Priorities

I had two girlfriends who worked in banks, although not at the same time. They were nice girls; both had dogs, one was an authority on potato crips: harmless, pretty girls from Wiltshire who smiled a lot and didn’t want much out of life, I thought at the time. In spite all that and their general willingness to please something struck me as odd then. It still does now. They were the first people the customer saw and talked to. They were young, inexperienced and that role, the crucial interface between the bank and the people whose money they used was left to those two, before they either worked their way off the counter, as it was called, or left for babies and mortgages and the long trek to now. The least trained, least experience, least paid staff got one of the jobs they could really mess up. They didn’t, so far as I ever knew.

Today Radio 4 is debating whether ‘being in a socially valuable job is reward enough’ with the clear implication that it should be. They mean specifically, should teachers and firemen and nurses get their first pay rise over 1% in seven years, or should they shut up and vote Conservative?

The PM has predictably trotted out the nursery-level homilies about living within our means, having bunged one billion pounds at the DUP this month and approved a six million pay rise for the Queen, to go with the hundreds of millions to renovate Buckingham Palace and more for the renovation of the House of Parliament, overlooking the fact that the one billion was borrowed, the same as government projects are always borrowed. That isn’t the issue.

Nor is the fact that any sensible discussion of public finances has to include tax avoidance and the ludicrous situation whereby the Inland Revenue’s main landlord is an offshore company that doesn’t pay UK corporation tax, the same way Starbucks and Amazon and a huge number of other large companies like to pretend that really, they only do it because they love the job, it’s not something they make any money on.

For teachers, it’s the same deal as those two country girls faced when they could wear an Afghan coat down the street without being ironic, or only a bit, anyway. Teachers get paid a low wage. The youngest, with the least experience, get the least. They also get the worst classes and the least attractive schools. How many people would reply to a real job ad for teaching?

Would you like to break up a real fight once a week?

Can you explain why it’s not ok to throw tables at each other? Do you know why this behaviour is acceptable, week in, week out, however many kids’ education gets messed up to suit one kid who shouldn’t even be in this school? Would you like to be exposed to germs you didn’t even know existed and live on Echinacea tea? Would you be happy looking at the same kid’s unexplained cuts and bruises every week, however many times you log their appearance? Would you like to take work home with you, have to teach World War sodding One until you’d happily go over the top when the whistle blows and then get defamed on Facebook by someone you’re not allowed to retaliate to, whatever they do? Would you like to do all that for about the same you could earn doing overtime in Tesco?

If your answer is yes to all of these, you’re unlike the number of people streaming out of the profession, the same way they’re streaming out of nursing. One in five English lessons isn’t taught by an English teacher. Because they left. Most teachers haven’t taught for ten years. For the same reason.

Getting paid properly to do a job isn’t some kind of communism. It’s something MPs demand, along with everyone else. But then, they got the pay rise they wanted. They voted it through themselves.

Share Button

Tears in rain

 

 

Bladerunner came out in 1982. I thought it was the future and in many ways, it was. I remembered two things about it principally, apart from being vaguely irritated at cool, intuitive Decker going gooey over what was essentially an interactive blow-up doll.

The first thing, obviously, was Rutger Hauer’s tears in rain speech, about how memories are lost, becoming just another tiny detail of existence. Another thing in the film makes me think more and more that the poor consciousness of Roy Batty the replicant missed the point. Completely.

When Decker is on the trail of a replicant working as an exotic dancer, as reporters used to say when they still made their excuses and left, he discovers something odder than the fact that a robot keeps a robot snake as a pet. They stole photos too. The pictures of a childhood they never had, the assertions of mortality, the detail that verifies in its irrelevance, the substance behind the insubstantiality of someone remembering, or pretending to remember, that once they had a dog or swam in the sea and couldn’t see the bottom or how once in an airplane the moon seemed to be below them through a trick of the light.

One of my robot snake scales was just as tiny. I’d gone to Gloucester for the first time, on business. It was a boiling hot day. On the way back we stopped at a stone pub near a mill bridge over a clear stream. I walked down to it on my own. There were three full-grown trout keeping station against the current, there under the bridge. And on the bridge a tiny kitten, half their length, eyes like saucers, was trying to work-out any possible way of catching them. Or even just one of them.

Now, I don’t think these moments are tears in rain, irrelevances. Now, I think they’re all there is of life that is important. We live in a world where people decide to fly airplanes into buildings, where doctors decide to take a rifle in to work, where £1 billion of public money is used by the government to buy a majority in Parliament, for one Party’s benefit and none of this is really strange or exceptional. But the wonder of that tiny kitten long ago an old cat, that survives. And wonder is always more important. Tears in rain at least sparkle and shine. Those moments are never lost. Nothing never happened.

 

Share Button

The Bremen Town Musicians

I’d never heard of them until a German woman told me the story one day, the same as she told me another story, about her grandfather. He was from Bremen too.

image

In the story, four old animals, an ancient donkey worn-out from work, a dog too old to hunt, a cat too tired to catch mice any more and a cockerel too much of a cockerel, too loud in his crowing, all of them considered too old, too much of a burden to be any use any more. All of them destined to be killed or left to starve.

Being industrious northern Germans they thought they would do no such thing. After all said one of them, you can get anything better than death. The four ancient beasts team up, find a house in the deep woods and seeing it occupied by robbers, turn them out of doors by a trick. The robbers return but by then it’s night-time, dark, confusing. The cat goes berserk and scratches them, screaming, the dog bites them, the donkey kicks them, the cockerel crows and crows, not useless now at all.

The robbers run away, never to return. The four animals found a co-operative and live amicably in the old house ever after.

My friend’s grandfather came from the same place. When the war came he was a surgeon in the Wermacht, posted first to Norway, then to Romania, both a long way from home. One day early in 1945, fed-up and tired of stitching young men like himself back together only for them to fight again he made a joke about Hitler. His friend laughed.  And that was very nearly that. The joke was overheard. Both of them were sentenced to death.

As they were being taken out to be shot the kind of thing that happens in Hollywood movies happened. Partisans attacked. The surgeon looked at his friend and said one word: “Run!”

They ran. They walked, they hitched lifts, they avoided the patrols looking for deserters, they avoided the Russians, they avoided the death squads and somehow, months later, 900 kilometres later, having seen Dresden burn with his own eyes, the surgeon opened his own front door, intact, back in Bremen. His wife ran a bakery there. A day or two later he walked around the corner and surrendured to a Britsh patrol. They asked him where he lived. When he said ‘around the corner’ they told him to piss off home. So he did.

He lived to be over ninety, a prosperous doctor in West Germany who saw the wall come down before he died. I saw a photo of him once. He sat next to his grand-daughter, the woman I knew. She was about seventeen in the picture. Both of them blond, blue-eyed, with their high Saxon foreheads and something I never saw in my family, a fierce love bathing the two of them like fire. You could see it like an aura and feel the heat of it in the old man’s eyes, bask in the warmth of it in everything about her being. In the picture, while he was alive, anyway.

As the four musicians said in the fable, you can always find something better than dying. But you have to try for it.

Share Button

Telling people what to think

I'm old enough to remember a time that sounds like a fairytale. Long, long ago, when men wore lapels big enough to pass for aircraft carriers for flies, two journalists decided that whatever it took, they were going to uncover the truth. They did.  They uncovered the fact that the President of the USA had not only sanctioned a burglary but had lied about the fact. Those two men digging for the truth got President Nixon out of the Whitehouse. I wanted to be a journalist back then.

I was brought up in a household full of lies, half-truths and ommissions. Maybe that was part of it. My father, for reasons that as Hunter Thompson, another famous journalist and sometime liar, often said were never made clear, used to pretend to be Australian. That was the family truth. When one day in my twenties I’d had about enough of this I went and found his birth certificate records. He was as Australian as I am. And I can’t really remember all the words of Waltzing Matilida.

image

A couple of days ago Grenfell Towers burned down. As there was with the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, there was a lot of nonsensical hysteria. With the disappeared airplane, people were demanding to know exactly where the airplane was, not least because the airline couldn’t or wouldn’t tell the unfortunate truth, that it was 99.9999999% certainly at the bottom of the sea.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we regretfully announce the unscheduled arrival of Flight MH370.”

Even when they eventually said pretty much exactly that, many people, especially on social media, demanded the Latitude and Longitude of the crash-site and in its absence insisted there was a cover-up, an alien abduction, a Bond-style villain holding everyone hostage, the CIA holding everyone hostage and/or a Lost-style TV drama scenario where a jetliner miraculously lands on a desert island without explooding and killing everyone on board. I thought at the time it would have been less heartbreaking for everyone concerned if the airline had just been able to treat everyone as adults, and say openly ‘look, sorry, they’re pretty certainly dead.’

With the destruction of Grenfell Towers the hysteria has gone another way, with people demanding to know why ‘they’ couldn’t be told the exact number of people dead in the fire, even though at the time the fire brigade hadn’t even left the building. The original official estimate of just 17 people didn’t help.

There are lots of obvious reasons: they haven’t got all the bodies out. Some of them bodies won’t have physically been found yet. Quite possibly, in the intense heat inside the buidling, bodies won’t resemble bodies at all.

But I remember a time when the same media that accepted this phenomenally low figure accepted another set of figures.

image

Without blinking, when they were told maybe 40,000 people had died on 911, the mass media reported this without hesitation. When the figure was revised down to 25,000, that was the figure that stuck. The reality, let out days or weeks later, that in fact, around 3,500 people died in the Twin Towers attack, wasn’t exactly banner headlines. The same media, most especially the BBC, happily reported the collapse of Tower 7, the one that fell down because an airplane didn’t crash into it, nearly half an hour before it collapsed. Think about that for a moment. Why did the BBC do that? Why did the reporter stand there in front of a screen showing the very tangible Tower 7 and claim it wasn’t there? The answer is depressingly simple: because somebody told them to.

Seventeen people didn’t die in the Grenfell Flats. Nor did 40,000 people die on 911. You are not being told the truth. No President or pretty much anyone else is ever going to have to worry about losing office as a result of journalism ever again.

 

Share Button

The soft click of the safety-catch

I read a thriller the other day. Ken Follet’s Eye Of The Needle. As war-time thrillers go, it went. It had pretty much everything on the tick box list and rave reviews from the New York Times (‘pulse pounding”, which they cribbed directly from Publishers Weekly, who called it, er, “pulse pounding..”), going on to call it ‘frighteningly realistic’ and all the rest of the blah.

I paid £2 for it in a PDSA shop in Edinburgh, mainly to read on the train but also because I was feeling guilty about not giving the PDSA something. And I was in a hurry and I was ill. I wasn’t thinking straight.

As thrillers go, it’s alright, except you can see the end coming for about half the book. That’s the problem and the attraction of history – you know how it ends, as well as what happened next. A bit like an Oasis song.

Except it’s full of mistakes. Really, seriously basic everyday mistakes that in a thriller, where the job is to build an inclusive, logical world around the reader, smash that world to pieces as soon as the reader has to start making allowances for the writing. For me, when I have to say ‘well that’s not true but…” Then I know I’m wasting reading time. And it happens a lot.

image
The most-used gun in fiction. Albeit mistakenly.

The first, massive, seemingly compulsory mess-up was when the anti-hero as usual, thumbed the safety-catch on his revolver. Which is problematic as only one revolver ever had one. The Fosberry-Webley, a massive, unusual, anachronistic Heath-Robinson contraption which Bogart used in a single film, which was never issued to any army anywhere.

So far, so thriller.  There’s a submarine in the story and the thing that anyone knows about them is that they go underwater. This isn’t really technical stuff, is it? Nor the fact that if they ran the diesel engines under water either they’d leave a trail of handy bubbles, not really being very secret, or they’d all die from the exhaust fumes, which is why submarines had electric motors for underwater use.

Then the jeep’s side window gets shot out, which is a neat trick when jeeps didn’t have side windows, or at least not back in 1944 they didn’t. It’s handily not explained quite where a civilian could have got hold of a jeep for his own use, or the wherewithall to convert it to automatic transmission anyway, but no matter.

The heroine escapes in this same jeep. Has she left the keys in it? Of course. Irrespective of the fact they didn’t have keys. She turned the starter, forgetting that she ought to have pressed it instead.

OK, so far so bollocks. It’s a thriller. It’s not a manual or a how-to. It’s not important.

Except it is.

“A marvellously detailed suspense thriller based on a solid foundation of fact.” Sunday Times

When mainstream media calls errors and inaccuracies ‘ a solid foundation of fact,’ it’s not just that the author, the editor, the proof reader and everyone else who read it didn’t know, didn’t care and didn’t check. The fact that this is called fact is fundamentally frightening. This is just a crappy thriller for the train. It begs the issue of what else gets passed off as truth. And why. And why nobody cares.

 

Share Button

False hopes and seemings

Seemings, certainly, although this odd little episode had its share of hopes, false or otherwise, as well.

Once upon a time in a land long ago, or Dorset when I was younger as I prefer to call it, my oldest friend bought an old schoolhouse. It wasn’t just any old schoolhouse, but Thomas Hardy’s sister’s one, in a tiny village near Sherbourne. I lived in London at the time, but I’d drive down fairly often for a taste of green fields and the things I’d never really left behind.

The Gleaners

image

She had a picture hanging up behind the kitchen door, under the stairs. I always wondered why it was there where nobody could see it, but my friend did things her way and it was after all her house and her picture.  I thought so, anyway. I knew where it was any time I wanted to look at it.

I thought about it a lot over the years. It seemed to sum up something of the life I didn’t have, the one that thankfully most people don’t. The gleaners were looking for grains of corn or wheat, anything left over from the harvest. Because they were dirt poor. Life was not fun, nor easy. But hey, let’s talk about the pictures.

I discovered that there was another painting by Millett (presumably before he sold chepa camping gear) the year before, in 1857; The Angelus, one that always struck me as plaintive and sad, as if even while praying their crops would grow, this pair of peasant farmers lived with the knowledge that they might well not. This was real life for most people 150 years ago; it’s up to us if we chose this to be the way of things again.

The Angelus

image

I was thinking about both paintings a lot recently; namely how much I missed that house and how if I could find a copy of either of them I’d buy it, if the price was ok and if I could find either one, which didn’t look likely these days. Apart from anything, they’re pretty huge and in a style I haven’t seen anywhere for years.

And then I did at the local auction. I left a bid of £10 on them and much to my surprise it won. I collected themn and cleaned the frames and the glass and stripped off the binder twine used to hang them and the silver paper used to back them and hung them.  I rang my friend, who was a bit bemused when I told her I had a copy of the picture she used to have under her stairs. I sent her a picture of both of them, just in case my memory had confused which one she’d actually had.

She rang me back.  She liked them. They were the kind of things that if she’d seen them she’d have bought, if they were that kind of price. But she hadn’t. She’d never seen either one. She’d never owned either of them. She’d never had them in the house. They never hung under her stairs or anywhere else. Except in every visit to that house in my mind.

Memory isn’t always true. But then, truth isn’t always memory, either.

 

 

 

 

 

Share Button

Comfort food

Once upon a time, when I hadn’t had a massive bill I wasn’t expecting, when I was going up to London to do university interviews instead of wondering how my life would have been if I’d done the degree I knew I should and could have done, when my jeans were tight because that’s how they were supposed to be worn, when I first discovered patchouli and wore it for the same reasons then as now, the mark of the dwindling tribe, I discovered this wondrous food.

We’d always been into vegetables at home, and a series of uncles’ and aunt’s weddings proved that the recipe for bacon and egg flan was not unknown in our circles. But it wasn’t until I went up to my step-sister’s in Notting Hill, those heavy years away when ordinary people lived there and not that thankfully, given that there was plenty of unspecified trouble just waiting to happen to you if you walked around not noticing what was going on, or noticing too much of what was going on. Then I got broccolli quiche for supper.

Almost every time. When years nearer now than then I mentioned it my step-sister wasn’t best pleased. But I was by it. She always made it from scratch, when she came in from law school. Her husband usually got back earlier and we’d drink massive gin and tonics steel blue and then red wine sitting around the table, eating bread cut with a razor-sharp old knife on ancient plates off a Portobello stall, talking of the future and psychology and all the things that were to happen. Some of them did.

So tonight, unable to visit that place in the past, I made broccoli quiche. It goes like this.

The Pastry

300g self-raising flour

About the same of butter.

Mash it all up together, crumble it between your fingers, then add just enough water to make it roll into a ball that stays together. Not too much. You can’t get the water out again if you mess it up.

Wrap it in clingfilm if you’ve got some or silver foil if you haven’t and put it in the fridge for at least half an hour. I gave it a day and half because I changed my mind about what to have for dinner yesterday.

IMAG2301

The Quiche Part

Half-boil some chopped broccoli.

Soften some finely-chopped onions, lots of garlic, at least three cloves. Do not burn any of this.

Mix up three eggs, creme fraiche or yoghurt and some grated cheese. Feta works. Anything in the fridge works. No, more than that.

Doing It

Roll out the pastry (use a floured wine bottle if you like) and put it in a heavy flan pan with a removable bottom. About £8. Trust me on this. You won’t regret it. They’re what TK Max is for.

Put little fork marks not all the way through into the pastry then bake it on really hot until it changes colour. You’ll see.

Take it out and put the onions, broccoli, garlic into the pastry shell then pour the eggy cheesy creamy mixture over it.

Bake until it sets without burning the pastry.

 

 

Then eat it, talking about Nietsche, the Channel Tunnel, Gurdjieff and if you really want to go for it, Kate Bush.

And don’t worry. You don’t have to know anything about any of them this far back into your comfort zone, just like the first time.

I’ve added another egg to this recipe because I skimped and only used two today. I didn’t use anywhere near enough cheese either. And I burned the onions and the oven was clearly too hot for the blind baking. All in all, it wasn’t quite as good as it used to be. But then, nostalgia never is.

 

 

 

 

Share Button

The homecoming

Thomas Hardy’s dead. I know, ok? The people he described were charicatures, quaint yokels. A bucolic garden chorus behind the main characters who were all basically Thomas Hardy, including the women. And yes, I know the real locals didn’t think much of him because one of them spoke to a friend of mine. Actually, my very best friend of all.

In one of life’s circularities, one Hardy might like, I’m doing a job a friend did a long time ago, straight from university via working in a pub. In the way you could then, she bought a little stone house about fifteen miles from where she was working. It was and is magical, despite or perhaps especially as it’s somewhat problematically infested with owls.

Haunted too, the ghost seen walking by my friend’s straight-down-the-line brother, who thought for a second as the woman stood next to his bed, that my friend was bringing a cup of tea, then decided that the best thing he could do was to put the covers over his head. The house had been a school in a tiny village down ancient sunken lanes in Dorset, the school Thomas Hardy’s sister had been headmistress of.

The place, all of it, was part of our own dreamscape, “half-real, half dreamed” as Hardy himself wrote of what I came to call Wessex, a place that stretches from Lyme Regis past Weymouth, north to past Bath, possibly even to Oxford if Jude The Obscure can be trusted. Possibly it can’t; it’s a very long time since I read it. But it’s still ours.

Before we left school we’d started exploring the place where we live in a way I’m not certain most people do. We’d borrow a car and drive to Stratford on Avon, us crazy, wild, rebellious kids. We had a cup of tea in a cafe high on a hill on frosty day outside Shaftesbury, the walls lined with posters advertising the surreal selection of Stax soul bands this place on the edge of nowhere attracted. Unless they just collected posters, but that seemed somehow more unlikely.

I can’t even vaguely remember why we were anywhere near Shaftesbury, except that it was our land, our country. And still is. Not in the way we’re all supposed to say “our country” now, meaning “and you keep out of it.” The idea would have been laughable.

Our country meaning this is where we belong. Where we go in dreams. Where we’re from. Heartlands. This once and future thing.

I got back there just after Christmas. It was cold, damp and there were patches of freezing fog making driving unpredictable. My friend was there, with some of her children and another friend I met again after an unknown absence of decades. There weren’t enough beds and we had to keep going outside, putting on shoes, finding a torch, stumbling around in the dark to get wet logs for the fire without trashing our clothes before we gingerly, discretely, appraisingly assessed who we were going to be sleeping on the next sofa over from. It was absolutely perfect.

Share Button

Before the flowers

January and the mornings get lighter. January and most days here near the coast the air is clear and now, just a month past the solstice, it’s just about light at half-past five. Just.

A girl stood in the door of the staff room, grinning and half-laughing, unable to really believe what had happened when she opened the letter from UCAS; an offer from Cambridge. I don’t know if she knows how much the rest of her life is going to change.

But I remember this time. Interview time. I went all over. Warwick. Brighton. Goldsmith’s in Virginia Waters. Sheffield. Southampton. It was always cold, it was always somewhere I’d never been. It was always somewhere I went on my own to, by train. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Goldsmiths was a farce. Because my school was a bit useless and because the internet wasn’t even a twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye, I hadn’t any clue that Goldsmith’s English course back then was heavily, loony-tunes religious. I couldn’t then and don’t now understand why the question “Are you a practising Christian?” has any place in an interview for an English degree, any more than I later understood the question “Who do you know in advertising?” when I was trying to be an account exec. at BMP. The phrase “WTUF?” hadn’t been invented then. Pity.

I walked back to the station in the fading light, past the pub with a Ferrari parked in the car-park, too young, too dim to realise that it almost certainly wasn’t the landlord’s but a rich drunk’s, left there the night before. I was amazed. The past is a different country. Coming from Trowbridge, then home of Bowyers pork pies and Ushers brewery, Virginia Waters was, too.

Falmer was no better. Brighton didn’t want me there under any circumstances whatsoever, either to do Psychology the first time I tried nor to do English and American Studies the second. I’d read no Melville, way too much Kerouac and not enough Hemingway and I hadn’t yet met the friend who blagged her way through an entire degree with the fictional Hemingway all-purpose quote: “That is the way it is in the mountains.” Far from any mountains, I posed on the train, looking out the window at the Kaakinen-designed halls of residence so derided in The History Man with my big boots and copy of AE Coppard’s Dusky Ruth. In my combat jacket. Over my black velvet jacket. Since you ask. It was freezing.

I don’t know if the mountains thing would have helped. What didn’t was me almost laughing out loud that the alleged American Studies expert had never heard of Horace Greeley. I mean, seriously?  The father of American journalism? The man who gave up his desk job and wrote about the ’49 goldfields? The man who coined the phrase “Go West young man?” But you’re fine to teach English and American Studies. Oh, ok. “FFS” hadn’t been invented either.

They should have let me in just for attitude, but as Bruce Springsteen put it:

Maybe you got a nice car, Maybe you got a pretty wife. Well mister, all I got is attitude. And I had it all of my life.

Except attitude wasn’t all I had. I had a friend in Sheffield, my best friend of all, the one I met when I was seventeen on a school trip to Dorchester, who I spent hours on the phone with last night. So I went to see her when I was up in Sheffield that snowy January, doing an interview to do Experimental Psychology which would have meant playing with monkeys instead of working with them. I don’t know how my life would have been different if I’d done that. There was snow head-height in Sheffield that winter. My friend transferred her Law degree to Cardiff, after almost deciding to quit altogether. We bought Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance LP off a record shop stall in the street. Record shops. That’s how long ago it was. They do things differently there.

But that January feeling, with the world still cold but opening up, getting bigger every single day, that’s still there. This time before the flowers are out. Everything’s still growing. There’s everything still to play for.

 

Share Button

David Cameron and Me

A year ago David Cameron was Prime Minister. Daddy was a money man, Eton and Oxford his schools, the Queen some kind of cousin, and certainly close enough for someone to make a phone call to tell Carlton TV, which he joined as his first, very first job out of uni, that a) they’d better hire him and b) £90,000 seemed about right for a new graduate. So far, it’s true, we don’t share a lot.

But yesterday David Cameron gave a speech at De Pauw. Which you’ve almost certainly never heard of before. But I have. Just like David Cameron. I’ve been there.

Snarkness on the edge of town.
                                                           Snarkness on the edge of town.

Once upon a time in a land long ago I was teaching kids to shoot on a summer camp up in Wisconsin. Like you do. After camp ended I bought an old Chevrolet I found in a barn and drove it down to Greencastle, Indiana, chasing a red-haired cheerleader called Nancy-Jean. Not wanting to spoil a good Springsteen theme I put my work boots on and drove my Chevy across the railroad tracks every morning to go work in the sawmill, alongside a guy who claimed lineal descent from Dan’l Boone. Because that’s how we said it in the mill, with the smell of cedar and Camels all around.

Other days I got a job working construction, but not for the Johnstown Company. I worked demolition on a post-bellum mansion that had been an orphanage. Some people said it was haunted; if it is then I know where the happy ghost walks. I found the names of the people who had worked there when the place was an orphanage, twenty years before, carved into the underside of the stairs to the basement.  I discovered those big porch columns outside the front door were never marble or even stone, but made in Birmingham, England, cast out of iron. It said so on the base.

Lunch we either brown-bagged, made by Nancy-Jean’s mom in the big house with a wooden eagle over the fireplace, up by the golf course, or not often, took a trip to McDonald’s and ate a burger looking out over 150 year-old wooden houses I never got back to then or now. It wasn’t the burgers we went there for but the air-con. Summer was hot in Indiana.

But it’s snowy there now. It’s a place nothing much ever happened. Indiana never knew whether it was the northernmost state in the Confederacy or the southernmost state in the Union, which must have felt familiar to Dave.

There was a bank robbery there once in the 1930s, which might have been the Dillinger Gang’s work, but everywhere a bank got robbed people liked to claim it was one of the big name gangsters who did it. When I was there a policeman was facing jail time for shooting two men who were shooting at another police officer locked in a car boot. The problem was he’d done it with a back-up gun he shouldn’t have been carrying after the bad guys took his issue weapon.

Greencastle still has the only other V1 rocket bomb in the USA stuck on a plinth. The other one is in the Smithsonian. And it’s got a really nice old courthouse square, just like something out of a John Grisham novel. And that’s pretty much it. It’s the middle of nowhere. That’s why IBM chose it for a distribution centre. Because it was in the middle. So why De Pauw hosted a speech for David Cameron there and paid him £120,000 for it beats me. There’s a lot I don’t understand about now. Things change.

I hung up my bandana and traded the Chevy for a Saab. Nancy-Jean became a professor of story-telling, published books about swamp beasts and posted pictures of her C-section online for reasons that as Hunter Thomson used to say, were never made clear. It rather spoiled what had been fond memories of  her lower stomach area. Much the same way David Cameron’s gamble spoiled a lot of things for people not called him.

But the past is a different country. They do things differently there. And that, as they say at De Pauw and the sawmill, that ain’t no lie.

Share Button