1. "To read Georges Perec one must be ready to abandon oneself to a spirit of play. His books are studded with intellectual traps, allusions and secret systems, and … they are prodigiously entertaining."
    — Paul Auster (from La Boutique Obscure, Georges Perec) (sitting at trafalgar square)
     

  2. Georges Perec: La Boutique Obscure, No. 2 November 1968, Tiles, p6 (sitting at trafalgar square)

      With a laugh that can be described only as “sardonic,” she began to make passes at a stranger, in my presence. I said nothing. She kept it up, so I eventually left the room.

      I am in my room with A. and a casual acquaintance, whom I am teaching to pay Go. He seems to understand the game, until I realize he thinks he is learning to play bridge. The game actually consists of distributing letter tiles (more like a kind of lotto than a kind of Scrabble).

     

  3. Georges Perec: La Boutique Obscure, No. 4 December 1968, Illusion, p8 (sitting at trafalgar square)

    I am Dreaming 
    She is beside me
    I tell myself I’m dreaming 
    But the pressure of her hand against mine feels too strong
    I wake up
    She really is beside me
    Delirious joy
    I turn on the lights
    Light bursts forth for a hundredth of a second then goes out
    (a rattling lamp)
    I embrace her

    (I wake up: I am alone)

     

  4. Charles Solomon: The Art And Making Of Peanuts Animation; Celebrating Fifty Years Of Television Specials [synopsis] (charring cross station)

    Rediscover the joy and excitement of Peanuts animated specials with this behind-the-scenes look at the development and creation of each beloved film, from A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1965 to Happiness Is a Warm Blanket in 2011. 

     

  5. Woody Allen: “Play It Again, Sam” [synopsis] (charring cross station)

    Woody Allen’s wonderful comedy was his first film with Diane Keaton, a relationship that would eventually bring them both Oscars (“Annie Hall”). Allen plays Allen, a fanatical move buff with an outrageous recurring hallucination: Humphrey Bogart offering tips on how to make it with the ladies. His married friends Dick and Linda (Tony Roberts and Diane Keaton) fix him up with several eligible young ladies, but his self-confidence is so weak that he’s a total failure with them all. Eventually, Allen discovers that there is one woman he’s himself with: Linda, his best friend’s wife. The final scene is a terrific takeoff on “Casablanca’s” classic ending, complete with roaring plane propellers, heavy fog and Bogart-style trenchcoats.

     
  6. Jonathan Hickman, Mike Costa, Di Amorim: God is Dead 1(on the 15:26 from charring cross to ladywell)

     
  7. Jonathan Hickman, Mike Costa, Di Amorim: God is Dead 1 [extract] (sitting in wetherspoons, charring cross)

     

  8. Will Self: Cock & Bull, 3 Frond, pp17-22 [extract] (waiting for the 12:25 from leicester station to london st pancras)

    The morning after the night when Dan tried to memorize STD codes by pressing his cheek hard against the booklet for eight hours, he woke up groaning. ‘Gor …’ he exclaimed to a sun-filled kitchen, ‘I really tied one on last night.’ There was no one to answer. Beverley and Derek had gone and Gary had never returned. Dan found Carol upstairs, watching TV-AM in bed. He cursed, seeing how the hands stood on the little clock in the corner of the screen, but he was interrupted in mid-curse. The lining of his stomach had been saturated like a sponge with alcohol, and then compressed beneath the waistband of his jeans for eight hours. He just made it to the bathroom. Carol blocked out the sound of his retching by humming, and affected not to notice when he came nuzzling back to her and slid his thin head up under the bedcovers. ‘Jeez, I feel awful,’ he said, ‘just awful.’ And then he fell asleep. Carol waited half an hour and then she called his work. 
      So began the era of the sick calls. With monstrous regularity, once, twice and even three times a week, Dan would fail to make it to work. From what snippets of information Carol would glean, Dan was no longer the blue-eyed boy at the design agency. They were only snippets because Dan was as unforthcoming about his work as he was his feelings. Carol knew better than to risk a direct question; that would just precipitate a re-tucking of those hospital corners and a bob-bob out the door by that by now lank and tired forelock. 
      Along with absenteeism came more drinking. Carol found

    suspect bottles of sticky liqueur and smoky aquavit in odd places: under the sink, in a hollow pouffe, behind a ventilation grille. But the novelty of unearthing Sambucca from the sock drawer, or Poire Guillaume from the pelmet, soon palled. 
      About this time, Dan’s mother came on a visit. She was a formidable woman in late middle-age. Dan had been the child of her latter, inferior marriage. Before Dan’s father she had been married to a man who had made his fortune out of sherbet fountains. She was possessed of the pear-shaped figure that English women of a certain class and disposition inevitably acquire. And to go with it she had astonishing tubular legs, encased in nylon of a very particular caramel shade. The effect was one of kneelessness, tendonlessness - Dan’s mother’s legs, one felt, if cut into, would not bleed. They were somehow synthetic, plasticized.
      She stayed for four nights. Night One: Carol cooked chilli con carne and they drank a bottle of Mateus Rose. Night Two:Carol made shepherd’s pie with the leftover mince and they drank an odd six-pack of Mackesons that Dan ‘found’ at the back of the fridge. Night Three: Carol made lamb chops and they drank a bottle of Valpolicella. Actually, it was a two-litre bottle that Dan had brought home especially, and he did most of the drinking. His mother didn’t really seem to notice. On the fourth night Carol didn’t other to cook. Dan, maddened, shouted at her right in front of his mother, as if it were her presence that gave him the lisence to behave in this appalling fashion. He stormed out of the maisonette and came back banging, crashing and ultimately puking at four a.m.
      In the morning, before she left, Dan’s mother took Carol to one side. She hadn’t addressed Carol directly more than ten times during her entire stay.
      ‘You remind me of myself as a young woman,’ said

    Dan’s mother. Carol looked into the uttermost denseness of her rigid coif. ‘You’re quiet, but you’re not stupid.’ Carol stared fixedly at a bad water-colour of Llanstephan that a be-scarfed admirer had once given her, willing Dan’s mother not to say anything too intimate. Embarrassment wasn’t an emotion that Carol was familiar with, but she did know when she should adopt a mien appropriate to someone receiving a back-handed compliment. Dan’s mother went on. ‘I see my son is becoming an alcoholic. It doesn’t surprise me - it’s in the family. My father died on a mental ward. He had been a celebrated high court judge. He had what they called a “wet brain”.’
      ‘They day he died I went to visit him. He was terribly thin and his eyes glittered. He grabbed my wrist and said, “D’ye see them?” “What?” said I. “The peacocks,” he said. “They are beautiful with their radiant plumage, but why does matron let them run about the ward, it can’t be hygienic.” He died an hour later. My son is the same, although I cannot imagine that he is sufficiently grandiose to hallucinate peacocks. There’s no reason for it, you see - it’s hereditary. Try and hold out, my dear, if he asks for it I’ll arrange for some help. But if things get too bad, my advice would be to leave him.’
      And with that she left herself. Heading back to Burford with all sorts of goodies she had tracked down in the West End. Goodies she hadn’t bothered to show Carol. 
      It was two nights after her departure that Carol masturbated for the first time. It is true that she had been thinking about masturbation, albeit in a rather woolly way, for some time. But she hadn’t concretely imagined what it would be like, or indeed what she would have to do.
      Dan was out with Derry. They had heard about some pub on the Pentonville Road where a man had been killed the preceding weekend: this was their macabre excuse for an unseasonal Oktoberfest. ‘I shan’t expect you,’ said Carol, 

    standing in her nightie and dressing-gown, unaware of cliche or irony. She retired to bed with a Jilly Cooper. In the book, a woman was wanked off with great expertise by a Venezuelan banker. Carol, who was no connoisseur, found the description exciting, and more importaantly, technically illuminating. She put the book aside. Her hand crawled down under the covers to the cracking hem of her nightie, and lifted it. Her fingers flowed up the smooth runnel between her thighs. She cupped her vulva and then kneaded it a little. One finger slipped inside the puckered lips and sought out the damp pit of her vagina. 
      The access of power thrilled Carol to the tips of her carmined toenails. Of course she had been aware of the act, but the liberation from being climbed on board, or pummelled by Beverley’s exhausting manipulations, was ecstatic. Carol orgasmed within seconds, one finger on the slick dewlap of her clitoris, another inside herself. The News at Ten theme tune drummed a counterpoint to her subsiding sighs. 
      This, then, was the pattern that they established: Dan went out drinking, and Carol, as soon as he was out of the way, treated herself to a really big wank. Over a period of some eight or ten weeks, she staged productions of a number of masturbatory playlets, all of her own devising. Her imagination wasn’t that fertile, but we mustn’t laugh at her legions of buck niggers, priapic and grinning; nor at her Latino playboys, who bore down on her riding foam-flecked polo ponies, and dismounted only to remount … Carol. 
      How those fingers flew! And how Carol discovered herself; millimetre of damp erogenous site was mapped out. How peculiar that Dan, with his deft hands, had never bothered to discover this spot, had never chanced to trail his fingers here, or there
      
    One night Dan, Gary, Barry, Gerry, Derry, and Dave 1 all took off for Ilford. Their goal was an enormous night-

    club, famous for its ‘caged’ bar. This was mounted on concrete, enabling the young men and women who partonized it to reach fabulous levels of intoxication, and to indulge in commensurate behaviour without being able to trash, vandalize or bemerde. At dawn they were hosed down by thick set men wearing dinner-jackets. 
      In Barry’s car on the way there, Dan was clearly troubled and more than usually silent. The others asked him what the problem was, but he wouldn’t reply. So, in lieu of sympathy they offered him Jack Daniels. 
      At home meanwhile, behind drawn, pattered blinds, Carol was getting down to business. She undressed in the living-room. She had discovered that the juxtaposition between her won nakedness and the room’s bland formality really excited her. And furthermore, by moving around the room she could catch slight of herself in numerous mirrors and glass surfaces that had been vigorously Mr Sheened. 
      She undid her blouse and ran her hands over her nylon cones, seeking out the gap between breasts and cuirass. She undid the buttons of her slacks and let them swish to the floor. She kicked herself free of them. A Whiter Shade of Pale oozed from the CD player, Carol’s hand slid under the waistband of her pants … 

    'Do you believe in horror?' The direct question threw me out completely. I had been utterly absorbed, and, despite myself, a voyeuristic party to Carol's onanism. Now the don had broken off, without warning or explanation. 
      The train lurched and clattered over points, I could see the modern lines of Reading station swimming towards us out of the dusk. The don repeated his question: ‘Do you believe in horror?’
      I summoned myself: 'Do you mean the occult? Beasts, demons, ghouls, table turning, that kind of thing?'
      ‘Oh no, not that at all.’ The train juddered to a halt.

    People in nylon windcheaters and off-the-peg suits dis- and embarked. But even this profundity workaday sight somehow failed to rupture the thickening atmosphere in the compartment. 
    'Oh no, not outlandish horror.

     

  9. Will Self: Cock & Bull, 2 Climbing On Board, pp8-16 (waiting for the 12:25 from leicester station to london st pancras)

    Dan called sex ‘climbing on board’. He’d picked the phrase up form an apple-cheeked German boy with whom he’d pulled potatoes from an East Anglian field during a short, wet summer. Now when he wanted his little bit of relief he would say to Carol over supper (which they ate sitting side by side like passengers on some endless marital branch line), ‘Mind if I climb on board tonight?’ or, ‘How’s about I climb on board later, darling?’ Eventually Carol began to stare murderously at her oval platter whenever she heard the hated catch-phrase. And once, as she sawed too vigorously at her M&S Chicken Kiev, a spurt of butter marinade shot from the ruptured fowl and fell, appropriately enough, like jism on Dan’s tented crotch. 
      When he did climb on board Carol, the journey was inevitably brief and the transport was effected with little exertion by either party. The hospital corners of Dan’s mouth would be tucked in a little more deeply, his breathing would flute and subside. In due course Carol would roll over to avoid the damp patch. 
      That Carol didn’t revolt against his cramped and pedestrian sex-like was largely a function of her pacific nature. With Dan packed off to work for the day, to add serifs to the uprights of characters forming acronyms, or remove them as the case may be, Carol found herself with lovely, indolent time on her hands. Like her foremothers, she would clean and categorize the wedding chattels from Heal’s and the more recent acquisitions from Habitat and the Reject Shop. She would straighten up the maisonette. And

    then, perhaps, she would take a walk in the park, or a trip to the library to exchange books. For six months Carol learnt Spanish, but she gave it up when it became too difficult. She considered getting a dog or cat for companionship but she had never liked the way that they paraded their leathery genitals, so she settled for a caged cockateel instead. Something Carol was prepared to wait for was children. This acceptable catch-all served to hide from Carol the extent to which nuzzling up against Dan had already, mysteriously, shrunk her womb. Whittled away at her capacity for selfless mothering. The way her marriage was developing she began to feel prepared to wait a very long time indeed.
      After two years in London, Dan was promoted to head the typography team at work. This was very good going for a twenty-four-year-old. Coincidentally, he began to climb on board a lot less -and drink a lot more. 
      Dan was one of those people who change character when they drink. With Dan it was a comprehensive metamorphosis, as if he had forgotten his own self entirely and taken on a distinct new personal history. Of course a chronic sot, in his cups, has no memory beyond the previous two or three minutes of staggering and altercating. He is a short-lived thing, a May bug, born to live, grow, propagate and then succumb to the next spring shower - or, in Dan’s case, the next shower of Lamot. 
      Dan was a blacking-out drunk, he was a falling-down drunk. He was the kind of drunk that knelt on dinner tables, canted forward from the waist, spewing some rubbish about a girl he had once loved in Leighton Buzzard. He was also the kind of drunk who would then vomit copiously in mid-peroration. And - wait for it - he was also the kind of drink who never, ever, remembered not to eat spaghetti bolognese or chicken tikka masala before he went on a binge. To put it in the modern idiom: he was a disaster area, albeit of slight proportions.

    When Dan and Carol married they had both belonged to lower-middle-class sets at their respective colleges. Lower-middle-class in terms of what used to be called, in my days as an undergraduate, ‘fastness’. I suppose that at more sophisticated institutions these children might have supped drugs. But as it was the boy students in these sets merely drank heavily and so did the girl students. Their consumption of alcohol was deemed a badge of maturity, of acceptance. So it was that in pullovers they grouped around curved, panelled bars, arms held aloft to form scenes of near-Canadian clubbability. Later, they would crash Mini Coopers into street furniture, or their hips into room furniture. 
      In Spring and autumn Carol and Beverly had drunk pints of bitter in straight glasses; in summer they had chug-a-lugged Pilsner larger bottles capped by fool’s gold foil; in winter they had supped on a thick barley wine called ‘Winter Warmer’, which did just that. Carol had a good head for alcohol - in fact she had a spy’s head for alcohol; for as she drank, her washed blue eyes grew flatter and beadier, giving an accurate, if tarnished reflection of some pebble-dashed saturnalia. That’s what one felt, watching her: that as she drank, she was somehow accumulating evidence against those who got drunk. When Carol married Dan, some of the hearties that had seen them boozing together quipped that it was a case of an under-the-covers policewoman having finally cornered her suspect. 

    He passed. It was the first gap of any significance in his speech. For the first couple of minutes that he had been speaking, I had fretted. The storyteller had cornered me in the compartment shortly after he had boarded the train at Oxford. He was like some ersatz ancient mariner; and after a rapidfire exchange of inanities re weather, travel and so forth, he had teased out what was little more than a thread of conven-

    tional politeness on my party into a skein of spurious intimacy. Then he had used the train’s lurch to a standstill in the orange evening of a rape-field as a pretext to ‘tell me a story’, i.e. enfold me in this repellent tale. 
      It wasn’t exactly that he had spoken all of the above in a breathless hush, or as an onward galloping rant. It was rather that, despite allowing his voice the full dramatic range and life, he had then compressed this dramatic inflection into the smallest of possible intervals.
      As I say, I chafed under the tale, desperate to interrupt and silence him. And then, when it became clear that he wouldn’t provide me with any polite opportunity, I succumbed to it. When the man paused, I was thrown out completely and the silence lay with the dust on the old, minute checkerboard of British Rail plush.
      But the pause did give me time properly to examine my travelling companion, the creator of the bibulous Carol and her saturated spouse. He was plump and his little hands formed a fleshly cup - in direct alignment with his sagged, flannel crotch. His nutty hair rose to form two birds’ wings which swooped across the pinkish tips of his ears. His face had the wire-biting-into-Edam look of a man grown old with little physical exertion and no physical danger save for the mineral drip, drip, drip of sherry, Madeira and claret dissipation. From his grey flannel trousers and tweed jacket, I took him to be a slightly faggoty, fussy middle-aged done. Given his embarkation point and the underlying snobbery of his characterizations, this didn’t exactly constitute a great feat of detection. Nor did it take the most acute of social observers to tear away the moulded panels of his accent, in order to reveal the very chassis of his diction. Which had perhaps been spot-welded by elocution lessons, some forty years before.
      From where I sat I could watch the sun, which, in sinking, touched the edge of the Number Three cooling tower ad Didcot

    Power station. This rose up, over the rape, like some malevolent piece of statuary - an Easter Island god - in all its monumental bulk, evidence of some sterile and unproductive culture. The don sat in silence, his plump little arms folded.
      I don’t know why; I have no explanation for what I did next. I certainly had no liking for the don’s story, but perhaps I felt like a disappointed cinema goer - having paid for my ticket I’d be buggered if I was going to walk out of the film. If I couldn’t have less„ I would make do with more. You can see therefore, how the copula naturally insinuated itself, so: 
      
    'And …?' I ventured after some time.
      
    'What!' He started. 
      
    'And - having cornered her suspect?' What a fool! I wilfully goaded him. He thrashed at the cue, a small seal with a large fish. 
      
    'Her suspect …? Oh yes, I'm sorry, I went into a kind of reverie just then, it comes upon me unexpectedly. Just as it did then - when I am in full flood …' And he was off again, the train jerked into motion and the don and I were utterly alone, yellow-islanded by low wattage in the jolting darkness. 
      
    'I don't know what it is,' he continued, his little hands held either side of his head, as if they were contacts between which the current of thought leapt and fizzed. 'A lapse, a fugue, a thought jamming and sparking like a severed high-tension cable between the two lobes …'

    Dan, then … Dan had always drunk and always got drunk. It was just another of those things that in the beginning had made him endearing to Carol. He lost himself charmingly and entirely, like a Dervish in a whirl or a swami in a trance, and then he would recover himself the next morning at breakfast, pulling o his identity like a woolly. 
      ‘I really tied one on last night,’ he’d say, mock-shamefaced, his deft fingers tucked away in the tops of 

    his jeans pockets, his hair all tousled. ‘What! Doncha remember what happened?’ And whichever of Dan’s floating crowd of mates had happened to be along on this particular crawl would recount its denouement. ‘You were standing by the rack, right on the bloody forecourt of the garage, man! And you’d grabbed one of those big two-litre cans of oil. You kept shouting …’
      ‘Come over here and get greased … yeah, I know.’ Dan would break in in tones of genuine remorse, the one acute phrase somehow surfacing out of the sewage morass that was his memory of the previous night. 
      To begin with, Carol not only tolerated, she even welcomed, the mates. ‘Mates’ who were elements of Dan’s Stourbridge boozing set, now translated to London. Mates, who for convenience’s sake we shall call: Gary, Barry, Gerry, Derry and Dave 1 (Dave 1 because Dave 2 comes later). On most evenings Carol counted them all out of the flat and, five or six hours later, counted them back in again. And in the morning, when Barry lay, his fat freckled forearms slapped down on the flower-patterned spare duvet, and raw, yellow callused feet sticking out over the end of the spare futon divan bed, Carol would wish him a cheerful ‘good morning’ and bring him a mug of tea. Then she would cook Barry (or Gary, Gerry, Derry, Dave 1 - she was quite fair) an enormous fry-up. Bacon, eggs and sausages with all the trimmings, including black pudding, for which they had all gained a taste in the Midlands. Some way through the breakfast ritual Dan would make the kind of appearance I have described above. 
      But then, somehow, Carol lost patience. Either that, or the character of Dan’s boozing sessions with his mates changed. It was difficult to say which came first. Naturally, this very issue was the grist of the subsequent friction between them. Carol stopped Drinking (with a capital ‘D’) herself, and she stopped tolerating the Mates on the futon divan. 

    In the mornings she lay rigidly in bed while Dan, in the en suite bathroom, irrigated his head under the avocado faucet. The tepid water flowed over him and into the avocado bowl. 
      ‘We never fuck any more,’ she said. And watched while Anne Diamond straightened her skirt on the television. 
      ‘Whozzat?’
      ‘We never fuck any more. You’ve always got brewer’s droop.’ In moments of tight emotion Carol regressed to the tropes and figures of urban Poole, such as they were. 
      ‘Don’t be vulgar,’ said Dan, and he involuntarily hawked, as if to illustrate what was prohibited. 
      ‘You’re always pissed.’ She pursued him. ‘We used to get tipsy and even pissed pissed for fun, to be sociable. We did it as a means … [and here perhaps were some of the meagre fruits of Llanstephan] … not as an end in itself.’ 
      ‘I still drink to have fun,’ was Dan’s pathetic rejoinder. ‘Why else would I drink?’
      There, you have the measure of the man. And when she pressed him further, he said, ‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ and left. Which, when Carol came to think about it, had always been his stock response when anything between them that smacked of emotion veered away from a treacly gooey-goo love sentimentality, or the good companionship of hail-fellow-well-met mates. 
      Not that Carol longed for the two of them to sit down opposite one another and dissect their relationship together - as if it were a dish dinner. Everything in her own upbringing  - and nature for that matter - cried out against such a course. This was not the Poole way. The Poole way with ‘relationships’ was a turgid misunderstanding, leading perhaps to an evening in the allotment shed shouting, or an extra Valium. So Carol let it ride. 
      She got another caged bird, a mynah this time. Beverly, who hadn’t been in touch for over two years, arrived in 

    Muswell Hill unannounced. Dan was out drinking with Gary. After an edgy evening watching a repeat of Columbo, Beverly had her way with Carol on a pile of Dan’s work shirts, which were stacked on the half-landing, freshly ironed and en route for storage. 
      This was quite different to Llanstephan nights. Beverly had brought a dildo with her, or a lingam, as she called it. She had been instructed in its use by a flat-faced Tamil woman who lived in Shrewsbury. It was a ghastly little knobkerry of ironwood. But despite that, with it inside her vagina Carol could feel a potential for pleasure in the internal contemplation of its ongoing rigidity; its failure to wilt, its determination to stay just as it was. If it wasn’t for Beverly’s horrible face, the schoolgirl myopia and cartoon curls (and that sour cream smell: was it sweat, or worse?), Carol could perhaps have unslipped the surly bonds of her meagre restraint and flown off into orgasmic orbit.
      Carol’s head thudded against the skirting board. The lingam thudded into her. Beverly’s thumb thudded against Carol’s perineum. Dan thudded on the door to the maisonette. ‘Let us in, love,’ he called, ‘I’ve lost me key.’
      He’d also lost Gary in the John Logie Baird on Fortune Green Road. However, in the Bald-Faced Stag in East Finchley, he had acquired Derek; a lapsed Methodist and fervent member of the British National Party. For good measure, by way of possessing a trinity of attributes, Derek was also a stinking piss artist. 
      As he came into the main room of the maisonette Derek took in the dangling strap of Beverley’s bib ‘n’ braces with fanatic eyes, from under a dead straight fringe that must have framed a million commercial handjobs. He had them sussed. Later, when several more cans had been circulated he tangled with Beverley; calling her first a commie, then a Jew and only latterly a dikey cock-teaser. Carol thought she might have to call a constabulary, and feared for their 

    lease. Dan slept throughout - but a man who sleeps with his head lying on a phone table can never really sleep with a clean conscience. 

     

  10. Will Self: Cock & Bull, 1 Prelude, pp3-7 (waiting for the 12:25 from leicester station to london st pancras)

    Carol had always felt at some level less of a woman when Dan was around. Not that she ever would have defined what she felt in these terms - and she certainly wouldn’t have used this particular language. Carol had completed one third of the degree course in sociology at Llanstephan, a small, dull Welsh college. Her tertiary education was brief. She was exposed to enough of the student radicalism that was then in fashion to have been able to attach to her feelings of alienation from Dan neat tags of feminist jargon - but Carol was to insipid to share her critique. So while men weren’t necessarily stupid or chauvinistic, neither were they ‘phallocentric’ or ‘empowered by the male phallic hegemony’. And women, on the other hand, they weren’t depressed, oh no. And neither were they ‘alienated’. Of them, never let it be said that their ‘discourse was vitiated’.
      Carol has spent long, Sapphic nights at Llanstephan under the influence of a rotund lesbian called Beverley, who hailed from Leeds. Beverley lectured her on the jargon, attempting to move her from the casting couch to a speaking part in the cod philosophy. They grew tense on instant coffee and eventually fiddled sweatily with the toggles of each other’s regulation bib ‘n’ braces. 
      But despite these relatively exotic experiences, Carol, the daughter of a desperately self-effacing woman and a dissatisfied autodidactic electrical engineer from Poole, was not impelled into an original lifestyle, or even inclined to complete her degree in order to counter the masculine cultural hegemony. Beverly’s sour-cream flesh and probing digits

    failed to release whatever lode of sexual ecstasy Carol might have had locked within her narrow bosom - as did the blind-mole bumping of the seven or so penises that had truffled up her thin thighs since she started going in for that sort of thing.
      This was left to Dan to achieve - by a fluke, entirely. And it was this fluke, combined with Carol’s tendency always, always to take the line of least resistance, in all that she ever said, or did, or even thought, that gives this story its peculiar combination of cock and bull. 
      A pub-crawl down the snaking high street of a Warwickshire marker town, this was the prelude to the chain of chance. In the manner of students the world over, Carol had departed from Llanstephan with two colleagues, one of whom she knew only vaguely. The vague one, in turn, had a still vaguer acquaintance with some design students at Stourbridge. A party was in the offing. The three Llanstephanites, Carol, a girl called Bea, and the boy, Alun, set off at dusk in a borrowed car and burrowed across Wales and then through night-time England in the narrow tunnel carved by the headlights.
      The party turned out to be Dan’s post-exam binge. Other boys, in the soul rebel uniform of tight dungarees and woolly caps, punched him on his upper arms. Carol noticed his sad, self-deprecating smile - folded in at the edges with a hospital corner - and wondered if he were quite as keen on the pub-crawl as they were. 
      He was. 
      Atherstone has been selected as the crawl site, because it has the greatest number of pubs on a single street of any town in England (or Wales for that matter): twenty-two in all. The party from Stourbridge intended to start at one end and proceed to the other, downing a drink in every single pub along the way. It had been Dan’s own idea.
      The evening grew smokier and closer. Carol had started

    on gin, but soon, her head swimming, she switched to lager. At some crucial, undefined moment - finding herself staring uncomprehendingly at the opening line of Desiderata (‘Go placidly amidst the something or others …’) - Carol realized that she had crossed over from being rather tipsy to being decidedly drunk.
      The HND design boys clung to one another’s shoulders. ‘Come on, Eileen!’ they shouted in parodic Geordie accents. They had prepared score-cards with the names of all the Atherstone pubs in one column and the other columns left blank for the names of the drinks, units of alcohol they represented and so forth. But by now they had given up on comparing each other’s performances and instead were simply and uncomplicatedly drunk. 
      Carol looked at Alun and he looked at her. She realized how little he really knew these Stourbridge boys. The only real link was with Dan, whom Alun had been at school with for a couple of years in Cardiff, but they’d never really been that close. Carol rightly felt her own social position as even more teased out and attenuated than Alun’s. But then Dan looked at Carol, and for some reason she saw some compassion in those hospital-corner creases and in his mousy forelock that pointed in the same direction - towards the floor.
      They fucked on a thin foam mattress. With rasping predictability Dan entered her too early, she was tight and dry, and he came after three sandpapery strokes. But for some strange reason, some synaptic glitch, Carol came as well. Her orgasm crept up on her while she gazed in pained abstraction at an arty poster. It was the first orgasm she had ever had with a man inside her. Later, in a disoriented, boozy blackout, she squatted and peed on a pile of Dan’s textbooks that lay in a corner of the room. 
      When she returned to the numb mattress and hunkered into a foetal curl, she felt Dan’s forelock brush between her

    shoulder-blades, his neat mouth nuzzled her back flesh. She responded, millimetrically. 
      Dan and Carol were married a year or so later, and just about everyone who knew them reckoned that she had to be pregnant - but it wasn’t so. It was that brief, ecstatic lancing and subsequently balmy wave that had wedded Carol to Dan, and despite the fact that the experience had not been repeated Carol still felt obscurely bonded to him. She felt certain that the feeling she had for his slight, slabsided white body with its little brown moles was love. And his sandy hair which naturally fell into a twenties crop - the forelock arching over his sensitive brows - that too was lovable. And Carol also responded to Dan’s deftness. Like many other design-oriented people Dan was good with his hands and made amusing little things out of paper and card. Their wedding invitation was in the form of a paper sculpture. On opening the card a church created itself; the little paper doors opened and disgorged a cut-out wedding party - it was terribly clever. 
      Carol dropped out of Llanstephan and went into digs near Stourbridge to be with Dan. She had never really got to grips with sociology anyway. It had been the only course for which she could fulfil the matriculation requirements, and Llanstephan had been the choice of the UCCA computer rather than her own. Carol’s autodidactic, electrical engineer father was disappointed, and made his displeasure felt in a rancorous wedding speech, full of twists of convoluted and pedantic irony that were lost entirely on Dan’s family and guests, who, coming from more solid, middle-class homes, thought he was trying to be funny. Neither of them was religious - and the list was at Heal’s. 
      Carol’s mother was less disappointed. She knew Carol to be like herself, good when subjected to the influence of the same, but lazy and with no profound convictions. As Carol was also lithe, and pretty in the mean-featured English

    provincial way, it was best that she married young and was subjected to a steadying influence. 
      Carol was nineteen when she married Dan. Dan was twenty-one - with a year to go before completing his HND. After he had qualified, he managed to get a job with a consultancy in London that specialized in corporate identity. They moved from their one-room flat in Stourbridge to a two-bedroom maisonette in Muswell Hill, North London.
      It was about this time that Carol realized that she felt less of a woman when Dan was around. That she hadn’t articulated this feeling was really down to that strange loyalty engendered by their single, simple drunken coming-together. That she was unable to put it into more abstract and potentially empowering terms was due, as we have said, to Beverley’s failed influence.
      But in London Dan, exact in denim blouson and leather trousers, brought home fellow designers for supper or drinks. These creatures, with their padded kapok jackets and modular plastic accessories replete with winking LCDs, spoke a new language to Carol. As she learnt the vocabulary she began to understand that this world was one of potentially unambiguous satisfaction, sexual or otherwise. 
      And so Carol began to see Dan for what he was: slight, sour, effete, unsure of himself. She began to let it sink home that those three sudden strokes really had been nothing but a fluke.