There is some strain at the opium den. Supplies have been resumed, but there is something obscurely disagreeable about the quality. I woke with a splitting headache the other day after a session there. Amy has continued the availability of kefir as an alternative to opium. More than that, she is presuming on her success during the crisis of supply to make a few changes. The floor has been hoovered and the kitchen surfaces scoured. There are cloths and candles on the tables now and the bare boards of the benches, on which the opium user lies and from which he derives the sores on his hips that are his mark of pride (giving rise incidentally to the word ‘hipster’) have been covered with cushions from John Lewis.
Mr Lee is not pleased. I remarked amiably that Amy had been making herself useful.
Bossy cow more like, he muttered.
I am in two minds. I suspect that the clients rather like the spartan surroundings that we had before. Of course it is hard sometimes to guess their background when they are silently nodding over a pipe, but I imagine that they are old China hands of course, Tory MPs from the libertarian wing of the party, judges, barristers rather than solicitors, some bankers, no accountants.
(I once suggested to an accountant going there together. What’s the percentage in that, he asked.)
Anyway, they are almost exclusively men rather than women and they seem to be public school men on the whole, to whom doing it in public, the bare boards and the real thing – even if a temporarily second-rate real thing – are more likely to appeal than chintz and kefir, even if the kefir is to be administered by Amy and an increasing number of attractive Chinese girls whom she appears to have recruited, sometimes in the private rooms.
I think that Mr Lee suspects that she is manoeuvring herself into a position where she can make some kind of bid for power. Ultimately of course it will not depend on Mr Lee, who is only the general manager, but on the owners, and they, to judge by the hideous expression that fleetingly crosses Mr Lee’s face when I mention them, are capable of enormities that can only be guessed at by those outside the trade.
I hope that she knows what she is doing.
Meanwhile Aubergine Small is also in the soup, and also for reasons of over-enthusiasm.
Since the wild dash across the Omani desert, the son has rather taken to perching on his shoulders as an alternative to walking. He has sometimes in the past had issues around laziness and I remember when he was very much younger charging around and playing hide and seek at a children’s party with him on my shoulders, as he didn’t want to get his own feet dirty. None of the other children had this problem and all the other fathers could be seen at the end of the garden enjoying a gin and tonic.
For some reason now forgotten he was dressed as a spaceman.
That of course is water under the bridge now (not that there is water anywhere near the bridge of The Jolly Thought if the word ‘shipshape’ has any meaning) and, besides, in those days the son still had his twin careers as philosopher and privateer in front of him.
The surprises that life springs on us!
Anyway, they were beating up the Channel when they were accosted by a Revenue cutter. A Revenue man wanted to challenge a tax treatment to which the son had claimed entitlement. Tragically, there was no doubt about the matter. The son was right. He was so entitled. It was all part of the special dispensations allowed to privateers (the son is a privateer and certainly not a pirate) by the present Coalition Government to revitalise industry. The Revenue man had not done his homework, and this had gruesome consequences.
But for them, the encounter would have been farcical: the Revenue man, out of breath having clambered up the side of The Jolly Thought and facing Aubergine Small’s enormous bulk, with the lesser bulk of the son perched on the latter’s shoulders, having a discussion about an HMRC statement of practice.
Small, unable to contribute to the conversation in the conventional way, cut this short by unsheathing his cutlass and cutting the Revenue man neatly in two through his waist. The son told me later that the best medical view is that this is impossible, although a common feature of cartoons. That is really beside the point, which is that the authorities, looking as always after their own, have made it very clear that Aubergine Small is persona non grata on the mainland, for at least the time being.
The son is irritated at having to walk, at least until a taxi comes along, on his infrequent visits to London.
Aubergine Small is my legs, he says, and I am his tongue. Together we make a considerable man.
There’s nothing wrong with your legs, my lad, I replied. And don’t go all Ben Hur on me. I have seen it ten times now and I know it much better than you do.