All five episodes of Will Self’s 600 mile trip on the trail of physicist James Clerk Maxwell are now available to listen to on the Radio 4 website here.
Real meals: Cereal Killer Café
To the Cereal Killer Café on Brick Lane in Shoreditch – at the very epicentre of London’s hipsterville. Yes, yes, I know, I probably should have hied me hither a few weeks ago, immediately after the establishment had been subjected to an all-out attack by two hundred anarchist rioters wearing pig masks and carrying flaming brands, who threw paint and, err . . . cereal at the whacky eatery. I hung fire because I suspected the cereal riot might be the beginning of a widespread revolt against foodie absurdity, and why waste ink and pixels on such a sideshow when Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay would soon be flambéed at the stake in Trafalgar Square?
True, there was a subsequent riot on Hallowe’en closer to my own home; but these ravers were fighting for their right to party rather than against hipsters’ right to chow down on bowls of cereal at four quid a pop. Still, I think we can confidently assert that both civil disturbances are the beginning of a tendency long since identified – in numerous of his novels and stories – by the late JG Ballard; namely, a hunger for civil disorder not as a function of state oppression, or economic disadvantage, but simply in order to get out of the house and avoid the next series of The Great British Bake Off.
Of course, I don’t mean to deny the pernicious effects of hipsterfication on the old East End: there’s no doubt that the bearded poltroons are acting as the kulturkampf wing of the class cleansing directed by Gauleiter Osborne et al, yet I, too, question whether razing Rice Krispie eaters really is the way forward. After all, I’ve probably written more about cereal than any other kind of food in this column, and, as regular readers can’t help but be aware, I’m the proud owner of a Kellogg’s cereal spoon personalised with the teasing ascription “Butt Munch”. On these grounds alone, it behove me to check out the purveyor of Chex. (This is a particularly grim breakfast comestible, notable only for its graticular form.)
A gloomy and moist Saturday afternoon in November seemed perfect for off-piste crunching, so I shouted to my youngest, “Go east, young man!” and we set off. Now I had a 14-year-old as an alibi . . . but everyone else in the Cereal Killer queue was at least biologically mature. (You read me right: the word “queue” is in the preceding sentence – but I must stress: the queue was from the door to the counter; if it had been outside the game would have been over before the milk was poured. I’ve been on assignment in the bandit country of South Armagh and the mean streets of South Central LA; I’ve stood on the “road of death” beside Chernobyl and I’ve weathered a force-ten storm in the North Atlantic, but I would never – I stress, never – queue to eat at a cereal café, even if it meant reneging on my commitment to fearless reportage.)
The walls of the Cereal Killer Café were plastered with cereal posters, a kite depicting the Honey Monster, two pictures of notorious serial killers, created using myriad Cheerios, shelves bearing many boxes of cereal, displays of fridge magnets in the shape of little cereal boxes, and a pegboard menu advertising all the different cereals, milks – almond, soy, utterly vomitous – and fruitily gloopy toppings. My alibi went down to check out the basement seating area and came back with the intelligence that it featured the same worn floorboards, mismatched chairs, wonky Formica-topped tables and old kitchen units, plus a video monitor showing reruns of 1980s and 1990s cartoons.
We stayed upstairs, our brimming bowls propped on a ledge in front of the misted-up window. The boy tucked in to his Cap’n Crunch – a venerable American cereal developed in the early 1960s by a “flavourist” called Pamela Low. Low’s aim was to re-create a snack her grandmother had concocted out of rice, brown sugar and butter, thereby effecting what she termed “want-more-ishness”. According to my son, the signal feature of these particular gobbets was their texture – “Like cheesy Wotsits,” he said through a mouthful – and I wondered: “Could there be any higher praise?” My own cereal, Fruity Pebbles, was advertised as “rocking your whole mouth”, and the box featured Fred Flintstone making free with handfuls of “pebbles” (really fruit-flavoured “crisp rice cereal bits”).
Fruity Pebbles are almost as venerable as Cap’n Crunch, dating from the early 1970s. They were also the first breakfast cereal to have their own “spokestoon” (a coinage that, were it not to exist, really wouldn’t need to be invented). I found them suitably sickly, tasting as they did like Starburst chews rendered mysteriously crunchy.
And it was while munching on this metamorphic food that the full truth about the Cereal Killer Café dawned on me: with its grotty decor and its febrile, hyperglycaemic ambience, it was exactly like the squats where I used to hang out in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In those days I often had only crap cereal to eat until the next Giro cheque or parental handout. But then, as the Cereal Killer Café rioters undoubtedly know (assiduous students of Marx that they are), history all too often repeats itself; the first time it’s a tragedy, the second a frosted farce.
Arsenalna, Kyiv: the deepest underground station in the world
Here’s how Louis-Ferdinand Céline characterises travel in his trippy 1932 novel, Journey to the End of the Night: “An infinity opens up just for you – a laughable little infinity; and you fall into it.” Maybe so, yet sometimes – just sometimes – the falling into that laughable infinity is enough to justify all the very grindingly finite journeys we take in our lives; for if one thing seems beyond dispute, it is that no sooner has the circumnavigation of the kitchen table been completed than the man-haul to the kettle begins.
I went to Ukraine in 2011 to write a piece about the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. I had done a fair amount of research, but it was all concerned with the reactor, its meltdown, the aftermath: I’d given absolutely no thought whatsoever to what lay between the airport and the exclusion zone. By which I mean to say that although I was booked to stay in Kyiv for a few days and do some interviews, I had scarcely any mental picture of the city at all. A photo of a mini-Kremlin basilica snipped from a National Geographic of yore, the hazy spatial analogue of reading Gogol’s Taras Bulba and Bulgakov’s The White Guard – that was about it.
I did have the impulse to find out more; and, in my experience, the surest way of not engaging with a new city is to hale a cab, because with one swoop of the arm you hire a local’s expertise and abrogate your own responsibility for orientation. So I took a bus from the airport to the nearest underground stop, reflecting on how quite diverse cultures display a marked uniformity when it comes to the failure to integrate air and ground transport effectively . . . (Yes, it really is like this in my inner life: the personae Pinteresque and vapid, the atmosphere prosaic yet hectoring) . . . And was still reflecting on it as the train – which was foursquare, boxy, red-painted and liberally plastered with ads – burrowed its way from overground unremarkability (standard-issue warehouses, industrial parks and rusty gasometers) into a tunnel. Switching lines at a central interchange, I jostled through marble halls and marvelled at hefty bronze uplights cast in the shape of caryatids. This had to be the same neoclassical people’s palace shtick as the Moscow Metro, a Babylonian public works project courtesy of God-King Joe.
Reaching my stop, I mounted the escalator and stood, legs and arms akimbo, dangling in space. I could have gathered Kyiv was hilly from The White Guard alone – and from the signature atrocity of the Nazis in Ukraine: the mass shootings at Babi Yar, which took place in a ravine or rocky defile which was itself in . . . Kyiv. In dead time, head heavy with dark thoughts – bonemeal and blood-mortar – I ascended the escalator, and went up it still more.
When I was a child there was something called a paternoster lift at my dad’s work; this was a continuous belt of open-sided lift compartments that revolved non-stop. You simply leapt on and off at your chosen floor; or, blissfully, you could stay in your compartment and go over the top and under the bottom of the entire Heath Robinson contraption. I don’t believe I have ever been happier, the paternoster uniting the lift’s vertiginous elitism with the escalator’s trudging egalitarianism in a way today’s corporatised systems cannot abide. True, limbs were lost – but this was the London School of Economics in the 1970s, and young people – especially young social scientists – recover from serious trauma quickly.
And ascended . . . As I squinted into the Ukrainian lower depths, the bottom of the escalator seemed further off than my mental picture of the escalators at Tottenham Court Road Tube station in London, which I think of as “pretty deep”. (I appreciate it’s not a convincingly objective measure.) Then I peered up, and saw through the bat-black night that there was still about twice as far as this to go before the wood, steel and rubber Sisyphus, ever rolling up the hill, disgorged me on to its brow. The escalator ride to heaven in Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death bears close kinship to that Kyivan shaft, not only by reason of its vast extent, but also because both escaliers mécaniques fundamentally alter their riders’ terms of existence. Granted, I don’t imagine every commuter debouching at Arsenalna is plunged into existential crisis as she is winched up each morning: even so, I think Kyiv could make a lot more of having the deepest underground station in the world.
The third-deepest one is in Moscow – but it is hardly likely the disputes between the two nations will be settled by a bout of competitive Tube shaft-sinking. Nor can the Kyiv Tourist Board engineer the sort of pit-and-pendulum experience I had, coming upon their kilometre-long escalator completely unawares. Nevertheless, there should be some way of apprehending the wondrousness of even our most banal transports, for the alternative is an everyday murderousness. We’ll leave the last word, too, to Céline: “At least a hundred people must want you dead in the course of an average day – the ones behind you at the ticket window in the Métro.”
Boris Johnson and the death of political satire
You can find Will Self’s latest New Statesman column here.
Real meals: macaroon madness
Whither the macaroon? I concede that, for those of you condemned to the provinces, this may not seem a pressing concern – unlike being forced to accept elected mayors with spurious powers so that the Chancellor of the Exchequer can burnish his credentials as a devolutionist. However, in this metropolis and many other cities besides, the worst has already happened in terms of local governance, while the bourgeoisie are ascending in a giddy, spiralling fugue-state of hyperglycaemia caused by overindulgence in small, almond-flavoured sweetmeats.
Time was when a macaroon was a perfectly sensible thing, roughly the size and shape of a large, home-baked biscuit; the consistency was a little chewy, there was a suggestion of almonds in the dough, with perhaps a sliver of one such nut pressed into its upper surface, and a disc of rice paper adhered to its underside. I cast the preceding sentence in the simple past rather than the present, because that is what we associate the macaroon with: an innocent era, when bat-eared boys rolled their hoops down the back alleys where bat-eared girls were being done to death by illegal abortionists. And everyone loved a nice Eccles cake, or a Bakewell tart, or a macaroon with a cup of tea so strong that if you were to draw 5ccs off with a hypodermic syringe and then inject them into Roger Bannister he’d run the mile in well under three minutes.
But these modern macaroons are quite a different matter, a ghastly Gallic import redolent of decadence, absolutism and maximum frou-frou. They’ve arrived in London piggybacking in the tote bags of French wanker-bankers come to luxuriate in our low-tax regime. Paul (which as we know is the French equivalent of Greggs) began stocking them first, and so ignorant was I that I thought they were miniature and brightly coloured hamburgers. Because that’s what they look like, although the “buns” are egg white mixed with sugar, and the “meat” is a dollop of some still sweeter goo, or “ganache” (which is what I believe goo is called nowadays).
I asked a French friend what he thought the origin of this macaroon madness was – because if it’s bad in London it’s way worse in Paris, where a new macaroon shop opens about every three minutes. (I envision Bannister sprinting from one to the next.) My informant didn’t hesitate: “It started after Sofia Coppola made that movie about Marie Antoinette. All the courtiers were eating macarons, and the Parisian bobos thought it looked cool.” Of course, there’s a long and illustrious tradition of eating macaroons in France; they get a mention from Rabelais in the early 1500s, and by the time Marie Antoinette’s head was being severed they were far more popular than cake among the bon ton.
Indeed, some culinary scholars believe the reason the throwaway line “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche . . .” became so very notorious is that the peasants already suffered very badly from irritable bowel syndrome and coeliac disease because of the vast amounts of cake they were eating; whereas the Versailles court dined exclusively on macarons, which are made without flour and hence are entirely gluten-free. I’ve no idea if this is true, but what I do know is that nowadays if you aren’t fashionably wheat-intolerant you have no business in public life on either side of the Channel.
George Osborne clearly has issues in this area. I’ve been observing him, and over the past few months he’s been losing weight steadily, while his features (never exactly generous to begin with) have puckered up and puckered up still more, until they resemble nothing so much as that portion of his anatomy that I suspect bothers him the most.
Poor George! His relentless drive for personal preferment and status . . . Sorry, I mean: his selfless labour on behalf of the commonweal . . . condemns him to factory tour after company visit, and at each and every canteen he’s obliged to choke down another greasy bacon sarnie stuffed with gluten, so becoming ever more bloated and flatulent. How he longs to get home to No 11 and the fragrant Frances, whose magnificent books – memoirs, novels, cookbooks – all contain plenty of macaroons. I like to imagine the entire Osborne family – George, Frances, Luke and little Liberty – tucking in to a supper of Pierre Hermé’s finest, which Harrods have just delivered. “Ooh, Daddy,” Liberty cries, “can I have the last white truffle and hazelnut one?” And George, ever the Solomon-like paterfamilias, gently teases apart the two toothsome hemispheres, hands one to each of the children, then sits back with a faintly constipated smile as they smear ganache on their downy cheeks.
I have often had cause to remark in these pages that there’s only one word for a culture that is as obsessed with what it puts in its mouth as this one – infantile. The macaroon is only the latest nursery nourriture to grab our febrile imaginations. Who knows, if things keep on this way, Britain may well become the sort of country where the outcome of a televised baking competition becomes a matter of high social and political importance. But then that could never happen; any more than Gideon Oliver Osborne becoming prime minister.
LRB Diary: On cocaine
Will Self has written a Diary piece for this week’s London Review of Books, which can be found here (you can subscribe or register for free to read the whole article).
My love affair with nicotine
The madness of crowds: Stewart Lee and audience approval
one a fair amount of solo performing throughout my career – in fact, I started out as a stand-up comedian, and from time to time I revisit that sort of shtick, doing little gigs in the upstairs rooms of pubs. But mostly I do “shows” of one sort or another to support the publication of my books. Time was when these public readings were convened in the big chain bookstores: Waterstones, Blackwell’s and – before its demise – Borders. Audiences might be relatively small, but they had usually chipped up because they were interested in the writing; the live act was just an add-on.
But nowadays all bookshops are in freefall and the business of literary promotion has shifted to literary festivals and gigs in small theatres (if, that is, you can put bums on seats). In line with the decline of serious solitary reading, punters demand to be entertained collectively.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I have stared out into dusty velveteen darkness at the rows of upturned faces looming up at me, pale as the caps of poisonous mushroom. At these moments, just before I zing the first one-liner out into the stalls, I try to assay the mood and tenor of the crowd: are they febrile or enervated, in the mood for laughter or tears? And, more to the point, am I febrile or enervated, in the mood for tears or laughter?
Now, I hope you noticed the subtle but important reversal in the chiasmus above: for an audience, laughter is a balm and a restorative, lifting it collectively out of the rut its massed feet have worn throughout the daily go-round: for the performer, however, laughter is always an easy way of gaining acceptance. “Laugh,” as the hoary old adage has it, “and the world laughs with you.” But really this formula should also be subject to reversal; from the isolated performer’s point of view, the important thing is that if the world is laughing, and you’re laughing as well, the world will assume you’re part of it, rather than some weirdo scam-merchant trying to pull one over.
In my experience, an audience will have both a lowest and a highest common denominator of taste and discrimination. Tell a crass joke and you may undershoot an audience’s low point; but craft too artful a witticism and it may zing over their heads rather than hitting them in the eye. In either case, there will be muttering and disaffection, and they won’t even laugh at you, let alone with. Audiences naturally long to become a single psyche surging with the same emotion; and producing this state-of-minds is the desideratum for all performers – yet woe betide he who misjudges it, because then, instead of being enfolded by the group mind, he will be abandoned to die alone in the full glare of the limelight.
Even more serious an error is misplaced seriousness. Adjudge your crowd to be too high-minded and you’ll come off looking like a pretentious prat; assay viewers too basely, and they’ll think, “You patronising dipstick.” And of course, all these judgments have to be made lightning-quick, lest the mood curdle and then go emphatically off. So, the temptation – if you’re a performer – is always to pitch low rather than high, and always to aim for the funny-bone rather than the sensitive one. Nevertheless, the allure of this tactic needs to be resisted: for, though audiences may roar with delight, with each mass contraction of their diaphragms, you’re being repelled – because, in your sad eagerness to be liked, you’ve transformed yourself into just another puppet-cum-clown, jerking about on strings of low self-esteem.
I thought about all this the other evening when I went to see Stewart Lee’s new stand-up show at the Leicester Square Theatre in London. Lee is perhaps the most intelligent comedian ever to tread British boards, and the genius of his shtick consists in large part in his willingness to flout all the rules of mass psychology outlined above. Rather than trade on audiences’ basest inclinations, Lee seeks constantly to raise their game. He does this by denigrating them – and himself. On the evening I saw him, he continually told us we were too slow and stupid to get his jokes, and that we needn’t bother laughing, as he considered us of no account. At the same time, he presented a portrait of himself as a deeply insecure man, fed up with the thankless cycle of touring mid-sized venues, who feels an affinity with prostitutes because, like them: “I do something for people they desperately want, but they’ve nothing but contempt for me.”
This seemed like reverse psychology: what we were meant to feel as Lee berated us was that we were perspicacious enough to see through his act and appreciate his real message: namely, that we were sufficiently wise and witty to appreciate how wise and witty he is. But actually, Lee is a good enough actor to keep the other possibility open. In line with Papa Sigmund’s dictum, he isn’t joking at all, but hoodwinking us with his own ironic sensibility as he kvetches and badmouths in plain sight, cackling internally all the while. Now, the Venn intersection between these two, quite high audience denominators markedly reduces Lee’s likelihood of laughs. Not that this seems to bother him … Or then again, maybe it does …
Archbishop Welby – a constipated tortoise with sunburn
Justin Welby still looks like exactly what he is: a superannuated Old Etonian oil executive from west London with a sideline in religiosity
The most important thing about Justin Portal Welby, the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of All England, is that he’s not Rowan Williams. How we all miss Rowan Williams! The whole point of the Established Church is that its ministry is for all Britons, not just confessing Anglicans; and Dr Williams achieved this difficult task brilliantly. That he did so was, in large measure, due to his appearance: the most fanatical adherent of sharia law hearkened to his fluting emollience, because, resembling as he does a fictional wizard straight out of central casting, they assumed he was either Gandalf the Grey, or Albus Dumbledore, or possibly both.
With Dr Williams’s successor we must bear witness to a marked decline in the archiepiscopal phenotype. Far from resembling some wand-waving sorcerer, and despite all the rich caparisoning, Justin Welby still looks like exactly what he is: a superannuated Old Etonian oil executive from west London with a sideline in religiosity. His is not a bonny countenance; rather, he resembles a constipated tortoise with sunburn. Frankly, he could do with a beard – the more patriarchal the better – simply to cover up that sourpuss.
Doubtless Welby’s supporters will find such a description rude to the point of impiousness – but for those of us who live in an uncloistered world, the most significant indicators of his true nature lie first in his appearance, and second in the manner of his ordination.
Welby is one of Sandy Millar’s men. (And I say “men” advisedly.) When Welby heard the call to be ordained in the late 1980s he was initially rejected by the then bishop of Kensington, who said: “There is no place for you in the Church of England.” Prophetic words, indeed. It was Sandy Millar, one of the founders of the evangelical – indeed, charismatic – Alpha course, at Holy Trinity Brompton, in London, who came out to bat for Welby. The evangelicals must have been delighted when they got one of their own into Lambeth Palace, yet ever since he took up his crosier he’s been insidiously sticking it to them. I’m going to explain why, but first a word or two about evangelicals.
It’s disconcerting the first time it happens to you: you’re standing up in church, ready to groan your way apathetically through another fusty Victorian hymn, when instead of the moaning of a clapped-out organ, an electric guitar strikes a resounding chord and the worshipper next to you bursts into enthusiastic song. Worse is to follow: for, as she warbles, she slowly raises one arm, extends it, and begins to wave it about like a tree bough while the other arm remains rigidly at her side. Looking around you, you see that the congregation is like unto a forest: so many raised and undulant limbs are there. Yes, you have fallen among evangelicals – and if you thought ordinary Anglicans were a bit too nice then you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Purely to show open-mindedness, my wife attended an Alpha course run by one of our son’s schoolfriend’s parents, who was an evangelical minister. After a few weeks she began to seem a little – how can I put it? – spiritually pained, and when I asked her what the matter was, she said she was having something of a crisis of no faith. “It’s just that they’re so very nice,” she said, “and the God they believe in is so very nice, too. They make me feel anxious I might be upsetting Jesus by not believing in Him as well.”
Nice as he may be, Welby remains an evangelical, and evangelicals have a tricky time when it comes to homosexuality, because although not exactly fundamentalists, they nonetheless cleave strongly to the Word of the Lord, rather than chipping up to the church fête from time to time to buy a few tombola tickets. So, simply by looking into his own heart, Welby knows the situation is intractable: those homophobic Africans and redneck Americans cannot be appeased, and though he personally is opposed to gay marriage, he has said he’s “always averse to the language of exclusion when what we are called to is to love in the same way as Jesus Christ loves us”.
Welby seems to feel Jesus loves us by letting us go, because he is now making noises about a “looser relationship” between the various Anglican churches: one in which – while they all remain attached to the Church of England – the connections between them become more attenuated. Some of his evangelical chums must be swaying with anxiety rather than enthusiasm but they should rest easy; on all other important matters the archbishop is behaving in an exemplary fashion.
Not a week goes by without him making some anodyne statement or futile gesture condemning food banks (then asking people to give to them), offering refugees tokenistic accommodation in the grounds of Lambeth Palace, and generally mithering on about the scourge of poverty while giving spiritual succour to those who’re doing very nicely out of the status quo. ’Twas ever thus: our Established Church may well be for all Britons, but, in Justin Welby, we have a prelate who speaks eloquently for the … few.
On location: Guernsey, the thinking man’s Jersey
‘I’d done it once before with impunity; but to go there twice smacks – as Lady Bracknell would no doubt agree – of carelessness’
Guernsey Airport is pretty weird; but then, so is the rest of the island. I was standing in the queue on the stairs leading up to my Gatwick-bound flight, when the young man in front of me – a player for the Guernsey Tigers, according to the patch on his navy tracksuit – jerked his thumb up at the fuselage and exclaimed, “Now that’s what I call a proper plane.” I guffawed, then explained myself: “I certainly hope it’s a proper plane, or else we’re all fucking dead!”
Yes: dead in the waters around Sark, where apparently the piffling politics of this picayune place have been poisonous since the Barclay brothers pulled their investment out of the local economy; or perhaps plummeting from the skies over nearby Brecqhou, the weirdo twins’ own fiefdom – but either way, brown bread, duck food. Dead.
As the plane taxied and turned, I saw the runway rolled out before us, an undulant grey tarmac wave, swooping into and out of a substantial dip. It had been folly to come to Guernsey, I thought – and now I would pay for it with my life. True, there’s nothing wrong with visiting the thinking man’s Jersey once: I’d done it once before with impunity; but to go there twice smacks – as Lady Bracknell would no doubt agree – of carelessness.
The first time I visited it was because of a series I was writing for the aptly named British Airways in-flight magazine High Life. (Aptly, because long ago it used to be said that some BA employees were monged out of their brains on major psychotropics.) The conceit was this: I’d board an early-morning flight from London to some remote location in the British Isles, take a long walk, then return to the metropolis in the evening, thereby demonstrating the perfect fit between their domestic flight schedule and our sceptred isle. It was a crap idea, of course, representing a new nadir when it comes to environmental insensitivity; moreover, by combining two flights and a country walk in a single day, I managed to ruin all of these experiences.
Still, as fly-to-walk outings go, Guernsey had been one of the better ones. I’d arrived on a sunny day, strolled along the southern coast marvelling at the multi-storey gun emplacements that the Second World War German occupiers had built, then turned back towards the dippy airport. I don’t remember talking to a soul all day, which was something of an achievement, given that the island’s population density is 844 of the buggers per square kilometre.
This time it had been different: a nice young man called John met me at the airport and we walked together into the main settlement of St Peter Port. John was born in Guernsey, and despite having tasted the fleshpots of Portsmouth while he was away at university, he had returned to make his life on the island – which was fair enough, although he seemed a little bemused when I asked him if he knew a way of avoiding the main road.
Really, to live all your life on a fly-speck of land a mere five by three miles and not know such a thing defies reason – until, that is, you stop thinking about Guernsey as a physical fact and start considering its human reality. The only island I have ever lived on (besides the sceptred one) is Rousay in Orkney; it is roughly the same size as Guernsey, but there the resemblance ends: Rousay’s population is around 200 rather than 65,000, and the island thoroughfares are so unused that nobody has to pay road tax.
John’s car was parked up at the airport – but on a sunny Saturday morning everyone else had decided to go for a cruise. Car ownership on Guernsey in fact exceeds one per capita, and although no one can actually drive two cars at once, the second you step on to any of the main island routes it feels as if they’re doing just that, such is the density of potentially death-dealing metal. That the speed limit is a mere 30mph throughout the island makes the vast amount of car-flesh on display still more disturbing. Contemplating these cavalcades of tax-dodgers in their dodgems was more than I could bear.
Luckily, I didn’t have to: John led me down a lane into a bosky realm of miniature flowery dells and sidelong views of crystal waters lapping against rocky cliffs. Bees bombinated, butterflies flitted, and we didn’t meet a soul for an hour, besides a rather patrician-looking gent in a fleece who John told me was one of the island’s superstar investment gurus. True, we had to take a bus the last mile in order to avoid swimming in the traffic stream – but if I squinted a little I could still imagine I was in some desert place. And I kept up the pretence the rest of the day, despite the crowds milling around St Peter Port.
John accompanied me on foot back to the weird airport, I checked in, went through security. And there I am: forever waiting to leave Guernsey – just like its 65,000 inhabitants, who, despite their mobility and their wealth, still can’t take it with them.
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