Northern Irish writer Carlo Gébler sends a letter to an English friendby prospect / March 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Saturday 10th February
This morning I went into Enniskillen, sashayed into the Lochside garage shop and said, “Daily Telegraph, please.” (I’m an old colonel-what else can I read?)
“No Telegraph,” said the girl.
“But it won’t be Saturday without Oz Clarke’s wine column…”
Then my eye fell on the other papers arranged along the counter. The forces of Irish national liberation had bombed Canary Wharf. Hence no Telegraph. I hadn’t listened to the radio last night or this morning and that’s what happens when you omit to do so. Things happen and you don’t know about them. And yet, well, pompous and self-aggrandising as this sounds, I can’t say that I was exactly surprised. No, not exactly…
Julian Barnes starts his great adultery novel Before She Met Me with a long quotation from a medical text book. The gist is this: the brain is in three parts; a bright bit at the top-that’s the computer terminal, full of smart girls and Microsoft buffs; then there’s a very large middle section where the brain does its paper work, filled with civil servants and pen pushers; and then there’s the basement, oldest part of the brain, and here dwells our guardian, old Mr Reptile, whose speciality is sniffing out danger and seeing into the future on the strength of the slightest, most whimsical evidence.
I remember once, when I lived in London, walking down Portobello Road in the early hours and seeing a bank of red tail lights under the M40. Strange, I thought, so many motor bikes lined in a row. Then Beady Eyes stirred in his basement lair and shook his head and suddenly I knew, in the darkness, out of sight, that the bikers were waiting. I cleared out fast; half a dozen other pedestrians weren’t so lucky.
Six years ago, I left London and came to live in Northern Ireland. I have to say, since I arrived he has been very helpful. One story, I think, will do. Three or four years ago (this is pre-ceasefire), I was in Belfast one evening, cycling towards home, when I saw a group of men on the corner. In that area there were always groups of men; it was that kind of an area, a proletarian area where men stood around on street corners looking bored.
But Beady Eyes saw things differently. “Vigilantes,” he murmured. He was right.…