You Couldn’t Make It Up

Whilst telling the truth is important when other people are relying on you to do so, it has always seemed to me to amount to a failure of imagination when they aren’t. Keen followers of this blog will have spotted that some of the scenes are not true. There is, for instance, no such person in real life as Aubergine Small, the immense but benign deaf-mute who from time to time helps me and my friends when we are in the soup. He comes partly from my head but mainly he’s stolen from Ben Hur. Amy mocks Augustus Sly, my amanuensis, for thinking that she is a metaphor, but who knows which of them is right?

I have always been attracted to people who reinvent themselves. There are the women in history who impersonated men and joined the all-male armed forces, remaining undetected in spite of communal sleeping and washing. Then there are the people who made new identities for themselves, or maintained more than one identity at once, such as the Victorian men who had two households – both of apparent respectability, each ignorant of the other – and scuttled between them on Christmas Day. In at least one instance this has happened in my time, and to people that I know.

And then there’s Kim, Calamity Jane and Nurse Betty.

Often this was purely deceitful, or at any rate tactical, but in many cases the people in question were not motivated by gain or personal advancement but, for private reasons and in the argot of today, ‘identified as’ something that they weren’t. And this brings us to Ms Rachel Dolezal.

Ms Dolezal, as I understand it, was born of white parents and brought up alongside black step-siblings. She identified strongly with black people, who she thought were treated badly in the United States, and she became active in racial politics through the NAACP. So far, as everyone would agree, so good. But she took it a step further. She maintained that she was herself black, and took steps to look as if she were. She laid claim to a slice of the victimhood points earned by being part of a racial minority. When her parents appeared on television to say that she was, in fact, white, she said that this was beside the point because she ‘identified as’ black.

That seems to me to be entirely understandable, and I can imagine circumstances in which it might have been admirable. The problem is the messy interaction of the personal and the political. As the story has unravelled in view of the entire World, the emphasis has been on her ‘personal issues’, and she has appeared to be mad. That has not done any favours for the political cause that she has championed.

It is a complex thing to bring off, at all levels. One thinks of Philip Roth’s unreadably smug novel, The Human Stain, where the same thing happens in reverse – a black man claims to be white – and we are nagged with the philosophical implications over nearly four hundred pages. She has failed to bring it off, and every further bit of jargon that she offers on television (the whole drama has been performed on television) the worse it gets. If we hadn’t got ourselves to a point where it is unacceptable to talk about race except in pieties, it might have been easier.

However much the whole thing has turned to shit, however, one cannot help thinking that deep down, if she wanted to be black, why shouldn’t she?

And that in turn brings us to the far less attractive story of Ms Emma Sulkowicz. Ms Sulkowicz, also an American, said that she had been raped by a man called Nungesser. She attempted to get him hounded out of her university. It then turned out that he hadn’t raped her at all: the whole thing was a fiction. Ms Sulkowicz’s response was, if I understand it right, that she identified as having been raped, so that her vindictive actions against Mr Nungesser were justified irrespective of the facts. In order to support her argument, she then made a short film of herself having sex with a tubby actor with a pixilated head. She said that this was Art and she challenged its viewers not to ‘objectify’ her as she heaved away.

It is currently rather fashionable to ‘identify’ with being raped whilst remaining untouched. One of the more hysterical pieces about the transsexual Ms Caitlyn Jenner (I forget the name of the writer but it was an American woman) was to the effect that Ms Jenner was not entitled to any part of the aggregate share of victimhood allowed to women – and God knows there is only so much victimhood to go round; it is an increasingly crowded market – for a number of reasons: including menstruation of course and also that, unlike Ms Jenner, the writer customarily walked down the street (one in New York, I believe) thinking that she might be raped.

In other words, being entitled to the considerable share of victimhood available for victims of rape has nothing to do with actually being violated, so long as you feel violated. That in turn explains the strange idea advanced by some that, unlike all other crimes, no rape is worse than another: all rapes are the same because they all partake of the same Platonic ideal irrespective of the harm done. And now, you don’t even need an actual rape at all. Identify as having been raped and you can get the victimhood points just the same.

Do I object to Ms Sulkowicz’s identifying as having been raped? Of course not, if it amuses her. But she should leave Mr Nungesser alone, and probably avoid making pornographic films without proper training. And whereas it has been a prudent rule since all this silliness started to avoid sex with Americans, there should now be a new one:

Don’t Even Think About Sex With Americans.

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An Unusual Use for Vaseline

“’Really Quite a Bit’?” said Mr Singh, a representative of Newham Council.

“Yes.”

“Yulification-max?”

“Yes,” I said.

Mr Singh sighed.

“If I had a pound for every time I have to see to the consequences of some idiot who turns the yulification dial to ‘Really Quite a Bit’ without considering the consequences, I wouldn’t be considering strike action having regard to my pension rights,” said Mr Singh. “Which I am.”

“I’m sorry. It was the night terrors.”

I had thought it best not to identify Mr Putin as the subject of my night terrors and the possible occupant of my chimney, in case questions of diplomatic immunity arose.

Mr Singh sniffed.

“We’ve tried pulling,” I said. “Quite hard. And I’m afraid that he’s becoming a health and safety issue. He leaks.”

I thought that this was a cunning touch.

“Well, some years ago when I joined the service, I could have dispatched a task force. But the cuts, you see, the Tory cuts!”

He spat meaningfully into a sponsored cuspidor.

“Regretfully,” he said, “I have no longer a task force at my disposition. Have you tried the Fire Brigade?”

“No, I thought it best to consult yourself.”

I know that ‘yourself’ is ungrammatical, but by emphasising his personal role I was trying to flatter him.

“Actually, there’s probably not a lot that the Fire Brigade could do that you couldn’t do yourself with the liberal application of Vaseline.”

“Vaseline! But – can you supply me with such?”

“Fortunately,” said Mr Singh, “I still can. Please fill in this form.”

As we left he said, “Just be careful of the sack.”

I smiled grimly.

A barrel of Vaseline takes some shifting, and it was some hours later that I was rolling it up my street, with Bella at my heels, getting in the way. Aubergine Small had generously agreed to meet me there. It was immediately clear that he had addressed a problem that had been worrying me: how to get the Vaseline up the chimney and surrounding the little dictator. He produced shyly but proudly from about his person something resembling a giant bicycle pump.

Donning rubber gloves, I gave the protruding leg an initial tug. As expected there was a distant groan of ‘Horse Potty!’. Was there a hint of movement? Mr Putin was getting smaller with each succeeding day of no food and drink, after all, although his notoriously pumped-up torso was likely to be a problem given the domestic scale of my fireplace.

“We must be careful not to suffocate him with the Vaseline,” I said to Aubergine Small.

He gave me a look that was pregnant with meaning. It was as if he could speak. ‘Dictators come and dictators go. What matters most is that your chimney is clear and free for Santa this Christmas.’

He searched through his bag and produced a card:

TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE

“Yes?”

He tore off a scrap of paper.

RUSSIA IS ALREADY BECOMING A BIT BALKANISED, IF THIS MORNING’S FT IS ANYTHING TO GO BY

He went at it with a vengeance. Quantities of Vaseline disappeared under pressure up my chimney. Unfortunately some of it came back down mixed with Mr Putin’s leakages. Bella sniffed a couple of dollops in the grate, gave me a pained look and went to lie down in the spare bedroom.

ANOTHER TUG

“Mind the kelim.”

You can tell that my mood had changed to one of optimism. I really believed that we might get him out.

And eventually we did. The biggest problem was the second leg, which had got itself caught behind the one that was already protruding. After that the rest followed relatively easily, although Aubergine Small indicated that we should take special care with the head. The torso had not turned out to be the blockage that we had feared. Suddenly, my night terrors flooded back to me. I attracted Aubergine Small’s attention.

“Aubergine Small, I just can’t stand to see the parting: his horrible neat parting. It’s probably got ruffled in my chimney, but I can’t take the chance.”

He smiled affectionately and indicated that I should look the other way; he could manage the last bit. There was a sucking noise and then a thump. He invited me to turn round. Mr Putin, or at any rate someone who looked like him, was collapsed on my kelim with a pair of my underpants on his head hiding his tonsorial arrangements.

“Good work,” I said to Aubergine Small and then turned to the other man. I thought it best to get my retaliation in first.

“What exactly were you doing in my chimney?”

I spoke in German. I believe that he is at his best in that language because of spending his formative years in Dresden clerking for the KGB. However, he didn’t answer.

Aubergine Small put a sign in front of me, where the other man couldn’t see it.

ANY DEMANDS RE UKRAINE?

“No point,” I said. “If it’s really Putin, he’s a liar. He’d say anything. I’ll take a photo though, just in case of future trouble.”

And I have it. The man is smeared with Newham Council’s Vaseline and his own faeces and he has my underpants on his head.

He squelched towards the door, with, I have to admit, surprising dignity.

“Leave my underpants at the door,” I called. “Carpet bagger.”

“Do you think that that was really him?” I said to Aubergine Small when he had gone.

GOODNESS KNOWS. BUT YOUR CHIMNEY IS YOUR OWN AGAIN

“Did you see his parting?”

Aubergine Small indicated yes with a nod. But his face went white at the memory.

“You’re a braver man than I am,” I said.

Then the same thought struck us at the same time.

“The sack!”

If the parting was a horror, the contents of the sack were ‘Really Quite a Bit’ horror. Since this is a blog occasionally consulted by the impressionable I will describe them only on the restricted-access section.

He’s Only Half Way There

“I think,” I said to Amy, “that I have got that Mr Putin half way up my chimney. Or as he would regard it, half way down.”

I couldn’t help regretting that there was no way to share my predicament instead with Augustus Sly, but he is in Vienna following up my neighbour Maria’s bottom. He would probably have had something sensible to offer whereas Amy was always more likely to shout.

“You got in your chimney how? I saw him at G20, on television.”

I started to tell her about my night terror and my fateful and clumsy use of the yulification ‘app’, which had had the effect of making a bad situation much worse.

“I know. I read this. But how you know it’s Putin?”

“I don’t, of course, and of course I saw him at the G20 too. That may have been a double. He wouldn’t have wanted to have a full and frank exchange of views with Angela Merkel himself – who would? – or with our own Mr Cameron, bless him, so he may have sent a stooge. Lenin would do that, expose someone else instead when there was any risk to his personal safety. It’s certainly someone Russian. I twisted the Cossack foot. From the depths of the chimney breast I heard a faint cry. They said, ‘Horse potty!’.”

“’Horse potty’?”

“It’s a mild but characteristic Russian ejaculation. Like ‘Goodness!’.”

“Did it sound like a little dictator, to judge by the vocal quality?”

“It was too faint to tell.”

“What say the better half? Her bedroom too.”

“She’s keen to put it to political advantage. She shouted up the chimney – and she has a penetrating voice. She said, ‘Withdraw your troops from Ukraine and we’ll let you out!’.”

“What he say?”

“He said ‘Chto?’.”

“’Chto?’?”

“What? It means ‘What?’. He was indicating that he couldn’t hear.”

“Cunning bastard.”

“Being a cunning bastard is one cornerstone of his successful career.”

Amy thought about this.

“I wouldn’t just say leave Ukraine. I’d say: free press, free elections, no more murders, no more lies and a substantial contribution to your extraction expenses taken from the budget for his enormous new dacha near Sochi.”

“It’s hard to ask for anything complicated if all he says is ‘Chto?’. The better half thought that if we did something unpleasant to a toe it might make him hear better.”

“Or,” said Amy with the subtlety for which the Chinese are famous, “you could tickle his sole.”

“I thought of that – but I don’t think I could bear to touch him. Also, I’m not sure that I want to descend to his level, even to help the people of Ukraine.”

There’s an issue,” said Amy. “Ends and means. We can debate this.”

“My friend Theo says,” I said, “that he is a strong leader holding his country together and that without him Russia would become dangerously balkanised.”

“Bollocks,” said Amy. “They said that about Chairman Mao and the Gang of Four. Anyway, he is not holding anything together now. He’s in your chimney. Maybe we leave him there and see if Russia balkanised.”

“I wish it was that simple, Amy. Unfortunately he’s started to leak. He’s dribbling into the grate. It smells bad. The better half doesn’t like it. Even Bella turns her nose up, after some initial interest. We could go to the spare bedroom until either he empties or Russia balkanises itself, but that’s only a temporary solution.”

What would you have done? We decided to think it over.

Half an hour later Amy sent me a text:

PUTIN/SANTA HE GOT SACK AND PRESENTS IN CHIMNEY?

It was a pertinent question but one for which I had no answer. I couldn’t see and I couldn’t ask.

A few days went by. Russia didn’t get noticeably balkanised. Someone who looked like Putin continued to appear on state television and point out the hypocrisy of the West. They accuse Russia of political murder, he said, but what about the Northern Line? Who are you to point the finger? The leakage eventually fell away but the smell became appalling. The better half said, “You’ve got to do something.”

“What about independent Ukraine?” I said.

“Geopolitics is immensely complex,” she said, “and I want my bedroom back.”

I put a handkerchief round my hands and tugged at the leg. Nothing moved. There was another cry of ‘Horse Potty!’, but far weaker this time. Whoever was up there, Putin or not, ensacked or not, they were alive: but this was a condition whose continuation indefinitely could not be relied on.

I called round to see Aubergine Small. Strength and resourcefulness seemed to be called for. It crossed my mind to find out if The Jibjab Woman would help, but I didn’t know where she stood on a resurgent Russia and I didn’t want to offend her. Aubergine Small assessed the situation. He also twisted the leg, but could get no purchase. All he got was another weak cry of ‘Horse potty!’. Muttering to himself (or what would be muttering if he had the wherewithal; Aubergine Small is dumb and converses by the use of pre-printed cards), he took himself off and the next thing was that I heard him on the roof. He was prodding a bit of wire into the chimney from above. This time there was silence. He returned to the bedroom.

He produced a card:

SILENCE!

“What does that tell you?”

He demanded paper. This was a circumstance without a well-known phrase or saying.

IT IS THE DICTATOR WHO DIDN’T CRY ‘HORSE POTTY’ IN THE NIGHT.

Without his cards he can be quite prolix.

“You mean…”

YES. HE HAS A SACK AND IT’S ABOVE HIM. THIS IS MORE SERIOUS THAN I FEARED.

Aubergine Small threw himself at Mr Putin’s leg with a passion. For thirty minutes he tugged, but to no avail. Sweat on his brow, he faced me.

A. SMALL FAILS!

THERE’S ONLY ONE OPTION

“?”

He seized the pad.

NEWHAM COUNCIL!

Shallow Assets: the Night of the Three Revenants

What I could not work out in my mind was why I was here, drugged and deprived of both trousers and credit cards. It had only been pneumonia after all. I knew that my mother had made the phone calls that had ensured my admittance and I knew that the better half could have got me out at any time, simply by writing a chitty. When I had asked her she had simply replied that she was very busy. Did they think, the two of them, that this was for my own good? Indeed, was it for my own good? It was a mystery, and one that nagged painfully, especially in the last half hour before the medication was renewed.

I had however worked out why the Edwardian washerwoman struck a chord with me. It was the disguise adopted by the Toad in Wind in the Willows, and in turn, by way of homage, by Aubergine Small when on the run from HMRC after he had cut the tax inspector in half. The man had been bisected from head to crotch, which had convinced the authorities that, simply in order to apply the necessary force, there must have been an accomplice. For a while things had looked bad for the son, in whose piratical enterprise Aubergine Small often worked, but he had a solid alibi, pursuing treasure ships off the coast of Muslim North Africa.

Perhaps Augustus Sly had contacted Aubergine Small and asked him to cause mayhem at Shallow Assets for some purpose beneficial to me. I resolved to wait and see.

Possibly as a result of my mentioning the story of the ghost to the receptionists, it had spread among the staff and the clients (as we are called). In the Community Space you would hear of little else.

“Oh, Mr Alablague, do you think that that wronged woman will return and walk again? I don’t think that I could bear it.”

“There is nothing more likely to encourage a ghost to walk again,” I said, “than to speculate that it is going to do so. Mum’s the best policy, in my book. Mind you, you can never tell.”

I received a text, unnecessarily arch I thought, from Augustus Sly:

The ‘ghost’ will ‘walk’ tonight. Do exactly as Small says. Unable to be with you as last train will already have departed and as a student I have no car. Bonne chance and regards, Augustus Sly.

A possible problem, I thought, was that Aubergine Small, having had his tongue torn out, during a passage served as a slave along with my good friend Amy in the South China Sea and before being rescued by my son, was unable to ‘say’ anything. He used to resort to pre-printed cards which he kept about his person, but that might take too long if there were a crisis.

At about 2 am there was a knock on the door. An Edwardian washerwoman came in. Even in the half-light I could see that it was not Aubergine Small. It was however male, as evidenced the fact that he held his dress around his waist with one hand and was manhandling an erection with the other. I recognised the face, whilst unable to recall the name.

“Weren’t you on Top of the Pops?”

“And the rest, sonny. And the rest. And no, I ‘m not a ghost, it’s really Me! I’m in disguise! Now Daddy’s coming over to the bed and we’re going to give Daddy’s willy a lovely little kiss, because this week Daddy loves the mentally frail.”

He lurched towards me, but tripped over his dress and landed heavily on his erection. So far as I was concerned his pain was neither here nor there: all grist to the mill, I thought. I flung open the door and shouted into the darkness the words that have become the catchphrase of our depraved age:

“Help! I am mentally frail and I have been inappropriately touched by a television presenter.”

Pandemonium broke out. This might or might not be a problem for Aubergine Small, who next appeared, also dressed as an Edwardian washerwoman. I had worried about his ability to convey the aural qualities of a ghost and clearly so had he as he carried a sign, which read:

WOOOOO!

He put that away and substituted:

I WILL CARRY YOU ON MY SHOULDERS TO FREEDOM

“Thank you very much,” I said. “I am a little weak. Can you hoist me up?”

ALL SET

Some of the pre-printed cards were made in America.

Just then the tiniest tug could be felt on my leg.

“Hang on a second, Aubergine Small…”

It was a third ghost. This time it was not an Edwardian washerwoman.

“Who the hell are you?” I said.

The voice was so tiny as almost to be inaudible.

“It’s Belkin. I’m Belkin. Belkin the under-footman. She got me in the end, the creature. And now I too am condemned for eternity to wander…”

“I’m terribly sorry to cut you off, but I have a pressing engagement with the real world. I can recommend it, if it isn’t too late.”

Off Aubergine Small plunged, with me on his shoulders. Everyone was shouting, police cars were arriving and no one gave any attention to us. Soon we were out of the grounds. I clung on with one hand, parting the occasional shrubbery with the other. We reached the road. There was the family Mini, with the better half at the wheel and Bella in the back.

“Hurrah,” said the better half.

“Hurrah,” I said.

“Thank you, Aubergine Small, you’re the best,” she said.

He fiddled in his bag.

ALL IN A DAY’S WORK, MA’AM

I shook his hand without a word. He knew that I knew that he was the best. Suddenly he was no more to be seen. I got into the car.

“Trousers,” said the better half, “in the back. Get off, Bella. And now,” turning the wheel in that general direction, “Scotland.”

My Uncle Shall Not Die

I awoke. I was on the same bed. I felt drowsy all over, except in one particular. The woman was still there. She came into view. I was dressed, to some extent, I could just see my bow tie which had come rather rakishly undone, but she was able to inspect me briefly and then, apparently satisfied, went out of my vision again. Had I been restrained? I moved my limbs languidly. No, I was not restrained. I was just very, very relaxed, except, as I say, in one particular.

I felt rather cheerful about it all.

I heard the woman’s voice, as if from far away.

“…awake…..”

Was she talking to me? There couldn’t be anyone else, obviously, in my hotel room, except her and me.

“I’m awake, my dear,” I tried to say. I’m not sure what came out.

I giggled. Not to be able to say “I’m awake, my dear”! What had they put in that champagne!

Of course her spoken English, earlier, had not been fluent. Fluent enough to say ‘awake’ through, I reasoned to myself. I was reasoning to myself, I thought, with another giggle; things are not that serious. She came back into my field of vision. She was still wearing the lovely dress, sheer but immensely stylish, that had first caught my eye at the ball, hours earlier. She gazed at me.

If this is a honey trap, I thought, bring it on!

She was still in her lovely dress, but I noticed with surprise that instead of the long silk gloves that she had worn earlier she had on surgical gloves. The green clashed.

I awoke.

What was that?

It had felt immensely real – not as a dream that I was in but as if someone was talking directly to me.

But who?

I got up agitatedly and made myself some green tea to clear my head. I noticed that it was four o’clock in the morning – not a proper time for green tea. Back to sleep, I thought, getting into bed and placing the mug with the tea on the bedside table. In the other side of the bed the better half was sleeping soundly. Fortunately I had not disturbed her. But I couldn’t get back to sleep. It had been too vivid. I had a sudden thought. The only person who ever tried to contact me like that was Uncle Edgerton, though he’d been quiet for months now. Uncle Edgerton, of course, usually summoned me by using his familiar, P2, who would adopt the shape of a woman known to me and then convey me back in time. I checked the better half under the blanket. No, it was really her, not P2; with P2 there is always a certain skimpiness with the attendant detail.

Uncle Edgerton was in trouble. That gradually came to me and then I couldn’t get it out of my head. It was a most unlikely mise en scène for him, but, yes, it was his tone of voice. Silly, dirty old fool! I remembered with a flash that he was said to have died mysteriously during the War. These were certainly mysterious enough circumstances for him, far from Lewisham and the life assurance company. It came to me even more cogently: he’s got out of his depth and he needs my help.

Or my uncle was going to die.

I dashed, quietly, down to the kitchen and downed a glass from my home supply of kefir. It was essential to recover the dream, or whatever it was – and then I might know what to do. I soon slept again. What I now encountered chilled me to the bone. There was nothing to see and a plain unvarying electronic note. Had Uncle Edgerton flat-lined?

That underlined the danger but I realised that it needn’t be fatal. If I could get back, I could do so a minute or two earlier, and I could deal with the vamp and her accomplice, the one she’d said ‘awake’ to, before they did whatever unspeakable thing it was that they had done – or would do – to my uncle. Actually I could take Aubergine Small and he’d sort them out. He is, as readers may recall, much bigger than I am.

But how? How could I get back in time to what must be the 1940s? Uncle Edgerton had always dealt with that side of things before. He was, after all, an adept of the Order of the Drawn Sword (Third Level) and I wasn’t. I was not thinking straight. I dashed upstairs again and fetched the mug of green tea. It would counteract the effect of the kefir.

I drank it slowly. It was still hot. Green tea is quite delicious lukewarm or even cold, but hot is best, especially when you want to dispel the lingering narcotic effects of kefir.

This round of dashing up- and downstairs had woken the better half.

“What on earth’s going on?”

She was not pleased to be disturbed.

I explained briefly. I probably gabbled.

“And what exactly are you planning to do about it?”

“That’s what I’m cudgelling my brains about….”

“I don’t see P2. So you can’t go back in time.”

The better half, unnecessarily I thought, got on her hands and knees and shouted satirically under the bed:

“P2, come out! P2, are you under there?”

She turned to me again.

“What exactly did he say?”

I told her again.

““If this is a honey trap, I thought, bring it on!”?”

“Yes.”

“I very much doubt that they said ‘honey trap’ in nineteen forty whatever it was, and they certainly didn’t say ‘bring it on’.”

“You mean…?”

“He didn’t say it. You made it up. It was a dream. It’s half past four. Now go back to sleep.”

Standing up to Bullies

One thing I like about Amy, the better half said, is she’s so practical. The girls were giggling at the man’s small penis, you were intent on drawing some specious generalised conclusion and only Amy got the point, which was that the man was a bully.

Our friend Anthony Perry says that you should always stand up to bullies. Indeed he wrote as much in his book Love Me, Love Me, Love Me. It is a line that the better half often quotes, as indeed she did on this occasion.

And so Amy did, ruthlessly, I said. Stand up to bullies. As far as she was concerned the man’s penis was neither here nor there.

The better half was flustered. She had just got back from an evening out and it had ended badly. She spent the evening with two friends of hers. I think of them affectionately as Sounding Brass and Tinkling Cymbal.

(Why Sounding Brass and Tinkling Cymbal?

I explained the reference. 1 Corinthians 13:1:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

Ah, she said. It’s not the same in Russian.)

Anyway, although they had spent the evening in a Wetherspoons pub next door to a Tube station on our line, Sounding Brass had insisted on driving her, not home but to some station where a train could be caught that would take her to another station at which an all-night bus (for it was now long past midnight) might be available.

Tinkling Cymbal, although the reverse of an assertive person, had secured that the meeting took place next door to where she lived, which was the other end of London from the others. She had walked home to bed.

I’m perpetually amazed at the arrogance of people with cars. As with bullies, we should stand up to them. So often a simple ‘No, thank you’ is all that is needed. Here we are, privileged to live in one of the great cities of the world, with the oldest and biggest metro system in the world, planned in the age of Napoleon, magnificently launched with steam trains a hundred and fifty years ago, not to mention our lovely red double-decker buses which are recognised in the most remote places where they have not yet heard that Elvis Presley is dead and don’t even know who Victoria Beckham is, and people like Sounding Brass insist in ferrying us around instead in their nasty Renault Meganes.

The better half was already on edge – who wouldn’t be – after hours spent in a Wetherspoons pub on the wrong side of London, but when she arrived at the station where the all-night bus might be found she was horrified to find herself in the middle of a Santathon. She rang me on her mobile.

Listen, she said. I’m in the middle of nowhere and there is a bloody Santathon.

I could hear that unlike the version that we had encountered last year, which was earlier in the evening and still relatively benign apart from isolated instances of bloodletting, this was unrestrained in its drunkenness and violence. I could hear sounds that, notwithstanding the uncertain acoustic qualities of the better half’s iPhone, could only be described as baying.

Buck up, I said. There’s a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet in the fridge, only just opened.

Heartened by that she made her escape and arrived home not long afterwards. She had read about Amy and the very small penis on the bus.

I notice incidentally that the tambourine-bashing wing of the Church of England now regards ‘sounding brass’ as a mistranslation and prefers the phrase ’noisy’ or ‘reverberating gong’. This is absurd. There is all the difference in the world between the sound that precedes Sunday lunch and that with which Joshua caused the walls of Jericho to come tumbling down. As regards the better half’s friend I mean the latter. I reckon St Paul did too.

In a pathetic attempt at relevance the tambourine-bashing wing of the Church of England also incidentally proposes replacing ‘tinkling cymbal’ with ‘twitter’. But like the very small penis of Amy’s client that is neither here not there.

The better half’s way with a glass of Picpoul de Pinet is as ruthless in its way as Amy’s with a bully, but unlike Amy she eases up with the second round.

Talking of all your strange friends, she said, I thought that there was some crisis with your half-witted and dead Uncle Edgerton. I thought that you were summoned back to 1934 and he had disappeared. That’s gone very quiet.

I thought I told you, I said.

No.

Oh, he was exiled into the future and his nervous system was strung out and bricked into the fabric of a disused monastery in Hendon. It was guarded by necromantic spells and zombies. Aubergine Small got him out.

Well that’s all right then. What about Uncle Winthrop?

Lost his wits. That turned out to be when it happened. Between summoning me and Uncle E’s return. Stress-related. As so often.

Well that’s all right then.

Yes. Only thing was, some distortion in the space/time continuum. When he got back to 1934 it was about a fortnight later. Had to take it as annual leave from the insurance company. Sick as daughter two’s otter, he is.

Poor Uncle E.

The better half spoke without conviction.

And what have you done with Thumper?

Ah. Thumper.

Apotheosis Deferred

So many stories are working their way through to their conclusions: so many people are working their way through to their apotheoses.

The rain falls constantly. It feels uneasily like the approach of the end of the world. Maybe it’s the coming mid-winter solstice: maybe one of the minority cults is right after all and it is the end of the world. Like Karl Marx on speed, tragedies repeat themselves as farce and then back again to tragedy, all spinning by.

Last weekend we went to the cremation of Evelyn Williams, about whom I wrote recently. It turned out that that meeting was to be our last. The ceremony was enormously dignified, as befits her. God played no part in her imaginative life and didn’t get a look in here, but the occasion resembled more than anything a Quaker meeting, as members of her family and friends stood up to bear witness to the huge influence she, her love and her work had had in their lives.

Unlike most of us, who rely on the memories of others after we’ve gone to provide some sort of half-life, in Evie’s case there is her work. I hope that someone will show it: soon, often and into the indefinite future. Shamefully she was spurned in her lifetime by the Tate, which has different priorities – though it is difficult to guess what they might be.

The dog’s losing fight with cancer ought to be a case of stepping from the sublime to the ridiculous, but of course it isn’t. We commit so much emotionally to our animals that these things do matter, and in the case of this particular animal he is, on any objective assessment, a very good dog.

Others will attest to this.

As I write, he is stretched out asleep beneath a particularly monumental painting of Evie’s. He sleeps a lot these days. He still dreams and, to judge by the fluttering of his paws, still races in his imagination across the huge beaches of Dornoch Firth (his favourite place of all) even though the same paws now fail him when he attempts the stairs, a failure that he bears with dignity, even when he clatters down the bottom half of the flight and lands on his nose.

One effect of his illness is an absence of music in the house. In fact the house is entirely silent, as my beloved better half is away in Germany. When the dog needs to go outside he needs to go quickly and if the sound of Haydn (as it tends to be these days) drowns out that of his toenails tapping on the front door by way of warning to me, the consequences as regards the hall floor are horrid.

I first discovered the consolations of the visual arts over thirty years ago when daughter one as a baby made so much noise that listening to music, for different reasons, became impossible. Now those consolations are still available. So too, when Haydn is not there to divert them, are the fancies that tug unbidden at my sleeve.

Sometimes literally: I was in Ridley Road Market the other day. I was on my way from the bus stop to TLC, the Turkish supermarket which I have mentioned before. My attention was distracted by an Amazon, magnificent, haughty, kallipygous and clad in a dress of a colour and material both of which improved on the beneficence of nature. She was too good to be true. I stared greedily at her back (though also, I am glad to be able to report, appropriately, respectfully and excluding all possible elements of patriarchy, discrimination or condescension). To my astonishment she turned round and approached me.

She was too good to be true. Her face was sketchy, suggesting that after the attention bestowed on her bottom the imagination of her creator had flagged.

P2?

Come at once! Your uncle is in dire peril.

One of the lessons of Evie’s life, it has occurred to me over the past week, is that idiot distractions must be avoided if one is to achieve what actually matters.

Furthermore, I was depressed, and zombie-fighting demands a certain élan.

You know what? I’ll get back to you, I said, and strode on to the shop.

P2 disappeared with an exclamation of irritation and a slight but nasty smell, although the latter may have been the fishmonger’s stall with his pile of catfish which I was then passing.

There would be time enough for Uncle Edgerton.

If it was serious, I thought, as I entered the vegetable department in TFC, there was always Aubergine Small. I gazed unseeing for a second at a tray of the succulent purple creatures for which Small’s mother had presumably named him, unlikely close relations of both belladonna and the potato, so glorious to look at and so unpleasant to eat. No doubt it had sparked the recollection of my friend and comrade in arms.

It also mocked my cowardice.

But I promised apotheoses. There have been two, neither easy. I think however that they will be another story.