Albert learns that deciding to sit in the park can become extremely complicated for everyone else

pigeons 2

Albert sits in the park in central London enjoying the first of the spring sunshine.  Albert likes parks almost as much as he likes libraries.  In both places he can give himself the illusion of being amongst people but without the need to speak.

Albert watches a male pigeon clumsily strutting around a female.  The female turns one way, then the other.  Albert feels sorry for her.  Then Albert wonders how she decides which way to go?  Then he wonders if pigeons ever make decisions.  It’s impossible to tell what motivates them to take a particular course of action.  Unlike people, Albert thinks.

Then he thinks again.  It’s also impossible to tell why people take a particular path.  Our explanations are just justifications after the event, stories to tell ourselves.   To what extent is the path taken genuinely chosen by any creature.  No, Albert decides, intelligence has nothing to do with it.  When it comes to decisions, he concludes, we may as well all be pigeons.

Except for Albert, of course, who is certain he has chosen to sit in the park to enjoy the first of the spring sunshine and watch the pigeons.

Martin stands by the window (fragment)


Martin stands at the window, looking out.  He lives on the eighteenth floor of the Terrance Messenger Tower.  And he stands at the window, looking out.

Martin hasn’t been out of the Terrance Messenger Tower for sixteen weeks.  He hasn’t been out the flat in fact.

‘What are you looking at, Martin?’ his mother asks him.

‘Nothing,’ Martin says.

This is untrue.  Today is a clear October morning and Martin can see as far as the reservoirs.  He can see over the warehouses and beyond the rows terraced housing. He can see the clouds reflected in the water beyond the fencing.  Funny, he thinks, how you can sometimes see the sky more clearly by looking down.

‘Don’t you keep looking out there,’ his mother says. ‘I’m going for my afternoon nap now. But don’t keep looking out there Martin. It’s not the best for anyone.’

Martin ignores her.  Because Martin likes looking out.  And he particularly likes looking down.  He likes to imagine himself falling.  Martin is not interested in the sensation of falling.  Martin is more interested in using the fall to set the record straight. Martin believes he would have plenty of time to clarify matters during his fall; plenty of time to explain that none of this was his responsibility.

His message would be quite direct.

‘It’s all my mother’s fault,’ he would shout during his descent.

Martin is of the view that everyone should feel extremely guilty about how they’ve let him down; about how they’ve allowed his mother to treat him so badly.  Or at least that’s how he feels when, like now, he’s in a really bad mood with his mother.

Other times, when he feels sorry for his mother and it seems as if it’s him and his mother against the rest of the world, he changes his tune. On those occasions he imagines shouting, ‘You’ve treated us both very badly.’

Either way, he’s confident he’ll have enough time to make everyone feel extremely guilty during his fall from the eighteenth floor of the Terrance Messenger Tower.

Martin likes the thought of being thought about and discussed after he’s dead. He understands that he will die when he hits the ground: he’s not stupid.  But he doesn’t completely understand that this means he probably won’t hear what people have to say about him.

‘That Martin,’ he will somehow hear them all say, ‘he was actually really great.  He was one of the best.  We were very wrong about Martin,’ they will add.

And sometimes, Martin thinks, they will also add, ‘And we were wrong about his mother as well.’

But not always.

A Small Following


After two years they ran into what he termed significant relationship difficulties. They applied geographical solutions to non-geographical problems.

They moved to London.  They moved to Truro.  They even tried Dublin.  But wherever they went they were still them.

For example, he still had that ponytail.  It followed him everywhere.

Up on the Roof


To ballast the loose things in my head and get away from the others in my flat I’d sometimes go up onto the roof.  Across those noisy London streets I could only just make you out, up over there, equally alone on your equally flat roof. Perhaps it would have been good to meet and laugh and exchange a special look but I never did work out who you were or where you lived.

And now, I’ve come to think that being vague and distant remained your greatest strengths: perfect for the pointing out of amusingly-shaped clouds, the Etch-a-Sketch jet trails in the sky and some embarrassing waving over and above the traffic.  This was the closest we could ever get, I now understand, to singing a horse with no name at the top of our voices outside a fetching café in an unspecified European city.

By the Central Line he sat down and wept

Albert sat next to a loud woman on the tube.  She ranted on about how soon we’d all be dead, how everything we do will vanish, swept away like footprints in sand.  And if we live long enough even we ourselves will forget what we’ve done.  Crazy talk….wasn’t it?