I took Bella to West Ham Park. It is extraordinarily good at this time of year: buds on the trees; furtive women in the formal gardens taking cuttings (one of them hid her haul in her jilbab when she saw us coming); nutters with huskies on leads. Bella ignores the other dogs; investigates vernal smells and runners at their sweaty windings-down; takes an intelligent if uninformed interest in such cricket as may be taking place. First thing in the morning is best. The nutter ratio is higher at a time when good sane people are either in bed or Tube-bound to their work place, and even the sane occupants of the park stride around purposefully in their various directions like yachts setting out, for who knows what purpose.
Ijaz was standing at one of the gates to the formal gardens. He was dressed not in the crisp white clothing that he puts on for prayers, nor his green-for-Islam M&S slipover, but something amorphous involving track suit bottoms. He had contorted his body into a shape that was as unlikely as it was undignified. I greeted him as neighbour to neighbour.
‘Is that tai chi, Ijaz, that you’re doing?’ I said.
‘Not stupid Chinese thing,’ he said. ‘It is activity traditional to my home.’
‘Gujurat State,’ I said.
Ijaz inclined his head.
‘Like yoga, is it?’
He spat again. We smiled at each other in a friendly way. I was about to be on my way, when Ijaz said, ‘Your blog much better this month. No smut. No black women receiving oral pleasure. The Street likes when there is no smut. Augustus Sly. Much better. Augustus Sly is your amanuensis, your Boswell, as we put it in Gujurat State.’
‘I never said that she received oral pleasure. Nor did the local drug dealer say so, although he might have wanted you to think it. It was all in the eye of the beholder.’
Ijaz came closer.
‘I have found very good internet website,’ he said. ‘Many, many black women, with big bottoms, giving and indeed receiving oral pleasure. This is between us as men, you understand. I can give you URL, if you have a pencil.’
I said sniffily that if my capacity for imagining black women giving and indeed receiving oral pleasure ever needed supplementing audio-visually I would rely on the excellent service provided by Messrs Google, thank you. Immediately I regretted being sniffy. If Ijaz finds certain matters suitable for discussion between us men but not for a public site available to his wives, daughters and staff, that is a cultural matter and not for me to criticise. I should, as Dame Jenni™ Murray so often urges me – often on postcards sent second class from Salford where I believe she now works – ‘check my privilege’.
If I want to write about such questionable matters I could after all put it onto the restricted-access part of the site, which Ijaz could then disable on his house computer.
Curiously, Augustus Sly was going on about the restricted-access part of the blog at our last meeting.
‘Not everyone can find it,’ he said.
‘I don’t understand that,’ I said. ‘There’s something, as I say, that you click on, and then terms and conditions apply so you have to click through them too. You managed it, after all, since you asked me about Jesus and the Rabbit, which isn’t on the public part of the site. Maybe some networks just can’t. You have a tablet. Maybe that’s it.’
I was flattering him with my reference to his tablet. As an academic, Augustus Sly is immensely proud of it. Although slim it holds not only a transcript that he has taken of the whole of this blog, including the restricted access part, all the way back to the French roadside whores – still for some inexplicable reason my most searched post – but also his notes for and initial fumblings towards his thesis on it.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘they want the restricted access stuff, they get a tablet.’
We were silent for a moment. Into the silence came a tiny sound. It seemed to come from the skirting board.
‘Have you got mice?’ I said.
Augustus Sly gave a short laugh.
‘Listen. It’s a voice.’
It was indeed a voice: small, high and querulous.
‘It was in the toilet,’ said the voice.
‘Goodness!’ I said. ‘That sounds like a South African accent. Am I right? And what’s a ‘toilet’?’
‘It does, doesn’t it? I think that ‘toilet’ is an old Afrikaans word for ‘lavatory’.’
‘I thought that there was someone coming out of the toilet’,’ said the little voice.
‘Can you see it? Or him?’ I said.
‘No, frustratingly. Only reaction shots.’
‘Does it do anything else? Does it say anything else?’
‘Sometimes it weeps.’
And indeed at that point a gurgling sound commenced in the skirting board.
‘It’s a good strong sound, that gurgling, for such a little chap,’ I said, ‘if it is a little chap.’
‘I think it’s a haunting,’ said Augustus Sly. ‘Many years ago there was a man in South Africa who shot his girlfriend several times with a gun in the lavatory. He said that it was a mistake.’
‘One that any of us might make.’
‘I think it might be something to do with that. I don’t really mind, except when I’m trying to concentrate on my thesis. And I got a bit off the rent as a result. One isn’t in a position to carp at a bit of the supernatural in one’s student accommodation. Different in your day of course.
‘Boomer,’ he added under his breath.
‘I thought there were people in the toilet,’ said the little voice.
‘It sounds evil to me,’ I said, ‘incredibly evil.’
‘I don’t know about evil,’ said Augustus Sly, ‘but I’m not sure that it has the ring of truth.’