I, Clive Pike, shall now inform my followers of the people who helped me bring forth the Bookby David Mitchell / October 22, 2005 / Leave a comment
These nine hundred pages would not exist without Johnny Ball, the genius responsible for Think of a Number, a BBC children’s programme which aired from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. Johnny, you inculcated in my young brain a fascination with mathematics and logic that blossomed into my love of philosophy and metaphysics. It is this love that has given birth to the field of Psychomigration, the Bible of which, Dear Follower, you hold in your hands. I tried repeatedly to send you the manuscript-in-progress, Johnny, but your bolshy, inept agent refused to give me your home address. No matter. Now you will know all about Clive Pike, and you can contact me directly. To express our devotion, Mr Nixon and I will psychomigrate you personally when your time comes. Have you noticed that your initials are the same as John the Baptist’s? Such a violent night.
Pearl Pike supported me to the best of her abilities during the first half of the Book’s long gestation. I apologise, Pearl, for the scene at Heathrow Airport on Boxing day of three years ago, and for what happened to your Okinawan silverfish. I also regret sending you those mutilated photographs. After you left, I was not myself. Your solicitor Mr Davis visited me in Little Malvern Towers and told me you are settled in Brisbane with Moses now. He says you are training to be an aromatherapist and that Moses is a big shot (some might say a big shit) at Microsoft. So you now have the son that you were “not ready for” with me? The boy must be the best-smelling child in Australia. I signed the divorce papers, for old times’ sake. Dr Seaman witnessed. My memories of you, Pearl, are breaking up into bric-a-brac. Your ears I recall, yes, but not your lips. Your sulkiness, but not your tenderness. The courtyard in Venice where you chipped my tooth, certainly, but not that scabby hotel in Lyme Regis the first night you let me in. When you read this, would you send me one photograph of yourself? For old times’ sake? Please.
Customs and Excise House in Potters Bar, ugly and sixties-built, is an unlikely lotus tree for the enlightenment of the Book to have been conceived in, but this is exactly what happened. On the 15th of March, 1999, I was sitting in my cubicle on the ninth floor, gazing out at traffic on the M25, when a binary metaphor coalesced in my brain. Bodies are vehicles: minds are drivers. These six words and their colon were the ova of what became the Book. Bodies are vehicles: minds are drivers. As I dunked a KitKat into my coffee on that momentous morning, I tested the metaphor to breaking point. A car doesn’t only carry one person, obviously. A driver can get out of one car and climb into another, obviously. However, as Mr Nixon points out in chapter 7, “obviously” hides the unobvious as cleverly as a walnut hides a walnut tree. I will agree to a statue in the forecourt of Customs and Excise House. A gold one, to reward the pilgrims. My former colleagues must move elsewhere, because the building will be designated a Museum of Psychomigration. Only a government bureaucracy would appoint IT bosses so ignorant of computer systems that I could set off local viruses inside ring-fenced fields to which only I had the cure, thus guaranteeing me undetected years of salaried time in which to create the Book. In particular I thank my supervisor, Alison Appleby, who earned her position in Roger Black’s bed, according to water-cooler gossip. Alison didn’t know an ASP from an ISP. All my followers owe Customs and Excise House in general, and Alison in particular, a mountain of gratitude. Just now a helicopter flew over the barn, very low. What is a helicopter doing out on a night like this?
Moses Godson, my university roommate, my sometime colleague, my best man, and my cuckold, what words should I write to you by the light of this borrowed torch? When Pearl confessed that her weekly course in soapmaking in Pinner was a deception, and that you had been tupping my wife at the Welcome Break by Exit 27 every Saturday for a year, I nearly lost my mind. That is not a phrase a psychomigrator uses lightly. Pearl blamed the breakdown of our marriage on the Book, but it was you, Moses, who soaped her in the shower to hide the stink of your adultery. It was you who lured her away to the Gold Coast with promises of a Neighbours lifestyle. Beware, Moses. By the time you read this I will have thousands of followers in Australia. Some will wish to avenge me, and I might not be able to stop them. Mr Nixon says you should be flayed to an inch of your life. I try not to agree. I’ve half-buried myself in straw, but I can’t stop shivering. Straw itches. I wish I’d borrowed a blanket from the hospice. The cows aren’t friendly.
My compliments go to Jill Chen, who got me sacked from Customs and Excise House. The memory of my “trial” is not one I treasure. After a week working as my unwanted assistant, I had concluded you were cheerful but dim. On that Friday I even triggered a crash in Payroll to show you a few of my favourite data retrieval moves. After a weekend working hard on the Book, I got to my desk on Monday just as the call came from Roger Black. He and Alison Appleby were waiting for me up in his eighteenth floor office. Alison was pale and Roger was red as he told me that you, Jill, were on secondment from the Metropolitan Police conducting an unrelated investigation into fraud. You had stumbled upon my “gross misuse of Customs and Excise time and resources” quite by accident. Roger gave me the choice of resigning with pension rights intact, or facing possible prosecution. It was a simple choice. You returned my gaze throughout. Our final, unscheduled meeting, forty minutes later, is the one I prefer to remember. After clearing my desk, I walked through the rain to Potters Bar station. The next train back to King’s Cross was cancelled, so I went into Starbucks to wait. The only free seat was next to another customer whose face was hidden behind The Big Issue. I sat down, and you lowered the magazine. Quite calmly, you asked if I was stalking you. No, I protested. There was nowhere else to sit. An odd conversation ensued. I asked why my spyware had not picked up your probe. “I hid it inside your spyware,” you replied, with a trace of pride. Stiffly, I complimented you on your ingenuity and, stiffly, you thanked me. Then you came out with this bombshell. “I read your book. The enormous file. I could hardly miss it.” How did I feel? Violated, yes, but also exhilarated. Jill, you were the Book’s first reader. How my followers will envy you! I recall your words precisely. “You’ve given yourself a licence to print a new reality, Clive Pike.” So had Luther, I told you. So had Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Freud. I wasn’t printing anything “new.” I was rediscovering practices known to the Mongolian shaman of the deer-people, certain Berber tribes and Baffin Island Inuit for centuries. Yet you were unimpressed. “The occult is a hole of madness. No rope of sanity can touch the bottom. Give it up. If you can’t give it up, get help.” With that, you left. Well, Jill. I did not “give it up.” Mr Nixon and I have altered history. My “rope” is longer than you, or Dr Seaman, or anyone, dreamed.
A big thank-you goes out to Timothy Cavendish, my visionary publisher. Mr Davis the solicitor called you “an unscrupulous money-grubber with a track record of conning the vulnerable,” but the scorn of a flea is praise to a wise man. The Book, you remember, was approaching completion, but the leading publishers of London and New York hadn’t even bothered to send rejection letters. Tony Blair, Michael Parkinson and Lord Saatchi had not responded. I was faced with trying to disseminate my revolution via the internet, a medium too choked with madmen and delusionals for Truth to be heard. Those dark days ended, Tim, the morning you telephoned. I knew I spoke with a kindred spirit who grasped the revolution in the human condition that Psychomigration represents. “Clive,” you told me, once the formalities were seen to, “that was the wisest cheque you ever signed. This book’ll be bigger than the Atkins Diet! Bigger than the Gutenberg Bible! Bigger than Nigella Ruddy Lawson!” Scraping together your £5,000 production fee wasn’t easy after Jill Chen had lost me my job. But now Mr Nixon and I have proved that Psychomigration is as practical an operation as heart surgery, the day is near when money will lose its stranglehold on your desires, Tim, and mine, and those of all human life. I will bring these pages to your office tomorrow, so you can insert them into future editions of the Book.
Compared to my ex-headmaster, Bernard Kelvin Nixon, all others in these acknowledgements are bit players. You entered my life twenty-five years ago, Mr Nixon, when I was eleven, at Upton-on-Severn Junior High school. I remember how your welcoming speech of 1980 put the fear of God into the fresh intake, though your academic gown lent you a Satanic air. Your love of corporal punishment was well known and often fulfilled. It did not trouble you that caning would soon become a banned and barbaric anachronism. I was a diligent student in the top form who kept his nose clean. Perhaps that is why you stopped my classmate Mark Badbury and I in the corridor one lunchtime and told us to take a pair of scissors each from the school secretary, and dead-head the daffodils in the school garden. “Yes Sir,” we doubtless said. Now, my parents’ garden was not the sort of place where flowers were encouraged. It seemed that Mark Badbury didn’t know exactly what “dead-head” meant in the gardening sense, either. Twenty minutes after receiving your command, we had snipped off the heads of every single daffodil in the garden. You dropped from the sky like a bomb. Badbury’s and my plea of ignorance was not to earn us clemency. “Then it is my job to teach you. Follow.” You led us into your office and shut the door. You asked us, “Who shall go first?” I was too horrified to say a word. Badbury looked at me for a moment. “Me, Sir.” “Three strikes, Badbury. Pike shall receive five. One extra for hesitancy, another for cowardice.” I quivered as the cane came cracking down on Badbury’s left hand. I couldn’t look at Badbury’s face. Your eyes shone. You were somehow connected to his exquisite pain. Electrically. “Now you, Pike.”
…two farmers just searched the barn. They made such a racket that I was able to burrow myself into the hay before they even got the door open. Then they blamed each other for the missing torch I’ve borrowed. I thought they had come to check on the cows, but they searched the stalls and this hayloft too. Not very well, luckily. They sat down for a rest, just feet away. I wanted to sneeze, but Mr Nixon stopped me. “Waste o’time, Dad,” said one, “like I told yer. A psychocotic murderer’d hardly go to ground just a few fields away. He’ll be halfway to Holland, by now. Gilbert Swinyard had his stag night in Amsterdam an’ nothin’s illegal in them parts. Or if… Dad, what is it?” “Summat jumped me,” whispered the father. “Dad, this ain’t no time for clownin’. What’s up?” “Summat jumped me. Summat evil.” “C’mon, Dad. Let’s get you back home. This whole thing’s got to yer head if yer ask me.” There’s no evil! I wanted to jump out at them, shouting Nobody’s murdered anyone, you insects! Look! Mr Nixon’s with me! Right here! Caution prevailed. Clearly, events at the hospice have been misinterpreted. A little more time is needed for my followers to explain how the gift of Psychomigration operates.
My first encounter with Mr Nixon as a psychomigrant-in-waiting took place on the night of 11th August 2003. The unedited version of this dream appears in Chapter 3 but, in brief, I was looking for pearls in the Undercliff near Lyme Regis when I came across a tube of Pringles. I took off the lid to find, inside, the shrunken head of Mr Nixon. “You need a guinea pig, Pike? You just found him! You’ve got work to do! Pull your bloody finger out!” I woke up. My pulse was wild. What I had predicted in Chapter 2, about SOS calls despatched across the unconscious hypermind, was now corroborated. I returned to the Book with fresh vigour. Mr Nixon visited my dreams again a week later. In fact, until my summons this Easter, my former headmaster paid me over two hundred visits. As Chapter 6 shows, these were not fleeting, nonsensical dreams through which Mr Nixon merely passed. Soon, my teacher and I learnt to stabilise the oneiric signal and our dreams became cogent dialogues. Mostly we discussed the nexus, dialectic and practice of Psychomigration. Over time, Mr Nixon unpicked all the intractable knots. Those were the most exhilarating nights of my life. I no longer gave a damn about Pearl. I barely attended to my bodily needs. My daylight hours were for writing the Book. My nighttime hours were for meeting Mr Nixon. Our dialogues took place in a sort of bower. Wisteria hung down and stained the light lilac. The wisteria bower felt as real, no, realler even, than the barn in which I write these words. The dreams were so extraordinarily lucid that recalling verbatim what we had discussed the previous night was a straightforward affair.
Pearl’s four Okinawan silverfish were all dead by the time I wrote Chapter 12. Like my marriage and my job, they were sacrificed for the Book by the Book. Daltrey and Townshend, always the tiddlers, were first eaten by Moon. Moon must have grown fat enough to consume Entwhistle. One cold morning after my second payment to Timothy Cavendish, I opened the fridge and found nothing but half a jar of my ex-wife’s capers and a tub of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! Out of a childish wish to hurt what Pearl had loved, I succumbed to the temptation to fry Moon. Moon tasted revolting. Like acorns. Fearing he was poisonous, I spat him into the lavatory. Then I slooshed my mouth out with Dettol. I offer this parable of the fishes to assure my followers that karmic wounds do no disqualify you from pursuing Mr Nixon’s historic footsteps.
The cows are laughing at me. “That voice yer called ‘Mr Nixon’ were nowt to do with yer headmaster,” snorted the biggest of them all. To shut the animal up, I asked it what “Mr Nixon” was, if not Mr Nixon. “An evil spirit,” replied the cow. “A dybbuk.” Impossible. No “evil spirit” would help me reveal the truths of Psychomigration. The Book will put an end to the greater part of human suffering. “Oh, I don’t know,” said the cow. “S’pose the Book’s nothin’ but gobbledegook, just like Dr Seaman told yer?” But what possible motive would a dybbuk have for misleading me? “For kicks. Watching yer do a murder.” Rubbish. What can an animal destined for Tesco’s meat counter know about psychiatric metaphysics? “Oh, yer reckon, do yer, Clive Pike? So why ain’t Mr Nixon said a word since them farmers left, eh?” It disturbs me that the beast knows this. I must ignore the cows. I must. What’s outside might be worse. I wish Johnny Ball were here.
Days and dates had grown hazy. It was March, I think, of this year. Buds strained pink and maroon on London trees. I had delivered the Book to Timothy Cavendish’s office above a Russian restaurant in South Kensington. Tim was out, but his fierce, maternal secretary took it off me without saying much. Then she gave me £20 from her purse and told me to get a good meal. I have no recollection of getting back to my flat in King’s Cross, but that is where Mr Nixon kicked me awake. He had visited me in my sleep, for the last time but one. The wisteria in our bower was tatty and brown. “I’m dying, Pike.” He was humbler than usual. “The time has come to turn our theory into practice. I can’t travel to you. You’ll have to travel to me. Now.” Travel presented a sizeable problem. The sheaf of credit cards I owned as a civil servant had been swallowed by ATMs long ago. In fact, I was subsisting on Jacob’s crackers and Heinz beans, which I had to eat at room temperature because the electricity had been disconnected. I rifled through Pearl’s collection of handbags for loose change. Including the £20 note from Timothy Cavendish’s secretary, I scraped together about £50. Trains are too dangerous to trust, so I walked to Victoria coach station and arrived minutes before that day’s only departure for Great Malvern. National Express carried me west on the Hammersmith flyover, through suburbs smudging into one another, past Reading, on into Oxfordshire, over the manicured Cotswolds. When I saw the Malvern hills, a weepy nostalgia took me by surprise. I hadn’t been back since my mother left for Grange-over-Sands after my father’s accident. The coach set me down outside Great Malvern post office. It was early afternoon. Everybody was old. Unlike insomniac London, most of the shops were closed. Only now did I recognise a Worcestershire Sunday. Colours are slacker. The air sags. Upton-on-Severn Junior High would surely be shut. My tongue felt like a cactus. The pavement led me into a giant Waitrose, almost as big as Great Malvern itself, where I bought a bottle of water and a packet of fig rolls. I went back to buy a box of matches. Before I could psychomigrate Mr Nixon, I had to find shelter for the night.
Darkness and mist had smothered the Malvern hills by the time I got to the Wyche Cutting. From here I took the path to the quarry. At the base of the quarry is a sort of grassy bowl littered with giant rocks. This was the spot I had decided to camp for the night. Twenty-two years ago, Mark Badbury, Gary Drake and I had climbed this quarry. We started climbing for a dare, but before the halfway point we had discovered what all children who climb quarries discover: after a certain angle, you can no longer just go down. You can’t see where to put your feet, and if you make a mistake you will lose your hold, fall and die. So we had to carry on, even as the quarry got steeper and steeper. Near the top, the stone was too loose to support our weight. The grass came away in our fingers, so we had to grip gorse. It was the closest that I ever came to death. I never told my parents. We never boasted about it afterwards like boys normally do. Not even Gary Drake.
My planned campfire did not happen. The mist made the bracken damp and the matches refused to light. I went back to the Wyche Cutting to sit in the Saltmonger’s Inn until closing time, but the barman refused to serve me. I asked him why the bloody hell not. “Gyppos ain’t welcome here,” he told me. I told him I had a degree in information technology from the University of East Anglia. Three large bikers told me, using very few words, that my degree was not currency there. On my way back to the quarry, I borrowed a couple of fertiliser bags from a shed to make a primitive sleeping bag. It was better than nothing, just. Mr Nixon was too weak to visit me that night, or perhaps my sleep was too fitful. Two early-morning joggers woke me up as they perched on the giant rocks for a breather. As I squirmed out of my fertiliser bags, they ran off without even answering my “good morning.” Rowan trees were deranged with birdsong.
Upton-on-Severn was about a four-hour walk, I calculated. A freshly unearthed memory took me to the tail of a bridlepath that would lead me in the right direction. It was a blue and green spring day in the Severn valley. The bridlepath took me past Little Malvern Towers. Past this very barn. Under the disused railway embankment, where my classmates used to hold scraps to settle matters of precedence. Past a soot-streak cottage with an airy, purpose-built annex, signposted “The Badger Harris Hospice Trust.” Then out at Black Swan Green, where I bought a pack of Mr Kipling’s Bakewell Tarts to keep my stamina up. From Black Swan Green I took Drugger’s End. The lane zigzagged across farmland for a further four or five miles, before delivering me to the sports field of the shabby comprehensive, my alma mater.
Here I wish to apologise to the headmistress of Upton-on-Severn Junior High. I didn’t learn your name, but I know I caused you great distress when I burst into your office. My solitary years of work on the Book had eroded my social graces, I’m afraid. After sleeping rough, I was not looking my best. You asked me what I wanted. I demanded to know what you were doing in Mr Nixon’s chair. You told me that Mr Nixon had opted for early retirement, six years ago. I didn’t believe you. I requested Mr Nixon’s current address. Showing great presence of mind, you asked me to wait in your office while you fetched the address from the secretary. One of the five male colleagues you returned with was Mr Inkberrow, my old maths teacher, though his features had been aged by some terrible weapon. As the owner of the most brilliant mind ever to pass through his classroom, it is natural he remembered me. I was so glad to see Mr Inkberrow that I began sobbing, uncontrollably. I told him about how Mr Nixon had helped me create Psychomigration, how Mr Nixon was dying, how he had summoned me to his old office where he had caned me so many years ago. I begged Mr Inkberrow to take me to Mr Nixon. It was a matter of life and death. “Whose, Clive?” you asked, so kindly. “Whose life and death?” “Everyone’s!” I shouted, “Everyone’s!”—over and over, until the wisteria storm blew in the windows of your office, letting in three police officers and Dr Seaman. Disorientation did not bring out the best in me. I am sorry for the things I yelled during that tussle, and for the disruption to the school day I caused. Dr Seaman finally managed to syringe oblivion into my forearm.
Under no circumstances is Dr Peter Seaman to be punished by my followers, despite having nearly killed Psychomigration in the weeks before its birth. Dr Seaman and his dedicated staff at Little Malvern Towers acted only in what he believed were my best interests. Gently, you persuaded me that my dialogues with Mr Nixon were symptoms of a latent psychosis triggered, perhaps, by Pearl’s desertion. Spring turned to summer. Tenderly, you convinced me that my work on the Book was a species of obsessive compulsion disorder. I was an ideal patient. I earned a silver medal in your Art Therapy prize for my nine-foot canvas, Messerschmitts over Brisbane. I earned your trust. When your hospital’s ancient IBMs crashed only last week, you let me salvage your records and reboot the entire system. If it were not for Mr Nixon’s last-ditch visit last night, I would right now be tucked up in my bed in the east wing, instead of in this creaking, draughty barn above a stall of distracting cows. I would be continuing to make “fine progress.” Meaning, the ongoing denial of my Promethean vocation. But when you read these lines, Dr Seaman, a sea change will have taken place. You will have read the Book. Psychomigration will be saturating the world’s media. John Humphrys will have interviewed me many times by now, via the BBC’s radio car. You will now admit, as a man of science, that Psychomigration is not “an atavistic layer of superstition” but an empirical method of transferring a mind trapped in a dying body into the brain of a younger, healthier, host. The prime minister will have created a Ministry of Psychomigration. The Millennium Dome would make the perfect headquarters, don’t you think? And you, Dr Seaman, are to be my ministerial adviser.
“I’m dying, Pike! Not in my old office, you silly bloody fool. In the hospice. You walked past it!” Mr Nixon was unable to fight his own illness and my drug-clouded receptivity for long, but he got his message through at about 6 this morning. Clarity and determination dispelled the fogs and the doubts. I had no time to waste. Nurse Dunne sent Clever Trevor and I, her “trusted stalwarts,” to the dying shop on Wells Road to buy Earl Grey teabags and a bottle of Fairy Liquid. Employing the guile that had deceived Customs and Excise House so well and so long, I misdirected Dr Seaman’s search party by feeding Clever Trevor the tale that I was following a ley line, due west, to Aberystwyth. In fact, I had doubled back. The bridlepath led me due east to the Badger Harris Hospice Trust. Once again, the weather was on my side. Wood pigeons haunted the autumn woods. Black Swan Green church gonged the half-hours. The gate to the hospice stood wide open for me. Late bees grazed the beds of liquorice-allsort flowers. The receptionist on duty was a volunteer called Maureen. She was reading about George Clooney in Hello! magazine. Abetted by Dr Seaman’s policy of abolishing Little Malvern Tower’s old inmates’ overalls in favour of workaday clothes, I convinced Maureen that I was Bernard Nixon’s illegitimate son. I was seldom mentioned by the rest of the family. I do not know why my hand chose the name “Mark Badbury” as it signed the visitor’s book. It just did. Maureen was watching me, she was no idiot, and I could not undo this puzzling lie.
If my brain is still hosting you, Mr Nixon, which I must believe it is, here is how I saw your epoch-shifting psychomigration. Your emaciated body lay on its bed, shrivelled in pyjamas, and pale as parsnip. It was asleep. If you were a labrador, you would have been put to sleep months before. On a music stand by your bed was Tintin in Tibet. Maureen told me I could only have a few minutes. I promised not to wake you. She shut the door behind her. Your window was framed by a bower of wisteria. Beyond that, a sunlit orchard with a donkey sloped down to a dark brook. “You took your time, Pike,” you told me, without waking your body. “This bag of bones would’ve dragged me down to the worms if you’d waited any longer.” Then you told me to kill your body by suffocating it with a pillow. Despite my faith in Psychomigration, I hesitated. Television would have us believe that violence comes naturally to humans, but it doesn’t. Not normally. Now you were asking me to snuff out your body. “You’re not snuffing out anything, Pike! For my mind to be saved from death, my body has to die in the presence of the psychomigrator! You wrote the Book, Pike! So just pick up that pillow and do it before that cretinous nurse comes back!”
The operation did not go as smoothly as I would have hoped. The procedure must be refined. Your eyes flickered open in alarm as the pillow smothered your air passages. Your body sent its spidery hand crawling towards a red button marked “Assistance.” I knelt on its wrist, increased the pressure on the pillow, and pinched your sigma outlets, as described in Chapter 12. My foot knocked over the music stand and Tintin skidded across the floor, but nobody came running. Your body was too weak to thrash. A bass squeal stayed trapped in your throat. I whispered, “It won’t hurt, Sir! I’m just transferring your data!” Your red eyes pleaded with me to stop. The Mr Nixon in my head roared, “Don’t you dare chicken out on me now, Pike!” Then the moment of psychomigration occurred. A slow surge of electricity travelled up my arm, into my spinal cord, and home to the seat of my brain. The donkey in the golden orchard twitched its tail.?