THAT STRANGE SIXTH SENSE
One day in the summer of 1961, when I was 10, my brother Bryce who worked in a Cumbrian bank brought home a colleague I had never met before, called Danny Pride. Bryce was 17 and Danny was probably about 19, and he was plump and had puffy and sullen eyes, and a strange heaviness of expression around the cheeks and jawline. He seemed friendly enough to start with, and before long he and I were involved in the usual horseplay of young kids and their older brothers’ mates. At one stage he had my arm pinned, and then he began to twist my wrist in a way that was decidedly painful. It all happened in a few seconds, but I had plenty of experience of horseplay with older boys, and none of them had ever got near causing me any pain, in the same way that no one but a weird bastard or repulsive sadist would ever play with a tiny kitten or defenceless pup and deliberately hurt it. The point was I was definitely embarrassed, as well as in pain by what he was doing. I wanted to tell him he was hurting me, but felt it would have drawn attention to something wrong and embarrassing in him, so as a result I put up with the torture till Danny decided to stop it. As soon as he did, and with an insincere guffaw told me I was a young squirt, I made some excuse and ran outside into the safety of the garden. Bryce had noticed none of this and I said nothing about it at the time, but when years later I mentioned the event, my brother turned thoughtful and said that Danny had been put away in jail for 18 months, about a year after he’d been at our house. He had embezzled £1500 from the bank where he and Bryce had worked, a vast amount of money in the early 1960s (it was 5 years of his wages. Danny and Bryce would have been making about £300 a year as junior bank clerks), and been incarcerated in Durham clink as a result.
To see a direct causal relationship between the weird and covert brutality of a moody 19 year-old towards a 10 year-old kid, and the capacity to become an ambitious criminal, might seem a bit fanciful. I think what I am trying to say is that if Danny hadn’t gone on to be a big time surreptitious thief, he would have gone on to be something else of a sinister and clandestine nature. Suffice to say if he had ever married, I would not have wished to be his wife, as though he might not literally have twisted her arm for decades just for the pleasure of it (though in fact, I think he very likely would have done so) he would have probably done the equivalent of it in emotional and manipulative terms. If Danny Pride is alive today he will be 73, and might well have numerous grandchildren across a considerable age range. I wonder if they know about his prison sentence, or whether he has managed to hide that successfully from all but a few with a very long memory. I also very pertinently wonder if he twists his young grandsons’ arms painfully, or if he has finally learned the dangerous error of his peculiar ways.
The theme I am exploring is that of intuitive instinct, and the phenomena of instant likes and instant dislikes. The other day a smiling and friendly woman about my own age, with liquid, tender eyes and an unusually animated and expressive face, came into the Glaros, and like everyone else was looking for the correct light switch for the toilets. There are 3 double switches all adjacent, 2 of which typically do not work anything, and it is the double one in the middle that does the trick. Because Marianna who has run the place for 20 years and has pissed there at least 7200 times, obviously knows the right switches, i.e. 33% of the available options, and because all of her regulars do, she makes the false and ludicrous analogy that the whole world must comprehend what for her is cognitive child’s play. Far from it. Yesterday no less than 3 foreign tourists in a row all fumbled hopelessly with the wrong switches, and ended up urinating and defecating in the unlovely pitch dark inside. This particular woman my age who turned out to be Swedish and from Uppsala, also couldn’t find the correct light switch, so once she was inside, I put it on for her discreetly and anonymously as it were. When she came out and was fumbling to find out how to turn it off, I shouted across helpfully ‘the middle’, and her gratitude was instant and heartfelt. Then as she walked to the door, she stopped and asked me frankly if humbly, what I was writing there at my laptop, as she was truly fascinated by the sight. She said I looked like something out of a film, the ex-pat writer sat in a Greek cafe, Graham Greene par excellence, and the sight was truly mesmerising. I smiled back at her touching openness and carefully explained to her about my blog and also that by way of making a living, I taught residential fiction classes here in Kythnos, to people who wrote in English. Five minutes later I had learnt that by a fluke she taught Creative Writing herself, including Fiction, in a private university near Uppsala, though she admitted dourly she was not a published writer herself, even if she had written a great deal of poetry. She also informed me that the money she was paid was derisory, but what was money set beside doing something that you really love? All that, as well as she was twice married, and with two lots of grown kids, and that she had spent years in Valparaiso and in Edinburgh, which partly explained why there was a slight Scots inflection to her excellent English.
You have guessed what I am getting at. Namely that she, Brigitte, and I, JM, took to each other immediately and by unshakeable instinct. As it happened she had to get back soon on the family yacht and proceed to Serifos, but if she hadn’t been doing so, we’d have doubtless spent an hour or two in a cafe swapping our life stories, talking about fiction, fiction teaching, Valparaiso, the Brazilian writers Jorge Amado, Machado de Assis, Clarice Lispector (1920-1977, said by some to be the greatest Jewish writer since Kafka), Edinburgh, Ingmar Bergman, and our numerous favourite composers. All that discernible in less than 5 minutes, and probably only occasioned by the fact that Marianna adamantly scoffs at the idea of writing a helpful message plus prominent arrow in English next to the bog light switches. Marianna genuinely thinks it would be tantamount to accusing the tourists of being idiots, no matter that every day in summer about a dozen of the poor bastards spend their time doing the mime of the urgent bladder and the urgent bowels, and of the truly desperate and innocently confused.