Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Article excerpt

My car was at the garage for repairs so often last year that they asked me to their Christmas party. The event was snowed off and rescheduled for last Friday night. The prospect of a party scared as well as exhilarated me. I had been living exclusively among my own banal thoughts for so long I was prey to the peculiar fear that in company they might be laughably transparent.

I had a strip wash in the kitchen sink using stream water heated in a saucepan on the wood-burning stove, shaved with an old Bic disposable razor I found in the bathroom cabinet, staunched the bleeding with cigarette papers I found in a kitchen drawer, and put on my least muddy jeans.

It was still daylight when I emerged from the wood and headed across the open moorland to the car, which I leave beside the road.

No matter which way I park my old Mercedes on the peaty, sheep-cropped turf, it looks like an abandoned vehicle. One of these days I'm going to find a 'Police Aware' sticker on the windscreen.

As I got to the car, I heard a shout. Coming down the road was a man on a horse. He looked like an extra in a spaghetti western:

long, greasy hair, four-day stubble, torn over - coat, mud-encrusted boots. His horse was in a lather about something - my car, possibly - and in its reluctance to pass was clattering and slithering all over the tarmac. ' I s he not behaving himself?'

I shouted up, cheerfully, to the man.

I was amazed by how natural my voice sounded.

'He's getting better, ' said the man, standing up in the stirrups and hauling back on the reins with all his might. His was a deep West Country voice. There was anger in it and recklessness. He spoke sharply again to his horse and the great lummox of a thing finally made up its silly mind which was the lesser of two evils, the car or the brute on its back, and at last it came snorting and prancing by. Once he was past, the man stopped the horse, swung around in the saddle, looked me in the eye, and said, 'And are you behaving yourself?'

The stare was hard and direct. He was menacing me. This larger-than-life man on his largerthan-life horse, my initial point of contact with humanity after days of silent seclusion, had taken my cheery greeting, given it a threatening edge and thrown it back at me. …

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