Angel Inn, Highgate: 2.30pm
The pint of Addlestone’s before me is cloudy, cold, well-earned; today, having delivered my two children to the primary school which will hopefully instil in them that work-ethic so sadly lacking in my own flawed persona, and distributed emails to various editors, agents, cat-litter suppliers and my colonoscopy-expectant father, I trudged grimly through Waterlow Park, past all the benches in memoriam, past the sixth-form girls in pleats and boys smoking substances, to Highgate Village: after purchasing a Flaubert in the Oxfam Bookshop (feeling guilty, one author to another: no royalties wending their way, no improved Amazon rating) I sit in this Angel Inn, this inn of fallen angels, reading Primo Levi’s holocaust, smacking my lips, and endlessly postponing that woozy roll down the hill home.
No word as yet from my agent; no word yet about the strange short story I filed to the New Yorker (“filed” gives it a tad more gravitas, more dignity than this odd little... foible about Euro Disney and hot-air balloons probably deserves) – no word. An awful combination this, for an “author” (my two novels, currently occupying numbers 314,962 and 1,007,750 on the Amazon chart) – “no word” is as bad as it gets.
Nouvelle Vague’s strange tribute to Joy Division wafts across the smokeless pub from the digital jukebox: “why is the bedroom so cold?... you turn away on your side...” Never a finer word written of marriage. I peer up from my cloudy pint through which daylight is sucked like dreams, up, above the estate agent across the High Street promising both aspiration and endless poverty, to the grey-blue sky, smiling, smacking my lips: I missed the school run. Bliss.
(Odd, hearing Joy Division, reading about Auschwitz: not a mention therein of that band of Angry Young Mancs of which I was once an honorary member: yet there is the name “Kraftwerk”. Why does no-one ask them why?)
I bought “if this is a man” before our recent trip to Germany, and then forgot to take it; or, rather, decided that to read it in that country, in some sunlit bierkeller or Ratskeller might seem tactless or, worse, provocative; tall, those Germans. Instead I took some Updike essays, their reasonable Dutch manner somehow stripped of his fictional magic: I have always wanted to visit 50s New York, a time and place of molls, paranoia and most of all – above all - hats, but surprisingly (for Updike is still the best of the best), if the Talk of the Town reflected that time, that place, it all seems too clean and too clever: this pleases me, this knowledge, I am content here, in this Highgate pub, in 2011, smacking my lips on Addlestone’s (I cannot drink lager, not after Levi): I am content. For a moment, at least.