Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

All Categories | Storms, Smoke & Power Cuts

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

Apologies!
Due to a combination of wild storms that blew smoke from the wood fire back down the chimney, setting off  alarms in every room, and covered everything in a fine layer of soot, and the power cut that, in amongst all of this, plunged our friends’ isolated, converted corn mill where we were staying into deep, velvety darkness, The Blog isn’t posting this week.

In the meantime, you might like to take a look at our reminder of the diverse range of international visual arts and events-related subjects we posted in 2014.

Best wishes for 2015



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The Blog is about art, architecture, books, design and gardens, and anything else that currently interests us which we think might interest you.

The publishers of The Blog insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees which may, under any circumstances, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier

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All Categories | Omnipresence 2014 / 2015

Friday, December 26th, 2014

2014 proved to be an exciting year at The Blog.

We published posts relating to exhibitions as diverse as Egon Schiele; The Radical Nude at London’s Courtauld Gallery, and Robert Heinecken: Object Matter at MoMA in New York, to another about VKhUTEMAS – often called the Russian Bauhaus – at Berlin’s Martin-Gropius-Bau museum. We admired rare and exotic posters in The Art of Travel, exhibited at Cannes during the annual film festival and auctioned afterwards by Christie’s.

We showed a selection of compelling images from Roxanne Lowit Photographs Yves Saint Laurent, a glitzy new book – with an introduction by no less a figure than Pierre Bergé – and wrote about Vitra’s more modest new publication Everything is Connected, which relies totally on visual language rather than written text to relate the company’s labyrinthine story.

We loved Korean artist Lee Bul’s captivating installations at the UK’s Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, and the Museum für Gestaltung’s 100 Years of Swiss Design exhibition – as well as the accompanying Lars Müller book – showing selections from the Museum’s consolidated collections, now housed at the Schaudepot in Zürich’s burgeoning New Toni development.

We covered the Saul Steinberg 100th Anniversary Exhibition at Pace MacGill in New York, and we assembled our own photographic tribute to The Years of ‘La Dolce Vita’, from the paparazzi images on show at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, in London.

We published extracts from Christie’s International Head of 20th Century Decorative Art & Design Philippe Garner’s scintillating interview with Zeev Aram, on the subject of Japanese furniture designer Shiro Kuramata. And we salivated over Serge Mouille’s 1950s sculptural lighting included in Phillips Design sale in New York.

We hope the journey so far has been as interesting for you as it has for us.

As the globe – at least in communication terms – continues to shrink, the cultural landscape forever widens and diversifies. What was formerly remote has often become more easily accessible. In response, 2015 will see The Blog extending its reach and venturing into geographical and subject areas we may have so far ignored, exploring and gaining entry for our followers to a broader range of thought-provoking, disparate and topical events in the omnipresent visual arts and associated artistic disciplines.



Tell us what you think
The Blog is about art, architecture, books, design and gardens, and anything else that currently interests us which we think might interest you.

The publishers of The Blog insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees which may, under any circumstances, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier



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All Categories | The Blog Will Return Next Week

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

Untitled #1, Norfolk, UK

Untitled #2, Norfolk, UK

Untitled #3, Norfolk, UK

Photographs by Pedro Silmon, 2014




Tell us what you think.

The Blog is about art, architecture, books, design and gardens, and anything else that currently interests us which we think might interest you.

The publishers of The Blog insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees which may, under any circumstances, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier




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All Categories | The Blog Team is on Holiday

Friday, August 1st, 2014

Kielder Water from below the Kielder Observatory, Northumberland, UK

Kielder Observatory, by Charles Barclay Architects, completed 2008

Photographs by Pedro Silmon, 2014




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The Blog is about art, architecture, books, design and gardens, and anything else that currently interests us which we think might interest you.

The publishers of The Blog insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees which may, under any circumstances, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier

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All Categories | The Blog is on Holiday

Friday, September 6th, 2013

This Way, 2012, Pedro Silmon

Our Mapplethorpe Curated by Huppert blog post was published early this week

Watch out for our next post on, or around, September 27th

Tell us what you think
The Blog is about art, architecture, gardens, books, design and anything else that currently interests us which we think might interest you

The publishers of The Blog insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees which may, under any circumstances, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier

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Books | Taschenzine

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Taschen Booklist
Winter 2011/12

Taschen do something very clever. The book publishing house that proudly boasts it was established as long ago as 1980 and, as it says on the cover of its Winter 2011/2012 Booklist, ‘is for optimists only’, likes to surprise and even to shock. While many publishers have cut costs by putting their lists of forthcoming books exclusively on-line, Taschen’s, published biannually, which arrived here in the middle of this week – only 30 high street shopping days to go until Christmas! – takes the form of a well-produced magazine.

Whoever came up with the concept and put it together – probably Benedikt Taschen himself, who edits it – pays close attention to getting the details right. The cover is printed web-offset and the inside pages using the gravure method – only suitable for runs of over 300,000 copies due to the substantial costs involved (some of these having clearly been off-set by the inclusion of genuine, up-market advertising for the likes of Mercedes Benz, Chopard, Pirelli and Maybach) – giving it the familiar, floppy feel of news-based magazines like Stern, Paris Match, The (UK) Sunday Times Style section, The New York Times Magazine or even SAGA.

The cover shot is more than a little cheesy; it has a low-budget tang to it. It says this is a popular magazine; it’s inclusive, not exclusive; there’s something for everyone here. The cover type is overly colourful and looks like it might have been done in a rush to meet a tight deadline, however, the company name TASCHEN is subtly lacquered-over – perhaps to convey just a hint that what one is looking at is not all that it appears. Inside, looking for all the world like a list of features with page numbers, there’s – what could be more natural – a contents page. What could be a jauntily written editor’s intro, actually is just that and is signed off by Herr Taschen himself. The ‘features’ are mostly lavishly-illustrated using photographs or illustrations from the approximately 120 books individually listed at the back with prices. But there are what must be specially commissioned illustrations of the famous from Moby, Quincy Jones and Mario Testino to Rem Koolhaas, Pamela Anderson and Diane Keaton, each with a nice quote about their favourite Taschen book alongside them. These attempt to demonstrate the reach and ground this once best known for its cut-price art book publishing house has gained over the past twenty-five years. Taschen himself makes an appearance photographed, paparazzi-style, in a series of black and white images, most memorably in a full-bleed double-page spread with director Billy Wilder and photographer Helmut Newton at the 1960-built architectural landmark, Chemosphere house, in the Hollywood Hills in 1999. Newspaper USA Today’s quote about the Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot book – from Taschen, obviously – appears alongside: ‘A Wilder gift you couldn’t find for film fans.’ There’s a fashion ’story’ about photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin’s work – limited editions to 1,200 copies of the book are available, numbered and signed by the artists. This is up-market stuff but the way it’s packaged makes it feel democratic, accessible to the masses. Wine and food are covered; cars too. There’s sexy glamour from Bert Stern’s historic last sitting with Marilyn Monroe and a design ‘feature’ about information graphics. The Man from La Mancha, about a book on Pedro Almadóvar opens on a dramatic spread image with sparse headline, standfirst and quote, which is followed by a substantial text written by the director. There’s quite a lot of film-based stuff; Movies of the 2000 [sic] – the title of which must be a dodgy bit of translation from the presumably original German into English – opens with a complex double page spread of small film-stills and screaming headline, which, if this was in a real magazine, might be expected to lead somewhere, but doesn’t. There are a couple of spreads – please excuse the pun – about The Big Book of Pussy – the offending organ having been masked out by little, yellow smiley faces – immediately followed by a spread of illustrations of Toucans,’Big-billed technicolor marvels’, which at first glance might be taken for a special offer of the type one associates with sets of decorative plates, had the book cover not been slipped in at the bottom.


The tone and pace of the content is keenly balanced, some items picture-lead, others text-heavy, some short, some long, in such a way as to convince anyone casually flicking through the pages that he’s holding a real magazine. There’s no crossword or puzzle page but there is a game that encourages the reader to search for the character Faulpeltz – familiar, apparently, to past recipients of this publication – hidden within the pages of the magazine: the successful participants earning the chance of winning the Taschen sweepstake or book tokens. This is psychologically-clever salesmanship. First-timers are drawn in, made to feel comfortable in familiar territory – it’s the game that advertorial plays, when it apes the editorial of the magazine it appears in – until suddenly the penny drops and you feel rather let down, fooled. Make no mistake; this ‘magazine’ is 100% advertorial. But maybe in this particular case you can convince yourself to rest easy – this is a smartly-executed joke – you might have been fooled but now you get it and it’s so well done that you’re not ashamed at all that you were had. On the contrary, you begin to appreciate the level of intellectual thought and creative consideration that went into this fine thing. You want to tell all your friends about it: do a blog post on it – exactly what they want you to do. You might put it aside – you never know, one day it might be a collector’s item, and be worth something. Anyway, that’s what I’m going to do with mine.

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Look out for The Blog’s posts on art, architecture, gardens, books, design and anything else that interests me and I think might interest you

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Book | This is For You – Love it? Hate it?

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011


This is For You
An autobiography of sorts
The new novel by Pedro Silmon, serialised, exclusively for you on The Blog

It’s apparent from the phenomenal surge in the usage statistics for www.pedrosilmon.com (see below) that a lot of you have been looking at and, hopefully, reading the serialised instalments of This is For You this summer, as well as looking at the other aspects of our site. The final part was published last Friday, 2nd September. So far only one person has posted a comment (see 2nd September Comments below), which, thankfully, is a favourable one. Having published and made the book available on the internet, free of any charge, I hope that in return you might tell me what you think of the book. Love it? Hate it? Either way, I’d like to know.

Please leave a comment and look out for The Blog’s posts on Art, Architecture, Books, Exhibitions and anything that interests me that I think might interest you

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Book | This is For You: Ninth and Final Instalment

Friday, September 2nd, 2011


This is For You  An autobiography of sorts

The new novel by Pedro Silmon, serialised, exclusively for you on The Blog

As previously explained, the characters within this book are fictitious and any similarities to persons living, or dead, are coincidental but, like many first novels, This is for you, is an autobiography of sorts. At 26,000 words, it is relatively short, however, it was written, re-written, edited and refined over a five year period, spanning 2001-2007, in Germany and the UK. I am endebted to David Miller at the prestigious UK literary agency, Rogers, Coleridge & White, to whom I was kindly introduced by Sarah Spankie, Deputy Editor of the Condé Nast Traveller; having read a draft of the text, David suggested a few changes which improved it enormously.


Part 2 continued…
Bede was lying on his side. He woke with a start and felt the weight of an arm pressing down on his ribs. A man’s hand cupped his genitals. Loud, staccato snoring, which made the whole bed vibrate, came from directly behind his head. As he leapt up, his pyjama bottoms fell to his knees. The snoring continued unabated, and through the first dawn light he realised that he was in a shabby hospital ward. Two rows of beds were lined up along the walls. There were perhaps a couple of dozen in all, most of which appeared to be occupied.  He had no idea what he was doing there, or how long he had lain on these disgusting sheets. Who was the fat slob who had been abusing his body? He had an urge to kill him, but was afraid of making a noise and, in so doing, raising the alarm. The man wore a grey overall and must have been some sort of attendant. On his feet was a pair of greasy-looking tennis shoes, which Bede carefully removed and put on his own.

The double doors to the ward were not locked. They hardly creaked as he gently pushed them open and slid out into the corridor. At the far end, someone sat in a glassed-in office with his back to him, apparently sleeping. No one else was about. Bede walked into the toilet and climbed out of the window. Through the mist he saw a small dog, which had been sleeping near the edge of an overgrown lawn, jump up and skitter across the gravel path towards him. He recognised it as the same one that had followed him after his beating. It made no sound, but seemed very excited to see him, stretching up, putting its paws on his knees and looking into his eyes imploringly. Bede leaned over and stroked its head, but clearly it was not satisfied: it rolled over on to its back, so he tickled its stomach.

Not far off, there was a decrepit-looking, low-rise housing estate. In the shadow of the buildings, a few burnt-out cars stood rotting at the roadside; rubbish from a dustbin had been tipped out into the street. Mostly empty, communal washing lines stretched between poles above the litter-strewn earth in front of each block. Bede inspected the meagre, damp garments. There were no trousers. After a moment’s hesitation, deciding whether or not he could possibly wear such ugly clothes, he grabbed a faded pair of shorts that had originally been jeans, a ripped T-shirt and a fuzzy, fake mohair jumper. He started to remove his pyjamas, so he could replace them with the shorts when suddenly the dog picked them up and ran off. With a great effort Bede sprinted after it, the dog enjoying the chase a lot more than he.

He had been walking for almost an hour. The sun appeared as a white disc floating in a milky pool, just above the horizon. Hundreds of moist cobwebs, which a second before had been invisible, sparkled and twinkled like delicate jewelled necklaces hung on every bush and on the dried-out plant stems that towered over the pale fields. The distant, solid line of dark tree shapes began to break up and separate. As the sky transformed into a clean, white sheet, here and there the angular silhouettes of buildings emerged, then took on three dimensions. Everything had been monochrome; now, suddenly, there were colours. Beside a weed-choked canal, where willow herb grew tall amid the long grass, a black-and-white cat sat motionless, staring up at the tattered remains of a pink kite that had become entangled in the overhead telephone cables. In desultory fashion, as if it was simply doing what was expected of it, the dog chased the cat, but soon returned to Bede’s side. A lugubrious heron, disturbed by their presence, rose a few feet into the air, then, with a sad and silent flap of its huge wings, sailed off over the treetops. A little farther on, the remains of a human body dangled below flaking rugby posts that had been used as a makeshift gibbet.

The allotments that enclosed the garages, occupied a large open area on the west side of a tall hill, and commanded a panoramic view of the city, which, in certain lights, seemed very close, yet just as often appeared remote. Head-high weeds crowded in, obscuring the narrow paths, which Bede attempted to follow through the abandoned plots. Brambles, heavily-laden with glossy, ripe fruit, grabbed and tore at his bare legs. There were obvious signs that the land had only recently fallen into disuse: burgeoning, overrun flowerbeds; a wild tangle of vermillion-flowered runner beans blocked Bede’s way. Grabbing the lush, bean tentacles in both hands, he dragged them roughly to either side, tore open a ragged aperture and pushed his way through. Big, bushy potato plants grew up through the gravel and broke easily as he lifted his feet and trod heavily on top of them.

The dog came into the lock-up and sat down in front of him. Wearing an expectant look, it stared up at his face, pressing its snout against his leg when it failed to get his attention. Bede, heavily engrossed in his book, pushed the animal gently away without looking down. It moved off a little, stood very still for a few seconds, and then scuttled around in a tight circle, nose poking inquisitively on the ground, as if arranging some non-existent blanket. Then it folded its front legs, lowered its head, and dropped its hindquarters to the floor. Raising its head once more to yawn, the dog flopped slowly on to its flank, gave a great sigh and almost immediately, began to snore.


Prologue: the story is over and now it can begin

Negotiations for the sale of foreign rights to Bede’s book came to an abrupt end, when the anarchist government closed our company down. From what we have been able to ascertain, not a single bound advance copy survived. Serendipitously, and to our great joy and surprise, a photocopy of the original, handwritten manuscript, which had been sent abroad to foreign publishers for their consideration, and had languished, forgotten, in a cupboard for more than twenty years, was recently discovered and kindly returned to us. Although the paper has yellowed and the writing is somewhat faded, the text is entirely legible.

Curiously, as we prepared for the book’s belated publication, a date-stamped set of the original printers’ proofs materialised. The plain, unmarked envelope containing the lightly-scorched bundle was pushed through the company’s letterbox late at night and contained no indication inside as to its origin. CCTV cameras had picked up the obscure image of what looked like an elderly woman on a bicycle passing close to the building at about the appropriate time but apart from her, there is nothing to suggest who might be responsible for delivering the package.

The handwriting style of the notes and the amendments on the proofs, in an assortment of inks and shades of mostly blues and black, some, but certainly not all, of which were clearly written before the scorching had occurred – bore remarkable similarities to that of the original manuscript. Although the central, anecdotal theme was left intact, significant rewriting had occurred in several places: the first chapter was almost entirely reconstructed, and included several additions; most notably, a final chapter had been appended. Bede’s recurring dream, present throughout, was also added later. Curiously, the detailed description of the eye-test is consistent with contemporary, up-to-date technology and methods, which would have been less sophisticated at the time the original manuscript was produced. Leading experts also believe that the references to the dog might well have been put in very recently, perhaps after the finding of the burned bodies of a man and dog had been reported in the media. Our initial inference was that, whoever amended the proofs – and, as the book’s publishers, we are convinced that this was Bede himself – had at least at some stage been keen to have the world believe that he was dead.

The savage attack on Bede in the park that appears in chapter one had been observed from a distance. The witness, an old colleague from his days on the newspaper, spread the word that Bede had been killed. Suddenly, Bede became a martyr – a man who dedicated his life to literature, murdered for the simple act of reading a book. It was impossible for anyone to publish anything about this at the time, but as word was passed around, Bede’s premature death gained him mythical status. But there is no hard-and-fast evidence that Bede is dead even now, or that he was the person who died in the fire at the lock-up garage. He appeared to vanish at a certain point in time when the anarchist regime were doing away with undesirables; therefore his ex-colleagues and acquaintances, having not heard from him, and having heard rumours of the attack, simply assumed that he had been killed. Their conclusion was based on little more than supposition.

During the revolutionary years, no police records were kept, and, although it appears entirely credible that the body discovered in the burnt-out lock-up in the southern sector of the city, belonged to Bede, positive identification has been impossible to establish. The conflagration, which consumed the garage and what appeared to be the countless books it housed, as well as the disintegrated body beneath the ashes and rubble, left few discernable clues. The charred remains of a small dog were found close to the blackened human skeleton. Forensic evidence suggests that the dog had been provided with a makeshift water bowl, casting some doubt as to whether or not Bede, reputedly no animal lover, had actually perished here.

When he was brought before the tribunal, the deposed leader vehemently denied any personal responsibility for sending the death squad to the allotments. Yes, he had been a contemporary of Bede’s at university. No, he had never known him personally.

In retrospect, the textual alterations, etc, might easily have been introduced with the express aim of creating confusion and a smokescreen behind which the author might conceal himself. It has also been suggested that Bede may never have been the original author. In our opinion, this is pure conjecture, and it is not our wish to raise controversy. However, we and the distinguished panel of experts we have consulted, cannot deny that certain slight inconsistencies in the style and writing technique found in the latter part of the amended version might suggest that a second author was responsible for completing the manuscript. The task would have required an intimate understanding of Bede’s complex persona.

The extreme paucity of book manuscripts of any value from before the revolution meant that we were very keen to put into production at once, the book – technically-speaking, a novella – based on Bede’s newly-discovered original manuscript. Our undertaking would certainly have been simpler had we just gone ahead and published. The continuing controversy notwithstanding, in publishing this first edition, entitled This is For You – these words scribbled, evidently in haste, across the head of the first page proof, may have been intended as a dedication, who can say? – we are confident that you, our valued readers, are being presented with the best possible, and most complete version of this work.


That was the ninth and final instalment of This is for you, the serialisation of which began here on The Blog on Friday, July 8th, 2011

What did you think of it?

Please leave a comment and look out for The Blog’s posts on Art, Architecture, Books, Design, Photography and anything that interests me and I think might interest to you

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Book | This is For You: Eighth Instalment

Friday, August 26th, 2011


This is For You  An autobiography of sorts

The new novel by Pedro Silmon, serialised, exclusively for you on The Blog

As previously explained, the characters within this book are fictitious and any similarities to persons living, or dead, are coincidental but, like many first novels, This is for you, is an autobiography of sorts. At 26,000 words, it is relatively short, however, it was written, re-written, edited and refined over a five year period, spanning 2001-2007, in Germany and the UK. I am endebted to David Miller at the prestigious UK literary agency, Rogers, Coleridge & White, to whom I was kindly introduced by Sarah Spankie, Deputy Editor of the Condé Nast Traveller; having read a draft of the text, David suggested a few changes which improved it enormously.


Part 2
A curious mixture of the combined aromas of singed hair and pipe tobacco smoke filled Bede’s nostrils. Slowly, he lifted himself up, then slumped back down on to the bench, brushing automatically, and to little effect, at his dust-covered clothes. Picking vacantly at the grit ingrained in his skin, then licking the end of his finger and rubbing it in little circles over the dried blood, he watched a small, black spider negotiate its way through the hairs on the back of his hand and disappear under his shirt cuff. Excited shouts from the direction of the lake jabbed through the dense layer of grey felt that lined his skull. Just as the boat was within a whisker of capsizing, the boat-sailing father had pulled off an amazing rescue manoeuvre. Indifferent to his father’s triumph, the little boy’s blue-eyed gaze rested solely on Bede.

Towards midday, Bede rose unsteadily to his feet and bent to retrieve his pipe. It was chipped, but still in one piece, and he pushed it deep into his coat pocket. Although one of the lenses was cracked at the corner, his glasses were unbroken. White glare from the chalky paths stung his eyes. His coat hung heavily on his shoulders, and through the thick fabric, he scratched at an insistent tickling itch near his elbow. His armpits prickled, and he could feel rivers of cold sweat running down the sides of his rib cage. People had been coming and going around him throughout the morning, and at one point someone had even sat down on the bench and asked whether he was all right. Bede had neither answered nor acknowledged the other’s presence; his mind was busy and he was in no mood for interruptions.

Pigeons, and then ducks and geese, scuttled aside as he made his way shakily along the path that ran around the circular lake. Bicycles crunched swiftly at the gravel, which produced a strange, tuneless music as it bounced off their wheel spokes. Overgrown flowerbeds registered vaguely in his peripheral vision. The unkempt park bore little resemblance to the lush haven it had once been, however, the geography remained the same. He steered his body slowly round to the right and, without raising his eyes, took a familiar path, which led at a sharp tangent away from the water. Suddenly, he froze. His back stiffened and his legs bent as his head went back and his shoulders jerked forward. He sneezed powerfully; sneezing again and then again; and again. It seemed that he would never stop sneezing. Bede caught himself suppressing a grin: sneezing had always given him an intense, if momentary, pleasure. Though he had never suffered to any great extent from hay fever, certain types of pollen always seemed to set him off, then his eyes would itch and he would become anxious. Perfumes were a problem, too, and, to their credit, his female partners had, on the whole, reasonably understood this. Those who had not, had not lasted very long in his company. To avoid having to walk through the menacing massed ranks of scent counters in the main entrance areas of department stores, Bede had only ever gone in via side doors. He had never worn aftershave or cologne, and throughout his life stuck resolutely to basic, non-scented soaps, although in recent years he had not had the problem of choice to contend with, there being little else on offer.

The sneezing fit sapped precious energy from his already-weakened body, and he leaned against a brick building to steady himself. Assaulted by the sharp tang of the urinals inside, wafting down through a narrow open window above his head, with intense effort he heaved himself upright and began again to move forward. The park was large, and it was some time before he stepped out on to the pavement of the wide road that ran the length of its southern edge. He turned eastwards. It had been some years since he had ventured anywhere near the city-centre, but he had to go through it to get to where he was going, and all his instincts drove him in that direction. Despite the fuel rationing, the traffic was surprisingly heavy. Nowadays, the city’s roads once again carried the occasional horse and cart, though the clapped-out, ancient cars, bursting with people, the rusty motorcycles and the mopeds and bicycles greatly outnumbered them. Many big lorries and numerous heavily-laden buses lumbered by. As if from nowhere, a long, sleek limousine with dark, tinted windows, sailed into view, escorted by motorcycles. The other road-users swerved to let it pass. As the car came alongside him, one of the windows slid slowly down just far enough to afford Bede a brief glimpse of the man and small boy who occupied it.

Entering a subway just beyond the park gate, Bede got caught up in the solid flow of people heading towards the underground trains, which, he was surprised to see, on that day at least, appeared to be operating, though it made no difference to him. Without papers, even if he had wanted to, he could not have travelled on public transport.

There were many exits from the station, and although he was certain that he knew which one to take, he emerged beside an enormous, white, classical arch, marooned on an island of overgrown grass, completely surrounded by traffic. Through the fumy gaps that opened and closed between the moving vehicles, he could just make out the point where he should have been. Descending the gloomy, littered stairway again, he tried to keep his head angled and his eyes fixed in the right direction. It was not easy, and once he got below ground, it proved impossible for him to move in a straight line. The labyrinth of tunnels was disorientating. He felt dizzy and lost his balance, then banged his head hard against a tiled wall before finding himself, once again, at the point where he had first entered the subway.

Several of the kicks he had received earlier had been extremely hard. There was an area on his back, just below his left shoulder blade, which began to stiffen and ache. As he paused and twisted his arm around so he could massage the tender area, a dense mass of bodies spun him round, swept him up with them, and bore him back down the stairs. Indistinguishable from more-or-less every other female he ever saw now in the streets, the women were almost all dressed in very short, black leather skirts, below which their black suspenders extended down over expanses of white thigh. The suspenders supported sheer or fishnet, randomly torn and laddered, black stockings. Others were in skin-tight vinyl trousers, with tartan loincloths flapping around their buttocks. Every one of them had a white powdered face and wore eye make-up in strong colours, with lots of black liner. Their lips were also black, or sometimes purple. Tall, peroxide blonde or dyed black cockscombs sprouted from the heads of some the men and a few of the women. Others, of both sexes, had teased their hair into spikes. Some wore studded dog collars. All of the men were clean-shaven, and many were dressed from head to toe in short, zipped, black leather jackets and trousers with slogans and swastikas crudely daubed or sprayed across them. They had on capped-sleeved, white or black T-shirts, slashed open at the front. Narrow, black trousers, loosely belted across the back of the knees, which somewhat restricted their ability to walk, were favoured by a few. Safety pins were haphazardly attached to all of their clothes; they had poked them through their eyebrows, and around the tops and lobes of their ears; a small number had even put the sharp ends into their mouths, pierced their cheeks and fastened them on the outside. What looked like lengths of toilet chain – which the women, especially, appeared to enjoy sucking on – were looped between one safety pin and the next.

Bowling forward, the merry, heaving crowd, on their way together somewhere in a hurry, sang loudly in accents that were incomprehensible to Bede. He felt sure that they had been drinking alcohol, or were on drugs. Several of them reached out and draped their arms amiably around his shoulders, vehemently insisting that he must go along with them. Their frank camaraderie intoxicated him, and after the briefest instant of hesitation, he abandoned himself with pleasure to their will. Their voices ricocheted off the graffiti-covered tunnel walls, as they dragged him, laughing with them, down the long slopes and up the stairways then out once again into the open air. Bede could not remember when he had last felt so happy. Miraculously, he was delivered at the exit he had been seeking, and, somewhat reluctantly managing to disentangle himself from his new-found friends, he was soon alone once more. He paused briefly, listening as the fading voices moved off to wherever the crowd was going, then continued on his way.

Powerful shock waves hit him suddenly, square across his back, jarred his rib cage and almost made him fall, as a deafening explosion burst out from the underground station he had just left. A plume of black smoke rose quickly, stopped, and then spread out slowly in the sky. Steadying himself, he swayed and dodged forward away from the screaming, between the frightened masses running frantically past.

Presently, he arrived at a wide, open square with a river of traffic now surging, now piling up, around its perimeter. A classical building of delicate proportions extended the entire length of the north side. Bede recalled that it had once been a great gallery, with a magnificent and renowned collection of some of the very best items of historically-important, international art. A wave of unfamiliar emotion welled up in his stomach; his throat tightened and his eyes filled with tears. Suppressing a sob, he saw that the building’s entire exterior – the delicate cupola, the massive, colonnaded façade, the grand stone steps leading up to the vast portals, what remained of the decorative iron railings, and even the pavement below – had been obliterated by multi-coloured, multi-layered, spray-painted graffiti. He would have liked to cry out, but that would have drawn attention; people would have noticed and he could have been reported.

A few nervous-looking protesters had erected banners around the base of the tall, finely-carved, stone column near the middle of the square – which, Bede recalled, had once supported a statue of some naval hero – and were beginning to attract a crowd. Their demonstration was of no interest to him, but to walk around the perimeter would have taken about three times as long as crossing directly over the square, so he began wading through the stationary cars to get on to it. The speeches started just as his foot touched the kerb of the island. Simultaneously, a hundred or so massive horses, surmounted by armoured, baton-wielding militia, clattered from their hiding place in a parallel street, and charged at the protesters. The militia must have decided beforehand that the sound of the first amplified voice would be their signal to act – and act they certainly did, with the utmost brutality. As the batons swung down and bludgeoned the helpless demonstrators, a great wave of pigeons swept slowly up into the air, circled low over the furore, momentarily masking the obscenities and appearing to calm the chill atmosphere. But the illusion was short-lived: before the birds alighted on the far side of the square, the paving stones ran red with blood. Turning his back and ignoring the shouts and screams of the battle, Bede retraced his steps and cautiously made his way around the perimeter of the square. A small, timid-looking dog appeared from nowhere to tag in his wake.

Bede’s head was gradually becoming clearer. Again, he felt an irritating itch, and, with a rapid movement, he slapped the back of his shirt collar to his neck. Reaching inside with two fingers, he pulled out the remains of the elusive little spider last seen disappearing up his sleeve. He stopped and held them up to examine them closely. The spider’s body lay still, its lifeless legs folded inwards, in his cupped hand. He regretted having been responsible for its death, but felt relieved that he had killed and not merely maimed it. He tipped the tiny carcass gently on to the top of a low wall, and continued on his way.

Shortly, he came to a wide street, at the middle of which stood what had been, he remembered, a very grand hotel. The building was intact, and looked well-maintained. Armed guards stood on either side of the main entrance ushering dark limousines into the underground car park. Bede had memories of taking a girlfriend for cocktails at one of the hotel’s many bars, years before, but that things had not gone the way he had planned. Having booked a double room for the night, he had limited himself to only two dry martinis, while she insisted on trying as many sickly, multicoloured concoctions as possible. Consequently, after a couple of hours, he had ended up having to manhandle her into a taxi, and to pay the driver in advance to offload her in the seedy, outlying district of the city in which she lived. Feeling sorry for himself, and being unable to sleep, he had floundered about alone in the enormous hotel bed. Suddenly, the telephone rang in the darkness, and, reaching blindly for it, he knocked a glass of water on to the floor. The silky-voiced male on the other end of the line introduced himself, and told Bede that he had noticed him going upstairs alone, and wondered if he might perhaps like some male company. Telling him smartly to fuck off, Bede smashed down the receiver, pulled out the jack-plug and leapt out of bed to check that his door was firmly locked. In the morning, making sure that he made no eye contact with any of the male staff, he skipped breakfast and hastily checked out.

All of the shops and cafés he now passed were open for business, but crouching in the doorway of each was a figure wrapped in a blanket, or lying in a sleeping bag on a sheet of cardboard. Ratty-looking dogs accompanied several of them, and each had a handwritten sign. One had taken a plastic traffic cone, cut off the pointed end, and rested it on a small radio, so that the sound of it was impressively amplified. They stared harshly up at everyone who passed by, taunting them aggressively, and thrust forward white paper cups, like the ones used in vending machines, containing a few coins. Bede, who had never before in his life given anything to charity, paused briefly to fish about in his pockets until he found a token and tossed it into the nearest cup.

He trundled purposefully on, his destination still a long way off. The sky darkened and it began to rain, causing the pavement people to scuttle, crab-like, inside their doorways. After a time, his hair became plastered to his forehead and then over the rest of his skull. Raindrops collected in his thick eyebrows, then ran down into his eyes, making it difficult for him to see where he was going. His drenched coat felt heavier, and his trousers wrapped themselves around his legs. The trousers themselves became longer as the sticky tape that held up their hems, like those of all of Bede’s trousers, came loose. Water seeped down around his ankles and into his shoes. He could feel his woollen socks drawing it towards his toes.

A little while later, the rain petered out. As the clouds receded and thinned, the bright sun reappeared. Shiny-leaved plane trees hung heavily over an encampment of scruffy, makeshift tents in an overgrown square pockmarked with the sodden, black remains of fires. Bede continued on through an area where ancient town houses lined wide, potholed streets. Rain-soaked cherry blossom hung heavily above the derelict gardens, where gangs of small children, under the sharp-voiced direction of several women in loose, drab clothing, diligently collected huge bunches of dripping daffodils. Clearly empty now, most of the buildings were boarded up with corrugated iron. One had been partially destroyed by fire, another totally. In former times, many of them would have had numerous nameplates and bell-pushes fixed beside their front doors, but the metal parts had been removed, and only a few brass screws and ragged holes remained to indicate where they had been. Occasionally, an odd, twisted remnant of the iron railings that had contained the gardens, and which must have proved too difficult to remove, clung to a wall. The wide, stone-flagged pavements were in bad repair, and caused Bede to trip, once almost pitching him down into a filthy, exposed cellar cavity.

The light was changing. It was perhaps around six when he sharply altered direction. At one time, he remembered, when he had worked nearby, it had always been possible to know what time it was by listening for the church bells, of which there had been many. Now they had all gone: no clocks were displayed in public places anywhere, and ordinary people were prohibited from wearing watches. Even in his dazed state, some inbuilt security mechanism had prevented him from going straight to his destination. Crossing the river and feeling a little unsteady, he paused near the middle of the bridge and quickly turned his head to see if he was being followed. ©Pedro Silmon, 2011

Don’t miss the ninth and final instalment of This is for you, which follows next
Friday, 2nd September

What do you think of the story so far?

Please leave a comment and look out for The Blog’s posts on Art, Architecture, Books, Design, etc, which continue to run alongside the This is for you serialisation

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Book | This is For You: Seventh Instalment

Friday, August 19th, 2011


This is For You  An autobiography of sorts

The new novel by Pedro Silmon, serialised, exclusively for you on The Blog

As previously explained, the characters within this book are fictitious and any similarities to persons living, or dead, are coincidental but, like many first novels, This is for you, is an autobiography of sorts. At 26,000 words, it is relatively short, however, it was written, re-written, edited and refined over a five year period, spanning 2001-2007, in Germany and the UK. I am endebted to David Miller at the prestigious UK literary agency, Rogers, Coleridge & White, to whom I was kindly introduced by Sarah Spankie, Deputy Editor of the Condé Nast Traveller; having read a draft of the text, David suggested a few changes which improved it enormously.

Part 1 continued…
He was in love only once. At the time, he tried incredibly hard to change himself into the kind of person who could be loved – the sensitive kind he had previously read about with scorn and bewilderment, but of whom he now felt something resembling envy. It took him by surprise to find that he could spend so much time and energy thinking about someone else, and in making such an effort to make that someone else like him and want to spend time with him and listen to what he had to say.

She was twelve years older than Bede, and he was at once fascinated by her unusual attitude to life, which somehow combined both youthful mischief and deep maturity. One day, for instance, after giving a lecture at a prominent university, she arrived at a restaurant to have lunch with him on a huge, old-fashioned, black bicycle, which she rode right up to the table on the sunlit terrace, at which he was waiting. Having propped the bike against the back of the wooden bench, she sat down beside him and offered up her cheek as usual, for him to kiss. He noticed she was chewing and, although he said nothing, she spat the contents of her mouth into her hand, raised her arm and hurled the balled-up gum away. Unfortunately, she was a rotten shot, and the gum hit and clung to the front of the facing bench. The restaurant was popular and, as the terrace was quite small and provided limited seating, it was customary to share tables. Shortly after they had ordered, two well-dressed businessmen came up and politely asked if the seats opposite them were free. She smiled charmingly up at them and nodded, gesturing towards the empty bench, inviting them to sit down. As she turned back towards Bede, he caught the irresistibly sinful glint in her eyes. She mutely begged for and simultaneously expected his complicity. As usual, she paid and they left first, his lover cheerily saying goodbye to the two men, as she lifted her bicycle and wheeled it jauntily alongside him towards the exit.

Having spent her formative years at school abroad, she had come back to study philosophy at university. Now, after applying herself successfully to several different careers, she lectured in foreign literature at various, prestigious, educational establishments in the city and in the provinces. Complete sets of beautifully-printed volumes of philosophical writings and poetry, which she had inherited from her father, lined the shelves of her spacious apartment. They were filled with foreign texts, which were totally incomprehensible to Bede, who had thought it unnecessary to waste time learning any language other than his mother tongue. He could not even attempt to read them, but he loved to take the books down, to feel the weight of them in his hands, to run his fingers gently over their deeply-embossed covers and along the uneven edges of each hand-made page. He was also impressed with her collection of erotic photography, which she made no attempt to conceal. On the contrary, framed prints lined the walls of the apartment, and large, lavishly-illustrated books, deliberately placed for the maximum provocative effect, littered every flat surface.

With good reason, Bede thought she was beautiful. Although her face was now lined, and her hair must have lost some of its earlier vigour, she managed to look young still, and her sharp, bright eyes were as playful as a young girl’s. She was naturally slim, her stomach was flat, and her small breasts had never been stretched and inflated with a mother’s milk, so they remained firm and showed no signs of sagging. She did a little exercise every day, but was no fanatic. She smoked, and to demonstrate the seriousness of his feelings for her, Bede later gritted his teeth and took up smoking too.

They had, in fact, met in another restaurant. At this stage in his life, he was in the habit of often eating alone, and the type of food that was served there was his favourite. It was also cheap and the portions were generous. Though he would never have admitted it, Bede was a bit of a pig as far as food was concerned, and liked the way that here it was possible to eat mountains of rice and meat and noodles, without anyone noticing just how much you were actually consuming. At most, at any one time, only a tiny, heaped rice bowl sat on the table in front each customer, and no one was counting how many times it was filled up, which, in Bede’s case, was many.

She had been sitting alone near the window, and caught his eye as he was ushered toward the only empty table, in the middle of the room. Feeling exposed, he sat down quickly, immediately opened his book and began reading. There was no need for him to look at the menu. He had been there lots of times before. The lunchtime specials never changed, and he knew exactly what he wanted, but he always had to remind the waiters, who never appeared to recognise him, that he wanted to eat with chopsticks. It peeved him that, even after they eventually brought the chopsticks, they still left the redundant spoon and fork cluttering up the table, as if they thought that, halfway through his meal, he might give up on the wooden sticks and revert to using the metal utensils like everyone else. Also, they always seemed not to have heard what he said, so he was forced to repeat his order. Then, invariably they brought the wrong things, so he had to send them back. He could tell that they found it odd when he ordered jasmine tea instead of the white wine that most of the other people asked for. He was sure that they considered him affected, and their obsequiousness, so obviously feigned to the point of insolence, caused him to fantasise about what it would be like to punch one hard in the face and smash his teeth in.

Glancing up to get a better look at her, he had found her smiling directly at him, as if they knew one another. He quickly looked away and began to rack his brain in an effort to work out where, or indeed if, he had ever seen her before. Perhaps they had met at a book launch, or maybe at one of the big publishing fairs. He thought not, but she did seem familiar. He felt that he knew her face. Someone he had seen on TV? An actress? No, she was actually the double of his junior schoolteacher, with whom he had been infatuated as a child, twenty-five years before.

After his third bowl of food, he had had to crane his neck to get the waiter’s attention and to ask him to top up the tiny teapot with more hot water. Met with a look somewhere between confusion and disbelief, he asked for it again, deliberately exaggerating his mouthing of the words, to make sure that he would be understood. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that she was watching this little performance with an amused expression, and he felt his cheeks begin to flush. Settling back into his seat, he attempted to pick up where he had left off in his book, but it was hopeless. He had now been here for about forty minutes, and had read the same few pages, over and over, but not a single sentence had registered in his head. Now, he could not even decipher the words themselves. The letters on the pages had become transformed into little, black, abstract shapes, and he seemed incapable of forming them into anything recognisable.

Without Bede being conscious of it, the restaurant had begun to empty. Normally, he looked forward to this quiet time. He liked to eat late, so that he could linger a little and read, far away from the uproar of the office. By now, he and the woman were the only remaining customers. Most of the staff had slid away, and he watched with chagrin as the last waiter on duty lifted the half-full serving dishes from his table: it was rare for him to leave a single grain of rice, but, on this occasion, his usual effortless technique with the chopsticks had deserted him, and he had found it difficult to lift the food to his mouth without fumbling or dropping it on the tablecloth. He called for his bill, paid, reluctantly left a small tip, stood up and turned towards the door. He looked directly at her, smiled, nodded, mouthing goodbye and left.

The restaurant was on the first floor, and there was an entrance area with a cigarette machine at the foot of the stairs below it, where, by now feeling frantic, Bede paused to wait for her. Her eyes had seemed to sparkle as her smiling mouth had said goodbye back to him from below the two jets of cigarette smoke, which she was exhaling. His heart boomed in his chest, and his ears burned. Fighting in vain against the muscle spasms that caused his shoulders to jiggle, he feigned interest in what the machine had to offer. It could have been a condom dispenser for all he cared, as he had never had any interest in contraception either. A random thought struck him: perhaps a new, nicotine-flavoured condom should be launched especially for couples that enjoyed smoking.

She was descending the stairs. He turned to face her, looking up before she reached the bottom, and asked her whether or not they knew each other; he felt that he had known her all his life. Although he was certain that she had been expecting him to be there waiting, she hesitated before speaking. After glancing at his face, then letting her eyes travel down the length of his body and back up again, she said that she did not think so, but asked him what he did for a living. He did not know. His mind had gone completely blank, but his hand somehow found its way into his pocket, drew out a card and handed it to her. Seemingly impressed that he worked for what she said was her favourite newspaper, she continued down the stairs. They were now standing very close to one another. He could have stepped back to allow her to pass, but he did not. He sensed that she preferred him to stay exactly where he was. He could not stop smiling. She smiled back, telling him that she wrote a little, herself. Gesturing towards the card, he asked her to send him some samples of her work. She replied that, knowing herself as she did, she would probably never get around to having anything copied and put in the post, but that he was welcome to pop in for a drink one evening, to glance over a few of her pieces. She had had no cards herself, so she borrowed his pen, scribbled down her address and telephone number on his, and handed the card and pen back to him.

**********

She took pains to make it clear to Bede from the beginning that they had no future, that she liked him, but that she had already had a series of long relationships, and was not interested in getting seriously involved with anyone else. She told him that she had been deeply hurt by one of her former boyfriends, that she still was very much in love with him, and that, in her heart, he could never, ever be replaced. Then, of course, there was her father, who, though dead for many years, still loomed large in her life, and provided the model of her perfect partner. In a particular light and at certain angles, she told Bede, his looks reminded her of him, but that that was where the similarity ended.

She was surprised that, although Bede worked for a newspaper, he seemed particularly ill-informed about more or less everything, including the violent anti-government demonstrations and riots that were raging in every major city. Realising that he was not even aware that the country was in an advanced state of turmoil, and that, at any moment, the anarchists might throw them all into chaos, she tried to get him to discuss the situation. He listened attentively, nodding and saying little; as if he understood everything she was talking about. She asked him if the increasingly regular power cuts, rationed water and the shortage of fresh food in the shops did not worry him, or give him reason to question what was happening. Bede avoided answering. Admittedly, he took very little notice of anything in the general news, and his eyes glazed over if anyone tried to start a conversation with him about anything he was unfamiliar with, but, in any case, currently, everything else paled into insignificance beside his love for her. He refused to even contemplate that she could not be experiencing the same all-consuming feelings as he was.

**********

The distant glimmer of a few streetlights that were still working, looked very far away as he edged the car slowly forward over the potholed ground. The car’s headlights sliced through the darkness, which enveloped the graffiti-daubed garages, disturbing a couple of cats, who turned lambent eyes on the lone driver, before sauntering contemptuously out of the way. He had checked his original lock-up only periodically since it became full up. However, once in a while he needed to reassure himself that the books stored there were safe.

**********

One evening, about a month after their first meeting, his girlfriend cooked him a delicious dinner, and afterwards, out of the blue, when they were still sitting at the table, she rather formally invited him to her bed. Taken unawares, Bede discreetly slipped his hand inside his shirt, and drilled his forefinger into his navel to hook out the ball of fluff that invariably collected there. In the winter months this was an aggregate of the fibres shed by the various pullovers he wore; in warmer weather, the lighter, greyish deposit was of a less certain provenance. He deftly flicked it away before they undressed completely.

The sex was straightforward and quite quickly over. Bede was, in fact, so nervous that he had to fake an orgasm. Afterwards, he spoke of love, but she said that it had been only sex. He became frustrated and angry. She, flustered at first, then getting to grips with the confrontation, announced bluntly that she did not love him, and that she had already made it plain that she never would. She said that, during the short time that they had known each other, she had come to the conclusion that he was selfish, domineering, manipulative, vain and untrustworthy. And that, through her studies in philosophy, she had developed strong moral standards, which she was not prepared to compromise on his behalf. She went on to explain that, although she was physically attracted to him and wanted him as a very special friend, she nevertheless regarded him as immoral and frankly rather ignorant.

Though he was taken aback by this sudden attack, her description of his characteristics came as no particular surprise to Bede. The point was that he was in love with her, and, although he would have preferred her to have a good opinion of him, all that really mattered was the thought that she might one day love him. Unwilling to take the risk of scaring her away, he remained quiet and chose not to react. He bided his time and behaved himself, in the hope that she would eventually come around.

She never acted coldly towards him; indeed, his kisses were returned with equal passion. Having realised what had happened only after he left, she had been kind when she gently asked him about his faked orgasm. He said that he had known that, however long he had gone on, he would never have ejaculated, and that he had been nervous and afraid that she might think he found her body unattractive. Soon after, although he remained frightened to touch her without invitation, his potency returned. They continued to see each other, and even had a lot of fun. She seemed happy and contented in his company, so long as he did not attempt to cross the line that she had drawn, and allowed her the space she needed for herself and her work.

If it had been up to Bede, he would have seen his lover every day. When he was not with her, he would spend most of his time wishing that he were, and wondering what she might be doing. She had told him that she had other male friends, whom she saw often, and invited, occasionally to her apartment. The thought that they might be other lovers nagged at him constantly. When he attempted to interrogate her about her relationships with them, she said flatly that, no, they were not her lovers, he was. She told him in soothing tones that some of them were, indeed, ex-lovers, who remained important in her life, and without whom she could not do. He was not reassured. She went on to say that she hoped one day he would become like them, but that she feared he would be unable to be her friend after their relationship had run its course.

It suited Bede, at least, that she wanted their seeing one another to be kept private, something just between the two of them. She never attempted to introduce him to her family, or to any of her acquaintances or colleagues. She did not show any interest at all in going to his place, and when they were not going to hers, they arranged to meet in hotel lobbies and on street corners, from there to drive out to obscure suburbs, to find a place to eat, or to see a film. One of her fascinations was to watch other people, and Bede enjoyed watching her watching, in cafés, on the street and as they drove along in her car, so long as her attention eventually returned to him.

**********

Since he had taken the second lock-up on some ten years before, Bede had been an erratic visitor. It was perhaps six months since he had last been there, and because these days he read fewer books – there being somehow fewer available – it would have been some time before another trip would have been necessary. The whereabouts of his collection had always been secret. Indeed, only his parents had had any inkling that it even existed, and then only because they had watched as he carefully loaded his pre-university boxes of books into the van he had hired to transport them away. He had sensed that they were somewhat ashamed of their son’s preoccupation, so he was pretty certain that they had not said anything about it to anyone.

Tonight, though, he had mentioned it to her. It was some months into their troubled relationship and they had found themselves sitting in a kitsch, ethnic restaurant, surrounded by gaudy, though fairly realistic-looking, silk flowers. Leafy vines made from similar materials trailed overhead, and the tables were separated by tall, slim fish- tanks, in which the neon-striped fish swam, jerking backwards and forwards from one end to the other, as if hypnotised, in a seemingly-endless dance.

They usually took it in turns to choose a restaurant, and that evening, it had been her go. They smiled and took great pleasure in the fact that the deep red colour of the real tulips in the slender vase on the table between them, almost perfectly matched the wine that they ordered. By chance, they had ended up in a place no more than three hundred metres from one of his lock-ups. It excited him to see a glint in her eye at the first hint he gave her of his treasure: perhaps handing his beloved this revelation of his most intimate self might persuade her to give him her love at last. Fascinated, she could not, she said, wait to see it. She had been amazed at the prospect of a deeper, more enigmatic side to her handsome and well-dressed escort, whom she previously regarded as rather superficial. Still, he had prevaricated, had second thoughts, and eventually refused to take her. The evening ended with another of the blazing rows that had punctuated their relationship since soon after they had begun their affair.

Some weeks later, they were driving back into the centre of town, after a long and particularly good lunch in a smart country restaurant, when they came across the shocking sight of the still-smouldering, burnt-out shell of a huge, once-famous, department store. It had been raining, but all at once the sun burst through the dark clouds and illuminated the strings of mostly-intact light bulbs on a network of trailing wires, which still clung to the outline of the ruined building. Bede had been at university just along the road, and although, in those days, he had had no money to buy anything in the store, he was a frequent visitor, shuffling from floor to floor with the hordes of tourists from all over the world. Rich people had shopped for groceries in the food hall, which was filled with only the very best of the best available produce. The less well off had gone there simply on an excursion, to wonder at the displays, as if they were prize exhibits in a museum. On the first floor, there had once been a zoo, where exotic animals and birds could be bought: big cats, snakes, penguins and even spiders had all been on offer, and what they did not have, so long as it was legally available, could be ordered without fuss, at a price. An orchestra had played to the diners in the main restaurant, and green-liveried commissionaires were on hand to open the store’s doors to all visitors. Massively-expensive jewellery and watches were laid out in glass cases fitted with security alarms, and there was an enormous, marbled perfume department, which Bede had always avoided.

They had sex often and, though this was conventional enough when they were in bed together, he discovered that at other times her tastes were peculiar. For instance, she once asked him – and he, without argument, and with only the faintest hint of hesitation, complied – to shave off all of his body hair, apart from that which was on his head, then to perch naked and motionless on a barstool in the middle of her apartment. She wandered around, fully clothed, completely ignoring him, getting on with her usual business. Meanwhile, afraid to upset her, he tried not to let her know just how stupid and bored he felt. Leaving him there without a word, she went out to the shops and bought dark bread and a huge bunch of slender, green asparagus. He watched her cut a slice of bread and spread it with butter that was almost white. She picked it up and took a bite, then walked behind him. Her hand snaked around the side of his head and pushed a chunk into his mouth. Then she came and stood in front of him wearing a wide grin that showed her pink gums. Later, they prepared the asparagus and fed it to one another: the buttery juices running down there fingers and chins.

On another occasion, they had arranged to meet at her apartment for a quick lunch between their various, respective appointments. They ate and were just about to leave, when she suddenly pulled him towards her and slid her hand down to unfasten her trousers, which fell to her ankles. Hooking off one shoe and a trouser leg, she raised the bare foot on to a chair and thrust herself against him. She was a fraction taller than he, and, having released his cock, he had to bow his back to get inside her. He enjoyed her excitement, but for him the experience was uncomfortable, almost painful, and for the next few days, his back was sore and he was almost unable to walk.

Once, she had got an urgent telephone call from a friend with some life-or-death problem, and had very reluctantly rushed off, leaving him alone in her apartment. Bede seized the opportunity, and by the time she returned about an hour later, he had been through every drawer and cupboard, lifted every rug and raked around under her bed and mattress. He had found nothing, and was not even sure what he had been looking for. By the time she returned, everything was back in place, but he was sure that she knew what he had done.

**********

After much devious thought, he resolved to try to make her believe that he accepted her rejection of his love, and that he was now utterly ashamed of himself for ever having expected her to love him. But he gave up on that idea when he realised that she was too clever to be fooled into believing him. In his heart, he knew that she had been totally honest in expressing how she felt about their relationship, and that nothing he could do would ever gain him her love. In consequence, he persuaded himself that he could see no significant reason for the existence of love, if all it did was to make him feel weak and stupid and useless, because he was unable to live without it. Anyway, how could a person look after his own interests and, at the same time, be concerned for someone else’s? To him, the whole notion appeared contradictory.

Stealing himself, he stopped calling her, and left his answering machine on all of the time, so that he could screen his calls. Though it pained him greatly, he never picked up the phone when she rang, or ever called her back when her plaintive recorded voice begged him to do so. He had accepted without question, and even encouraged, her wishes that their relationship be kept discreet. Consequently, she had never been near his office, and he felt confident that she would not try to contact him there now. She wrote, concerned: was he ill? He didn’t reply. He knew she would eventually come to his house, so he dismissed his cleaner, got rid of the odd-job man and went away. She left a note pinned to his front door, written in a tone fraught with doubt and uncertainty as to whether or not it would ever be answered. She had signed it Your friend, which angered him so much when he found and read it on his return, that he tore it into tiny pieces, which he threw into a fire.

Many times, he grew weak in his resolve. He had often rung her number from a call box when he was certain she would be out, just to hear the sound of her recorded voice message, afterwards cursing himself for his feebleness. He experienced excruciating chest pains, and once thought he had had a minor heart attack, perhaps brought on by his tremendous efforts to maintain the separation. Never having been in the habit of visiting doctors, and although the pain was at times almost unbearable and continued unabated for many months, he did nothing about it.

Very early one Sunday morning, just to be on the safe side, he went out and stole from another part of town, an estate agent’s board with a sold sign pasted over it, which he erected in his front garden. He had the telephone disconnected. Her letters, which he immediately burned, arrived less frequently, and then stopped altogether. They had been together for little over a year. He never saw her or heard from her again.7

At around this time the books stored in the first lock-up were lost.

Shortly before their break-up his lover had told him about a massive air disaster that had occurred over the densely-populated eastern part of the city. Bede heard the explosion but had thought nothing of it. Two airliners had collided in mid-air. As was to be expected, none of the passengers or crew survived and there was widespread devastation on the ground. The debris had fallen over a huge area and caused serious fires; hundreds were dead or maimed, their homes destroyed. Totally unequipped to deal with the scale of the calamity, the anarchists – who he was given to understand were now in power – reluctantly accepted offers of help from abroad then promptly arrested two of the aid workers as spies.

As soon as the situation settled down, concerned about his books, Bede attempted to drive into the ravaged zone. However, as he made his approach it became obvious to him that there was little point in proceeding with his journey. Not a single building was left standing. Had he been paranoid, he could easily have formed the opinion that the crash was planned with the sole purpose of wiping out this part of his collection.

In the aftermath, struggling to overcome his grief, he tried to continue writing the book that his ex-lover had encouraged him to begin. Her early efforts at writing stories had seemed to him over-sentimental, superficial, and rather commercial and he had felt that his idea of good writing was a long way from hers. Yet, as time went on, he came to realise that she had an uncompromising agenda, and set herself progressively higher standards. She was driven, and worked obsessively. As a result, her writing developed quickly and gained substance almost overnight, while they both knew that, for a long time, he had been resting on his laurels. However, before long, her influence had insinuated itself inside him, and he felt an overwhelming new surge of inspiration.

Bede, who had written nothing since their break-up, was not to know that his renewed efforts, despite the crazy excitement they might generate in the publishing world, were pointless. It would shortly become impossible for anyone to publish anything at all.

The dream came more often now.

Bede liked the illusion of anonymity created by the sign in the garden, so much so that he stopped using the rooms at the front of the tall, three-storey house, allowed the patch of garden to become overgrown, and began to use only the rear entrance. Most of his time was spent an upstairs room at the back, where he wrote, read, ate and slept. To begin with, it was sparsely furnished, and the only books that were around were those that he scrabbled together and happened to be currently reading.

He had abhorred the clutter crowding every available surface in his parents’ home. Since leaving, he had inhabited spare, clean spaces. As a student, he had been unable to afford decent furniture, so he had preferred to have nothing. Throughout his stay, his room in the hall of residence at the university had contained no more than the table, a single upright chair and a low, armchair that he found there. The room was tall and very narrow, with white-painted walls. His bed, actually a bunk above the door, had spanned the width and was reached by a wooden ladder. The curtained-off cupboard below had served as a wardrobe and contained all his worldly goods – except, needless to say, his book collection. While his contemporaries had covered every inch of their walls with wild assemblages of garish posters and pages ripped out of magazines, Bede put nothing at all on his, though he attached a few small pictures – mostly postcards showing the city’s famous sights, plus a few portraits of authors and artists – that he liked, inside the cupboard, behind the curtain, which was always kept closed. In this way, they never disturbed the peace in the room or distracted him. Since he caught only glimpses of them when he drew the curtain aside, he never grew bored with them. As soon as he was earning enough money to afford to live as he wanted, he had furnished his flats, then later the houses he lived in, with a minimum of simple, often expensive, functional items. He had invested in, and allowed himself the luxury of, just a few large, abstract paintings in muted colours. His rare visitors thought his style of living severe. Now, as he slowly retreated from the rest of the house, he found himself dragging an assortment of furniture, equipment and books along with him. The room took on a nest-like quality as it filled up until there was barely enough space left to move around in it.

When the publishing houses were all suddenly closed down, and the newspapers were taken over by the new government, who replaced all of the senior staff, including Bede, with their stooges, he found it no longer necessary to leave his home, except to collect his ration coupons and to root around for fresh provisions, which became increasingly difficult to find. He had been used to eating well, and the pitiful supply of basic foodstuffs now available outside, did little for his appetite. However, in a fit of uncharacteristic foresight, when luxury items had begun to become scarce, Bede, paying a little over the odds, though everything would have been far more expensive now, stockpiled vast quantities of his favourite items. His kitchen cupboards were jam-packed with tinned sardines, corned beef, haricot beans, petits pois, jars of peanut butter, preserved mushrooms, peppers and artichokes in olive oil, bottles of olive oil, packets of spaghetti and rice. The cellar, meanwhile, was full to overflowing with his stock of wine, whisky and champagne.

**********

The curtains were not drawn. Having long since run out of red wine, Bede sipped the last of the champagne from the bottle he had opened to drink with his meagre dinner. A strange, warm glow seeped into the newly-darkened sky, like a sunset but somehow too low down. He has been sitting quietly for a long time, by himself. The muted sounds of shouting began to filter in from outside. Bede stood up, glanced briefly into the mirror and without reassurance, walked towards the French windows, undid the catch and opened them wide. Cool, fine drizzle stroked his face as heavy smoke wafted past him into the room. Down below his balcony, the public library was engulfed in fire. Huge flames billowed up through the roof, which was about to cave in. Not long now. Bede returned to his chair to wait. Soon after, the clock struck midnight.
©Pedro Silmon, 2011

Don’t miss the eighth instalment of This is for you, which follows next
Friday, 26th August

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