3 Memories of the Future: A Leak and the Edgy Etonian

In the great scheme of things – and I like the expression ‘great scheme of things’: it suggests both that there is a scheme to begin with, and that it is great – my disorientation of this Tuesday morning is not grave. It is still Tuesday, I assume, though I haven’t checked, but there is no reason to believe that it isn’t, except perhaps for the time-space discontinuation that my being here at the Limonlu Bahçe now implies, if in fact Tuesday it still is. I boarded a train at Clapham Junction 08:26 and now it is roughly half past eleven. The burger was, as expected, delicious. I don’t suffer from amnesia, at least not as far as I can remember. Ka-ching.

Italicising.

One word paragraphs. Short sentences, more so still long.

What confounds me is a memory of the future; I’m aware it’s a memory because that’s what it feels like and it’s how it constructs itself, in layers, like a relief or part of a sculpture that has age-old dust cautiously blown or brushed off it, and I’m certain it’s of the future because I have no memory of it in the past and since I’m not suffering from amnesia I would know if I had.

There’s a leak making itself known in my neighbour’s ceiling which has not been explained. It’s been there for a week now and it first showed itself last Sunday when I wasn’t even at home, I was in Cornwall. I received a message from my neighbour who lives in the flat below me, saying there is a leak, could I check; I texted back, saying I’m on the road right now but if it’s urgent, he should let himself in (providence: I’d pressed a set of keys to my flat into his hand the first time I met him, in case of emergency). He texted me back once again, saying that this was not an emergency and it could wait until I got back, since the stain on his ceiling was quite small and not growing bigger. Three days later, on Wednesday, Peppe the builder who’s from near Pompeii (where, he tells me, the Mafia is) comes in and has a look around and is hardly perturbed. It’s not, he assures me, coming from my shower, and not from my sink. It might be coming from some old pipe between my floor and my neighbour’s ceiling, but it could also be from an unproof spot in the wall, possibly where there’s a ledge. The building is a hundred years old, after all: we should wait and see. Another three days pass (plus the Wednesday, makes seven in total so far), and again on a Sunday, my neighbour phones me up to tell me the stain has now grown, quite a bit. There has been no rain. I have not been doing anything untoward or unusual since last night, at least not that I can recall, and my recall of events, as has been established, remains intact.

I say intact. I have a terrible memory, if truth be told, and truth be told. What’s the point of telling anything, if it isn’t, essentially, true. Both the leak and the young man who’s been to Eton have not yet occurred, at least not to me, but I remember them clearly, I remember the leak more clearly than I remember the young man, because he appeared after several drinks at a bar and he sounded unfeasibly posh. He said so himself: “I just sound unfeasibly posh,” is what he said. And he did sound unfeasibly posh, it was most incongruous. He was wearing a hoodie-kind top, though it may or may not have actually had a hood, and he was worried about losing his hair. His hair looked fine to me, but then I lost mine at his age, so perhaps I’m just used to the concept of early onset alopecia; apparently it’s genetic.

He fretted about sounding too posh to get girls and professed that he much preferred the company of gay men because they were funnier, he thought, than straight people in general, and he was losing hair over losing his hair – which to me seemed unfortunate as well as unnecessary – and he was dressing down so as to mask the unfeasible poshness of his voice. I liked him immediately, but he got into an argument with my friend whom I was out with that night, even though I told them both to be nice to each other, and later on they did the same thing again. That was a curious evening. I’d already been chatted up thrice by three women, four times if you count the one who came up to me twice. That doesn’t usually happen: I must have signalled approachability. 

The young man who’d been to Eton had a gay dad and a gay godfather. And he was rather too fond, I got the impression, of coke. He offered me a tiny bit from a practically empty sachet that he took from his wallet, scooped up onto the rounded corner of his payment card, which means I must have read his name, but that didn’t register. The instant dislike that my friend had taken to him was now getting stronger. The young Etonian whose name I may have read but which did not lodge itself in my mind, at least not consciously, asked if I wanted to get some more and I said I wouldn’t know where or how but in essence why not (I’d had rather more than one or two drinks…) and he said he could get some straight away, but we couldn’t, for reasons I didn’t quite understand, go to his place for this, even though it was just round the corner. I didn’t think it was wise or even just comfortable to stay where we were and do Class A drugs right under the noses of the bouncers, literally on the pavement, and also I didn’t have nor did I want to spend any money.

We left it at that and at one point the bouncers ushered us inside (it was coming up three in the morning) and the young man came back and asked us for a pound to get home but I genuinely didn’t have a pound on me, I had been paying by card all night long, and my friend didn’t like him, so he didn’t give him a pound and then the young man showed his edge a bit and started abusing my friend, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying because the music in there was too loud and my friend looked perturbed but took it all in calm resignation, as if that were just the kind of thing that normally happens at the end of an evening, unpleasant though it may be; and that, I thought, was that. Except once we were outside, the Edgy Etonian suddenly materialised again and I asked him what he’d said to my friend and he apologised, saying he’d got carried away a bit, or words to that effect, and my friend left and I said goodbye to the stranger who had nearly been pleasant enough a random encounter to become a friend too, but had now rather spoilt it, and I worried about my friend because he’d looked so dejected and also he had to get back to Earlsfield, which is right in the middle of technically nowhere, especially if you’re travelling after three in the morning.

None of this particularly fits anywhere, I realise, but I remember it as I sit here in this garden of civilised repose, in one of the trendier portions of Istanbul. Except none of it has yet occurred, it was all yet to come.

I check my phone. No, it is still Tuesday, coming up noon. High time, I sense, although with a crushing vagueness as to what this might mean, to ‘get going’. I order a Bloody Mary.

{Detour}

The incident with the van was unnecessary.

It never really happened, of course, but that, considering how unnecessary it was, may be just as well. I had found myself on the edge of a village called Checkendon, waiting for someone to pick me up from the Cherry Tree Inn, where I had spent part of the night. The other, earlier part, I had spent in a converted barn making up words to no end. These words were then taken by four or five individuals of varying degrees of expertise, importance and relevance to the task in hand and essentially messed with, much in the way I don’t like. Since it was a job I was being paid to do and that I had no emotional investment in, I placed a half-pained smile on my lips and retained some other words within, unspoken.

By 1:30 in the morning it had been decided, by one person or another who was in some way or other involved with the project, that it was now time to call it a night. So Tommoh swung on his motorbike and I was given a lift by someone else in a car to a B&B somewhere in the countryside, where, having had only three hours sleep the previous night, I immediately went to bed but did not immediately fall asleep.

Instead, I lay awake for a few minutes pondering what my life had come to and wondering whether Tommoh felt, as I did, that it would be comforting and reassuring now to hold on to each other, to curl up in one bed instead of the two in two different rooms, and to rest in each other’s arms for a while. The option existed of knocking on his door and asking him outright, but I was too tired, and also as so very often before and since, I felt that doing so might just jeopardise an easy and uncomplicated friendship.

I woke up amazingly refreshed. I am not good in the morning. I do not get up and trill a summery tune. I do not sing in the shower. I don’t yoga and I don’t jog. The only time I get to see dawn is when I’m still up from the night before. But the job in the barn appeared to demand that having left there barely six hours earlier, we now return and continue the dance of irrelevance we had so fruitlessly started the day before. Tommoh and I sat down to a hearty breakfast which – it later turned out – I enjoyed more than he did, and he then swung himself back on his bike, while I waited for the shortish man with the blonde eyelashes to drop by and take me back to the barn in his car, as he’d promised he’d do the night before.

This took a little longer than I expected because apparently he forgot all about me, and so after breakfast I checked out and sat myself on a wooden garden table outside the pub, enjoying the early sunshine and continuing my pondering on the stark insignificance of my own existence.

I was just getting to the point where I thought there’s only so much pondering you can do without anything actually happening, when a rather large man in a larger-still van appeared, not quite out of nowhere, but still unannounced. He drove up to nearly as near to the house as he could across the gravelled parking lot – otherwise empty – and purposely decabbed; he opened the back, took from it what looked like a plastic tray of something or other and carried it, his protruding belly leading the way, to what I imagined must be the tradesmen’s entrance or the kitchen or possibly the larder, if people still have them. (I imagine they do, in the country…).

What happened next is, of course, pure fantasy, but what do you do when you’re in the middle of nowhere, called upon to go back to the outskirts of somewhere to pursue the pointless depletion of your brain at the hands of people you have nothing in common or store with (except, I emphasise, Tommoh) and who drain your soul, talking and thinking and living in terms of things that are ‘key’ – what do you do when you’re stuck there and trapped and in front of you is a van: stuff in the back, probably food, engine running. Cab door open. Driver at least twenty, maybe thirty seconds off guard. Possibly more. He’d never dream of somebody doing what I was about to do. A few seconds passed. Tic. Tic. Tic. Tic. No sign of him yet. A van with supplies. Cab door open. Engine running. I would be caught within minutes. Or would I? I could make it to Oxford. At least there would be some punting to do there. I might make it right down to Dorset where I could visit my friends and give them something from out of the back of the van for their freezer, probably. Fair wind prevailing, I might even make it all the way out to Cornwall, where I could abandon the van but pick up some loaves of bread (I felt pretty certain by now that that’s what was in the back of the van) and swap some of them for some fish and make friends with a man with a boat and go out to sea with him and have some fish stew and some bread and decide that living was good by the sea and that that’s where I was going to stay now, together with my fisherman friend…

I slid off the pub bench on which I had perched and picked up my backpack, not very large. I took two paces towards the van, maybe three. No sign of the driver. What was he doing? Having a chat with the chef. Or with the girl at reception. Twenty paces, twenty-four. Thirty. I wasn’t really counting. I stepped up to the seat, passenger side, on the left. Sliding across to the driver’s seat would be awkward, but hey. I unslung my backpack, when: ‘Oi!’

Large man loomed even larger as he strode towards me red-faced with rage. For once, my brain cells didn’t desert me. Cool as a cucumber I reached across the wheel and turned off the engine. Slid back down, re-slinging the backpack, and looked at him frankly: ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, I thought you might be a while; you left the engine running…’

‘Fucking this bloody that and the usual,’ but my boldness, I believe, stunned him, into submission. He slammed the back shut, heaved himself into his driver’s position and, revving loudly, took off. He could have crushed me. Decked me or punched me. He did none of the sort. He just made his departure as loud as he could.

I felt a little prouder that morning than I had done before not for infuriating a simple bloke going about his daily job, but for daring myself a tiny bit to the edge. And I thought of Tommoh and his motorbike and that we could always elope together, to Scotland. Or to the South of France. That would be lovely. Perhaps, I then thought, I just have to adopt a style of more dangerous living…

3 Memories of the Future: A Leak and the Edgy Etonian

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