But that doesn’t change wha I was saying, does it? Braguette or no braguette.
– Parfaitement, says the controleur. Bonne Journee!
I have made revisiting the past into something of a speciality. In Summer when the heat is upon us I pop up in various residences peppered around the UK and Europe, visiting at short notice people I haven’t seen for many years. Sometimes the smile of recognition is welcoming; sometimes confused. Most of the drama, though, is enacted in my imagination before the visit.
This year I revisited someone I hadn’t seen for, I believe, twenty six years. Here’s how I imagined it. I am sitting on the sofa opposite two of them in armchairs. They have just let me, a stranger, into their home. She, the old friend, is siting there bemused. He, the husband, bewildered. It is happening in French.
Him: (looking at his wife) C’est qui, ce mec? (Who is this guy?)
Her: (in a monotone, looking at me obliquely ) Je l’ai connu il y a 26 ans. (I knew him 26 years ago)
Me: (beaming, jocular, insouciant, oblivious, eating their nibbles) I like your rug.
My dislike of Wimbledon goes back to my childhood when we were on holiday in Blackpool or Colwyn Bay or Llandudno, once in Scarborough, and when I wanted to go out to the sands everybody else wanted to watch the so-called Wimbledon final on a little old telly in our rented flat. These days nobody forces me to watch it but out of a sense of duty to the past I have it on in the background with the sound down but the medium wave radio on. This means that when I pass through the living room in my quotidian perambulations I can preempt the image by hearing the commentary about three seconds ahead of the telly. In this way I triumph over those dull players, who are perhaps the dullest of all sportspeople. You constanly hear that there are no characters left in the game today. In bygone days caracter was, in a jocular moment, handing a racket to a ballboy. The particular brand of mid-atlantic accent that afflicts all players from Croatia to Argentina is a dreadful monotone to the whole event, which we are forced to endure as meaningless interviews with meaningless questions unanswered by PR schooled players reminds you of two heavy juggernaughts trying to get past each other in a narrow cul-de-sac. There is also something deadeningly abstract about the television portrayal of the matches with a screen that depicts the court as a vertical wall, much like the image telly gives of a snooker table, and the disembodied grunts of two insects scuttling around at the north and south poles. It is a kind of elaborate flea circus. Why not turn it off? you tell me. Oh, leave me be and let me exorcize the past in my own way.