Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Telling Tales: I Was at the Theatre, but It Was No Act When a Pimp Threatened to Beat Me to a Pulp

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Telling Tales: I Was at the Theatre, but It Was No Act When a Pimp Threatened to Beat Me to a Pulp

Article excerpt

I can remember exactly when this happened, because it was the evening Syd Barrett, late of the Pink Floyd, died. Not that I'd have registered this, were it not that I was attending a performance at the Royal Court of Tom Stoppard's new play Rock 'n' Roll, which actually features a Syd Barrett-like character. The coincidence introduced a certain frisson, as most of the audience were clearly aware of Barrett's death --but my wife and I prolonged that frisson by adjourning to the bar in the interval for a vigorous argument about the whys and wherefores of Stoppard's oeuvre.

We were so absorbed in this contretemps that I was taken completely by surprise when a red-faced, heavy-set figure surged up from a seat and confronted me as we made our way back down the aisle. "You don't care what you do to people in your books!" he expostulated. When, dumbstruck, I failed to respond, he added: "You don't even know who I am, do you?" I conceded I didn't, whereupon he spat his name--an unusual one--back in my face.

Then I did recall him: I'd known X in the mid-1980s when I was hanging around with a fairly louche crowd. X was only a distal member of this group and he wasn't louche at all--just a hallucinogen-addled young man, rather wistful and lost and, unlike his latter incarnation, slim, ethereal and pale. Which was why, when I ran into him 15 years later, I was shocked by his transformation. X had become something of a gangster and, as he defiantly admitted to me, a pimp.

Well, in this anecdote of literary coincidence, it seems only fitting that there should be a second one: at the time, I happened to be working on a novel that had a crack-addict protagonist who falls into prostitution, and I needed a name for her drug-dealing pimp. …

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