Saturday, 8 June 2013

62. Lawns like green velvet

*I am on holiday for the next two Sundays, so there won't be another Contact update until June 30*

It is 1am. I am walking home from Sally's. My route takes me through one of the most expensive parts of town. The houses are set back from the road and screened by trees. In the daytime you can see glimpses of lawns like green velvet and gleaming cars parked carelessly on wide gravel drives. Now, in the dark, all you can see is the occasional lit window.

It's like a glimpse into another world, where everything is clean and there's always time and money for everything you want. Like the worlds you see on TV, the huge clean kitchens and gleaming wine-glasses, the vast bed with sheets that are always crisp and white.

After the London riots happened some sections of the public were vocal in criticising the rioters for their motives, which appeared to be mostly personal gain. New trainers, new televisions, new clothes. It did not surprise me. In our culture, which places such emphasis on possessions and consumer goods - where what you own defines who you are - it surprises me that it doesn't happen more often.

Switch on the TV and see a beautiful, clean, vital, spacious world. Switch it off, and look around at your tiny, grubby flat where nothing is ever clean. Where the kitchen is nothing more than a nook in the wall and the shower head is falling off. Switch on the TV and see the rich and successful showing off their cars, their homes, their under-floor heating and beautiful designer clothes. Switch it off and know that you will never, ever have enough money to live in that kind of luxury. Year after year after year. Show people something they want with one hand, and tell them they can't have it with the other. You do that often enough for long enough, eventually they'll just knock you down and take it.

I am interrupted from this train of thought when a tiny voice says "Hello?" from among the bushes. I stop, look round.

A Japanese girl is standing at the start of one of the gravel drives, looking at me. She is as small as a fairy, dressed all in white. A white padded jacket, a white denim skirt, white leggings, high white trainers. White furry earmuffs. Her long dark hair trails over the fur collar of the jacket.

"Can you help me?" she says. Her accent is very heavy. Maybe she's a foreign student, or perhaps on holiday.

"I'll try," I say. "What's wrong?"

She points up into the branches. I peer up. A white furry face peers back down at me from a high branch.

"I think..." she says, "he is stuck. I have been trying to call him, but he won't come. He is crying."

"Stupid cats," I mutter under my breath. I can't work out how on earth he even got up that high.

"Want down," the cat says, mournfully.

"Is he yours?" I say.

"No. I was just walking here."

We stare at the cat. I have no idea what to do. I understand that in simpler times one could call the fire brigade, but in these days of Government cuts do they still get cats out of trees? I'd be surprised if they still have the cash and resources to put out non life-threatening fires.

"Down. DOOOWN."

At that moment, a middle-aged man storms out of one of the houses opposite.

"What's going on here?" he shouts. "We have Neighbourhood Watch. You can't hang around here." He has the kind of upper-class accent which rides full-tilt over everything in its path.

The Japanese girl and I point upwards.

"Oh Christ, not bloody Minty again," says the man. "Minty, get out of the tree, you stupid animal."

Now he's realised we are not about to break into his home and steal his consumer durables, he becomes friendly, almost jovial, and as he weaves slightly and bangs into the tree I realise he's actually really very drunk. I imagine him holding forth at a dinner party, or perhaps to his wife.

"She does this every three or four weeks or so," he says. "She belongs to Clive."

"Oh," I say. "Clive."

"MINTY!" he suddenly shouts at the top of his voice, making the Japanese girl jump. "MINTY, GET OUT OF THERE!"

There is a six-foot pole of wood leaning against the tree. He picks it up and staggers around with it for a while, eventually managing to get it into the air. He beats it madly against the branches.

"This is why Clive leaves this bit of wood here," he says over his shoulder.

And the cat comes, sliding around the trunk of the tree, clinging on with its outstretched front paws like a squirrel.

"He can come down!" says the Japanese girl. She sounds insulted, and I wonder how long she has been standing there trying to coax Minty down. I feel quite insulted myself.

"Of course she can," the man says. "Stupid bloody animal."

Minty reaches the bottom and glares at us from under the rhododendrons.

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