THROUGH THE STREETS OF LONDON


So how can you tell me you're lonely,
And say for you that the sun don't shine?
Let me take you by the hand,
And lead you through the streets of London,
I'll show you something to make you change your mind.

Ralph McTell, Streets of London

Second Born had some trouble placing apostrophes in the story he was writing.
“Why don’t you ask dad for help?” I suggested, gesturing at the man on the sofa whose face was hidden by an open MacBook.
He looked at the man with the computer head then back to me.
“Nah. He only knows about financial crises.”
World leaders may be queuing to debate his views but we know how to keep His Grey Eminence grounded.

And with the G20 leaders meeting this week, He Who Keeps BA In Business, has been a busy boy. So he has begged us to hang out on this other small rock so we can at least snatch the odd weekend en famille. I had steadfastly refused to visit whilst there was the possibility of sub-zero temperatures but the daffodils are now out and there was the need to check if the London house was still standing. The Husband is thrilled – even if he is hardly here. Janine asked where he was last week and I honestly did not know. First Born thought it was somewhere beginning with “B”. I suggested Berlin but was a day late. The Husband had indeed been to Berlin but had already moved on to Bratislava. I think next week’s letter is “P” since he leaves tomorrow for Paris, or it might be Prague, or maybe the Punjab. “P” will also be my special letter of the week. The change to British Summer Time should be properly celebrated with a jug of Pimms down my local pub.

While he tries to set the world on the right path to financial regulation the kids and I have been slowly adjusting to changes in London. It has been six months since we last embraced the motherland and she has not been having an easy time. Our local high street, in a neighbourhood of City types, is weeping. There are several shops with “for sale/rent” signs. The posh deli has disappeared. Restaurants and hairdressers are empty. The dry cleaners say business is down forty percent since my last visit. A stroll through our common means bumping into newly redundant dads, all putting a brave face on the misery of wondering where, and when, they will get another job. The very air seems suffused with anger, frustration and depression. Add to the mix these murky grey skies, and nasty, cold rain, and you will find me hiding under my duvet.

I have peaked out of the duvet a couple times and found even more surprises. Wandsworth, Chelsea and Islington might be in recession but the international market of Bond Street is not. My venture into Louis Vuitton to have a repair done was like entering a rugby scrum. In the thick of it were Singaporeans, Hong Kong Chinese and a smattering of Russians buying leather arm candy as if it were freshly baked salt bread from that nice bakery near Charles Rowe Bridge in St. George. And when a pal took me to Nobu, a pricey Japanese restaurant, the place was packed. On a Monday night. Peter, a friend in Nova Scotia, is probably right in suggesting that there is “less Bollinger being aerosoled around the west end”. But Peter some global citizens are still passing the vintage port.

And London of course is where the G20 will gather. Although their meeting is at the ExCel Centre in the eastern end of the City, it is the Bank of England that will be in focus. Expect Threadneedle Street to be the Mecca for an unholy alliance of protesters. Everyone wants justice. But the ideas of justice, and for whom, vary significantly. A few days ago we witnessed a pre-G20, “Put People First”, march. The crowd was urged not to accept the old politics, or the old financial institutions, but to put people first. Sounds fantastic. But how do the various calls to regulate this, and ban that, translate into workers’ rights or improve the lot of us Third World citizens in whose name so many march? There is a suspicion that those who enjoyed the City of London riots in 1999 are looking for a special, tenth anniversary punch-up, with a “Burn The Banker” theme. Do they know the Bank of England only has badly paid, keen geeks, who are hardly worthy opponents? For a real fight they should be heading to “Hedge Fund Alley” aka Curzon Street.

And my top tip for all wannabe anarchists: the rich guys wear polo shirts and Chinos. The suits are shop assistants.

WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND DEAR MONSTER, DEAR MAN?

Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns;
And till my ghastly tale is told,
This heart within me burns.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

I write to you from a small, easily ignored, rock in the Caribbean Sea. Your trial and conviction for the most astounding crimes did register on our consciousness. Don’t get me wrong now – you were hardly the number one topic of conversation at the One Love Rum Shop in Holetown. A cricket coach who does not know the Duckworth-Lewis Method and cost us a match was the one we were busy putting obeah on. But you still made the airwaves during rush hour traffic last week. Funny thing is no one wants to talk about you. I tried having a conversation about you but my friend changed the topic to the more pressing issue of carbon emissions from parents leaving car engines running while waiting in the school car park for Marlon and Michelle at the end of the day. Perhaps we feel it is unnecessary to think about you because you are quite simply an aberration, a sordid monster. Would any human, any man, any father, do what you did? No. That you have two arms, two legs, and one head is a mere distraction. You must be an evil jumbie in the perfect guise of a good citizen.

But you are human and you and I have more in common than I care to admit. You hid your face with a blue binder because you were embarrassed. You broke down when forced to confront Elizabeth’s version of almost a quarter century of unbelievable horror. You changed your plea to guilty. You whispered sorry. These are all very human actions and reactions of a conscience plagued by guilt. You should not have done these human things. They deprive us of the easy, and I dare say, more convenient path, which brands you a green-vomiting, demonic alien beyond our comprehension. It is this inability to dismiss you as other that causes me the most distress. Could I do what you did Herr Fritzl? If you are as sane as I then the answer must be yes. The lasting harm that you have inflicted must be harm I too am capable of inflicting. And how can I acknowledge this evil within and live with myself?

But hopefully if I tried someone would notice and stop me. Maybe moving two hundred tons of earth, to enlarge rooms no one ever sees, does not get the net curtains twitching in Amstetten but in Black Rock it might raise a few eyebrows. And if I regularly bought groceries from Supercentre for twice the number of people in our household The Husband might follow the trail of breadcrumbs. If First or Second Born suddenly went missing and I said they had joined a cult several members of the family would go in search of them immediately. In short I’d like to think that, as a society, we care enough not be passive bystanders. But the world of is, and the world of ought, never meet. Society ought to be concerned. But when faced with the unsavory harm that we do to each other like rape, and incest, and domestic violence, we often turn away. The earth can get moved. The groceries can keep coming. The child can disappear. For twenty-four years. It worked for you that conspiracy of silence, didn’t it? Given Austria's history you were probably banking on it.

But should that silence be broken we like our victims to be very quiet and very broken. Like the perpetrator, victims are sullied. Dirty. So even though you raped Elizabeth over 3000 times in a purpose-built dungeon it was the murder of your baby son by neglect that got you life imprisonment. But Herr Fritzl I have trouble seeing this murder as the worst of your crimes. Take baby Michael’s death out of the equation and I would still want you to spend the rest of your life incarcerated. Actually at times this seems too good a fate. In spite of all my understanding of the right to life, a part of me wants your life in exchange for the living death you caused your family, locked behind eight doors and tortured in a cramped, airless, underground cave, crawling with rats for company. For twenty-four years. What does it mean to inflict or to receive torture for twenty-four years? What does time look like under these conditions?

Your crimes have come to light at a time when the world is in turmoil, spiraling downwards before our eyes. Enough is enough. We demand a happy ending Josef. You will stay behind bars until your last breath. Professionals will queue up to interview you to the very end. You will tell them of your warped childhood and how mother beat you. You will become myth. We will only remember the moment of supreme courage when Elizabeth faced you and forced you to acknowledge what you had done. We will hope that the youngest boy who is just six will lead a full and happy life. And we will never ask any difficult questions of how a society allowed you to do what you did, for as long as you did. Those questions are too painful for a shamed Austria. If they are too painful for Austria then why should we, continents away, care? After all, Josef Fritzl, there are no monsters like you on this idyllic, small rock.

MY THURSDAYS WITH LAMMING

He said it is a common misconception of green writers that they believe a story must begin at the beginning. Our tale will therefore start at the end.

It is May 2009.

Actually let’s start on Thursday 28 May 2009. And the reader should not be guessing if it is morning or night. Do it simply with something like, “the sun was setting as George crossed the street”.

I have taken his words to heart as I always do.

On Thursday 28 May 2009 at precisely 5pm Suzanne walked the short distance from the car park to the classroom.

He also insists on location. Is the subject in a bar or on a bicycle?

She felt privileged to be part of these classes at the Errol Barrow Centre for the Creative Imagination.

Damn. Try again.

She felt privileged to be part of these classes at the Pedagogical Centre located in Errol Barrow Centre for the Creative Imagination on the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies in Barbados.

Does this mean that somewhere on this small rock is a Centre For The Uncreative Imagination? Who goes there and what does their Pedagogical Centre offer? Maybe this is the elusive centre responsible for so much of thinking that is firmly located within the box. But do not think on these matters dear reader. In our story Suzanne is most definitely doing blue sky with diamonds thinking.

A lanky, slightly stooped figure is bent over his table in the seminar room. His wild, grey hair makes him instantly recognizable even before he lifts his head. When she first met him it was this shock of hair that fascinated her. Tonight, the last Thursday evening she is sure to have with him, and it is clear that it is not his hair that has kept her rapt. Will she show him? Will he be appalled that for sixteen weeks she has sat in the same seat and looked intently at the lyrical movement of his hands as he explains his craft of writing? Will he understand that while she appreciated his words she also kept tracing the corners of his mouth as they formed that deep, upturned, curve that is his easy smile?

No, this won’t do either. But it is not hard to see that in his day he probably had the ladies swirling around him. Lamming has such poise, elegance and charm. I assume you already know his work and brilliant mind so that does not need elaboration. What you may not know is his commitment to ideas of equality. He is prepared to stand up for the underdog even when this is not a fashionable position.

He kept shuffling the endless piles of paper and then looking through his battered copy of The Quiet American then back again to the papers in an endless quest for the right bit of text.
“Suzanne.”
She jolted upright.
“Yes. I like this discovering-eye viewpoint that you take on. Yes. Yes. And very interesting to see what you as a Guyanese accustomed to vast rivers and vistas make of this tiny island.”
“I’m Trinidadian.”
“What? But your name. And I am sure you said you were Guyanese in one of the pieces.”
“I’m sorry. I believe I said I am often mistaken for a Guyanese. No vast vistas I’m afraid. Oil and gas country.”
He doesn’t bother to hide his disappointment.
“Humm. Yes, well I shall have to re-read that. I was so sure you had the sensibility of a Guyanese.”
For the first time in her life she really wanted to be Guyanese or even to have spent some time there – anything to avoid failing the master.

It is a small class – no more than a dozen – all at his feet wanting to write that novel we think is within us. His generosity is clear. Our little stories are treated with respect. They are all “intriguing” - the starting point for a sure fire bestseller. In return he asks that we take our writing seriously and practice daily. Writing for him is a job with a predictable routine much like factory work. In the early morning he reads the newspapers then begins his writing. After lunch he reads or has meetings. Old-fashioned discipline and sheer hard work is how Lamming became the Lamming. This is not a class in How To Write A Bestseller in One Weekend.

So every Thursday until 28 May between the hours of 5 and 7pm, you can find me at the Ecky-Becky Centre (as it is known on the street). I will be there, in my usual spot, quietly grateful for this unexpected privilege of an audience with Lamming. And I shall be trying to resist the urge to sketch that mouth or those hands just one last time.