Last year I walked from where I live now, to where I was born, to where I grew up, to where I was at school, to where I was at University: Stockwell — Charing Cross — the Hampstead Garden Suburb — Finchley — Oxford. Thus linking my life together with a physical chord, the music of my swishing thighs.
Monday morning, May 21. I’m on the Hebridean island of Jura, lost in reveries of farouche glen and pellucid sea, when an email from Ralph drags me back to south-east London: “News of the fire on the Cutty Sark jogged my Sixties’ memory and I dug out a drawing I did of the ship during my student days, when for two or three days a week I attended the London College of Printing and Graphic Arts on Back Hill in Clerkenwell. There were more drawings, but this is the only one that I could find. My art teacher, Leslie Richardson, had saved them all these years and returned them to me about six months ago. All grubby yet surprisingly good…”
I’m still in Belfast, staying at the Merchant Hotel, which predictably used to be a bank, yet is now asserting itself as an enclave of Parisian luxury in the heart of Antrim: the Crillon with soda-bread canapes and Guinness cocktails. Even more predictably, I loathe it. No fault of the hotel, you understand, it’s just that as the years go by the theatre of temporary rented accommodation seems more and more threadbare to me: no turn-down service can prettify the thousands of cold sex acts performed between these sheets; no marble tiling can convince me that it’s a proscenium arch, within which my taking a shit becomes a command performance.
The Wagon Wheels packet crushed into the damp grass on the slopes of Black Mountain bore a faded illustration of a covered wagon travelling at speed, together with the slogan: “Size Matters!” Indeed, it does. I was making my way gingerly down this steep hill, which, along with the rest of the massif — from Divis Mountain to Cave Hill — was imagined by Jonathan Swift to be a giant, recumbent figure. Some say that this was his inspiration for the distortions in scale with which he opened Gulliver’s Travels.
This week’s issue of the Independent magazine is on the theme of France, which is why Ralph has created this beautiful picture of a statue of Charles de Gaulle, or “Charles the Wall”, as he should more properly be known. The name apparently derives from the German for “wall” and even the “de” is suspect, being not — as you undoubtedly assumed — a nobiliary particle. But then that’s you all over, isn’t it, always assuming things are nobiliary particles without any cause? You probably thought the “la” in Danny la Rue was one, let alone the “de” in Chris de Burgh. Poltroon.
Why has the annual Easter Egg hunt become such a trial to me? Is it because with each succeeding year I become stronger, fitter, better read and more chillingly orientated? I think this must be so. I remember the Easter Egg hunts of my childhood, which seldom involved more than rooting around a flower bed or worming beneath my parents’ bed, to emerge, dust devils like crazy battle honours on my woolly, the foiled goods melting in my hot little hands. But nowadays the hunt can last for days, cross entire counties and involve me in feats of close reasoning that make a chess game between Big Blue and Kasparov look like a very facile Suduko indeed.
Ralph sends the attached picture [of a shark] — why? I’ve never known him to go scuba diving and the closest he’s come to a shark — so far as I’m aware — is a euphemism, namely a sharkskin suit that he wore when dancing at the Hot Club de Jazz with Josephine Baker in the 1920s (or was it Chet Baker in the 1950s? I forget). It makes you wonder what goes on in the Steadman imagination. Presumably, in the small hours of the night, the dread horn-honking of minor chords disturbs his repose the tempo quickening, Ralph thrashes in the sweat-damp duvet as if it were the salty sea itself.
Sophie is trying to house train Minnie, a tiny terrier puppy with glossy black fur. So far as I can discern, Sophie is a perfect trainer: gentle, yet firm. When Minnie voids one of her mousy little turds on the stone flags of the kitchen, or pees on the settee, Sophie scoops her up, taps her on the nose and says: “Oooh! You bad girl! How could you? How could you?” They say a dog returns to its own shit (do they? Who are they, and why do they say such things?), but in this case it’s me who feels a compulsion to return to writing on the subject: a doleful, incontinent scribe, I am, describing the world with a thick stroke, extruded from my dogged pen.
We’re hoping that our friends’ Jack Russell, Cyril, will have a litter of puppies, because then we’ll adopt a couple of them. But I saw Cyril the other weekend, and to be frank, she looks way too skinny and nervy to be pregnant. Cyril is named after my friend’s father, whom her own children never knew. That’s why the kids wanted the dog to have his name — the revelations about her sex came later. Perhaps Cyril’s failure to get knocked up — despite being covered by the very spunky Jack Russell belonging to a local theatrical impresario — is a result of this masculine naming. I always make the point of calling her “Cyrille”, which everyone else thinks quite silly.
I was walking with my friend Con the other day, when we fell into conversation about radiation. That has a nice lilt to it, doesn’t it? Anyway, I was saying how dreadful it is, that nowadays you can’t get a watch that glows properly in the dark, so paranoid is everyone about radiation. Con was assented to this, and told me how he’d been having dinner with an ancient uncle in Vienna, shortly after the Chernobyl meltdown, when the waiter told them the asparagus was off on account of the fallout on Austrian market gardens. It took quite a while for Con to get across to his valetudinarian relative that radiation was now generally considered to be toxic, because the uncle suddenly exclaimed: “When I was in the Urals, before the War, we used to have radiation baths for our health!”