Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

A pair of anti-terrorism officers watched us check through into the boarding lounge. They stood behind the easyJet woman and took us in as we came through. One was about 30, the other about 40; both hard as nails. The younger did the Speedy Boarders; the other the common herd. What was remarkable about them, apart from their being there at all, was their Zen-like stillness and the slow economy of their eye movements. The check-in desk was a maelstrom of anxiety and pocket fumbling and the easyJet woman was working both queues like an acrobat. And there, just beyond, were these two very still individuals who appeared to be more in tune with the spirit world rather than with the information being relayed from their own eyes and ears. As I passed by them, my person, I felt, was being scrutinised chiefly on an extra-sensory level. There was nothing airy-fairy about these gentlemen's faces, however, which stated clearly that their mediumistic gifts could be backed up at short notice by a supplementary propensity for state-sanctioned violence.

Almost as remarkable to my mind was the cut and quality of their plain clothes, footwear and hair. These were no low-paid state functionaries. Seen from behind, the width of their upper backs, outlined by the superfine cashmere wool, told of a professional level of fitness, athleticism and strength. These days, the various kinds of security officers one notices everywhere seem to be either fat or elderly. Capably fit, well-paid, highly intelligent, highly motivated-looking anti-terrorism officers like these were a bit of a shock, though a reassuring one. 'What is strength,' asked Milton, 'without a double share of wisdom?'

But was I perhaps getting carried away by this intuitive face reading? Was it in fact a prelude to insanity? I had to ask the question because the man in the aisle seat one row in front, other side, about 60 years of age, brutal haircut, bullet head, white laughter lines in a tanned face, was to my mind without doubt an old-school London gangster. I knew it simply by looking at the face and instantly recognising that humorous, gentlemanly, renegade air. But in this case the association wasn't intuitive, it was genetic. I've known them. I've worked with them. I've lived with them. I've loved them. And I know their style. And if this wasn't one, I'd have been very surprised. …

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