the suburbs are falling apart 




Last Wednesday, in a quiet, well-to-do suburb to the south of the city, anti-social behaviour changed dramatically. No longer the reserve of the variously disaffected and drunken children from the lower socio-economic bracket, smashing phone boxes and urinating in letterboxes have become two of the weapons in the arsenal of a new upper-middle-class intelligentsia.


The bored and disenchanted sons and daughters of lawyers, doctors and company directors have acquired a predilection for political intrigue and revolution. Driving flash cars and spending daddy’s money are now so last year; anarchy is the new hobby of the children of affluence.


These pampered teens have been enchanted by tales of the anarchists in the Russian Empire and on the Continent over a hundred years ago. For once they have been listening in history lessons, listening to tales of Bakunin et al, who terrorised the ruling classes and social order of the nineteenth century. And this new age of fear is seen as ripe for a return of anarchy as a political ideology, as well as something to do on a Friday night when all the homework has been done.


After writing essays on the rise of anarchy in times past, these A-grade students have decided to do some practical work outside of school. In what is now more than a passing trend, these privileged teens have decided to infiltrate groups of “scallies” and “plebs” in order to ferment further dissent and give some direction to anti-social behaviour. What were once random acts of violence and nuisance by drink fuelled hooded youths, have now become something far more insidious. Disparate groups of neighbourhood “corner boys” and trouble causers have been turned into marauding gangs by this new intelligentsia.


Dressing in the uniform of the “scallie” – a hooded top, bright trainers and tracksuit bottoms – these neo-anarchists are leading their foot soldiers on to greater and greater acts of anti-social behaviour. On Friday night this nuisance and violence reached new heights with a trail of destruction marked on dented bonnets and smashed in windows of parked cars.


Orchestrated by the high-command of the neo-anarchists, this wrecking spree across the southern suburbs of the city was to mark the dawning of a new age for anarchy. Cars are seen as enemy number one – the means by which society has enslaved itself. Driving around in one such “enslavement device”, the driver under aged and uninsured, the car stolen, the gang caused thousands of pounds worth of damage to innocent members of the public.


A spokesperson for the neo-anarchists, speaking through an untraceable chat-room web site, declared that all cars should be “neutralised”. However, owing to the very nature of anarchist ideology, it is impossible to tell if this is the voice of the whole organisation. Indeed, the term “organisation” is somewhat of a misnomer. This is a movement in which every voice is the voice of the movement and every random action of violence and destruction has been sanctioned in advance.


The fact that the police haven’t realised what is going on is hardly surprising. There is no motivation whatsoever for what is happening. Even the previous label of “mindless violence” does not apply. This is not mindless violence; however, nor does it have a motive, as such. The aim of such violence could be described as the “breakdown of the social hierarchy” or “the collapse of the patronising state” or “the implosion of meritocracy” – all terms bandied about on various chat-rooms and blogs associated with the neo-anarchists. But there is no real personal gain, therefore there is a complete absence of motive and so the complete bafflement of our police forces.


Attempts at speaking to these teenaged firebrands have rarely been successful, owing to the nature of their movement, which is little more than a couple of ideas sketched out in cyber-space and a couple of spontaneous meetings in Jeremy’s house after tennis lessons. However, there are some “fighters for the cause” who are willing to speak about their “philosophy” and their intentions.


It would seem that the “dissolution of suburbia” and “the subversion of the middle-class value system” are definite goals. However, other goals seem to run contrary to these, such as the declared intentions to “spread suburban mediocrity” and the “infection of the underclass with table-manners”. On speaking to a self-declared “spokesperson for the cause” he first told me that there was no cause, secondly that he wasn’t a spokesperson” and finally that “victory was around the corner”.


So is this just a harmless hobby for the bored children of the middle-classes? That is certainly not the stance taken by the residents and business owners of the suburbs, who are right now suffering from the consequences of having “marauding hoards” roaming their high streets and village greens. These consequences range from smashed windows, horribly vandalized mailboxes, obscene graffiti and mutilated hedgerows to defaced murals and disfigured commemorations of the fallen war dead.


This so-called “spokesperson” was unrepentant. In fact, he gloated at the chaos which has been spread over the last few months since the movement’s inception in a teenage attic bedroom in a leafy suburb. It seems the garrets of the left bank have been superseded by such attic bedrooms and games rooms of our more affluent areas. And when questioned about the future of the movement and what other actions were planned all he would reply was “Who knows?”


But that is the whole thorny issue summed up in two words. Nobody knows. Such is the nature of anarchism.


It I unlikely that this incipient movement will lead to the dissolution of our comfortable society. What is cetin though is that it will lead to our society being a whole lot less comfortable over the next few weeks and moths, as the consequences of a series of history lessons on the anarchists of the nineteenth century ferment further unrest in our quiet suburban streets.






to be fully animated 




Why should Oscar give a damn about orange marmalade and wicker furniture and the people who count and the date of the battle of
Hastings? What of these people who count – who the hell are they? These name makers, place makers, trend setters and benders and enders? Who do they think they are? Who does Oscar think he is? How dare they? How dare Oscar? These people who fill up their trolleys with fair trade tea bags, green bananas, bags of wholemeal flour and exotic fruit and vegetables? Those people? And the others, those people who roll around in their own muck, drinking fizzy pop and getting pregnant? Who are they? Those dirty bastards. Cigarettes and glasses of vodka? Why should Oscar give a shit? How much is a packet of fags? A litre of petrol? Pounds to the dollar?


Opening your eyes in the morning, never mind getting up, reveals the same ceiling as the morning before. The same light peeking through the windows. Are they larks or some other fucking bird singing? Close your eyes. And then it starts. Today’s news. Always the news. What’s happening today? What’s the news. Predictions? What happened yesterday? What pile of shit is about to topple down on top of you? Where is the toilet? Why can’t I feel my legs? The pain in the base of my spine. I’d better get up. And the most useless piece of information, well pieces, lots of pieces – the fucking weather. Pieces of weather. Fragments of weather reports. Don’t miss the weather forecast. What’s the forecast? Jesus, look at those clouds. That’s rain, that is. What did the man on the forecast say? The weather forecast? Our very lives, our everything, our pieces of cake… it all hangs in the balance. It’s going to fucking rain. I know it is. What time is it?


And then the clock starts. Tick tock it goes. Like I need to tell you. Who doesn’t know the sound of a clock? Tick tock. Who can’t hear it all day? Tick tock. Jesus Christ – will it stop tick tock before I put my foot through the tick tock. Like it matters at all if it’s five past three or quarter to six. Jesus – you’ll miss the weather forecast. Quick. Quick. It’s on. Turn it over to one. Quick. I can feel it in my bones. The rain is coming. The rain. We’ve only got minutes. What’ll we do? Before the rain gets here? Before it stops us in our tracks.


Oscar didn’t give a shit if it rained all day and all night. It would only go down the plug hole – flood my ass. And it’s only water, isn’t it? Not like its magma or some such boiling viscous fluid which would stick you to the ground and smother you in nine thousand degree hot orange jam.


I count. Oscar was for a moment disgruntled with the manner in which it was decided who counted and who didn’t count. But as soon as he counted, he didn’t give a toss how much anything counted, anyone, what counts? Opening his eyes again, he could only acknowledge the view afforded him – the same cracks in the same ceiling, the same light shining trough the same curtains, give or take a shade or two, the world is seasonal after all. Season’s greetings is all you have to say and every base is covered. Never mind with happy Christmas or sorry for your loss or any of that stuff, because it’s only one thing after another anyway, as if the world ever stops turning and spins the other way. Why should Oscar give a shit if it’s snowing outside or if little icicles are hanging off the eaves or there are dogs hanging out of trees and cats blown across streets and smashed against walls and windows and every bird has fucked off to somewhere else – migration. Let them all go. No point trying to stop them. Those birds don’t count for a brass razoo anyway. They’re only birds. Migratory birds – the fuckers.


For the want of something to do Oscar turned over and stared at the opposite wall, having a paragraph or two ago turned towards the window and the light shining through the curtains. For the want of something else to do he closed his eyes and pulled the duvet up over his head and then tucked it under his chin. There was the sound of a gun shot or a car back firing in the streets outside – neither of which Oscar gave a shit about. And he would have got up to make some breakfast but for the fact that he’d have to think about muesli and coffee and how he didn’t give a damn about either of them, though he was partial to the odd cup of black coffee and muesli did fill you up for the day. But really, he didn’t give a shit.


The next thing he sees, and this after not turning any other way, is the face and wide eyes and red lips and round tits of Helen hovering five feet off the ground. Most of the rest of her body duly enters his line of sight and he postulates the other bits and pieces – feet, left arm, shoes, spine, back, sinews, pores, follicles, live etc.


“You really should get started on another article,” she says.


“Is it snowing out?” Oscar asks, for the want of something to ask.


“If you could just make it more relevant… and more newsworthy… more…” Helen adopted a disappointed look. “If you could only give a shit.” And left the room, every last bit of her.


Give a shit? Care a damn? Be concerned? Worried? Anxious? Wonder? Inquire into? Where’s the soap? When did
Columbus sail the ocean blue? What’s the square root of a hundred and six? Where’s my cigarettes? What time is it? What did the man on the weather say? The forecast? Jesus Christ, the forecast. What is it? What about the starving children in
Africa? And the guns and the knives and the mountains of cocaine and butter and wine – a mountain of wine. Oscar would like to see a mountain of wine, but about the rest he didn’t give a shit. And how could he? How could anyone? Genuinely? How could anyone give a damn about anything?


And it was then that it hit him. It hit Oscar in the manner in which an idea can hit anyone – a kind of tickle on the back of the head. A kind of faint buzzing about the head and its environs.


“I don’t give a shit.” Oscar called out. And that was the point. That was the rock upon which he would build his church. Not giving a shit. He’d write an article. But no one would read it. A column even. A weekly column ignored by everyone. Because no one does give a shit. Not really. Not about anything. Not about yellow apples, and orange cheese, ten football fields of anything, and salt and pepper shakers, and cows in the countryside, and the canals on mars, and the cost of the space shuttle, the wars in Africa, paedophiles in the city, drug dealing pimps in prison, murderers on the street, the price of pig shit, the volume of water in an Olympic swimming pool, the colour of autumn, the smell of fried eggs, the number of feral cats stalking the countryside, the countryside, the other side, the size of the cardinal’s penis, the number of players on a rugby team, the rise in standards, the fall in standards, the prince of Siam, the duke of Milan, the likelihood of death by drowning, murder, lightning or tripping over your slippers, where’s the dog, when does the sun rise, what’s that about the guy from around the corner, did you see the weather forecast?




…the ability to transcend the gravity of life’s more solemn and sober aspects

Oscar and Smith’s journey from the wet pavement and umbrellas outside, by way of a brief stay in the brushed limestone and glass lobby on the ground floor of the building, up to the offices of one of the country’s premier advertising agencies on the top floor, was an “ascent” in every meaning of the word – ranging from the multifarious metaphorical meanings of the word to the one or two possible literal meanings of the word.

Both were dressed respectfully in tailored suits, though Smith’s suit was a bit on the snug side of tailored, his shirt cuffs protruding one or two inches two far, his chest a little too clearly defined and his garishly patterned socks peeking out above his shoe a little too obtrusively, and both still carried about them something of the street’s blemish.

Both men were in fact stained, they were thoroughly soaked up to their necks and beyond, they were tainted every which way by the disorder and confusion and bawdy humour and breathing and moaning and sweating and crumbs and gravy and red wine and chlorinated rain of the real and lowly world without. And into the clean and odourless air, surrounded by twenty-foot high white walls and marble surfaces and acres of thick carpet, they thoughtlessly went.

The glowing frosted walls and floor and ceiling of the lift, and perhaps the severe look of the receptionist, who insisted on accompanying them on the journey upwards, affected Smith in a curious way – he raised one finger, looked meaningfully at Oscar, then pensively at the glowing frosted floor, four glowing frosted walls and glowing frosted ceiling, before expelling the well chewed over morsel of his ruminations – “This is pretty exciting… it’s like we’re going up to the bridge of the Enterprise.”

Oscar had enough sense to ignore Smith, but the receptionist, not having any experience of Smith nor people like Smith, never having dealt with such people, if more than one of such a person exists, produced a variation of a well worn severe look, raising an eyebrow, in order to seek some elucidation on what seemed a wholly facetious and inappropriate comment.

“Take us to the bridge!” Smith shouted at the glowing frosted walls and ceiling, by way of elucidation.

“A Mr Smith and a Mr MacSweeny,” was how the receptionist introduced the pair to another secretary sitting at another marble receptionist desk, who in turn told them to please follow her, in what could have been, as it seemed to Oscar, merely the second stage in an interminable series of stages, following severe looking receptionists through never ending corridors at the end of successively more and more tiresome elevator ascents. But Oscar was wrong, which he realised on being shown into a rather close office in which was enthroned the woman he knew as Helen Anderson.

“How delightful,” was Helen’s eventual greeting.

Smith smiled and returned the greeting in his own curious manner – “delighted I’m sure.”

Oscar smiled wryly in order to show that he had some appreciation of the irony at work here – he wasn’t expecting to be questioned on it, this irony, as though back in the examination hall where he temporarily lost his mind as an eighteen-year-old version of his current thirty-one-year-old self.

“Would you gentlemen like a drink?” the stern faced receptionist asked.

“An iced tea would be delightful,” was uttered in an archly stylised voice by Smith, which could just about be heard beneath Helen’s curt “that will be all.”

“We said you were expecting us,” Oscar offered by way of an explanation of these two worlds colliding, but Helen’s expectations seemed to have been molested far beyond what she would deem acceptable.

“Let me explain.” Smith hazarded a direct approach.

“Nice office.” Oscar opted for the duplicitous beating-around-the-bush approach.

“You can leave by the back stairs.” Helen was completely lacking in approaches.

“There’s nothing to fear.” The beginning of Smith’s attempt to reassure caused Helen to take a sharp intake of breath. “It’s like when the crew of the star ship enterprise land on a planet with only basic technology – they cannot affect that world. The crew cannot rob the planet of its own efforts to reach technological heights. The captain can’t lend his communicator to some ape like mammal still in the trees. It’s like explorers who travel back in time – you step on a butterfly and we’re all living in caves back in the present.”

Helen had the look of someone who was more or less reassured or of someone who was completely befuddled. It certainly is odd how both looks have many of the same features – narrowed eyes, a relaxed brow, a slightly open mouth with gently pursed lips, faintly arched eyebrows.

“We only see one side of you,” Oscar now took on the mantle of the explicator. “What is the professional Helen like, the woman of the world, the go-getter, the creative mind behind bananahol, the woman the rest of the world sees… and respects?”

Helen clearly didn’t know.

“I can’t use your character until I get a fully rounded picture.”

“You won’t even know we’re here.” Smith rounded off the argument quite neatly.

A buzz from her desk startled all three out of the brief trance which followed this exposition.

“You’re wanted in the conference room to try on the shoes.”

“I’m with a client.”

“The boss said there are to be no stones unturned.”

“I’ll be right there.”

“Intriguing.” Smith sat back in order to take as much of this in as possible.

“You can leave by the back stairs.” Helen was on her feet, but much to her quickly rising distress, neither of the other two was. “I’ll give you the tour,” she proffered by way of a bribe.

“Well that was my office,” Helen began to rattle off random portions of a whistle-stop tour of the nether regions of the office as she pulled the other two after her, towards the back stairs. “That’s the conference room – where I destroyed the carpet – but I got away with it.”

Smith took out a notepad.

Oscar’s interest was genuinely piqued.

“That’s my boss’s office – he’s moved upstairs until the investigation has been completed.”

Oscar paused at the open door in order to fully appreciate this sight.

“Mind the glass – I shattered the window yesterday with my high-heel shoes – they’re being held in my boss’s safe as exhibit number one.”

Smith had produced a camera from somewhere about him and was intent on capturing a picture of the scene, but Helen made a lunge after him and dragged him on to the next sight on the tour – the water cooler which had been perforated twelve times by an aggressively sharpened pencil.

But all three were brought up short at the end of the corridor, just before they made it to the door to the back stairs.

“Ah… you must be here from the Fern Account?” the red face of Helen’s manager might have been as disconcerting for Oscar and Smith as it was to Helen, who was already searching her mind, desperate to land on a way of introducing the two without getting caught out in her lies and without having to use the name of her red-faced boss, whose name just at that moment managed to escape her.

But Smith’s reaction was the first – “How do you do?” and began a monologue consisting of general, vague and meaningless prattle which rescued the situation through distracting everybody present – Helen’s red-faced boss, his secretary, Helen, her secretary, Oscar, another secretary, possibly a fourth secretary, and Smith himself, who genuinely befuddled himself as his monologue petered out into mutterings and whispers.

The party of three eventually gained the top of the back stairs – an emergency exit hidden behind a bank of filing cabinets.

“Get the hell out of here.” and “Please” were statements which summed up Helen’s mixture of anger and desperation.

“You’re a mystery Helen – and that’s what we need.” Smith seemed pleased with the day’s work.

“It’ll take a full length prose narrative to get to the bottom of all of this.” Oscar seemed similarly pleased.


…invisible substances which permeate the air causing difficulty to those nearby

They met under a bridge – Oscar and Smith. They might have been escaping the rain, but Smith was already soaked through and Oscar had adopted the look of someone who was unconcerned with such corporeal matters as being wet or dry. Both their faces were in shadow, robbing us, and their respective interlocutor, of either’s facial expressions, which Smith regularly had recourse to and Oscar had been known to rely upon, but also, and perhaps more importantly, though how relative importance is decided has acquired the randomness of a roulette wheel, the darkness consequent of their standing beneath the wide girth of a bridge, a set of tram tracks hoisted up into the air on thick concrete pillars and taken across the ship canal, resulted in their faces appearing somewhat sinister – as though they were plotting something sinister, as though the sinisterness of their true intentions was reflected in the sinisterness of their appearance.

The brief waves of the ship canal licked and sucked at the nether regions of the bridge and provided the background, a sort of sinister backing track, to the following exchange.

“You have the stuff?” Oscar appeared nervous – his face could just be made out to be pale, his eyes just perceptibly wide, his head could be seen to move in brief erratic twists and turns. He nodded several times as though supplying the answer he wanted to hear.

“Three and a half thousand substandard and post-expiry-date nicotine candied gum pieces. They’re in the bag.”

There was no bag.

“I mean I have them…” Smith was quickly losing any sinisterness the darkness had lent him through the confused monologue which he was just now launching himself into. “…they’re in that bag… there’s no bag… I have them at home… but they’re in a bag… in a bag at home… but they’re in the bag too… you know? In the bag. You get it? They’re metaphorically in the bag… I have succeeded in bagging them. I’ve bagged them. They have been bagged.”

“You got them at home?” Oscar’s laconic delivery was much more suited to this type of underhand and shadow lurking exchange, the impropriety of which he must have been relishing.

It was at this point that Smith started sneezing and coughing, a concurrent fit of each variety of rapid exhalation, each instance of which being repeated several times by the acoustics of the concrete bridge surrounding them – it was enough to distract them both from the task at hand and to distract Smith from everything else other than his theory that sneezing was a conscious expression of either extreme disgust or intense anxiety. Once the concurrent coughing and sneezing fits subsided, amongst the echoes of the final fit, the questions, the self-examinations, the incriminations, the thoughtless reflectings, the gut-wrenching-soul-searching began – all originating in Smith’s addled but dreadfully profuse mind.

“There’s something not right about this… about this whole business.” Smith eventually stated, after some time absorbed in his own thoughts, the wounds of the water slapping at the bridge or the screech of a tram slowly grinding its way overhead. He began to stride backwards and forwards beneath the span of the bridge, at either end the dull light of the day illuminating his pained expression. “I’m telling you Oscar. I’ve got this feeling… it’s not right… this feeling in the pit of my stomach…”

“Your conscience is in the pit of your stomach?”

“We’re pulling the strings of a sentient being. We’re playing god.”

Oscar quite liked this idea.

Oscar followed Smith over to the railing where he was gazing despondently into the dirty water, where the currents had trapped a collection of detritus in an alcove formed by the bridge’s supports.

Attempting to understand Smith’s frame of mind, to see things how he saw them, Oscar took the first step of following his line of sight, which seemed to terminate on a punctured cheap orange football bobbing up and down on the water’s surface. Oscar gleaned little insight from that. Not that he dismissed the relevance of Smith’s object of view out of hand; he did think briefly on how the bobbing dirty plastic football could have evoked for Smith a memory from childhood, perhaps reminded him of lost innocence, of growing old, of death, of the sad decline towards old age, when Smith himself will one day be little more than a punctured plastic football caught in the currents around him, before he finally sinks beneath the murky water.

And when Smith raised his head and seemed to focus his vision on a point several yards ahead of him, a point of empty space above the soughing river, Oscar had little choice but to conclude that Smith’s concerns were indeed of the metaphysical variety. Justice? Beauty? Truth? Any of these transcendental concepts could have right then been the pivot around which Smith’s thoughts were turning, and Oscar guessed at the first being the most likely – the notion of justice must have been at the forefront of Smith’s boiling mind, considering he was about to embark on a programme of surreptitiously re-addicting (When had Henry quit smoking?) a friend to nicotine through regularly supplying him with seemingly harmless candied gum pieces, which were in fact nicotine candied gum pieces, encouraging him to chew them whilst all the while becoming more and more addicted to nicotine once again, a craving he will be unable to satisfy, as he would be unaware of the true nature of this craving, even that he is suffering from a craving, and so becoming an unwitting slave to these candied gum pieces which only Smith could provide – and to what end? Well, it certainly would make interesting reading.

“Can you smell that?” Smith asked Oscar, giving him the first direct insight into his thought process over the last few minutes, but the words were seen by Oscar only as a distraction from his current train of thought, which had Smith contending with the morality of manipulating Henry for their amusement.

“I can’t smell anything.”

“There’s an odour… a faint kind of tang in the air…”

“Must be the ship canal,” Oscar assured Smith and himself. “This dirty water has been god knows where. You’ve had people pissing and shitting into it, animals dying in it, hospitals emptying their waste into it… so there’s rotting human limbs… ulcers floating around… then there’s drowned puppies… three or four sets a day by recent estimates… of course there’s people being murdered every day… and disappearing… there’s no better place to disappear a body than weigh them down at the bottom of this mess… and then maybe the odd suicide. It’s a dirty old world Smith my friend, and that water’s soaked in it.”

“I don’t know. It’s got me feeling uneasy… I’m anxious, really anxious… I’m sneezing for god’s sake.”

“Let’s go get you a cappuccino.”


…be visible, be manifest, be apparent, be an exhibit, be presented on a stage


Helen didn’t see Oscar perform this both ridiculous and miraculous feat; at least, she didn’t see the person who is Oscar perform it. She saw a person, any person, that person could have been her, she saw herself, it was her; Helen was much more comfortable with the idea of being the main act, up on stage, the object of every gap in the curtains from number fifty-three to number one, her face lit up by that yellow street light. She didn’t seem to hear Oscar’s return, didn’t register his stumbling arrival into the hallway, how he must have tripped over something and then fell quite heavily against the door and, tumbling onto the living room floor, his flailing body smashing a glass which must have been left on the floor, and his feet finally crashing down onto the glass top of the coffee table.

Once the lights were on, Helen surveying the damage with a sneer, the show was over. And there was Oscar – newly illuminated as a prostrate figure with a trickle of blood on his forehead, a wince of pain stretching his face, wide eyes registering something he thought he saw on the ceiling, perhaps en explanation, and his lips still half curled into the smile he must have worn since divesting himself of the mattress he had minutes before been weighed down by.

“Where are you going to sleep tonight?” Helen asked by way restoring the usual level of reality to the house.

Oscar’s expression didn’t visibly change. He did not appear to attempt an answer.

“What an exhibition!” Helen went upstairs in order to plan the next scene – the main act.

Briefly considering which item would be best suited to being flung atop the pile of detritus now becoming a mountain with that skip as its base, Helen exits the stage and enters her bedroom into which we cannot see. There was next the sound of Helen tugging her broken television away from the wall and off her chest of drawers. However, it being, as televisions usually are, tied to the wall with an electrical cord, there was next the sound of it snapping out of her grasp and falling to the floor shattering its screen.

There next was the sound of Helen being left momentarily distraught; her television was broken. But Helen decided to defer the drama, the drama of her broken television… I could have been killed, my god you should have heard the bang, there was glass everywhere, it’s was a deafening explosion, it just missed my bare feet, I couldn’t believe it… calmly reminding herself that the television had been broken for at least six months and that another drama had yet to be unfolded on the streets outside.

The sound of Helen picking up the television, the sound of pieces of its glass screen and electronic insides trailing after her, she made her way back into the glare of the story, onto the landing and then to the top of the stairs where she realised that the weight of the television was substantial and that there was some danger to her person occasioned by this weight, and this danger was heightened by the precipitous fall which confronted her. The front door opening, revealing the shadow of someone who could have been anyone, proved to be sufficient stimulation to prompt Helen to drop the television and scream a scream of distress and shock, though modulating it slightly with a shriek of high amusement when she registered Henry’s distraught face at the sharp end of the spectacle she had just unleashed.

The final crash was worthy of another scream, one of surprise, but Helen chose to abstain, choosing instead a look of supreme indifference, in order to round off the perfect performance.

Henry said nothing, just stood there frozen, but his eyes moved to follow the descent of Helen, her arrival at his level, her leaning over to pick up the television which lay surprisingly in one piece at his feet, and then the matter of fact face, the flick of a stray strand of hair from her face, and her polite cough to remind him of the more than obvious fact that he was stood right in her way.

Now it was her turn – not that she was ever waiting for a turn, her turn, it always being her turn, such that she never took a turn, never having to turn around, turn it down, turn it on, or turn it up.

Helen took the briefest of looks up either end of the street, but once she was on the footpath she managed to perform an exaggerated survey of the area, stretching her neck, jerkily turning her head, crouching down then standing up on her tiptoes. And now, filling the role of someone who’s up to no good with great aplomb, she strutted down the street in as graceful a manner as her load would allow.

The street was quiet, but every gap in every curtain from number fifty-three to number one would have been aimed at her, of that she could be certain. Henry would have by now closed the door behind her and assumed a position in the gap of the curtains of number twenty-five calling to Oscar to come and take a look at this. And the danger of getting caught was ever so high. What a risk! What a lark! What a complete and utter drama!

The most frightening thought for Helen would now have been what if no one saw her do it – what if she really was unobserved, no one really looking at her, not under the gaze of, not at the centre of the attention of, not obtaining the displeasure, not the disgust, not the disrespect of strangers, distant neighbours, of Henry and Oscar… if she fell in the forest and no one was there to observe it, would she really have fallen?

Helen shrugged off all doubts, all nagging doubts, what doubts? – here she was, at the centre of the world, revolving around her was the scene, a quite street, winter evening, yellow pools of light which she paused in, as though catching her breath, the rubbish skip ahead of her, its promise, its danger, its calling out, its everything, she’s everything. Her approach, now into another pool of yellow light, she pauses, aware of the dangers all around her, discovery moments away, how dare she, how dare she do something so… it was a disgrace, it was disgraceful behaviour, it was shocking, she was shocking… she slowly walked the last few steps, heaved the television as high as she could so that it would crash down, and there would be the sound of smashing glass filling the empty street as she fled from her transgression, the crash of broken glass, and as the television transcribed the briefest of arcs towards its cataclysmic destruction, Helen knew she would have to run, she pictured herself running and then she was running and she had almost reached the safety and fame of number twenty-five when she finally heard the belated crash of her transgression, which had bounced twice on the mattress which Oscar had thrown in, only to finally miss its mark and end up a tangled crash of glass and metal on the other side of the skip.

Helen had hit the bull’s eye.


…a sound which is loud, which reverberates and which expresses a deep sadness

Oscar was having quite a bit of trouble with the word that his dictionary had randomly offered up to him, because this was no longer an age in which people expressed deep sadness; this wasn’t an age in which people had deep sadness, at least not in his experience. People were slightly sad, a slight sadness which accompanied their every word and action, a slight sadness akin to boredom, a slight sadness which was the background noise, which could be heard bubbling away when you are just about to drop off to sleep, or if you dwell too long on yourself, your place in this world and the fact that you will die alone – a slight sadness which has more or less lost all its sharpness and piquancy through our familiarity with it. There is nothing dramatic about a slight sadness which is unwavering, constant and above all – slight. It is nothing to shout about.

Not that there aren’t tragedies. There are tragic cases – none of which Oscar was personally familiar with – where people may very well cry out and express a relatively deep sadness, a sadness which is marginally deeper than the slight sadness which accompanies our every thought. The newspaper was full of such instances where people were very likely to be relatively sad – murders, horrific accidents or suicides and other such happenings, all of which Oscar had little or no understanding. Oscar did toy with the idea of imagining himself a party to such a murder, horrific accident or suicide – not necessarily the subject of the murder, horrific accident or suicide, but a close friend of the subject, perhaps their father, brother or son. But this exercise didn’t appeal to Oscar, not wanting to imagine himself to be marginally sadder than slightly sad, so he decided to look elsewhere for inspiration.

However, Oscar could not recall one incident where he let out a cry expressing a relatively deep sadness or an incident where he was an intimate witness to such a cry. Perhaps it was simply the case that nobody Oscar knew was capable of suffering a relatively deep sadness – which would be more to do with the fact that nobody Oscar knew was overly attached to anything they owned or anybody they knew, rather than the fact that they were impervious to sadness through transcending this material world and its incidental happenings.

One such example was Henry, the thought of whom, just at this moment, sparked Oscar to recall a situation where he was an intimate party to a cry of relatively deep sadness, a cry which did reverberate, as could be seen by the manner in which the glass of the window on the fifteenth floor of the bank’s offices seemed to vibrate, in response to the shrill cry which Henry’s relatively deep sadness produced.

This was many months ago, when Oscar had been working for the bank, a period of three years in which he had suffered the drudgery of every day speaking to people about rates and percentages and sales points and profits and losses and turnovers – but all that is incidental to the matter at hand – that word; how does one define that word?

Henry had parked his car directly opposite the bank’s building – a matter which was far from incidental to the matter at hand, as it was the first action, in a short sequence of actions and reactions, which occasioned Henry’s cry of relatively deep and sharp sadness.

In terms of its pitch, this cry was beyond anything Oscar had ever experienced. Though he had heard noises which were of a higher volume, he had never heard such a volume issue from the depths of a human being. The sound itself was what he most remembers about the incident, as well, of course the manner in which it seemed to cause the window through which they were looking out at the street to vibrate – Oscar thought that it would shatter, thus occasioning his dismissal from the bank, which he would have accepted afterwards to be a blessing, a release and about time.

Oscar remembered few of the details of what he saw through that widow, fifteen stories down at street level. He did recall that Henry’s new car was a metallic green, but the name of the shade escaped him. He also recalled that the car was less than a month old, that Henry was forever talking about it, that Henry had just cleaned it that morning, that Henry had been reticent about parking it on the street, that Henry had advised some kids to keep their distance when they walked past the car, that Henry was quite vociferous in response to their rude remarks, that Henry quite lost his rag when one of the kids – there were three or four in the group, all in their early teens – threw his drink can over his shoulder in his general direction, almost hitting the car and that Henry had insisted on taking the stairs so that he could look out and check on the car from each landing.

But as to the exact nature of the emotion at the point of origin of that cry – was it an absolute sorrow, a deep lament, a rumbling hatred, a mournful weight, a sense of complete desolation, a sharp feeling of loss? – Oscar found it impossible to tell.

At the time Oscar wasn’t concerned with classifying the emotion at the point of origin of Henry’s actions, nor of the scream which was to come, being caught up in the spectacle being unfurled fifteen stories below, a spectacle which Henry also couldn’t leave behind, despite struggling with what must have been a burning desire to run down the fifteen flights of stairs in order to confront the junior criminals. This inner struggle was illustrated by the manner in which Henry ran backwards and forwards between the window and the door several times before resigning himself to the fate he felt most comfortable with – standing by impotently and watching the one thing in the world he cared about apart from himself being horribly defiled by the soles of the boots of the jumping and kicking youths.

The cry, when it came, was only one element in Oscar’s experience – a multifarious experience which he acknowledged to himself he would recall again and again, playing it back to himself, hoping to retain as many of its intricacies as possible. Therefore, on considering the scream in isolation, trying to play it again in his mind, Oscar simply didn’t have enough data to hand to be sure of the exact sound, nor of the exact sentiment which occasioned it – he could guess, but guessing seemed woefully inadequate; this was a matter of definitions.

And now Oscar recalled the cry which originated in Helen’s bedroom several weeks ago, a cry which stopped the conversation dead – a conversation between himself, Henry and Smith concerned with the best card game they could play – a pause in which each must have acknowledged to themselves the pain and sorrow at its very heart – before they continued to discuss the pros and cons of Gin Rummy, Fat Boy and Forty-Five.


…one who is excessively distraught owing to their greater propensity to becoming bewildered and loosing any sense of proportion

The thirty faces turned towards Henry all had the glow of innocence. Each was drawn with a broad smile and wide eyes. Each was painted with a look of expectation. Each was framed by the carefully sculpted fall of straight or flowing or slightly curling hair. And each, Henry had little doubt, masked malicious intentions.

It wasn’t that Henry was paranoid. Henry was simply aware of the fact, a fact learnt through years of experience, that each pair of wide eyes, each pair of perked up ears, was waiting for an opportunity, a moment, a chance, the least chance, a chink in his armour… to pounce.

“Macbeth,” Henry began, pointing his chalk at the ceiling in order to add weight to his words, “…is a character who is dominated by fear.”

The first hand went up. “I thought you said he was a brave soldier?”

But this objection didn’t throw Henry, not in the least. “Well, he was.”

“But he’s not a brave soldier any more?” this question fired out without a hand rising up.

“Put our hands up if we have a question,” Henry requested in his overdone preternaturally calm voice. To be calm was to be in control. Henry was in control. He focused his attention momentarily on the branches of the monkey-puzzle tree that could be seen through the window – it was his anchor. Henry was held firm in the world by the distant branches of the monkey-puzzle tree.

When he focused on his immediate surroundings once again three, four, five hands had shot up and several questions were rattled off simultaneously.

“I can’t answer all your questions at once.” The good sense of this comment, its blatant good sense, comforted Henry as far as a smile, a smile he beamed at the whole class, a smile which announced that he was not in the least put out by these constant and pointless questions, that he wasn’t knocked off balance, wasn’t even slightly tilting one way or the other, that he was willing to answer each question in turn, one after the other, to the complete satisfaction of each of the questioners, however long it happened to take.

But Henry’s refusal to be irritated, or to give the least sign of being irritated, wasn’t sufficient in itself to put them off the scent – like dogs, they could smell his fear, no matter how well he disguised it with fresh gusts of smiling indifference.

“How can you be afraid and be brave at the same time?”

“Maybe you can’t.”

“You said Macbeth was.”

“Maybe he was… It’s a matter of interpretation.” Henry was now ready to turn the tables on the class.

“What do you think?” Each word was given space, carefully shaped – the voice of a composed and unruffled ruler of children.

He would soon have them on the run.

“Who’s Banquo?”

This threw Henry, as did all questions or comments which were even slightly off the point.

“You know who Banquo is.”

“Why did Macbeth kill him?”

“Does anyone know…” Henry was hoping to clear the sea of hands in front of him by asking a clear and straightforward question. “Put your hands up if you know…” He was looking forward to the hands falling out of the sky. “Why did Macbeth kill Banquo?”

Only one hand remained in the air, but it was the hand attached to the arm attached to the shoulder attached to the pale face, the site of the mock innocent smile of Rebecca. Henry could now see how he had been trapped, how the whole class had steered him towards this one moment when he would have little choice but to load the gun they were going to shoot him down with. Henry couldn’t focus now on the distant branches of the monkey-puzzle tree, the sun was glaring on the window.

So in the thick of it, floating free in the turbulent waters of his own juices, without a thought to strategy, without even a nod to common sense and measured action, with no sense of perspective (he would have stood back but his back was against the whiteboard), Henry fired all his cannons, he let her have it. “Reh…beck…ka?” he knew this staccato pronunciation of her name irritated her, at least he hoped it did, but she gave no sign of being even the least bit bothered.

Pausing, ensuring that all attention was on her, Rebecca began, in a voice heavy with innocence and concern, “I thought you said that Macbeth got someone else to kill Banquo?”

Henry had little choice but to admit defeat, little choice but to glow with irritation and little choice but to raise his voice and declare his position untenable, the world devoid of hope and dealing with this class beyond his capabilities.

“Open your books on page seventeen.” By pointedly not answering Rebecca’s question, Henry hoped to put as much distance between his defeat at the hands of Rebecca. He would invest all his energy in his newly acquired position of issuer of orders, dictator of page numbers and commander of all before him.

But there are always more hands, hands shooting up, hands swaying before him, hands, hands, hands…

“I’ve forgotten my book.” Accompanied with the faintest of smiles, this barb was one too far.

What followed… “I’ve forgotten my book too.”, followed by “So have I.”, several offerings of “Me too”, and a half a dozen garbled descriptions of out of the way places where books had been left… were not even necessary to push Henry beyond the limit of his fragile patience.

All he could do was stand there and turn red. The distant branches of the monkey-puzzle tree had become nothing but a vague shape in the distance, a blur, no longer an anchor, certainly not a rock – more a forgotten dream or a forgotten memory.

“Mr Bridgewater…” a voice rang out over the hubbub, “Can I get my book from my locker?” was what finally pushed Henry into a rabid attack on the girls who tormented him.

“What the hell is wrong with you lot?” The volume of Henry’s question, as well as the high pitch of desperation, managed to ensure that each girl stopped talking and directed their pairs of eyes on him. “What the hell…” But Henry didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know how he could even begin to enumerate the crimes that this class had committed, not just today, but every day for the last six months, since the new school year started.

“Is something the matter Mr Bridgewater?” one lone voice cried out.

“What’s wrong Mr Bridgewater?” A chorus started up.

“Stop it!” was all that Henry could manage. “Just stop it! Close you bloody mouths!”

All mouths shut, all hands now rose into the air.

“And put down your hands, for God’s sake.”

“But I thought…”

“Just shut up!”

All of a sudden becoming aware of himself standing there at the front of a classroom, in front of thirty fourteen-year-old children, sixty gaping black holes for eyes, thirty barely perceptible smiles, Henry realised that he had once again lost the battle. As far as winning the war was concerned, Henry had to be philosophical. As far as being philosophical was concerned, Henry had little hope.