This novel is about cross-generational love and is set in Scotland in 2016.
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This novel is (by definition) a work
of fiction and any similarity to
any person, living or dead, is
Chapter Twenty One
Chapter Twenty Two
Chapter Twenty Three
Chapter Twenty Four
Chapter Twenty Five
Chapter Twenty Six
In which Jimmy, the 70 year old pianist at the Bistro known as No 882c, High Street, South Queensferry, “ceases to exist” after being struck by a taser
In what was to become known in the press and the subsequent myriad court cases as “The Battle of Rosyth Naval Dockyard” or “The Riot at Rosyth Naval Dockyard” as with “The Battle of Orgreave” or “The Peterloo Riot” was neither a battle nor a riot. As with its numerous predecessors throughout British history, it was nothing less than the bloody suppression of dissent by a fearful establishment.
Any military analogy was wholly inappropriate to describe the events. On the one side were a group of some one hundred and thirty civilian souls who, for the most part, were over fifty years of age and armed with nothing more than placards. On the other side was the Major, an MI5 officer with a delusional psyche and territorial Metropolitan police, that is to say the types the Establishment always drafted in from outside a force area when they wanted to beat people up. The reason for drafting in territorial Met police (usually ex-military thugs) was to make identification of any in their ranks who displayed too much enthusiasm for their task commensurately more difficult for the civilians who had been set upon with such savagery.
As with all military men, the Major adored toys with childlike devotion. The latest toy the Major had at his disposal was the result of yet another Ministry of Defence, multi-billion pound project (every MoD contract usually cost multi-billions of pounds. After all, the “revolving door” men at the MoD had to scrape a living.)
As with all idiot military men, the Major referred to the drone at his disposal as “a nice bit of kit”.
Presumably military idiots referred to even the Trident Missile as “a nice bit of kit”. (If you are a slovenly, English speaking person the word “nice” should be pronounced as “noyce”.)
The Major’s “nice bit of kit” was codenamed “Churchill” for some impenetrable reason but then most military codenames are named for impenetrable reasons. “Churchill” sported a taser for zapping innocent civilians with 50,000 volt electric shocks. (The Major had, to his chagrin, been unable to persuade his superiors to let him have the type of drone which delivered nerve gas.
The Major was something of a fan of a certain German Chancellor some seventy years ago although the gentleman in question, he had to admit, had been a touch misguided and overenthusiastic in the pursuit of his policies.)
From a police incident caravan inside Rosyth naval dockyard, the Major personally dispatched “Churchill” into the skies above the dockyard. He felt the “thrill” of command, a condition not unlike that of a serial killer about to lay waste to his or her next victim.
The Major did not see a group of one hundred and thirty civilian souls peacefully protesting at the dockyard’s main gate. What he saw was a group of one and hundred thirty dangerous revolutionaries, or which failing, Scottish Nationalists, hell bent on fomenting unrest and undermining the authority of Her Majesty the Queen and Her Majesty’s Forces.
(The authority of Parliament never figured in the Major’s considerations.)
Among their number were “the usual suspects” from the Bistro, No 882c, High Street, South Queensferry, notably Willie, a Trot and SNP Nationalist and Jimmy, the 70 year old pianist in said premises.
In so far as any military man has any moral or legal grasp of right or wrong or any sense of proportionality, they vanish in the ubiquitous “red mist” which descends upon military men. Perhaps it is this characteristic that makes the armed forces so despicable in the eyes of some.
So far as the Major was concerned, while his overall objective was to crush what he regarded as “revolutionaries” and or Scottish Nationalists, there was one man he was determined to find and deliver several thousand electric shocks through “Churchill”. To his profound irritation and profound disappointment his electronic servant had thus far failed to locate the man, despite being programmed with face recognition software to enable it to do so. This man, an aspiring author and former lawyer, had assaulted the Major some days ago.
Exasperated beyond measure, the Major’s eyes alighted upon Jimmy again. He was holding a placard which he had fallen heir to after the aspiring author had absented himself. It read “The British Army, the Royal navy and the Royal Air Force are foreign occupying forces”. The Major lost control and instructed his electronic toy to unleash a 50,000 thunderbolt. Now Jimmy was 70 years of age and that kind of shock kills. The only small mercy was that he knew nothing about it.
Jimmy was no more. He was dead, kaput, deceased or, as Hans Fallada described the executed hero in his chilling novel, “Alone in Berlin”; he had “ceased to exist”. “Job done” as the military idiots would put it.
In which six weeks before the demonstration we witness the start of a cross-generational love affair
When a new woman entered his life he reached for his pen or rather, the word processor, in the same way as most men reached for the bottle. It was his way of coping. She owned and worked in a place in South Queensferry called Number 882c, High Street. It was what the local populace was pleased to call a Bistro.
He had not written a novel for almost two years but she had induced in him the desire to reach for the pen again or rather the word processor as occupational therapy for the pangs of love. What was it about a woman that set the creative writing juices in him flowing again? The answer was simple, he told himself. If you meet a woman whom you love (or think you might love), the procreative drive kicks in and, in his case, also fired a concomitant desire to make something on his own account-even a bad novel.
He had no doubts about the probable consequences of the arrival of this woman in his life. It was once said of Picasso that when the woman changed, the Art changed, the house changed and his friends changed. He felt empathy with the great man in that regard. Man-Ray had no doubts about the significance for his art caused by the arrival of a new woman in his life. He regarded his art as a mere by-product of quality fucking. Yes, I’m like those men in that regard, he told himself although he had to concede that it was highly unlikely he would achieve in the field of writing the pre-eminence which those two artists had in Art.
He had enjoyed little commercial success with his writing, far less literary recognition. No matter. He was writing again and would simply have to endure the lamentable, miserable process once more. He had been through it so many times. He knew the highs and the lows.
These thoughts tumbled through his mind as he sat sipping his Espresso that morning in No 882c, High Street, South Queensferry. In a moment of hyperbolic good humour he found himself thinking of Casablanca and Rick’s Cafe. Everyone knew those names because of the Bogart film and Ingrid Bergman. Sure it had an Arab name now but what the hell-it was a good, weepy movie. That said, Ingrid Bergman, in later years, was to say that the movie was almost a disaster-rather like the femme fatal in the movie was for Rick. According to Bergman it had been improvised and made up as the Director and Producer went along.
No 882c High Street, South Queensferry was, he had to concede, no Rick’s Bar in Casablanca and, by no stretch of the imagination, was the town of South Queensferry the equal of the former in an atmosphere of intrigue. For a start the patrons of No 882c were not filled with all manner of shady characters-unless he counted himself in that category.
His educational background and the main career of his life (so far, that is) had been the Law and nothing to do with Art or writing. He had had the dubious privilege of attending what was now called “The Law School of Edinburgh”. Nowadays admission was strictly on the basis of ability and high educational attainment in school exams. An Emeritus professor of his acquaintanceship at the Edinburgh Law School had once joked with him that they wouldn’t even let him (the professor, that is) in nowadays. God knows if he (the aspiring author, that is) would be allowed into the Edinburgh Law School nowadays. He doubted it somehow.
He managed to escape the legal profession at 50 and took up writing.
It was also about this age that he began to take an interest in Art, a subject in which he had no training or background of formal study. Up until then, he had visited the National Galleries in Edinburgh occasionally. Sometime in his 20s he had visited the Louvre. It was only in middle age that he had begun to make up for this cultural gap in his life by visiting the major west European and New York collections. He attributed his interest in Art in middle age to intimations of mortality and the desire to focus on important matters such as writing, music and Art. That said, every time he entered an Art Gallery he fondly remembered the aphorism of an American wit who said that the person who could not get laid after a visit to an Art gallery was socially dysfunctional. Visiting an Art Gallery was akin to visiting a brothel, argued the American wit. Girls visiting an Art gallery were somehow predisposed to having casual sex, he opined. He reasoned that this could be attributed to the plethora of creativity before them. It seemed to switch the girls on. (The aspiring author himself had almost been laid by a French girl in Madrid after a visit to the Prado).
There were two major exhibitions in Edinburgh during that summer of 2016 when the new woman had entered his life.
The first exhibition at the Modern Art Gallery Number One in Belford Road was entitled “Surreal Encounters”. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art One is housed in an imposing neoclassical building, which was designed by William Burn in 1825. Formerly the John Watson’s School, an institute for fatherless children, it was adapted for the Gallery in 1984.
The exhibition catalogue which he had purchased promised “an exceptional overview of Surrealism bringing together works by artists including Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Rene Magritte and Joan Miro.”
For the aspiring author, Modernism and contemporary art were relative mysteries, a lacuna in his knowledge that he was determined to fill.
He read on in the exhibition catalogue.
“It was Andre Breton, chief theorist of the movement who defined “the marvellous” in his first surrealist manifesto of 1924 as follows: “The marvellous is always beautiful, anything marvellous is beautiful, in fact only the marvellous is beautiful”.
He found himself thinking an irreverent thought.
What the fuck did that mean? You could after all have a “marvellous” darts player, he reasoned.
The second major exhibition was entitled “Inspiring Impressionism” and was held at the National Gallery at The Mound, Edinburgh Again, he purchased the exhibition catalogue which informed him that “This major exhibition is an ambitious display of masterpieces from the Impressionist era. Featuring over 100 pictures, from collections around the world, Inspiring Impressionism focuses on three key artists: Charles François Daubigny, Claude Monet, and Vincent van Gogh...”
A second irreverent thought crossed his mind.
More my fucking scene, he thought. He read on.
“Through a series of fascinating and surprising juxtapositions, this landmark show highlights the interactions and mutual influence between these three artists...”
These words provoked more irreverence. Why not just enjoy the fucking paintings?
He had his own views of course on the Art Establishment. As a former lawyer, he knew to keep his thoughts on the Art Establishment to himself, for fear of litigation-the last resort of a scoundrel-to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw. So far as he was concerned the British Art World was a microcosm of Britain itself. It is intensely hierarchical in structure and there is a strict order of precedence.
There were three forms of human life in the view of Art Establishment. The first consisted of Patrons, over represented by Royalty and Aristocrats. The second consisted of benefactors and sponsors. By and large, in the lofty view of the Art Establishment, these people were irredeemably vulgar drawn as they were, from the professional and business communities. That said, to use the parlance of a previous generation, they had lots of dosh and were more than content to spend the same if it brought entree into a higher social strata.
The third and final species of human kind known to the Art Establishment (and without question the lowest) were the “friends”. These poor deluded souls (of which the aspiring author was one) paid a few quid a year to have unrestricted access to the galleries and exhibitions so long as they stuck to the entertainments provided for them and appropriate to their lowly status. Typically such events consisted of a preview of exhibitions, boring lectures and “wine-tasting” soirees at prices which would have made the Mafia blush with embarrassment.
There was, of course, a fourth species of human kind that the Art Establishment did not even consider-the millions who pour through the doors of Art Galleries all over the world and are regarded as merely casual visitors.
Add to all this (in his private view), was that if one ever came into contact with the Art Establishment on visits to Galleries, any sensible man or woman had to bear in mind that the British Art world and its establishment was, and always had been, awash with gays and lesbians (not that the aspiring author objected to their right to conduct themselves as they saw fit). One only had to think of Sir Anthony Blunt, Brian Sewell and Lucian Freud to name but three. A re-incarnation of Leonardo would have had a ball.
In his private, humourous opinion, when visiting a major gallery it was, to paraphrase the old Naval advice, prudent to keep one’s posterior to the nearest wall lest members of the Art Establishment were also in attendance (unless of course one had the same GBLT orientations.)
He had his own small but significant Art collection-significant, that is, in relation to an average middle-income home and perhaps even in relation to the Art to be found in the houses of some of the well-to-do. He had bought a number of oils whose quality was beyond doubt and in respect of which he would have expected four figure sums. His collection had been conservatively accumulated with aesthetics being the primary concern. Of late he had begun to take an interest in modern art and this, he was sure, would continue.
To present matters he chided himself, allowing his eyes to appreciate for a few lingering moments the female form of the object of his affections while her back was turned. How had she entered his life?
How had she come to occupy his affections?
In which we meet the new woman in his life
While she was the new woman in his life he had known her to speak to for years. They had both attended the same gym for years. The gym in South Queensferry commanded a magnificent panorama over the River Forth and included uninterrupted views of all three bridges.
There was the 1890 Railway Bridge which had stood the test of time, seen two world wars come and go without any damage but only narrowly escaped destruction during the Thatcherite elective dictatorship when Frau Thatcher’s austerity cuts almost caused the proud structure to collapse into the water of the River Forth and be consigned to the deep.
Next there was the now “old” road bridge which had just attained its fiftieth birthday. Most Scots were pleasantly surprised to discover of a new morning that the damned thing was still standing. It had been under repair for most of its fifty years and everyone, but everyone, said a silent prayer to the Almighty prior to venturing across the bridge and the icy, choppy waters of the Firth of Forth. He himself always made his peace with the Almighty before driving across the bridge. Better to be in a state of grace come the arrival of the Grim Reaper.
There was of course a third and new road bridge spanning the sewage infested waters of the Forth. It was in immaculate condition having been built by the Chinese who, unlike the native workforce, could be relied upon to put up a decent, serviceable structure.
Despite knowing Augustine for years in the sense that he had known her to speak during those years, he had never made any play for her. The fourth ring on the left hand indicated that she was “pre-owned”. He therefore spoke to her only if she spoke to him. Augustine was a very attractive girl-or rather a very attractive woman. She was the same height as he, slim with blond hair in a page flick style. He had felt attracted to her almost from the outset but she was, by reason of the ring on her fourth finger, “unobtainable goods”.
That changed one day in July when, after a period of her absence from the gymnasium, he spoke to her. Her absence from the lycra-infested place was to be explained, she said, by her recently having opened a bistro business in South Queensferry.
Would he like to come along and see the place? His heart skipped a beat as he momentarily considered the invitation as a proposition. He swiftly concluded that she was simply being polite and wanted to offer a man of his advanced years some expanded horizons. Yes, of course he would like so to do.
Over the years he had known her and the casual conversations he had had with her, he had learned a little about her. She was the wife of a lawyer who practiced in Edinburgh. (When this intelligence had come to his attention, he had inwardly groaned by reason of his own legal background. The poor girl must have suffered much in her life, he reasoned.
He regarded his former profession much as The Good Lord had done in the Holy Bible-“Ye brood of vipers”! (No wonder they had crucified the Almighty, he always thought.) He knew that Augustine and her husband appeared to be in good financial circumstances owning a substantial house in South Queensferry and several other properties abroad. Needless to say they drove four wheeled conveyances commensurate with their status.
In which the cross-generational couple go on a first date in an Edinburgh Art Gallery
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