November 15: a policeman with kippers in his basket

You come out of a flat at seven o’clock in the evening and there is cooking going on. Today there is a leg of lamb in the oven. Last week it was a roast chicken. The week before that a steak and kidney pie. When you leave a flat or a house at the same time every week because you have duties there it is as if the people in that flat are fixed in time, unable to shift, like the Mad Hatter and the March Hare doomed to forever repeating their tea party for the rest of their days. You are surprised to see them remaining the same weight from week to week. How can it be? They are always shifting these huge sides of beef. It gets so that when you see them you see an organic farm-bred chicken coming across to meet you or a herd of oxen walking down the hallway. We judge people by the circumstances in which we habitually see them, circumstances which may be wholly atypical of them for the rest of the week. This is especially true if our engagement with that person is always at the same time or in the same place. If you see the local policeman in the street one day leading the life of a normal man without his high-viz jacket and his helmet on, you are astonished. I saw that policeman in the Tesco today, you say, he was just shopping like a normal man. What did he have in his basket? they all ask you. Kippers, you say, and people are amazed. What! Kippers! Humanity cannot bear so much reality. I remember seeing my primary school headmaster at a bus stop once. I stepped back, out of his line of vision. I did not know how to fit that meeting into my life. Some terrible spell might have shattered. Another person who could not have lived anywhere else except on the front doorstep of where we lived when I was a child was the insurance man who came round for our weekly payment of 7 shillings and sixpence. The pools man could also lead no life other than the one on our front doorstep. Many years later I saw him, not only elsewhere (he was in the Stockport shopping centre) but also older and with another person (his wife maybe). It was tragic. The man had been untimely ripped from our 1970s front doorstep. It was abusive.

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