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As the survivor of a less than orthodox Christian upbringing, Frank Lynn is now a fully paid-up ambivalent.

He an at last en!oy the harm and beauty to be found in doubt. He loves un ertainty. He is thoroughly, definitionally C of ".

F r a n k Ly n n

THE BURNT FOOL

Copyright © Frank Lynn #he right of Frank Lynn to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in a ordan e with se tion $$ and $% of the Copyright, &esigns and 'atents A t ()%%. All rights reserved. *o part of this publi ation may be reprodu ed, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, ele troni , me hani al, photo opying, re ording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers. Any person who ommits any unauthori+ed a t in relation to this publi ation may be liable to riminal prose ution and ivil laims for damages. A C,' atalogue re ord for this title is available from the -ritish Library. ,.-* )$% (%/)01 2// % www.austinma auley. om First 'ublished 345(/6 Austin 7a auley 'ublishers Ltd. 42 Canada .8uare Canary 9harf London "(/ 2L-

'rinted and bound in :reat -ritain

#he dog returns to his vomit and the sow returns to her mire, And the burnt Fool;s bandaged finger goes wabbling ba k to the fire.

<udyard =ipling The Gods of the Copybook Headings

For Lew, who had to start out early.

&an ing Angels, they all them, the playful little 9ill-o-thewisps that finger the over-pressure. 9e;re taught to wat h for them, now, to fear them for what they portend> if you;re seeing Angels, they say, you;ve got maybe three, four se onds to get out. #hey roll and pop and fi++ in the hurning smoke layer, po kets of gas playing peep-o as the mix rea hes the sorts of temperatures at whi h it an auto-ignite. At about $, %, )55 degrees, everything;s pyrolysing, sweating restless energy in to the pla e, working itself up to a point where the whole pla e might !ust flash over. , think of -laenau> two of the lads basted in their own fat one workaday weekend turnout. #he report said that one of them was found to have rawled in disoriented desperation ba k in to the heart of the fire, before his set !ust fell apart in the heat. ,t;s a rage that these Angels, playing in the smog, don;t seem in lined to or apable of> three, four se onds to ?, am be ome death, the destroyer of worlds; and they;re still dan ing in and out of life, gasping little asthmati s in an anaerobi primaevality, like lightning opening up moments of reation. :od killing time with a lighter. :uttering little yellow breaths, stumbling forward, bowing and urtseying, and then a mesmeri , follow-me feint in to the smoke, a beautiful, be koning #hanatos-shaped finger.

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7ust have been something like three this morning when the rain woke me, , suppose, banging on the window, insistent as a pissed up teenager. And , !ust lay there, for a good four or five minutes, !ust leaned ba k in to the noise and listened to it pounding away. 9hi h is unusual for me@ normally ,;d have been straight up and out and stood at the window, bollo k naked, eager to tap in to some of the s8ually violen e. -ut not today. Little drops of water flinging themselves against the glass like :adarene swine, and yet this morning it didn;t so mu h as tou h me. ,f anything, it was strangely 8uieting@ a furious per ussive drumming that, having brought me round, then flipped itself into a lulling soporifi hum, its errati waves on the panes !ust making the warmth and softness of the bed almost irresistible. 7aybe it had something of the sublime about it A all that being beyond the rea h of destru tive power and stuff. 9hatever. , wanted it to go on and on, sort of a heavy, osy duvet. ,t didn;t disturb her, anyway. Bery little does, it seems, on e she;s gone off. ,t;s like having .leeping -eauty for a bedfellow. .o it wouldn;t have mattered to her either way, my getting up or not, wouldn;t have broken her slumber. .he had her ba k turned to me, a full hour of glass that had worked its way out from under the 8uilt, and in my unheated bedroom her skin was beginning to goose pimple. .he felt like , imagine sa k loth might feel, rough and oarse and slightly abrasive. Cf ourse, she hadn;t thought to bring night lothes A why would she haveD #here was !ust a navy flash of post- oitally put-ba k-on bra, its tired nylon being pulled into taut reases as it made the pass under her arms, where the blue stret hed itself into white. , hadn;t realised how broad she was, how fleshy@ onsiderably fleshier than a ba k-street lub;s psy hedeli light show had let on only a few hours ago. 9ith

pendulous breasts that evidently re8uire night-time su our. ,gnoring the fa t that it felt somehow furtive, , gently fingered the tight seams of the straps, and ran a s rat hy nail along them as they ut down into her utaneous. #he skin either side had ridden up like the little pink walls of a anyon, and the ridge was warm and hard under the aress of my finger. -y morning she was going to be properly +ippered, deep red lines of patterning ir ums ribing her trunk. , stroked her, tapping in to the pleasure that she was un ons iously storing up for herself, the pleasure she;d get when she finally made it home and got to go ompulsive on it. -ut for now her ribs !ust ontinued with their rising and falling, oblivious both to my fingering and to the oming satisfa tion. #he mattress springs sighed in time with her breathing. And there was a little whistle, barely audible above the noise from outside, the faintest of nasal whines that a ompanied ea h exhalation, its pit h dropping away as her lungs emptied. ,t;s the type of ti k that , know ould be ome more than irritating if we were to try to keep this together. ,f, maybe, we are going to be trying. -ut in the moment, its whining regularity was 8uite endearing, a steady rhythmi ounterpoint to the ebb and flow of the rain. , 8uite liked the idea of having somebody;s irritations ki king around the pla e. ,t probably isn;t unseasonal, in *ovember, rain like that. And anyway, ,;ve always liked the rub of the seasons A all the more so sin e , started walking it into work. ,;ve been made to dis over that it;s half the en!oyment, dit hing the insularity of the ar to be tou hed by the elements. #hat, and being ex used the enfor ed inertia of the -ristol <oad, of ourse. , soon found that on e you;re out in a hard rain, the dis omfort of the leaking and the seepage soon passes, and there;s something thrilling ki ks in, something atavisti , a primitive grit. *othing speaks to the anima like arriving out of the teeth of a shitstorm. .o , knew it wasn;t the weather, really, even as , was lying there. Ender no delusion whatsoever that the pull of the bed was down to the imperious drumming outside, that it was the unusual presen e of a pie e of taut nylon that had kept me

away from a window. 9hat had me spooked was what would be lying at the end of that very wet walk in. -y half-seven we were on breakfast, ba on and egg on yesterday;s rusty that she kno ked up whilst , showered@ by the time ,;d gotten to stuffing uniform into a bag, the smell of hot-grilled ba on fat had made it to the top of the stairs and was dragging me about like a nose ring. Finally , get down there and she hands it to me, and , find that she;s a fellow butterer, that she puts a thi k smear of the stuff all over both sli es of the bread, and it mixes and runs with the warm !ui es of the pork and threatens to es ape over your teeth and lips. "ggs !ust the right side of snotted. A fest of dribbling un tuousness. As , struggled with its ex res en es, she went on with her wiping and tidying, moving onfidently around the small spa e of my kit hen. , eased myself ba k on to the door frame and wat hed her, looked again upon her mass, what ,;d found last night to be her omfortable substantiality. #he broad run of her latissimus dorsi. And yet there she was, pran ing nimbly in and out of the upboards, deftly negotiating the poor design of their doors, the onfli ted openings. .o light, surprisingly light on her feet. At last she slows up a little and leans herself forward in to the sink, and her thighs press against the old melamine and they flatten and widen and pin h themselves losed, tight, down to the knee. 7ade me feel a bit spoiled, somehow, to have been allowed between them, so easily, so soon. #here was definitely something of the s hool ook about her, what with that bustling, assured effi ien y. Although she;d never before set foot in the house, obviously she;d felt suffi iently at ease to have ome down and kno ked this up, and then !ust got on with making good on the kit hen. *ot even a ursory ask as to whether , a tually took breakfast. Her mien slightly too settled, maybe, as she;d handed me the plate. , didn;t remember any of that from last night, any sense of an inner authority, a presen e. 9ere it not for my pressing, 5-ninehundred-hours engagement with a fire engine, , wondered whether the morning might not have begun stret hing itself out into that spa e where it gets awkward and slightly threatening.

-ut of ourse , did have to be going. As , guided her out into the por h and losed the door to, she slipped her hands into my ba k po kets and s8uee+ed the heeks of my arse, her head o ked and flirty. ,t was the ook again, or matron, , think her way of trying to take harge of the moment, the parting s ene, the frame before the tumbling weed of ?... so, do you fan y meeting up next week, sometimeD; A passiveaggressive demand for some sort of indi ation of intent. At the very least it was a re8uest that , slow up a bit, and noti e the oy little smile with whi h she was smiting me. .he tasted of brown sau e and ba on, as , leaned in to kiss her, a lus ious sau y por ine salute to the last eight or ten hours of our time together. 7y hands were already there, gently upping her head as an ad!un t to the kiss, but with sex brought so lose it was inevitable that they;d go in sear h of her again, in sear h of that fullness, of the topographi al interplay between her generous body and its weary gilding. #he stit hing of her skin. #hey lingered for a while, on e more ba k and forth, hasing down the whiteness of the seams A !ust refamiliarising themselves A and then we kissed again, long and slow and indifferent to lo king-on times, and her eyes sparkled. , tidied a wayward lo k of hair> ?#hank you. "spe ially for the indulgen e. #hough , think it was probably a little re kless of you, on a first date.; ?7aybe it was. 7aybe next time , should ob!e t.; ?*ext time it won;t be a first date.; .he;d finished with my arse, though not before finding my ar keys for me, whi h she dangled in front of me like a tease. ?:od, , don;t even know where you live. Can , drop you off somewhere, on my way inD; F , park up at the -ear. Have done sin e -ertie foisted his inane bus lane on us, and made a pedestrian out of me. -ut ,;m no .t. 'aul@ my &amas ene moment involved more than a little oer ion, and it ertainly didn;t leave me blind to the onvenien e of the ombustion engine. And what;s getting

irksome is that , relive it, that morning of my onversion, , relive it every time , dit h the ar here to walk in. Cf ourse, when , first heard they were planning a bus lane along here , wasn;t that bothered, even though it was likely going to mean ten, fifteen minutes onto the !ourney. ,t;s the -ristol <oad, for :od;s sake A the arthriti shuffle, the grinding attrition of red lights and green lights is what we do. -ored resignation sort of sets the tone for those of us whose preferred working-day default is numb. And ,;ve got nothing against the buses themselves, per se, though given the hoi e ,;d rather pogo it into town than at h one. -ut that;s !ust a personal spa e thing@ good lu k to those amongst us who aren;t so pi ky, who are willing to bunk up and who no doubt love to drag all that eager gregariousness into work with them. -uses should be allowed to expedite the righteous on their way. A good two years ago, then, when they put it in. At least two years, and yet it;s still so lear in my head that it might have been yesterday. ,t was one of those brilliant aurorae that Ganuary o asionally throws you to take the edge off weekdays, something like an apology, almost, for all the old, dark starts. "verything out there !ust saturated in olour, irradiating olour, all of it breaking out like the first morning, with or without bla kbird;s say-so. As risp as a reative day. "ven the log-!am of traffi , when , rounded the bend by 7anor &rive and saw it all, on ertinaed rows of boots and bumpers already ba ked up way past 9eoley 'ark, and all of them in front of me, between me and where , needed to be A even then, the only thing that really registered was the way they shimmied in the sun;s :lorious #e hnispray. Hou ould have been forgiven, briefly, for thinking it had all been planned, a sort of osmi - oun il ollaboration designed to mollify the :reat Enmoving. And up to that point , was pretty easy about it@ even as , drifted to a slow stop and assumed the inert position, , was 8uite happy to be sat there. 7ore than a little bemused as well, obviously, as to how pin hing everything down to a halt like this was going to help the world;s polar bores. -ut , re kon the only thing , had to annoy me at that stage was the faint whiff

of exhaust fumes whi h had started to filter in, playing with my tongue and nostrils, that laggy taint that seems to affix itself to all your soft, moist respiratory bits. 'ulled up too lose to the -eamer in front, , !ust let the ar roll ba k a foot or two, and wat hed rather than breathed the steady stream purring out of her twin exhausts. , remember it billowing and turning opa8ue the moment it hit the morning old, and then lifting like an offering of in ense. 7ade me smile, and think of the oblation that ,, too, would have been sending up to the :od of 7isguidan e. Cf ourse it was always going to be short-lived@ it lasted all of five, ten minutes, my laid-ba k introdu tion to -ertiethe-Layer-of--us-Lanes and his attempts at traffi management. Hou;ll know everything there is to know about bus lanes by now, surely, about how that va an y of tarma to the left seems to exert an almost planetary pull on shit. As , say, plays in my head as though it were yesterday. ,;d already moved on from the stuff oming out of its exhausts to the -eamer;s driver, and the pout of pomegranate-red with whi h she was filling her rear-view. #he intensity with whi h she applied the finishing tou hes. A rimped pu ker, and then she expanded her mouth into a voluminous bla k hole that she orbited with a thin tail of lipsti k. #hey were full lips, 7ae 9ests, and now florid and sanguine@ intentionally suggestible, , was beginning to think, ex ited I and then that lowered Clio pun tured it, shifting down the empty inside lane, no attempt at disguising her ontempt, no attempt to look bus-like. -oun ing off her spoiler as she slipped by, our glorious Ganuary sun suddenly be oming nothing more than an insou iant solar wink, a bright solar finger. A provo ation, it seems, that few of them were able to resist> as soon as she;d popped her Clioshaped enema up there, there was shit flowing down that bus lane in waves. "verywhere, , ould feel polar bears leaping everywhere. ,t shouldn;t have bothered me that mu h@ ,;d allo ated time enough to get in to work, with or without the solipsisti world-view of the Clio brigade. , suppose , would have been a little pissed at how bra+enly they asserted their time sheet

prima y. -ut it was their animus that really got to me, and that would eventually onvin e me of the inevitability of the pedestrian way> that they ould a tually be so indignant that we 8ueuing might dare ob!e t to being !umped when the bus lane filtered them ba k in, an indignation they onveyed with rabid eyes and spittled lips and a round of fu ks, and whi h they prose uted at the preformed-plasti point of imperious offside bumpers. "very morning, without fail, without let-up, and all of it performed to a dissonant horn horus. For a while you offer some sort of token resistan e, by way of hugging up to the bumper in front, maybe even believing it to be a kind of publi servi e, an a t of moral propriety. A sanitary a t. And !ust finding something over to the right on whi h to be fo using while you;re being fucker-ed from the left. -ut unless you;re a +ealot, the moral aspe t of fairness 8ui kly edes to the pragmati when you realise that to onfront them all is to turn a six-mile ommute into the !udgement of .isyphus. #he effluent will still ome, morning after morning, no matter how mu h of it you shut out, no matter how mu h shit you roll up that hill. -ut of ourse then there is a ost of not rolling, a payment levied less at the point of onta t than more generally, more subliminally. 9hen giving way starts to be ome the default, inevitable rea tion to a looming bumper, the feeling of being slightly diminished sti ks with you for the rest of the day, and the day is somehow sullied. #he 8uality of shitness is transferred. ?:od bless those bloody bears; was pretty mu h the only response , ould ome up with, towards the endgame, along with ?:od bless -ertie;, who, with a 8ui k fli k of his oun il house biro, had managed to auteur our everyday, a epted tedium into something Hpri . , endured must have been about six months of this, at the end of whi h ,;d be finding myself in the station ar park for ten minutes before the start of every shift, oming down, trying to re apture some of my pre ious, pre-bus lane numbness. And it was about then that , realised , was !ust too old to be playing with fae es. He;d won. -ertie had beaten the ar out of me. .o, its unimpea hably green redentials notwithstanding, , started walking it. Gehovah;s 9itnesses walk. "ven ex-

Gehovah;s 9itnesses. ,t;s what they;ve been trained to do. Although, despite my years of training, , a tually walk only part of it, whi h is ertainly re al itran e over -ertie, and maybe over G9s, too. , drive the first ouple of miles and then leave the ar at the -ear and .taff, whi h is pretty well where it all begins to hoke up. ,t;s an ideal dump spot@ at a de ent pa e, the walk in only takes about forty-five minutes, and it has a ar park sprawling enough for a landlord not to be so bothered about a beaten up 7a+da tu ked away at the far end. ,deal, on e ,;d managed to dis onne t the pla e from "ffie. F -y about ten-to, ,;d dropped her off and then gotten myself over to the pub. #he storm was pretty mu h spent at that point, but shit had she en!oyed herself last night. Ck, the threeo; lo k wake-up all might have prepared me for a little postin lemen y debris, as had some of the drive over, but pulled up here, now, the intensity of that fury was almost hastening. "spe ially when , thought ba k to that deli ious omfort, that almost sedu tive duvet wooing of only a few hours ago. .eems she;d taken a parti ular dislike to the poplars, a do+en or so of whi h form themselves up into something of a perimeter on the -ristol <oad side, somebody;s idea of a token s reen against the ongestion. #all and insubstantial at the best of times, they;d always looked to me like so many of the destitute, a 8uiet line outside a soup kit hen. -ut she;d evidently spent the night on them, slapping them about and stripping them out, an intemperate -oreas, to leave them looking ragged and forlorn, owed even. Gust in front of them A !ust in front of me A the fen e lay su ker-pun hed a ross the driveway, so even had the ar park not been turned into a make-shift mortuary for poplar limbs, , ouldn;t have gotten to my usual spot, over away on the left, far enough from the pub itself to make investigating it seem less than worthwhile. And everywhere the re8uisite plasti bags, aught up in what was left of the trees or pinned into doorways, or still tumbling around the pla e, a few of them, like rap-table di e.

, suppose the drive over was still on A it !ust would have meant me having to get off my arse to shift the fen e and then some of the bigger stuff, the woody onse8uen e, pi king a ginger way through all the post-apo alypti s8uall. -ut it stru k me as being even less dis reet than !ust dumping the ar up by the entran e and hoping that the landlord wasn;t going to hoose today, of all days, to have a downer on fly parking. .ixty 8uid for a wheel lamp, , was thinking as , lo ked it up, or who knows how mu h if it gets towed. *ot that , had any hoi e, what with Cld Goe;s bell beginning to mark off the morning with the first of his eight himes@ had to be going. Had a day to fa e. #he doors of the bar were wide open as , ame past them, and at first , made an effort to 8uieten the rubberi+ed s8uel hing of my boots on the wet paving slabs, but then it seemed pointless, a moment;s silen e against the great green sulk of a ar that was going to be sat there for the staring at, sat there provoking him, for the next nine or ten hours. And of ourse it was nothing but displa ement, anyway, this boots thing, another distra tion presenting itself, to be gotten through, mu h like the morning;s permutations on swine, like the thin diversion of waif-trees and wheel lamps. An o upied mind y ling through and atta hing itself to fluff, trying to avoid the room;s elephant. -ut of ourse , knew, as , let my boots noisily loose on the -ristol <oad, , knew as ,;d known from long before any three o; lo k arousal that this might turn out to be the walk that sees the unravelling of my ambulatory onversion. "very moistly resonant step along here was another step into the unknown. =wesi .impson. #hat;s the name unknown goes by@ though he;s unknown to us only insomu h as we hadn;t a tually had him as our gaffer before. And, of ourse, it;s not really an unknown unknown. .tuff per olates through, inevitably, stuff gets whispered> his predile tion for grandstanding oratory at big exer ises@ the five kids that he has tagging along to every fun tion, testament, maybe, to his reprodu tive prowess@ the o k extension that is his Honda *.J.

He was to be starting in less than an hour, and by all a ounts, he doesn;t start well. 9hen he was put in harge of .heldon :reen 9at h, a ouple of years ago, there was no introdu tory first-morning hit- hat, no ?Hi, ,;m =wesi, this is how it;s gonna be, make it so;. Gust a sullen imperative to get out into the yard, where they spent the next two and a half hours performing variations on the same tired old fire brigade routines> a thirteen-five ladder to the third floor, a main !et working into the tower. As though he were asserting himself, one of the blokes said, an imperious on ern with pro!e ting his power. .trange A if it;s true A for su h a big, physi ally imposing bloke. ,roni . .omething slightly unbalan ed about him, they;d said. -ut it seems inse urity sets out a pretty tedious stall@ every shift, apparently, they;d be out there !umping through the hoops of his flawed psy hology, ome rain or shine, running through the same basi ombinations. ,n less than an hour. , ouldn;t wait. #he !oy of perfun tory drill, repeated ad nauseam be ause the guy would seem to possess neither the reative nous nor the self- onfiden e to run a wat h. , met him on e. Cr rather, , found myself in the same room as him, eavesdropping as he expounded to some guy that he;d ornered his views on mess tables. "vidently the seating arrangements at dinner are something of a pet fetish of his. "very station ,;ve ever been on, the mess tables are pushed together into a s8uare or re tangular unit around whi h all of the boys sit, together, !ust getting on with it. ,sn;t that the idea, the whole point of itD 9e all get thrown in there, and bump and grind along, a disparate amalgam out of whi h something eventually oales es and emerges, something like a fun tioning wat h. -ut it would appear he has this thing about the li8uiness of wat hes, about how they need to be made to be more in lusive, more friendly, and so he likes to break it all up and fra ture the seating into paired tables. &ot them around the room, he was saying, separate them out so it;s no longer suggestive of a working environment, but is more like a restaurant that you might hoose to walk into and eat at. <e onfigure the setting, and !ust sit ba k and wat h as the

behaviour hanges a ordingly. He was nodding earnestly, the poor bloke on the re eiving end of this, while doubtless trying to disguise his bemusement. For :od;s sake, 'avlov, , was thinking, it;s a fire station@ we;ve no hoi e but to be there for the duration of the shift. And while ,;d be the first to admit that not every wat h is 8ui k on extending the wel oming handshake, , !ust ouldn;t see the logi behind any of it, this little plan of his. How does it workD How is sha kling a ouple of blokes to ea h other at a table supposed to synthesi+e some sort of humminess out of indifferen eD #hat he;s a romanti , , an put up with. ,;ve had worse. -ut then there;s all that stuff about nitty-gritty, whi h, after someone pointed out is another of his hobby-horses, ,;m suddenly dis overing , use all the time. Hadn;t even realised it, that , had be ome so reliant upon a su ession of ha kneyed verbal ti s to get me through a senten e, hadn;t realised that my arguments were 8uite so flabby and unmarshalled. Apparently he lives to take people to task over their use of it, however inno uously they use it, however orre t their grammar, be ause it is definitely a des ription of the slave detritus in the hulls of transatlanti slavers, and any flippant or non- ontextual use is an offensive trivialisation of the entire slave experien e. "ven though it definitely isn;t. .o what;s next, Little 7iss Cblo8uyD ?*iggardly;D ?"mpiri al;D 9e;re all of us in here slaves, , found myself muttering at a posts8ually -ristol <oad, every man !a k one of us. #he wind was ba k, starting to snat h at my hood, and had me wondering whether in fa t she had life in her yet. A ouple of the drains down here had already been overwhelmed, and great pools of water were straddling the road and pavement, rubbing out the urbs and gutters for stret hes, hundreds of yards at a time. #he ars are always ba ked up anyway, when you get this lose to town, but in the absen e of anything by whi h to orient themselves they were slowed to a rawl, their drivers ploughing hopeful lines through the flood water. #he displa ement of the tyres sends out rippling little spasms, little rests that rush and ra e themselves to the edges of the water, where they then !ust peter out and die. And in between, when a

red traffi light gives it all a break from the hurning of the wheels, it manages to at h the refle tion of the street lamps and headlights and tail lights on its vis ous, ra ing skin, swat hes of bobbing olour oming down after something like epilepsy. -linking onvulsions of olour. #he refle tion of a louring sky adds a dramati intensity to it all, a spe ta ular pulsing intensity@ an hypnoti little lightshow played out in a grubby body of water sat on top of a storm drain. As , pi ked my way along the tidemark, , was determined not to let him ruin all of this, to deprive me of these little moments that flash out from the everyday. ,f push omes to shove, , don;t doubt , an still do it, all of the mental attrition bullshit. ,;ve done time enough to appre iate that they an;t but ome with a need to make their mark. #he arrival of any new gaffer is an organi pro ess, an evolution of adaptation and ompromise in whi h they seek to impose and you try to yield in the dire tion in whi h you want them to push. All the little 8uirks and oddities that they tend to a umulate are !ust the ollateral damage, , suppose, of them trying to keep the peripateti posts of Fire -rigade promotion in fo us. -ut it still left me out of sorts as , negotiated the debris of a late autumn area of low pressure. , don;t do out of omfort +one stuff, any of this bree+y striding into an adventurous off-piste. His keenness, his toeing the ompany line, our having to negotiate his willy-waggling A all of it was intruding upon my walk, the way , knew it was going to. ?-unny; they alled him over there, at .heldon, the ?Gungle-; obviously unvoi ed. From what , hear, ?Hypera tive #wat; would have been easier, or ?&i khead &rill 'ig; A less of a peering into unemployment. 9hy flirt with itD -ut of ourse the subversive power of a pisstake is pretty mu h proportional to how lose it sails to a taboo, to how losely the words that you speak ome to the unspeakable. And if they;d been rumbled, they;d always have had the easy get-out of the oney onnexion, the at-it-like-arabbit fertility that he seems on erned with parading, and whi h they would no doubt have delivered with an aggrieved relish, eyebrows inno ently raised and wronged arms outstret hed. Cr sometimes they;d !ust play the .impson ard,

and all him ?CG;. =wesi .impson A , pra tised it, formed it up, tried to think of it without any baggage be ause pretty soon , was going to have to voi e it without any baggage. =wesi .impson, for what was left of the !ourney in to work. -unny. ,;m generally wary of buying wholesale into reputations, or at least , like to think , make the attempt> he;ll no doubt stand or fall on his Ga k Gones in the first week or so. -ut what with so mu h smoke and fire... =wesi .impson. ,t;s got a pleasing rhythm to it, an e ho of balan ing assonan e in the hiasmus in whi h Cld and *ew 9orlds are fused. , imagine it as an in antation, an ululating ba kground soundtra k as -ob :eldof pontifi ates to amera or something. 9hi h should probably set me to wondering whether ,;ve already started buying. And then , have a horn sounding out from somewhere behind, an aggressive monosyllable that pier es through the damp to level out the nas ent ululating. Kuite when or why the moist glories of this morning had taken a wrong turn ba k there, to lead me into the fraught dark alley of identity politi s, , ouldn;t be sure of, but on balan e , was glad of the wake-up. #he onfluen e of -elgrave 7iddleway and the -ristol <oad is bleak enough without added CG. , espe ially hated this bit of the drive, after -ertie had finished with it. #he grimness of the ity as it seeps southward has an almost ideologi al bent to it, ,;d always thought that@ a maso histi .oviet austerity. -ut being for ed to look out over the view here, out over this suppurating on rete ity-s rape for what seemed like ustodial lengths of time, to then have a su ession of hobos drop into the line as if !ust hopping off a bus-lane box ar, only hastened the end. Hated it. And the slightest re olle tion of that driving-in hatred never but gives my walk a boun e now, an energeti aden e that , suspe t may well ome a ross as insufferably prea hy, if you;ve been sat in traffi for an hour. ,t still yields nothing, edes not a thing to the lived experien e of the people round here. .till the same soulless high-rise, low-so io housing, with tenants that daily have their rhythms and routines subordinated to the 7iddleway and its bollards and barriers and underpasses, as it works its remit to !ust keep the rush hour moving. A ity-si+ed experiment in the

olle tivisation of the will. .o it must really piss them off, even as they suffer all this in onvenien e in deferen e to the :reater 7oving :ood, that for so mu h of the time everything;s all hroni ally gridlo ked anyway. As a means to get to -, it;s a fu king si k, slow geodesi . And what really riles me is that one of -ertie;s prede essors A father of -ertie A had thought to san tion a 7 &onald;s there, right on the !un tion@ a ?drive thru;, right there where there was for so mu h of the time a singular la k of driving, period. A gaudy neon sign that taunted us with verbs of motion as we sat there, motionless, before and within and ontributing to the dystopian lands ape. *i e tou h, that, , thought, and with a sense of the deli iousness of irony denied to his boy. #hree-8uarters of an hour of gridlo k, in whi h my frustration would have found relief only in an o asional impotent raging, and the moment , saw it , ouldn;t keep that lilting des ant out of my head. Ch, yeah, ?,;m lovin; it;, alright. -ut , suppose it;s a little more lovable now. Cr it is for me@ , still don;t see a great deal of love anywhere else, in the !oyless fa es of the ommuting olumns and rows, in the gla+e of the eyes. :ive or take the odd aberrant horn, everything;s !ust resignation, all of it a powered down, survival instin t dorman y. An emotional atrophying. 'erhaps being loseted in the safe, warm onfines of a passenger ompartment doesn;t allow for a onnexion, for any vis eral appre iation of the elements at play> the olours of the traffi lights that !am it all up here also bob and du k and dan e in the puddles, too, swat hes of olour that seem !ust as eager to entertain as were the ones further ba k. "ven the shittiness of the refle ted skyline that flits in and out of the view manages to look a little less rigidly <ussian when you have an elemental bree+e whipping a few spots of -rummagem spit into your fa e. -ut , an;t boun e, , must not boun e the walk down here. ,;d look like a o k, yes, but it;s more than that. 9hat;s parti ularly unnerving about all the listlessness and stupor around me is that it must have been my stupor only a matter of months ago. , would have been sat here, with -ristol .treet no more than sixty feet away, looking at it snaking off into town

with barely a set of wheels on it, and separated from it by nothing more than a hange of lights. Gust like this lot, who are sat at the front of what is effe tively a three-mile 8ueue, having spent an age getting to this point, about to be let go on their way, released, liberated, and yet they;re still !ust formed up in row after sedated, doleful row, pressing themselves up against the white line to stare va antly ahead. "yes dead, every one of them. And these would have been my eyes, tooD As flat as these, as blank and as unresponsive to life aroundD Cne of the -erties has even put in an extra lane or two for the final 8uarter of a mile, so as to pa k as many lugubrious fa es in there as possible. ,nsensitive, , know, but as ,;m looking at them , an;t help but think of that pi ture of those Gews pressed up against the -u henwald wire, looking blankly ba k at in redulous :,s. As , get lose to the rossing they move off, initially a slow shuffle in response to the green light that;s !ust flashed up, but it builds as , stand there wat hing. A massed will takes a while to mobilise itself. -ut it;s soon at full steam, a freight of rubber and steel and indifferen e pouring past, su ked forward by the va uum before it, pushed forward from behind, elongating and stret hing itself out, less like a train , suppose than a universe expanding itself into the spa e available to it. An awesome surge of -ig -ang. <aging by. And then, !ust as it seems inelu table and overwhelming, the autioning amber appears, the red. #hat grinding attrition. And there is something 'avlovian about this, as they slow and stop, something onditioned and lemming-like. At last the diminutive green man pops up to invite me over, assuring me with that !aunty little goose-step of his that it;s okay, now, suddenly, to !ust step out in front of all that insentient power. He has me feeling like 7oses, suddenly able to hold ba k my very own <ed .ea with nothing more than a little red light bulb for a shekinah light> ?and the hildren of ,srael went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground> and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand;, though not, for this 7oses anyway, also ?on their left;. For the twenty pa es of the rossing, , am the anointed of the Lord, on e more.

,t;s an unfamiliar feeling these days, walking with the Lord, and it ertainly beats all that anxiety over new gaffers. -ut the ludi distra tion of my 7oses ameo pulls me not towards memories of being saved but to the s reen-wash women that ,;ve !ust noti ed for the first time, bobbing up and down on my <ed .ea, little "gyptian harioteers and pharaohs riding the rests. #hey weren;t there when , used to drive in@ there was nothing A other than Clios in bus lanes A either to upset our torpor or offer us distra tion. -ut they;re here now, three or four of them pi king their way in and out of the ars with their heap hamois and dirty water, distilling the apathy. Cr perhaps atalysing it into something. #hough they seem pretty inured to it, pretty indifferent to the indifferen e, if that;s what it is, whi h is , suppose the self-preservation of the indentured. And, of ourse, these aren;t "gyptian harioteers tossed about on the Lord;s o eani vengean e but little <omanian ones, or 'olish or C+e h, migrant flotsam bea hed up on angry shores. 9hi h extended mixed metaphor, , know, makes me an honorary Gew manufa turing on entrationamp Gews out of !ammed ars, and vengeful armies out of penury. #rebly insensitive. -ut that;s the lega y of fundamentalism for you, olours everything you see and do.

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