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KFC bed

KFC bed 2

I took this in Soho, London, shortly before I went to see Finding Vivian Maier.

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Um,

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Barnes

Just keep saying it over and over and you start to understand it. In the dawn sunshine, it conjures ideas of France. Something rustic and solid. Quiet, yes, and definitely tranquil. Sensible white walls and heavy trunks of tree, twisted with wisteria and stock brokers and men of metaphorical and physical weight. Coffee in a plunger. Thick cream curtains that make your arms ache. Polished floors that remind you of the instability of life, and help you to hide the fear. Weeping women with the menopause. Teenage girls with long straight hair that will start to fall out in their forties. Boys smoking “pot” and playing snooker in the basement of their splendid family homes. St Paul’s School. Rowing. Oxford. Bicycles. Solicitors. Harrods recreational ground. Pubs without televisions and with jazz around the back. Snogging by the pond among the ducks. Feeling faint about your A-level results. Daddy. Mummy. Jessie, Jo-Jo, Dobs and Eds. Skips the dog. The cats. The horses in Ham. Towels from Egypt. Rugs from Persia. Garlic from Aix en Provence. The sound of water. The romance of war. A train to the National. Kew Gardens. Victoria Sponge on Fridays. Scones with Jizzie’s jam. A hankering for the countryside. Villages. Ponds. Converted barns. Writers who lunch. A vintage MG. Jogging. Sprinting. Rowing. Waitrose. Wine. Three-piece suits. Pink shirts with gold cuff-links passed down through generations. Kites. Tate postcards. Agas. Rubber boots. Tears. Stress. Golf. Squash. Sweat. Wimbledon. Bridles and other random collections of leather. Greek soap. Organic kale. East Sheen. Men who lunch. Men in sheds. Men who read the Telegraph. Heterosexuality. Independent bookshops. Surgeons. The Priory. Elm Guest House. Oil paint. Bathrooms with big mirrors. Bedrooms with books. A red Vespa. A baby-blue Vespa. Laughter — loud, assertive, defined. Clean pavements. Clean streets. Litter monitors. Trust funds. Pensions. Bees. Birds. Labs. Laughter. Laughter. Laughter. Barnes.

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the interviewee on the interviewer

A bit stiff. That’s how she seemed when she arrived. A bit stiff. And quite forward. She stepped into the hallway and I thought, Well that’s pushy. Friendly and informal, but sort of awkward as well. Yes, an awkwardness. Like she wasn’t in full control of the whole thing. I mean, you’d think. wouldn’t you, that a journalist like that would know what they were doing. But she was edgy. Sort of like she was trying to be polite but it was, like, forced. D’you know what I mean? Like she was following the rules but didn’t actually want to. And she kept playing with her hair. That was another thing. More of a flick in fact. Sloaney, I guess. And she was quite posh. What you’d expect really. But I was surprised that she swore so much, later on, when we’d loosened up, she swore a lot. That took me back. Yes, definitely. You don’t expect people like that to use the F-word. Not in an interview. But she used it like I might use the word like. Like a lot. Like really a lot. Nerves maybe? I guess it probably was. But I’d expected her to be kind of… in command. Which was another thing. I made her a coffee and I could tell, when she was asking me questions, that she didn’t know when to drink it. Like the way you get really self-conscious about stuff when you’re with a stranger. D’you follow? Yeah, so it’s kind of hard to sum her up. But someone should try. One of the others maybe.

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the shop window

It doesn’t seem to matter how many times you look into your reflection, there’s always that feeling of surprise, that you are seeing something you hadn’t expected. Even when you prepare for that, it’s never quite the right preparation. Another space opens up in your skin, or an altered gaze loops out of one of your eyes at a precise moment that immediately escapes memory. Curiously, sometimes it’s possible to look into someone else’s face and to see the bits that elude them. Sometimes you can imagine, with startling accuracy, the younger face of a stranger, the particular beauty that they yearn for. The ghost of the younger body reveals its form only to those who don’t care and never knew. Those who are familiar have to live with the experience of repeated disappointment, right here, right now. Once or twice, I’ve watched the gaze of a stranger on my younger form and, moments later, that look of pity.

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as a matter of

you told me you know that charisma is a favour from God and Africa has a personality and Europe has an identity and Asia has a heart and the MPLA is socialist and Maria Miller is a witch and the Grand National isn’t cruel any more and you’re only as young as you feel and Walthamstow is 80% muslim and Halliburton provides employment and Afghans are voting and the ICRC has never been involved in transporting weapons in war-torn countries and war-torn does have real meaning and you have to be stupid to be a decent jockey and attractive women make crap journalists and coconut oil is bad for your skin and carpets reduce asthma and most NGOs in their own back yards don’t behave democratically at all and all children like candy floss and women who return to work after having a baby suffer appalling discrimination and diesel is good for you and Wolfie keeps the best onions for his favourite customers and marriage is progressive and an act of faith in God and people with personalities never get hitched because it robs them of their identity and breaks their heart which is why they are socialists and witches and cruel and elderly and non-believers and dependent on the state and politically apathetic and fake pacifists and meaningless and stupid because they hate hunting and don’t read the papers and have dry legs and varnished floor boards and never give to charity and refuse to have kids and because they eat junk food and don’t want to work anyway and

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un-rewiring the book

all this time worrying about how to fill all those pages, worrying about the importance of fuzzying, the importance of nuance, the importance of doubt, the importance of contradiction, of confusion, of untruths, non-truths, half-truths and no truths, of faulty memory, real trauma, imagined trauma and imagination, of avoiding certainty because there is none, of avoiding definitive accounts, of refusal to state the facts because there are none or there are too many or there are some but they don’t really make that much sense anyway… all this time, and now she’s told she’s got to sum it up in one sentence or perhaps a paragraph or, if she’s really lucky, five paragraphs, because if she doesn’t do that bit no one will buy it… in producing what she calls the sales pitch, she is forced to unravel all those years of rewiring her brain (in order to avoid the false truths she’d been trained to produce)… so what was the point of all that? the horror! the horror! after all that, you have to sell the product in precisely the tooled-up terms that you had run from, screaming that you’d never ever do it again, because, she’s told, that’s the only way anyone will be persuaded to buy the bloody thing.

 

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