Reluctance

I am happy staying put; not joining in. But your sun-stroked face keeps peeping around the corner of the day room: eyes locked, that fierce smile, your whole heaving body beckoning me to better worlds down the ancient stairway. The attic is not the softest of homes, but it is humble, so I can brag. Perhaps one day I’ll make it down that way. I can almost smell the meats burning early in red mornings, imagine you all rushing round the kitchen in a dance, dodging each other’s jaunting elbows; tucking in each loose end, your work-day clothing thick as a board. Ten years from now you’ll find me up here, wrapped in paisley blue, sniffing at the sewn-up edge of the family quilt. Why don’t you shine me up and take me out to market; rinse the odour from my oatmeal mouth. I only liked the times you came to check on me when you bought a warm cup of something, otherwise it was a bore.  

On the 343

In 2012, the number 343 bus caught fire outside my bedroom window in southeast London. Caught fire might be misleading. Rather, it exploded, rattling my windows, waking me up, and drawing most of the neighbors – or at least those who did not have to go off to work at 8am – out into the street to look. I knew the 343 bus well – it was my route to the supermarket, to my girlfriend’s house, to the cinema, the pub, the park. I, along with my fellow neighbors, rode it almost every day. It was, I thought, ‘my’ bus. So it was strange to walk outside in my pyjamas and slippers that early March morning and join the gaping sodality as the big red bus burned before our eyes. No one was injured – that much we could tell. The ambulance was off to the side, the paramedics idle. Nor were the fire brigade in any big hurry to do much about it. ‘Best to let it burn itself out,’ one of them told me as his colleagues languidly sprayed the flames. Slowly, the big red vehicle disintegrated in front of my eyes. Untitled6 I’m not sure what was more bizarre: the burning bus itself of the pictures of the burning bus – my burning bus – on news sites, in the paper, on TV. The police were not treating the incident as suspicious, which struck me as odd. Not that I suspected terrorism – not at all. But still, a burning bus, or rather an exploding bus, struck me as incredibly suspicious. A robbery of sorts. That was our local bus, I felt like shouting. And now it’s gone, without so much as a police investigation. Untitled5 I’ve since moved out of that house, but I still live in the same area, and I still ride the 343 every now and then. Recently, after visiting a friend near London Bridge I decided to ride it home – something that I hadn’t done in some time. It was a rainy afternoon. Blustery. The bus was nearly full. The windows had fogged up. It would be a long journey, but I didn’t mind. The 343 is one of those circuitous buses. It traverses few main thoroughfares, choosing to snake down the suburban roads, the backstreets, all the way from City Hall to New Cross Gate. This can be explained by the fact that the 343 wasn’t always the 343. Before the route was sold to Abellio – a Dutch transport company, one of the handful of private corporations in charge of London’s various bus routes – it was known as the P3, one of those single-deckers meant to shuttle pensioners and schoolchildren from door, to shop, to door. When Abellio bought the line, they expanded the service. Now it’s one of the least efficient bus routes in all of London,among the ten worst performing in the whole city. Untitled4 The bus halted in traffic at Elephant and Castle. I rubbed the fog off the front window to see the large construction site just beyond the old shopping centre. This used to be home to the Heygate Estate, which was demolished last year. A few cranes swayed in the wind. A man sipped a cappuccino outside one of the refurbished shipping containers at the new Boxpark. I had no right to get romantic about the Heygate – it was a hellish, rusk-hulk of a ruin. But this too felt bleak. Just beside the Boxpark was a large digital picture of the world to come: the new development was to be called Elephant Park, and flats were officially for sale. Old London burnt up, purified by fire, making way for the boxy corporate design of condos and flats, soon to be home to white-collar workers, low-level execs, those trying to get a rung on the property ladder. A bastion of healthy living: a gym, rooftop gardens, a children’s play area – residents’ access only. Untitled3 Untitled2 Eventually the Walworth Road unjammed, and the bus turned on to one of the small roads heading south. Ads for Elephant Park continued for another half-mile or so: large, digital illustrations of the bright, white redevelopment scheme. But the advertisements disappeared as soon as we reached the Aylesbury Estate, where a good number of passengers alighted. I was always fascinated by the Aylesbury when I passed it on this bus: I knew it as one of the most ‘notorious’ estates, not to mention the largest social housing project in Europe, a great grey city unto itself, where Tony Blair made his first speech as Prime Minister, promising to bring prosperity to Britain’s ‘forgotten people’. But I recognised it from somewhere else, too. Television. That old Channel 4 ident, in which a camera pans slowly out on to one of the balconies, surveying the bleak ruin as a large number 4 arranges itself in the centre of the screen. The estate doesn’t really look like this, of course. The Channel 4 film crew brought along a few props when they filmed this little clip: plastic bags, wet washing lines and empty lager cans were placed in the shot for effect. The satellite dishes dotting the windows were added later, in post-production. Untitled1The bus carried on past Burgess Park, through the strange residential area between the Walworth Road and the Old Kent Road. We passed rows of old Victorian terraces, a few smaller estates and a handful of new Elephant Park-style condominiums. But as we rode, I noticed something strange. Something was missing from my journey. The announcements – that was it: the bland, computerised female voice that announced each stop had ceased. The journey felt somehow empty without her. But why? I’d always found it a bit strange, that voice. A bit OK Computerish. Fitter. Happier. More productive. Strange, too, to know that its provenance is a real person, and not a digital automaton – a computer program with RP pronunciation – as I once thought it was. Her name is Emma Hignett. Born in Durham, Emma gave up her dream of being a dancer when she was in her 20s and decided to pursue a job in radio, instead. People had always complimented her on her voice, and she found success as a traffic reporter somewhere up north. Eventually, she moved on to a co-hosting slot on Capital Gold’s breakfast show in London. But her big breakthrough, of course, was the London buses. The iBus electronic system came into effect in 2006, mapping and tracking the thousands of buses that drive up, down, across and around London every day. TFL wanted a female voice to announce each stop, and after a brief search, they came across Hignett’s perfectly unthreatening mechanical-staccato voice. Today, she occupies a space in the collective consciousness of most bus-travelling Londoners. Think about the way you hear her voice whenever you walk past a familiar bus stop. Aldwych, alight here for Royal Courts of Justice. Is it tragic that the woman who dreamt of making art with her body – being a dancer – ended up as a disembodied voice? And not just that, but the voice of a new, technologically advanced London – a floating geist of corporate hegemony. Something about her tone, those dulcet recitations – perfect for the type of corporate advertising that would come to be her bread and butter – paired surprisingly well with Elephant Park, those digitised images of corporate architecture. As the bus pulled over to my stop, I imagined the future residents of Elephant Park (as well as the future residents of the new development on the road just around the corner from my house, where the 343 burned to bits that day four years ago) all speaking in her voice. Walking in their parks. Swimming in their indoor pools. Enjoying glasses of white wine on their balconies. And I wondered where my former neighbours would end up. The old men and women who came outside to look at the burning bus that day. Perhaps they’re set to go the way of the buses. ‘Best to let it burn itself out,’ the fireman said to me that day. ‘No point in fighting it.’  

Camera Obscura

A pinhole camera is a simple device: light passes through an aperture into a box, and an inverted image of the outside is projected on to the opposite wall. Build-your-own kits are sold as novelties, although they are not that novel (indeed, their charm is precisely their quaintness; they vibe old-school, authentic, real). The history of the pinhole camera, written in the margins of the histories of art, science and epistemology, stretches all the way back to the fifth century BC, when the Chinese philosopher Mi To first described one. He called it a ‘locked treasure room’. Locked, presumably, not just because it is an enclosed space, but because the images it generates – fugitive, flickering, ephemeral – are so tantalisingly ungraspable. It was Nicéphore Niépce, in post-Revolutionary France, who first unlocked the treasure room when he invented a process for fixing the images produced by a camera obscura, capturing them on a glass plate coated with Bitumen of Judea. He called it heliography. His sometime collaborator, sometime rival, Louis Daguerre, who continued refining the process after Niépce’s sudden death from a brain haemorrhage in 1833, preferred the word photography, which was already being used in English to refer to the parallel research being conducted by Henry Fox Talbot. Sun-writing, light-writing – both terms elegantly gloss the means by which a photographic image is produced: light rays bounce off an object in the world and on to a photosensitive surface, passing through an aperture to focus them. ‘Photography you are the shadow / Of the sun / Which is its beauty’, wrote Apollinaire. The (analogue) photographic image is a trace; it is, therefore, indexical, physically linked to the thing it depicts. In that respect, of course, it is quite unlike writing – at least the kind of writing you’re reading here, alphabetic writing: a word after all is merely a set of squiggles and scratches with a purely conventional connection to the thing it signifies. But like writing, photography is a means of making the impermanent permanent, and the absent present. On my wall hangs a photograph of Bob Dylan in 1965. He’s at a press conference, sitting behind a table. (The oversized lightbulb on the table makes the scene immediately recognizable to even the casual Dylanologist; it features in the opening scenes of Don’t Look Back.) Sitting across the table is a journalist, and behind her a row of photographers. But the photographer who took this particular shot was standing behind the table, behind Dylan. He’s said something to capture his attention, because Dylan has twisted round in his seat to face him. His cigarette is between his lips and his eyebrows are raised, with a slightly quizzical air. Every time I look at the photograph there is a moment where the 50 years between then and now collapse. It’s partly because of the cans: slung round Dylan’s neck they give him a curiously contemporary look. (If the history of the headphone through much of the 20th century describes the pursuit of inconspicuousness, culminating in the invention of the earbud, fashion historians of the future will surely point to unnecessarily oversized circumaural headphones as one of the distinguishing features of early 21st-century style, doubtless identifying it as part of the same nostalgic craving for the paraphernalia of analogue culture that has resurrected the pinhole camera.) But it’s not just because of the cans. It’s the peculiar gift of photography to bring past and present, here and there, into immediate contact. The photographer, manipulating lights and mirrors, a master of optics, is a kind of magician who specialises in one trick, generating the illusion of presence. The photographer in question was my father, who had worked on Fleet Street before founding his own photographic agency. As a child I wasn’t allowed in his darkroom, but I often imagine him there – happily absorbed in his task, pulling the photo from the stop bath and dunking it in the fixer, surrounded by bottles of developer, stabiliser and toner. ‘Fixer’, ‘stabiliser’, ‘stop bath’ – the language of the darkroom hints at the Sisyphean metaphysical struggle played out there: the struggle to arrest the flux of time. Photography is the art of stabilisation. If my father became a photographer for any reason other than the possibility of earning a good living, I think it was precisely because the photographer is an agent of stability, and his childhood in Central Europe had been characterized by a perilous instability. Deported to the Gulag in 1940 following the Nazi-Soviet partition of Poland, by the end of the war most of his family were dead, victims of either Stalinist terror or Nazi genocide His home town had disappeared. Not physically, you understand – the fabric of the city survived, more or less, the buildings, the statues and graves, but the Polish city of Lwów (born only a few years before my father – until 1918 it had been the Habsburg town of Lemberg) was now the Soviet municipality of Lvov (today it is Lviv, in Western Ukraine). He arrived in London as a refugee, with no direction home, and set about making a new life and a new family. Photography was a part of that process: scrupulously every family event was caught on film. Arguments raged every December about the Christmas card family photo, seen by my sister and me as the height of tackiness, a compound of triviality and pretension. In most of those photos, I am scowling, resentful – only now do I realise that the need to record, to register, to archive was born of traumatic loss. I would like to ask my father about why he first became interested in photography, and what shibboleth made Dylan turn around (presumably he just said ‘Dylan’, loudly, but in my imaginary reconstructions of that moment something more significant is said). But I can’t ask him anything any more, because he has gone – not physically, you understand. He is not dead. But he has advanced Alzheimer’s. It came hugger-mugger into his life, into our lives, and before we recognized it had already made itself at home, rearranging the furniture and turfing us out on to unfamiliar streets. Alzheimer’s trick is the opposite of photography’s – it makes the present absent. Someone is there, but not there. It unfixes. It dissolves. Writing in 1978, Susan Sontag remarked that in the 20th century cancer had replaced TB as the disease of reference: ‘For as long as its cause was not understood and the ministrations of doctors remained so ineffective, TB was thought to be an insidious, implacable theft of a life. Now it is cancer’s turn to be the disease that doesn’t knock before it enters, cancer that fills the role of an illness experienced as a ruthless, secret invasion – a role that it will keep until, one day, its etiology becomes as clear and its treatment as effective as those of TB have become.’ In the almost 40 years since Sontag first published Illness as Metaphor, the mysteries of cancer have not, alas, been dissipated: decades of medical research have neither fully clarified its etiology nor led to the development of particularly effective treatments. But it has not kept its role as the epitomic illness either, its place usurped by dementia. This is not a matter of prevalence, of course, but of metaphorical potency. Dementia, of which the best-known symptom is memory loss, can easily be turned into a vehicle for thinking about specific contemporary concerns surrounding digital amnesia and the erosion of historical consciousness in the internet age. But the metaphorical resonance of an illness is not just a function of its symptoms, but is indexed more fundamentally to its mysteriousness. Cancer is still mysterious, but dementia more mysterious still. Living with cancer is living with mystery; living with dementia, a patient or sufferer, is living in mystery. A couple of months ago I was asked to write an article about Alzheimer’s as part of a fundraising drive. I think it was supposed to be about the lived experience of watching someone you love suffer, about the weariness, the fever and the fret. About the almost (if you’re lucky) irreparable damage Alzheimer’s can do to your relationships with other family members who have different assumptions, beliefs and coping strategies. About the way in which Alzheimer’s robs not just sufferers but carers of their ability to remember, to remember that people living with advanced dementia were once young and strong and dauntless. Remembering that is difficult, but it also helps you be kind and patient, and at the moment kindness and patience are the only things anyone can offer. I think I was being asked to write about that, about emotion. I couldn’t do it. I could riff here on the way in which the Alzheimer’s cyclone transports everyone involved to a world where language is a busted flush, but that would be disingenuous. I couldn’t write that article not because it’s beyond language, but because it’s beyond me at the moment. So I substituted cultural history for emotional excavation, used intellection as an anodyne. I spent a morning at the library, I looked things up, I joined the dots. A person with Alzheimer’s is unable to do that. They can’t use knowledge to buffer immediate experience. A person with Alzheimer’s is – among other things – unable to remember newly learned information. I imagine their mind like the camera obscura, topsy-turvy images flickering across the walls, fugitive and strange. They have lost the ability to stabilise those images, catalogue them, archive them. Their minds are locked treasure rooms.                

Turnspit Tykes

I know every dog owner thinks theirs is special – but my cairn terrier really is. So monstrously wilful is this outrageous beast, so magnificently unconcerned with pleasing anyone but his fat furry self, that I often have to resort to brioche-based bribery just to get him out of the front door. Given this, the idea of working dogs has always tickled me – Wilf’s ancestors allegedly had gainful employment flushing out foxes, rats and rabbits, but in the three long years we’ve spent together he’s caught but a single, terrified mouse (apparently as much to his own surprise as ours, given the speed at which he then abandoned the poor rodent). Like me, he’s happiest in the kitchen, so when I discovered that dogs were once a vital part of the British culinary armoury, I fancied I might finally have found the career to save him from a life of wanton idleness. Ill-suited to the vocation of a chef thanks to their lack of opposable thumbs, gastronomic discrimination and the most basic self-discipline, in the 16th and 17th centuries, canines were  instead put to work turning spits. Lowly as it may sound, this was one of the most important – if least skilled – jobs in the prosperous early modern household. Before the invention of the hot-air oven in the 19th century, meat was commonly roasted over an open fire; a method which, according to historian Bee Wilson, yields unusually succulent, flavourful results – but such pleasures come at a price. Unlike an oven, you can’t just stick the meat in and walk away. Fire is a capricious mistress, and the joint must be rotated constantly in order to ensure even cooking. Up until Tudor times this job would have been performed by humans – generally small boys selected for their strength and their high boredom threshold (or perhaps, desperation) who laboured in cramped alcoves at each side of the fireplace, sometimes behind a wet bale of hay to protect them from the heat. Indeed, so stiflingly hot and smoky was this backbreaking work that they often toiled half-naked, covered in grime, soot and blisters – nevertheless Wilson notes in her book Consider the Fork that this was considered an appropriate occupation for the offspring of the poor as late as the 18th century. It wasn't changing attitudes to child protection that did these unlucky infants out of a job, but a growing recognition that dumb animals were simply more biddable, and could be imprisoned in a treadmill for hours at a time without complaint. These wooden wheels were usually mounted on a wall above the fireplace, connected to the spit by a pulley system and, to maximise efficiency the dogs would often work in pairs, with one resting while the other ran. A few cooks preferred geese, which were said to be able to run up to 12 hours a day without pause, and be less troublesome to boot. Dogs were certainly considered to have more stamina than their human equivalents however. John Caius (eponymous founder of Cambridge college) boasted in 1570 that the ‘turnespetes… so diligently took to their business that not drudge or scullion can do the feat more cunningly’. So cunningly, in fact, that they became a popular metaphor for the virtues of honest labour – one political satire of the early 18th century even casts them in the role of proud upholders of the social hierarchy, so content with their humble lot that when an agitator attempts to whip them into a strike, railing against their submissive acceptance of human tyranny, they pay him no heed, preferring to quietly enjoy their bones. Tellingly, when petted by the cook, the ‘smooth submissive cur’ quickly forgets his principles and:

…licked his lips, and wagged his tail Was overjoyed he should prevail Such favour to obtain.

Among the rest he went to play, Was put into the wheel next day, He turned and ate as well as they, And never speeched again.

According to the Swedish zoologist Carl Linnaeus, dogs were often rewarded for their work with ‘a taste of the steak’, but a taste clearly wasn’t sufficient given the numerous accounts of dogs attempting to shirk their duties. A Welsh travel journal published at the tail end of the 18th century describes how at an inn in Newcastle Emlyn which employed the services of a turnspit, ‘great care is taken that this animal does not observe the cook approach the larder; if he does he immediately hides himself for the remainder of the day, and the guest must be content with more humble fare than intended.’ The little dogs were often taken to church on Sundays – not out of any concern for their sooty souls, but to be used as foot warmers – and one popular tall tale claimed that, at any mention of Ezekiel and his wheel, the turnspits would make as one for the door. Such a reaction is understandable when one learns hot cinders were often tossed in to the treadmill to encourage the exhausted dog to run, prompting a contemporary animal lover to compare the turnspit to Ixion, ancient King of the Lapiths, condemned by Zeus to roll unceasingly through the underworld on a fiery wheel for the murder of his father-in-law. Given the labour involved, Wilf seems temperamentally unsuited to life as a turnspit, yet physically I suspect he might be ideal. Although on the Continent they used any old mongrel for the task, in their heartland, the British Isles, the animals favoured for the purpose were a distinctive type, drolly termed by that noted wag Linnaeus canis vertigus, or dizzy dog, and cited by Darwin as an example of selective breeding. So prized were good turnspits that there are records of an early Philadelphia inn keeper importing them from England to toil in his basement kitchen. They certainly weren’t valued for their beauty: turnspits were ‘long-bodied, crooked-legged, ugly dogs, with a suspicious, unhappy look about them’ according to the Victorian naturalist Edward Jesse, though the only surviving example, imprisoned within a glass case at the Abergavenny Museum, looks like a cross between a miniature dachshund and a meerkat, with a curious curved spine that might well be the result of crimes against taxidermy rather than animal welfare. Historian Jan Bondeson is of the opinion that they would more often have resembled the modern Glen of Imaal terrier, or possibly a Welsh corgi. (Wilf, I note, does not look entirely dissimilar to the former.) [caption id="attachment_4021" align="aligncenter" width="500"]'The Old Dogwheel' at the Castle of St Briavel, Gloucestershire, illustrated in E.F. King, Ten Thousand Wonderful Things (1890) 'The Old Dogwheel' at the Castle of St Briavel, Gloucestershire, illustrated in E.F. King, Ten Thousand Wonderful Things (1890)[/caption] This is mere conjecture, however, because, although common throughout the British Isles in the 18th century, by 1850 the turnspit dog had become a curiosity, and by the Great War, the breed had disappeared completely. A technological, rather than ethical shift seems to have been responsible for their demise: an American campaign for a ban on turnspits in the 1870s succeeded in changing public attitudes to the use of these dogs, but had unintended consequences when animal rights activists discovered goats, donkeys and even African American children had replaced them in kitchens unable to afford more modern equipment. Such concern for animal welfare was unusual in a period when few could afford to keep an idle pet for their own amusement, and dogs were considered little more than a cheap utensil, to be used, abused, and then discarded once a more efficient alternative came along. Given the importance of spit-roasted meat to British cooking, the appearance of the automated spit turner at the end of the 16th century must have seemed like a culinary miracle, and as the technology improved in the 17th and 18th centuries, these mechanical jacks moved from luxury purchase to culinary necessity. Though there are records of turnspit dogs operating into the early 1900s, in many cases they were retained for their rarity value – there’s some evidence the last of their kind were even hired out as attractions. With its unfortunate looks, and understandably ‘morose’ temperament, however, the breed was never going to make the transition to favoured pet. Queen Victoria is said to have kept three retired ‘turnspit tykes’ at Windsor for her amusement, but this particular royal fad didn’t catch on with her subjects, and the distinctive, bandy-legged beast quietly breathed its exhausted last just as the 20th century was getting into its stride. The real sadness is not that this poor, put-upon creature has been rendered obsolete by a machine, but that it was so little valued in its time that it's almost as if it never existed at all. Few who enjoyed the fruits of its labours troubled to record the brief life and times of the turnspit – but let us hope they at least threw Wilf's ancestors the odd bone.

Once Upon A Tide

‘Once upon a Tide’ is a variable, restless, shifting narrative. Turns of phrase, stage directions, and lines of dialogue from Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1610-11) are randomly, repeatedly, and somewhat enigmatically recombined within a close, tense, ship-bound setting reminiscent of Joseph Conrad's The Secret Sharer (1910), or The Shadow-Line (1916). On the deck of a ship off the shore of an island, two interlocutors are closely observed by a narrator who remains hidden from view.

Not quite a short story, not quite a stage play, ‘Once upon a Tide’ is just one of those moments in literature when time ... stands ... still. When plot advances by simply refusing to budge. One of those waiting times, slack tides, great hollows within which heat intensifies, cold deepens, night thickens, fevers rage, or the sun continues its relentless blaze. Tension builds, and still nothing happens; neither the sight of a sail on the horizon nor the slightest breath of wind. It is within these long stillnesses that sailors’ yarns unravel. In Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), the entirety of Marlow’s tale is recounted in one evening whilst sitting utterly still on the deck of a ship moored on the Thames. In the pitch dark and the heavy night air of the river, the narrator strains to discern meaning: ‘I listened, I listened on the watch for the sentence, for the word, that would give me the clue to the faint uneasiness inspired by this narrative that seemed to shape itself without human lips...’. 

In fiction, these long feverish pauses eventually break. In a variable text, however, we may hover forever within the tense and nuanced relation between reading, listening, watching, and waiting for the sentence, the word, the clue...

What tide is this – spring, slack, or neap? And what of this ship – charmed, safely in harbour, or bound sadly home? Are the interlocutors slight, strong, or old? Are they mariners, travellers, or strangers? Where are they from exactly? And what on earth – or sea – are they talking about?

To each of these questions there are endless answers.

There is no logical reason to cause Conrad-esque characters to speak Shakespearian dialogue. The compulsion to do so is born of reading and re-reading sea stories across genres and across centuries. The reader of ‘Once Upon a Tide’ is encouraged to do the same – read and re-read, aloud if possible.

The controls at the bottom of the narrative allow the reader to read the text more quickly, more slowly, to stop the text from shifting, or to move on to a new permutation of this sea-sorrow, to suffer a sea change into something rich and strange. 

Back to 'Once Upon a Tide'.

Rufus Emmanuel

Rufus Emmanuel is the name of a nasty little creep I met at a party. He’s nine years old, small for his age, tastelessly dressed, and he responds to everything I say with, ‘Really? That seems unlikely.’ The most interesting thing about Rufus Emmanuel is his dad, who is also called Rufus Emmanuel.

Rufus Emmanuel senior is someone I’d really like to be like – and to like me. Because he’s someone who cares about the future. His computer is made entirely from renewable sources. All his bags are reused. He never does anything in the short term that he, or anyone, might regret in the long term. Which is why it seems to me one of life’s great cruel ironies, of which pessimists tell us the world is full, that Rufus Emmanuel’s single direct contribution to the future, his son, should be such a nasty little creep.

Rufus junior and I were the dregs of a party that should have ended hours ago, but that he couldn’t leave because his dad was still talking – to my friend Cissy – and that I couldn’t leave because I’d promised Cissy’s fiancé, John Leviathan, that I’d accompany her home – which is a euphemistic way of saying I’d make sure that no-one else accompanied her home. Cissy has a tendency to fall in love with herself when she drinks, with the double effect that she expects to be propositioned at least once, and will forgive herself for saying yes once, at least. Sometimes Cissy has been known to be accompanied home by crowds. It occurs to me that she’d happily settle for just Rufus senior tonight, if I weren’t around to act as a sort of portable, detached (and thus unwelcome) conscience, which sets up a nice contrast between her and me, because I don’t seem to be able to get anywhere with Rufus junior.     

Rufus is standing next to the buffet table spearing the remains of the food with a used cocktail stick. He is grinning so widely that spit sometimes drips from his underlip, but never quite lets go. I can’t imagine why it would hang around, and yet here I am. He greets my approach with the offer of a massively punctured olive, which I eat without knowing whether this is a rite of passage or a prank or a bit of both. Then he announces: ‘You should never wear orange.’ To which I respond defensively: ‘Lots of people here like this dress.’ To which he responds: ‘Really? That seems unlikely.’ To which I almost respond by kicking him hard in the shin, but instead I take a second horribly savaged olive and eat it slowly with a look of defiance. ‘You should never eat in public,’ he says.

I send a panicked glance across the room to Cissy, who callously turns her back to me and laughs ecstatically at a joke I know she can’t really have liked, because, 1: she never gets jokes, and 2: Rufus senior doesn’t get the point of them. I catch a glimpse of his confused face over her chiffoned shoulder, but he doesn’t stop talking to her about the endless reusability of bags, or whatever it is he’s talking about. Either it doesn’t matter to him to be understood, or he hasn’t quite understood that she doesn’t understand. Either way it doesn’t bode well for a long-term relationship. But neither has been put off yet, and they’ve been talking for hours. I find myself feeling impatient for their disillusionment with one another, like a vindictive God watching the universe and knowing the plot. I turn back to Rufus junior and venture an ice breaker.

‘Do you like phones?’ I say, holding out mine as an example of what I mean. ‘Why don’t you have an iPhone?’ he says, with a sixth sense for a sore point (it exploded). But he takes the phone anyway and starts to fiddle around with it, commenting every now and again on the silliness of a photo or the idiocy of an app, though without seeming to be conscious of me at all. It’s as if he isn’t criticising me but the phone, and I’m happy to have found a way of entertaining him at no further cost to my ego. I remind myself that I like myself in orange. When I look back across the room, Cissy is laughing uproariously at something I’m sure she shouldn’t be laughing at, and leaning in towards Rufus senior, whose glasses are misting. When I turn back to Rufus junior, I find that he’s disappeared, but that there’s a new folder on my phone called ‘Shit’, which I can’t open. I wonder vaguely whether it contains my unconscious.

When I look back across the room Cissy and Rufus have also left, which perhaps proves that people only exist while I’m looking at them, and that if I turned quickly I might potentially catch life out in its eternal game of filling my visual field with stuff, but maybe it also proves that I’m a bad friend. I decide that the best thing to do about this second discovery is to let John Leviathan know and plead forgiveness. I open my Contacts and find it empty, except for the mysterious personage, ‘Sucker’, whose number is apparently, 999. I go to my text message folder and find it empty too, except for a new one from my friend Tod Sarassen asking me whether I know that someone with the initials RE is posting vicious things about me on Twitter. I say, ‘No … But Cissy has pulled (again) – what shall I do?’

Tod doesn’t reply to this, perhaps because it isn’t an interesting question, because the only thing I can do is retire with my tail between my legs. The question becomes interesting later, though, when I arrive at midnight at John’s front door, after a post-party nightcap and a lot of brooding. John answers the door in goggles because he is in the process of glue-gunning together a matchstick sculpture of Cissy that he plans to present to her on their wedding day. It’s life-size, but otherwise completely unlike her in every way, just as Cissy is herself completely unlike the person he imagines he is about to marry. It occurs to me that it would be just as insensitive (for different but related reasons) to tell him at this point that the sculpture isn’t Cissy as to tell him that Cissy isn’t Cissy, as he knows her, so I decide to help him with his wedding preparations instead, by making a matchstick sculpture of their first child. When I last used a glue gun I glued my hands together, but there are no such complications this time, perhaps because I know to point the gun away from myself – and also perhaps because I am turning away from myself metaphorically: pointing the gun of attentiveness towards John and his child.

In the morning (which I awake to on John’s pull-out sofa bed), it strikes me that what seemed kind in the moment may not have been kind in the long term. I start to think in the way Rufus Emmanuel senior likes to do, in terms of future futures. But I can’t think what to do with the information I have. In the absence of a good plan about how to explain matters (including not just Cissy’s disappearance last night (which may mean nothing of course) but all her disappearances in the company of men she likes (which probably cumulatively mean something)), I decide to help myself to some coffee and to check my emails on John’s MacBook Pro. The password is ‘Cissy’ (I have to guess because John is asleep), and the wallpaper is a picture of a vegetable that looks curiously like Cissy. When I open my inbox, though, I’m immediately distracted from all thoughts of John’s crisis by one of my own. The glue gun of attention is pointing at me, again, after all, because this is what Rufus Emmanuel junior says:

Dear X,

Hello again. Don’t ask me how I know all this: you should assume that I have good evidence, because I do – why else would I embarrass myself by emailing you? These are the things I know:

1)      That you stole your boss’s car.

2)      That you were an accomplice in a diamond heist.

3)      That you impersonated your colleague, Carmen Haze.

4)      That you spied on the cultural theorist, Gio Calvetti.

5)      That you stole a cat from Nicholas Larensen.

6)      That you drink more than you should.

I want £500 for my silence.

Best wishes (not really),

RE 

Panicking, I wonder who can possibly have told him my secrets. It couldn’t be Tod because Tod is loyal, for all his faults, and it couldn’t be John, although Tod tells him everything, because John is the sort of person who makes sculptures of people he likes. The sort of fame that interests him is laudatory. The only person who knows everything who would be likely to talk is Cissy, who is probably cuddled up next to Rufus Emmanuel senior right now.

Cissy agrees to have a drink at 5. She peers out at me from her furs with little shiny eyes that catch the remains of the late January light. ‘So I told him your secrets, so what?’ she says, adding by way of explanation, ‘Rufus and I are in love.’ ‘Let’s leave aside the fact that people who are in love tell one another their own secrets rather than other people’s,’ I say, ‘What interests me is whether Rufus has spoken to Rufus.’ She looks confused, and proceeds with her own story. ‘Rufus and I left the party at around 10, and couldn’t find any taxis, so we decided to break into his friend’s house (which was nearby) and swim naked in his pool. Rufus said his friend wouldn’t mind – that he would understand if he saw me. Rufus said he has never seen anyone so beautiful or met anyone with as interesting a slant on life as me. He said (while we were swimming) that it had never occurred to him before that being so eco-friendly was in fact quite funny, although not in a way that detracted from what he was doing at all. He said he would chuckle now when he reused his bags, but would still reuse his bags, so the environment wouldn’t miss out. He said I had brought laughter into a life that had seemed too full of serious things. He said I reminded him of laughter and should always wear yellow, the colour of laughter. Incidentally, he also said at that point that you should never wear orange.’

Cissy says she can’t stay out any longer because she’s meeting Rufus for more naked swimming at midnight and needs a catnap. She yawns felinely, and leaves. I pay the bill, and wonder how I’m going to manage to stomach paying £500, bearing in mind that this £40 cocktail bill (for just four cocktails!) is making me uneasy – or maybe that’s my conscience. It occurs to me that one of the downsides of being a chaperone is that you’re automatically complicit in the things you witness, whether because you agree to throw in your lot with someone else, whatever they’re up to, or because you promise someone to intervene if things go wrong. If you’re the second sort of chaperone, and you don’t intervene when things go wrong, you’re as foolhardy as the chaperone who agrees to take responsibility for whatever happens to happen – like Christ, but without God on your side, if things then go wrong for you. You have the opportunity not to take responsibility for a bad thing, having originally decided to be the more responsible sort of chaperone who doesn’t go along with everything, and you blow it, and no one is on your side. It certainly feels as though no one is on my side now, and I want to blame this on the Cissy and Rufus situation, although, in a way, what’s potentially messing up my life is incidental to what’s making theirs beautiful – as incidental as Rufus junior seems to be to Rufus senior, bearing in mind that he must have made his own way home…

Tod says he’ll meet me for a drink at 4 tomorrow, though he’s busy so he won’t be able to stay long, and in the meantime I brood. I check Twitter for the ‘vicious’ posts, and am vaguely relieved to find that RE doesn’t divulge anything incriminating, though sad to find, that, apparently, I have numerous bizarre Beckettian mannerisms – e.g. I tell all my stories backwards, I walk off in the middle of sentences (my own and other people’s), I march continuously to the accompaniment of a soft ‘rum-pum-pum’ sound I make conspicuously by puffing out my lips whenever I’m not talking (when I’m talking, my feet ad lib), and I cower and cry a little bit whenever I hear my name.

‘X,’ Tod says the next day, ‘you need to stop worrying about this. No one is going to believe a nine-year-old, especially if his so-called ‘evidence’ is Cissy’s pillow talk. Cissy isn’t even supposed to be engaging in pillow talk with anyone but John, and, believe me, she and Rufus will want to keep this whole thing a secret.’ ‘Yes,’ I say, ‘but it doesn’t matter whether RE is credible on an objective level. This isn’t a court of law. The problem is that he’s threatening to spread rumours about me online that are true, and spectacular, so people will want to believe them – and anyway, no one will know that the initials ‘RE’ refer to a nasty little nine-year-old with a chip on his shoulder because his dad sometimes forgets about him. He could tweet all this tomorrow and I’d be out of my job.’ ‘You’re being melodramatic,’ says Tod. ‘Yes,’ I say, ‘but somewhere between my melodrama and your massive underestimation of the seriousness of this situation, is how I should be feeling.’  

After I’ve left Tod (at 7ish), I go back to John’s to continue work on my sculpture of his firstborn. John pours me a whisky when I arrive (he already has one himself), and we each fall into a workmanlike meditative silence, exchanging words only when one of us needs to use the glue gun or replenish our whisky. While I work, I wonder how to tell the man whose future I’m helping to design that he may not have the future he wants, and also wondering whether I should feel guilty about all the stealing I’m being accused of – and that I’m guilty of, if not about. The only thing on RE’s list that I didn’t do is steal Nicholas Larensen’s cat. It was Tod’s cat, that Nicholas Larensen stole, and we were just reclaiming it.

At around 10, John looks over at my sculpture and says with fatherly wonder, ‘It’s a she.’ ‘Her name’s Ophelia,’ I say, ‘She’s let down by all the people she loves, but she has amazing dignity.’ ‘That’s nice,’ says John, “Ophelia Leviathan’ sounds quite good too [I disagree with him about that] … Well, I’m going to bed now. If you want to carry on, make sure you switch off the glue gun when you’ve finished with it, because it doesn’t like to overheat.’ I carry on working until midnight, and then just sit there until 3, or maybe 4, staring at Ophelia’s tragic features, whispering (a little drunkenly because I’ve had about half a bottle of whisky): ‘I’m sorry, Ophelia, I’m sorry about everything. I know I shouldn’t steal or lie, but I’m not sorry I made you. You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve made.’

When I wake up I’ve glued my hands together (again), though the glue gun’s turned off – it must have been its dying last ooze. Anyway, I decide that this means I’ve become self-preoccupied (again), and should be focussing more on others, so I make John a cup of coffee and a bacon sandwich and take them upstairs to his room. John is so nice that he says ‘thank you’ although he’s in shock. The copy of today’s Times that he’s reading in bed on his MacBook Air (he has two computers) is in the process of informing him that his fiancé is a member of a gang of delinquents called ‘The Pool Crashers’ who wander drunkenly from one mansion to another in Mayfair in search of swimming pools. Few bother to swim when they find them, but some do; there’s a picture of a loving couple swimming naked in a pool belonging to one of Prince Harry’s school friends. John immediately recognises Cissy from a swarm of freckles on her thigh. He doesn’t know Rufus Emmanuel by appearance (though he happens to be reading his book – called Green Futures), but he’s seen enough to start to feel sick. I tell him that Cissy and Rufus probably aren’t pool crashers themselves: they’ve just crashed a pool crashing party, by the looks of it. He nods as if that sounds sensible, and bolts to the ensuite to be sick.

Because it sounds like he’ll be in there for a while, and because it would be especially insensitive of me to leave him alone right now (though I’m a little bored), I decide to check my emails quickly. I’ve only just logged in and found a new email from Rufus junior in my inbox, when someone rings the doorbell. I assume it’s Cissy, and it is, and she doesn’t seem particularly happy to find me at John’s at 8 in the morning in yesterday’s clothes, but nor does she bother to question my explanation (i.e. I’m here to glue together her daughter.) After this brief exchange, she more or less ignores me, probably because she’s mentally preparing to announce to John when he emerges from the bathroom that she’s in love with RE senior. ‘I’m in love with Rufus Emmanuel,’ she says, when her fiancé appears, green, from the bathroom – a metaphor for the Rufusian future, unbeknown to himself (or itself.) ‘What?!’ he says, ‘that little prick who’s been bullying X?’ ‘No, of course not,’ says Cissy, with some impatience, ‘and I’m sure X is being melodramatic about that. What I mean is, I’m in love with someone else.’ ‘Me too!’ says John, and he points wildly at the sculpture of Ophelia I’ve been working on all night. I experience a weird quiver of maternal protectiveness, but not for long, because John has spotted his mistake. ‘I mean I’m in love with this someone else,’ he says, pointing at his sculpture of Cissy. ‘Its me!’ says Cissy. ‘What I’m saying, though,’ says John, ‘is that she isnt you!’ ‘But she is!’ says Cissy, ‘You’ve made a whole sculpture of me out of matchsticks! I love you!’ she adds, incongruously from my perspective. ‘I love you!’ says John, equally incongruously, and they embrace.

When I’m back at my office computer (at 9.30ish), I’m surprised to find – having skimmed RE’s ‘urgent’ request for a meeting at 4 – an email from Tod, advising me briefly to: ‘Just pay him.’ ‘Why the change of tack?’ I write back. ‘Because he has to be bluffing,’ Tod replies after a minute or so, ‘There’s no way he’ll cash the cheque. He just wants to humiliate you.’ ‘How do you know?’ I shoot back. ‘I don’t; it’s an informed guess,’ he writes, ‘You’re a fun person to wind up – you’re melodramatic.’ ‘Thanks,’ I say, and add: ‘BTW, John and Cissy suddenly seem to be a unit again.’ ‘I know,’ he says, ‘I just got a text from John. Go figure!’ He then proceeds to ‘figure’: ‘It’s something to do with a sort of voluntary mutual delusion. John thinks Cissy’s someone his experience teaches him she’ll never be, and she’s prepared to believe in his ideal, despite knowing herself.’ ‘That sounds likely,’ I say, accommodatingly, while reflecting that Tod has become cynical about love since Nicholas Larensen stole his cat. 

I’m quarter of an hour late for my meeting with Rufus Emmanuel junior, because, I explain to him, ‘I’m much in demand at work.’ ‘That seems unlikely,’ he snipes. I toy with the idea of asking him, ‘Why would you think that I’m not in demand?’ but hesitate for the same reason that I haven’t asked John or Tod to help me open the ‘Shit’ folder on my phone. ‘Anyway,’ I say, ‘This is your cheque for £500. Now maybe you’ll leave me alone.’ ‘It’ll be a pleasure to leave you alone,’ he says, which suddenly makes me nostalgic in advance for his negative attention – a convoluted matter of looking ahead to the inability to look anywhere but back, at something that makes me miserable anyway. So I rack my brains for a question that’ll keep the conversation going. ‘I’m curious,’ I say, not altogether truthfully, ‘as to why you only wanted £500.’ ‘Ah’, he says, ‘Because you wouldn’t have been able to afford anything else, judging by your clothes, accent and manners, and because a £500 deduction from a monthly wage that just about covers rent, meals and a bit of drinking is bound to be inconvenient in a really close-to-the-nerve way. I mentally see you preparing your daily repast of boiled cabbage, lentils and gradually diminishing pasta, and it makes me smile with my heart.’ It’s at this point more or less exactly that I realise that RE isn’t bluffing at all.

A few days later, £500 disappears from my bank account. My first thought is to ask John for a loan, but I already owe him £3,000 – and more if you count all the whisky and the damage I did to his first glue gun (when I first glued my hands together.) My second thought is to ask Cissy and/or Tod, but I can’t imagine either saying yes, though both are rich, so I give up. It’s also a few days after my meeting with Rufus junior, that I’m reminded of his peculiar sounding phrase, ‘makes me smile with my heart’ – and remember that it comes from the song, ‘My Funny Valentine’, which makes me wonder whether all his viciousness might be a kind of confused declaration of love. After all, that song could be pretty vicious in the hands of a sociopath – ‘Your looks are laughable/Unphotographable’ etc. It’s the sort of thing I imagine him saying unaffectionately, apropos of nothing. It’s a little like telling someone they should never eat in public. Maybe he imagines that we’re soulmates because my history of theft makes me a sociopath. But he’s completely wrong about that. Theft is just something I get up to when I’m drunk, when it seems like an entirely harmless and inexpensive (indeed, potentially the opposite) way of spending time. The nostalgia (this time real-time) that the memory of my drunken thieving arouses in me is a welcome reminder that whatever RE’s motives may have been, the end-result is that I have no drinking money and am sitting here eating cabbage, lentils and diminishing (not real-time) pasta, because of him.

I’m solemnly eating cabbage, lentils and a few forlorn twists of fusilli on Valentine’s day – which may seem like a nice day to some people, but not to anyone who’s halfway through the desert of a month of pennilessness – when an email pings into my inbox from ‘Rufus Emmanuel’, and, in spite of myself, I smile with my heart. But, as it turns out, my heart has jumped the gun in this instance, because – before I read the email – my eye is caught by the paraphernalia of status: the ‘Professor’ ahead of the name, the Oxford College (namely, Crispsmith College – I didn’t know it existed!), and the link to a flamboyant advertisement for Rufus Emmanuel’s new book. It strikes me as tautological to give Green Futures a green cover, but then, tbf, what other colour could it be? Even white would seem subversive of the message. Anyway, the email says:

Dear X (if I may),

I’m emailing you on Valentine’s Day to tell you that I love you. When you first glanced across at me at the party the other day, my heart melted, and so did all my elaborate theories about the future (thankfully, the book is published), because the only possible future I could imagine was one with you – though I didn’t (and still don’t) know how you feel about me, or what our combined futures might look like – although I think I can safely say that they’d (may I say ‘they’ll’?) be somewhat more attractive than Rufus Emmanuel junior, poor fellow. I often wonder what you’re doing, bearing in mind your history of adventure, as described to me by our mutual friend, Cissy. I associate you with the colour orange, not just because of your dress at the party, but because orange (for me anyway) is the colour of adventure. You should always wear orange.

All My Very Best wishes (really),

RE

Völuspá: The Seeress’s Prophecy

‘Völuspá’ compresses the whole of the Norse vision of the universe’s history and future into its 60-odd short stanzas. It is narrated by a seeress, or Völva, who is requested by Odin to share her memories and prophecies with humankind, ‘Heimdall’s young’. She begins with a version of the creation story, and tells us of the great war between the Aesir and the Vanir that ended with the Vanir’s deification. She then looks forward to Ragnarok, and the death of the Gods, then beyond that to the purified world’s rebirth.Visual Cage

We don’t know when the poem was written. It is quoted extensively in Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda (1220), a kind of manual for writing Skaldic verse, and appears in the collection of poems known as the Poetic Edda, the earliest manuscript of which dates from the 1270s, but it is much older, and the stories are older still. It is generally thought to have been a minstrel poem that was passed down through the centuries by word of mouth. The catalogue of the dwarves that begins in the 10th stanza, an important source of names for the characters in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books – Gandalf means Wand-Elf – probably comes from another poem entirely, and some translators leave it out. I think it’s one of the best bits. 

Most translators of ‘Völuspá’ have sought conscientiously to decode the Norse rather than attempt to capture the poetic spirit of the original. In the Norse the lines are short, dense and heavily alliterative. They have a very distinctive, muscular music, which I’ve tried to imitate in my translation. I’ve also tried to make the poem easier to understand by making the names of the characters consistent. In my version, at the least, it should be clearer who is doing what to whom and when.

Making Of

Jon’s initial plan is to smear a teddy bear with dog food and drag it through the streets of Kilyos. The town is full of stray dogs, so he hopes that by the time we get back out into the countryside we’ll have a comet’s tail of mongrels chasing after our two cars. We’ve come to Kilyos to help him make a film for an art show he’s putting on in London. The film will be only be 30 seconds long, like a car ad, and it will also have the glossiness of a car ad, except for the frantic dogs. There are six of us in the crew – me, Jon, Jesse, Samara, Ali and Mihda – plus Esteban, Mihda’s dog. Esteban is theoretically still a puppy, but he’s already so huge that when he treads on your foot it feels like he might have broken a few of your toes. Apparently his breed was developed to hunt wild boar. His white coat matches the colour of Mihda’s dad’s car, a four-wheel-drive Porsche Cayenne, and whenever we leave him on his own even for a second he gets into the driver’s seat and sits up with his paws on the wheel looking like ­­Rick Ross. Esteban is not here to act in the film. But he’s not just a shark-eyed mascot either. We think of him as key grip.ir-leasing.ru

Kilyos, a resort about 15 miles north of the centre of Istanbul, has had most of the life sucked out of it by the local mafia. The satellite dishes on the roofs here are so brown with rust that they make me think of oversized forest mushrooms. We find that there isn’t nearly enough manoeuvrability on these little streets to do our Pied Piper act, and also the dogs are already so well fed that they may not have much interest in our meaty decoy, so instead we just eat some spinach börek and then carry on to Gümüsdere Beach. On the way, alongside the cabbage fields and cemeteries and go-kart tracks, there are fences which have repeating patterns of blobby holes cut out of their struts, as if eaten away by some meticulous weevil. Jesse explains that the wood must be the interstices from a type of automated woodwork called CNC, so these struts are like the leftover dough that you guiltily cram in your mouth after you’ve stamped out a dozen heart-shaped biscuits. There are also so many strays by the side of the road that when we pass a few cows for the first time there is a terrifying moment when I take them for gigantic horned mastiffs.

After a while we come to a stretch of beach that looks about right to Jon, but all the beach resorts here are privately run, so they all have gates, and the gates here are locked. They do look a bit rickety, but there’s a CCTV camera nearby, and Jon doesn’t want to do anything that might get us arrested. Ali goes to speak to some old men in a café nearby, and they tell him that the guardian of the gate is somebody called Mr Hasan in the village. I was excited to come on this trip because Jon said we’d have to pay a lot of bribes and I’d never paid a bribe before. Surely, I think, Mr Hasan will be our first bribe. But when we eventually track his son, he tells us that he can’t unlock the gate for us but we’re very welcome to break in if we want. I wonder if there’s any chance we might be permitted to bribe him anyway, just for the experience.

After Jon has wrenched the gates open, we have the beach to ourselves. The row of holiday homes further up the slope are all identical in their architecture but in various stages of dilapidation, so from the rear they remind me of one of those anti-drug posters showing the slow decline of a meth user. We’d hoped we might be able to swim for a while, but the grey sea is far too cold. The Bosphorus has a one-way system that changes direction every 12 hours, and by the time we leave so many ships will be queuing up on the horizon that they look like a manufactured coastline. Jesse, Samara and I walk up the beach to look for some stray dogs. Our progress is slowed a little by Samara’s scavenging. Her art is full of creases, furrows, and stains, so she’s finding a lot of treasure on the beach that she wants to take home with her. In this briny wind, everything erodes at the speed of a time-lapse video, so the half-buried tarpaulins and plastic buckets look as if they’ve been here since the Hittite era. Eventually, we do come across three fairly photogenic strays, but just as we’re making our first shy advances with a bag of sliced sausage, two teenagers from the riding school nearby come cantering across the beach, and the dogs go straight for their horses. They really seem to think they have a shot at taking both horses down like cheetahs against gazelles.

We don’t have a hope of catching up. So we’ve failed to assemble a cast of unknowns. But of course our star has been right in front of us all this time. As a test, we tie a length of twine to the teddy bear and dangle it in front of Esteban to see if he’s interested. The teddy bear has a disconcertingly Lolita-type posture and when squeezed sings ‘You Are My Sunshine.’ Esteban is interested. Esteban is very interested. Esteban is so interested that it soon becomes clear that wrestling the teddy bear out of Esteban’s mouth between takes will constitute a full time job for at least one member of the crew (I remember reading that the same was true of Jack Nicholson during the filming of The Departed). Afterwards, I grope the muddy bear again, hoping to hear a slurred and atonal rendition of its little song, like a damaged robot’s, but evidently it’s been traumatised into silence.

Jon has a shouldermount for his camera, but the spring is too weak, so whenever he tries to use it the camera lolls around like a concussion patient. Instead, he’s going to steady the camera by hand. Since I have nothing in particular to do, I join him on the cargo bed of the second car, from which he’ll be filming the action. The sun is setting, and we are entering what’s called the Golden Hour, that divine burnishment which has inspired filmmakers with its fugitive beauty since the very advent of Technicolor: perfect conditions, in other words, to get a few takes of a big dog running after a cuddly toy. Communicating with walkie-talkies between the two cars, we begin filming. The teddy bear is dragged at high speeds behind the Porsche like Hector’s body behind the chariot of Achilles. With three bodies in independent motion, this feels like something between exceptionally complex stuntwork and a total farce. Esteban seems to be having the time of his life, presumably assuming that this entire game has been arranged for his benefit. I find myself wishing that being a novelist involved a bit less sitting alone in small rooms and a bit more riding in the backs of pick-up trucks at high speeds.

By the time the dog finally tires, Jon has come to accept that we aren’t going to get the smooth 30-second take he was hoping for. But he’s got quite a few shorter takes he can edit together. As we’re packing up the equipment, we see that at least one other party has taken advantage of the gate we left open. A guy in one of those stubby, top-heavy delivery vans has driven on to the beach and is now attempting to do donuts on the sand. It’s like watching Esteban practising pirouettes. After a while the guy gets out of his car for a cigarette, so Jesse and I decide to go over to say hello to him. It’s only when we’re within a few paces that I realise I’m still carrying the filthy, ruined teddy bear on its noose of twine like some sort of avant-garde handbag. The guy looks at the bear and then looks at me. I look back at him. Nobody says anything.