"We want you out." Cummings stepped from the gantry and into the centre of the pod, waved a hand to persons unknown, the door closed and we began our ascent over the Thames.
"But I'm not in."
"Precisely. We have a job for you. No-one must ever know."
Rain swam down the arching glass all around us. A private booking, but my third time on the Eye at night. "We want you to bring outsiders in."
"Just do what you do. Only more so."
"More so? Why do you want outsiders in?"
"The insiders want the outsiders in. But they have to be sure they're not .. just looking."
"I see. Shouldn't an insider bring outsiders in?"
"Too risky. They might want out."
"Better out than in. I want in, Cummings."
"You'd hate it there. It's claustrophobic."
"If you're not in you can't win. Womans Realm."
He paused, the serious look fell from his face like the thread he was unravelling from the cuff of his Jermyn Street shirt. "You boys know all about service of a - shall we say - de facto nature. But you will fixate on winning."
I looked across the river, knowing full well that Cummings was right. "Fine, do I get paid ..something?"
"The Freedom." He always used this - never 'freedom', always prefixed. Freedom when all I want is a place.
"Saturday. Donegal, hmm?" He touched my cheek but I pulled away.
"No. Don't." I closed my eyes, I knew the game. "You'll only make me happy."
"And?" He grew aggravated.
"You'll take it away again. Then where will I be?"
"ffffffucK. coquette.. " He bit at his knuckle, thumping randomly on the window - "You know sometimes I wonder about all this." - he traced a finger from the mauve and white lights of the City and along to the Tate Britain, "All this .. spurious hoo-ha. Do you know what it's all built on?"
He span, raging, finding a hold on my collar. "Love. The sweet silver song of our love." - his piercing achromatic eyes rolling around my face - "What is it about you? I always end up talking cuckoo clocks and Borgias."
Retreating, gesturing, the door re-opened. We were back on the gantry. We were back on the gantry. I was confused. Always something confusing around Cummings. "That was quick!"
"Quick? You need a cheap holiday, dear boy, no-one's been anywhere."
I felt I had to press against the fog now swelling in my forehead. As I moved to leave a hand was placed to my chest - "No rush. Stay in. Go round for a rinse cycle." - an A4 envelope was placed into my hands - "Everything you need is here."
I took it, fell against the pod door. He fastened his briefcase in the rain, twisted open his brolley. "Till our next rendezvous I guess?"
"Oh that's the second thing. You're on your own now. I never heard of you in my life." The gates had been opened and I watched as Cummings disappeared down the slope through oncoming customers. I stepped forward on impulse - "Cummings? Can I ask one last question?"
He looked and accepted it with a raised eyebrow. "Is there love on the inside?"
I thought the wind would clip his response, but he managed to lift himself over the thicket of hoods and heads with that look of his - uniquely sedate yet somehow smiling at a mutual, unmentionable middle distance. "It's .. different." He turned, was gone. "Just different."
Winter tourists shook themselves, whispered in knots as we began to turn our way upwards. Soon they loosened and moved about. I stood there watching our flint-sharp shadow scaling the ground then taking an angle across the building behind us. I think I spotted Cummings moving towards Whitehall along the banks below but I wasn't sure.
I ungummed the envelope. A copy of this weeks Spectator magazine with a covering note. "Not For Anybody Else. Operation Penny Black - If You Could See What I Can See When I'm Licking Windsors (Aphex/Formby). P.S. Soundtrack Of Our Lives are the new Vines. They were the new Hives. Luv, Cummings."
Madness! Big Ben struck, mournful, down there in the distance. I can't stand here shaking it all about, I want in. i want In.
Thomas Wright reviews Kierkegaard by Alastair Hannay. Young Soren was as much a product of his writing as he was producer. Poor lamb was lost in his own thoughts, see. He became this thing, right, called Kierkegaard, which wasn't really him. But the only way of redressing the balance was through Kierkegaard. So there was the real Kierkegaard inside asking the external Kierkegaard to tell the world wot was wot. But the real Kierkegaard spent so much time passing info to his own mouthpiece that he forgot what he wanted to say to the world, and ended up giggling whimsy snout down in a take-away tray of sweet'n'sour symbiosis on the floor of the cack-soaked night bus to Paradoxical Subjectivity. A ghost unable to set itself free, playing ethical chess with its own consciousness and a mere mirror to his own dread. Reflected to infinity. Reflecting infinity. And beyond. (Note to self: become existentialist next year, stop sitting here thinking about it.)
Yowser. Spin. Prince Charles' personal spin doctor, Mark Bolland, aka 'Lip Gloss' recently accepted an award for 'PR Professional of the Year'. "Those who know him suspect he loved every minute of it," gurgles the Spectator. I don't know too much about Jacques Lacan and the gang but accepting your reward always seems to feature highly in their thoughts. Accepting an award also suggests accepting that the awarder is worthy of awarding you. By default, accepting their authority. I once declined an art prize at my school, slapping a spectacularly hot-headed letter across the secretaries Chat, and was post-humously expelled, which can't make sense. But, upon reflection, refusing to accept an establishment that needed all the help it could get, which might possibly be 'PR Week', is the finest way to underline your own feelings of inferiority. It's a silly game, so long as we all know that it can be done with earnest-enough smiles and as much plonk as you can fit in a schoolbag, or carry home in a cab. Merely ask is it fun, my son.
More on Lip Gloss, a 'media junkie', and 'friend of Peter Mandelson'. A good spin doctor, deputy private secretary, whatever, should make their paymaster and their policies look and feel marvellous, and so often this will mean denigrating others. Details of a private call between Prince William and his father appeared in the press. How? Wot bastard's putting it about. "Belfast Castle," my mother once phoned me to weep, "..orgies.." "You can't make scurrilous, unfounded accusations on a public arena like the Northern Ireland telephone service, mother." click Someone coughed their affirmation click
"Clothes maketh worldy power, not army corps." Petronella Wyatt proposes an Allied airdrop of miniskirts into Afghanistan - for sure, they could swing the populace into handing over al-Qa'eda. She might be right, of course, given the fact that most Afghan soldiers will live and die virgins. I wouldn't suggest that plain horniness is the root of their viciousness in the field, we're not animals. But if Petronella's right, and on the civilized basis that clothes are no indication of someone's desire to get it on - let's 'chute in buck-nekkid hookers.
Petronella suggests that the British Prime Minister might appreciate Englishwomen dressed in yashmaks. "What could be more seductive than a veil blowing in the wind?" Someone with intelligence, humour and who's comfortable in themselves? Popping out of peeper panties glugluglug. Seduction is not a word we associate with British sex, but it's a warming thing in itself, need not result in anyone feeling diddled and only works when it's based on an authentic feeling. Flirting is saying that which will have the greatest effect rather than what one means, flattery too can be foundless. But not-in-there Brits headbutting the fuck out of the Old Kent Road Gin Palace on a Friday night could always import the dark Gallic arts of seduction.
Joan Collins had some and now has a Spectator column. And warmingly, she's not a bitch. She feels sorry for footballers, the low-paid second-leaguers who find themselves retired by their mid-twenties without a transferable skill to their names. "They're all fur coat and no knickers," my gran would grumble, curtain-twitching the local strumpets, and putting her feet up for Dynasty. Young men too can end up all fur coat and no knickers.
A flick through the Spectator and one could be forgiven for thinking that there are more references to Lip Gloss, Mandy and Alastair Campbell than there are to their employers, more analysis of spin than of policies, and of policies more than action. But, as Kierkegaard might gurgle face down on the night bus, the mouthpiece becomes the person.
Oh, Spectator. Sexless, ageing, business class ("it keeps me up to speed!"), slipping relatively unscathed from Vuitton grips and into hotel suite bins, girding video-conference loins that first need to feel closer to the centre - help us pole-vault our gatekeepers, gag our double-agent deep throats and smash our mad monkey mirrors. Get us through the spin, Spectator!
The pod had turned to the full height of the Eye. We can look down on Parliament from here, the rain has cleared. I find a space at the front amidst the winter tourists. There she sits, on a neat stretch of the Thames.
A Portugese couple ask me to take their photograph. I hardly speak as I take the camera, back them up, frame them, get some background. I know I will never feel in, may one day be able to give off a simulacrum of being in. But I am content knowing something I depend on is there, in the background, while we all try, in our manifold ways, to sing the sweet silver song of our loves. Less than to expose the reasoning behind those who would want in, and those ballsing everything to hell, more to explain why people will always need something to defend.
The Portugese couple thank me, but I'm still speechless, lost in my own thoughts. They ask if I am OK. I'm OK.