Cab gabble Tartarus
November 15, 2013

Florence Nightingale stole an owl in Athens. In Lambeth her latter-day acolytes have stuffed its corpse and exposed it to the gum-champing public gawp. I wake with a plan to steal and bury it.

Creeping past Lulu and possibly Borset, now mercifully silent, I equip myself with a hemp bag for a winding-sheet and my stoutest army boots. My plan is elegance itself. If I kick over the old crone’s medicine chest I can liberate the owl while the guards are blinded with bicarbonate and rhubarb dust.

The cabbie is a talker. Today he is talking about the unemployed. “If I couldn’t work,” he insists. “I don’t know what I would do.” Having confessed this two-headed failure of imagination I expect him to shame-kamikaze into the Wurlitzer frontage of Slim Jim’s Liquor store. I brace myself to die in a fountain of glass and tequila, and the picture is so vivid (pink light, a worm twirling slowly in a cloud of shards) that I am a little piqued when he drives on calmly past Gaskin.

His recipes for a better Britain spew forth with barbarous force. I hear myself thunder a Bracknellesque “Halt!” when we have barely pierced the rim of Finsbury, and spend the rest of the morning weeping in a grove of lavender. You have achieved nothing.

Emerging from my pot-pourri Gethsemane I pass a young couple on a bench. She is eating aubergine slices from a Tupperware tub. He is immersed in my book. She proffers a morsel at fork-point, but his white hand waves her away. His soul has a higher food.

I rattle home on the 153 with my hemp bag full of nuts. As I pass the Horwin dacha I see her husband on the roof again. We exchange slow salutes. Tomorrow I will free the owl.