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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

Family Fortunes.

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

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