Augustus Sly had some further questions for me, so we repaired to his rather dingy flat. Bella, our new dog, was with me and was lying on his drugget, rehearsing through the medium of REM sleep various encounters, remembered or imaginary, with sheep. Since her childhood, according to Battersea Home for Dogs, had been spent in London SW3, it’s probable that they were imagined.
(Imagine it. Brought up in a Crescent in Chelsea: the better half looked at the form when the Battersea person’s attention was distracted. Raised with certain expectations, with aspirations to wealth, or at least sophistication, and then turned unceremoniously over to adoption; taken to the far east. It’s better than a novel.)
‘I would like,’ Augustus Sly said, ‘to talk about the ‘Jesus and the Rabbit’ sequence.
‘Is that really appropriate for your thesis?’ I said. ‘‘Jesus and the Rabbit’ is not available to casual visitors to the site. It is restricted access.’
Augustus Sly had evidently forgotten this. It did him, showing him to be a persistent follower of the blog, credit.
‘Yes, you have to sign on for it, when you become a Follower. There’s a special thing that you have to click. Terms and conditions apply.’
‘I had forgotten.’
‘People with ordinary unrestricted access don’t for example know Amy’s real name.’
‘I’d forgotten,’ said Augustus Sly.
‘The thing about ‘Jesus and the Rabbit’,’ I said, seizing my advantage, ‘as it seems to me, is that Jesus is very small and the Rabbit is very big.’
‘Ah,’ said Augustus Sly. ‘I on the other hand thought that the point was that ‘Jesus and the Rabbit’ was channeling and at the same time subtly subverting the Schopenhauer world view…’
‘Shopping?’ I said. ‘How?’
‘Very funny,’ said Augustus Sly mirthlessly, and put down his pencil.
‘I suppose I should ask,’ he said, ‘why we’re here.’
‘The other thing about ‘Jesus and the Rabbit’,’ I said, ‘is that it’s rather smutty.’
‘I suppose I should ask,’ Augustus Sly said, ‘why we’re here.’
‘Not really obscene. A bit smutty, sometimes.’
‘In my dingy flat. As opposed to the chez vous celebrated in song and blog.’
‘Not its raison d’etre – but sometimes. ‘Dingy’,’ I added. ‘No, no.’
‘A student,’ Augustus Sly said. ‘That’s me. Student loans and so on.’
‘Druggets,’ I said.
‘Got it,’ Augustus Sly said.
Bella stirred in her sleep.
‘When I think of Schopenhauer,’ I said, ‘of whom to my shame I know little, I always think of those novels designated ‘S&F’, and I wonder if there was also a German philosopher called ‘Fuckenhauer’.’
Augustus Sly sighed.
‘But your question,’ I said, deserves an answer.’
The main building work on the chez nous celebrated in song and blog was complete by Christmas and we moved in. Since then however there has been a succession of little jobs that needed to be done, carpentry mainly, and our house has been shared, as it seems, by Ukrainian workmen. Every morning they hammer on the front door and I struggle down to let them in, since if I have a shower they will undoubtedly arrive just as I step into it. We call them Ukrainian but that is by no means certain. One of them may be Polish, although the real Polish builders say otherwise, and another claims allegiance to one of the Baltic states, but the songs that they sing are as far as I can tell Ukrainian, and that is good a test as any. Bella likes them, wherever they come from. It is irritating to have to take the long way round on one’s way to the sink, to avoid the bottom of a man who is crouched and addressing himself and his paint brush to the skirting board, but since he is addressing himself to my skirting board and at my request that is unfair.
‘And that,’ I said to Augustus Sly, ‘is why we’ve come to see you instead of the other way round. Bella may get bits of drugget on her lovely coat in your dingy flat but that is better than gloss paint, and I frankly have had the whole thing up to here. I’m fed up with the sight of them. And so is the better half.’
‘Can Bella talk?’ said Augustus Sly, picking up his pencil again. ‘In your blog?’
I didn’t tell Augustus Sly a further problem with the Ukrainians, since it is none of his business. We had noticed that one of them looked and smelled (a particular attraction for Bella) like an alcoholic. Occasionally, too, he would fail to turn up to work at all on account of some vague and mysterious illness. This meant that I had to spend the entire day in my dressing gown, a further irritant. Then we noticed that, like a former senior partner at one of my law firms, he became less coordinated after lunch. I assumed that he was supplying himself with wholesome eastern-European beer from the local Turkish supermarket, but it turned out, when I went one evening to gloat over my small but exciting collection of single malt whiskies, that he wasn’t.
What would have been wrong, I thought bitterly, with the Bells and the Morrisons Gin, the holiday grappa and the dodgy vermouth in its sticky bottle: all sitting there next to the almost empty bottle of Ledaig and all intact?
The better half became determined to help him. She is like that. It is, she said, after all an addiction: what the NHS is for.
‘Ah,’ he said, in Ukrainian, Polish or possibly Latvian, and with a sigh, ‘if only it were so simple.’
He explained that the HHS was restricted access: free at the point of delivery but only for those with gas bills.
And so it turned out.
‘Of course she doesn’t,’ I said. ‘She’s a dog.’