Once, in the driving rain in Rossio Square in the centre of Lisbon, I saw someone who looked like a caveman devouring a pineapple in the driving rain. It was May Day, mid-afternoon, and the annual demonstration was dispersing. Through the deluge, from fifty metres away, I could just see masses of unkempt bedraggled hair and the manic gleam in his eyes as he hacked into the flesh of the fruit, like a primitive sculptor trying to destroy his artwork with his incisors, or as if the pineapple were freshly-killed red meat and fire had yet to be discovered.
On another occasion, cutting across London from Marylebone towards UCL one drizzly Monday lunchtime, I happened to notice three separate individuals standing in the rain, without umbrellas, eating sandwiches they’d bought from the supermarket. I’ve sometimes mentioned this in class when a student was struggling with the distinction between ‘standard of living’ and ‘quality of life’.
It’s 2012 or 2013. I’m in the octagonal café outside Turnpike Lane Station. Outside the rain is pelting down. Someone has ordered a pizza, maybe one of the taxi-drivers on the other side of the busy road. I watch the waiter carry it on a plate across the pavement and hold it up while he waits for the traffic to stop. The boss or whoever is in charge really should have told him to put it in a box first.
It was my great-uncle, a zoologist, who invented the phrase ‘Make a beeline for somewhere’. Before him, people just used to say that they they were going to ‘go’ somewhere, but he changed all that.
That’s not true, of course. It’s nonsense, all made up. I have to go shortly, but before I do I’m going to tell you something that is true. When I was about ten years old, a moth flew into my ear. It stayed there for about two hours, and although now my recollection of events is patchy to say the least, it must looking back have been a stressful couple of hours, especially for the moth. Whatever it found inside my head it didn’t like; it screamed and screamed until eventually, thanks to the careful and patient administrations of the hospital staff, after I myself had screamed and stamped my feet enough for my parents to recognise that yes, it was not a figment of my imagination, but an actual winged insect flying around inside my head, eventually, as I say, the doctors and nurses were with the aid of a syringe able to extract the somewhat bedraggled, chastened but still intact insect from it’s temporary home, inside my head, dead.
(I asked my father if we could have a funeral for the moth, but he said ‘No’.)
Strolling away from the almost bucolic festival environment of the climate camp about 4pm on Wednesday, I hear a conversation between an obese woman and her exhausted looking colleague. ‘Of course’, she says, ‘this is all based on the idea that climate change is true’. I look at her, shocked. The man grunts his assent and they labour their way up the street.
Turning left out of Russell Square tube about the same time the following day, I hear a man behind me ask, ‘Do you think it’s changed you as a person?’. ‘No’, replies a woman’s voice. ‘Do you?’. Intrigued, I turn and look directly behind me, and see that the woman has a pirate-style patch over her right eye. The couple are holding hands. ‘No’, says the man. The woman sees me staring at them and glares at me with her one good eye. It occurs to me that this would be a good starting point for a novel.
Passing a pub off Tottenham Court Road in the April sunshine, I see a fat man sitting at an outside table hungrily reading the newspaper. His t-shirt reads, ‘Fat men are harder to kidnap’. I check my phone. It is Friday, just after 4pm.