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Marching Songs

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The following is an extract taken from Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway, published on 5 July by Granta Books.

Photo by Furryscarly.

I am ill. I have been ill for some time. Years now. It has become years.

I believe, though I cannot prove, that my illness is due directly to the perverted Catholicism and megalomania of Mr Tony Blair, former Prime Minister, whom I met once, whose hand I physically shook (at which point he assaulted me), and who, if you should mention my name to him, will tell you that he met me, or that he did not meet me, or that he cannot recall. Because he has all the answers.

My illness is debilitating. It disbars me from work. It prevents any social interaction. It has been, my illness, both mis-recognized and dismissed. Misdiagnosed. And dismissed. As malingering; as a problem of my own creation, of my own invention, as if it was my child or my garden or a song I was singing, or something I have idly, on a quiet afternoon say, made up, invented, as a story to tell mental health professionals because I have nothing better to do. It generates anger, pity, bloody-minded stinking compassion, notes between doctors, phone calls and files, avoidance, the disappearance of friends, and all that sort of Englishness. I sit in my chair.

Compassion is a weapon wielded against me. Amongst others.

I’m not blaming you, specifically. I don’t blame people, specifically.

However, Islington council, my landlords, my sister (against her entire knowledge), and the NHS are all trying to kill me. Trying I believe, though I cannot prove, that my illness is due directly to the perverted Catholicism and megalomania of Mr Tony Blair to enable circumstances (to arise) in which my death becomes inevitable. They are involved in an unconscious, unarticulated conspiracy to kill me in other words. It’s not a plot. It’s nothing so straightforward as a plot. No one can be blamed in any individual way. It is an inevitable, bureaucratic conspiracy, so devolved and deniable as to be invisible; so peculiarly set out in rules and procedures and protocols and directives and guidelines as to allow plausible public denial of responsibility on the part of any of the participants at any stage of the process.

Initiated by Mr Blair. Of which I have no proof. A small wart. On my thumb. It sings to me in the mornings in warm weather. My doctor shrugs at it, and no ointment works.

No blame. You understand me. When they write the report, my report, the report into my case, they will find some systemic failures, some culture of this or that, some procedures for tightening, some lessons to be learned. No heads will roll. Dead children. You understand me.

I like where I live. I live on my own.

It’s not necessary to be paranoid or to harbour any delusions in order to feel that I have been abandoned by the mental health services. Because I have. They want me to fail, mentally. I have innumerable documents if that sort of thing interests you. Tracing a clear trajectory of discouragement, in which a subtle strategy is discernible. No single thing. Cumulative. Terribly slow, terribly patient. The gentle whisper of the letters and the reports and the assessments. Die, they say. You may as well.

My GP, one example, has prescribed to me, for the pain, enough Tramadol to kill me several times over. Go on. Another example, the mental health doctor who first assessed me in Archway had an office on what appeared to be the 12th floor, with a large window, and she sat me within easy reach of the window and also left me alone for several minutes in the room with the window on the 12th floor, which had a view of all of the east or south or west of London from Archway. All that sky, like the city is upside down. So that if you stepped out there you would rise. Several minutes. Perhaps seven or eight. Go on.

I do not have any trouble with my neighbours and I have never had any complications with either the police or the security services, nor have I ever stood for elected office or campaigned for any political party nor have I ever agitated or demonstrated against It’s not necessary to be paranoid or to harbour any delusions in order to feel that I have been abandoned by the mental health services. the authorities in any way, not even on a march – and I never even went on the anti-war march – so there can be no reason for what is happening to me that is public or which may have been expected to arise as a result of my previous actions. I can only assume that the council and my landlords and the NHS have an occult agenda to which they secretly adhere, created for them by the Tony Blair government, to encourage into complete despair any person who does not hold a stake in the national project involving bank accounts for babies, education for profit, and pretending to fight wars – when in fact all that is happening in Afghanistan, and all that happened in Iraq, is that British soldiers are invested in American projects so that the Tony Blair Agenda can feel that it is a stakeholder in the future, which it cannot imagine as being anything other than American, and this is our national embarrassment.

I am not a stakeholder. I hold no stake. I pay my taxes. My taxes buy weapons and arm soldiers. My taxes send the soldiers to Afghanistan and formerly Iraq to be terrified and traumatized, and to inflict terror and trauma upon others, including the killing and maiming of others, and I do not support Our Boys, it is a volunteer army and I believe that every one of those volunteers is misguided and that their innate, childish, boyish attraction to aggression and adventure and camaraderie is being perverted by malign and morally vacant politicians who are not even clever enough to be operating to anyone’s advantage, not even their own, who are merely drunk on narrative and who see themselves as part of something bigger, such as the delusion of History, and who are impressive only in the scope and depth and profundity of their stupidity.

He’s quite charming, actually, Mr Blair, when you meet him. You can see how he manages to draw people to him. He looks you in the eye. He listens. His smile is warm and he is the right height – neither too tall nor too short. The average height of successful politicians is five feet eleven.

My landlords make noise at a very early hour meaning that I cannot sleep. They also send in the middle of the night an overweight middle aged or elderly man who tries the steel doors. He rattles them. The landlords, let me explain, have their offices below my flat. I never speak to the head man. He never speaks to me. But I see him, dapper and small, coming and going, and I see how they defer to him and I notice, I have noticed, how he watches me sometimes with half a smile. He has an odd name – Mishazzo. An unlikely name. As if he is a landlord by mistake. His people are very polite, even friendly. But they are, as soon as I am inside my flat, extremely devious in their methods, always doing things that are small Beneath the ice. Under all the cracks. Under all the cracks there is something that is not broken. enough in themselves but which taken together amount to a campaign of psychological torture, including slamming doors. I think they have fed rats into the cavities. Certainly the cat that used to patrol the yard has disappeared. There are noises in the walls, in the roof, the ceiling. My ceiling is the roof. I hear scratches. Scurries. I hear clicks. I once found a cockroach in my bathroom. I ran downstairs and into the landlord’s office but they were not of any use at all to me . . . in me . . . in my horror. Mr Mishazzo was there. His people glanced at him and he smiled. As if he is a landlord because he finds it amusing. Mr Price came by later with a trap. I wanted nothing to do with a trap. I have devices now. Electronic discouragers. Since I have installed them there have been no further creatures inside apart from mosquitoes, bluebottles, wasps, flies, tiny centipedes, moths, a spider.

I have some sort of infection in my forehead.

Let me level with you. Level best and utmost. Let me be as honest as I can be. I know that something has gone wrong. I know that the fault is visible. You can discern it in everything I say to you. In most of what I say to you. In how I say it. I know this. I am cracked like ice. I know this. But listen. Listen to me. This is important. Beneath the fault there is solid ground. Beneath the ice. Under all the cracks. Under all the cracks there is something that is not broken.

I am on the Internet.

You can watch the suicide bombers on there.

I go down to the square a couple of times a week.

Giggling now.

On the Internet, you can watch people dying, all over the place. This is new, isn’t it? This is a new thing in the world. On a slow day, when nothing happens, I wait for the news, hoping that He’s quite charming, actually, Mr Blair, when you meet him. You can see how he manages to draw people to him. there will be something happening there. And sometimes there is. And I like the idea of something happening. I like the idea of it. People don’t take anything seriously unless something is happening. My illness makes more sense when something is happening. Against the background of light entertainment and the weather it looks inappropriate. It sticks out. Against the background of body parts and the constant slaughter it looks wise and cautious and who could blame me? I imagine that if there were lots of things happening to me all the time I would like the idea of nothing happening. Sometimes the news is nothing. So much happens and they tell us nothing. I look out of the window.

When I met Tony Blair we talked briefly about motor racing. About Formula One. I don’t know why. There had been a Grand Prix that day. It came up somehow. Someone else mentioned it. I said oh. I said I used to watch Formula One as a boy. Not any more? the Prime Minister asked me.

No.

Not any more. Nothing happens now. In Formula One.

Through my window I can’t see very much of what I suppose is the world. Some offices. A roof. A sky crossed by planes. I often hear helicopters but I don’t see them. There is always something happening. If I press my cheek against the glass and twist my shoulder to the left I can see the elderly or overweight man rattling the steel door. No helicopters. Just the street and the orange lights, wet sometimes. The wet orange street. Shining in the dark and the rattling door.

When nothing is happening we want something to happen, and when something is happening we want it to stop.

There is always something happening on the Internet.

I sit at my kitchen table. I make a cup of tea.

The Zapruder film. Hillsborough. Bloody Sunday. The shooting of Oswald. The audio of Bobby Kennedy’s murder. The calls from the towers. The planes going in. The jumpers. The suicide of Pennsylvania State Treasurer Budd Dwyer on live television. He stuck a gun in his mouth and blew the back of his head off. The camera zooms in on his dead face, the blood pouring out of him like the water out of my overfilled kettle. I don’t know what to do about it.

The Madrid bombs. Running up those stairs. The Enschede explosion. Laughter then fear then the world just goes dark and sideways.

Tamil suicide bombers flinging parts of their bodies into the crowd like pop stars.

Iraqi IEDs. Hostage murders. Car bombs by the Green Zone.

Hundreds of dead people. Around craters in Baghdad, Tikrit and Ramadi. British armaments. American armaments. You can see the markings and the peeled-back steel.

There are photographs of aftermaths. Blood and stumps and crushed torsos. All the devil’s little mandibles. Misery hats. Pockets of tissue. Cups of tea. There are interviews with people in shock. They cannot begin to believe what they have seen until they tell someone else what they have seen. They shout at the camera, they use their hands, they say things over and over. They’re actually talking to themselves, and we are watching.

I am talking to myself and you are watching.

In my kitchen I can look at the wall if I want to.

When he shook hands I felt a sort of scratch. A nick. A prick. Something or other. I didn’t react. I didn’t look at my hand. I was meeting the Prime Minister. But it hurt. Something had. He had. I don’t know.

Some device.

There are endless car crashes on the Internet. There are head-on collisions, turnovers, side swipes, flying pedestrians. All sorts, really. But it is usually unclear whether there have been fatalities.

I stare at the little wart on my thumb. It’s white. Tiny and a perfect circle.

When I go down to the square I take a coffee with me, in my hand. I get it from the coffee shop around the corner. I glance at the machine gun policemen. I walk through the square, as if I have business on the other side. They keep an eye on me. I nod sometimes at a policeman. A policeman sometimes nods back. I haven’t spotted the cameras. I expect they will knock on my door sometime. That they will come and have a chat.

I’ll examine their cards. Their IDs. I’ll look at their faces and their photos. They won’t mind me writing down the numbers. I’ll do it at the kitchen table, so that they follow me into the flat. Let them have a good look around. They’ll stand over me. Looking. Two of them. They’ll smell of the street and of cars and of camaraderie in the locker room and the gym and of encounters with trouble.

– You think I don’t live well?

– What? No. We’re here about Connaught Square.

– About what?

– Connaught Square.

– What the hell is a connocked square?

I’ll have them baffled in minutes. I’ll speak slightly louder than is necessary. I’ll walk them backwards through a prayer. Policemen are standard procedures. There is nothing to them that cannot be confused.

– You took your time getting here.

– What?

– I called you hours ago.

– We’re not responding to a call.

– So you know about the windows?

– What about the windows?

– They are haunted.

– Haunted?

– They contain reflections at night other than my own.

– Ghosts?

– What are you going to do about it?

And so on.

I go and sit in the park. There is a view over the City, and to the left, Canary Wharf. The park is full of people looking in the same direction.

*

Part of managing my illness is to keep. Is to try to keep. Is to try to manage to keep a certain amount of regularity in my operations, my whereabouts. A structure. When the pains allow. When the singing isn’t outrageous. I used to work in radio. Everything had a schedule. I try to get up every morning and I do. I get up at eight o’clock and I listen for a little while to the Today programme. I never worked on that. I try to have a shower. Sometimes I am in too much pain to shower. Sometimes I just get dressed and think about having a bath later. I never have a bath.

I go to Sparrow’s for my breakfast. I have Breakfast #5, except I have black pudding instead of beans, and I have tea and toast. I try to take my time. It costs four pounds. I can’t afford to do this every day, so sometimes I stay in bed. The waitress calls the toast bread when she brings it. Not every morning, but most. There is a man there, sometimes, two times in four maybe. Policemen are standard procedures. There is nothing to them that cannot be confused. A small man in a thoughtless suit, short haired, crooked somehow. I look at him trying to work out what it is. I think maybe he’s had a harelip corrected. Maybe it’s just a broken nose. Some facial thing from childhood like a ghost. He has scrambled eggs. Every time I see him he has scrambled eggs in front of him. A hill of yellow rubble, as if he’s been sick. He has a notebook that he writes in sometimes. Maybe he’s a writer or a journalist. I’m trying to work out if he’s some sort of writer or journalist. Sometimes he reads a newspaper, a tabloid usually, but he doesn’t read the same newspaper every time, which is more evidence that he might be a journalist, I think. He is half ugly half handsome. He looks at his watch. Sometimes he talks on his phone, turning the pages of the newspaper, or writing lazily in his notebook, making humming noises, yes, go on, yes, OK. He’s the only regular I notice. I don’t think he notices me. Who would look at me?

I look at him. Sometimes I think he’s crying, which makes me laugh. Sometimes I think that night is day and I look out of the window and everything is wrong until I realize it’s night and this is what the night is like.

The man who rattles the steel door and shutters. That’s always in the middle of the night. I lift the corner of my curtain and peek at him. He is big. He wears a grey jacket. In the dark it’s grey. He just rattles the door, the shutters. He does it and he stands there for a moment staring at the steel. And then he goes away. I don’t know what it’s about. Perhaps he has a grievance. There is a song. Called Rattle, in which the singer says, Can’t say I didn’t rattle the load, But I’m keeping it on the road. And that’s all he says. I like that song very much.

When I go outside into the street where I live I am surrounded by people shouting and jostling and buying vegetables. That’s OK. Where did they get their lives? Who told them that this was the way to be? How did they learn? They are pushed up against one another with no space for anything. They have become unhealthy and short minded. Things move so quickly that they don’t know what to do with anything, other than shout at it or push it or try to buy it.

In the past I drew down from the local people all the things I needed. All the things I needed were things I needed to draw down, to pull down into me, like fruit on a branch. Along my street I met with grocers and barbers and phone fixing men. I ambled slowly into furniture shops and asked them about the price of hat stands and bunk-beds. I paused in butchers’ doorways and stared at meat counters, at the cuts of flesh and the granulated blood. I licked my lips in the windows. I walked the street I live on. What is this vegetable? What is this fruit? What is the name you call this? How do I cook it? I took time in cafés where they fed me. I watched other people. I listened in on other people. I read sometimes. I didn’t read.

I have lost my place now. I do none of that.

If he is a journalist I might tell him about Blair and the device. A pin. A poisoned pin. Or a miniature syringe. Some sort of nano-technology. His hand was dry. His smile was the one you’ve seen on the television. The same one. Except we were in a room, and there were no cameras. Odd.

All the deaths in Formula One are on the Internet. Most of them are. Most of them after about 1967. Gilles Villeneuve and Ronnie Peterson and Ayrton Senna. Villeneuve thrown from his car. The medics crouched over his broken body caught against the fence. Peterson pulled burning from a multiple pile up at Monza. They didn’t think he was badly hurt. He died hours later when his bone marrow melted into his blood stream. Senna. Going straight ahead into concrete. They still don’t know why. It takes a slow two minutes for the medics at Imola to get to him. On the American commentary Derek Daly worries about the delay. Where are they? he asks. Tom Pryce in 1973 – he hits a marshal who is running across the track, the marshal’s body spinning in the air like wet bread, his fire extinguisher hitting Pryce’s helmet, shattering it, killing Pryce instantly, though his car continues in a straight line. Jochen Rindt, 1970, Monza. It doesn’t look that bad. Lorenzo Bandini’s Ferrari exploding by the yachts in Monaco. It looks that bad.

Riccardo Paletti on the starting line at Monza in 1982. He slams into the back of Didier Pironi’s Ferrari which has stalled in pole position. The other drivers have managed to avoid it. But I paused in butcher’s doorways and stared at meat counters, at the cuts of flesh and the granulated blood. Paletti doesn’t see it. They say that he’s dead by the time the marshals and the medics and Pironi get to his car, but still. You can watch the film. You can watch them trying to get Paletti out. You can see the moment when the first flames appear. If you listen to the version with Jackie Stewart’s commentary you can hear the panic in his voice when the flames suddenly take hold, bursting over the whole car, sending everyone scurrying, and you can watch then as a collection of flailing useless men try to make the extinguishers work and Ricardo Paletti burns.

Roger Williamson at Zandvoort in 1973. He flips his March on the long corner and he’s trapped inside it. A fire starts. His friend David Purley sees what’s happened, stops his car, runs across the track and tries to help. He tries to lift the car. He gestures to the marshals to help him. They aren’t wearing fire-proof clothing. They hang back. He gestures at other cars. They think it’s Purley’s car that’s overturned. And they can see Purley, so everything must be OK, and they’re racing, so they don’t stop. Purley can hear Roger Williamson. He can hear him shouting. Then screaming. The extinguisher won’t work. There’s only one. He tries to get it to work. He tries to lift the car. He can’t lift the car. The marshals are standing there looking at him. The smoke is billowing out. The race goes on. He walks away. He runs back. His arms. His shoulders. He can hear Williamson. Then he can’t.

You can watch it all. Over and over.

I watch it all, over and over.

Several items arising. The local health and mental health unit of the Borough of Islington have now discontinued my therapy a total of twice on two separate occasions, ruling that I was in both of these times incapable of benefiting, using this deception to cover over like a dog their ineptitude and possible encouragement of my self-destruction, ignoring on three separate occasions my stated intention to kill someone, preferably Mr Blair or someone else like that, deciding that these were not serious threats and were instead manifestations of my own particular ‘illness’, as if the world was separate from the things in it, the events separate from the people, the people separate from the things they do, as if the done things do not come out of thought things, as if there were no traces anywhere, as if we had never noticed dogs and the way they proceed. What a remarkable ambush of shit. What a cloud of frayed cities. What a dust of blood. What a wound. What a pulse of broken teeth. I will fucking kill you. I WILL FUCKING KILL. YOU FUCK.

I am ugly. Ugliness has taken me over. It’s OK. The infection in my forehead has spread along the slight left centre of my nose and out into my left cheek. My right cheek. The slight right centre of my nose and my right cheek. I have red cleft marks along my thighs and under my right arm. One eye has failed. It rarely opens now. There is a stench inside my mouth. There are ruins in my corners. I cannot wash and carry on.

There is the problem of money.

When I left my job – left, left, I had a good job but I left – they gave me a certain amount, which I stored in a savings account, an Once I had an urge for cornflakes, and I stole them from the corner shop. I had no milk. I went back and bought milk. ISA account, where you are allowed to put only a certain amount of money in different ways and you do not have to pay tax on what you earn there. That is my understanding. And the rest of it I put in another account which is an ordinary savings account and it earns interest in there and I suppose that somehow I pay tax on that though perhaps I don’t pay taxes any longer. I’m not sure. There’s the principle of it though. Then there was the house I had. I sold. I sold the house I had. That’s OK. All that money I put mostly in another savings account and another current account and all this money is all nearly gone now I’m sure of it, though my sister looks after my finances for the moment for the most part, and she hasn’t said anything, yet, except to get a job. But she says that gently now. These days. I am disfigured.

I will go and stand by the café. And watch them. They come and go. The policemen. By the square. He spent millions on the house. It’s in the public record. You can look it up. It’s where he lives. With his armed guard and his devices and all his perpetual shame, poor man. Sometimes I feel sorry for him.

Money is a problem. I find that I cannot spend it when I go out. I go out and I go to the shops, for example, and I try to buy food. I walk around the shop, the supermarket, with a basket on my arm, and I put things in it. Milk for example, bread, eggs, some pasta, some mushrooms and carrots, some orange juice, a fillet of fish or a pork chop. I fill the basket. I put in extra things that might be nice like some buns or a cake or a packet of biscuits. Extra things that might be nice. But when I get to the checkout I cannot. I cannot. In the air. My pains all sing their song. I cannot take the money out of my pocket. I cannot take the items one by one from the basket and have them sent under the bleeper. It cannot happen. This is so stupid. This is mad. There is something wrong with it. Something horrible. I don’t know what it is. I stand in the queue for a moment, maybe longer, and I try to stay, but I put the basket down and I leave – I go to the door and through it and the security guard looks at me and shakes his head.

Cash. I have a problem with cash.

I think.

In Sparrow’s though, for my breakfast, I can do that. Because it is four pounds. £4. It is always £4. So I have that ready. Or, I know the change I will get. A one-pound coin. Or a five-pound note and a one-pound coin. The crooked man in the suit does the same. He knows the price of scrambled eggs. It’s the way to do it. It really is.

And I can get a coffee when I go down to the square. I can do that. It is £1.85 in the place I get it. I give them £2. They give me 15p change. I drop that in the glass they leave on the counter for tips.

My bills are paid automatically. I’m on the Internet. And that will do. I have lost weight. My fingers sing to me. My sister comes on Saturdays and she brings what I more or less need.

Once I had an urge for cornflakes, and I stole them from the corner shop. I had no milk. I went back and bought milk. I don’t know how I did it. I think I forgot that I was unable to use cash. I think I forgot – so perplexed was I by the theft – that I was mad. I wanted to pay him for the cornflakes too but he didn’t know what I was on about, and he shooed me out of it like more than two schoolchildren.

I watch them in the café. By the square. Down by the square. The same place I get the £1.85 coffee. There are several of them. They know I’m there. I’m sure. They have that training. Things attached to their belts. They don’t mind me then. They don’t mind me so much I don’t think. Maybe they don’t see me. Maybe it’s another division that sees me.

David Purley was born in Bognor Regis of all places. I have never been there.

Soldiers sing as they march. They sing as they march.

In his car as he burned to death Roger Williams sang. David Purley never mentioned it. He thought he was hearing things. He thought, when he remembered it, that he was making it up, that such a thing was ridiculous, that it was impossible, that it was impossible and wrong to remember it, so he never mentioned it. He never said a word. Roger had sung. Sang. Roger sang.

I am going to get better.

He sang a melody that Purley had never heard before. I don’t know what it was. Something lovely. Purley sang it himself when he crashed his aerobatic biplane into the sea in 1985. Off Bognor Regis of all places, in sight of home. He remembered the melody that Roger had sung. Sang. And he sang it too. It is a death song, I suppose. Death needs its orders, its boots, its motivations. Death needs its rations.

Poor death.

My sister brings most of the food I need. It lasts the week. I am embarrassed more than anything about my sister. About myself in relation to my sister.

I am tired of talking.

The pains in my stomach are now sometimes unbearable. I listen to them sing. The pains, I mean. They sing. They keep themselves chipper with songs. Because it is hard to be a pain in me. It is hard work. It takes all day to use up a minute of my time. It takes a great effort of all those little pains, working together, to make the song, the chorus, that sounds in my head like a world. These days they have learned their song and they seem happy in their work and they can on a good day lay me low and kill me. They kill me and I die. And I am resurrected.

What did I say to him? To Mr Blair? What statement did I make, what question did I ask to prompt his attack on me? Or was it something in my face or my bearing or in my eyes. Something in my eyes? Was it a story I told, of something in my life? Was it a joke I made? What did I do to Mr Blair? What offence or danger did I present? What was it about me that led to his decision? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps it was an accident of timing. He felt the need to destroy something. Anything. Given his power. It would be a sin, perhaps he thought, not to use it.

Maybe he felt I would be better off.

He thinks a lot, I imagine, about sin. Uselessly.

Death will come to him as a terrible shock, I shouldn’t wonder.

Maybe he detected my unhappiness in my work. My unhappiness at home. Maybe he felt that I would be better off with all that misery behind me. Maybe he felt that my life needed shaking up. That I could do with a shock, upending and run through. The pains started the very next day, when I woke. I could not move. I could not move for days. All my limbs, my joints, my knuckles and my hairs, all my ducts and patches. They were all tuning up.

The man in Sparrow’s looked at me blankly.

– What?

– Are you a journalist or a writer?

He had a settled face. A man in control of his expressions. I couldn’t read anything in there. He’d finished his eggs, his toast. His plate was pushed aside. He had a second mug of tea on the go. Did he do that every morning? I didn’t know. He was reading about global warming in the newspaper. There was a picture of a glacier and sidebars with explanations. His phone sat on his notebook. There’d been no calls this morning, and no writing either. His voice was level. I couldn’t get the accent. Flat south east. London, out of Essex or Kent. I don’t know. His face wasn’t as crooked up close. Odd that. I find it difficult to talk to people.

– I’m neither.

– I thought you might be. A writer. A journalist. With the notebook. You know.

He nodded, slowly.

– No.

– OK.

I didn’t know where that left me. If he said he wasn’t then he wasn’t. I couldn’t start an argument about it.

– I’ve seen you in here, you know. With the notebook. Writing. The odd time. I just thought. We’re often in at the same time.

He nodded again. Maybe he was tired. He looked tired and sad and red-eyed. He didn’t seem to mind, but he wasn’t going to talk to me. He wasn’t going to ask me to sit down. He wasn’t going to ask me to sit down and tell him about Mr Blair and the device so that he could tell my story.

I thought I would tell him my name. I’d say my name, my surname, and I’d Mr Blair is not the owner of his own evil. hold out my hand for him to shake. And I’d smile, and he’d pause and smile back and take my hand and ask me to sit down. So, we eat breakfast here, he’d say. Or. You must be local, too. Or something like that. A small talk interregnum. Then down to it. I’d duck into it. I’d use dialogue. I’d speak in dialogue. In lines. You want to hear a story? I’d say. He’d shrug. Politics, I’d say. Politicians. Not quite what they seem, sometimes. I’d pause. Go on, he’d say. You remember Blair? Interested. Of course I remember Blair. What about him?

And so on.

I didn’t know what to say.

– Well. Nice to talk to you.

He nodded again.

– Bye now.

– Bye.

He sipped his tea and looked at me. I walked to the door and out on to the street. I don’t know. I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life.

Mr Blair is not the owner of his own evil. He is the host if you like – if you want to use the sort of terminology that he has adapted into his own life and heart, the vocabulary of the groping church – he is the possessed corpse of a former human, animated entirely by the spittle-flecked priests of Rome and by miserable justifications, by ointments of the sagging flesh, the night-time coldness of the awful touch. His skin is a manila envelope. It contains an argument, not a heart. But he has made choices and the choices are owned by him, and he owns those choices and he is the chooser of death. He is the chooser of death. He has chosen death and he has chosen to visit it on others when no such choice was necessary. He is the progenitor of the crushed skulls of baby girls. He is the father of the dead bodies of children and the raped mothers and the bludgeoned fathers. He has embraced the murder of his lord, and he has used the people to enact his fantasy and his perversions. He has masturbated over the Euphrates. He has rubbed History against his cold chest like a feeler in the crowd. Like a breather, interferer. Slack muscle of pornography, piece of shit.

I only know what I believe.

I go down sometimes to the square, and I wander with a coffee and I watch and I go around again. Nothing happens. I have to be careful. Even still, I’m sure I’m noticed.

I saw him once. Early in the day as I came from Marble Arch. He was no more than a blur between his house and his car; a man in a suit, moving as if it was raining, crouching out, ducking in. I stopped in my tracks. Words rose in my throat. I had no idea. I didn’t know what to do. It was such a beautiful morning.

He glanced in my direction and I saw his face. He did not look at me but I saw his face. He looked terribly familiar. Of course. But no. Not as himself. He wears a state of shock. He carries panic in his eyes. He bristles with tension and fear, as if he knows what he does not want to know – that any moment now, it will be too late.

I went home and slept.

There are too many photographs of David Purley attending to the dying of his friend Roger Williamson. There is too much film. His human body makes too much of itself, changing direction, pausing, giving up, resuming, going back, tensing in fear, resuming, slumping in despair, ragged in despair, resuming, going back, screaming, his voice, you can see his voice in the pictures, screaming, somebody fucking help me, somebody fucking help.

There are two sorts of pale skinny Englishmen in my nightmares. One is burned at the edges, frayed by fear, his blistered hands and scorched face taut with the effort of trying to save a life. David Purley. And the other, a coward and a traitor, who set his face against bravery, who embraced the dying man and swallowed his song. Tony Blair.

Tony Blair.

I wake to the rattling and the marching songs. ■

This is an extract from Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway, published on 5 July by Granta Books.

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