1997: Bittersweet Symphony
After much badgering, bluffing and blackmail, a housing
association for soaks had got me a flat in the backside of
Marylebone, but I hated it: too posh, all mink coats and
ermine accents. I knew I was being silly, but after all those
years of having a mouldy old pub across the road it didn’t
seem right to have a French restaurant with fat middle-aged
women lunching outside all afternoon, magnums of
champagne at their side as they talked about shopping.
In a vain attempt to get extra money out of the dole, I’d
taken to throwing the contents of my commode out of the
window, exasperating said diners to distraction. It was all a
bit too much for the well-heeled neighbours, and only that
morning the caretaker had stuffed a note through my
‘Mr Noone. May I remind you it is against your contract to
hang washing out of the window. Furthermore you are
causing offence. And Pierre has asked me to discover who is
responsible for the outrage last Sunday. The Trust takes a
very dim view. p.s.also your rent.’
Frankly I was sick of sitting around watching reruns of
Chico & the Man on UK Gold; I needed to be back in
Islington/Camden/Hackney, my Bemused Triangle, rooting
and snuffling round bins like a pig looking for truffles. I
didn’t want to climb the ladder; I wanted to burn it down.
Perhaps I was suffering from class paeans; because Mum
had married a doctor, Hermione said I was middle-class. At
least, that was what Tony said; I hadn’t laid eyes on Herm in
years. I’ve always defined class as whether you were cannon
fodder in wars, factory fodder in peacetime. Yet now it seems
everyone who’s middle-class wants to be working-class, and
everyone who’s working-class wants to be middle-class.
During this particular election, the Georgian terraces of
Barnsbury and other middle-class ghettos had red slogans
plastered in their bay windows, while the double-glazed,
triple-locked windows of Packington and Andover remained
a Euro-sceptic blue.
Tony’s definition was simple. “Both working-class and
middle-class folk argue over the bill in restaurants, but the
working-class are fighting to pay the bill, the middle-class are
trying not to.”
Not that I minded the new social status Hermione had
conferred upon me; on the contrary, I quite liked the idea.
Maybe it would help me to meet girls. So I toned down my
accent, took the Quaedian and tried listening to Radio 4,
kicking myself one afternoon when I caught myself watching
That day the first month’s instalment of my business loan
was due to be repaid. I’d taken one out to pay off all my credit
cards, then spent it all on booze. I’d imbibed the myth,
swallowed the advertiser’s shit sandwich, that taking out a
credit card to pay off the interest on another can continue
indefinitely like some sort of musical chairs, music to the ears
of the vultures circling my statements in red. I could almost
see all the men in suits drain away to their banks, twenty-four
hour Capital, scratching their baffled heads as they examined
my account and the numbers didn’t add up.
An anarchist – it tickled me to see it come back into
fashion. For that’s what capitalism is after all: a form of
anarchy, albeit one starting on an unequal playing field, one
painted on the side of an Afghanistan cliff. There’s a
photograph in the Tate I never tire of looking at, by Andreas
Gursky of the Chicago stock exchange, thousands of traders
in tribal colours. Capitalism equals loneliness; the meek shall
inherit the mortgage.
*This is an extract of “Fire Horses” by M L Piggott.
“Fire Horses”: synopsis and quotes
“Fire Horses”: buy it here